First books and last things

First books and last things: What did Job believe about resurrection?

Ancient testimony about a central Christian tenet and its relevance today

Lael Caesar, Ph.D., is associate professor of religion at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

We live in a time when some theological and religious authorities question the validity of the bodily resurrection of our Lord, and thus ultimately of people of faith. As they extend their arguments back into such ancient works as the book of Job, it is enlightening to critically review the validity of their views as they relate to passages such as Job 19:25-27, and to give well-founded interpretations of passages such as this one.

Two decades ago Michael Fox stated that Ezekiel, with the message of resurrection in his dry bones vision (Ezek. 37:1-14), reveals the courage of one who dares to affirm the absurd. Fox assumed this because in his opinion, no one in sixth century B.C. Judah was capable of contemplating an actual, physical resurrection.1 Fox's position is that only during the intertestamental period did Jewish apocalyptic literature accept anything more than a metaphorical resurrection.

While this view is not universal,2 if we give credence to Marvin Pope's modest proposal of a seventh-century B.C. date for the writing of the book of Job, 3 we would be required to reexamine Job's own statements before accepting a post-exilic date for the resurrection concept in the Hebrew Bible.

Positions such as Fox's wrestle with the awesome implications of Job 19, which features some of the most famous words in Job: "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" Gob 19:25, 26, NASB).

Analyzing Job's rhetoric

Job could hardly speak more clearly than he does in verse 25a: "And as for me,4 1 know that my Redeemer lives." Nor do alternative readings of verse 25b present any particular interpretive crisis. In the NASB that line reads: "And at the last He will take His stand on the earth." In the light of this eschatological emphasis, Job's Redeemer appears at the end, or "at the last." Thus it is not the clarity of verse 25 but the interpretive chaos on verse 26 that presents any real question about physical resurrection.

In 1950, E. F. Sutcliffe commented on the original Hebrew rendering of Job 19:26: "Every word of [this] text has been so thoroughly discussed in the commentaries that it seems superfluous to say more than a word on 'nach Verlust rneiner Haut' ('after loss of my skin')."5 Other commentators, however, do not even accept that the words "after loss of my skin" appear in the text;6 they read "awakening" instead of "skin,"7 or neither skin nor awakening.8 Or they may preserve Job's skin, while they alter the text elsewhere.9

The context of Job 19

A study of the context of Job 19 surely challenges our placid notions of the patient Job of James 5:11. In 9:20-24 he is guiltless, but God finds him guilty; he despises his life, while the wicked run the world by God's per mission. Despite this he will argue his case before God (verses 34, 35), a God who would plunge him into the pit until his own clothes would abhor him.

In 10:14 God is, on the one hand, unforgiving of his sin and, on the other, contemptuous of his goodness. We do well to remember, though, that the Job who rants and rages also rejects the arguments and denounces the fraudulence of his treacherous friends.

Their best arguments come from Bildad. Even when Bildad speaks negatively in chapter 18, his words contain a familiar and valid hope that Job will frustrate only if he insists on wickedness. In verses 17 and 19, Bildad describes the fate of the one who so insists: "His memory perishes from the earth, and he has no public fame. He has no off spring, he has no progeny, and there is no survivor where he once lived."

In his faithfulness to the wisdom tradition, Bildad strives to protect Job from endangering his prospects as a sage. His advice against the loss of memory, that is, fame (literally, having a "name"), is the highest appeal available to the ancient sage.10

Job's next answer to Bildad must represent more than mere dialogic continuity. From this perspective, juxtaposed against Bildad's persuasive zenith, Job 19 might be seen as Job's decisive response to his opponents' convincing though flawed challenge. Along with this, the controlled intensity of Job 19 presents a remarkable contrast to Job's earlier speeches.

Still, despite the violent mood swings, we discern progression in Job's condition from the utter gloom of his opening lament, an ode to death and oblivion, to the celebrated lines climaxing in chapter 19. Especially in his third speech, two entirely new elements both intensify the reader's dismay and hint at breaking barriers to new regions of thought for Job's exploration.

One of these new elements is the enigma of Job 13:15, a bedeviling utterance that may mean either that Job will hope or that there is no hope. Nevertheless, even this verse makes clear that Job knows himself to be right (he "will be vindicated" verse 18, NASB). He has known this before (6:10; 9:13, 20, 21) and yet despite the knowledge, has sunk into despair. But now, before his next descent into hell, Job introduces the second new astonishment of this speech by posing what seems no more than a rhetorical question: "If a man dies does he live again?"

Job proposes an answer where none seems required, an answer that contradicts or transcends all expectation: "All the days of my struggle I will wait, until my change comes. Thou wilt call, and I will answer Thee. Thou wilt long for the work of Thy hands" (14:14, 15, NASB). In this dramatic outburst, Job breaks through the barrier of Sheol to speak of communion with God beyond the grave.

Unsurprisingly, however, even this new confidence seems to go unsustained. Job's lips fall silent again, as their final words cynically repudiate Eliphaz's effort to assure him a good death." The last words of his fourth speech complain: "Where is my hope now? And who regards my hope? Will it go down with me to Sheol? Shall we go down into the dust together?" (17:15, 16, NASB).

But then, following Bildad's speech, come the eschatological, res urrection-oriented words of chapter 19. This is a statement of such focus, and so consistent within the balance of its thematic development, that it stands in clear contrast to the circuitous and contradictory expression of the earlier diatribes of Job himself.

Job's self-conscious control may even be noted in the length of the speech, which seems to be the briefest of all his speeches. 12 Christo has shown how pivotal it is to the whole book of Job. 13 Within the overall speech, the confidence of verses 23- 27 amounts to the next logical step in Job's continued progression from a soliloquy of absolute gloom (chap. 3), through the consolation in his rightness (6:10; 9:13, 20, 21), to daring to speak of communion with the Deity beyond the time of his death (14:14, 15). Also, it demonstrates that the protagonist is equal to the rhetorical challenge as he confronts Bildad's skillful argumentation recorded in chapter 18.

A translation of verses 25-27

Job's "If only . . ." speaks his confidence in the words he wishes preserved. His concern is both that their credibility not be forgotten, and that the story of his vindication be properly attested. Here, as I under stand them, are the words he speaks: "As for me, I know my Redeemer is alive, Who, the Last, shall rise14 upon the earth.15 And after my corruption, though my skin has been stripped away, 16 I shall yet, in my flesh, see God. I myself shall see Him for myself. Such a longing consumes me!"

I translate the disputed phrase "after my skin" ('ahar ori) as "after my corruption." The wealth of discussion and proposed optional emendations of the phrase seems to overlook its connection with the book's first mention of "skin" on the lips of Satan (2:4).

When Satan fails to induce Job to blasphemy through material deprivation, he launches a new and enigmatic challenge: "Skin for skin," he taunts. "All that a man has he will give for his life" (2:4, NASB). His argument is that the threat of death will be enough to expose Job's insincerity and separate him from his God.

Job's reference to "skin" (on) in context of physical corruption (19:26) may be designed both as his own climactic affirmation of faith, and the ultimate undoing of the mischievous claim on which Satan had founded that horrible test of the patriarch's faith. Job knows nothing of the adversary's charge. But he may yet expose the falsehood of Satan's claim by a precise contradiction of the adversary's own language. His words point to a time yet distant when Job will experience a vindication over which God Himself will preside, and one which Job will be alive to experience.

Summary and conclusions

Job 19:25-27 is the climactic peak of Job's response to the challenges of his friends. Here Job contemplates his own case at a level hitherto unknown, and hereafter unsurpassed. He thinks and speaks sub specie aetemitatis.

If Job was written as early as some traditions suggest, his thinking may have influenced the writing of Israel's eighth-century prophets more than is generally acknowledged. It should not then be surprising that his concept of a final day of reckoning and vindication closely corresponds with other Old Testament passages.

Having studied the concept of resurrection in Hosea 5:8 to 6:6, Pryce contends that though the mode in this Hosea passage is metaphorical, it appears that "the resurrection notion probably does not have its origin in the exilic or intertestamental period, as is often assumed."17 It must predate Hosea's day. 18 Even Pope's proposal (see above) of a seventh-century B.C. date for the dialogue of the book of Job, makes it apparent that resurrection conceptions were hardly alien to ancient Israelite thinking.

Popular faith in a resurrection derived from Jewish intertestamental literature gives no credence to the tradition of the Babylonian Talmud on this question. Nor does it accept Ellen White's implication that the book of Job may be the first biblical book ever written, being composed, along with Genesis, during Moses' self-imposed exile in the Midian desert.19

Taking Ellen White's comment at face value, the book of Job apparently dates to the first half of the fifteenth century B.C., the time of Moses' sojourn in the desert of Midian. And the sentiments of Job 19:25-27, compared with other biblical passages such as Job 14:12, 14; Isaiah 26:14, 19; or Hosea 5:8-6, solidly buttress the confidence that this book explicitly supports the faith of one man, the protagonist, Job, in a miraculous resurrection (resuscitation) at the end of time ('rwn), by the One who is the Last to receive personal vindication for His faithfulness, from the God whom he knows to be his Redeemer.

It is no mere coincidence that in Revelation 1:17, 18, Jesus is described (describes Himself) as "the First," and most significantly, "the Last." Here John employs that name, the Last, in connection with the very principles with which Job first placed them: the context of conquest over death and the grave.

Jesus, our resurrected Lord, has not lost the keys to death and hell (Rev. 1:18). Thus, we today, with more assurance than ever, may declare with Job, our faith in a day of eternal liberation to come. Jesus Christ has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. Job's Redeemer, the Redeemer of John's Revelation, is our Redeemer and Life-Giver also.

1 Michael Fox, "The Rhetoric of Ezekiel's Vision of the Valley of the Bones," HUG/151 (1980) 1-15, 1 [abstract], and 11.

2 See, for example, Francis 1. Andersen, Job: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, 111.: IVP, 1974), 193, 194, Bertrand Pryce, "The Resurrection Motif in Hosea 5:8-6:6," (Ph.D. dissertation, Andrews University, 1989); Gordon Eugene Christo, "The Eschatological Judgment in Job 19:21-29: An Exegetical Study," (Ph D. dissertation, Andrews University, SDA Theological Seminary, 1992). Also Lael Caesar, "Yet From My Flesh I Shall See God": A Reexamination of the Concept of the Resurrection in Job" (ETS national meeting, New Orleans, 20(10).

3 M. H. Pope, lob, 2nd ed., Anchor Bible (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1973), xl.

4 Representing the independent personal pronoun in its almost exclusive usage as emphasizing the nominative subject (GKC, 32b).

5 E. F. Sutcliffe, "Further Notes on Job, Textual and Exegetical," Bib 31 (1950), 365-378; 377.

6 C. Larcher, "Livre de Job," in Bible de Jerusalem, 2nd ed., 1957; 96; quoted in Tournay, ibid, 490, and reflected in The Jerusalem Bible: Reader's Edition (Garden City, N.Y.: 1971): "This 1 know: that my Avenger lives, and he, the Last, will take his stand on earth. After my awaking, he will set me close to him and from my flesh I shall look on God" (Job 19:25, 26). For Patrick W. Skehan see idem, "Strophic Patterns in the Book of Job," CBQ 23 (1961), 125-142; 138, 139.

7 Larcher, ibid

8 Skehan, ibid.

9 Dhorme, ibid., 285.

10 See Proverbs 22:1 on the value of item (good name, public esteem). Chnsto, ibid., 43-61, shows keen awareness of the thematic relation between chap. 19 and Bildad's preceding speech. He does not comment on its rhetorical power.

11 See again 5:24, 25.

12 There is strong opinion that the text of Job has become scrambled, particularly from chap. 26-28. But a conservative evaluation of the material suggests ten speeches for Job:lst (chaps. 6; 7) 50 verses; 2nd (chaps. 9; 10) 56 verses; 3rd (chaps. 12-14) 74 verses; 4th (chaps. 16; 171 37 verses; 5th (chap. 19) 28 verses; 6th (chap. 21) 33 verses; 7th (chaps. 23; 24) 41 verses; 7th to 10th (chaps. 26-31) 13 verses; (chap. 26) verses 22 verses, (chap. 27) 28 verses; (chap. 28) 95 verses [chaps. 29-31].

13 Christo, ibid., 42, 83, 226, where he also argues that verses 25-27 are central to this speech.

14 Pryce, ibid., studies the term qwm in the Hebrew Bible and finds it applied to God as personally involved in human history, raising up leaders or rising up to defend. Man as subject of qwm rises after falling, having been sick, or dead (p. 167). Christo cites Isaiah 26:14, 26:19, and Hosea 6:2, as passages that pair qwm and y to "describe the concept of resurrection" whether in affirmation or denial (121, 122). Thus Christo finds here the possibility of intentional double entendre, with qwm suggesting both "stand/rise up" and "raise up/resurrect"

15 Use of 'pr in an undisputed resurrection passage (Isa. 26:19) points to tile meaning "earth." It is those who lie in the dust (skny >pr verse 19c), dead men and corpses (19a, b), who will live (y/i 19a), who are to awake and shout for joy (19c). Cf. Genesis 2:7 for >pr as reference to humanity; for contexts of finitude and mortality see Genesis 18:27; Job 42:6; Ecdesiastes 12:7.

16 "It is entirely possible" that nqp is used for its double meaning, "strike off," and "go round," Christo, ibid., 220. Also the f. s. z'f may be understood as an abstract, referring to Job himself (ibid.). So that the line may also read "after I have been brought around," i.e., been resurrected [see n. 30], niqqepu being an impersonal or passive plural "after they have [or one has] resurrected me."

17 Pryce, ibid., 366, 367.

18 Pryce, ibid.

19 See Ellen White's comments in Signs of the Times, Feb. 19, 1880, par. 14. This article supplies valuable insight into how Moses' desert experience contributed not only to his subse quent leadership of Israel but specifically to writing these books. The White quotation on Mosaic authorship also appears in Francis D. Nichol, ed., SDABC (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1977), 3:1140. For more discussion sympathetic to Mosaic authorship see ibid., 493.

 

 


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Lael Caesar, Ph.D., is associate professor of religion at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

February 2003

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