“My transgression is sealed up in a bag, and Thou dost wrap up my iniquity" (Job 14:17)
As a young man, I worked for fourteen years in a civil service position within the California Court system. For the first seven years before transferring to the Superior Court, I was assigned to the Long Beach Municipal Court, working at various times in the Civil, Small Claims, Accounting and Criminal Departments. It was in the office of the Criminal Department that I participated in the process which involved sealing criminal records.
Each criminal file was essentially divided into three parts – there was a case file containing the paperwork associated with the defendant, including any subpoenas, proofs of service and so on. There was often a separate box or envelope housing whatever exhibits had been admitted into evidence during the trial and/or hearings associated with the case; and finally there was a docket sheet, a written record on a page in a book describing the hearing and trial dates, the judgment(s) of the Court and other notable events.
At some point the exhibits were either sold, destroyed or returned at a time determined by statute, unless the Judge assigned to the case deemed they should be held for a longer time. Occasionally, not very often, the defendant’s attorney would make a motion to the Court, asking for the defendant's records to be sealed. Those motions were not granted usually, but if they were, I was likely to be the one who would "seal" the case, and here’s how it was done:
The paperwork associated with the case would continue to exist but the defendant’s name would be covered. The case number assigned to the file would still show, but his or her name would not. It was done by placing all the paperwork into a manila envelope, covering the defendant’s name with cardboard and sealing everything shut with heavy, clear tape. The case number would show but the name was covered. It was still there but could not be read. The same was true of the docket sheet that was kept numerically in what was called a docket book.
The case number was still there in numerical order, should there ever be a reason to unseal the file on the judge's order, but the defendant’s name, wherever it appeared, was covered with cardboard that was taped to the front of the docket sheet. You would be aware that a crime had been committed, that the defendant was found guilty and sentenced, but you would not know who was involved or anything about them. It was like Job observed to his friends, “My transgression is sealed up in a bag, and Thou dost wrap up my iniquity" (Job 14:17).
There is no way to know when this man named “Job” actually lived. There are some among the theologians who think the book about him was the first one written among the books we call the “Bible.” It was written in the style of Hebrew poetry; not that it rhymed, but it was presented in the form of contrasts: light and dark, high and low, and so on. It’s also interesting that “Job,” a name that possibly meant “returning,” is not a Hebrew name. What happened to him was likely at a time and place long before many, perhaps most of the events occurred in the Old Testament.
His ten sons and daughters had died suddenly and violently. All of them were gone. He had been an extremely wealthy man by the standards of any day, and suddenly all that was gone as well. His wife, who without a doubt was grieving the loss of their children also, sneered at him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). His close friends came to him ostensibly to comfort him, but instead insulted him, calling him a sinner. Their false theology essentially was: Bad things happen to bad people, therefore Job, you must be bad.
Job was trying desperately to understand what had happened and at the same time was attempting to defend himself to his “friends.” He was asking the Lord to hide him. He said, “…Conceal me until Your wrath is past… (and then) remember me." He wondered about himself and his children, “If a man dies, shall he live again?” deciding to wait until the end of his own life and see for himself. He asked the Lord, “Do not watch over my sin,” and concluded with our verse for today: “My transgression is sealed up in a bag, and You cover my iniquity” (Job 14:13-17).
Job believed that God had caused those events in his life and in the life of his family for a purpose and the evidence suggested to him that it was likely God was angry for reasons he did not understand. He got it that he was a sinner before a holy God, like the rest of us, and the best he thought he could hope for was that the Lord would somehow cover his sin.
But to cover up something does not mean it is gone. During those years in the Municipal Court I saw that sins, as represented by the criminal conviction of the defendant could be covered and if an investigative agency ran a record check on the person, nothing would be found. But there was another factor – sometimes, rarely, the Court would order the records to be unsealed, and when they were, the charges against the person would reappear.
I discussed this sermon with Pastor Carl Johnson of Abiding Love Christian Fellowship and was interested to learn that the sermon he had just given was about a similar subject. His central verse was 2 Corinthians 5:21 – “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” We agreed that when Jesus went into the tomb, our sins went with Him. He rose from the dead, but our sins remain in that tomb. I smiled when Carl added, “Satan, who is something like a grave digger, sometimes digs them up and throws them in our face.” Our sins are more than covered. In Christ, they are truly gone. Our job is to trust Him and what He has done, even when life and the enemy throws the past into our face.
Every person on this planet must face a Holy God. He is utterly pure and He measures us, not in relation to one another, but He compares us with Himself. The beings before the Throne of God call out, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” And Isaiah the prophet reasonably uttered words that apply to us all: “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:3-5). As Paul the apostle would later say, “ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Isaiah’s sin was taken away (Isaiah 6:6-7). Paul was forgiven, too, observing, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
It’s true that we are sinners and don’t measure up. But it’s also true that the cross of Christ reaches through time and space, back to and beyond people like Job and others who never heard of the cross of Christ, and into the future to people like us who have God’s Holy Word and should understand. Jesus was the Innocent One “who knew no sin (but became) sin for us.” As Isaiah would later see, before it happened - “He was wounded for our transgressions… By His stripes we are healed… the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all… He shall bear their iniquities… He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53).
God’s Holy Law has been violated by humanity, but He made a way for us through His Son. As seen in Joel 2:32 and Romans 10:13 - “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Thank You, Father, for giving us Christ Jesus who died for our sins. Thank You that even when everything goes wrong, as it did for Job, You still love us and reach out to us. Our sin is even more than sealed or covered - we are forgiven - forever. We call to You, we confess our sins and trust in the Lord. In Jesus Name. Amen.