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 let a friend in need borrow 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 Serpent 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, discard your gold, and let God be your treasure.”

Inspiration: Job 22

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 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 was. Any of the sane ones would groan at my turmoil, but my friends aren’t among that camp.

“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

Eliphaz’s wisdom

Eliphaz had been digging into the dirt next to the fire with the butt of his staff while listening to Job, carving a rank and file of notches like a company of soldiers waiting to be dispatched into chaos.

“May I offer my opinion?” he asked, the shadows on his face 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, and every hair on my body stood on end. It 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 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, self-satisfied and taking his seat. “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.”

Inspiration: Job 4-5

Judah’s twins

“Come, let’s spend time together at my lodgings,” Judah propositioned the veiled woman, not realizing that the temple prostitute was his daughter-in-law, Tamar.

“And what’s in it for me?” Tamar asked with a sly smile.

“A baby goat from my flocks when I reach Timnah,” Judah said.

“And I should just believe you’ll keep your promise?” Tamar asked. “I need collateral.”

Judah carried little of monetary value when he traveled. “What shall I give you, as I have nothing but the clothes on my back?”

Tamar smiled. “I’ll take your signet ring and the cord it dangles from on your neck. Or is your identity worthless?”

Judah took the ring of his family seal and handed it to her.

“And your staff,” Tamar added.

Judah handed over his staff and brought her to his bed.

After Tamar got what she was after, she left Judah’s tent and went back home and changed her clothes.

After seeing his sheepshearers in Timnah, Judah sent his friend Hirah back through Enaim to make good on his promise and to recover his signet, cord, and staff. Hirah looked all over Enaim for her without success.

He asked the local citizens, “Where can I find the temple prostitute who waits by the east gate?” But no one knew who he was talking about. “We run a clean town. No prostitutes here.”

Hirah went back and gave Judah the bad news. Judah answered, “Well, let her keep my belongings. We’ll become a laughing stock if we keep looking for her.”

Three months later, Judah heard some disturbing news. “Tamar, your sons’ widow, has been whoring around and now she’s pregnant.

“Bring her here to be burned alive,” Judah commanded indignantly.

Tamar faced her father-in-law, who had already prepared a pyre for her in the square. She carried with her a broad-bottomed satchel.

“The owner of these belongings is the man who has made me pregnant,” she said, throwing the satchel at his feet. “Take a look, and know who the father is.”

Judah opened the satchel and turned white as a ghost. There he found his signet, cord, and staff.

Falling to his knees, he hung his head and said to those gathered around, “She’s in the right, and I’m in the wrong. I promised her my son Shelah, and I failed to fulfill it.”

Tamar gave birth to twins, and Judah never slept with her again. During childbirth, one child put his hand out, so the midwife tied a red thread around its wrist to mark who would be born first. But when he withdrew his hand, his brother came out before him. They called the firstborn “Perez,” Breach, and his brother with the red thread, they named “Zerah,” Bright.

Inspiration: Genesis 38

Negotiating terms

The visitors finished the food that had been prepared by their gracious host and then stood to leave Mamre Oaks. Gazing out over the distant waters toward the fertile plain of Sodom, the Master asked, “Should I hide what I’m about to do from my chosen one, Abraham?”

The sun began its early evening descent, and a warm breeze wafted through the encampment.

“You’ll be a great and mighty nation,” the Master said, his eyes meeting Abraham’s. “Every nation will be blessed because of you. I’ve chosen you to teach your children and their children to keep firmly on the way, to walk justly and uprightly. This is the way of the promise.”

The Master turned again toward Sodom. “Sodom and Gomorrah have brought their wickedness to new levels. I’m going down to see just how bad it has become.”

The two men traveling with the Master began their way toward Sodom, but Abraham stood on the path, the words of the promise echoing in his ears. The man in shining robes motioned for his company to go on ahead.

Abraham asked, “Master, will you destroy the good with the bad? What if you find fifty good people in Sodom. Will you still destroy the entire city? In other words, would the Judge of all the world do what’s unjust?”

The Master said, “If there are fifty good people in Sodom, I’ll spare everyone.”

Abraham then asked, “Who am I to press the issue, but what if you only find forty-five good people? Will you still spare the whole city?”

The Master answered, “For forty-five, I’ll spare both Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Abraham continued, “Forgive me, but what if there are only thirty good people in Sodom? What then?”

The Master said plainly, “I won’t destroy the city if there are thirty good people living there.”

Again, Abraham spoke. “What if you find twenty?”

“Then I’ll spare the city.”

“Ten?”

The Master put a hand upon Abraham’s shoulder and smiled. “For the sake of ten good people, I will spare the entire city.” Then he set out for Sodom.

Abraham went into his tent and attempted sleep.

Inspiration: Genesis 18