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“I Know That My Redeemer Lives” – But Who Is it?

“Oh that my words were written!
    Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
Oh that with an iron pen and lead
    they were engraved in the rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
    and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I shall see God.” (Job 19:23-26)

Job’s Despair, by William Blake

The most memorable phrase from the Book of Job is Job’s declaration, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” It is one of the few hopeful statements found in Job’s speeches with his friends. And it is the inspiration for several great hymns still in use today.

But just exactly who did Job have in mind when he expressed this confidence? In the context, who is Job’s “redeemer”?

 

The term Job uses here is the Hebrew word גָּאַל (go’el), and it means “redeem, do the part of the next of kin.” It is used in several places in the Law of Moses to explain the various duties of the next of kin (as in Leviticus 25:25; Numbers 35:19). It is also featured in the Book of Ruth and the story of her go’el, Boaz (Ruth 3:9). This term is also used to describe God’s role as Israel’s redeemer (as in Exodus 6:6; Isaiah 41:14).

When Job declares that his go’el lives, he could have in mind one of his next of kin who will take up his case. Another view (the one adopted by the ESV) is that the go’el is God, and that Job believes God will ultimately redeem him. Which is it?

Nothing in the text itself definitely answers this question. Some commentators point to the language of 19:25 – “at last he will stand upon the earth” – and combine this with Job’s hope to see God in his flesh (19:26) to argue that Job has in mind God’s final redemption of him in the resurrection. However, the term translated “at last” (אַחֲרוֹן, ʾakharon) can mean “later, afterwards.” Indeed, the KJV translates the expression as “at the latter day.” So this is not decisive.

Surveying various commentaries, there are three positions.

First, some contend that Job believes God will be his go’el.

But he reaches beyond his experience of God’s wrath to state his trust in God, who will in time secure his acquittal and who will also accomplish his deliverance from suffering. In this passage Job is expressing genuine faith, for he makes an unconditional affirmation about God’s commitment to him against all circumstantial evidence to the contrary. (John Hartley, The Book of Job, NICOT series, p. 295)

Others suggest that Job is asking for a human go’el. Here is John Walton’s paraphrase of the passage:

“I firmly believe that there is someone, somewhere, who will come and testify on my behalf right here on my dung heap at the end of all this. Despite my peeling skin, I expect to have enough left to come before God in my own flesh. I will be restored to his favor and no longer be treated as a stranger. This is my deepest desire!” (The NIV Application Commentary: Job, p. 221).

And, some commentators allow for the possibility that Job intends both a human and divine go’el:

It is possible both were in his mind. Certainly he had wished for some fellow human being then and there to say a good word for him before God and his neighbors, but he also envisioned a divine Redeemer. (Robert L. Alden, Job. NAC series, p.  207).

So how do we decide which view is correct? It seems to me that if we look at Job’s statement in the larger context of the book, it is very difficult  to argue that Job believes God will be his go’el. The phrase in question is found in the midst of the the second round of speeches between Job and his friends. In his response to Eliphaz in that second round, Job says that God has made war against him:

God gives me up to the ungodly
    and casts me into the hands of the wicked.
I was at ease, and he broke me apart;
    he seized me by the neck and dashed me to pieces;
he set me up as his target;
 his archers surround me.
He slashes open my kidneys and does not spare;
    he pours out my gall on the ground.
He breaks me with breach upon breach;
    he runs upon me like a warrior. (16:11-14)

In Job’s mind, God is not his redeemer; God is his adversary, and what Job wants more than anything else is to argue his case before God (16:18-21).

Job 19 contains Job’s response to Bildad, also in the second round of speeches. And in this immediate context of the “redeemer” statement, Job again expresses his belief that God is his opponent:

He breaks me down on every side, and I am gone,
    and my hope has he pulled up like a tree.
He has kindled his wrath against me
    and counts me as his adversary. (19:10-11)

This sentiment persists into the third round of speeches. Job tells Eliphaz:

Today also my complaint is bitter;
    my hand is heavy on account of my groaning.
Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
    that I might come even to his seat!
I would lay my case before him
    and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would know what he would answer me
    and understand what he would say to me.
Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
    No; he would pay attention to me.
There an upright man could argue with him,
    and I would be acquitted forever by my judge. (23:2-7)

So before, during, and after the speech in which Job mentions his go’el, he insists that God is against him, that he wants to take his case to God, that he desires acquittal from God. For this reason, it is very difficult for me to understand Job’s statement in 19:25 as a reference to God. As much as I love singing about God as my Redeemer, I don’t think that’s the tune Job was singing here.

Instead, it seems much more likely that Job has in mind someone else as his go’el. Perhaps someone in his family – maybe even someone in heaven, like an angel – but someone to come and speak up for him. There is a hopeful tone to what Job says here, but it is also a desperate statement. “Surely somebody will speak up for me and not let this injustice continue!”

Job’s anxious desire for a go’el is made even more poignant by the phrase at the end of verse 25: “at last he will stand upon the earth.” The ESV has a footnote on the word “earth” to alert the reader that the actual Hebrew word here  (עָפָר, ‘apar) means “dust.” This is the word Job uses throughout the book to describe his disintegrating condition that will finally lead to death:

  • “My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt” (7:5).
  • “For now I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be” (7:21).
  • “Remember that you have made my like clay; and will you return me to the dust?” (10:9).
  • “I have sewed sackcloth upon my skin and have laid my strength in the dust” (16:15).
  • “They lie down alike in the the dust, and the worms cover them” (21:26).
  • “God has cast me into the mire, and I have become like dust and ashes” (30:19).

Job doesn’t expect God to “stand on the dust” (Holman Christian Standard Bible) with him – in his view, God has put him in the dust of death.  What Job wants is someone who will join him on the ash heap, stand by him as he returns to dust, and defend his integrity in his lawsuit against God. And for this reason, I don’t think the position that Job is describing God as his go’el is sustainable.

BUT – this doesn’t mean that God isn’t Job’s redeemer. It is very important to remember that what Job says is not always correct. What Job believes to be the case versus what actually is the case is not the same thing. In my view, Job is asking for a redeemer because he believes God is his adversary – but Job is wrong about this. God is not Job’s adversary; in fact, God is Job’s biggest “fan.”

Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? (Job 1:8 and 2:9)

Job thinks he needs a go’el to help him in his case against God because he believes  God has unjustly punished him as an evildoer. But Job is totally wrong about this. God does not see him as a wicked person; God knows that Job fears him and turns away from evil. Job doesn’t need anyone to defend his name before God. At the end of the book, God defends Job’s name when he says to the friends:

My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. (42:7, also in 42:8)

God vindicates Job, so it turns out that God is indeed the go’el Job sought! But that’s not what Job thought in 19:25. As is often the case in Job’s speeches, what he assumes to be the case is not in fact true.

So to summarize, when Job asks for a go’el to stand with him in the dust, he is not thinking of God. He has mind someone to defend him against God. And this is because he doesn’t understand that God is truly on his side in a way he cannot imagine.

And in a way that we cannot fathom. Centuries later, when God enters the human story in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, he also will cry out in desperation, quoting the opening words of Psalm 22 (“My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?”). Later in that psalm the one who suffers says, “You lay me in the dust of death” (22:15). We indeed have a Redeemer who joined us “in the dust,” and now lives in heaven to take up our case.

 

 

 

 

 

A Note on Job 2:3 – Did Satan Incite God Against Job?

This quarter I am teaching a class on one of the most difficult books of the Bible, the Book of Job. It is not a book filled with easy answers. Instead, it unflinchingly confronts the tension of evil and suffering in a world governed by God. One of the most puzzling verses in the book is Job 2:3-

And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” (ESV)

What does this text mean? It almost sounds like God is saying that Satan bullied or cajoled him into doing harm to Job. Is that how we are supposed to understand this verse? Let’s take a closer look.

This is the second encounter between God and the one described in Hebrew as The Adversary (הַשָּׂטָן, haśśāṭān). In their first confrontation, God himself took the initiative in calling The Adversary’s attention to Job.

And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (1:8)

But The Adversary was unimpressed.

Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” (1:9-11)

Job’s Despair, by William Blake

The Adversary maligns Job by claiming that Job only fears God because of the material prosperity God has given him. According to The Adversary, Job does not fear God for “no reason” ( חִנָּם, ḥinnam), “for nothing” (NASB) or “for no profit.” So the key issue between God and The Adversary is, why does Job fear God? Does Job fear God because God is inherently worthy of this devotion or simply because God has paid him off?

To test Job’s motives, The Adversary challenges the LORD to “touch all that he has,” certain that once Job loses his material blessings he will “curse” God.

And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord. (1:12)

As this test unfolds, the narrator makes it clear that whatever The Adversary does to Job, it is only by God’s permission. There is no question who is in charge here. God alone is sovereign.

That brings us to Job 2:3. Once again the LORD confronts The Adversary, but this time to call attention to Job’s steadfast integrity in the midst of suffering. Simply put, The Adversary was wrong. Job did not curse God.

With this background in view, let’s look more closely at the specific phrase in 2:3 that raises questions – “although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” There are three important terms here. The first is the phrase “without reason.” But we have seen this before – this is the same phrase The Adversary used in his malign accusation about Job – “does Job fear God for no reason?” This is the narrator’s way of indicating to the reader that we must read 2:3 closely in connection with 1:9.

The second key term is translated in the ESV as “incite” (סוּת, sut). This word has a range of meanings from “instigate” to “allure.” And as we know from the first chapter, The Adversary did indeed instigate the challenge of Job’s motivation for serving the LORD (“stretch out your hand and touch all that he has”).

The third key term is “destroy” (בָּלַע, bl’). It means “swallow up, engulf.” It speaks to the sudden and overwhelming nature of Job’s losses, which did indeed happen in one day (Job 1:13-22).

Putting this altogether, we can draw some conclusions.

First, we should not read Job 2:3 as if to say that The Adversary lured God into some kind of trap to harm Job which God unwittingly fell for. Yes, The Adversary instigated the trial, but he did not manipulate God into doing it. God’s sovereign control is clearly emphasized throughout the book.

Second, the LORD’S use of the word “destroy” indicates that God is very much aware of the shocking set of losses Job has experienced. This isn’t some kind of trivial game of checkers for the LORD. His great servant has suffered tremendously.

Third, when God says that he has destroyed Job “for no reason,” he does not mean that this test was pointless or futile. There is in fact a very important purpose for this trial – to demonstrate that The Adversary is wrong. The Adversary claimed that this test would lead Job to renounce God. But what did The Adversary gain by the test? Nothing. As John Hartley writes:

The use of without cause here sets up a point of tension with the Satan’s use of this phrase in the first scene before Yahweh. Whereas the Satan had conjectured that Job’s fear of God was not without cause, i.e., Job feared God for selfish reasons, Yahweh in turn rebuked the Satan with the assertion that Job’s trial had proved to be without cause, i.e., the Satan’s accusations about Job were groundless. Thus the test has proved that the Satan’s accusations against Job were “without cause” or had no inherent worth, and that Job feared God “without cause”—Job trusted God with a pure heart filled with love for God, not for the benefits God had bestowed upon him. The Satan’s skepticism about Job’s character had proved to be completely wrong. (The Book of Job NICOT, p. 80)

Here then is my interpretative paraphrase of Job 2:3-

Adversary,  you instigated the idea of a test to prove Job’s motives. I permitted it – in fact, I permitted you to overwhelm him with suffering. I take ultimate responsibility for this. But in spite of this test, your accusation proved worthless. Job still holds fast his integrity!

One final point. The New Testament recommends Job’s example as one for us to follow. The very reason Job is commended to us is not because God promises us a life free from trials, but because he promises to be merciful to us in the midst of our trials, so long as we cling to him.

As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. (James 5:10-11)

And as we remain steadfast, we continue the legacy of subversion of The Adversary. His slander always amounts to nothing in the face of faith.

 

 

 

Book of Job Roundup

Job’s Despair, by William Blake

I thought I would place all of my blog posts on the Book of Job in one place in case any of you missed one of them. I would also like to recommend this commentary by Gerald Wilson, and this series of blog posts by John Mark Hicks. Both are helpful guides through the book.

 

Part 1: Reaping What You Sow

Part 2: The Key Question of the Book

Part 3: Are God and Satan Playing a Game with Job’s Life?

Part 4: The “Triangle of Tension”

Part 5: Job’s Breakthrough

Part 6: What Job Wants

Part 7: What To Do with Elihu?

Part 8: The Lord’s First Speech

Part 9: The Lord’s Second Speech

Part 10: Did Job Repent, or Was Job Comforted?

Part 11: The Conclusion of the Book

Reflections on Job, Part 11 – The Conclusion of the Book

While the dramatic climax of Job is the Lord’s appearance, the narrator concludes the book with an epilogue (just as he began the book with the prologue of the first two chapters). This final section of the book raises several interesting points. Continue reading

Reflections on Job, Part 10 – Did Job Repent, or Was Job Comforted?

 Then Job answered the Lord and said:
 “I know that you can do all things,
   and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
 ‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
 therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6, ESV)

One common understanding of the dramatic conclusion of the Book of Job is that God’s speeches are a rebuke of Job’s impatient and presumptuous challenges to God to defend himself in a lawsuit. According to this view, Job’s response is contrite repentance. God is all-powerful and all-wise, Job is not, and Job learns to be quiet.

I have already indicated that I believe this understanding is inadequate. Continue reading

Reflections on Job, Part 9 – The Lord’s Second Speech

The first speech of the Lord drew Job’s attention to God’s constant wisdom, power, and care for creation. Job feels abandoned by God, but the Lord’s survey of his providential care for even the most isolated of animals showed Job that he was wrong in assuming God was no longer watching over him. This leads Job to retract his “lawsuit” against the Creator- Continue reading

Reflections on Job, Part 8 – The Lord’s First Speech

We have come now to the climax of the Book of Job, the speeches of the Lord. There are actually two speeches, the first in 38:1-40:2 (with a brief reply by Job in 40:3-5); and the second in 40:6-41:34 (with a brief reply by Job in 42:1-6). Even though these speeches are the dramatic centerpiece of the book, there is widespread disagreement as to what the the Lord’s speeches actually mean. A common view is that the Lord is essentially rebuking Job, asserting His incomparable power and wisdom, leading Job to repent for his rash, ill-conceived accusations. I hope to show that this understanding of what the Lord says is crucially inadequate. But first, let’s look at these speeches in the context of the book. Continue reading

Reflections on Job, Part 7 – What to Do with Elihu?

The Wrath of Elihu, by William Blake

One of the greatest mysteries in a book filled with mysteries is what to make of Elihu. He seems to appear out of nowhere, and after his speeches conclude, there is no further reference to him in the book. It’s almost as if someone from the street stumbled onto the stage of a musical, decided to sing a few songs, and then leave!

What are we to make of Elihu? Should we look at his four speeches as fundamentally different in tone and content from the friends? Does he add any new insight to the book? Does he get the reader a little closer to the truth about Job’s predicament? Continue reading

Reflections on Job, Part 6: What Job Wants

Job’s Despair, by William Blake

Throughout the course of Job’s speeches, both in his dialogues with the three friends and in his final monologue, there is one thing that Job repeatedly says he desires: an audience with God. Job believes that God is punishing him unjustly. Given his commitment to the Principle of Retribution as the mechanism of God’s providence, that’s the only conclusion an “upright and blameless man” like Job could draw. While his confidence that the Principle of Retribution is the comprehensive explanation of God’s governance does begin to waver in his later speeches, Job’s desire to bring his case beforte God does not.

Here’s a selection of these requests for redress with God.

Continue reading

Reflections on Job, Part 5: Job’s Breakthrough

In my previous post I discussed what one commentator calls the “Triangle of Tension” in the Book of Job. Given the principle of retribution (the law of sowing and reaping), these three points cannot co-exist: God’s justice, Job’s righteousness, and Job’s suffering. If the wicked always suffer and the righteous always prosper, then either Job must not be righteous, or God must not be just. Job’s friends deny Job’s righteousness, and Job denies God’s justice.

Continue reading