The Suffering of Mrs. Job

The Suffering of Mrs. Job January 29, 2020

A sermon at Crooked Creek Baptist Church by Rev. Joy Amick got me thinking about the story of Job’s wife in different ways than I had before. Job’s wife has an extremely brief role in the story, and typically we have understood her in an entirely negative way. This is partly due to assumptions we make about her and about Job, partly due to things we neglect to consider, and partly due to how a crucial word in the story is translated.

The thing we rarely if ever think about is the fact that everything Job lost, his wife lost as well, including children that she herself gave birth to. We don’t know what she said immediately after this, but when Job himself begins to be afflicted, then we are told. Before we consider what she said, let’s consider how she would have naturally viewed what had happened. First, disaster had befallen her household. She would have wondered why. Then, not long after, Job himself was afflicted with sores. She would naturally have understood this to be divine punishment for wrongdoing. The conclusion to draw would have been obvious: the death of her children had been Job’s fault.

She could easily have been bitter and wished Job dead. And yet that isn’t quite what she says, according to the Hebrew text. The English translations consistently say that she told Job to curse God and die. The Hebrew says that she told him to bless God and die.

I wonder whether the meaning of her question and advice to Job was not to ask whether he is still pretending to have integrity, and advising him to reconcile to God before he dies. Whether the thinking was that he should bless God and admit his wrongdoing in the hope that God would put him out of his misery, or that he should bless God before his death that God seemed determined to inflict on him and thus before it was too late, both are options that had never really occurred to me before, unsurprisingly given how her words are usually translated and how her story is usually interpreted.

I’m not sure whether the misogyny is in the story itself, its interpretation, or both. But it is at least possible to read the story in ways that make her seem, at worst, akin to Job’s friends in assuming that he has done something to incite God’s anger. Even then, however, she had lost her own children because of what Job had supposedly done, and so any blame she lay at his feet has a profoundly different character to it than that of Job’s friends. No one should fail to feel sympathy for a mother grieving the simultaneous untimely death of her children, if she looks to blame someone for it. Even so, she doesn’t seem to simply wish ill on Job in the way we usually assume.

I don’t think this will end up in the book I’m currently writing. I will at least mention that, among the women from whom Jesus learned are the women whose stories are told in the Jewish scriptures. But at this point I’m not sure I see concrete evidence that Jesus thought about the story of Job and his wife, and if so how it influenced him.

But apart from that, I can still offer a blog post and offer a defense of Job’s wife, yet another unnamed and unfairly-maligned woman from the Bible.

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  • That translation article was fascinating. Thanks for sharing it!

  • gloriamarie

    “The English translations consistently say that she told Job to curse God and die. The Hebrew says that she told him to bless God and die.”

    There is quite a difference between blessing and cursing and I am disturbed that the English translations consistently translate this incorrectly.

    I also wonder about the history of the translation. Did the LXX say “bless” or “curse?” How did Jerome translate it? Wycliffe? Tyndale? Or is the “curse” due to the misogynists who reanslated the KJV?

    While I understand that to some extent all translations must also be interptations of the text, some are more blatantly agenda-filled than others.

    • It is a matter of understanding “bless” as a euphemism. We don’t always mean what we say, and sometimes even use words to convey the opposite, with modern examples ranging from saying something is “wicked” to saying “bless her heart,” the latter example even featuring the related English word.

      • gloriamarie

        While I realize there ae lots of euphemism’s in the Hebrew’s Scriptures such as Naomi advising Ruth about Boaz’ feet, are there other examples of “bless” being used to mean “curse” withint the Hebrew Scriptures.

        It seems as likely to me that Mrs. Job mean “bless” as “thank” God.

        • If you read the article that I link to, it mentions some of the instances where “bless” seems clearly to mean its opposite and thus is a euphemism, instances where it is clearly positive, and instances that are ambiguous. The 19th of the Eighteen Benedictions is a good example to mention. It is called the “blessing of the heretics” but what is said about them isn’t a blessing…