Monday, October 14, 2013

Job 17:1-20:29 (18:1-20:29)


In chapter 18, Bildad the Shuhite takes his second turn speaking. He describes, at some length, the woes that befall the wicked (implying Job's wickedness?).

Job replies in chapter 19. There is no justice, he says (v. 19). He asks his companions to "have pity" because "God has struck me" (v. 21). This chapter includes what is probably the best-known passage from Job.

"O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead
     they were engraved on a rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
     and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
     and after my skin has thus been destroyed,
     then in my flesh I shall see my God.... (Job 19:22-26, NRSV)

Questions of interpretation abound in this passage. Who is the redeemer? From whom or what does Job want to be redeemed? Is verse 26 a reference to the resurrection?

It is perhaps natural for Christians to take the word "Redeemer" as a reference to Christ. Especially when it is capitalized (as in the NRSV). This is how the passage is used in Handel's Messiah. This is how it is interpreted in a familiar hymn by Samuel Medley.

The term "redeemer" (go'el in Hebrew) refers to a relative who might perform any number of duties. For example, the go'el redeemed a person from slavery, married his brother's widow to raise children for the deceased, bought back property that had gone out of the family, and avenged murder. Some interpreters suggest that Job's go'el is God himself. Some think it is another heavenly being. Others think that it is a human agent.

Some say that the go'el will take revenge against God on Job's behalf. I rather think, based on verses 28-29, that Job is calling for revenge against his three companions, the "comforters" who persecute him.

If you say, 'How we will persecute him! '
and, 'The root of the matter is found in him';
 be afraid of the sword,
for wrath brings the punishment of the sword,
so that you may know there is a judgment. (Job 19:28-29)

As for the question of the resurrection, I find that commentators with a doctrinal bent tend to see a clear reference to the resurrection in this passage, while those with an academic bias do not.

I would argue that there is a certain legitimacy to interpreting Job's words messianically and with reference to the resurrection. At the same time it is probably best not to insist that this is the only possible interpretation and, in fact, the author of Job probably had neither a messiah nor the resurrection in mind. That is, a doctrinal interpretation diverges from the author's intent.

In chapter 20 Zophar the Naamathite speaks again. Like many a participant in religious debate, Zophar was probably thinking of what he would say rather than listening to his opponent. He doesn't reply to Job. Instead he argues that the wicked may prosper, but only for a moment. Punishment will soon catch up with them.

 I found the sheet music at
Next: Job 21-23 (21-24)

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