Job Being Scolded by his Wife, c. 1790, Francois-Andre Vincent
I recently read a blog post that contained a reference to Matthew 2:18b, “. . . Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” It brought to mind another reference to a grieving mother in scripture. Specifically, Job 2:8-10 which says, “And he took a potsherd to scrape himself while he was sitting among the ashes. Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”
One scripture reveals a frequently overlooked truth about grieving mothers. Grieving mothers do not want to be comforted – they want their children back! The second scripture seems to expect the reader to remember and consider that Job’s wife is also a grieving mother, because it certainly doesn’t come right out and say it.
“Curse God and Die”, words spoken by Job’s own wife, yet another villain in the book of Job. But is she really?
Search the commentaries and you will find that many believe that to be true.
The truth is, in today’s vernacular, her words are shocking and if we take them at face value, they are not what one would expect from an upright worshiper of God. Still the conclusions drawn by some commentaries go far beyond painting Job’s wife as an angry grieving mother. They assign her a role in this story that can only be based upon conjecture.
For example, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary says of Job’s wife, “His wife was spared to him, to be a troubler and tempter to him.” Interesting conclusion but think about who spared Job’s wife. God initially gave Satan power over all Job owned and restrained him only from touching Job himself. So God did not save Job’s wife to play the role of Satan’s tormentor; Satan did. Satan can hope that Job’s wife develops the attitude and has the influence to undermine Job’s faith, but unless she was demon possessed, he has no power to make her play that role. Satan could have spared Job’s wife assuming what her response would be but he could not be certain because he was not created with the ability to know the hearts and minds of men. So, at best, Satan could make an educated guess at how Job’s wife would respond just as he did when he stood before God Himself boasting that Job, God’s paragon of integrity, would curse God if he should take away all of the people and things Job most loved.
The Pulpit Commentary seems to concur. Allow me to refresh your memory and remind you that Job’s wife did not encourage Job to curse God and die after the death of her ten children. Nope. As the Pulpit Commentary points out, “Job’s wife had said nothing when the other calamities had taken place” instead she had “refrained her tongue, and kept silence, though probably with some difficulty.” The commentary goes on to state that, “Now she can endure no longer. To see her husband so afflicted, and so patient under his afflictions, is more than she can bear.”
Well, that’s one conclusion. But whose to say that this woman simply struggled to stand helplessly by and watch her husband suffer fast on the heals of the loss of her children? Whose to say she isn’t terrified that she will lose him too and that living in anticipation of his death is much harder than inviting it because it gives her the illusion of control in a life that has become defined by chaos and suffering. It’s a, let’s just get it over with attitude, eliminating the anxiety she is fighting to control.
The Pulpit Commentary goes on to say, “Her mind is weak and ill regulated, and she suffers herself to become Satan’s ally and her husband’s worst enemy. It is noticeable that she urges her husband to do exactly that which Satan had suggested that he would do, and had evidently wished him to do, thus fighting on his side, and increasing her husband’s difficulties.” Ouch, that’s harsh!
Where’s the compassion? These commentaries seem to focus on Job’s suffering and ignore the very deep grief of a mother who has just lost every single one of her children. This woman carried those ten babies in her womb, fed them at her breast, and nurtured them as they grew. A mother of that day and age had very defined responsibilities. Raising and caring for her children and running her household defined the bulk of her identity and life’s purpose. Not only is it likely that she fears the death of her husband but the protection and security he provides as well. Unmarried women were extremely vulnerable in that age. This commentary seems to overlook the very real and reasonable fears and emotions Job’s wife was surely experiencing.
The Pulpit Commentary continues to support the conclusions they’ve drawn: “The only other mention of her (Job 19:17) implies that she was rather a hindrance than a help to Job. Curse God, and die; i.e.”renounce God, put all regard for him away from thee, even though he kill thee for so doing.” Job’s wife implies that “death is preferable to such a life as Job now leads and must expect to lead henceforward.”
Is the idea that Job’s wife might, in her grief, consider death preferable to life really that shocking? I’m thinking the people who wrote this commentary have no firsthand experience as bereaved parents. I know, from talking to a number of mothers in mourning that this is absolutely not an unusual concept for a grieving mother to draw.
But then comes Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible. Gill points out that “Job had but one wife, and very probably she is the same that after all this bore him ten children more; since we never read of her death, nor of his having any other wife, and might be a good woman for anything that appears to the contrary; and Job himself seems to intimate the same . . .”
Gill contends that Job’s wife was not blaming her husband for insisting on his integrity and justifying his behavior, nor was she wondering aloud how he could keep his integrity “among so many sore temptations and afflictions”. Gill further states that Job’s wife was neither rebuking him for his religion and continued practice of it nor was she mocking him or hating him for continuing to live according to his to his religious convictions as Gill points out that Michal did David. Instead Gill contends Job’s wife was “suggesting to him there was nothing in religion, and advising him to throw up the profession of it; for he might easily see, by his own case and circumstances, that God had no more regard to good men than to bad men, and therefore it was in vain to serve him . . . ”
Gill also points out that “curse God, and die: which is usually interpreted, curse God and then destroy thyself . . . or do this [curse God] in revenge for his hand upon thee . . . [even] though [cursing God would have the following result] thou diest”. Gill finds this interpretation unlikely concluding it is “too harsh and wicked to be said by one that had been trained up in a religious manner, and had been . . . the consort of so holy and good a man”.
Gill explains that the phrase curse God and die can also “be rendered, “bless God and die”; and may be understood either sarcastically, “such as “go on blessing God till thou diest; if thou hast not had enough . . . and see what will be the issue [result] of it; nothing but death;” or understood to mean “wilt thou still continue “blessing God and dying?”
“Her words could also have been offered sincerely, as advising him to humble himself before God, confess his sins, and “pray” unto him that he would take him out of this world, and free him from all his pains and sorrow . . . ” or may be interpreted, “bless God”: take thy farewell of him; bid adieu to him and all religion, and so die; for there is no good to be hoped for on the score of that [God or religion] here or hereafter . . .”
Hmmm, could Job’s heartbroken wife, who had likely lost every trace of naiveté about the fragility of life, simply been encouraging her husband to make sure he was right with God prior to his impending death? Could her statement have been so emphatic because she was afraid for the state of his soul if his circumstances indeed reflected Job’s standing before God, which was a common belief of the time?
Was Job’s rebuke of his wife heated or was he simply attempting to broaden his wife’s spiritual perspective?
The Bible tends to read as a narrative, yet we here in the West are accustomed to reading stories liberally sprinkled with adjectives designed to ensure the reader understand the emotion or context relevant to the story.
The Bible, however, doesn’t coddle the reader with adjectives, and therefore interpretation becomes more challenging. For example, Job 2:9 does not read, “Then his wife incredulously or angrily said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” And how do we really know if the correct translation is “Curse God and die!” Instead of “Bless God and die!”?
Likewise, Job 2:10a doesn’t read, “But he” reasoned with, yelled at, strongly rebuked or patiently corrected “her,” “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?”
Was Job’s wife a villain as she is frequently portrayed? Overall, it’s not an important detail; unless you’re Job’s wife. But have you ever wondered why God left all those helpful adjectives out of his inspired Word? Could it be that He expects us to learn enough about the way people respond to grief in order to better discern the correct interpretation? Could it be that He wants us to take our time, meditate on His Word and ask Him to reveal those things if they could Help us to understand Him and His ways better? Could it be a bit of both?
As a bereaved mother, the manner in which Job’s wife is portrayed and understood is important to me. I hate it when others make judgments about how well or poorly I am traversing this passage through loss. We judge Job’s wife based on a few words with opposing meanings. We judge her because we are unaware that her words even have opposing interpretations. We jump to conclusions because the vast majority of people can’t begin to truly comprehend how a grieving mother thinks and at best can only imagine her thoughts and feelings. But in making these judgment her reputation and her integrity is either lauded or maligned which I believes bears consideration.
Still, the one very important detail that every commentary I consulted failed to address is that at the end of the book of Job, God had words of rebuke for Job’s friends, but not for his wife. Now that speaks to me! Maybe what the Bible doesn’t say can be as significant as what it does say.
The character and intention of Job’s wife may seem insignificant to many, but those who write commentaries seems to believe it important enough to explore. More importantly, 2 Timothy 3:16 proclaims that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;”. So, in my estimation, God felt the words of Job’s wife were indeed significant. God inspired the writer to record her words that the body of Christ might profit from them.