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  • He Answered Them

Does Job 19:23 - 29 talk about life after death?

Introductory Matter


There is little hard evidence available to the reader of the Book of Job to establish its authorship and circumstance of origin. Reasoned speculation has been the general mode of inquiry adopted by scholars to unlock the text. It is generally accepted to be a work of composition with some parts, notably the Elihu interlude, a possible later addition. The story of the book is set within the patriarchal period and is likely based on a folktale which emerged from an oral tradition, with the writing down of the tale coming later. The depiction of Job as a pious sufferer is a theme that can be found in other works in the Ancient Near East context: the poetic epic of Keret the Canaanite King, the Egyptian text dialogue of a man with his soul [1], and most notably the Babylonian text Ludlul bel nemeqi.[2] Although there may be a certain indebtedness to the tradition, the Book of Job offers a distinctly Israelite interpretation to the problem of suffering. Walton remarks that despite the characters appearing in the narrative being of non-Israelite origin, the book itself was almost certainly authored within the Hebrew Wisdom Tradition.[3] The Book of Job offers a new perspective from the wisdom teachings found in the Book of Proverbs; this is indicative that the unnamed author may have been from the Royal Court profession of Sage; this aids in the dating of the text. Clines notes that most scholars date the composition between the seventh and second centuries BCE.[4] He further notes that the theme of suffering of the innocent is found in Jeremiah and Deutero-Isaiah, both of which originated in the sixth century BCE.

 

Job 19:23 – 29, the subject verses of this exegesis, fall into the second speech cycle. Setting a limit to the text can prove difficult due to the constant back and forth of the dialogue, but the subject verses form a pericope within Job’s reply to Bildad which begins 19:1 and concludes 19:29. This is Job’s sixth speech, he addresses Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar at the beginning (2-6) the middle (21-22) and the end (28-29) in a departure from the usual pattern that has developed in his replies. [5]

 

Exegetical Detail


V23. Oh that my declarations could be written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book!

The interrogative pronoun (mi) is used for this interjection, a literal translation would read: who will give that they will be written? Tur-Sinai renders this as OH that therefore my words were written.[6] The subjunctive mood is used, expressing that Job seeks for his wish to be fulfilled at a future time; only the ASV highlights the immediacy of Job’s plea with a translation reading Oh that my words were now written! Habel brings out the more forensic translation that perhaps best suits the judicial procedure that Job is ultimately seeking. He writes Oh if only my case were recorded! [7] Habel also highlights the noun sepher, which is more commonly understood as a book or a scroll; in this case he prefers this to be translated as stela, inscription, or monument, all of which indicate a plea for a far more permanent recording.[8]Clines agrees in his translation by selecting ‘monument’. He writes that several scholars have offered the ‘attractive suggestion’ that we should understand the equivalent Hebrew to the Akkadian siparru, meaning ‘copper’ or the Arabic sufr.[9] Both Clines and Habel recognise a connection with Is 30:8, with Clines noting a further connection to Judges 5:14 in which the ‘staff of office’ (shevet sopher) may be a staff of bronze.[10] The appeal for a permanent recoding by Job is rejected by Tur-Sinai. He writes that ‘only on the face of it does Job ask that his words be recorded as a testimony to stand until that last generation. He merely considers this device in order to reject it as useless and unwanted’.[11] Tur-Sinai argues that the reference to the device in verses 23 and 24 is not followed by any statement about its efficacy or usefulness; that in fact, in verses 25 – 27 what is offered is an ‘express declaration’ that Job is not interested in what will occur in later generations. Jobs desire is to meet God while he himself is alive.[12] This shall be further explored later in the essay.

 

V24. That with an iron stylus and lead they were carved into rock forever!

Habel assess the recording process here and notes that it is disputed. The ‘lead’ likely refers to a lead tablet on which the engraving occurred, this is a practice that is attested by ancient scribes; however, the verse indicates that the engraving was into rock, thus posing questions about the involvement of the lead.[13] Murphy explains that the Darius I’s inscription at Behistun provides the application of the lead: ‘the wedges… cut into the rock themselves were filled with lead’.[14] Tur- Sinai argues that the preposition used is not in reference to the writing implement but to the writing material, ‘et in the bible means tablet or plaque never pen’.[15] This makes the translation read: On a plaque of Iron and lead, forever graven in the rock. Tur-Sinai cites Psalm 45:2, Jer 8:8 and 17:1 as evidence for his translation, unfortunately most biblical translations use ‘pen’ or ‘stylus’ in these verses. Verse 24 shows synthetic parallelism common in Hebrew poetry.


V25. Yet as for me, I know that my redeemer lives, and afterwards he will stand on the dust.

The opening ‘waw’ to this verse marks a contrast to verses 23 and 24; this adds some strength to Tur-Sinai’s discussion that Job does not truly seek a permanent record of his words; Job ‘knows’ that it is superfluous, as he has a redeemer/witness who lives at this moment. However, Clines notes the forensic context in which ‘know’ can be understood as ‘I firmly believe’ or ‘I am convinced’.[16] Through this, Clines introduces a certain caution to Tur-Sinai’s interpretation: Clines writes ‘it will be seen that the fact Job ‘knows’ something does not prove it is true’, he cites vv 13:18, 9:28, 10:13, 30:23 amongst others as evidence.[17]

Who is the go el? Clines renders it champion, other interpretations use vindicator ­or redeemer. James Zink draws attention to the works of Weiser and Holscher where ‘often the vindicator has been identified as God himself’.[18] Anderson too, holds to this view. He writes ‘verses 25-27 are so tightly knit that there should be no doubt that the redeemer is God’.[19]  Zink, however, does not believe it is necessary to consider God as the vindicator; indeed, what Job truly seeks is his day in court where God will hear his case. For Job, God is against him and could therefore not play the role of both vindicator and attorney for the prosecution. The use of go el in the bible is more often a person’s nearest relative at any given time. As Job has no family left, it is likely Job’s sees himself as his own vindicator. Clines’ analysis of 16:18-21 (the heavenly witness) identifies Job’s own cry to the heavens as a personified ‘witness’, ‘advocate’ or ‘spokesman;[20] contrasting this, John Briggs Curtis seeks to establish a personal private deity, distinct from a high god, active in the heavens. This is far more difficult to argue given the clear Israelite and monotheistic tradition.[21]


V26-27. And even after this skin is stricken off, in my own flesh I shall see Eloah, Whom I myself shall see, and my own eyes shall behold no stranger; my emotions are consumed within me.

Habel remarks that there are many renditions of these verses due to textual corruption.[22] Murphy states that only three phrases are fairly sure,[23]  but Meek is much more confident in the integrity of the Masoretic text.[24] Habel further suggests that the literary design links v26a with v25b (with the use of aheron and ahar); these together ‘point to a time after death when Job’s vindication happens’.[25] Death is not necessitated here however, as the destruction of Job’s skin may merely be a reference to the sores that afflict his mortal body in the present time or immediate future. Heavenor’s translation has ‘from my own flesh’ and suggests that it may mean Job expected to witness his own vindication of being found innocent from the ‘vantage point of a body of flesh’.[26] All this adds up to a present time or near present expected time for Job’s vindication; Meek states that his understanding of the verses have ‘only the slightest hint of postmortem vindication’.[27] The ASV translates ‘then without my flesh’ and clearly implies a time after death.

Waterman also argues that the two verbs translated ‘see’ are generally considered to be in the future tense, but that they ‘can equally well be taken as expressing present experience’.[28] Clines gives the strongest sense of the present moment in his translation of v 26 ‘Yet to behold Eloah while still in my flesh – that is my desire’. [29]

Many translations take the Hebrew zar and interpret it ‘not another’.[30] Hanson stridently states ‘and not another is certainly incorrect’, he believes a translation of ‘not a stranger (as ASV)’ is the affirmation that Job will no longer find God estranged upon his vindication.[31] 27c is ambiguous,(lit. my kidneys have ended in my chest)[32] the Hebrew refers to kidneys which normally means internal emotions; this is reflected in some translations as ‘my heart grows faint’ or similar.


V28 – 29. If you say, How shall we persecute him? Since the root of the trouble is found in him, you should dread the sword yourselves, for these are sins worthy of the sword. You will realise there is judgement!

Habel points out the chiastic structure of verses 21 – 29 where vs 23 – 27 is framed by ‘balancing pairs’ of vs 21-22 and vs 28-29;[33] the same word radap meaning ‘hound’ is found in vs 22 and 28.[34] These closing lines addressing the friends contains a rhetorical question, some translations have in me in the place of in him: both mean in Job. Pope believes that in both verses the text is jumbled and possibly damaged or misplaced.[35] Gordis feels matters are not so hopeless and that Job is clearly responding to the friend’s hostility towards him by warning them of ‘condign punishment’.[36] Job of course feels the friends are giving false testimony against him, a crime punishable by death. What is problematic is Job’s seeming appeal to the doctrine of retribution, as this is ultimately what Job dialogues against. Clines is content that ‘Job’s position in the moral universe is nuanced’. He believes that there is no categorical rejection of the idea of moral order on the part of Job.[37] Tur-Sinai recognises the problem and offers a completely different translation based on cherev (sword) being an Arabic cognate meaning ‘crime’. Furthermore, Tur-Sinai does not think the friend’s sin is being discussed but Job’s. Job is angered that neither the friends nor God can tell him what his sin consists of: Tur-Sinai translates verse 29 ‘Beware ye of Crime; for to cover sins is a crime, so you should make known my sins’.[38]


What does the passage say about Life after Death?


The key verses on which to gain an insight into this question are 25-27, Wayne Grudem takes them as a support for the doctrine of glorification in the Old Testament.[39] He places them alongside Isa 26:19, Ez 37:1 – 14, and the prophecy of Dan 12:2, all of which are texts associated with the resurrection. He quotes the work of Andersen as a persuasive defence; although, Andersen actually conducts a cautious survey noting ‘too much of later resurrection theology should not be read back into the text as in the ASV’.[40] It seems much hermeneutical emphasis is placed on the identity of the go el; where scholars detect divine connotations (as in Ps 19:14) they often decide the Book of Job indicates a sense of postmortem life; on the otherhand, when the translation of ‘kinsman redeemer’ is used, as is more frequent in the text of scripture, scholars tend to prefer a more antemortem understanding. In the wider context of the book, placing the Job reply as a response to the Bildad speech, we can identify that Job’s real desire is to meet with God and be found innocent in his current lifetime. Although I must draw attention to the unpublished dissertation of Gordon E. Christo: he recognises patterns in Job 19 with the Bildad speech of chapter 18 and places the entirety into an eschatological context.[41] Despite Christo’s comprehensive review of the entire chapter, I believe it is Tur-Sinai that best illustrates the intended meaning of the pericope. Clines also points out several verses in which the rest of the book indicates the finality of death, namely 7:9, 10:21,14:10 -12.[42] Although the doctrine of glorification arrives to us as a gospel assurance, I do not believe it played any part for the theology of the writer of the book of Job.




 

Bibliography

Andersen, Francis I., Job : An Introduction and Commentary (London ; Downers Grove, Ill. : Inter-Varsity Press, 1976) <http://archive.org/details/jobintroductionc0000ande> [accessed 11 April 2024]

Andrews University, and Gordon Christo, ‘The Eschatological Judgment in Job 19:21-29 : An Exegetical Study’ (unpublished Doctor of Philosophy, Andrews University, 1992) <https://doi.org/10.32597/dissertations/28/>

Brown, Raymond E., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. (Roland Edmund) Murphy, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, reprinted 2011 (London: Burns and Oates, 1990)

Clines, David. J.A., Word Biblical Commentary: Job 1-20, 17 (Dallas, Texas: Word Books, 1989)

Curtis, John Briggs, ‘On Job’s Witness in Heaven’, Journal of Biblical Literature, 102.4 (1983), 549–62 <https://doi.org/10.2307/3260865>

Davidson, F., Rev. A.M. Stibbs, and Rev. E.F Kevan, The New Bible Commentary (London: The Inter-Varsity Fellowship, 1955)

Gordis, Robert, The Book of Job : Commentary, New Translation, and Special Studies (New York : Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1978) <http://archive.org/details/bookofjobcomment0000gord> [accessed 13 April 2024]

Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 2nd edn (London: IVP, 2020)

Habel, Norman C., The Book of Job, a Commentary (Philadelphia : Westminster Press, 1985) <http://archive.org/details/bookofjobcomment0000habe> [accessed 11 April 2024]

Hanson, Anthony Tyrrell, The Book of Job; Introduction and Commentary (London, SCM Press, 1953) <http://archive.org/details/bookofjobintrodu0000hans_w9j6> [accessed 11 April 2024]

Lambert, W. G., Babylonian Wisdom Literature (Oxford Clarendon Press, 1960) <http://archive.org/details/babylonianwisdom0000lamb_c2i9> [accessed 10 April 2024]

Meek, Th. J., ‘Job XIX 25-27’, Vetus Testamentum, 6.1 (1956), 100–103 <https://doi.org/10.2307/1516030>

Pope, Marvin H., Job (Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1965) <http://archive.org/details/job00pope> [accessed 13 April 2024]

Tur-Sinai, Naphtali H. (Naphtali Herz), The Book of Job; a New Commentary (Jerusalem, Kiryath Sepher, 1957) <http://archive.org/details/bookofjobnewcomm0000turs> [accessed 11 April 2024]

Waterman, Leroy, ‘Notes on Job 19:23-27: Job’s Triumph of Faith’, Journal of Biblical Literature, 69.4 (1950), 379–80 <https://doi.org/10.2307/3261392>

Zink, James K., ‘Impatient Job: An Interpretation of Job 19:25-27’, Journal of Biblical Literature, 84.2 (1965), 147–52 <https://doi.org/10.2307/3264136>

 


[2] W. G. Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom Literature (Oxford Clarendon Press, 1960), p. 21 <http://archive.org/details/babylonianwisdom0000lamb_c2i9> [accessed 10 April 2024].

[4] David. J.A. Clines, Word Biblical Commentary: Job 1-20, 17 (Dallas, Texas: Word Books, 1989), p. 57.

[5] Clines, p. 435.

[6] Naphtali H. (Naphtali Herz) Tur-Sinai, The Book of Job; a New Commentary (Jerusalem, Kiryath Sepher, 1957), p. 302 <http://archive.org/details/bookofjobnewcomm0000turs> [accessed 11 April 2024].

[7] Norman C. Habel, The Book of Job, a Commentary (Philadelphia : Westminster Press, 1985), p. 290 <http://archive.org/details/bookofjobcomment0000habe> [accessed 11 April 2024].

[8] Habel, p. 292.

[9] Clines, p. 432.

[10] Clines, p. 432.

[11] Tur-Sinai, p. 302.

[12] Tur-Sinai, p. 302.

[13] Habel, p. 292.

[14] Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. (Roland Edmund) Murphy, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, reprinted 2011 (London: Burns and Oates, 1990), p. 478.

[15] Tur-Sinai, p. 304.

[16] Clines, p. 458.

[17] Clines, pp. 458–59.

[18] James K. Zink, ‘Impatient Job: An Interpretation of Job 19:25-27’, Journal of Biblical Literature, 84.2 (1965), 147–52 (p. 150) <https://doi.org/10.2307/3264136>.

[19] Francis I. Andersen, Job : An Introduction and Commentary (London ; Downers Grove, Ill. : Inter-Varsity Press, 1976), p. 194 <http://archive.org/details/jobintroductionc0000ande> [accessed 11 April 2024].

[20] Clines, p. 459.

[21] John Briggs Curtis, ‘On Job’s Witness in Heaven’, Journal of Biblical Literature, 102.4 (1983), 549–62 <https://doi.org/10.2307/3260865>.

[22] Habel, p. 293.

[23] Brown, Fitzmyer, and Murphy, p. 478. The three phrases being ‘from my flesh I shall behold God’, ‘my eyes shall see-no stranger’ and ‘my emotions are consumed within me’.

[24] Th. J. Meek, ‘Job XIX 25-27’, Vetus Testamentum, 6.1 (1956), 100–103 <https://doi.org/10.2307/1516030>.

[25] Habel, p. 293.

[26] E.S P. Heavenor, in The New Bible Commentary  ed. F. Davidson, Rev. A.M. Stibbs, and Rev. E.F Kevan, London: The Inter-Varsity Fellowship, 1955), p. 398.

[27] Meek.

[28] Leroy Waterman, ‘Notes on Job 19:23-27: Job’s Triumph of Faith’, Journal of Biblical Literature, 69.4 (1950), 379–80 <https://doi.org/10.2307/3261392>.

[29] Clines, p. 428.

[30] ESV,NIV, NASB, Net and RV

[31] Anthony Tyrrell Hanson, The Book of Job; Introduction and Commentary (London, SCM Press, 1953), p. 70 <http://archive.org/details/bookofjobintrodu0000hans_w9j6> [accessed 11 April 2024].

[32] Andersen, p. 194.

[33] Habel, p. 297.

[34] Brown, Fitzmyer, and Murphy, p. 478.

[35] Marvin H. Pope, Job (Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1965), p. 135 <http://archive.org/details/job00pope> [accessed 13 April 2024].

[36] Robert Gordis, The Book of Job : Commentary, New Translation, and Special Studies (New York : Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1978), p. 207 <http://archive.org/details/bookofjobcomment0000gord> [accessed 13 April 2024].

[37] Clines, p. 467.

[38] Tur-Sinai, for a fuller grammatical discussion pp. 306–8.

[39] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 2nd edn (London: IVP, 2020), p. 1020.

[40] Andersen, p. 193.

[41] Andrews University and Gordon Christo, ‘The Eschatological Judgment in Job 19:21-29 : An Exegetical Study’ (unpublished Doctor of Philosophy, Andrews University, 1992) <https://doi.org/10.32597/dissertations/28/>.

[42] Clines, p. 465.

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