Reflections on Gender Roles and the Reinvention of the Hero in the Book of Job

Gender Roles & Reinventing the Hero in Job

The Old Testament book of Job was written as a philosophical and theological inquiry to the relationship between the God and humankind: Is it determined by external circumstances or an internal relationship? What happens when the external (favorable) circumstances unexpectedly take a turn for the worse?  How is the “inner man” impacted? Is one’s relationship with the Lord damaged (or strengthened) as a result? Job’s story is one of physical survival and spiritual growth in spite of great personal loss, physical illness, peer pressure, and bad advice. 

Job Is a New Type of Hero

Job mentions no monarchy. No temple. No tabernacle. No state. No nation. No group identity. It is void of the following words: Jew, Israel, Judah, Hebrew, kingdom, and tribe.  The narrative is is not about WHERE you live, but WHO you are regardless of where you reside. 

This article will discuss Job as a narrative whole—focusing primarily on the introduction and conclusion—with brief glimpses into the body of the text.

The story of Job revolves around a family unit: a father (the good, wise, noble ‘hero’), a mother, and children—namesakes who are killed before the father dies (yikes!) and children born after Job emerges unscathed from his trial by fire. The story also features servants, friends, an accuser, and God.

The Hero of the Story is Job

The ‘hero’ of the story is Job. He is not a wartime hero having earned his honor through battles. Job is a different kind of hero. Like Boaz, Job’s honor is based on his personal character: living a righteous lifestyle.

The very first verse of the book describes Job as “blameless and upright” because “he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). One would expect the next verse to expand on his character—to demonstrate his blamelessness and uprightness—and it does, but not necessarily in the way one might expect. Rather than establishing his character by recounting the battles he’s won, the author introduces Job’s progeny: “He had seven sons and three daughters.” The primary evidence we are given attesting to Job’s virtue is the number of adult sons and daughters he had. Seven sons signifies complete blessing of God, with three daughters being the perfect complement. Later in the text, we learn that one of Job’s customs was to make sure his children were ‘purified’ after partying and offer sacrifices for each of them in case they might have sinned. In this role, he was not only their father, he was their priest.

Immediately following the list of heirs is an inventory of other property: “And he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants” (Job 1:3a). This list is fabulous for a few reasons:


  • the number of animals he owns places him in the status of nobility;
  • he has a large number of servants (It’s interesting that the animals are numbered, but the servants are not); and
  • he has NO CHARIOTS!!! According to 1:3b, “He was the greatest man among all the people of the East” (even sans chariots).


In my opinion, and in light of the significance of chariots in the Ancient Near East (which I blogged about here), the absence of any mention of chariots is further proof that this book is redefining what it means to be a powerful, righteous, blessed man.

The story of Job showcases a new type of hero—not a warrior who fights battles or a king with chariots and chariot riders to fight battles for him—this man is different. In Job, we learn that a man’s honor comes not from how many thousands or tens of thousands he’s killed in battle, the true measure of a man is based on how he provides for the spiritual needs of his family in accordance with the Law (which is not mentioned) and how he handles himself and his family in times of crisis when it appears to all onlookers that God has abandoned him.

To be clear: Job is a warrior; however, his ‘war’ is not with flesh and blood. His war takes place within. After Job loses his possessions, he laments:

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” (Job 1:21)

According to the author, Job did not sin, because he did not blame God. He accepted the awful state of things, but never turned his back on God. Obviously, the intent here is for the reader to understand that THIS is what makes a man: the ability to endure unbelievable hardship without losing faith in the one, true God.

Not long after this, Job is afflicted with painful sores all over his body. Interestingly, what infuriates his wife is not (a) the loss of the animals, (b) the loss of their children, or (c) the loss of his health. What infuriates her the most is his character! As a blameless and upright man who feared God and shunned evil, Job refused to allow circumstances to dictate his relationship to his maker. Job 2:9 records his wife’s words, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” In light of the interview with Dr. Eskenazi (which can be viewed here), I find it interesting to see that his wife was giving him orders!

His response to her is priceless. Job says, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” This silences her for the rest of the book. What we can assume, based on the evidence presented in the conclusion, is that she takes her place by his side and supports him through the healing process, and eventually bears him ten more children (see below).

The following verses describe a new type of hero as related to the redefinition of gender roles. Job’s responses below testify to the desirable characteristics of a man (a new type of man—non-warrior—desired in the post-exilic community):

  • Peaceful ~ “My hands have been free of violence and my prayer is pure.” Job 16:17
  • Kind  ~ “Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.” Job 6:14
  • Selfless ~ “Although I am blameless, I have no concern for myself; I despise my own life.” Job 9:21
  • Supportive ~ “I also could speak like you, if you were in my place; I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you. But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief.” Job 16:4
  • Faithful Husband ~ “If my heart has been enticed by a woman, or if I have lurked at my neighbor’s door, then may my wife grind another man’s grain, and may other men sleep with her. For that would have been wicked, a sin to be judged.” Job 31:9
  • Fair Boss ~ “If I have denied justice to any of my servants, whether male or female,
    when they had a grievance against me, what will I do when God confronts me?” Job 31:13-14a
  • Generous ~ “If I have denied the desires of the poor or let the eyes of the widow grow weary, if I have kept my bread to myself, not sharing it with the fatherless—but from my youth I reared them as a father would, and from my birth I guided the widow—if I have seen anyone perishing for lack of clothing, or the needy without garments, and their hearts did not bless me for warming them with the fleece from my sheep…” Job 31:16-20
  • Compassionate ~ “…if I have raised my hand against the fatherless, knowing that I had influence in court, then let my arm fall from the shoulder, let it be broken off at the joint. For I dreaded destruction from God, and for fear of his splendor I could not do such things.” Job 31:21-23

I could go on and on. The book of Job is filled with verses which extol the virtues of a new type of hero: a man of God. A man of good character who can stand his ground even when the rug is pulled out from under him—not because of skill with a variety of weapons, but because of his faith in God. And as he predicted in Job 23:10, Job emerges from his trial pure as gold.

At this point, his family and community rallies around him in support, “All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring” (Job 42:11). Job’s wife, although she is never quoted again after instructing him to ‘curse God and die,’ is still with him when he is restored to full health. She fulfills her role as faithful ezer kenegdo, and goes on to bear him ten more children: seven sons (again) and three daughters (again).

This is significant, because his previously-obliterated family line will now continue, and his name will continue for generations.

Finally, Job does something completely unheard of previously in Biblical text: he leaves an inheritance not only for his sons, but also for his daughters.
This exhibits yet another re-imagining the role of women in the text. Job’s daughters are treated as co-heirs with the sons, thus elevating their status in family and communal life.

Job’s faithfulness toward God, his wife, his family, his community, his animals, and even his servants is now memorialized in a new way. Rather than singing songs of glorious battles won, this new hero is commemorated with the following epitaph:

After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. And so Job died, an old man and full of years.” (Job 42:16-17)

Yes, Job was a warrior. His battle was within, and he won.

Addendum (personal application):
The moral of the story is this: Sometimes bad things happen to good, noble, ‘heroic’ people. Contrary to popular belief at the time, bad things do not always equate to judgment for sin. It’s very possible that when bad things happen, otherworldly agendas are playing out, and our responsibility as a good, noble, ‘heroic’ person is to remain humble, keep the faith, do what is right, and trust that God will work everything out in our favor—and if He doesn’t, humbly accept that decision, as well.


Art Credit: “Job raillé par sa femme” by Georges de La Tour (ca. 1625-1650)