A Fiction, based on the Book of Job

by Michael R. Rountree


We went out to him in his deepest misery, knowing not how we should act in his presence. His tent was overturned, the stones of his fire pit were tossed around, the ashes spread. He was not eating; we begged him to take water at least. His lips hardly knew how to close around the mouth of the amphora, and it sloshed out leaving sad streaks down his chin and beard. We hesitated, and I think he saw that we did, to touch him, for he stank and was covered in the dust and clay. But our love for him compelled us, and so we cared for him, though he did not care for himself.

Job spoke nothing, and so we kept silent. He only grunted, like a perturbed pack animal, at our arrival, and at our attempts to offer bread. He writhed among the weeds like a wounded serpent, and we had to pull him out from among the sharpest rocks. Then, as we would bow our heads in prayer to God Most High, he would be off again, worming away from us as if we were lepers.

Bildad gestured that we might pass the time by restoring his tent, at least, but I shook my head against this. Job saw this, too, and went quickly over to the folds of fabric. He grabbed the tent in his hands, and began to tear, but it was a stubborn cloth and would not yield to him alone. Fresh tears came to his eyes, even as he expended all his strength, and so I stood to his side, taking one half. Through his wet eyes he looked at me, and agreed - and we both pulled, the great canvas rending loudly in the lowing sun. He slept that night, with his half as a blanket.

Bildad collected wood, and set the stones back, and we braved the night's chill by a restored fire. Though Job preceeded us to his dreams, we did not break the silence with whispers. Yet we all were thinking the same things. What had our friend done to deserve such wrath from heaven? We all looked up to him; Job was our wise leader in town, and had always seemed to be blessed. Now we wondered - is wisdom a phantom? Does God punish the wise more than the fool? Can the Almighty bring the wicked into riches, or the righteous down to ruin? What secrets of Job's are not known to us, his closest friends, yet offend the Lord to such calamitous degree?

And how would we gain any assurance that what has befallen our good Job would not likewise come upon our homes? All of our lives, we have striven to excel in moral character, with Job as our instructor and example. Many evenings we have spent together, clustered near the well, divining the character of God Most High, seeing His invisible qualities in the smallest shard of His creation, as well as in the imprints made upon men's hearts. Righteousness is surely the Mountain of God, and on this mountain we have all stood fast.

Is this foundation an inadequate one? No, we all shut our eyes as the embers die, thinking the same thing - that Job's foot has slipped. We awaken, knowing that there is yet some power given to us, to help restore our friend, if only he can be made to repent and set his foot aright. But the sound that awakens us is a groaning, a choking sob. We see Job staring directly into the eastern sun. Wind flicks the snot from his grimy nostrils, and I feel it land in my hair.

I roll up onto my knees beside him, and bend low, my face to the dirt. The ashes of the dead fire are before me. I rub them onto my cheeks, across my forehead. I straighten my back beside him, facing as he does. I do not touch him. I simply stare, wishing to see what he sees in the sunrise. I doubt that I ever will.

Eliphaz offers water again, yet it seems as though Job sees him not. But then I see his gaze drop down, as he considers it, and finally Job accepts the drink. Job then makes water himself, soaking the soil beneath his knees without any shame, and we are all quick to look away. Such disgrace! Yet we will not speak of it. We will not speak until he does.

Neither our bread nor our stomachs will last much longer, and so we try to take a meal together with Job. But all we achieve is the wasting of morsels, as he thrusts away the cake we break for him. Later, he starts writhing in the dirt again, yet this time with some purpose; he moves ever away from us, and we are forced, on our knees, to chase after him. Eliphaz spies in the midst of this an adder, shuffling along the sands towards Job, and he springs up to rush at it with a rock. Before it can coil and spring, the rock is hurled, and though it misses, the adder has heard our warning and sets off on another course. In my mind, though, I wonder whether that snake had simply seen in our stricken friend a compatriot, and had chosen to come alongside him as we had, in silence and mimicry.

I was later to learn that Job would have welcomed the poison from those fangs, and so I count Eliphaz a hero. I wondered, though, further, whether to the Most Righteous God on High, we men might all appear as little more than writhing serpents. As such, might our mere appearance give Him cause to take up a stone against us? Has the King of Heaven thrown his boulder at Job, the snake I see writhing through the grass before me?

But such thoughts are an outrage, and I cannot believe that they would enter my head. The God of Righteousness would do no such thing, not to a righteous man. For He is not only the judge of all that is, he is also its Creator, and its Lover. For if He does not love what He has created, how could any of it exist for another day? He is the God who knows even the heart of the serpent.

Author's Notes:

This section corresponds to the very end of Job Chapter 2, expanding greatly on what is hinted at in just a few sentences. I do not claim to be any sort of biblical expert, nor do I assert that the details I have added in this telling are even plausibly historical. But this book of the Bible hits me hard, as a very human story, pregnant with intense drama. What the Bible records is predominantly the content of dialogue, omitting most of the "stage direction" that would convey details to the movie-watching generation. For me, the writing process is like that of a court stenographer, madly trying to capture what is happening as I watch it, as this book plays out like a movie in my mind.

Of particular interest to me is in understanding each of the major characters as real human beings, to discover their motives and thought processes, and understand how it is that three devoted friends, willing to spend a week in silent mourning, could become devoted adversaries. By presenting Job, as well, in a relatable way, I want to get past this unimpeachable preconception that we all have, of a Job who really is morally perfect... because I don't think that he was. I think the book has something to say to us all, however flawed or blameless, about repentance. If we can't see ourselves standing in Job's shoes, then we will miss it.

Beginning in the next section, I'll start weaving the dramatic elements in amongst the recorded dialogue. I'll be building off of minor clues I'm finding withing the text, but of course this is a giant extrapolation.

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