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

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

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

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 stupor.

Job’s blameless reputation and matchless wealth was the stuff of legends, at a time when great evil spread as quickly as a brush fire, as humankind spread 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 houses. Inviting their sisters and every neighbor within shouting distance, 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, the Satan, was among them.

“Where did you come from?” God asked the outsider, smelling the stench of sulfur.

“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

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