I’m innocent

“I’m complaining because my heart is bitter,” Job replied nearly in a whisper, “because my punishment is more than I deserve. More than I can bare.”

Job turned over slowly, wincing as he shifted his weight and rested on his side. Glints of lamplight flickered in the eyes of his accusers. Job sighed.

“I wish I knew where God was,” he said, a power growing behind his voice. “I’d approach his throne and reason with him. He’d tell me what he wants from me, and I would understand and comply. Instead of invoking terror, he’d sympathize with me. If I am honest, I can reason with him. My Judge is fair.

Eliphaz and Zophar looked at one another with unabased disapproval on their faces. Perhaps they don’t really know God at all, Job thought. Perhaps they worshiped a god completely unknown to Job.

“I search in vain,” Job continued. “That’s my point. He’s nowhere to be found. He sees the intimate details of my life, but I can’t reach him. My only solace is that when he looks into the deepest recessed of my heart, he finds the pure gold of innocence in me.”

Job felt a sudden surge of energy traveling out through his limbs. Like a magic elixir, the rippling of new power numbed the pain from his sores and gave him relief. Job hoped it would last.

“I’ve been faithful to God’s way without deviation. I’ve enjoyed his commands more than fine morsels of food. For whatever reason, his mind is made up about me. How can I argue with him? No one can stop him from doing to me everything he planned to do, and I have a feeling it’s not over.

“Eliphaz, can you blame me for being so scared? Zophar? I’m blind against the darkness God has cloaked around me. Thick as smoke, I can’t see past it.”

Inspiration: Job 23

Wicked reprieve

Job didn’t stir. The silence in the room meant that Zophar had finished thrusting his knife in and now waited to listen to Job’s response like so much blood gushing from his heart.

“Light a lamp,” Job said. There’s fire on the hearth.”

One of the men fumbled around in the dark until he grasped a lamp Job always kept near his bed. He felt his way through an opening in the cloth that separated Job’s bedchambers from his hearth. The lamplight threw a distorted silhouette through the thin fibers of the fabric. Eliphaz’s facial features flickered grotesquely as he entered the room and set the lamp on its stand.

Job was still lying flat on his back, naked and exposed, with no shame and no care.

Zophar and Eliphaz sat on the floor in silence.

“Zophar of Naamath, listen carefully without interruption,” Job began. “Eliphaz, you too. After I finish, you can all carry on with your incessant mockery.

“My complaining has nothing to do with you or any man. Look at me in horror. Look at the condition of my wretch body and try not to cover your mouth in disgust. Even I shudder with fright when I see my reflection. Is it any wonder that my soul is racked with sorrow?

“Zophar, the wicked often live to old age, powerful, well-fed, and comfortable. They live long enough to see their own children flourish, as well as their grandchildren. Their homes are secure from bandits and natural disasters. God never lays a finger on them. Their prodigious cattle low in the fields and their wealth supplies every fancy. They break out the tambourine, the lyre, and the pipe, and they dance until morning. This is all despite telling God they want no part of him or his way.

“‘Who’s this God?’ they jeer. ‘What does it profit me to obey him?’”

“Everything the wicked touches turns to gold, yet I want nothing to do with them. They get away with murder, avoiding trouble in the courts every time. When God doles out wrath and sorrow, the wicked get a reprieve.

“Before you come at me with your next argument, listen. You are thinking, ‘If God doesn’t punish them, he’ll punish their children.’ But I disagree. Wouldn’t God punish the one who sins? Shouldn’t the penalty go to the man who commits the crime? Your argument has no merit.

“But who are we to judge the Judge? He punishes the healthy and the sick, the wealthy and the poor. They all go to the same dust and are devoured by the same worm.

“You’re tempted to tell me of a rich man who was punished for his sins. But I say, ask anyone with any experience, and he’ll tell you the evil usually escape the wrath of God. Instead of being publicly shamed, he gets a great procession before and after his funeral. Your whole argument is flawed!”

Inspiration: Job 21

Wicked end

“I can’t listen to this any longer,” Zophar interrupted. “I took your scolding like a man out there, but I stand by every indictment against you.

“You know as well as I do that a wicked man’s triumph is short-lived. His joy is like a puff of smoke. Even if he reigns over all the earth, he still perishes in the end like garbage, never to be seen again.

“The evil that he hides under his tongue is sweet in his mouth, so he savors it slowly. But in his stomach, it turns to venom, which he has been sucking all the while from the Serpent itself.

“He misses out on the cascading rivers flowing with milk and honey. With nothing more for him to devour, his wealth dries up. He doesn’t enjoy his stolen loot.

“The wicked man encounters trouble at his peak of power, and usually it’s the wicked who destroy him. Just as he’s about to eat, death comes out of nowhere. When the arrow is pulled from his still-warm carcass, you can see the terror of death across his face.

“His treasures are lost in a raging fire, his secret sins are revealed to the world, and the world judges him without mercy. This is all that God prepares for the wicked.”

Inspiration: Job 20

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 see his friend through the double tragedy, 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 turn 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 put your misdeeds far behind you. There can’t be a hint of dirt residing in your tents if you wish to approach God without fear. Your confidence will bloom from your innocent expectation. The only expectation of the wicked is their final breath.”

Inspiration: Job 11

Mourning sun

Three travelers arrived at Job’s camp under the same half-moon. When they had heard of their friend’s troubles, they came to offer consolation, and if warranted, counsel.

Eliphaz, a relative of Esau, traveled from Teman. Bildad, descending from Abraham’s union with Keturah, came from Shuah. And Zophar was a Canaanite from the city of Naamath.

When they saw Job’s dwelling from a distance, they hardly recognized the figure sitting alone in the ashes. As they drew nearer to the tormented shell of a man they once knew, Eliphaz wept, Bildad took dirt from the ground and poured it over his head, and Zophar tore his robes.

As the sun descended over the mountain, they each took a seat with Job, fellow companions of his sorrow. For seven days, no one spoke a word.

Then, Job broke the silence.

“Curse the day I was born. Blot out forever the day I was conceived. Why didn’t I just die at birth? I’d rest in the company of good kings and wise men, where prisoners escape bondage, the small are great, the slave is free, and all are accepted and safe from evil. The wicked don’t bother the dead.

“Why do we who seek the grave more earnestly than buried treasure, have to live? How I long for the grave! The activities of life are useless when God withholds his acceptance.”

Inspiration: Job 2,3