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

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

Job’s anguish

“Weigh my complaints against my actual punishments,” Job replied, bringing a shaky hand up to his forehead, “and you’ll find that the latter is heavier than every grain of sand under the sea. So, forgive me if my words offend you. When you’re dashed against the rocks, you’re not so much concerned with eloquence.”

No one spoke as a glassy-eyed Job stared faithlessly into the fire. He knew his words fell on deaf ears. He hadn’t asked for companionship, and he certainly didn’t need this band of brothers to consume his justified anguish with their self-righteous lectures. He suddenly set his jaw, and with eyes of molten onyx, he bore holes into Eliphaz.

“God has become a terrorist!” Job spat, his voice choking back tears. “His arrows have pierced my heart, and my soul drinks in their poison. How can you blame me for my outburst? Do donkeys bray while their troughs are full? Do you sprinkle salt on something that’s already flavorful? I’m not complaining about some temporal calamity here. Possessions be damned! This is spiritual agony, for God has rejected me!

“If God would annihilate me, I’d find peace. And even if my soul suffered after death, I’d take comfort in the fact that I never once went against his word.

“You’re cruel, Eliphaz,” he said, holding his death stare. “So-called friend, you accuse me with no fear of God’s retribution. What’s worse, you give bad advice. Following you would be like pouring out my water jugs while moving my caravan through the desert!

“If you would just reveal something true, I would shut up. Show me where I went wrong. Look me in the eye and see my honesty, by God! Would I lie? Answer carefully, because my reputation is at stake. Until now, you’ve profited many times from my discernment.”

Job relented from his gaze and stared away from the fire into darkness. He clasped his hands together, waiting for some response, anything from anyone. Hearing nothing, he slumped his shoulders and closed his eyes.

“Humans are beasts of burden,” Job prayed, his eyes closed, his breathing paced. “Like slaves in search of shade or laborers seeking a wage, I lie down at night and long for the sun, but in the morning, there’s nothing for me but a body full of bloody sores and maggots. They scab over only to crack again and bleed.

“My God, once you put me in the grave, that’s it for me. So while I’m here, I’ll speak the bitter truth of my soul. Or are you going to cut me off like the boundaries you set for the sea? Like you set for Satan?

“In my bed, when I try to forget my life, you come at me with terrifying visions. I’d sooner kill myself with my bedsheet than endure another round of torments.

“Why do you go out of your way to test us mortals at every turn? What did we ever do to you? What if I had sinned? How could that possibly offend you? Am I really such a burden that you have to make an example out of me? Why not just forgive my supposed sin, and accept that I’m human! I’m begging you, leave me alone long enough to catch my breath.”

Inspiration: Job 6, 7

Sister wife

From Mamre Oaks, Abraham set out toward the Negev. He and his wife established tents in Gerar, between Kadesh and Shur. Since they were new to the area, Abraham feared for his life. Just as he did in Egypt, he told everyone, “Sarah’s my sister.”

Abimelech, King of Gerar, brought Sarah into his household to take as a wife, but God visited him in a dream.

“You’re going to die,” God said, “because Sarah is married already.”

Abimelech had not yet taken Sarah into his bed. Nevertheless, God had shut up the wombs of every female in Abimelech’s house. He reasoned with God, saying, “Master, will you punish the innocent? Both Abraham and Sarah lied to me. I had no idea they were married.”

“I know you’re innocent,” God answered in the dream, “and I alone prevented you from sin. Return Sarah to Abraham, because he’s a prophet. He’ll pray for you, and you’ll live. Otherwise, you and your family will all die.”

Abimelech got up early from a sleepless night and brought his servants in for a meeting. Telling them about the vision, everyone was afraid for their lives. Then the king called Abraham and said, “What did I do to be deceived in my own house? You’ve disrespected me and my domain. What were you thinking?”

Abraham confessed that he didn’t trust a kingdom who didn’t fear God. “Besides,” he added, “she actually is my half-sister. Sarah and I share the same father. When God called me out of our father’s house, we agreed that she would play the role of sister any time we settled in a new place.”

Abimelech brought Sarah back, along with sheep, oxen, slaves of both sexes, and a thousand silver pieces. He handed them all over to Abraham and said, “Survey my land and settle wherever you like.” Then he turned to Sarah and said, “I have paid your brother with silver as a sign of your vindication.”

Abraham prayed to God, and as promised, Abimelech and his household were healed. The king’s wife and female slaves could bear children again.

Inspiration: Genesis 20

Fiery end

The two visiting angels asked Lot, “What other family do you have in Sodom? Round everyone up and get out of here. We’re on a mission from God to annihilate the whole place.”

Lot ran to the houses of his future sons-in-law by the light of a pale moon and warned them about what was about to happen. They thought he was joking and didn’t pay any attention to him.

The next morning, the angels jostled Lot from sleep and said, “Wake up! Take your wife and daughters and go, unless you want to die with the wicked.”

Lot was moving too slowly, and his wife was frantic, trying to pack everything they owned.

“There’s no time for any of this!” the angels beckoned. “It’s now or never.”

The angels literally took Lot and his immediate family by the wrists and forced them out of the city.

“What about my sons-in-law?” Lot protested.

“They’re toast. Now, run for your lives and don’t look back,” they warned with a stern countenance. “Don’t stop anywhere in the plains. Run until you reach the hill country or you’ll be swept into oblivion.”

Lot argued, “Please, masters, you’ve shown favorable kindness by saving my family and me, but I can’t go to the hills. I wouldn’t survive a week in the wild.” Lot motioned over to the other side of Gomorrah and said, “Look, that small town is close enough to escape God’s wrath.”

“Fine,” one of the angels answered. “I’ll spare this small area for your sake, but hurry. I can’t bring down fire until you get there.”

Lot, his wife, and his daughters arrived at Bela by daybreak. (Afterward, the town was renamed Zoar, or “Little.”)

As fire rained from the sky over Sodom, Gomorrah, and the rest of the plains, Lot’s wife, who was straggling behind, turned to look at the devastation behind them. At that moment, her body changed into a salt mound.

Meanwhile that morning, Abraham exited his tent at Mamre Oaks and stood on the road where he and the Master had spoken before. Looking out to the southeast, he saw smoke rising like a smoldering fire pit from the sear-marked plains of Jordan.

Inspiration: Genesis 19

Dragon’s deception

The serpentine dragon cradled its scaly head on a branch in the Knowledge Tree and reasoned with Eve. “You look hungry,” he garbled. “I hear you aren’t allowed to eat any of Eden’s delicious varieties. Is this a joke?”

Eve bristled at the unusual voice of the 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, and the dragon saw in her gaze a well of desire.

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

Adam appeared from out of the brush, his brutish footfalls startling the beast. With eyes fixed on the sun-kissed fruit, he inquired, “Like a god, you say?”

“Like your God,” the coiled reptile affirmed. “He lied to you, friends.”

With that, the dragon skulked away, eyes smiling.

Eve plucked the fibrous orb from the limb. The tree snapped back as if pained by the extrusion. No sooner had she and Adam bit into it that they gained all sense of time.

Enchanted by the hypnotic sound of blood pumping through their veins, they swayed to a melody swelling in their ears. Adam drew himself erect, pulsating waves welling from his lower spine up through his crown. Eve felt her legs give way, so she knelt and listened to the harmonies playing in oscillating tempo beneath the soil.

When their rapture ended, both creatures shuddered, 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 with willow string and wrapped themselves, then scurried in opposite directions in search of protection.

God came down that evening, but Adam and Eve weren’t answering His call.

“Where are you?” He asked, peering 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, “but this woman, y-your gift to me, I should say, sh-she wanted a taste of Knowledge.”

Eve appeared from behind the foliage of the weeping willow, face downcast and 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. “Eat dirt and die! From now on, you’ll slither on your belly, with misery your only company. You may strike at His heel, but your Adversary will crush your head.”

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 rule over 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 temporal things until you return to dust.”

God’s countenance then softened. He presented them with clothes He had made from the hide of slaughtered animals. “You’ll need more than fig leaves where you’re going,” he said.

The first man and woman had just experienced a most unfathomable blow. For their safety, God separated them from the Life Tree and dispatched a host of armed guards to surround it. Had they consumed Life straight from the source, the wounded pair would have been damned to their eternal condition.

God escorted them to the east gate and drove them onto a twisted path leading into the cold darkness.

“Follow closely to the way,” God instructed. “The sun will rise again, and I will bring a source of 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 behind them by the light of a fallen moon.

Inspiration: Genesis 3