We now learn that amid all Job’s afflictions his wife had been spared to him. At this we begin to rejoice, and to take comfort for him. All is not lost. He is not yet utterly forlorn. This best of earthly friends, his truest comforter, his help-meet, is left to him. She is there whose sympathy and encouragement were to him beyond all price. But, alas, he has it not. Satan did not overlook her; nor perhaps had he spared her but that be hoped to make her the choicest arrow in his quiver against her husband. We do not know her name. The sacred writer has spared it an immortality of odium by withholding the knowledge of it from us. The Jews imagine that she was no other than Jacob’s frail daughter Dinah, a notion originating probably in the fact, that this is the only woman historically known in the age to which they rightly concluded that Job belonged. But there were thousands of other women beside Jacob’s daughter; and there is not the shadow of a foundation for the conjecture.
To some Job’s wife appears a shrew. It may be so; but it is quite as well to suppose that whatever may have been her natural temper, her losses had turned her heart. She had lost all her children—all in one day, at one stroke; and in treating this as Job’s greatest affliction, and his mastery over that mighty grief as his most glorious triumph, we must not suppose that the mother felt this loss less severely than the father. But she did not triumph over it—she did not, like her husband, rise from the dust victorious over the greatest calamity that could befall her, and such as few mothers beside her have been called to bear. Her heart rose, it would seem, in wrath against Him from whose hand the stroke appeared to come, and into whose deep design, in thus allowing her life’s hope to be cast down, she could not penetrate. To regard her as solely moved by the state of bodily disease to which her husband was reduced, were to take a narrow view of the case. It is merely a final consequence, the demonstrative result of that great and terrible antecedent. The loss of substance alone she might perhaps have borne as became Job’s wife, and had this been all, her name might have come down to us with honor. But the loss of all her children, from the eldest in his strength to the youngest in his tenderness, was too much for her, and moved her heart to rebelliousness against God; and how many maternal hearts have been so moved, avowedly or not, consciously or not, by losses far less awful than hers!
It must have seemed to her as if such sorrow could know no increase; but when she beheld her husband smitten with a disease so distressing and terrible, she became desperate, and accused the justice and wisdom of the Almighty, in that He had suffered so much calamity to befall a man so good and so upright as her husband. Where was their God, she argued, who suffered this, if He did not inflict it? Was there any God, since such things could be? and if there was a God indeed, where was his justice, his mercy, his compassion, seeing that such calamities were imposed upon, or not averted from, the most devout of his worshippers? Therefore, when she saw that her husband’s faith was not shaken even by this sore distress, she cried, “Dost thou still retain thine integrity? Curse God and die.” Surely words so dreadful never before nor since came from a woman’s lips. That they came from hers, may, perhaps, be explained by the process of feeling which we have endeavored to indicate, and by which our surprise, although not our sorrow, may be lessened.
Job’s answer to this suggestion—in which we fail not to trace Satan’s hand—is worthy of his faith and patience. “Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What! shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil?” And here observe, in corroboration of the view we have taken, that Job does not say that his wife was a foolish woman, which would have been a hard thing for him to say to his wife, but that she spoke like one of the foolish women, like one bereft of common sense and reason by the stress of her calamities.
There is, however, something more to be said respecting Job’s wife. The phrase she uses, “curse God,” is the same we have already had occasion to consider; and hence it is by some regarded in just the reverse sense—namely, of “bless God, and die.” Those, however, who take the words in this acceptation, do not all regard them as used in a good sense. Those who do so, allege that the woman gave her husband wholesome advice, counseling him to humble himself before God, and pray Him to release him from an existence which had become so miserable that death seemed the only cure for his disease, the only remedy for all his troubles. It was telling him that death was his best friend; that it were better for him to die than to live a life like this. Such a life was a continual death; and it were better to die at once than to die daily.
Now, as many ladies are among our readers, we will at once ask them, if this is a true or probable explanation? We feel assured that they will at once say it is not; that this is not the language which any true-hearted wife would hold to her afflicted husband; and that the advice is not “wholesome,” as this explanation supposes. It is the ingenious speculation of dry old scholars shut up among their books, and not of men knowing anything about the hearts of wives.
But it is possible to put even this view more favorably for the wife of Job. She may be understood to rebuke her husband for still holding fast to the proud boast of his own innocency; telling him that he was indeed a sinner, and that it much better became him to bow himself very low in spirit before the Lord, confessing his sins, acknowledging his unworthiness before One in whose sight the very heavens are not clean, and so bringing himself into a fit state of mind for his death, that seemed to her inevitable and rapidly approaching.
A shade of still better meaning is involved in the explanation, which supposes that Job’s wife speaks in reference to the words he had used on a recent occasion, “Blessed be the name of the Lord;” and means to suggest, that having already lost all, and being now deeply afflicted in bodily health, he had nothing further to expect but dissolution, and that therefore, he could not do better now than reiterate his former declaration, and close his life by blessing the great arbitrator of human destiny.
This, we fear, is a forced explanation. Job’s wife was not likely to be brought upon the scene to offer counsel exactly in accordance with his own spirit, and which there was nothing in his past conduct to show was needed. A good wife might render such advice; but as from its perfect accordance with the character of the man addressed, it leads to nothing, and contributes to nothing, no historian would be likely to record it. It is not as a harmony, but as a discord, that the incident acquires point and purpose. It was an aggravation to Job’s calamities.
We wish we could believe this explanation. But this and every interpretation which strives to make this woman’s counsel innocent, or kind, or wholesome, is met by Job’s own reply, which treats it as a most evil suggestion, altogether opposed to that absolute and childlike trust in God, under all circumstances, which he felt himself bound to exemplify. If the counsel were so salutary, it had been very harsh in Job to tell her that she spoke like a foolish woman.
There is, however, another explanation, which, acknowledging the force of this consideration, gives a bad sense to the advice of Job’s wife, while retaining the sense of blessing instead of cursing God. This is accomplished by making her words ironical, as if she had said—“Ay, do go on still, relying upon thine integrity, and blessing God, and yet dying; for he will not save thee.” But surely of all things irony would be most misplaced here. Consider, that she was herself a most afflicted woman, and that the wickedness of rebellious thoughts and language under extreme sorrow, is far more natural than irony.
There are other explanations of the words, both as taken in the sense of “bless” and “curse;” but the reader has had a sufficient variety. Upon the whole, the interpretation we have given seems best to meet all the circumstances. This, while taking the words in their worst sense, allows us to understand that Job’s wife, although overwrought to sinfulness of thought and intemperance of language by her affliction, and hence made an instrument of Satan in aggravating her husband’s troubles, was not essentially a bad or wicked woman. Her husband’s manifest surprise at hearing such language from her signifies as much; and stress ought to be laid on his own declaration that she spoke like a foolish woman, not that she was one. Her evil thought and language was enough to assimilate her to a foolish woman, but not to denominate her as such.
The Greek translators (the Seventy) astonished, perhaps, that an angry woman should express herself so briefly on such an occasion, had the hardihood to expand her words into a much longer speech. Some other versions have this passage; but it is not of the least authority, not being found in the Hebrew copy. It is, however, curious, as showing the view which was at a very early period taken by learned Jews of the purport of her words, and of the condition to which Job was reduced. We therefore introduce it.
“After much time had passed, his wife said unto him: How long wilt thou persist, saying, Behold I will wait a little longer in expectation of my deliverance? Behold thy memorial is blotted out of the earth; even the sons and daughters, the pains and toils of my womb, whom I have brought forth in vain. Even thou thyself sittest among loathsome worms, abiding all night in the open air; while I, a drudge and a wanderer from house to house and from place to place, long for the setting of the sun that I may rest from the toils and sorrows I now endure. Utter some word against the Lord, and die.”