Rarely is she mentioned in the pages but mostly maligned in human memories, yet she ‘lives’ on. That single emotionally-charged interaction with her husband, down in the depths of his life’s hells, in Job 2:9-10, has mostly defined what we think of her: a bad wife, making mockery of her husband’s tragic station in life. One can posit that this serves a generational warning about the importance of choosing a godly wife, who will stand by you through life’s sunny and gloomy days; afterall, that’s what till death do us part means.
But I want us to have a re-think about Job’s wife. Is she really deserving of this infamy? Was she really a bad wife? Is there more in the Bible that we can learn about who she was and what may ultimately have happened to her? I think there is. I’ve been pondering this for the past fortnight and having discussed my thoughts about her possible lived experience with some friends last night, I’m finally putting down some of my thoughts. 🤓
To start, some context.
Who was Job?
- Job was from the land of Uz, which was a land in the East i.e. east of Israel, which could be the territory of Midian (where Moses spent 40 years), around Moab, Jordan, North West Arabia etc.
- He was very wealthy, had a large household and many possessions including varied animals. So wealthy was he that he’s described in Job 1:3 as “the greatest/richest of all the people of the East”. He was very well known in the territory, by both rich and poor.
- Job cared for the poor, widows, his servants, the fatherless, the homeless etc. Job 31.
- He was married and faithful to one wife (Job 31:1, 9-12), had three daughters and seven sons. He had been married for many years as his children were of age, they loved feasting and drinking, and were seemingly doing quite well for themselves or benefiting from their father’s wealth as they each had their houses.
- God said of Job: “there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil”. Impressive eh?
Who was Job’s wife?
The first time she’s mentioned is in Job 2:9-10:
Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast to 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 shall we not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.Job 2:9-10
There are arguments that the Hebrew word translated curse here, actually means bless. But that is outside the scope of my meditations on this woman. What we read is Job’s wife making an emotionally-charged statement – curse (or maybe bless) God and die! Wow! Job rebukes her sharply. But notice that he doesn’t describe her as a foolish woman; rather, his response reveals that she’s speaking out-of-character. Job swiftly follows his rebuke with a rational comment about accepting both good and evil from God, which makes me wonder how she might have responded to this.
There are so many emotions at play here, and this is what I want to dig into. If we can understand what may have been behind the strong emotions of Job’s wife in this interaction, we may safely start to unpack more about her true character.
She was married to Job, a very faithful, loyal and God-fearing man. They had been married for many years and had many children together. She was wife to the wealthiest and greatest man of the East. Think about what a high position she must have held in society. She probably was a very beautiful woman, similar to other beautiful women from the East who we read of in the Bible, like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, the Midianite women etc. As the apple does not fall far from the tree, little wonder Job 42:15 says that in all the land, the new daughter-trio that God blessed Job with were the most beautiful in all the land. This woman was blessed and living a good life.
But then, calamity strikes. 😩 The Bible primarily describes these calamities from the angle of Job, which makes it easy to ignore the lived sufferings of his wife. Not only did all her loved children suddenly perish, but she lost her possessions, place in society etc. As if all these tragedies were not enough, the love of her life, who had been the greatest and richest man of the East, was now sitting in the streets, disdained by family and servants, plagued with such terrible skin diseases all over his body that he used pieces of broken pottery to scrape himself. 😢
I want you to think about these dynamics for a second. What might Job’s wife have been going through as all these tragedies played out? Little wonder she made such an emotionally-charged statement. The Bible does not give us a timeline over which these calamities struck. Whatever the case, she was probably so badly affected by them and couldn’t continue watching her husband suffering so much that she thought death may save him from his pains and shame, so “curse/bless God and die”.
Re-framing Job’s wife – a good woman and wife
From the emotionally-charged interaction above, we learn that Job’s wife was not a foolish woman. When Job speaks about foolishness here, he puts it in the context of knowing God and accepting both the good and bad times from Him. In essence, she was probably a God-fearing woman and Job was quite surprised to hear her comments. Perhaps after correcting her, she sat in the ashes with him and cried, who knows.
Nonetheless, Job talks about his loving wife at least two other times in the book which we often miss.
- Job 19:17 – “My wife can’t stand the smell of my breath, and my own brothers won’t come near me.”
- Here, Job is speaking about his life sitting in ashes and pain, contrasting his wife to his family members. While his family members won’t come near him, his wife does. In fact, she’s comes so close to him that she knows the breath of his mouth stinks. Think about it – when you talk to a poor person in the streets for example, even if you want to help them, don’t you usually keep distance enough that you’re unable to smell them, talkless of their breath? In this instance, Job’s wife drew close, perhaps intimately caring for her lone suffering husband. She was probably preparing food and drink for him daily, speaking to him, comforting him in his trials, seeking medical help where possible, calling in favours from times past etc.
- Now, go with me to Job 31:1, 9-12 – “I made an agreement with my eyes not to look at a young woman in a way that would make me want her. If I have desired another woman or waited at my neighbor’s door to sin with his wife, then let my wife serve someone else, and let other men sleep with her. To do such a thing would be shameful, a sin that must be punished. Such sin is like a fire that burns until it destroys everything. It would completely ruin my life’s work.”
- Here, Job is once again, assertively, letting us know that his wife is still faithful to him, perhaps because he was always faithful to her. At this point, we are in chapter 31 and time has passed. If she had left him by now, there would have been no need for him to make this statement. Instead, he is still claiming her as his faithful wife, attesting to her loyalty to their marriage vows.
- When things were good, Job had made a covenant with his eyes not to lust after another (young) woman. He acknowledges his awareness of the pifalls of adultery, noting that it is shameful, a sin that must be punished, and is like a raging fire that will destroy all the life work of he/she who commits it. He was always faithful to his wife, and she remained faithful to him.
Job’s wife was probably a good wife who stood by her husband through his predicament. That so little is said about her makes more worthy of human ponder, what her lived experience must have been as her husband went through his agonies. This unwritten story of Job’s wife is one I believe we should all meditate on, as many a marriage/relationship is proved to be standing on shaky ground when life’s trials do their thing, as they often do. But Job’s wife shows us the way by honoring her marriage commitments in an Eastern society of the time that may have mocked her and looked down on these godly values.
We know that God honored Job eventually and since Job himself tells us that his wife was still standing by him, we can assume that she was the mother of his latter children, getting to enjoy the blessings that God recompensed to His faithful servant, Job. Job lived for another 140 years after his agonies, living to see his children and grandchildren, four generations of them – all of which his loving and faithful wife probably got to enjoy also. 💞😇
Finally, when God was pronouncing the conclusion of the whole matter in Job 42:7-10, he condemns Job’s three friends but doesn’t condemn Job’s wife. Deep in emotional torment with all the calamities around her, she had a low out-of-character moment where she tempted her husband with her words. My sense is that God probably understood what she was going through and didn’t count it against her. More important in this situation was the spiritual strength of her husband, Job, who despite all he was going through, was still able to discern his wife’s unusual behaviour, quickly put her in check, and not sin against God. Perhaps this is why Ephesians 4:26 tells us that while we may get angry, we should not sin. 🙏🏾
3 thoughts on “An ‘ode’ to a wife – Job’s wife”
Every character in the bible deserves a second look, an alternate narrative. Peter’s life does. Judas does. Thomas the doubter does. Jobs wife is no exception. As a mother i know that the loss of a child may cause temporary mental distress. To lose more than one child on the same day may lead a parent to believe death is a preferred option. “Let’s bless God and die. This is enough”.
In my early Christian years I marvelled at the ‘unfaithfulness’ of the Israelites and the frequency with which they turned to other gods only to be brought back to Yahweh lovingly. Now I realise there’s a little bit of the wandering spirit in all of us … but for the grace of God. Nowadays I’m less quick to judge, more eager to learn. Thank you for this piece.
Indeed! Thank you for the thoughtful comment 🙏🏾
Great insights into Job’s wife! It’s important to reframe our understanding of biblical characters beyond their initial portrayal and consider their experiences and emotions. Job’s wife was likely a faithful and strong wife who stood by her husband through his trials, and we can learn from her example in honoring marriage commitments during trying times.
founder of balance thy life