I Know That My Redeemer Liveth

Beit Midrash for calendar_month May 2022

The ancient non-Jewish patriarch Job experienced in his own personal life what was to be a foreshadow of the continuing dynamic saga of the Chosen People. The Book of Job is thought by some to be the one of the most ancient texts in the Hebrew Scriptures, but its message is as up-to-date as tomorrow’s news. The twelfth-century Jewish sage Ibn Ezra maintained that because of the exceptionally large number of words and forms in the Book of Job that are not found elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures, the book must have been translated from another language.[1] Whatever its origin, the Book of Job has been considered one of the greatest examples of wisdom literature in the Bible. Alfred Lord Tennyson even described it as “the greatest poem of ancient and modern times.”[2]

Job is a study in the problem of theodicy or divine justice.[3] It attempts to answer the question of why God permits the manifestation of evil to exist. In so doing, it also addresses the theme, “Why do the righteous suffer?”[4] In the saga of the Chosen People the question of why unrelenting suffering has been inflicted upon the Jews surely seeks an answer. The Book of Job tackles the subject and offers hope.

Job is praised in Scripture as a man of personal righteousness and social justice, who “was blameless and upright” and “feared God and shunned evil.”[5] According to the prophet Ezekiel, he was renowned for his righteousness and justice.[6] Job himself confessed, “Because I delivered the poor who cried for help, and the orphan who had no helper, the one who was dying blessed me, and I gave the widow’s heart cause to rejoice. I put righteousness as my clothing; justice was my robe and my turban. I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy; I took up the case of the stranger.”[7]

The Challenge of Evil and Death

God was quite proud of his faithful and devoted servant, so he pointed out Job’s conduct to Satan. The “Accuser”[8] argued that Job only served God because God blessed him, and he challenged God to take down the hedge that was around Job to see what his reaction would be. “Take away everything he has, and he will curse you to your face,” ha-Satan said.[9] God responded, “Everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”[10]

Take everything indeed! This is precisely what Satan did. He went to the extreme limits of his dispensation. In rapid-fire succession, Sabeans attacked and stole all of Job’s oxen and donkeys and killed all their attendants, lightning struck his sheep and shepherds, killing them all, Chaldean raiders stole all of his camels and killed his servants, and all of Job’s children were killed when a desert storm collapsed the house where they were feasting.[11] When Job heard these successive reports, he “tore his robe, shaved his head and fell to the ground in worship,” and he spoke these memorable words of absolute faith: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”[12] But, “in spite of everything that had happened, Job did not sin by blaming God.”

Again Satan challenged God, “Stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”[13] In this instance, the fallen angel, in what was probably the only time he ever told the truth, said, “Skin for skin, all that a man has he will give for his life.”[14] Job himself was smitten with boils that covered his body from the “soles of his feet to the crown of his head,” and he was reduced to scraping himself with a pottery shard as he sat among the ashes in such misery that his own wife urged him to “bless God, and die!”[15] when she saw the extent of his suffering. Still, “in all this, Job did not sin in what he said.”[16]

Why? Why? Why? Why?

For a time Job engaged in a spirited seven-day discussion with three of his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Sophar, who had come to “sympathize with him and comfort him.”[17] In contrast with Job, they did not speak the truth about God. Job became disconsolate. “Why did I not die at birth?”[18] he wondered, and he began to ask, “Why?” “Why?” “Why?” As Job and his friends continued their conversation, Job finally grew weary of heir arguments and said to them, “Your maxims are proverbs of ashes.”[19] Finally, he concluded with this declaration of faith:  “Though God slay me, I will hope in him.”[20] Job had even spoken words that clearly relate to both the creation narratives and to Ezekiel’s dry bones when he had said of God, “Did you not . . . clothe me with skin and flesh and knit me together with bones and sinews?”[21] No doubt, the patriarch was expecting restoration and renewal from the God who created him in the first place.

“Though God slay me, I will hope in him.”

Job 13:15

Then Job continued with these profound words: “At least there is hope for a tree, when it is cut down, that it will sprout again. . . . through the scent of water it will flourish and put forth sprigs like a plant.”[22] Finally, the patriarch of faith declared his faith in extremis, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will take his stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God . . . whom I shall behold, and whom my eyes will see and not another.”[23]

The Expectation of Life

Whether Job was speaking of his expectation that God would deliver him from his malady so that, despite his descent into virtual death, he would yet see God in the land of the living or whether he was speaking of a personal expectation that the resurrection of the righteous would occur at the end of time, the patriarch expressed his absolute confidence that he would be restored to life and that he would live again. Like a cut-down tree, he would sprout again because of the presence of the water of life in his being.

His Redeemer was the living God who would finally take his stand on the earth, and Job knew that when he did, he would see his God in his flesh.

Later, Elihu, a young man, dared to speak this word of wisdom to them: “There is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives them understanding,”[24] a reference to the Genesis narrative of human creation when humanity became alive when God breathed the neshamah (breath) into Adam’s nostrils so that he became a living being.[25] Finally, God himself spoke to Job out of a storm, challenging him to compare his own finitude with the expanses of divine infinity but commending him for speaking the truth and maintaining his integrity even when he was staring down the cold jaws of death. Job had experienced death in life, now he would experience life from the death.

Restoration: Life Abundantly

The story of Job concludes with God’s restoring the blessings of life to Job, giving him more children and doubling the wealth than he had lost in Satan’s attack upon his family and upon his person. To this day, Job stands out as a man who uttered these profound words of faith and submission to the King of death and life: “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” He also spoke these immortal words of undying faith, “I know that my Redeemer liveth!” expressing the heart’s cry of millions of Jews and Christians whose faith in the living God has known no bounds, even transcending life itself. They have had Job’s calm assurance, “in my flesh I will see God,” for they have been confident of the truth of which Daniel was assured, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life. . . . You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.”[26]

The God of Scripture is possessed of gevurot, the powers of death and life, and he will always bring forth his Chosen People into life, whether it be through divine healing from sicknesses, miraculous deliverance from terminal illness, or, in the end, resurrection from the dead as he proves his faithfulness to all generations, even to those who sleep in the dust of the earth.

[1] Seow, pp. 21-24.

[2] Seow, p. 87.

[3] C. Hassell Bullock, An Introcution to the Old Testament Poetic Books (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2001), p. 82.

[4] John F. A. Sawyer, “Job,” in Michael Lieb, Emma Mason, and Jonathan Roberts, eds., The Oxford Handbook of the Reception History of the Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 25ff.

[5] Job 1:1.

[6] Ezekiel 14:12-14, 19-20. See C. L. Seow, Job 1-21: Interpretation and Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2013), p. 1.

[7] Job 29:12-17.

[8] The meaning of ha-Satan.

[9] Job 1:11.

[10] Job 11:12, niv.

[11] Job 1:14-20.

[12] Job 1:21. Job confessed, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.” He knew God was his source and his blessing.

[13] Job 2:5.

[14] Job 2:4, kjv.

[15] Job 2:9. English translations universally render this statement, “Curse God, and die.” The word translated curse, however, is barak, which means to “bless,” “salute,” or “praise,” in the sense of kneeling before the Deity (the root of barak is berek which means “to kneel.”) Some have suggested that Job’s wife was telling her husband to curse God and commit suicide. The fact is that she was probably so concerned with the degree of his suffering that she believed it would be better for him to submit to God (kneel before him) and ask him to release him from his miserable life, “for it is better to die once than to die daily.” See Benjamin Keach, Preaching from the Types and Metaphors of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic reprint), p. 30.

[16] Job 1:12.

[17] Job 2:11.

[18] Job 3:13.

[19] Job 13:12.

[20] Job 13:15.

[21] Job 10:11.

[22] Job 14:7, 9.

[23] Job 19:25-27.

[24] Job 32:8-9.

[25] Genesis 2:7.

[26] Daniel 12:2, 13, niv.

About the Author
John D. Garr, Ph.D.
President & CEO