To Preserve a Man from the Pit: God’s Mercy in Ransom | Tom Nettles

by | May 22, 2024 | Old Testament, Practical Theology, Systematic Theology


To Preserve a Man from the Pit

God’s Mercy in Ransom


Complaints about pain as undeserved reveals a heart unresponsive to merciful rebuke. (33:19-22). God speaks through man’s pain that rebuke is necessary and if unheeded will bring one finally to perdition.  Physical pain is designed to show spiritual danger. When muscles ache and even bones radiate pain, when food nauseates, and physical symmetry gives way to gauntness, one should well consider that present pain is not even dimensionally related in either quality or quantity to the wrath of eternal divine anger. Man’s sin brings him near to the pit, as it were dangling over the flames of hell, in a weakened and morally susceptible condition, nothing to hinder the execution of a sentence of perdition. Pain is a merciful warning against self-righteousness, susceptibility to just infliction of punishment for sin against the infinitely righteous and just God. How shall we escape?

In 33:23-30, Elihu introduces an idea that Job himself had suggested (16:19-21) that another must arise to plead a sinner’s cause and restore him to righteousness. This ransom/mediator will be unique. He may be represented through a messenger, a faithful minister of the gospel, but he alone can accomplish the thing itself that is needed. This ransom/mediator must know the case of man and be able to declare fully and clearly what is right—“To remind a man what is right for him” (23). The ransom must be able to represent the case of God also and find before God that which will satisfy the prevailing necessity of justice in the case of a sinner. That which is found is not the worthiness of the sinner but solely the intervention of mercy to interrupt the certainty of death by the payment of a required sum in order to effect the release of the condemned. This ransom/mediator must be able to satisfy God in saying, “Deliver him from going down into the pit; I have found a ransom” (24).

The requirements of God’s goodness both in justice and mercy are served by this ransom/mediator. “But when the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy” (Titus 3:4, 5). This transaction of mercy and justice through the ransom restores the almost-destroyed sinner to youthful vigor – “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly” (Titus 3:5). Through the meritorious work of this ransom/mediator this once distraught person’s sin is forgiven and he is made an heir of eternal life according to the righteousness that God requires. (Job 33:26, 27). That which Elihu envisioned in this revelatory moment is described by the apostle Paul in its fulfillment, “through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace” (Titus 3:6, 7). The sinner so justified finds that eternal destruction is no longer his destiny [“He has redeemed my soul from going down to the pit” (Job 33:28)] and has given the hope of eternal life [“and my life shall look upon the light”]. Paul gives Elihu’s vision of the necessary the certainty of the historically accomplished: “we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7).

Elihu re-emphasizes the gratuitous nature of what God has provided and indeed accomplished for sinners in the great transaction of redeeming his soul from hell and granting him heaven (verses 29,30). Paul affirms his operation of redemptive intervention in writing, “He has translated us out of the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of his love, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13, 14). This lifts us beyond the contemplation of what is needed that Elihu sets forth to Job and puts us in the realm of proclamation of what God has done:  “You may proclaim the excellencies of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Job 36:8-12 – After Elihu has given a lengthy defense of the justice of God in light of Job’s protests that he has not been allowed to present his case, he reprimanded Job for seemingly challenging God as his equal and concludes, “Job opens his mouth in empty talk; he multiplies words without knowledge.”

  1. In verses 1-4 Elihu claims qualifications to speak to Job in this matter, particularly because he perceives that his three antagonists have not given a clear view of the mystery and the prerogative of God. “There is yet more to be said in God’s behalf, . . . I will ascribe righteousness to my Maker” (2, 3). He claims to speak by revelation: “knowledge from afar; . . . For truly my words are not false; one who is perfect in knowledge is with you” (3, 4).
  2. In verses 5-7 Elihu shows that God is no respecter of persons but knows each one thoroughly and deals justly. “He . . . gives the afflicted their right.”
  3. People in exalted positions have special responsibilities before God.
    • Verses 8, 9 – When calamity comes to those whom God has set in positions of authority, God shows them the character of their sin. “Then he declares to them their work and their transgressions, that they are behaving arrogantly.” As the NASB says, “They have magnified themselves.”
    • Verse 10 – He gives them instruction and requires that they turn from iniquity. God has never relinquished his moral authority over any portion of the world at any time. Every culture, and every person within that culture will be held accountable to God. When Paul preached that in times past God “winked” at the transgressions of the nations outside the messianic covenantal community, he did not mean that they were without any revelation of right and wrong and that God never inflicted judgment. He means that in light of the coming redemption and the necessity of the continuation of the race, God did not enact a full measure of wrath on either the elect or the non-elect. From the woes pronounced by the Old Testament prophets against the nations, it is clear that God frequently acted in a retributive manner. Here Elihu, keenly sensitive to manners in which God revealed elements of responsibility to all people, says that God “opens their ears to instruction.” He issues a call to repentance.
    • verses 11 and 12 – Repentance will renew their standing in divine favor; a refusal to repent will result in righteous judgment. They will “die without knowledge,” that is, without a saving knowledge of God, without the knowledge of the beauty of his holiness. This message of repentance was the fundamental message of John the Baptist in preparation for the Messiah and it was the initial message of Jesus Himself. It was a necessary element of the message that the apostles preached, “repentance and forgiveness of sin” (Luke 24:47); “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Jesus said, “I tell you nay, except you repent, you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13: 3, 5).



I reiterate what was written before, but now add the insights brought by Elihu [“H” and “I”]

  1. Embrace and absorb into your central spiritual world view that Providence and Redemption are no less in the control of God and under his ultimate purpose than was the immediate operation of creation. Wisdom always resides in submission to the divine will.
  2. The driving passion of our lives should be a reverent and filial fear of God that leads to discernment and enjoyment of the attributes of God.
  3. Don’t allow some knowledge of God and his ways to drive you to arrogance, judgmentalism, and sinful over-confidence. We must not retreat from what we know to be true, but must also realize that other dimensions of present knowledge will constantly flow into our heads and hearts.
  4. We must value spiritual knowledge and holiness of life above all earthly advantage. If God will teach us more of Himself and his purity through the loss of what can be lost then the loss is a great advantage.
  5. While maintaining integrity in individual cases as each relates to the judgment of men, we must submit to God’s prerogative to design any event for our overall sanctification. True godliness always involves resignation.
  6. Be thankful for the progressive nature of revelation—learn to admire the divine wisdom in the gradually unfolding of layer upon layer of truth—as well as the immediate perfection of the redemptive action of God.
  7. We should contemplate the importance of the question, “How can a man, sinfully despicable from the sole of his feet to the crown of his head, be in the right before God?” Where will we find a ransom? Of what honor must such a ransom be?
  8. There is no such thing as innocent suffering. When we proportion temporal suffering to apparent temporal evil, we might be puzzled as to why the apparently good suffer and the apparently less-good prosper; but this sense of disproportion finds plausibility only because of our limited and dull reflections on divine holiness. If our knowledge of the moral character of a fallen world and fallen human beings were truly commensurate with the reality, we would immediately concede the justice of God in any infliction of punishment or discipline.
  9. We must not forget that God’s granting of pleasure in this life should drive us to see the bountiful nature of his goodness and mercy, and any interruption of our pleasure in this life, whether mild or severe, is designed to bring us to a knowledge of sin and the need for a mediator that can restore righteousness, for God will not be finally reconciled to us apart from true and complete righteousness.

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