188 - Mrs. Job (Job 2:9–10)
Job is not the only one suffering. Behind the scenes his wife is dealing with the loss of her children and watching her beloved husband endure physical and emotional agony. Her brief appearance opens our eyes to the lonely pain experienced by secondhand sufferers.
Around 1 million people are touched with a variety of illnesses due to exposure to something you might not even notice. It can cause asthma, respiratory problems, and middle ear infections.
Exposure to it has caused cancer and heart disease—thousands of people die as a result of it every year. If you haven’t guessed by now, it’s simply called “secondhand smoke.” People suffer greatly from it, even though they have never touched a cigarette or a cigar themselves—they just live with someone who smokes.
Countries and individual states have passed laws regarding secondhand smoke. Restaurants and airports and schoolyards forbid smoking. Why? Because the danger to others is now well known.
There is something today that is more dangerous than secondhand smoke. I like to call it “secondhand suffering.” This is the suffering of those who are exposed to the suffering of others—their spouse, their child, their parent, or a close friend. Secondhand suffering is dangerous and discouraging, in its own unique way, in the hearts and lives of those who can only watch someone they love, suffer.
When we left off in our study in Job, he was at the city dump. There in the place where lepers and beggars live, he is sitting on a heap of ashes left by the burning of garbage.
He is suffering the loss of his ten children and the effects of some twenty-five different physical ailments. When Job and his wife had gotten married years earlier, they had no idea they would endure such a nightmare of sorrow and calamity and loss. Now their lives have been turned upside down.
What gets lost in all this is the woman who not only directly suffered the loss of everything and everyone dear to her but now is also forced to watch her husband suffer. If Job is the epitome of suffering, his wife becomes the epitome of secondhand suffering. Both can be deadly to faith and trust in the sovereign plan of God.
Let’s call her Mrs. Job. Rabbinical tradition believes she was Dinah, the daughter of Jacob. While it’s clear that Job lived before, or during the days of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we cannot be sure Jacob’s daughter was Job’s wife. What we do know is that she appears briefly in chapter 2 when Job has moved from their home—which they may very well have lost in bankruptcy—into the town garbage dump.
She says to him here in verse 9, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.”
One scholar translated this, “Renounce God, and die.” Another puts it, “Bid farewell to God, and die.” In other words, she is saying, “Turn your back on God, abandon your testimony of faith, which is the only thing keeping you alive, and let God put you to death.”
She is basically crying out here, “Job, it’s obvious God has given up on you. Why don’t you give up on God!”
Now Mrs. Job has been viewed as an evil woman for suggesting such a thing. I want to take a closer look here; and I will tell you ahead of time, I personally do not believe she was trying to get Job to sin as much as she was simply trying to end Job’s suffering.
The ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible is called the Septuagint. It was translated 250 years before the time of Christ. It’s even quoted in the New Testament.
However, at points the Septuagint actually adds to the Old Testament, as it does here. In the Septuagint account, Mrs. Job has a much longer message to Job. Now I am not saying this is biblical, but it reflects an ancient tradition and may give us some potential insight into what has driven her to suggest Job renounce God and then let God put him to death.
Here are her words in the Septuagint:
“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, the Septuagint adds that she cut off all her hair and sold it in order to buy food. By this account, she has reached the point of despair. As far as she is concerned, God has abandoned them. So, she is presented as effectively saying, “Job, I can’t stand to see you suffer any longer. Renounce God and be released from your misery.”
Now, beloved, I am not defending what she is recommending, but I believe we ought to try understanding her.
Let me offer some timeless truths about secondhand suffering we see acted out here in the life of Mrs. Job.
First, secondhand suffering can be as painful as suffering firsthand. And the problem is, secondhand sufferers tend to feel guilty about expressing their own pain—turning the spotlight on themselves. So, they often suffer quietly.
Second, those who care for people who are suffering can reach points of despair even quicker than their loved ones. Look at Mrs. Job—she has already decided that Job’s life is not worth living. She has already reached the point of despair. And why not? She has lost ten children. She has lost her livelihood and friends and home. Her husband once sat at the gates as a respected leader, 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, these verbs, “curse” and “die” are imperatives. I picture her falling on the ashes beside her husband and weeping, “Job, I can’t take it anymore.”
Third, secondhand sufferers have their own personal lessons to learn from God. Job responds to his wife here in verse 10, saying, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak.”
Now that might appear to be harsh but notice here that he doesn’t call her foolish. Rather, he says, she sounds like one of those foolish women who don’t know the Lord. In other words, “Sweetheart, this isn’t like you. You know God better than that. I know you’re grieving and disillusioned, but this idea of cursing God and dying is the talk of women who do not know God like you do.”
Then Job teaches her here in verse 10 by reminding her of a profound truth: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil [that is, adversity]?” God is in control. Life is receiving everything from the hand of God—good and bad, easy and difficult, painful and joyful. We don’t resign from God; we receive from God. And God knows what He is doing, even when He doesn’t send us any explanation.
I am encouraged that we have no record here of any rebuttal from Mrs. Job. There are no heated words in response to his kind rebuke and gentle reminder that God has a right to withhold an explanation. Perhaps there is a revival in the heart of Mrs. Job as she sits there on the ash heap next to her husband as they continue to wait on God.
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