In our passage this week, Job believes that the God of Truth will vindicate him of the false accusations against him, and he will stand in God's presence at the end of all things. That's pretty profound coming from a man who lived 2,000 years before Jesus!
But I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the end he will stand on the dust. Job 19:25
Getting Started: Things to Think About
Loneliness and Its Cures
What are the strangest places you've felt lonely?
Job is devastatingly lonely in our passage this week, ironic because the has three friends in the same room that he can't get rid of. What are the situations you've felt the loneliest in? What was the "fix"?
[Ed. note - I just saw that the Leader Guide uses a similar discussion question. Well, we're thinking alike!]
What Would You Want Your Tombstone to Say?
Here's another topic that might get your brain working (and yes, it's a bit morbid) -- what would you hope your tombstone says about you? To make it challenging, say that you only have one line or one phrase to work with.
In our passage this week, Job talks about a written testimony that will survive forever. A tombstone wouldn't be long enough ("Here lies Job. He was innocent.") for what he's thinking of, but that's a rough equivalent to what we might think of today.
Here's where I would hope this conversation would go. You would struggle through different ideas and then realize that a phrase on a tombstone could never represent your life. Instead, your "testimony" must be your children and grandchildren and all of the people you influenced during the course of your life. You may not be "remembered" (like a monument), but you could never be forgotten (because the world has been changed by your life).
Acts of Kindness and Compassion
One last idea would be to talk about surprising acts of kindness you've observed (or experienced) in your life. What did they mean to you? How did they affect you?
In our passage this week, Job longs for a simple act of human compassion, and he didn't get it from his friends. That made him more and more lonely (see above), and it also turned him to God (not away from God, as too often happens in our world today). Share some inspiring stories of human kindness and the difference those acts can make on a person.
This Week's Big Idea: Why Do Christians Shoot Their Wounded?
Back in October 2018, I opened our lesson on Galatians 6 with this same "Big Idea":
It's a topic I think about a lot, particularly when I hear about a Christian who has admitted to some serious sin or another. (Well, actually it's less when I'm hearing about that and more when I'm reading the inevitable backlash.)
There's a saying that's been around so long it's considered a truism: "The Christian church is the only army that shoots its own wounded."
[Before I go any further, let me categorically say that the statement is not true, and the past few years have proven it. First, everybody "shoots their wounded" today. It doesn't matter what group you're a part of. Once you've been caught doing something "wrong", your group is very likely to turn on you. That's why we call it a "dog eat dog" world, right? The phrases "kick them while they're down" and "hang them out to dry" did not originate in churches. Second, there are many Christians who do not shoot their wounded. There are many compassionate Christians who understand the grace Jesus has shown them.]
What exactly does that horrible-sounding phrase mean?
It's obviously metaphorical. When a Christian has been wounded by sin -- usually but not always a sin they have committed -- rather than showing grace and love, the Christians around them pile on the guilt and condemnation. (Aside: I've also noticed this with Christians wounded by a mental illness or emotional disorder, though those are regularly not the result of a sin.)
That's exactly what's going on in our passage this week:
Have mercy on me, my friends, have mercy, for God's hand has truck me. Why do you persecute me as God does? Will you never get enough of my flesh?
Job, in his extreme sorrow, wanted mercy and compassion from his friends. Instead, he got condemnation. [Set aside the fact that Job was indeed innocent. The point of this saying would be that Christians pile on anyone who is suffering from actual or perceived sins.]
Why would Christians behave like this? What do you think?
Here are some answers I can come up with:
First, some Christians might think that it's their responsibility to make sure that the sinner has really repented. Yes, sometimes a statement of repentance can be false, but we are not the infallible judge of hearts. And besides, that's not really what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about the Christian who has repented. Why do we persist in "shooting" him?
Second, some Christians confuse forgiveness with acceptance. We've talked about this many times. Just because you forgive someone doesn't mean you condone whatever sin he might have committed. This is the amazing grace of forgiveness that the outside world doesn't seem to understand, which leads me to my next idea.
Third, some churches may be afraid that by showing grace to a known sinner, their reputation in the community might be damaged. This is based on another misunderstanding in the secular world that true repentance is impossible. If we try to act as a church based on secular notions of forgiveness and repentance, we're in big trouble.
Finally, some Christians are just hypocrites. Just like in the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18), some Christians expect to have mercy shown to them, but they don't believe that they in turn need to show mercy to others. Jesus warns us that anyone who thinks like that has probably not truly experienced the forgiveness of God (Matt 6:15).
What else might you add to that list?
More importantly, what can we do to be merciful, gracious followers of Jesus Christ?
That answer should be simple:
And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ. Eph 4:32
As we remember all of the sins God has forgiven us, our hearts should be open and willing to forgive others. Think about how Jesus restored Peter's great sin -- He forgave Peter and "coaxed" him back to righteousness. People hear the message of forgiveness and restoration a lot better when we're not yelling threatening things. (Just as importantly, in the case of someone like Job who was indeed innocent of the accusations, an attitude of compassion and forgiveness will prevent the hard feelings of Job's friends.)
What's the point of this topic, if it comes up? Church members need to remember that if someone in our church family is suffering -- even if you believe that person suffering the consequences of their sin -- we need to be encouraging them toward repentance, not pushing them away from God. This does not mean that we don't hold them accountable for that sin, if that is indeed the case! It means that our purpose must be restorative, not punitive. God punishes/disciplines as appropriate. We need to look into our own hearts and make sure we are not being the person Jesus warned us about:
Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For you will be judged by the same standard with which you judge others, and you will be measured by the same measure you use. ... Hypocrite! First take the beam of wood out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye. Matt 7:1, 2, 5
Christians should be the most compassionate people in the world.
Our Context in Job
Remember how I said last week that each cycle of debate gets more and more caustic? This second cycle is much angrier than the first. For example, once Eliphaz realizes that Job is still pleading innocent, he takes back all of his sympathy and accuses Job of not being right with God! Some friend!
Cycle 1: Will God answer a righteous sufferer's questions? (chs 4-14)
Cycle 2: Does the fate of the wicked prove God's justice? (chs 15-21)
Cycle 3: Can a sufferer ever know God's will and way? (chs 22-28)
Cycle 4: Job and Elihu (chs 29-37)
We're in cycle 2 this week. As Job's friends turn against him, he turns his attention heavenward with the belief that "someone up there must know that I am innocent".
Cycle 2 (chs 15-21)
Eliphaz: Humans cannot be righteous before God, which must mean that Job does not understand what true piety is. (ch 15)
Job replies: You're the worst friends ever. God will vindicate me. (chs 16-17)
Bildad: No, you're the worst friend. Only the wicked suffer like you have. (ch 18)
Job replies: Leave me alone. Even if we have to die first, I know that someone in heaven will vindicate me. (ch 19)
Zophar: The wicked prosper and then are punished. (ch 20; it's assumed that he's talking about Job)
Job replies: The wicked's prosperity is only temporary; everything you're saying is false. (ch 21)
Whereas last week (cycle 1), Job was still in a mode of thought of "if only someone in heaven would listen to me", in cycle 2 Job's thoughts have clearly deepened to a belief that there is someone in heaven on his side. It's like this: "God can't be anything like my miserable friends, so I'm sure that God will listen to me." Where as in the first cycle, Job mused about the possibility that there could be a mediator between him and God, now Job is not only convinced that there is a mediator, he believes that God Himself could be the Mediator.
As we know, that is exactly what God's plan was -- except it would be the Son of God acting as our Mediator (compare Heb 7:22 with Job 17:3). But there's no way Job could have understood how close to the truth he was (we barely understand the doctrine of the Trinity today).
But there's one thing I want to pump the brakes about with respect to the presumption in Lifeway's lesson title. Because we have the New Testament, we have a very specific understanding of the word "Redeemer" (as it pertains to Jesus -- see below), and that's not necessarily how Job is using the word. Further, Job is talking about something that will happen after his death, so we also don't want to put connotations of "salvation" as we know it today. As we go through this lesson, we just need to remember that we know a whole lot more about God's plan of salvation than Job did!
Part 1: False Friends (Job 19:19-22)
19 All of my best friends despise me, and those I love have turned against me. 20 My skin and my flesh cling to my bones; I have escaped with only the skin of my teeth. 21 Have mercy on me, my friends, have mercy, for God’s hand has struck me. 22 Why do you persecute me as God does? Will you never get enough of my flesh?
Job is probably talking about his "friends" Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, but he might also be talking about the friends who never even came to see him, and he might also be talking about his wife (see below). "Best friends" literally means "men of confidence".
You probably hinted around this topic last week when we introduced Job's friends: How do you know if your friend is a real friend? To me, one key indicator is how they treat you during and after a time of crisis. If it's not too raw, think about times you may have been abandoned by someone you thought was a friend (or -- times when you realize you abandoned a friend in need).
Doesn't every teen movie involve this as a plot device? --
The star football player gets hurt and can't play anymore.
The beauty queen is injured and isn't "beautiful" anymore.
The parent is involved in fraud and the family loses all wealth.
Something traumatic happens and their personality changes.
And usually the plot writers resolve it into the joy of finding out who your real friends are.
Well, Job is not enjoying his friends turning on him like this. Until he behaves the way they want him to behave (in this case, repenting of a sin he did not commit), they will only be harsh to him.
We skipped over Job 2, in which Satan received permission from God to attack Job physically:
7 So Satan left the Lord’s presence and infected Job with terrible boils from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. 8 Then Job took a piece of broken pottery to scrape himself while he sat among the ashes. 9 His wife said to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!” 10 “You speak as a foolish woman speaks,” he told her. “Should we accept only good from God and not adversity?” Throughout all this Job did not sin in what he said.
He was probably quite frightening to look at. In addition to the sores, he was almost certainly not eating much, so he would be gaunt. The Hebrew idiom is very strange, but we're pretty sure it is the equivalent of "I'm just skin and bones". All he wants is some mercy from his friends -- it's such a powerful line to read. The word for "mercy" is used of human care and compassion. Really, verse 22 summarizes the tragedy of this book: rather than help Job cope with what appears to be persecution from God, Job's friends choose to persecute him further. His friends are more interested in proving their point than showing compassion. They have completely removed the human element from this equation.
This actually leads into a great and valuable discussion on relationship dynamics, if you have people in your group who have good people sense. This is true of marriages, parent/child, workplace, you name it. How do you tell the difference between a time you need to push the issue (make your point), and a time you need to drop it?
Put yourself in Job's friends' shoes for a moment. They believe that Job is suffering the just consequences of a sin. He believes he is innocent, and so he gives no indication of repentance. That's an important discussion to have! But is this really the time for it?
What are some times in your life when you've had the "right" discussion at the "wrong" time, and how did that go for you?
As we have observed, Job is already in a damaged frame of mind. Anything his friends say will be compounded. When he says that his friends are "persecuting" him, that's the image of a hunter on the hunt. If they had helpful intentions, Job is not receiving it as helpful.
Consequently, Job is on his own searching for comfort.
Part 2: Living Redeemer (Job 19:23-27)
23 I wish that my words were written down, that they were recorded on a scroll 24 or were inscribed in stone forever by an iron stylus and lead! 25 But I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the end he will stand on the dust. 26 Even after my skin has been destroyed, yet I will see God in my flesh. 27 I will see him myself; my eyes will look at him, and not as a stranger. My heart longs within me.
These are some powerful and beloved verses, but they take some study. Let's remember that Job doesn't know about Jesus, and then let's study these words from his perspective.
Job is absolutely convinced of his innocence. If he could make his testimony permanent (inscribed in stone), then one day he knows he would be vindicated.
He also believes that God is righteous and bound to honor truth. God cannot avoid Job's case forever. Even if it takes until the end of time, the One who knows his innocence will rule in his favor.
The interesting (and very powerful) development is this idea that even if his vindication happens after his death, he will still be a part of it.
Does that make sense? This is not a "I long to be with Jesus in heaven" sentiment. This is a "I know I am innocent, and I long for the day when the truth vindicates me".
That's not to say that Job isn't expressing some incredible spiritual insight here! He believes that God is his Redeemer. (More on this below.) Despite everything that has happened, Job still trusts God. You might wonder how that is possible, particularly with respect to everything that Job has said. Well, just look up at Job 2:10 -- Job makes it clear that if we are happy to enjoy the blessings of God, we must also be willing to accept the adversity. This goes back to what I said last week about "fatalism". Fatalism is the idea that an uncaring universe has determined your fate, and there's nothing you can do about it, so you should just accept it without hope. Job does not fall into that trap. He believes that there is a personal, sovereign God who gives order to the universe, so nothing happens carelessly. There is meaning and purpose behind everything that happens, and he accepts it with hope.
Job firmly believes that God is in control. But he doesn't understand why things have happened as they have. And he doesn't understand why God isn't answering him.
But this doesn't mean that Job believes that God doesn't care! Job believes that God has a reason for what has happened, and a reason for His silence, and one day Job will be able to talk to God about this. Job is not hopeless -- he is not fatalistic in his views. Job is resigned to what he believes is now his lot, but that has not dampened his belief that God will vindicate him.
"Skin being destroyed" is almost certainly a reference to physical death and decay. Job does not believe that he will be vindicated in this life. But even death would not prevent him from seeing and enjoying his vindication because the eternal God is his Vindicator.
It is quite possible to interpret these verses to mean something other than a bodily resurrection ("in my flesh" could possibly be translated as "apart from my flesh"), but I think it's pretty clear that Job believes he will be physically resurrected after his death to stand before God. The is by far the oldest reference to an obscure belief that we now take for granted today:
Your dead will live; their bodies will rise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust! For you will be covered with the morning dew, and the earth will bring out the departed spirits. Isa 26:19
Many who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to eternal life, and some to disgrace and eternal contempt. Dan 12:2
That's pretty much the whole list of OT verses clearly supporting a physical resurrection. Remember -- in Jesus' day, the Jewish party of the Sadducees did not believe in a physical resurrection! (See Acts 24:21.)
We take for granted everything Job says, but let's think of it from the perspective of someone who has never read the Bible. Job is basically saying that he knows that on the last day, when the earth has turned to dust (eroded to nothing), God will stand (with the implication of bringing justice to history), and He will vindicate the innocent. That's profound! (And that's not all of the amazingness -- more on this below.)
[The reference to "stranger" is strange. It could mean either that God would not be a stranger to him (he would recognize God as a friend) -or- that God would be the One he sees in death and not someone else. Job's meaning is certain either way.]
In these verses, Job gives us one model of how we can keep our faith in God even when we do not understand why terrible things have happened to us.
Here is the key reason why I believe the lesson title is misleading: Job is not using the word "Redeemer" in quite the same way that we do as Christians.
In Old Testament times, the "redeemer" was a known quantity. It's from the Hebrew root ga'al, which can mean "redeem", "protect", or "vindicate". Perhaps the most famous example is in Ruth, in which Boaz acts as a "kinsman-redeemer". The "redeemer" had a set responsibility: to pay off family debts, to defend the family's honor, to avenge a family member's death, even to marry a family member's widow. This goes back to the rules in Exodus 25:23-31. Exodus 25 goes on to say that family members could also "redeem" relatives who had sold themselves into slavery due to debt (vv. 47-55). They had to pay the value of the labor the slaver-owner would lose by not having that slave.
This word is also used of God, but rarely. The most well-known is probably Ex 6:6:
I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from the forced labor of the Egyptians and rescue you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and great acts of judgment.
In a few places, God redeems from oppression (Ps 69:18, 72:14, 106:10, Isa 48:20). In those uses, the strongest connotation seems to be "protect". In one place, God redeems from sin (Isa 44:22). In two places, God redeems from death (Ps 103:4, Hos 13:14).
[Note that there is another word, padah, that is used of redeeming living things.]
Because of the New Testament, we now know that Jesus is our Redeemer:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. Gal 3:13
He gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people for his own possession, eager to do good works. Tit 2:14
For you know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb. 1 Pet 1:18-19
As you can tell from my notes, I believe Job is using the word "Redeemer" primarily to mean "Vindicator". In other words, Job knows that even though he might die, his Vindicator will live, which means that his future vindication is sure.
Do you see the connotative difference between God as "Redeemer" (which makes us think something specific from the New Testament) and God as "Vindicator", which is more along the line of what Job had in mind?
Here's the beautiful part about what we're reading in Job: Job was more right than he realized. He might have had one meaning for the word in mind, but do you really think it's a coincidence that the word also has a meaning tied directly and uniquely to the work of Jesus Christ?
So, let's push that even further. The phrase "He will stand on the dust" also (and more commonly) means "He will rise from the dust". "Dust" is usually used in the Old Testament to refer to lifelessness. So, now look at this entire phrase. Job had in mind that his Vindicator will judge the earth righteously at the end of time. But the exact wording he uses also equally means that "my Redeemer will one day rise from death and live".
Just because Job may not have seen the full depth and accuracy of his words doesn't make them any less profound.
Part 3: Warning Issued (Job 19:28-29)
28 If you say, “How will we pursue him, since the root of the problem lies with him?” 29 then be afraid of the sword, because wrath brings punishment by the sword, so that you may know there is a judgment.
Here's a pretty strong heel-turn on his friends, but it only makes sense. "If God is going to vindicate me, then that means God will find you all in the wrong."
It seems that Job realizes that his friends care more about being right than him being right with God. We talked about this on Wednesday night after the second episode of The Chosen (one that focused on Sabbath), where it became obvious that certain Pharisees were more interested in congratulating themselves for following their own rules than in having a close relationship with God. (For someone like me who loves to debate, it makes me think of times when I am more interested in winning the argument than knowing that I am right.)
It's a powerful warning. Job's friends are claiming to speak for God. That's fine when it's true. But when it's not . . .
[Aside: this is why the "God told me" card is so dangerous to play. A famous example of this was the very first Crusade which was defended by saying "God wills it". I wonder how their meeting with God went. In church debates, saying "God told me" seems like an easy way to win the argument, but this isn't a game. As Job says to his friends, if you're wrong about what God says, then God will deal with you like a false prophet. False prophets were judged harshly in the Old Testament.]
In fairness, Job's friends were not intentionally misrepresenting God. They had been caught up in a theology of sin/retribution. I believe this is why God simply gave them a stern talking-to rather than the sword at the end of the book (we will read that passage in a few weeks).
In many ways, this is a turning of the tables. Job's friends have been warning him about the consequences of unrepentance. Well, the same is true of their behavior.
This Week's Takeaway
If we're not intentional, we will come away from each lesson Job with the whole "don't be a bad friend" application.
I think this week, your biggest takeaway would be how we can still have faith in God even when our world seems to be crumbling around us.
But further, you might talk about the importance of watching your mouth when you claim to be speaking for God, or at least making sure that when you are rebuking someone for their sin, it's to push them to repentance and not simply to condemn them.
And also you could talk about how our salvation in Jesus can change our perspective on things like other people condemning us for our failures, or suffering terrible things in this life.