A Fiction, based on the Book of Job

by Michael R. Rountree


They have arrayed me now in a new cloak. Perhaps they imagine that the fresh cloth will put upon me a new mind, as if dyes of ochre and olive are some sort of balm, soothing to the broken soul. Men of such little understanding! Yet they are friends to me, and true. I have nothing else, save them, and this fool's cloak.

They intend to entice me again, to love my life as once before! Every item I rend, they repair, and what I cast down they set aright. They would salvage what I would rather burn, or tear apart, or smash. They will not leave me alone - they bring the water to my lips, they bake bread and place it hot into my hands, they stoke the night's fire. Do they not know that it is my portion to waste away, naked and bruised? Do they not know that food is wasted on a life so comdemned? Keep the bread for yourselves! For you alone have lives worth living.

Eliphaz has taken up some of my things, among them my bedroll, and the few garments that have not yet been rent. These all are filthy and stiff with caked mud, spittle, blood, and more; and why should they not be? Such are the only blessings that God Most High has left to me. Why should I not collect and treasure them, as once I treasured other blessings as He bestowed?

But I see that my friend is taking these to the water's edge. He has with him some soap for washing.

I will not restrain him.

How I long to find the Most High and speak my anguish to His face! I search the clouded heaven for any sign of His attention, but I do not have it. Instead, I see the broad wings of a falcon, or an eagle, soaring high above. I know that this bird is seeking out his meal, and if only I were smaller then he might swoop down on me. But no, I am to live for yet another day, because I see the wings fold and the predator plummet. The talons strike out, and he has his meat.

What do they want of me? If I say that I will forget my complaint, and change my expression, and smile, then would I not still live in dread for all my sufferings? For You, I know, will not hold me innocent. Since I am found guilty already, why should I struggle in vain? Even if I washed myself with soap, You would plunge me into a pit of slime.

Bildad has taken on himself many of the duties that my wife would be about, were she here. I think they have sent her away to her father's tent, and for that at least I am wholly grateful. She has been hurt as I have, yet I would wound even more deeply if my words were heard by her. So let her heal in safety, away from the one God has chosen to crush.

And so Bildad has come to me again, with the day's meal, and an encouragement that my life shall be restored.

My life!

I loathe my very life!

Therefore I will give free rein to my complaint, and speak out the bitterness of my soul.

"Job," he says to me, "your clothing will be new, and newly washed, yet your enemies will be clothed in shame. And the tents of the wicked will be no more!" So saying, he hands me the cup and cake, and we sit as the sun strikes an ember orange.

"Indeed, I know that this is true," I agree. "But how can a mortal be righteous before God? How can I dispute with Him? Though I were innocent, I could not answer Him! I could only plead with my Judge for mercy." My words meet with silence; there is only the shuffling of cloaks as we take our bread and wine together, and the wind flapping at my own wicked tent.

Zophar finished eating his bread, however, and spoke at last. "Surely He recognizes deceitful men, and when He sees evil, does He not take note?"

"Even if I were innocent, my mouth would condemn me. If I were blameless, it would pronounce me guilty!" I sipped. "Although I am blameless, I have no concern for myself; I despise my own life. It is all the same! He destroys both the blameless and the wicked! Even if I summoned Him, He would crush me with a storm and multiply my wounds for no reason! He mocks the despair of the innocent!"

Zophar threw down his cup, which though nearly empty still sprayed some drops of blood-red wine onto my new garment. Good, let it be stained! Yet by this I knew that he was angry.

"Are these words to go unanswered? Will no one rebuke you when you mock?" He stood, and walked away, out from under the tent. "You say to God that your beliefs are flawless, and that you are pure in His sight. Oh, how I wish that God would speak against you, and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom! But know this, Job: God has already forgotten some of your sin."

I stood to challenge him, though I knew in my heart that it was not Zophar that I wished to confront with my words. "He is not a man like me that I might answer Him, and confront each other in court. If only there was someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both..." I sat down again, staring into my wine. "Someone to remove God's rod from me, so that His terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of Him, but as it stands now with me, I cannot."

I continued, before Zophar could speak again: "I would ask of God, Tell me what charges you have against me! Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands, while you smile on the schemes of the wicked? Must you search out my faults, and probe after my sin, though you know that I am not guilty?" I was crying again, through the words; this is the new language that I speak, every words inserted between choking gasps.

Your hands shaped me and made me! Will you now turn and destroy me? Remember, Most High, that you molded me like clay - will you turn me to dust again? You gave me life and showed my kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit.

But now I see what was concealed in your heart, and know what was in your mind! If ever I sinned, you would be watching me, like the eagle scanning the field for the smallest mouse, and you would not let my offense go unpunished. Even if I am innocent, I cannot lift my head; if I hold my head high, you stalk me like a lion, and again display your awesome power against me.

"If it is as you say," Zophar consoled, "and He confines you in prison, and convenes a court, who indeed can oppose Him?" And then his tone shifted, as he walked back under the tent, kneeling down before me to take my hands in his own. "Yet, if you devote your heart to Him, and stretch out your hands to Him, if you put away the sin that is in your hands and allow no evil to dwell in your tent..."

And such were my thoughts at that moment: You bring new witnesses against me, and increase your anger toward me! Your forces come upon me wave upon wave!

Zophar continued, knowing not what was in my mind. "Then you will lift up your face without shame, and surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by. Life will become brighter than noonday, and darkness will be like morning!"

If only I had never come into being, or been carried straight from the womb to the grave! Are not my few days almost over? Turn away from me so I can have a moment's joy before I go to the place of no return, to the land of deepest night, where even light is darkness.

Author's Notes:

As I scanned the next few chapters, I saw much of what seemed to be more of Job's private thoughts, rather than active dialogue. So I thought it best to give voice at last to Job himself. This scene takes place purposefully around the evening meal, of wine and bread, to invoke communion even as Job longs for an arbitrator, and Zophar comments on forgotten sin.

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