Why did Job’s wife tell him to curse God and die (Job 2:9)?

    July 4, 2019

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    Rarely has someone said so little that has caused so much alarm. Her startling two-sentence rant, though reminiscent of the dialogue between God and the adversary (Job 2:3-4), is often understood as sarcastic and angry. Augustine and Calvin both believed her to be an “instrument of the devil.” Although her speech can serve as a rebuke to Job’s integrity and as a license for him to curse God, should it be taken this way?

    It is true that both sarcasm and anger abound within the book of Job. Job and his friends hurled much anger and insults at each other. However, neither sarcasm nor anger seems appropriate from a woman who would have been Job’s wife. Perhaps it is something more.

    The scenes of Job’s suffering are often understood only from Job’s perspective; however, the words from Job’s wife indicate that she, too, was deeply involved in his tragedy. Like Job, she had lost her livelihood, her workers, her wealth and her children. To make matters worse, she had to watch her husband waste away, with little possibility for his health to return.

    Although Job received the brunt of the suffering, she also had been a recipient.

    Seeing Job’s boil-ridden body may have been too much for her to accept. Her words, then, may not have been said in a fit of rage, but as a remorseful outburst. After all they had endured, she recognized that all Job had left – all they had left – was his integrity. Everything else was gone. The “holding pattern” of their lives was too much for her to bear. Her words, then, sound like a plea for Job to die, so that her life could move on. “Just end this,” was her response. Her words came out of emotional exhaustion.

    Job, however, would not allow her outburst. He answered his wife in two ways (Job 2:10). First, he reprimanded her. Her words, while understandable, were still inexcusable. Such words made her sound like a “fool”: a spiritually inept and unbelieving person (cf. Psa. 14:1). Second, Job reminded her that God was the giver of all things, both good and troublesome. Because Job knew that all their blessings came from God, he also believed that God allowed the trouble that they had received. Job’s integrity may have been all Job had, but it was invaluable. He would trust God at all costs.

    It is never easy to watch loved ones suffer. It is understandable that those who bear the pain of another’s suffering may long for it to end, one way or another. At a weak moment, they may say things they do not mean simply because they are exhausted. God, however, calls His people to Himself, that even during their most troublesome days, God’s love may still shine through.

    Ken Gore is professor of biblical studies at Dallas Baptist University. Send your questions to tim@arkansasbaptist.org.

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