Satan’s wager

High upon the isolated hills near Uz, a righteous priest named Job placed the 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 evil spread eastward across Mesopotamia as quickly as humankind itself.

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 by throwing lavish festivals at one another’s homes. Inviting their sisters and every neighbor within shouting distance to join in the gaiety, they’d drink and dine, often until their merriment roused the sun in the morning.

Job tended to stay 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 Job, my most faithful servant? In righteousness, he has 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 Job.

Inspiration: Job 1

Dragon’s deception

The serpentine dragon, having condescended from another dimension, cradled its scaly head on a bough of the Knowledge Tree one afternoon and reasoned with the queen, Eve. “You look hungry,” he garbled. “I heard you aren’t allowed to eat any of Eden’s delicious varieties. Is this a joke?”

Eve bristled at the unusual sound of a 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, clutched tightly to a lower limb, and the dragon detected in her gaze and in her blush that she was vexed with desire.

“Why should your God be the only one who knows good from evil?”

Adam appeared unexpectedly out of the brush, his brutish footfalls startling the beast. He took little notice of the reptile recoiling at his feet. Instead, his eyes were fixed on the sun-kissed fruit. “Like a god, you say?”

“Like your God. The Elohim lied to you, friends.” The dragon’s voice trailed off as he skulked away.

The woman plucked the fibrous orb, and its limb snapped back. No sooner had she and Adam bit into it that all sense of time was lost. A swelling melody penetrated their ears so thoroughly, they became intoxicated in bliss. Adam held himself stock still, enchanted by the hypnotic sound of blood pumping through his veins. Feeling her legs give way, Eve lowered herself and listened to the harmonies playing beneath the soil.

All at once, their rapture ended. Both shuttered, 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 and wrapped themselves with them, then scurried in opposite directions in search of protection.

God appeared for Vespers that evening, but Adam and Eve weren’t answering the temple door.

“Where are you?” He asked, peering over the fence 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, breathlessly, “but this woman… your gift to me, I should say, she wanted to taste Knowledge.”

Eve appeared from behind the foliage of a willow, her face downcast. She too was 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 and cursed, “Eat dirt and die! From now on, you’ll slither on your belly, with misery your only company. Despised and isolated, you’ll strike at the heel, but in the end, your head will be crushed. That’s a promise!”

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 please 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 things until you return to dust.”

God’s countenance then softened. He presented clothes made from animal hide. “You’ll need an upgrade from those fig leaves where you’re going,” He said, handing them the weatherproof leathers.

The first family had just experienced a most unfathomable blow. For their safety, God separated them from the Life Tree and dispatched a host of invisible armed guards around it. Had they consumed Life straight from the branch, they’d have lived in eternal misery. He escorted them to the east gate, onto a twisted path leading into darkness.

“Follow closely to the way,” God instructed. “The sun will rise again, and I will bring 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 at their heel by the pale light of a fallen moon.

Inspiration: Genesis 3