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Job 19:23-27 – I Know That My Redeemer Lives

Summary

Job hopes that a redeemer will come forward to vindicate him. Here (as in Job 14) there seems to be a glimmer of hope that even if it does not happen while he is still alive, he will eventually be justified, and he will know about it.

Analysis

This is, no doubt, the best known passage from the book of Job. Two questions need attention. Who is the redeemer? And, is this an expression of hope for life after death?

The Hebrew word translated as "redeemer" most often means "the next of kin," the closest relative, usually the oldest brother. It is used to refer to the duties of the next of kin if someone is in a situation where he cannot help himself, maybe because he is dead. Three examples of this would be (a) to marry the widow of a childless deceased person in order to provide the one who has died with descendants, (b) to avenge someone who has been killed, or (c) to buy property to keep it in the family when the owner has fallen on hard times. Eventually, especially in Isaiah and in Psalms, the word is used to speak about God, who may be the only help available when all human efforts have failed.

Job's use of "Redeemer" may be similar to that of the "witness in heaven" in 16:19. Christians have often understood this passage as an expectation that is later fulfilled in the coming of Jesus. The Redeemer will save Job's good name even if he cannot do it for himself and his friends have failed him.

This passage is often read as a hope for life after death and is sometimes proclaimed at funerals. It is impossible to know what Job had in mind. Most of the time, he seems quite sure that there is no individual existence beyond death, but here and in Job 14 there is some uncertainty and glimmers of hope. There are many problems with what the Hebrew actually says, as can be seen in all the footnotes to verses 25-26. What does seem clear is that Job hopes to be vindicated and that he will see it for himself. Whether he will see it before he dies or after he has come back from death is not certain.

Whatever Job meant, Christians have found profound words of hope in this familiar passage.

Job 19:23-27


23 ‘O that my words were written down!
   O that they were inscribed in a book!
24 O that with an iron pen and with lead
   they were engraved on a rock for ever!
25 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!

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10 February 2011

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