The context for any passage in the book of Job has to begin with chapter 1, which establishes Job’s excellent character (1:1-5), acknowledged even by God (1:8). But God permitted “the satan”, one of the heavenly minions, to test Job by taking away his wealth, his family (1:13-21), and finally his health (2:1-10).
NOTE: The satan of the book of Job is not the same as the diabolical Satan of the New Testament. The satan of the book of Job is one of the heavenly minions.
Chapters (2:11 – 37:24) are composed largely of conversations between Job and his friends (although in chapter 5 God speaks). The pattern throughout those chapters is that Job’s friends, who are convinced that God prospers the innocent and punishes the guilty, try to convince Job that he must be guilty of some terrible sin and should repent. Job, however, refuses to acknowledge his sin, because he believes that he is innocent—a fact that we, as the readers of the first chapter, know to be true.
The immediate context for chapter 19 is the preceding chapter where Bildad rebukes Job sharply and warns that the wicked will be punished. He spells out graphically the kinds of punishment that the wicked can expect, and implies that Job is among the wicked who can expect them.
Chapter 19 is Job’s reply. He asks, in a pleading tone, how long his friends will torment him (v. 2), and asks, “You aren’t ashamed that you attack me” (v. 3). He catalogs the terrible sufferings that God has inflicted on him (vv. 6-20).
JOB 19:21-22. HAVE PITY ON ME
21Have pity on me, have pity (Hebrew: hanan) on me, you my friends;
for the hand of God has touched me.
22Why do you persecute me as God,
and are not satisfied with my flesh?
While these verses are not included in the lectionary reading, the preacher needs to be aware of them. Most commentaries treat verses 21-27 as a unit, and some extend that through verse 29.
These verses are important, because they prepare us for the verses that follow. In verses 21-22, Job asks his friends for pity. He has suffered a brutal knockdown at God’s hands. Why do his friends feel compelled to “pile on”? Why do they make it worse? Why can’t they offer him a word of sympathy instead of a word of judgment?
The word that is translated “have pity” in v. 21 (hanan) means “to be gracious to” or “to have mercy on” (Baker & Carpenter, 357). Why can’t his friends be gracious? Why can’t they extend mercy to a suffering man?
JOB 19:23-24. OH THAT MY WORDS WERE ENGRAVED IN THE ROCK
23“Oh that my words were now written!
Oh that they were inscribed (Hebrew: haqaq) in a book!
24That with an iron pen and lead
they were engraved (Hebrew: hasab) in the rock forever!
There is a progression here. Words that are written on paper can be expected to last awhile. Words that are inscribed (haqaq) in a book can be expected to last longer. But words that are engraved (hasab) on a rock can be expected to last for decades—or even centuries.
Job has insisted all along that he is innocent, but it seems clear that God and his friends have turned against him. Without question, his friends have pronounced him guilty. Since no one believes him, it seems likely that he will die without being vindicated. If that happens, he will either be forgotten or will go down in history as a good example of a bad man who received well-deserved punishment.
So Job wants his claims of innocence to be recorded in a permanent record, preferably on a stone monument, so that future generations will remember what he said. Then perhaps someone might investigate and verify Job’s claims. Then, even after his death, he might be vindicated—his name cleared—his reputation restored.
We aren’t sure of the significance of “with lead” in verse 24. Perhaps the people of Job’s time used lead coating to highlight words carved in stone (Hartley, 291).
JOB 19:25-27. I KNOW THAT MY REDEEMER LIVES
25But as for me, I know that my Redeemer (Hebrew: ga∙al) lives.
In the end, he will stand upon the earth (Hebrew: apar—dust).
26After my skin is destroyed,
then in my flesh shall I see God,
27Whom I, even I, shall see on my side.
My eyes shall see, and not as a stranger (Hebrew: zur—stranger or foreigner).
“My heart (Hebrew: kilyah—kidney) is consumed within me.
“But as for me, I know that my Redeemer (ga∙al) lives” (v. 25a). Who can read this verse without hearing the beautiful soprano aria from Handel’s Messiah? To hear that music, go to:
• Lynne Dawson sings “I know that my redeemer liveth”
• Marcy Richardson sings “I know that my Redeemer Liveth”
But our familiarity with that aria, which applies these words to the Redeemer Christ, complicates our task of determining the meaning of this verse in its original setting. The fact that many translations have chosen to capitalize the word redeemer further promotes the idea that this verse points to the Redeemer Christ. However, there are other possibilities, which we will investigate below.
The Hebrew word ga∙al means to redeem or to act as a kinsman-redeemer. Redemption has to do with “release from legal obligation or deliverance from desperate circumstances, closely connected with a payment necessary to effect that release” (Harvey). Jewish law made provision for the Israelites to redeem family members in dire straits. For instance:
• “If your brother becomes poor, and sells some of his possessions, then his kinsman who is next to him shall come, and redeem that which his brother has sold” (Leviticus 25:25).
• Or “If your brother beside him has grown poor …and sells himself to the stranger or foreigner…, after he is sold he may be redeemed. One of his brothers may redeem him; or his uncle, or his uncle’s son, may redeem him, or any who is a close relative to him of his family may redeem him; or if he has grown rich, he may redeem himself” (Leviticus 25:47-49).
The Israelites thought of Yahweh as their ga∙al. God said to Moses, “I am Yahweh, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments” (Exodus 6:6). In the time of the Babylonian Exile, Yahweh said, “Don’t be afraid, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by your name. You are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).
Job is now in dire straits. In his earlier life, as a wealthy man and community leader, he probably acted on occasion as a ga∙al, redeeming members of his family (what we would call his extended family) who had become vulnerable. Now, in this verse, Job states his confidence that his ga∙al lives. While he doesn’t go on to say that his ga∙al will redeem him and his reputation, he certainly implies as much.
But we are left with questions. Job says, “I know that my Redeemer lives,” but he tells us neither who his redeemer is nor when his redeemer will redeem him.
• Does Job believe that God will redeem him, or is he counting on a member of his family?
• Is Job looking forward to Christ as his redeemer?
• Will his redeemer redeem him during his lifetime, or after his death?
• If he is to be redeemed after his death, will he be resurrected so that he might witness his vindication? Or will he be permitted to witness his vindication from Sheol? Or will he be denied any knowledge of his vindication?
Our text doesn’t provide clear answers to these questions. As a consequence, scholarly opinions differ sharply. Possibilities include:
• GOD: Job may mean that God will be his redeemer. However, Job believes that God brought about his suffering—and did so unjustly. “Since the lawsuit here stands in the context of a dispute with God, it seems unlikely that God himself would appear as vindicator and legal attorney against himself” (Ringgren, quoted in Clines).
• THE HEAVENLY HOST: Earlier, Job said, “Even now, behold, my witness is in heaven. He who vouches for me is on high” (16:19). The witness “on high” could be the heavenly host—or it could be God.
• THE MESSIAH: There is no evidence in the text that Job expected a Messianic Redeemer, but God sometimes inspires people to say things that go beyond their understanding. For instance, Peter, on the Day of Pentecost, said that God would “pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (Acts 2:17). At the time that he said that, he thought that God would pour out his Spirit only on Jews. It took a dramatic vision at a later time (Acts 10) to convince him that God would actually include “all flesh” (to include Gentiles) among God’s people.
Perhaps Job would not have understood his Redeemer to be the Messiah, but this text inspired the Christian community to identify Christ as the Redeemer in question. The phrase, “In the end, he will stand upon the earth” (v. 25b) certainly fits with the church’s understanding of Christ’s Second Coming.
• A FAMILY MEMBER: Job may have thought that some member of his family might be his redeemer. It would be highly appropriate for a kinsman to become his ga∙al—his redeemer—the one who would restore his reputation.
“In the end, he will stand upon the earth” (apar—dust) (v. 25b). This sounds like a portrayal of Christ’s Second Coming. It is unlikely that Job would have understood it that way, but there is no reason that God could not have inspired him to say things beyond his understanding.
Clines understands “in the end” to mean the final speaker in the courtroom—the one who has the last word—Job’s defense counsel.
Hartley understands “will stand” to refer to the kinsman who would stand in the courtroom as Job’s defense attorney (Hartley, 294).
“upon the earth” (apar). Apar means “dust, dry earth, loose dirt. The primary meaning of this word is the dry, loose dirt or dust that covers the ground” (Baker & Carpenter, 857). This might mean that Job expects his ga∙al to join him on Job’s ash heap (2:8).
“After my skin is destroyed“ (v. 26a). “The text of verse 26 is so corrupt as to be almost unreadable” (Tucker, 466). This part of the verse appears to be talking about a time after Job’s death.
“then in my flesh shall I see God, Whom I, even I, shall see on my side. My eyes shall see, and not as a stranger” (vv. 26a-27ab). In these verses, there are several clues that Job expects his vindication during his lifetime. The first and most obvious is the wording, “in my flesh.” The second is “whom I, even I, shall see.” The third is “my eyes shall see.”
“My eyes shall see, and not as a stranger” (zur—stranger or foreigner) (v. 27b). Job expects to see God personally, rather than through the eyes of a surrogate.
“My heart (kilyah—kidney) is consumed within me” (v. 27c). The Hebrews thought of the kidneys as the seat of the emotions. It is appropriate for us to use the word “heart” rather than “kidneys,” because today we use the word “heart” to mean the seat of the emotions.
This verse indicates that Job is feeling emotionally drained (Hartley, 297).
JOB 19:28-29. BE AFRAID OF THE SWORD
28 “If you say, ‘How we will persecute him!’
because the root of the matter is found in me,
29be afraid of the sword,
for wrath brings the punishments of the sword,
that you may know there is a judgment.”
These verses are not included in the lectionary reading, but the preacher needs to be aware of them. Job is warning his friends that if they continue to say, “How we will persecute him!” or “The root of the matter is found in me!” (v. 28) they will place themselves in a precarious position. While he doesn’t say that they will be guilty of bearing false witness (see Exodus 20:16; Deuteronomy 5:20), that appears to be his concern. Keep in mind that he is a man of Uz (1:1) rather than a man of Israel, so we wouldn’t expect him to quote from Jewish law.
But Job does say that their false witness will bring down wrath upon them—presumably God’s wrath. God will punish them with the sword—will take their lives. Following their deaths, they will be subject to judgment. Since God punished them by taking their lives, they can’t expect that God will be generous to them in the judgment.
So they had better start telling the truth—and the truth is that Job is innocent.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Alden, Robert L., New American Commentary: Job, Vol. 11 (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993)
Andersen, Francis I., Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Job, Vol. 13 (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, no date)
Balentine, Samuel E., Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Job (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2006
Baker, Warren and Carpenter, Eugene, The Complete WordStudy Dictionary: Old Testament(Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2003)
Clines, David J. A., Word Biblical Commentary: Job 1-20, Vol. 17 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990)
Hartley, John E., New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Job (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988)
Harvey, John D., “Redemption,” in Freedman, David Noel (Ed.), Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000)
Janzen, J. Gerald, Interpretation Commentary: Job (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1985)
McKenna, David L., The Preacher’s Commentary: Job (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986)
Newsom, Carol A., The New Interpreters Bible: Job, Psalms, and 1 & 2 Maccabees, Vol. IV (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996)
Tucker, Gene M. in Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holliday, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M.,Preaching Through the Christian Year, C (Valley Forge: Trinity Press, 1994)
Wilson, Gerald H., New International Biblical Commentary: Job (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007)
Copyright 2009, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan