The Epistle of James has the only other mention of the man Job outside of the book that bears his name, the other reference being Ezekiel 14.
“Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy” James 5:11 KJV
Here we see a commendation of Job and an example held up by James for us to imitate in our times of suffering. It’s not all too uncommon to hear of the patience of Job, as seen in the passage purposefully cited from the King James Version above. In fact, it’s become a bit of a colloquial saying to apply towards a patient person, “he’s got the patience of Job.” However, if one takes the time to read carefully through the Book of Job, we actually see that Job was not patient…at all (Consider Job 4:2,5; 6:11; 21:4). How then can we reconcile James’ declaration of Job’s patience with the perceived impatience that he displayed in the midst of his very tumultuous trials and afflictions?
The answer is to simply slowdown in our reading of James’ epistle and hold off on applying our traditional understanding to this passage. In doing so, we may ask a few questions of the context, focusing particularly on the meaning of the word being used here, translated as patience in the KJV above and as steadfastness in the ESV, “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”
First, let’s note the flow of the argument being made in James. In the opening of chapter 5, which of course is an interpretive division, the author introduces a reproof against the rich, which were already in the cross-hairs earlier in the letter (James 1:10-11). In 5:6 we read, “You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.”
Here we begin to see the upcoming focus for our verses of interest, namely the persecution of the righteous. Therefore, when we arrive at verse 7, we may better understand the upcoming context of patience in suffering, “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord”, “See how the farmer waits for the previous fruit of the earth, being patient about it”, “You also be patient.”
James’ epistle is introduced with a discussion on patience in suffering and he picks it up here again in chapter 5. Immediately seeing the call for patience might tip us towards understanding that Job is the prime example for patience in suffering, as seen in verses 10-11, “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”
In this passage, we first see a general reference to the prophets, who are an example of suffering and patience, or better, “patience in the face of suffering.” This may refer most notably to those prophets for whom books of the Old Testament have been named, i.e. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea,etc. who suffered for the sake of the Lord’s name and the proclamation of His Word. We might also cross-reference Hebrews 11 to see are more rounded out list.
The word “patience” (makrothu) used here in reference to the prophets is the same word used throughout James 5 up to this point and can additionally mean forebearance or longsuffering, so patience is a fitting translation.
Next, we arrive at the example of Job in verse 11, but note that in the phrase used in reference to him, “the steadfastness of Job” we have a different word than what was used in first example, the prophets. Even the ESV recognizes this by choosing to translate the word as steadfastness rather than patience, signifying a different word is likely being translated. Here we have the word hupomone, already introduced in James 1:3, and there is some semantic overlap between the two. However, the latter use seems to carry a stronger meaning and in nearly every other New Testament use it implies perseverance in the face of trials or affliction (see Luke 8:15; 21:19; Rom. 5:3; 2 Cor. 1:6; 2 Cor. 6:4; 2 Thess. 1:4; Heb. 10:36; 12:1; James 1:3-4; Rev. 1:9; 2:2-3; 2:19; 3:10; 13:10; 14:12) .
If the author wished to continue maintaining the same point, he could have just as easily used the same word here. But he didn’t. In my humble opinion, I think this is because Job is seen as a different case, set apart from those others who suffered, even unto death. Job’s perseverance was markedly different because the depth of his suffering was markedly greater. To this point, one commentator has remarked, “patience can be described as passive endurance; by contrast, perseverance is the active determination of a believer whose faith triumphs in the midst of afflictions.” With the prophets, we certainly see endurance in the face of many trials, even unto death. However, with Job, we see this active determination of triumphant faith in the face of the harshest afflictions.
In this section of James we read of a strong exhortation for the righteous to bear with suffering in patience. However, this is taken a step further when we read of Job’s perseverance, recalling to mind for us the severe affliction that he endured through faith by the Grace of God. No, perhaps rather than praising someone for the patience of Job, we may more accurately honor those who display the perseverance of Job, triumphant faith active in the midst of trials.