If We Confess Our Sins | Tom J. Nettles

by | Apr 16, 2024 | Old Testament, Practical Theology


A transparent examination of motives, purpose and conscience gives rise to Job’s next defense of his integrity before God. He has not had a secret life of evil and lived as a hypocrite, nor has his land nor his tenants suffered at his hand. Verses 33, 34 and then 38-40 set forth Job’s testimony of blamelessness in these matters.

Though his accusers had accused him of concealing what must obviously be a great sin (20:12), Job claimed that he hid nothing and held nothing illicit near his heart. Job does not deny that he has transgressions and iniquity. He denies hiding them. He had no mind to imitate Adam (NKJV, NASB). This specific reference to Adam fits Job’s overall examination of the possibility of intentional deceit. The ESV, Holman, and NIV translate “as others do” and RSV uses the phrase “from men.” The historical event of Adam was still alive in the knowledge of Job. His creation, the requirement of obedience, his violation, and hiding prompts Job to go back to the character of mankind’s first sin. In this mood of careful self-examination, he does not accuse others, which would be implied in the phrase, “as others do.” “From men” fits the extended argument of the following phrases but alters the syntax. Job looked to the most ancient example of the tendency to cover up personal sin. Adam sought to hide behind fig leaves, then blamed Eve, and finally implicated God in his transgression. Aware of that initial attempt at moral fraud, Job implies that open confession is his regular practice.

Though it is universally common for fallen humanity to nurture secret sins that they indulge in private because of their fear of neighbors and the loss of reputation if such practices were known in society, Job claimed that he did not live his life in the fear of the multitude or of other families but in the fear of God (34, cf 21-23). He is not expressing that he is free from sin, for he recognizes his weakness and God’s strength, his corruption and God’s absolute holiness, but he argues that he is not consciously holding on to some darling sin; nor is he hiding some evil of he is consciously aware. He is not being duplicitous; what he is in soul, he is before all.

He has not abused the land (38) upon which he has depended for the sustenance of himself and his family as well as all the various persons for whom he has cared through the years. He understands the necessity of a Sabbath rest for the land, and probably has rotated fields in planting and allowing to lie fallow. The things concerning the land that in Israel became part of God’s charges against them did not establish any guilt for him (Leviticus 26:34; 2 Chronicles 36:21).

Unlike Ahab later who coveted and then stole Naboth’s vineyard and killed Naboth, Job has not coveted the land of others or eaten the food produced by those that farm his land as tenants without giving the proper recompense for its consumption. Much less has he ever taken measures to take away their life either directly, or by dominating that which they have produced for themselves. He has not taken land unfairly or used criminal tactics to satisfy a covetous grasping for choice property owned by others (39).

If he has done unjustly in any of these areas, then he submits to the legitimacy of a curse upon his land to grow thorns instead of wheat and foul weeds instead of barley. The sin of Adam originally brought this curse on the land (Genesis 3:17-19) and Job submits to the personal curse on his land as proper due for his personal sin, if indeed any of these things, which he denied, be so.

Interrupting his narrative because of the frustration building up within him, Job calls for an opportunity to defend himself before God (35-37). Since he is driving toward this call as a culmination of his defense, we treat it as a finale, rather than in the place it appears. The intensity of Job’s call and the drama of the literary effect of the writing in placing it as a pent up exclamation interrupting the recitation of possible sins should not be lost in this rearrangement.

Job’s entire narrative is a testimony to his keen sense of the character of God and his awareness that God knows all that he does and will always render a just judgment. It is ironic, therefore that he calls, “Oh that I had one to hear me!” He presents as it were, verbally, a petition signed by himself requesting an audience with this God whose presence cannot be escaped. In light, however, of all that Job has presented as his case for innocence and thus free of performing those things that should surely bring judgment, he wants God, who appears to be his adversary, to put in writing all the things for which he is being called to account. When God gives him a clear list of the offenses for which he has had to endure this grievous test, Job will make sure that every one of the accusations is considered fully and carefully. “I will bind it on my as a crown.” As Job cried in 10:2, “Let me know why you contend against me.” The disadvantage of the unknown has made Job tentative and perplexed. But, so he believes, when he knows the precise things for which God had called him to account, he will be able to function with greater confidence and more forthrightness. “I would give him an account of all my steps, like a prince I would approach him” (37).

Job has now said all that he possibly can say about this matter as it stands. He has listened to those that have examined the peculiar providence and tell him that he is reaping wrath for a life of folly, selfishness, cruelty, and secret sin. This has all been exacerbated by his refusal to admit and repent. Job has looked squarely in the face of these accusations, examined his own conduct and his own heart, and contends to the end that the viewpoint of these three friends is wrong. Their theology is inadequate and their accusations insensitive, cruel, and mere platitudinous cant. He calls for God to be simultaneously his defender, his ransom, his accuser, and his judge. He knows of nothing more to say.

Job has used as his plea that which so strongly and comfortingly is revealed in 1 John 1:6–10 (ESV): “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

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