Written By: Gay Idle
When thinking of women of the Bible who have been, basically, demonized through the ages, Job’s wife seems to be right up near the top of the list. I’m not sure it’s entirely fair when we stop to consider all the snide remarks said and judgements made against her. Augustine actually labeled her as “the devils accomplice”. Wow! Those are some harsh words! And how many of you have heard sermons about Job and the only mention of his wife were snide remarks such as this, “How’d you like to be married to that?!”
Just one sentence from her mouth and it seems she is judged for all eternity. At least by man. So what was that one sentence and what was the context in which this exchange took place?
The book of Job is a bit lengthy. Most of us are familiar with the story, but if not I want to encourage you to spend some time reading all 42 chapters. So let’s take the short route to get to that one sentence.
It begins in the first chapter by introducing us to the main character, Job:
“There was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless, a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil. He had seven sons and three daughters. He owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred teams of oxen and five hundred female donkeys, and he employed many servants. He was, in fact, the richest person in the entire area.” Job 1:1-4 NLT.
What proceeds from this is really a remarkable story…and it gives us a picture of how Satan wants to destroy us and will do everything in his power to accomplish that mission. But God is in control and places limitations on Satan’s efforts according to His great wisdom, love, and power. This picture is really remarkable because we get the best seat possible…we see what Job does not see. In the midst of a discourse between God and Satan over Job’s faithfulness to God, Satan is granted divine permission to test that faithfulness. Why? Because God trusts that Job will stay the course and remain steadfast to his faithfulness to his creator. That right there is a sermon in itself…but we’re here to talk about Job’s wife, so let’s get going.
Satan proceeds to take away all of Job’s earthly treasures: his wealth (all of his livestock and servants gone), his children killed in a tragic ‘accident’, even his reputation. And this was Job’s response to this tragedy:
“I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be stripped of everything when I die. The LORD gave me everything I had, and the LORD has taken it away. Praise name of the LORD!” Job 1:21 NLT.
Satan the accuser goes before God again. God say’s, “See…he maintained his integrity despite your efforts to destroy him”. (my paraphrase). Satan is really wanting to destroy Job so he says to God,
“...he blesses you only because you bless him. But take away his health, and he will surely curse you to your face.” Job 2:4 NLT.
So God gave him permission to do whatever he pleased, but he was not allowed to take Job’s life. And so Satan inflicts Job with a terrible disease that causes awful boils all over his body. Literally head to foot.
It is at this point that Job’s wife is introduced into the story…through one conversation with her husband. As Job was sitting in the ashes scraping the boils from his skin, his wife muttered these words:
“Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.” Job 2:1 NLT
And this one statement puts her in the annals of bad bad women of the Bible. You might say…rightly so! What kind of thing is that to say to a man who has just suffered through losing his children, his health, and all of his earthly possessions?!
But I contend that we are missing something here. While it’s true as the bible says that what is built up in our heart overflows into our words, I’m not sure we can take words from one exchange and build an entire description of her character from this. Why? Well let’s look at her life.
While we have very little to go on from what’s actually said of Job’s wife in scripture we can make some observations from what is written. Other than this one statement to her husband there is nowhere else in scripture that describes her as a bitter or miserable wife. This is not necessarily her ‘default’ attitude or nature. Even Job’s response to her gives us a clue that maybe this was not her usual attitude.
“But Job replied, You talk like a godless woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” chapter 2, verse 10.
Job didn’t say, “You godless woman!” Nope, he said she was talking like one. In my mind that implies that she is acting outside her usual nature. She’s not herself. And why would she be so upset?
We seem to forget that Job is not the only one suffering here. She is a woman who has just lost all 10 children in one fell swoop! She went from contented empty-nester to grieving mother. She went from being a woman of wealth to poverty. From the wife of a strong, well-respected man, to one whom no one respected. They had nothing left but themselves. Job had nothing to offer her as a husband but repulsive breath, (Job 19:17), and a diseased body. She went from being well taken care of to caretaker. Not an easy thing. It had to break her heart to see her beloved husband suffering as he did. In her eyes, surely for him to die would be a mercy.
A little side note here: In those days it was thought that sudden death was to result from cursing God. It is also highly possible that her actual words were, “Bless God and die”, as the literal translation of this is just that. The first word she used was ‘barak’, which means ‘bless’. There’s a weird argument for translating it in the opposite of it’s meaning that has something to do with the practice of the original hebrew scribes of the bible use the word as ‘barak/bless’ as a euphemism for ‘curse’ because they would not utter the words ‘curse God’. But it is translated most often as ‘to bless’. So there’s that. But if she actually said, “Bless God and die”, she was urging him to prepare for death. Not telling him to turn against God.
This was a woman who stood by her man through the worst of the worst. She was not blaming him for their current situation. She acknowledged that he was a man of integrity, and that through all the suffering he was still holding on to it.
In a small way I can identify with her. I’m a pastor’s wife and through the years we have suffered some pretty unfair criticisms. My husband is a man of integrity as Job was. When he comes under attack, I suffer with him. In the moment, my roiling thoughts come boiling up out of me and I can say some nasty things as we discuss the situation between ourselves. Not a godly response, I admit. But my husband knows that this is not me… and he reminds me who our real enemy is…Satan. Not the people who have false accusations. In other words, God is not the enemy. The people are not the enemy. Satan is the enemy of our souls. But he’s not going to have the final word. God will work it out. So we need to leave it to Him to work out. Those words are enough to soothe my hurt heart and shut my mouth to further ugliness.
Maybe Job’s similar response was enough to calm her heart. So much so that we no longer hear from her in the story. And I find this so very interesting. She had affirmed Job’s integrity and the fact that he had done nothing wrong to deserve all that was happening to them. Now his friends enter the picture and try to convince Job that he must have done something wrong to deserve this. And there are entire chapters devoted to those conversations between Job and his friends.
The Rest of the Story
I believe there is one last observation to make in defense of Job’s wife.
God rebukes Job’s friends for their false accusations. And God requires that they take bulls and rams to Job so that he can act as a priest on their behalf and offer up prayers to God for them so that they won’t actually get what they deserve. Which they did, and as he prayed for his friends God restored Job’s fortunes (Job 42: 7-10). Twice as much as he had before!
There is no rebuke recorded for Job’s wife. Let me repeat that. NO REBUKE for job’s wife. I’m pretty sure that if God had rebuked her we would have read about it. Hmmmm…think about that.
Just as she shared in the original blessings in the life of her husband…I believe she shared in the blessings in the second half of his life. His brothers, sisters, former friends had returned to feast with him. They comforted him because of the trials he had experienced and even brought money. Maybe from a guilty conscience from their earlier desertion?
But it would seem that Job’s wife walked with him through the whole miserable experience and was with him in the the midst of his lowest point in the trials. She stayed with him through it all. The good, the bad(breath), and the ugly…and finally the restoration.
The doubling of the restoration of her husband’s health, wealth, and reputation, and 10 more children. Notice all the other things were straight up doubled in number. But those children that were lost would one day be seen again. Can you imagine what that reunion must have been in heaven?
And so, to the many who have cast a dubious cloud of judgment over this woman’s head, I say, “Just maybe, you were wrong.”
So many lessons to be taken from this story. But one not often taught? Let’s quit judging people on the basis of one statement made under trial and suffering. Let’s be mercy givers.
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