“I know that my redeemer lives…”

Job 19:25–27 contains what are perhaps the most famous words of Job. They are included in Handel’s Messiah and found in other Christian music as well. For many, these words by Job are understood as an indication that Job’s faith continues despite all that has happened to him: Job’s redeemer is God and Job, fundamentally, maintains a profound faith in God. For some these verses are understood even to reflect Job’s hope in life after death.

Yet this common understanding of these verses is almost certainly wrong. Let me explain.

First, it’s worth noting that just because an interpretation or reading of a text makes for some profound message, or great sermon fodder, or supports one’s theological position, does not make it right. I’ve heard that sort of argument for the Comma Johanneum — it must be true because it supports the doctrine of the Trinity. Forget the overwhelming textual evidence against it, the dubious circumstances surrounding its authenticity, and so forth. If it sounds good then that’s enough for some people, and removing it is tantamount to heresy.

That seems to be the thinking behind the argument in some of the commentaries that I’ve seen which then go on to claim that any other interpretation is clearly inferior. Yet this is not a sound exegetical argument. Close inspection reveals problems with this view and the alternative view, espoused below, is free from these difficulties.

The most apparent difficulty is recognised by some proponents of the traditional view (if I may call it this). John Hartley, for example, notes that:

This magnificent verse then means that Job is beseeching the God in whom he has faith to help him against the God who is punishing him.

J. E. Hartley, Job, 295.

The point is, nothing in the context prepares us to identify Job’s redeemer as God, and everything in the context urges us not to make this identification.

There are other problems with the traditional view. For one, we know that Job does not need a redeemer or mediator to resolve his problems, because his problem is not that he needs someone to plead his case to God. We know that from the prologue where God recognised Job as upright and blameless! We know it because Job’s plight is remedied in the end without any mediator or redeemer appearing!

So how do we best make sense of this passage? Let me make a few observations:

  1. The ‘redeemer’ (גאל) was a defined role in ancient Israel (see Num 35:12, 19–27; Lev 25:25–34), sometimes called the ‘kinsman-redeemer’. They sought justice when a family member was murdered, they ensured that widows within the family were cared for, they redeemed property sold through economic circumstances. They were real people who were members of the extended family. Obviously the most famous example is Boaz in the story of Ruth (see Ruth 2:20).¹
  2. Job has, for some time by this point, made it clear that he does not expect to live for long. He feels his death is imminent (e.g. Job 7:21). He will leave a widow, he will leave an estate which needs to be apportioned as inheritance within his broader family. In short, he expects to need the services of his kinsman-redeemer in the near future!
  3. In Job 19:25, when Job refers to a time that is “in the end” (אחרון), this redeemer will stand on dust (על־עפר). ‘Dust’ is used in reference to death, for example, in Gen 3:19; Job 7:21. It is likely a reference to Job’s death, possibly even his own grave. Job ties the arrival of this redeemer with his demise, precisely what we’d expect of a ‘kinsman-redeemer’.
  4. The opening of verse 26 parallels the close of verse 25, again referring to Job’s death. The mistake in many translations is tying this clause with what follows rather than that which precedes it. In the first three lines (Job 19:25–26a), Job has poetically stated that his death is coming, it is certain, and he has made arrangements (he is confident that his kinsman-redeemer is ready).
  5. This portion, v. 26a, is difficult no matter which view is adopted, and some commentators consider it to be corrupt (which it may be). The problems, in particular, are that the singular ‘skin’ (עור) seems to be the subject of the plural piel verb, and whether the piel verb can have a passive meaning, as would seem to be necessary. The LXX offers no help in understanding the Hebrew.
  6. The remainder of verse 26 and first two-thirds of 27 now express Job’s wishes for before he dies — before his skin is gone, while still in his flesh. Furthermore, the yiqtol verbs should be read modally — unlike the way most English translations render them. “But in my flesh I want to see God.” That this is so is made explicit by the final clause (see below). He emphasises this by asserting that he wants to see God with his own eyes and not leave this encounter to another (after he has died).
  7. The final clause makes it clear that Job is desperate for this to happen, but that it is by no means a certainty. The verb here, כלה, usually means “to stop, come to an end,” but is used in the sense of “yearning, longing” in places such as 2Sam 13:39; Ps 84:3[2]; 119:81. Job has elsewhere expressed a desire to confront God (see, for example, Job 13:1–12).

This leads to the following translation of this passage:

I know that my kinsman-redeemer lives,
and after (me) he will stand on the dust
after they have stripped this — my skin

Yet from my flesh I want to see God,
I want to see him for myself,
and my eyes see, not a stranger’s!

My innards yearn within me.

Job 19:25–27

So in the end, Job is reiterating his expectation that his death is nearing. He is ready for it, indeed he has in places been longing for it. But before that happens, before the end comes, he wants the opportunity to meet with God so that he might register his complaint and, perhaps, get some sort of explanation for what has happened to him. And while he doesn’t know it at this point in the story, he is going to get his wish!

For Christian readers this might be somewhat disappointing. Desperate to find deeper meaning in the Old Testament, we can forget that Job’s original readers knew nothing of Jesus, knew nothing of the nature of post-mortem existence, had no inkling of a final judgment or eternal life.


  1. See, for example, Matthew J. Suriano, “Death, Disinheritance, and Job’s Kinsman-Redeemer.” JBL 129.1 (2010): 49–66.

be there dragons in isaiah 6?

Isaiah 6 is a magnificent account of Isaiah’s encounter with the true king. The scene features supernatural creatures, the שרפים (śĕrāphîm). Most translations going back as far as the Greek simply transliterate the Hebrew and so call the creatures “seraphim” (the Greek has σεραφιν). But I think there may be a viable alternative.

  • Seraph is the Hebrew word for serpent/snake. The word also means “burning” and it is supposed that the association comes about because the bite of a serpent produces a burning sensation.
  • These serpents have legs (they cover the legs with one set of wings) and hands (used to pick up the burning coal).
  • They have wings!
  • The Greek word drakōn means “dragon, serpent,” so a dragon is meant to be serpent like! The Greek word is used in Rev 12–13 and often translated as “dragon” in English versions.
  • These creatures are supernatural, so not something you’d expect to see every day.
  • They’re impressively sized and loud enough to cause the temple, built from heavy stone, to tremble.

So perhaps “dragon,” as popularly conceived, actually does fit quite well. Here, then, is a quick translation of the first verses of Isaiah 6:

In the year king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and exalted. The bottom of his robe filled the temple. Dragons with six wings were stationed above him – each had six wings: with two it covered its face, with two it covered its feet, and with two it flew.

They called to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is General Yahweh! The whole earth is filled with his glory!”

The stone frames of the doorways shook at the sound of their calls, and the temple filled with smoke.

Then I said, “Woe to me for I am destroyed, for I am a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the king, General Yahweh.”

Then one of the dragons flew to me and in its hand was a burning coal which it had taken from the altar with tongs. It touched my mouth and said, “Now this has touched your lips your guilt has been removed and your sin dealt with.”

Perhaps the only downside is that “dragon” is used in Revelation in reference to Satan. Yet perhaps like angels there can be good and evil dragons!

when ‘desire’ is wrong

Genesis 3 recounts the undoing of the intimate relationships established in the previous chapter between humans and God, between the man and the ground, between the woman and the man. In recent decades most of the discussion seems to have been over what God says to the woman, traditionally translated something like:

[Yhwh Elohim] said to the woman:

I will intensify your labor pains;
you will bear children in anguish.
Your desire will be for your husband,
yet he will rule over you. (HCSB)

Of most interest is the syntax of the second half of the verse and the meaning of the word translated “desire.” While most studies have sought to clarify the nature of this desire, I want to suggest that perhaps the word “desire” is not the best way to render the Hebrew at all. Read on for more.
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is god transgender?

The New York Times recently published an opinion piece by Rabbi Mark Sameth entitled “Is God Transgender?” You can read it here. In this he argues that “the Hebrew Bible, when read in its original language, offers a highly elastic view of gender.”

His argument is very thin on the ground (he has a book coming out on the Tetragrammaton which he seems to be promoting and which presumably will include more detailed argument), but I’d like to take a quick look at what he does say. Read on for more!
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lying by and for god in the bible

We all know that lying is wrong, and we all know that God does not lie. After all, 1Sam 15:29 reads:

… the Eternal One of Israel does not lie or change His mind, for He is not man who changes his mind. (HCSB)

But is it really true that God never lies? It turns out that the Bible itself records instances where God or Jesus do deceive people and where God’s people lie and are blessed for doing so! So what’s going on? Read on to find out.
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why adam before eve was not androgynous

The story of the creation of man and woman in Genesis 2 begins with God forming the first human who is designated האדם (hāʾādām, ‘the human’). The word is used as a generic term referring to human beings in many places in biblical Hebrew. Furthermore, there are a number of other words which mean ‘man’ as specifically distinct from ‘woman’. This has prompted quite a few people to argue that when first created this human was sexually undifferentiated or androgynous or a hermaphrodite. This creature was then divided into the first man and the first woman in Gen 2:21.

If this is a valid understanding of Genesis 2 it clearly undermines any claim that the man’s creation prior to the woman indicates that he has authority over her, because he is not created as a man until she is created as a woman.

It’s an interesting idea apparently rooted in a careful analysis of the hebrew text of Genesis 2, but it is ultimately untenable. Read on to find out why. Continue reading

what’s in a name: name giving in genesis 2

Last week I heard Thomas R. Schreiner speak at Moore Theological College on the topic of “What the Bible says about Women in Ministry.” While briefly making reference to Genesis 1–3 he made a particular point that the man’s act of naming the animals and the woman is an exercise of authority on his part, and hence demonstrates his position of authority over the animals and the woman.

Frankly I’m surprised that appeal is still made to naming in discussions about women’s roles in the church. Read on for my reasons. Continue reading

job’s wife

February 8th is International Septuagint Day.

In celebration, this year I thought I’d post one of the two major differences between the LXX and MT in the Book of Job, the details of Job’s wife. For those unfamiliar with her, this is all we hear of and from Job’s wife in the MT:

ותאמר לו אשתו עדך מחזיק בתמתך ברך אלהים ומת

Then his wife said to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!”

Sounds pretty harsh, right? Well the LXX of Job tends to tone things down quite a bit throughout. When it comes to Job’s wife, however, we get quite a lot more information! The LXX has this:

Χρόνου δὲ πολλοῦ προβεβηκότος εἶπεν αὐτῷ ἡ γυνὴ αὐτοῦ
Μέχρι τίνος καρτερήσεις λέγων
ΔΙδοὺ ἀναμένω χρόνον ἔτι μικρὸν
προσδεχόμενος τὴν ἐλπίδα τῆς σωτηρίας μου;
iοὺ γὰρ ἠφάνισταί σου τὸ μνημόσυνον ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς,
υἱοὶ καὶ θυγατέρες, ἐμῆς κοιλίας ὠδῖνες καὶ πόνοι,
οὓς εἰς τὸ κενὸν ἐκοπίασα μετὰ μόχθων.
sύ τε αὐτὸς ἐν σαπρίᾳ σκωλήκων κάθησαι διανυκτερεύων αἴθριος·
kἀγὼ πλανῆτις καὶ λάτρις
τόπον ἐκ τόπου περιερχομένη καὶ οἰκίαν ἐξ οἰκίας
προσδεχομένη τὸν ἥλιον πότε δύσεται,
ἵνα ἀναπαύσωμαι τῶν μόχθων καὶ τῶν ὀδυνῶν, αἵ με νῦν συνέχουσιν.
ἀλλὰ εἰπόν τι ῥῆμα εἰς κύριον καὶ τελεύτα.

The NETS translation of this is:

Then after a long time had passed, his wife said to him, “How long will you persist and say, ‘Look, I will hang on a little longer, while I wait for the hope of my deliverance?’ For look, your legacy has vanished from the earth—sons and daughters, my womb’s birth pangs and labors, for whom I wearied myself with hardships in vain. And you? You sit in the refuse of worms as you spend the night in the open air. As for me, I am one that wanders about and a hired servant—from place to place and house to house, waiting for when the sun will set, so I can rest from the distresses and griefs that now beset me. Now say some word to the Lord and die!”

Nowhere near as harsh! The LXX gives Job’s wife a more human face, referring to her own loss and sufferings. Furthermore, it removes the lexical link to the words of the Satan by simply exhorting Job to say some word to God, rather than explicitly ask him to “bless” God.

genesis 1 is not poetry

What can I say? Genesis 1 is not poetry, nor is it some weird hybrid of poetry and prose. Genesis 1:27 alone is poetry, but the rest of the chapter is pretty much stock-standard biblical Hebrew narrative in regards to its syntax. It is not poetry!

Why is this an issue? It’s an issue because debates about Genesis 1 seem to align figurative reading (of some sort) with poetry and literal reading with prose. This is a manifestly false disjunction. It is perfectly possible to have “literal” poetry, and it is quite common to have figurative prose. In other words, the whole argument is daft!
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apple pages 5.0 finally supports hebrew

In the last week, Apple has released a flurry of software updates, including updates to its iWork productivity software. While there are some who are unhappy with the changes, the good news is that Pages — Apple’s versatile word-processing application — now supports right-to-left and mixed direction text entry.

Previous versions of Pages would allow entry of Hebrew, but the cursor would remain at either end of the Hebrew text. Attempting to click into the middle of a Hebrew word would leave the cursor at the end of the word giving the user no idea that they were able to edit the word or what would happen when the next key was pressed. Now this has been fixed, and Pages (and presumable Numbers and Keynote) correctly inserts and edits Hebrew text.

The difference/improvement is easily illustrated in the following screenshots. First, Pages 4.3 (the previous version):

Pages43_hebrew

Here you can see the cursor to the left of the Hebrew text even though I had clicked into the middle of the Hebrew. Furthermore, Pages was clearly incapable of coping with the niqqud (the vowel points) which are pretty messed up.

Compare this with Pages 5.0:

Pages5_hebrew

The cursor is now correctly positioned in the middle of the Hebrew text, the niqqud are well placed.

For any existing Pages users, or for people purchasing a new Mac, the update is free.

In short, Pages has gone from useless for Hebrew to entirely usable. At last.