Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Byron Center Protestant Reformed Church in Byron Center, Michigan.
“For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.”
The first impression of most who read these verses is that the emphasis of the passage is on the hope of the resurrection of the body. While Job definitely had the resurrection of his body in mind, his attention was most emphatically on the knowledge of his redemption by his Redeemer. More than anything else Job needed to know that his Redeemer would live on after his own death, and would redeem him.
Let us consider this passage in order to learn why this was so important to Job. And to us.
Job had been in a position of great honor. The book opens with a description of the man. In the first three verses of the book we find a description of Job’s great holiness, his large family, and his great wealth. Job was held in honor by God (Job 1:8). And we learn from various statements made throughout the book that he was held in high esteem and great respect by all who knew of him.
Then Job suddenly lost everything and became seriously ill. All his wealth was taken away in a few moments, and on the same day all ten of his children were taken from him in death. In addition, he was afflicted with dreadful boils, which covered his entire body. His disease made him a public spectacle of dishonor, an outcast of society (Job 19:13-18). He now lived in a place where the garbage was thrown. His brothers and relatives were estranged from him. Former friends seemed to have forgotten him. Those who had been his servants treated him as a stranger, hurtfully ignoring him and treating him as if he did not even exist. Even his wife cut him off. Young children, who once looked up to him, now had the foolish courage to put into nasty and hurtful words that which everyone else thought but did not say. He was a public embarrassment—greatly dishonored and shamed.
Everyone was convinced that these bad things happened to Job because he had grievously sinned. They did not understand God’s chastisement, but believed that Job was dishonored for committing some despicable sin or sins. His “friends” no longer sought to comfort him. Instead they began to argue heatedly with him, trying to get Job to admit to his sins. Job found it very hard to be patient with them and was getting weary of all their fierce accusations. Repeatedly his three “friends” reproached him and estranged themselves from him (Job 19:3), pointing out Job’s reproach (Job 19:5).
Even worse to this man of God was the fact that Job was convinced that God Himself was against him (6-12). He cried to God for help, but it was as if he was not heard. He believed that God had overthrown him and caught him as in a net, locking him up in a small place of great darkness. His experience was that God had stripped him of his former honor and destroyed him in every possible way. He lost all hope. He was convinced that God was only angry with him and was treating him as His enemy.
Dishonored by God and shamed by all men, Job now announced something he knew but did not experience. It was something that Job and we often need to know when our experience is one of shame, embarrassment, and dishonor.
Job knew that his Redeemer lives. In spite of everything and everyone being against him (including, it seemed, God), Job knew that there is a Vindicator who will argue his case and cause, and show that Job is not what he appears to be.
A “redeemer” in the old dispensation was someone who took up the cause of a relative who was in dishonor. Often the redeemer was the head of the family. The redeemer was obliged to restore honor to any family member who fell into shame and dishonor. If a family member was forced to sell his property because of debts, then the redeemer was obliged to buy back the property and return it to the family inheritance in the land of Canaan. If someone was forced to sell his children or himself into slavery because of indebtedness, then the near kinsman was obliged to pay the debt in order to save his relative from the dishonor of slavery. The redeemer was obliged to remove the dishonor from a relative who died before he bore children, by marrying the widow in order to provide an heir. The redeemer was also the avenger of blood, removing the dishonor of a murdered relative by avenging his death on the one who caused the death. So the redeemer restored the name, position, and honor of the relative whose cause he took up.
Job was convinced that such a redeemer lives for him. His redeemer will defend his cause and maintain his honor and integrity. Even if everyone else dishonored him, Job was sure that his divine Kinsman would speak in his favor before God and man.
Job confessed that his Redeemer lives. He believed he was soon to die (Job 17:1) and that he would not see his dishonor removed from his person and name prior to his death. But he was convinced that after his death, yea while the worms were eating his flesh, his Redeemer would be alive to avenge him and remove his dishonor. In fact, Job confesses that his Redeemer is the living One, that is, the source of life, the One who never dies. And this living Redeemer would restore life to Job—real spiritual life in an intimate relationship with God. Job believed that when his own name was covered with the shame of death, there lived One who would raise him to life and restore him to honor.
Every member of God’s family (except the Elder Brother) is in the gross dishonor of sin. In ourselves we all shamefully transgress every commandment of God and are incapable of keeping any of them. We are unprofitable servants who at best only do what is our duty to do, and even that is done only with great weakness and sin. Every single one of us knows only shame and dishonor in ourselves.
But we have a Redeemer. Isaiah spoke of God as Israel’s King and Redeemer (Is. 44:6). Zacharias and Elisabeth, along with Simeon and Anna, saw the nation of Israel to be in great dishonor and shame among the nations of the world; and, worse, they saw the cause of God to be almost lost in the midst of the shameful sins of the religious leaders of their day. They were looking for the promised Messiah to bring redemption to Israel (Luke 1:68; Luke 2:38).
We have a near Kinsman who calls us His “brothers” (Heb. 2:11). God elected in Him, the Firstborn, many brethren (Rom. 8:29). He came to earth to redeem His people by taking their reproach on Himself. As our elder Brother He entered into our shame and dishonor, being made to be sin for us (II Cor. 5:21), willingly being obedient unto death, even the shameful and dishonorable death of the cross (Phil. 2:6-8). God put us “in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us … redemption” (I Cor. 1:30). He “redeemed us from the curse of the law” (Gal. 3:13). He even entered into our rotting and stinking graves in order to take us through the dissolution of the body into the joy and honor of fellowship with God Himself in heaven.
Our kinsman Redeemer freely justified us by His grace through redemption, fulfilling all righteousness in His life and death (Rom. 3:24). The redemption He obtained for us is “eternal” (Heb. 9:12). Our redemption means that no one can lay a charge of dishonor and shame against us. No accusation against us will stand. The living Redeemer saves to the uttermost.
Job believed that his vindication would be realized after death, not in his lifetime. He might not receive justice in this world, but a time will come when he will be judged and vindicated. While for some the consideration of the Judgment Day is justly terrible and dreadful, for him it was most desirable and comfortable (Belgic Confession, Article 37).
Job would experience redemption, but not now. He believed that he would die (worms would destroy his body). His faith reaches to the hope of the future resurrection of his body, which immediately precedes the Judgment Day. Job believed that even though he must die and be consumed, he would stand in honor before God with a future immortality.
For the present we know shame and dishonor. As long as we live on earth we will have an old man that will make us cry repeatedly, “O wretched man that I am” (Rom. 7:24). As doers of the Word (and not deceiving ourselves) we must continue in the shameful knowledge of our “natural face” (James 1:22-25). But at the same time we know our Redeemer lives. We shout, “Thanks be to God for the good news of the gospel that there is redemption in Christ Jesus, in whom we are completely justified from all our sin.”
We are going to keep sinning until the day of our death, falling into the experience of dishonor and shame. But by faith we are able to know redemption—deliverance from this shame unto the joyful experience of the position of being more than conquerors. Therefore we await with eagerness the day when our Redeemer will finally realize our redemption perfectly. What a day that will be! Until then, may all of God’s children know that their Redeemer lives!