Job lost his family, his estate, his friends, his health, and his reputation in a matter of hours. But he isn't the only person who suffered in this story. Behind the scenes his wife also lost her kids, her home, her reputation, and her security. Mrs. Job only makes a brief appearance in Job 2:9-10, but it's enough to open our eyes to the silent and lonely pain experienced by secondhand sufferers.
Lessons from Secondhand Suffering
A store has recently opened in New York City that sells husbands, if you can imagine it; a woman can come to the store and choose a husband, so this story goes I was sent recently from someone, obviously tongue in cheek.
Evidently, among the instructions at the entrance is a description of how the store operates and the warning, “you may visi5t the store only once.”
There are six floors in all and the attributes of the men increase as the shopper goes up to higher floors. There is, however, a catch – you may choose any man from a particular floor, or you may choose to go up a floor, but you cannot go back down except to exit the building.
So, this one woman finally decided to give it a try. She went to the husband store to find a husband and she walked in the lobby doors.
Ahead of her, on another set of doors was a sign that read, “The men on this first floor have jobs and love the Lord.”
She thought . . . I’ll try the second floor.
The elevator doors opened and a sign on the door just across the hallway read, “These potential husbands have jobs, love the Lord and love kids.”
“That’s pretty good,” she thought, “but I’ll try one floor up.”
On the third floor, the sign said, “These men have well paying jobs, love the Lord, love kids, and are extremely good looking.”
“Oh my,” she thought, but felt compelled to keep going.
She went up to the fourth floor and the sign read: “These men have well paying jobs, love the Lord, really love kids, are extremely good looking and have a consistent romantic streak.”
“Mercy me,” she said, “Should I settle for one of these?” Oh, but what might be on the 5th floor?
She traveled up and the sign read, “These men have great paying jobs, love the Lord, really love kids, are extremely good looking, have a sensitive romantic streak and love to cook and do housework.”
“Wow!” She was tempted to stay and choose right then and there, but she pressed on, breathlessly, to the top floor and the elevators opened and a sign just across the hallway read, “There are no men on this floor; this floor exists solely as proof that women are impossible to please.”
I did not think that was funny!
I’m in trouble now with all the ladies. I promise for the rest of the morning to only say encouraging things.
What if you could pick life’s mate by knowing ahead of time all the attributes about him or her? You could shop for the best deal.
In fact, what if you knew what was coming just around the corner in life . . . would that make it easier to decide what to do or not?
Truth is, there isn’t any way to avoid the challenges of life, is there?
Life is actually more difficult and dangerous than you even knew.
Whenever I marry a young couple, at that prayer of dedication I often choke with emotion, knowing we are dedicating a home where neither of them know the joys and sorrows that are ahead.
That’s why it’s so important to dedicate them to God.
I came across this research recently in my study . . . more than likely, you’ve been exposed to something very dangerous . . . and you probably didn’t even known it.
Up to 1 million young people are affected with a variety of physical ailments because of it – including respiratory tract infections, asthma, and middle ear infections. Some children even experience permanent hearing loss because of it.
In adults, it is responsible for cancer and heart diseases – in fact, 50,000 deaths occur because of it every year.
What makes it especially troubling is that the victims never personally did anything to bring this about – they just happened to be exposed to it.
That’s why 14 states have now passed laws to get rid of it in public places. Nine states have made sure it never shows up in workplaces and restaurants
If you haven’t guessed by now, this culprit is simply called, “secondhand smoke.”
In the 1980’s Philip Morris conducted research that proved secondhand smoke was highly toxic, yet the company suppressed the findings during the next 20 years.
Now the truth is out. The Surgeon General actually reported that there is no such thing as a risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.
By 2005, research had confirmed that secondhand smoke is responsible for 200,000 annual cases of respiratory tract infections in 2 year olds and under. Secondhand smoke causes 15,000 hospitalizations every year; it is the reason for half-a-million asthma attacks and 1.6 million visits to the doctor’s office every year.
Facts adapted from “Secondhand Smoke Fact Sheet”, www.lungusa.org
These are people who suffer, not because they ever touched a cigarette or a cigar or a pipe . . . not even once; they just lived with someone who did; they just rode in a car with someone who did; they ate next to someone who did.
Just a brief exposure to secondhand smoke, science has now proven, makes the blood platelets to become stickier. The lining of blood vessels is damaged, coronary flow is decreased and many more things which occur from even brief exposure to secondhand smoke.
The purpose of my sermon is not to get those who smoke to quit – though if it does, great. You can lay your cigarettes and cigars up here on the pulpit stage after the service. But that would only be the secondhand purpose of my message.
It’s fascinating to me that we can become deeply concerned about the affects of secondhand smoke . . . states pass laws to deal with it; the presence of germs . . . the avoidance of stress in the workplace . . . safe working conditions . . . and on and on, get a lot of attention.
Yet there is little evidence observed or effort demonstrated against something that is far more devastating and destructive and life-altering; something far more life-threatening and dangerous and dehabilitating than secondhand smoke.
I’d like to call it, secondhand suffering.
Millions upon millions of people are affected adversely by it every single year. It is the cause of physical difficulties beyond number – it fills bed after bed in the hospital and doctors and counselors and psychologists offices every single year by the millions.
No laws have ever been passed to get rid of it. No science can ever eradicate it . . . no medicine can fully get rid of its affects.
Secondhand suffering – suffering brought on in the lives of people who are exposed to those who are suffering.
The Bible offers the only help . . . and the only hope.
When we left our study in Job, he was sitting at the city dump – on the heap of ashes left by the burning of garbage and refuse. There he sat in utter and total agony, scratching himself with a broken piece of pottery in an attempt to rid himself of his awful itching.
He and his wife had no idea that these events would be a part of their future when they married perhaps 30 to 40 years earlier.
Their lives were turned upside down.
Job was now suffering from a long list of physical ailments and discomforts:
- He suffered from ulcerous sores (2:7)
- He experienced persistent itching (2:8)
- He couldn’t eat (3:24)
- He was overwhelmed at times with dread and fear (3:25)
- And suffered from insomnia (7:4)
- He developed worms in his open sores (7:5)
- He suffered from cracked and oozing skin (7:5)
- He had difficulty breathing (9:18)
- He developed dark circles around his eyes (16:16)
- He experienced loss of weight (19:20; 33:21)
- He had constant high fever and aching joints (30:28, 30)
- He was in constant, continual pain (30:16, 17)
He was living a physical nightmare.
He had moved out of the house and into the town dump where the other beggars and lepers lived, in so much agony that he didn’t really want to be around anybody else.
Add to this the fact that his name would become a mockery and people would talk about nothing other than Job, the man they thought lived for God but evidently was living a sinful, secret life and God was now judging him severely.
What gets lost in all this was the only other family member who was left alive, besides Job. She has already suffered much, but she will suffer yet further indirectly as she watches her husband suffer.
If Job is the epitome of suffering, she then becomes the epitome of secondhand suffering. Both are deadly to one’s faith and trust in the sovereign goodness of God.
We’ll call her Mrs. Job.
Rabbinical tradition believes that she was Dinah, the daughter of Jacob. The evidence is strong that Job lived during the days of the patriarchs, but barely evident that she was Jacob’s daughter.
Other tradition held that one of Dinah’s daughter, evidently later born to Job and Dinah, moved to Egypt and she was the one who became the wife of Joseph when he was elevated to prime minister.
We don’t know any of this for certain. It only grows mysterious because there is little to glean about this woman who was Job’s wife.
What we do know for certain about Mrs. Job is that she appears briefly in chapter 2; turn to Job chapter 2 and verse 9 which takes place after Job has moved out of the house and into the city garbage dump . . . where for some time he’s been suffering all these physical ailments. Notice verse 9. Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!”
One translator translates it, “Renounce God, and die.” Another puts it, “Bid farewell to God, and die.” In other words, turn your back on God, get rid of your testimony of faith which is the only thing keeping you alive, and let God put you to death.
Adapted from Albert Barnes, Notes on the Old Testament: Job, Volume 1 (Baker, 1949), p. 118
It’s obvious that God has given up on you, why don’t you give up on God!
Some might picture her as some conniving serpentine. Calvin believed she was spurred on by the devil to tempt her husband. Augustine believed she was the devil’s accomplice, allowed to live only so he could induce her to tempt her husband to curse God.
We’re not told.
After all the research and language work I could do, I personally do not believe that she was trying to get Job to sin . . . I believe she was trying to end Job’s suffering.
The Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures called the Septuagint was translated in the 3rd and 2nd centuries before Christ. While the Septuagint is not inspired scripture, it’s interesting that the Apostle Paul and even our Lord quoted from it during their ministries.
In the Septuagint, Mrs. Job has a much longer speech which she delivers to Job – perhaps giving us some insight on what drove her to suggest he end his life by renouncing God.
It reads, When a long time had passed, [she asked] “How long will you endure, saying, Behold, I will wait yet for a little time, looking for the hope of my salvation? Behold, the memory of you has been blotted out from the earth, [our] sons and daughters, the travail and pain of my womb, whom with toil I reared for nothing. And yet you yourself sit in the decay of worms, passing the nights under the open sky, while I am a wanderer . . . from place to place and from house to house, waiting until the sun goes down, so that I may rest from my toils and from the pains that now grip me.” Later on the text records that she goes through the humiliation of cutting off her hair and selling it in order to buy some bread.
David J. A. Clines, Word Biblical Commentary: Job 1-20 (Word, 1989), p. 53
All is lost . . . we’re finished . . . there’s no way back . . . God has renounced us . . . Oh Job, I can’t stand to see how you suffer . . . renounce God and be released from your terrible misery.
We can’t defend what she recommends to her husband . . . but we can understand.
As I have been immersed in this text for some time, I’ve made several observations about those who endure secondhand suffering . . . or suffering for that matter.
Let me quickly give you 4 of them:
What we can learn from second hand suffering:
- Second hand suffering can be as painful as suffering first-hand
Though different, it can be equally acute and sharp.
Trouble is secondhand pain may be impossible to express.
While someone suffering physical pain can simply say, “I’m hurting” . . . the one who watches, unable to help ore relieve the pain is also hurting – only differently . . . perhaps even more deeply.
- Second hand sufferers can reach points of despair more quickly than those who are suffering.
Mrs. Job is proof. She has already decided that God is not worthy of worship or submission. She has already decided that life wasn’t worth living, and she is now advising Job to decide the same thing.
She has already reached the point of despair. And why not? She’s lost 10 kids too! She has effectively lost her husband, her livelihood. Her husband once sat at the gates as a respected leader – he was the renowned man of the east.
Their honor is gone . . . and as far as she is concerned, their hope is gone too.
In the Hebrew text, the verbs, curse and die are imperatives. She is urgent in her counsel, no doubt given through wrenching sobs and tears . . . I picture her having fallen to the ashes beside him, “Job . . . just give in and give up.”
But he doesn’t agree – in chapter 2. He’s not to that point of despair – in chapter 2. He will in chapter 3 and he will curse the day he was born.
Secondhand suffering can prove to be more toxic to your faith than to those directly affected by the trials of life.
- Second hand-sufferers have their own personal sorrows to endure and personal lessons to learn;
A sign on the wall of a junior high classroom contained these words, “Experience is the hardest teacher. It gives the test first and then the lesson.”
John MacArthur, The Power of Suffering (Victor Books, 1995), p. 135
Ever felt like that?
You’re still struggling over what the lessons are, but the tests keep coming.
For the secondhand sufferer, there are often two sets of tests, not just one. What is happening to that person in your life who is suffering, and what does God want your to learn as you suffer through it too?
One woman in our church put her thoughts on paper as she watched her husband look for another job – a process of ups and downs that lasted for more than 2 years. He had been laid off and for some time now, the pressure was mounting . . . along with the bills. She wrote some very insightful devotional thoughts; one paragraph was entitled, “Who will comfort me?” She writes, “Both of you have been dramatically impacted by this layoff. Both of you have great needs. He has lost his job; you have lost your security. He thinks he has lost his identity because he lost employment; you think you’ve lost your identity because you feel like you’re losing him. He desperately wants a job and you desperately want him to have a job.”
Diane Johnson, Blue Moods/Blue Skies
This was, in part, the testimony of Mrs. Job.
She has relied on Job for everything: for her economic existence, for her social status, for her moral standing in the community. But now, in a matter of moments, she too has lost everything. Her income is gone, now that the cattle and servants have been destroyed. Her position as matriarch and wife of a prince has been lost.
Word Commentary, p. 51
Through no fault of her own, her life has been turned upside down; she is reduced to living off handouts; enduring the pity and stares of former friends who used to envy her good fortune; worst of all, her husband sits at the town dump – all his honor destroyed; all dignity gone; shivering in pain and fever; unable to eat; covered with sores . . . she now believes that sudden death would be better than lingering pain.
She has her own lessons to learn and questions to ask and tears to shed.
This is her Gethsemane. Spurgeon once said of this scene, “O dear friend, when thy grief presses thee to the dust, worship there. If that spot has come to be thy Gethsemane, then present there thy strong crying and tears unto thy God. Remember David’s words, “Ye people, pour out your hearts – but do not stop there, finish the quotation – “Ye people, pour out your hearts before Him.” Turn the vessel upside down; it is a good thing to empty it, for this grief may ferment into something more sour; turn the vessel upside down, and let every drop run out; let it run out before the Lord.”
Charles Spurgeon, The Suffering of Man & The Sovereignty of God (Fox River Press, 2001), p. 18
- Secondhand sufferers may reach wrong conclusions and need help in balancing their biblical perspective and godly stand.
In other words, secondhand sufferers may need you, the sufferer, to help them grow up, more than you need them to help you stand up.
Have you ever gone to visit someone who is suffering – either at the hospital or in their home and when you left, you were convinced that you didn’t do them any good, but that they had deposited strength into your own soul.
You were wondering how they were gonna get past it or through it and they told you everything they were getting out of it.
You didn’t do them any good, but they did you a world of good.
This is exactly what happens to Mrs. Job. She’s lost her balance.
She finds her husband at the garbage site and says to him, “Job, it’s time to bury your testimony of faith and renounce God and die.”
And Job, the sufferer, becomes Job the teacher. I want to draw out 3 or 4 lessons from Job’s response to his wife. Notice verse 10. But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks.
Lesson #1: Suffering is never an excuse to lash out at others around you.
What seems at first to be harsh is actually kind restraint. Would you notice that he does not call her a fool – or a foolish woman, but he says, “you are speaking as one of the foolish women speaks.”
In other words, “I know you’re not like one of them . . . even though you’re talking like one of them, I know that’s not really you.”
Job does not lash out and call his wife a fool – from the Hebrew word, “nabbal”. It is used in the Old Testament for someone who is actually impious and undiscerning.
He’s effectively saying to her, “You are speaking words that are beneath you . . . you know God better than that . . . I know you’re disillusioned . . . you have so much to grieve over . . . but this idea of cursing God is the talk of women who do not know God – like you do.”
Adapted from Word, p. 54
This was actually a kind way to remind his wife of what she already knew.
Lesson #2: Suffering is often the best podium from which deep truths can be taught.
Job continues to teach in verse 10, Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?”
The Hebrew verb “accept” (qibbel) describes an active, positive participation in what God delivers . . . not just some sort of passive reception.
John E. Hartley, Job (Eerdmans, 1988), p. 84
The same embracing of the good things from God embraces the painful things from God.
Mrs. Job had resigned. Job had received.
Hers was resignation and despair; his was reception and hope.
Another woman who suffered greatly wrote these words, “Resignation and acceptance are two different things. Resignation is surrender to fate; acceptance is surrender to God. Resignation lies down quietly in an empty universe. Acceptance rises up to meet the God who fills the universe with purpose and destiny. Resignation says, “I can’t” while acceptance says, “I can.” Resignation says, “It’s all over for me.” Acceptance asks, “Now that I’m here, Lord, what’s next?” Resignation says, “What a waste.” Acceptance asks, “Lord, in what redemptive way can you use this mess.”
So wrote Elizabeth Elliott, the wife of a man who was killed by members of an Amazonian tribe of Indians. A woman who went back into their village along with Marge Saint and their children, translated the Bible and saw nearly the whole tribe come to faith in Jesus Christ.
Adapted from Jill Briscoe, “In My Father’s Arms”, at preachingtoday.com
And some 40 years later, one of those children, Steve Saint, stood in this pulpit a few months ago and declared the faithful work of God and the wonder of His sovereign plan.
One more lesson: #3: Suffering is the proving ground of our satisfaction with the will of God.
Habakkuk, the Old Testament prophet, put it this way when he wrote,
Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the Lord,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
By the way, I am very encouraged that we have no record of a rebuttal from Mrs. Job. No heated words in return to his kind rebuke and gentle lesson of God’s right to give both joy and pain; which indicates to me that she agreed . . . perhaps she came under great conviction . . . who knows, but perhaps there was a revival in her own spirit there at the city dump, on the ash heap next to her suffering husband.
This first section of the book of Job could rightly be entitled, When Lightning Strikes.
It certainly struck the life and property of Job. His family and his fortune, his dreams, his comfort, his plans went up in smoke.
The last scene of this first section is Job and his wife, perhaps huddled on the ground; she is unable to rest her head on his shoulder, but perhaps she sits next to him . . . how he would love to reach his arms around her and comfort her, but all he can do is quietly remind her to trust in the faithfulness of God.
Let me wrap up this first section with a verse from 1 peter, where the Apostle Peter wrote, “Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” (1 Peter 4:19)
Those who suffer according to the will of God.
Mr. and Mrs. Job weren’t the first and they aren’t the last. Maybe you also are suffering according to the will of God. Perhaps it’s secondhand suffering . . . or suffering firsthand.
What does Peter say to do? Entrust your souls to your faithful Creator.
What great advice. The word entrust (paratithemi) is a banking term meaning “to deposit.” It carried the idea of depositing treasure into safe and trustworthy hands.
When you deposit money into your bank, there’s a limit on how much the FDIC will insure – it’s around 100,000 dollars. I have never tested the limit.
But our Creator God has no limits on what He can insure. Whatever you deposit into His care is safe. This is blessed assurance.
God will never say to the sufferer, “Sorry, that’s more than I can handle . . . that’s the limit . . . I can’t guarantee any more.”
Charles Swindoll, Hope Again (Word, 1996), p. 210
No, Peter says, “When you suffer . . . you can rest assured that your soul and every detail of your life is in the powerful hands of your Creator and you can rest in His compassion and care in the midst of your ash heap . . . even when the toxic fumes of secondhand suffering fill your heart and mind with fear and doubt.”
He is faithful and strong.
By the way, the same Greek word, entrust” Peter used, was also used years earlier by our Lord when he hung upon that cross and uttered those final words, “Father, into your hands I commit – I entrust – my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)
If at the hour of His greatest suffering, Jesus could entrust his life into the hands and will of his Father then so can we.
And when we do, we become a little more like Mr. and Mrs. Job and even a little more like our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.