Job’s appeal

Job lifted his head and surveyed the glimmering skylights.

“I promised long ago never to look at a woman with lust. Would you agree perhaps this is the most significant test among men? I trusted that my reward would be a heritage of unbounded bliss from God Most High. After all, a tragic end should be reserved for a perverted mind and disease-wracked body. God sees my thoughts and takes every action into account.

“If I’ve done anything wrong, let God judge me. He will know I’ve remained loyal to him. If I’ve so much as looked at another woman, my heart would be wearing the residue of my sin.

“If a single strain can be found, let others take the food from my barns while my secret seed is rooted out. If I have ever darkened the doorway of my neighbor’s wife, let my wife lie with another man, and let the whole town bow to her as if she were a goddess.

“I shudder at the thought of such dark contemplation, punishable by the fires of hell.”

Eliphaz opened his mouth to speak, but Job interrupted with an upheld finger.

“If I’ve ever so much as ignored an injustice against one of my slaves, what do you think God Most High will say? ‘Well done.’? Did He not make the lowliest servant and me from the same mud? Were we not fashioned together in our mother’s womb?

“I have withheld nothing from the poor. I’ve treated the widow with dignity and respect. Until all was taken from me, my dining table was always open to the hungry or fatherless. The men of my tent would walk the streets to announce every banquet and watch at the gates for travelers with no lodging.

“If anyone has died in the cold while I watched with a warm fleece over my body, or if I’ve ever taken violent action against an orphan because I knew the judges would acquit me, let my shoulder blades fall and my arms break free from their sockets.

“I’ve walked this earth in fear of God, knowing if I’d done any of these things, I wouldn’t withstand His majesty.

“I’ve never made money my trust, my confidence, or my god. I’ve never boasted about my wealth or good fortune.

I’ve never worshiped the sun in its brilliance or the moon in its eloquent movements, for this false worship would be a sin punishable by the judges.

“If I’ve ever reveled at my enemy’s demise or cursed him, or if I’ve ever hidden sin in my heart for fear of ridicule or scorn…”

Job stopped and fell to his knees. His eyes searched the empty stars.

“Oh, my God! Can you hear me? Where is the indictment from the Satan? I’ll bear it on my shoulder like a tree. No! I’ll wear it as a thorny crown on my brow! Like a prince, I would approach him and give him an accounting of my every breath.”

Job paused, then, out of breath and deplete of fire, he spoke in a voice too soft for his companions to hear.

“If I have exploited the soil of my land, reaping what I haven’t sown, let that thorny crown choke out my wheat and let trees of weeds take over my barley.”

With that, Job fell on his face, silent and pierced with grief.

Inspiration: Job 31

Jackal’s brother

“I wept for slaves,” Job continued, the light in his eyes dimming with the dying embers of the campfire. “I grieved for those in need, yet now the assembly laughs at me.”

Job walked over to the fire pit and sunk down low to intensify the heat on his burning skin. The three friends, likewise, encircled the hole and took their places in the dirt.

Silence fell for several minutes until Job opened his mouth once again.

“Men whose fathers I wouldn’t trust to dine with the dogs of my flock, these men, younger than me, they laugh at my condition and taunt me. These are the dregs of society, weak, hungry, wasting away in the wild. Having been cast out of their community, they find their dwelling in holes and under rocks. They’re nameless ruffians with no legacy, and yet they are after me. These whom I once showed my sympathy now push me forcefully to the side of the road as they pursue their next victim.

“My soul is spilled out inside me, and the pain gnaws relentlessly. My clothes have become disheveled, choking me at the collar.

“The darkness wrenches my bones. In the late hours, I stand up in the empty assembly room and cry out to God for help. I get silence in return.

“God Most High, I stand up, and you stare blankly at me. How cruel you’ve turned out to be, persecuting me with your mighty hand. Tossing me to the wind, I ride the storm of the inevitable doom that comes to all. Can you blame me? You’ve cast me into the mire, and I am one with the dust and ash. Who among those buried in rubble would not stretch forth a hand for salvation?

“I’m a brother to jackals and a friend to wild ostriches. I howl dirges with my lyre and pipe while my insides quiver and burn with the heat of affliction. My skin rots in blackness and peels away into the dust.”

Inspiration: Job 30

Job’s glory

The afflicted man seemed suddenly possessed by an entity, both foreign and familiar. Through its bitter streaks of blood and tears, Job’s face took on the appearance of youth and vigor.

“In my prime, I was a friend of God. His radiant light emanated from my soul and lighted my path, informed my speech, and kept comforting vigil by my tents’ lamplight.

“My children surrounded me, and the rocks at my feet poured anointing oil for my steps.

“Whether at the city gates or seated in the square, the youth made way for me in humble reverence. The elders stood as a sign of respect, and the princes and courtiers held their tongues, waiting for my counsel like they waited for the rain.

“I sat as chief and gave pronouncements, like a king among his troops.

“They blessed my words and honored my deeds because I saved the poor and comforted the mourners and the fatherless. An old man’s dying words were a blessing to me and my household, and afterward, his widow hung a garland of a joyful song around my neck.

“Righteousness and justice clothed me. I lent my sight to the blind and accompanied the lame person on his way. I was a patron to the needy and set out to meet those unknown to me. I stopped the wicked in their tracks and released their prisoners.

“I knew then that I would die peacefully in my bed many years from now, and my children would multiply out to every shore forever.”

Inspiration: Job 29

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

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