Category Archives: Pinhas

Personal, Pure, Public

Ohr Hachayim Numbers: Pinchas

 

Personal, Pure, Public

Pinhas the Priest grabs a spear and personally skewers an amorous Israelite prince and his prohibited heathen paramour in a public display of zealotry that has been recorded for eternity (Numbers Chapter 25). God is then effusive with his compliments and gratitude and eternally rewards Pinhas for his extreme actions. Pinhas has since been lauded by Rabbinic commentators throughout the generations as the paradigm of successful (and hard to emulate) zealotry.

[the rest of this Torah Insight is at http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/personal-pure-public/]

Warrior Prophets 2 Chapter 17 – Council of Shilo

Warrior Prophets 2 Chapter 17

Council of Shilo

“You have to see those Phoenician dancers,” Kaspa of Zevulun addressed the other princes of Israel sitting bundled in front of the Tabernacle at Shilo. “The way they move will drive you mad.”

“Isn’t their dance part of their worship?” asked Avod of Simeon, as the autumn wind rustled the leaves of the large oak trees behind them.

“Who cares about their worship,” Kaspa answered as he drew his rich burgundy robe tighter. “We have learned to adjust to the rituals of all who we deal with. Why, I can tell you the genealogy, powers and sacrifices for at least a dozen different gods. As merchants we need to keep abreast of all developments. There is a wonderful tale now being told about the gods and King Gilgamesh of Uruk.”

“Enough!” Pinhas, the High Priest shouted. “Have you so descended into the heathen ways that all you can talk about is their worship?”

“I’m sorry, Pinhas,” Kaspa said. “I was just making conversation as we wait for the mysterious Ehud to appear. Everyone else is here.”

The twelve princes of Israel sat together with Pinhas in a circle. The princes were accompanied by their tribal elders, and behind them sat the captains of their forces. On the cloudless morning, they still felt the strong eastern breeze, with no trace of salt from the Great Sea miles away. The naked grapevines whistled a mournful tune as the wind caressed the bare wood and traveled through the thick brush behind it.

“I would have expected Ehud to be the first one here,” Avod said. “He was the one who issued the summons.”

“Summons?” Kaspa said. “It was worded more like a command to accept Eglon’s subjugation and I can tell you already that the tribe of Zevulun will not accede to this request.”

“It is easy for you to say,” Avod replied. “It is the southern tribes that will bear the brunt of any fighting, while you merchants go gallivanting away on your ships. You’re just worried that Eglon will cut into your profits.”

“Yes. I am concerned for our profits. Our trade has been successful and if we let ourselves be subjugated by Eglon, then what? I say we fight!”

“And I say the cause is lost and subjugation is not so bad,” Avod replied. “Our brothers to the east, Reuven and Gad are already under Eglon’s dominion and they are unharmed. The cities of Benjamin are all but annihilated and Judah is about to fall. We of Simeon are next on Eglon’s menu. Eglon has promised to then bear his army upon the rest of Israel. Ephraim shall be after us and then Menashe. Do you think the rest of you will be spared?”

“What does Elimelech of Judah say?” Kaspa asked the red-headed prince. “You have ever been at the head of all fighting and your tribe is suffering the most now, yet you are strangely quiet.”

All eyes looked upon the seated prince. Elimelech looked pained as he cleared his throat.

“I am unsure how to proceed,” Elimelech said. “I have confronted Ehud. I was the one who saw him marching with Eglon and spread the report. I was the one who originally accused him of being Eglon’s agent, yet now I am confused. My own nephew, our great warrior Boaz, refuses to fight. Ehud said that our subjugation by Eglon is the will of God and punishment for our disloyalty to Him. As I hear your comfort with the strange gods, I begin to suspect that Ehud may be right. We lost so many at the battle of Givaah and we were wrong. I dare not make such fatal decisions again. I will abide by the will of the council but will not voice an opinion for or against. That is the position of Judah, which in any case does not have many sons left to sacrifice.”

“I do not believe my ears.” Kaspa stood. “Is this Elimelech son of Nachshon the Brave? Where is your spine? When did you become a sniveling coward?”

“Is it brave to sacrifice lives needlessly?” Elimelech asked. “I cannot bear to see the agony of my people further. I will not inflict death upon them, nor do I wish to witness their suffering. If that is cowardice, then I am guilty – I am guilty of much worse – especially pride and reckless bravery.”

“You have lost your spine and your brain, Elimelech,” Kaspa responded. “Do you think that your people, that all our people will not suffer under Eglon’s reign? Do you think he will not squeeze our land, our flocks, our people until we are dry and dream of Egyptian slavery? Come brothers,” Kaspa spread his hands to the other princes. “Elimelech has said that he will abide by the will of our council. We must fight! Even if it is hopeless. In other lands, they fight for much lesser causes. The Aegeans rallied all their allies and gods to destroy the Trojans just for one woman. And we fight for nothing less than our freedom! We cannot allow these foreigners to invade and infest our land unchallenged. I would rather die free than live under the foot of another! What say you brothers? Are you with me?”

Nodding and murmurs of agreement spread around the circle of princes until rustling from the oak tree nearest them made them turn around.

Ehud descended from the tree, his sword at his side, and walked purposely towards the princes.

“You were here all along?” Kaspa asked the approaching blacksmith.

Ehud walked grimly towards the circle and did not answer.

“Well, what do you have to say for yourself?” Kaspa demanded as Ehud reached the circle. “What is this charade about?”

Ehud moved through the elders and captains of Zevulun to reach Kaspa.

“Say something, man!” Kaspa squealed.

In one fluid motion, Ehud unsheathed his sword and beheaded Kaspa. Kaspa’s body fell to the ground with a thud. His head landed right-side up, his mouth still open in shock. All the princes and their retinues stood abruptly.

“Does anyone else wish to die free?” Ehud turned towards the other princes.

“You, you dare kill a prince of Israel?” Avod stuttered.

“I have had enough! Enough of stubborn and foolhardy princes throwing our lives away. Enough of blindly following decisions of princes too ready to risk our lives.” Ehud looked meaningfully at Elimelech and at his own Prince Giltar of Benjamin. “I will kill more princes until I beat sense into your arrogant minds. Who else wants to sentence thousands more of our brothers to death?” Ehud pointed his sword at each prince in turn. “I promise you that I will kill the leadership of any tribe that insists on fighting until we find someone with sense.”

Ehud turned to the elders and captains of Zevulun and pointed his bloody sword at them.

“Who will take Kaspa’s place? Do you still wish to resist? It is easy enough to fight when it is not your life on the line. Well, I am bringing the fight to you right here and now. Who wishes to fight!?”

The elders and captains of Zevulun looked sheepishly at Kaspa’s beheaded corpse but did not answer.

Laughter erupted from the wild brush behind the desolate vineyards. Eglon stood up from the brush in a resplendent white woolen robe and walked through the vineyard, ducking and weaving under the suspended vines.

“Brilliant! Masterful!” Eglon announced as hundreds of soldiers emerged from the brush and followed him. Eglon strode through the council circle and approached Ehud on the other side. The Moabite soldiers surrounded the council assembly.

“My most loyal and effective servant! You are truly a prophet of your god.” Eglon announced. “I am most pleased by your performance, Ehud. You have acted perfectly in assembling your council and cutting the foolish resistance at its core.” Eglon kicked the head of Kaspa, which rolled gently towards Elimelech.

“My dear princes of Israel.” Eglon looked at the princes with raised eyebrows. “Can I assume that I will have your cooperation?”

Nods from the circle of princes were his answer.

“Excellent!” Eglon clapped his beefy hands. “Now let us make this new arrangement a bit more formal, shall we? First, I hereby declare Ehud of Benjamin as King of Israel. He shall represent all the tribes of Israel before me.”

Murmurs of disagreement spread throughout the circle. Eglon looked at Ehud in confusion. Ehud shook his head, as if to say, “bad idea.”

“God is our King,” Elimelech said. “If you would have us as cooperative subjects, you cannot place a king over us.”

“I see,” Eglon held his clean-shaven chin and spoke to himself. “Perhaps the wrong place to start. It is semantics anyway. Fine.”

“Ehud shall merely be our intermediary to the tribes of Israel,” Eglon said loudly. “He shall represent you in all your dealings with me and he shall be responsible to carry out my commands in regards to you. Is that more satisfactory?”

The princes nodded.

“Now to more mundane matters. I will expect tribute of one fifth of your harvests and flocks annually.”

A gasp of shock went around the circle.

“What did you expect?” Eglon asked with a smirk. “We can make it more if you feel I am being too soft a conqueror.”

The princes gave him attentive silence.

“Good. I knew you would see it my way. Besides the tribute, each city and village will house and feed a unit of my soldiers. If any soldier of mine is harmed, I shall burn the offending village to the ground with all its inhabitants.”

The gulps of the princes were almost audible.

“Furthermore, each prince shall send their firstborn child to be permanent guests of Moab. Whichever prince does not accept this most gracious of invitations will be killed along with his entire family.”

Mouths opened wide in disbelief.

“Yes,” Eglon continued. “This is a venerable tradition of conquering nations. I have studied much the arts of war and conquest. The taking of royal children is a wonderful practice. It leads to greater understanding of each other and peaceful relations, which is what we all wish for, is it not?”

“All merchants, and especially those of Zevulun, shall give tribute of one fifth of their proceeds. I will have special units assigned to oversee commerce and safeguard all routes. I do not wish for the Phoenicians to take advantage of our hard work that allows them to ply their wares. We shall tax the Egyptians, the Aegeans, the Assyrians and any other people that cross our dominion. All tributes shall be brought to the new capital of the Moabite Empire on the plains of the Jordan River. Cooperation shall be rewarded with life; resistance shall be repaid with death. Do I make myself clear?”

The princes nodded.

“I do not hear you.”

“Yes, we understand,” the princes murmured.

“That is not good enough,” Eglon grimaced. “I need for each of you to swear fealty unto me, loudly and clearly.”

“We hear and obey, our lord Emperor Eglon,” Avod was the first to state and bow down. The other princes in turn each bowed and repeated, “We hear and obey, our lord Emperor Eglon.”

“That will do, I suppose,” Eglon smiled at the princes.

“There is one last matter that you will indulge me,” Eglon purred. “At the entrance to every city and village you shall place a statue of Baal and you shall worship him. Any city found deficient in the worship of Baal will be subject to the customary punishments. Death. Burning to the ground. So on and so forth.”

“We hear and obey, our lord Emperor Eglon,” the princes chanted in unison. Tears flowed freely down the face of Pinhas, the High Priest. Eglon left the circle of princes who made way for the large monarch as he rejoined his army. Ehud, still holding his bloody sword, slowly followed Eglon away from the princes. Ehud clenched his teeth and turned the sword ever so slightly towards Eglon’s back. The gesture did not go unnoticed by the surrounding princes.

* * * * * *

Warrior Prophets 2: Chapter 10 – Shilo Showdown

Warrior Prophets 2 Chapter 10

Shilo Showdown

“No!!!” Blimah screamed as she grabbed a large branch from the campfire and slammed it into the head of one of Ehud’s attackers. Sparks from the burning branch exploded against the soldier’s head as he fell onto the two other attackers. The three men fell in a tangle of swords and limbs at Ehud’s feet. Ehud smashed his head backwards knocking the guard behind him unconscious. With a quick glance at the two tall guards holding his arms, Ehud gritted his teeth and flexed his blacksmith’s biceps. The guards lost their balance, heads knocking into each other. They tumbled onto the guards on the floor who were about to get up.

“Do you have more soldiers to throw at me?” Ehud pointed his own sword at Gheda, “or shall we discuss Elimelech’s wild accusations in a more civilized fashion?”

“There is nothing to discuss!” Elimelech approached Ehud again. Ehud pointed his sword at Elimelech.

“Madness! This is all madness!” Pinhas, the High Priest, exclaimed.

“You are a traitor, Ehud,” Gheda declared. “It is your fault we have had such carnage. It is you who personally commanded the death of tens of thousands of our brothers. And I do have more soldiers. Captain!” Gheda called out into the summer night.

An armored soldier appeared at Gheda’s side.

“This man is a dangerous traitor and must be detained,” Gheda pointed at Ehud and then at the collapsed soldiers at Ehud’s feet. “Get an entire platoon if you must, to subdue him.”

“Right away, sir,” the soldier disappeared.

“I think it’s time to get out of here,” Blimah whispered to Ehud.

“I am not guilty and I will not run,” Ehud replied sternly.

“Will you fight the entire army of Israel single-handedly? I do not wish to lose my betrothed that quickly. It is time for — how would you soldiers call it — a tactical retreat. Come, let us go.” Blimah grabbed Ehud’s hand and pulled him into the shadows away from the campfires.

“Stop, Ehud!” Gheda called out. “Face justice like a man! Don’t make things more difficult! We will hunt you down!”

“I don’t believe this,” Pinhas exhaled. “Ehud? A traitor? There must be some mistake.”

“Are you calling me a liar?” Elimelech retorted angrily. “I swear by all my ancestors that Eglon named him as his agent.”

The Captain returned with two dozen soldiers marching briskly behind him.

“Where did he go?” the Captain asked.

“I don’t know, fool!” Gheda answered. “Quickly, spread out and find them. The girl too. If you can’t capture them alive, then dead will do. Go!” The soldiers returned to the darkness.

“What did my daughter do?” Yosma interjected. “She was merely defending her man. What sort of tyrant are you that you order the death of our people so easily?”

“Are you a conspirator, sir? What is your name?” Gheda asked.

“I am Yosma of Tapuah of the tribe of Ephraim and I will not be bullied by the likes of you.”

“I see where your daughter gets her attitude from. Cross my path again, Yosma, and you will regret it, as shall Ehud and your daughter. Come Elimelech, let us discuss your discoveries in a more conducive place.”

Gheda turned his back on Yosma and his family and walked away from the campfires. Elimelech followed him, as did the battered soldiers Ehud and Blimah had bested. Pinhas followed the procession.

 

“Where are you taking me?” Ehud asked Blimah, his hand still in hers as they ran under the moonlight.

“I don’t know. Away from that evil man. We need someplace to hide before his men search for us.”

“The vineyards. They won’t look for us there.”

“Good idea.”

Ehud and Blimah reached the vineyards without incident. Passersby assumed they were just another of the newly formed couples seeking a quiet place. They sat themselves beneath the hanging vines, the dew on the ripening grapes glistening under the setting moon.

“Now what?” Blimah asked.

“It was your plan to run, my darling. I am open to other suggestions.”

“You need some way to prove your innocence. That Elimelech seemed crazed and Gheda is just a slimy opportunist. How can you prove that you’re not a traitor? You aren’t, right?”

Ehud chuckled softly under the vineyards.

“Now you ask? After your ferocious defense? It is true that I visit with the King of Moab every year to negotiate and transport our copper shipments and we are certainly cordial and even friendly to each other, but it has never gone beyond that. So either Elimelech is lying, though he seemed convinced, or he was lied to, by Eglon himself. But to what purpose?”

“To get you out of the way.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. I’m no threat to Eglon. He knows that. I need to think. I need to seek out God. I need to speak to Him.”

“You speak to God?” Blimah asked incredulously.

“He has spoken to me. Perhaps He shall do so again.”

“When did He speak to you? Are you crazy? Do you often hear voices? Perhaps I should reconsider our betrothal?”

“Listen to me, Blimah. After that battle of Givaah, I was unconscious. I had been poisoned. I lay for months in the ruins of the city in a deep sleep. God spoke to me then and showed me what had occurred and that he was preparing me for a task.”

“That’s impossible! Who ever heard of such a thing? Sleeping for months. Visions. I’m leaving. Goodbye, Ehud. You’re a nice man, but I’m not interested in a crazy husband.”

“Wait!” Ehud grabbed Blimah’s arm as she attempted to stand up. “Please. I need to find some answers. Stay with me just a little longer as I try to reach God.”

“What? What do you want me to do?”

“Just sit here next to me. I’m going to close my eyes and focus my mind. I need quiet and peace. Just watch over me, that nobody should disturb me. Just for a few moments. Will you at least do that for a crazed fiancé?”

“Fine. But don’t take too long. I’m really not in the mood for these arcane games.”

In response, Ehud released her arm and closed his eyes. He slowed his breathing. He tried to imagine the peace he had felt when God had spoken to him previously. He cleared his mind of anxiety and focused on his faith in God.

God? Ehud thought.

No answer.

God!? Ehud thought more vigorously. I need help! I don’t know what to do!

Still no answer.

Ehud took a deep breath, slowed his breathing further and kept concentrating.

What do you want me to do?

No answer.

Ehud opened his eyes.

“He’s not answering,” Ehud stated.

“What did you expect? You think you just knock on his door and he opens up? Maybe you need to bring a sacrifice or something? How did Moses speak to God, or Joshua?”

“Moses spoke to God at will. I’m not sure how Joshua did it. I think in times of great need God spoke to Joshua and somehow Joshua seemed to know God’s wishes. Joshua prophesied to me once that I would face a great challenge, that I would lead my tribe in battle and that I would need great faith.”

“Joshua told you this?”

“Yes, when I was much younger, at his last assembly. He also prophesied that I would kill Boaz’s future father-in-law.”

“Boaz of Judah? How strange.”

“It is all strange. But I need to speak with God again. I just don’t know how!”

“How did you do it last time?”

“He came to me. I was in a deep sleep.”

“Then lie down, silly, and try again. I’ll watch over you.”

“You believe me?”

“No, but I’m still willing to help.”

“Thank you.”

Ehud lay down on the soft ground underneath the vineyards and closed his eyes. He felt himself relax immediately. The excitement of the evening seeped out of him and he dozed lightly. He felt his spirit rising above the vineyard, above the campfires and the Sanctuary.

God? Ehud thought.

I am here, Ehud.

What am I to do? Elimelech has accused me of treason and Gheda wishes to kill me.

I know. It is as per my plans. Do not fear.

Should I stand my ground? Confront them? Or hide like a sniveling thief? How am I to lead if I run from my enemy?

Patience, Ehud. You must choose your battles and enemies carefully. Now is not the time. The Children of Israel have much more to suffer before salvation. They must understand pain. They must understand the extent of their sins and false worship before they are freed. The subjugation will begin shortly. You must be there at the beginning, be instrumental at its inception, so that you may save my people when the time is right.

God, I don’t understand. I should wait and hide? Give myself up?

Ehud, listen to Blimah, your wife, for that is why I have brought you two together. She is a wise and strong woman and will guide you well.

God? God!?

Ehud woke up with a start.

“So, did you talk to Him?” Blimah asked, looking at Ehud strangely.

“Yes. He said I should listen to you.”

“God is truly wise.”

“So what should we do?”

“I have thought about it. You should seek out Eglon.”

“Eglon? He’s the enemy! If Elimelech is even partially correct, he has conquered the tribe of Reuven and will cross the Jordan shortly. Going to Eglon would further incriminate me.”

“Your criminality is not in question. Gheda already wishes you dead and there is little you can do that will make matters worse. You must seek Eglon and understand the situation better.”

“That is mad!”

“What did God say to you?”

“To listen to you, dear. Fine, we’ll go.”

“There is one other thing you’ve forgotten, my love.”

“What’s that?”

“We need to get properly married.”

 

Gheda and his soldiers led Elimelech to Gheda’s opulent tent. Pinhas followed. At the entrance to the tent Gheda turned to Pinhas.

“High Priest, are you sure you wish to participate in tactical discussions? Is it not beneath your concern?”

“If we are already here, I would like to listen to your discussions. I am concerned about Elimelech and would hear more from him in a calm fashion.” Pinhas proceeded into the tent. Soft carpets covered the floor of the tent and bronze braziers hung from the large tent ceiling. A plush bed occupied one side of the tent. A heavy oak table and solid chairs were arranged in the middle of Gheda’s temporary abode. He motioned to Elimelech and Pinhas to sit.

“Now tell me, Elimelech,” Gheda said. “What exactly did Eglon say? Besides Ehud being his agent.”

“He is planning on crossing the Jordan and conquering the tribes of Israel.”

“Surely you exaggerate! He could never hope to conquer the warriors of Israel.”

“He knows that we’ve been weakened by the battles of Givaah. Now is the perfect time for him to attack. We must reassemble the tribes, all of the fighters, including the sons of Benjamin, and stand united against him. That is the only way we can triumph.”

“Elimelech, let us not be so hasty. To unite all of the tribes again, especially with Benjamin, after our recent battles, is asking too much. The men are tired and wish to go back to their homes for their harvests. I think you must have misinterpreted Eglon.”

“You were quick to believe him, when he accused Ehud,” Pinhas interjected. “Ready in fact to have Ehud killed on the spot. But when Elimelech warns of a massive attack upon us, all of a sudden you are filled with doubt? You accept one part of his testimony, the one that suits you, and not the other?”

“Now listen here, High Priest,” Gheda responded. “Ehud is a known troublemaker. He is the one most responsible for the massacre of our soldiers. He has been a well-known confidant of Eglon for years. Elimelech’s testimony merely confirms what we already know. But these theories of an imminent attack are another matter altogether. We have had peaceful relations with Eglon for years; why would he start to war upon us unprovoked? Elimelech was clearly agitated by the revelation of Ehud’s treachery. The rest of his testimony is certainly questionable.”

“I know what I heard!” Elimelech yelled. “I don’t care if you believe me or not, Gheda. I will assemble the other princes myself.” Elimelech stormed out of the tent.

“I don’t know what game you are playing, Levite,” Pinhas said, “but it seems to be a very dangerous one. Whose interests are you protecting?”

“You question my loyalty? My sincerity?”

“I do. In your wake there has been nothing but destruction and misery. Your pursuit of Ehud is rash and your ignoring the Moabites is foolhardy. I shall watch you more carefully, Gheda.”

“Pinhas, my interests have ever been for the good, the glory and the unity of the tribes of Israel.”

“Under your leadership, I presume.”

“I have worked hard to make this happen. Who else would you have? Elimelech? He has fallen from grace and is losing his mind. The other tribe princes? Each one is only concerned for their cousins and relatives and does not see beyond his narrow borders. Has God said something to you on the matter? I see that your magical breastplate is silent. No, Pinhas. I am the unifier and you know it. Now if there is nothing else, I have become tired from all the excitement.”

“I shall leave, but mark my words, Gheda. There is a Judge and there is Judgment,” Pinhas pointed upwards. “You may think yourself clever and manipulative, but at the end of the day, He who is in the Heavens and on Earth shall meet out to everyone as they deserve.” Pinhas exited the tent.

“We shall see, Priest. We shall see,” Gheda said to the empty space.

 

“Psst, Pinhas, over here,” Ehud hissed outside the High Priest’s tent before the break of dawn.

“Ehud, what are you doing here? All of Gheda’s men are looking for you.”

“You believe my innocence?”

“Yes. You are not the traitorous type, and remember; I was there when Joshua prophesied about you and blessed you. He had great hopes for you. But why are you still here in Shilo? I expected you to be long gone by now.”

“I know, but this woman insists on marrying me and we wanted you to do the honors.”

“Now is not the most propitious time.”

“Our choice of circumstances is somewhat limited.”

“I understand. We need to have some witnesses for the ceremony, and does the bride not want her family present? How do we do it discretely without Gheda capturing you?”

“Let’s do it in the Sanctuary,” Blimah suggested.

“You jest, daughter. That is the most public place. You will be spotted in a moment,” Pinhas said.

“They will never think to look in the heart of Shilo,” Blimah said. “The wedding party will dress as Levites. I suspect there may be multiple ceremonies this morning after last nights dance. We shall make a quick ceremony and depart together with other pilgrims.”

“Yes, that could work. That is most ingenious, Blimah daughter of Yosma. Let us meet in the courtyard right after the morning sacrifice. I will have a Levite bring robes to your father’s tent. Ehud, I believe you have a promising bride.”

“God said the same thing.”

 

“We are all here now,” Elimelech pleaded with the other princes. “We must unite and head to the Jordan crossing to stop Eglon.”

Elimelech stood around a campfire, surrounded by the princes of the tribes of Israel.

“I don’t believe that Ehud is a traitor,” Prince Giltar said. “That makes me question your entire story.”

“Ehud has escaped. We can deal with him another time. The important thing is that we unite and fend off the Moabites. We can do it now, for we are all assembled here in Shilo. If our tribes disperse and we call for our armies once we are under attack, it will be too late. Eglon will have entered Canaan and he will be that much more difficult to dislodge. I have seen his army. They are joined by the Amalekites. They are ready and eager for war. This will be our only chance to stop them.”

“Why have we had no confirmation from the Reuvenites?” the prince of Zevulun asked.

“I barely escaped the Moabite camp with my life. I saw the elders of Reuven with Eglon. They are enthralled to him and perhaps even dead by now. He planned to kill all of the inhabitants of Bet Hayeshimot.”

“Come now, Elimelech,” Gheda joined the discussion. “You must calm down. This entire story is quite mysterious. How you got to them, washed there by the river. How you cut your beard and dyed your hair. How you just happened to eavesdrop on the King of Moab and then entered his tent, had him confide in you, and then escaped from his captivity. And all the while the camp was crawling with his troops. Quite strange. For this we will mobilize our weary men? On your conspiracy theories?”

“It all happened as I described! I swear to you. Eglon is massing his army, potentially right now! We need to assemble our men while we can. We will not have a second chance and we may regret it for a long time.”

“It may be wise to be cautious and assemble some of our troops,” Giltar volunteered.

“It would be a waste of time,” Gheda said. “And I am not sure that the rest of the tribes are ready to stand side by side with Benjamin.”

“Weren’t you the great unifier, Gheda?” Giltar asked. “I thought we had made peace and were over that. What happened to your Brotherhood of Israel?”

“I have seen their army, I say!” Elimelech shouted. “They are right across the river. They have perhaps two thousand troops. If we stand united we can easily stop them and take back Bet Hayeshimot. But if we separate, they will be able to pick us off one at a time. What say you princes? Enough talk! Are you with me? Shall we join in common cause against a true enemy? Shall we save our brother Reuven and restore his rightful land from the clutches of Moab and Amalek?”

“I am with you,” Giltar said, “though we have been on opposite sides of the battle before.”

“We are with you!” all the other princes echoed.

“Excellent! We leave then at first light. Prepare your men. Let us depart from the entrance of the Sanctuary and pray to God for guidance.”

“Princes! Where are the princes?” voices called out from the dark. Torches approached the fire of the princes.

“Who seeks the princes?” Elimelech called out. “We are here!”

Two men appeared in front of the princes. One white-haired and bent over, the other grey and tall.

“Menlos? Tralin of Reuven? How are you here? How did you escape Eglon? I thought you would be dead by now,” Elimelech said.

“Dead? Why should we be dead?” asked grey-haired Tralin. “Eglon has been quite kind. He does not wish to harm us. His business is with the Amonites.”

“What? I saw his army around your city! I saw his flag fly on your ramparts! What deception is this? How dare an elder and prince of Reuven come to us with lies?” Elimelech said furiously.

“It is no lie, Prince Elimelech,” Menlos the elder answered. “It is true that his flag flies on our city and that his men were camped outside, but not one soul has been hurt. We were defenseless when his army approached our gates. Our men were busy or dead on a wild vendetta that you led, Elimelech. We surrendered. Did we have a choice? But he is not interested in us. He marched today east to Amon, leaving behind a small garrison. He is not threatening us and he is certainly no threat to you.”

“So why do you come here, Reuvenites?” Gheda asked.

“We’ve been asked to convey a message from Eglon to the Princes of Israel.”

“What is your message?” Prince Giltar asked.

“He seeks peace with all of Israel.”

“This is the man that is imminently attacking us?” the prince of Zevulun asked. “You are making a laughingstock of us, Elimelech. We thought you were a serious man.”

“Wait!” Elimelech cried. “This must be a ruse. Menlos, what are Eglon’s terms, what does he want?”

“He wants free passage through our roads and guarantee of deliveries of grains, wine and oil,” Menlos answered. “If the princes will promise free trade he will leave Bet Hayeshimot. He will have his hands full with Amon.”

“That is quite reasonable,” the prince of Zevulun said.

“You see, Elimelech,” Gheda added. “You are concocting wars where there are none. Go home, Elimelech. I think you need rest. Eglon is not a threat. He seeks peace and reasonable terms. His ambitions lie to the east of the Jordan.”

“Something is not right,” Giltar said. “Why would Eglon sue for something he already has? Does he not have free access to our roads and produce? Have any of you hampered his trade?”

“Nonetheless, Giltar,” the prince of Zevulun said, “it is not an emergency. They are not massing to attack us, nor does it seem they have plans to. Elimelech has misled us. He has wasted our time and spread fear amongst us for no purpose. For the last time. We for one shall not follow you again, Elimelech. Your last adventure cost us dearly. Very dearly. I say, Menlos, convey to Eglon that we are in agreement as to his terms. He sounds like a reasonable man and we look forward to continued commerce with him. I have nothing further to discuss. Goodbye my fellow princes. May we meet again under pleasant circumstances.” The other princes murmured their agreement.

The prince of Zevulun left the assembly. Other princes left as well.

“No! Wait! You must believe me!” Elimelech fell to his knees. “This makes no sense. I saw them. I spoke to Eglon. He will conquer all of us!”

“Go home, Elimelech.” Gheda patted the fallen prince on the shoulder. “Go home to your family. I think your exertions may be taking a toll on your mind. Have no fear. All will turn out well. You will see.”

“Gheda, I don’t understand,” Elimelech looked up at the fat Levite as the sun crept up from the east.

“I know. But you will. Soon enough you will understand all.” Gheda smiled at the rising sun and looked to the plains of Moab. “As the sun rises in the east, so will our salvation.” To himself, Gheda finished the thought: My Master, master of deception, Eglon.

* * * * * *

Warrior Prophets 2 Chapter 9 – The Dancer

Warrior Prophets 2 Chapter 9

The Dancer

Blimah loved the midsummer festival in Shilo. It was her favorite pilgrimage of the year. There were none of the intricate rituals that were so common at the Sanctuary of Shilo during the other festivals, just good food and dancing. She lived for the dancing. Her tightly-braided raven-black hair contrasted against her white flowing dress. At seventeen, Blimah, as tall as any man, was well into marriageable age.

Her parents and her three younger brothers walked casually beside their strong ox, Elgor, with his provision-laden cart. Her family had had a good harvest of figs and was bringing the juicy fruits to Shilo to sell at the festival. Shilo was not far from their hometown of Tapuah within the tribe of Ephraim. A half-a-day walk through the green hills and valleys of central Canaan brought them within sight of the religious center of Israel.

As they approached Shilo, Blimah noticed the taller green mountains surrounding the Sanctuary hill. Olive groves and vineyards accompanied them on either side of the road during their trek. The road itself was filled with more pilgrims than Blimah remembered. Most families were on foot with one donkey or ox carrying all of their supplies. Some of the wealthier families had a donkey for each person and there were even several horses this year belonging to military and princely families. Blimah noted other white clad girls and she walked ahead of her family to seek her fellow dancers.

Gheda, on a white mare, trotted beside the walking pilgrims. He wore luxurious purple robes and was adorned with golden bracelets. When he passed by Blimah he stopped his horse and whistled quietly.

“Aren’t you a beauty,” Gheda said. “You shall make a wonderful bride. What is your name, my daughter?”

“Am I a mare, sir, that you determine my worth based on my appearance?” Blimah answered without breaking her stride or looking up.

“Do you know who I am? How dare you speak to me so insolently?” Gheda fumed.

“Does a high rank excuse bad manners? I thought that was a heathen custom.”

“Woman! Tell me your name that I should know the identity of she who shall soon feel my wrath.”

“And who is it that seeks my identity? Are you some judge or officer? You are not of my tribe and I do not owe you obeisance or false courtesy.”

“I am Gheda the Levite! Uniter and leader of the tribes of Israel!”

“Ah, the one who destroyed our brothers and sisters of Benjamin. Hail mighty savior! With such leadership, soon there shall be even fewer tribes. A pleasure meeting you, noble sir. Now perhaps stop harassing me and go destroy another tribe or something.”

“You go too far! Your tongue shall be the death of you!” Gheda unsheathed his sword and ran his mount at Blimah, slashing at her neck.

With a dancer’s speed, Blimah ducked below the sword and pivoted, grabbing Gheda’s sword arm, swiftly breaking his wrist and disarming him. Blimah held the heavy sword as Gheda howled in pain.

“My hand! You’ve broken my hand!” Gheda held his dangling hand and looked at Blimah with a combination of hatred and fear.

“It’s your wrist, you oaf. Immobilize it for a few weeks and it shall heal. But let this be a warning, Gheda the Levite,” Blimah pointed the sword at him. “Next time you threaten me, I shall kill you. I shall slice your rotund belly so that your innards will spill out and then I shall feed them to my dogs – though they may hate me for my choice of meat. Begone, fat one, and think before you look upon a woman as an object again.”

Gheda’s face became as red as the embers of a blacksmith’s forge. He held his breath until Blimah thought his head would explode. Blimah did not flinch. She merely looked him in the eye with a tight smile. Finally, Gheda, confused and pained, trotted away. A crowd had formed around Blimah. Several women patted her on the back.

“That was very brave, dear,” an older woman in dark robes said, “but beware of men of power. They do not forget insult or injury lightly.”

“Why are there so many pilgrims this year?” Blimah asked her.

“Have you not heard? They say that all the princes will be at Shilo this year, as well as the survivors of Benjamin. They shall celebrate the end of their fighting and have insisted that all of the tribes attend. We have not had such a gathering since the days of Joshua! It is perhaps a more positive attempt at unification, seeing as warfare did not go so well.”

“If this fat buffoon is the leader of such efforts, it does not bode well,” Blimah said.

“Gheda is a troublemaker. Stay clear of him and you should be fine.”

“Thank you for the advice. I shall take it to heart.”

“Ehud! You are alive!” Prince Giltar of Benjamin embraced Ehud in front of the Sanctuary entrance amidst the bustle of the pilgrims. “I thought you had perished.”

Ehud removed himself from Giltar’s embrace. “I was at the doors of death. I lay unconscious for months. I have just recently awoken to the horror you’ve left us.”

“It was a massacre,” Giltar looked at his sandaled feet. “They tried to destroy the entire tribe.”

“How many, Giltar? How many of us are left?” Ehud said.

“Six hundred, Ehud. Six hundred men. It was God’s will. I was at fault. I see that now. I was arrogant. But it was God’s will.”

“That does not absolve you.”

“True. I do not think I shall ever find absolution, but what would you have me do? Kill myself as the heathens? Do you wish to take my life?” Giltar removed his sword and handed it to Ehud.

“You do deserve to die, Giltar. But not at my hands.” Ehud returned the sword. “What of the remaining men, where are they?”

“Gheda brought us brides from Yavesh Gilaad. Four hundred are married and will rebuild our destroyed cities. The rest of the men are here and will take brides tonight, at the dance.”

“What do you mean by ‘take’? Do the brides know of this, or do you come as thieves in the night to steal the daughters of Israel from their families?”

“It is Gheda’s plan. If we take the brides against their will, then their families shall not have betrayed their oath against marrying Benjaminites. Gheda will be here with soldiers to make sure there is no protest.”

“Gheda, Gheda, Gheda. He has been behind all the insanity from the beginning. He always finds the most violent solutions.”

“You should find a wife yourself, Ehud. It is your responsibility as well to make sure our tribe continues.”

“I shall not take a woman against her will.”

“Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

“Do they?”

Pinhas, the High Priest, watched as the masses of Israel streamed to Shilo. It gave him great pleasure to see so many attend the festival. For many years now the Sanctuary had been mostly desolate. Few families made the regular pilgrimages. Pinhas had conscripted Priests and Levites to clean the Sanctuary grounds, launder all the cloths and garments and polish all the metal utensils. Vendors from near and far arrived with food, clothing and jewelry, and most importantly to Pinhas, animals for the sacrifice. Sheep and goats were the main consumption of the Sanctuary altar. His priest would be busy this festival. And of course there were the musicians. Musicians from all over Canaan arrived for the festival of Tu-B’Av, giving it its special character. Though it was not written in the Law of Moses, this festival was one of the few that attracted people to Shilo, especially the maidens. They loved to dance by the vineyards outside the Sanctuary.

The Tabernacle structure stood proudly in the midst of the Sanctuary compound. It still had components from the original Tabernacle the Children of Israel had carried with them through the desert for forty years. That was the Tabernacle Moses had consecrated and saw filled by God’s very presence. It was the home of the Holy Ark, the Candelabrum and the other holy instruments the gifted artisan Bezalel had designed with divine inspiration. Besides the original roof of skins and fabric, this Tabernacle had walls of stone, as opposed to the original desert version.

Musicians from all of the tribes assembled in the courtyard, greeting each other and practicing on their instruments.

Pinhas had ordered the harvested fields west of the Sanctuary to be cleared for tents. The entrance to the Sanctuary on the south was reserved for families to eat and the eastern side, next to the vineyards, would be for the girls to dance.

Throughout the day pilgrims arrived at Shilo. Priests directed them to settle in the clearing to the west. Most pilgrims found the first available spot, parked their wagon and animals and started to construct their tents. Priests worked hard to make sure clear passages remained in the field to allow more pilgrims to traverse the field. The priests forced one overeager family from the tribe of Naftali to dismantle the tent they had built on the path. Two Menashite families fought as to who had gotten first to their chosen location. Donkeys brayed, sheep bleated and enterprising vendors walked up and down the path selling fresh pomegranate juice and roasted almonds.

Heads of families brought their sheep or goat into the Sanctuary compound for the Priest to sacrifice. The Priest expertly slaughtered the animal, cut it up and gave part of the meat to the owner. They then set aside some for their fellow priests. A final portion, the portion for God, was carried up the ramp of the Altar and placed upon the pyre at its top. The priests had their own fire to cook their portions and the families of Israel built dozens of fires to roast their meat outside the compound. Soon the air surrounding Shilo was filled with the aroma of freshly roasted meat.

As evening descended, torches and braziers were lit around the compound. The full moon and the cloudless night made for easy visibility on the festive night. Pinhas climbed the outer wall of the compound and faced the crowd camped out and feasting around the fires.

“Blessed are you who have come, Children of Israel, to celebrate the fifteenth of Av, the summer’s full moon,” Pinhas declared in a robust voice. “It is well that you remember God and his Tabernacle on this day. It is significant that we assemble joyously after the violence of the past few months. We are all brothers. We are united by our ancestry and by the laws of God given to us by our teacher, Moses.”

“Most of you are now too young to remember, but it was this day, this very day that our ancestors stopped dying in the desert. For forty years, ever since the curse of the spies, our ancestors would dig their own graves. They would lie in their grave. It was the ninth of Av, that accursed day. Every year a portion of the men would not wake from that night’s slumber. Their surviving brothers would bury them. It was the most horrid day of the year, the day of death. And then, after four decades of that cursed day, no one died. We thought perhaps we had miscalculated the day. The men lay another night in their cold graves. And yet again, no one died. They repeated the ritual we had performed throughout our sojourn in the desert. And that year, that last year, in the wilderness of Moab, no one died. Finally, after days of no one dying in their graves, we looked up at the night sky. Behold!” Pinhas pointed at the full moon. “The moon was full! The ninth of Av was well passed. It was already the fifteenth! Moses called for a celebration! The curse was lifted! We would live and we would enter Canaan!”

“And so, my brothers and sisters, my sons and daughters, we celebrate. We celebrate this joyous day. It shall ever be a day that signifies an end to destruction and death, the beginning of hope and life. We must reaffirm our allegiance to the God of Israel and to each other. Children of Israel! Rejoice! For God now smiles upon us and is gladdened by our presence and our unity. Rejoice!”

Pinhas pointed at the musicians assembled in the courtyard. A white-haired Levite standing in front of the orchestra raised his hands and a symphony started. Lyres, flutes, drums and cymbals produced a rhythmic tune. White-dressed girls ran from the campfires to the vineyards on the eastern side of the Sanctuary.

Blimah was one of the first to reach the dance area. She kicked off her sandals and her feet seemed to fly of their own accord on the soft grass. Soon dozens, hundreds of young girls were dancing in step with Blimah, following her graceful moves in the bright summer moon. Blimah started with the traditional dances, dances her grandmother had danced in the desert. The orchestra played new tunes and Blimah moved on to more difficult dances, dances her mother had developed in the days of Joshua. Then Blimah danced her own dance, a challenging, arduous dance that was a wonder to behold. Blimah moved like a whirlwind, full of life and joy and music. Many of the girls could not keep up. They laughed and giggled at the other girls trying. Blimah taught the dance again and more girls joined in, still giggling at the new movements.

Blimah noticed men hiding in the vineyards. They were unarmed yet had a hungry look about them.

“Men of Benjamin!” Blimah recognized Gheda’s voice from the vineyards. “Your brides are before you. Take that which pleases you and no man shall stand in your way!”

Hundreds of men walked out of the vineyards. Dozens reached dancing girls as the music continued. Many did not object and returned to the vineyards or to the campfires with their match. Many girls resisted, some screaming loudly. The men forcefully took the women. Many girls ran and danced away from their pursuers. The eager Benjaminites pursued their prey with relish. Crude laughter was heard throughout the vineyard.

A tall Benjaminite approached Blimah. “I will have you, girl,” he announced as he reached for her.

Blimah easily sidestepped him, the music adding to her speed. “You’ll have to do much better than that,” she whispered as she danced away.

A brutish-looking man intercepted Blimah and grabbed her harshly by the arm. “Come here, girl. I will have you as a bride.”

“You will not!” Blimah kicked him in the groin. The man doubled over in pain, releasing her.

“A wild one, eh! I’ll tame you, girl!” The man reached for Blimah again.

Blimah spun around, kicking the man in the face. The man fell to the ground unconscious. Three other men approached Blimah.

“This is ridiculous,” Blimah stated to the melodic meat-scented air. “I will not be some prize to be won by the grubbiest hands. I should find myself a husband before the finding is done for me.”

Blimah scanned the field as her would-be suitors pursued her. She saw some couples skipping away happily. Others were struggling. She saw a man near the edge of the vineyards separating a couple.

“Unhand her,” the squat man told the burly Benjaminite.

“Gheda said we could take who we want,” the burly man responded.

“And I say I will break your arm right now if you don’t unhand her. Find a willing mate. This girl is in tears. I guarantee you this is a lousy way to marry. Gheda is a fool. I will not repeat myself.” The squat man placed his hand meaningfully on the pommel of his sheathed sword.

The burly man unhanded the girl who ran off relieved. The burly man scanned the field for more girls. The squat man sought the next struggling couple. Blimah approached him.

“What is your name?” she asked, standing almost a head taller than him.

“Ehud of Benjamin. What is it to you?”

“Do you seek a bride?”

“Not yet.”

“Why?”

“I wish to minimize the violence and injustice of this dance Gheda has arranged.”

“That is noble of you. Why do you care?”

“You are filled with questions. I suggest you hide or run to your family unless you wish to be grabbed by a man not of your liking.”

“I wish to be grabbed by you.”

Ehud looked up at Blimah as if for the first time.

“What is your name?”

“I am Blimah daughter of Yosma of the tribe of Ephraim.”

“Blimah, I am honored by an offer from one so beautiful, but you know nothing about me and I nothing about you or your family. This is not how it is meant to be.”

“I fear that if I do not leave this field with you, then one not of my choosing shall take me and I do not wish to run or hide.” Blimah turned her head towards half-a-dozen men, waiting like vultures a few feet away.

Ehud looked around and saw more couples struggling. Girls punching uselessly against the chest of grinning future-husbands. Girls crying as they were dragged back to the darkness of the vineyards. Girls screaming and kicking as older men pulled them by the hair. The veins on Ehud’s forehead throbbed.

“Men of Benjamin! Brothers! Stop what you are doing!” Ehud bellowed above the din of the music. “Are you brigands that you take women against their will. I know you. I have fought alongside most of you. This is not how we shall rebuild our tribe. Listen to me. Listen to me! I shall lay a curse now. A curse! Any man that takes a woman against her will, I curse that you shall not know a day of peace in your life. If they struggle, let them go. Find one that is suitable for you. The daughters of Israel are princesses! There are more than enough women here that we can take the time to find proper matches and not the first pair of legs that cross your path. Let them go. We shall find brides for all of you, but not through this violence. Whoever ignores me, I shall show them violence! You know how I fight!” Ehud unsheathed his sword and raised it high.

Men let go of struggling women. Some apologized. Others took their time to seek out other women. Women shyly accepted the verbal advances of the Benjaminites. Laughing and giggling was heard once again. Women that had run away returned to the field. A sense of calm returned, enhanced by the pleasant music.

“Now, Blimah daughter of Yosma,” Ehud looked in her eyes, “you may seek a husband, or not, without pressure. Do you still desire me?”

“Ehud, that was the bravest, most heroic act I have seen in my life. I need know nothing further to know that I would have you as my husband.”

“But I know nothing of you, sweet Blimah.”

“How shall we correct that, my hero?” Blimah smiled.

“Time,” Ehud answered.

“There is no time like tonight.”

“True. Let us converse and get to know each other.”

The two walked to the campfires. News of the Benjaminite raid of the women had reached the pilgrims. At many of the campfires, women were introducing their new husbands. At others, fathers and sons were arming themselves and went on search expeditions to find their missing daughters.

Ehud and Blimah found Blimah’s family and sat down with them.

“Is this your husband, daughter?” Blimah’s father asked.

“Not yet,” Blimah answered. “He is not as quick as the other Benjaminites to claim me.”

“At least one man is not participating in this travesty,” Yosma said.

“Father, Ehud tried to stop it. He was magnificent,” Blimah said.

“Ehud? Ehud son of Gera?” Yosma asked.

“Yes, sir,” Ehud said.

“You are the one responsible for the death of my brother and my cousin and half of the soldiers from our tribe.”

“I am sorry, sir. It was war. Not of my making and it was in self-defense. I pleaded with the princes to hold back, but they could only think of violence. I shall leave if I am not welcome.” Ehud stood up.

“I have heard too that you are a man of honor. Stay. We were forced to swear an oath that our daughters would never marry the sons of Benjamin. I understand this ruse that was arranged. If the daughters of Israel are taken without asking then we are innocent of oath-breaking. I cannot say nay or yea to the wishes of my daughter. I couldn’t say anything to willful Blimah whether oath or not. She has always done as she sees fit. But how will you support her, man of arms, if we are now at peace?”

“I am a blacksmith, sir.”

Yosma’s eyebrow arched in respect.

“You realize that I can give no dowry, if the oath is to remain inviolate,” Yosma said.

“I have not decided yet, sir, if I wish for Blimah as a wife. I wish to know her better and not to take her merely upon the sight of her youthful beauty.”

“Cautious and wise. I think I like you, blacksmith,” Yosma approved.

“There she is!” Gheda’s voice pierced the night. He was accompanied by six armed men. “She is the one that attacked me. I will have her head.”

“You attacked Gheda?” Ehud whispered to Blimah. “I think I like you already.”

“What business do you have with this woman?” Ehud drew his sword. Blimah and her family stood up.

“Ehud? I did not see you there. It is none of your concern. I have unfinished business with this woman and if you know what is good for you, you will stand aside.”

“This woman is to be my wife, Gheda. If you make one more threatening noise, I shall do all of Israel a favor and dispatch one fat Levite from this world.”

“You threaten me? You threaten me!? Have you Benjaminites learned nothing? Men! Seize her!”

“What is the meaning of this!!??” a thunderous voice stopped everyone in their tracks. Pinhas, the High Priest, stepped out of the shadows and stood between Gheda’s men and Ehud. “You would spill blood in front of the Sanctuary? Have you not spilled enough blood between the two of you? I was forced into silence for too long, but no longer. You have both been instruments of great evil and you darken our celebration by being here. Depart, both of you!”

“One moment, High Priest,” Blimah interrupted. “There is only one villain in this story and it is the fat Levite. Ehud, my betrothed,” Blimah smiled as she said it, “has been defending me from the harassment of this evil man. Gheda accosted me as I ascended to Shilo and I can bring a dozen witnesses to prove it. I defended myself from him and humiliated this inept fighter and for that he seeks vengeance. And his sick idea to turn all the women into chattel was only ameliorated by the timely intervention of Ehud. If you seek to send anyone away it should be this pompous buffoon. Or you can save us all aggravation and let my husband skewer this pig as he deserves.”

“You see, Pinhas?” Gheda whined. “You see the regard they give me? After all of my efforts for Israel? Who is the victim here? Look at what she already did to my wrist?” Gheda raised his limp hand.

“He is here,” a new voice spoke from the shadows. “He is here!”

A bedraggled man stepped into the light. There were dried leaves in his short beard and madness in his eyes.

“Elimelech?” Pinhas asked, not sure if the Prince of Judah stood before him.

“Traitor!” Elimelech yelled. Gheda froze with a wild look in his eyes. Elimelech approached the group slowly. Then like a panther, he launched himself at Ehud, fingers around the Benjaminite’s neck in a stranglehold. They fell to the ground and rolled over the fire. Both of their garments caught fire. Blimah was quick to grab a blanket and put out the fire on Ehud. Yosma grabbed another blanket and extinguished the fire on Elimelech. Gheda’s men separated the two and held them tightly.

“Madness! What madness is this!?” Pinhas yelled.

“Traitor!” Elimelech screamed. “The blacksmith is a traitor! He is responsible for all of the lives, for all of the death, for the entire war. He is the one that drove us to it.”

“That is not possible,” Blimah said. “He is the only sane one amongst you.”

“Then you do not know him, girl,” Elimelech answered more calmly. “I have just returned from spying upon the forces of Moab, that have conquered the territory of our brothers in Reuven, and they are on their way to Canaan. I overheard and spoke to King Eglon of Moab himself and I barely escaped with my life. There is a traitor amongst us. A leader of the tribes of Israel that has ever pushed us to war. That traitor is in the employ of and has been paid by Eglon for years now. That traitor has betrayed his own blood and kin for Moabite gold. That traitor is Ehud son of Gera of Benjamin.”

“I knew it!” Gheda confirmed. “He was always the most difficult. He never gave in to our demands. He was always visiting with Eglon with his supposed copper shipments. It was all a cover for his treason! Men! Kill the traitor!”

The three men that had been holding Elimelech let go of him and approached Ehud with drawn swords. Ehud was still held tightly by Gheda’s other three men.

As the three swords closed in on Ehud’s unprotected chest, Yosma whispered to the open-mouthed Blimah, “You may wish to reconsider your choice of husband.”

* * * * * *

Biblical Source:

Judges Chapter 21

16 Then the elders of the congregation said: ‘How shall we do for wives for them that remain, seeing the women are destroyed out of Benjamin?’ 17 And they said: ‘They that are escaped must be as an inheritance for Benjamin, that a tribe be not blotted out from Israel. 18 Howbeit we may not give them wives of our daughters.’ For the children of Israel had sworn, saying: ‘Cursed be he that giveth a wife to Benjamin.’ 19 And they said: ‘Behold, there is the feast of the Lord from year to year in Shiloh, which is on the north of Beth-el, on the east side of the highway that goeth up from Beth-el to Shechem, and on the south of Lebonah.’ 20 And they commanded the children of Benjamin, saying: ‘Go and lie in wait in the vineyards; 21 and see, and, behold, if the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in the dances, then come ye out of the vineyards, and catch you every man his wife of the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin. 22 And it shall be, when their fathers or their brethren come to strive with us, that we will say unto them: Grant them graciously unto us; because we took not for each man of them his wife in battle; neither did ye give them unto them, that ye should now be guilty.’ 23 And the children of Benjamin did so, and took them wives, according to their number, of them that danced, whom they carried off; and they went and returned unto their inheritance, and built the cities, and dwelt in them. 24 And the children of Israel departed thence at that time, every man to his tribe and to his family, and they went out from thence every man to his inheritance.

Warrior Prophets 2: Chapter 5 – The Berserker

Warrior Prophets 2: Chapter 5

The Berserker

“Congratulations, Ehud!” Prince Giltar slapped Ehud on the shoulder. “That was a masterful battle. We did not lose a man! You were brilliant to focus your attack on Boaz. I think the Judeans have learned their lesson.”

“This is not cause for celebration,” Ehud muttered as he walked in the moonlight with Giltar outside the gates of Givaah.

“We have defeated our enemies. What more can you ask for?”

“It is not done. They are still camped around us.” Ehud motioned at the army surrounding them. “They will attempt again tomorrow, with greater force. We must prepare.”

“Are they mad? What chance do they have without their vaunted hero?”

“We are all mad to be engaging in this senseless battle. Nonetheless, they outnumber us and if anything they will be further enraged by their defeat.”

“What will you do?”

“We must prepare the ground. If we cannot best them with numbers, we shall let the land assist us.”

“I leave it to you then, Ehud.”

 

 

“I will not take any chances this time,” Elimelech said to Gheda in the Prine of Judah’s tent. “We shall go with a force five times as large as Benjamin’s and I shall lead them myself.”

“It is prudent to use overwhelming force,” Gheda said as he patted his stomach, “but is it wise for you to lead? Or anyone from one of the tribes for that matter?”

“Who else but someone from one of the tribes?”

“A Levite perhaps. We are neutral as far as the tribes are concerned. We have no tribal inheritance. We have no territorial interests. We are spread about amongst all of the tribes and known to all of them. We are the natural unifiers of all the tribes. And with such an overwhelming force, victory is assured.”

“And which Levite do you suggest to command the armies of Israel?”

“Why I would think it would be obvious to you, Elimelech. I should lead the united tribes of Israel. I have been at the forefront of the unification effort. It was my woman that was killed by the hand of those murderers. I should be the one to both exact retribution and bring the tribes together in victory.”

“There is some sense in what you say,” Elimelech volunteered hesitantly. “Perhaps we should lead together.”

“You know as well as I do, Elimelech, that there can be only one leader at a time. The tribe of Judah had its chance today, and that did not turn out well at all. I’ve spoken with the other princes about this. They insist that you stay behind tomorrow and allow me to take the reins.”

“You discussed this behind my back?” Elimelech asked in growing anger. “What military experience do you have? How will you deal with Ehud? He is the biggest threat.”

“Each of us must do what we can to secure victory, Elimelech. I am not without guile in earthly matters. I know how I shall deal with Ehud should our paths cross.” Gheda patted his sheathed sword.

“In any case, there are not many warriors of Judah left on the field,” Gheda continued. “Perhaps it would be better if you tended to the wounded amongst your family and consoled the mourners amongst your many cousins. How many thousands did you lose today?”

Elimelech closed his eyes and grimaced at the reminder of the disaster.

“Very well. I shall stay behind. I just want this over with already.”

 

 

“Pass the butter,” Gheda commanded his arms-bearer, Ralton.

Ralton, the young gangly Levite, reached to the other side of the wide table Gheda had placed in front of his tent. The table was laden with fresh bread and pita, olive oil, wine, mead, figs and scallions. Gheda had ordered a sumptuous breakfast for himself and was sitting beside the table enjoying the food surrounding him. “All must take note of who is in charge now and that we are in command of the situation,” Gheda told young Ralton through a mouthful of pita, as a thin rivulet of olive oil dripped from his fleshy lips.

“Gheda, the troops are ready. We are wasting precious minutes of the day,” a commander from the tribe of Dan urged.

“Calm yourself, commander,” Gheda waved his flabby hand. “There is no rush. I shall not run at Givaah like some green soldier. Let them become anxious as to the time and method of our attack. We have the strength of numbers and we shall destroy their resistance in due time.”

“Yes, Gheda,” the commander answered. “However our men are also tiring, and after yesterday’s massacre, they are not feeling so confident, even with our numbers.”

“Can’t a leader eat his breakfast in peace?” Gheda slammed his beefy fist onto the table, making the dishes bounce. “Very well, commander. We shall proceed. Ralton, give me my sword.”

Ralton took the sword in its scabbard from against the breakfast table and handed it to Gheda as he rose from his chair. Gheda smoothly drew the sword from its scabbard, careful not to touch its sharp edge. He noted with approval the dark liquid staining the cutting side of his sword. One slice will suffice, Gheda thought.

“Take me to the front line, commander,” Gheda bellowed. “We shall finish this pointless resistance and earn our place in history.”

Gheda, Ralton and the commander walked down from the encampment to the troops in the valley surrounding the city of Givaah. The Israelite army was organized in three waves of attackers. The princes expected that one wave would be enough, but they had decided on two more as reinforcements.

As Gheda walked through the waiting soldiers, he noted that the men were perspiring in the rising summer sun. He was comforted by the endless number of soldiers, but slowed his pace as he saw the Benjaminites arrayed in front of the gates of Givaah.

“I don’t need to be in the very front,” Gheda said to the commander. “A general should be able to direct his men from some distance. He needs to see the bigger picture. I shall stay here in the second battalion. You, commander, you should lead the first attack.”

“As you command, Gheda. The battle plan has been decided already, you merely need to order when to start and direct us as you see fit.”

“Very good, very good. Let’s get on with it then. Proceed.”

The commander walked briskly to the front of the line.

“Forward!” the commander ordered, sword drawn. Thousands of swords left their scabbards as the tribes of Israel marched against their brother once again.

Gheda was excited by the movement. The second wave, of which he was a part, marched forward, up the hill to Givaah. Parts of the wheat fields they were trampling seemed abnormally moist in the late morning. Gheda tried to spot Ehud. Ehud is the one we need to watch out for, he thought. There he is! At the very front of his men. Is he praying? It won’t help him. But they are not moving to engage. Are they wet? Why do they all seem as if they’ve bathed in the Jordan. Very strange.

The tribes marched resolutely up the hill as the Benjaminites stood their ground. Ehud seemed to be counting to himself.

“Swords!” Ehud bellowed. A wave of swords left their scabbards and appeared in the hands of the Benjaminite defenders. Ehud continued counting quietly to himself. The front line of the Israelites narrowed the distance. A normal army would have used the downhill advantage to meet our advance, Gheda thought. Why is he letting us get so close?

“Archers! Now!” Ehud exclaimed.

After those words time moved at a painfully slow pace for Gheda. He noticed half a dozen Benjaminite archers with fire on their arrows letting loose their projectiles. The front line of the tribes, led in an orderly unison by the commander, fell into an extremely long and deep ditch, stopping the assault. The fire arrows hit their hidden marks and the entire field seemed to go up in flames. A wall of flame rose in front of Gheda’s wave, cutting his group off from the first wave of Israelite attackers, now stuck between the trench and the fire. Another wall of fire rose behind Gheda, separating his wave from the third group behind him.

“Charge!” he heard Ehud yell.

The Benjaminites jumped over the trapped Israelites in the deep ditches, lopping off hundreds of heads as they crashed into the first wave of attackers. The Benjaminites hacked and sliced into the panicked soldiers who were unable to advance or retreat. Many of the Israelites ran to the sides, trying to escape the deadly Benjaminites and the blazing fire. Very few of the attackers of the first wave survived.

“Through the fire!” Ehud commanded.

Gheda then saw a sight he would never forget for the rest of his life. Thousands of Benjaminites jumped through the wall of fire. He finally understood Ehud’s brilliance. Their soaked robes, shields and head gear protected the Benjaminites from the flames. An army of steaming men appeared amongst the confused Israelites. Trapped between walls of fire and soldiers that could only be compared to the minions of Hell, pandemonium ruled the Israelite attackers. The Benjaminites methodically cut down the Israelite soldiers. Ehud ran from melee to melee, tearing down whatever resistance built up.

“Attack Ehud!” Gheda finally found his voice. “He is the key! Attack Ehud!”

Some of the Israelites took heart from the command, and turned to find the short blacksmith. Gheda, despite his wide girth, moved quickly, avoiding other deadly squabbles, until he was directly behind Ehud. Ehud was surrounded by half a dozen Israelites. Ehud, a sword in each hand, stood blocking the blows of the Israelites surrounding him, ducking under fatal slices. Gheda, feeling the heat from the flames, fell to the ground and crawled towards Ehud. Ehud stepped away from the pressing Israelites. Gheda crawled within sword’s-reach of Ehud’s leg.

Let it end, Gheda thought, as he nicked Ehud’s ankle with the tip of his sword. Gheda crawled away from the fracas and ran parallel to the walls of fire, seeking an exit.

“Retreat!” Gheda called out. “Retreat! Let’s get the out of this hell.”

The Israelites, confused yet again, ran in either direction trying to escape the fires. The Benjaminites pursued the army of the tribes, killing many from behind. Bodies littered the burning wheat fields of Benjamin.

“Enough!” Ehud called out woozily. “Let them run. Put out the fires. Perhaps they got the message this time, though I don’t know what trick I would use tomorrow.”

Ehud surveyed the carnage. Again he could see thousands of corpses. Not one Benjaminite dead. Why don’t they understand? he thought. Why don’t they give up this damned battle? This will scar our relationships for generations to come.

Ehud walked slowly through the field and then promptly fainted, as the poison coursing through his veins finally overtook him.

 

 

The tribes of Israel retreated from around Givaah. They regrouped at Bet-El. The princes of the tribes had all ripped their robes and placed ashes on their heads. All of them had lost family members on this second day of defeat. All of the survivors, ashen-faced and smelling of smoke, wept and took upon themselves a fast. Priests and Levites offered animal sacrifices to God, begging for mercy, forgiveness and understanding. Gheda sat in the center of the camp, head bowed in shame, embarrassed by the failure and secretly bemoaning all the wasted meat of the animal sacrifices.

“You walked right into a trap,” Elimelech accused Gheda as nightfall settled. “I will lead the army myself!” Elimelech faced the other princes. “We cannot count on just mere force. We must use some of our own subterfuge.”

“But we lost so many,” the prince of Naftali said. “God is clearly on their side.”

“They have done evil!” Elimelech answered. “They are defending criminals, and now at their hands we have lost forty thousand of our finest men. Forty thousand! In just two days! We cannot just walk away.”

“Let us ask the priest,” the prince of Naftali said.

“Let us,” Elimelech agreed.

The princes sought Pinhas the High Priest amongst the torches lighting up the night. He stood in front of the Ark of the Covenant overseeing the offering of the sacrifices and consoling mourners.

“High Priest,” Elimelech approached, head bowed.

“Yes, Prince of Judah. What is your request?” Pinhas responded.

“I would ask a question of God.”

“Do you not tire of these efforts?”

“I tire to the death, but I would not walk away from evil.”

“Yet you would cause it. You would nurture it until it grows to a beast beyond your control. Elimelech, these deaths are at your feet. Your hands have slain our brethren and I am unsure if a lifetime in the Jordan River would cleanse you of this damnation.”

“I asked you! I asked before each battle if we should proceed! I had the consent of God Himself!”

“You asked poorly,” Pinhas pointed at Elimelech and spoke more forcefully than he had in years. “Your questions presumed you should attack. God leads man to where he takes himself. You sought destruction. Vengeance. Power over your brethren. It is true the sons of Benjamin have erred, but you have fought, you have all fought, for the wrong reasons. God is not amongst those with false hearts or erroneous ideals. You have brought this sorrow upon us all.”

Elimelech and the princes stood silently in front of the High Priest. All the blood drained from Elimelech’s face. He had always had his doubts. He had always been unsure of the cause, but no one had blamed him before. No one had placed the exclusive blame for the massacre upon his shoulders.

Elimelech fell on his knees. His head dropped into his hands and he started crying. He cried painful racking sobs. “What have I done? What have I done?” Elimelech asked the palms of his hands. The princes stood, shaken by the sight of a broken Elimelech. Slowly, Elimelech stopped crying. He wiped his face, stood up and looked at Pinhas.

“What shall we do?” Elimelech asked, his voice hoarse and quiet from the tears.

“What would you ask of God?” Pinhas retorted.

Elimelech stared at Pinhas. He lifted his head heavenward. He looked at the princes surrounding him and the soot-covered soldiers behind them.

“Should we go out again, to fight with our brother Benjamin, or should we desist?”

Pinhas closed his eyes, grimly pleased with Elimelech’s question.

The stones of the High Priest’s breastplate remained dim. After a moment the etched letters of the stone lit up. The shining of the letters was brighter, longer and more elaborate than the previous two times.

In a voice not fully his own, Pinhas announced:

“Go up, for tomorrow I shall deliver them into your hand.”

Elimelech let out his breath and relaxed his shoulders. He knew what he would do and he now understood that God was finally on his side.

 

“They are fools,” Prince Giltar said from the front of the army of Benjamin.

The tribes of Israel were marching yet again upon the city of Givaah.

The tribes came from the north, as they had previously, though Givaah was not encircled as the two battles before.

“This shall be simple,” Giltar said to tall Yakshal by his side. “We shall defeat them, even without Ehud, though I hope he recovers from his malady.”

“The healer thought it might have been poison,” Yakshal said. “Though he has yet to regain consciousness.”

“No matter. The tribes cowered before our ferocity and this time we shall chase them all the way back to their lands. Ehud was too merciful, holding back our full might.”

“Yes, Prince Giltar.”

“I see Elimelech himself leads the attack now. That is appropriate.”

“Elimelech!” Giltar called down to the approaching army. “Are you so thick-headed that you wish to test our mettle personally? Turn back now, or we shall destroy you utterly.”

“Give us the criminals, or it is you who will be destroyed,” Elimelech called back, not slowing his pace or that of the soldiers with him.

“Never!” Giltar yelled.

Elimelech, jaw clenched, continued his march.

“Charge!” Giltar commanded.

The men of Benjamin ran down the mountain towards the army of Israel, swords and spears extended. The two armies crashed into each other, shield clashing into shield. The men of Israel held their own for a few moments, but the force and momentum of the Benjaminites became too much to withstand.

“Fall back!” Elimelech ordered.

The men of Israel quickly retreated on the road, heading northward.

“Give chase!” Giltar commanded. “We shall cut down every single one of them. All men, after me!”

The men of Israel sped ahead of the pursuing Benjaminites. They descended into the valley, climbed the hill opposite Givaah and then descended to the other side, facing the city of Michmash. The soldiers of Benjamin cut down the retreating stragglers of Israel. Giltar was in the lead, hacking at the men around Elimelech. One of his victims was a young nephew of Elimelech. The youth, with barely any hairs for a beard, fell to the ground in an unnatural position. Elimelech saw his nephew fall out of the corner of his eye. Giltar almost reached the back of Elimelech, when Elimelech turned around with a creeping madness in his eyes.

“Hold!” Elimelech ordered his men. “Enough! I shall not suffer the loss of another one of my men! Elimelech raised his sword and attacked Giltar with a mad fury. Giltar, surprised, stepped back, slipped on blood on the ground and fell backwards. He knocked his head on the hard road and lost consciousness.

Dozens of Benjaminites jumped into the fray to protect their leader. Elimelech stabbed at them in rapid succession, hacking, slicing and pounding them with an inhuman rage.

“Die!!” Elimelech yelled as he cut through the entire Benjaminite front line. It was as if a tornado had exploded in their midst. Elimelech possessed a sudden unstoppable strength, speed and energy that shocked the Benjaminites. The tide had quickly turned in favor of the Israelite army. They crashed into the confused Benjaminites, with Elimelech wearing down any serious resistance. Behind the Benjaminites a large cloud of thick black smoke rose into the bright summer sky.

“Givaah is burning! Givaah is burning!” the Benjaminites cried, seeing their city in flames. From the side of the road new Israelite forces attacked the Benjaminite army.

“Kill them all! Kill them all!” Elimelech yelled insanely. The standing Benjaminite army, more than twenty thousand strong, was quickly annihilated. A few hundred managed to escape the Israelite troops and flee eastward to the desolate mountains of the Desert Road.

Still enraged, soaked in blood and standing amongst the Benjaminite corpses, Elimelech called out:

“Do not stop! Every city, every village, and every farm of Benjamin we shall burn to the ground. This is a day none in Benjamin, none in Israel shall forget. Go! Now! Burn every one!”

The Israelite army spread out along the entire territory of Benjamin. None resisted them. There were none left to fight. They placed to the torch every walled city, every village and every farmstead they could find. The stone, wood and thatched structures burned quickly in the summer heat. From the mountain of Bet-El, Pinhas, the High Priest, could see the fires throughout the region south of him. A land of lush green was suddenly pockmarked with angry red flames and dead brown enclaves. He wept openly, tears rolling down and caressing the etchings of tribal names upon the stones of his breastplate.

The army of Israel had become as locust, extinguishing Benjaminite life and property wherever they came across it.

Elimelech was drawn eastward. He couldn’t say why. Perhaps to find the few Benjaminites that escaped the ambush. He and his men came upon a shepherd in the descent towards the Jordan River.

Elimelech, sword high in the air, ran towards the lone shepherd amongst his flock. Elimelech’s men followed their wild leader. Elimelech yelled as he impaled the shepherd. The shepherd looked at Elimelech and asked, “Elimelech?”

“Hafniel!? What are you doing here in the land of Benjamin?” Elimelech grabbed his dying cousin in his arms.

“I came to buy some sheep from my brother-in-law,” Hafniel said weakly as his life ebbed away.

“Your brother-in-law was from Benjamin?” Elimelech asked, confused.

“Of course. We’re all related,” Hafniel said with his dying breath.

Elimelech laid Hafniel gently on the ground. He released his bloody sword, as if it were on fire and ran. He ran eastward. He ran down the Desert Road towards the Jordan River. He passed the remains of the walls of Jericho, sitting desolate and lonely, and vaguely remembered their fall, a lifetime ago. He passed the encampment of Gilgal where all of Israel had lived united as one large family. He kept running until he reached the bubbling waters of the Jordan. He threw himself, fully clothed, into its waters. He closed his eyes, wishing he would drown, but his body floated to the surface. The river carried him southward towards the Sea of Salt.

I am a murderer, Elimelech thought to himself. They were all my brothers. It didn’t have to be this way. Pinhas was right. A lifetime in these waters will not cleanse me of my sin. How many lives? How many generations have I destroyed? God will not forgive me. He will not forgive any of us. We shall surely suffer for such horrific deeds.

The river washed Elimelech on to the eastern bank of the Jordan River, at the mouth of the Sea of Salt. Where am I? Elimelech wondered. This must be the territory of Reuben. But Elimelech was wrong, for now it was the under the dominion of Eglon King of Moab.

 

* * * * * *

 

Biblical Sources:

 

Book of Judges, Chapter 20

24 And the children of Israel came near against the children of Benjamin the second day. 25 And Benjamin went forth against them out of Gibeah the second day, and destroyed down to the ground of the children of Israel again eighteen thousand men; all these drew the sword. 26 Then all the children of Israel, and all the people, went up, and came unto Beth-el, and wept, and sat there before the LORD, and fasted that day until even; and they offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings before the LORD. 27 And the children of Israel asked of the LORD–for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days, 28 and Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days–saying: ‘Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother, or shall I cease?’ And the LORD said: ‘Go up; for to-morrow I will deliver him into thy hand.’ 29 And Israel set liers-in-wait against Gibeah round about.

30 And the children of Israel went up against the children of Benjamin on the third day, and set themselves in array against Gibeah, as at other times. 31 And the children of Benjamin went out against the people, and were drawn away from the city; and they began to smite and kill of the people, as at other times, in the field, in the highways, of which one goeth up to Beth-el, and the other to Gibeah, about thirty men of Israel. 32 And the children of Benjamin said: ‘They are smitten down before us, as at the first.’ But the children of Israel said: ‘Let us flee, and draw them away from the city unto the highways.’ 33 And all the men of Israel rose up out of their place, and set themselves in array at Baal-tamar; and the liers-in-wait of Israel broke forth out of their place, even out of Maareh-geba. 34 And there came over against Gibeah ten thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and the battle was sore; but they knew not that evil was close upon them.

35 And the LORD smote Benjamin before Israel; and the children of Israel destroyed of Benjamin that day twenty and five thousand and a hundred men; all these drew the sword. 36 So the children of Benjamin saw that they were smitten. And the men of Israel gave place to Benjamin, because they trusted unto the liers-in-wait whom they had set against Gibeah.– 37 And the liers-in-wait hastened, and rushed upon Gibeah; and the liers-in-wait drew forth, and smote all the city with the edge of the sword. 38 Now there was an appointed sign between the men of Israel and the liers-in-wait, that they should make a great beacon of smoke rise up out of the city.– 39 And the men of Israel turned in the battle, and Benjamin began to smite and kill of the men of Israel about thirty persons; for they said: ‘Surely they are smitten down before us, as in the first battle.’ 40 But when the beacon began to arise up out of the city in a pillar of smoke, the Benjamites looked behind them, and, behold, the whole of the city went up in smoke to heaven. 41 And the men of Israel turned, and the men of Benjamin were amazed; for they saw that evil was come upon them. 42 Therefore they turned their backs before the men of Israel unto the way of the wilderness; but the battle followed hard after them; and they that came out of the city destroyed them in the midst of the men of Israel. 43 They inclosed the Benjamites round about, and chased them, and overtook them at their resting-place, as far as over against Gibeah toward the sunrising. 44 And there fell of Benjamin eighteen thousand men; all these were men of valour. 45 And they turned and fled toward the wilderness unto the rock of Rimmon; and they gleaned of them in the highways five thousand men; and followed hard after them unto Gidom, and smote of them two thousand men. 46 So that all who fell that day of Benjamin were twenty and five thousand men that drew the sword; all these were men of valour. 47 But six hundred men turned and fled toward the wilderness unto the rock of Rimmon, and abode in the rock of Rimmon four months. 48 And the men of Israel turned back upon the children of Benjamin, and smote them with the edge of the sword, both the entire city, and the cattle, and all that they found; moreover all the cities which they found they set on fire.

 

Warrior Prophets 2: Chapter 4 – Bloody Brothers

Warrior Prophets 2: Chapter 4

Bloody Brothers

“Will you not deliver these criminals to us!?” Prince Elimelech ofJudahyelled across the future battleground, with the summer morning’s dawn.

“Never!” Prince Giltar of Benjamin replied, sword unsheathed, as he faced four hundred thousand soldiers, with little over twenty thousand at his back, in front of the city ofGivaah.

“We outnumber you twenty to one!” Elimelech pressed. “All the tribes of Israel are assembled against you. We are overflowing with soldiers. Give up the criminals and avoid this bloodshed.”

“It is you who is bringing bloodshed upon us. They are our tribesmen, our prisoners. Only by force will you ever retrieve them.”

“That man is stubborn,” Elimelech turned aside angrily to Boaz.

“One might say the same of you, uncle,” Boaz murmured.

“Now is not the time for second-guessing! We are committed to this path, but this assembly is truly too unwieldy. Where is that reclusive priest? I would seek God’s blessing and direction before we start. Pinhas? Where have you hidden?” Elimelech sought Pinhas amongst the princes and generals standing behind Elimelech as they faced the city of Givaah.

“I am here, Prince of Judah,” Pinhas stated stoically, as he approached in his full High Priest vestment. “What do you seek of me?”

“One of our tribes will be sufficient to overwhelm the Benjaminite rabble. Who should take the lead against them?”

“You are asking me this in my formal capacity?” Pinhas raised an eyebrow.

“Of course! What does God say?”

“Please formulate your question again, as the normative leader of most of the tribes ofIsrael.”

“Who shall go up first from amongst us to battle against the sons of Benjamin?”

“That is your question?”

“Yes, damn it! That is the question!”

The sadness in Pinhas’ eyes deepened. He closed his eyes and stood motionless in his rich blue raiment. His multicolored breastplate shone in the morning sun. The twelve precious stones, each stone representing a Tribe of Israel, glowed with an inner fire. The names and letters carved into the stones refracted the warm light. Suddenly certain letters lit up brightly, shining as a star on a moonless night. The letters flashed in a certain sequence. Pinhas nodded his head as if he had already anticipated the answer.

“Judah shall lead,” Pinhas stated with an ominous finality.

“Good,” Elimelech smirked tightly and faced the princes and generals of the united tribes ofIsrael. “You heard the priest! The tribe of Judah shall lead! The rest of you, take your forces and keep this perimeter secure. We shall move upon Givaah immediately, break through their defense and return with the criminals by noon. Dismissed!”

Boaz, troubled by the entire exchange, closed his eyes, drawing on the inner “sight” he had not used in many years.

He was struck by the black sadness in Pinhas. The High Priest’s white aura of inner peace was struggling with spreading tentacles of despair. Pained by the sight, Boaz turned to Elimelech. The Prince of Judah had a noble aura of a deep and regal purple, but with a growing red bloodlust that was overcoming his normally calm blue demeanor.

Boaz tried to perceive the emotions of the assembled tribes of Israel. He saw a dark red bloodlust in the troops that exceeded that of Elimelech’s, mixed with a deep green of arrogance and pride.

Boaz turned to the Benjaminite defenders of Givaah and could not tell the difference between their aura and the rest of Israel. It too was a mix of sharp red and green. He did notice the radiant blue pride of Prince Gilter. His attention was then drawn to a sickly yellow of fear, mixed with a grey steely determination. That’s Ehud! Boaz thought to himself. Ehud is the only one who could give me pause in battle. None in Israel could match my speed or reflexes, but Ehud has a natural cunning, an instinct in battle and strategy that might overwhelm my combat prowess. 

“Boaz,” Elimelech broke Boaz’s concentration. “Inspecting the enemy with your ‘sight’? Good. We are counting on you. With your speed and power you should be able to break their defenses single-handedly.”

“They are our brothers, uncle; not some foreign enemy. I shall strive to bring this fight to a quick end.”

“We are at war long-coming, Boaz. We have no choice but to kill and lay low this most arrogant of tribes. Once we have humbled them and they have accepted our judgment, we can welcome them again in brotherly embrace. Now go to your regiment. You will be in the lead. I shall launch the attack shortly.”

 

 

 

“Elimelech is neither subtle nor patient,” Ehud said to Prince Giltar as they faced the largest army in the history of their young tribe. The Tribe of Judah moved into formation opposite the gates of Givaah, while the rest of the tribes kept a perimeter, hundreds of thousands of men strong, around the entire city. “They shall send Boaz and his men first, thereby hoping for a quick victory. Boaz is uncommonly fast and deadly, and reacts instinctively to his enemies moves. It will be very hard to stop him.”

“You are the master strategist, Ehud. Advise us,” Prince Giltar ordered.

“I advised giving up the men, but that was ignored.”

“Do you aim to weaken our hand? Advise us in battle! It is both wrong and late to give up our men. They are our brothers. In any case, if it were not this issue there would be another that would bring them upon our doorstep. We shall have to hold them off to the best of our ability and teach them the price of forcing submission upon us. Now how should we proceed?”

“We need to neutralize Boaz as soon as possible, or he will wreck havoc upon our defenses. I will take a battalion of our sharpest sling throwers to deal with him. Watch out for arrows though. Elimelech is angry enough to start with a volley to soften us up. Shields at hand!” Ehud yelled as he assembled his sling throwers.

A regiment of Judah with Boaz in the lead ran towards the Benjaminite defenders of Givaah. Archers of Judah fired thousands of arrows in the air ahead of them.

“Shields up!” Ehud yelled. Moments later, thousands of arrows thudded into wooden shields. Not one defender of Benjamin was felled. Heartened, Ehud commanded: “Charge!”

Ehud saw Boaz speed ahead of the attackers. He’s not as fast as in the past, Ehud thought. Is it age, or is his heart not in this battle?

“Slings ready!” Ehud ordered as Boaz raced nearer.

“Wide spread on Boaz! Fire!”

A wall of stones shot out towards Boaz. Boaz turned to the side in a blur and raced the wave of flying projectiles. Boaz almost escaped the cloud of stones, when one struck him in the ankle, tripping him. Boaz caught his balance and continued to run ahead when two dozen stones hit him along his body. Boaz wobbled forward and finally three stones smashed into his head, dropping him to the floor unconscious. The Judeans paused in shock at the fall of their fabled commander.

“Forward!” Ehud ran towards the frozen Judeans, his battalion of sling throwers mowing down the attackers.

“Attack!” Prince Giltar yelled from behind. “All battalions engage the enemy!”

All the defenders of Givaah raced towards the Judeans, stones, arrows and spears flying. The Judeans, leaderless, as a man, retreated. The retreat turned into a rout. Benjaminite swordsmen slashed fleeing attackers. The Benjaminites cut into the main Judean camp as well as into the tribes holding the perimeter. In confusion, the tribes abandoned the perimeter, escaping the vicious Benjaminite counterattack.

“Fall back!” Ehud called out. “Fall back! We have done enough damage for one day.”

The other tribes continued to run in all directions from Givaah as the Benjaminites walked calmly back to their city. The battlefield was strewn with corpses. The soldiers looked for any fallen comrades, but did not find even one Benjaminite defender. Every single one of the dead was from the other tribes. Ehud was overwhelmed by the number of dead. He estimated it must be around twenty thousand. The Levites who would attend to all the corpses later in the day would place the number at twenty-two thousand. Never in the history of Israelhad a disaster of such proportions occurred. Ehud wept openly as he noticed familiar faces amongst the dead. Cousins of Boaz and Elimelech whom he had grown up with. Captains and officers whom he had trained. Even fellow brothers-in-arms from his days leading the militia. Is this the price? Ehud cried to himself. Is this the price of independence? To slaughter our brothers? This cannot be right!

Ehud sought Boaz.

Boaz lay in a shallow pool of his own blood. Rivulets of red trickled down the prone man’s forehead, gathering under his submerged ear. Ehud saw that Boaz was breathing. He ripped cloth off a nearby corpse, wiped the wound on the forehead and then tied a dry cloth around Boaz’s head to stop the bleeding.

Boaz moaned and opened his eyes groggily.

“The wound is not so bad. You’ll live, though you may not thank me for it,” Ehud said sadly.

“What happened?” Boaz sat up slowly.

“You lost. Badly. Levites are coming to deal with the dead and some of your men are coming to help the wounded. Tell Elimelech to stop. This is a catastrophe. He shouldn’t make it worse.”

Boaz looked around, surveying all of the corpses. Tears flowed from his eyes, cleaning a thin path through the fresh blood on his cheeks.

“How could it be worse than this?”

“He could win.”

Ehud patted Boaz on the shoulder and trudged wearily back to Givaah.

 

 

“We should never have relied on one man!” Elimelech banged his fist on the table in his tent. “It was a massacre.”

“Boaz has never been a supporter of this cause,” Gheda the Levite intoned.

“You would accuse my nephew? You think he wanted this? Twenty-two thousand dead? He led the assault. He almost died himself out there. No. Somehow they read our intentions and targeted their fire upon Boaz.”

“I have heard that he consulted with the enemy after the battle. That the son of Gerah himself tended to Boaz’s wounds.”

“Enough! Perhaps we must reconsider. For us to suffer such heavy losses against a smaller, weaker enemy is beyond bad fortune. It was reported that Benjamin did not lose a man.”

“You would stop now?” Gheda said. “Twenty-two thousand sacrificed for nothing!?”

“Let us consult with the priest. He has disapproved of this from the beginning, but he is not being open with me and somehow I’m asking the wrong questions of him. Let us seek Pinhas.”

Elimelech and Gheda left their tent and found Pinhas in the center of the camp of the Princes. A large mass of officers and captains sat on the ground around the High Priest, weeping and swaying. Many had ripped their garments in mourning. The pair made their way through the crowd to Pinhas. Pinhas sat on the ground, his garments intact, yet his face mirrored a heart sundered.

“Pinhas, I must consult with you.”

“Choose your question wisely, Prince of Judah,” Pinhas said without looking up. “Your words and thoughts are a channel of all of Israel to God. It is a heavy responsibility and one that has been both abused and punished this day. You may yet rue your position of leadership.”

Elimelech paused. He looked at the warriors sitting on the floor, crying like bereft children. Everyone he saw had lost someone they had known and loved, just hours before. In the morning the tribes had been so confident of their purpose and their victory. Elimelech tasted bile in his mouth as he warred within himself. We still have superiority of numbers, Elimelech thought.

“Should I once again go to war against the sons of Benjamin, my brother?” Elimelech asked with pain and humility.

Pinhas nodded briefly and closed his eyes. The letters of the breastplate shone once again, but in a different sequence. Pinhas hesitated, as if waiting for further details or confirmation. None came. He opened his eyes, but did not look at Elimelech. Then slowly, as if declaring a death sentence he announced:

“Go up against them.”

 

* * * * * *

 

Biblical Sources:

 

Book of Judges, Chapter 19:

12 And the tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying: ‘What wickedness is this that is come to pass among you? 13 Now therefore deliver up the men, the base fellows that are in Gibeah, that we may put them to death, and put away evil from Israel.’ But the children of Benjamin would not hearken to the voice of their brethren the children of Israel. 14 And the children of Benjamin gathered themselves together out of their cities unto Gibeah, to go out to battle against the children of Israel. 15 And the children of Benjamin numbered on that day out of the cities twenty and six thousand men that drew sword, besides the inhabitants of Gibeah, who numbered seven hundred chosen men. 16 All this people, even seven hundred chosen men, were left-handed; every one could sling stones at a hair-breadth, and not miss. {P}

17 And the men of Israel, beside Benjamin, numbered four hundred thousand men that drew sword; all these were men of war. 18 And the children of Israel arose, and went up to Beth-el, and asked counsel of God; and they said: ‘Who shall go up for us first to battle against the children of Benjamin?’ And the Lord said: ‘Judah first.’ 19 And the children of Israel rose up in the morning, and encamped against Gibeah. 20 And the men of Israel went out to battle against Benjamin; and the men of Israel set the battle in array against them at Gibeah. 21 And the children of Benjamin came forth out of Gibeah, and destroyed down to the ground of the Israelites on that day twenty and two thousand men. 22 And the people, the men of Israel, encouraged themselves, and set the battle again in array in the place where they set themselves in array the first day. 23 And the children ofIsrael went up and wept before the Lord until even; and they asked of the Lord, saying: ‘Shall I again draw nigh to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother?’ And the Lord said: ‘Go up against him.’

 

 

 

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…