Elihu’s appearing

The three companions wandered aimlessly in the yard around as the last embers of the campfire cooled into dust. They were dumbstruck by the confidence of Job.

Unbeknownst to Job or the others, Elihu, who had traveled all the way from Buz, had kept himself hidden behind a shrub of pomegranate. The son of Barachel, he was an ancestor of Nahor, Abraham’s brother.

He wore a ram insignia on his breast, woven of intricate needlework. His cloak and turban were pristine white.

Elihu seethed with anger at everything he had heard come from Job’s mouth. Neither were Job’s companions vindicated, because they convicted Job without evidence.

The young man stepped out of dawn’s shadows. He had held his tongue up until this moment out of respect.

“I’m young,” he began, “and you’re old.”

Job and the others turned in the direction of the newcomer’s voice.

“I was afraid to say anything, knowing the opinion of a child falls on deaf ears. ‘Let experience speak,’ I thought as I listened to your rants. The longer I listened, the more I realized old age doesn’t make a person right, and understanding doesn’t come from experience. It’s the Spirit within man, the breath of God Most High that brings enlightenment.

“I’m a new wineskin without a vent, full of wine and ready to explode, so listen. I speak without bias or flattery. I’m wise enough to know flattery can get you killed.”

Job rested himself against a large stone near the opening of his tent and waited for the young man to relieve himself from whatever he had to say. Could he be an advocate, one who has come to vindicate him?

Elihu approached the pitiful shell of a man covered in sores and racked with grief and fatigue.

“Job,” he said, “I speak sincerely, from my heart. The Spirit of God made me, and His breath gave me life. I’m inclined toward God just like you, for I know I’m nothing but a pinch of clay from his fingers. Don’t fear anything I have to say, because I’m on your side.

“You say you’re without sin, yet God has made you his enemy. Let me explain how you’re wrong. Simply stated: God is wholly other than us.

“The very act of contending against him is ludicrous. You say, ‘God doesn’t answer me,’ and yet he answers in multiple ways without our comprehension.

“Have you noticed when we dream, God often opens our ears with warnings? He uses our deep sleep as a way to enlighten us so that we can make a better choice when we wake. He saves us from the grave and from death by the sword.

“He also corrects us through aches and pains. Lying sick in bed, when we can’t stand the sight of rich foods, or even bread, and our ribs show through our skin, this is a great opportunity to rest in God.

“When a man’s soul draws close to death and a Watcher mediates mercifully on his behalf and whispers the right word, saying, ‘Get him out of the pit and let vigor return to his body, for I have found the ransom,’ this is when a man prays to God and accepts Him. These are the conditions in which a person sees the face of God in joy, and God restores their righteousness.

“The sinner shouts in public, ‘I perverted the good, yet I’ve been spared! My soul is redeemed and now I gaze upon the light.’ His testimony is a witness for others to think twice before falling into mischief.

“God does this two, even three times for the one who sins, so he might have the light of life.

“Job, listen. Or if you wish to add something, feel free, because all I want is to set you free. Otherwise, hold your tongue so I can teach you wisdom without interruption.”

Inspiration: Job 32, 33

Job’s glory

The afflicted man seemed suddenly possessed by an entity, both foreign and familiar. Through its bitter streaks of blood and tears, Job’s face took on the appearance of youth and vigor.

“In my prime, I was a friend of God. His radiant light emanated from my soul and lighted my path, informed my speech, and kept comforting vigil by my tents’ lamplight.

“My children surrounded me, and the rocks at my feet poured anointing oil for my steps.

“Whether at the city gates or seated in the square, the youth made way for me in humble reverence. The elders stood as a sign of respect, and the princes and courtiers held their tongues, waiting for my counsel like they waited for the rain.

“I sat as chief and gave pronouncements, like a king among his troops.

“They blessed my words and honored my deeds because I saved the poor and comforted the mourners and the fatherless. An old man’s dying words were a blessing to me and my household, and afterward, his widow hung a garland of a joyful song around my neck.

“Righteousness and justice clothed me. I lent my sight to the blind and accompanied the lame person on his way. I was a patron to the needy and set out to meet those unknown to me. I stopped the wicked in their tracks and released their prisoners.

“I knew then that I would die peacefully in my bed many years from now, and my children would multiply out to every shore forever.”

Inspiration: Job 29

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

Second volley

Job lay still with his eyes fixed on the stars. The night air offered an ominous silence, interrupted by the rustling strain of someone adding a log to the fire. Then he heard the crunch of Eliphaz’s staff stabbing the dirt, and perceived its owner standing again to his feet.

Eliphaz had always been annoyingly investigative and meddlesome, ever concerned with the law at the expense of law’s purpose. Job supposed Eliphaz had been calibrating his next oratory while Job was busy grappling with God in the dirt. Lying alone and immobile in the darkness, Job accepted his powerlessness against the accusatory arrows aiming to fly from the mouth of his friend.

“Bildad’s right,” Eliphaz shot out. “You truly are a windbag.”

Job turned his head toward the red-bearded Temanite, who appeared now like a looming shadow, black as death and backlit by fire. Although he could see no features in the smoke-veiled face, he imagined a self-satisfied grin across its breadth like a row of stone-cold merlons.

“You call yourself wise?” he taunted. “Where’s your fear of God? Where’s your loyalty? Your mouth condemns you more than any of us can.

“How very crafty you are. Tell me, were you the first man alive? Surely you overheard God as he planned the creation of hills and streams. Pray, tell us what you know that we don’t. We have only the elders, older than your father, to counsel us. Or, are God’s comforts not enough for you?

“You lash out in anger against God for not accepting you, when his own angels, the Watchers of Souls, aren’t even as pure as you claim to be. Sin flows through you like water through a spring, friend.”

Eliphaz knelt beside Job and set down his staff. His face was close enough to touch but still as black as night. His beard glowed like the aura of a blood moon.

“Listen to me, Job,” he said smugly. “I’m going to give you the solution from my experience, confirmed by the wisdom of the ancients. Are you ready to listen?”

Job dared not give Eliphaz the satisfaction. Instead, he used what little energy he had reserved to lift his head and turn his back on his friend. The ground felt like a bed of iron firepots searing through his anguished body.

“A wicked man is in trouble all his life,” Eliphaz said, seemingly oblivious to Job’s torments. “Every day is full of terrors. Even good days are interrupted by fear because he knows that death is coming for him. Why? Because he has defied God. In his arrogance, he has sacked cities and eaten stolen food until fat. But not for long.”

Job sat up, turned around and reached for Eliphaz’s staff. “Sorry comforters you’ve all turned out to be,” he managed through clenched teeth. With both hands grasping the crook, he lifted himself upright, wincing all the way.

“You clung to worthless possessions, Job, so fire swallowed up your tents.”

“Is there no limit to your lies?” Job asked, his black eyes catching the firelight like beaten gold.

“Go on,” Eliphaz said, “prepare your next deception. But remember, the wicked man drops from the vine like a grape before its time.”

Inspiration: Job 15   

Not impressed

Job lifted his head and forced himself upright. He could smell the putrid mixture of blood and pus emanating from his skin, like a combination of iron and rotting flesh. Every surface of his body radiated heat like the gray embers of a dying fire.

Aside from the physical pain contending with his will to concentrate, Job wasn’t really paying attention to the words coming out of Zophar’s mouth. Zophar had always been a troublemaker, and Job discovered a long time ago that his motives were rarely pure.

Zophar likely felt jealous of Job’s life until now, and Job suspected that his Canaanite friend enjoyed watching the God-fearing priest suffer. So, after hearing his discourse through the filter of distrust, Job made his reply.

“I am awed by your great wisdom,” he mocked. “No doubt the secrets of your understanding will die with you.”

“Be careful, friend,” Zophar answered with a dull resentment. “My robes hide no festering affliction.”

“None of you have told me anything I don’t already know,” Job said calmly. “My own children, in their lowest state of drunken debauchery, knew these things.  In fact, the beasts and birds and fish are apt teachers of the way we are to behave.

“As plainly as I can discern good food from bad, my mind knows the truth when I hear it. You know as well as I do, old men like us gain wisdom from experience. But God’s wisdom and strength are beyond us. No one can rebuild what God has destroyed. No one can open what God as closed. No one can replenish what God has exhausted. No one can stop what God has started.

“God is strength and wisdom. The dragon and his victim belong to God. He strips counselors and judges of their dignity. He makes subjects of kings and kings of subjects. He casts away priests and humbles titans. He silences the trustworthy and makes fools of elders. He strips princes of their position and warriors of their strength. He causes the rise and fall of nations, enlarging, then scattering them. He forces the waymaker to wander through a roadless desert, groping like a drunkard without a hint of light.”

Inspiration: Job 12

Zophar’s indictment

Job fell to his knees in the flickering darkness, letting his limp body drop to the earth. Lying on his side, he seized a handful of dirt and smeared it into an open sore on his face.

Zophar, the man who had come from Naamath to witness first-hand what double tragedy does to a man, watched Job with a tilt of his head. Like a lion stalking prey, he had observed, in silence, the anguished and broken priest lead himself into a circle. Exhausted by his repeated boasts of innocence, Job had finished where he started, lying with his spine curved inward, like a defenseless animal or an unborn child.

Now Zophar took his opportunity to speak.

“Perhaps someone should have put a muzzle on you when you started your arrogant rant,” Zophar started in, his raven hair melding into the pitch black mountain behind them. “‘I am pure,’ you say. ‘I am clean.’ But now that you’ve lathered yourself into speechlessness, maybe God will share with you the many facets of his wisdom, starting with the fact that you’re better off than your guilt deserves.

“The knowledge of God is larger than the earth, broader than the ocean, higher than the heavens, and deeper than the final grave. What makes you think you can do anything about it? Sadly, you won’t find understanding until donkeys speak and reason like us.

“Before you speak again, take my advice and retire from your evil deeds. There can’t be a hint of dirt residing in your tents if you wish to approach God without fear. Confidence blooms out of innocence. The only confidence of the wicked is in their final breath.”

Inspiration: Job 11

Eliphaz’s wisdom

Eliphaz had been digging in the dirt next to the fire with the butt of his staff while Job spoke, carving thick lines and symbols that seemed to move in the flickering light.

“May I offer my opinion?” he asked, the shadows on his face also 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, causing every hair on my body to stand on end. The specter 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 Watcher 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, and with his chin jutting out in self-satisfaction, he took his seat. Then he added, “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. Just confess.”

Inspiration: Job 4-5

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