Mourning the destruction
Mourning the destructionHezki Ezra

Was Job provoked to make him sin?

Part 1 – A localised apocalypse

Job, brought down brutally, had been the Noah of his time. He was a righteous man among sinners. Job was in Babel when the people took on God and built their tower. He gave the daredevil project a wide berth. The reward was great. He escaped life’s ups and downs as even Abraham had not. Job’s contemporaries saw that God would never test a man who remained pious even while he enjoyed everything a blessed life had to offer.

How wrong they were. Job’s career had reached its pinnacle when writs against him were moved in the heavenly court. The magnate envied from Babylon to Ramses was indicted for being too successful. He’s accused of taking Divine beneficence for granted. He’s derided for fair-weather piety. He won’t be able to cope, alleged the prosecutors, with a reversal of fame and fortune.

The God of justice and mercy suspended judgment. Let Job be tested. Carte blanche is given to the prosecuting team of angels to make life hell for Job. They reckon he can be brought to book. They will turn his life upside down.

They will do their best to torment him to the point of no return – the point of cursing God Almighty.

In quick time a localized apocalypse envelops the family. Deprivation, death and disease are its lot. The mystique of a charmed life peels off like the skin of a fruit. All can see it’s not a run of bad luck. There’s nothing normal about the sequence of hits by which a magnate becomes a pauper. Covered in odious sores from the neck down, he squats in the sackcloth and cold ash of a mourner. He’s learnt the hardest lesson life can teach – that it makes no sense.

What happens in the city of Uz to the first family is not your common misery that catches up with everyone, high and low. For a time Job is up to the test. The cajoling of a demented wife fails to make him curse God. She sits, in the correct manner of a mourner, on a low stool, cursing her husband for not cursing.

‘No madam,’ he croaks through broken sobs, ‘don’t ask me to. Trust the Lord. We are brought low for some reason. God’s punishment has to be commensurate with the sin. We merited His great blessings and we deserve his great curses. An eye for an eye, measure for measure – the world is governed by Divine justice.’

From a household of more servants than they recognised, the couple now fare for themselves. Their plight is bitter as bile.

How the pauperising began: marauders from Sheba and Kasdim took all the livestock and put the supervisors to the sword. Even so, the raiders were human – unlike the bolt of lightning that followed. It killed every animal the bandits had left behind. What precautions can one take against a bolt from the blue?

Criminality and freak of nature wiped out all his movable assets. He tries to look on the bright side. ‘What God has given, he thinks, God can take away. If He made me a magnate, He can make me a beggar.’ He daren’t say that to a wife rocking, sobbing and hugging her bird-like shoulders in misery. She’s reflecting how it used to be, the proud solid figure of a man at whom passers-by would duck their heads and step aside to let him pass. Now he squats, bent and bowed. She feels insulted.

Yet the family’s intact – worth more than all the assets in Canaan. Their ten sons and ten daughters will take the hit badly. A note’s been despatched. Tomorrow the siblings will know the worst. It takes a day for Jezebel the retired mule which is half blind and whose legs buckle at the prospect of hill or dale, to deliver the news. The family’s estates will have to be auctioned to cover debts. The siblings’ weekly feasting and entertainments will be a fond memory.

Something is wrong when you send out a lame mule and a sweating steed thunders up to your door. A rider brings the news: a sirocco wind out of nowhere collapsed the mansion where the sons and daughters were celebrating. All twenty had died under the rubble.

Job’s fortitude is terrible. Bereft of his progeny he won’t blaspheme. The prosecutors won’t let off. They plead before the heavenly throne, ‘Test further. See if pious Job won’t curse the Creator.’

In good times Job would ask friends, ‘Why are things the way they are? Why perfect?’ To be cautious he would sanctify the children daily. He rose before dawn to offer burnt offerings, in case one of them, in word or deed, had despised God. All twenty, it seems, had done so, and too badly for burnt meat to make amends. All were gone, swept by a wind into the next world.

The pleading of his persecutors had worked: Job’s hideous and humiliating ailment is the ultimate test. The down-and-out mourner is smitten by sores that would have tested the faith of Abraham. Wet and dry, they cover him from neck to heels. The itch makes him want to tear off his skin. He begs God to put him out of his misery.

The cracked voice and the spectacle of pain and shame, boils the wife into a new frenzy of abuse. ‘Look at you,’ she says, the words hard and unforgiving. ‘What will the visitors think? They will get the fright of their life.’

‘Visitors!’ He stares with a dazed horror.

‘People do come to console mourners. And I sent word to your close friends.

‘What are condolences to us? ’

‘It’s not sympathy I want but insight. What’s been the cause of this unbearable nightmare? Your three wise men will surely get to the bottom of it.’

At first light the next day three travel-weary men arrive to comfort – or so they believed – a solemn couple sunk in dumb disbelief. Instead they are tossed into bedlam. On a former visit hearty Job had stood warming his back at a bright fire. He liked receiving guests in his silk robe over a snow white undergarment fastened at the waist by a brocaded belt with a gold buckle stamped, ‘The House of Job.’

‘By all that’s holy!’ Entering the doorway they are pitched into Gehenna. ‘A man must have done – what!’ cries one. ‘Has God ever chastised so cruelly!’

Job presents a pitiful sight as he frets and moans and cries on the ground, ‘May the day of my birth be dark. Why did I not die from the womb?’ The morbid suffering baffles and outrages a friend more vocal than the others.

‘Job,’ he pleads, ‘for pity sake. Confess! God forgives. God is waiting.’

A second, Bildad the Moabite, turns on the first. ‘Confess what? In his place we’d be in denial.’ The third, who saw a table arrayed with refreshments, murmurs between bites of oatcake, ‘Confession can end a sorrow? I heard it can cleanse a soul…’

There is something infinitely mean about confronting the tragedies of others. Wise they may be, but the visitors are not quite saintly. There is Eliphaz, a grandson of wild Esau; Zofar who hails from Naam, a city where a victim gets worse treatment than the perpetrator; not least, there is Bildad whose people, by God’s express command, Israelites are forbidden to marry. That’s not to say Job ever claimed Israelite descent. The wife though is rumoured to be distantly related to Jacob; that would make the dead children Israelites.

But they believe in a King of Kings. They’ll swear an oath that He administers perfect justice. They’ve no doubt, Job’s family has guilt on its soul. Why spare the mourners’ feelings; it would spoil, they tell them bluntly, their chance for repentance.,

The wife dabs her mouth on a sleeve. Behind it she curses them, ‘You’re a big comfort.’ But what’s she done? Drum obstinacy into Job’s skull and cruelty into hers. She thinks, ‘Life in his condition! Of what use is he?’ It is true: Job has got nothing left to give her. She turns on him. ‘Renounce your faith, sir. Blaspheme and die quickly. It will be better than a prolonged life of penury and distress.’

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would not have withstood such a wife. The words only make Job more pious. ‘The Lord gave and the Lord has taken back. The children and the property were given to me. The Giver has every right to take them back. I was born naked and I will return to the earth naked.’ The divine test given him could be the most severe since Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his one and only Isaac.

But then he casts around for a scapegoat. He blames what God cannot forgive: the constellations. He moans that he was born under a certain unlucky star. This calamity was preordained.

The guests are shocked. It would be better had he blamed God. By giving the stars power over events he as good as renounces Almighty God. For the wife it was a victory, of sorts. By cursing his luck Job sinned and perhaps has spared himself prolonged misery. After all, God terminates the life of a sinner quickly – a merciful end.

‘Job,’ says Bildad, speaking down to the shaven head where Job lay suffering on the powdered ash ‘Listen to me. You insist that you’ve been righteous. Why would the Lord have punished you so severely? Don’t give us your ‘unlucky star’ nonsense.’

Steve Apfel is an economist and costing specialist, but most of all a prolific author of fiction and non-fiction. His blog, ‘Balaam’s curse’ is followed mainly in Europe, America, Canada, S. Africa, Israel, Scandinavia and Australasia.