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

Jackal’s brother

“I wept for slaves,” Job continued, the light in his eyes dimming with the dying embers of the campfire. “I grieved for those in need, yet now the assembly laughs at me.”

Job walked over to the fire pit and sunk down low to intensify the heat on his burning skin. The three friends, likewise, encircled the hole and took their places in the dirt.

Silence fell for several minutes until Job opened his mouth once again.

“Men whose fathers I wouldn’t trust to dine with the dogs of my flock, these men, younger than me, they laugh at my condition and taunt me. These are the dregs of society, weak, hungry, wasting away in the wild. Having been cast out of their community, they find their dwelling in holes and under rocks. They’re nameless ruffians with no legacy, and yet they are after me. These whom I once showed my sympathy now push me forcefully to the side of the road as they pursue their next victim.

“My soul is spilled out inside me, and the pain gnaws relentlessly. My clothes have become disheveled, choking me at the collar.

“The darkness wrenches my bones. In the late hours, I stand up in the empty assembly room and cry out to God for help. I get silence in return.

“God Most High, I stand up, and you stare blankly at me. How cruel you’ve turned out to be, persecuting me with your mighty hand. Tossing me to the wind, I ride the storm of the inevitable doom that comes to all. Can you blame me? You’ve cast me into the mire, and I am one with the dust and ash. Who among those buried in rubble would not stretch forth a hand for salvation?

“I’m a brother to jackals and a friend to wild ostriches. I howl dirges with my lyre and pipe while my insides quiver and burn with the heat of affliction. My skin rots in blackness and peels away into the dust.”

Inspiration: Job 30

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

Benjamin detained

Zaphenath summoned his steward and said, “Take these men’s empty sacks and overfill them with food. Then put their money back at the top of each sack.”

“Yes, lord,” the steward said.

“Take my cup,” Zaphenath continued, “and put it in the sack that belongs to Benjamin, the youngest brother.”

The brothers didn’t understand the Egyptian tongue and didn’t know what was happening.

“Yes, lord.” The steward took the royal cup and left the assembly.

The next morning, the brothers loaded their donkeys and took to the road leading out of the city. They hadn’t gone far when Zaphenath directed his steward again.

“Go, overtake the brothers on the road and ask, ‘Why have you betrayed your lord who treated you with love and compassion? He has given you everything, and yet you’ve stolen his silver cup!’”

So the steward and his retinue overtook the brothers, who had just begun their long journey into the harsh wilderness to Canaan.

“Halt! Why have you stolen your lord’s silver cup when he treated you with so much respect? Does he not drink from his cup and use it to divine the will of God?”

Reuben, in shock, replied, “Why are you accusing us of this? We’d never do that! We brought back the money we found at the top of our sacks on our first visit. Stealing from our lord doesn’t make any sense.”

“Nevertheless, you have done this evil thing. This is how Israel’s sons repay Egypt’s hospitality.”

“If you find our lord’s cup in anyone’s possession,” Judah said, white knuckles clutching his staff, “put him to death.”

“More than that, “Reuben added, “we will all return with you and become slaves in your house.”

“By my lord’s will, who is merciful,” the steward said, dismounting his horse, “whoever has the cup will return with us as a slave of the house. The rest of you may go free.”

Every brother dropped his sack to the ground and untied it. The steward went around to every bag, beginning with Reuben the elder and ending with Benjamin the younger.

“What have we here?”

When the steward found the cup in Benjamin’s sack, his men tied Benjamin’s wrists and escorted him back to the palace.

The brothers tore their garments and lamented until the sun shone directly overhead. Then, just as they had done earlier that morning, they fastened their loads, but instead of going home, they went back to the city.

Inspiration: Genesis 44

Ishmael’s bio

When Abraham was a hundred years old, Sarah bore him a son. They named him “Isaac,” He Laughs, remembering God’s promise.

“God made me laugh,” Sarah exclaimed with joy, “and everyone who hears our story will laugh too.”

Abraham circumcised Isaac at eight days old, and on the day he was weaned, Abraham hosted an elaborate feast. Sarah saw Ishmael poking fun at little Isaac at the celebration, so she told her husband, “Get this slave woman and her son out of our lives. That child will never share in Isaac’s blessing.”

This made Abraham sad because he loved his son Ishmael.

God said, “Don’t worry, Abraham. Do whatever Sarah says, because it will be through Isaac that your name will be carried. But because Ishmael is your son, I’ll make a nation through him, too.”

Abraham got up early the next morning, packed bread and water, and sent Hagar and Ishmael away. They wandered in the wild deserts of Beersheba, but they soon ran out of water.

Hagar placed a dehydrated Ishmael under a shade tree to die of thirst. She put some distance between herself and her son, so she didn’t have to watch him suffer, and she wept in grief.

God heard Ishmael moaning through a parched throat for water, and an angel spoke to Hagar. “What’s wrong, Hagar?” the angel asked. “Don’t worry about your son, because God hears him. Go and lift him from the ground. I’ll make him a great nation.”

God led her to a well of water. She ran over, filled the waterskin, and brought it to her son to drink.

God remained near as the boy grew into a man. He was an expert bowman and lived in the wilderness of Paran. Hagar found him a wife from Egypt, and Ishmael had twelve sons, who became twelve tribal kings. Ishmael lived a hundred and thirty-seven years.

Inspiration: Genesis 21, 25

Cruel mistress

Sarai heard Abram often talk of fathering a great nation. She wanted to pave the way for God’s promise to be fulfilled for Abram, so she suggested Abram should sleep with her Egyptian slave, Hagar.

Abram tossed the idea around for about a decade, until Sarai pressed the issue, bringing Hagar personally into his tent. When Hagar got pregnant, she hurled insults at Sarai and adopted an air of superiority over her.

Sarai flew into a rage, and Abram took the brunt of her wrath. “I offered you my slave as a second wife,” she seethed, “and she became a monster. What are you going to do about it?”

“She’s your slave,” Abram shrugged half-heartedly, “and this was your idea. Take care of the situation however you wish.”

On that very day, Sarai’s treatment of Hagar became so unbearable that the slave fled into the wilderness.

An angel of God approached Hagar as she followed a brook toward Egypt. “Hagar, where’d you come from?” the angel asked. “And where are you going?”

The slippery rocks on the creek bottom made the way difficult, but she continued along the path undeterred. “I’m escaping the cold, cruel grip of my mistress.”

The angel stepped in front of Hagar, blocking her way. “Turn around,” the angel said. “Go back and submit to Sarai. In return, I’ll give you more descendants than a census can track.”

Hagar dropped to her knees and held her belly. “How can I go back to that abusive woman?” she sighed, rocking in place.

The angel of God knelt beside her and said, “Your son will be named Ishmael because God hears your cries of anguish. But you should know, Ishmael will make an ass of himself and will have enemies all around him, including his own family.”

“I’ll call you Elroi,” Hagar said, suddenly still, “because I’ve seen God and will live to tell about it.”

After the encounter, the well of the spring was called “Beerlahairoi,” Well of the Living Sight.

Hagar returned to her mistress, bore a son, and named him Ishmael. Abram turned eighty-six years old.

Inspiration: Genesis 16