Otherworldly wisdom

Job lifted himself from where he lay and stood silent before the company of men who had come to challenge him during his crisis. Needing a friend, he was surrounded by accusers. Needing companionship, he was swallowed in loneliness.

When he spoke again, the timbre of his voice was coated with boldness.

“The God who has stolen my rights and wrenched my soul still lives. And as long as his Spirit moves through my nostrils, I will not lie. I’m not saying you’re wrong, but as long as I live and breathe, my integrity stands. I refuse to release my grip from righteousness, and my conscience is clear.

“What good are my godless enemies when God cuts their throats? Their pleas for help will fall on deaf ears. Let me teach you a lesson about my God since I’ve mistaken you for wise men.

“God’s gift to those wicked who prosper will meet death by sword or famine. The stores of silver they’ve heaped for themselves and the rooms of fine clothing they acquire will be divided up among the just and the innocent. In an instant, their wealth, built up like sticks in the wind, will be swept away, and they awake in terror, in the knowledge that they have nothing. They are nothing.”

Job walked through the threshold of the tent and out into a black night. The campfire smoldered, and Job stood in its dying heat.

“We mine silver and refine gold,” he said. “We smelt copper after digging down into the deepest darkest places for ore. We make bread from the earth, the place where stones are sapphires, its dust, gold.

“Down below, where men search for all things, no falcon can access. No beast can tread. The lion is powerless over it. Yet humanity fashions tools to turn the ground. We move mountains by the root. We carve into the rocks and dam up the waters. Anything once hidden, we have brought to the light.

“Yet wisdom, we haven’t found. Understanding is still buried. We can’t fathom its worth, because it doesn’t belong in the hands of the living.  The ocean can’t contain it. The gold and precious jewels cannot buy it.

“From where do wisdom and understanding come? Death and the grave have heard rumors, but only God knows the way to them. He’s neither short-sighted nor ignorant of anything in the earth, for he brought them into existence. When he weighed and measured the wind and the waves, commanded the rains and channeled the lightning, he declared wisdom and established it.”

The three men exited the tent, and Job turned to face them. His eyes shown like polished rubies as if possessed by some supernatural fire. He spoke the following words with a voice like rolling thunder:

“Behold, fear God. This is wisdom. Turn your back on evil. This is understanding.”

Inspiration: Job 27, 28

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

Parting ways

Abram now had an uncounted inventory of gold, silver, and livestock. He and Sarai, along with his nephew Lot, resumed their circuit of travel, making their way back around to Shechem where God first promised Abram he’d bring forth blessed nations from his family. The first altar he had built remained unblemished, so he conversed with God there in the evenings.

Lot was also getting wealthy, and soon the land couldn’t support both estates. The shepherds of both clans bickered more frequently, but when Lot’s herders started a turf war against the other, Abram intervened.

He met with his nephew by a creek one day. The smell of sun-soaked soil and rock was pleasant, and the water trickling over the pebbles altered their otherwise shared foul mood.

“Look,” Abram said, his jaw set, “I’m not going to fight with you, and I’m certainly not going to allow our herders to go to blows. We’re all family here.”

Abram put an arm around Lot and gave him a quarter turn from where they stood. “Elevate your gaze, man. All this land is ours.” Abram made a sweeping gesture across the vast horizon. “Let’s agree that if you go east, I’ll go west. If you go west, I’ll go east.”

Lot looked around, and his eyes narrowed toward the east. He spied the lush plains of distant Jordan, with her natural irrigation systems and cascading rivers, reminiscent of the fables of old Eden.

“I’ll go east,” Lot said, biting his lip.

“And so it will be,” Abram concluded.

Lot spread his estate among the cities of the plains. He purchased property within the city limits of Sodom, a town known for its pride, laziness, and sexual appetite.

Abram moved westward, bringing his people and possessions to the beating heart of Canaan.

“Look up from the spot you’re standing on,” God said. “Look north, south, east, and west. These wide, open spaces will be yours forever.” And He promised, “I’ll make your children as numerous as the stars.”

The more he heard the promise, the more God added to it, and the more real it seemed. Abram settled down in Hebron at a place called Mamre Oaks. There he built another altar to await the fruition of all that God had promised him.

Inspiration: Genesis 13