When someone exhibits great endurance through all kinds of trials, annoyances, or provocations, we say that person has “the patience of Job.” The idiom is applied to those who nobly persevere in the face of overwhelming hardships. The expression has its origin in James 5:10–11: “Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
Among the many Old Testament examples of patience, Job is selected as the prime illustration. He is the exemplar of a patient man. There are many reasons why this must be the case.
Job’s patience stands out because Job’s story is extreme in the amount of suffering he endured. Job lost all of his children and his wealth in a single day. He then was covered in painful sores, and his wife offered him no support—she encouraged him to give up, curse God, and die (Job 2:9). When Job’s three friends came to comfort him, they could not even recognize him from a distance (Job 2:12). Adding to Job’s pain, his friends falsely accused him of wrongdoing and blamed his troubles on his unrepentant heart. Through it all, Job patiently endured (Job 2:10).
James used Job as a prime example of patience in suffering because of what may have been in store for James’ readers. By the time of the writing of the epistle of James, Stephen had already been killed as the first Christian martyr (Acts 6—7). The early Jewish Christians had fled from Jerusalem for safety (Acts 8:1). Saul had arrested Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 9). By Acts 12 (approximately AD 42), James the apostle (not the writer of the epistle) had been killed, and Peter barely escaped death. James wrote his epistle sometime between 44 and 49; it was a troubled period, and the early church faced much persecution. The believers were in need of endurance.
With the many forms of suffering facing these early Christians, it was important to be reminded that they, like Job, had done nothing to deserve their suffering but were to patiently endure for the sake of Christ. Just as Job faced many struggles, they would face hardship in living for God. This is one of the key themes of James (1:2–4, 12–15; 5:7–13).
Still today, the patience of Job serves as an inspiration to Christians who face times of struggle and suffering. No matter what happens, we are called to follow Job’s example as we patiently endure in service and worship to the Lord, remembering that our God is “full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11).