Job 19: I know that my redeemer lives!
JOB ARTWORK USED BY PERMISSION COURTESY OF KINGSTONE COMICS (https://kingstone.co/)
In The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person (Jewish Encounters Series) (pp. 100-101). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, Rabbi Harold Kushner writes, "Job responds to Bildad in chapter 19 in an outburst that is more despairing than anything we have yet heard from him. This is no longer Job from the land of Uz crying out. This is Everyman who has had a pleasant life snatched from him and replaced with misery and loss."
Kushner is right, here Job bursts out with poetic words about how afflicted he is, that his sores smell and his own wife is repulsed by him.
He continues to blame God for striking him. He asks why his friends pursue him to afflict him like God (v. 22).
Know that God has wronged me …
Pity me! Pity me! You are my friends,
For the hand of God has struck me.
Why do you punish me as God does? (19:6, 21–22)
Rabbi Kushner points out something very weird in what Job saying: "He complains that God has afflicted him in every way possible, and then he reproaches his friends for siding with that cruel, unjust, powerful God rather than with their innocent, afflicted friend."
Then Job utters one of the most famous and challenging line in the Book of Job line: “I know my redeemer lives! I know that He will testify on the earth.” Kushner says Job 19:25 can also mean, "Then I might find redemption in my lifetime, Vindicated while I am still here on earth."
Whether the Hebrew is translated in the more traditional way or the way Kushner translates, I thought what Kushner says about this idea of the redeemer, the go’el, is so important that I quote Kushner at length below about the go’el.
Predictably, the more traditionally inclined commentators are drawn to the former, more God-affirming interpretation, while those whose souls resonate more to Job’s skepticism (like me, for one) prefer the “prove it to me” approach of the latter. Gordis, among the traditionalists, writes, “From the depths of despair, Job soars to the heights of faith … as Job appeals from God to God.” Gordis sees a steady progression from chapter 9, when Job asks for an umpire to intercede between him and God and make God play by the rules, to chapter 16, where Job invokes God as an impartial witness to declare that there is no case to be made against him, to his seeing God here, in chapter 19, as his go’el, his Redeemer, who is so fundamentally committed to justice and fairness that in the end He will feel obliged to take Job’s side to set things right.
Who or what is this Redeemer whom Job either believes in or longs to see? What is the role of a go’el in the Bible? A go’el is a fixer, a person who sees something that is wrong, something that is unfair, and feels obliged to do something about it. In today’s world, a go’el can be someone who offers to pay off the mortgage for a neighbor or relative so that she won’t lose her home, or someone who intervenes to stop a bully. In the biblical context, the concept of go’el as redeemer has three shades of meaning, all of them connected to the notion of taking an unacceptable situation and setting it right and none of them carrying the freight of the understanding of that term that would emerge in later Christianity, the notion of a Redeemer who saves sinful souls from the punishment of hellfire.
First, a go’el can be an avenger. In pre-monarchic Israel, at a time when there was no central judicial authority and every community had to impose justice in its own way, the custom prevailed, and is recognized in the Torah, that if someone murdered another person, a relative of the deceased was entitled, indeed obliged, to avenge the death by killing the murderer. He was known as the go’el ha-dam, the “blood avenger.” It was considered a gross impropriety, an offense against God and against the dignity of the victim, to leave innocent blood unrequited (see Deut. 19:11–12). Biblical law further decreed that the killing stop there. The murderer’s relatives had no right to avenge themselves on the go’el, whose act was considered morally and legally justified. It would be a significant step forward when later generations gave to the state that responsibility for putting murderers to death and took the element of personal vengeance out of it.
A second task of a go’el, unattested to in the Torah but alluded to in the prophetic and wisdom literature, was to ransom family members who had been taken captive in war or had sunk so badly into debt that they had to sell themselves as slaves (not Uncle Tom’s Cabin–style slaves, where one human being owns another, but indentured servants for a fixed period of time to work off a debt). A family member who had the means could redeem his relative from servitude by paying his bills. Thus Jeremiah promises an exiled Judea, “He who scattered Israel will gather them.… The Lord will redeem [g’alo, from the same root as go’el] him from one too strong for him” (Jer. 31:10–11).
A final function of the go’el is spelled out in Leviticus 25:25–30. The Torah, in that chapter, goes to great lengths to ensure that there never arises in Israel a class of permanently poor, landless individuals, driven by bad luck or bad harvests to sell their homes and fields, leaving them with no way to earn a living. “If your kinsman is in straits and has to sell his home and field, his relative shall act as a go’el and redeem what his kinsman has sold.”
A go’el, then, is someone who intervenes when an unjust or intolerable situation has come about and takes on himself the responsibility for setting things right. He is obliged to do this for a kinsman even if the kinsman’s situation is the result of his own action. It is to this dimension of God, a God who cannot tolerate the reduction of a human being, fashioned in His image, to less than human status, that Job may be appealing. Job, in his extremity, is calling on God, saying, “I have no one left. I am without family. My friends have deserted me. You who are the Father of all humanity, is it not Your obligation to atone for my children’s deaths as their go’el and to extract me from my current situation as my go’el?”
Kushner, Harold S.. The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person (Jewish Encounters Series) (pp. 102-103). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
How honest are you with others and in your prayers with what ails you, your afflictions?
LORD, will our lives be vindicated on the earth? Will justice only be done in the life to come? Why can't we see more justice done here in our times?
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey: A New Generation Church of Christ. Greg's wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.