Misunderstood and maligned

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Job’s wife. She has been misunderstood and maligned for millennia. I scratch my head wondering how we have continued to misrepresent a woman so reprehensibly despite what the Bible says of her?

From my reading, I learn of a faithful and devoted wife—a woman who has faith in God, has shared both the good and the bad with her husband—yet furrowed brows accompany the mere mention of her name. Why is this so?

Naturally, because Job dominates this Old Testament episode, our minds are drawn to and consumed by him. Nevertheless, if we could just lean our heads a little to one side and peer past Job, we would see the woman behind him.

Remember, Job did not suffer alone. His wife was there with him. She suffered the loss of all their earthly possessions and the accompanying wealth. Her reputation was tarnished and she became the subject of spiteful gossip and undeserved scorn. However, the painful loss of those worldly trinkets was nothing compared to the heartbreak of losing her children (Job 1:13-19). In God’s original plan there was to be no death, so we are unprepared when it happens within our own home, and even more when it happens to our own children. The lament of Job’s wife echoed throughout the land, barely reflecting the heartache within her breast, which had been torn asunder.

We should not forget the speed and viciousness with which these calamities occurred, as is the opportunistic character of Satan when the restraining hand of God is partly withdrawn. These tragedies struck in one day, but Job was not alone, there was one person who shared his pain—probably more, if I know anything of a mother’s love.

Time passes in the story of Job, but the heartbreak of pain and loss does not. Two ruined lives stand in the shadows of what were once full, happy and prosperous times, as her husband is incapacitated with a sickening, body-deforming illness. In Job 2:7 the illness is identified as boils covering his entire body. No part of his person was spared, making even the simplest tasks impossible to perform.

Now comes possibly the most infamous verse of the Old Testament in Job 2:9. At the commencement of chapter two, Satan is given freedom to hurt the body of Job, but not to kill him. We have no idea of time in relation to the events of chapter one. It could be one week, one month, six months—we just don’t know. Nor do we know how long Job suffered his terrible affliction before his wife advised her husband: “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!”

At this juncture, it matters little to me whether we retreat to the Hebrew root word for curse brk, which some have suggested can also be translated “bless”. That is immaterial. Job’s wife is a desperate and emotionally overwhelmed woman. Her husband lives with debilitating pain; there is no relief afforded him, despite the services of the very best physicians. Hope has been drained from the cup of reason and logic, as she witnesses the terrible suffering of her husband. She wants his pain to stop, but there is no cure, no end of suffering in sight.

Therefore, she adjures him with the heartbreaking appeal, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die.” Instead of imagining a vile vindictive woman tempting her husband to blaspheme, think of a broken wife weeping as she gently touches her husband’s cheek then nestling her hand in his, quietly beseeching him. For this is the man she loves. She is Job’s only wife (unusual for the time) and it is likely they have shared the marriage bed for longer than 30 years.

Imagine yourself in a similar situation. Or perhaps you don’t have to—you have been there immersed in one or more dark chapters of life. Someone dear to you is suffering or has suffered chronic pain, each minute of each hour, every day, month after month after month. The prognosis is death. There is no chance of recovery. Do you ask the doctor to increase the morphine to control the pain, which will shorten the life, or do you allow your loved one to suffer? Only you can answer that question. [pullquote]

Nevertheless, for Job’s wife, her husband’s terrible suffering must come to an end, and God needs to interpose. God must intervene by removing the breath of life from her husband. This is the meaning of the words, “curse God and die.” We should not judge too harshly here, remembering that, in desperation and crisis, even the most reasonable people will do and say the most extraordinary and seemingly unreasonable things.

Euthanasia or “assisted death” was not an option available to Job’s wife, so she asks her husband to seek for God to bring an end to his suffering. How does Job respond in verse 10?

“But he said unto her, ‘Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?’ In all this did not Job sin with his lips” (Job 2:10, KJV).

Job says to his wife, “You speak like one of the foolish women.” In other words this is out of character for her; it is unlike her. He is saying [I paraphrase], “You sound like one of those cackling unreasonable gossips who haunt the marketplace.” Job is not comparing her with foolish women, he is contrasting her with foolish women, because her desperate statement (2:9) was not typical of her.

Further to this, we know that Job’s wife had not abandoned him. She became his carer. While others abandoned him, even his servants refused to listen to his requests and pleas (19:16), she did not. This close intimate care is revealed in the words found in Job 19:17: “My breath is strange to my wife.” The question must be asked, how does Job’s wife know his breath was “strange” or as the New King James says, “repulsive”? For one simple reason: she was the only one coming close enough to him to smell it. She is caring for him, feeding him, quenching his thirst, bathing him, kindling the fire at night and keeping the insects off him by day.

This point is strengthened in 31:10, when Job declares that if he has been unfaithful to his wife, “let her grind for another”. We at times pass over verses, not realising their importance, but here we learn, because of his faithfulness to her, his wife continues to be faithful to him. She grinds corn and meal to supply his food, to sustain his strength. She remains at his side.

I am surprised that while many seek to condemn Job’s wife, God does not. God strongly rebukes his three friends, but there is not a word to be found against Job’s wife from God. If she was the terrible person many depict her to be, then why isn’t she condemned by God; why isn’t she rebuked by God?

Of Job’s three friends, we read this in 42:7, “And it was so, that after the Lord had spoken these words unto Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath.’” Oh yes, God strongly condemns the three friends, but not Job’s wife. On the contrary God approves of her faithfulness, which is demonstrated by the blessings she partakes of, with the restoration of her husband’s fortunes.

In chapter 42 we read of these blessings: Job’s material wealth is doubled and verse 12 succinctly states, “So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning.” However, are we so spiritually shortsighted as to believe that Job’s wife did not also share in the reversal of his fortunes? Of course she did, but more importantly God blesses Job’s wife with the gift that in biblical times demonstrated God’s approval and blessing upon a woman—children.

She had seven sons and three daughters (Job 42:13). Interestingly, the first three children born were not males. After Job’s suffering we would think a male heir would be God’s priority for his faithful servant, but God remembered that there were two faithful servants, and in this Job’s wife is especially blessed by first bearing three daughters.

Furthermore, only the girl’s names are recorded, Jemima, Keziah and Keren-Happuch, and most unusually, Job gave his three daughters an inheritance among their younger brothers (verses 13-15). As we all know, the bond between a mother and child is one thing, but between a mother and daughter is something altogether unique, and in this we see God testifying to the faithfulness of Job’s wife, by bringing daughters back into her life to heal her broken heart.

What do we learn from our study of Job’s wife? To be careful how we judge others. Not to be hasty to accuse and condemn people before we know all the facts. To be distrustful of gossips and those who tell part-truths, and are eager to find fault. In doing so, we will be able to stand beside and protect those who are innocent, such as Job’s wife, who has been misrepresented and maligned for far too long. Let us have an end to it.

Rod Anderson is pastor of the Orchard and Greenvale churches in Melbourne, Victoria.

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