Category Archives: Book of Judges

Sufficient Scholars?

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/devarim-sufficient-scholars/

Baal Haturim Deuteronomy: Dvarim

Sufficient Scholars?

Excess generally causes reaction, and produces a change in the opposite direction, whether it be in the seasons, or in individuals, or in governments. -Plato

one-in-a-crowd

There is a belief in Jewish tradition, that the merits of a Torah scholar, of a “Talmid Chacham”, that dedicates himself exclusively to studying Torah the entire day, provides a physical protection to the Jewish population around him. The mere act of profoundly and deeply reading and reviewing the ancient texts, of immersing oneself in the sea of Torah scholarship affords to others a divine safeguard against the evils of the world.

While this is an old, long-held belief, in recent decades it has become a more popular and underlying philosophy for growing segments of the Jewish nation. One question that may be asked is what is the ideal required ratio of these “spiritual defenders” as compared to the population being protected. How many of our sons should dedicate themselves to what otherwise might be considered activities that don’t contribute materially to society? How many Torah scholars do we require as compared to active soldiers? How many people should be working for a living and how many should confine themselves to the four walls of the study hall as a career path?

Interestingly enough, the Baal Haturim provides an answer. He states on his commentary to Deuteronomy 1:3 that one “Talmid Chacham”, one true Torah scholar, has the capacity to “protect” 40,000 people. For every 40,000 residents, one Talmid Chacham is enough. So for example, for a population of 8,000,000, the math would indicate that we would want 200 full-time professional Torah scholars.

One would therefore hope that the quality, commitment and seriousness of thousands upon thousands of men who ostensibly dedicate their lives exclusively to Torah study will afford us great protection.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the true Torah scholars out there.

A Leader’s Vow

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/matot-a-leaders-vow/

Baal Haturim Numbers: Matot

A Leader’s Vow

 Vows are made in storms and forgotten in calm weather. -Thomas Fuller

yiftahs daughter

One of the more disturbing stories in the Bible is that of the Israelite leader, Yiftah, in the Book of Judges. He was an outcast, but apparently with some leadership qualities. He attracted and led a band of ruffians. When the people of Israel are threatened, the elders turn to Yiftah for military assistance.

Before battle Yiftah takes an oath, that if God gives him victory over his enemies, in thanksgiving, Yiftah will sacrifice to God the first thing to greet him upon his successful return home. Perhaps Yiftah imagined a lamb would run to him, or some other livestock would cross his path. However, upon Yiftah’s successful victory and subsequent return, none other than his beloved daughter, his only child, runs out to greet her victorious father. Yiftah tears his clothing in anguish, and the simplest reading of the verses indicate that he does kill his daughter as a human sacrifice to God.

The Baal Haturim on Numbers 30:2 explains that it is the nature of Israelite leaders to make vows and call for divine intervention when their people are in trouble. However, all the Rabbis are in agreement that Yiftah erred grievously, first, in making such a poorly worded vow, and second, in fulfilling such a dastardly act that is abhorrent to God. There is a procedure in Jewish law for rescinding poorly made vows that Yiftah should have availed himself of.

May we avoid vows. But if we make them, we should make them wisely and fulfill them honorably.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Miriam Cohen of Melbourne. May any and all vows be filled with blessings.

 

 

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 15 – My Father’s Killer

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 15

My Father’s Killer

Ehud, atop the ramparts of Bethlehem, peered impassively into the darkness. He had seen Boaz return from the field with his workers. He overheard the workers discussing Ruth’s gleaning in the field, but she had yet to return. Ehud twirled his sword absently and recalled killing her father. Ehud had worked exhaustively on that special sword. He was sorry it had remained in the belly of the fat monarch all those years ago. He still didn’t know how word of the assassination had spread. Had one of the princes figured out how Ehud had killed Eglon? Had there been a secret observer that Ehud hadn’t noticed?

Ehud heard screaming in the distance. He climbed down from the rampart and ran out of the gate, past the guards and into the night. He saw a wagon in the distance. He ran faster than the casually trotting horses.

“Is there a problem?” Ehud appeared in front of Sumahtrid’s wagon. Ehud’s stocky outline, grey beard and sword glimmered in the pale light of the moon. Beor stopped the horses abruptly, their hoofs pawing the night air as they neighed in protest.

“Get out of our way,” Sumahtrid said. “We have important business and don’t have time for petty disturbances.”

“Help me!” Ruth cried, pulling noisily against her chains.

Ehud ran between the two horses and jumped into the wagon, launching himself behind Sumahtrid and Beor. He slashed at the side of the wagon where Ruth’s chains were set. Both her arms were freed, with the loose long chains still manacled to her wrists. Beor spun and slashed at Ehud before he had a chance to cut Ruth’s leg chains from their housing. Ehud parried and counter-attacked.

“The girl is mine!” Sumahtrid stood on the wagon and raised his arms. “You will not take her from me, meddler. I shall strike you down. By Horus and Shapsu, Anu and Enlil,” Sumahtrid chanted and waved his arms, “freeze this man’s blood until he is st-”

A metal chain slammed into Sumahtrid’s face, knocking him over the wagon. A second chain wrapped itself around Beor’s neck. Ruth pulled hard on the chain, putting space between Beor and Ehud. Ehud kicked Beor in the chest, sending him over the side of the wagon. Ruth pulled on the chain again, releasing it from Beor’s neck.

“Quick!” she told Ehud. “Grab the reins and take us back to Bethlehem.”

“Good thinking.” Ehud sat in the driver’s seat, took the reins and drove the wagon towards Bethlehem. Ruth sat inside the wagon, as close to the front as her ankle chains would allow. They were quickly on their way back to the walled city, leaving Sumahtrid and Beor moaning in the dust of the dark road.

“You saved me,” Ruth turned to Ehud. “You are Ehud, aren’t you? It has been many years.”

“Yes, Princess. And I may have to kill you.”

“So why did you save me?”

“I try not to be impulsive when killing.”

“That’s a consolation,” Ruth said with uncharacteristic sharpness. “I take it your murder of my father was well planned. I may have been better off with Sumahtrid after all.”

“Your father was ready to kill every firstborn of Israel – as your wedding dowry. It was God’s will that Eglon be killed and his army destroyed. What does that sorcerer want with you?”

“I don’t know. He said something about needing the blood of the daughter of Eglon.”

“Sorcerers.” Ehud spat. “And why are you gleaning in the field of Boaz?”

“Boaz? I just happened upon his field.” Ruth patted the grain-filled bag, still on her back. “Is it a crime to glean in the field of a good man?”

“It is no crime, unless you are the daughter of the murderous Moabite Tyrant and it is the field of an important man like Boaz. I am tasked to safeguard Boaz and you are a threat.”

“A threat? I have never been a threat to anyone in my life! I am destitute, homeless, friendless, and you consider me a threat? You are the underhanded assassin! You are the one who took advantage of my father’s friendship, of his trust, and stabbed him as he stood unarmed and unaware. Everyone has now heard of the assassination. His servants originally thought he had died of natural causes, while in the ensuing confusion you routed the army. I also heard from Mahlon how you killed Pharaoh. No, Ehud. You are the dangerous one. You are likely the most dangerous man I’ve ever met.”

“My people and my God need me to be dangerous. Our enemies are strong, powerful and many. I kill them as a necessity. But that is not the point, Princess. I saw you wield that chain against the sorcerer and his driver. You are a perilous woman and I shall keep a close eye on you. If I see you approach Boaz in a threatening fashion, I will assume the worst. I will be watching.”

“Did you enjoy killing my father?”

“No. He was evil. He was treacherous. He was heartless. He was cruel. But he was charismatic. He did show friendship in his warped way. That’s why I will keep a close eye on you, Princess. You are sweet and needy and likeable, but you are still Eglon’s daughter and that makes you potentially hazardous. But come, it will not do for a princess to enter the city in chains.” Ehud stopped the wagon outside the city. He found the keys to the manacles and removed them from her wrists and ankles.

“Shoddy workmanship,” the blacksmith in him commented as he threw the chains to the back of the wagon. Ruth sat next to Ehud at the front of the wagon as he drove on.

“Do you live here?” Ruth asked as they entered the gate of Bethlehem. The guards recognized Ehud and raised their eyebrows at the Moabite riding with him.

“No. I live further north in the tribe of Benjamin.” Ehud stopped the wagon in front of Naomi’s house and jumped out of the driver’s seat, landing easily on the ground. “You can keep the wagon, Princess. You need it more than I do. Farewell.” Ehud disappeared into the night.

Ruth looked with incredulity where Ehud had stood. She got off the wagon and tied the horses to the side of Naomi’s house. A door had not yet appeared since she had left in the morning. She walked into the roofless house and found Naomi sleeping on the floor on a pile of straw. Naomi stirred at the sound of Ruth’s footsteps.

“Elimelech? Is that you?” Naomi asked groggily.

“No, mother. It is I, Ruth,” she answered, holding back tears at the mention of her decade-dead father-in-law.

“Oh, Ruth. Yes. I remember. I’m so weak.” Naomi rolled over on the straw.

“Come, mother. I have food for you. Sit up and eat.” Ruth gently lifted Naomi off the floor. “Here, have this.” Ruth pulled a half-eaten pita from out of her pocket. The remains of her lunch by the field of Boaz. It seemed like ages ago. She handed it to Naomi, the bread still warm from having been next to her body.

Naomi held the pita in her hands, unsure what to do with it.

“Slowly,” Ruth suggested. “Chew slowly.”

Naomi bit suddenly into the bread. She ate half the bread ravenously and then, just as suddenly, stopped. She closed her eyes, still holding the bread and whispered: “thank you.”

Ruth took the bag of grain off her back and showed it to Naomi.

“You gleaned all of this today?” Naomi’s eyes opened wide. “Where? Who’s field? He should be blessed!”

“The man’s name is Boaz. He was very kind.”

“Boaz! Boaz!” Naomi cried. “Oh, Vered! How I miss you. Boaz is my nephew. His wife, Vered, was my dear friend. She just died. He was always so strong, so good. God has not forgotten me. God has shown kindness to the living and the dead. Boaz is Mahlon’s cousin.”

“But Mahlon was so much younger.”

“Yes. Boaz’s father, Salmoon, was the oldest of the children of Nachshon, older than my own father, and much older than Elimelech or their youngest sibling, Ploni. Boaz is closer in age to his uncles.”

“He told me to glean from his field until his men have finished the harvest.”

“Good. That is very good. Stay with his maidens and glean in his field. Don’t go to anyone else’s field. Remain under his protection.”

“If he is your nephew and is obviously wealthy, why don’t you ask him directly for help?”

“I can’t. I can’t.”

“Why?”

“It is too embarrassing. I was a princess. I was the princess of Judah. Here. At one point I was feeding most of the families of Bethlehem. I can’t ask. I can’t beg here – I would die of embarrassment. But you have done well, my daughter, very well. Just on this grain we can live for a few days. We can start buying other things that we need.” Naomi looked up at the missing roof.

“I have a solution for that!” Ruth announced. “I’ve received a gift. A wagon with two horses. We can sell them and get a new door, a roof, some furniture, some supplies – the house will be livable once again.”

“A wagon with horses? Who would give such a gift?” Naomi looked at Ruth, wondering if she had been in the sun too long.

“It was given to me by my father’s killer, Ehud son of Gera of the tribe of Benjamin.”

Naomi froze at the mention of Ehud’s name. She remembered all the times Ehud had fought with Elimelech. Every time, Elimelech had been on the wrong side – disastrously so. The civil war, the rebellion against Eglon. She shuddered when she thought of the famous assassin and all she could answer was: “dangerous man.”

*

“Get up you buffoon!” Sumahtrid kicked the prone Beor. Beor stirred and growled. “Get up! We can’t stay here. That Israelite has found us out. We need to find more information and recapture Ruth.” Sumahtrid grabbed Beor roughly and dragged him to his feet. Beor was conscious enough to pick up his sword.

“Ruth,” Beor grumbled.

“Yes, Ruth, the princess. There are still descendants of Nachshon in this city. If she should mate with one of them it would be disastrous. Our work of the last ten years would be destroyed. A savior would come from Israel. We must stop that at all costs.”

“Costs,” Beor stood up straighter as the two of them walked away from Bethlehem.

“There will be a cost. It may be safer just to kill the remaining descendants. Ploni, youngest son of Nachshon, and Boaz, the old warrior.”

“Warrior?” Beor asked nervously.

“Do not worry. Boaz is ancient and his fighting days are long over. I’m more concerned about the warrior who stole Ruth. It must have been Ehud of Benjamin. But how did he find us? He will be a greater challenge.”

“Challenge.” Beor raised his sword.

“In due time. Ruth is likely to return to the field to glean. We shall wait for her there and then strike.”

“Strike!” Beor stabbed the air.

“Not her, you dunce!” Sumahtrid smacked Beor on the back of the head. “Her we want alive. Ehud is the enemy.”

“Enemy,” Beor said quietly.

Sumahtrid did not notice Beor looking straight at him.

* * * * * *

Biblical Source:

Book of Ruth, Chapter 2

18 And she took it up, and went into the city; and her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned; and she brought forth and gave to her that which she had left after she was satisfied. 19 And her mother-in-law said unto her: ‘Where hast thou gleaned to-day? and where wroughtest thou? blessed be he that did take knowledge of thee.’ And she told her mother-in-law with whom she had wrought, and said: ‘The man’s name with whom I wrought to-day is Boaz.’ 20 And Naomi said unto her daughter-in-law: ‘Blessed be he of the Lord, who hath not left off His kindness to the living and to the dead.’ And Naomi said unto her: ‘The man is nigh of kin unto us, one of our near kinsmen.’ 21 And Ruth the Moabitess said: ‘Yea, he said unto me: Thou shalt keep fast by my young men, until they have ended all my harvest.’ 22 And Naomi said unto Ruth her daughter-in-law: ‘It is good, my daughter, that thou go out with his maidens, and that thou be not met in any other field.’

 

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 4 – Choice Neighbors

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 4

 Choice Neighbors

“They’re here!” Sumahtrid paced vigorously around his small, dank house. “This is terrible!”

Little Beor, on his short legs, kept up with Sumahtrid’s circling, thinking it a game and calling merrily after him, “Terrible! Terrible!”

“What are we to do?” Sumahtrid asked the room more than his young apprentice. “We cannot show our hand. We must tread carefully. What are the chances that they would marry? Perhaps it will be a short stay and they will not even meet. I still don’t understand why Elimelech came to Kir Moav of all places. But I must be calm, Beor. It is good that we are here to monitor things. We shall have to watch closely, and intervene when the time comes. Why are you following me like that? Stop it. Stop it!”

Beor looked up happily at his mentor, thinking he had won at the game, and chirped back, “Stop it! Stop it!”

 

She’s probably married to an Egyptian prince, Mahlon said to himself for the tenth time. Elimelech, Naomi, Mahlon and Kilyon rode into the walled city of Kir Moav uncontested. Since the catastrophic defeat of the Moabite Empire to Ehud’s attack there had been an unspoken but uneasy peace between the diminished Kingdom of Moab under the rule of Jalet and the tribes of Israel. Commerce between the nations had returned with much better conditions for the Israelites than under Eglon’s rule. A steady flow of finished goods crossed the Jordan River from Israel to Moab. In the other direction, the mines of Moab furnished metals to the Israelites, especially copper.

What are the chances that Ruth is here? Mahlon wondered as he gazed at the height and thickness of the Moabite walls in the stark desert.

“We must find a residence first,” Elimelech announced.

Naomi, her face puffy from constant crying, said nothing.

“Mahlon, go to the market with your mother and see what the price of food is here. I’ve heard they may be getting supplies from Egypt. Kilyon and I will look for housing. We’ll find you when we’re done.”

Elimelech and Kilyon rode the wagon with their supplies down a residential street.

The houses were constructed of large pink stones with thatched roofs. Young children played in the road on the polished stones, grey from use. An elderly man approached the Judeans.

“Greetings, strangers.” The man bowed low. “May I be of service to you?”

“Why, yes. That is most kind of you,” Elimelech answered. “We are looking for residence.”

“The gods must be smiling upon you today,” the old man grinned toothily. “As fate would have it, I have a house I am vacating this very day, that I would be most pleased to rent to you. How long do you think you shall be needing it for?”

“The gods? How long?” Elimelech said confusedly. “I don’t know. At least for one harvest, perhaps longer.”

“Excellent!” the old man clapped his hands. “One harvest is excellent. That will be five silvers and I will charge you only four silvers for every harvest thereafter. Come, let me show you your new home.”

The old man grabbed the reins of the donkey-led wagon and walked a befuddled Elimelech a few feet away.

“Here we are,” the old man motioned to the door of his house. “Come right in. See for yourselves. We haven’t started packing, but now that you’re here, we’ll be out in no time at all. Come, make yourselves comfortable.”

Elimelech and Kilyon followed the old man, Elimelech limping on his injured leg. They entered a cozy house, where a pot of stew simmered over the fireplace.

“When did you decide you were moving?” Elimelech asked suspiciously.

“Oh, it was a very sudden decision. A business opportunity came up.”

“Really? What business are you in?” Elimelech asked.

“Um, I’m a herdsman.”

“And you’ll be taking your herd elsewhere?”

“Yes, yes. Greener pastures and all that. Anyway, do you have the money or are you one of those charlatans? I can find another tenant easily enough.” The old man crossed his arms and pouted.

“We have the money, and we will take the place.” Elimelech calmly took five silver coins out of his pouch.

“Excellent.” The old man counted the coins greedily. “Just give me an hour and we will clear our things.”

Elimelech and Kilyon exited the house. Kilyon saw boys playing ball down the road. A young boy examined their wagon intensely.

“Boy, come here. What’s your name?” Kilyon called to the little boy by the wagon.

“Beor.” The little boy approached, unafraid.

“Do you live around here? We’re going to be neighbors.” Kilyon put out his hand in greeting.

Beor put out his own hand and slashed Kilyon’s palm with a short blade he had concealed.

“Neighbors!” Beor yelled and scampered away.

“Ow!” Kilyon yelped and held his bleeding palm. “That little runt is mad!”

“Strange people these Moabites,” Elimelech commented. “Let’s find your mother and brother.”

The Judeans did not hear a furious Sumahtrid admonishing Beor from the house across the road: “Beor, how many times have I told you not to play with your victims…”

 

Mahlon and Naomi rode their donkeys down the main road to a bustling central market. They dismounted, tied their donkeys to a public stand and entered the market on foot. Past the market they could see the imposing structure of the pink-stoned palace of Kir Moav.

Naomi revived as she encountered the smells and noises of the marketplace. There was a broad array of spices: ginger, cassia, turmeric, cardamom and cinnamon. There was some grain and even some fresh bread. Everything was expensive, but not at the famine prices of Israel.

“Where is your grain from?” Mahlon asked one of the vendors.

“Egypt and some from Ammon too.” The vendor looked at Mahlon strangely. “You’re not from here, are you?”

“No. We’re Judean,” Mahlon answered.

“You don’t say.” The vendor took an involuntary step back. “Except for salesmen, we don’t get too many of you here.”

“There is a famine by us and we’ve sought fresh fields.”

“Then you’ve come to the right place.” The vendor took a step closer. “Business has been very good lately. Our mines are at full production and commerce is strong. Even the Midianites have been conducting legitimate business with us and we get regular visits from Damascus and beyond. My friend, because you’re new here, I’ll give you a special price on the grain.” The vendor offered them wheat at twice the rate other vendors had quoted.

“That’s generous. Thank you.” Mahlon smiled and moved on.

“Well, there’s more grain here than in Bethlehem,” Mahlon said to Naomi. “I think we’ll be better off here.”

“You don’t understand, Mahlon,” Naomi responded, her eye catching the fabric vendors down the road. “We have left our home, our ancestral land, our people. We have turned our backs on our brothers and sisters at their time of greatest need. We were making a difference in their lives and now we have abandoned them. To live amongst these idol-worshipers? How is this better?”

Naomi stopped at a fabric vendor showing rolls of colorful silks and cottons: sky-blue cotton with lines of dark green and pure white, yellow silk that shone like the sun with pink edges. Naomi saw color combinations that she had never imagined.

“These are beautiful!” Naomi held the soft fabric in her hands. “Where are these from?” she asked the vendor.

“My lady is obviously a woman of very great taste. These are from Sheba. They have a new process for weaving the threads so the fabric appears seamless – like one piece. I have a seamstress inside who can cut and sew a dress for you while you wait.” The vendor motioned further into the shop where an array of even more colorful fabrics beckoned.

“Mahlon, wait for me here. I’ll be just a moment.”

Mahlon tapped his foot impatiently as his mother entered the vendor’s shop. Naomi’s mouth opened in awe at the rainbow of colors that surrounded her. A woman with tightly woven red hair and a simple dress was busy expertly cutting and sewing fabric.

Naomi looked at the fabrics and then at her own simple Judean dress. She felt pangs of guilt at the luxury she was contemplating. She held a rich purple fabric that flowed like water in her hands. The price of this fabric could feed a Judean family for a month, she thought. She then fell to her knees and cried.

“What am I doing here?” she sobbed, fresh tears running through the path of the old ones. Why am I amongst these heathens? Naomi thought miserably. How can we remain here when our people are starving? What will happen to my boys? Heaven forbid if they marry one of these idol-worshipers. Naomi shuddered at the thought.

The seamstress, startled by the client’s reaction, put down the fabric she was cutting, got down on one knee and patted Naomi gently.

“Don’t cry, mother,” the seamstress said gently. “Ashban will give you a fair price. You are fortunate you came into the store of one of the few honest merchants. I’ll make sure you get a good price. It’s nothing to cry about.”

“Oh, that is sweet of you to care, but that is not why I cry. I cry for I am away from my people and I fear for those I left behind and perhaps more so for my sons that we have brought here. We do not belong in this place.”

“Where are you from, sweet mother, that you would cry so over your home?”

“I am from Judah, where there is now a famine. My husband has brought us here, to spare us, and what choice do I have but to follow him?”

“From Judah?” the seamstress stood up, raising Naomi by the hands. “I will make sure that you and your family are taken care of. You see, a Judean was kind to me once, and I shall never forget it.”

“What is your name daughter, that you are so kind and considerate?”

“I am Ruth, daughter of Eglon, once Emperor of Moab.”

Naomi’s skin tingled all over. She did not know if it was excitement, fear or something stronger, but she knew that this woman would change her life forever.

* * * * * *

Warrior Prophets 2 Chapter 28 – Epilogue: Scribe of Eternity

Warrior Prophets 2 Chapter 28

Epilogue: Scribe of Eternity

Fifty Years Later…

Ehud cried as he laid down his quill. It was not his aching and inflamed joints. It was not the sound of his grandchildren playing in the yard. It was not the sound of Blimah feeding the noisy chickens. It was not even the sound of Lerim, his son-in-law, banging metal with his workers in the smithy. It was the story, the story of Ruth – it always brought him to tears.

It had been years since Ehud had had the strength to heft a hammer. But he chose to wield a quill instead. He had copied down the five books of Moses multiple times. His scrolls were considered works of art and had been sought after by all the tribes of Israel. He had written the Book of Joshua many times and had distributed that prophetic scroll widely as well. However, it was the Book of Ruth that always brought him to tears, for he had known all the protagonists and he had played his own small part in God’s grand scheme.

My next prophet shall arrive tomorrow, God had said to him during the night. Pass on to the prophet the scroll and your blessing.

How will I know who it is? Ehud asked.

You will know.

Ehud waited for the ink on the scroll to dry. He then rolled it up, tied it and covered it with a soft skin to protect it. He carried it reverently out of his house and walked slowly, with the assistance of his cane, onto the porch. Children were already assembled for what had become a daily ritual. They sat impatiently on the ground. Adults stood behind them, also interested in the prophet’s story. It was no longer just members of the tribe of Benjamin. Families from all the tribes, from Simeon in the south to Asher in the north and Gad to the east arrived on a daily basis to hear the oral history Ehud would convey.

“Tell us how you stabbed the fat king!” a Judean boy yelled.

Ehud scanned the crowd for sight of the prophet, but no obvious candidates became apparent. He sat on a wide swing of his own design. Sturdy planks of wood supported by chains eased Ehud’s creaky bones. Blimah, her hair snowy-white under her beige shawl, walked over and sat next to Ehud on the swing. She wove her arm into his and smiled contentedly.

Ehud told over his usual story: the subjugation by Eglon, the resistance, the subterfuge, the assassination and finally the victorious battle that had freed them from Moabite subservience. Ehud looked at the well-fed fearless children and marveled at God’s benevolence. Gone were the days of a foreign aggressor or the days of heavy famine that had led to ruin for Elimelech and his family. There were still minor skirmishes and the worship of God was not always strong, but the outright devotion by Israelites to foreign gods was minimal. The people of Israel were enjoying an era of peace and prosperity they had not experienced since the days of Joshua.

“Tell us about Ruth,” a young girl spoke out.

Ehud felt a shock of force when the girl spoke. He looked at her closely. She was perhaps seven or eight years old. She had long dark tresses and deep blue eyes that sparkled with intelligence.

“What would you know of Ruth?” Ehud asked. “She still lives. Not far from here – in Bethlehem.”

“I would hear of how she journeyed to Israel from the fields of Moab,” the girl answered.

“That is a story for another place and another time.” Ehud gripped the scroll tighter and closed his eyes.

He had a vision. It was a vision of an older woman with long black tresses and sparkling blue eyes. She led an army of Israelites from a mountaintop against the iron chariots of a foreign aggressor. The chariots were overturned and the foreign soldiers vanquished. Ehud trembled from the revelation and opened his eyes to stare into the deep blue eyes from his vision.

“What is your name child?” Ehud asked.

“Deborah daughter of Neriah of the tribe of Naftali.”

“Approach,” Ehud ordered.

Deborah arose and walked through the seated children to Ehud and Blimah on the swing.

“You have been blessed, Deborah,” Ehud said softly. “A great task awaits you.”

“What task?” Deborah asked nervously.

“I cannot reveal much,” Ehud said, “but you will lead and save Israel in its time of need.”

“When? What need? I’m just a girl.”

“It will be many years in the future, after I am long gone. The tribes of Israel shall look to you for guidance, for you shall grow wise and strong in the ways of God. Have faith and remain strong, young Deborah, for God shall ever be with you. Take this scroll.” Ehud handed the skin with the Book of Ruth to the young girl.

“What is this?” Deborah asked.

“It is the answer to your question.”

“Which question?”

“It is the story of Ruth.”

“Why are you giving it to me?”

“Because you will carry it on. You see, her story has not ended, for there are generations to come before her mission bears its fruit. You will pass this scroll to the next prophet and eventually her story will be written in full. You will also write my story that you have heard here today and pass it on as well. And the next prophet will write your story and the cycle will continue until the Monarchy of Israel is established.

“I don’t understand,” Deborah said.

“You don’t have to. You just need to believe me. Deborah, look into my eyes. Do you believe me?”

Deborah looked deeply into Ehud’s dark brown eyes. She smiled suddenly.

“I don’t understand, but I believe you.”

“Never lose faith.” Ehud held Deborah’s head in his hands and kissed her lightly on the forehead. “Be strong and of good courage,” Ehud blessed her, remembering Joshua’s blessing to him in his own youth. Ehud felt some of that spirit, the spirit that has passed from Moses to Joshua to himself, pass on to Deborah.

Deborah’s face lit up and a barely perceptible aura of light seemed to radiate from the little girl. She bowed to Ehud, walked past the crowd of children, found her father amongst the adults and strode away.

“Who is she?” Blimah asked a pensive-looking Ehud.

“She is our future.” Ehud smiled, held Blimah closely, and for the first time in decades felt as if a burden had been lifted from him. “My job is done.”

* * * * * *

Warrior Prophets 2 Chapter 27 – King of the River

Warrior Prophets 2 Chapter 27

King of the River

Jalet was an early riser. He loved to greet the sun from his palace in Kir Moav. He hefted his wide girth through the double wooden doors that led to the opulent porch and bowed formally to the monarch of the sky.

Life was comfortable. His older cousin, Eglon, Emperor of Moab, had assigned Jalet to administer the ancestral Moabite stronghold while Eglon reigned from his new capital in the City of Palms.

Jalet ate well. He was not nearly as large as Eglon, but he did make a point of enjoying every delicacy he could acquire. Eglon. Eglon had been on his mind of late. He had such mixed feelings about his wildly successful cousin. On one hand, he was appreciative of the trust and position Eglon had given him. Jalet was the king of Kir Moav and had very little to worry about beyond the petty squabbles and fights of the people within his walls. On the other hand he was jealous of Eglon; jealous of his extraordinary success, wealth and power. Eglon had risen from a simple warlord of the Moabites to the conqueror of Amalek, Ammon and all the tribes of Israel. He had become a major force in the world, controlling trade from Egypt to Mesopotamia. His upcoming alliance with Egypt would make him partner to what would become the strongest, largest empire in history. Oh, how Jalet wished for such power, such grandeur, such control of one’s destiny and the fate of the world. But here he was, relegated to what had become a minor outpost in the grand scheme.

Jalet noticed from his porch a line of travelers approaching the city. It was rare for so many people to arrive at Kir Moav at once. As they got closer, he saw it was mostly women and children. He recognized Moabites from the City of Palms. Then he spotted Empress Neema and her daughters on foot, in torn and soiled clothing, and he knew something had gone terribly wrong.

 

You have done well, my son, God said to Ehud in his dream. You have freed my people, and more importantly, you have restored their faith. They shall now serve me wholeheartedly. At least for a time.

I am your servant, Ehud thought to God. I am gratified that we were successful.

Yes. However, I have another task for you.

I am ready.

You are to go to Bethlehem and gather Mahlon son of Elimelech. I have given him a gift. A gift that you shall utilize.

How?

I will have you send a message to Egypt. Evil thoughts and evil deeds shall not go unpunished. No one, not even Pharaoh is beyond my reach. They have forgotten. We shall have to teach them again. However, this time the message will be just for Pharaoh.

 

“I don’t believe it,” Jalet said for the tenth time, as Empress Neema sat in his audience chamber and described the death of Eglon and the fall of the City of Palms and the Moabite Empire. Ruth and Orpa sat on either side of Neema. Bagdon was in the chamber as well, pacing as Neema spoke.

“The city has been burned to the ground and all of our forces, all ten thousand soldiers are dead,” Neema concluded.

“We were betrayed!” Bagdon interrupted. “We were betrayed by Galkak. He turned the forces of Ammon and Amalek against us. But at least he is dead. He has paid for his betrayal.”

“Galkak!?” Neema screeched. “Galkak was the most loyal friend and ally Moab ever had. He was from my people. From Amalek. He conquered Rabbath Ammon single-handedly. He saved Eglon countless times. No. No, Bagdon. Now that I think of it, it is you, Bagdon, you Israelite that has orchestrated all of this. Eglon trusted you. He raised you as a son. He promised our Orpa to you. I warned him he could never trust an Israelite, no matter how many of your brothers you killed. But no, he wouldn’t listen. He fawned over you. He thought you were the ideal subject. You were his success. And now you have given us ashes. And you have the gall to accuse the one decent man we have ever known? Galkak was probably on to you and you killed him. Cousin,” Neema turned to Jalet, “get rid of this traitor.”

“But, but, I am general of the forces of the Moabite Empire. I should take over!” Bagdon stammered.

“And where are your forces, General?” Jalet asked quietly.

“I can rebuild them. We can reconquer those Israelite peasants. I will fulfill Eglon’s vision. I am his heir!”

Jalet shifted his weight on the throne, understanding the situation and knowing immediately what he had to do.

“Bagdon, you are young, and I will excuse your excitement, massive failure and potential treason. My dear, departed, cousin Eglon, did place his trust in you. Therefore, if you leave Kir Moav now and never return to Moabite territory I will not have you killed.” Jalet motioned the two chamber guards closer. They understood and pointed their spears at Bagdon. “However,” Jalet continued, “if you remain, we shall execute you, as per the accusation of the Empress – is that satisfactory, Neema?”

Neema nodded. Bagdon looked at Jalet, sensing his seriousness. He looked at Neema and finally at Orpa.

“I would have been a good husband to you. I would have made you proud,” Bagdon said to Orpa and stormed out of the chambers.

“Well, now that that’s settled, let us continue our discussion, Neema.” Jalet rubbed his thick hands. “Let us speak frankly. The Empire is finished. All that remains of the might of Moab is here in this stronghold which I rule.”

“I am Empress!” Neema stood up, knowing where Jalet was going.

“My dear, Neema. You were the Empress. And as you so correctly pointed out, you are Amalekite. That is where your true allegiance lies and as our nations are no longer united, I would recommend you return home. However, I am feeling magnanimous, so I shall give you the following additional choices: you may marry me and be a humble Queen of Moab as you once were, before the failed Empire was conceived. Alternatively, you and your daughters are welcome to remain as permanent guests of our palace. You will hold no office or rank, but it is the least I can do for the poor homeless family of my dear deceased cousin. In any case, you must recognize my succession to Eglon to the throne of Moab, on which I already comfortably sit.” Jalet patted the armrest of his chair.

Neema said nothing for a few minutes, looking angry, then somber and finally smiling.

“You have certainly inherited some of Eglon’s cunning.” Neema reached out and caressed Jalet’s arm. “You are both right and gracious in your suggestions, King Jalet of Moab. I have always been attracted to power. Now you have it and you have shown you know how to wield it. Give me some time to consider your offer. There is one other journey I must make with my daughters to explore our fortunes before I will be able to give you a reply. Would that be acceptable?”

“Neema, take as long as you need. My home will always be open to you and your daughters.”

 

“Ehud! How good to see you! How is Blimah?” Vered greeted Ehud warmly at the entrance to their bakery. It was late afternoon in Bethlehem.

“Blimah is relieved that Eglon and the Moabites are gone and my role with them finished. But she was a bit disappointed that I needed to leave home again so soon.”

“She’s a good woman. Make sure to get back to her as soon as you can. Boaz! Ehud is here!” Vered called to the back of the bakery.

Boaz entered the storefront and embraced Ehud.

“What brings you to Bethlehem?” Boaz asked.

“Mahlon.”

“Mahlon? What do you want with him?”

“He has a power that will be useful for my next mission.”

“With animals.”

“Yes. How is he adjusting to being back home?”

“I think he’s having difficulties, and Elimelech is a wreck.”

“I figured. That’s why I came to you first. How bad is Elimelech?”

“He is broken. He is a great man, but he has been on the wrong side of the major events of our times. He led the civil war, yet he did not support your effort against Eglon. His leadership has been disastrous, yet people still look up to him and he is filled with self-doubt. He will not be happy to see you.”

“I need Mahlon.”

“Elimelech will not stop you, but Naomi might. Her son has just been returned to her after eighteen years. She had thought him lost forever. She will not wish to part with him again.”

“This will be a short absence.”

“Nonetheless, she will object. Would you like me to come along with you?”

“Thank you, Boaz, but I think it better if I go alone. You two look good. Thanks again for your help in the battle.”

“I hope that’s the last one. I was almost killed, you know. If it weren’t for your man Davneh, I would have been skewered.”

“I know. He was a good man and I was sorry to lose him.”

Boaz and Ehud embraced again and Ehud walked down the road to Elimelech’s home.

Ehud knocked on their door tentatively.

Naomi opened the door. She wore a simple beige dress with thick red hair tied neatly under her headdress. Her smile quickly turned to a frown when she recognized Ehud.

“Ehud,” she said.

“Hello, Naomi. May I come in?”

“You bring nothing but trouble to our family.”

“I’m sorry you see it that way. The trouble is never of my making. I have an important mission I must talk to your family about.”

“Family? You want Mahlon, don’t you. I know he’s having a hard time readjusting, but that’s no reason for him to leave.”

“Naomi, please let me in, so we can discuss things calmly. Is Elimelech home?”

“Yes. He and the boys just returned from the field and are washing up. Come in, then. I will get them.”

Ehud entered the large common area. A long wooden table filled the room. Naomi went to the back of the house. She returned with Elimelech, Mahlon and his younger brother Kilyon. Kilyon had the same red hair and muscular build as his brother and father.

“What do you want now?” Elimelech asked.

“May I sit down?” Ehud asked.

“What do you want!?” Elimelech asked again.

“I need Mahlon for a few weeks, perhaps even less. There is something I must do, that he is uniquely blessed to help me with.”

Mahlon, already happy at the sight of Ehud, smiled even more.

“I’m happy to go, Father,” Mahlon said. “I could use a break from this Judean town.”

“You are not going anywhere, young man; and this Judean town is your home!” Naomi stomped her foot.

“What is it you need him for?” Elimelech asked.

“Justice.”

“Against who?”

“Our people’s enemies.”

“Is that all you ask of us?”

“That is all I ask.”

“Naomi, you know Mahlon has been uncomfortable here.” Elimelech turned to his wife. “We cannot cage him here. He is a grown man. I agree to let him go with Ehud, but on one condition.”

“What condition?” Ehud asked.

“That he returns to Bethlehem and makes a greater effort to be at peace here.”

“I agree, Father,” Mahlon said quickly.

“Can I go as well?” Kilyon asked.

“No,” Ehud, Elimelech and Naomi said at once.

“Why does Mahlon get to have all the fun?” Kilyon asked, but nobody bothered to answer him.

 

“Terrible about Eglon,” Seti said to Pharaoh in the audience chamber.

“Yes. He had so much promise. I will miss that fat, uncouth Moabite. Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. What did we lose from the gambit? A few horses and a little gold? It would have been well worth it had he been successful,” Pharaoh told his son and heir. “Do not fret. Nature abhors a vacuum. We shall find some other agent to take up the reigns of power in the area and do our bidding. It may be time to further cultivate our relationship with the Ammonites.”

“Yes, Pharaoh. You are wise and far-seeing as always.”

“One must think in terms of generations and eternity, though I would have loved to see the ears of the Israelite firstborns that Eglon had promised. No matter. Time will furnish us with another puppet.”

“I am concerned about how thoroughly Eglon’s power was destroyed,” Seti said.

“Yes, it was somewhat of a surprise. Perhaps Eglon exuded power he did not truly possess. He was something of a charlatan.”

“Perhaps, or perhaps there is something we haven’t considered.”

“No. Eglon attempted to rise above his station and insinuate himself into our circle. He overreached and failed. It is as simple as that.”

“As you say, Pharaoh,” Seti said, unconvinced.

 

Ehud and Mahlon made good time to Egypt. It took them ten days on the road from Beer Sheva. They connected with the Sea road, and traveled undisturbed. They kept the great sea to their right and the Sinai desert to their left. Their mounts loved Mahlon, who knew exactly how to get the best speed out of them. He rested the horses when they needed it. He made sure they were fed and watered at good intervals but he also knew how to push them when they were getting lazy. Horses were notoriously lazy animals and they would use any excuse to slow down, wander off the road and nibble at wild grass.

The duo left the desert and entered the lush fields of the Nile delta. Vast irrigation ditches stretched for miles around the delta and south on either side of the northward flowing river. Black slaves from Sheba worked the fields, plowing for the summer crop. Ehud and Mahlon rode southwards, bypassing the city and Pharaoh’s palace.

They found a rocky, uncultivated stretch of land on the river bank.

“This spot should work,” Ehud said.

“I told you before, Ehud. I don’t know if I can do this at all. They are completely different creatures.”

“You’ll be able to do it. I have utter faith in you.”

“That’s nice, but I don’t have faith in myself.”

“Let’s find out.”

They dismounted and tied their horses to a nearby willow tree, its long curved branches touching the rushing river. Mahlon approached the water, lay down on the mossy ground and closed his eyes. Mahlon sent his mind out to find the creatures nearby. He felt the warm familiar minds of their two horses. They were happy to rest and were already becoming drowsy after the long journey. He felt some sparrows hiding in the willow, chattering to each other inanely.

Mahlon pushed his mind to the river. He sensed a catfish nearby, but was unable to comprehend its thoughts.

“I can’t do it.” Mahlon rolled over, opened his eyes and massaged the temples of his head. “They are completely alien. It’s a foreign language. It’s one thing to talk to mammals, but these creatures are completely different.”

“Keep trying,” Ehud encouraged.

“Fine, but I think your whole plan is crazy.”

“Just talk to them.”

Mahlon rolled back onto his stomach, closed his eyes and sent his mind once again to the river. He found another catfish and tried to understand its thoughts. There was a familiarity to its mind, but at the same time, something completely different. Mahlon imagined himself in the water and tried to feel what the catfish was feeling.

Then he heard it. The catfish was thinking “move, move, move,” over and over again. Mahlon understood. It was a much simpler creature, without the sophistication and complexity of the mammals he had known his whole life.

Mahlon reached further and found a water snake slithering in the river. He heard its “hunt, hunt, hunt,” as it scoured the river bank. Now for the king of the river, Mahlon thought.

He sensed one a mile upstream, a massive crocodile. It herded a school of carp against the side of the river and snapped its powerful jaws from side to side, scooping up the flailing fish in its large mouth and chomping them quickly. Mahlon waited until the crocodile had finished its noisy repast and calmly floated downstream. Mahlon sensed the reptilian intelligence and spoke to the crocodile’s mind.

You are powerful, Mahlon introduced himself.

Yes. I fear none, the crocodile thought back.

Truly? There are none that threaten you?

I am the largest of my kind. Only the hippo, Taweret, is dangerous, but she is far now.

What is your name?

I am Timsah, father of Garwe.

I am Mahlon, son of Elimelech.

You are curious. I have never communicated with man like this.

I have a special ability.

It is interesting. I would learn more of man. They dirty the river, divert the water and change the course of my home. Why do they not stay on the land and leave the water to me?

Does not Timsah also come onto land at times?

Only when water hunting is poor.

It is the same for man or even more so. I will tell more if you will do me a favor.

Perhaps I shall eat you instead.

Do you eat all men that you encounter?

No. Only annoying ones, or if I am very hungry. Your meat is too soft and your bones too hard.

Will you do me this favor?

It depends on what you ask.

Approach and I will explain.

Timsah swam towards Mahlon and Ehud, moving its tail and body sinuously.

All Mahlon could see of the king of the river were his eyes, ears and nostrils. Otherwise he was invisible. Ehud jumped as Timsah crawled suddenly onto the river bank. Timsah was the length of two grown men. He had a dark bronze scaly skin sprinkled with black spots. His sides were a pistachio green and he walked firmly on four short splayed legs. Bright green eyes stared at Mahlon.

Greetings, Timsah, king of the river.

Greetings, Mahlon son of Elimelech. It is surprisingly pleasing to speak to man in this fashion. Who is this man next to you? Does he not speak as you do?

This is Ehud, Mahlon motioned. He is my friend and he is the favor I require.

Speak.

 

Pharaoh rose with the sun, Ra, his fellow god. Pharaoh loved the early morning. It was the only time during his busy day he had to himself. Since time immemorial, all Pharaohs performed their morning ablutions in solitude. He went to the river bank outside his palace and washed his face with the life-giving waters of another friend from the pantheon, the river god, Hapi son of Horus.

As he rinsed his eyes, Pharaoh beheld a sight more wondrous than any he had ever seen in his life. From the river in front of him, a man rose from the water atop the largest crocodile he had ever seen. The man spat out a hollow reed from his mouth and still dripping from head to toe, stepped calmly onto the river bank.

“Are you a god?” Pharaoh asked Ehud.

“I am a messenger of God,” Ehud answered, shaking water off of himself.

“Which god?”

“There is only one God. The God of Israel.”

“Israel?” Pharaoh took a step back, frightened. “Who are you? What is the message?”

“The message is actually for your son, the new Pharaoh.”

“What do you mean? I don’t understand!” Pharaoh screamed, starting to panic.

“Clearly.” Ehud unsheathed the sword strapped to his back and stabbed Pharaoh. Pharaoh collapsed to the ground, dead. Ehud raised his sword and cut off Pharaoh’s ear. Ehud took the dismembered ear and placed it upon the palm of Pharaoh’s prone hand. Ehud then impaled the ear and the hand, leaving the protruding sword like a flag upon the battlefield.

“There is your firstborn’s ear, Pharaoh. Perhaps your son will think twice now when contemplating harming the children of Israel.”

Ehud stepped onto Timsah, who had been waiting by the river bank, and disappeared into the water of the Nile.

* * * * * *

Notes:

The Nile crocodile is called Timsah al-Nil in Arabic, Mamba in Swahili, Garwe in Shona, Ngwenya in Ndebele, Ngwena in Venda, Kwena in Sotho and Tswana. (Wikipedia)

Taweret is the hippo-headed Egyptian goddess of childbirth and fertility.

Warrior Prophets 2 Chapter 26 – The Battle of Moab

Warrior Prophets 2 Chapter 26

 The Battle of Moab

“We’re not going to be left behind,” young Lerim declared to the crowd of youngsters around him. “We’re not going to let the adults fight alone!”

“But how are we going to fight against professional soldiers?” a boy asked.

“How are our parents and brothers going to fight against professional soldiers?” Lerim retorted. “They’re farmers and shepherds, with not a weapon amongst them all. We have to do what we can, with whatever we have.”

“Won’t we make things worse by being underfoot? How will the adults fight if they are worried about our safety?” the boy continued to ask.

“We will help, yet keep our distance,” Lerim explained.

“I don’t understand,” the boy stated.

“Come into the smithy, all of you.” Lerim waved the crowd in. “I have a plan.”

Ehud rode hard, past the idols of Gilgal and the quarry. The sun set, lighting the mountains of Moab across the river with a deep red hue before darkness quickly descended. That’s where your people belong, Ehud thought to the dead Tyrant. You should never have crossed the river. But now we will push you back. Ehud blessed God for the full moon that let him ride through the night. He reached the hills of Mount Ephraim.

He saw a handful of bonfires and a few men awake. In the shadows, he could make out a large camp, asleep. He rode to the first bonfire and met big Perad, his assistant.

“How did it go?” Perad asked. “We heard from the princes that the Moabites pursued you.”

“The Tyrant is dead and I avoided the Moabites,” Ehud said. “How many answered our call?”

“Not many. Perhaps a thousand.”

“It will have to do. Now is the time.”

Ehud removed a hollow ram’s horn from his saddle. In the middle of the night, under the full moon, he raised the tip of the horn to his lips and blew with all his might. The sound of the horn reverberated throughout the mountain and down to the valley below. Again and again Ehud blew on the horn. Those in the camp awoke immediately and congregated around Ehud. Men from nearby towns approached the midnight convocation.

“Arise, my brothers!” Ehud called out to the swelling crowd. “Arise, and follow me. For God has given your enemy, Moab, into your hand! Eglon the Tyrant is dead. Dead at my hands. And so shall the rest of your enemies fall. Arise!”

More than one thousand men followed Ehud to the Jordan plain.

“Eglon is dead,” Bagdon said to Galkak in the palace hallway. Bagdon breathed deeply, fighting for a sense of control.

“No!” Galkak cried. “How?”

“He just fell down in his audience chamber. No blood, no wounds, nothing. The men are saying it’s because of his weight.”

“This is terrible! Eglon and Dirthamus in one day. What are we going to do?”

“King Galkak, I know that Eglon was your friend and that you have been his most loyal vassal. And I know I haven’t always been as respectful to you, but I ask that you honor your alliance and support me in finishing Eglon’s last wishes and strengthening our growing Empire. The action against the Israelite firstborns is critical for securing our treaty with Egypt. Your troops are here. We can finish the Israelites this morning and you shall have a prominent place in the expanded Empire.”

Galkak put out his arm and clasped Bagdon’s.

“I am your brother,” Galkak stated emotionally. “Where you go, I go. I shall not leave your side until this campaign is finished.”

“Now I know why Eglon treasured you so much,” Bagdon said. “It is lonely to be a leader, but you have consistently proven yourself a friend. Let us ready our troops. Much blood will be spilled today.”

Ehud and his men reached the Jordan valley with the morning sun. They carried axes and hoes, pitchforks and spades. There were a few crude bows amongst the men. Perad carried a large hammer and had brought one for Ehud as well. Lanky Davneh carried a hammer as well – every man took the tool he was comfortable with.

Moabite soldiers filled the valley and let the Israelites through uncontested. Six thousand Moabites guarded the perimeter of the valley. Another four thousand soldiers of Amalek and Ammon waited at attention outside the City of Palms.

“We make for the river,” Ehud announced. “They will not expect us to attack their border.”

Lerim and his companions, about three dozen youths, reached the edge of the tall mountains overlooking the Jordan valley. They could see the City of Palms, the ruins of Jericho and the expanse of the valley until the river.

Lerim looked at the rising sun expectantly and blessed God for the hot cloudless day.

“This can work,” he said to his followers as they removed their copper tools and polished them again.

“I would have expected more firstborns. And many more children. I don’t see any children.” Bagdon said to Galkak as they saw the Israelites approaching. They both sat on their mounts, Galkak with four thousand of his men behind him.

“Perhaps they are coming in stages,” Galkak suggested.

“And what is that they are carrying? Tools? What for?”

“Bagdon, you are Israelite. You know how they are so fond of their tools. Why, I knew an Israelite blacksmith that slept with his hammer every night.”

“I am Israelite only by birth, but something is not right,” Bagdon said. “This is not an innocent group coming for a census – this is an attack force!”

“Nonsense,” Galkak insisted. “So they ride hard. You are becoming paranoid and jumping at shadows. This is how you will lead the Empire?”

“Perhaps you are right,” Bagdon said doubtfully. “Let us be patient and see what happens. In any case, we can easily quash such a feeble force.”

The Israelites reached the Moabite forces stationed by the river crossing and smashed into them. Hoes, hammer, scythes and axes tore into the Moabite soldiers. The Moabite force fell apart under the surprise attack. Bagdon spotted Ehud at the lead.

“It’s Ehud! It is an attack!” Bagdon yelled. “Moabites! Destroy that Israelite force! Now!” Bagdon charged forward.

“Amalek! Ammon! Attack Moab now!” Galkak called out.

Bagdon whirled his stallion to face Galkak.

“What do you mean by attack Moab!? Galkak, you must be confused. You mean Israel! Tell your men to attack Israel!”

“No,” Galkak said with a slight smile. “I know exactly what I’m doing.”

Galkak’s men hacked at the Moabites from behind.

“Traitor!” Bagdon pounced on Galkak with his sword. Galkak defended himself from Bagdon’s violent attack. “No matter!” Bagdon said. “We still outnumber you. We shall destroy you and the Israelites in one shot. Then we shall truly be the only power in the region.”

“I’m just happy to keep you occupied while my men destroy a leaderless and confused army.” Galkak smiled as he parried Bagdon’s blows, all the time keeping an eye on the progress of the battle.

“You are wasting my time.” Bagdon disengaged from Galkak and surveyed the battle. The fighting was concentrated by the river crossing. The Moabites from all over the valley were closing in on the Israelites. Galkak’s men had taken the Moabites by surprise, but now the Moabites with their superior numbers were fighting back. Moabites, Amalekites and Ammonites were falling left and right. Only the Israelites, with their crude tools, seemed to suffer the least casualties.

Bagdon looked closely and then understood why.

Ehud.

Ehud was off his horse and was fighting with a canniness and accuracy that Bagdon would not have believed possible. Ehud had already picked up two swords from fallen Moabites and was ducking under blows, stabbing those approaching from behind and wrecking havoc throughout the Moabite line. Then Bagdon caught a glimpse of a man speeding around the Moabite troops, laying them low. The famed Boaz, Bagdon realized. Boaz had more grey than red on his head, but he still managed to incapacitate the best Moabite soldiers. Explosions of smoke racked the Moabite line and another grey red-head led an Israelite charge against the confused Moabite soldiers. That must be Amitai, Bagdon thought. The old militia has reassembled. But we still outnumber them. We still have the advantage of training, of arms, of mounts. Even with Galkak’s treachery. But Ehud is the key. If I can stop him, I can end this quickly, Bagdon decided as he called a squadron of soldiers to him and marched towards the whirling Ehud.

Mahlon burst into the quarters of the Empress. She sat morosely, Ruth and Orpa on either side of her.

“Quick, Empress, princesses, you must leave the palace!” Mahlon said, holding a torch in his hand.

“Can we not mourn in peace!?” Empress Neema asked.

“There is no time,” Mahlon insisted. “The palace is on fire!”

“Fire? There is no fire. What are you talking about?”

Mahlon touched the torch to the bed of the Empress which quickly caught the flame. In moments there was a roaring fire.

“There’s your fire,” Mahlon said. “It would be a shame for you and your daughters to die with the rest of the city. The Tyrant is dead and soon your Empire will crumble at the hand of God’s prophet. Go back to Moab. Go back where you belong. I will burn the stables last, so if you hurry you can still find some mounts.”

“Goodbye, Princess,” Mahlon looked at Ruth. “I know this is painful, but perhaps we are saving you for a better destiny than to become an Egyptian puppet. Think of yourself as free from your prison now. Farewell. I do not think we will meet again.”

Mahlon exited the burning room, with Eglon’s family fast behind him. The women headed towards the stable. Mahlon headed deeper into the palace to see what else he could burn.

Ruth looked at his receding back and somehow knew, I will see you yet again Mahlon son of Elimelech, prince of Judah.

Davneh was afraid. Every time he stabbed a Moabite. Every time he almost died. He was no soldier. He didn’t have Perad’s strength or Ehud’s amazing skill. Davneh was filled with cuts and bruises. He was tired. The initial excitement from the first attack had worn off. He had fallen behind Ehud and now Moabites were attacking them from the sides and the rear. More Israelites were falling. There seemed to be an endless number of Moabites just waiting their turn to try and kill them. One large Moabite reached Davneh and raised his sword for a killing stroke. Davneh no longer had the strength to move or defend himself. Suddenly, a flash of light struck the Moabite in the eyes, blinding him momentarily. Davneh blessed God for the reprieve and stabbed the large Moabite.

Lerim jumped for joy.

“It worked!” he cried out. “It’s working! I blinded him!”

Lerim had taken pieces of copper from the smithy. Pieces from old pots, scraps from oil lanterns and together with his friends they had polished them to a mirror-like shine. From their vantage point of the mountains, they were able to reflect the strong desert sun into the eyes of their enemies.

“Yes!” shouted another boy, as he successfully blinded another Moabite about to stab an Israelite. The Moabite was then killed in turn.

The tactic was proving successful and helping the battle. Best of all, they were out of harm’s way. However, Bagdon’s sharp eye noticed the phenomena and traced the source to the jumping boys on the mountain. He sent a squadron of soldiers towards the boys.

The City of Palms was on fire. The few non-combatants under the leadership of Empress Neema fled south, away from the battle. Mahlon rode Chamrah towards the battleground. He looked awkward riding on a donkey beside the soldiers on their large warhorses, but he trusted Chamrah with his life.

Moabite soldiers looked back in distress to see their city burning. Mahlon looked at the Jordan River, dark with blood. He noted the advantage the Moabites had over the Israelites with their cavalry.

Stop! Mahlon ordered all the horses his mind could reach. Dozens of horses stopped suddenly, sending their riders flying forward. Bagdon and his men fell off their horses, paces away from Ehud, who was still at the forefront of the battle.

“Arrows on Ehud!” Bagdon commanded his men from the ground. A dozen archers placed their arrows in their bows and aimed at Ehud.

“Fire!” Bagdon ordered.

Galkak, on his stallion, jumped into the line of fire. Eight arrows hit the horse and four arrows hit Galkak. Galkak fell off his horse. Ehud saw Galkak fall and ran towards him.

“Perad, Amitai,” Ehud called and pointed. “Bagdon.”

The two warriors with their men branched off from the main Israelite force and attacked Bagdon’s group. Bagdon looked around. Few remained standing from any of the armies, except for the Israelites. Thousands upon thousands of corpses littered the battleground. Moabites, Amalekites and Ammonites lay as puppets whose strings had been violently ripped, their blood mingling in the flowing Jordan. Only the Israelites remained as a force, angry and ready for more blood. Bagdon did not understand how they were defeated so thoroughly. A few farmers, that’s all it was, Bagdon thought in confusion. And that traitor, Galkak. If it weren’t for Galkak, curse him, we would have won. Curse that Amalekite.

Big Perad and grizzled Amitai closed in on Bagdon menacingly. Then a painful light blinded Bagdon. That’s enough, Bagdon decided. We cannot take anymore.

“Retreat!” Bagdon called out. “Retreat, Moab. We will live to fight another day!”

Bagdon ran away from the approaching Israelites.

“Galkak,” Ehud held the fallen man.

“I ain’t gonna make it this time, Ehud,” Galkak said, two arrows in his chest and one in his stomach.

“You saved my life,” Ehud said. “You saved all of us. We’ve won. We are free of the yoke of Moab. We are free to be ourselves.”

“That’s good. I was tired of pretending.”

“Galkak, is there anything we can do for you? Any last wish? A message to your family?” Ehud asked as he felt Galkak’s spirit ebb.

“I could really use a drink,” Galkak said and then died in his friend’s arms.

Davneh’s one joy in life had been working in the smithy. He was not very smart, nor very brave. He was not particularly attractive and no girl had deemed him a worthy groom. Even in the smithy, he was only good as a helper. He never felt that he accomplished anything beyond cleaning the smithy or stoking the fire. He never did anything important or worthwhile. But he belonged. That was the only reason he had joined the battle, because of Ehud and Perad. Part of him wished he could have been excused, like young Lerim.

Now his entire body ached. He had never hurt so much in his life. Not when he had dropped the heavy smithy hammer on his toe, or when he had burned himself on the tongs that he had left by the furnace. He had gashes throughout his body and he could barely move. All he wanted to do was fall to the ground and die. But there were still Moabite soldiers about, wielding their swords expertly.

Davneh saw the famed Boaz nearby. He had grown up on stories of Boaz’s exploits and powers. Boaz was kneeling on the ground, murmuring.

“I’m too old for this,” Boaz wheezed. Boaz’s right arm was covered with the blood of his many victims and his legs wobbled as if they were about to collapse. He didn’t seem to notice the large Moabite approaching him from behind.

Davneh had no more voice left to warn Boaz of the Moabite. Instead, he ran at the Moabite with his last remaining strength and threw himself at the giant of a man. The Moabite skewered Davneh in mid-air. Boaz awoke to the movement, turned on the Moabite and stabbed him in turn.

Davneh fell to the ground and with his last breath said: “At last, something worthwhile.” He died with a tired smile on his face.

Bagdon ran hard and fast. He found his mount and rode it south, away from the battle. A lone man on a donkey stood in his way.

“You must be rejoicing, stable boy,” Bagdon said to Mahlon.

“Yes, we are finally free of cruel Moabite dominion.”

“Get out of my way and I won’t kill you,” Bagdon said.

“No. You need to answer for your crimes.”

“What crimes? I have always been and always shall be a loyal soldier of the Empire. It is you and all these others that are criminals.”

“You are blind, Bagdon. Even in defeat you do not realize the truth. Stand down and face the judgment of our people.”

“I’m not afraid of you, Mahlon. I was always a better fighter than you. There’s little you can do to me from your silly donkey.”

Bagdon slashed suddenly at Mahlon, cutting at his arm and knocking Mahlon off of Chamrah. Bagdon jumped off his horse and approached the fallen Mahlon, preparing a death-blow. Chamrah charged at Bagdon and bit his leg. Bagdon aimed for Mahlon again, but Chamrah stood in his way and neighed loudly. Chamrah then kicked Bagdon and chased him, nipping at his buttocks as the former general of the Moabite Empire ran away.

Lerim saw the force of Moabites scaling the mountain towards them. The battle looked like it was almost over, but now they needed to worry about their own survival. Running did not seem an option. Once the soldiers reached the top of the mountain, they would be able to catch the young Israelites easily.

The boys shone their polished copper pieces on the climbing soldiers. They tried to blind them exactly when they were reaching for that precarious ledge or about to step into a more secure foothold. They managed to blind a few soldiers at precisely the right moment and watched gleefully as they tumbled down the mountain, not to return. At others they simply threw rocks and large stones. In one case they were able to start a small avalanche that buried two Moabites.

Finally, one large Moabite crested the mountain ledge, sword in hand. Thirty boys pelted the soldier at once with fist and head-sized stones. Half a dozen other boys, with Lerim amongst them, took long branches and smashed the soldier at the same time. The Moabite went tumbling down the mountain, never to trouble anyone again.

The Israelites easily killed the remaining Moabites who were not as light-footed as Bagdon. Few Amalekites or Ammonites had survived the battle either. Many had tried to escape east across the river, but the Israelites held the river against them. Ten thousand corpses lay in the valley of the Jordan River, very few of them Israelite. The Israelites gathered their wounded and dead and headed back home. Ehud had Galkak’s body sent to his hometown of Aroer. He watched as the flames of the City of Palms died down, just leaving the charred remains of what had once been the capital of the Moabite Empire.

Perad found a cart, placed Davneh’s body on it and hitched their horses to the cart.

“What shall we do with the enemy’s dead?” Perad asked Ehud.

“Leave them. Let the vultures and the jackals feast. We will have enough work fixing what these nations have destroyed.”

“What work?”

“The work of freedom, the work of peace, the work of proper worship of God – it is all hard work. Come Perad, let us take Davneh home and get to work.”

Perad, Ehud and the rest of the Israelites left the valley of the Jordan River as the afternoon set in. The mountains of Moab appeared redder than usual in the setting sun.

* * * * * *

Biblical Source: Book of Judges, Chapter 3

26 And Ehud escaped while they lingered, having passed beyond the quarries, and escaped unto Seirah. 27 And it came to pass, when he was come, that he blew a horn in the hill-country of Ephraim, and the children of Israel went down with him from the hill-country, and he before them. 28 And he said unto them: ‘Follow after me; for the Lord hath delivered your enemies the Moabites into your hand.’ And they went down after him, and took the fords of the Jordan against the Moabites, and suffered not a man to pass over. 29 And they smote of Moab at that time about ten thousand men, every lusty man, and every man of valour; and there escaped not a man. 30 So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest fourscore years.