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

Benjamin’s portion

After they had washed their feet and quenched their thirst, the brothers were led into a large dining hall, more lavish than the meeting hall.

Reuben took from his bag all the gifts Israel told the brothers to present to the lord, Zaphenath.

When Zaphenath entered with his guards and servants, the brothers bowed low to the ground and presented their gifts of gum, resin, nuts, balm, and honey. A servant gathered up the commodities on an oblong tray and left with the platter stacked high.

“We accept your gifts. Sit, sit,” Zaphenath said through his interpreter. He leaned forward with a hand on his knee. “How’s your father? Is he well?”

The brothers sat at the table, taken aback by the lord’s courtesy and his concern over their father’s well-being.

“Your servant Israel is alive and well, my lord,” Reuben answered.

Zaphenath walked over to Benjamin and looked into his eyes.

“You must be the youngest son of Israel,” he said, quirking an eyebrow and smiling. “God’s grace be upon you, son.”

Zaphenath turned away abruptly and left the hall. As he exited, tears gushed from his eyes. Great affection welled within him as he cried in a private chamber for several minutes.

Then he washed his face, composed himself, and re-entered the hall. “Serve us our meal!” he ordered. Servants from every corner of the room who had been standing in wait for the master’s orders served the brothers a feast fit for kings. At a separate table, the Egyptian household ate, and Zaphenath sat alone.

After everyone had their fill, the brothers were assigned seats before the great lord, in order by birthright. Reuben sat to Zaphenath’s left, and Benjamin took the position at his right hand. The brothers were astonished by this and looked at one another as if to ask, “How did he know?”

The servants brought in decadent cakes and set them before the guests, but Benjamin’s portion was five times larger than any of his brothers.

Wine flowed liberally into the afternoon.

Inspiration: Genesis 43

Warm reception

Zaphenath greeted the travelers as they made their way into the courtyard, and he instantly recognized the eyes of his mother in the face of Benjamin. He called for his steward and said, “These men will dine with me at noon. Escort them into the house, and prepare a feast, sparing no expense.”

The steward followed his orders, and the brothers found themselves in a large chamber with high ceilings. Its walls were adorned with color drawings of battle scenes, harvest festivals, and royal weddings. Three servants came in, dressed in loincloths, each carrying a bowl of water and a towel. Two more servants followed with a pitcher of water and cups. They all smelled strongly of incense.

Judah lifted a foot tentatively as a servant cradled his heel in his hand and began wiping off the dust. He whispered to Reuben. “Is this a trap?”

Reuben shrugged, his eyes watching the entrance to the room. He looked into his cup and gave it a sniff before taking a sip. It was pure water, refreshing to the taste.

“It’s about the money,” Judah said, his eyes blinking rapidly. “He brought us here to make us slaves.”

Seeing the steward come in, Reuben approached him. “Lord, there’s been a misunderstanding,” he began to explain. “We paid for grain on our first trip, but after we left the city to return home, we found that we still had every shekel in our possession.” Then motioning to a large sack he had brought in, he said, “We’ve brought the money back in addition to money for more grain.”

The steward put up a hand. “Relax, your God must have worked some good magic. I got your money on the first visit.”

At that moment, Simeon walked in, unchained. He looked as mean as usual but relatively healthy. “Hello, brothers,” he said with a mischievous smile. “Did you miss me?”

“Now, when you’re finished here, we’ll adjourn to the dining hall,” the steward said, clapping Reuben on the back. “Your donkeys are already feasting in my barns.”

Inspiration: Genesis 43

Welcoming committee

The two angels arrived at Sodom during the night and encountered a man sitting at the city gate.

When Lot saw the two men approaching, he bowed low to the ground. “Please, masters,” he said. “Come stay the night with your servant and wash your feet. You can get up early and be on your way if you wish.”

“No,” they said. “We’ll spend the night on the market square.”

Lot knew better than to let the men fend for themselves in Sodom after dark, so he pressed them until they relented and followed him home. He presented a feast before his guests, and seeing from their manner that they were righteous and noble, he served bread made without yeast to symbolize the purity of their assembly.

As they were turning in for the night, they heard the shouting of an approaching mob. All the men of Sodom, young and old, surrounded every side of Lot’s house and began rattling the walls.

“Where are your guests?” one of the Sodomites shouted. “Bring them out so we can give them a proper welcome.”

A roar of laughter followed, and the banging grew louder.

Lot went outside and latched the door behind him. He said, “Please, brothers, curb your evil for one night.”

The men advanced at the threshold and Lot’s back pressed hard against the door.

“I have two daughters,” he suggested in a panic. “They’re virgins, and you can do whatever you want with them. Please spare my guests, whom I have sworn to protect.”

One of the Sodomites reached and grabbed Lot by the nape of his neck. “Down, dog!” he said.

Lot faltered, and his knees crunched on the solid ground.

Another Sodomite chimed in. “This man came to Sodom as an outsider, and now he’s playing magistrate.”

Then another, “Suppose we tie you up naked and invent new ways to violate your laws.” And yet another, “That’ll teach him to judge us by his high moral standard.”

The crowd pressed harder, some clamoring for Lot’s tunic and others shaking the latch of the door.

Suddenly, the angels appeared from inside and pulled Lot back into the house and barred the door. Those who were clawing at the threshold were struck blind and could no longer find the latch.

Amid the deafening silence that followed, the mob dispersed in confusion, assisting the blind men back to their sordid dens.

Inspiration: Genesis 19