Uniform 10.12.2014: A Certain Assurance

Job 19:1-7, 23-29

Take a moment to name your top three fears. Chances are, your answers include some or even all of what Job experienced in his life. If anyone went through a “dark night of the soul,” it was him. He endured the reality of the worst fears a person could imagine: the deaths of his children, the loss of his material needs and blessings, and the failure of his health. These things weren’t just imagined calamities that he hoped would never happen; they were events that occurred in his life, affecting the people around him and leaving him in a devastating position that we would call hopeless.

XIR84999In French artist Léon Bonnat’s painting, Job (1880), the suffering man is depicted with a look on his face that plainly asks, “Why?” His eyes are to the heavens, his weak arms slightly lifted, his hands open in the gesture that we all use when we wonder, “Why?” In the Scripture, Job asks this question over and over again in various ways. God seems silent for a long time, but his friends try to explain why these things are happening to Job.

Our text today is Job’s response to those friends, who insist that his tremendous pain is simply a result of his sinfulness. Maybe these friends mean well. Maybe they sincerely believe that Job needs to hear what they are saying. But Job isn’t buying it. The God he knows would never inflict such torture on someone. Job is sure that there is more to his circumstances than he can see right now, and his so-called friends haven’t figured it out.

After declaring a fervent wish that his words be “written down,” “inscribed in a book” (19:23), Job makes an unbelievable statement: “For I know that my Redeemer lives,
 and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
 then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (vv. 25-27). Does this sound like a man who has lost all hope? He is still stubbornly clinging to it, fierce with the assurance that, even though he loses everything, he still has God.

Whether you think that Job is a fictional character or an actual historical person, you know someone like him—someone who gets knocked down again and again by the blows of life in this fallen world. Maybe you are like him. Considering the uncertain nature of the human life—even with all its miracles and joys and beauty—I’m grateful that Job’s words are written down, inscribed in a book. Just when we think we’ve lost all hope due to great loss or well-meaning friends or the frightening unknowns of the future, we can flip to Job and read his confident words: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and…I shall see God.”


1. What are your top three fears as you live in this uncertain world? How do you handle those fears?
2. Have you or someone you know ever endured the reality of your worst fears? What was that like?
3. In times of great suffering, what are the best words to say to someone who has lost hope? What do you think you would like to hear if you were suffering?
4. Look at Bonnat’s painting of Job. Take note of his appearance, his posture, and his expression. How would you describe him? Have you or someone you know ever felt this way?
5. How can we find the kind of assurance that Job had when we face trials? How can we, too, be certain that our Redeemer lives? And even when our losses are not restored (as Job’s eventually are), how can we remain firm that we will see God?

Reference Shelf

From deep within an existence framed by persecution, Job dares to hope for something more. He articulates this hope in several ways, each of which is shaped by the abiding tension between what he needs, what he knows, and what he experiences.

What Job needs is some way to keep his plea for justice alive (vv. 23-24). He has argued the case for his innocence with the friends, but they have been unable or unwilling to accept the merits of his claim. He has appealed to God for a fair and just hearing, but God has refused to answer him. He has screamed out “Violence!” in the hope that somewhere on earth there is a place where the cry of the unjustly accused is not covered up and denied, but “there is no justice” (v. 7; cf. 16:18). What he needs now is a record of his claim on justice that will survive in spite of rejection and denial. He yearns for his testimony to be “written” (kåtab), “inscribed” (haqaq), and “engraved” (hasab; lit., “hewn out”; cf. NJPS: “incised”). Exactly how Job envisions the writing process is unclear, but the sequence of these verbs, each one signifying a means of preservation more permanent than the last, indicates that he desires a record that cannot be erased. It is to last “forever,” beyond the friends’ rebuke, beyond God’s silence, beyond his own unanswered cries for justice.

What Job knows, he states emphatically: “I, I know my redeemer lives” (v. 25). Although the grammar that conveys this assertion is clear enough, the meaning of what Job says has been the subject of enormous debate. The unfortunate decision of NRSV and other modern translations (cf. NIV) to capitalize “redeemer” obscures this debate by inviting the Christian community to assume that the one to whom Job refers is Christ. This way of appropriating the text is at least as old the early church fathers (e.g., Clement of Rome, late first century CE; Origen of Alexandria, died 254 CE), but surely its popular hold on the Christian community owes much to Handel’s glorious “exegesis” in the Messiah, first performed in 1742. The world in which Job lives, however, and what he “knows” within (and beyond) that world stands at a far remove from what Christians may want to “read back” into his assertion. This is not to deny that Job (or the poet) may have said more than he knew or that a Christian perspective adds faith assertions that may enlarge what Job could have known. Nonetheless, when the community of faith recognizes that what Job “knows” is hard to determine exactly, it keeps itself mindful that the journey from “redeemer” to “Redeemer” is long and complex, not quick and automatic.

Job knows, that is, he “firmly believes” a) that his “redeemer” (go’el) lives and b) that “at the last he will stand upon the earth” (v. 25). Both assertions merit close attention. The term go’el comes primarily from the field of family law. It designates the nearest male relative— brother, paternal uncle, cousin—who acts to protect and preserve the family when his kinsman is unable to do so. The responsibilities of the go’el include buying back family property that has fallen into the hands of outsiders (Lev 25:25-28; Ruth 4:3-6; Jer 32:6-8), redeeming a relative sold into slavery (Lev 25:47-49), marrying a widow to provide an heir for her dead husband (Ruth 3:12-13; 4:5), and avenging the blood of a murdered relative (Num 35:19-27; Deut 19:6-12). In religious usage, God is described as the go’el of those who have fallen into distress or bondage (e.g., in Egypt: Exod 6:6; 15:13; Ps 74:2; in Babylon: Isa 43:1, 14; 49:7-9). It is noteworthy that God’s responsibilities as go’el include pleading the case (ryb), that is, providing “legal aid,” for those too helpless or too vulnerable to obtain justice for themselves (Ps 119:154; Prov 23:11; Jer 50:34; Lam 3:58).

This range of referents for go’el invites an important question: who is the redeemer in whom Job believes? Does he expect a family member to come to his aid? His description of the way family and kin have deserted him (vv. 13-20) indicates that he knows his go’el is unlikely to be found among them. Does he expect God to be his go’el? What he knows about God could hardly give him reason to believe God will be any more help than his family. He knows that a mere mortal cannot possibly win a suit against God (9:2), that God will not regard him as innocent (9:28), that God’s secret purposes for him are sinister (10:13), and that he can only obtain vindication if God agrees to give up terrorizing him long enough for him to plead his case (13:18). Given his despair over the way both family and God have failed him, it is more likely that Job believes his go’el is a third party litigator who will stand between him and his accusers (both divine and human) and argue his case for acquittal. He has explored this possibility on two previous occasions. In 9:33, he imagines that there might be an impartial “arbiter” (môkîa; NRSV: “umpire”) who can mediate the differences between him and God, but then he dismisses the idea as impossible. In 16:19 he returns to the idea of a heavenly “witness” (‘ed) who would take his side in God’s court and give testimony to the truth of his claim. On that occasion, his words were both more urgent and more desperately hopeful: “even now, in fact, my witness is in heaven.” Now, Job returns for a third time to the idea that someone, a go’el, will come to his defense against God and the friends. It appears that his hope is again for a heavenly figure, perhaps an intercessory angel similar to the one Elihu mentions in 33:23-24. But it must be conceded that the one who acts as Job’s defense attorney is no more precisely identified than is the satan who serves as God’s prosecutor. What is clear, however, is that for the first time Job does not dismiss the idea out of hand or express it with caution. Now he states emphatically that his redeemer lives and that in the end (“at the last”) the redeemer will be successful in obtaining his vindication.


Samuel E. Balentine, Job, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006) 296-98.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum since 2001. She is a member of West Highland Baptist Church in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading and writing fiction, spending time with her husband and two daughters, and watching British television shows. Her goal for 2014 is to learn to play the piano.


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