Too much discussion is pointed at Job’s wife by people who are unwilling to walk a step, let alone a mile, in her shoes. Rarely, if ever, have we considered what the scene must have looked like through her eyes. And while we want to condemn her statement at blasphemous, we should hesitate before we jump to conclusions. We should do everything we can to empathize with her first. You see, we’ve been where she was. We’ve seen the people we love suffer, we’ve watched them endure atrocity after atrocity. What did we want in those moments? We wanted their pain gone. We wanted their suffering to end. We wanted the very same thing she wanted for her husband.
When she asked Job “do you still hold fast to your integrity?” in 2:10 she knew the answer. It was the only answer that granted him relief. The only answer that would let her move on. The only answer that made sense. When she saw him sitting there – in the midst of his ashy, fallen skin, miserable, alone, beaten – she pleaded with him to “Curse God and die!” because death was better than life.
If we’re brutally honest with ourselves, under those circumstances, we may have done the same thing she did.
Before we rush to condemn her, we must remember she also suffered immensely. She was the living embodiment of collateral damage. The loss of her children, her possessions, and her husband’s health must have had a profound effect upon her.1 Her life as a mother and wife was shattered and somehow, we usually ignore her feelings and her predictament. We want to say, “help him,” or “protect him,” but very rarely offer her the same in return.2
The tragic mistake we make when reading this story is putting Job on an island. He wasn’t alone, his suffering was also her suffering. Sure, she escaped the physical pain, but the anguish of losing children, a respectable husband, and every hope in this world must have driven her to the point of shame. She wanted nothing more than to see his pain gone and she worked out the only possible way forward.
Something we overlook is the role of husband and wife. In the Ancient Near East (ANE), a husband was the provider and the source of public strength for each family. When tragedy happened, he would be the one to make things better (i.e. to fix the problem). In our story, when she needed her husband to comfort her, to care for her, Job was overwhelmed and unable to help. Don’t belittle that. In a moment where all we want to do is help him, didn’t she need help as well?
In a twist we rarely consider, could it be that Job’s integrity (holding on to life and declaring his lack of sin) actually insulted her? While he remains steadfast throughout the book that he is innocent, the fact that his children died is undeniable. In the ANE, that meant they were sinners, deserving of their punishment and he was a lousy priest, unable to teach or impart protection upon his family. His children, whom she loved as well, were now unworthy of praise in death and as Job accepted his suffering, he branded her children as wrongdoers.3
From my point-of-view, that’s the breaking point for her. It was a bridge too far, a river she was unwilling to cross, and a conclusion she she just couldn’t accept. This was Job’s fault, not her children’s fault. She must have wondered why he couldn’t see that like everyone else? Ironically, she was the first, but not the last to make that conclusion.
For a parent grieving the loss of so many children, the added shame was probably unbearable. His suffering told her, their friends, and anyone watching that all she believed about him was a lie. How dare he profess innocence? How dare he except this punishment from God? And as she chastised him, it was not out of pity, rather, it happened because he persisted to be innocent.4 And let’s be honest, if we had her understanding of the world, wouldn’t his profession of innocence offend us as well?
Considering their situation, if he had gone ahead and died, she could’ve moved on. She could put the past behind her and eventually find hope again. Instead his face, his actions, and his unending life reminded her that their past, present, and future were irrevocably broken.
He was a constant reminder that her children died, her husband was a fraud, and all she lived for and built was gone.
I believe we should withhold our judgment upon her. It’s a natural reaction from many Bible students and armchair theologians to pile harsh criticism upon her while very few feel the need to extend sympathy or patience. Having sat around people who lost loved ones I can promise you they say things they don’t understand in moments of immense heartache and tragedy. We must know that sometimes a person simply needs to vent and unload the pain thats weighing them down. They need to admit their doubts, they need to reach out for the hope that feels so distant. They need to say out loud, “I’m hurting because of you!”
Her actions are those of a person who reached their breaking point. In those moments, we blame others, we lash out, and our desperation drives us to be a bit selfish. So, let’s give those who succumb to that temptation the patience and empathy they need, not condemnation. After all, suffering affects each of us differently. I’d ask you to consider the following statement from the book Job: The Storm Breaks. As the author works through Job’s wife and her statements, he makes the following observation that seems fitting:
Those who have spent hours in an intensive care unit, or nursed their child through death, can identify with Mrs. Job. She was angry and bitter with her husband and with God. His godliness had brought about nothing except a crushing sense of loss: her children, her social standing and her livelihood. Whether it is out of hatred for God, or a desire that Job’s pain be ended quickly, she urged him to “Curse God and die!”p. 56-57
Because Job was the target of her frustration, yet faithful towards God, we think of her as a villain, or at least, a silly woman. That’s a mistake. She was like most of us, frustrated with circumstances out of her control. Overcome with grief, walleyed by loss and now eager to see her loved one relieved of his burden. She had to be tired, hurt, and ashamed of what her life had become.
Instead of judging her, let’s give her a break, surely the circumstances merit that simple gift of grace.
While we could spend hours talking about her one small contribution to the story, it would all be conjecture. Simply put, we don’t know what was going on in her head even though we can assume rightfully it wasn’t good things. So, we look to Job. He does take her to task a bit, calling her a “foolish woman” in 2:10 but I don’t think it’s meant to be an insult, rather a reminder. The statement that follows the rebuke displays a level of understanding that she had yet to appreciate. He asks her, “shall we accept good from God, and not adversity?”
I believe this is Job at his most clear-headed. He is (temporarily) at peace with what’s unfolded. He assured her that God is still the source of goodness, not just the evil upon them. It’s an awesome moment when Job essentially says, “God knows what He’s doing.”5 Don’t forget, their world was deeply indoctrinated in the Doctrine of Retribution. They believed good people received good things, and bad people bad things. That false idea was so ingrained in society that it still had followers in the New Testament (see John 9:1). If we’re honest, it does today as well. The Prosperity Gospel that’s popular in the evangelical circles of the United States teaches that a healthy, wealthy home is the product of faithfulness and devotion to God.
Nothing could be further from the truth because good, faithful people suffer, and bad, sinful people prosper.
She, in a bit of irony, stands as the example of how many react to suffering. Their frustration boils over and they say things that don’t line up to their theology. Maybe, those statements come from a lack of understanding, maybe a lack of experience, or maybe, they’re just a product of our comfortable lives being grossly inconvienenced. No matter the reason, when life gets tough, too many of us respond like her and give up instead of forging ahead like Job.
While Job’s worldview gave God credit for every good thing, it also falsely blamed God for the bad (instead of Satan). That theology was wrong then, and it’s still wrong today. The evil of this world doesn’t come from God. It comes from sin and circumstances beyond our control. It exists to help shape, mold, and create disciples. It has purpose beyond the ordinary.
When it says “in all this, Job did not sin,” in 2:11, we see it’s possible to remain faithful through heartache. Don’t let someone convince you to give up, even if their intentions are altruistic. Job’s wife didn’t ask for something blasphemous, she longed to see her husband and their family find peace in the aftermath of a terrible circumstance. She had suffered, and she didn’t know how else to move on.
Let’s give her a break. Had she known the full story of God, namely that there was purpose in this calamity, she might not have been so presumptuous. She might have seen the virtue in his misery.6 Until we’re able to see as God does, let’s also give ourselves a break. Suffering hurts, and when it hurts those we love, it hurts even more. In those moments, we long to see their humiliation finally come to an end.
Thankfully, God is using that suffering to sanctify us just like Job. I believe at the end of the day, she understood that better than most, and I’m thankful, her story doesn’t end in chapter 2.
1 Don Shackelford, Job, Truth for Today Commentary, (Searcy, Ark: Resource Publications, 2010), 7.
2 Two examples of the dismissal of Job’s wife come from the following sources. They are merely presented to show you that not all discussion of her is flattering or sympathetic. L.A. Mott said, “Satan’s skepticism (of Job) is justified in her case,” in Thinking Through Job (19). Burton Coffman says, “some have tried to defend Job’s wife; but it is evident that she was indeed a tool of the tempter,” in his commentary on Job (33).
3 David A. Clines, Job 1-20, Word Biblical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1989), 52.
4 Tremper Longman III, Job, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 89.
5 Clines, Job 1-20, 54.
6 Wayne Jackson, “Mrs. Job – A Portrait of Defection,” Online Article. Simply follow the link – www.christiancourier.com
All Scripture is taken from the New King James Version (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.