God’s greatness

“Listen just a little longer,” Elihu said, “because I’m coming to my point. What I tell you comes straight from the Source, praise be His name.

“Unlike your friends here, Job, I won’t attempt to vindicate God with unsound arguments. God is mighty as His understanding is mighty. How can anyone be low enough for him to despise?

“He’s an advocate for the poor, but that doesn’t mean he sustains the wicked. Just because he establishes kings doesn’t mean he forsakes the godly in favor of the unjust monarch.

“Your friends called you a hypocrite because of your affliction. I tell you, your affliction is a warning against your obvious arrogance. If you humble yourself, will you not be far richer in wisdom for it?

“The godless have no god to help in their affliction. But God delivers the afflicted in their very affliction. In other words, he pierces the heart through adversity.

“God would lure you out of your predicament, but you’re preoccupied with judgment and justice.

“I warn you, don’t let anger cause you to fall into bitterness, because no ransom whatsoever will be enough to win you back.”

Bildad said, “He said he wanted to die anyway. What does it matter?”

Elihu turned to Bildad. “It matters because death is no teacher.”

“Are you saying Job should embrace his torment?” Bildad asked.

“Is there a greater teacher than his torment? Your mistake, Job, was to presume to tell God how He should respond to you, a mortal man. Instead, make it an unbreakable rule to magnify God’s might in all His works.

Consider how the clouds form from thin air and pour rain here or there. He chooses to withhold these rains on a whim. Can you stand up against the powers that hold back sky oceans?”

No one said anything for several minutes. The cock had crowed during Elihu’s pronouncements, and the sun lighted the distant fields, eerily empty of life. Surrounding Job and his company was the remnant rubble of his settlement, a morbid reminder of a great prosperity now lost.

There was nary a hint of cloud in the sky.

Inspiration: Job 36

God’s justice

After a few moments of stunned silence, Elihu, ancestor of Nahor, continued.

“The ear considers words like the tongue tastes food. Together, let the four of us determine what is good.

“Job, you plead a compelling case of blamelessness, but you take credit in vindicating yourself. In doing so, you’ve essentially agreed with the wicked by claiming there’s no value in delighting in God. When you say you’ve kept yourself clean in vain, in fact, you’ve offended God.

“You claim that the wicked go unpunished. Perhaps worse, you claim that you’re sinless yet punished.

“God is perfect Justice. Can a governor hate justice? God can do no wrong, for He is Shaddai, the Almighty. No one appointed Him to a court position. No one handed down a law book so He would know how to properly fan out the canvass of stars over the land and seas between the four pillars.

“If God decided to breathe in and take His Spirit back into Himself, all flesh would turn again to dust. Get it?

“In your discontent, you condemned God’s judicial proceedings.

“Will you also condemn a righteous man who calls a king a scoundrel? Would you condemn a righteous judge who shows no partiality between a noble man and a common slave?

“We’re all God’s creation, and we all die. His eyes watch our every step. There’s no place for the wicked to hide on the last day.

“He doesn’t have to deliberate long before His judgment is handed down.

“He obliterates the wealthy in the their nocturnal haven without a thought, because He knows them as He knows Himself. With onlookers gaping in horror, He strikes them down in their wickedness.

“The rich man amasses wealth by the blood and sweat of oppression, and the cries of the poor reach God’s ears.

“But if God remains silent while the innocent die of starvation, are you going to condemn Him? Can even an entire host of nations stand against Him if He chooses to remain hidden?

“What if you considered your punishment and sorrow as proof of our common trait of some hidden sin? I wish you could humble yourself enough to say, ‘God, show me what I don’t see in myself, so I may correct my ways and live.’ He wants you to be humble, not feel guilty.

“You think you’ve been tested to the limit. Don’t tempt God to press further. You heap rebellion upon your stain of sin, multiplying God’s justification against you.”

Zophar interrupted and said, “Job told us earlier, in the lamplight of his tent, that the wicked go unpunished, and that they jeer, ‘who is this God, and why should we obey Him?’”

Elihu turned again to Job, a look of disgust impossible to hide.

“And by saying such things,” Elihu condemned Job, “you’ve admitted that you’d be better off having followed the ways of the wicked.”

“I asked him,” Eliphaz interjected, “if he actually thought God can be affected by his righteousness.”

Elihu laughed.

“Look how high the clouds float above us,” he pointed at the breaking of dawn’s sky. “Eliphaz is right. What good is your righteousness to a God who’s higher than the clouds we cannot touch? For that matter, what harm would come to God if you sinned?

“Your wickedness or righteousness is a matter between those of us on the ground. And the oppressed don’t get an answer because, instead of humbly seeking God and trusting in His timeline, the suffering one, even you, Job, is quick to call for justice because of their evil pride. We don’t need justice. We need mercy!

“God can’t hear an empty cry, that is, a cry for justice. How much less will he hear the haughty case you’ve laid before Him. And as you wait for an answer, you dare to regard his slowness to anger as a license to sin.

“Job, by your mouth. you’ve opened up for yourself a gaping pit.”

Inspiration: Job 34, 35

Elihu’s appearing

The three companions wandered aimlessly in the yard around as the last embers of the campfire cooled into dust. They were dumbstruck by the confidence of Job.

Unbeknownst to Job or the others, Elihu, who had traveled all the way from Buz, had kept himself hidden behind a shrub of pomegranate. The son of Barachel, he was an ancestor of Nahor, Abraham’s brother.

He wore a ram insignia on his breast, woven of intricate needlework. His cloak and turban were pristine white.

Elihu seethed with anger at everything he had heard come from Job’s mouth. Neither were Job’s companions vindicated, because they convicted Job without evidence.

The young man stepped out of dawn’s shadows. He had held his tongue up until this moment out of respect.

“I’m young,” he began, “and you’re old.”

Job and the others turned in the direction of the newcomer’s voice.

“I was afraid to say anything, knowing the opinion of a child falls on deaf ears. ‘Let experience speak,’ I thought as I listened to your rants. The longer I listened, the more I realized old age doesn’t make a person right, and understanding doesn’t come from experience. It’s the Spirit within man, the breath of God Most High that brings enlightenment.

“I’m a new wineskin without a vent, full of wine and ready to explode, so listen. I speak without bias or flattery. I’m wise enough to know flattery can get you killed.”

Job rested himself against a large stone near the opening of his tent and waited for the young man to relieve himself from whatever he had to say. Could he be an advocate, one who has come to vindicate him?

Elihu approached the pitiful shell of a man covered in sores and racked with grief and fatigue.

“Job,” he said, “I speak sincerely, from my heart. The Spirit of God made me, and His breath gave me life. I’m inclined toward God just like you, for I know I’m nothing but a pinch of clay from his fingers. Don’t fear anything I have to say, because I’m on your side.

“You say you’re without sin, yet God has made you his enemy. Let me explain how you’re wrong. Simply stated: God is wholly other than us.

“The very act of contending against him is ludicrous. You say, ‘God doesn’t answer me,’ and yet he answers in multiple ways without our comprehension.

“Have you noticed when we dream, God often opens our ears with warnings? He uses our deep sleep as a way to enlighten us so that we can make a better choice when we wake. He saves us from the grave and from death by the sword.

“He also corrects us through aches and pains. Lying sick in bed, when we can’t stand the sight of rich foods, or even bread, and our ribs show through our skin, this is a great opportunity to rest in God.

“When a man’s soul draws close to death and a Watcher mediates mercifully on his behalf and whispers the right word, saying, ‘Get him out of the pit and let vigor return to his body, for I have found the ransom,’ this is when a man prays to God and accepts Him. These are the conditions in which a person sees the face of God in joy, and God restores their righteousness.

“The sinner shouts in public, ‘I perverted the good, yet I’ve been spared! My soul is redeemed and now I gaze upon the light.’ His testimony is a witness for others to think twice before falling into mischief.

“God does this two, even three times for the one who sins, so he might have the light of life.

“Job, listen. Or if you wish to add something, feel free, because all I want is to set you free. Otherwise, hold your tongue so I can teach you wisdom without interruption.”

Inspiration: Job 32, 33

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 dam 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 worship a god completely unknown to me.

“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 recesses 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