Eliphaz’s wisdom

Eliphaz had been digging in the dirt next to the fire with the butt of his staff while Job spoke, carving thick lines and symbols that seemed to move in the flickering light.

“May I offer my opinion?” he asked, the shadows on his face also dancing in the firelight, his red hair shining like molten bronze. “You’re usually the one telling us what to do, where to go, how to cope. But this time, trouble has come to you, and you’re undone. You said that fearing God makes you bold and that your integrity makes you resilient. What happened to you?

“Let me ask you,” Eliphaz continued, setting his staff aside and rising to his feet. “Have you ever known a righteous person to die before his time? In my experience, those who sow chaos, reap chaos. By God, they die, consumed in a flash by his righteous anger.

“I’ll tell you a secret. One night in sleep, a phantom passed by my face, causing every hair on my body to stand on end. The specter said, ‘If an angel, who is made of light, can fall to the depths, how can a mortal, made from dust, be righteous before God?’

“If I were you, I’d beg the heavens for help. See if God or his band of Watcher angels answer you. Fools can be successful for a season, but resentment, jealousy, any number of things will snuff them out and leave their children homeless and starving. Hunger and misery don’t sprout up from the earth; they come out of mortals. As sure as these sparks are flying upward from the firepit, you brought this trouble on yourself.

“If I were you, I’d confess my wrongs before God. He works in mysterious ways. He provides rain, thwarts evil, makes kings of paupers, and calms storms. You should consider yourself lucky for being punished for whatever sin you committed. Don’t despise discipline, because it will be your salvation. Whoever God wounds, he will heal. He delivers the troubled and redeems the hungry from starvation.

“In the end, you’ll be like a smooth stone in a field,” Eliphaz concluded, and with his chin jutting out in self-satisfaction, he took his seat. Then he added, “Even the wild beasts will lie down with you in peace. Your tent will be secure, your livestock accounted for, your quiver full, and your years plenty. Just confess.”

Inspiration: Job 4-5

Wrestle mania

In the dark hours before sunrise the next morning, Jacob stirred his wives, their maids, and his children, and he had them cross the ford of the Jabbok with all his possessions. He instructed them to follow the trail of the peace train moving toward Esau, while he stayed behind for a while to wrestle with his thoughts.

An angel appeared in human form and wrestled with Jacob. The encounter lasted until the sun began its ascent on the horizon.

The angel, unable to release himself from Jacob’s grip, said, “Let me go! The morning dawns!”

Jacob would not relent, so the angel dislocated his leg at the hip joint.

Wailing in agony, he cried, “Bless me first.”

“What’s your name?” the angel asked.

“Jacob.”

The angel said, “Jacob, your spiritual name is “Israel,” Strives With God, because you’ve wrestled with the divine and have won.”

Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

“Why do you want to know that?” the angel asked. “You’re blessed through the way of the promise.”

Jacob named the place “Peniel,” Face of God, wholly in awe that his life was spared after the holy encounter.

The angel disappeared. Jacob lifted himself off the ground and limped toward the direction of his family.

Inspiration: Genesis 32

Rebekah’s home

After the camels had had their fill, Abraham’s servant took a gold nose ring and two gold bracelets from his satchel and gave them to Rebekah. “Who’s your father?”

“Bethuel, son of Nahor, born of Milcah,” the girl answered.

“Is there room in his house to spend the night?” he asked.

“We have plenty of room and provisions for you and your camels.”

The man bowed and said, “Blessed be the God of Abraham. For the love of my master, he led me straight to Abraham’s family!”

Rebekah ran ahead and told her mother and their household what had happened at the well. Rebekah’s brother, Laban, listened intently, his eyes regarding the exquisite nose ring and bracelets adorning his sister’s body. When Rebekah finished her story, Laban ran out to meet the visitor and his camels at the well. Sure enough, the man was standing as if waiting for another sign.

“You, there, blessed of God,” Laban shouted. “Why are you standing out here while we’ve prepared our home for you and your animals?”

The servant went to the home of Bethuel, and Laban gave the camels straw and fodder for the night. The household welcomed their guest and his men, giving them water for their feet and food to eat.

After washing his feet, the servant said, “I won’t eat until I’ve shared with you the purpose of my visit here.”

“Go ahead then,” Laban said.

“I call from Abram, now called Abraham,” he said. “God’s been good to my master, giving him flocks, herds, gold, silver, slaves, camels, and donkeys.”

The man stood up. “Abraham’s wife, Sarah, bore him a son in her old age, and my master has lavished everything on him. He made me promise that I wouldn’t choose a wife for him among the Canaanites. Instead, he told me to go to his old country to find a suitable wife.”

The man walked over to where Rebekah was sitting and turned to her. “I asked my master, ‘What if she won’t follow me.’ Abraham said, ‘God will send a guiding angel who’ll lead you to success. If she doesn’t follow you, I free you from your promise.’”

Rebekah smiled.

“Today I came to the well and prayed that whomever I ask for a drink, his chosen one would offer me water along with my animals. Before I finished my prayer, Rebekah approached with her water pitcher.”

As the man recounted the events of the day, the household listened with great interest, especially Laban, who couldn’t keep his eyes off of the gold jewelry adorning his sister. The man finished, saying, “If all this pleases you, let me know. Otherwise, I must continue my search for Isaac’s bride.”

Bethuel answered, “If you’re with God, who are we to argue? Here’s Rebekah to take with you as God wills it.”

The visitor bowed to the ground. Then he went back to his satchel and brought out more jewelry of both gold and silver. Laban watched, wide-eyed, as the servant handed them to Rebekah along with several quality garments. Then he brought out costly gifts for Laban and their mother.

Inspiration: Genesis 24

Suitable bride

God blessed Abraham and everything he touched, but as he approached death in his old age, something weighed heavily on his mind.

He called for his most trusted servant and said, “Promise me in the presence of God that you’ll not choose a wife for my son here in Canaan. Instead, find her from among my kinsmen in my country.”

“What if she refuses to come back with me,” the servant said. “Will I have to bring Isaac to her?”

“No,” Abraham said. “It’s important he never goes back to my old country. God himself led me out of my father’s house, out from my birthplace, and he promised that the land of Canaan would belong to my family.”

He continued, “An angel from God will prepare the way for you and make your mission a success. If the maiden isn’t willing to come back with you, I release you from your promise. Whatever happens, don’t take my son back to my old country.”

Abraham’s servant promised to do what his master said. He prepared ten camels, packed up an assortment of excellent gifts from his master’s store, and set out for the city of Nahor.

As evening approached, Abraham’s servant had the camels kneel by a well on the outskirts of town. “O God of Abraham,” he said, “give me success today and bestow favor upon my master. As the daughters of the city come to draw water, I’ll say, ‘Please offer me a drink from your vessel.’ If one says, ‘Have a drink, and I’ll give your camels a drink, too,’ let her be the appointed one for Isaac.”

Before he had finished praying, Rebekah, granddaughter of Abraham’s brother, Nahor, approached with a water pot mounted on her shoulder. She was a beautiful virgin.

After she filled her pot, the servant said, “Please let me take a sip from your vessel.”

“Drink, master,” she replied and lowered the pot for him to drink. Then she said, “I’ll water your camels as well.” She made quick work of the watering troughs, pouring water into each for the camels.

The servant stood in stunned silence, assessing whether or not God had so quickly made way for the promise he had made to his master.

Inspiration: Genesis 24

God provides

One day, God dealt Abraham an untenable command. “Take Isaac, whom you love, and offer him as a human sacrifice on a mountain I’ll show you in Moriah.”

Abraham got up early from a restless night’s sleep and woke his son. He saddled a donkey and cut up some wood for a burnt offering. Taking a couple of servants with him, Abraham and his son headed north for Moriah. After three days of travel, he looked out and saw the place God had designated for the altar.

“Stay here with the donkey and supplies,” Abraham told his servants. “Isaac and I will go up, worship, and then return.” Abraham gave the wood to his son, while he carried the lighted firepot and the knife. They walked together up the steep hill to the place of worship.

“Father,” Isaac called out as they walked along. “We have fire and wood, but where is the lamb for our offering?”

“God himself will bring the lamb, son,” Abraham said, a lump welling in his throat. They continued to walk on together. “God always provides for the faithful.”

When they reached the right spot, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood accordingly. Next, he bound his son and lifted him up onto the platform.

Abraham brought the sharp knife close to the boy’s throat for a quick, clean cut, and with tears searing his face, an angel from God called out from the sky. “Abraham!”

Abraham halted, the knife tremoring in his hand. “Here I am,” he ejaculated.

“Don’t harm the boy in any way,” he answered. “I know now that you fear God since you’ve withheld nothing you treasure.”

Abraham cut the cords that bound his son and wiped the tears from his bloodshot eyes. He looked up and spotted a ram, its horns tangled in a thicket. Taking the animal, he put it onto the woodpile in place of his son and offered it up as a sacrifice to God.

For the remainder of the time they worshiped on the mountain, and neither Abraham nor Isaac spoke. Amidst the smoke and silence, the angel called out. “God promises by his own name that because you’ve been obedient and not withheld your treasure from me, I will absolutely bless you and make your family as numerous as the stars in the sky. They will conquer their enemies, and by them, all nations will be blessed.”

Abraham and his beloved son returned to the servants who were camping below, unaware of the profound experience both men of God received. In the morning they got up and traveled down to Beersheba.

Abraham settled there, and word reached him that his brother Nahor became the father of eight sons, of whom, Bethuel became the father of a little girl named Rebekah.

Inspiration: Genesis 22

Ishmael’s bio

When Abraham was a hundred years old, Sarah bore him a son. They named him “Isaac,” He Laughs, remembering God’s promise.

“God made me laugh,” Sarah exclaimed with joy, “and everyone who hears our story will laugh too.”

Abraham circumcised Isaac at eight days old, and on the day he was weaned, Abraham hosted an elaborate feast. Sarah saw Ishmael poking fun at little Isaac at the celebration, so she told her husband, “Get this slave woman and her son out of our lives. That child will never share in Isaac’s blessing.”

This made Abraham sad because he loved his son Ishmael.

God said, “Don’t worry, Abraham. Do whatever Sarah says, because it will be through Isaac that your name will be carried. But because Ishmael is your son, I’ll make a nation through him, too.”

Abraham got up early the next morning, packed bread and water, and sent Hagar and Ishmael away. They wandered in the wild deserts of Beersheba, but they soon ran out of water.

Hagar placed a dehydrated Ishmael under a shade tree to die of thirst. She put some distance between herself and her son, so she didn’t have to watch him suffer, and she wept in grief.

God heard Ishmael moaning through a parched throat for water, and an angel spoke to Hagar. “What’s wrong, Hagar?” the angel asked. “Don’t worry about your son, because God hears him. Go and lift him from the ground. I’ll make him a great nation.”

God led her to a well of water. She ran over, filled the waterskin, and brought it to her son to drink.

God remained near as the boy grew into a man. He was an expert bowman and lived in the wilderness of Paran. Hagar found him a wife from Egypt, and Ishmael had twelve sons, who became twelve tribal kings. Ishmael lived a hundred and thirty-seven years.

Inspiration: Genesis 21, 25

Cruel mistress

Sarai heard Abram often talk of fathering a great nation. She wanted to pave the way for God’s promise to be fulfilled for Abram, so she suggested Abram should sleep with her Egyptian slave, Hagar.

Abram tossed the idea around for about a decade, until Sarai pressed the issue, bringing Hagar personally into his tent. When Hagar got pregnant, she hurled insults at Sarai and adopted an air of superiority over her.

Sarai flew into a rage, and Abram took the brunt of her wrath. “I offered you my slave as a second wife,” she seethed, “and she became a monster. What are you going to do about it?”

“She’s your slave,” Abram shrugged half-heartedly, “and this was your idea. Take care of the situation however you wish.”

On that very day, Sarai’s treatment of Hagar became so unbearable that the slave fled into the wilderness.

An angel of God approached Hagar as she followed a brook toward Egypt. “Hagar, where’d you come from?” the angel asked. “And where are you going?”

The slippery rocks on the creek bottom made the way difficult, but she continued along the path undeterred. “I’m escaping the cold, cruel grip of my mistress.”

The angel stepped in front of Hagar, blocking her way. “Turn around,” the angel said. “Go back and submit to Sarai. In return, I’ll give you more descendants than a census can track.”

Hagar dropped to her knees and held her belly. “How can I go back to that abusive woman?” she sighed, rocking in place.

The angel of God knelt beside her and said, “Your son will be named Ishmael because God hears your cries of anguish. But you should know, Ishmael will make an ass of himself and will have enemies all around him, including his own family.”

“I’ll call you Elroi,” Hagar said, suddenly still, “because I’ve seen God and will live to tell about it.”

After the encounter, the well of the spring was called “Beerlahairoi,” Well of the Living Sight.

Hagar returned to her mistress, bore a son, and named him Ishmael. Abram turned eighty-six years old.

Inspiration: Genesis 16

Dragon’s deception

The serpentine dragon cradled its scaly head on a branch of the Knowledge Tree one afternoon and reasoned with Eve. “You look hungry,” he garbled. “I hear you aren’t allowed to eat any of Eden’s delicious varieties. Is this a joke?”

Eve bristled at the unusual sound of a talking lizard. “We can eat anything except Knowledge.”

She pointed to the tree from which both the forbidden fruit and the dragon’s tail dangled. “We can’t even touch it, or we’ll die.”

The dragon choked on a half-chewed morsel. “Dear child, do I look dead to you?” he asked, mucous-caked eyes glinting in the sun. He dropped from his perch and crept closer. “Don’t you want to know good from evil, child? That’s what happens when you eat from Knowledge. You become distinguished and discretionary. Like a god.”

Eve regarded the sagging fruit, and the dragon saw in her gaze a well of desire.

“Why should your God be the only one who knows good from evil?”

Adam appeared from out of the brush, his brutish footfalls startling the beast. With eyes fixed on the sun-kissed fruit, he inquired, “Like a god, you say?”

“Like your God,” the coiled reptile affirmed. “He lied to you, friends.”

With that, the dragon skulked away.

Eve plucked the fibrous orb, and its limb snapped back as if pained by the extrusion. No sooner had she and Adam bit into it that they lost all sense of time.

Enchanted by the hypnotic sound of blood pumping through their veins, they swayed to a swelling melody playing in their ears. Adam drew himself erect, pulsating waves welling from his lower spine up through his crown. Eve felt her legs give way, so she knelt and listened to the harmonies playing beneath the soil.

Then, their rapture ended. Both shuddered, feeling suddenly vulnerable and exposed. A harsh wind swept through the clearing, and the sky rumbled ominously.

They patched together the leaves of a fig tree and wrapped themselves with them, then scurried in opposite directions in search of protection.

God came down that evening, but Adam and Eve weren’t answering the door.

“Where are you?” he asked, peering into the orchard. “Adam?”

Adam responded from behind a mulberry bush, his voice shrill and weak. “I was naked and afraid, so I hid,” he explained, self-consciously.

“How’d you know you were naked unless you took fruit from the Knowledge Tree?”

Adam admitted his disobedience but quickly blamed his wife. “I was content with figs and pomegranates,” he said, “but this woman… your gift to me, I should say… she wanted a taste of Knowledge.”

Eve appeared from behind the foliage of a willow, downcast and visibly shaken. Speechless, she pointed an accusatory finger at the creature who happened to be slinking along the path.

God seized the dragon by its throat and cursed it. “Eat dirt and die! From now on, you’ll slither on your belly, with misery your only company. You may strike at the heel, but in the end, your enemy with crush your head.”

God turned to Eve and said, “Now that you’ve tasted the difference between good and evil, childbirth will be painful and dangerous. As far as your relationship with the man, you’ll want to please him, but he’ll dominate you. His desire will be for wealth and power.”

To Adam, he said, “You’ve cursed the soil, whose provisions weren’t enough. You’ll bleed, sweat, and cry for your bread, grasping for food, sex, and an endless string of things until you return to dust.”

God’s countenance then softened. He presented clothes he had made from animal hide. “You’ll need more than fig leaves where you’re going,” he said, handing them their new leathers.

The first family had just experienced a most unfathomable blow. For their safety, God separated them from the Life Tree and dispatched a host of armed guards to surround it. Consuming Life straight from the source would have damned them to eternal anguish.

God escorted them to the east gate, onto a twisted path leading into the cold darkness.

“Follow closely to the way,” God instructed. “The sun will rise again, and I will bring Life back to your offspring.”

The estranged pair left the comforts of the lush garden and traveled east along the rocky road they named Suffering, and the dragon slithered behind them by the light of a fallen moon.

Inspiration: Genesis 3