A Fiction, based on the Book of Job

by Michael R. Rountree


Oh, what ruin there was! What little remained of even his clothes, for in his misery they had all been torn. I have bought him grain, and I would now see him restored to decent robes, at least. For a man is to be respected, not pitied.

So I found him the next morning, and begged him to come again into town. I intended to set a fine garment on his shoulders; it would be a beginning. Yet I found him in no better mood than I have yet seen him.

"I have been alloted months of futility, and nights of misery have been allotted to me," Job replied. Yet he did not resist my leading, and wrapped himself to come with me. "When I lie down I think, 'How long before I awake?'," he said. His bedroll was tossed about, and all he did about it was to kick it away. "The night drags on, and I toss until dawn."

I knew the nettles into which his bankets had fallen would be of no benefit to his disturbed sleep, and so I went to retrieve them. As I began rolling them tight, he continued.

"When I think my bed will comfort me, even then I am frightened with dreams!" Job complained now to his maker; he cared not that his words were heard by my ears. "You terrify me with visions! I would prefer strangling and death, rather than this body of mine! I despise my life; I would not live forever. Let me alone; my days have no meaning."

I hated hearing him speak like this.

"How long will you say such things?" I spoke freely, though as I now think about it I may have been blunt. I do not wish him greater pain, yet in such words it seems as if he inflicts it upon himself. "Your words are a blustering wind! Does God pervert justice? When your children sinned against Him, he gave them over to the penalty for their sin."

He looked hard at me, and I knew I had said too much. He walked past me, finding the path towards the town, and I set the bedroll down to chase after him. But I kept a stride behind.

On the way, he finally spoke, but without turning to face me. "A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends, even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty." So he knew what it was that I found so shocking, I thought. He stopped in the trail, and pointed to his left, at the slopes of the great mounds beyond. "But my brothers are like intermittent streams, as streams that overflow when swollen with melting snow and ice, but that cease to flow in the dry season. In the heat, they vanish from their channels."

He turned off of the path, following one barren wadi up towards the rise. "Caravans turn aside from their routes, they go up into the wasteland and perish! They are distressed, because they had been confident; they arrive there, only to be disappointed."

I waited for him, and he came back. I did not know what to say. We walked on into town, coming at last to the weaver's stalls.

I was looking through the finery, trying to find something of good taste but low price, and haggled when I found it. When I turned to drape the cloth over Job's shoulders, I saw that he was not at my side, but rather stood a little beyond, mesmerized.

He was watching the grey-topped lady working the wool, threads being pulled left and then right and left again. Had he never watched such labor before? Perhaps not, for Job was a prince among us, and I would see that he be one once more. I tried to hold out the fabric I had purchased for him, to catch his eye, but he cared nothing for it.

"Does not a man have hard service on the earth? Are not his days like those of a hired man?," he said. "My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and they come to an end without hope." At this, he fell down to his knees, clutching his weeping face in his shaking hands.

"Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath! My eyes will never see happiness again. The eye that now sees me will see me no longer - you will look for me, but I will be no more." He wept aloud, unable to speak for the moment. I went to place a hand upon his shoulder, and to kneel beside him. "Therefore I will not keep silent," he finally continued, "I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, and complain in the bitterness of my soul! What is man, that you make so much of him, that you examine him every morning and test him every moment? Will you never look away from me, or let me alone for an instant?"

His voice grew in defiance, and the weaver stopped her work. "If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of men! Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my offenses and forgive my sins?" Job bowed his head low again, saying "For I will soon lie down in the dust. You will search for me, but I will be no more."

I waited, and since there were no more words from him, I offered my own. "Job, if you will look to God, and plead with the Almighty, if you are pure and upright..." He looked to me quizzically, and I tried to reassure him with my smile. "Even now He will rouse Himself on your behalf, and restore you to your rightful place!" I held out the fine fabric to him. "Your beginnings will seem humble, so prosperous will your future be."

I placed a hand under his arm, and helped him once more to his feet. We walked together back to the tailor, who draped my purchase over him and began setting the stitches where they were needed to seam it into a garment. Job let me speak without interuption; it seemed as if he was yet unwilling to be so arrayed.

"Ask the former generations and find out what their fathers learned," I began. "For we were born only yesterday and know nothing. Will they not bring forth words from their understanding?" Job had, himself, used such a call to command our own attention, when he stood as teacher over us, and I saw that it even made him smile a little, to hear me now take on that role. He closed his eyes in assent, and I continued.

"Can papyrus grow where there is no marsh? Can reeds thrive without water? While still growing and uncut, they wither more quickly than grass. Such is the destiny of all who forget God; so perishes the hope of the godless. What he trust in is fragile - he relies on a spider's web. He leans on it but it gives way; he clings to it but it does not hold."

"He is like a well-watered plant in the sunshine, spreading shoots over the garden, looking for a place among the stones. But when it is torn from its spot, that place disowns it and says 'I never knew you!' Surely his life withers away, and from the same soil, other plants grow." I saw that Job nodded at this.

The tailor finished, and Job was finally at ease to let his arms down. I clapped hands onto his newly robed shoulders, and spoke hope to him. "He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouts of joy! Your enemies will be clothed with shame, and the tents of the wicked will be no more."

"Surely God does not reject a blameless man!"

Author's Notes:

Bildad's demeanor comes across to me as more hopeful and forward-looking, and so I chose to make this encounter a more private one between the two of them. He wants Job to hope again, and thinks that by an outward display of propriety Job's heart can be led right again. Yet, infuriatingly, Job still insists on making a scene of himself in town, and calling into question how the Almighty has treated him. Job makes it hard for Bildad to love him, yet he does. How does one offer a gift of hope to someone unwilling to receive it?

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