JOB'S WIFE Based on Job 2:1-13
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Because of his great novel, War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy became one of the most famous Russians that ever lived. His fame and fortune did not bring him happiness, however, because of his wife. They were about as compatible as a porcupine and a bubble. She loved luxury, and he hated it. She loved the plaudits of society, and he sought to escape them. She just loved the use of wealth for power, and he felt it was a cursed sin. She was so filled with jealousy that she drove all his friends away from the home. She even drove out her own daughter, and then rushed into Tolstoy's room and shot the girls picture with an air-rifle.
For years she nagged, scolded, and screamed to get her own way, and when he resisted she would fall to the floor in a fit with a bottle of opium to her lips, swearing she would kill herself. Finally, at age 82, Tolstoy fled from his home into the cold not knowing where to go. Eleven days later he died of pneumonia in a railway station house.
I share this history, of a less than ideal wife, because most of the commentators of history feel that Job's wife was in this same category, or even worse. Way back in the early centuries of Christianity, preachers were saying, Job's biggest tragedy was that his wife was not visiting the kids when the tornado hit. Job lost everything but his wife, and leaving her was Satan's most cruel blow. Modern preachers say this same type of thing as a joke, but many of the great theologians have meant it in all seriousness. Augustine called her the devil's accomplice. Calvin called her a Diabolical Fury.
No woman in history has been so severely condemned for so few words. She only steps on the stage for a moment, and she utters about ten words. On the basis of those few words she has been psychoanalyzed by preachers and scholars, and they have concluded, she was to Job what Judas was to Jesus. She was just a terrible wife. Kuyper, the modern preacher and theologian, expresses the pessimism of the centuries about her. He writes, "In her the last spark of a woman's love, the last remainder of feminine devotion, has been completely extinguished." God made man just a little lower than the angels, but here was a woman who seems to be just a little higher than the beast.
You women will be glad to hear that there is another, far more merciful, view of this poor woman. William Blake, the English poet-painter, produced a book of paintings depicting the major scenes of the book of Job, back in 1825. He did not follow the lines of tradition, and write her off as one of Job's problems. He portrayed her at Job's side sharing in his suffering, in every scene. He vindicated her against the scorn of the centuries. This made many Bible expositors look more closely at the record of Scripture, rather than tradition, and their closer look changed tradition.
For centuries nobody ever stopped to consider that the ten children Job lost were also her children, and that as a mother, she would have a more severe struggle with grief, even than Job had. Plus, there is the fact that she now, on top of it all, has a husband who is helpless, and apparently fighting a hopeless battle against a dreaded disease. It is often more difficult to watch a loved one suffer than to suffer yourself. For centuries men looked upon Job's wife as an uninvolved bystander, who could have been a great encouragement to poor Job in his time of need, but she blew it. Nobody ever bothered to ask what she was going though. Everybody talks about the great suffering of Job, but few ever talk about the greater suffering of his wife.
Modern scholars, more sensitive to the grief she was trying to cope with, see the whole account in a different light. They no longer see her as a tool of Satan trying to get Job to turn on God. They see her as a woman in despair who cannot take anymore of the heartache of seeing her husband die a slow agonizing death. She, therefore, urges him to end it quickly by cursing God. It was a common belief that sudden death would result from cursing God. She was saying that he should commit suicide. Her motive was mercy, for she was advocating mercy killing.
Job clearly rebukes her for her desperate advice, and tells her it is folly to be angry at God. You have to take the bad with the good, and that is just life. "You buy the land, you get the stone. You buy the meat, you get the bone." Job has a spirit that handles crisis in a calm philosophical manner, and he stifles his wife's more emotional reaction to grief. What we have here, in this couple, is a very common experience. Two people coping with tragedy with two different perspectives, both of which represent millions of personalities.
When we get the record straight, we discover that Mrs. Job's reaction is just as common, and just as normal as that of Job. All this business about her being the devils accomplice is nothing but slander against a Godly woman. God no where condemns her. He had a good chance at the end when he condemns Job's friends, but God obviously did not see her as a vicious foe. Instead, she becomes the wife and mother of the ideal family again, and they live happily ever after in God's blessing. I prefer to see Job's wife in the light of God's treatment of her, and Job's love for her, rather than in the light of histories condemnation of her.
If we learn nothing else from the study of Job's wife, let us learn this: Do not ask only, what do great men say, or what does tradition say, but ask, what does the Bible say. Check your convictions against the Word of God. If they don't fit the facts of Scripture, you should be glad to change your convictions. Once you know what Scripture says, then it is of value to search history and tradition for support. The contemporary poet, Thomas John Carlisle, in his book Journey With Job, has this excellent sympathetic description.
Job's wife is often caricatured
as a second Satan since she said
"Curse God and die" though few would like
to have their own biography encapsuled
in one phrase in or out of context.
At least she didn't prostitute theology
and make believe to dust her husband's ash pit.
Perhaps she had to take a job
to shield herself from the poor house and provide
for doctors bills-if one would come-
and to take her mind off what the patient looked like
and all that had happened to her as well as him.
Job did not cry which doesn't mean she didn't.
It's hard to have a hero for a husband.
Lest you think the modern poet is too sympathetic with her, let me share with you the fact that the merciful and optimistic view of her goes back before any preacher ever condemned her. The Septuagint is the Hebrew Bible which was translated into Greek 200 years before Christ. This was the Bible of New Testament Christians. In that Bible this paragraph was added to the story of Job to give more details. The 70 scholars who translated that Bible apparently felt that no woman could say only ten words and be done with it. So they added this expansion which, though it was not Scripture, does give us a commentary on how they saw Job's wife. They saw her as an exhausted grief stricken woman who had come to the end of her rope. That addition reads like this:
After a long time had pasted his wife said to him, "How long will you
exercise patience, saying See, I will persevere a little longer, waiting and hoping for my redemption? For consider, the memory of you has vanished from the earth, your sons and your daughters are no more,
those who were the pains and the travail of my womb, and for whom
I exhausted myself in vain. As for you, there you sit, your body
rotting amid worms, and spending the nights in the open air. While I,
wondering about a slave, roaming restlessly hither and thither, from
house to house, await the hour of a sunset that I may rest from my
weariness and from the sorrows which now press upon me. Now say
some word against the Lord, and die.
Job's wife carried even a greater burden than he, and so her grief reaction is more understandable. The apocryphal Job says she made the supreme sacrifice and sold her hair to buy bread. The Koran does accuse her of being tempted by Satan to have all her former luxury restored if she worshipped him. She told Job, and he swore to give her one hundred lashes if he recovered. The Koran, however, ends the story with mercy for her. Job was aloud to keep his oath by striking her with one blow of a palm branch with one hundred leaves. G. Campbell Morgan, that prince of expositors, sums up the positive perspective on this suffering woman. "Don't let us criticize her until we have been where she was." He says, she just felt she would rather see him dead than to suffer so.
All of this was to set the stage for a study of grief. There are two basic responses to tragic suffering: Resignation and rebellion. Job took the route of resignation, which is clearly the best way to go, but his wife took the way of rebellion, which is so much harder. So many people have to take this more difficult route, because they are just not made like Job. They need to be angry in their grief, and get their negative emotions expressed before they can adjust, and accept their suffering. If they try to suppress their rebellion and anger, and pretend they are resigned to their fate, as the will of God, they risk a lifetime of bitter resentment. Honest rebellion is far more healthy than hypocritical resignation.
Job's wife was no hypocrite. She was angry at life, and angry at God, and angry at her husband for his excruciating patience. Maybe he did not mind dying by inches, but she could not tolerate it, and she cried out, "For heaven's sake get it over with. If God won't make you well, then get on with the inevitable-cruse God and die." The Speaker's Bible says, "The sorrow of Job's wife has never been dealt with-perhaps never will be; certainly never by a man." I know what the author means. A man can never know what a mother of ten children feels like when she is suddenly, and tragically, left childless. But certainly men are not so hard and insensitive that they cannot come to some intelligent grasp of her grief.
Edgar N. Jackson, the outstanding authority on grief, in his books Understanding Grief and The Many Faces of Grief, says the goal of the counselor and comforter is not to say, "I know how you feel." That is superficial, and can never be fully accurate. What is important is not to feel what they feel, but to let them feel what they feel. You must give others the full right to feel their real feelings, and share them, rather than try to make them feel in ways that conform to what is acceptable to others. In other words, do not try to make them feel like you feel they ought to feel.
Poor Mrs. Job would have ended up in an asylum had she gone to most of the preachers of history for counseling. Most of them could not have tolerated her feelings of rebellion. The fact is, however, that her feelings were normal, and common even among Christians, when they faced tragedy. To accuse her of being Satan's assistant is as cruel a thing to do as something dreamed up by Satan's assistant. The record shows that Job also became very angry and rebellious as his suffering continued. Even this near perfect man, with nearly infinite patience, could not escape the rebellious emotions. He charges God with hunting him like a lion, and comes very close to doing what his wife asked him to do. In chapter 9:22-23 he says, "He destroys both the blameless and the wicked. When disaster brings sudden death, he mocks at the calamity of the innocent." If cursing God would have led to sudden death, Job came exceedingly close here, and elsewhere. The point I am seeking to establish is, it is not just the emotional female, but also the rational male that goes through the rebellious stage of grief.
It is very important to know this so that, if and when it happens to you, you can be aware that it is normal, and that God will not condemn you for your rebellious anger. Why not? Because the fact is, tragic death is not His will, but is suffering that comes from the enemy. It is evil, and we have every right to be angry about it. Jesus in His humility was angry as He saw the sorrow that the death of Lazarus to Mary and Martha. He was angry at the injustice of the money changers in the temple. What is not right should make us angry, and tragedy is not right. The death of any loved one is a robbery by our enemy, and anger is perfectly normal. Our problem is, we tend to get angry at God, for we feel He could have, and should have, prevented that robbery. Grief leads people to become angry at pastors for not being more effective with God in prayer for healing their loved ones. They get angry at doctors, funeral directors, and anyone else who seems to benefit by the work of the enemy.
Resignation is so much easier on everybody, but the facts of life indicate that rebellion is more common, and we need to be prepared to expect it in our own hearts, or we will give Satan an advantage over us in grief. Sometimes the finest Christians are shocked at how they handle grief. C. S. Lewis has become one of the best known Christians of the 20th century. His books are read around the world. He has become a pillar of the faith. Before Lewis died, he had to watch his loving wife die. He loved her dearly, and was very angry that disease and death should rob him of his treasure. This great man of God would not hurl rocks at Mrs. Job, but would have held her hand and said, "I understand."
He tells the whole story of his own rebellion in his book, A Grief Observed. He writes, "It is hard to have patience who people who say there is no death or death does not matter. There is death, and whatever is matters. And whatever happens has consequences, and they are irrevocable and irreversible." His own grief made him realize how easy it is to be like one of Job's friends. It is so easy to bear other people's sorrows, and give advise, but it is all so superficial, and we really do not grasp what grief is all about until we have to endure it ourselves. He wrote, "If my house has collapsed at one blow, that is because it was a house of cards. The faith which took these things into account was not faith, but imagination. The taking them into account was not real sympathy. If I had really cared, as I thought I did, about the sorrows of the world, I should not have been so overwhelmed when my own sorrow came."
C.S. Lewis is confirming G. Campbell Morgan's conviction that we ought not to condemn Job's wife for her rebellion until we have been where she was. Let me assure you, most Christians with a deep faith, and a clear hope of heaven, would still go through rebellion on their way to resignation. One of the best examples of this I have ever read is Iona Henry's book, Triumph Over Tragedy. Mom and dad sat in the hospital praying for their 14 year old daughter Jane. She had a brain tumor and was having surgery. The father was already in the rebellious stage, and was fighting a private war with God. "Jane, I told God, was only 14-too young to die with a tumor on the brain. I begged God for mercy and I argued: I even threatened Him-anything to save Jane."
Jane died, and they had to go home and tell their ten year old son. He ran into the library and began to kick the furniture. They decided to go on a trip after the funeral. They went to his father's place, who was a preacher. On the way they were hit by a train, and the father and son were killed instantly. The mother was as good as dead with many severe injuries. She spent a third of year in the hospital in a strange town. Her book is the story of her journey through rebellion to restful resignation in Christ.
She struggled so deeply with the issue of suffering, and I will sharing her insights as we study Job. For now, we want to learn from her rebellion. After her long recovery and return to a life empty of all the people she loved, she writes, "I wandered the streets, forlorn, lost, ready to scream my bitterness. I looked at women with husbands and laughing children, and I hated them." Many a times she thought of suicide. She had to cling to a post in the subway to keep from throwing herself on the tracks. Joni, another great Christian sufferer, also said she would have gladly committed suicide in her rebellious stage had she been able to figure out a way to do it. Her paralysis is the only thing that saved her.
What helped Iona come through her rebellion to a state of peaceful resignation in Christ was not easy answers, or condemnation of her rebellion, but acceptance of her rebellion. Those who helped her most were those who recognized that it is a very dark world in which Christ is the light, and a Christian does not need to pretend it is otherwise. We only add to people's grief when we fail to see their need to feel angry at life's evils. God has a much better psychology. He allows people to even get angry at Him, in order to rid him of their hostility. The Psalms are full of this kind of release for grief emotions. The more you understand grief, the more you will sympathize with Job's wife, and not condemn her. Christians have failed so often to be comforters in life's trials. Let us learn from the study of grief that Job's wife had a normal response to her suffering, and that we need to accept
this kind of response in other Christians who suffer tragedy.