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Job 19:23-27

It’s easy to see why these are popular verses of scripture among Christians. Unlike a lot of the rest of the book of Job, which can come across as dense, esoteric, and difficult to read,

the forefather’s cry of faith in 19:25-26 rings out clearly to readers in a completely relatable way. Everyone can understand his emotions, because we’ve all been there.

Well, we’ve not all been exactly where Job was. Hopefully not many of us have experienced the loss of all our children and our means of making a living all in one fell swoop (1:13-19). And hopefully most of us will be spared the kind of physical suffering Job endured (2:7-8). But anyone who has lived very long, and unfortunately even some who haven’t, has probably reached a point of utter despair at least once. A moment when you absolutely can’t see any way thorough or forward. A moment when nothing makes sense, and nothing seems to be what it was supposed to be. Everything is wrong, and there is no one who can fix it.

In these situations it is understandable for us to simply want to “curse God and die,” as Job’s wife encouraged him to do (2:9). It takes a tremendous amount of faith not to just give up. And faith is the essence of Job’s proclamation here.

I believe a big part of the appeal of this passage to Christians is the use of the word “Redeemer” to refer to God. Obviously “redemption” is an important part of the theology of Paul and, therefore, the later theology of the church (although the Greek word for “redeemer” only appears once in the New Testament–Acts 7:35). Jesus is referred to as our “Redeemer” because he provided “redemption” through his atoning death. However, for many Christians this word has lost its full meaning. “Redemption” is often reduced to referring to salvation from sin and its consequences. And that is certainly a part of the Christian understanding. But the Jewish idea of a Redeemer, borrowed and modified by Paul, is actually much broader and deeper than that.

The Jewish belief it is based on, which is what Job was referring to here, is the idea of the Kinsman-Redeemer.

In ancient Jewish belief the Kinsman-Redeemer (Heb. goel) was a person’s next of kin, their nearest living male relative. Both law and tradition gave this Kinsman-Redeemer certain obligations toward the family members they were responsible for. On behalf of his family, he would fight injustice, right wrongs, and administer retribution. For example, a goel could redeem (buy back) a family member who had been forced to sell himself into indentured servanthood (Lev 25:47-49). He could do the same for the property of a family member that had been sold to pay a debt (Lev 25:23-25) or had otherwise come to be out of the family’s control (for an account of this transaction taking place, see Ruth 4:1-10). And in the case of a family member being murdered, the goel was not only allowed but expected to avenge their relative’s death by killing the perpetrator (Num 35:16-21, where goel is sometimes translated “avenger of blood”). Finally, a Kinsman-Redeemer was the man in the rite of Levirate marriage who would marry his deceased brother’s wife and have children with her so his brother’s line could continue (Deut 25:5-10). In essence, the goel served as sort of a combination social security and defense attorney, ensuring that a family’s land did not pass out of their control forever, that justice was done, and that a person’s name and reputation would live on long after he was gone.

So why does Job choose this rather strange metaphor to refer to God in 19:25? His situation seems quite different to that usually “redeemed” by the goel. He had not been sold into slavery, nor had he sold off any o