31 January 2015Job 19:1-27
“O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book!” (v. 23)
Psalm: Psalm 92
Like many passages in Job, it can prove very difficult to strip this section of its modern Christian interpretations. As we have considered earlier in the week, in the majority of the Old Testament there is an absence of belief in life after death. Job clings instead to the hope that his name on earth will be cleared; he wishes for his innocence to be written down and "engraved on a rock for ever" for all to see (v. 24). The subsequent verses ("For I know that my Redeemer lives…" (v. 25)) have, over the years, been set to music and used frequently to provide comfort and reassurance for the dying and the bereaved. However, they have also caused a great deal of debate and consternation among scholars. The meaning of the Hebrew is unclear, but the use of the word "Redeemer" may be misleading for modern Christians. The Hebrew word used here means a person's next of kin whose duty it is, after a death, to buy back land that has been sold outside of the family (see Ruth 4:1-6) and to avenge the dead if he or she was murdered. Job, therefore, is not seeking redemption as we might understand it, but vindication - he hopes and believes that after his death, his name will be cleared and justice will be done.
Job's words read through the lens of Christianity have provided many with a hope that the original author almost certainly did not envisage - a testament to God's power to speak new truths through old words and to work through people to bear fruit they cannot even imagine. There is, perhaps, another source of hope to be found in the fact that the Bible is not a saccharine, rose-tinted text but contains speeches like this (and like many of the Psalms) that plumb the depths of human anguish and pain. Faith is no guarantee of a life free from pain - far from it - but like Job, we are invited to place our trust in God and to cling to him through the storm.
- Do the probable original intentions of the author mean that the comfort these verses has provided for the dying and the bereaved is any less valid? Why?
- If you were Job's friends, how would you respond?