I know that my Redeemer liveth,
and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the Earth;
and though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God;
whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold,
and not as a stranger. (Job 19)
The inspired marriage of Job’s words and Handel’s glorious music make this one of my favourite Easter anthems. The words also form one of the comforting sentences that open our burial rite. The American Book of Common Prayer makes the final line even clearer: “I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him who is my friend and not a stranger.”
Job uttered these words, not with the hauntingly beautiful larghetto soprano line playing in the back of his mind, but in the anguish of personal pain and loss. Everything he has loved and worked for is gone. His health is destroyed. His friends show up to comfort him – and what a trial they are. Instead of consolation, they berate him, offering unflattering judgment and offensive bromides – at length! His wife tells him to curse God and die. (At least she is concise!)
Job is having none of that, and out of his deepest distress cries out, whether in profound faith or utter desperation: “I know that my Redeemer lives!” He has no reason to believe this. There is no proof. Everything points to his abandonment. And yet he says: “I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him who is my friend and not a stranger.”
In the end, God appears to Job, not quite in the way he had expected, but God comes, and Job lives.
The hope and the faith of Job are not very adequately resolved in the Book of Job. There is a convenient but unconvincing restoration of all his losses in the last few verses that makes it feel too much like a “happy ever after” tale.
But the dialogue between Creator and Creature is not ended in Job. The conversation continues in scripture until it comes to a climax half a millennium later in a darkened garden. A bereft woman grieves the tortured death of the one person whom she has not only cherished but come to see as her protector, her redeemer. Then compounding her anguish, the tomb has been vandalized and his body has been taken away.
In her misery, she cries out to the man she sees but fails to recognize: “Where have you taken him?” she demands. “Mary!” he replies. And the divine-human dialogue is taken up again.
Job’s “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day
upon the Earth,” has become a reality for Mary Magdalene. Her whole life has changed, and so has that of all creation. The darkened garden of the tomb is revealed as the renewed Garden of Eden. It really was the Gardener she saw! The first day of God’s new creation dawns here.
So Handel actually got it right: Job’s plea of faith finds its fulfillment only in the second part of the aria. He links St. Paul’s song to Job’s prayer: “For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep.” The chorus responds, “Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (I Corinthians 15:20-22).
And Mary of Magdala can give voice to those ancient words, with an assurance that Job so longed for: “I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him who is my friend and not a stranger.” They are our Easter anthems, too.
Dying you destroyed our death,
Rising you restored our life.
Lord Jesus, come in glory.
May Easter be a time a great blessing and renewed life for you in Jesus Christ.