Related Verses: Job 19:25-27
Leading Question: What light does the Old Testament context throw on the word “Redeemer” and what it might have meant to Job?
This week’s lesson focuses on the famous “Redeemer” passage in Job 19:25-27, given here first in classic KJV and then in the NRSV translation:
Job 19:25-27 (KJV): For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: 26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: 27 Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.
Job 19:25-27 (NRSV): For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!
For many reasons, this passage is both troubling and intriguing. Several years ago when I presented in brief form the material that I present here, a student burst out in class, “The size of our preachable Bible gets smaller and smaller!”
Underlying that exclamation is the conviction, widespread about devout believers, that if it is in the Bible, then God said it, and if God said it, it should be true for all time to all people and in all places. Ironically, that flies in the face of a long-standing academic goal of what is known as “exegesis,” the interpretation of a passage in time and place. But if a passage is interpreted in time and place, it can no longer have universal application.
So let’s consider both the “universal” application and the “contextual” application and see if we can find ways of bringing the two together.
1. Universal application: Traditionally, this passage has been seen as suggesting that Job has caught a glimpse of two important Christian truths: 1) The redemptive work of the incarnate Lord Jesus, and 2) The resurrection of believers at the end of time.
2. Contextual application: The Hebrew word translated in most English Bibles as “Redeemer” is the word goel, the “near kinsman who comes to the aid of the family’s name, honor, and property.” In the first instance, it would most likely be seen as Job’s appeal to his goel as the one who could vindicate his name and honor.
Within the Old Testament, the goel is a very vivid term with violent overtones. The goel, for example, is the “avenger of blood” who is expected to even the score when someone has killed a family member. Numbers 35 presents this term in connection with the establishment of the cities of refuge, a half-way-house intended to protect someone who has taken life accidentally. It was the responsibility of the goel to restore the family’s honor by killing the one who had originally taken the life of a family member. In its raw and most primitive form, it made no difference whether the killing was intentional or accidental: the goel was expected to even the score by taking the life of the killer. The cities-of-refuge scheme allowed someone to find temporary refuge until a trial had determined whether the death was accidental or deliberate. But even if the killer was cleared of the charge of murder, he still had to remain in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest before he could go free. If he left the secure bounds of the city, the goel could take his life and be perfectly within his rights.
In addition to that “honor” aspect, the goel also had the responsibility for preserving the family name and property, functions which can be seen in the book of Ruth where Boaz, purchases Elimilech’s property and marries the widow Ruth in order to carry on the family name.
In connection with the Exodus story, Yahweh himself is actually depicted as Israel’s goel, the one who rescues his people from Egyptian slavery. Using the verb form for goel, Exodus 6:6 applies the imagery in this way: ‘I am Yahweh and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment” (Exodus 6:6).
It should be noted that another Hebrew word (padah) is used when describing the substitution of one living creature for another to effect “redemption.” That is the word used in Exodus 13 where every firstborn is to be redeemed. Padah is more likely to include the idea of a price paid and thus contributes to the idea of substitutionary atonement. But the idea of a price paid is not at all prominent in the work of the goel.
If the goel is seen in its primary Old Testament sense, then application of the passage to a resurrection at the end of time also recedes in importance. Goel would thus be seen as the one having the “last word” that would enable Job to see God when his restoration comes.
Correlation. Once one knows the story of Jesus and understands the role of his resurrection in connection with the resurrection of believers at the end of time, the traditional interpretation of Job 19:25-27 becomes almost irresistible. And the application to Jesus and the end of time can still be a very helpful, albeit secondary application. But how much of that did Job know? Probably much less than the traditional explanation might suggest.
It is also well to remember that even when Jesus was on earth, the idea that he persistently presented that he was to die did not meet with any acceptance at all – until after the resurrection. One could surmise that the idea of the goel, the deliverer, loomed so large in the minds of the people that they could not conceive of a deliverer who would come to die. In connection with the coming of Jesus, a quotation from C. S. Lewis can remind us how difficult it was for Jesus to get his true message through to the people. His death and resurrection transformed the disciples’ perspective, but until then they could hardly even see through a glass darkly. Here are the Lewis’s haunting words:
“My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence? The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins.” – C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, IV.15
Question: How can the study of the Bible itself help devout believers come to understand that not all the truths that we hold dear were necessarily clear to earlier believers?
Examples from the Bible can be very helpful in approaching this goal. But a sobering aphorism has been attributed to Marshall McLuhan, “If I hadn’t believed it, I never would have seen it with my own eyes.” Until one has a framework in place which allows us to see new perspectives, we cannot see them. Here the Adventist idea of “present truth” can be very helpful. Ellen White used that phrase in the context of the 1888 discussions over law and grace when she suggested that a new perspective was very much in order. Here are her words:
The message “Go forward” is still to be heard and respected. The varying circumstances taking place in our world call for labor which will meet these peculiar developments. The Lord has need of men who are spiritually sharp and clear-sighted, men worked by the Holy Spirit, who are certainly receiving manna fresh from heaven. Upon the minds of such, God’s Word flashes light, revealing to them more than ever before the safe path. The Holy Spirit works upon mind and heart. The time has come when through God’s messengers the scroll is being unrolled to the world. Instructors in our schools should never be bound about by being told that they are to teach only what has been taught hitherto. Away with these restrictions. There is a God to give the message His people shall speak. Let not any minister feel under bonds or be gauged by men’s measurement. The Gospel must be fulfilled in accordance with the messages God sends. That which God gives His servants to speak today would not perhaps have been present truth twenty years ago, but it is God’s message for this time. – From MS 8a 1888, address to ministers on October 21, 1888, with apparent reference to a telegram from the “absent and ailing” president who urged the delegates to “stand by the landmarks” [Olson, Thirteen Crisis Years (1981) 282] = EGW1888, 133.