After the last poem, I told myself that I needed to take a little break from writing, as it had become all-consuming. This is the eighth poem written in the past four weeks and other things in my life are not getting taken care of . . . like sleep, getting my taxes ready to be filed — that sort of thing.
My wife said that I was tapping my fingers on her back one night, like I was running a line through my head. Not cool.
Last week, my password at work expired and I replaced it . . . with Job's name stuck somewhere in the middle of it.
But, I couldn't help myself. Looking at the first verse led to the second verse and once I got started, I couldn't stop myself.
Since Job 10 contained 22 verses, I had planned for this poem to be eleven stanzas long. But, when I came across the verse using "wave after wave" and two verses later was "the grave", I couldn't pass that combination up.
I skimped on the verse in between those two in order to get the rhyme, which essentially messed up my timing for the rest of the poem. I could have forced some phrasing in order to get the final verse in there (Job 10:22) but it wouldn't have been pretty. Or, as effective.
Job's Plea to God
Created for This?
based on Job 10
I am weary of life. I'll complain of this strife;
let my soul, so embittered, cry out.
And to God, let me say, Don't condemn me this way,
let me know what my charge is about.
Are you pleased to oppress the one thing you could bless,
by rejecting the work of your hands?
While I struggle with trial, you just sit back and smile
at the wicked with all of their plans?
Are your eyes made of flesh? Do they see something less
than man's anguish and pain from within?
Are your days like my peers with our limited years —
that you eagerly search for my sin;
for although I am free of the guilt ascribed me
there is no one to save me from you.
From my toes to my heart, you have fashioned each part —
now those same hands will tear me in two?
Please remember that day when you formed me from clay;
you'll return me to dust now so soon?
Did you not pour me out like some milk from a spout,
make me curdle like cheese in the womb?
Then you covered me in my remarkable skin,
knit together my sinew with bone.
Gave me life and your love, kept me safe from above —
and my spirit from dangers unknown.
All these things you've concealed now have all been revealed;
and your secretive thoughts have been spilt:
you would note day and time if I sinned — like a crime,
yet you would not forgive me my guilt.
Whether guilty or right — its the same in your sight;
I'm ashamed and I'm filled with self-hate.
If I showed just one ounce of my pride, you would pounce
like a lion — your powers are great.
With new witnesses now you're more angry somehow,
sending hardships in wave after wave.
Why, then, even exist if I'm born to all this?
Why not send me from womb to the grave?
Since my days are so few I'd like one without you,
for one moment of joy — just a breath,
ere my trials adjourn and I never return
from the land of the shadow of death.
Remember that you made me from dust—will you turn me back to dust so soon?
Since I was able to write my last poem, Job.VI, in just two days, I was encouraged to take on this one. I was met with difficulty almost from the start.
I spent an entire day on the second verse, rereading it and thinking about it periodically throughout the day. After it is written, of course, I wonder why the second half of that verse gave me such fits. Essentially, for this poem at least, two Bible verses make up a 4-line verse of mine. Since Job 9 has 35 verses in it, mine contains 17 verses; and finding a suitable word to rhyme between the two halves of my 4-line stanza is sometimes problematic.
I spent most of another day thinking about these two verses and trying to bring them together in some cohesive fashion:
If He snatches away, who can hinder Him?
Who can say to Him, ‘What are You doing?’
God does not restrain His anger;
the helpers of Rahab cower beneath Him.
Some translations say proud helpers of Rahab while others say monsters of the sea and whales instead. Some scholars think that Rahab refers to Egypt, and others talk about a race of giants. There is no consensus, and here I am attempting to put a modern spin on some unknown, archaic phrase upon which nobody can can agree.
So, I wrestled with this one. All. Day. Long.
Once those two verses were completed, the rest was relatively easy. Some verses came as fast as I could type. Those are the fun ones.
There was no secondary title until after the poem was finished. I had to go back to reread the chapter a few times and I kept seeing words like mediator, arbitrator, judge, arbiter, and umpire in the various translations.
Job's Third Speech: A Response to Bildad
based on Job 9
You have said nothing new, for I know this is true.
Are my morals so different than God's?
If I filed a tort, could I answer in court
when a thousand-to-one are my odds?
For his wisdom is sound and his strength is profound;
who survives when they challenge his ways?
He moves mountaintops ere they are even aware;
in his anger, the mountains are razed.
God can make the earth quake, cause her pillars to shake,
let the whole world get knocked out of place.
If he asked of the sun, Do not rise — it is done;
to the stars, Do not twinkle in space.
For he's stretched out the sky in the heavens on high,
and he walks on the waves of the seas.
The Orion, the Bear, and the Pleiades there —
he has hung constellations like these.
We cannot understand the great works of his hand,
and his wonders, unnumbered, abound.
I would not bat an eye If he chose to pass by
for he travels unseen, without sound.
If he snatched what is his, would we ask why it is
that we try to sway God with our grief?
He will not put aside his great wrath at the pride
of the helpers of Rahab beneath.
Are there words that make sense if I mount my defense;
for what reason would he even budge?
And although I was right, no, I still wouldn't fight;
only mercy I'd plead from my Judge.
If I summoned him here and he chose to appear,
he'd most likely not let me expound.
I feel crushed and abused, from his tempest I'm bruised,
and he doubles my wounds without ground.
For I'm running to death, barely catching my breath,
overwhelmed and embittered, indeed.
In a test of sheer force, he would win it, of course.
Also justice, so how should I plead?
Though I'm guiltless of blame, still my mouth proves my shame;
though I'm innocent, words become lies.
I am blameless, I swear! Yet, I no longer care,
for I'm living a life I despise.
We're the same in God's sight, whether wrong or we're right
he will grind us all up in his gears.
When disasters arise and the innocent dies
he will mock their despair and their tears.
Now, the wicked's in charge of the world at large
and her judges are blind as can be;
it would be very odd if this wasn't of God,
for who else would forbid them to see?
And my days disappear like a runner in fear,
without happiness — day after day.
Very swiftly life floats like papyrus-made boats,
as an eagle swoops down on its prey.
If I say, l'll forget my complaint, and I set
on my face a big smile or a grin,
I'd still dread all the pain and the weight of its chain
knowing you'll not acquit me my sin.
I'm already condemned? So, there's nothing to mend,
even lye and strong soap can't repair;
you will plunge me, in time, in a deep pit of slime
to be loathed by the clothes that I wear.
No mere mortal is he that he'd answer to me,
where we'd meet one another in court.
Is there not one we trust, who is honest and just,
to be judge, as the final resort?
Who'll remove, then, the rod from the hard hand of God,
with the terror and panic he'll plant.
Then I'd speak without fear for the umpire to hear;
but as things stand right now — I just can't.
There is no arbiter between us
A couple of days ago, I published my poem concerning Job crying out to God and the blog post was not really a blog post — it was just the poem, itself. I received a lot less satisfaction out of that decision than I thought I would. I should be able to come up with at least one anecdote concerning my poems. Else, I should cease the blogs.
It would be interesting for me to know how many readers (or, if anyone) noticed the different styles used for each particular speaker. With today's poem, there have been three characters introduced thus far in the book of Job. And I gave each of them a different voice, or rhyming scheme.
Job sounds like this:
ta ta TUM ta ta birth ta ta TUM ta ta earth
ta ta TUM ta ta TUM ta ta born
ta ta TUM ta ta grieved ta ta TUM ta ta -ceived
ta ta TUM ta ta TUM ta ta scorn
ta TUM ta ta TUM ta distressing
ta TUM ta ta TUM ta ta speak
ta TUM ta ta TUM ta blessing
ta TUM ta ta TUM ta ta weak
And, today Bildad comes to life:
ta TUM ta ta TUM ta ta TUM ta ta blow
ta TUM ta ta TUM ta ta TUM ta ta fro
This wasn't a decision that was made until the second time I wrote from Job's point-of-view. The first of this series was Job. Great. The next two chapters were Eliphaz, and the second style just sort of happened. Great. The next chapter was Job again, and when I first looked at it, I wondered how I was going to proceed. At that point, I first considered each character having their own style.
Before that? It was a free-for-all. Whatever happened — happened. From the initial concept of writing a hodgepodge of various verses per chapter in whatever writing style I wanted has gone out the window!
I think that there are three more characters coming and I hope I can carry this idea to fruition with three more styles. I don't want to get to the point of resorting to some kind of Jabberwocky just to prove a point. So, pigeonholing myself this early in the game might lead to some less-than-desirable consequences as I continue on.
Bildad's First Response to Job
It ain't God . . . it's YOU
based on Job 8
How long will you bluster? How long will you blow?
Like wind, without sense, blasting words to and fro.
Does God bend his justice — however so slight?
Does God the Almighty pervert what is right?
Your children had sinned and God's judgement was served;
receiving God's justice they rightly deserved.
If you would ask God, even now, for his grace;
if your life is pure and you'd fall on your face:
he'd surely rise up on behalf of your fate,
restoring your life to your prosperous state.
Although your beginnings were humble, at best,
you'll find that your future will greatly be blessed.
Inquire of the past what your ancestors learned,
and heed any wisdom your parents discerned.
How smart can we be since just yesterday's birth?
A shadow that fades marks our time on the earth.
Will they not instruct you, their knowledge impart?
And teach you the wisdom and words from their heart?
Papyrus can't flourish without marsh or mire,
and water withheld from the reeds would be dire.
Uncut and in flower they will be the first
to wither more quickly than grass from their thirst.
For such are the ones without God in their lives:
the hope of the godless man never survives.
His confidence, fragile, just hangs by a thread;
he places his trust in a spidery web.
He leans on his web but it cannot withstand;
he tries to hold that which dissolves in his hand.
He's like the lush plant in the sun sprouting roots;
the garden is full of his branches and shoots.
His roots intertwining the stone heap to lock,
and finds there a home in the bed of the rock.
When torn and uprooted, the spot where he grew
disowns him by saying, I never saw you.
Such joy at the end of his life: he's erased,
while others take root and spring up in his place.
Behold, God rejects not the one who is pure,
nor will he let works of the evil endure.
For he will once more give your laughter a voice,
a shout from your lips and a cause to rejoice.
For shame are the clothing your enemies wear,
destroyed are their tents which are no longer there.
But if you will seek God earnestly and plead with the Almighty,
if you are pure and upright, even now he will rouse himself on your behalf
and restore you to your prosperous state.
Job Cries Out to God
Life is Hard
based on Job 7
Life is hard here on earth and we're working since birth;
do we not live our lives as a slave?
Like one longing for shade or who hopes to be paid;
what is life — but a foot in the grave.
Wasted days, I expend; sleepless nights without end
and my anguish and sorrow go on.
In my bed every night I just wait for the light
as I toss and I turn until dawn.
Maggots cover my flesh and it oozes afresh,
when the scabs and the hard dirt collide.
And my days swiftly zoom like the hand on the loom;
any hope in my future denied.
May I never forget that my life is a breath;
without joy — only pain at my door.
You may notice me here, but I'll soon disappear;
you will seek me but I'll be no more.
As the cloud floating by disappears in the sky,
so the grave won't return those it claims.
For you cannot go home once you're covered with loam,
since your place won't remember your name.
So I will not be hushed, nor my spirit be crushed,
but, I'll bitterly wail from my soul!
I'm the sea churning waves? Or the whale that behaves
like I need to be under control?
And whenever I've said that I long for my bed
to find sleep as a comfort to me;
you come shatter my dreams with such horrible scenes,
and the visions I cannot unsee.
If my fate could be planned, I'd be choked by some hand
for I'd gladly trade this life for death.
How I crave the demise of this life I despise.
Let me be, for my days are a breath.
What are we — why the fuss? Why obsess over us?
Why direct your attention towards man?
Every morning we wake — the first step that we take,
you are there just to test us again.
Can't you leave me alone? I can't spit on my own,
without you or your shadow right there.
If I've sinned, tell me how. Am I targeted now?
Am I known as your burden to bear?
Now, I've not long to live, will you never forgive
my transgressions and sins you abhor?
Very soon I will lay in the grave to decay;
you will seek me but I'll be no more.
Why is life so hard? Why do we suffer?
We are slaves in search of shade; we are laborers longing for our wages.
This is my fourth poem from the Book of Job, covering the sixth chapter. I went back this past week and did a little housekeeping, breaking up last week's long poem into two different poems since they covered two chapters in Job (Job 4-5). And, going forward, I'll write these poems "per chapter".
There isn't much to say concerning this poem. The Lord blessed me again with words and phrasings and I've really enjoyed this period of creativity. If you've read these last few poems without looking at the corresponding passages in Job, you might think I'm off my rocker. But, I think they really do follow the message and the conversations found in Job.
I have no idea if this can be sustained for the entirety of Job. I haven't read ahead to see where the story is going — I'm only aware of vague generalities. I don't even read the chapter that I'm currently writing about, although I probably should! I just start with a clean slate, read a few verses in order to figure out the rhyming scheme, and then keep a few verses in view from parallel sources. I've relied heavily on Bible Hub.
So, in the future, at least for this series, the blog may just be the poem itself — unless there is some interesting anecdote related to the process. And that's what the blogs were for anyway — to describe the process behind the poem. And, in this case, the process has been the same throughout these four poems:
Pray. Meditate. Write. Repeat.
Job's Second Speech: A Response to Eliphaz
With Friends Like These
based on Job 6
If my grief could be laid on the scales to be weighed,
with my troubles — how great would they be?
Its no wonder my words have been rash and absurd —
they'd outweigh all the sand in the sea.
For the arrows that fly from Almighty, Shaddai —
they have pierced me — I'm barely alive;
and the further they sink, the more poison I drink —
oh, my spirit will never survive.
Is the bray of the ass not complaint over grass?
Does the ox without food low to beg?
Would it not be our fault to eat food without salt?
Is there taste in the white of an egg?
But I just cannot eat for its all rotten meat.
And I only ask God one request:
for, in place of my bread, that he'd crush me instead,
then I'd truly at last be at rest.
But there's comfort to gain, for despite all my pain
I have never denied God's commands.
Little strength I have left, of my hope I'm bereft,
as the sands of time pass through my hands.
Is my strength like the stones? Have I rocks for my bones?
Am I covered in bronze as my flesh?
I'm unable to cope, at the end of my rope;
I'm without any hope of success.
But a man who despairs should have one friend who cares,
even if he no longer fears God.
Yet my brothers, it seems, are like seasonal streams,
that are empty but used to be broad
with thick ice in the flow and the melting of snow,
how the banks of the river would fail;
but it all disappears when the dry season nears,
now the river is dry as a trail.
For the Caravans died in their turning aside,
in the sands of the desert they drowned.
And from Tema, they came; and from Sheba, the same:
but the river could never be found.
Disappointed and drained when their confidence waned,
they arrived, but found nothing instead.
Now you've proven to be like those rivers to me,
for my terror has filled you with dread.
Have I asked for myself any thing from your wealth,
or be saved from the hand of my foe?
If you'd teach me, I'd learn; only help me discern
where I've erred, so I finally will know.
There is pain in the truth; what does arguing prove?
What is learned by your statements like these?
Do you mean to correct every word I inflect,
disregard my despair like the breeze?
You would even cast lots for the fatherless tots,
and would sell your own friend in disgrace.
Just one look in my eyes you would then realize
that I never would lie to your face.
Reconsider, good men, reassess me again,
vindication may yet come to light.
Are my lips that unjust? Has my tongue lost your trust?
Do you think I don't know wrong from right?
You would even cast lots for the fatherless and barter away your friend.
Last week (on Wednesday) I posted Job I - Job's First Speech and was pretty excited to do so as I thought it turned out pretty OK. Later that evening, I flew to Florida in order to visit some family. Interestingly, this was the first time in nearly forty years that my parents, my sisters and I were in the SAME state at the same time.
Anyway, last Thursday and Friday was taken up with visiting and no writing took place. Friday night, I couldn't stand it any longer (not writing) and looked at the first few verses of Job 4 to get a feel for things. Like, what sort of rhyming scheme would be the best fit. I wrote down a couple of lines and set the alarm for 5a.
Saturday was a travel day, so I got up at 5a and was able to write 3 solid verses before I left my sister's place. I had a 3-hour drive to see my Dad in southern Florida and was ahead of schedule, so I pulled into a Rest Area on I-95 for an hour and wrote another 3 verses.
Between Sunday and Wednesday, the rest of the verses were written. Some fast and some slow. I'm currently going thru a period of really enjoying the writing process and am wishing I was retired already so that I could write all day long! As it is, I'm writing early and late and anytime I can find in between and its a little overwhelming.
Part of me wants to jump out of Job and move on, but another part wants to keep going to see what happens next. I have no schedule to keep as I am reading thru the Bible, so if I spend the next year stuck in Job — that's alright with me.
When I started thinking about these "Job" poems, I wasn't planning on re-writing every verse into poetry. I anticipated that it would be some highlighted verses in the chapters; the more familiar ones or the ones that really grabbed me. After all, I didn't do that for the first one, Job I - Job's First Speech. There were a few verses that I didn't pick up.
In this one, I realized that I couldn't decide what NOT to use. So, going forward — as long as I'm able to do so — I would anticipate proceeding verse by verse. Which really makes me think about re-doing the first one.
Another thing: in several of my blogs I've included corresponding scripture along with my poems to "show" you the parallels between my writing and the Bible passages. I've decided not to do that for Job and possibly no more — period. It seems like its a little overkill sometimes — and especially with a project like this where most of Job will be set to rhyme.
I've listed the references I'm using and I would hope that if you read a line that I've written and you think — Hmmm, I don't remember the Bible saying anything like that! — then you would open up your Bible and take a look for yourself.
My prayer is that your interest might be piqued enough to take another look at Job and to see it in a new light. I can tell you, I'm seeing Job in a very different light as I write these verses.
Eliphaz's First Response to Job
Based on Job 4-5
Will you find my words too distressing?
Regardless — I really must speak.
For you've been to many a blessing,
and strengthened the hands of the weak.
Your words have upheld those who've stumbled;
encouraged the frail and afraid.
But, now that your world has crumbled,
you're troubled and greatly dismayed.
But have you not feared God and cherished
your hope and your blameless of ways?
Have innocent lives ever perished?
Or righteous lives shortened of days?
I've noticed that those who sow trouble
are those who will harvest the same.
God's breath can turn all things to rubble,
consumed by the blast of his flame.
The lion who's roaring has spoken,
the fierce lion growls as he may;
but teeth of the young cubs lay broken,
while older ones die without prey.
A secret was whispered in silence,
for into my dreams did it creep;
devolving those dreams into violence
when men should be deep in their sleep;
the dread made me tremble and fear it —
my bones rattled once and again.
A breath brushed my face like a spirit,
and all of my hair stood on end.
It stood there before me — this being,
as formless and strange as could be.
Still shocked at the sight I was seeing,
it suddenly whispered to me:
Can man be more righteous and fervent?
Is anyone purer than God?
If God doesn't trust his own servant,
nor messenger he sends abroad,
how much more for those who are living
in houses built simply of dust;
their own fragile frames less forgiving
than moths who are easily crushed!
Announcing, Hello, in the morning;
by evening, unnoticed, Goodbye.
Their tent cords pulled up without warning,
without any wisdom they die.
Cry out, but will anyone answer?
For which of your saints could explain?
Resentment will kill fools like cancer;
from envy the simple are slain.
I've seen a fool's stock start ascending,
when, quickly, his house has been cursed.
His children — in court — need defending,
but none get the ruling reversed.
The hungry consume what he's planted,
though guarded with brambles and stealth.
The thirsty have endlessly panted
and coveted after his wealth.
Affliction springs not from the soil;
from earth, neither trouble nor pain.
Man's born to a lifetime of toil
as surely as sparks from the flame.
For me, I'd appeal to God's wonder
and place my concerns in his hand;
his marvelous deeds without number,
and greatness we can't understand.
He waters the world's four corners,
sends water down into the field.
He lifts the disgraced and the mourners
and covers their pain with his shield.
He frustrates the plots of the scheming,
defeating the work of their hands.
He catches the wise in their dreaming,
while quickly destroying their plans.
Their days will be dark and they'll stagger,
like groping as midnight — at noon.
He rescues the poor from the dagger:
the slander the mighty impugn.
There's hope for the poor and neglected;
when jaws of injustice are barred.
How blessed are those God's corrected;
endeavor when he makes life hard.
He wounds, still his arms can surround you;
he strikes, yet his hands make you whole.
Six hardships, but none will confound you;
in seven, he'll safeguard your soul.
In famine, he'll keep you from dying;
in battle, the tip of the spear.
He'll hide you from tongues that are lying;
when facing destruction, no fear.
You'll snicker at drought and disaster;
of beasts in the wild, unafraid.
Communing with stones in the pasture
and animals, peace will be made.
Your tent will be solid and steady,
possessions will be safe and sound.
Your offspring — you know will be many,
descendants like grass on the ground.
You'll come to your graveside full-seasoned,
as ripe as the harvested sheave.
For, these are the facts and well-reasoned.
So, listen to me and believe.
Something happened this past weekend that I cannot quite explain. I told my wife that I felt "possessed" — but "obsessed" might be the better term.
Last Friday, I posted The Blessing which I had worked on for the better part of two weeks. The writing took somewhat less, but from concept to publication was thirteen days. As mentioned, that was posted on Friday. Since I can only concentrate on one poem at a time, I felt "released" to look ahead to the next one.
On Saturday, I had decided to write on Job 3 but didn't have any real chance to sit down and write. I had glanced at the first few verses a couple of times and the first line was sort of formulating in my mind Saturday night. I woke up on Sunday morning shortly after six (without the alarm) and was eager to get into it.
I wrote the first line as it is, but I thought, no no no, this cannot be. I do not want to write lines with internal rhyming — it's too hard. And the payoff might not be there. But nothing else I tried to write sounded as good, so I thought I would try to see how far I could take it.
And the words just came forth. By the time I got ready for church — I had 4 or 5 verses written. Church, lunch, Walmart, nap — then I was back at the PC. And the rest of it was written by dinner! I couldn't believe it.
Even now, I went to bed and was too excited to sleep; got up to tweak it into its present form. Now, it's nearly 3a and I'm starting to think: uh oh, I've got to go to work in a few hours!
The Book of Job is part of the Poetic section of the Bible — and with good reason! Its a beautiful read. I've never spent any time in it and reading it now is a great experience.
The title of this poem was created in such a manner whereby I could write other poems concerning Job and his friends. So, the next one in line would be Job II - Eliphaz's First Response to Job, then Job III - Job's Second Speech: A Response to Eliphaz, etc. By my count, there are 25 or more distinct speeches found in Job.
But, if this is the only poem I ever pen concerning Job, then I reserve the right to change the title to Job's Lament.
Job's First Speech
Based on Job 3
Let the day of my birth disappear from the earth;
how I wish I had never been born!
You don't know how I'm grieved that my mother conceived,
and I hold my conception in scorn.
May that morning be dark and the dawning embark
without light as if God doesn't care.
Let the gloom, like a cloud, and the darkness enshroud
that sad day like it never was there.
Let that day disappear from the calendar year,
and the months skip that digit for spite;
it would silence their voice — any chance to rejoice —
if the world could be barren that night.
Given time to rehearse, let the experts who curse
raise Leviathan — cursing away.
Let the stars turn their back and the twilight go black
and the morning ignore the new day.
But my own mother's womb had refused me a tomb
so I breathed in my very first breath.
Why'd I lay in her lap? Why'd I suck at her pap?
Why'd I choose to live life over death?
If I'd died there somehow I'd be resting right now
with the kings and the princes of old,
in the houses they've built and their palaces filled
with their treasures of silver and gold.
For in death troubles cease and the weary find peace
and the captives and guards are the same;
and you cannot tell which are the poor or the rich,
and the master of slaves has no claim.
Why does God give a light to a man without sight
and a life to the bitter of soul?
For he digs in the ground beyond treasure he's found,
as he seeks for the grave in the hole.
Now my sighing is great at the sight of my plate
and my crying pours out like the sea;
for the thing I most fear is now actually here
and I dread what has happened to me.
Let the day of my birth be erased, and the night I was conceived.
As I was reading the final chapters of the Book of Genesis, my mind was already thinking ahead to Exodus with Moses and Pharaoh and the plagues. It was like: There's nothing to see here. Let's move on, folks.
Then I read Genesis 49 where Jacob blessed his twelve sons and I thought I just had to write about it. It was too good to pass over.
But, It was one of those things where I didn't know if it would be possible to do. There were long blessings mixed in with shorter ones — how would I treat that? Looking ahead to the end of the blessing: Benjamin's little blurb following Joseph's heart-felt double-portion seemed like the entire thing might end up with a whimper. What rhymes with wolf, anyway?
A couple of weeks ago, after writing Have you heard the latest? — which has been the typical style for my writing lately — I realized that limiting myself to 6 to 8 syllables per line and having double-rhymes buried within some lines were really hampering my ability to — I don't know what, exactly . . . fully get things said, maybe.
With this in mind, and the fact that I would be losing a couple of syllables every time one of Jacob's sons was mentioned, I broke with the norm (and the familiar) and decided to try something different. This poem has lines of 10 and 11 syllables and I was pleased with how the first verse turned out. Then, after the second and third verses were written, I got really nervous about how the rest of the poem would turn out.
As I continued writing, I noticed how Jacob freely moved between speaking in the second-person (you, your) to third-person (he, his, they, them) during his speech. This messed with my need for uniformity — it should be either one way or the other!
So, halfway through writing the poem I changed everything to second-person. After I was totally done, I wimped out and rewrote it as it is found in the Bible. Now, as I'm writing this and proofing things, I'm ready to go back the other way. I'm not sure why Jacob would have talked like that (or, did the pronouns get changed in the translation?) when his sons are right in front of him.
As I consulted the different translations, I found much uniformity among them. But, I also found some wildly different phrasings in a few places. For that reason, I am splicing pieces of various versions below to show the path that I followed.
For example, in one translation, Naphtali "gives beautiful words [NASB]", while in another he "bears beautiful fawns [NLT]". But, I wrote what I wrote because some commentaries that I skimmed spoke of "goodly words" in this passage.
This is something that I found interesting on my journey:
Jacob's Sons & Their Notable Descendants
Chronological Life Application Study Bible (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.)
So, there you have it. Moses and Pharaoh and the plagues will need to wait a little longer. And, they'll need to wait even LONGER because my Chronological Bible has me reading the book of Job next.
Based on Genesis 49:3-27
Reuben, my firstborn and child of my youth;
the first of my line and excelling in life.
But troubled as water as your actions proved,
since using my bed to defile my wife.
Simeon, Levi — you're two of a kind;
your swords are the weapons of violence and pain.
I'll not be a part of the plots you've designed,
for innocent men in your rage have been slain.
You've crippled the cattle and then called it play.
But now may your fury and anger be cursed:
your portion divided and given away;
your sons will be scattered, your daughters dispersed.
Judah, to whom all your brothers will bow;
your hand keeps a grasp on your enemy's neck:
the cub of the lion returning just now
with prey in his clutches commanding respect.
Judah, the scepter will never leave here —
the staff of the ruler shall stay where it is
until the Messiah, or Shiloh, appears
with all of the nations' obedience, his.
You tether your donkey and foal to the vine;
in blood of the grapes you wash garments of silk.
Behold, you have eyes that are darker than wine
and teeth that are brighter and whiter than milk.
Zebulun, you shall reside by the sea,
near Sidon, a haven for ships at your shore.
Issachar, strong as a donkey can be,
found sleeping between the two packs that you bore.
Gazing around you and breathing the air
and finding this resting place pleasantly bland,
you'll lower your shoulder for burdens to bear,
submitting to slavery to live in that land.
Dan, you'll provide for your people, the law;
as judge of the tribes you'll bring justice to all.
For you are a viper the horse never saw,
whose hoof you will bite so its rider will fall.
Gad is besieged by a treacherous band
but turns them in triumph to snap at their heels.
Asher, your bread is made rich by your hand,
providing for kings the delights of your meals.
Naphtali, a doe — running free as a hind,
composing such beautiful words, I recall.
Joseph, now you are a fruit-bearing vine —
a vine near a spring climbing over a wall.
Archers with arrows of vengeance let fly,
embittered and hostile these warriors attack;
your bow remains steady, your hands remain spry,
your arms remain supple, withstanding the flak.
Because of the Name of the Shepherd and Stone,
the God of your father and his mighty hand;
because of the God of your father — alone
and blessings Almighty has at his command.
He opens his heavens for you to be blessed,
the oceans and seas and the caverns below;
the blessings of womb and the blessings of breast,
the blessings of children that parents all know.
My blessings are greater than my fathers knew —
from Abraham's very first blessing and since.
I lay, as a crown, all these blessings on you
before all your brothers, dear Joseph, my prince.
Benjamin, you are a ravenous wolf
devouring your foes at the dawning of day;
but you will find hunting is never enough
while spending your evenings dividing your prey.
Then Jacob called for his sons and said: Gather round so that I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come. Come and listen, you sons of Jacob; listen to Israel, your father.
Reuben, you are my firstborn, my strength, the child of my vigorous youth. You are first in rank and first in power. But you are as unruly as a flood, and you will be first no longer. For you went to bed with my wife; you defiled my marriage couch.
Simeon and Levi are two of a kind; their weapons are instruments of violence. May I never join in their meetings; may I never be a party to their plans. For in their anger they murdered men, and they crippled oxen just for sport. A curse on their anger, for it is fierce; a curse on their wrath, for it is cruel.
I will scatter them among the descendants of Jacob; I will disperse them throughout Israel.
Judah, your brothers will praise you. You will grasp your enemies by the neck. All your relatives will bow before you. Judah, my son, is a young lion that has finished eating its prey. Like a lion he crouches and lies down; like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah until Shiloh comes, whom all people shall obey. [LB]
He ties his foal to a grapevine, the colt of his donkey to a choice vine. He washes his clothes in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth are whiter than milk.
Zebulun will settle by the seashore and will be a harbor for ships; his borders will extend to Sidon.
Issachar is a sturdy donkey, resting between two saddlepacks. When he sees how good the countryside is and how pleasant the land, he will bend his shoulder to the load and submit himself to hard labor.
Dan will govern his people, like any other tribe in Israel. Dan will be a snake beside the road,
a poisonous viper along the path that bites the horse’s hooves so its rider is thrown off.
I trust in you for salvation, O Lord!
Gad will be attacked by marauding bands, but he will attack them when they retreat.
Asher will dine on rich foods and produce food fit for kings.
Naphtali is a doe let loose, He gives beautiful words. [NASB]
Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring, whose branches climb over a wall.
With bitterness archers attacked him; they shot at him with hostility. But his bow remained steady,
his strong arms stayed limber, because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob,
because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, because of your father’s God, who helps you,
because of the Almighty, who blesses you with blessings of the skies above,
blessings of the deep springs below, blessings of the breast and womb. [NIV]
The blessings of your father have surpassed the blessings of my ancestors
up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills; [NASB]
Let all these rest on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the prince among his brothers.
Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, devouring his enemies in the morning and dividing his plunder in the evening.
These are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said as he told his sons good-bye.
He blessed each one with an appropriate message.
Genesis 49:1-28 NLT [unless otherwise noted]
Every time I read the story of Joseph in the Bible, the page begins to blur. Right around the part where he reveals himself to his brothers. I know what's coming — and yet, it still gets me misty-eyed.
One of the things that jumped out to me on this reading was the ages listed for Joseph: he was 17 when he was sold into slavery and 30 when he began serving in the court of Pharaoh. For 13 years he was either a slave or a prisoner — nearly half of his young life! Yet, he remained faithful.
A few weeks ago, while writing The Lord will Provide, I listed some parallels between Isaac and Jesus. Now, while reading my Chronological Life Application Study Bible, it lists the parallels between Joseph and Jesus (some of which I've never considered before):
The poem is a conversation over the course of 20-some years (I envision the final stanza happening at the beginning of that first year of the drought) between a couple of busy-bodies who appear to have Internet capabilities in the way they get the latest story of Joseph. They often have bad intel — but love to tell what they "know" anyway.
I wrote the poem with the working title of Joseph, the Dreamer. Safe. Bland. Straight to the point. And it would have been the title if this was a normal poem. I went to bed last night thinking that title didn't fit this poem. So, after tweaking a few lines this morning I decided to change it. There feels as if there is a one-upmanship, competitive spirit between the two narrators.
Have you heard the latest?
So, Joseph reigns in Egypt,
amazing — if its true!
Now where's that rain to grow our grain —
does it seem dry to you?
[Joseph related his dream]: we were binding sheaves of corn out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered round mine and bowed down to it.
A couple of things jumped out at me when I read this story. First, was all of the deception going on. Jacob deceiving his brother and father. Laban deceiving Jacob. Laban and Jacob deceiving each other.
The other thing was the favoritism. Rebekah loved Jacob. Isaac loved Esau. Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah, and later on in the story, loved Rachel's children more than his other children.
I started writing the poem about a week ago — even before my last blog was published. I had only written versions of the third and fourth (current) verses and didn't know my next move. The third line of each verse contained an internal rhyme and that was how I thought it was going to be.
I decided that the poem needed a little introduction before jumping into the story portion so I came up with the first two verses. As I proceeded, it got harder and harder to keep the third line of each verse with that internal rhyming scheme.
After working on it all weekend and not nearing the finish line, finally late Sunday night I had the epiphany that I didn't need to keep up with that scheme. How much easier it would be to write something where only the 2nd and 4th lines rhymed! In short order I was able to rewrite much of it, filling in several gaps, and essentially wrapping it up.
But, in the end I still left some of the "3rd line internal rhymes" in there just because I hated to lose them. So, this might be the first poem I've ever written that didn't keep within a fairly-defined structure throughout.
Why was Jacob such a deceiver? Was it just for personal gain? Or, did his mother tell him what God told her concerning his future? I started to wonder if Jacob (as well as Esau) knew of God's covenants with Abraham and Isaac. Was he just trying to move things along — helping God out?
I wonder if Isaac knew about his own miraculous birth and God's promise to his father concerning his descendants being more numerous than the stars. Likewise, would Isaac's children know all of that history plus newer stuff, like the story of Abraham nearly sacrificing their father on an altar?
Jacob, the Deceiver
There's Jacob, son of Isaac,
whose twin is on the run;
his time is spent within the tent
for he's his mother's son.
Yet, Esau is the eldest,
and Isaac loves him so;
he loves to taste the game he's chased
and hunted with his bow.
But, Jacob swindled Esau —
as brothers sometimes do;
a weakened, famished Esau sold
his birthright for some stew.
When Jacob tricked his father —
his mother did the rest:
with hairy arms and Esau's clothes,
the younger son was blessed.
Escaping to his uncle's,
where Laban changed his life:
exchanging Rachel, Jacob's love,
for Leah as his wife.
For years thereafter Jacob
and Laban vied for flocks:
they schemed for goats and sheep with coats
with speckles, streaks and spots.
Once Jacob, son of Isaac,
the son of Abraham,
thought he could help God's covenant
by lending God a hand.
Then Jacob, the Deceiver,
met God, who changed his name:
he strove against both God and men
and Israel overcame.
Then the man said, Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.