Job, the great patriarch of ancient Uz, stands like a beacon light amidst the “tragedy” figures of literary history. The drama of his life is fairly well known. In terms of character, he was a spiritual giant. The inspired record describes him as one who was “perfect [spiritually mature] and upright.” He revered God and attempted to abstain from sinful living (1:1).
In addition to his spiritual qualities, the Creator had blessed him with material prosperity. He owned vast herds of livestock; indeed, he was “the greatest of all the children of the east” (1:3). Truly, the sage of Uz was one of the significant characters of the initial era of human history.
The Theological Significance
Jehovah was proud of Job. He was a trophy among humanity. Hence, on a certain occasion (the details of which are not revealed), the Lord challenged Satan: “Have you considered my servant Job...?” Immediately the malicious enemy responded: “Does Job serve God for nothing?” (1:9). The devil then proceeded to slanderously charge that the patriarch’s piety was solely out of self-interest. In other words, Jehovah bribed fidelity out of Job.
The subtle implication was this: “You, God, are not worthy of human service on the basis of your own merit; rather, you must pay for it.” The whole of the book of Job, in reality, is a response to this charge. Not because the Lord, for his own sake, needed to defend himself. No, this great spiritual battle was for our benefit.
In order to demonstrate the concept that there is such a thing as selfless devotion, Jehovah allowed Satan to afflict Job. He was assaulted in every area of human vulnerability. First, he lost his economic security. He went from riches to rags overnight. Second, Job’s ten children were killed in a single day by a terrible storm. Though deeply grieved, the remarkable man of faith simply blessed the name of his God (1:21).
But Satan was far from finished. Irate that Job had maintained his integrity (2:3), the Tempter suggested that if the patriarch’s body were afflicted, such would reveal the truth about his superficial dedication. Accordingly, Jehovah agreed to Job’s testing in that fashion. The patriarch of Uz was smitten with inflamation from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. He became a despicable bag of rotting flesh. The devil had been allowed to take virtually everything—prosperity, offspring, and now health. Only one thing remained—his wife. Beware of any gift offered by Satan!
At the height of his anguish, Mrs. Job spoke: “Do you still hold fast your integrity?” she asked, with obvious exasperation. And then, astonishingly, she suggested: “Curse God and die” (2:9, KJV). The ASV renders the phrase: “Renounce God and die.”
The term rendered “curse” is actually a flexible word that can signify either to “bless” or “curse,” depending upon the context. It was a common form of greeting which could be employed to say “hello” or “good-bye.” Job’s wife most likely was suggesting (as evidenced by his subsequent rebuke) that he say “good-bye” to God. Perhaps she anticipated this would produce a violent reaction in the Lord. He then would kill Job for such an outburst, and so put an end to the patriarch’s misery. Whatever the motive, her words reveal much about her defective faith.
Sober reflection, we believe, can lead one to draw several possible conclusions relative to the spiritual stability of Job’s companion. We would suggest the following as food for thought.
First, while it may be the case that Mrs. Job was urging her husband to renounce totally his faith in God, as some suggest (Smick, 886), it is possible that her admonition merely questions the nature of God, to the effect: “He certainly is not the sort of God you perceived him to be. Abandon him.”
Second, if it is the case that Mrs. Job retained a remnant of belief in the objective existence of God, she certainly had a distorted view of his real nature. Let us explore this momentarily.
Job’s spouse may have concluded that whereas there was some evidence to warrant the conclusion that a Supreme Being exists, in view of the present circumstance, there was nothing to suggest that he cares for suffering humanity. She might have adopted a rather deistic position, namely that Jehovah created man, but then left him on his own. He was a cold, uncaring God.
We must remind ourselves that in these difficult times of trial, Job’s wife had lost much—just as he had. When he lost his wealth, hers was gone as well. When his children were killed, she was left childless also. Perhaps none of us has ever experienced such a degree of soul ravagement. When emotion is set aside, however, one fact remains: Job retained a strong faith; his wife did not. Consider the patriarch’s retort: “What? Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (2:10b). A couple of technical points need discussion.
First, the term “evil” does not necessarily connote that which is morally wrong; rather, it can refer to anything “bad” that happens. Andersen (93) observes that the Hebrew word does not suggest “wickedness” on God’s part (cf. Isa. 45:7; Amos 3:6).
Second, Meredith Kline (464) notes that the term “receive” means to receive meekly and patiently. He cites a Canaanite proverb from the Amarna Letters which describes certain ants, who when smitten, do not “receive” such passively; rather, they bite back. Job’s patience is cited in the New Testament (Jas. 5:11).
By way of contrast, Mrs. Job’s faith was in tatters. She suggests her husband would be better off with Providence out of his life. Job remonstrates. He says she speaks like a “foolish” woman. The Hebrew adjective can carry the ideas of both “senselessness” and “wickedness,” or perhaps here, an insensitivity toward God. It can also describe the disposition of one who mocks at those who trust God (Pan, 12).
Let me call attention to what I believe were some fundamental mistakes which led to the demise of Mrs. Job’s faith.
Lack of Preparation
While one is not unsympathetic to her pain, Mrs. Job’s blasphemy (i.e., her admonition that he “curse” God) is inexcusable. The facts indicate that she had not made adequate preparation for this time of “evil,” i.e., hardship, in her life (2:10b).
This point cannot be stressed too rigorously. Complete trust in God, in the dark periods of one’s life, does not happen by accident. Just as the axe is prepared for the blows it must endure by the fires of the forge, just so, the heart of man must be “tempered” for the trials of the future. Deep spirituality, such as expressed by Job, is the result of walking with the Lord on a sustained basis. Let me bring this over to our own day and make a more practical application.
Spiritual strength is attained in a variety of ways. One must nourish his soul “day and night” (Psa. 1:2) with the instruction that derives from the Creator of the universe. This, of course, has been codified in the narratives of Scripture. David exclaimed: “Your word have I laid up in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psa. 119:11).
Too, one must take advantage of every possible occasion to immerse his spirit in acts of worshipful devotion. Prayer and praise, both as an individual and in corporate settings, are of paramount importance. Additionally, one must seek out the companionship of others of strong faith, and feed upon their strengths.
Finally, busily ministering to the needs of others, rather than focusing upon one’s own problems, is a great antidote against self-pity and the temptation to surrender one’s faith. Job’s wife was unprepared for the hardships which befell her. Such was a mistake. Preparation is a personal responsibility.
Lack of Perspective
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that there was a certain arrogance to Mrs. Job’s demeanor. She had analyzed her husband’s circumstances (as well as her own, no doubt) and concluded that God was irrelevant to the situation. Either he did not care about their plight, or else was impotent to do anything about it. She had concluded that there was no virtue in this misery; hence, the best remedy was to bid Jehovah adieu, and let the “chips fall” where they might.
Had she known the full story, namely that there was purpose in Job’s calamity, she might not have been so presumptuous.
First, as we have noted already, Job’s reaction to his suffering was a glorious testimony to the character of the man. The patriarch’s crowning statement was: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him” (13:15).
Second, while Job maintained his faith, he did lose some balance; he became fixated on his own innocence , rather than unreservedly contending for the justice of God. This was Elihu’s point: “he justified himself rather than God” (32:2). His attitude needed some adjustment.
Surely we ought to learn from this magnificent narrative. We may not understand the meaning of suffering in our own life. Perhaps it is self-caused (1 Pet. 4:14). Maybe it is the result of the cause-and-effect procedures in God’s orderly universe (Lk. 13:4). It could be permitted in order to strengthen us (Jas. 1:2-4).
The point is: From our microscopic vantage point, we don’t know enough to criticize our Maker, and it is the epitome of egotism when we do.
Finally, it is obvious that Mrs. Job was intellectually afflicted with a form of materialism. She appears to have entertained the notion that if her husband could but die, his suffering (at the tolerance of this uncaring God) would end. Curse God? End all suffering? Not hardly.
Job himself had contemplated the matter. “If a man die, shall he live again?” (14:14). He had at least some hope that the Lord would “hide [him] in Sheol” until divine “wrath be past”; that Jehovah would “appoint [him] a set time, and remember [him]” again (14:13). The patriarch did believe that in some future existence beyond death, he would be vindicated (19:23ff). For a more thorough consideration of this passage, see the article, Job’s Redeemer.
A renunciation of God does not end human difficulties; it only compounds them. It exposes the rebel to an ultimate reckoning that is far more horrible than the worst earthly torment we can imagine. Death only terminates earth’s scenes; there is a future accountability for one’s conduct after death (Rom. 14:12). There is a punishment “worse” than death (Heb. 10:28-29).
Let us not make the deadly mistake made by Mrs. Job. May we trust God to manage his world, and acknowledge that our current sufferings soon will be replaced with an incomparable glory (Rom. 8:18).