Job 2.9-11 “His wife said to him, ‘Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!’ he replied, ‘You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?'”
Job’s wife now makes her appearance, and these words are virtually the only reference to her in the whole book of Job, except in Chapter 19:17 where Job says “my breath is loathsome to my wife”, and that is it. Mrs Job comes onto the scene without any introduction. We are not told that Job’s wife was kneeling alongside him with her arm around his shoulders when he said, “the Lord gave and the Lord took away, blessed be the name of the Lord” quietly adding her ‘Amen’ to those extraordinary words of faith. But we are told that she interrogated him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity – these protestations of yours – that you are a man without blame, with no secret despicable wickedness for which God is judging you – which he evidently has?” “Are you still holding on to your integrity,” she asked him, exhorting, “Curse God and die”. Twelve words she spoke; one presumes they were spoken in frustration, and spoken in abject misery, and also spoken with true sympathy for him, and even with some anger against God. One can understand all of that kind of response after everything she has recently passed through.
Before we rush in with words of judgement for expressing such sentiments, let us bear in mind what she had suffered. She had borne many children; she had nursed them and nourished them. She had seen them reach maturity and move out from her home into their own homes. They were doing well in their careers. She might have admired the affection that they had for one another, so regularly would the boys invite the girls to their homes and they all had a good day together. They so loved on another, and their mother looked on with pleasure. She had done a good job in raising them, and then, one day, all that comes to a terrible end as every one of her children was killed. She was a middle aged woman, aware that old age was nearer than ever before. She was getting older, her bones were more brittle and her joints would be creaking a bit. She would be getting more breathless, and she knew that she was less active than she had been before. Then this terrible day came at such a time in her life. Her creature comforts were taken away, most of her servants were killed, her positions were taken from her, and she was plunged from wealth into poverty. She saw her husband, before her eyes, develop a terrible illness that bought him to the borders of death.
1. THE GRIEVOUS WORDS OF JOB’S WIFE.
So there he sits, on an ash heap, scraping himself with some broken pottery, and she looks at this frail faltering figure, and she speaks these words, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die.” It’s a cry of frustration, and a cry of rage at what God has done to this family. You think of the woman who said these words. She had been married all those years to one of the outstanding men in all the world, great in wealth, positions, many servants, but more than that, he was great in holiness, great in wisdom, great in practical kindness and love. God would even acknowledge him as his friend.
Job really loved his wife, as every one of us husbands should be loving our wives. He would have laid down his life for her; he ever spoke to her blamelessly, and he supported her in every possible way. She had watched him, and seen how he had supported the widows and the orphans, how kind he was to them, how he grieved with them when they lost their husbands. But he was above reproach in all his dealings with members of the opposite sex. He kept a covenant with his eyes – let alone with his lips and hands – and so she could entrust to him any of her maidservants. He was a modest and holy man. She knew the respect, with which he was held within the community, but above all she acknowledged his love for the Lord. For to Job to live was the Lord. He was utterly captivated by God. How he adored Jehovah!
This is the example that had been before her day after day for thirty years or more. She had seen his relationship with their children, with their servants, with his friends, with the people in need of the town. He was totally consistent, a blameless man. She must have had the deepest respect and admiration for him, let alone love. Surely, now that his great time of need had come, it would be the opportunity for her to say, “I’m here for you; I’ll be there at your side.” But to this man, this woman said, “Curse God and die.” How quickly we can fall into sin; how rapidly our love and friendship can turn cold. She had been deeply provoked at all that God had permitted to happen to her husband and family in the past week or so, and she blurted out those cruel words. How quickly did Peter, who protested his love and devotion to Jesus Christ, and who had lived with and for Christ, fall into swearing and cursing, “I don’t know that blasted man.”
What a powerful reminder these words are of the force that there is in every one of our hearts from remaining sin. How we have to watch the flesh, like a beast at the door, waiting to pounce on us and devour us. So Job’s wife watched her husband as one calamity after another broke over his head, and she heard his acceptance before God. She looked at him as this ugly illness ravaged that body she knew so well. She saw him solemnly and feebly shave his hair, and shave his beard. Then he lay down on the ground, and prostrated himself before God, and she heard with tingling ears her husband bowing so low before God and whispering, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; naked I came into this world, and naked I will depart from it. May the name of the Lord be praised.” Job never charged his God with wrongdoing. God had every right to do in Job, and with him, and for him, and to him all that God determined he would do. He is God, and all men are sinners. What submission Job had to the will of God. What a witness he was to his wife in his life, in his speech, not even displaying sins of omission.
Yet, his own wife can say this to Job, “Curse God”, she says, “and die”.
There was a man who heard Charles Haddon Spurgeon preach on the sovereignty of God, and on these themes that I am handling now, and have been in the weeks gone by. And he said in anger, “I don’t believe in Spurgeon’s God. If there were such a monster, I wouldn’t worship him.” He was irate because he understood then what Spurgeon was saying about the high Sovereignty of whom and through whom and to whom are all things, to whom be glory forever and ever. Mrs Job had the most blameless man in the world as her husband. He had faith and knowledge and prayer. Such things were no secret to her. She knew him through and through. No one in the world had a more intimate knowledge of Job as she did. She knew whose he was, and she knew whom he served. Religion for Job was not some little box, which you picked up one day a week, and then closed and put down later that same day. God was not a thought in the back of Job’s mind on his way to the oxen pen, to his donkeys, camels, flocks and herds where he got on with the real things in life. God was the main spring of his action. Job could say, “this one thing I do” serving and loving the Lord. I glorify God and enjoy him for ever”, and she knew it was so.
What great privileges Job’s wife had, yet what good effect did those privileges have on her? Very little. In spite of all her opportunities, and all the means of grace, her only recorded words in all the Bible are the words I have read to you. She didn’t understand God. She didn’t bow before God as her husband did. She didn’t seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. She didn’t love the Lord God with all her heart and soul and mind and strength. She didn’t pray with him as he was acknowledging the greatness of God and put her strong healthy arms around his weak body and hold him to her – her dear husband and lover and best friend. Her attitude is a great warning, that merely to posses religious privileges won’t save you. You may have had spiritual advantages for many many years, of every description. You may enjoy the best of preaching, you may have godly and holy friends, you may be the member of an extended Christian family. All this may be so, and yet you yourself remain unconverted and lost forever. Some of you are thinking, “Ah, if only I had more privileges, if only I had a Christian husband, if only I had a Christian wife, if only I had a spirit filled preacher, if only I had a loving zealous congregation to be a member of, if only I had Christian friends in work, then I’d live for Christ. God, give me the privileges,” you are crying, “Then I would walk with God too.”
It’s a great mistake, and a familiar delusion. It requires more than privileges to fill a person with trust in the Lord and obedience to him. Joab was David’s captive, Gehazi was Elisha’s servant, Judas was a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, Demas was a companion of the apostle Paul. They all died in their sins. They all went to the pit unconverted in spite of all the privileges they had experienced and the knowledge they had gained. Let’s value our privileges. Let’s covet for every unmarried woman a Christian husband like Job. Let’s desire every religious privilege. Let’s not put our privileges in the place of Christ. Let’s use them thankfully. Let’s make sure that they lead us closer to God, because, if they’re not, they are hardening you. The same sun that melts the wax can harden the clay. You can die under gospel privileges. Job’s wife had a barren familiarity with sacred things. It’s not privileges that make people trust in God, it’s the grace of God in our hearts and lives.
I ask the congregation – you who come here week by week and listen to the gospel continually – what have you got in your hearts? Have you received the Holy Spirit? I ask you students, with all of the privileges which you have – Bible studies, Christian union gatherings, prayer meeting – are you growing in grace from all of this? Don’t rest content with those things. I ask the children of Christian parents to lay to heart these things. Take heed that you don’t remain stillborn, or barren with all your privileges. You can’t enter heaven on the strength of Dad’s faith, or Mum’s belief in Christ. You must drink the waters of life yourself; they must enter your own heart and soul and life. Job’s wife had access to abundant grace, but Job’s wife said ‘Curse God and die’.
There is a certain pattern that we see in her that we see elsewhere in scripture. Other wives were also not there to support their husbands. We think of Eve, and when the tempter came to her, instead of Eve running to her husband and saying, “Come here straight away! Listen to this incredible thing! A serpent is talking to me, and he’s telling me to do the very thing God told us not to do. What should I do?” But Eve didn’t. She did not talk to Adam – out of whom she came, for whom she was to live. But she took the fruit herself, and then gave it to her husband to eat, and they plunged the world into sin.
You think again of Abraham’s wife Sarah, and how she went to her husband weary of waiting for the promise of her pregnancy to be fulfilled, and she said, “Go and sleep with my maid-servant.” You think of Michal, the wife of David early in his life, when David aflame, quite consumed with the love of the Lord whom he knew to be his shepherd. How David rejoiced when the Ark of God was brought into the city, and he danced with exaltation before it. You’ll remember how then, Michal made fun of him, her husband, and mocked him for his zeal for God. Their marriage did not last much longer. You think of how Ananias and Sapphira had revival preaching, and redemptive miracles, but Sapphira planned with her husband at such an age to lie to the whole church about the price of the property they had sold and what they would bring to Peter’s feet. What a terrible end came to them.
What privileges those wives had, and yet all the light, and all the experience, and all of the knowledge of God that those women had was useless without the grace of God in their lives. Think of wives that are of no encouragement to their husbands today, to persuade them to settle under God-honouring, Bible-centered ministry, exhorting them, supporting them and encouraging them, saying, “This is where we must feed. This is where our children must come under the word of God week after week after week.” Some women are of no support to their husbands at all, so that their family is not a growing family spiritually and morally. Will they be cross-bearing followers of Jesus? We doubt it, and there are no other Christians.
2. JOB’S EXTRAORDINARY REPLY.
Having considered the words of Job’s wife, I want you to look at Job’s reply in verse 10. “He replied, ‘you are talking like a foolish woman, shall we except good from God and not trouble.'” It is a very tender reply. There is nothing sinful in his words at all. He doesn’t blurt out, under such provocation, ‘foolish woman!’ He doesn’t say that, rather saying – you notice it carefully – that she was talking like a foolish woman. It’s stronger than, ‘you are talking like a silly Billy’, though it has that sort of tenderness. But he is also saying more than ‘you’re talking like an uneducated person’. A foolish person is an ignorant person, someone who doesn’t know God, ignorant of the Bible, who doesn’t know the wisdom that’s from above which is given to those who come to God through Christ, who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. The proof of whether we have wisdom or not is manifest in a time of trial. Then we will see what restraint, what self control, what discernment we actually have and did not suspect.
Let me use this illustration: I could take a glass, and, if I were a painter, paint right round the bottom half, yellow lemonade, with an nice bubbly top, and other bubbles seeming to come to the surface. Then I could take this empty painted tumbler and fill it to the brim with water. But on the outside it would look just like lemonade. However, when it was knocked over and upset, just water would pour out. The Pharisees whitewashed themselves. They glistened in the sun; you could see them from a mile away and how impressive they were. But when Jesus upset them, by talking about their harsh, man-made, legalistic religion, what flowed out? Dead men’s bones. And when we get upset, either sovereign grace is going to flow out from us, or sovereign flesh. So it was when Job got upset by trial after trial, out flowed sovereign grace. But out of his wife flowed sovereign flesh. Job’s wife could say, ‘it’s all so unfair’, and it was unfair, humanly speaking. But God has never promised that things will be fair with us. God never promised Elizabeth Elliot that her life would be set fair with sweet breezes and no storms all the way to heaven. She went to the funerals of two husbands. There are those three women whose husbands were kidnapped over ten years ago in Columbia, and for years they waited and prayed that the kidnappers would have them in a jungle hideout somewhere alive. They raised their children to keep and respect the fading memories of their fathers, and then around six weeks ago the news was given officially, that they were long dead. How unfair. To lose your husband … heartbreaking, yes, but to lose your husband and not to know for ten years that he was dead – how unfair.
Many things that happened to godly Job were not fair. Where did we get this idea from that following a crucified Saviour would mean that everything would be fair? It wasn’t fair when Joseph’s brothers took him and sold him into slavery in Egypt. It wasn’t fair when they put Jeremiah in the pit. It wasn’t fair when they stoned Stephen to death. It wasn’t fair when the Christians were thrown to the lions, or when Latimer and Ridley and Cranmer and Bilney were burned at the stake, or when they strangled William Tyndale – the Luther of England – and burned his body. None of it was fair. God’s promises are not that it will always be fair, but that your faith will not fail. That is what he promises. The promise was to Job and to Job’s wife. ‘Your faith will not fail’, he says ‘and you can be sure that you will not be tested above that you will be able to bear.’ Not once! Job was saying to his wife that you are talking like an unbeliever. Those were not the words of a person trusting in a gracious and a good God. Shall we accept good from God ? Oh Yes! We accept all the good and perfect gifts. Our dear ones, the blessings of life and the prosperity that peace, health and work bring. What blessings those are, but then there are the blessings of salvation. And the light of those temporal blessings fades like the light of the moon when the sun rises. Forgiveness of sins, love everlasting, adoption into God’s family, a divine inheritance – what blessings. Shall we accept good from God? Oh Yes! And not trouble? “No God! We are not accepting any difficulties and heart-aches from you!” Only taking the good, and not taking the troubles? Yes? Then are we serving God merely for what we can get from him? Baxter says to us ‘take what he gives and praise him still, through good or ill, who ever lives.’
3. GRACE ENABLES US TO SAY WHAT JOB SAYS.
I want to say to you that many Christians have been able to say these words of Job’s from their hearts, and that I’m teaching them to you this morning that you should say them too, whatever trials and troubles come into your life. By grace you also can say these things from your heart. In the summer of 1851, the year of the great exhibition in London, the lifeless body of an English missionary, Allen Gardiner, was found in his wrecked boat, his shelter on the rugged shore of Tierra del Fuego where he and six companions were shipwrecked, and they all died of hunger. He kept letters and a journal there, he describes his thirst as almost intolerable. He died isolated and weak, physically broken yet he wrote down these words from Psalm 34 as his experience, “the young lions do lack and suffer hunger but they that seek the Lord, shall not want any good thing.” And his last words in his journal were, “I’m overwhelmed with a sense of the goodness of God.” That is what that dying man wrote. “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” You will be able to say those words too.
The first medical doctor who died of Aids in the United Kingdom was a young Christian. He contracted it doing medical research in Bulawayo. In the last weeks of his life, he couldn’t speak, and he struggled to express his thoughts to his wife who was sitting at his bedside. So when she couldn’t understand him, she would bring a little board with the letters of the alphabet, A,B,C,D,E, and thus he could spell out the words while he was strong enough. One day he pointed to J, but he didn’t have the energy to point to any other letters, so she was thinking of what his needs were, and then a range of medical words. But then of course it clicked, “Jesus” she said, and he was able to look upwards. He had Jesus on his heart and mind as he died, and that was all he needed, and that was all she needed. That is all anyone needs.
Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble? There is the young couple that Derek Thomas knows and they discovered that their nine-year-old daughter Jennifer had been murdered, and they have been able to survive that, that is, their faith, their trust in God, has survived. Jennifer’s father wrote, ‘I lost a daughter, Jennifer. She was only nine years-old at the time. She went out on her bicycle one day and didn’t come back, and that was the last we saw of her until her body was found in a dam a week later. I was comforted to know that even at that age, she was safe; she was with the Lord.’ “Shall we accept good from the Lord and not trouble?” You too will be enabled to say that, from your heart.
Joni Eareckson Tada dived into a lake when she was about seventeen years-old. She thought that the water was metres deep, but it was two feet deep, and her spine was snapped and she became a paraplegic for the rest of her life. She talks about her pain. She calls her pain, ‘the intruder’, and she says, ‘today, right now, I want to resolve to know something about the intruder who will invariably, knock at the door. Before I get up to answer his knock, I want to remember that this unwelcome visitor, for all his ill manners, has come for my good, for the good of my character. No matter what my emotions tell me I’ll want to welcome him in. Why? Because deep down, real character is more important to me than temporary comfort.’ She sees the pain, the migraines starting, which will go on for a few hours. The intruder pain is coming into her life, but “it has come for my good,” she says. “I’ll receive it from God, I’ll receive this trouble for my good. For what it is going to do for me in strengthening patience and resilience and a tested and tried quality about my life, that I don’t just trust God because of the good things that he gives me.”
In yesterday’s Times, there was a lovely picture of Lisa Bema, whose husband Todd was on the plane that was hijacked while flying to San Francisco. “Let’s roll!” he famously said as he and the brave young men on that plane went into action to deliver it from the murderers who had taken charge. I told you how he used to lead the teenage Sunday School class in a Christian and Missionary Alliance church in Fairfax, New Jersey. His wife is expecting a baby in January. The photo in the Times of his wife was because she was going to the airport from which he had departed. She got on the plane that he had taken weeks earlier, and she flew to San Francisco to meet there the men that he was to meet the day he had been killed. She flew to show her trust in God. Remember she acknowledged that it was God’s will for her dear Todd to be on that plane. “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
Garry Benfold talks about his wife Elaine, who had been ill for a considerable amount of time, so unwell that they both felt their faith shaking. Gary is the pastor of Mooredown Baptist Church in Bournemouth, and I was with them a year ago. God spoke to them in a very special and a very simple way. Christian friends had come, and friends are always welcome, but they hadn’t been able to say the word to lift her up, but God, without the word, helped her, and he helped her in this way: her father came to Bournemouth and had helped with the garden. Outside the window they have a forsythia bush, and her father really went to town with that bush, and cut it back and pruned it savagely as only an experienced old gardener is confident enough to do, so that the bush was small and skeletal. Throughout the winter it looked absolutely dead. Now that is how Elaine felt, but then the spring came, and you know how forsythia grows? It put forth fresh branches and before the leaves appeared on other bushes it was covered in a cascade of yellow flowers. Elaine was at the window one day reading her Bible, and the passage she was studying was John chapter 15. ‘My Father is the Gardener.’ Her own earthly father was the gardener who knew what he was doing with that forsythia bush when he cut it back, and “my Father in heaven knows what he is doing when he brings troubles into my life. Those that bare fruit, he prunes them that they may bring forth more fruit. Not everything that God does seems wise and good, but it is wise and good. The voice of faith knows that. “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
Last Sunday I was invited out to eat with one George Ferris and his wife Pamela, and he told me how he came to faith. It really began when he was eleven years of age, and his older sister was in her twenties and developed cancer. She gave birth to a baby at that time, and soon died of that disease. He told me how he remembers the funeral and especially his wee mother from Londonderry, her face flowing with tears, speaking to people and saying to them, “The Lord’s been so good to me, God’s been so faithful to me through this time.” Mrs Ferris was in all of the meetings last week as one of the backbones of the congregation, loved by her daughter-in-law, and of course by George. When his sister died he was not a Christian but he thought deeply, ‘She knows God in a way that I don’t know God, I want to know him the way that my mother knows God.’ With tears Christians at times of bereavement have testified how good God has been to them, strengthening and sustaining them. They say to you and me, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
You know how David Kingdon had the harrowing experience of having to give permission to have the life support system of his wife Gwyneth turned off. She had been pronounced brain dead. David at that time was forced to make that decision, and immediately he saw Gwyneth stop breathing, and it was all over. David was then so wonderfully sustained in his faith by God; ‘when you have lost the fear of death there is nothing else to fear, when that mother of all fears is vanished, then other fears recede’, David says.
“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
Horatio Gates Spafford, about whom the church often talks reverently and lovingly, went through a financial disaster in the great fire in Chicago in 1873. He sent his wife and his four children to England on a liner and half way across the Atlantic it collided with another ship and two hundred people were drowned including Spafford’s four children, When the boat reached England, Mrs. Spafford sent a telegram to her husband and it had only two famous words on it ‘Saved Alone’. Horatio Spafford caught the next available steam ship and was advised by the captain when the boat came to that part of the Atlantic where it had gone down and he had lost his girls. It is believed that at that moment there he wrote the words of his hymn:
‘When peace like a river attendeth our way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.’
Today I have brought before you a great cloud of witnesses. I have in fact brought ten Christians to you and they all were taught that God is sovereign and that God is good. All ten of them accepted trouble from God as well as good from God. One starved to death in Tierra del Fuego; one died of Aids; two saw their nine year old daughter Jennifer murdered; one lost her husband in an air crash recently; one suffered depression for a year; one knew the loss of her daughter in her mid twenties; one had to give permission for the life support system which was keeping his wife’s body breathing, to be cut off; one lost four little girls when a boat sank. Five of them are alive today, four of them I know personally, but I know many more like that, and you know – you all know – every Christian here knows – many, many people like that, who have gone through enormous trials. We have watched in humble admiration and they have said “shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
These Christian men and women come to all of you this morning and they say, “we have forfeited the entitlement to every blessing because of our sins. We have no claims on God, no rights before God at all, and yet that God meets us, every one. The farmers he blesses with sunshine and rain and crops, he blesses every person in this town with long life and good things, God is good to all men,” And shall then these Christians not say “We shall not be plaintive and bitter and harsh when God brings trials into our lives, shall we not accept these from God too?” Because God is good, every joy or trial comes from a good God.
There is a passage in one of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia tales, where one of the girls, Lucy, has discovered that Aslan, the great saviour of Narnia is a Lion. She is very nervous about meeting an actual Lion and she says, ‘is he quite safe?’ and Mr Beaver replies, ‘Safe! Who said anything about safe, of course he isn’t safe but he is good! He’s the King I tell you.’ And so it is with Christ the Son of God, he became the Lamb of God and died, and now he is the great Shepherd at the right hand of God and he is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and he protects us from the devil and all his devices, the gates of hell cannot prevail against us. He will ensure that our faith will not fail. We cannot tell him what to do, you cannot domesticate a Lion, he is not answerable to us, but we know that his love is as strong as his power and that both are immeasurable, and that love will sustain us, keep us and help us. He will uphold us. We will take from God so much good throughout our lives – “goodness by the ladle – that is what he gives us, and troubles by the spoonful.” That is how Billy Bray described it. Richard Baxter wrote,
‘Take what He gives and praise him still,
Through good or ill
Who ever lives’.
21st October 2001 GEOFF THOMAS