Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Job 1.7: The wife we nevet met

Job 2:1 Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the LORD.
2 And the LORD said unto Satan, From whence comest thou? And Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.

Seems like we’ve been here before. There is one slight difference though in the first verse; before it merely said that Satan came among the Sons of God, almost as if he wandered in or as one commentator disagreeably concludes ‘pushed his way in’, but here it makes clear as we inferred earlier that Satan is himself presenting himself as he is one of the Sons of God.

Job 2:3 And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? and still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause.

Again we see, God does not say “he holdeth fast…though you tried to destroy him…” God does not (and he has no need to) deny his sovereignty in the matter. We try to blame Satan in this, and certainly he deserves no kudos for wanting to set up the situation, but the fact is in smiting Job he did nothing wrong because God told him he could. Satan was acting in the bounds that God established when he attacked, and God himself attributes the damage to himself, “…me…to destroy without cause.”

Job 2:4 And Satan answered the LORD, and said, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life.
5 But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face.
6 And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life.

Remember, so far Satan has not been able to attack Job directly, but even now only his flesh can he attack. Again the terms for ‘put forth’ are more easily understood, “draw back your hand and strike.” Also understand, that God never rescinded the power over all Job possessed. Between chapter one and chapter two, there is no relenting of circumstance. We don’t even know how much time has passed between the two, but presumably it is not a long time or else we would think Job’s three (four) friends would show up sooner. God is adding to Satan’s permission, but he still cannot take Job’s life.

That last detail is kind of ironic to me now that I think about it. God is causing this suffering, but he won’t let Satan take Job’s life even though as we know it would in fact end his suffering. We often think of this as God’s protection over Job, but wouldn’t it be more protecting to let him take his life? In fact the word here rendered save is ‘shamar’ (H8104) which in fact is more often rendered keep, as in guard. God isn’t telling him to spare Job’s life, he’s commanding him to preserve it. Why? Why is God preventing escape from this nightmare? He can’t escape the circumstances in life, and now he can’t escape in death either.
God in the book of Job, is truly the God who is not a man.

Job 2:7 So went Satan forth from the presence of the LORD, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown.
8 And he took him a potsherd to scrape himself withal; and he sat down among the ashes.
9 Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die.

A new power is attributed to Satan. He can move pawns, call down supernatural fire, control weather and now we learn he can give illness. Before, pawns of the Devil attacked and stole from him, now though Job’s wife is provoking him to curse God. Or so it seems; as we are about to see there is something very interesting about what Mrs. Job actually has to say. But first let us consider how we approach her, whether or not she was part of Satan’s tactic, we don’t know, but it does illustrate how if we’re not careful we can become tools in his war. We know nothing of this woman’s character beyond this brief excerpt, and honestly I am inclined to think she is more noble character than we might assume.

It would be easy to think that this woman is a foolish unfaithful woman—I know because I’ve done this—but you have to remember besides the current bout of boils she’s endured everything Job has. She’s lost her financial security through him, most of her servants, and her family. We could speculate that there were other wives, but we don’t know so; I would assume based on Job’s life span that this is the wife that bore him ten children. I’d remind you again to ask yourself what if you knew God was taking away everything? Your one thing?

Also, we would think that Job would have been careful when he chose her, or that his parents would have. We can tell from her words that she saw Job’s integrity, so before all these tragedies she must have seen the blessing of protection that God had wrapped about them. I put to you that she’s probably as faithful a believer as many believers today.

Honestly, verse 9 has had me stumped for the last three weeks. I’ve read this probably a hundred times and never known what was actually being said. And since understanding that much, I have been struggling with what it means. The strange truth of this verse is that his wife is not telling him to curse the Name, and kill himself. That’s right, despite the English translation that is actually not what the Hebrew says.

Literally she says “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Bless God and die.” This may come as a shocker, but the word rendered curse is ‘barak’ (H1288) which out of 285 times is rendered in some form of the word bless 279 times. Twice it is rendered blaspheme in 1 Kings 21:11 & 13 in regards to a man falsely accused of ‘blaspheming’ the King and God. The other times that it is rendered curse are all located in Job in these first 2 chapters. Why is this the case, especially when there are an abundance of others words that can be rendered curse?

It seems that in the case of 1 Kings this is a euphemistic use of the word barak, based on purity of word. What do I mean by that? The idea is that the writer(s) of Kings and of Job were so upright themselves that even to write a phrase appearing to curse the Name was undoable. So instead of writing it, they wrote “bless God” with the context giving the understanding that it was actually the opposite that was meant. Is this born out in scripture?

If you search the scripture for combinations of curse, blaspheme, or other forms of either, you will find that there is no appearance in the Tanach (Hebrew ‘old’ testament) of such a phrase.

The closest you will find is:

Exo 22:28 Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.

The word revile here ‘qalal’ which is rendered curse in:

Lev 24:14 Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him.

But even in this case if you look at the Hebrew, the phrase is exactly “curse NOT God.” The point is that all of the Hebrew scriptures are so adamantly careful about not cursing God that it would be unthinkable to even write a phrase that appeared to do so. When the idea must be discussed, the writers might say “cursed the Name,” “curse NOT…”, or in the case of Kings and Job “bless God.”

But now, this presents a problem; how do you know when the translation is euphemistic and how do you know when it is exactly as it is written? The first few cases in Job are fairly simple.

Job 1:5 And it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually.

Obviously there would be no sin if Job’s sons had in fact blessed God.

Job 1:9 Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought?
10 Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land.
11 But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.

Again, since the challenge against God is that Job only blesses God because God blesses him with good; it would make no sense for Satan to say take everything and Job will ‘bless’ God. The same applies to Job 2:5 when Satan issues his second challenge.

But now we get to the hard one, what about Job’s wife? Did she mean bless or curse? In the other two cases we have a clear disjoint of reasoning that demonstrated the meaning couldn’t make sense as truly blessing, ie there’s no sin in actually blessing God, and there would be no victory for Satan if Job continued to do what he had always done, ie bless God. One might the argument that the same is true here, afterall why would Job end himself after blessing God?

On the other hand, if we assume the euphemistic interpretation then we must make several assumptions about Mrs. Job. Firstly, that she is of weak character because obviously she’s been witness to how God blessed them because of Job blessing God. And secondly, that she is a very bitter and uncompassionate wife towards Job because she can see he’s obviously hurting and it is when he is physically assaulted, and sitting in ashes that she comes to allegedly tempt him, and to tempt him to do something that certainly cannot make him feel any better. I mean, when was the last time that you were hurt by someone and cursing them made you feel better? When has God given you a trial and cursing made you feel better?

So let’s examine the assumptions.

Job 2:10 But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips.

Note from Job’s own words that he has a generally high appraisal of her character. “Thou speakest as one of the foolish women…” He does not label her as foolish, merely that she is speaking as the foolish, implying it is out of her character. He believes she’s at the end of her rope and he rebukes her, not devalues her. What does this indicate, if not that she has generally been of good character?

Secondly, we assumed she is almost lashing out at Job. Saying in paraphrase, “____ God and kill yourself.” But it doesn’t say that, it just says “and die.” If it’s an imperative as it appears, than she is telling him to commit suicide. Why would she do that? It wouldn’t make her any better off. It’s not like it would avoid a complicated divorce so she could collect insurance or her half of the estate.

It might ease his pain though, putting him out of his misery. And while that would be misguided, it would not be uncompassionate. And what if we take it as prediction “and you will die,” that’s even more compassionate because it’s like she’s offering him a way out.

I do not believe scripture supports these assumptions. It’s perhaps a fine line, but let’s try looking at it another way. Mrs. Job sees her husband rich and great, prospered seemingly as a direct consequence of his continual righteousness. Suddenly, God takes it all away, and Job still blesses God. Then Job is attacked with boils, and though he still blesses God, she can see by his actions that he is dejected. On the edge of crumbling completely. Can you picture this old man robbed of everything, sitting in ashes scraping at his ulcers for some relief? Do you picture him as the radiant image of joy? I feel sorry for him even though I know the ending!

Job’s wife comes up to him at this point and asks a question. “Are you still retaining your integrity?” We tend to assume this is actually meant to mean “I can’t believe you’re still doing that?” But going based on the understanding that she has seen the time of blessing and that Job regards her as generally a wise woman, what if we take it as an actual question? Job was blessing God in his prosperity/blessedness/happiness, now Job has received evil from God so is he really having integrity by continuing to bless God as if nothing has happened? Doesn’t in fact having integrity demand that he do the opposite or at least not bless God?

Granted when talking to Satan, God showed that the integrity God valued is the kind that exists between our fear of him in our hearts and in our speech and actions, which Job still has. But from a human standpoint it is reasonable to question his integrity since his apparent demeanor shows the 18 inch distance between his heart and his head.

So if we take this to be actually as it is written, she first is questioning whether he is in fact acting with integrity then saying as a consequence “bless God, and you will die/you will end yourself.” She sees him suffering, torn up inside but continuing to utter blessing despite it all. She’s saying he’s not really acting out of integrity, instead he’s basically being a religious automaton going through the motions, and because of this disconnection, if he continues to bless God it will kill him.

Contrasting the two views; on the one hand we have the commonly held belief that she is a bitter, broken woman wishing blasphemy from her husband and death, not to mention that the scripture is actually saying the opposite of what is written (a sarcastic question and an inverse euphemism).

And on the other hand, we have a view of a woman who is generally wise, now suffering, who sees her husband in unexpressed, unanswered pain, bottling it up and putting a band-aid over it with words he doesn’t feel, and she says that this bottling up will kill him. And the scripture means exactly what is written.

I for one favor the second view. How does Job respond? As we’ve already seen, he accuses her of a moment of foolishness, a rebuke that makes more sense than if you hold the first view. If she was in fact tempting him to blaspheme and commit suicide, does it make sense that he responds with a comparatively gentile rebuttal? I would have simply told her to get away from me, I wouldn’t have bothered to even explain myself. I pretty much would have written her off on the spot, but then Job is a better man that me…But this would hardly be a subtle temptation, so it would seem to rate a blunt rebuke.

Not only that, but if we fast forward a few verses to chapter 3:

Job 3:1 After this opened Job his mouth, and cursed his day.

At the end of 2, Job’s friends show up but say nothing but sit and mourn with him. The last person to speak to him was his wife, and now the scripture reads “After this…” After his wife spoke to him, despite his rebuking her he now does curse. He doesn’t ‘bless’ God yet (though that’s very close as we’ll see). But the blessings do stop, and the cursing begins. If we take the view that his wife was directly tempting him, than we have to take the view that he is falling for that temptation. So far, he is still blameless. So is he starting to give in to his wife’s call for blaspheme, or is he simply starting to voice the hurt inside?

One more fast forward before we continue with the passage:

Job 1:5 And it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually.

It was specifically recorded that the sons and daughters were feasting, but Job in his routine only makes offerings for his sons, not for his wife or daughters. Was Job a chauvinist, possibly, but I want to point out how his mind is bent towards his sons in the beginning.

Job 42:13 He had also seven sons and three daughters.
14 And he called the name of the first, Jemima; and the name of the second, Kezia; and the name of the third, Kerenhappuch.
15 And in all the land were no women found so fair as the daughters of Job: and their father gave them inheritance among their brethren.

In the beginning, he thinks of his sons and rebukes his wife for her words. In the end, after he is headed towards (or actually committed) blasphemy because of his wife’s temptation or because he has listened to her words in voicing his hurt, then he has new children and only the names of his daughters are recorded or any quality of them!

If that’s not a nod to his wife, what is it? And if it is a nod, it certainly cannot be because she tempted him to blaspheme. I think if we take the scripture as it is written, and consider the details, we find that his wife’s advice is actually warning that disconnecting his words (blessings) from the alignment of his heart (grief), will kill him. So it is a call basically to vent, to voice the pain. Which is what he does, and looking back afterwards, he appears to salute her for a warning, not a temptation.

So then what about Job’s response?

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