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

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No justice

“I know all of this already,” Job said, cutting Bildad’s rant short. “But how can we, mere mortals, be justified before God? If I wanted to grapple or debate with him, I’d stand no chance. He’s almighty and all wise. Do you know of anyone who’s won a case in his court? Who has the power to summon the Judge?

“In his wrath, God levels mountains, and the hills don’t even know what hit them. If he told the sun not to rise, it wouldn’t. He’s the one who assembled the stars into the Zodiac and placed them in the empty spaces he created.

“I marvel at his works. He’s here right now, and we can’t see him. He moves about my camp, but my eyes are laughably weak. He leaves my presence, and I can’t detain him.

“No one was with God at the beginning to question his actions or supervise his work. Even Rahab, the spirit of the raging flood, bowed before him as he vanquished Chaos in the beginning.

“Therefore, how can I argue with God? Even though I’m innocent, his reasons are beyond me. All I can think to do is beg for mercy, but he’s more likely to add more time to my sentence than to listen to my case.

“I’m becoming bitter by all of this. Although I’ve done nothing wrong, my complaints sentence me. God has proven me guilty even in my innocence. I am blameless, but it doesn’t matter! God kills the good and the evil. When the innocent die and the wicked rule and judges are corrupt, who else but God allows all of it?

“Life is short, but if I forgive and forget and get on with my life, I’d still be terrified because of what my suffering means. It means I’m damned. It doesn’t matter if I scrub my body with soap, God will knock me back into the dirt. So, what’s the use in trying?

“God’s not flesh and blood, so I can’t plead in a court of law and have a fighting chance. There’s no mediator between us to stay his hand. It’s me against him. If he would stop punishing me and filling me with terror, I’d tell him, without fear, what I know to be true: I’m not guilty!”

Inspiration: Job 9

Eliphaz’s wisdom

Eliphaz had been digging in the dirt next to the fire with the butt of his staff while Job spoke, carving thick lines and symbols that seemed to move in the flickering light.

“May I offer my opinion?” he asked, the shadows on his face also dancing in the firelight, his red hair shining like molten bronze. “You’re usually the one telling us what to do, where to go, how to cope. But this time, trouble has come to you, and you’re undone. You said that fearing God makes you bold and that your integrity makes you resilient. What happened to you?

“Let me ask you,” Eliphaz continued, setting his staff aside and rising to his feet. “Have you ever known a righteous person to die before his time? In my experience, those who sow chaos, reap chaos. By God, they die, consumed in a flash by his righteous anger.

“I’ll tell you a secret. One night in sleep, a phantom passed by my face, causing every hair on my body to stand on end. The specter said, ‘If an angel, who is made of light, can fall to the depths, how can a mortal, made from dust, be righteous before God?’

“If I were you, I’d beg the heavens for help. See if God or his band of Watcher angels answer you. Fools can be successful for a season, but resentment, jealousy, any number of things will snuff them out and leave their children homeless and starving. Hunger and misery don’t sprout up from the earth; they come out of mortals. As sure as these sparks are flying upward from the firepit, you brought this trouble on yourself.

“If I were you, I’d confess my wrongs before God. He works in mysterious ways. He provides rain, thwarts evil, makes kings of paupers, and calms storms. You should consider yourself lucky for being punished for whatever sin you committed. Don’t despise discipline, because it will be your salvation. Whoever God wounds, he will heal. He delivers the troubled and redeems the hungry from starvation.

“In the end, you’ll be like a smooth stone in a field,” Eliphaz concluded, and with his chin jutting out in self-satisfaction, he took his seat. Then he added, “Even the wild beasts will lie down with you in peace. Your tent will be secure, your livestock accounted for, your quiver full, and your years plenty. Just confess.”

Inspiration: Job 4-5

Sore loser

Once again, the Watchers presented themselves before God, and like before, Satan fell in behind them.

“Where did you come from?” God asked the interloper, knowing full well the dragon had been off making storms on the mountain and stirring magma under the earth.

“From here to there,” Satan sneered.

“How’s Job doing?” God asked, getting to the point. “Looks like he persists in his holiness, even in the face of all you’ve done against him.”

“That’s just it,” the dragon spat. “I’ve done nothing against him. You know the limits of every man, and just short of it, you set the boundary of my work.” Satan felt the rage welling up from the constant reminder of his powerlessness in a game that was unfairly rigged.

“Give me his health, and his holiness will fail with it,” Satan proposed without hope.

God’s answer was unexpected. “Okay, his health is under your control,” he said before the host of witnesses. “But don’t kill him.”

Job woke up the next morning splotched with painful sores all over his body. He rose slowly from his mat, flinching as the coarse fibers of his bedcovers brushed over his afflicted skin.

He took a clay pitcher from the hearth, and, without a thread of clothes, walked slowly outside into the tent yard. Dashing the container against a stone, he picked up a jagged shard from the scattered pieces and, holding it gingerly in a festering hand, he sat in the fire pit among the previous night’s ashes.

Job’s wife, having resigned herself to a life of bitterness and misery, returned from fetching water, and seeing the spectacle God had made of her husband, she mocked him.

“Ever the holy man,” she goaded him with an incredulous scowl. “Curse God and die already.”

“Foolish woman,” Job snapped, scraping an oozing pustule on his foot. “Should I accept all the good gifts from God, and reject the bad?”

Inspiration: Job 2

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 slumber of forgetfulness.

Job’s blameless reputation and matchless wealth was the stuff of legends, at a time when great evil spread as quickly as humankind itself, 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 homes. Inviting their sisters and every neighbor within shouting distance to join in the gaiety, 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, 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 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

Welfare system

After Israel and his family had settled, and Joseph provided everything they needed from his own house, he went back to the business of rationing his stores of grain for the rest of the people in the land.

The famine devastated Egypt and Canaan entirely until no food could be found anywhere. Joseph began to collect all the money down to the last hoarded shekel, and he brought it in cargo loads into Pharaoh’s house. In exchange, he provided the people the grain they so desperately needed to survive.

The priests were not included in this bargain, as they subsisted on a food allowance from Pharaoh and would never want for anything for as long as the dynasty had the means to provide.

When the rest of Egypt ran out of grain and had no money to pay for it, they came crawling back to Joseph. “Please, for the love of Pharaoh,” they pleaded, “give us something to eat. What good is a mummified kingdom? You must save us!”

“Your livestock for grain,” Joseph decreed.

The people, having no other alternative, brought their beasts of burden, their flocks, and herds, and they exchanged them all for a year’s supply of food.

The next year, the Egyptian people came back to beg once more. “We have no money, and we have no cattle. What’s left of your servants except for our bodies and our lands? What good is a dynasty of corpses? Take our farms and fields from us, and let us become your slaves to work the land.”

Joseph answered, “Let it be as you say,” and he purchased every acre in Egypt for Pharaoh. From east to west, every landowner became slaves on the very ground they used to possess.

Joseph parceled seed in every area for the slaves of Egypt to sow. “At harvest,” the viceroy commanded, “you’ll bring me one-fifth of your yield. Four-fifths will be yours for food and for seed.”

The people were all too glad to abide by their master’s commands, for they owed their lives to him. The worst of the famine had passed, and the skies began to show signs of reprieve.

All the while, Pharaoh’s priests never misses a meal, and Joseph’s father, chosen by God to lay the foundation of a great promise, had plenty of food to provide for his people in the fertile land of Goshen.

Inspiration: Genesis 47

Pharaoh blessed

“My family has traveled from Canaan with everything they own and are now grazing their flocks in Goshen,” Joseph said to Pharaoh. He had five of his brothers with him.

Pharaoh sat silently for a moment, taking in the drastic contrast in appearance and visage between his guests and their brother, his most trusted ally in all of Egypt.

“What is your trade?” Pharaoh asked the one with the grayest beard.

“Your servants are herdsmen, my lord,” Reuben said, bowing low to the ground. “Our fathers were herdsmen, as were their fathers before them.”

Pharaoh nodded. “And why have you come to Egypt?”

“We’ve come as strangers in your land to live here, “Reuben continued. “The famine has decimated our grazing lands, so your servants seek our Lord’s permission to settle in Goshen, where the water is plentiful, and the pastures are lush and green.”

Pharaoh turned to Joseph. “Your father and brothers are in your care, and Egypt is yours. Settle your family and their flocks in Goshen, where the richest soil in the land will provide for all your needs.” Then to Reuben, “And if any among you are skilled enough, put my livestock in their charge.”

Joseph smiled, knowing his brothers learned their trade from the most prosperous shepherd in all of Canaan.

As Reuben bowed once again in respect to the great god of Egypt who had just given them their lives back, Joseph brought his father in.

“My lord, I present to you the greatest herdsman in all the land, my father, Israel.” Joseph led Jacob by the arm, and they approached the throne. “Allow my father to put his hand on your head and bless you, for he is a man of God.”

Pharaoh descended the steps of the throne and knelt before Israel to be blessed. “How old are you?” Pharaoh asked.

“I’m one hundred and thirty years old,” Israel said. “Brief and difficult has been my life, but nothing in comparison to the years of my ancestors during their journey on our shared path of destiny. We are but pilgrims in a strange land until we reach home.”

Jacob’s blessed Pharaoh, and then he left with his sons to settle in Goshen, the land of Rameses.

Joseph opened his stores of grain to his family according to their number.

Inspiration: Genesis 47

Israel’s relocation

Joseph gave his brothers food and fresh, clean garments for the journey back to Canaan. He gave his brother Benjamin five changes of clothes and three hundred pieces of silver.

Then he loaded ten male donkeys with select Egyptian goods and ten female donkeys with grain, bread, and other foods for the journey to Canaan and back.

“Don’t fight along the way,” Joseph said with a grin. “Especially you, Simeon and Levi. And don’t sell anyone to traders, Judah.”

When the brothers arrived home, they immediately went to Israel’s tent to give him the news. “Joseph is alive, and he’s the ruler of all Egypt!”

Israel didn’t believe them until he heard how Joseph revealed himself and what he said. When he looked out of his tent and saw the wagons and donkeys, Israel’s spirit was enlivened. He felt like a new man.

“What are we waiting for?” he asked. “Let’s go and live under the care of the one who saved us from death!”

On the way to Egypt, they passed through Beersheba, the place where his grandfather Abraham made a pact with a king. Israel, no longer as young as he used to be, began to doubt the safety of his travels. He found the remnants of an old altar there and offered sacrifices to the God of Abraham and Isaac.

Then he heard the voice of God in the night.

“Jacob, don’t be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there you will become the nation I promised to your father’s father, Abraham. I’ll be there with you when you go down to Egypt, and after your beloved Joseph closes your eyes with his own hands, I’ll be with you as you go back up.”

The next morning, Israel journeyed west toward the land of Egypt. His sons carried Israel, the sons’ wives, and sixty-six children in wagons, with a train of livestock and goods acquired in Canaan following behind them.

As the caravan of Israel neared the land of Goshen, seventy in number, he sent his son Judah ahead to announce their arrival.

Joseph’s chariots entered Goshen shortly after Israel and his family arrived, and the brothers greeted the young viceroy and his entourage with fresh water. They led Joseph to a shade tree where his father was resting.

When Israel saw his son, he stood and embraced him. Joseph wept on his father’s neck for several minutes.

“I can die peacefully,” Israel said, holding his son close, “now that I know you’re alive and well.”

Joseph composed himself and addressed his brothers and their father. “I’m on my way to present myself to Pharaoh. I’ll tell him my family has come from Canaan to settle here. When you see Pharaoh, and he asks about your occupation, tell him, ‘Your servants are shepherds, like our fathers before us.’ Because shepherds are abhorrent to Egyptians, he’ll “force” you to settle here in nearby Goshen.”

Inspiration: Genesis 45, 46

Judah’s plea

The brothers returned to the palace and fell at Zaphenath’s feet.

“What is this evil deed you have done? Were you not aware that I am a man of deep insight?” Zaphenath asked them.

Judah spoke up. “Tell us how to make amends. Our God has seen our guilt and has repaid us for what we’ve done. We have come to serve you in your house. If Benjamin is a slave, then his brothers are slaves along with him.”

“You speak nonsense,” Zaphenath replied. “The guilty party acted alone, and he alone will be my slave. No, go to your father in Canaan and live in peace.”

Judah stood up. “My lord,” he said, taking a step closer, “I pray, allow me to speak without getting angry at your servant. You’re like Pharaoh in wisdom and splendor.”

“Very well. Speak.”

“My lord, you accused us of being spies. We told you that we have a father who is old and a younger brother, born in his old age. He’s the only son left of his mother’s children because his brother is dead. You ordered us to bring him to you, to prove that we weren’t spies. We told you Benjamin couldn’t leave our father, who loves his son more than his own life. You insisted, taking Simeon captive and threatening to sever our relationship if we didn’t return with Benjamin. We went back to Canaan and told our father everything. Our father, Israel, refused to release Benjamin to us. After our rations were gone, he told us to go buy more food. We refused, having remembered your words, lest we take Benjamin with us. Our father said, ‘The wife I loved gave me two sons before she died. One has surely been ravaged by wild animals. If you take Benjamin, and he is hurt, I will die along with him.’ If we don’t return to Canaan with Benjamin, our father, whose life is entwined in Benjamin’s, will go to the grave, full of sorrow. I have vouched for his life, and I would rather die than return to my father without my brother. Now, release my brother, and I will serve you in his place. Let Benjamin return to the father who loves him more than life itself.”

Inspiration: Genesis 44

Hard bargain

The famine worsened, and soon they consumed all the grain brought back from Egypt.

“Go back to Egypt,” Israel told his sons. “Bring back enough to feed us awhile longer.”

Judah said, “The man gave us a grave warning. If we return to Egypt without our brother Benjamin, we’ll be captured, killed, and put on display. And you and the rest of your house will die of starvation.”

“He’s right, Father,” Reuben said. “If Benjamin doesn’t go with us, we don’t go.”

Israel’s face reddened, and his eyes tightened. “What have you done? Why did you tell the man you had another brother?”

Reuben answered, “The man wouldn’t stop asking questions about where we came from. He accused us of being spies from the north.”

“We insisted that we were godly men from the same father,” Zebulun added, “and that we also had a brother at home.”

“He called us liars,” Judah said. “He wouldn’t relent. How were we to know he’d require us to return with Benjamin?”

Israel’s eyes turned cold and hard.

“Dear Father,” Judah coaxed. “By God’s mercy, put Benjamin in my charge and give us leave.”

The brothers inched forward, anticipating their father’s response.

“Look at you, Father,” Judah persisted. “You’re famished, and your family will starve soon.”

“We’d be there and back twice by now,” Dan chimed in.

Judah said, “I’ll vouch for Benjamin. If he dies, I die.”

Israel saw that he was outnumbered and out of options. “Go on then,” he relented. “Present gifts to the man. Take balm. Take honey, gum, resin, pistachios, and almonds. And take twice the amount of money you paid the first time. It was likely an oversight you can make right.”

“And what about our brother,” Judah asked.

“Take him, and may God be merciful when you face the lord of Egypt.” Israel slumped in his chair and lowered his gaze. “I heart goes with you.”

The brothers embraced their father and made ready the provisions and money for the journey. Hoisting Benjamin on a donkey, they followed the trail west toward the vast and opulent land of Egypt.

Inspiration: Genesis 43