This story happened a while ago in Dublin, and apparently it’s true. John Bradford, a Dublin University student, was on a country road hitchhiking on a very dark stormy night. The night got darker and storm grew stronger, in fact, he could hardly see a few feet ahead of him.
Suddenly, the lights of a car emerged out of the darkness as it slowly came towards him and stopped. John, desperate for shelter and without thinking about it, got into the car and closed the door … only to realise there was nobody behind the wheel and the engine wasn’t on!!
The car started moving slowly. John looked at the road ahead and saw a curve approaching. Scared, he started to pray. Then, just before the car hit the curve, a hand appeared through the window and turned the wheel. John, paralysed with terror, watched as the hand repeatedly came through the window, but never touched or harmed him. Shortly after John saw the lights of a pub appear down the road, so, gathering strength, he jumped out of the car and ran to it.
Wet and out of breath, he rushed inside and started telling everybody about the horrible experience he had just had. A silence fell over the pub when everybody realised he wasn’t drunk and that he was shaking and crying with fear.
Suddenly, the door opened, and two other people walked in from the stormy night. They, like John, were also soaked and out of breath. Looking around, and seeing John Bradford sobbing at the bar, one said to the other… “Look Paddy…..there’s that idiot who got in the car while we were pushing it!”
John’s nightmare in that car was nothing compared to what happened to Job on the day that became the worst nightmare that anyone could possibly have. Job was a good man; he wasn’t just a good man, he was an outstanding man. He was extremely loyal to God. He was an exceptionally pious man who “turned away from evil” (1:1). God himself showers Job with praise and makes the point, “There is none like him in the earth, a blameless and an upright man, one who fears God, and turns away from evil” (1:8).
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Job was a wealthy man, and from this everyone knew that God had poured on him blessing after blessing. We know that Job was blessed with seven sons and three daughters; this was regarded as the perfect family, a sign of God’s pleasure. Job enjoyed a good life. God’s protection rested on his family and everything he owned. Everything he did prospered with God’s help. Job’s wealth continued to grow and grow. We are told he was “the greatest of all the children of the east” (1:3).
And then Job’s nightmare began. Raiders from the south stole his herd of 1,000 cattle and his 500 donkeys and killed his servants. Lightning struck his flock of 7,000 sheep and the killed the lot including the shepherds. Raiders from the north took all his camels (3,000 in all) and killed the servants. A storm destroyed the house where his children were having a party and all ten were killed. The normally healthy Job broke out in terribly painful running sores. His home now is a heap of ashes at the local rubbish dump. Of course, Job was grief stricken when he heard all this bad news. In one day he had lost everything. But he doesn’t lose his faith. He acknowledges that God is lord of all things. He gives freely and generously and he is able to take it all away again. In effect, Job is saying, “If that is God’s will, may his will be done. “We are told, “In all this Job didn’t sin with his lips” (2:10).
His best friends come to visit the beaten and battered Job when they heard all that had happened but all they can say is that Job must have somehow deserved all this. Such terrible things only happen to really bad people who have angered God. They conclude that Job must have brought all of this on himself. They offer no comfort at all; in fact, they only make matters worse.
But in spite of everything that has happened and his very unhelpful friends, Job’s trust in God doesn’t give up. So important is what he is about to say that he wishes his words would be engraved on a stone monument with letters of lead. He says,
“Oh that my words were now written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! That with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives…” (19:23ff).
There is a Hebrew word (goel) in this text that needs special attention. It can be translated as “kinsman-redeemer”. Job is saying that God, his “kinsman-redeemer”, will come to help him. What is a “kinsman-redeemer”? Let me explain.
When families got into some kind of difficulty, there was an ancient Israelite law that made it the responsibility of the closest and oldest male relative to step in and help. This person was known as the “kinsman-redeemer”. If a member of the family had been taken as a captive, or sold into slavery because of bad debts, it was the responsibility of the “kinsman-redeemer” to pay off the debt and secure the release of his relative. If a family member lost his farm because of bad debts, the “kinsman-redeemer” would buy back the property thus securing the family’s title to the land.
The “kinsman-redeemer” would also protect and avenge any violence; he would protect the family against false law court claims, and he would see to it that the family name would continue. If a husband died, it was the duty of the “kinsman-redeemer” to act on behalf of his dead brother and raise his brother’s children as his own or if his brother didn’t have any children then he and his dead brother’s widow would ensure that there were children.
You might say that the “kinsman-redeemer” was God’s Old Testament way of providing social security. If you had a “kinsman-redeemer”, you had financial security, land, shelter, safety, and assured of descendants. We see this in action in the story of Naomi and Ruth – two women who had lost their husbands. Their future was very insecure and they had to scrounge for whatever food they could find. But Boaz was their “kinsman-redeemer” who takes care of them, marries Ruth and ensures that the family will continue through the birth of a son. This child will grow up and care for Ruth in her old age.
Job saw himself in need of a “kinsman-redeemer”. He has been weighed down with suffering and grief and overwhelmed with God’s punishing power and anger. He believes that he hasn’t deserved all this. But he doesn’t give up trusting God.
God is his “kinsman-redeemer” who will come to his rescue. Just as he was a “kinsman-redeemer” to the people of Israel in slavery in Egypt and brought them out of slavery into the Promised Land, and just as he was the “kinsman-redeemer” to those in exile in Babylon, Job believed and trusted that God would be his “kinsman-redeemer” now in his time of great need.
In spite of everything that had happened, Job never gave up hope that God will save him and help him through this difficult time. He will rescue him from all this suffering and grief. He was poor, homeless and childless, but he was confident that his Kinsman-Redeemer would come to his rescue.
Through baptism, God has acted as our “kinsman-redeemer”. When the New Testament refers to Jesus as “Redeemer” – the concept of the Old Testament “kinsman-redeemer” lies behind it. Through baptism, we become members of God’s family. Jesus is our big brother, who will rescue us in our need. Jesus is gives us security and protection, in our physical needs, in our spiritual needs, in our emotional needs.
When we feel lost, helpless and scared like Ruth and Naomi and when we are brought low through trials and suffering like Job, or when the weight of our sin seems too much, Jesus, our Kinsman-Redeemer acts on our behalf. Our divine Kinsman-Redeemer is ready to step in when it seems there is no one who will come to our aid. Jesus, our Kinsman-Redeemer, pays what is owed; he even sacrifices his own life to set us free from all that owe because of our sinfulness. Our Kinsman-Redeemer knows what pain is all about. He understands when we cry out in fits of anger blaming him for what has happened. Our Kinsman-Redeemer loves and protects us. Our Kinsman-Redeemer comforts and gives supernatural strength when we are in the greatest need. He even uses our trials to teach us and change us.
Jesus, our Kinsman-Redeemer, rescues us, not just individually but as a family, as the church.
We can see in Job how faith in our Kinsman-Redeemer makes all the difference. Like Job we can feel low, disappointed in God for allowing all this to happen, weak and helpless in the face of so much tragedy, confused about the loving nature of God and the pain we are feeling right now. But while all this is going on, the Bible assures us that Jesus, our Kinsman-Redeemer, will never be very far away and is ready to help, support and encourage us. We may not have all the answers and things may not be turning out as we would like them to, but faith in our Kinsman-Redeemer makes all the difference.
An eight-year-old girl lost a yearlong battle with cancer. The members of the church her family attended had prayed and wept and shared the family’s agony as the girl fought a losing battle against cancer. The funeral had strained the emotions, the energy, and even the faith of the pastor. “What can I possibly say to this family?’ he asked. “I can’t give any reasons to the parents why this happened. I have no explanations to offer those who supported the family for the past year. What can I say?” He paused for a moment, and added, “I don’t have any solutions to their pain. I have only an answer. And Jesus Christ is that answer.”
Faith in Jesus can make all the difference when faced with a terrible situation. Faith in the face of suffering gives us the assurance that even in our deepest needs God is not far away. Faith tells us that God does care when we are hurting. Faith reminds us that we are always in the loving arms of our heavenly Father and he will helps us come to terms with the trials we are facing and to overcome them. Faith assures us that even if we die, Jesus our Kinsman-Redeemer will rescue us and take us home to be with him forever.
In the face of trials and trouble, God grant us a Job-like faith that we may also exclaim, “I know I have a Kinsman-Redeemer – Jesus – in whom I can trust”. “I know that my Redeemer lives.”
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2007, Vince Gerhardy. Used by permission.