Eliphaz again?

Eliphaz spoke up. “So, if God rewards the wicked, I suppose you’re telling me he punishes the righteous. Do you see how backward that is? No, he’s punishing you because you’re endlessly wicked!

“Maybe I can help jog your memory. Did you refuse to lend someone money? Or did you loan them money only if they put up collateral? That must be it. You stripped the meat off their bones. Did you withhold water from the thirsty or food for the hungry? No doubt you freely gave to the wealthy and important. You ignored widows and injured orphans. That’s why you’re terrified and surrounded by darkness.

“You figured that God was too high above us and shrouded in holy smoke to notice your crimes. And what of your children’s crimes? Don’t you see that those who walk the ancient path of the dragon are snatched away in their youth and they never plant seeds for a legacy? They say, ‘We want nothing of God because he has nothing to give.’ They have forgotten all the good things they enjoyed while living under your roof. Now we who are innocent laugh at the wicked man’s scorn.

“Stop fighting with God! Admit you’re wrong, turn away from your sins and you’ll find peace. Return to God and heed his way. Give up your love of money, release your lost gold, and let God be your treasure.”

Inspiration: Job 22

Wicked end

“I can’t listen to this any longer,” Zophar interrupted. “I took your scolding like a man out there, but I stand by every indictment against you.

“You know as well as I do that a wicked man’s triumph is short-lived. His joy is like a puff of smoke. Even if he reigns over all the earth, he still perishes in the end like garbage, never to be seen again.

“The evil that he hides under his tongue is sweet in his mouth, so he savors it slowly. But in his stomach, it turns to venom. What he has been sucking all the while is from the dragon, Satan.

“He misses out on the cascading rivers flowing with milk and honey. With nothing more for him to devour, his his stolen wealth dries up.

“The wicked man encounters trouble at the peak of his power, and usually it’s the company of the wicked that destroys him. Just as he’s about to eat, death comes out of nowhere. When the arrow is pulled from his still-warm carcass, you can see he’s wearing terror on his face.

“His treasures are lost in a raging fire, his secret sins are revealed to the world, and the world judges him without mercy. This is what God prepares for the wicked.”

Inspiration: Job 20

Last judgment

Job answered in the darkness. “How long are you and your friends going to torment me? Have you no shame reproaching an innocent man on his death bed? If I’m guilty, prove it. As I said before, God has dealt this blow against me for reasons I don’t understand. He has stripped me of my glory and left me without any justice, and he no longer answers my prayers.

“In his unjustified anger, God made me his enemy. His legions surround me on every side and attack. My family is gone, and everyone I knew are now strangers. You call yourself my friend, but you utterly fail me. My former house guests have forgotten me. My wife is disgusted with me and sleeps in a neighboring tent. All hope has been ripped up by its roots and goes down with me to the grave.”

Job heard movement in the dark around him and realized he and Bildad were now joined by another party. Whether Zophar or Eliphaz or both, it didn’t matter. They were all equally malignant fixtures in his home.

“Have pity on me, please. God’s hand has crushed me completely. Why do you also batter me with your words? Are you not satisfied that I am a festering bag of dust?

“I wish I could engrave my words in stone for posterity because I know that my Vindicator lives. In the end, he’ll be the last one standing. After I die, he’ll stand beside me at the judgment.”

Inspiration: Job 19

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 the same 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 once was. Any sane passerby would groan at my turmoil, but my friends aren’t among them.

“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

I’m innocent

“How easy it is for you to come here, look at my condition, and tarnish my good name with mere conjecture,” Job answered. “If I were in your place, Eliphaz, I could do the same thing.”

He limped back to the fire circle, staff still in hand, to address the others.

“I could also soothe you with sympathy to ease your sorrow and encourage your strength.”

Job threw Eliphaz’s staff to the ground and inched closer to the fire. His body looked like it had been stoned. The grey-green pus and blood draining from his sores comingled into a black jelly that glistened like pitch in the firelight.

“In his anger, God hunted me down and ripped me to shreds. He handed me over to Satan, who lurks in the shadows of my dreams and glares at my misery. God set me up as a target for my so-called friends. Without mercy, you notch your arrows and pierce me with lies.

“Yet I plead my innocence. When I die, may my racked body continue my protest. Surely my advocate is up there somewhere.

“I no longer consider you my friends. I’ll pour my heart out to God alone, believing he will listen as a friend before I exert my last breath.”

Inspiration: Job 16

Second volley

Job lay still with his eyes fixed on the stars. The night air offered an ominous silence, interrupted by the rustling strain of someone adding a log to the fire. Then he heard the crunch of Eliphaz’s staff stabbing the dirt, and perceived its owner standing again to his feet.

Eliphaz had always been annoyingly investigative and meddlesome, ever concerned with the law at the expense of law’s purpose. Job supposed Eliphaz had been calibrating his next oratory while Job was busy grappling with God in the dirt. Lying alone and immobile in the darkness, Job accepted his powerlessness against the accusatory arrows aiming to fly from the mouth of his friend.

“Bildad’s right,” Eliphaz shot out. “You truly are a windbag.”

Job turned his head toward the red-bearded Temanite, who appeared now like a looming shadow, black as death and backlit by fire. Although he could see no features in the smoke-veiled face, he imagined a self-satisfied grin across its breadth like a row of stone-cold merlons.

“You call yourself wise?” he taunted. “Where’s your fear of God? Where’s your loyalty? Your mouth condemns you more than any of us can.

“How very crafty you are. Tell me, were you the first man alive? Surely you overheard God as he planned the creation of hills and streams. Pray, tell us what you know that we don’t. We have only the elders, older than your father, to counsel us. Or, are God’s comforts not enough for you?

“You lash out in anger against God for not accepting you, when his own angels, the Watchers of Souls, aren’t even as pure as you claim to be. Sin flows through you like water through a spring, friend.”

Eliphaz knelt beside Job and set down his staff. His face was close enough to touch but still as black as night. His beard glowed like the aura of a blood moon.

“Listen to me, Job,” he said smugly. “I’m going to give you the solution from my experience, confirmed by the wisdom of the ancients. Are you ready to listen?”

Job dared not give Eliphaz the satisfaction. Instead, he used what little energy he had reserved to lift his head and turn his back on his friend. The ground felt like a bed of iron firepots searing through his anguished body.

“A wicked man is in trouble all his life,” Eliphaz said, seemingly oblivious to Job’s torments. “Every day is full of terrors. Even good days are interrupted by fear because he knows that death is coming for him. Why? Because he has defied God. In his arrogance, he has sacked cities and eaten stolen food until fat. But not for long.”

Job sat up, turned around and reached for Eliphaz’s staff. “Sorry comforters you’ve all turned out to be,” he managed through clenched teeth. With both hands grasping the crook, he lifted himself upright, wincing all the way.

“You clung to worthless possessions, Job, so fire swallowed up your tents.”

“Is there no limit to your lies?” Job asked, his black eyes catching the firelight like beaten gold.

“Go on,” Eliphaz said, “prepare your next deception. But remember, the wicked man drops from the vine like a grape before its time.”

Inspiration: Job 15   

Liars’ club

A cool breeze swept through the camp, causing the tent walls to clap against their ropes. Job wanted to stand and receive some of the sudden rush of air over his burning body, but he couldn’t summon the energy. Instead, he remained flat on his back and gazed into the light-speckled sky, away from the glow, heat, and ungodly company of the firepit.

His eyes were drawn at first to the brilliant cluster of Pleiades, but, perhaps because in life he preferred the open spaces of a more sparse community, his eyes rested on the unbounded orbs in Orion’s Belt.

“You’re all liars,” he said, unconcerned whether they heard him. “You’re worthless physicians. Take a lesson from the stars, and choose silence as your most heavenly wisdom. By accusing me of sin, you’ve become false witnesses of God’s character. He doesn’t just afflict the wicked, as you say, or you’re also calling me a hypocrite. What do you suppose God will do to you for twisting the nature of his way? He doesn’t need you to lie for him.

“Now, let me pray in peace. Even if God kills me, he’s going to hear what I have to say.”

Job took in a deep breath, and the sores over his torso ripped open like the fissures of an old wineskin. He howled in agony.

“God,” he groaned, “two things I pray. Don’t abandon me, and don’t terrorize me.

“What have I done to offend you? Help me understand. Point out my sin so that I may turn away from it. Why instead do you turn away from me? Do you also chase a leaf in the wind only to chastise it for doing so?

“You have bound my hands and feet, and like a rotting tree, I wither away.”

Inspiration: Job 13

Not impressed

Job lifted his head and forced himself upright. He could smell the putrid mixture of blood and pus emanating from his skin, like a combination of iron and rotting flesh. Every surface of his body radiated heat like the gray embers of a dying fire.

Aside from the physical pain contending with his will to concentrate, Job wasn’t really paying attention to the words coming out of Zophar’s mouth. Zophar had always been a troublemaker, and Job discovered a long time ago that his motives were rarely pure.

Zophar likely felt jealous of Job’s life until now, and Job suspected that his Canaanite friend enjoyed watching the God-fearing priest suffer. So, after hearing his discourse through the filter of distrust, Job made his reply.

“I am awed by your great wisdom,” he mocked. “No doubt the secrets of your understanding will die with you.”

“Be careful, friend,” Zophar answered with a dull resentment. “My robes hide no festering affliction.”

“None of you have told me anything I don’t already know,” Job said calmly. “My own children, in their lowest state of drunken debauchery, knew these things.  In fact, the beasts and birds and fish are apt teachers of the way we are to behave.

“As plainly as I can discern good food from bad, my mind knows the truth when I hear it. You know as well as I do, old men like us gain wisdom from experience. But God’s wisdom and strength are beyond us. No one can rebuild what God has destroyed. No one can open what God as closed. No one can replenish what God has exhausted. No one can stop what God has started.

“God is strength and wisdom. The dragon and his victim belong to God. He strips counselors and judges of their dignity. He makes subjects of kings and kings of subjects. He casts away priests and humbles titans. He silences the trustworthy and makes fools of elders. He strips princes of their position and warriors of their strength. He causes the rise and fall of nations, enlarging, then scattering them. He forces the waymaker to wander through a roadless desert, groping like a drunkard without a hint of light.”

Inspiration: Job 12

Zophar’s indictment

Job fell to his knees in the flickering darkness, letting his limp body drop to the earth. Lying on his side, he seized a handful of dirt and smeared it into an open sore on his face.

Zophar, the man who had come from Naamath to witness first-hand what double tragedy does to a man, watched Job with a tilt of his head. Like a lion stalking prey, he had observed, in silence, the anguished and broken priest lead himself into a circle. Exhausted by his repeated boasts of innocence, Job had finished where he started, lying with his spine curved inward, like a defenseless animal or an unborn child.

Now Zophar took his opportunity to speak.

“Perhaps someone should have put a muzzle on you when you started your arrogant rant,” Zophar started in, his raven hair melding into the pitch black mountain behind them. “‘I am pure,’ you say. ‘I am clean.’ But now that you’ve lathered yourself into speechlessness, maybe God will share with you the many facets of his wisdom, starting with the fact that you’re better off than your guilt deserves.

“The knowledge of God is larger than the earth, broader than the ocean, higher than the heavens, and deeper than the final grave. What makes you think you can do anything about it? Sadly, you won’t find understanding until donkeys speak and reason like us.

“Before you speak again, take my advice and retire from your evil deeds. There can’t be a hint of dirt residing in your tents if you wish to approach God without fear. Confidence blooms out of innocence. The only confidence of the wicked is in their final breath.”

Inspiration: Job 11

God’s motive

“I hate my life,” Job continued, standing to his feet and backing away from the campfire. His friends looked at him, perhaps wondering if Job had had enough of their company and was ready to retire for the night.

“I have nothing to lose,” he said, standing in the shadow, a dim flickering of light still finding purchase on the festering surfaces of his sore-splotched face. “So, I’ll continue my interrogation, and show God the bitterness in my soul.”

Lifting his head toward the bright, night sky and with blood-red eyes, he searched the chaotic spray of stars for some obvious answer written there. Finding nothing but mockery against the black backdrop of the unknown, he prayed again.

“Don’t condemn me without purpose. What good comes of destroying the work of your own hands? You gave me life, love, and a soul that serves you freely. You alone have preserved me from death and have accepted my sacrifices, and now you wish to obliterate me.

“Have you joined with the hands of Satan, favoring his schemes over your own? Have you become human, with eyes and ears so frail and years on earth so limited that you’re quick to guess at some speck of fault in me, knowing I’m helpless against your judgment?

“Now I understand your true motive!” he shouted, raising a fist above his head. “You made me for the sole purpose of devouring me! Like a hunter cornering his prey, you pounce mercilessly when it suits you. You hunt down the wicked and the good alike, but when I approach death, you release me. I catch my breath only to encounter a new onslaught of enemies and assaults.

“I’d prefer to have been stillborn than to wake into this nightmare called life,” Job concluded, his shoulders slumped under the weight of defeat. “Then I’d never have tasted your love and acceptance. Leave me alone, so I can go peacefully into death’s dark chaos.”

Inspiration: Job 10