The Secret Book of Job
GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:
You're listening to SNAP.
I knew I wasn't supposed to play favorites. You have to understand, I was good to all my children. They were my joy. The boys - so strong, stronger than their father. They clank their little wooden swords. Papa, watch. Papa, look. Papa. The people at the Temple would say, 10 sons, surely he's blessed by God. And I loved them all.
But then my wife gave me the baby girl. I named her Lila (ph) after her grandmother. And like men from generations past, I was smitten. Her feet, they never touch the ground, never. I'd even make the aunties wrap her in cloth so I could take her with me on my rounds. They'd laugh, and they'd shout, you can't give milk. Who do you think you are? Well, they were right about that. So I'd have to give her back to the nursemaid to be fed until she reached her fat arms out for me, and we were off again to the water's edge, to the bazaar, to the temple where I would kneel and thank God. I thanked him for the fields, thanked him for these sons, for the prettiest wife the world has ever known, and I thanked him for my Lila (ph), my light, my breath.
And that night, just as every other night, I heard him. You are a good man. You have kept my commands. You give to the poor. You have built me my temple. This voice spoke not in a dream, not in the wind, no. I heard him the same way you hear your brother, the same way you hear the neighbors gossip or the widows' prayers. I heard God. I spoke to him, and this God spoke back to me. I am well pleased, he said. I'm your humble servant, I answered, because I was his humble servant. I listened, and he told me about the setting of the foundation of the world, the breath of the wind, the mighty leviathan roaming his sea.
The people called me learned amongst men, but God's knowledge was not mine alone. I spoke in the temple everything the Lord told me. Men sought my advice before purchasing lands. Women asked who would be a good match for their sons. My wife, she held her head high in the marketplace, servants trailing behind her. Look up on Job, the people proclaimed. He is blessed of God.
One night, I rocked my Lila to sleep, and I placed her upon two dozen cushions. And then I knelt to pray. I begin with thanks. I spoke of the appreciation, as I have done every single day since I was 15 years old, and I waited for the Lord. I waited. I waited. I spent the night waiting, praying on my knees, and I did not hear him.
(SOUNDBITE OF ROOSTER CROWING)
WASHINGTON: Only when the cock crowed did I understand morning had come. Still, the Lord had not spoken - a single silent night. Well, what right did I, a mere mortal, have to expect the God of the universe to keep my schedule? The Lord does as the Lord will.
Then I heard the running footsteps, a sharp knock on my door. A moment, just a moment. Do not wake the baby girl. I opened to see my good and faithful servant Abel trembling. Master, he said, we are lost. He told me of the fires that swept away my farms, destroying not only the crops in the field, but the granaries as well. I lifted the man to his feet. Yes, I told him. This is terrible, but think upon the others and their losses. They had so much less. Praise God for his mercy.
No, master, only your fields were touched. Of course this made no sense. My holdings were vast, yes, but interspersed with the crops of countless others. Show me. I left the baby with her nursemaid, and we made for the farms. And there I saw it, field after field laying bare. Where my field still reeked of charred ash, my neighbor's field adjoining it remained untouched - white, green, mocking, not a stalk of wheat singe. Symmetrical squares of destruction - a surgeon's scalpel had cut my labor from the earth. No arsonist could have been so deft.
I fell at once to my knees. I pulled my servant to the ground as well, and there we prayed. Lord, God, if I have offended you, please reveal my transgression, and I will resolve to see it repaired. This, I swear. And I waited. We waited together, bits of ash from the newly wasted fields raining down upon us like a fine, black dust. And there came no answer.
As we returned, the people whispered at my passing. At home, my wife demanded to see me alone. Only when everyone had left, she hissed what sin have you done? I'm blameless, woman. The Lord does as the Lord wills. I bent again in prayer that night. I thanked him for his goodness. I thanked him for his mercy. I begged that he end his silence.
(SOUNDBITE OF ROOSTER CROWING)
WASHINGTON: But again, the cock crowed welcoming the sun after the silent night, then footsteps, knocking. Master, master, we are lost. All of the cattle, the oxen, the sheep, the goats have sickened and died in the night. I fell to my knees and wretched. Master? No, I did not need Ra'id (ph) to confirm his report. I tore the gown from my back and demanded he bring me sackcloth and ashes, the raiment of mourning. I covered my face in the ash of my own fields and wrapped myself in a sack intended for dung from the fields.
As I walked to the temple to seek blessing, my wife stopped me. What? Would you bring me more shame? To be seen as such is an abomination. Care for Lila and my sons. On the road to the temple, people averted their gaze from me. Some openly turned their backs, making a big show of their disdain. Let them mock. I knocked upon the temple gate, begged entry. The elder approached, head bowed. He showed me the palm of his hands. No, brother, you cannot come here. I would speak to God. You cannot step into this place. I set the stone for this place.
He shook his head at me the way a reproachful father might tut his willful child. Repent your sin, brother. Your folly finds you out. My sin? How dare you speak to me? Who shares your bed, elder? His face in fury first, then he gathered his ropes and retreated behind the walls, leaving me outside the gate my own hands had built. Just two days before, he would've thrown open the welcome with trumpets and songs, but now, repent. But what is my sin?
I asked the unanswered darkness this question that night. Lord, tell me my wrong. Show me my transgressions. Speak to me once more. Speak to me.
(SOUNDBITE OF ROOSTER CROWING)
WASHINGTON: The cock crowed. No footsteps. No sharp knocks on the door, not at first. Just wailing, wailing heard around my grounds. I covered my ears to purchase a few more seconds before catastrophe. My wife ran into the room, eyes wide with panic. She ripped the blanket from Lila's palette as there lay the baby perfectly still, unmoving, lips blue as the morning sky.
(Shouting) No. My whole being became a long, unending scream. I tried to push my breath into hers. Take me, Lord. Take me instead. I held her tight to will my own warmth to hers. Please. But he would not give her back to me. In the night, with one slash of his scythe, he had taken my baby girl and her 10 brothers as well. Thief - murderer - God.
The servants fled. Childhood friends debated my curse. My wife, her beautiful raven hair turned, suddenly, silver. She wandered the forest as if hoping to find the children under a rock, in a stream, climbing a tree. The next morning, a new plague. My skin became wracked with boils and lesions. I scarcely noticed. I no longer bowed. I sat. This was no prayer; this was a demand. Speak to me. You will speak to me now. No food, no water; I ate only hatred. My wife insisted that I curse you, God. Curse him and die. But curses were for children. I would have revenge. Speak to me. Speak to me. Day and night, speak to me. In my delirium, I thought I heard a serpent laughing.
(SOUNDBITE OF ROOSTER CROWING)
WASHINGTON: I heard the cock crow on the fourth morning, surely to announce some new calamity, but I barely could lift my head in witness. And then finally, I heard the voice - His voice. Look, look, and see. I lifted my head to note a glowing tornado of fire dancing above the city, a tornado of no wind. I am the Lord, your God, the tornado said, the creator of firmaments, the destroyer of mountains. It was a happy voice, a clean voice, a voice after a laugh. Do not presume to know my ways. You are as nothing, but do not fear. I will multiply all that I took from you. You shall have more lands, more cattle and more children, for I am the Lord, your God.
You are no God to me. Then, the tornado went away. Wait, wait - the things the tornado said came to pass. My harvest was bountiful. My flock stretched out like the sea. My wife, she gave me more children, 10 sons. And once again, she held her head high in the marketplace, servants trailing after her. And only I heard her sobs at night.
One day, striding through the forest, I heard a chuckle. I looked down at the grass and saw a serpent. I knew him. You cost me dearly, the serpent laughed. What do you mean, Satan? I bet him I could break you, but you were more hardheaded than I imagined. Why? We like to have our fun, too. I know the serpent is a liar, but I also know that this is the truth. Sport, I was just sport.
And congratulations on the new daughter. I don't have a new daughter. The serpent chuckled anew, not yet. I will not be toyed with, serpent. Yes you will, Job. You are his plaything, unless - unless what? Unless - tell me what you know, serpent. Tell me what you'll give me, Job. For this knowledge, for the knowledge necessary to bring my tormentor low, I would grant him my eternal soul. The laugher, it grew louder around me. You see, I didn't want my enemy to grant me a new daughter. I wanted the daughter I already had. And whoever took her from me, whoever stole my Lila; they're going to pay, even - even if they are God.
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Did you ever ask someone to please go and find an extremely hard-to-discover 17th century manuscript featuring the first cartoon animals, and when they brought it to you, realized that you were just making stuff up to see if it existed? Our apologies to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; that is not right. Much love for the CPB. PRX, the Public Radio Exchange; they're the ones who put us up to it, prx.org. WBEZ in Chicago always has the excuse of being in Chicago. And this is not the news. No way is this the news. In fact, you could fly your hot air balloon to mysterious land, declare yourself president for life, only to have your plans ruined by a cute, little girl, and you would still not be as far away from the news as this is. But this is NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.