Category Archives: Joshua

Secrets of Creation

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/pinhas-secrets-of-creation/

Baal Haturim Numbers: Pinhas

Secrets of Creation

This most beautiful system The Universe could only proceed from the dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being. -Sir Isaac Newton

creation-of-the-universe

The Talmud warns us not to delve too deeply into the origins of the Universe. It further states that those who are privy to the secrets of creation should only transmit them to worthy students, and even then only in private discussions.

As Moses prepares to pass the reigns of leadership to his disciple Joshua, the Baal Haturim on Numbers 27:20 reveals that Moses also transmitted to Joshua the secrets of the “Merkava” and of creation.

The “Merkava” (literaly, Chariot) refers to the prophetic visions documented by Ezekiel as to the divine presence. It is a very deep, esoteric study which preoccupies many kabbalists. Creation is likewise veiled by the mists of time. Even with various scientific theories and advances, we cannot easily answer some of the most basic questions as to how or why we have the particular physical universe we’re familiar with.

However, it was important for at least the spiritual leaders of the generation to have some familiarity with these fundamental concepts, to know, from tradition, what the elemental forces and functioning of both our spiritual and physical existence are.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Paco Diez, composer, singer and leading disseminator of traditional Sepharadic music. His concert in Montevideo was a spiritual experience.

with Paco Diez

The Power of Honoring

[First posted on The Times of Israel: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/pinhas-the-power-of-honoring/]

Ibn Ezra Numbers: Pinhas

The Power of Honoring

“Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other” -Edmund Burke

God has informed Moses of his impending forced retirement. Moses will not cross the Jordan River with the people of Israel to enter the promised land. Rather, God tells him that he will ascend the mountain, see the land, and die there outside of Canaan. Moses makes a final request of God: don’t leave the people leaderless – appoint someone to follow me.

God acquiesces to the request and informs Moses that his disciple Joshua will take over the reins of leadership. Joshua is the one that will lead the people into Canaan and conquer the land.

In the first act of “semicha” or ordination, Moses places his hands upon Joshua and transmits to him some of his spirit, his glory, his authority. Ibn Ezra on Numbers 27:20 is so impressed by this act that he claims it had the immediate effect of raising Joshua’s status in the eyes of the entire nation. By Moses honoring Joshua so, by raising Joshua to his own level, he showed the highest form of respect. The people of Israel immediately understood the action of Moses, the honor that he was showing Joshua, and they learned to honor Joshua as well, following Moses’ example.

May we always have opportunity to see deserving people honored.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the chain of tradition, that has continued from Moses until this day. See here for an interesting presentation showing the unbroken chain of ordination that includes some of my Rabbis.

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 29 – Lion of Judah

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 29

Lion of Judah

Ruth completed her third circle around Boaz. She found herself out of breath and disoriented as her vision fluctuated between the battle around her wedding ceremony and her presence in the future, as her descendant David faced the Philistine giant, Goliath son of Orpa.

The first group of Philistine mercenaries that Alron the Danite had brought into Bethlehem lay dead or unconscious on the floor of the alcove where Boaz and Ruth had meant to marry. Four elders held the poles of the wedding canopy over the couple. Ehud, Ploni, Garto and the rest of the residents of Bethlehem fought a pitched battle against the new infusion of Philistine mercenaries in front of the city gate. Judean pitchforks, axes and walking sticks were wielded against the iron swords of professional soldiers.

It seemed that the more numerous Judeans would stem the tide pouring through the city gate, until a flurry of arrows killed half a dozen defenders.

Ehud identified the man-child Beor as the deadly archer standing next to the sorcerer Sumahtrid. Ehud grabbed a spear from a dead Philistine and threw it with all his might at Beor. The archer moved his body, but not before the blacksmith’s spear clove his bow in half.

“You’ll have to get your hands dirty now, Beor,” Sumahtrid instructed his disciple. “I know how much you love it.”

Beor drew his sword and approached the thick of battle as Sumahtrid continued weaving spells with his hands and voice.

*

David stood frozen for a moment as Goliath’s footsteps shook the earth. David felt the tremors of the wounded land through the soft soles of his leather sandals. He held his staff in one hand and his sling in the other and feared that even his vaunted faith would not be enough to sustain him against the unnatural menace barreling towards him.

“Now,” Boaz yelled to the ghost of his bride-to-be. “He needs us now.” Both he and Ruth floated to David and each took hold of one of his shoulders.

David felt the strength of their spirits pour into him. He stood tall and did not flinch as the giant suddenly halted his march.

Goliath looked at David in shock, not believing his size, age, or lack of armor or weaponry.

“Am I a dog,” Goliath barked harshly at David, “that you come to me with a stick, boy? This is the hero the Israelites send to fight me? By all the gods, I have never been so offended. I swear to you by the old gods and the new gods, by Zeus and Hera, by Baal and Ashtarte, come to me boy, and I will feed your carcass to the vultures and your rotting corpse to the jackals.”

David took a step back from Goliath’s threat. Ruth and Boaz held David’s shoulders firmly, and soon found other hands joining them.

Moses, with his flowing white beard stood right behind David and whispered.

“I smote a giant much larger than this one.”

Abraham stood next to Moses and whispered, “Do not fear, my son. You must kill him to set the course.”

Samuel the Prophet joined their hands and said, “It is for this that I anointed you. You are the chosen of God. You can defeat this heathen.”

More and more hands rested on David’s shoulders; the ancestors, warriors and prophets of countless generations. They whispered to him. They encouraged him. They gave him of their essence. David felt their spirit. He felt their strength flowing into his soul, into his blood. He felt his muscles burn with power.

“You are our child,” Ruth said above the chorus of the generations. “We are with you. You are a Lion of Judah. This is your destiny. Show this monster, show these heathens, how a son of the living God, how a prince of Israel, has no fear.”

David took a step forward and looked at Goliath in the eye. He felt a kinship in the eyes, a certain ferocity – but nothing else.

“You come to me with a sword, a spear and a javelin,” David called out in a voice that bounced off the mountains on either side. The Philistine and Israelite armies hushed to hear David’s words. “But I, I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted this day. And it is He that will deliver you into my hand. I will kill you. I will cut your head off and I will give the carcasses of your Philistines to the vultures of the sky and to the jackals of the field, that all will know that there is a God in Israel.”

A cheer arose from the army of Israel as the Philistines looked on in confusion and the beginning of fear.

“And all will know,” David continued in a louder voice over the cheering Israelites, “that God doesn’t save with the sword or the spear, for battle is God’s domain and he will give you into our hands.”

“Enough! Enough, you filthy little dog.” Goliath raised his spear. The spear was as thick as a tree with an iron point the size of a man’s head. “I have never heard such a loud blabbering Israelite before. Enough!”

Goliath threw his spear with blinding speed, but David had already moved and was no longer where he had stood when the spear penetrated the earth as if suddenly giving birth to a new tree. Goliath raised his sword and with a piercing battle-cry slashed at David. David ducked under the heavy sword and rolled to his feet. He grabbed a stone from his satchel and placed it into the mouth of his sling. Goliath slashed at the running David. David somersaulted into the air, flipping over the flashing sword and landing on his feet.

“Stay still you little monkey!” Goliath spat and slashed again at the place where David had been. “Fight like a man! I didn’t come here to hunt rabbits!”

David spun his sling. Goliath paused and laughed. He sheathed his sword and drew his javelin from behind his back.

“You think your little pebbles will hurt me? I’m indestructible!”

David continued spinning until he felt the speed was right. Goliath launched the javelin at David. David jumped out of the way of the javelin, the force of the wind almost knocking him over. He kept hold of the sling and continued his relentless spinning.

God! Let my aim be true! David prayed. He felt the presence of Ehud again, guiding his hand. “I told you I would be with you,” Ehud whispered. “A Wolf of Benjamin assists the Lion of Judah.”

The stone left the sling with a rush of sound. The armies of two nations watched as the small stone, no larger than a man’s fist, flew towards the giant’s head. Goliath’s eyes lost focus as they tried to follow the speeding path of the riverstone.

Then it struck. It struck right beneath the gleaming bronze helmet, upon the bridge of the nose between the giant’s eyes. The helmet with the bright red plume flew off the giant’s head as he reeled backwards. The stone embedded itself deep into his thick skin. The towering giant took a step back from the force of the blow.

And then the impossible happened. The giant stopped breathing. A universal gasp echoed from both sides of the valley. The Philistines on one mountain and the Israelites on the opposing mountain held their collective breaths as Goliath ceased to live. They knew it when his eyes rolled backwards. They had seen it in countless enemies, but never in a being so large. His life was snuffed out. It was as if a towering cedar, one of the famed majestic trees from the forests of Lebanon, had been felled. Goliath wobbled for a moment, his legs no longer wielding the power to sustain him. He fell to his knees. His arms went slack at his sides and his massive body fell forward.

The entire world moved in slow motion and only had eyes for the falling giant. It was as if the rules of nature had been overturned. A small, young, unarmed boy had killed the mightiest; the most invincible warrior the world had ever created. The tiniest details of Goliath came into sharp focus. His burnished breastplate displayed the fortress by the sea with the characteristic gate of Ashkelon, the city of his birth. The greaves on his legs with the engraved soldiers were smiling with glee in the burning sun.

There must have been sound when the enormous body hit the ground, but nobody heard it. The shock was so overwhelming, the deed so impossible, that the visual senses were overloaded and did not allow any other sense to function. It was impossible. The large body bounced, his face splattering into the muddy riverbank, and then he moved no more.

*

Ruth finished the sixth circle, panting and sweating profusely. She could barely focus on the scene in Bethlehem. Boaz remained in a light trance, not able or willing to break Ruth’s circles, yet frustrated that he could do nothing to fight their immediate danger. They were surrounded by an army. The four elders holding up the wedding canopy were using their staffs to fend off the Philistine mercenaries that got through the guard of the Bethlehemites that had made a circle around Boaz and Ruth. There were perhaps two dozen Bethlehemites standing against a force of three dozen professional soldiers. Ehud was in single sword combat with the dexterous Beor, neither of them gaining an advantage. Ploni stayed close to Ruth, watching for any Philistines that made it past the guard of the four elders.

Then Ploni saw it from the corner of his eye; an arrow flashing through the thick air towards Ruth’s heart. Instinctively he jumped in its way as Ruth continued her dream walk. The arrow punctured Ploni’s lung and he knew he would not last long as he collapsed outside Ruth’s path.

Alron, standing on the parapet, reloaded another arrow to shoot at Ruth. He pulled on the bow and aimed at the Moabite princess, until a sword erupted from his belly, sending the arrow awry.

“You dirty traitor,” Garto exhaled as he pulled the sword out of Alron’s body, kicking him over the parapet. “You deserve much worse than that for bringing enemies into our city.”

Garto spotted the sorcerer Sumatrid on a further parapet and ran towards him.

*

Ehud cried for every Israelite that died defending Boaz and Ruth. He wept openly when Ploni fell. He could have saved them, but the sorcery was stopping him. He didn’t understand it. It hadn’t incapacitated him. It had just taken away his extra edge, his extra speed, strength and stamina that had always accompanied him in battle. Now he was just an old blacksmith, an experienced warrior, fighting a fresher, younger assassin.

He saw Sumahtrid in the distance waving his hands in strange patterns, but he could not reach him. If he disengaged from Beor, the assassin would kill Boaz and Ruth in short order.

Then he saw Garto running towards Sumahtrid and prayed that the unskilled overseer would be a match for the sorcerer.

*

Sumahtrid had mixed feelings about the death of Alron. On one hand, he would no longer have to pay him the exorbitant fees he had demanded, but on the other hand, the Danite had almost accomplished the task of killing the princess. He would just need to redouble his efforts. He didn’t understand why Boaz, the ancient warrior, remained frozen in his wedding ceremony, but that left Ehud as the only threat, and he needed to weaken Ehud until Beor could overcome the old blacksmith.

He saw the overseer running towards him with the sword. Perhaps it was time to change tactics. Sumahtrid whistled shrilly. All stopped and looked at Sumahtrid for a moment.

“To me, my pet!” Sumahtrid called to Beor.

Beor immediately backed away from Ehud and ran back to Sumahtrid.

Sumahtrid gestured at Garto who continued running towards him. A stone that Garto stepped on dislodged from the floor, sending Garto flying over the parapet, landing onto a pile of corpses below. The stone continued flying and knocked into an Israelite defender, sending him crumbling to the floor.

Sumahtrid sent another stone flying towards Ruth. Ehud sheathed his sword in his scabbard, jumped to intercept the flying stone and redirected it at a Philistine soldier.

“Guard me from any attackers,” Sumahtrid instructed Beor as he met him on the parapet. “I will let the stones of the ancestors kill the progeny. There will only be so many stones the blacksmith can catch.”

Sumahtrid lobbed stones at a more rapid pace. Ehud struggled to catch each one and divert them. Some started to get through and hit other Israelites. One stone hit an elder holding the wedding canopy, throwing him against the wall of the alcove. Another elder grabbed the canopy pole before it fell, his staff in his other hand, wary of another stone and the Philistines, who had backed away from the magical stone attack.

Within minutes, Ehud was bruised and bloodied by the attack of the flying stones. One of his arms hung limply at his side. All of the Israelites were dead, unconscious or dispersed, except for four wounded elders holding up the canopy around Boaz and Ruth.

“Now to finish the job,” Sumahtrid purred, rubbing his hands for a final assault.

*

David looked in awe at the fallen Goliath.

There was a roar of victory from the Israelite army and a roar of anger from the Philistines. Even without Goliath, the Philistines outnumbered and outmatched the Israelites. The Philistines would have to engage the Israelites, but it would be a massacre nonetheless.

The remaining Philistine generals ordered their army to form into lines. They would attack the Israelites.

“No!” Ruth’s specter said. “We must press the advantage. David, my child, you are not done yet.” Ruth thought of her role, she thought of her purpose, she wondered what she contributed that the other mighty ancestors didn’t. Why did God need her in the supreme mix of souls? And then she knew it. She knew what the blood of Eglon carried. She knew what a descendant of Lot could do. She knew what the Israelites were lacking and she knew why she was chosen. She knew why it was her and no one else from Moab. She was the kind one from Moab, in a time when Israel desperately needed kindness. It was compassion, it was humility, it was faith, but there was something underlying all these traits.

For a moment she had a vision of a memory she had not thought of since her childhood. It had been in the Judean desert, when her father, Emperor Eglon, controlled the land of Canaan. On one of the many days that she would sneak out of the City of Palms and explore the land, she climbed the stark rocky hills that hid the lush wadis. In one of the wadis she spotted a lioness. The lioness was wounded and trapped by a sudden rockfall. One leg lay broken under a pile of stones. A pack of hyenas, smelling blood, exited their lair. They approached the wounded lioness, only to cower back at her angry roar. The hyenas circled around the trapped lioness and headed towards her den, where her newborn cubs lay.

The trapped lioness roared again and with supreme effort extricated herself from the rocks. With three healthy legs she pounced on half a dozen hyenas. The hyenas counterattacked and nipped at the lioness’ broken leg. The lioness roared in pain, but never gave up. She roared and attacked as the hyenas jumped onto her, biting into her back, her neck, her healthy legs. With the fury only a mother can show for her young, the lioness slashed and bit at the hyenas. She finally killed one, biting through its neck and battering the other hyenas with the body of their dead brother. The other hyenas scattered, whimpering, and never approached the lioness’ den again.

Young Ruth, from her safe haven above the wadi, cried as she witnessed the power and fury of the lioness. She had never been the same again.

Ruth of Moab awoke from her daydream, and still in her spirit state looked at the body of Goliath with his face in the mud. Her specter grabbed hold of David and she felt Boaz by her side, and Ehud, and Abraham, Moses, Nachshon, Joshua, Samson, Samuel and many more. She felt the spirits of generations channeling through her into the body of the young redhead. And she knew what she contributed, what was uniquely hers and what was needed now. Ferocity. She had the capacity for ferocity that was unrivaled. She now poured all of her ferocity into David.

David gritted his teeth and ran as if his body were on fire. David ran to Goliath’s corpse and removed his gigantic sword from its sheath. With supernatural strength he raised the iron sword and brought it crashing down over Goliath’s neck. The sword clove straight through the tough skin, separating the head from the body. David raised Goliath’s head by the hair, faced the combined troops of the Philistines and roared.

It was a roar that was heard from one end of the valley to the other. It rebounded off of the hills and into the sky. The clouds shook from the power of the roar. It was a roar that contained the voices of all the ancestors of David, of Judah, of Israel. Those that stood in the Valley of Ella that day swore that they saw a gigantic vision of a lion standing over David.

“Lion of Judah!” an Israelite warrior cried.

“Lion of Judah!” his fellow warriors repeated.

“LION OF JUDAH!!” the entire Israelite army screamed.

As one man, the Israelites raised their swords and ran towards the Philistines. No orders, no plan, no strategy. A sea of bodies and swords flowed down the mountain and filled the valley. It was as if a gigantic anthill had been kicked and now a ferocious assault was unleashed. The Israelites ran at the astonished Philistines fearlessly. David dropped Goliath’s head, yet retained the massive sword. He ran to the head of the oncoming Israelite army and was the first to engage the awestruck Philistines. With one swipe of Goliath’s sword David killed six Philistines.

“Lion of Judah!” the Israelites repeated and dove into the ranks of the retreating Philistines. That day thousands of Philistines were killed. Not one Israelite fell. David and the Israelite army pursued the Philistines all the way back to their cities of Gath and Ekron. David did not stop until the Israelites tired of massacring the fearful Philistines. Vultures of the sky and jackals of the field feasted on the Philistine bodies. That day David became a legend for all time. That was the day the tribes of Israel got their first glimpse of their future king, the one that would unite the tribes and establish the eternal monarchy of Israel.

*

Ruth finished her seventh circle as a stone block flew towards her head. Ehud lay gasping in pain on the floor. A large stone had broken three of his ribs. At that exact moment, generations into the future, a young redhead roared a roar that shook the earth. That roar escaped the lips of Ruth. It came out of the mouth of Boaz whose eyes opened widely. It came out of the lungs of Ehud that rasped with pain. Their roar shook the city. The flying stone stopped in midair and dropped harmlessly to the ground. Unconscious Bethlehemites woke up with vigor. The injured were healed. The fatally wounded were revived. Sumahtrid tried to cast a new spell, but found he could no longer speak. Ruth awoke from her trance, left the wedding canopy and marched towards Sumahtrid on the rampart. She climbed the stairs quickly, as a lioness pouncing on its prey.

Sumahtrid backed away from the woman with the fire in her eyes. Beor stood in front of him with his sword ready.

Ruth stopped a few feet away and planted her feet firmly on the stone.

“GOD!” she roared, raising her fists to the sky.

A blast of power emanated from Ruth, knocking Beor off the rampart. The effect on Sumahtrid was different. Sumahtrid’s form froze. His skin and clothing took on a grey color, like ashes from a dead hearth. Cracks formed all over his body and little flecks of dust were carried by the wind. The process accelerated, as Sumahtrid’s body decomposed and finally disappeared altogether in the Judean wind. Beor, watching his master’s fate from below, ran out of the city, never to look back.

Ruth walked regally down the stairs in her white wedding gown. The population of Bethlehem stood at attention and formed a passageway for Ruth to return to Boaz under the wedding canopy. Ehud stood by his side, dirty but healthy-looking. Garto was there as well, and even Ploni had been resuscitated, grinning more widely than he had in many decades with an arrow shaft still protruding from his chest.

“Shall we finish the ceremony?” Boaz asked.

“By all means,” Ruth responded. “I just had an uninvited guest to get rid of.”

Boaz and Ruth were married that day in Bethlehem, and everyone who was there swore that they saw a giant silhouette of a lion overlooking the wedding canopy.

* * * * * *

Warrior Prophets 2 – Chapter 14: Invasion of Canaan

Warrior Prophets 2 Chapter 14

Invasion of Canaan

“My father told me of your history,” Eglon said from atop his chariot. “He told me how your Moses stood here, here on our plains of Moab, which we have now re-conquered. After forty years, after leading your people out of Egypt, Moses could see the land, almost touch it, but never to cross over, never to reach that promised land. How sad.”

Riding next to Eglon were Ehud and Blimah, the former on a brown stallion and the later on a tan mare. They moved across the plains of Moab with three thousand of Eglon’s troops, approaching the Jordan River. Galkak rode on his white mare on the other side of Eglon. Next to him was the covered wagon with Dirthamus inside. Zakir and Empress Neema remained at Rabbath Ammon.

“Yes,” Ehud answered. “It was Moses’ last wish, but was not fulfilled. Joshua brought us in and now you will undo all of his work.”

“Undo?” Eglon raised his eyebrow. “I will not undo the settlement of the tribes of Israel. I will merely rearrange the power structure. Your stiff-necked tribes will be more orderly, more compliant under a firm and unified rule.”

“As you wish,” Ehud answered.

“Yes. And now I wish to do what the great Moses himself could not.” Eglon removed his sword from his scabbard and was rewarded with silence from his troops. “To cross the Jordan!” He announced in his deep rumbling voice.

Three thousand swords flew out of their scabbards with a sharp metallic cascade. The men cheered as Eglon sped his chariot to the river crossing. Horses and men splashed in the softly flowing stream, low in the late summer.

“Hah! We did it!” Eglon shouted happily on the western bank of the river. “We have crossed the Jordan uncontested!”

Soldiers raised their swords into the air and patted each other on the back.

“What’s he so happy about?” Blimah whispered to Ehud. “There’s no one here to fight him. Of course he was going to cross it without a problem.”

“Hush,” Ehud whispered back. “It’s symbolic. The last army to cross the Jordan was Joshua’s and he went on to conquer over thirty small kingdoms of Canaan. The tribes of Israel destroyed entire peoples and regions. Eglon wants to conquer all of our lands now. He sees himself as outdoing both Moses and Joshua.”

“Where shall we go now, my dear advisor?” Eglon asked Ehud.

“The first target in our path is Gilgal, the old encampment of the Tribes of Israel,” Ehud answered.

“Will they fight?”

“Does it matter? There are only a handful of Benjaminites who live there now. Even if they do fight, you could overrun them quickly.”

“Gilgal is the only settlement on this plain?”

“Yes, our people prefer the mountains.”

“Then let us ride and remove the small thorn from this strategic location. Soldiers of the Empire!” Eglon raised his sword. “We march!”

Eglon’s army marched northward, parallel to the river, until they saw the simple stone and wooden houses of Gilgal. Once, hundreds of thousands of Israelite tents had filled the plain, but now only a few dozen houses stood, most of them vacant.

Half a dozen Benjaminites stood at the edge of the town watching the army approach. When they saw the soldiers of Eglon and realized they weren’t friendly, they disappeared into their homes, grabbed their families and possessions and fled northward, away from the approaching army.

“This will be easier than I thought!” Eglon chuckled. “Galkak, take a company of men and station them at Gilgal. We shall go on to our next target. Catch up with us when you can.”

“Yes, Boss.” Galkak motioned to a company commander and galloped ahead with him and his men to Gilgal. Eglon took the bulk of the army back south.

“What is our next stop, prophet-man?” Eglon asked.

“Naaran. It is on the Arava Road, due west. It leads to the tribes of Benjamin and Judah, the two that were most depleted by our civil war and, up until then, the strongest tribes. If those tribes should capitulate it will take the fight out of the others.”

“What is that rubble in the distance?” Eglon asked.

“The remains of Jericho,” Ehud answered.

“Jericho? How fantastic! We must see it,” Eglon drove his chariot towards the destroyed city. The entire army followed.

They reached a city of rubble. Stones of all sizes were strewn about the remains of a city, as if a juvenile giant had kicked over the walls and then played with stones, throwing them indiscriminately in all directions. A thin green moss grew under the shade of the larger stones.

“Why was it never rebuilt?” Eglon asked Ehud.

“Joshua commanded that we shouldn’t and cursed anyone who would. He stated that whoever rebuilds Jericho would live to bury his own children.”

“Still, the Israelites made a mistake in not rebuilding in the area. This plain commands the western bank and the mountain ascent. I shall build my new capital here. Well, not right here on the ruins. I don’t want to invoke any curses – I have a future dynasty to worry about. There,” Eglon pointed at a grove of palm trees south of the ruins of Jericho, “I shall build a city by those majestic palms. And from there I shall rule my empire.”

“Very pretty,” Ehud said tersely. Galkak returned, panting slightly.

“It shall be magnificent. Galkak,” Eglon called.

“Yeah, Boss?” Galkak said, still breathless.

“Find my architect and assign one hundred men to the labor. When we return from our conquest, I shall expect to see a city on this plain.”

“No problem, Boss. You want me to oversee this thing?”

“No, Galkak. I want your wily mind right next to me for the conquest. Despite Ehud’s assurances and assistance, I am certain his fellow Israelites will not submit easily. Dirthamus! Get out here. I want your opinion.”

The old sorcerer opened the flap of his covered wagon, shielding his eyes with his bony left hand.

“Yes, my liege,” Dirthamus rasped.

“What do you think of us building our new capital here?” Eglon asked.

Dirthamus closed his eyes and faced the ruins of Jericho. With his right hand he pointed at the rubble.

“I sense a strong power upon these ruins. It is a force we should be wary of. And there, at the edge of the ruins, it is strongest.”

“A part of the wall still stands!” Eglon said.

“It must be Rahab’s home in the wall,” Ehud said.

“Ah, yes, the traitor. I heard about her, and that she was quite beautiful. Is it true she married Joshua himself?” Eglon asked.

“Yes, they were very happy together,” Ehud answered.

“That reminds me. We must call for my Empress when our City of Palms is complete. Go on, Galkak. Fetch me the architect and let us commence planning the city before we proceed with our campaign.”

Galkak found the architect, a stocky middle-aged man with a shock of white bisecting his otherwise dark hair. He came with a long roll of papyrus, a thin reed brush and a small clay jar of ink. The architect and Eglon sat on the edge of the chariot. Eglon pointed and waved his hands and built palaces in the air as the architect furiously drew on his papyrus. Galkak ordered the troops to rest and refill their water skins from the Jordan.

Satisfied with the architect’s sketches, Eglon called the troops back to order.

“Up the Arava Road and to Naaran!” he commanded.

The army marched into the narrow ravine that climbed up the mountain. The soldiers were able to ride up to ten abreast or twenty soldiers walking side by side. Eglon rode in front, pleased with himself by the successful morning.

Craggy barren mountains guided them on either side as the army marched up the road.

“I don’t like it, Boss,” Galkak rode his mare in front of Eglon’s chariot to face him. “This is the perfect setup for…” an arrow in Galkak’s shoulder interrupted his sentence.

“Ambush!” Eglon yelled. He looked in horror at the arrow that would have hit him as Galkak fell from his horse. “Shields up!”

Thousands of shields went up as a rain of arrows fell on Eglon’s army. Arrows clanged and thumped into the shields.

Ehud got off his horse and dragged Blimah down as well. They crouched below the cover of their horses. The first volley of arrows from the mountains ceased. Dozens of Eglon’s soldiers lay dead or wounded, but the majority was unscathed.

“Archers!” Eglon yelled. “Return fire!”

Ehud and Blimah crawled to the fallen Galkak.

“Galkak!” Ehud turned the fallen king gently, careful not to move the protruding arrow.

“I’m okay. Not fatal,” Galkak murmured. “Just get it out of me. It hurts like hell.”

Ehud looked at the arrow in Galkak’s shoulder.

“You’re lucky,” Ehud determined. “It hit high and wedged against the bone. Hold on.”

Ehud pulled on the arrow and it slid easily out of Galkak’s shoulder. The shoulder started to bleed profusely.

“Quick, Blimah. Get me something to bandage the wound.” Ehud pressed his palm firmly on Galkak’s shoulder.

“Dirthamus has supplies in his wagon,” Galkak added.

Blimah ran to Dirthamus’ wagon and opened the flap. She saw Dirthamus on the floor of the wagon in a fetal position, his eyes closed tightly in concentration. He opened them when Blimah climbed into the wagon.

“Get out, woman!” he hissed.

“I need bandages. Galkak is injured.”

Dirthamus pointed at a corner of the wagon and closed his eyes again. Blimah grabbed a roll of cloth, a knife and left the wagon quickly. She ran back to Ehud and Galkak.

“Wine,” Galkak moaned. “Please, ol’ buddy. A little wine.”

“If I let go of your shoulder, you’ll bleed to death, you fool,” Ehud said. “Hold still for a few moments while we bandage you and then you can have your drink.”

Blimah expertly bandaged Galkak’s shoulder. When he was well-wrapped, Ehud searched for Galkak’s wine skin on his horse. He returned smiling and carrying an empty skin with an arrow through it.

“I think God may be trying to send you a message,” Ehud suggested.

“Nonsense. God never interferes with a man’s drinkin’ – that would be immoral! Check under my pack. There should be another skin there.”

Ehud found the skin and raised it victoriously.

“Shields up!” Eglon yelled as another volley of arrows rained down upon them from the mountains. An arrow pierced the new skin.

“No!” Galkak cried. “Quick, bring it here!”

Ehud ran to the prone Galkak and gave him the leaking skin. Galkak unstopped the skin and raised it to his mouth. Just a few drops fell on his face.

“Cruel, cruel!” Galkak sobbed.

“We’re getting killed here and all you can think about is your drink?” Blimah asked incredulously.

“I take my drinkin’ seriously. Ehud, there should be a third skin under the harness. Please get it for me.”

“Let’s wait for this volley to subside.”

Another dozen soldiers had fallen to the onslaught of the mountain arrows.

“Dirthamus!” Eglon called. “Get out here! What’s going on? Who’s attacking us?”

Dirthamus scurried out of his tent and ran to the side of Eglon’s chariot where he stood with a large copper shield over his head.

“It is Israelites,” Dirthamus said. “Judeans, to be specific. One of them is known to us – Prince Elimelech.”

“Elimelech! I thought we had crushed and dishonored him. How is he here?”

“He never gave up,” Dirthamus answered, “but was only able to convince a few dozen of his brothers of our impending attack.”

“That seems to be enough. Our arrows can’t reach them and they can attack us with impunity. Galkak, how are you? You took an arrow meant for me. I shall never forget that. Can you move?”

“Yeah, Boss. But I need a drink really badly.”

“Here,” Eglon grabbed a skin from his chariot and threw it at Galkak. Galkak caught it with his good arm, unstopped it and drank thirstily. He emptied the skin and burped loudly.

“Ahh, much better,” Galkak sighed. “I can take on a whole army now. What are we goin’ to do?”

“We have to get off this road and take the fight to them. Galkak, you take half our men and climb the mountain to the right. I’ll take the rest to the left. I’ll meet you back on the road when we’re done. Ehud, you come with me. Dirthamus, accompany Galkak. Go!”

The army split into two and proceeded to climb the mountains on either side of the road. The Israelites continued to fire upon the invaders, but to less effect. The arrows stopped and Eglon’s troops spotted Israelite soldiers climbing away.

“They may have laid traps,” Eglon warned his men. “Proceed carefully.”

It was slow and arduous work for thousands of men to climb the rocky uneven terrain. They passed a series of dark caves. One of the Moabite captains approached Eglon.

“Should we check the caves, your Majesty?” the captain asked.

“No, it would be a distraction. We have routed them. Let us return to the road, but keep a scout force upon these mountains ahead of us. Captain, you lead the scouts. I will take the main force back to the road. I’d love to get my hands on that Elimelech. I would not have him walk away the victor of this fracas.”

“It does not matter,” Ehud said. “You have the overwhelming force and there is little he can do to stop you.”

“Nonetheless, he has a strong spirit. I do not want him to rally the tribes together. He has irrefutable proof of our intentions now. We must proceed quickly with our conquest. Let us get off this mountain.”

Ehud together with Blimah followed Eglon and the soldiers down the mountain.

“Ehud,” Blimah whispered.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“I need to relieve myself.”

“What? Can’t you wait?”

“I’ve been waiting since we crossed the Jordan. I haven’t had a chance since then. I’m not like you men who relieve themselves wherever you want. I need some privacy and there hasn’t been any, surrounded here by three thousand men. I can go into one of the caves here. Let’s find one and you guard the entrance.”

Ehud and Blimah fell back from Eglon, struggling down the mountain.

They noticed a dark opening above them, partially shielded by some shrubbery.

“Will that do?” Ehud pointed at the cave entrance.

“Yes. Let’s go.”

Ehud and Blimah moved away, unnoticed by the mass of troops negotiating the treacherous descent back to the road.

“Make it quick,” Ehud said as they reached the cave entrance. Blimah gave him a stern look and entered the cave. Ehud stood with his back to the cave and watched Eglon’s army reassemble on the road below.

“Ehud,” Blimah called him from inside the cave.

“What’s the matter now?” he asked.

There was no answer.

Ehud unsheathed his sword and entered the dark cavern. He was grabbed roughly from either side, punched in the face and his sword taken. In the dim light he could make out the reflection of a knife held against Blimah’s pale throat and the wild eyes of the knife’s owner, Elimelech.

“Now you die, traitor!” Elimelech whispered.

* * * * * *

Warrior Prophets 2: Assassin. Chapter 2: Trial of a Tribe

Warrior Prophets 2: Assassin

Chapter 2: Trial of a Tribe

“We shall not relinquish the men of Givaah,” Prince Giltar announced at the assembly of Elders of Benjamin. “This is an internal tribal matter and we shall administer our own justice. The other tribes shall not dictate our actions.” Giltar, grey and proud, stood at the head of the council circle in the House of Elders. Two dozen men, with grey and white beards, sat in a circle on stone-hewn benches. A dozen torches protruded from a dozen pillars, brightening the white-washed walls of the chamber in the early summer evening.

“Will you go to war to defend such a right?” Ehud, the youngest of the assembly, stood up from the other side of the circle. “These men of Givaah are depraved. They have committed an act that only a child of Sodom would defend. I for one would hand them over to the tribes if it will appease them. Are the laws of Judah so different than our laws? Remember, it was a daughter of Judah that was the victim. They too have the right to justice.”

“Do you speak for justice, son of Gerah?” Giltar responded sharply. “Or for convenience? Or is it fear that drives you, Ehud? Do you so fear the might of the other tribes? Have you so little faith in the justice of our position?”

“There is faith, and there is wisdom, Giltar. I fear this decision lacks both.”

“You insult me in my own chamber?”

“I insult no man. I merely fear a disastrous decision.”

“Ehud, you are a trusted man of arms and a faithful delegate. This is the decision of the council. Except for Ehud, is there any man here that challenges this decision?” Giltar addressed the council. Silence answered Giltar’s question.

“It is agreed then. This is the position of the sons of Benjamin.” Giltar looked straight at Ehud and smiled grimly. “And I nominate you, Ehud son of Gerah, to be our messenger to the tribes at their meeting in Mitzpeh. As our official representative, you shall convey to them as follows: We are mortified. We are highly disturbed by this horrendous action by the men of Givaah. They have assaulted a woman of Judah, a concubine though she may have been, in a fashion that is indeed most appalling. The tribes should rest assured that these men will be judged and convicted according to the Laws of Moses. The tribes’ representatives are welcome to view our court deliberations. However, we shall not, under any circumstances, allow others to override the system set up by Moses and established by Joshua his disciple. We shall not placate, we shall not bend to the overbearing will of our brothers, and we shall not bow before their threats. If they wish to test our swords, they shall find that this youngest of tribes is not without strength. Do I make myself clear, young Ehud?”

“You are clear, Prince Giltar, though we may yet regret such an unbending position. I request the right to interview the men in custody, as the tribes will surely ask me for details, and I would prefer to give them first hand impressions.”

“That is acceptable. Speak to the prisoners. Take whom you wish to Mitzpeh with you. In the meantime know that we shall prepare for war. Do not fool yourself that the case of this concubine is the root of the matter. The tribes have resented our ascendancy. They have ever pushed for unification and imposition of their will – especially your friends the Judeans. Yes, I choose you especially because of your friendship to the Nachshon clan and his grandson Boaz. Perhaps you shall persuade them to desist, but I have little hope. This has been a storm long in the coming and the Judeans have found their rallying call. Take swift horses, as in their fury they may even strike down a peaceful delegate. Be strong and of good courage, Ehud. This Council of Elders is dismissed.”

Ehud strode quickly out of the chamber and found Tamir lounging outside amongst various captains and officers. Tamir had arrived that afternoon after having successfully delivered the copper from Moav to Ehud’s smithy.

“Tamir, find Yakshal and tell him we need four fast horses. We ride tonight to Mitzpeh.”

“Are we going to war?” Tamir asked with a mixture of excitement and fear.

“Not if I can stop it,” Ehud answered. “Now hurry up. You two did a good job with the copper from Eglon and you might as well see how this disaster develops. Go on now. Meet back here by the end of the first watch. See to provisions as well. I will bring our fourth rider.”

Ehud found the house where the accused men were held. It was an old squat stone structure that had belonged to a widow whose name Ehud could not recall. The house had been converted to a prison years ago, as the number of people awaiting trial for violent crimes grew. Most prisoners were sentenced to lashes. It was a painful and humiliating punishment, but rarely satisfying to the criminal’s victims or their kin. However, it was the best the judges could do with what were often few reliable witnesses. The number of repeat offenders had also grown. These coarse men had become immune to the lashes. It did little to dissuade them.

Ehud knocked on the door of the house.

“Who seeks entry?” A guard within asked.

“Ehud son of Gerah, by order of the Council of Elders.”

The guard unbolted the door. He wore leather armor and held a spear in one hand. A long sword adorned his belt. Ehud entered the poorly lit house where just a handful of torches jutted sporadically from the walls. He saw two dozen men shackled to each other and the wall. The smell of unwashed bodies hit Ehud like a wave. Ignoring the foul odor, the blacksmith in Ehud first sought to see the quality of the shackles. He immediately spotted his own handiwork, some of the first shackles the tribe ever used. He remembered regretfully their need and his distaste in creating them. Other blacksmiths copied his design and he was just as happy to let others make such instruments of imprisonment. He noted the work of Emri, one of his former apprentices, shoddy, but functional. Emri never bothered to hammer consistently and Ehud could see the uneven texture of many of the shackles. Ehud saw shackles that were cracked at the edges. That must be the work of Bargel, Ehud thought. Bargel rarely got his casting temperature right and his work often cracked too early.

Ehud then looked at the prisoners in their shackles of various qualities. There was a dull, yet rough look in their eyes. Their hair was long and unkempt. Their beards had pieces of leaves, grass and food caught within. These were thieves and marauders that had not performed a day of honest work in years. Ehud sought the cleanest looking man. He found a tall, bulky man with stray hairs of white in his black beard.

“What is your name?” Ehud kicked the slumbering man on the floor.

“Who’s askin’?” the man asked opening his eyes. They were black. The white of his eyes was a web of red.

“I am Ehud son of Gerah and by the authority of the council I ask that you answer my questions.”

“Go ‘way.”

Ehud kicked the man hard in the shin.

“Ow! Could’ve asked nicer,” the man growled.

“What is your name?”

“Znumeh.”

“Znumeh, tell me what happened that night.”

“We were just havin’ some fun, that’s all.”

“Fun you call it? Raping and killing a woman? “

“We didn’t kill no woman. She was still alive an kickin’ when we finished with her. Anyways, was her man we really wanted, but that coward threw her to us. Good lookin’ woman too. We just couldn’t resist.”

“Sick. You are all sick. All of you!”

“Now listen here smith. We know you. Don’t go on lecturin’ us now. You Elders think you’re all righteous and tellin’ us what to do. But Givaah is our town. We own it. We do what we like. Strangers come to town, they need to pay some dues. With their flesh. They don’t like it, then don’t come to our town. You Elders make a big fuss, give us some lashes, but then you’ll be gone, back to your farms and sheep, and Givaah will still be ours. Go bother someone else.”

Ehud kicked Znumeh hard in the groin. Znumeh doubled over into fetal position on the floor, groaning in pain.

“You idiot! Your lust may well bring war upon us! The Judeans want blood! If it were up to me I would hand the lot of you over to the other tribes and let them kill you, but the Elders are making a political stand out of this debacle.”

“Didn’t kill nobody. Just havin’ fun.” Znumeh groaned as Ehud stomped out of the prison.

 

Ehud, Yakshal, Tamir and the fourth rider reached the mountain of Mitzpeh at the break of dawn. Hundreds of thousands of small tents littered the craggy landscape. Leather-clad soldiers exited their tents and proceeded to break camp. Tens of thousands of new soldiers from the eleven other tribes arrived from the four compass points of the land of Israel to join the hustle and bustle of the camp. Enterprising youngsters roamed up and down the impromptu campground, selling fresh pita and loaves of bread. There was a certain bawdy excitement about the gathering. Young men who had grown up on tales of the conquest of Canaan arrived with their father’s swords. Old soldiers who had never adjusted to farm life came with a wildness in their eyes.

“Our prince received her arm,” a young man of eastern Menasheh was telling a crowd of soldiers. He spoke with a lisp characteristic to his tribe.

“Which one?” a fat soldier asked.

“Does it matter?” the young Menashite answered. “He rode throughout our towns carrying the smelly tender arm. He proclaimed at each town: ‘This is the arm of a young maiden of Judah! She was raped and killed by the men of Benjamin. Has such a horror ever occurred amongst the Children of Israel? Shall we allow such a deed to go unpunished? We march upon Benjamin to demand justice!’”

“We got her leg!” the fat soldier shouted. “We shall kill those Benjaminites! I heard it was a whole town of them that raped the girl. Those Benjaminites have had it coming for a while. Why those arrogant ruffians! They think they can get away with murder. We will show them!”

“It seems war has been decided,” Yakshal whispered to Ehud as they passed the excited group. The scene was repeated over and over as the Benjaminites made their way through the camp. Groups described different grizzly body parts they had seen and how all the able-bodied men had rallied to the call of war. It hadn’t hurt that the early summer harvest was done and most of the men could spare a few weeks until the late harvest would start in earnest. Shepherds were notoriously absent from the army, but many accompanied the tribes, offering from their flock to the hungry men.

The riders reached the top of Mitzpeh and dismounted. Eleven large tents of the princes formed a circle on the clearing. A twelfth, smaller, but more ornate tent was set slightly beyond the circle. It would be the tent of Pinhas, the High Priest. Inside the circle of the tents was a large circle of men. The eleven princes were in the innermost circle in crisp white robes, together with their generals and captains of thousands. Surrounding them were captains of hundreds, and other judges and officers. Ehud, with his small group, squeezed themselves through the crowd to the innermost circle. He found himself between the delegation of the tribe of Judah on his right and the High Priest with his retinue on his left. Pinhas wore the beautiful blue robe of his office with the breastplate of the precious stones upon him.

“You are brave to have come, Ehud,” a tall redhead whispered to Ehud.

“Boaz!” Ehud embraced quickly with his former comrade. “The situation looks dire.”

“Indeed. Are you then the representative of your tribe? Did your prince fear coming?”

“He felt I would best represent our tribe on this issue, though we have little hope. Who is that?” Ehud pointed at a tall yet portly man stepping into the middle of the circle.

“Why, that is your accuser, the Levite, Gheda, the one whose concubine was killed. We know him well. He is a man of no small influence. And the girl was my cousin, Dramital from Bethlehem. Our Prince Elimelech is incensed. If you wish to forestall trouble, speak quickly.”

“To avenge a crime of national proportions, we have assembled,” Gheda proclaimed to the princes. “We have gathered as one man, to exact justice, vengeance and retribution from Benjamin our brother, for the hurt, the pain, the unforgivable sin it has committed upon the body of Israel. Shall we let such crimes go unnoted? Shall those that protect evil remain without blame? Is there any here that is not of like mind?”

“We are not,” Ehud stepped into the circle.

“And who might you be, whelp?” Gheda retorted savagely.

“I am Ehud son of Gerah, messenger of Prince Gilton of Benjamin and representative of our council of Elders, and I say that you err.”

“I err? I err!? Pray tell in what do I err, young man? Do not the pieces of my beloved lay strewn throughout the tribes of Israel? Was I not attacked and almost killed by the vicious murderers of your tribe? Has not your tribe refused to bring these murderers to justice?”

“He lies!” Ehud addressed the princes, realizing who needed convincing.

“Do you know who I am?” Gheda’s pale face reddened. “Do you know my ancestry, you from the youngest of tribes? How dare you accuse me? What evidence, what witnesses do you bring that you would defame me so?”

“I bring your host,” Ehud stated, and motioned for the fourth rider, an old man, to step into the circle.

“Princes of Israel,” Ehud addressed the princes, looking primarily at Elimelech and Pinhas, the High Priest. “This is not a court and this is not a trial in the formal sense. Rest assured that we shall try the guilty from our tribe and they shall receive the maximum punishment according to the Law of Moses, the law that binds us all. However, given the extreme circumstances and sensitivity of the crimes that were committed I have brought this witness here, and I will testify myself as to my findings, so that the truth will be disclosed and calm decisions reached.”

All the princes looked to Elimelech of Judah. The tribe of Judah was the one personally hurt and was the natural leader from amongst the tribes. Elimelech nodded to Ehud.

“We recognize you, Ehud son of Gerah, of Benjamin. Speak. Speak truthfully and concisely, for we have little patience for further stories and delays. It is a great evil that has occurred in Israel and Gheda is correct that things cannot remain as they have been. We must take responsibility for our errant brother, even if it means a painful lesson.”

“It is true that the woman from Judah was assaulted by the men of Givaah. For that they will be punished fully.”

“That is no punishment!” Gheda exclaimed.

“However, when this man” – Ehud pointed at Gheda – “left Givaah and the territory of Benjamin, the woman still lived! I do not know what possessed this illustrious Levite to cut her up into pieces, nor do we know if she was alive when he did so. I will not conjecture as to his political motivations in bringing us to war. However, what I do know for certain is that the men of Givaah did not kill that woman. They may be guilty of other crimes, but they are not guilty of murder!”

“This man is a witness?” Elimelech pointed at the old man.

“Yes, sir,” the old man bowed to Elimelech. “I am Natol of the tribe of Ephraim, though I have lived for some years in Givaah of Benjamin. I was there that horrible night. I gave sanctuary to Gheda, his woman and his servant. It was a frightful night that I will not forget for as long as live. I feared the men of Givaah. They are criminals that take and pillage at will. Unless you pay them. They generally leave me alone. I am poor and give them a monthly gift from my meager purse. I knew they were capable of great evil, which is why I insisted Gheda come into my house quickly. Someone must have seen him enter my house. By nightfall the house was surrounded and they were demanding Gheda come out to them, just as in the story of Sodom. However, no angels came to save us. Gheda threw his woman out to the rabble as one would throw a piece of meat to rabid dogs. We heard the men’s laughter and the woman’s screams throughout the night. At least my daughter and I did. Gheda seemed strangely pleased with himself, asked for a bed and promptly went to sleep, untroubled.”

“That is untrue!” Gheda interrupted. “I tossed and turned the entire night. But what could I do for her? I decided I might as well get some sleep.”

“He then woke up in the morning,” Natol continued, “opened the door and tells the half-dead girl on the doorstep “let’s go”. I had never seen a more callous act in my life. The poor girl had probably lost her mind already. She looked blankly at Gheda and fainted. Gheda hoisted her like the side of a cow and laid her on the back of his donkey. He trotted off without as much as a goodbye. The girl was still alive when she left Givaah.”

“You would believe him?” Gheda shouted. “You would take the word of this worthless wretch over mine? Is this evidence? The drivel of one tribeless man against a Levite? Against me? You would believe me a villain? A city-worth of men rape my woman, cause her to die and you cast aspersions of immorality upon me!? I did cut up her dead body as a sign and a message. A horrible thing had been done in Israel. I needed to wake up the tribes from their morass. We are gathered all together now. Princes, you know me. We have worked for years on our unification efforts. We are finally united in a purpose and goal as we have not been since the days of Joshua. Princes, are you men? Decide here and now, in front of all of Israel!”

“We shall decide, Gheda,” Elimelech said. “Ehud, my cousin is dead and dismembered by members of your tribe. I will not be appeased; we will not be appeased until the guilty stand in front of us for our judgment. I do not wish for stories or witnesses or promises of weak internal justice. You have until the end of the day to bring them here or we shall come fetch them ourselves with an army of all of Israel behind us. What say you, delegate of Benjamin, to that?”

Ehud looked at all the princes. He noticed Gheda’s smirk. He noticed Pinhas sitting quietly and sadly. Pinhas had remained silent though morosely attentive throughout the discussions.

“Since the days of Moses and Joshua, no tribe has judged its brother,” Ehud responded. “We have coexisted peacefully. We share the bonds of faith and marriage. The Law of Moses guides us all and the Tabernacle is our central place of worship, though few remember that unifying place. You would unify by violence what you did not achieve in peace? You would force justice down our throat? Is your interpretation of the Law superior to ours? Is strength of numbers the equivalent of truth of purpose? God has ever shown us otherwise. We too are a tribe of Israel! In this our council is adamant. We shall not give up our right, our responsibility, to judge our own. Delegates of yours are welcome to observe the trial for themselves and see how we follow the Law of Moses. But under no circumstances will we give them up. Prince Giltar added that if you think to come to us in force, the sons of Benjamin will be prepared with sharpened swords.”

“You leave us no choice then, son of Gerah. You bring this doom upon yourselves. The next time we meet shall be upon the battlefield. Run now, child of Benjamin. Run to your tribe. Tell them that the sons of Israel have gathered as we have not gathered since the destruction of the kings of Canaan. We come for justice. We come for vengeance. We come to right wrongs and to clear the land of its filth. Depart!”

Ehud looked at the stern faces of the princes. Without further word he turned to leave, heartbroken. From the corner of his eye he noted Pinhas, the High Priest of Israel. Tears streamed down Pinhas’ eyes, soiling his beautiful priestly garments.

* * * * * *

Biblical Sources:

Book of Judges, Chapter 19

Book of Judges, Chapter 20

Special thanks to Dr. Yael Ziegler for her crash course on the Book of Judges and special insights into these stories. Many of the ideas here are drawn from her, particularly the horrific textual possibility that the concubine was not dead when she was dismembered…

Warrior Prophets: Assassin. Prophetic Prologue: Abram’s Covenant

Warrior Prophets II: Assassin

Prophetic Prologue: Abram’s Covenant

Abram views stars
Abram views stars

God had spoken with Abram before. This time, though, Abram smelled menace in the air. The Divine Will exerted its force on Abram and led him to a clearing in the forest, on top of one of the mountains that ran through the length of the land of Canaan. The clearing was bare except for a light carpet of thistles that had fallen from the tall pines surrounding the clearing. A light chill in the night air reminded Abram that winter had not yet released its grasp of the early spring.

“Fear not, Abram,” resonated God’s voice through the clearing, “I shall be a shield for you, and your reward shall indeed be great.”

At first Abram could not respond. God’s presence always overwhelmed him. He needed to calm his thoughts and feelings. After some moments of meditation, he built up the gall to say what was on his mind.

“Lord God, what shall you bestow upon me? I continue childless, while Eliezer of Damascus is my heir apparent. Behold, you have given me no seed, and one of my household shall inherit me. And my nephew Lot, in whom I had placed some hope, has left my path.”

“That one shall not inherit you” responded God, “but one that shall venture forth from your own loins – he shall inherit you.”

A great wind lifted Abram up over the roof of the forest, and carried him high above the cedars and pine trees below. He had a vision of himself even older than he was now, with a child in his care. The child looked remarkably like himself.

Abram felt himself flying through the cool spring night, and was filled with both wonder and fear at the experience.

“Gaze upon the sky and count the stars if you can,” God challenged Abram, “so too shall be the numbers of your progeny.”

Abram gazed upon the countless sparkling lights in the clear night. He gasped at the import of what God was telling him. It took him a few moments to accept that from a single old man, a multitude of humanity would emerge. He believed it, and in God’s ability to make it so.

In the early hours of the morning, the wind set Abram back in the clearing where he had started from, where the conversation continued.

“I am the Lord that brought you out of the furnace of Kasdim, to give you this land to inherit,” God explained.

Abram was then given a view of the full length and breadth of the land of Canaan. From the snow peaked Hermon Mountain in the north, to the sandy beaches of the south with its dazzling coral reef on the shores of the Reed Sea. He saw the lush forests of the Galilee, teeming with wildlife. The rugged hills of the East beside the Jordan River, ripe with vineyards he could almost taste. The fertile plains of the West, where the ground flowered its produce with joy. The rough desert of the Negev where life found a way.  And the mesmerizing Great Sea hugging the western coast. Abram wondered how all the terrains and climates of the world were represented in Canaan, in what he knew was a relatively small area.

However, once again sensing the dread in the forest clearing, he asked:

“Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit?” Almost immediately he regretted his outspokenness.

For a moment, there was complete silence. Even the surrounding birds seemed to hold their breath to see what the response would be.

Then God answered, with a voice different than before, like that of a somber judge:  “Assemble for me a heifer of three years, and a goat of three years, and a ram of three years, and a turtledove and a young pigeon. Then shall I instruct and answer you.”

 

Abram spent the rest of the day tracking down the list of animals. He was surprised by what seemed like eagerness to be caught on the part of the animals. The ram had calmly walked up to Abram and started to lick his palm. Abram found two goats together and had to keep chasing one away, while he led his choice back to the clearing. Once he had spotted the birds, they flew towards him, landing on his outstretched arms. He built a simple altar of stones, and methodically sacrificed each of the animals by cutting their necks with his sharpened blade.

Then, as per God’s instructions, he split the carcasses of the heifer, the goat and the ram.  He formed a path out of the parts, placing the front part of the animals to his right and the back parts on his left. However, he did not split the bodies of the birds. These he placed on either side of the path, the dove on the right and the pigeon on the left.

When Abram had finished the placement of the parts, he stood up, wiped the sweat off his brow, and looked into the afternoon sun.  He saw a bird in the distance, approaching his mountain rapidly. It was an eagle, by far the largest Abram had ever seen. It beat its wings mightily as if pursued by Satan himself. Part of the fear Abram had been feeling materialized. He grabbed his staff in one hand and his blade in the other. His staff would assist him in the physical battle he was certain was approaching. His blade, so recently used in his religious sacrifices, would aid him in the spiritual battle he knew was a part of this struggle.

For a moment, the eagle disappeared from Abram’s view. He heard the wind of the eagle’s passage through the trees to his side. He ran to the opposite side of the clearing, to get a better view of the bird when it emerged from the trees and into the clearing. But the eagle outsmarted him. The bird appeared from the trees just a few paces from him, screeching like one of Hell’s minions. Abram ducked. The eagle’s talons tore into the tree behind Abram and ripped through it, leaving deep gauges in the tree. The eagle made its way to the path of the parts. Abram quickly followed him.

They reached the parts at the same time and faced each other. The eagle was the size of a man.

“I am here to destroy your path,” shrieked the beast with an inhuman voice, “let me go about my work and I will let you be.”

“No,” stated Abram, with more confidence than he felt, “this is a part of my destiny and I must proceed with it.”

“You fool,” laughed the eagle, “you do not even know your destiny, yet you would fight for it? I tell you it is filled with such sorrows and horror that you can not imagine.  Your children will be sinners and will be preyed upon by the nations of the world.”

“And I say to you, yet again – nay, you vile spirit! I will teach my descendants to be faithful, a light onto the nations. Begone!” Abram charged the beast raising both his weapons.

The eagle deflected the blows with his wings. A scuffle ensued, spreading about the carefully placed parts of the path.  The eagle distracted Abram by shaking his wing in front of him and then striking a gauging blow with his talon from underneath. Abram was able to parry the attack with his staff, and then with all his might he thrust his sword through the wing and into the torso of the beast.

The eagle disengaged from Abram with a shrill cry. “We are both right, my poor Abram. Your children shall be a beacon to the masses, but they will also suffer like no nation on the earth. Only in their faith and their clinging to God will their souls be saved.”

Without warning, the eagle then took flight and screamed out of sight, never to be seen again by man.

Abram straightened the parts that were disturbed during the fight. The setting sun tinted the horizon a dark red as it dipped into the Great Sea. Suddenly a terrible weariness overwhelmed Abram. The full horror of the darkness he had been expecting descended upon him and he found himself in the realm of the spirits.

A voice that could only be God’s spoke to him:

“Know surely that your descendants shall become strangers in a strange land. The people shall enslave and afflict them for four hundred years,” God declared ominously. “But the enslavers I shall also judge, and then your children will be freed, and with great wealth!”

A vision of a great desert kingdom appeared to Abram. He saw thousands upon thousands of people performing hard labor. Pulling and building and dying, all for the egos of demented rulers that considered themselves demi-gods. Constructing great monuments to death, while draining life from all around them. Abram saw his descendants struggling to keep their identity amidst the tyrannical pressures of their oppressors. He saw the appearance of one named Moses, in whom a major event of creation – the acceptance of God’s Law, would come to pass. He would forge and lead his people from the crucible of Egypt. 

The flow and paths of history then became as the threads of a tapestry. The tapestry was infinitely wide, extending from the beginning of time until its end. The threads were the lives and struggles of humanity, and he watched and followed the paths they weaved. The threads were of all colors, some brighter than others. They danced around each other, fighting and clashing through the rhythm of history. Many were cut short. More gave birth to new threads. And a few inspired multitudes and made the whole tapestry brighter. 

Abram then started to focus on particular scenes of the tapestry. He saw the birth of his twelve great-grandchildren that would establish the tribes of Israel. He witnessed the subjugation of their descendants by Pharaoh, and their miraculous exodus to the desert. He experienced the conquest of the land, led by Moses’ disciple, Joshua. However, the glory of the conquest would be short-lived. The Children of Israel would forsake their heritage, leaving God and succumbing to the domination of its neighbors. Abram searched for the fate of his other relatives and progeny. Lot, his nephew, who had not lived up to his expectations would sire two nations. They would not be friendly to Israel. Yet a spark of holiness would be distilled from his line, and form an integral part in Israel’s and the world’s redemption.

His concubine’s son, Ishmael, would found a line that would cover more territory and more nations than any other. The divine message would be altered, yet they would be within an arm’s length of true faith and holiness. A grandson, Esav, through sheer might and willpower, would lay the foundation to one of the strongest and most influential of empires on earth. Based in Rome, their materialism and religiosity would change the world.

But only Jacob and his progeny would remain true to Abram’s path, and to them he returned his attention.

He perceived the constant subjugations, exiles and miseries of Israel as the ebb and flow of history. Brief periods of peace and tranquility would allow them to catch their breath before the next test. 

God interrupted Abram’s thoughts: “They need not suffer in this world.”

“What is the other option?”

“The errant souls would be consigned to the netherworld.”

“I don’t understand.”

“There are two paths, Abram. The first, the one I have shown you, your progeny, all those that follow your way, shall suffer. They shall suffer torment and misery and persecution as a whole, as a nation, whether any one individual is guilty of sin or not. In a nation, one is responsible for the other. A brother bears the burden of his brother though it not be of his own making. The second path does not have the bonds of nationhood, brotherhood or fellowship. Each soul will rise or fall solely on its own merit. However, the soul that falls shall have none to raise him. His soul shall suffer forever.

With that word, God caused the tapestry to roll itself up and Abram witnessed infinity concentrating into a single point. He finally understood that God was not bound by the strictures of time. God was removed from time, as a painter is removed from his canvas. Though one’s destiny may be predetermined and known to God, it did not remove the individual’s free will.

“Lord God, either choice leads to eternal pain.”

“You perceive the truth, Abram. But the pain of exile and subjugation is endurable. The minions of Hell on the other hand will show no mercy to the fallen individual, to those that have none to raise them.”

“You have cast a great burden upon me. I fear that to decide on the fate of unborn millions upon millions is more than I can carry.”

“You must decide, Abram. Yours is a great responsibility. You will choose wisely. But you must choose. I know your fears. You are afraid that the good will suffer with the bad, that justice will not seem evident and that your line will be swept up and disappear forever.”

“That is my fear. Do I choose certain eternal damnation for many, or do I risk all by allowing the entire nation to go into exile?”

“Fear not! By my life, I promise you this. Your descendants shall never be completely lost in exile. They will suffer. They will suffer more than any other people. But there shall always be a remnant. They will follow the path of the just, and the whole world shall be changed because of it.”

Abram spent the entire day in agonized thought. He asked God to see the great tapestry once again, to try to understand the consequences of exile. This time he started from the end of the tapestry and worked his way backwards. He saw the final redemption, four millennia hence. The social convulsions that would precede the coming of the Redeemer. The rebirth of the nation in its land after its long two thousand year exile. The wars that would engulf the world with weapons too horrible to even dream of. He cried at the calculated destruction of one third of his people. He saw the senseless slaughter. Then he saw it all over again. The pattern repeated itself throughout time. Sometimes it was worse, other times it was merely unspeakable. 

The Israelite people would find a home among host nations. They would appear safe and warm in their homes of exile. Once the comfort seeped into their bones, someone reminded them that they did not belong. This was demonstrated forcefully and fatally. But a remnant always lived on.

He felt the majesty of the Second Temple and its heart-wrenching destruction that started the two-thousand year exile. He cheered the bravery of the Macabbees in their struggle for independence. He saw the brief seventy year exile of the First Temple and the drama of Queen Esther in the Persian Empire.

He was overwhelmed by the site of Solomon’s Temple and the presence of God in it. He was amazed by the will of David, the man that would found the royal line. He looked more closely to follow his adventures and was awed that a man could suffer so, yet remain so strong in his faith. David never gave up. He would make himself a vessel for God, and would thereby fulfill one of the more important missions in the tapestry.  His line would remain true until the end of days.

He had pity for Saul in his struggle with kingship and wept for the loss of Samson.  He was surprised by the role of some women. He saw the leadership of Deborah against the army of Yavin and the bravery of Yael as she killed the great General Sisra.

Then he saw a wondrous sight.  The time was shortly after Joshua’s conquest of the land. He saw a left-handed man, leading an army of lefties in a charge against a force ten times its size. And they were singing with joy and faith.

“Who is that, my Lord?”

“That is Ehud, an assassin.”

And Abram looked on as the threads told their story, and as they moved in unexpected yet critical ways.

“Lord God,” he stated with greater confidence than he had felt in some time, “I believe that exile will not be as hopeless as I feared. This is the right course and the one that we must take. God save us.”

“I shall.”

* * * * * *

Biblical Sources:

Genesis Chapter 15

Secondary Sources:

There is a midrashic source that states that at the Covenant of the Parts (Genesis, Chapter 15) God gave Abram the choice of a history of Exile for the Children of Israel or eternal damnation for the souls of the sinners. In the process God showed Abram all of history, so that he could make an informed decision. He chose Exile.