Tragic loss

One afternoon, Job was deep in meditation when a servant rushed into his tent. He was short of breath, and his clothes clung to his heaving chest, heavy with sweat.

“My lord,” he rasped, clinging to the goatskin flap of the doorway with one hand, and holding a piece of splintered ox yoke in the other. “While the oxen plowed and the donkeys fed on straw, a small band of Sabean horsemen swept in and slaughtered every servant in the field except for me.”

Job didn’t have time to respond to the man, as another servant came in behind him. He smelled of acrid smoke and looked as if he hadn’t bathed in his life.

“God’s fire rained down on every side, my lord. Your shepherds and flocks are consumed! I alone made it out of the pasture alive.”

The first servant spoke again. “The Sabeans, they carried off your livestock.”

While he was still speaking, a third servant, a child, half-dead, entered the tent. His face had the pallor of ashes, and his clothes were caked with blood.

“My God!” Job offered a hand to steady the young boy, then leading him to a dim corner of the tent to lie down. “What news, dear boy?”

The boy’s eyes gazed into darkness, and his throat rattled with short, labored breaths. “The Chaldeans,” he sputtered, coughing up phlegm and blood. “Your servants… your camels…”

Job called for a skin bag, and with it, slowly poured water into the child’s mouth.

“Rest now,” Job said like a father to a dying son. As he turned to address the others, another man appeared under the threshold.

“We were all eating and drinking together with your sons and daughters, when a violent wind came against the house and struck it down, crushing everyone in attendance but me.”

With that, Job exited his tent and tore his robe. The messengers followed after him in silence, perhaps dumbstruck by the magnitude of chaos dealt against the holy man in a single ill-fated stroke.

“Get me a knife,” Job cried, his knees hitting the hard ground.

A servant returned and held out a short blade. The anguished man took it by its bone handle, and the servant backed away.

Job took the knife and began scraping it across his scalp. Thick clumps of hair fell around him, and when he finished shaving his head, he lie flat on the ground and prayed.

“I came into the world with nothing, and I shall return to the dust with nothing,” he chanted. “God gave to me, and God took away from me. God’s name is praised.”

The men went away as Job repeated the words over and over.

After he finished praying aloud, Job sat still, his spine erect like a winter-stripped tree, and he silently repeated the name of God until the sun descended behind the lonely mountains of Uz.

Alternative plan

After three days, Zaphenath sent for the prisoners.

The brothers presented themselves and pressed in meekly before their Egyptian lord.

“Do what I say, and you’ll live to tell about it,” he said through his interpreter. “If you’ve told me the truth, you’ll have no objection to elect one among you to stay here in my prison while the rest take the grain you’ve purchased to your father and his people. Return with your youngest brother.”

The brothers all looked at one another in confusion. Their lord would release all but one of them instead of imprisoning all but one.

“This we will do,” Reuben answered with a most humble bow. “We give thanks for your kindness.”

“Do as I have instructed, and you’ll be vindicated and live,” Zaphenath emphasized. “I fear God, so I’ll have no innocent blood on my hands.”

They all nodded in agreement, then spoke quietly among themselves.

“This is all happening because of what we did to Joseph,” Judah said.

“We’re paying the price for his innocence,” Dan added.

“We’re paying for his blood,” Reuben corrected.

“Joseph begged for mercy, and we betrayed him,” Simeon said. “We’ve cursed ourselves.”

Reuben elevated his gaze. “I told you not to hurt him,” he said, his eyes glistening with tears.

They stood before Zaphenath, and all the brothers wailed in sorrow. They didn’t know that Zaphenath understood every word they spoke in Hebrew. They didn’t realize they wept for the blood pumping in the veins of their Egyptian lord.

Zaphenath turned away from his brothers, whose cries echoed off the chamber walls, and he wept privately. Then, having composed himself, he returned. Pointing a finger to no one in particular, he commanded, “Bind him!”

The guards brought Simeon forward and fastened heavy chains around his wrists, his ankles, and his neck. He was led out of the great hall.

Zaphenath ordered his officers to fill eight bags of grain and collect the amount owed from each brother. They did exactly as they were instructed, then provided food for the brothers’ journey, loaded their donkeys with grain, and sent them on their way.

Inspiration: Genesis 42

Sibling betrayal

Israel wanted to hear a good report of his sons grazing his flocks so far away, roughly sixty miles from home in Hebron.

“Joseph,” he beckoned. “Go check on your brothers. Come back and tell me they’re taking proper care of my sheep.”

So Joseph left his father in the valley and set off for the lush fields near Shechem. Once he arrived, he began searching the area, and a man noticed him wandering around, looking lost.

“What are you looking for, stranger?” he asked.

I’m looking for my brothers,” he answered. “They’re around here somewhere pasturing my father’s sheep.”

The man answered, “I overheard them say they were going to Dathan,” and he pointed in that direction.

Sure enough, Joseph spotted them in a distant pasture near where the man had said.

“Look,” Simeon said, while Joseph was still far from them. “The dreamer has come to grace us with his presence.” As Joseph continued to approach, they plotted to cut his throat, throw him in an abandoned cistern, and tell their father he’d been slain by a wild beast. “Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”

Reuben wasn’t keen on killing the boy, though. “Don’t spill his blood,” he said. “Just throw him in the pit where he’ll die of his own accord, and with no blood on our hands.” Reuben secretly planned to come back later and rescue his father’s favorite son.

The brothers grabbed Joseph by both arms, stripped him of his multicolored robe, and threw him into the bone-dry pit. Reuben went back to the field to gather the flocks, and the rest of the brothers sat under a tree near the cistern to have some lunch.

A caravan of Ishmaelites approached from the direction of Gilead, and from the looks of the packs on their camels, they were heading to Egypt to sell their wares.

Judah stood up and said, “What good is our brother dead in a pit? Will his blood not still be on our hands?” Then he ran up to the roadside and waved his arms at the approaching merchants.

“What is this?” the leader of the caravan asked through his coarse beard. “Do we already have a buyer for our gum, balm, and resin?”

Judah held up his hand. “Wait here, sirs.” He went back down the hill where his brothers were eating. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s sell Joseph to these Ishmaelite traders.”

“Good idea, Judah,” Simeon said. “After all, he’s our brother, not a feral animal.”

“Or worse,” Levi added. “A son of Shechem.”

It was unanimous, so while Judah went to the road to negotiate the sale, the others lifted Joseph out of the cistern. They traded their brother for twenty silver pieces.

By the time the brothers had finished their lunch, Reuben had come back with the sheep and looked into the cistern. Seeing that Joseph was no longer there, he tore his clothes in grief.

He said, “Our brother is gone. What do we do?”

Naphtali tossed Joseph’s cloak on the ground, and Simeon brandished a long knife. Taking a goat from the flocks, he cut its throat and spilled the blood all over the multicolored coat. Taking it to their father, Naphtali said, “Look what we found on the path to Hebron. Didn’t this belong to Joseph?”

Israel tore his robe and wept. “A wild animal has devoured my son!” he lamented. “All that’s left is this bloody cloak.” He put a burlap loincloth around his middle and mourned for days. No amount of comfort from his sons and daughters did any good. “I’ll go into the depths of my son’s grave, mourning all the way,” he rasped.

Inspiration: Genesis 37

Sea sick

Noah let fly a raven through an access hatch, but the waters continued to swell for another five months. Finding no place to land, it returned.

Seven months later, the large vessel and its living cargo lodged itself in a cleft on Mount Ararat, and for three months the waters continued to drain outward into the seas.

After spending about a year on the boat, Noah released a dove, but it too returned. He rereleased the dove seven days later, this time returning with an olive leaf in its beak. After another seven days, he released the dove for the third time. Noah never saw the dove again.

Noah and his family decided it was safe to disembark. They had lived in the floating house for a year and two months, and by that time, their claustrophobia was full blown.

Noah gathered the seven pairs of split-hooved animals, as well as the seven pairs of birds. Instead of using them for clothing or some other resource, he built an altar and incinerated them as a sacrifice.

This gesture so pleased God that he said, “I’ll never again curse the earth or destroy all creatures because of humankind. The human heart is hell-bent from an early age and needs saving. May the seasons endure. I’ll provide a way of promise, hope, and salvation.”

Then God made a new promise between himself and humankind. “Multiply yourselves and populate the whole earth. From this day, the animal kingdom will fear you, for they are now yours for food. I gave Adam and Eve the gardens; I now provide you with everything. However, don’t eat the blood of animals. Blood is life. For that matter, whoever causes human bloodshed will pay with his blood. I have encoded My image in human blood.”

Then God ordained a sign of his promise. “Whenever you see a rainbow,” he said, “remember that I’ll never again destroy the earth because of human evil.”

Inspiration: Genesis 7-9