Tragic loss

One afternoon, Job was deep in meditation when a servant rushed into his tent. He was short of breath, and his clothes clung to his heaving chest, heavy with sweat.

“My lord,” he rasped, clinging to the goatskin flap of the doorway with one hand, and holding a piece of splintered ox yoke in the other. “While the oxen plowed and the donkeys fed on straw, a small band of Sabean horsemen swept in and slaughtered every servant in the field except for me.”

Job didn’t have time to respond to the man, as another servant came in behind him. He smelled of acrid smoke and looked as if he hadn’t bathed in his life.

“God’s fire rained down on every side, my lord. Your shepherds and flocks are consumed! I alone made it out of the pasture alive.”

The first servant spoke again. “The Sabeans, they carried off your livestock.”

While he was still speaking, a third servant, a child, half-dead, entered the tent. His face had the pallor of ashes, and his clothes were caked with blood.

“My God!” Job offered a hand to steady the young boy, then leading him to a dim corner of the tent to lie down. “What news, dear boy?”

The boy’s eyes gazed into darkness, and his throat rattled with short, labored breaths. “The Chaldeans,” he sputtered, coughing up phlegm and blood. “Your servants… your camels…”

Job called for a skin bag, and with it, slowly poured water into the child’s mouth.

“Rest now,” Job said like a father to a dying son. As he turned to address the others, another man appeared under the threshold.

“We were all eating and drinking together with your sons and daughters, when a violent wind came against the house and struck it down, crushing everyone in attendance but me.”

With that, Job exited his tent and tore his robe. The messengers followed after him in silence, perhaps dumbstruck by the magnitude of chaos dealt against the holy man in a single ill-fated stroke.

“Get me a knife,” Job cried, his knees hitting the hard ground.

A servant returned and held out a short blade. The anguished man took it by its bone handle, and the servant backed away.

Job took the knife and began scraping it across his scalp. Thick clumps of hair fell around him, and when he finished shaving his head, he lie flat on the ground and prayed.

“I came into the world with nothing, and I shall return to the dust with nothing,” he chanted. “God gave to me, and God took away from me. God’s name is praised.”

The men went away as Job repeated the words over and over.

After he finished praying aloud, Job sat still, his spine erect like a winter-stripped tree, and he silently repeated the name of God until the sun descended behind the lonely mountains of Uz.

Twice bitten

No sooner had Isaac finished blessing his son Jacob, that Esau returned from hunting game for his father. Jacob slipped out the back way while his older brother prepared a hearty meal of roasted ibex and bread, just the way his father liked it.

Bringing the hot dish to his father’s side table, Esau said, “Sit up, Father, and eat. Afterward, you can give me your blessing.”

Isaac, already sitting up, suddenly had a perplexed look on his face. “Who are you?” he asked.

I’m your firstborn, Esau.”

Isaac began to shake. “To whom did I just give my blessing?” he asked. “To whom offered me a meal of meat, fresh from the field? Who watched me as I ate every bite?”

Isaac bowed his head and sighed. His son stood in confusion. “Whoever he was, he’ll be blessed indeed.”

Esau grabbed his father’s lapel violently and wailed, “Bless me too, Father!”

Isaac’s head remained bowed, unflinching. His words were calm and evenly paced. “Your brother deceived me and has taken away your blessing.”

Esau slowly released his grip from his father’s bedclothes. “My brother is aptly named ‘Jacob’… Supplanter.” Esau grimaced and backed away from the bed. “Twice he has nipped at my heel, taking what is mine. First, my birthright, and now my blessing.”

A lamp flickered in the corner of the room, and Esau could see that his father was just as distressed by Jacob’s betrayal as he was. For a few minutes, neither said a word.

Then Esau asked, “Have you not reserved any blessing for your other son?”

Isaac lifted his head, his eyes in a dead stare at whoever was facing him. “I’ve already given Jacob lordship over you, and all his brothers will be his servants. My granaries, herds, flocks, and vineyard are now his. There’s nothing left.”

“Are you telling me you can only bless one of us?” Esau asked. “Bless me, too!” he said. “Please, Father!” Then Esau began to cry.

Isaac raised a hand and said, “Your existence will be desolate and barren. You’ll live in perpetual conflict, a servant to Jacob. But you’ll eventually break free, destroying the bonds that hold you to your brother.”

Esau left his father and wandered into the dark night.

Inspiration: Genesis 27

Suitable bride

God blessed Abraham and everything he touched, but as he approached death in his old age, something weighed heavily on his mind.

He called for his most trusted servant and said, “Promise me in the presence of God that you’ll not choose a wife for my son here in Canaan. Instead, find her from among my kinsmen in my country.”

“What if she refuses to come back with me,” the servant said. “Will I have to bring Isaac to her?”

“No,” Abraham said. “It’s important he never goes back to my old country. God himself led me out of my father’s house, out from my birthplace, and he promised that the land of Canaan would belong to my family.”

He continued, “An angel from God will prepare the way for you and make your mission a success. If the maiden isn’t willing to come back with you, I release you from your promise. Whatever happens, don’t take my son back to my old country.”

Abraham’s servant promised to do what his master said. He prepared ten camels, packed up an assortment of excellent gifts from his master’s store, and set out for the city of Nahor.

As evening approached, Abraham’s servant had the camels kneel by a well on the outskirts of town. “O God of Abraham,” he said, “give me success today and bestow favor upon my master. As the daughters of the city come to draw water, I’ll say, ‘Please offer me a drink from your vessel.’ If one says, ‘Have a drink, and I’ll give your camels a drink, too,’ let her be the appointed one for Isaac.”

Before he had finished praying, Rebekah, granddaughter of Abraham’s brother, Nahor, approached with a water pot mounted on her shoulder. She was a beautiful virgin.

After she filled her pot, the servant said, “Please let me take a sip from your vessel.”

“Drink, master,” she replied and lowered the pot for him to drink. Then she said, “I’ll water your camels as well.” She made quick work of the watering troughs, pouring water into each for the camels.

The servant stood in stunned silence, assessing whether or not God had so quickly made way for the promise he had made to his master.

Inspiration: Genesis 24

Welcoming committee

The two angels arrived at Sodom during the night and encountered a man sitting at the city gate.

When Lot saw the two men approaching, he bowed low to the ground. “Please, masters,” he said. “Come stay the night with your servant and wash your feet. You can get up early and be on your way if you wish.”

“No,” they said. “We’ll spend the night on the market square.”

Lot knew better than to let the men fend for themselves in Sodom after dark, so he pressed them until they relented and followed him home. He presented a feast before his guests, and seeing from their manner that they were righteous and noble, he served bread made without yeast to symbolize the purity of their assembly.

As they were turning in for the night, they heard the shouting of an approaching mob. All the men of Sodom, young and old, surrounded every side of Lot’s house and began rattling the walls.

“Where are your guests?” one of the Sodomites shouted. “Bring them out so we can give them a proper welcome.”

A roar of laughter followed, and the banging grew louder.

Lot went outside and latched the door behind him. He said, “Please, brothers, curb your evil for one night.”

The men advanced at the threshold and Lot’s back pressed hard against the door.

“I have two daughters,” he suggested in a panic. “They’re virgins, and you can do whatever you want with them. Please spare my guests, whom I have sworn to protect.”

One of the Sodomites reached and grabbed Lot by the nape of his neck. “Down, dog!” he said.

Lot faltered, and his knees crunched on the solid ground.

Another Sodomite chimed in. “This man came to Sodom as an outsider, and now he’s playing magistrate.”

Then another, “Suppose we tie you up naked and invent new ways to violate your laws.” And yet another, “That’ll teach him to judge us by his high moral standard.”

The crowd pressed harder, some clamoring for Lot’s tunic and others shaking the latch of the door.

Suddenly, the angels appeared from inside and pulled Lot back into the house and barred the door. Those who were clawing at the threshold were struck blind and could no longer find the latch.

Amid the deafening silence that followed, the mob dispersed in confusion, assisting the blind men back to their sordid dens.

Inspiration: Genesis 19