We Ask for Greater Works
Finally, almost six months and a few small adventures after he had departed from the camp, he saw the towering spiral of rock that marked the valley where his family was waiting. Iskender hoped and prayed that the departure date had not been moved up.
The Ephesian’s fear of being left behind was allayed, only to be replaced with another.
Because his return was executed during the late afternoon hours the patrols were not posted yet, only a couple of men were usually assigned to watch the perimeter during the day, and today they weren’t anywhere to be seen. That was when the alarm in his head started going off.
Iskender thundered into the camp, swinging down off of his horse as quickly as he could when he reached his family’s campsite. It was empty. The tents were still set up and everything was still there, but his family was gone.
He had just finished rifling through his daughter and granddaughter’s tent, trying to find a hint as to where they had all disappeared to when suddenly he heard a familiar voice.
“Father!” Hadassah’s voice was uncharacteristically anxious. “Father! You’re here!” The young woman ran to him and hugged him fiercely. “They’ve taken Ibrahim!”
“What? Where? Why?!” Iskender fired questions at his daughter.
“They came an hour ago and dragged him to the center of camp. They’re going to flog him!” tears ran down Hadassah’s face. “He saved that baby and now they want to beat him for it!” she sobbed.
“What?! We have to get down there, but tell me everything.” He pulled his daughter towards his horse and they both mounted, he in front and she in back, as Hadassah continued to cry for her brother.
“It’s Seda’s son… the one she was pregnant with when you left. She delivered only a month ago. He’s a beautiful little child, and Reuel, Seda’s husband was very happy, but Seda was outraged.” Hadassah said haltingly. “She needs a daughter… yet she bore a son – a son with dark hair no less. For this sin she condemned her child to death. And that coward husband of hers would have let her do it!” she teared up again, “But Ibrahim found out about it and stopped her just before she…” she didn’t finish her sentence, but the meaning was clear. “Father, we have to help him!”
“We’re going to, Hadassah.” Iskender assured.
The horse ran through the camp, flinging sand up behind him as he went. They quickly made it to the edge of the mob that had gathered around the spectacle at the center of the camp. Iskender left the horse tied to something that resembled a dwarfed bush and he and his daughter raced through the human sea towards the front of the gathering. They got as near to Ibrahim as they could.
While they were still jostling through the crowd they heard the Guardian’s voice echoing around the area, this time without the aid of her strange amulet.
“This man has committed treason and insubordination.” She said. “He has sought to deny me my sovereign right as your leader to exercise my good judgment in ensuring that you will have a suitable future leader. He has taken away my choice to protect you and ensure your future! For this he must be punished.”
The crowd roared their approval, but as Iskender began to look around, he noticed that the numbers of the group had strangely dwindled.
Ibrahim was tied to a wooden stake, hammered into the desert floor until it would not budge. His wrists were bound too-tightly together with a strip of leather that looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in years. His joints were beginning to ache from the strain that was being put on his shoulders and arms. They had tied him so that he could neither stand nor kneel. The half-hanging pose was painful, but not so painful as what he knew would soon follow. Even the beating that he had received at the hands of the ones assigned to drag him here would feel like mercy in comparison to what was to come.
When his sister had finished her speech and was being applauded by the crowd she leaned down to him and whispered into his ear.
“Why do you care so much about one nameless child, fool?”
Clearly she had not recognized him for who he was – a small mercy in this entire ordeal.
“Because he is part of the human race.” He said calmly, “And he deserves a chance to live.”
Seda made a scoffing sound as she stepped back and took an ugly whip from her silent husband who stood by, looking horrified at what was happening, but unwilling to do anything to stop it.
A long, terrible moment later Ibrahim heard the crack of leather and felt the burning pain run down his back.
“NO!” the cry welled up in Hadassah’s throat as she watched that horrible first lash, but just as she was about to let the word out she clasped both hands over her mouth and stifled her cry. She could do no good this way. Instead of letting hysterics get the best of her, she turned her heart to the only One who could intervene on their behalf now.
“Oh Lord, protect my brother… he had saved the life of a helpless child and now he is suffering for it. Please, spare him.” She prayed quietly as she buried her face in her father’s robe.
She listened to every crack of the whip and every cheer from the crowd. She listened for any indication that the torture would stop as she counted as first five, then twelve, then twenty-five, thirty, thirty-nine lashes were laid on her brother.
“Hadassah!” the unfamiliar voice met Iskender’s ears before his daughter heard it. It was a young Jewish man, who also looked to be of the line of Levi, though this one lacked the scared-rabbit look of many of the others the Ephesian had seen in the camp.
“Who are you?” Iskender demanded as the young man walked up to his daughter.
“My name is Drahim” He replied without hesitation, “and if we are to help Ibrahim we need to get down there now before the crowd has their turn with him.”
Iskender gave the young man one more suspicious look before nodding and quickly following him through the crowd, careful to stay between this ”Drahim” and his daughter who came quickly behind the two men.
The mind-numbing pain spread through Ibrahim as he hung from the stake. Lash after lash tore into him, each one worse than the last. He cried out to God in his heart, petitioning strength for however long this trial would last.
He did not know if he had passed out or if maybe he had mentally withdrawn for a time because when he opened his eyes, instead of the gloating countenance of his sister Seda, he saw the welcome faces of his dear daughter Atara, his mother, Hadassah, Drahim the Levite, and…
“Father!” Ibrahim tried to exclaim through bruised lips. All that escaped was a loud whisper, but the happiness he felt at finally seeing Iskender back with them was not lost.
“So your impetuousness did get you into trouble.” The Ephesian said.
Ibrahim smiled, “You might say that.”
Iskender nodded approvingly, “This time though, you made good use of it. Hadassah told me what you did. Because of you one less life has been lost to the darkness we now find ourselves in.”
Lying on the floor of one of the tents on his stomach was not particularly comfortable, but there were no other options. Ibrahim couldn’t exactly lie down on his now-bandaged, but still shredded back.
“Thank you.” Ibrahim addressed them all before changing the subject, “Father, I see you‘ve met Drahim.”
“In a way.” Iskender replied, casting another suspicious look at the Hebrew. “Who are you exactly?” he addressed the young man.
Drahim smiled, “I am a follower of Yeshua – the one you call Jesus. I accepted him as the true Mashiach soon after you left on your journey.”
Iskender was silent, staring at the young man, wondering why Drahim even knew that he had been gone at all. “Go on.” He said, still suspicious.
“My people have long awaited the coming of Mashiach, but most of them rejected Yeshua when He walked here upon this world because He came as atoning Lamb instead of as King.” Drahim explained, “When I finally met your family as a result of the training that many of us were selected for, I was searching for an answer to the prophecies written in the Torah – our Scriptures. I knew that there were many rumors associated with the Nazarene Yeshua, but in my mind I could not understand how He could be the One foretold to us all of these centuries… Your daughter Hadassah graciously brought me back here one day after the training was done for the day and she, your wife, granddaughter and son proceeded to properly introduce me to Yeshua HaMashiach.”
Iskender raised an “is this all true” eyebrow towards Simay. When she nodded back at him, he looked back at Drahim and extended his hand. The Levite smiled broadly and clasped the offered forearm.
The unmistakable cry of a baby interrupted the moment and Iskender received his second – or was it the third – shock of the day when Simay carefully retrieved a tiny squalling boy from a makeshift bed and held him up for Iskender to see.
“And this is…?” he asked, pointing at the child questioningly.
Simay quieted the child then said, “He’s your grandson, Seda’s son…”
Iskender chuckled to himself. He should have known. “The one Ibrahim saved, of course. What is his name?”
Atara answered her grandfather, “We have all named him Yoav – Joab – to honor his heritage.”
Iskender reached out to his wife, “May I?”
“Of course.” She replied, handing Yoav over to his grandfather. “You look a lot like your grandmother, little one,” he said to the baby. “I hope you grow up to be like her.”
The next many hours were spent telling Iskender about anything and everything that had happened while he had been away, the most serious event being the disappearing pilgrims.
“So they would just be suddenly gone?” Iskender asked.
“Well, sort of.” Atara replied. “They would always disappear either at night or during a trip out to the ship docks. When the first couple of people disappeared everyone thought that maybe they had just gotten lost and that they would turn up again, but they never did.”
“And what sort of people are disappearing” the Ephesian asked.
“Mostly the older people – over seventy or eighty – and the ones who have physical difficulties: the blind, deaf, or lame.” His granddaughter supplied.
“She’s purifying the bloodline...” he said softly.
“She’s doing what?” Drahim queried.
“The Guardian – Seda – is weeding out everyone she thinks won’t contribute to the betterment of the group. The weak are destroyed so that only the strong will live to create whatever race she and her ‘guide’ Diana have conjured up…” said Iskender.
“What is the world coming to when a person is denied life because of the way God made them…?” said Hadassah.
“An end...” Iskender said ominously. “And that’s even more at the forefront of my mind now after talking with John…”
“What did he say?” Simay asked.
“He said… well… perhaps it would be better to tell you what he saw.”
“Saw?” Atara asked.
“Saw.” Iskender confirmed before fetching a curious book from among the items he had returned with from his journey.
Everyone else watched as Iskender carefully handled the book as though it were sacred. When he opened it and began to read aloud, they understood why.
“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by the angel unto his servant John: Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.*” Iskender stopped reading. The charged silence in the tent was all-encompassing. That is, until Atara broke it in her usual fashion.
“So. What did he see?!”
This evoked a laugh from everyone, including Ibrahim who winced as he laughed.
When the laughter had died away Iskender said, “John saw the end of this world and the beginning of the next. He saw the return of Jesus and the end of time. He saw the archangel Michael chain a great beast – Lucifer himself – and he saw that fallen angel cast into a lake of fire…” the Ephesian paused to let his words register in the listeners’ ears before continuing. “He saw it all… and in the end, Jesus is the triumphant One. Lucifer won’t admit it, but he’s already lost the war, and now we have the written promise of God that it is so.” He closed the cover of the book and ran an admiring hand over it.
“Well, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I want to hear it.” Drahim said. “Every word of it.”
A chorus of agreement rose from the family.
“Especially since we leave in two days’ time.” Hadassah added.
“Very well,”Iskender said. “You should all sit down. This will take some time to finish.”
Everyone sat down , except Ibrahim who was already lying down, and listened as Iskender read,
“John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
“Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.
“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.
“I, John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.”
“I think my brain exploded…” Atara said late that night when Iskender finally finished reading the book that John had gifted to him.
Hadassah laughed, “I could not have said it any better.” She sobered a bit then continued, “I just wish I could have seen what John saw…”
“I think we’re all wishing that right about now.” Ibrahim’s voice floated up from the floor of the tent he had been forced to invade.
“You look terrible.” Hadassah stated as she studied her brother.
“Thanks a lot.” He said.
“Sorry.” Hadassah replied. “You look like you were thrown under a camel stampede.”
“Well, you can thank our dear sister for that.” He replied, “Though if I had the opportunity to go back and choose whether or not to save Yoav again, I would have done the exact same thing.”
“Well, I’m tired.” Atara announced, breaking up the brother-sister moment. “I’m going to go sleep now. Wake me up in the morning.”
The next two days went by in a blur. Hadassah, Atara and Drahim were called to attend a few last minute training sessions on the flying ships while Simay and Iskender were left to care for Yoav and Ibrahim and get the last few things packed for the journey.
The one thing that was on all of their minds was the words that Iskender had read to them – the words of God, penned by John. They were heavy words, but wonderful in a way that could not be described. John had described terrible things as well as things more beautiful and awful* than could ever be truly explained.
The day of the launch was bright – as every day was in the desert. The chosen crews of the three ships were at their posts, though none of them fully understood the machinery they were supposed to be keeping in the air.
The mighty engines rumbled, shaking the ground for miles in every direction. Pre-flight check-lists were checked and rechecked. Everyone and everything was secured inside the ship. Horses and cattle neighed and lowed their distress at the foreign sensations that were being thrown upon them, and passengers also expressed their fear and anxiety at the strange new experience.
Iskender and Simay, who was holding Yoav, sat in a small room in a section of the ship called “Passenger Quarters.”
At the moment many of the rooms were empty. The designers of these ships had built in extra space to provide for the eventual expansion of the passenger population. For now the area was reasonably quiet aside from the roaring of the ships engines, but in the years to come, they knew it would be a lot louder and more cramped.
Iskender looked over at his wife and she looked back at him. A wordless message passed between the two: “I love you, and I will never stop, no matter what happens.”
Hadassah, Drahim, and Atara were all congregated around one section of what everyone had started calling the “bridge.” The three had all been assigned to work in the same area, for which they were supremely grateful.
The three young people also shared a look with one another, but this look was one of camaraderie, one that said, “You’re part of my family, and I’ll always have your back.”
Ibrahim lay almost-comfortably in a bed in the medical wing of the ship. His back was still raw and aching and there was still some blood to be seen when one of his assigned attendants came to change his bandages, but he was healing well from his ordeal. He would always bear the scars from his beating, but it was a small price to pay for the life of his nephew. If by shedding his own blood he could ransom a life, he would gladly do it again.
He looked around at the stark white walls and floor and ceiling and sheets. He wished he could see out somehow. If only they had put a window in this part of the ship… But there wasn’t one, so he had to be content with letting his senses tell him what was going on.
The rumbling of the ship was holding steady for now, but he knew that would not be the case for long.
As he waited for the ship to take flight he prayed.
“Lord, we have no idea where we’re going, how we’re going to get there, or when we’ll arrive… But You know all of it. Thou art the Alpha and the Omega* of this world – this thing we call reality. Thou hast done great things in the past, and Lord, we ask for greater works. We call upon Thy name. The children of Israel were delivered from the hands of Pharaoh by Thy hand.
“’Thou didst blow with thy wind, the sea covered them: they sank as lead in the mighty waters. Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders? Thou stretchedst out thy right hand, the earth swallowed them. Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed: thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation. The people shall hear, and be afraid: sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestina. Then the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling shall take hold upon them; all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away. Fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of thine arm they shall be as still as a stone; till thy people pass over, O LORD, till the people pass over, which thou hast purchased. Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O LORD, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O LORD, which thy hands have established. The LORD shall reign for ever and ever. For the horse of Pharaoh went in with his chariots and with his horsemen into the sea, and the LORD brought again the waters of the sea upon them; but the children of Israel went on dry land in the midst of the sea.*’
“May we never stop seeking Thee, my Lord. May we never forget Who has protected and guided us. May we ever trust in Thee, and may we never stop trying to reach Seda, our sister with the message of hope that you bring. If I fail, may my children and my children’s children continue pursuing her and her descendants. And may it be the same with Hadassah and the children I know she will raise.
“Show Thyself strong through us and the ones who will turn to Thee in the generations to come… In the name of Thy dear Son, Jesus, I pray this.”
And with those words, Ibrahim felt the ship begin to move.
As the earth dropped away from the three ships and they began hurtling upwards through the atmosphere of the planet, curious, disbelieving eyes peeked out view-ports – as gravity allowed. Many were terrified, but a few harbored an ever-broadening sense of adventure as they were flung out among the stars.