Job’s appeal

Job lifted his head and surveyed the glimmering skylights.

“I promised long ago never to look at a woman with lust. Would you agree perhaps this is the most significant test among men? I trusted that my reward would be a heritage of unbounded bliss from God Most High. After all, a tragic end should be reserved for a perverted mind and disease-wracked body. God sees my thoughts and takes every action into account.

“If I’ve done anything wrong, let God judge me. He will know I’ve remained loyal to him. If I’ve so much as looked at another woman, my heart would be wearing the residue of my sin.

“If a single strain can be found, let others take the food from my barns while my secret seed is rooted out. If I have ever darkened the doorway of my neighbor’s wife, let my wife lie with another man, and let the whole town bow to her as if she were a goddess.

“I shudder at the thought of such dark contemplation, punishable by the fires of hell.”

Eliphaz opened his mouth to speak, but Job interrupted with an upheld finger.

“If I’ve ever so much as ignored an injustice against one of my slaves, what do you think God Most High will say? ‘Well done.’? Did He not make the lowliest servant and me from the same mud? Were we not fashioned together in our mother’s womb?

“I have withheld nothing from the poor. I’ve treated the widow with dignity and respect. Until all was taken from me, my dining table was always open to the hungry or fatherless. The men of my tent would walk the streets to announce every banquet and watch at the gates for travelers with no lodging.

“If anyone has died in the cold while I watched with a warm fleece over my body, or if I’ve ever taken violent action against an orphan because I knew the judges would acquit me, let my shoulder blades fall and my arms break free from their sockets.

“I’ve walked this earth in fear of God, knowing if I’d done any of these things, I wouldn’t withstand His majesty.

“I’ve never made money my trust, my confidence, or my god. I’ve never boasted about my wealth or good fortune.

I’ve never worshiped the sun in its brilliance or the moon in its eloquent movements, for this false worship would be a sin punishable by the judges.

“If I’ve ever reveled at my enemy’s demise or cursed him, or if I’ve ever hidden sin in my heart for fear of ridicule or scorn…”

Job stopped and fell to his knees. His eyes searched the empty stars.

“Oh, my God! Can you hear me? Where is the indictment from the Satan? I’ll bear it on my shoulder like a tree. No! I’ll wear it as a thorny crown on my brow! Like a prince, I would approach him and give him an accounting of my every breath.”

Job paused, then, out of breath and deplete of fire, he spoke in a voice too soft for his companions to hear.

“If I have exploited the soil of my land, reaping what I haven’t sown, let that thorny crown choke out my wheat and let trees of weeds take over my barley.”

With that, Job fell on his face, silent and pierced with grief.

Inspiration: Job 31

Jackal’s brother

“I wept for slaves,” Job continued, the light in his eyes dimming with the dying embers of the campfire. “I grieved for those in need, yet now the assembly laughs at me.”

Job walked over to the fire pit and sunk down low to intensify the heat on his burning skin. The three friends, likewise, encircled the hole and took their places in the dirt.

Silence fell for several minutes until Job opened his mouth once again.

“Men whose fathers I wouldn’t trust to dine with the dogs of my flock, these men, younger than me, they laugh at my condition and taunt me. These are the dregs of society, weak, hungry, wasting away in the wild. Having been cast out of their community, they find their dwelling in holes and under rocks. They’re nameless ruffians with no legacy, and yet they are after me. These whom I once showed my sympathy now push me forcefully to the side of the road as they pursue their next victim.

“My soul is spilled out inside me, and the pain gnaws relentlessly. My clothes have become disheveled, choking me at the collar.

“The darkness wrenches my bones. In the late hours, I stand up in the empty assembly room and cry out to God for help. I get silence in return.

“God Most High, I stand up, and you stare blankly at me. How cruel you’ve turned out to be, persecuting me with your mighty hand. Tossing me to the wind, I ride the storm of the inevitable doom that comes to all. Can you blame me? You’ve cast me into the mire, and I am one with the dust and ash. Who among those buried in rubble would not stretch forth a hand for salvation?

“I’m a brother to jackals and a friend to wild ostriches. I howl dirges with my lyre and pipe while my insides quiver and burn with the heat of affliction. My skin rots in blackness and peels away into the dust.”

Inspiration: Job 30

Job’s glory

The afflicted man seemed suddenly possessed by an entity, both foreign and familiar. Through its bitter streaks of blood and tears, Job’s face took on the appearance of youth and vigor.

“In my prime, I was a friend of God. His radiant light emanated from my soul and lighted my path, informed my speech, and kept comforting vigil by my tents’ lamplight.

“My children surrounded me, and the rocks at my feet poured anointing oil for my steps.

“Whether at the city gates or seated in the square, the youth made way for me in humble reverence. The elders stood as a sign of respect, and the princes and courtiers held their tongues, waiting for my counsel like they waited for the rain.

“I sat as chief and gave pronouncements, like a king among his troops.

“They blessed my words and honored my deeds because I saved the poor and comforted the mourners and the fatherless. An old man’s dying words were a blessing to me and my household, and afterward, his widow hung a garland of a joyful song around my neck.

“Righteousness and justice clothed me. I lent my sight to the blind and accompanied the lame person on his way. I was a patron to the needy and set out to meet those unknown to me. I stopped the wicked in their tracks and released their prisoners.

“I knew then that I would die peacefully in my bed many years from now, and my children would multiply out to every shore forever.”

Inspiration: Job 29

Otherworldly wisdom

Job lifted himself from where he lay and stood silent before the company of men who had come to challenge him during his crisis. Needing a friend, he was surrounded by accusers. Needing companionship, he was swallowed in loneliness.

When he spoke again, the timbre of his voice was coated with boldness.

“The God who has stolen my rights and wrenched my soul still lives. And as long as his spirit moves through my nostrils, I will not lie. I’m not saying you’re wrong, but as long as I live and breathe, my integrity stands. I refuse to release my grip from righteousness, and my conscience is clear.

“What good are my godless enemies when God cuts their throats? Their pleas for help will fall on deaf ears. Let me teach you a lesson about my God since I’ve mistaken you for wise men.

“God’s gift to those wicked who prosper will meet death by sword or famine. The stores of silver they’ve heaped for themselves and the rooms of fine clothing they acquire will be divided up among the just and the innocent. In an instant, their wealth, built up like sticks in the wind, will be swept away, and they awake in terror, in the knowledge that they have nothing. They are nothing.”

Job walked through the threshold of the tent and out into a black night. The campfire smoldered, and Job stood in its dying heat.

“We mine silver and refine gold,” he said. “We smelt copper after digging down into the deepest darkest places for ore. We make bread from the earth, the place where stones are sapphires, its dust, gold.

“Down below, where men search for all things, no falcon can access. No beast can tread. The lion is powerless over it. Yet humanity fashions tools to turn the ground. We move mountains by the root. We carve into the rocks and damn up the waters. Anything once hidden, we have brought to the light.

“Yet wisdom, we haven’t found. Understanding is still buried. We can’t fathom its worth, because it doesn’t belong in the hands of the living.  The ocean can’t contain it. The gold and precious jewels cannot buy it.

“From where do wisdom and understanding come? Death and the grave have heard rumors, but only God knows the way to them. He’s neither short-sighted nor ignorant of anything in the earth, for he brought them into existence. When he weighed and measured the wind and the waves, commanded the rains and channeled the lightning, he declared wisdom and established it.”

The three men exited the tent, and Job turned to face them. His eyes shown like polished rubies as if possessed by some supernatural fire. He spoke the following words with a voice like rolling thunder:

“Behold, fear God. This is wisdom. Turn your back on evil. This is understanding.”

Inspiration: Job 27, 28

Unspeakable power

“God is indeed pregnant with power and dread for the sake of his kingdom,” Bildad replied, “and no one can count his army of Watchers.

“How can you justify yourself at the judgment? God’s glory outshines the moon and stars, much more the virtues of mere mortals.”

Job laughed. “The Oracle has enlightened me in my idiocy. Thank you for your wise insight, Bildad. Tell me, how do you divine such great observations?”

After Job’s harsh rebuke, no one spoke. The tent flaps quivered gently as a mild breeze continued to pass through its rooms.

“I’m aware of God’s supremacy. The dead tremble at the judgment of the One who established his kingdom over the abyss and pierced the gliding dragon, Chaos. He commands frail clouds to maintain a firm grip on the heavy rains and hides his throne room somewhere deep inside. He tells the seas when to swell and where to halt. He orders the movement of the planets. The foundations of heaven have no pride because they know that they are made beautiful by his Spirit.

“This is but a glimmer of God.”

Inspiration: Job 25, 26

Dying poor

“The crimes against me don’t just affect me,” Job implored with compassion. “The storms that took my children also shifted landmarks in the city. The flocks that God’s fire consumed weren’t only mine but the livelihood of the poor and fatherless who relied on me. Now widows pledge their heirlooms for a loan. Mothers without husbands have their babies torn from the breast, all to keep a covering over their heads. Those in dire need are discarded in the streets. They live like wild donkeys, eating scraps enough to keep their souls and bodies intact. Some even glean the vineyards of the wicked. Their clothes have become threadbare, so they sleep naked in the cruel, cold caverns of this holy mountain. Those who find work must press out the olive oil without a taste and stamp out the grape juice without a drink.

“The city streets echo the final cry of the dying, but God does nothing for them. Murderers, thieves, and sex fiends raid the streets in the night, but God doesn’t come to the rescue. But the wicked will come to a permanent end, leaving nothing for their children, forgotten for eternity. Even the mother of a bandit forgets her son so she can escape the shame. The worms will have him.

“It looks like God saves the filthy rich and protects them against the death that surrounds them on all sides. But someday soon they will all be gone, cut from life like the head of grain.

“Prove me wrong. Call me a liar.”

Inspiration: Job 24

I’m innocent

“I’m complaining because my heart is bitter,” Job replied nearly in a whisper, “because my punishment is more than I deserve. More than I can bear.”

Job turned over slowly, wincing as he shifted his weight and rested on his side. Glints of lamplight flickered in the eyes of his accusers. Job sighed.

“I wish I knew where God was,” he said, a power growing behind his voice. “I’d approach his throne and reason with him. He’d tell me what he wants from me, and I would understand and comply. Instead of invoking terror, he’d sympathize with me. If I am honest, I can reason with him. My Judge is fair.

Eliphaz and Zophar looked at one another with unabashed disapproval on their faces. Perhaps they don’t really know God at all, Job thought. Perhaps they worshiped a god completely unknown to Job.

“I search in vain,” Job continued. “That’s my point. He’s nowhere to be found. He sees the intimate details of my life, but I can’t reach him. My only solace is that when he looks into the deepest recessed of my heart, he finds the pure gold of innocence in me.”

Job felt a sudden surge of energy traveling out through his limbs. Like a magic elixir, the rippling of new power numbed the pain from his sores and gave him relief. Job hoped it would last.

“I’ve been faithful to God’s way without deviation. I’ve enjoyed his commands more than fine morsels of food. For whatever reason, his mind is made up about me. How can I argue with him? No one can stop him from doing to me everything he planned to do, and I have a feeling it’s not over.

“Eliphaz, can you blame me for being so scared? Zophar? I’m blind against the darkness God has cloaked around me. Thick as smoke, I can’t see past it.”

Inspiration: Job 23

Eliphaz again?

Eliphaz spoke up. “So, if God rewards the wicked, I suppose you’re telling me he punishes the righteous. Do you see how backward that is? No, he’s punishing you because you’re endlessly wicked!

“Maybe I can help jog your memory. Did you refuse to lend someone money? Or did you loan them money only if they put up collateral? That must be it. You stripped the meat off their bones. Did you withhold water from the thirsty or food for the hungry? No doubt you freely gave to the wealthy and important. You ignored widows and injured orphans. That’s why you’re terrified and surrounded by darkness.

“You figured that God was too high above us and shrouded in holy smoke to notice your crimes. And what of your children’s crimes? Don’t you see that those who walk the ancient path of the dragon are snatched away in their youth and they never plant seeds for a legacy? They say, ‘We want nothing of God because he has nothing to give.’ They have forgotten all the good things they enjoyed while living under your roof. Now we who are innocent laugh at the wicked man’s scorn.

“Stop fighting with God! Admit you’re wrong, turn away from your sins and you’ll find peace. Return to God and heed his way. Give up your love of money, release your lost gold, and let God be your treasure.”

Inspiration: Job 22

Wicked reprieve

The silence that followed meant that Zophar had finished thrusting his knife in and awaited Job’s response.

“Light a lamp,” Job said. There’s fire on the hearth.”

One of the men fumbled around in the dark until he grasped a lamp Job always kept near his bed. He felt his way through an opening in the cloth that separated Job’s bedchambers from his hearth. The lamplight threw a distorted silhouette through the thin fibers of the fabric. Eliphaz’s facial features flickered grotesquely as he entered the room and set the lamp on its stand.

Job was still lying flat on his back, naked and exposed, without shame and without concern.

Zophar and Eliphaz sat on the floor in silence.

“Zophar of Naamath, listen carefully without interruption,” Job began. “Eliphaz, you too. After I finish, you can all carry on with your incessant mockery outside.

“My complaining has nothing to do with you or any man. Look at me in horror. Look at the condition of my wretch body and try not to cover your mouth in disgust. Even I shudder with fright when I see my reflection. Is it any wonder that my soul is racked with sorrow?

“Zophar, the wicked often live to old age, powerful, well-fed, and comfortable. They live long enough to see their own children flourish, as well as their grandchildren. Their homes are secure from bandits and natural disasters. God never lays a finger on them. Their prodigious cattle low in the fields and their wealth supplies every fancy. They break out the tambourine, the lyre, and the pipe, and they dance until morning. This is all despite telling God they want no part of him or his way.

“‘Who’s this God?’ they jeer. ‘What does it profit me to obey him?’”

“Everything the wicked touches turns to gold, yet I want nothing to do with them. They get away with murder, avoiding trouble in the courts every time. When God doles out wrath and sorrow, the wicked get a reprieve.

“Before you come at me with your next argument, listen. You are thinking, ‘If God doesn’t punish them, he’ll punish their children.’ But I disagree. Wouldn’t God punish the one who sins? Shouldn’t the penalty go to the man who commits the crime? Your argument has no merit.

“But who are we to judge the Judge? He punishes the healthy and the sick, the wealthy and the poor. They all go to the same dust and are devoured by the same worm.

“You’re tempted to tell me of a rich man who was punished for his sins. But I say, ask anyone with any experience, and he’ll tell you the evil usually escape the wrath of God. Instead of being publicly shamed, he gets a great procession before and after his funeral. Your whole argument is flawed!”

Inspiration: Job 21

Wicked end

“I can’t listen to this any longer,” Zophar interrupted. “I took your scolding like a man out there, but I stand by every indictment against you.

“You know as well as I do that a wicked man’s triumph is short-lived. His joy is like a puff of smoke. Even if he reigns over all the earth, he still perishes in the end like garbage, never to be seen again.

“The evil that he hides under his tongue is sweet in his mouth, so he savors it slowly. But in his stomach, it turns to venom. What he has been sucking all the while is from the dragon, Satan.

“He misses out on the cascading rivers flowing with milk and honey. With nothing more for him to devour, his his stolen wealth dries up.

“The wicked man encounters trouble at the peak of his power, and usually it’s the company of the wicked that destroys him. Just as he’s about to eat, death comes out of nowhere. When the arrow is pulled from his still-warm carcass, you can see he’s wearing terror on his face.

“His treasures are lost in a raging fire, his secret sins are revealed to the world, and the world judges him without mercy. This is what God prepares for the wicked.”

Inspiration: Job 20