Anyone acquainted with the Old Testament is familiar with the plight of Job, the ancient sage of Uz. This noble man, greatest of the children of the East, went from riches to rags during a devastating series of tragedies. He was unaware, of course, of the great heavenly drama in which he had become the main player.
The Lord had called attention to Job’s remarkable character. The patriarch was a trophy of human fidelity. Satan suggested that such loyalty was hardly a surprise, since Job had prospered so richly at the hand of the Lord. The implication clearly was that Jehovah had bribed Job, and the patriarch’s goodness was thus out of selfishness. The subtle accusation was this: “Take away his luxuries and he will curse you to your face; you are not worthy of human service apart from the enticements you dole out!” What a wicked insinuation. To demonstrate the falsity of this base charge (for the benefit of all subsequent generations), God allowed the devil to grievously afflict his servant. Job lost his wealth, his family, his health, and the respect of kinsmen and friends.
Amazingly, though, through all his ordeals, the man of Uz never lost faith in God. This is not to say that he never questioned what the Lord was doing. He certainly did—and sometimes bitterly. He truly did not understand what was happening to him. In spite of periods of intense despondency, Job always seemed to rebound; indeed, occasionally his declarations of confident faith are breathtakingly sublime. One such instance—perhaps the zenith of the book—is found in the nineteenth chapter of the narrative which bears his name.
In this section of the book, Job responds to the charges of Bildad—the same old harangue that the patriarch’s afflictions are the consequence of vile, secret sins. First, Job charged that his trio of accusers had vexed him repeatedly with words designed to break him into pieces. He said they were shameless (vv. 1-6). Second, he asserted that God had forsaken him and “there is no justice.” Why had the Lord treated him like an enemy? He was deeply troubled about this (vv. 7-12). Third, the patriarch lamented the fact that due to the foul disease that had consumed his body, his family and close friends had turned against him. He appeared to be the victim of everyone’s persecution (vv. 13-22). Just when Job seemed to be in the very depths of despair, suddenly, in a blinding flash of confident faith, he exclaimed:
Oh that my words were now written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! That with an iron pen and lead, they were graven in the rock for ever! But as for me I know that my Redeemer liveth, and at last he will stand up upon the earth. And after my skin, even this body, is destroyed, then without my flesh shall I see God; whom I, even I, shall see, on my side. And mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger. My heart is consumed within me (vv. 23-27, ASV).
Let us study this thrilling declaration of faith. There are some very valuable truths we can learn from it.
Job’s Surge of Faith
First, the suffering sage longed to make a permanent declaration of his innocence (i.e., his current affliction is undeserved). Oh, that his protest might be written in a book; better yet, let it be carved in stone (the depressions of which would be filled with lead—real permanence!). Thus, when vindication eventually comes, his integrity would be established.
Then, Job expressed deep confidence relative to the existence of his Redeemer-God. “I know,” he declared, “that my Redeemer lives.” The Hebrew term denotes knowledge of a personal, experiential nature. In the original text, the emphatic position of the pronoun “I” indicates that Job had a settled conviction regarding his Redeemer (Smick 1988, 942).
The word “Redeemer” is of great significance. The term is go’el which, along with its derivatives, is found about 118 times in the Old Testament. The basic meaning of the word is “to do the part of a kinsman,” and thus “to redeem” one’s kin from difficulty or danger (Harris 1980, 144). The Redeemer could: avenge a slain kinsman (Numbers 35:19-27); marry a deceased relative’s childless widow (Ruth 4:10); purchase a loved one out of slavery (Leviticus 25:47-55); or buy back a kinsman’s property that had passed from the family (Leviticus 25:23-25). The word is also used of God, as one who vindicates and redeems his people (Isaiah 43:1-3).
Job really believed he was at the point of death. Never mind. Even though he will expire, his Redeemer lives. The Hebrew term “liveth” (hay) is actually an adjective, and is a common descriptive of deity (cf. Joshua 3:10; Hosea 1:10). Though not absolutely demanded, “liveth” may be employed in the extended sense, i.e., “lives forever” (Smick 1988, 942). The Septuagint reads: “For I know that he is eternal who is about to deliver me.” And so, even though Job anticipates going to his grave in suffering, nevertheless, his living-on Redeemer will have the final word. Also, the words “at the last” do not represent an adverb, suggesting a sense of time; rather, the original term is an adjective, modifying the title, Redeemer—the “last one” (Zuck 1978, 89-90). The Redeemer will be “the last”—the decisive witness.
But what is the meaning of “he will stand upon the earth”? The Hebrew word translated “earth” (apar) actually means “dust” (see ASV footnote). It can be used in the sense of the grave (Job 7:21), in which case Job may be saying: “Even though I die, and return to the dust, my Redeemer will vindicate me.” Apar also can denote the surface of the Earth (Exodus 8:16-17), and so some scholars feel that the patriarch believes that his Redeemer will finally make his presence known upon the Earth (White 1984, 78).
Job continues: “And after my skin, even this body, is destroyed, then without my flesh will I see God.” This may be the most difficult aspect of this entire context. On the one hand, the word rendered “destroyed” means “to strip off” (see Isaiah 10:34, where it is used of stripping branches from a tree), and so may be an allusion to the patriarch’s imminently anticipated death; his putrefied body of flesh would be laid aside. [NOTE: Disregard “worms” (KJV); this is not indicated in the original.] The meaning suggested would be: “Then without my flesh shall I see God” (ASV).
On the other hand, the KJV has it: “[I]n my flesh shall I see God” (cf. NIV). To complicate matters, it can be rendered “from my flesh” (RSV), which could mean either “from within,” or “away from.” In other words, Job might have been saying: “Even though I am expecting death, I am confident that apart from this flesh (in a disembodied state) I will see God and be vindicated.” This would be an affirmation that the soul survives the death of the body and is conscious. Or, the meaning may be: “While this body is to be stripped away, nevertheless, from within a new body will I see God.” This would affirm confidence in the resurrection of the body.
There are respectable scholars on both sides of the issue. For example, Ellison says that Job knew he would finally have his hour of vindication, “bodiless though he might be; yes, he would see God unestranged” (1971, 69). Zuck seems inclined to the view that Job “would continue in a conscious existence; he would not be annihilated or sink into soul sleep” (1985, 741; cf. also Barnes n.d., 328).
Other scholars are confident that Job anticipates the future resurrection of his body. Gleason Archer believes this passage “strongly suggests an awareness of the bodily resurrection that awaits all redeemed believers in the Resurrection” (1982, 241). Kaiser asserts: “Job was expecting a resurrection of his body! It was this which lay at the heart of his hope in God and in his vindication” (1988, 151). Andersen observes that: “The references to skin, flesh and eyes make it clear that Job expects to have this experience as a man, not just as a disembodied shade, or in his mind’s eye” (1974, 193).
What, then, shall be our conclusion? MacBeath sums up the matter rather well.
- It is clear that Job expects to die first.
- He is sure that God will stand forward as his Vindicator.
- He is confident that he himself will be there to hear this and to see God.
- The exact condition Job will be in then is not specifically stated, since this point is not the issue (1966, 56).
Even so, the patriarch will see his Redeemer, whom he clearly identifies as deity. Moreover, he will behold God not as a stranger, but quite obviously as a friend!
Job’s Redeemer and Jesus
There is considerable controversy among scholars as to what application, if any, Job’s thrilling declaration has to Christ. Is Jesus the Redeemer anticipated in this antique document? G. Campbell Morgan wrote: “It is impossible for us to read [these words] without being conscious of the final interpretation of them in Christ” (1973, 66). Albert Barnes, who argued rather effectively against the idea that this is a messianic prophecy, nevertheless conceded that most of the patristic fathers, and a large number of modern critics, find an allusion to Christ in this context (n.d., 334). With great respect for the opinions of others, and with a profound sense of humility, this writer would like to offer his own reflections upon this sacred narrative.
First, without question, the book of Job is an inspired record. Paul established this fact when, in 1 Corinthians 3:19, he quoted from this Old Testament document. Citing Job 5:13, the apostle said: “For it is written, he that taketh the wise in their craftiness . . .” Of significance here is the expression “it is written,” a translation of the Greek verb gegraptai, a perfect tense, passive voice form, literally meaning, “it has been written and stands so.” The term, and several equivalent forms, are employed in the New Testament “of those things which stand written in the sacred books (of the O.T.)” (Thayer 1958, 121). Paul is asserting that the book of Job is inspired Scripture.
Second, the fact that the book of Job is an inspired record of what occurred in the life of this ancient servant of Jehovah does not mean that every statement spoken within the narrative was God-revealed. Certainly Satan’s assertions were not; neither were the speeches of Job’s friends. And, as a matter of fact, Job’s declarations were not God-revealed either. This surely is demonstrated by the fact that ultimately the patriarch repented of many of the things he had said (42:3-6). One hardly repents of uttering an inspired oracle!
Third, in view of this, it cannot be argued dogmatically that Job 19:25ff is a genuine prophecy pointing to the coming of Jesus of Nazareth. There is no evidence that the wise man of Uz had any inclination of the Messiah’s advent. What can be affirmed, I think, is this: Job had suffered horribly, and in all his affliction he had languished under the conviction that his misfortune was unjust; his miserable circumstances, he believed, were out of proportion to any flaws in his life. Accordingly, in his pain, periodically he cried for justice. He pled for an “umpire” (ASV) or a “mediator” (NKJV) who could arbitrate between himself and God (9:33). He longed for a “witness in heaven” who could vouch for him (16:19). He wished for an advocate who might plead his case to God (16:21); he felt the need of someone who would stand as a “pledge” or a “guarantor” (NASV) for him (17:3). Finally, he expressed confidence that his Redeemer would stand up and finally exonerate him—even if he must wait until after death for the victory (19:25).
What Job did not realize in those ancient days, but which we know now, in the light of New Testament revelation, is this: there is an ideal Person who satisfies all of those needs for justice, the cries for which echoed incessantly deep within the patriarch’s soul. Jesus Christ is the perfect answer to Job’s cry. Consider the following points of agreement between the wise man’s longings, and the qualifications of the Son of God.
- Jesus is the go’el (kinsman-redeemer). He is our kinsman by virtue of the incarnation—the Word became flesh (John 1:14; cf. Hebrews 2:11-18), and he is our Redeemer as a consequence of his sacrificial death upon the cross, which atoned for the sins of the obedient (Luke 1:68; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 5:8-9).
- As Job anticipated meeting his Redeemer as God (19:26b), Jesus Christ, our Savior, is God, i.e., he partakes of the nature of deity (John 1:1; 10:30; 20:28; Philippians 2:6; Hebrews 1:8).
- Job needed a living intercessor to plead his case for justice. Thankfully, in Christ, we have a Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5), an Advocate (1 John 2:1), who ever lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25; cf. Romans 8:34). Even the notoriously liberal work, The Interpreter’s Bible, concedes that Job comes very near to the New Testament description of Christ as our High Priest (Scherer 1954, 1055-1056).
- Job expected to see his Redeemer either immediately after death, or else he would experience vindication in the resurrection of his body. The New Testament pledges that those who die faithfully in the Lord will be at home with Christ (2 Corinthians 5:8; cf. Luke 23:43; Philippians 1:23). Too, the Lord has promised that he will be with us in the resurrection of our bodies from the grave (John 5:28-29; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
Every aspiration Job entertained, we have supplied by Christ. We too, therefore, may triumphantly exclaim: “I know that my Redeemer lives.”