I know that my Redeemer lives

Job 19:25-26 are some of the best known words from the Book of Job, having been popularised by Handel’s Messiah

25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.  (ESV)

It is usual for Christians to read this as prophetic words by Job, referring to his future resurrection, to interpret “redeemer” as a reference to the Messiah, Jesus, and to see this as Job’s vindication at last in the Final Judgment.

The Hebrew word translated “redeemer” is גאל go’el and is used most frequently in Isaiah (24 times) with reference to the God of Israel. So it appears on the surface that Job is expressing his confidence in God and his assurance of eternal salvation. The word is translated in various ways, including “my Avenger” (Leslie Wilson), and “my vindicator” (JPS and Marvin Pope). Some scholars see the words “engraved in rock” in the previous two verses to be a permanent and continuing vindication of Job, and hence his go’el. Some see The Vindicator as a sort of counterpart to The Prosecutor (ha-satan) who accused Job in the Prologue, Job’s Defence Counsel.  If so, his identity is unknown.

It is possible that there are two forensic terms here: גאל go’el and אחרון akharon (translated “at the last” in the ESV). Both terms appear in parallel in Isaiah 44:6 and Marvin Pope notes the Talmudic and Mishnaic usage of the related term אחראי in the sense of ‘guarantor’ [1].  אחרון acharon literally means “the last (one)” and in a forensic sense refers to a guarantor, the last resort for payment. Many commentators, however, read this as an eschatalogical reference to “the last days” (although “days” is unstated) and hence interpret this as an after-death resurrection experience. It could just as easily mean “at the end” or “at last”(in the sense of “eventually”).

Robert Sutherland [2] also understands the Hebrew word קום qum (“he will stand” ESV) as ‘a legal term meaning “to stand up in court” as an “advocate”.’ If he is correct then this reinforces the forensic nature of the text. In fact, as Norman Habel has rightly pointed out, the whole of the Book of Job is “a legal metaphor”. The idea of a lawsuit against God was first mooted in Job’s second speech in the second cycle, and here he continues the theme by expressing his desire that a Vindicator or Advocate will eventually stand up to argue his case. This fits with his previous longing for an advocate (Job 9:33; 16:19). Sutherland argues that this Advocate is none other than God himself and sees no difficulty in God being the Judge, the Advocate and the Defendant all at once. “Job’s complaint has become an appeal to God, through God and against God” [3]. I personally don’t find Sutherland’s argument here convincing. To me this text reads more naturally as Job saying “I am confident that eventually someone will stand up and speak in my defence and vindicate me [my Vindicator and Guarantor], and that I will have my day in court.” Interestingly, Job’s vindication happens, unexpectedly, at the end of the book, but without the appearance of an Advocate.

I personally don’t see any evidence here that Job was expressing his hope in a resurrection, or that his vindication would come after his death, especially as he later refers to the terrors and finality of death (23:14-17; 26:6; 30:23). The Hebrew Bible has very little to say about the afterlife and Psalm 16:10-11; 49:15; 73:27-28; Isaiah 26:19 and Daniel 12:2 are probably the only texts which refer with any certainty to an afterlife. In the context, it would be odd if Job was here putting his hope in vindication in an afterlife. As P.S. Johnston has rightly pointed out [4]:

‘Job still continues his legal argument after chapter 19: he wants to find God, present his case, be acquitted, be tested and emerge like gold (Job 23:3-10). His defiant summation still longs for fair judgment and a divine hearing (Job 31:6, 35). What Job “knows” in Job 19:25 affects neither this subsequent argumentation nor the closing chapters of the book …’

Some commentators argue that the words “after my skin has been thus destroyed” necessitate a reference to resurrection. It could equally be a reference to his extreme suffering and physical deterioration [5]. And while scholars differ as to whether מבשרי mib’sari means “in my flesh” or “without my flesh” the context seems to demand, as Gerald Wilson puts it, “that Job would be expressing in these verses his heartfelt desire that even though he has come so close to death and has almost no hope left, that even now – in this life – God might appear and provide vindication.” [6]

I do not see this text as eschatalogical or messianic. My reading of these verses therefore would along these lines:

“I am confident that eventually someone will stand up and speak in my defence and vindicate me, and that I will have my day in court. But I want to face God myself while I am still alive, and not be defended by an unknown advocate after I am dead.”

Job got his wish: the LORD soon speaks from the whirlwind, and Job is vindicated.

[1] Pope, M., Job: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary,  Anchor Bible Vol. 15, 3rd edition, (New York: Doubleday and Co. 1974), 146

[2] Sutherland, R., Putting God on Trial: The Biblical Book of Job 2004, p57

[3] Sutherland, 2004, p58

[4] Johnston, P., “Afterlife” in T. Longman and P. Enns (eds), Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry and Writings (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2008), 6

[5] See Wilson, G., Job New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2007), 209

[6] Ibid

14 comments on “I know that my Redeemer lives

  1. Hi Steve
    I agree Job is primarily referring to his day in court here with God ( following the court play theme )–who he will face in person — in my flesh shall I see God — though of course we cannot see God as mortal flesh . He means literally in actuality ,yet I still feel he is referring to the end judgement . As far as he was concerned , he would likely die of his affliction and see God after death . Then he would require a reckoning and explanation seeing as he felt he had been wronged . Note following verses describe utter decomposition of kidneys rotting etc which to me goes beyond his present diseases
    regards Col

    • Stephen Cook says:

      Thanks Colin – good comments. The word Job uses for “seeing” God is אחזה which “is the verb of choice for prophetic visions and encounters with the deity” (L. Wilson), although the added emphasis “with my own eyes” suggests a lterality. The following words “and not another” are what lead me to think that Job is saying he wants to see this for himself (i.e. in his lifetime), and not be vindicated by another after his death.
      The reference to kidneys is another one of those difficult expressions in Job (literally “my kidneys are consumed in my bosom”) and could refer to the kidneys as the seat of emotions. Hence NIV translates “how my heart yearns within me” and G. Wilson comments: “this deep desire to see God engages Job such that it consumes his greatest emotions and passions”.

      David Wolfers has some convincing arguments that all the references in Job to his physical condition are actually metaphorical, and do not refer to a disease at all. He also argues that Job was written by Isaiah who uses similar terminology to describe both Job and “the suffering servant” as a metaphor for Israel in cpativity. I’ll have to look up his comments on this verse.

  2. Hi Steve
    Not so sure about metaphorical illness since Job literally had to scrape sores with potsherds which intimates a severe ?? septic illness and the satan was allowed to strike him in the flesh but not destroy his life .
    Job doesn`t give an indication I know of that he was expecting God to show up when he did so I still favour an after life judgement.
    regards Col

  3. Jen says:

    A few more comments on some of the words used in 19v25-27:
    Job’s skin has been marked by the Satan from the beginning; but Job sees himself as the ESV translates ‘destroyed’ by God (same word is translated ‘compassed’ with God’s net in 19v6).
    His reins/kidneys have been targeted as well (16v13) and his days ‘cut off’ (see 7v6 same word translated is translated ‘consumed’ in 19v27’s KJV.
    The use of these words elsewhere in Job seems to indicate that Job is talking about hope in restoration from his living state of misery rather than a hope for resurrection after his literal death.

    • Jen says:

      Apologies for the poor formatting/phrasing of the above posting.

    • Stephen Cook says:

      Jen, interesting comments about ‘skin’ and ‘reins’ (kidneys). Thanks. I agree with you that Job is longing for restoration rather than resurrection. I mentioned earlier (in a reply to Colin’s comment) that David Wolfers has some convincing arguments that all the references in Job to his physical condition are actually metaphorical. Wolfers has a chapter on the nature of Job’s illness. Here is a tny excerpt;

      “‘And the Satan … smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his feet to the crown of his head’ is no more to be understood literally than the similar expressions in Deuteronomy and Isaiah, where it is apparent that the meaning is that God will bring (or in Isaiah, has brought) devastation upon the Israelite nation.”

      He then analyses the 10 relevant texts in Job which could refer to a physical illness and concludes: ‘One thing is certain. There is no reference in the poem of Job to any disease of the skin. It is almost certain that there is no reference to physical disease of any kind … Job’s illness is a metaphor for the ravaging of his country and community, and Job 2:7 is a true quotation of Deuteronomy 28:35.’

      • Jen says:

        It seems that God does sometimes make his prophets ‘live out a metaphor’ e.g. Ezekiel 12 etc. I think it difficult to prove that Job *did not* have any physical ailments, although it is easy to believe that his physical ailments were not the major cause of his anguish. I will try to find Wolfers’ comments.

        We are given the hint that it wasn’t Job’s literal skin being targeted as Satan uses the expression ‘skin for skin’ (obviously not literal)… we have the same type of expressions in English (although archaic): someone wanted Job’s hide (cp Micah 7:2)… and someone wanted him hided (flogged and beaten).

  4. Jen says:

    I also wonder about the potential connection between ‘acharon’ and ‘Aharon’: the ‘redeemer’ and the priest (Aaron)… I would be interested to hear your thoughts on Job as a priest. Thanks Stephen.

    • Stephen Cook says:

      Jen, just to clarify something, ‘acharon’ is ‘the last (one)’ and in Rabbinic literature that word has the meaning of ‘guarantor’ (i.e. the buck stops there). ‘Redeemer’ is ‘go’el’. The difference between ‘acharon’ (אחרון) and ‘Aaron’ (אהרון) is one letter, and ח and ה are easy to confuse. Job is full of word plays, so it’s possible there is one here too. Rabbinic literature often makes a lot out of these tiny differences in words, but I haven’t checked this one specifically. It would be interesting to follow it through.

  5. Jen says:

    Right. These two words sound so similar, as if he were saying ‘My redeemer, my next-of-kin, my avenger lives, Aaron (or some other priest who could speak well) will stand up for me… and rescue me from dust, restoring me to once again see the face of God’. In contrast, his friends make no effort to intercede with God on Job’s behalf, and if anything, add to his darkness. In rabbinic literature, Aaron is recognized for his peacemaking and skills in seeking reconciliation.

  6. Great post, thanks for sharing! I recently wrote on the book of Job as well! Blessings!

  7. […] (there is a more familiar possible reference to resurrection in Job 19:25-26, although I have explained earlier that I personally don’t see any evidence in this text that Job was expressing his hope in a […]

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