In my sermon this Sunday, I explored an alternative translation of Job 2:9 that paints Job’s wife in a much more positive light. I suggested that instead of rendering the passage how the NIV does, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” that we could actually read the passage, “You are still maintaining your integrity: Bless God and die.” (See Young’s Literal Translation of this passage for an example of someone translating it this way).
If you haven’t listened to that, this post may be lacking some context. If you missed it, you may want to go check out the sermon from June 3rd on our website here. I love the new and more hopeful image that this reading of Job 2:9 creates, painting Job’s wife as someone who selflessly loves him and whom God uses to help Job hear words of truth and hope in the midst of his suffering.
After the sermon I had a few people approach me and ask the question, “What about verse 10? What about Job’s response calling his wife a foolish woman? Doesn’t that make the classic translation make more sense?” This is a really great question and I’m glad to hear people asking it (It means that you’re listening and considering what was said)! I think that Job’s response to his wife is part of the reason that historical interpreters landed on the classical interpretation of this verse. But, there are four big reasons that I don’t think that Job’s response to his wife prohibits a more gracious reading of her advice. In this post, I’ll point you to those and then leave the decision of how you feel you should read the passage in your hands!
1. Righteous ≠ Right
We’re told in the book of Job multiple times that Job is a righteous man, but what we aren’t told that he is right in what he says. Actually, a big point of the book (as I read it) is that Job and his friends are all wrong! In Job 2, we start to see the beginning of Job’s descent. While the first chapter finishes by telling, “Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing”, the second chapter by tells us that, “Job did not sin in what he said.” It’s obvious that the author is okay with repeating things word for word (look at the beginning of the chapter!) so why is it that there is a change here? It seems to me like Job may have not sinned with his words in this passage (specifically, not sinned by “charging God with wrongdoing”) but that there was the beginning of a shift in Job’s heart.
Over the next number of chapters, the shift of in Job’s heart becomes more obvious. While in the first chapter he did not charge God with any wrongdoing, in the later chapters he begins to do just that (Job 9:17; 10:3) If you continue reading, you’ll see that Job becomes more and more extreme in the charges that he brings against God. He compares God to satan (10:16–17; 16:9) and even flat out charges God with being amoral (9:22-24). In the book of Job, we’re not supposed to take Job’s words as truth. Job says all kinds of things that we should not believe to be true, like when he says that there is no reason to pray to or serve God (21:15). I think it’s very possible that we consider the angry and ungracious response of Job to his wife to be the beginning of his downward spiral.
2. Job’s wife’s words mirror God’s words
The words that Job’s wife says about Job maintaining his integrity directly mirror the words that God says about Job in the heavenly council. Some commentators describe this as a coincidence or an irony used by the author. But, I would argue that this mirroring of the words is a beautiful picture of affirmation from God and that God uses Job’s wife to speak to him the words of affirmation that he was unable to hear being shared in the heavenly council (Job 9:3). This beautiful encouragement seems to come directly from God as it uses the exact words that God uses to speak of Job’s persistent integrity. To me, this points to an interpretation that the words of Job’s wife are there intentionally to mimic the words that God spoke about Job in the heavenly counsel earlier in the chapter.
3. Job’s wife doesn’t get rebuked by God
I mentioned this in my sermon, but I think it’s worth mentioning again. Job says a lot of bad and angry things about God and he gets rebuked by God for saying those things. Job’s friends say untrue thing about God and they get rebuked for it in the end. Did you notice who doesn’t get rebuked by God? Job’s wife. There could be a lot of reasons for this, but I think it it’s worth considering the lack of a response to Job’s wife as a part of the conversation.
4. Job’s wife in contemporary literature
Finally, I think that the pictures painted of Job’s wife in the other tellings of the story of Job help to affirm the belief that an interpretation of Job’s wife requires more grace. I mentioned in my sermon some of the more favourable pictures of Job’s wife that are found in The testament of Job and The Septuagint. I didn’t mention that the LXX expansion of Job also paints a more favourable picture of Job’s wife or that both Jewish and Muslim traditions seem to hold more favourable pictures of her character. All of these external sources seem to point to the idea that Job’s wife was not simply an instrument of Satan, saying evil things to try to tempt Job.
While it is possible to interpret Job’s wife in a really negative light, especially considering Job’s response to her statement, I find the evidence I presented sufficiently compelling to question the traditional interpretation. I also find the message of hope that we find in the response of Job’s wife to be a clearer reflection of what I know to be true of God and His character as revealed in Jesus.
These are the ideas the lead me to have an open mind about an alternative reading of Job 2:9 even while considering Job’s remarks about his wife in verse 10. What are your thoughts? Do you find this reading of the text compelling or do you feel more resonance with the classic interpretation? Leave a comment and we can continue the conversation!