Mourning sun

Three travelers arrived at Job’s camp under the same half-moon. When they had heard of their friend’s troubles, they came to offer consolation, and if warranted, counsel.

Eliphaz, a relative of Esau, traveled from Teman. Bildad, descending from Abraham’s union with Keturah, came from Shuah. And Zophar was a Canaanite from the city of Naamath.

When they saw Job’s dwelling from a distance, they hardly recognized the figure sitting alone in the ashes. As they drew nearer to the tormented shell of a man they once knew, Eliphaz wept, Bildad took dirt from the ground and poured it over his head, and Zophar tore his robes.

As the sun descended over the mountain, they each took a seat with Job, fellow companions of his sorrow. For seven days, no one spoke a word.

Then, Job broke the silence.

“Curse the day I was born. Blot out forever the day I was conceived. Why didn’t I just die at birth? Then I’d rest in the company of good kings and wise men, where prisoners escape bondage, the small are great, the slave is free, and all are accepted and safe from evil. The wicked don’t bother the dead.

“Why do we who seek the grave more earnestly than buried treasure, have to live? How I long for the grave! The activities of life are useless when God withholds his acceptance.”

Inspiration: Job 2,3     

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

Stolen blessing

Esau was forty when he married Judith and Adah. Neither Isaac nor Rebekah were impressed with his taste in women, mainly because they were Hittites.

When Isaac was close to death and had all but lost his vision, he called for Esau. “My time here is short, son,” he said, “and one of the last things on my bucket list is a meal of fresh game from my favorite son’s bow.  Go. I want to give you my blessing before I die.”

Rebekah overheard their conversation, so when Esau took to the field with his quiver and bow, she pulled Jacob aside and said, “Get the best two kids from the flock so I can prepare delicious cutlets for your father. After you serve him the meal pretending to be Esau, he’ll bless you.”

But Jacob answered, “Esau is a hairy fellow, and I’m as slick as an eel. What if Father reaches out and literally feels the betrayal? He’ll curse me as well as my future children.”

“No, he’ll curse me,” his mother assured him. “Now, go.”

Jacob brought in the meats, and his mother made Isaac a meal fit for a king. Then she disguised Jacob in some of Esau’s clothes and attached the hides of the freshly skinned goats to Jacob’s hands and neck.

“Now,” she smiled satisfactorily, handing Jacob a bowl and some bread, “serve your father this food, so he will bless you.”

Jacob went in, and his father asked, “Who are you, my son?”

“I’m Esau,” Jacob rasped, then cleared his throat. “I’m your firstborn. I’ve come back from hunting, and I’ve prepared some food the way you like it. Sit up and eat so you can bless me.”

“That was quick,” his father answered, sitting up and leaning on his banister.

“God brought me success.”

“Come over here, son,” Isaac said, “so I can touch you and confirm that you’re really Esau.”

Jacob approached his father, his heart pounding, and he placed the dish of food onto his father’s side table.

“You are Esau, aren’t you?” he asked, after feeling his son’s arms.

“Yes, Father,” Jacob said with a sigh of relief.

“Bring me my food,” Isaac concluded, so I may eat of your game and bless you.”

Jacob moved the table close to his father’s bed and served him the prepared goat cutlets. Isaac enjoyed every bite of his meal and chased it down with some wine.

Then Isaac said, “Come and give me a kiss, son.”

Jacob came close and kissed his father. Isaac recognized the scent of Esau on the clothes Jacob was wearing, so Isaac blessed him right then and there.

“The scent of my son is like a field blessed of God. May God grant you the best of heaven and earth. Let other nations serve you, and may your brothers submit to you in your dominion. Those who curse you are themselves cursed. Those who bless you are blessed indeed.”

Inspiration: Genesis 26-27

Cain’s tattoo

Adam and Eve settled in a valley somewhere east of paradise and eventually had two sons: Cain, a farmer, and Abel, a shepherd.

Each son offered part of their yield on an altar, a gesture of faith in their God’s continued provision. Underneath a blistering sun, Cain would throw together an indiscriminate mix of berries and greens and scatter them upon the unwrought stone. Abel, on the other hand, would take from the firstborn of his flocks, carefully cut the choicest sections of meat from the bone, and burn them down to a charred powder.

Abel’s labor of love pleased God, so he blessed him with healthy flocks and herds. But he ignored Cain’s offering, and the elements of nature showed no mercy. Over time, grubs and vermin ravaged whatever fruit the sun or frost didn’t take in their season.

God asked Cain in a dream, “If you offer your best, will you not be blessed?” Then he saw a hideous serpent showing a fang through his curled lip and hissing like a hot spring. Cain inched closer to seize the viper and snap its neck, but the unholy creature struck his ankle and bit clean through the ligament.

Cain let out a visceral shriek and awoke with a start.

On a brisk morning after, Abel was leading Cain to a new field he thought might produce food for them. Cain, lagging a few steps behind, gathered his bronze sickle with both hands.

“Abel,” Cain said, a pipe of steam on his breath.

Abel turned, and Cain swung the tool swiftly and surely, lopping his brother’s head off.

Cain stood stock still and watched the blood drain from his brother’s body. The soil drank it eagerly, darkening the earth around his torso like an unholy shadow.

God haunted Cain’s nightly dreams with the question, “What have you done with Abel?”

“When did he fall under my watch?” Cain asked the wraith, writhing in a pool of cold sweat. “I’m not his guardian.”

A cold shadow emerged from the ground where Abel’s carcass lay rotting, and his blackened blood cast a spell on the new field. Soon rumors about his treachery echoed in the valley, and Cain became a wanted nomad.

Withered by malnutrition and paranoia, Cain eventually begged for God to rescue him from his misery. God met him with tenderness and mercy.

“If anyone kills you,” he promised, “I will give them a sevenfold punishment.” God burned a mark into the outcast’s flesh to deter anyone from assaulting him, and Cain settled in the land of Nod. From his family tree came some of the earliest civilized people, including shepherds in man-made huts, musicians, and smiths.

God eventually blessed Adam and Eve with another son, Seth. From Seth’s family tree came godly men such as Enoch the Consecrated One.

Enoch walked with God, just as Adam and Eve had done in the beginning. Meditating on the movement of stars, the cycles of seasons, and the withering of trees, he remembered his ancestor’s prelapsarian state. He divined that nothing in nature transgressed the laws of God, so he, too, walked the righteous path, creating order from the chaos around him. Then one day, Enoch mysteriously vanished.

Inspiration: Genesis 4