Unspeakable power

“God is indeed pregnant with power and dread for the sake of his kingdom,” Bildad replied, “and no one can count his army of Watchers.

“How can you justify yourself at the judgment? God’s glory outshines the moon and stars, much more the virtues of mere mortals.”

Job laughed. “The Oracle has enlightened me in my idiocy. Thank you for your wise insight, Bildad. Tell me, how do you divine such great observations?”

After Job’s harsh rebuke, no one spoke. The tent flaps quivered gently as a mild breeze continued to pass through its rooms.

“I’m aware of God’s supremacy. The dead tremble at the judgment of the One who established his kingdom over the abyss and pierced the gliding dragon, Chaos. He commands frail clouds to maintain a firm grip on the heavy rains and hides his throne room somewhere deep inside. He tells the seas when to swell and where to halt. He orders the movement of the planets. The foundations of heaven have no pride because they know that they are made beautiful by his Spirit.

“This is but a glimmer of God.”

Inspiration: Job 25, 26

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 stupor.

Job’s blameless reputation and matchless wealth was the stuff of legends, at a time when great evil spread as quickly as a brush fire, as humankind spread 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 houses. Inviting their sisters and every neighbor within shouting distance, 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, the Satan, was among them.

“Where did you come from?” God asked the outsider, smelling the stench of sulfur.

“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

Dragon’s deception

The serpentine dragon cradled its scaly head on a branch in the Knowledge Tree 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 voice of the 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, eyes smiling.

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

Enchanted by the hypnotic sound of blood pumping through their veins, they swayed to a melody swelling 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 in oscillating tempo beneath the soil.

When their rapture ended, both creatures 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 with willow string and wrapped themselves, then scurried in opposite directions in search of protection.

God came down that evening, but Adam and Eve weren’t answering His call.

“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, y-your gift to me, I should say, sh-she wanted a taste of Knowledge.”

Eve appeared from behind the foliage of the weeping willow, face 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. “Eat dirt and die! From now on, you’ll slither on your belly, with misery your only company. You may strike at His heel, but your Adversary will 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 rule over 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 temporal things until you return to dust.”

God’s countenance then softened. He presented them with clothes He had made from the hide of slaughtered animals. “You’ll need more than fig leaves where you’re going,” he said.

The first man and woman 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. Had they consumed Life straight from the source, the wounded pair would have been damned to their eternal condition.

God escorted them to the east gate and drove them 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 a source of 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