Warrior Prophets Chapter 18
Boaz the Coward
“You said what to her?” Amitai, his childhood companion, asked, as he and Boaz rode northwards on their donkeys along with the large procession. At twenty three years old, Amitai was still a bit chubby, with ruddy cheeks, unruly brown curls and an easy smile.
“I told Taliya I wasn’t ready,” Boaz murmured. At twenty four years old, Boaz was a tall and powerful figure. His red hair had lost none of its luster and his well-formed muscles could be discerned under his tunic. A short fuzzy beard adorned his square jaw.
They were at the front of the contingent from Judah. They rode with the morning sun along the Jordan River. The hot summer days had reduced the power of the River which flowed strongest in the spring. Pinhas the Priest and ten princes led the tribes from the west side of the Jordan to find the apparently recalcitrant tribes from the east.
“On the day she was expecting you to ask for her hand?” Amitai pushed.
“Yes,” Boaz nodded.
“Really bad,” Boaz agreed. “I was told one of Taliya’s brothers was furious at the insult and would chase me and force me to marry her.”
“Good thing you were asked to join this expedition.”
“Yes. Hopefully, he won’t find me amongst the hundreds of soldiers here.”
“So the Coward deigns to accompany us,” Ploni, Boaz’s cousin, caught up with Boaz and Amitai. His voice was loud enough for the rest of the mounted Judean representatives to hear.
Ploni was ten years Boaz’s senior. His arms and neck were heavily scarred from old battle wounds.
“You say nothing, little cousin?” Ploni continued. “You crawl out of your hole now that trouble has passed, for a mere diplomatic meeting?”
“A meeting?” Boaz answered in a deep base. “You call an assembly of hundreds of our best warriors a meeting? We go to fight the other tribes who have betrayed our God.”
“Ah, little scholar,” Ploni sneered. “How little of the world you know. If you had fought beside those men, if you had seen the leadership, the bravery of Gedel and the others, you would know the eastern tribes would never rebel against God. But you are just a studious little coward who believes the first accusation he hears against good and honorable men.”
“I follow orders.” Boaz picked his chin up. “We go to investigate the building of a pagan altar by our brothers. They had better have a good explanation, lest we bring down God’s very wrath upon them.”
“You besmirch the honor of all warriors by riding with us. But you were always Caleb’s pet.”
“Have you nothing better to do Ploni, than to fan the flames of old imagined grievances?” Boaz raised his voice. “Caleb requested that I join the mission. Why you are bitter that I stopped fighting, I still don’t understand.”
“Bitter? I’m not bitter, young pacifist. I’m betrayed, I’m embarrassed. I’m hurt that the most promising warrior of our people, our tribe, our family, became a coward. We used to retell your adventures with great pride. We looked forward to fighting by your side, to be associated with your glory. But ever since you returned from that mine in Timna, you proved yourself a weakling. To have such talent as yours and not use it in our struggle is nothing less than cowardice. I think Caleb himself was deeply disappointed.”
“You know nothing of Caleb’s feelings,” Boaz responded hotly.
“Ah, our young firebrand has some flame left in him after all. If only you had used it against our enemies, perhaps there would not be so much land unconquered. I have heard that Joshua himself was saddened by our lack of progress and most likely looked to you as the cause.”
“Leave me alone, Ploni, You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You are alone, Boaz. Cowards always are.”
Boaz stopped his donkey and let the Judean soldiers trot ahead.
Pinhas positioned the archers in the front of the procession as they approached the river crossing. He and the princes rode behind them, followed by the tribe of Judah, including Boaz and Ploni. In the distance they saw thousands of soldiers massed on the eastern bank of the river. A long row of archers with their arrows notched stood behind a line of spearmen with raised shields.
“A meeting?” Boaz murmured to Ploni.
“Gedel is no fool,” Ploni answered. “He is ready for a fight if we bring it to him, but he is blameless.”
“Blameless men don’t need an army to explain their innocence.”
Judeans around Boaz murmured their agreement.
“This formation is proof of his guilt,” Boaz continued. “We should attack right away.” Boaz removed his sword from its sheath. Other Judeans followed suit. Archers on the other side of the river noticed the movement and aimed their arrows at Boaz and the other Judeans, but did not shoot.
Ploni grabbed Boaz’s arm and forced him to re-sheath his sword.
“Stop it, you hothead! If men were to rely on others to uphold their innocence, innocent men would quickly cease to be. People may listen to the truth, but they listen better when there is some steel behind it. Put your sword away before you hurt yourself and wait for instruction from your betters.”
A tall grey-haired man appeared in the middle of the formation.
“Hail Gedel, Prince of Reuven!” Pinhas called across the narrow river, flanked by archers and with several hundred soldiers at his back. Gedel was a large muscular man with bristly grey hair and a long grey beard. He held a sharp battle ax against his shoulder.
“Hail Pinhas, son of Elazar, son of Aaron!” Gedel responded to Pinhas in his priestly robe. Several thousand soldiers stood by Gedel’s side on the eastern bank of the Jordan.
“What treachery is this that you have committed against the God of Israel, to build an altar, and to rebel this day against God?” Pinhas pointed accusingly at the stone altar across the river, on the eastern side of the Jordan. “Was the plague we received for worshipping Peor so insignificant? If you rebel against God today, tomorrow the whole congregation of Israel shall feel His fury. If your land is unclean, then come back over to the land of the possession of God, where God’s Tabernacle rests, and inherit amongst us,” Pinhas spread out his arms to encompass the men behind him, “but do not rebel against God or us by building an altar besides the altar of God. Did not Achan son of Zerah also trespass against holy matters and punishment fall upon all Israel?”
“God, Almighty, Lord!” Gedel shouted heavenward. “God, Almighty, Lord! If we have rebelled or been treacherous against God, do not save us today. If we have built an altar to turn away from following the Lord, or to make offerings or sacrifices upon it, let the Lord Himself exact retribution.”
“Rather out of fear we have done this thing.” Gedel looked across the river into Pinhas’ eyes. “Fear that in days to come, your children will say to our children: ‘What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? He has made the Jordan a border between us and you, and you, the children of Reuven and Gad, you have no portion in the Lord.’ So your children will cause our children to cease fearing the Lord.”
“Therefore we said, let us build an altar, not for burnt-offering, nor for sacrifice,” Gedel pointed at the stone altar by his side, “but it shall be a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, that we may do the service of the Lord. That your children may not say to our children: ‘You have no portion in the Lord.’ Rather our children shall say: ‘Behold the pattern of the altar of the Lord, which our fathers made, not for burnt-offering, nor for sacrifice; but it is a witness between us and you.’ Far be it from us,” Gedel motioned to the thousands beside him on the eastern riverbank, “that we should rebel against the Lord, and turn away this day from following the Lord, to build an altar for burnt-offering, for meal-offering, or for sacrifice, besides the altar of the Lord our God that is before His Tabernacle.”
The western bank of the Jordan River erupted in cheers. The soldiers of the ten tribes waved their fists and saluted Gedel.
“This day we know that God is in our midst,” Pinhas pronounced, “because you have not committed this treachery against the Lord. You have delivered the children of Israel out of the hand of the Lord.”
Pinhas walked into the shallow waters of the lightly flowing Jordan. His long flowing white robe billowed in the water, yet somehow did not get wet. The water flowed around Pinhas as he crossed to the eastern bank, yet he emerged dry. Both the eastern and western soldiers looked at Pinhas in wonder as he embraced Gedel firmly.
“Brother,” Pinhas said, as he let go his embrace. “We were quite concerned. Concerned enough to fight you for what on the surface was a grave affront and treachery.”
“I know,” Gedel whispered. “It was a great gamble. But we were already feeling the distance from our brothers. Do you not refer to us as ‘western’ versus ‘eastern’ tribes? Is not the land to the west of the river consecrated? We needed to do something bold, something noteworthy, to keep our kinship, our connection, in Israel’s memory.”
“How long do you think it will last?” Pinhas asked quietly.
“At the very least, for our lifetimes; perhaps another generation. It is not like in the desert or at camp where we were all together and united against a common enemy. Now every man is concerned for his personal land and his crops and his cattle. The people will not come regularly to the Tabernacle. We shall do what we can to stay true, to feel united, but I fear this new era will present greater challenges.”
“It is painful to hear,” Pinhas said. “But we shall persevere. Do not forget that the Priests and the Levites shall be amongst each tribe. They can be a uniting force. They will visit the Tabernacle regularly and keep the connection alive.”
“I hope so. A war of brothers would be terrible.”
“You think it could happen? After our successful conquest?”
“The war is not over, even if we have stopped fighting,” Gedel looked at both sides of the Jordan. “Were you not the one who killed the prince of Simeon in the desert? How much fighting and contention did we have when we were united under Moses? We shall have more fighting here, more against our real enemies, and I hope less against ourselves, but fighting we shall have. We shall not stop training our children how to wield a sword, though we would all rather wield the plowshare.”
“I shall not leave you on a somber note. Push your people to come to the Tabernacle. When we are united we are strong and God is pleased.”
“Agreed. I shall make the effort. But you and the other princes should visit us as well. And next time, don’t come with an army.”
“You see, Coward,” Ploni smirked at Boaz. “Your magical powers did not help you read the situation. You were very quick to lift your sword against your brother. If we had followed you, it would have led to horrible bloodshed. You are Caleb’s protégé?”
“I was wrong, gravely wrong.” Boaz’s head hung down. “And I apparently needed you of all people to teach me. How could I have been so wrong?”
“You’ve been stuck in your tent too long, afraid of your own shadow. You’ve lost whatever judgment you might have once had. You are a coward and until you face whatever childhood fears you carry, you are dangerous and a liability for all of us. I shall report to Caleb of your near-fiasco and let him figure it out.” Ploni trotted away, following the procession back south.
Amitai edged his donkey next to Boaz’s.
“Are you alright?” Amitai asked.
“No. I am a coward and a fool and it took Ploni to make me see it.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. I’m ashamed to go back, but what else can I do? Perhaps that is part of facing my fears, perhaps I should marry Taliya?”
Pinhas approached the two from behind.
“I couldn’t help overhearing,” Pinhas cleared his throat. “And I saw your impetuous move before, which was truly dangerous. If Gedel had not had good control of his archers, you could have started a war of brothers right here and now.”
“What should I do?”
“I think you should avoid the camp for a bit. It is a cocoon that has sheltered you too much.”
“Where should I go? I need guidance. Caleb has always been my guide.”
“I think you have reached the limits of what you can learn now from mentors. You need to engage with people as an adult. I believe you are frozen with some childhood trauma.”
Boaz hugged his sides and swayed back and forth on his donkey, holding back tears.
“Pinhas, please. I’m confused. I don’t know who I am anymore. Help me.”
Pinhas looked for long moments at Boaz. He looked to the eastern bank of the Jordan. He looked at the mountain range across that had once belonged to the people of Moav, before Moses and the Israelites had conquered it fourteen years earlier.
“I know,” Pinhas concluded, looking back at Boaz and at Amitai next to him. “Seek the tomb of Moses.”
“What? The tomb of Moses? Why? Will he give me guidance?”
“He gives us guidance every day, through the law that he handed us. However, I think you might benefit more by seeking his resting place. I think if Amitai here would be willing to accompany you, it would be even better.”
“I don’t have any love-struck women chasing me, or their angry brothers,” Amitai smiled. “I’m ready.”
“Excellent.” Pinhas clapped his hands. “Get to know the tribes on the eastern side better – the ones you were ready to kill. That may be a worthwhile exercise as well.”
“And then what?” Boaz asked.
“I suspect the answers will present themselves along the road.”
Pinhas turned around and trotted off southward following the back of the retreating western soldiers.
Boaz looked at Amitai. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Sounds like a great idea. You’re not up to it?” Amitai asked.
“What about Taliya?”
“She’ll have to work much harder to find you.”
“At least it will keep her brother off my back.”
“Come, let’s go find Moses’ tomb. Do you know where it is?”
“No. Let’s cross the river and ask someone on the other side.”
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Joshua Chapter 22