Death interrupted

Job took a deep breath and prepared for his final rest. His body, still burning from the rotten cocoon of disease enshrouding his entire body, lay exposed to the night air circulating through the sides of the tent, which were partially lifted for that purpose.

As the dark night was fading into dreamless oblivion, the faint sound of footsteps stirred Job from his slumber.

“You think your friends are mindless like cattle.” The distinctive voice of Bildad lifted the shade of Job’s peace, but even in the starry dark, neither men could discern the features of the other.

“You’ve thrown your tantrum, and you expect the whole world to crumble and fall. Your tent is pitch black because the light of the wicked has been quashed. You tripped up somewhere on the path, and now terrors come at you from every direction.

“Your sin gnaws at you like the disease consuming your skin. Here in your bedchamber, nothing is left but smoking sulfur. Your roots are shriveled, and your branches have withered. With no child left, your memory will fade into the dust of the hills.”

Lost hope

With this last pronouncement, Job carried himself to his tent, leaving his unwelcome guests to stay or go. Closing the goatskin flap behind him, he felt his way in the dark to his bed, and with eyes closed, he prayed.

“My soul is ripped open, and my days are poured out. I’m ready for the grave. The mockers wait outside to provoke me.

“God, give me your word that you’ll preserve my name. You’ve obviously prevented them from understanding, so surely they cannot win in the end. Those who betray their friends curse their own offspring to blindness. Eliphaz and his lot have smeared my good name in the dirt where people spit and piss.

“I’m also blind, but from grief, and my body is only a shadow of what it was. Any of the sane ones would groan at my turmoil, but my friends aren’t among that camp.

“One day the righteous will prevail and come out on top, but for me, my days are done, my plans have been dashed, and all my hope is gone. If I go and embrace the grave as my father and welcome the worms as my mother and sister, where is the hope? I’ll tell you where! My hope has gone with me into the dust from whence I came.”

Inspiration: Job 17

Job’s anguish

“Weigh my complaining against my actual punishments,” Job replied, bringing a shaky hand up to his forehead, “and you’ll find that the latter is heavier than every grain of sand under the sea. So, forgive me if my words offend you. When you’re dashed against the rocks, you’re not concerned with eloquence.”

No one spoke as a glassy-eyed Job stared faithlessly into the fire, knowing his words fell on deaf ears. Then, he suddenly set his jaw and bore holes into Eliphaz.

“God has become a terrorist!” Job spat, his voice choked with tears. “His arrows have pierced my heart, and my soul drinks in their poison. How can you blame me for my outburst? Do donkeys bray while their troughs are full? Do you sprinkle salt on something that’s already flavorful? I’m not complaining about some temporal calamity here. This is spiritual agony, for God has rejected me!

“If God would annihilate me, I’d find peace. And even if my soul suffered after death, I’d take comfort in the fact that I never once went against his word.

“You’re cruel, Eliphaz,” he said, still in a death stare. “So-called friend, you accuse me with no fear of God’s retribution. What’s worse, you give bad advice. Following you would be like pouring out my water jugs before moving my caravan through the desert!

“If you would just reveal something true, I would shut up. Show me where I went wrong. Look me in the eye and see my honesty, by God! Would I lie? Answer carefully, because my reputation is at stake. Until now, you’ve profited many times from my discernment.”

Job relented from his gaze and stared off through the fire into nothing. He clasped his hands together, waiting for some response, anything from anyone. Hearing nothing, he slumped his shoulders and closed his eyes.

“Humans are beasts of burden,” Job prayed, his eyes closed, his breathing paced. “Like slaves in search of shade or laborers seeking a wage, I lie down at night and long for the sun, but in the morning, there’s nothing for me but a body full of bloody sores and maggots. They scab over only to crack again and leak. My life’s too short for a happy ending now.

“My God, once you put me in the grave, that’s it for me. So while I’m here, I’ll speak the bitter truth of my soul. Or are you going to shut me up like the boundaries you set for the sea? Like you set for Satan?

“In my bed, when I try to forget my life, you come at me with terrifying visions. I’d sooner kill myself with my bedsheet than endure another round of torments.

“What’s the big deal about mortals that you go out of your way to test us at every turn? What if I had sinned? How could that possibly offend you? Am I really such a burden that you have to make an example out of me? Why not just forgive my supposed sin, and accept that I’m human! Leave me alone long enough to catch my breath.”

Inspiration: Job 6, 7

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.

Ephraim’s blessing

Israel was getting old, so he called for Joseph. Placing his son’s hand underneath his own thigh, he said, “Testify now, that you’ll not bury me here in Egypt. Lie me down with my ancestors. You know the place.”

Joseph vowed to carry out his father’s desire. Realizing time was short, Joseph left Goshen and returned with his two sons. He wanted them to meet the man of God before he passed from the earth.

“Joseph has returned,” a servant told Israel, leading Joseph and his sons into the tent. “He has brought his sons with him.”

Israel summoned energy enough to sit up at the side of his bed. He squinted his eyes and remembered long ago when his own father was almost blind and couldn’t discern who stood before him.

“God showed Himself to me at Luz in Canaan,” Israel intonated, his voice weak and trembling. “God blessed me and said, ‘I’m making nations from you, and they will inherit this land forever.’ For this reason, and because my beloved Rachel died in childbirth, your sons will be my sons, just as Reuben and Simeon are my sons. Their children will be yours, but as far as the inheritance of Ephraim and Manasseh, they will be equal to Reuben and Simeon.”

Israel rubbed his eyes and blinked a few times. “Come closer. Bring your sons near to me so I may bless them.”

Joseph led his sons to his father’s bedside, and Israel gathered them up, one on each knee. He embraced them affectionately and kissed them.

“I didn’t expect to see you ever again,” he said to his son, “and yet God has allowed me to see your sons as well.”

Joseph knelt low and bowed his head to the earth, then removed his sons from their grandfather’s lap. He positioned Ephraim to stand at Israel’s left side and Manasseh to stand at his right.

Israel lifted his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, the younger brother. Then, crossing his arms, he placed his left hand upon Manasseh, the firstborn. Closing his eyes, he said, “God, You walked with Abraham and Isaac, You’ve been–”

Joseph interrupted. “This one is my firstborn,” he said, taking his father’s hand from Ephraim and placing it onto Manasseh’s head.

Israel put his right hand back onto Ephraim’s head. “I know, son. Manasseh will also become a great nation. But Ephraim will be greater still. His family tree will become nations upon nations.” Then he added, “Your people will invoke blessings by saying, ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’”

Joseph stepped back and let his father continue.

Isaac closed his eyes again. “God of Abraham and Isaac, You have been my shepherd all the days of my life, and Your angels have guarded me against injury. Bless these young men. Preserve my name and my family’s name through them, and let them grow into a mighty family on earth.”

The boys returned to their father’s side, and Joseph bowed once again.

“I’m dying,” Israel said, “but God is with you, and he’ll return you to the land of your fathers. I now grant you an extra portion beyond your inheritance, the spoils of my earthly conquests.”

Inspiration: Genesis 48