Sore loser

Once again, the Watchers presented themselves before God, and like before, Satan fell in behind them.

“Where did you come from?” God asked the interloper, knowing full well the dragon had been off making storms on the mountain and stirring magma under the earth.

“From here to there,” Satan sneered.

“How’s Job doing?” God asked, getting to the point. “Looks like he persists in his holiness, even in the face of all you’ve done against him.”

“That’s just it,” the dragon spat. “I’ve done nothing against him. You know the limits of every man, and just short of it, you set the boundary of my work.” Satan felt the rage welling up from the constant reminder of his powerlessness in a game that was unfairly rigged.

“Give me his health, and his holiness will fail with it,” Satan proposed without hope.

God’s answer was unexpected. “Okay, his health is under your control,” he said before the host of witnesses. “But don’t kill him.”

Job woke up the next morning splotched with painful sores all over his body. He rose slowly from his mat, flinching as the coarse fibers of his bedcovers brushed over his afflicted skin.

He took a clay pitcher from the hearth, and, without a thread of clothes, walked slowly outside into the tent yard. Dashing the container against a stone, he picked up a jagged shard from the scattered pieces and, holding it gingerly in a festering hand, he sat in the fire pit among the previous night’s ashes.

Job’s wife, having resigned herself to a life of bitterness and misery, returned from fetching water, and seeing the spectacle God had made of her husband, she mocked him.

“Ever the holy man,” she goaded him with an incredulous scowl. “Curse God and die already.”

“Foolish woman,” Job snapped, scraping an oozing pustule on his foot. “Should I accept all the good gifts from God, and reject the bad?”

Inspiration: Job 2

Satan’s wager

High upon the isolated hills near Uz, a righteous priest named Job placed his tenth blood-let ram on the smoldering altar. Watching the flesh ignite against the white-hot bed of wood and fat, he prayed for his youngest daughter’s soul and repeated her name until the swirling black smoke turned to a webby haze of gray.

He had spent the solitary hours before sunrise atoning for the sins of his ten children, who had frolicked and feasted the night before and had almost inevitably cursed God in at least one careless breath before finally sinking into a drunken slumber of forgetfulness.

Job’s blameless reputation and matchless wealth was the stuff of legends, at a time when great evil spread as quickly as humankind itself, eastward across the arid expanse of Mesopotamia.

The man had a wife and ten grown children, seven sons and three daughters. His fields were peppered with seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, a thousand beasts of burden, and as many servants as a census could count.

Job’s sons lived in the city at the mountain base. Their lives consisted of squandering their father’s coin and throwing lavish festivals at one another’s homes. Inviting their sisters and every neighbor within shouting distance to join in the gaiety, Job’s sons would drink and dine, often until their merriment roused the sun the next morning.

Job tended to keep to himself, deep inside his head for most of the day, keeping earnest vigil with his God. When his sons’ feast days had run their course, he would rise early and toil up the hill, leading by rope another train of sacrificial animals.

The smell of burnt flesh coming off the altar wafted high into the secret courts of heaven, and God took pleasure in it. A host of Watchers returned from their earthly posts and presented themselves before God’s throne, and the serpentine dragon, Satan, was among them.

“Where did you come from?” God asked the outsider, unamused by the interruption.

“I have come from walking the earth,” Satan hissed, “seeing whom I might satisfy with my services.”

God smirked. “Have you tried my faithful servant Job? In righteousness, there is no equal. Out of reverence for me, he shuns all evil and does only what is good.”

“Surely you see why he shows such loyalty,” Satan replied. “You shield him on every side and bless every seed he sows. Separate the man from his possessions, and watch him curse you to your face.”

“Very well. Everything Job owns is released to your influence,” God said. “Only, you may not harm the man himself.”

With that, the dragon took his leave and went to work on God’s blameless servant.

Inspiration: Job 1

Jacob’s ladder

Jacob traveled from Beersheba toward Haran, and as evening approached one night, he settled in a clearing near the city of Luz. Using a stone for a pillow, he slept like a rock.

He dreamed that a ladder rose up from the ground and into the sky, and angels moved up and down its rungs. God stood next to him and said, “I’m the God of Abraham and Isaac. This land will be yours, and your descendants will spread to the north, south, east, and west, like dust on the wind. Every family on earth will be blessed by you and your descendants. I’m with you wherever you go and won’t leave you until I’ve fully paved the way of my promise, bringing you back to this land.”

Jacob woke suddenly, saying, “God is here, and I didn’t even know it.” Then, a surge of fear came over him. “I’m in awe here in God’s house, facing heaven’s gate itself.”

In the morning, Jacob got up early, fashioned a marker from the stone he had slept on, and he poured wine and oil on it. He named that place “Bethel,” House of God.

“If God stays with me, feeds and clothes me, and protects me against my angry brother until I return to my father’s house,” he said, raising his hands to the heavens, “then God will be my Master, this stone will mark the place of his residence, and I will give back to him one-tenth of all I own.”

Inspiration: Genesis 28

Fiery end

The two visiting angels asked Lot, “What other family do you have in Sodom? Round everyone up and get out of here. We’re on a mission from God to annihilate the whole place.”

Lot ran to the houses of his future sons-in-law by the light of a pale moon and warned them about what was about to happen. They thought he was joking and didn’t pay any attention to him.

The next morning, the angels jostled Lot from sleep and said, “Wake up! Take your wife and daughters and go, unless you want to die with the wicked.”

Lot was moving too slowly, and his wife was frantic, trying to pack everything they owned.

“There’s no time for any of this!” the angels beckoned. “It’s now or never.”

The angels literally took Lot and his immediate family by the wrists and forced them out of the city.

“What about my sons-in-law?” Lot protested.

“They’re toast. Now, run for your lives and don’t look back,” they warned with a stern countenance. “Don’t stop anywhere in the plains. Run until you reach the hill country or you’ll be swept into oblivion.”

Lot argued, “Please, masters, you’ve shown favorable kindness by saving my family and me, but I can’t go to the hills. I wouldn’t survive a week in the wild.” Lot motioned over to the other side of Gomorrah and said, “Look, that small town is close enough to escape God’s wrath.”

“Fine,” one of the angels answered. “I’ll spare this small area for your sake, but hurry. I can’t bring down fire until you get there.”

Lot, his wife, and his daughters arrived at Bela by daybreak. (Afterward, the town was renamed Zoar, or “Little.”)

As fire rained from the sky over Sodom, Gomorrah, and the rest of the plains, Lot’s wife, who was straggling behind, turned to look at the devastation behind them. At that moment, her body changed into a salt mound.

Meanwhile that morning, Abraham exited his tent at Mamre Oaks and stood on the road where he and the Master had spoken before. Looking out to the southeast, he saw smoke rising like a smoldering fire pit from the sear-marked plains of Jordan.

Inspiration: Genesis 19

Welcoming committee

The two angels arrived at Sodom during the night and encountered a man sitting at the city gate.

When Lot saw the two men approaching, he bowed low to the ground. “Please, masters,” he said. “Come stay the night with your servant and wash your feet. You can get up early and be on your way if you wish.”

“No,” they said. “We’ll spend the night on the market square.”

Lot knew better than to let the men fend for themselves in Sodom after dark, so he pressed them until they relented and followed him home. He presented a feast before his guests, and seeing from their manner that they were righteous and noble, he served bread made without yeast to symbolize the purity of their assembly.

As they were turning in for the night, they heard the shouting of an approaching mob. All the men of Sodom, young and old, surrounded every side of Lot’s house and began rattling the walls.

“Where are your guests?” one of the Sodomites shouted. “Bring them out so we can give them a proper welcome.”

A roar of laughter followed, and the banging grew louder.

Lot went outside and latched the door behind him. He said, “Please, brothers, curb your evil for one night.”

The men advanced at the threshold and Lot’s back pressed hard against the door.

“I have two daughters,” he suggested in a panic. “They’re virgins, and you can do whatever you want with them. Please spare my guests, whom I have sworn to protect.”

One of the Sodomites reached and grabbed Lot by the nape of his neck. “Down, dog!” he said.

Lot faltered, and his knees crunched on the solid ground.

Another Sodomite chimed in. “This man came to Sodom as an outsider, and now he’s playing magistrate.”

Then another, “Suppose we tie you up naked and invent new ways to violate your laws.” And yet another, “That’ll teach him to judge us by his high moral standard.”

The crowd pressed harder, some clamoring for Lot’s tunic and others shaking the latch of the door.

Suddenly, the angels appeared from inside and pulled Lot back into the house and barred the door. Those who were clawing at the threshold were struck blind and could no longer find the latch.

Amid the deafening silence that followed, the mob dispersed in confusion, assisting the blind men back to their sordid dens.

Inspiration: Genesis 19

Negotiating terms

The visitors finished the food that had been prepared by their gracious host and then stood to leave Mamre Oaks. Gazing out over the distant waters toward the fertile plain of Sodom, the Master asked, “Should I hide what I’m about to do from my chosen one, Abraham?”

The sun began its early evening descent, and a warm breeze wafted through the encampment.

“You’ll be a great and mighty nation,” the Master said, his eyes meeting Abraham’s. “Every nation will be blessed because of you. I’ve chosen you to teach your children and their children to keep firmly on the way, to walk justly and uprightly. This is the way of the promise.”

The Master turned again toward Sodom. “Sodom and Gomorrah have brought their wickedness to new levels. I’m going down to see just how bad it has become.”

The two men traveling with the Master began their way toward Sodom, but Abraham stood on the path, the words of the promise echoing in his ears. The man in shining robes motioned for his company to go on ahead.

Abraham asked, “Master, will you destroy the good with the bad? What if you find fifty good people in Sodom. Will you still destroy the entire city? In other words, would the Judge of all the world do what’s unjust?”

The Master said, “If there are fifty good people in Sodom, I’ll spare everyone.”

Abraham then asked, “Who am I to press the issue, but what if you only find forty-five good people? Will you still spare the whole city?”

The Master answered, “For forty-five, I’ll spare both Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Abraham continued, “Forgive me, but what if there are only thirty good people in Sodom? What then?”

The Master said plainly, “I won’t destroy the city if there are thirty good people living there.”

Again, Abraham spoke. “What if you find twenty?”

“Then I’ll spare the city.”

“Ten?”

The Master put a hand upon Abraham’s shoulder and smiled. “For the sake of ten good people, I will spare the entire city.” Then he set out for Sodom.

Abraham went into his tent and attempted sleep.

Inspiration: Genesis 18

Promise confirmed

Abraham reclined one afternoon at the entrance of his tent at Mamre Oaks when he saw three men approaching, all adorned with bright robes. Running to them, he knelt humbly at their feet.

“Master,” Abraham said, addressing the man standing between the others. “Let me bring water for your feet and bread for you to snack on. Relax under my shade tree before moving on. I’m at your service.”

The men nodded.

Abraham called Sarah. “Quick, make some cakes with the good flour.” Then he ran over to his stockyard, brought out a tender calf, and handed it over to be slaughtered and roast on the spit.

He served succulent meats and cakes with butter and milk, and he stood at the ready, keeping their wine goblets full as they feasted under the shade tree.

“Where’s Sarah?” one of the men asked, out of the blue.

Abraham motioned to the tent. “Inside,” he said, realizing his guests knew him and his family.

“I’ll be back through this way when the time is right,” the man answered, “and Sarah will have a son.”

Hearing her name, Sarah put her ear closer to the entrance of the tent, and she laughed under her breath. Imagine an old bag like me having a child, she thought.

The Master said to Abraham, “Why’d your wife laugh? Is anything too difficult for the Master?”

Abraham’s face went ashen. They were reading his wife’s thoughts, which could only mean one thing. He was in the presence of heavenly beings on a mission to confirm the way of God’s reverberating promise.

“When the time is right, I’ll return. Your wife will have a child,” he said. Then with a glint in his eye, he added, “and I’ll have the last laugh.”

Sarah came out of the tent and blurted, “I didn’t laugh.” She was noticeably shaking with fear.

With a friendly smile, the Master said, “Yes, you did.” And the case was closed.

Inspiration: Genesis 18

Hard reboot

From Enoch’s family tree came a man called Noah, at a time when the average human life still extended for hundreds of years, and humanity spread across the regions of Asia, Turkey, and Egypt.

Humankind’s rebellion against God seemed genetic, and population growth brought a gradual rise in violence and corruption.

The crisis reached its zenith when a band of fallen angels lusted after the women of humanity. Two hundred spirit creatures descended, took on human flesh, and defiled the daughters of men, bringing forth a race of giants, titans of renown called the Nephilim.

“I’m cutting them off,” God swore, sorely distressed by humanity’s evil. “People will live no more than a hundred and twenty years.”

Even so, he regretted ever creating such an insurgent breed. He decided that shortening their lives wasn’t enough.

I’ll eradicate them, he thought. People, pets, wild animals, birds, nothing would survive. If it creeps, crawls, or twitches, they’re going to be relics.

Except for Noah.

Noah was perfect compared to any other individual, so God brought him into his confidence with the holy angels.

“I’ve decided to destroy the earth and its inhabitants with a catastrophic flood,” God told Noah. “Make a three-story vessel from cypress wood and waterproof it. When the waters appear around you, everything outside the vessel will drown.”

He further instructed Noah, “Bring a male and a female of every living thing onto the vessel, keeping them alive. Also, bring seven pairs of all split-hooved grazers and birds. Finally, store up plenty of food for your family and the animals.”

With shoulders back and hammer in hand, Noah went to work.

He was six hundred years old when he and his family, with all the animals and provisions, boarded the vessel. Just as promised, the pipes burst from deep beneath the seas, and torrential rains emptied themselves from the sky. It rained for forty days, and when the highest mountain peaks submerged in a sea of foaming floodwaters, every living thing outside God’s lifeboat perished.

Inspiration: Genesis 6-7