Job 19:25–26 says, “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” (KJV).
Upon a quick reading, this verse seems to refer to God as redeemer, to His coming to earth (possibly in incarnation or possibly in victory), to the resurrection of the body, and even to the hope of eternal life.
The problem with this interpretation is that it rests upon an understanding of the full revelation of Christian truth. There is a rule in hermeneutics that a verse cannot mean to us what it could not have meant to the original audience. If this verse is a full summary of Christian truth as later taught in the New Testament, then it is quite remarkable, and it would seem that Job had knowledge far beyond his contemporaries and even later prophets. Of course, some would see these verses as evidence that some Old Testament believers, such as Job, had a quite thorough knowledge of what was to come.
The fact the Job seemed to know some things that are hardly, if ever, alluded to even by later prophets should make us question the standard interpretation of his words in Job 19:25. Either the progressive nature of biblical revelation has been upended, or the translation of Job 19:25 has some problems based on difficult words within the passage. While most modern versions retain wording similar to the KJV translation, they also add footnotes that give alternative meanings.
Using the footnotes provided by the ESV, Job 19:25–26 could read this way: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the dust. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet without my flesh I shall see God.”
Using the NIV footnotes, the verse could be read like this: “I know that my vindicator lives, and that in the end he will stand on my grave. And after I awake, though this body has been destroyed, apart from my flesh I will see God.”
Simply substituting words into a translation based on footnotes is not sound methodology, but the exercise serves to illustrate the difficulties found in translating these particular verses.
At this juncture in the book of Job, Job’s friends have been accusing him of some great sin that has caused God to turn against him. Job expresses his confidence that a “kinsman-redeemer” (the word is the same used for Boaz in the book of Ruth) will come to his aid. The identity of this kinsman-redeemer is not specified; however, it seems unlikely that Job could have anyone in mind other than God Himself. God will be a witness for Job against his accusing friends. So the idea here of a “redeemer” does not have full Christian theology embedded in it, although Christians looking back can certainly see the seeds of that theology in Job.
Furthermore, Job expresses confidence that God will come and vindicate him and stand “on the dust” or “on the earth” or “on the grave.” The Hebrew term here can mean any of the three, depending on the context. If the word is translated “grave,” then Job expects vindication after death. If “dust” is preferred, then it may mean in this life, i.e., that God will appear before him on the very dust heap upon which he is lying in agony.
The next difficult term is translated “destroy” by the KJV. The Hebrew word does not necessarily indicate death. If “total destruction” is on Job’s mind, then the term would be referring to death. If he has “marring” or “damaging” in mind, it could simply mean that Job expects to be vindicated after the physical agony he is going though has done its worst. There is nothing in the term that specifies either life or death. An accurate translation could go either way.
The next difficult phrase is “in my flesh” (KJV). Literally, it’s “from my flesh” (YLT) and can mean “apart from my flesh” or “from within my flesh.” In other words, viable translations can mean almost the opposite of each other. However, there is no indication in this particular passage (or the book, for that matter) that Job expects a bodily resurrection. “I will see God” is Job’s hope whether in his body (in this life) or apart from his body (in the hereafter).
In summary, in verse 25, Job is confident that God will appear and vindicate him from the charges of his friends who are accusing him. In verse 26, Job is confident that he will see God, and he elaborates further on that hope in verse 27. Indeed, Job both sees God and is vindicated at the end of the book.
The way Job 19:25–26 has been used by many Christians is a classic case of teaching the right doctrines from the wrong verses. The full meaning of God as our kinsman-redeemer is New Testament revelation, as is the promise of ultimate vindication after death and the resurrection body (see Romans 8:18–39 and 1 Corinthians 15:42–58).