Who Cares about Job's Wife?

· Bible,Women,Human Dignity

I hate naming my favourites. If you ask me what my favourite book, movie, or cuisine is, I’d have a hard time narrowing it down. There are so many I like and for different reasons and at different times. But if I were pressed to name my favourite book of the Bible, I’d say it’s the Book of Job. Good ol’ Job has been there for me in times of suffering and grief. He taught me how to lament. He taught me how to hope when God seems absent.

But he didn’t teach me how to suffer well with my spouse.

All things considered, it’s really not Job’s fault. It’s the author’s (authors’?). Once again, we are presented with a woman in scripture who is given no name. (Hence my title.) I am left to call her Mrs. Job.

On the positive side, Job’s wife is distinct from other women in scripture like Vashti. Mrs. Job is given lines to say, even though the lines she is given amount to precious little. And her words are often dismissed as coming from a faithless person.

Just to review the story up to her appearance, Job is suffering from two attacks that are the result of a bet made by the God he worships with an Adversary. The first attack
removes Job’s livestock and his children from him. The second afflicts him with a skin disease—

—that causes not only physical suffering but also social suffering. Being ill makes him an alien to society, but for a few friends who will soon return to comfort him. (Thats putting it generously.)

Her sole interchange with Job in this 42-chapter book happens in chapter 2, when she approaches him on his ash heap.

She’s rather cross.

“Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God and die.”

Job’s response is immediate, abrupt, silencing. “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive good from God and not receive evil?”

That’s it.

Curse God and die. In the best light, Job’s wife is someone who has awakened Job, showing him that the alternative to cursing God is the path he must take: that of continuing to demonstrate his hope in and longing for justice from God. In the worst light, she is the final affliction of the Adversary, using his very words to tempt Job toward faithlessness. One commentator sees her as fitting the Eve archetype of the “woman as temptress” (David J. A. Clines, Job 1-20, p.51). And as revivalist Elizabeth Foster Baxter takes account of the happy-ever-after ending to the story—God restores Job’s fortunes
times two and gives him new and improved children—she notes that the failure of Job’s wife to be Job’s helpmeet has sealed her fate*:

His friends, his brethren, his sisters, his acquaintances, his sheep, camels, oxen, asses, and also his sons and daughters are named; yet Job’s wife who had so signally failed, is never once mentioned!

Now, if you’ve ever looked into the few words Job’s wife is permitted to say, you’ve probably discovered that barach, the Hebrew word translated as “curse” here, can also be translated as “bless.” What is interesting about this is that the Adversary uses barach both ways:

Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed [barach] the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse [barach] you to your face.

So, is Mrs. Job engaging a play on words? Given Job’s rebuttal, it doesn’t seem like she’s telling Job to bless God. She could, perhaps, be telling him it would be better to die in faithfulness to God than to suffer in faithfulness to God.

But maybe we’re paying too much attention to Mrs. Job’s words. Maybe we should be paying attention to what she suffers.

While Job’s wife isn’t described as being diseased, she too has lost her children, her livelihood, and her social status. Unlike Job, she doesn’t have any friends to grieve with. One more thing: Job never reaches out to her to give or receive comfort. She could have walked, seeking greener pastures. But she has stayed with Job. She has remained faithful to him.

Is it any wonder that she’s miffed?

What I find interesting about Job’s wife is often missed. Job’s question is, “How can a good God allow evil?” Every generation asks this ancient question. Many people today respond to evil and to unjust suffering by abandoning the possibility that there is a God. More and more, the conclusion becomes, “There’s no need to ask that question because there is no God.”

In my own experiences of suffering I have struggled with this question. And I have yet to find an answer that is both intellectually satisfying and spiritually comforting. Like anyone else, I find it uncomfortable to live in the ambiguity. But I choose to live in the ambiguity. I don’t give up on the belief in a God who is good, just, compassionate, and loving.

Neither did Mrs. Job. She may not be able to put together an explanation for what is going on or why her life has been completely upended. But whatever she is telling Job to do, she is not advising him to stop believing in God. Let’s give her credit for that.


*Some note that, given her position as Job’s wife, she too must be blessed by the restoring of Job’s fortune and their new progeny. However, it’s never said that Job’s children were conceived with the wife of chapter 2.