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201. Job 19:26, Point Three
26 “Even after my skin is destroyed,
Yet from my flesh I shall see God;
But then, in point three, we descend into unclarity. The NRSV, another prominent modern translation, has a footnote here that gently tells us regarding verse 26, “Meaning of Hebrew of this verse uncertain.” Thus, we should be hesitant to rest too much weight not only on our construction of it but also in drawing out historical or theological implications from point three. We have often seen Job’s pattern of expressing one or two clear thoughts and then descending into obscurity. He also seems to do that here in verse 26. Thus, the interpretive pressure is off us, though we still want to take a stab at understanding it.
I translated it in a previous essay as follows:
“And after this my skin shall be surrounded/cut off; also from my flesh shall I see God.”
Seow translates it similarly, though with one difference :
“Even after my skin has been flayed thus, even without my flesh, I will see God.”
Clines, however, gives a more pleonastic rendering:
“Even after my skin has thus been stripped from me. (finishing the thought
begun in verse 25). Yet to behold Eloah while still in my flesh—that is my desire.”
Is there a difference between the skin and the flesh? There is in Buddhist thought, most definitely, especially when one recites the 32 impure parts of the body in the Patikulamanisikara, or “reflections on repulsiveness.” But we are a far cry from the Buddha here. And, sadly, we don’t know the answer to our question in this context.
Then, what does it mean that his skin shall be surrounded/cut off/flayed/stripped off? The verb which I render “surrounded/cut off” is the 19x-appearing naqaph, which we have seen twice in Job. In 1:5 it refers to completing a cycle (thus my translation of “surrounded”); in 19:6 it stresses how God’s net has “closed in” upon Job or perhaps cut him off. This is the only place in Scripture where the verb naqaph is used with skin, though Leviticus 19:27 talks about “rounding off” the side growth of one’s hair.
Translations that blithely render this word as “destroy” really don’t seem to wrestle with its unclarity here. And it is “after” Job’s flesh has been “surrounded” or “cut off” that all this happens. Is the “after” of verse 26 to be equated with the “last” (similar form of first several Hebrew letters) of verse 25? Again, darkness.
Since we have so much darkness so far, it is almost fruitless to ask what it means that Job will see God “from his flesh” (and not from his skin). Many suggest that Job is hinting at the resurrection of the dead, but to rest one’s hope for resurrection on something said so unclearly is surely a counsel of desperation. Taking it at its most literal, it might suggest that Job is hinting at an outer layer of his being or person being scraped off so that he might look straight on God “from the inside layer,” but that not only doesn’t make sense but also is a rather ghoulish thought, as if the outer layer of our person is somehow taken away and some kind of inner layer maintains the same senses and can actually “see” God. I would think that if the outer layer of skin were cut off (my reading of naqaph), one would be howling in pain and not really worrying about a vision of God.
Thus, two clear thoughts and one unclear thought appear in Job 19:25-26. The two clear thoughts keep us in the courtroom, with the Redeemer, different from God, being the one who will rise in Job’s defense and do even more than the witness in heaven from 16:19. Job will have complete vindication. Perhaps this thought made Job a bit dizzy (or even ditzy). He had earlier expressed the idea that he would be vindicated (13:18), but now he is not just talking vindication. He is considering the situation where a defendant not only wins the case but is rewarded with a huge settlement. Job will “see God,” which normally means death to people, but not in Job’s case. It is all too much for him; I would start to become incoherent, too.