Often overlooked in the dramatic suffering of Job is the unnamed, second-hand sufferer — Job’s wife.
In the space of one day, Job’s wife — let’s call her Mrs. Job — watched her husband lose his businesses, social status and wealth. Together, they witnessed the tragic deaths of their ten children. Following that, she would helplessly attempt to comfort Job when his body was covered with unimaginably painful boils.
The scene opens in Job, chapter 2, with Job sitting on an ash heap, scraping his open sores with a piece of broken pottery. In the ancient world, the ash heap was the land fill — a place where scraps of food, trash, and human waste were discarded. It was a place where lepers and beggars lived. What a vivid picture of the loss and deprivation experienced by this couple.
Scripture doesn’t give us any details about Mrs. Job’s personal suffering. It doesn’t tell us how she coped with losing her children. We aren’t told how her heart doubtlessly grieved over the loss of her children as well as her husband’s excruciating physical pain.
Perhaps she spent idle hours remembering their wedding and the happiness they shared as they began life together. Perhaps she contemplated the status they had achieved — the wealth, the respect in their region, their numerous children who honored and respected them.
In the Septuagint — a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures frequently quoted by Jesus and New Testament authors — we’re given added information that Mrs. Job has already experienced the ultimate humiliation for a woman in her culture: she has cut off her hair and sold it to buy bread.
For most believers, Mrs. Job is remembered in a negative light — a self-indulged character who tempted her husband to curse God as soon as things got too difficult to bear. We quickly judge her for her statement to Job — the only words recorded from her lips: “Do you still hold fast to your integrity?” Mrs. Job asked her husband. “Curse God and die” (Job 2:9b).
Rather than quickly passing judgement on her, consider the fact that she is now begging for food, selling her clothing, jewelry, and even her hair. Beyond that, she’s had to watch her husband openly mocked, his reputation destroyed, businesses failed, staff murdered, and children tragically killed. It’s little wonder she questions why her husband is loyal to a God who has clearly not been loyal to them. What she counsels Job to do is turn his back on God — Who evidently has turned His back on them. And by doing that, she assumes God will quickly end Job’s life, rather than continue to make Job suffer.
What can we learn from the suffering of Mrs. Job?
Secondhand suffering can be just as difficult as firsthand suffering.
When we look at this married couple, who’s the first to reach the point of desperation? Mrs. Job is. She is the first to reach this state of depression and bitterness. Frankly, she’s confused as to why her husband is not angry with God. She can’t understand how Job can sit there, passively, while God wreaks havoc on his life. She is clearly ready to give up and die, not understanding why her husband — the firsthand sufferer — isn’t ready as well.
Suffering can be the best platform for comprehending deep truths.
When Mrs. Job reaches this point of despair, Job responds by remembering out loud. He reminds his wife that nothing they had was theirs to begin with — everything was a gift from God. Because of Job’s correct view of stewardship, he was able to remind his wife of the correct perspective. He says to her, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In other words, a wrong perspective on life — and God — is to accept the good and reject the bad. The right view of life is to accept both the good and the bad with the knowledge that a sovereign God controls all of life.
Elizabeth Elliott waited for her husband Jim to return from a ministry flight to the Auca Indians, a tribe the Elliotts and four other families hoped to reach with the gospel. After learning that Jim and the four other men were brutally murdered by tribesmen, Elizabeth reflected on her experience, “Resignation and acceptance are two different things. Resignation is surrender to fate; acceptance is surrender to God.”
Suffering tests our satisfaction with God’s sovereignty.
Isn’t it comforting to know that our destinies are not the result of fate, chance or luck?
We cannot expect to receive only good things in life from the Lord and never experience suffering. In fact, both the Lord and His apostles would write in the New Testament that persecution, trials and suffering are not accidents, but appointments that deepen our walk with Christ.
Even in the midst of trials, we take comfort in knowing that neither fate nor the will of Satan can harm us beyond what God has planned for us. Whether our current circumstances are good or bad, our lives never slip out of God’s controlling hand.