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200. Job 19:25-27, I Know My Redeemer Lives
25 “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
And at the last He will take His stand on the earth.
26 “Even after my skin is destroyed,
Yet from my flesh I shall see God;
27 Whom I myself shall behold,
And whom my eyes will see and not another.
My heart faints within me!
Now we come to the content of what Job wanted permanently preserved. The thought of these verses goes from clear to cloudy. Here is my translation of verses 25-26:
“I myself know that my Redeemer is alive; at the last/afterwards he will
arise on the dust. And after this my skin shall be surrounded/cut off; also from my flesh shall I see God.”
The passage bristles with so many textual, theological and historical issues that it is almost vain to think that one can give a “fresh reading” to these verses. Yet we still can emphasize what appear to be the major points. I see three of them, with the first two being clear while the third is unclear.
The first point concerns the Redeemer (the noun is derived from the verb gaal, 105x). Second is that the Redeemer is alive and will standat a later time and speak in defense of Job (taking the verb qum,“to rise/to arise”, in a legal sense, to "stand up for" someone). Third is that Job will seeGod at some indefinite future in an undetermined state. The verb for “see” is chazah, 51x, completing a collection of three ch-beginning verbs and one ch-noun in verses 23-26. If we add to this the eloquent and repeated plea for God to “have mercy” on Job in verse 21 (verb is from chanan), we have even more initial ch sounds. Let’s briefly deal with each of the three points.
Like the 1960s sprinter Mel Pender, whose best move was his start, so Job comes ‘out of the blocks’ with the arresting concept of the Redeemer. The language is emphatic. “I myself” or “I know for a certainty” (ani) that my Redeemer is alive/lives (chai). Though the verb for “redeem” (gaal) appears 105x, almost half of these appearances are in three passages: Leviticus 25; Leviticus 27 and the (brief) Book of Ruth. The redeemer is the one that buys back family property that is in danger of falling out of family control (Leviticus 25); in the Book of Ruth Boaz is called the “close relative” (gaal is word) who continues the family’s name and destiny by “redeeming” or marrying Ruth. The story is a lot more interesting, and racy, than that, but the point is that the redeemer is a person of one’s “kin” who arises to save one at a crucial moment.
A redeemer is also one who preserves the family’s honor by avenging a family member who has been killed. Another seven references to gaal in the Bible occur in Numbers 35 (where it is usually translated “avenger”), where cities of refuge are set up, the purpose of which is to protect someone who has committed manslaughter from an avenger/redeemer.
Thus we see that redeemers protect family members or kinsmen who have been disadvantaged through economic transactions or through physical force and brutality. By the time the concept gets to the Psalms and Isaiah, that redeemer can be identified as God. “O Lord, my rock and my redeemer,” is the closing line of Psalm 19. God is mentioned a few times as having redeemed the people (Psalm 74:2; 77:15). God can be called the Redeemer (Isaiah 41:14). God will say, “I have redeemed you” (Isaiah 43:1), using the same verb (gaal) as in Job 19. Even more explicit is Isaiah 54:8, “I will have mercy on you says your redeemer (gaal), Yahweh.”
So, on linguistic grounds alone, we can’t be sure if the redeemer envisioned in Job 19:25 is like a human kinsman or is the Holy One of Israel. When we realize, however, that Job 19:25 is spoken in a forensic context, it means that the Redeemer is to be understood in connection with a line of figures whom Job will either imagine or call upon for help in his legal case. The mokiach or “umpire” in 9:33 really didn’t exist or, better said, existed in Job’s mind only to be removed from his mind. But the “witness in heaven” (16:19) certainly did exist, and I argued that the only reasonable interpretation of this figure was one who was different from God. Job has just trashed God in every conceivable way in 16:6-17; to expect a rather penitent volte-face two verses later is inconceivable, especially as you are preparing your case. You vilify, and don’t submit to, your opponent.
When you are lining up witnesses, you line them up because they will speak for you. The Redeemer is a figure beyond or in addition to the witness who will not only be concerned with advocating for Job but will go one step further and actually extricate him from his mess. This Redeemer is “alive” (chai), unlike the mokiach, which only existed as a passing thought. And, we hasten to add, it is most likely that this Redeemer isn’t God.
This is confirmed by Job’s second point in 19:25, that “in the last” this Redeemer will “rise” (qum). We don’t know what “in the last” means. It could mean, as some argue, “the last person in the lawsuit” (i.e., Job would get the last word). Some argue that it points to a time long in the future—at the end of time. This interpretation seems not convincing since Job really isn’t concerned here about end-times discussion. He has a case he wants adjudicated—and adjudicated very quickly at that! The common verb qum has already been used in Job in a legal sense, when Job’s thinness “rises up” (qum) as a witness against him (16:8). When false witnesses testify against the Psalmist, they are said to “rise up” (qum; Psalm 27:12; 35:11). We are in the courtroom with qum. In the legal proceeding that Job has long been envisioning, his Redeemer who lives will rise up and steal the show—for Job. Job is confident of that.