Chapter 3: Wandering in the Wilderness
When the Sabbath day ended, the Israelites began work on a tabernacle to carry the Word of God. Women sewed special garments for the Levites, including Aaron and his sons, who would spread the Lord’s Word and minister to the people.[i] After months of hard work, the Israelites completed the tabernacle on the first day of the second year they had left Egypt.[ii]
The tabernacle lay ready and awaited consecration where it resided in the tent of meeting. Moses stood outside the tent, expecting divine instruction. Never had he blessed what would hold the Lord’s Word. But the glory of the Lord descended upon it and filled the tent of meeting, such that no one could enter, not even Moses.[iii]
When the Lord’s glory departed, it filled the sky above them as a column of cloud by day and a column of fire by night. When it moved, they moved with it.[iv] But for now, it went nowhere as they celebrated the presence of the Lord and His Word.
On the eighth day after completion of the tabernacle, Moses gathered together Aaron, Aaron’s sons and the elders, and assembled the people to watch and to learn. In front of the assembly, Moses instructed Aaron on how to make various types of offerings.[v]
The whole congregation came near and gathered around.[vi] Although hundreds of thousands pressed in from all sides, Hosea and his men were hardly needed at all. The people were awestruck and docile, awaiting new rituals.
Then Moses’ voice rose above the crowd, saying “This is the thing which the Lord has commanded you to do, that the glory of the Lord may appear to you.”[vii] Then Moses said to Aaron, “Come near to the altar and offer your sin offering and your burnt offering, so that you may make atonement for yourself; then make the offering for the people, that you may make atonement for them, just as the Lord has commanded.”[viii]
So Aaron came near to the alter and slaughtered the calf of the sin offering for himself.[ix]
Aaron’s sons presented the blood of the sin offering to him. He dipped his finger in the blood and marked the top of the altar, then the rest of the blood he poured out at its base. The fat, the kidneys and the lobe of the liver Aaron offered up in smoke on the altar, just as the Lord commanded. The flesh and the skin was burned outside the camp.[x]
Then Aaron slaughtered the lamb for a burnt offering. His sons handed him the blood, which he sprinkled around the alter. They handed him pieces of the lamb, which together with the head, he offered up in smoke on the altar. Then Aaron washed the entrails, together with the legs, before offering them up in smoke on the alter as well.[xi]
Next Aaron presented the people’s offering, a goat slaughtered for their sin and offered in the same manner as he had done with the calf. He also presented the burnt offering on the people’s behalf, which consisted of burning both flesh and grain.[xii]
Then Aaron slaughtered an ox and a ram as peace offerings for the people. Blood was sprinkled around the alter, and portions offered up in smoke.[xiii]
With each fresh kill, the people cheered and looked on eagerly. As Aaron made each offering the people salivated and licked their lips. They could almost taste delicacies offered up in smoke to the Lord.
Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them. He stepped down after the offerings and went with Moses to the tent of meeting. When they came out and blessed the assembly, the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people.[xiv]
Then fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar. When all of the people saw that, they shouted and fell on their faces.[xv]
Nadab and Abihu exchanged glances. They’d prepared for this moment to curry favor with the Lord. Nadab and Abihu put fire in their fire pans, together with incense, and offered the Lord a strange fire that He had not commanded of them.[xvi]
Fire came out from the presence of the Lord, consuming Nadab and Abihu in front of the people and the Lord.[xvii] The people trembled on the ground, horrified at what they’d just seen. Aaron went to his sons. Their flesh had seared away and their bodies lay smoking. Moses followed at his side.
Then Moses said to Aaron, “the Lord did as he said, ‘By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, and before all the people I will be honored.’”[xviii] Aaron’s dropped to his knees, and placed his face in his hands.
Moses called to Aaron’s kin and said, “You two. Come forward. Carry your relatives away from the front of the sanctuary to the outside of the camp.” They did as Moses asked, and carried their kin away.[xix]
Then Moses said to Aaron and to Aaron’s surviving sons, “Do not uncover your heads nor tear your clothes in mourning, or the Lord may become wrathful. The people shall bewail the burning which the Lord Himself has caused. You shall remain in the tent of meeting, lest you die, for the Lord’s anointing oil is upon you.” So they did according to the word of Moses. Aaron and his kin prayed, while the rest of the Israelites mourned.[xx]
And when the praying and mourning had run its course, Moses began the long task of instructing the Children of Israel of the laws God had taught him. He taught the elders directly, and commanded them to teach their tribe. They in turn taught others, who taught others God’s law. An entire month they spent learning the word of the Lord.[xxi]
Caleb and Hosea learned with the elders. They taught their captains, who taught their officers, who in turn taught their men. In this way, they served as elders to their men and were assured that their soldiers knew well the laws of God. Caleb and Hosea were impressed, as were all of the people, at the wisdom of these laws and the stability they would bring.
On the fourteenth day of the first month of the second year after they’d come out of Egypt, all of Israel observed the Passover with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.[xxii] The people rejoiced and reflected on their lives and their freedom.
Hosea and Caleb trained constantly, alone and with their men. They incorporated the concepts Caleb gleaned from Mishael, which they refined and adapted to suit the needs of their men. Israelite soldiers were invariably smaller than their enemies, so the concepts they honed would be useful indeed.
“With God on our side, we can defeat any foe,” Hosea said.
“With God on our side we shouldn’t need an army,” Caleb replied, sharply cynical.
“God can’t fight all our battles, my friend,” Hosea answered in a stern tone. “We must learn to stand on our own.”
Over the past two years, Caleb focused less on the past. But every Passover coincided with the anniversary of Sarah’s death, as well as Joseph’s and Jephunneh’s. Caleb still couldn’t forgive God for allowing them to die.
Caleb wanted to move on and find another to love, someone with whom he could share life’s triumphs and hardships. But as much as he might desire it, no one came remotely close to the bar that Sarah had set – except, perhaps, that Midianite girl who was little more than a fantasy, and an impossible one at that.
Distant as Caleb was from the Lord, he couldn’t marry a non-believer. If he ever married again, she must worship the Lord as did her ancestor’s before her, preferably someone who could lead him back to the Lord, someone with the strength, wit and intelligence, who made his heart race. Only with someone like that could he make peace with the past, live in the present and look forward to the future.
Hosea hated how Caleb’s memories of his family left him bitter. Family should buoy a man up, not drag a man down.
“It is time for you to take a wife,” Hosea proclaimed. “This is the second month of the second year since we left Egypt.[xxiii] A respectable mourning period has long since passed.”
“Take a wife?” Caleb replied. “I have taken and wife, and have had myself a child. I will go down that road again only if and when I’m ready. Find one yourself. You are long overdue.”
“No one measures up,” Hosea mumbled to himself.
“Yet you expect me to settle?” Caleb retorted.
“No, of course not,” Hosea replied, “it’s just that . . . .”
Sarah set the bar too high. “Exactly,” Caleb interrupted before Hosea could finish. “So no more talk of marriage. It will happen when it happens, if it happens. Alright?”
“Is Moses’ census complete?” Hosea asked, changing the subject.
“Yes,” Caleb replied, “and it was no easy task – registering our soldiers by their families and fathers’ households, head by head from twenty years old upward, whoever can go out to war.”[xxiv]
“Our men,” Hosea said proudly, of his now formidable army. “So what’s the final headcount?”
“All who are able to fight number 603,550, and that’s not counting the Levites,” Caleb said.[xxv]
Hosea whistled, “That many? We’ve been dealing with the captains so long, it is hard to comprehend such a massive army under our command.”
“Under your command,” Caleb corrected.
“So how many men do each of our top captains command?” Hosea asked.
“On the east, towards the sunrise, Nahshon, the son of Amminadab of the tribe of Judah, commands 74,600. Nethanel, son of Zur of the tribe of Issachar, commands 54,400. Eliab, son of Helon of the tribe of Zebulun, commands 57,400. In total, on the east, we are 186,400 strong, with the east overseen by Nashon.[xxvi]
“On the south we have Elizur, son of Shedeur of the tribe of Reuben, who commands 46,500 from his own tribe directly, and the rest on the south through the captains of those tribes. Shelumiel, the son of Zurishaddai of the tribe of Simeon, commands 59,300. Eliasaph, the son of Deuel of the tribe of Gad, commands 45,650 men. All told, there are 151,450 on the south, commanded directly or through captains by Elizur of tribe of Reuben.[xxvii]
“On the West we have Elishama, son of Ammihud of your tribe Ephraim, commanding an army of 40,500. Gamaliel, son of Pedahzur of the tribe of Manasseh, commands 32,200. Abidan, son Gideoni of the tribe of Benjamin, commands 35,400. All told, Elishama commands 108,100 men together with the tribe of Ephraim.”[xxviii]
“On the North, under the standard of Dan, we have Ahiezer, son of Ammishaddai of the tribe of Dan, commanding 62,700. Pagiel, son of Ochran of the Asher tribe, commands 41,500. Ahira, son of Enan of the Naphtali tribe, commands 53,400. All told, 157,600 men are commanded by Ahiezer under the standard of Dan.”[xxix]
Hosea listened absently as Caleb recited the numbers, then mused “Nashon, Elizur, Elisham and Ahiezer . . . they are truly the best of the best, worthy captains of the ten thousands. I trust their judgment.”
“As do I,” Caleb replied. “To a man, they are loyal to you.”
“They are loyal to me, for I am loyal to Moses and thus serve the will of God,” Hosea said, “even as they are loyal to you, my friend and second in command.”
“Loyalty means a great deal to you,” Caleb observed.
“What else is there in life?” Hosea asked rhetorically. “Loyalty to God, to our leaders, to our family and friends. Without loyalty, what is a man?”
“And if loyalties are divided?” Caleb asked, “What then?”
“Ah Caleb,” Hosea sighed, “You’re the thinker. I am the doer. What would I do and where would I be without you to guide me? I can’t say where my loyalties would lie if divided, for such is not a thing to worry over. If the situation arises, I will act as I believe appropriate at the time – with you at my side to tell me if I am making a mistake, no doubt.”
“I suppose I do think too much . . . sometimes,” Caleb admitted. “But then you will no doubt tell me when I should think less and act more.”
“So true,” Hosea agreed. We’re a good team.
“Mother,” I said, when we were alone at home.
“Yes Misha?” mother replied, as she continued her straightening and cleaning.
“You know the man that I met during my travels?” I asked.
Mother looked at me. “Yes?” she replied.
“I used to have nightmares of him. Balaam helped me with those, but he still invades my thoughts. ”
“Is he truly so terrifying, that the thought of him causes nightmares?” Mother asked.
“No,” I responded. “He’s strong, handsome, commanding and intelligent. He doesn’t terrify me at all, quite the contrary. Perhaps it’s what he represents, temptation to ignore the warning of The Dream, which caused the nightmares. If that is the case, I must have satisfied the Lord that I won’t give in to temptation, for the nightmares have stopped. But that’s not really the point. I . . .”
“. . . still have feelings for him,” mother declared, “and you wish that you didn’t.”
“I enjoyed the daydreams for awhile,” I explained, “but they make me long what I cannot have. I wish I could simply forget about him, and move on with my life.”
Mother smiled a sad smile. “I am sorry you’re suffering, Mishael. But I’m glad you’ll wait for your prince.”
“Isn’t there anything you can do, or anything you can suggest,” I pleaded.
“Feelings such as these are hard to deny,” Mother mused.
“But I don’t want to deny them,” I said. “I just want them to stop.”
“I know,” mother said. “It’s just that what you want isn’t easy. The more you want to stop thinking or feeling a certain way, the more difficult it becomes to do so – particularly where love is involved.”
“Love?” I said. “Surely it’s not love. I hardly know him.”
“Infatuation, perhaps,” mother held me away for a moment and looked into my eyes. “You are such a wise girl,” she continued, “with such a good head on your shoulders.”
I smiled at the compliment.
Mother continued, “Infatuation, like love, is just as hard to shake. I’m aware of two things that can help and only two things, but knowing what they are will provide little comfort.”
“What?” I asked eagerly, ready to run out immediately and find whatever herb or plant or flower I needed to rid myself of these feelings for Caleb.
“Time,” she said as I winced, “and love for another.”
“Time isn’t helping much,” I replied. “Love for another?”
“It works like a charm,” she said. “Better, in fact than all the charms in the world.”
I could tell from mother’s reaction that my face must have fallen, for she put her arms around me and held my tight.
Safe in her arms, my thoughts wandered. Love for another? The only person I knew I could love in that way and not betray the path I’ve chosen is Dathan, or maybe Hamarab. But Hamarab’s just a friend and mentor. Dathan’s my age, a good friend and quite handsome. But he doesn’t evoke still any strong feelings in me, not like Caleb did anyway. Are such feelings really important? I wondered.
Over the coming weeks and months, I tried to spend more time with Dathan, hoping I might fall in love. We talked and laughed and, slowly, I let down my guard. We even began sharing our hopes and our dreams.
He dreamed of honor and glory in the King’s service, with a wife and children at home, but not just any wife and not just any children – me, as his wife, and our children. He wanted a traditional life and I wanted the same thing.
Dathan was the first to admit he was not particularly religious, but he professed belief in the God of our ancestors and that was all too rare these days. He was strong and handsome and would risk his life for Midian. But most of all he loved me. So what if the thought of marrying Dathan didn’t make my heart race?
I truly cared for Dathan. He wasn’t perfect, but no man was. Still, I would be blessed, indeed, to marry him one day. But I wanted him to prove himself. I needed him to prove himself, to justify our sacrifice for so many years. So we waited.
Our relationship progressed, as relationships do. Away from town, surrounded by Hamarab’s sheep, we held hands and talked and daydreamed of our future together. For sunsets we found our own perch on a hill, far away from prying eyes, and explored the wonders of kissing.
He was awkward at first, as was I. But we seemed to get the hang of it after a time. It became comfortable and familiar to feel his lips on mine and his arms around me. For quite a long while, that was a far as we took things.
My life felt more balanced, as it fell into a rhythm: spending time with Dathan; tending Hamarab’s sheep; continuing my training with Hamarab and Nebach; caring for the women of Midian; and learning from Balaam. The days were fulfilling and full. I didn’t have time to think of Caleb.
Dathan became the delight of my nights. We didn’t take that life altering step I could only take with my prince. But our sunsets together became increasingly amorous.
At first, his hands simply roamed my back. Later, they became bolder, as if they had a will of their own – caressing my face and my neck and eventually my breasts. He was sometimes more rough than I would have preferred, but I could tell that he meant well and was flattered by his desires.
Dathan’s touch remained awkward and he seemed bereft of understanding what felt good to me, or perhaps he just didn’t care. In those errant instances when he happened upon a pleasurable caress, I let him know through my reaction, hoping that he would notice. But, for the most part, he simply lumbered on . . . oblivious.
I would have told him straight out what to do and what not, but I knew he would be hurt and angry. Some things, you just can’t tell a man, I told myself, at least not a man like Dathan. He projects self-confidence, true enough, but inside he is just a little insecure boy.
Though I allowed Dathan to grope and kiss me, I wouldn’t let his hands roam beneath my clothing. Some things would remain sacred between me and my prince until after we were married. If Dathan and I married, I’d be his for the taking. But until then, I insisted on limits.
Unlike my reactions, Dathan’s responses to my touch were genuine enough and often resulted in his release. I didn’t know I could experience a similar release, so I was happy enough just knowing that I could please him. In the end, the evenings were guilty pleasures – with the guilt more mine and the pleasure more his.
Zur delayed Cozbi’s wedding to Hadan by a year. Though Cozbi seemed outwardly fine shortly after we were attacked, she became wary of men, including her betrothed. She needed the additional time to recover more fully.
Before the ceremony, I asked Nebach about Hadan, whom he had known now for many years. “He is a good man, Misha, and an even better soldier,” Nebach assured me. “I’ve put him in charge of training the new men. He’ll make an excellent husband.”
“Does he follow the old ways?” I asked.
“No,” Nebach replied, “but neither does Cozbi.”
“True . . .”
“But you’re losing your best friend,” Nebach interrupted. “It’s never easy, you know, letting go of a good friend. She’ll still be there for you, just not quite in the same way. Her husband must become her main companion now.”
“Is that what I’m feeling?” I asked, “Jealousy?” The word left a bad taste in my mouth.
“Perhaps,” Nebach answered, shrugging. “It’s natural. You’ve been best of friends for years. It’s hard to face a change in the relationship. But it must change.”
“It must, mustn’t it?” I said, somewhat dejected.
“Yes,” he replied simply.
“Then I’ll support her as best as I can,” I said bravely.
“That’s my girl,” he said with a hug.
I was brave, too. I helped Cozbi pick out material for her dress and counseled her on her marriage night.
“Now, it may be painful,” I advised. “But try to relax as much as you can. It won’t always be so painful, and you may even feel a little pleasure.”
“Painful? On my wedding night?” she asked apprehensively. Cozbi had never had much tolerance for pain.
“But there may be pleasure too,” I insisted.
“What do you know of these things?” she asked. Oddly, though I had counseled countless young brides, no one ever asked me this before. But no one knew me like Cozbi either. “You and Dathan haven’t . . .”
“God no,” I replied quickly. I shrugged and with a wry smile said, “I hear things.”
Cozbi laughed somewhat nervously.
“Soon,” I continued, “I will hear things from you.”
“Only what I choose to tell you,” she said with a serious expression, “and you will be much the wiser for it.” She flipped her hair in a girlish gesture and gave me a mischievous grin.
“I suppose I will,” I said smiling. I think she is finally ready.
Cozbi had a beautiful wedding with lavish festivities – nothing but the best for Zur’s only child. Even better still, Cozbi enjoyed a tender wedding night. According to Nebach, Zur had taken the groom aside the evening before and spoken candidly of Cozbi’s life, her fears and the importance to Zur that Hadan treat her well.
Zur’s words must have hit their mark, for Cozbi had no significant injuries or bruises the following day at the women’s lodge – only minimal bleeding. She confessed to some pain, but didn’t dwell on it, which I must admit surprised me. She even claimed that the pleasure almost equaled the pain.
“But it was all worth it,” she said, “to see the look of contentment on Hadan’s face. I only wish that I could be home with him tonight as well.”
“Now, now,” I clucked, “it’s your time to heal. When the bleeding has stopped, you’ll have your whole lives together.”
“We will, won’t we?” she said, beaming. “Is there anything that you can give me to hasten our first child?”
“One thing at a time,” I said with a chuckle. “You are not yet a wife for more than a day and already you seek out potions? Let’s let nature take its course. If it turns out you need assistance, I’ll do whatever I can.”
After two years, two months and twenty days of freedom, the pillar cloud lifted from over the tabernacle and the Israelites left the wilderness of Sinai, uncounted millions, traveling with an army over 600,000 strong.[xxx]
But as the people experienced hardship in the wilderness, they became bitter and complained about the food God provided.
“Who will give us meat to eat?” they asked.
“Will we ever again taste the fish from the Nile, or the cucumbers, melons, onions and garlic grown by its banks? “
Every day the people would gather and prepare the manna which tasted like cakes baked with oil.[xxxi] Every night, when the meals were done, they said the same thing, “We cannot bear to eat this manna, day in and day out.”
Although many were dissatisfied with the food
available to eat, others were more dissatisfied with their role within in their
tribe. So they stirred up trouble and
led the discontented, in an effort to increase their power and influence.
Hosea and Caleb watched these events with growing unease, fearing that the people would move beyond grumbling to action.
“Baked manna? Fried manna? Manna porridge?” Caleb groused, “The people have a point. Manna every day, month after month after, year after year, it’s too much.”
“Not you too,” Hosea groused back, irritated that Caleb would agree with the rabble. “Isn’t it bad enough that others are out there causing trouble? Must you join those who lack appreciation for the blessings God gives us?”
“Who lacks appreciation?” Caleb replied. “I appreciate the manna. Every day, every month, year after year, I appreciate it. I’m just saying. I wouldn’t mind appreciating it a little less, and appreciating some meat and vegetables a little more. I’m not complaining in public, not with the troublemakers out there looking to advance their own ends. Still, a little variety would be nice. You have to admit that.”
“Well,” Hosea hemmed. “I do miss the variety. But we’re free, we’re alive and we’re at peace. The rabble rousers jeopardize that peace. The people may well riot if something is not done,” Hosea said.
“What would you do, silence them? Have they been freed from Egypt in body but not mind?” Caleb asked. “No. I say, let the rabble rouse, and leave Moses the job of pacifying the people. If they riot, then we act. But until then, we should wait, we watch and we listen.”
Hosea reluctantly agreed. “Come,” he said, smacking Caleb on the thigh. “I can smell the manna from here. Breakfast is ready.”
Caleb rose with a groan and walked at his friend’s side.
At Moses’ request, Hosea and Caleb gathered the elders. As Moses walked to the meeting place, he was accosted by people complaining about the manna. Moses listened as he walked, then he stopped and addressed the complainers – for thirty days God would provide more meat than they could eat.
“Moses is promising meat from the Lord,”[xxxii] the people whispered, one to another, until word spread like wildfire throughout the camp.
When the seventy elders had gathered at the tent of meeting, Moses stationed them around the tent. Then the Spirit of the Lord descended upon Moses and upon the elders who also prophesied. “Meat, there will be meat,” one said. “Our children will live in a land of milk and honey,” another said. “There will be many battles,” a third said. “The Lord will be displeased with us,” said another. “Even our leaders will go astray,” said yet another. On and on they went in a dreamlike wonder, their faces glowing from the Spirit of the Lord, until the Spirit left them and they prophesied no more.[xxxiii]
But two in the camp, Eldad and Medad left the assembly of elders and began prophesying in camp.[xxxiv] They were among the troublemakers whom Hosea and Caleb had been watching. Their prophesies were dark and troubling. “Follow us,” they implored, “We will lead you to safety.” “Those who oppose us will meet a dark end.” “There’ll be war among the tribes.”
One of the men ordered to watch the two elders approached Hosea and Caleb in the presence of Moses. “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp,”[xxxv] he reported.
“Moses,” Hosea added, “so far, I have been in favor of letting the people talk. You know I don’t meddle in matters of spirit. But these two are troublemakers, who’ve caused riots and they’re gathering followers. If they lead their followers against the people, the tribal war they predict may come to pass. Please, let us restrain them.”[xxxvi]
“Are you jealous for my sake?” Moses asked, placing his hand on Hosea’s shoulder. “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them.[xxxvii] I am weary and need some rest,” Moses said, as he turned and walked back to camp with the remaining elders of Israel. “God will provide for the people and deal with these two if it is His will.”
A great wind began to blow and quail fell to the ground, exhausted from struggling against the inexorable wind. The quail fell to the left and to the right of the camp. They covered the ground, up to three feet deep.[xxxviii]
The people gathered the quail, and then greedily feasted. Eldad and Medad ate their fill, though they weren’t greedy for food – they were greedy for power and the finer things in life. They claimed credit for the feast, and sought to rally supporters. “If we hadn’t organized the dissent,” they argued to the people, “Moses never would have acted. You have quail because our leadership forced Moses to act.”
Eldad and Medad continued to foment discontent. “If you rally behind us,” they preached to ever growing crowds, “we can get more – more variety, more meat, more vegetables and fruits. Why should Moses and the Lord deny us? Our God is almighty! Let us come together and demand the food we want to eat.”
Their following began to grow, just as Hosea had warned. But the Lord wasted no time in dealing with this dissent. He struck the people with a plague,[xxxix] killing Eldad and Medad and others greedy for power. Many of their followers didn’t die, but became violently ill. “If only we’d just eaten the manna and not this wretched quail,” they moaned in their agony, wishing for death. But only the greediest of gluttons, for power or food, died of the plague.
Moses named the place Kibroth – Hattaavah, which means “The graves of greediness.”[xl]
After Kibroth – Hattaavah the people settled down quickly. No doubt they were afraid to voice any dissent. When the people were at peace, Caleb liked to get away. He enjoyed the quiet and solitude of long range scouting missions.
Caleb left on such a mission and returned approximately one month later. Though he was forty years old, he remained as strong as an ox.[xli] He first reported to Joshua all that he had seen. They discussed it for awhile. They’d talk with Moses in the morning.
“So, have I missed anything?” Caleb asked, expecting to hear nothing of interest.
Hosea laughed. “Have you ever! Do you know Qwara, the Cushite woman?”
“The one who works in Moses’ tent? The one Moses calls ‘Kayla’?” Caleb asked.
“The very one,” Hosea replied. “Moses married her.”[xlii]
“What?” Caleb exclaimed. “When? I didn’t know Moses was even interested in her. What was Zipporah’s reaction?”
“Zipporah’s fine with it,” Hosea said. “She told me that she welcomes another wife. She has her hands full with their sons, Gershom and Eliezar. She’s more than happy to share Moses’ amorous attentions.”
“Ugh,” Caleb replied, “I could have done without that image.”
“Aaron and Miriam,” Hosea added, “were not as content with Moses’ new bride.”[xliii]
“What business is it of theirs?” Caleb wondered aloud.
“I don’t really know,” Hosea replied, “and I was there when they voiced their protest. They tried to tell Moses he should have one wife and not two. They insisted he needed to focus on leading the people, not entertaining two wives. But Moses disagreed. ‘Jacob’ himself had two wives,’ Moses argued in response, ‘and had children with both of them and their handmaidens too. That didn’t distract Jacob.’ ”
Caleb waited for more, suspecting more to the story.
“Qwara’s origin may have had something to do with Aaron’s and Miriam’s protests, though if it did, they didn’t mention it, at least not in front of me.”
“Her origin?” Caleb replied, “Does that bother you?”
“The only thing that bothers me is that I didn’t think of her for myself,” Hosea answered, half in jest. “She has grown into quite a catch over these last couple of years: strong; slender; hard working; intelligent; pretty face; and flawless complexion, with dark chocolate brown skin.”
“I never noticed,” Caleb said, without hardly any pretense.
“Do you ever?” Hosea asked.
But Caleb ignored the jibe. “So what happened with Aaron and Miriam? Was that the end of their protests?”
“No,” Hosea replied. “There’s a new crop of grumblers, can you believe it? Already. They organized against Moses and rallied behind Aaron and Miriam. Well . . . organized is overstating it. They haven’t grown quite that bold yet. But they encouraged Aaron and Miriam to wrest control away from Moses. ‘Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?’ they asked. ‘Has he not spoken through you as well?’ So Aaron and Miriam went to Moses and repeated those words.”[xliv]
Caleb was amazed at their boldness, especially given the plague at Kibroth – Hattaavah. Challenging Moses had its dangers, including serious risk of death.
“Moses and Miriam argued loudly,” Hosea added, “then after a few moments of silence, Moses, Aaron and Miriam emerged from Moses’ tent. Moses said to me, ‘Come, the Lord has summoned us to the tent of meeting.[xlv] Bring a few men to be sure no one enters after us.’ So I followed and gathered a few men along the way.”
Hosea shivered, though the night was warm. Caleb just listened intently.
“When we arrived at the tent of meeting, Moses, Aaron and Miriam entered in silence. A blinding light came from within that forced me to look away. I listened, but heard nothing, until the light faded and Miriam screamed.”
“Aaron gasped and said to Moses, ‘Oh, my lord, I beg you, don’t account this sin to us. We have acted foolishly and we have sinned. Don’t let her be like one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes from his mother’s womb!’”[xlvi]
Caleb paled, “Not . . .”
“Leprosy,” Hosea confirmed.
Caleb marveled at what he had missed. I leave for only a month, Moses takes a second wife, and the Lord afflicts Miriam with leprosy?
“Moses cried out,” Hosea continued, “‘Oh God, heal her. Please, I pray you,’ then a moment of silence, before Moses spoke to Aaron. ‘The Lord has said she’ll be shut up for seven days outside the camp, and afterward if she has repented she may be received again – healed.’”[xlvii]
“‘Thank you Moses,’ ‘Thank you,’ they wept, as they left the tent. Miriam looked dreadful, for she had no veil with her to wear. Her face and skin were white as snow. People fled as soon as they saw her. A tent was set up for Miriam, with food and water outside of camp. No one came near for seven days. Aaron remained in his own tent. He spent the entire time praying and asking God for forgiveness. On the seventh day, Miriam emerged from her tent, shaken but healed. The whole camp breathed a sigh of relief, especially Aaron.”
“The Lord certainly loves irony,” Caleb commented after a time.
Hosea raised an eyebrow, but said nothing in response.
“Miriam protests Moses marrying a black woman,” Caleb explained to Hosea, “so Miriam’s skin turns white as snow with a devastating disease.”
“She didn’t object because of Qwara’s skin color,” Hosea responded.
“Perhaps not,” Caleb admitted. “But didn’t you say it was likely a factor in Miriam’s decision to protest? Perhaps it was more of a factor than you realized. After all, who knows what lies in the heart of a woman?”
“God knows,” Hosea responded.
“Exactly,” Caleb said.
Shortly after sunrise, Caleb and Hosea met with Moses to discuss Caleb’s scouting mission. Caleb reported all that he had seen – excellent land, but well populated with farmers, ranchers and city dwellers. They had a large well trained army, and could conscript many more.
“If we have to fight for the land, can we win?” Moses asked.
“With God on our side, there can be no doubt,” Hosea replied.
“With God on our side,” Moses said after a moment’s thought, “we can conquer any land. But if God should leave this battle to us, can we win?”
“It’d be hard fought,” Caleb replied. “Many of our soldiers would die, perhaps hundreds of thousands. We might not succeed. But with Hosea to lead us, I believe we’d prevail.”
“Hosea,” Moses said. “You know our strengths and our weaknesses. What is your assessment, without God on our side?”
“We can prevail,” Hosea answered, “if we strike them hard by surprise. It will limit their ability to conscript fresh troops. But Caleb’s right. We’d probably lose several hundred thousand men, not including the men who’d be seriously injured. It would take our entire army to prevail, if we’re alone in this fight. Do you think the Lord might abandon us?”
“The Lord will never abandon us,” Moses said with conviction, “yet we cannot always count on Him to fight our battles either. Better we should rely on ourselves, pray for His assistance and accept whatever blessings He chooses to bestow. Go now. I must consider whether we should fight over this land.”
Sitting with Dathan in our usual spot as we enjoyed another stunning sunset, I hardly noticed that he seemed pensive. I had noticed, however, that he didn’t make any amorous advances towards me.
“Ok, out with it,” I demanded. “What’s bothering you?”
Dathan looked glum and didn’t say a word.
“Come on,” I coaxed. “I can tell something’s wrong. If we’re ever going to get married, you need to tell me when things are wrong – otherwise, how can we work together to try to make them right?”
“When can we marry?” Dathan asked.
“When you have proven yourself in battle, my love, protecting the people of Midian,” I replied.
“But that may be years from now,” he whined, “even if I joined the King’s service tomorrow.” He remained silent awhile longer before speaking again. “I love you. You know. For years I’ve trained to enter the army, and now I’m finally old enough to join. But there are no wars to fight now and no battles in which to prove myself. Even if there were, what if I die in that first battle? It’s not unheard of, you know. Would you deny me the pleasure of knowing you, as my wife, before battle?”
“Years?” I echoed, swallowing. I didn’t want to wait for years either. But peace seemed a constant. There wasn’t even a threat on the horizon. “Maybe something will come up sooner,” I offered weakly, unsatisfied by my own response.
“Maybe,” he huffed, “Maybe. It’s always maybe . . . and when this, or when that or when the other thing. Maybe, I am wasting my time.”
say that,” I said quickly, afraid I might lose him. As close as we’d become, I felt he must be my prince, though I might have
felt differently if I had other viable prospects. “I want you to be my husband,” I said with
minimal conviction. “Let me talk to mother
and uncle. Maybe there’s no need to
If we are not meant for each other, wouldn’t The Dream return to steer me away from a mistake? Despite all Dathan and I have done together, The Dream hasn’t returned. He must be my prince, mustn’t he?
“Maybe . . . maybe . . . maybe. There’s that word again, ‘maybe,’ ” Dathan said, “Your mother and uncle protect your purity like a miser guards his gold. They’ll never approve our marriage until I’ve proven myself, assuming I survive my first battle. I can’t wait that long. I can’t.”
With no other suitors on the horizon, I couldn’t bear the thought of losing Dathan. I wanted to say something to reassure him, but I didn’t know what to say.
Dathan spoke first. “I am entering the army a week from tomorrow. We need to decide now. Not you, me, your mother, uncle, step-father and the council of Midian, but ‘we’ – us – you and me. I love you, you love me,” Dathan said looking into my eyes, “nothing else matters.” If he saw me wince, he ignored it.
Love. Do I love him? Does it matter? Who marries for love? Dathan is a good man, who’ll fulfill the prophesy, I’m sure of it. Why must he have prove himself first, when he has shown himself willing to prove himself?
Dathan pressed on, “What do you say, Misha? Let’s consummate our marriage now, under the stars and be done with it. Your mother and uncle couldn’t force us to turn back then.”
His choice of words annoyed me. My first time was not something to be “done with.” I looked around at our surroundings – so familiar, yet not particularly comfortable. Usually, we just sat on the rock and played with kisses and caresses. Tonight, with the days and nights warm, we didn’t even bring blankets. Swallowing, I looked him in straight in the eyes and said, “Tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” he asked, surprised at the concession.
“Tomorrow, we can consummate our marriage. We can formalize our marriage later,” I said.
Dathan’s face lit up, which brightened my mood. But his countenance darkened immediately, as if fearing a trick, “But why not now? You might change your mind between now and tomorrow. You plan on asking your mother and uncle for permission,” he accused.
“Look around, Dathan,” I responded testily. “Would you take me here, on this rock? Or would you take me there, in the sand? I want our first time together to be special. If we are going to do this, let’s at least bring some blankets and pillows. And no, I am not going to discuss this with mother or Balaam. I am old enough to make this decision and I’ve made it. Might I change my mind? I suppose I might, and that is my right. You will just have to wait and see. After all these days, another day of waiting won’t kill you.”
“It might,” he said petulantly.
“It better not,” I replied coyly, peering at him through long red curls. I stood up abruptly, brushing the dirt from the bottom of my dress.
“Wait, where are you going?” he asked, rising quickly. “We haven’t even sealed the deal with a kiss.”
I raised my mouth to his lips, pressed my body into his and kissed him deeply, before pushing him away when his hands began to roam. “That, will have to wait until tomorrow night too,” I said, teasing him unmercifully, turning abruptly so that my hair flew over my shoulder and slapped him across the cheek.
I didn’t have to turn around to see his pouting face, or his eager grin as I sauntered off in my sexiest walk. Before that moment, it had never occurred to me that I had a sexy walk, much less a sexiest walk.
I didn’t sleep at all that night. I was afraid of The Dream. I desperately wanted to ask mother and Uncle if I was doing the right thing, but I’d promised Dathan I wouldn’t. Besides, I was a woman now and fully capable of making this decision on my own.
The next day, as sunset neared, I snuck out of the house with all of the blankets and pillows I could carry. Dathan did the same. We met up at our usual spot and carefully arranged our little nest on the soft sand at the foot of our rock.
We sat in silence and watched the sky turn an angry fiery red. I can do this. I’m ready. He’s the One, I thought.
Dathan and I kissed. For the first time, I let him reach inside my clothing and touch my naked breast. He was rough and inexperienced, as I knew he would be. I thought of my countless warnings to new brides – Relax. There’ll be discomfort and pain. But far less if you relax.
Dathan lost no time lying me down and continuing his rough exploration. His kisses were hungry, almost desperate, rather than gentle or tender. I could feel his hardness against me, with only our clothing to separate us. I could feel my body prepare for him and knew I’d be his soon.
Dathan stood up and disrobed. His manhood extended from his naked body like a flagpole without a flag. He looked huge in the moonlight, his body lean and well muscled.
But something discordant made me uneasy. Just nerves, I tried to tell myself. It’ll all be over soon. I had waited so long to finally find my prince. Here he was. He loved me. He was handsome, strong and fit and . . . and . . . He doesn’t bear the Mark of Midian! I gasped involuntarily, staring at Dathan’s naked form.
Dathan smiled at my reaction, no doubt believing it a compliment. Dathan pounced like a jackal, so its prey couldn’t flee. Without thinking, I brought my knee around, to his surprise and mine. Dathan curled up in a ball, moaning in shock and pain.
“The Mark of Midian!” I screamed. “You don’t bear the Mark!”
“The Mark of Midian?” he moaned. “Do you think my parents are barbarians? Do you think they’d mutilate their son to satisfy the whims of an out dated God?”
“But . . . but . . . you said you were a true Midianite,” I protested.
“I am,” he retorted, still curled in a ball. “I can trace my ancestors back to Midian, just as you can.” It was something we were both proud of, which drew us together.
“But you said you believed in the God of Midian,” I countered.
“I do,” Dathan replied. “among others. Whatever gods can offer assistance, who am I to reject them?”
“No!” I cried. “This can’t be.”
“You knew I was not religious,” he continued.
“But I thought . . . I thought . . . that you just didn’t practice . . . not that you believed in foreign gods.”
“Foreign gods?” he huffed. “They’re Midian’s past, present, and its future. It won’t be long until they’re the only gods that Midianites worship.”
“But . . . but . . . I can’t . . .”
“Pray to other gods? So what,” he interrupted. “I am not asking you to pray to other gods.”
“No, I can’t marry you,” I said, my hopes and dreams shattered in an instant.
“What?” he yelled. “What do you mean you can’t marry me?”
“I can only marry a true Midianite, who bears the Mark of Midian, who worships only the God of our ancestors as did his mother and his mother’s mother and so on back to Midian.”
“What are you saying?” he screamed. “All that time, all our plans, they’re done, in instant? You . . . you . . . witch!” he shouted.
Dathan continued with more venom than I had ever seen in anyone, Margda included. “You lying, manipulating, teasing . . . witch!” Dathan spat. “You promised you would marry me! Promised we would consummate the marriage tonight! I will have you and I’ll have you now!” he threatened, struggling to his feet.
I rose before he did, and looked him straight in the eyes. “Dathan,” I replied, my voice cold as snow, “if you make one move towards me, you’ll be sorry . . . as Margda was sorry,” I added.
Dathan paled. “I hate you!” he yelled. But he didn’t step forward. “How can you do this to me? How?” he whined, covering himself with his hands.
I turned and fled home, leaving the bedding and the pillows
“How?” I heard him sob. But I didn’t look back.
The evening with Dathan fractured my world, leaving me weak and crying for days. Cozbi comforted me daily, but I refused to discuss what had happened – not with her or anyone else. I had been so incredibly foolish, I was too embarrassed to tell my best friend.
As I wallowed in self pity, Hamarab came by to visit and insisted he needed my help tending sheep. I suspected that mother had talked with him, since he didn’t ask why I looked like I had been crying for days. Someone must have told him that I wasn’t in a talking mood.
Though I suspected it was a ploy simply get me out of the house and take my mind off whatever was troubling me, I agreed to tend his sheep. Hamarab thanked me and left without another word. I readied myself to leave and had just picked up my staff when Cozbi arrived.
“What have you done?” she whispered, when we were alone in my house.
“What do you mean?” I asked. I’d told no one what happened.
“The whole town is talking. Dathan’s a laughingstock. People are whispering about the Witch of Midian and are calling Dathan a fool for having pursued you,” Cozbi relayed.
“But . . . but how?” I asked, truly perplexed. “How do they even know what happened. I didn’t say anything, and surely Dathan wouldn’t have either.”
“Apparently,” Cozbi explained, “Before he met with you that night, he bragged to his friends about what he expected would happen . . . and where.”
“What?” I exclaimed, “But still, how …”
“They were there, watching,” Cozbi said, “the whole time.”
“What!” I exclaimed. “Who?”
“Dathan’s ‘friends,’ of course,” Cozbi answered, “though some of them must not really have been his friends, or the whole town wouldn’t know what happened.”
“It can’t be,” I said without conviction. “He wouldn’t do that to me. Not Dathan. He wouldn’t invite his friends to spy on us.”
“Are you so sure?” Cozbi asked. “He would have gained a fair amount of status in their eyes if he had . . . slept with you . . . so long as there were witnesses, that is. Then again, perhaps he didn’t invite them. Maybe he just spoke of your plans without thinking.”
That must be it, I thought. In my mind, everything was my fault, with Dathan wholly innocent. Indeed, if that were the case, maybe I could salvage our relationship. What can I possibly say, I wondered, to repair what I’ve done?
“Would you like me to help you with the sheep?” Cozbi asked, interrupting my reverie.
“No,” I replied. “Tending sheep helps me think. I need the quiet and solitude.”
For the next several days I tended sheep in the desert. I went over what had happened, the evolution of our relationship and our dreams for the future. Nothing at all seemed to make sense.
Then it hit me. What if Dathan agreed to worship as I worshipped, and agreed to take the Mark of Midian? Perhaps his mother’s lineage back to Midian worshipped only our God. If his father wasn’t a believer, it would explain why he didn’t bear the Mark. Moreover, his father didn’t need to believe to meet the criteria of The Dream.
This must be the answer. If he loved me he could change. He could take the Mark, renounce false gods and worship only the God of Midian. If I could convince him, I wouldn’t just be claiming my prince, I’d be reclaiming a fellow Midianite as a follower of the Lord. I smiled for the first time in days, certain I’d finally found the answer.
There were still several days left before Dathan entered the King’s army. I had plenty of time to speak with him and to set everything right. I’ll leave a little early today, a couple of hours before sunset. If I catch him at sunset, I’m sure I can get us back on track.
At noon, as was my custom, I rested under the shade of a make shift lean-to. I slept for an hour or two, then had lunch and once again took up my staff.
I stood on a small plateau, watching over Hamarab’s flock, refreshed and alert. The cool of a shadow fell upon me, even before I saw it.
Hamarab, I thought. Not a good time to sneak up on me and test my skills with the staff. “You’re losing your touch!” I said wheeling around and then stepping back just in time to avoid the blow of a staff swung full force. It cracked against the soft limestone, shattering it.
“Hey!” I shouted. “What are you trying to do, kill me?”
I looked at my attacker and saw instantly that it wasn’t Hamarab. The man was taller than Hamarab. He wore the garb of a Bedouin in a sandstorm – loose fitting clothing that covered his entire body, including his mouth and nose, leaving only his eyes exposed.
“What do you want?” I challenged.
But he didn’t say a word. Instead, he yelled out a battle cry and attacked me again. My training took over and I deflected a blow aimed at my head. It passed by within inches as I ducked under his staff, and pirouetted behind him. In one fluid motion, the end of my staff jabbed down hard on the back of his calf. He cried out in pain and rage.
He whirled around, swinging wildly, off balance from the blow to his leg. I avoided his strike with little more than a slight shift of my head. As his staff passed me I stepped into him and swung hard up into his ribs. But I stepped a little to close, so I didn’t hit with full force. It was enough, however, to drop him to the ground.
He shook it off quickly, jumped to his feet and immediately charged. I stepped aside gracefully and dropped low, almost kneeling, as I swung at his legs and connected painfully with his shins. I could have swung harder and broken a leg or two, but I couldn’t bring myself to cripple him. Despite his unrestrained aggression, I faced no real danger – or so I thought.
He rose again slowly and hobbled over painfully. The sheer hatred in his eyes startled me. Maybe I need to take this a little more seriou. . .
He swung his staff with all his might, straight down, as if to cleave me in two. I stepped aside easily and allowed his staff to connect near the end of mine. The force of his blow caused my staff to whip around and, with minimal effort, I directed the blow at his temple.
My staff hit its mark and my attacker fell hard, unmoving. I wondered if I’d killed him, though I didn’t think I’d hit him that hard. Then he moaned and tried to rise. I wasn’t about to let that happen. I thrust the end of my staff hard, and connecting solidly with his chest.
He fell back stunned, breathing hard, unable for the moment to get up. Carefully, I walked around him, reached down, and pulled back his hood and his veil.
“Dathan!” I shouted, in shock.
I bent down to attend to him. His eyes were unfocused, at first, then they shifted to hate. I jumped back out of his reach, as if bitten by a snake.
Dathan glared at me and spat. “You’ve ruined me!” he hissed. “The whole town is laughing. Now I’ll have to work twice as hard for the King to gain half of the respect.”
I’d felt horrible about what had happened, and had wanted to reconcile. But the look in his eyes and violence of his attack changed my feelings in an instant. He’d tried to kill me and would’ve succeeded, if it weren’t for Hamarab’s training.
“You’ve ruined yourself,” I responded, with anger of my own as my fantasy of Dathan dissipated. “How could you? Did you sell tickets to your friends, so that they could share in our special night? You would have made me a laughingstock, willingly. You sicken me, Dathan.”
Dathan opened his mouth to speak, but he never got the words out.
“I’m done with you,” I spat. “If you ever come near me again, I’ll finish you myself. If I fail, Balaam will finish you and God knows you don’t want that. And if he fails, Nebach will make you wish that you’d died at Balaam’s hands.”
Dathan’s eyes widened as he realized the situation in which had put himself. He was entering the King’s service and Nebach had the King’s ear. I could see the wheels turning in his stupid fat head.
“I won’t tell Nebach,” I said answering his unspoken question. “He’d kill you without a second thought. If I had wanted you dead, I would’ve killed you myself.”
Dathan again tried to rise, but I drove my staff into his chest. He moaned in pain and lay back down as I towered over him.
“It’s over Dathan,” I proclaimed, and I finally believed it. I walked confidently away, with my head held high, but inside I felt an empty – an endless dark void. The fantasy that sustained me held no substance any more.
After a night of contemplation, Moses summoned Hosea and Caleb.
“I have spoken with the Lord,” Moses began. “The Lord said to me, ‘Send out for yourself men so that they may spy out the land of Canaan, which I am going to give to the sons of Israel; you shall send a man from each of their father’s tribes, every one a leader among them.’ ”[xlviii]
“Shall we spy out the land with our captains?” Hosea asked.
“No,” Moses replied. “If you go with your captains and they recommend war, the people will believe that you’ve told them what to say. If we’re to fight for this land, the people must choose freely based on the recommendations of their leaders. Otherwise, they may lack the confidence and strength of will to endure the losses necessary to prevail.”
Hosea and Caleb nodded in agreement, appreciative of Moses’ wisdom and insight.
“That being said,” Moses continued, “it is important for you to see for yourself, Hosea, for if we go into battle, I must know that the leader of my armies has spied out the land for himself and believes we can prevail.”
“Joshua, son of Nun,” Moses said formally, placing a hand on each of Hosea’s shoulders, “you will represent the tribe of Ephraim.”[xlix]
Caleb and Hosea looked at each other, confused. Joshua? They wondered silently in unison.
“Before Abraham consecrated himself to the Lord,” Moses explained, “he was ‘Abram.’ When Jacob consecrated himself to the Lord, he was thereafter called ‘Israel.’ It is not by accident or error that I name you this day, Joshua son of Nun. Today, you are consecrated unto the Lord.”
Joshua met Moses’ gaze, proud and confident.
“Caleb, son of Jephunneh,” Moses added formally, “you will represent the tribe of Judah.[l] You know the terrain and have invaluable experience.”
“As for the rest,” Moses said, “Shammua, the son of Zaccur, shall represent the tribe of Reuben. Shaphat, the son of Hori, shall represent Simeon. Igal, son of Joseph, shall represent Issachar. Palti, son of Raphu, shall accompany you from Benjamin. Gaddiel, son of Sodi, shall represent Zebulun. Gaddi, son of Susi, shall represent Manasseh and the tribe of Joseph. Ammiel, son of Gemalli, shall be there for Dan. Sethur, son of Michael, shall be there for Asher. Nahbi, son of Vophsi, shall be there for Naphtali. And Geuel, son of Machi, shall be there for Gad.” [li]
“Assemble the men. Have them pack for a long journey. Tell them that they have been chosen as special envoys by me and by the Lord and that they are to tell no one a thing, except that they must leave for a time. Return here this evening and I will address them.”
Joshua and Caleb gathered the men, who were excited to have been recognized by the Lord and by Moses as leaders among their tribes. They were leaders among their tribes. But they were by no means the tribal elders, who would not have fared well on the rigorous journey. No, they were the men, whom Moses knew, the elders respected. So the choice of these men spoke highly of them indeed.
When they had gathered in Moses’ tent and sat down, Moses stood and addressed them. “You have been chosen by God to spy out this new land and report back to me. God will fight by our side and aid in our victory. But we cannot begin this fight with feint heart or weak spirit. We must believe in ourselves and believe in the Lord, for our losses will be great and our reward even greater. Go up there into the Negev, then go up into the hill country. See what the land is like and whether the people who live in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many. Spy out the land in which they live. Is it good, or is it bad? How are the cities in which they live, are they like open camps or with fortifications? Is the land fat, or is it lean? Are there trees, or not? Bring back some fruit of the land. Go, and God be with you.”[lii]
From the wilderness of Zin, they went up into the Negev until they came to Hebron, where the descendants of Anak had made their homes. In the valley of Eschol, they cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes, so heavy with fruit that they carried it on a pole between two men. They also returned with some pomegranates and figs that they gathered along the way.[liii]
“Joshua,” Caleb whispered on the long return journey, before seeming to lose his train of thought. “I still can’t get used to calling you ‘Joshua,’ ” he added.
“So call me Hosea, old friend.”
“No,” Caleb responded. “It’s an incredible honor. You are ‘Joshua,’ renamed by Moses, on behalf of the Lord.”
“Does this mean you believe?” Joshua asked.
“Believe?” Caleb answered. “I’ve never disbelieved, Joshua. How could I in times like these? It’s my belief in His power and my knowledge of His deeds, which has separated me from Him for the last couple of years.”
Joshua listened, but didn’t respond.
Caleb changed the subject abruptly, “The men seem defeated, and we haven’t even seen a battle. They were so hopeful when we gathered the fruit. Did they think that the people who have dined on it for so many years would be scrawny and weak?”
“I know,” Joshua replied, concern etched into his brow. “These men aren’t warriors. They’re future elders, if they live long enough. But if we fight the descendants of Anak, they may need to fight too. I am beginning to believe that Moses’ plan, though sound in theory, has flaws he hadn’t considered.”
“Perhaps you should talk to the men,” Caleb whispered, “Convince them now, while you can, before they express an opinion publicly they’ll have difficulty retracting.”
“I am no politician. What am I to say?” Joshua asked.
“Who knows? You’re close to God, whether you realize it or not. Ask Him. Moses chose you among all others to accompany him on Sinai – you and Moses, among all the people, set foot on the holy mountain. Ask God to give you the words,” Caleb whispered.
“I don’t know,” Joshua replied. “I don’t have much experience talking to God. I’m not Moses, nor a Levite, nor even a Cohain. I rarely ever pray, except before every battle. Prayer was a regular part of your life once. God must know your voice. Perhaps you can ask God for the words we should say.”
“No, I’m sorry,” Caleb said, “You must be the one to seek God’s guidance. . . . A part of me is still angry, even now, despite the years. I couldn’t pray with a pure heart.”
That night, as Joshua sat looking out at the desert stars, with the air cold and sweet in his nostrils, he prayed silently before a battle of a different sort – a battle for the hearts and minds of the men. Lord, help us do Your will. I can rally our soldiers, but I can’t sway politicians. If it’s Your will, guide my tongue to sway the men to your cause. Help me speak tomorrow, so that I may win their hearts and minds . . . and watch over Caleb, Lord. He misses You dearly but still aches over his family. May Caleb one day find his way back, to You Lord. Amen.
Joshua would remember that night and recount it often, for it was the first night that he truly felt God’s presence as a comfort in his heart and in his mind. He slept long and well and awoke refreshed as never before.
Joshua assembled the men and spoke to them during breakfast. “You men have seen the land, rich with milk and honey. You carry the fruit of the land on your backs and it weighs you down. Imagine us living there with our parents, and our wives and our children. God has promised us this land. He has promised our ancestors. He wouldn’t lead us here through hardship, with miracle after miracle, only to see us fall, defeated, rather than achieve His crowning glory. He will guide our swords and we shall prevail. We already rely upon Him daily, for our food and our water. His daily miracles sustain millions in the barest of deserts. Rely on Him now to fight by our side, and He shall bless us forever with this amazing Promised Land.”
Joshua paused to let his words sink in, before continuing with the hard truth. “The fight will not be easy. We’ll lose many brave men. But the Lord God of Israel shall be our sword and our shield. He has prepared us for this task that we might glorify Him. He’ll be with us and assist us and guide us to victory. We cannot turn back now.”
“But they are so strong,” said Shaphat. “And so many,” added Nahbi. “How are we to overcome such odds?” questioned Palti, as well. “How many of us must die if we’re to take this land by force?” asked Ammiel. “How many?” asked the others.
“Countless,” Caleb responded, his voice strong and gaze unwavering. “We will not lie, nor mislead you. War will cost us at least tens of thousands of lives. I’d say hundreds of thousands, if God weren’t on our side. It’s the price of claiming our birthright, for us and for our children, and it’s a heavy price to pay for those who die and for their loved ones. But God hasn’t brought us to this point only to mock His own promise. Recommend war and we shall prevail.”
The people nodded in agreement. Caleb would’ve preferred cheers. The walk back to camp was quiet, indeed.
“You were a lot of help,” Joshua whispered to Caleb under his breath as they walked ahead of the men.
Caleb winced, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to dwell on our losses. I . . . ”
“No,” Joshua interrupted, “You werea lot of help. These men are not children. They’ll be leaders some day. They needed to hear the truth and wouldn’t have believed anything less. They need to make a hard decision and to stick by it.”
“Still,” Caleb replied, wondering if he might have conveyed the same point more eloquently, “I don’t like their response.”
“Nor do I,” replied Joshua. “But we’ve done what we can. The rest is in their hands . . . and God’s.”
When they returned from spying out the land at the end of forty days, they went before Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of Israelites in the wilderness of Paran at Kadesh. They brought back word of what they had seen and showed the fruit of the land.[liv]
Shaphat spoke first, as was previously agreed. “We went in to the land where you sent us, and it flows with milk and honey. This is its fruit,”[lv] Shaphat said as two of the spies held the fruit high. Gasps and cheers rose from the crowd.
“Nevertheless,” Shaphat shouted into the excited buzz, and waited for quiet before continuing, “the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are enormous and fortified. The Anak live there. Amelak is in the Negev. The Hittites and the Jebusites and the Amorites are in the hill country. The Canaanites live beside the sea and by the river Jordon.”[lvi] Once again, the buzz of conversation rose, this time in fear.
“Listen,” Caleb shouted, fearing the moment slipping away. “Listen to me. I have seen this land too and I know our army. If the people there won’t let us live among them peaceably, we can take the land by force. We are strong and we are ready. With God on our side, we’re invincible. But even on our own, we’d prevail. Trust in the men who have trained so hard for you these past years. Trust in God, who has brought us through the wilderness to the edge of the Promised Land. We can and should take possession of this land, for surely we shall prevail.”[lvii]
Then Palti spoke, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.”[lviii]
Nahbi added, “The land that we have spied out devours its inhabitants. The people that we saw there are all men of great size. We saw the Nephilim there, the sons of Anak, and we became like grasshoppers in their eyes and in ours.”[lix]
So the spies gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out – all except Joshua, who stood grim faced and too angry to speak, and Caleb who encouraged the people to take possession of the land.
The people wept that night and, as was their pattern, the grumbled against Moses and Aaron.[lx]
The whole congregation assembled in the morning outside the tent of meeting, where Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb had gathered before sunrise. When the four of them exited Moses’ tent, the elder of the tribe of Benjamin approached, with his son Palti at his side. “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt,” he complained, “or that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder. Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?”[lxi]
The elders echoed agreement, as Moses’ face reddened and Aaron looked away. One elder shouted, “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.”[lxii]
Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces, in the presence of the assembled congregation of Israelites, exhausted, frustrated, their only response prayer. Joshua and Caleb tore their clothes in mourning, for the congregants were like dead men who didn’t realize that this way lay life, and that way lay death.[lxiii]
Caleb was beside himself. Hundreds of years as slaves had hardened them for this task. The loss of Caleb’s family had paved the way for this moment – the final fulfillment of God’s centuries old promise. Miracles, great and small, in Egypt and in the desert, affirmed God’s presence in their midst. Caleb couldn’t give up. “The land which we passed through to spy out is exceedingly good land!” Caleb shouted.
“If the Lord is pleased with us,” Joshua added, “He’ll give us this land, which flows with milk and honey. Don’t rebel against the Lord! Don’t fear the people of this land! They shall be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them. The Lord is with us. Don’t fear them!”[lxiv]
But the congregation rebelled, crying “Stone them!” “Kill them” “They’ve led us to destruction!”[lxv]
Then the glory of the Lord appeared in the tent of the meeting and the people had to look away, so blinding was the light. Moses rose to address the Light, but remained silent instead, as he listened to the thundering voice of the Lord.
“Hear me!” Moses shouted to the people. “Thus says the Lord, ‘How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst? I will smite them with pestilence and dispossess them and I will make you, Moses, into a nation greater and mightier than they.’”[lxvi]
The crowd gasped and drew back.
Then Moses spoke to the Lord, pleading for his people. “Lord, if You do this thing, then the Egyptians will hear of it. For by Your strength You brought up this people from Egypt, and the Egyptians will tell it to the inhabitants of the land that you brought them out of Egypt only to die in the desert. They have heard that You, O Lord, have been seen standing over us, going before us in a pillar cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if You slay the people, then the nations who have heard of Your fame will say, ‘Because the Lord could not bring this people into the land which He promised them, He slaughtered them in the wilderness.’ But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as You declared, ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations.’ Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of thy loving kindness, just as You have forgiven this people from Egypt even until now.” [lxvii]
Then the thunder crashed and lightening struck the ground all around. The people jumped and cringed and cowered, while Moses stood steadfast, listening intently as if to one whispering.
Turning to the crowd, Moses spoke as the last of the thunder echoed into silence, “Thus sayeth the Lord, ‘I have pardoned them according to your word.”[lxviii] A cheer erupted from the crowd. Moses glared at them angrily, backed by a single lightening strike that set Palti’s clothes ablaze, and burning him slightly before the fire was extinguished.
“And,” Moses continued, his voice ominous and dark, “the Lord said, “ ‘indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord. Surely all the men who have seen My glory and My signs, which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to the test these ten times and have not listened to My voice, shall by no means see the land which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who spurned Me see it.’ ”[lxix]
The crowd cried out in anguish, and the buzz of frightened conversation rose.
“Silence!” Moses thundered, “So sayeth the Lord, ‘but My servant Caleb, because he has had a different spirit and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land which he entered, and his descendants shall take possession of it.’ ”[lxx]
Caleb’s head spun towards Moses in surprise, abandoning momentarily his watch over the crowd. Had he heard correctly? As angry and detached as Caleb remained with the Lord, how could He believe that Caleb followed Him fully? There must be some mistake, Caleb thought, casting a questioning glance towards Joshua.
Joshua, for his part, had also heard Moses. God is reaching out to Caleb, he thought, if only Caleb would reach back.
Then Moses continued, “Now the Amelekites and the Canaanites live in the valleys; turn tomorrow and set out to the wilderness by the way of the Sea.”[lxxi]
Then the thunder resumed and this time, Moses and Aaron stood listening intently. Then Aaron turned and translated the words of the Lord, “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me? I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel, which they are making against Me. As I live, just as Moses has spoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you. Your corpses shall fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward who have grumbled against Me. Surely you shall not come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.”[lxxii]
Joshua and Caleb turned to each other, their eyes wide with surprise. What can this mean? they wondered.
Moses continued, hardly missing a beat, “Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey – I will bring them in, and they shall know the land which you have rejected. But as for you, your corpses shall fall in this wilderness. And your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they shall suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness. According to the number of the days which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day you shall bear your guilt a year, even forty years, and you shall know My opposition. I, the Lord, have spoken, surely this I will do to all this evil congregation who are gathered against Me. In this wilderness they shall be destroyed, and there they shall die.”[lxxiii]
When the echoes of God’s words faded, the people stood silent, some dropped to their knees and wept before the Lord. In the night, all of the spies, except Caleb and Joshua, died by a plague at the hand of the Lord.[lxxiv]
Joshua and Caleb wandered silently under the stars. Neither knew what to say or even how to begin.
Caleb spoke first. “What do you think it means?”
Joshua furrowed his brow, “I was going to ask you.”
“I don’t think Moses has ever mentioned my name in public before, and certainly never when speaking on behalf of God,” Caleb mused.
“God’s reaching out to you,” Joshua offered.
“And you?” Caleb replied.
Joshua thought for a moment, not quite knowing how to say what he knew must be said. “Remember when we were returning from the Promised Land and you suggested I pray to the Lord for guidance?”
“Well . . . I did,” Joshua continued, “not a long prayer, but prayer nonetheless. I can’t explain it Caleb, but I could feel Him by my side. I could feel His strength, His comfort and His infinite forgiveness. He has stayed with us for years, residing in our midst, but I’ve never felt Him like that. I’ve never felt so at peace.”
To Caleb, Joshua’s words felt like a knife twisting in his guts. Caleb had experienced what Joshua experienced, when he was young and at peace. When Caleb lost that closeness and his family, all at once, he’d lost everything – everything – that he held most dear. After years now of emptiness, Caleb longed for the bond, but he still couldn’t exorcise the anger in his soul.
“You know,” Joshua continued, “I’ve never really had personal relationship with God.” Joshua stopped walking and turned to face Caleb. “But that night, something changed, and it has never been the same since. God touched me, Caleb, in a way I never thought possible.”
Caleb nodded and looked down. “That is how I felt once. From the time I was a child, I felt God’s presence as a blessing. With the added blessings of Sarah and, later, little Joseph – I had blessings so profound I couldn’t appreciate them until they were gone.” Caleb struggled to find the words, without losing self control. “Imagine that comfort and peace and those blessings suddenly . . . gone.”
“Reach out to God Caleb,” Joshua implored. “He wants you to reach out. I know. I can feel it.”
“I want to reach out so badly,” Caleb said, as tears rolled down his cheeks. “I want to. I do. But I can’t let go of my anger. I can’t let go of my guilt. Every night in Egypt, I prayed that God would set us free. But I’d take back every prayer and give up my freedom, if only it would return my family to me.”
“It’s not your fault,” Joshua said quietly. “You know that. Don’t you? It’s not God’s fault. It’s Pharaoh’s.”
Caleb nodded. “I know,” he said sadly. “It’s just . . .”
If only I could help him, Joshua thought, as if in prayer. Lord, help me find the words. But the words did not come. Joshua thought of the joy of his own relationship with God, and imagined the pain he would feel if it were gone. “I’m sorry, my friend,” Joshua finally said. “God will be there when you’re ready. He’s there for you now.”
Caleb smiled sadly and longed for the past.
By morning many Israelites had risen early and went up to the ridge of the hill country, beating their chests, tearing their clothes and saying, “Here we are. We have sinned, but we will go up to the place that the Lord promised us.”[lxxv]
Moses met them at the ridge, with Joshua and Caleb at his side, “Have you not heard the Word of the Lord pronounced against you?” Moses yelled at the masses. “Do you think that you can turn your back upon Him and do as you please to avoid the consequences your faithlessness? Even now, in claiming to turn back from your ways, you act contrary to His Word. You say you’re implementing His Will, when in deed you’re violating His Will to do your own. Yet neither His Will, nor your own, will you work here today.”
Moses paused before continuing in a more conciliatory tone, “Why are you transgressing against the Lord when you must know it won’t succeed? You’ll be struck down by your enemies. The Amalekites and the Canaanites will be there in front of you and you’ll fall by the sword, having turned your back on God. The Lord won’t be with you. Don’t go. Reconsider.”[lxxvi]
But they went up heedlessly to the ridge of the hill country, without the ark of the covenant or Moses at their side. And all who followed them were slaughtered by the Amelekites and the Canaanites.[lxxvii]
Dathan entered the King’s service without explaining the battle that left him battered, bruised and beaten – but I hardly cared. Whether he had stayed or gone, my dreams of finding my prince were shattered.
I told mother and Nebach that Dathan and I had broken up for good, but refused to explain how or why. I couldn’t eat and couldn’t sleep. In little less than a week, I began looking emaciated, for I didn’t normally carry any extra weight on my petite frame.
I didn’t leave my bed, didn’t bathe, didn’t do anything except feel sorry for myself and try, unsuccessfully, to cry for the loss of Dathan.
When Nebach came in to comfort me, I screamed at him to get out and shouted that I hated him when I really just hated myself.
“It’s not your fault, my love,” I heard mother say, “She hardly knows what she’s saying.”
“I know,” Nebach said sadly, “it’s just so hard to watch.”
“It is,” mother agreed, “and it stops now.” Mother stormed into my bedroom. “Get up,” she ordered, “get up and eat, now.”
“No,” I said. “I am not hungry. I can’t eat.”
“You can and you will,” mother insisted.
I turned my head away and refused to look her in the eye.
“Do you want to die, is that it?” she asked, her voice barely controlled fury.
“And what if I do?” I responded. “It’s my life. What good is it? I’ll never have a family of my own. Never. I may as well be dead.”
Mother glared at me fiercely. I’d never seen her so angry. She reached down and grabbed a handful of my hair.
“Get up,” mother yelled, pulling with all her might as I yelped. “Get up, and get out,” she said as she literally dragged me from bed by my hair and into the other room.
“You miserable, self-centered, self-absorbed . . . uggghh!” she cried in frustration. “Get out of my house. You’ll never have a family of your own? Weare your family. We have clothed you and fed you and cared for you. So what if you never have a husband or child of your own. You will, if you have faith. But so what if you don’t?”
Holding my hair as she did, I couldn’t look away. When I tried, she only tightened her grip before continuing, “I love you. Balaam loves you. Nebach loves you. Even Hamarab and Cozbi love you. You have a family who loves you and friends who care for you. Yet you turn your back on all of us and wallow in self-pity!”
I couldn’t bear to hear her words. Help me God, I thought, my eyes now closed in the only escape I could find. Let her stop. But mother would not relent, “You’re a stunningly beautiful woman, but you don’t need your looks to survive. You have skills as a shepherdess and skills as a healer. You may be the only woman in the world who can read and who can write. Any of these skills would allow you to survive on your own, without any man to take care of you.”
let go of my hair and I dropped to my knees, yet she continued her verbal
assault, “Would it be nice for you to marry and have a husband? Yes . . . of course . . . assuming he did not beat you, or berate you
or otherwise mistreat you . . . as many husbands do. You have made an extraordinary life for
yourself Misha,” mother said, her voice hard as stone. “Don’t throw it away.”
I curled into a ball, covering my head as if protecting myself from blow after verbal blow.
“You have more blessings in your life than anyone I know,” mother continued. “And yet you focus only on what you lack in your life. There will always be something lacking in your life. There is something lacking in everyone’s lives. That’s just the way life is. You can focus on what you lack and be miserable, or you can appreciate what you have and enjoy life. It’s all up to you.”
I fought to speak past the lump in my throat, but could only manage to say in a small pathetic voice, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
“You are sorry,” she said, twisting my meaning. “Now get out of my house. I will not have you starve yourself to death in front of those who love and care for you. If you want to kill yourself, do it in the streets so everyone can see just how sorry you’ve become.”
“Please mother,” I begged, dragging myself to her feet and holding on to her legs. “Please, don’t throw me out. I’ll eat. I’ll try. Please,” I wept.
Mother looked down at my trembling, weeping form and the fury seemed to drain from her. She picked me up tenderly and I held her tight, like I did when I was little. She brought soup, a thin broth, which I drank slowly at first and then with a ravenous hunger.
Mother nursed me back to health over the following week. Though my body felt stronger, I remained emotionally drained. It would be quite some time before I fully recovered.
But I did fully recover. My weight returned to normal. Over time, mother’s words seemed to sink into my head, and formed an anchor that kept me from straying in the wrong direction. I focused on the family and friends I had, rather than the husband and children I didn’t. I no longer pined for rescue by my prince.
Dathan eventually married the daughter of a soldier. I didn’t feel the jealous, to my surprise and relief. I considered myself fortunate he married her and not me.
My skills as a healer developed dramatically, as I learned the power of simply listening and empathizing with my patients. I helped heal the sick and injured, tended to brides and help mend broken hearts. I eased the suffering of the women, and they responded in kind with warmth and respect.
Cozbi and Hadan couldn’t become pregnant. After they’d tried for nearly a year, I did what I could. I tried everything I’d ever heard of, ever potion and medicine, but as hard as I tried she still remained barren. It saddened her deeply. It saddened me too. I empathized with her loneliness and longing for a child.
I settled into a rhythm I found tremendously satisfying – helping, healing, learning and caring. Even through hardship, which came around now and again, these were some of the happiest days of my life.
Then Cozbi’s husband, Hadan, died in a training exercise. Accidents happened rarely, but they happened nonetheless. I did little more than hold her and rock her and give her a brew that helped her sleep. I listened when she spoke, but offered no sage advice. She didn’t need advice, only a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on.
The more the people of Midian benefited from my medicinal knowledge, the more I felt welcome, important and respected. Even Margda, my old nemesis, gave me a grudging respect after I helped her through a difficult pregnancy – one in which many a young mother might otherwise have died.
I loved to help delivering babies, and longed to be a mother. In a way, the children I helped deliver were my children too. I loved and cared for them in my own way and followed their growth and development.
By the following year, I couldn’t believe how my life had changed – then again, little had changed, other than my attitude. It certainly seemed to be enough. It made all of the difference. The Witch of Midian was finally coming into her own.
The people despaired over wandering in the desert. Korah, the son of Izhar the Levi, with Dathan, Abiram and On of the tribe of Reuben, took action. They rose up before Moses, together with two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen in the assembly, men of renown, as well as countless other sons of Israel. They assembled together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is in their midst. Why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?”[lxxviii]
Joshua and Caleb had known of the brewing rebellion and were ready. Moses, flanked by Aaron and Caleb on his left and Joshua at his right, said nothing. Joshua whispered to Moses under his breath, “My men are dispersed throughout the crowd. They await only my signal. Shall I have them scatter the people and put down this rebellion?”
“No,” Moses replied, his voice low but resolute. “It is not through force of arms that I can lead this people. This is a rebellion of spirit to which I and the Lord must attend.” And with that, Moses kneeled, brought his face to the ground and prayed,[lxxix] while the people gathered against him and murmured amongst themselves.
Then Moses stood and spoke to Korah, “Tomorrow morning the Lord will show who is His and who is holy and will bring that person near to Himself, this one He will choose. Those who would offer themselves as one for the choosing, take censers for yourselves, Korah and all your company. Put fire in them and lay incense upon them in the presence of the Lord tomorrow, and the man whom the Lord chooses shall be the one who is holy.”[lxxx]
Moses’ eyes swept the crowd, his voice rising to a dangerous level as he addressed Korah and Korah’s followers, “You have gone far enough, sons of Levi. Is it not enough that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to do the service of the tabernacle of the Lord and to stand before the congregation to minister to them? And that He has brought you near, Korah, and all your brothers, sons of Levi, with you? Are you seeking the priesthood also? Would you take from your brothers, Cohain, their place before the Lord?”[lxxxi]
“You and all your company are gathered together against the Lord. But why do you grumble against Aaron, who is one of your own? You and all your company shall be present before the Lord, both you and they along with Aaron. Every one among you shall take his own censer and firepan, two hundred and fifty all told, plus Aaron, shall assemble tomorrow and offer incense to the Lord.”[lxxxii]
In the morning, Moses sent Caleb with a message to Dathan and Abiram. “Dathan,” Caleb said as the sons of Reuben sat eating their morning meal, “Abiram. Moses desires to speak with you. Come with me.”[lxxxiii]
Dathan and Abiram sat unmoved, but the others among them placed their hands on their weapons which lay at their sides or on their hips and awaited the word of their leaders. Slowly Dathan stood and addressed Caleb, “We will not come up. Is it not enough that Moses has brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to have us die in the wilderness, but he would also lord it over us?”[lxxxiv]
Then Abiram arose too and added, “Moses has not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor has he given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Would he put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up!”[lxxxv]
“You have decided your fate,” Caleb replied. “We urged you to follow the Lord, both Joshua and I as we returned from the Promised Land, but you rebelled – even as you continue to rebel against the Lord. You have not earned an inheritance of fields and vineyards, nor a land flowing with milk and honey. Come with me, or remain here. It matters not to me. The message was mine to deliver, ‘Your presence is requested by Moses.’ I will not take you there by force.”
“Nor could you Caleb, son of Jephunneh,” Dathan replied, as his men laughed and he and Abiram sat down.
Caleb turned his back and walked away with the laughter of the sons of Reuben echoing in his ears.
Caleb reported to Moses all that had transpired. Moses became angry, but he didn’t display his fury. Instead, he grew quiet and turned inward, as his lips moved in silent prayer.[lxxxvi]
Korah and the Levites assembled outside the tent of meeting, together with Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb. The congregation gathered around. The fire pans were lit. The incense was offered and the glory of the Lord appeared to the congregation.[lxxxvii]
Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, who fell to their knees and placed their faces upon the ground and trembled.
Moses replied to the Lord, “O God, God of the spirits of all flesh, please do not ask us to separate ourselves from this congregation that You may consume them. When one man sins, will You be angry with the entire congregation?”[lxxxviii]
Moses and Aaron rose, as one, and strode off in the direction of Dathan and Abiram and the camp of Reuben. Joshua and Caleb followed close behind, as did the elders and the congregation behind them.
When they reached the camp of Reuben, Moses said to all who’d hear, “Depart now from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing that belongs to them, lest you be swept away in all their sin.” So the people dispersed.
But Dathan, Abiram and Korah came out and stood in their doorways in defiance, together with their wives and their little ones who stood by their side.[lxxxix] The women and children, like the heads of their houses, mocked Moses and Aaron and called for a change.
“By this you shall know,” Moses said to all assembled, “that the Lord has sent me to do all these deeds. For this is not my doing. If these men die the death of all men, or if they suffer the fate of all men, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord brings about an entirely new thing and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that is theirs and they descend alive into Hell, then you will understand that these men have spurned the Lord.”[xc]
From the corner of his eye, Caleb glimpsed a dark figure – like an angel cloaked in darkness on a hot sunny day. Caleb shivered in the heat, and the hairs rose on the back of his neck.
Then the ground split open and trembled and shook. Dathan, Abiram, Korah and their households, and all of their possessions descended down into Hell. Their screams were cut short as the earth closed back over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly that day.[xci]
“The earth will swallow us up!” others cried out in terror,[xcii] as they abandoned their fire pans and attempted to flee. But then fire from the Lord struck them down and consumed them – all two hundred and fifty who’d offered incense to the Lord. [xciii]
Despite the evident wrath of God, many the Israelites still grumbled, blaming Moses and Aaron for the death of God’s people.[xciv] Moving as if called, the people approached the tent of meeting and some entered as the glory of the Lord appeared.[xcv]
Moses and Aaron stood within the tent and listened, and then fell to their faces before the Lord.[xcvi] Moses whispered to Aaron urgently, as they lay on the ground, “Take your censer, put fire in it from the alter and lay incense upon it. Bring it quickly to the congregation. Make atonement for them. The Lord’s wrath has gone forth and a plague has begun!”[xcvii]
Aaron did as Moses ordered and prayed for forgiveness. But the sickness spread like wildfire to burn out dissent. By the time Aaron returned to the tent of the meeting, fourteen thousand seven hundred had died from the plague.[xcviii]
Since dissent had literally died out, the Children of Israel fell back into a familiar rhythm. They followed the pillar cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night – encamping for extended periods of time when neither appeared. They traveled, they camped and they traveled again.
In the first month of the new year, they traveled through the wilderness of Zin and made camp at Kadesh. Miriam died there and the people mourned her loss. Deprivation and the monotony of manna drove them near to despair.[xcix]
“Give us water!” cried the people.
“Why have you brought us here, for our beasts and us to die?”
“You led us from Egypt back to this wretched place? It has no grain, no figs, no vines and no pomegranates. It doesn’t even have water to drink.”[c]
Their complaints weren’t unreasonable, nor particularly vile. No one threatened Moses or sought to wrest away control. But with challenge after challenge after challenge to Moses’ authority, this recent round of grumbling seemed much like before.
Moses and Aaron entered the tent of meeting, fell to their knees and bowed low to the earth. This time there was no thunder as the glory of the Lord appeared – only Light from the Lord, which glowed fiercely.
Moses spoke to the Light. “Yes, Lord,” Moses said, “I will take the rod, and Aaron and I shall assemble the congregation. There I shall speak to the rock before their eyes, just as You command and it shall yield water so that the congregation and their beasts may drink.”[ci]
So Moses rose and took the rod, as the Lord had commanded him.[cii] He and Aaron gathered the people once more before the rock, much as they’d done approximately three years ago. But Moses’ countenance had darkened with an uncontrollable rage. Challenge after challenge had seemed to unhinge him.
Moses raised his arms and the people fell silent. “Listen now, you rebels,” Moses spoke to the crowd, “shall we bring forth some water for you out of this rock?”[ciii]
Caleb thought he saw Aaron standing at Moses’ right hand, but the figure stood in shadow where no shadows should be. Aaron was absent, and nowhere to be seen.
Moses lifted his staff and struck the rock twice.[civ] The rock exploded where struck, hurtling stones through the air. Men, women and children were killed where they stood, while others rejoiced as water flowed from the rock. Joshua and Caleb, too, were battered unconscious. But they, unlike the others, eventually recovered.
Moses named the well-spring, “Meribah,” because the sons of Israel contended with the Lord and He proved Himself Holy among them.[cv]
While Joshua and Caleb recovered, they tried to make sense of their injuries.
“What happened?” Joshua asked, as he and Caleb hobbled around.
“I’m not sure,” Caleb responded. “Moses struck the rock twice, and then everything went black.”
Joshua looked at Caleb. “We were the only ones struck who managed to recover. Innocent men, women and children . . . they didn’t survive.”
“What does it mean?” Caleb asked. “Did we do something wrong? Maybe the men, women and children weren’t so innocent after all.”
“I don’t know,” Joshua replied. “I’ll pray for understanding and forgiveness. Whatever happened here, and why, I just don’t understand.”
Even after Joshua and Caleb had fully recovered, neither one of them understood – for many, many, years.
From Kadesh, Moses sent messengers all the way to the king of Edom.[cvi] Caleb and Japeth made the journey in less than a week.
“I am honored that you would think of me,” Japeth said during their journey.
“You have earned my trust, Japeth,” Caleb said in reply. “I can think of no one better to watch my back on such a journey – no one, of course, except Joshua.”
“Of course.” Japeth was embarrassed by compliment, yet incredibly pleased. To be ranked second to Joshua in any endeavor, especially by Caleb, was an honor indeed.
Caleb looked at the Japeth, whose face had reddened at the compliment. Humble, simple, honest and brave. I wish I had more such men like him under my command.
When they reached the borders of Edom, they met three of the King’s men.
“We are your kinsman,” Caleb said, “descendants of Jacob, called Israel, brother of Esau who is also called Edom. We have been sent by our leader to speak with your King. Will you take us to him?”
The three conferred a moment quietly, nodded and one of them sped off.
Caleb and Japeth exchanged glances, but they waited in silence.
The one who appeared to be their leader said, “Come with us. We’ll take you. Our brother has gone ahead, to see if the King will agree to see you. Our brother will meet us along the way with an answer from the King.”
“We have heard of your people,” said one of the King’s men. “You were freed from slavery in Egypt by a powerful sorcerer. You’re more numerous than the stars. You eat of the land and leave little in your wake.”
“We were indeed freed from Egypt,” Caleb confirmed. “But we were freed by our God, through the hand of a man – not a sorcerer, just a man. But a holy man, to be sure.”
As they walked along the road, the messenger returned. “The King will see you,” he said, “if you’ll just come this way.”
In moments they were surrounded by twenty soldiers on the road. Japeth reached for his weapon, but Caleb stayed his hand.
“Not now,” Caleb said. “Bide your time, wait and watch.”
One of the soldiers stepped to the fore. He was a large hairy man, dressed like the others with abundant red hair and a confident bearing. “I’m the King of Edom,” he proclaimed to Caleb’s surprise. “What is it you want? Why seek an audience with me?”
Caleb stepped forward and bowed slightly before beginning to speak. “We are descendants of Israel, called Jacob, brother to Esau. We are your cousins, and we’ve been sent by our leader with a humble request. You know the hardship that’s befallen us, our hard bondage in Egypt. For centuries we were slaves. The Pharaohs wouldn’t let us go. Then our Lord sent a man – not a sorcerer – but a man, who led us out of Egypt with miracles from God. Now, behold, we’re at Kadesh, at the edge of your territory. If you’ll only let us pass, we’ll not pass through field or vineyard nor drink from your wells. We’ll stick to the King’s highway and not turn right nor left and shall pass through your territory as your guests, if you please.”[cvii]
“You are many,” said the King, “like the stars in the sky. I too have sent runners to see for myself. How can so many people pass without consuming the land like locusts? You shall not pass through us, without a fight on your hands.”[cviii]
“Your concerns are honest, good King,” came Caleb’s quick reply, “But if we drink any of your water, or eat any of your food, we will pay its fair price. Only, let us pass on foot.”[cix]
The King’s countenance darkened and his face became stern. “You shall not pass through. Go tell your leader – this sorcerer, man, or whatever you call him. If you attempt to pass through, then we shall have war.”[cx]
Caleb saw the King’s resolve and argued no further, but returned without delay to report back to Moses.
Caleb reported to Moses with Japeth by his side. There would be no fight with Edom, Moses said to Caleb’s relief. There was time to go around. They had no reason to hurry.[cxi]
As the Israelites wandered through the Negev, they were ambushed by soldiers of the Canaanite King of Arad, who took some Israelites as captives. Moses vowed that if the Lord would deliver them, he’d destroy the Canaanites and their cities, which is exactly what Moses did. The war was quick, and decisive.[cxii]
After the war, the Israelites wandered further still, to Oboth, then to Lyeabarim in the wilderness east of Moab. They camped in Wadizered, then journeyed to the other side of Arnon, where they camped in the wilderness at the border of Moab. From there they continued to Beer, then to Mattanah, to Hahaliel, to Bamoth, through the valley of Moab and to the top of Pisgah.[cxiii]
Moses sent Caleb to speak with the Amorite King Sihon. Once again, Caleb took Japeth to watch his back.
“Kings make me nervous,” Japeth said along the way.
“As well they should,” Caleb replied. “Even the best of men are blessed and cursed when saddled with the power of a King. It’s easy for a man with such power to stumble and lose his way.”
As messengers of the millions wandering in the desert, Caleb and Japeth were taken immediately before King Sihon.
“King Sihon,” Caleb said. “We mean no harm to you or your people. We will respect your land and possessions and those of your subjects. Only let us pass through your land. We will not turn off into field or vineyard. We will not drink water from your wells. We will go by the King’s highway until we have passed through your border.”[cxiv]
“No, you shall not pass through,” King Sihon replied. “We have fought against Moab and conquered the fat of their land, even as far as Arnon.[cxv] We have taken the daughters of Moab as captives and scattered their sons as fugitives. We do not fear you, nor your multitudes. You shall not pass through our land.”
Caleb returned with the King’s message and, shortly thereafter, King Sihon gathered his people to fight the Israelites in the wilderness. They fought initially at Jahaz, but Israel struck hard and took possession of the land from the Arnon to the Jabbok and as far as the sons of Ammon at the border of Jazer. Israel took over all of the Amorite cities and villages, including Hesbon, and laid waste to that which they could not make use of as their own.[cxvi]
Then Moses sent Caleb and others to spy out Jazer. Later, at Moses’ bidding, they captured its villages and dispossessed its inhabitants.
After the Amorite war, Joshua and Caleb spoke of the events, for they troubled Caleb deeply.
“We have fought many battles together Joshua,” Caleb said late in the evening as they sat together around a small fire.
Joshua nodded and stoked the fire.
“But each war seems more brutal than the next,” Caleb brooded. “Not the fighting itself so much, for war is war and those willing to fight it offer up their lives. But we’re destroying towns and cities. We’re forcing women and children out of their homes.”
“They give aid and support to their leaders who have wronged us,” Joshua replied. “Should they not bear the burden of their leader’s actions?”
“Do they have any choice?” Caleb asked.
“About bearing the burden?” Joshua responded.
“No, about supporting their husbands, brothers and fathers,” Caleb said. “Most have no say in who leads them, nor in what their leaders do. They are ordinary people, leading their lives in peace until we come along with our army and uproot their lives. Their lives and their possessions become plunder because of the fears and obstinacy of kings.”
“You trouble yourself too much with the concerns of others Caleb,” Joshua said. “I am a simple soldier. I fight who Moses tells me to fight and destroy what Moses tells me to destroy. I cannot lose sleep over the consequences of others’ decisions.”
“But what of your commitment to God?” Caleb asked. “Surely God cannot want us to destroy the homes and lives of innocents.”
“Do you know what God wants, Caleb?” Joshua asked. “I don’t. So for now, at least, I’ll trust in Moses.”
“I don’t know what God wants any more than you,” Caleb conceded. “But there’s a growing darkness within Moses that causes me concern. More and more his actions and orders are resulting in the loss of innocent lives.”
Caleb’s mind wandered over the horrors he had seen. Smoking cities. Innocents killed trying to protect what meager possessions they owned. Soldiers profiting from the destruction, sometimes taking pleasure in the hardship of others.
“I don’t like it much either,” Joshua replied. “But who am I to second guess Moses? Besides, I’ve pledged myself to Moses. There’s no one I owe as much loyalty to, except perhaps you. Surely you’re not suggesting that we stage a revolt?” Joshua asked, half in jest, half concerned.
“No,” Caleb replied. “I am not yet ready to cast my lot with the grumblers and complainers. It’s just . . . the turn of these wars is beginning to concern me and I thought you should know.”
Joshua nodded, appreciating Caleb’s candor. What if, in the name of working God’s will, Caleb asked me to stage a revolt? Joshua wondered. Would I stand behind Caleb, or stand behind Moses? Joshua prayed that he wouldn’t ever face that dilemma.
The Israelite’s army, now battle hardened and well equipped, turned at Moses’ bidding and went up by the way of Bashan, where Og, King of Bashan and all of his people, met Israel for battle at Edrei. Moses sent the army once more into battle.[cxvii] They killed King Og and all of his sons, indeed all of his people, until there was no remnant left and they possessed all of the land.[cxviii]
Mercifully, or not, Caleb fell early in the battle at Edrei and suffered grievous wounds that drove him in and out of consciousness for weeks. Joshua attended him at least once a day and Zipporah served as his nurse maid. Not until Caleb recovered did he learn of the scope of the devastation this last campaign wrought.
What had been a disturbing trend, had now exceeded the limits of Caleb’s conscience. To kill all of the King’s people until there was no remnant left was more than Caleb could bear. How many innocent men, women and children died because of a King’s foolish decision and Moses’ drive for vengeance in the name of the Lord. Caleb brooded and mourned and refused to report to duty for forty days after recovering his strength, for though strong in body he was sick at heart.
Caleb himself had not been called upon to kill innocents, but only because he lay unconscious. It’s only a matter of time, Caleb told himself, alone in his tent. It’s only a matter of time, and what then?
“I don’t think I can do this anymore Joshua,” Caleb said sadly one evening.
Joshua’s brow furrowed with concern. “I need you, Caleb. Our people need you.”
“Our people need more than I can give,” Caleb replied. “The Children of Israel need a leader less attuned to God’s jealousy, anger and vengeance, and more attuned to God’s forgiveness, compassion and love. I need to retire. A simple life, shepherding flocks would do me good. Maybe in solitude I could somehow find that connection to God that comforted me in my youth.”
Joshua said raising an eyebrow. “You are still young, my friend. Nothing is preventing you from taking a wife and starting a new family – nothing except you. That is what you need, the comfort of a wife and family. Abandoning your duties is not the answer.”
Caleb sighed. “We’re in our mid-40’s Joshua. I don’t feel young. I feel . . . tired. Too tired for anger, too tired for guilt and too tired to stand up to Moses – though I know I should. With every new war, our soldiers slaughter more and more innocents. This can’t be God’s will, and I can’t be a part of it.”
“Caleb, I need you at my side,” Joshua implored. “I need your counsel and I need your conscience. Were you not struck down so early in the battle, perhaps the people of Bashan would have fared better after our victory. If you truly believe that we are acting against God’s will, help steer our course.”
“I’ll give it more thought,” Caleb said somberly.
Three days later, Caleb returned to his post with a heavy heart and troubled mind.
I no longer pined for my prince and had finally accepted my lot in life. If I were destined for a husband and children, so be it. But for now, I felt happy and content in with our little family.
Then a miracle occurred. Mother discovered she was expecting. Mother, Nebach and I were overjoyed and danced around the house like children.
Mother became huge. She seemed so happy, she positively glowed. But I’d never seen a woman get so big before. It worried me.
“Would you like to be there, by my side, when I give birth?” Mother asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied hesitantly.
“There’s nothing to fear. I will be fine and we’ll have a baby. You’ll see. But there will be pain and screaming and blood,” she continued.
I had heard enough of the details in the women’s lodge that the information wasn’t knew to me. Still I paled and said, “Blood?” I wasn’t sure if I could stand hearing my mother scream in pain, or seeing the blood of childbirth when it came to my mother.
“Blood is our life spring, Mishael. There is no life without it,” mother explained. There is blood when we sacrifice animals to the Lord. There is blood when the mark of Midian is taken. Do not be afraid of a little blood.
“It’s just a little blood?” I asked in a small voice.
“Well . . . ” mother said, as I bolted outside and threw up.
The clinical details of childbirth didn’t seem so clinical any more. Suddenly, I felt relieved I hadn’t found my prince. Women died in childbirth. Hamarab’s wife had died in childbirth. I knew I should be there for the birth, I just didn’t know if I could do it.
Mother did have her baby with me at her side. It was the most terrifying wondrous event I’d ever witnessed – mother screaming, gasping for breath, crushing my hand, her blood, more than I expected, covering the sheets and making me fear for her life.
The baby came quickly and soon he was in mother’s arms, a healthy little boy. Such perfect little fingers and toes. He even had the tiniest little toenails and fingernails. And he was so alert! He seemed curious about who we were from the moment he was born.
The midwife cut the umbilical cord and tied it off. She cleaned the baby and set him on mother’s chest. Then something else came out of mother – something indescribably gross. The midwife quickly wrapped it up with the soiled sheets and took it out of the room.
I could hear the midwife talking with Nebach outside. Nebach shouted for joy and rushed into the room.
“How are my girls?” Nebach asked, “and my son!” He knelt by mother’s side, caressed her hair and kissed her mouth.
“Hold your son,” mother said, handing the baby to him gently. “Support his head,” she said as she let go of the child.
“My son,” he said with tears in his eyes. Nebach was such a strong confident soldier, I never expected to see tears. He rocked the baby slowly in his arms and made little cooing noises that seemed natural and yet comical at the same time.
“Misha,” Nebach said, turning to me, “would you like to hold your brother?”
“My brother,” I said amazed. “I have a brother! I don’t know . . .”
“It’s ok,” mother confirmed. “Go on. Hold him. Just be sure to support his head. His neck muscles are still very weak.”
Nebach extended his arms and the baby to me and I reached for him instinctively. I held him tenderly, looked into his eyes and fell instantly in love – wholly and unconditionally in love. I have a brother!
“Now we’re a family,” Nebach said, putting his arms around mother and me and, by extension the baby.
“What should we call him?” I asked.
Mother looked at Nebach. They had clearly discussed names. Mother nodded ever so slightly. “We’re going to call him Yehoshua,” they said together.
“Hello, little Yehoshua,” I said looking into his eyes. “I’m your big sister, Mishael, and I’m going to love you and protect you and watch out for you always.”
Little Yoshi, as we came to call him, brightened all of our lives. He would spend hours in my arms, staring into my face and me into his. He had pale white skin and ice blue eyes, with a mass of dark brown curls framing his face. His features were delicate like mine, though he grew stronger and more solid by the day.
Sometimes I pretended Yoshi was my son, not my brother. Many girls my age, some even younger than me, had had their own babies by now. I spent hours tending to Yoshi, playing with him, figuring out ways to make him laugh and smile.
Nebach was right. With Yoshi’s birth, we now felt like a family in a way we never had before. Yoshi tied us together – mother, Nebach and I – by blood and unconditional love.
Yoshi grew so quickly. Time hardly seemed to pass at all. Crawling became walking, and babbling became talking. Soon, he was getting into places he shouldn’t go and asking questions I found challenging to answer.
“Why is the sky blue, Misha?” Yoshi asked, one particularly crisp clear morning.
“You ask the funniest questions.” I replied. “It’s blue because God made it blue.”
“But why did God make it blue?” Yoshi pressed, no longer so young that he would settle for a simple answer to an impossible question.
“Who knows why God does anything?” I answered.
“Medan says that the gods of sky and sea fought, and the sky god won, so the sky is blue and the sea is green,” Yoshi said, furrowing his little brow. I could tell something did not sit right with him in that statement.
“There is only one God,” I insisted. “Elshah Deye, the God of our Ancestors. The other gods people talk about are just make believe.”
Yoshi smiled a moment and then frowned, “But if there is only one God, why is the sky blue?”
I realized that he wanted . . . no, needed, a colorful explanation to rival Medan’s. I thought a moment, before saying, “It’s blue, Yoshi, because that was the favorite color of Midian himself. Midian loved to stare at the sky and think of God. God made the sky blue, even from the beginning of time, because he knew Midian would love it so. Whenever we think of God, Yoshi, He always appreciates it and sometimes, every once in awhile, He goes out of His way to show us how much.”
This answer seemed to satisfy Yoshi, who nodded with a serious face that required me to bite my lip so I wouldn’t laugh.
“Misha?” Yoshi asked.
Will any answer ever do? I wondered. “Yes Yoshi?”
“What’s for dinner?” he asked.
I smiled, and thought back to the happy times I asked that question of Uncle Balaam. “Dinner?” I replied, “Let’s see . . . I think we’re having . . . pickles. Pickles and tickles,” I said.
Yoshi squealed with delight and quick as a flash, rose to his little feet and tried to run away. But I was faster and wrestled him to the ground, tickling him unmercifully until his laughter echoed in my ears and he begged me to stop.
“Keturah, my love, I may not see you for awhile,” Nebach announced on the evening of Yoshi’s fifth birthday. “The King needs my counsel.”
“But husband, Yoshi needs you too and so do I,” mother complained. Mother probably would have said I needed him too, but my eighteenth birthday was approaching and she knew how I valued my independence. “Please Nebach. Must you go?”
“Yes,” Nebach replied, unable to look her in the eye. “Yes, I must -- for the King and for you and Yoshi and Misha. Times are once again becoming dangerous and King Balak grows fearful. Word has crossed the desert that millions of people are crossing desert. Men. Women. Children. They travel with a powerful army and a sorcerer who defeated the Pharaoh himself, as well as several other armies along their way. They have become increasingly violent, killing not just soldiers but the innocents that the soldiers protect.”
“Are these the same people Misha met? Do you think they mean us harm?” mother asked, worried.
“They’re almost certainly the same people that Misha met so long ago,” Nebach responded. “But their army of over half a million men is now battle tested, well equipped and apparently willing to slaughter innocents. They and their army, about two million people, are headed this way.”
“But how does King Balak know they’re aggressive? Maybe they only fight if provoked. Many of the people who wander the desert are simple honest traders, but ruthless if provoke,” Mother argued.
Nebach’s body tensed, his jaw tightened. It’s not Keturah’s fault. She doesn’t want me to leave, not on Yoshi’s birthday. As if I want to leave . . . Nebach forced himself to relax.
“These people are different,” Nebach explained. “They travel with livestock, but not enough food or water to sustain them. They believe their god is supreme and that he will provide, yet they’ll take what they need from others if they need it to survive.”
I sat silently in the corner, listening. The news didn’t frighten me as it should have. I’d seen their aggressive nature first hand. But the long forgotten image of Caleb, his handsome face and strong features, was in the forefront of my mind and made my heart skip a beat.
“Maybe Balaam should talk with them,” I said absently, thinking that religious leaders should be able to talk to each other.
“Misha,” mother exclaimed with a laugh. “The last thing any of us needs is for Balaam to preach to them about the Almighty God of Midian – particularly if they believe their own god is supreme.”
“Your mother is right, Mishael,” Nebach said gently. “These things must be handled with care, though perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to ask Balaam for Elshah Deye’s blessing on Midian. We are, after all, His children – regardless of how many of us have strayed from His ways. If Balaam blessed Midian and cursed these strangers in the name of Elshah Deye, maybe the children of Midian would once again turn to Him and Him alone. We could certain use Elshah Deye’s blessing right now.”
Mother grimaced. “Nebach, my husband, that may well be true. But asking Balaam to bless and curse is a dangerous business where Kings are involved. You know he does only God’s will in such matters.”
Nebach thought for a moment, before nodding his head. “You’re right, of course, my wife,” Nebach smiled, the tension lessening as we talked as a family. “It seems I need your counsel as much as the King needs mine.”
“And you had best remember it while you are away,” Mother replied with a stern look, which bore a hint of a smile.
“I will, my love, I will. But I don’t need to leave until morning, and there is a great deal of counsel you can give me tonight,” Nebach said with a smile more lecherous than subtle.
I furrowed my brows and gave them each a dark glance before they shooed me out into the night to gaze at the stars and wonder what the future would bring.
In difficult times such as these, Nebach spoke to Mother often late at night, when they thought we were asleep. Now, after returning from the King, Nebach spoke in hushed tones that frightened me.
“King Balak spoke of your brother today,”[cxix] Nebach whispered.
“Balaam? Whatever for?” Mother asked.
“The elders of Midian are afraid of the multitudes heading toward us,” Nebach said with a pause.
Mother’s voice tensed, “What does that have to do with Balaam?”
“They have told the King tales of Balaam’s sorcery. Blessings that have healed the dying. Curses that have killed men strong as an ox. They think Balaam can protect Midian,” Nebach answered.
“Surely you counseled the King against this,” Mother responded. “And what of the King’s army? Have the elders of Midian so little faith in the King’s men?”
“The army is strong, but we are still rebuilding from past invasions. Many of the most battle-hardened soldiers were killed, or injured beyond the ability to offer more than training for the young. We have trained many new men, some barely more than boys. But we’re not as strong as we once were, and hardly a match for a battle tested army of over half a million or more. The elders of Midian have reason to fear.”
“But Balaam?” Mother asked, “Didn’t the King ask your counsel. Didn’t you warn him of the risks?”
“He did, and I did,” Nebach responded in a whisper.
“What did he say?” Mother asked.
I’ll tell you exactly, “ ‘Pay him enough money’ Balak said. ‘Have Balaam bless the troops and curse the invaders. If nothing else it might rally the troops to victory. What could be the harm?’ ”
“I hope you told him,” Mother whispered.
“I did. ‘You can’t buy Balaam,’ I said. ‘He believes he’s a man of God – the God of Midian. He’ll do God’s will as he sees it, nothing more, nothing less. He could curse Midian and bless the invaders for all we know.’”
“ ‘Surely not,” said the King. ‘He would destroy his own people to be true to his God?’ ”
“ ‘He would,’ I replied.”
“ ‘He would risk his own life by betraying his King? Balak asked.”
“ ‘He would do as he believes the Lord commands, for he believes the God of our ancestors is God Almighty, the King of Kings, and it is to that King that Balaam offers his unwavering allegiance.’ ”
“ ‘But is it true that those he blesses are blessed, and those he curses are cursed?’ Balak asked.”
“ ‘I have heard it said and believe the truth of it,’ I told Balak. I couldn’t lie to my King. ‘The God of Midian is a powerful God, and Balaam seems to have His ear or, perhaps, the other way around. But the risk is far too great, my friend and King,’ I implored. “Don’t seek out Balaam.”
“But he didn’t listen?” mother asked.
“He listened,” Nebach replied, “But I don’t think he really felt he had a choice. Besides, in Balak’s experience, all men can be bought. It’s just a question of price.” Nebach was quiet a moment and I imagined him shaking his head as he continued, “Balak turned to me and said, ‘You seem to have much knowledge of this sorcerer?’ ”
“ ‘Yes, my King,’ I answered.”
Balak looked at me irritably, “ ‘Must I call my guards to drag it out of you?’ ”
“ ‘I am your guard, my King. Your men are my men,” I told him. ‘But truth be told, I have come to know Balaam well over the last few years because he is Keturah’s brother.’ ”
“ ‘Oh ho! Your brother-in-law?’ Balak smiled, and then frowned, ‘You speak as if he were a traitor to Midian, as if you don’t trust him. Is he really so treacherous?’ ”
“ ‘He is not treacherous, my King. I would trust him with my life and the lives of my wife and son,’ I insisted. ‘But in this matter, he would not view his actions as his own.’”
“ ‘Do you not see,’ Balak continued, his expression keen. ‘What choice do we have? If Balaam doesn’t do as I ask, Midian will face ruin. Have you heard what our spies say about these people, these Israelites, as they apparently call themselves? They took up arms against the Amorites, taking the women captive and forcing the rest to flee from their lands and cities – or worse. Would Balaam see his sister taken captive? And what of that pretty niece? Would Balaam act as his God directs, knowing what these Israelites would do to one so innocent and lovely. What is her name? Mishael?’ ”
I stifled a gasp at the mention of my name. My hand rose immediately my mouth.
“ ‘Yes, my King. Even then.’” Nebach said with what I imagined as a shudder. “ ‘Even then. He loves my family more than life itself. He would die to protect them. But he wouldn’t turn against his God.’ ”
“ ‘I must meet such a man,’ Balak insisted, somewhat incredulously.”
“ ‘Please, my King. Don’t do this,’ I begged, and I’m not one to beg anyone, even the King. ‘Were he to turn you down, what would you do? Would you not be forced to kill him? How could I face my family?’”
“ ‘Nebach, my friend,’ Balak said, putting a hand on my shoulder and meeting my gaze. ‘If the man is as you say, he could be just the rallying cry we need to protect ourselves from these Israelites. How can we not approach him? I am sorry my friend. My mind is set. But I promise you this. Whatever the outcome, he shall not be harmed by my hand, or by anyone under my command. Send the elders of Midian and the elders of Moab to seek out Balaam. Have them journey with him here to the palace that I might speak with him myself.’ ”
“Dear God!” Mother exclaimed. “Would the King keep his word? How could he if Balaam doesn’t do as he asks? And what if Balaam cursed Midian and blessed the Israelites? He has cursed those seeking blessings before.”
“I know, Ket, I know,” Nebach answered. “I think the King would keep his word if Balaam refused to bless Midian, or refrained from cursing Israel. But if he cursed Midian? Or blessed the Israelites? I don’t see how the King could keep his word. We can only pray that Balaam refuses to meet with the King. Given the King’s instruction, however, I could never suggest that Balaam refuse to see the King.”
“Of course,” Mother replied. “But then, Balaam is a great sorcerer. How would it look if he appeared surprised to see the King’s men?”
Shortly before dawn, mother, Yoshi and I set out for the caves that Balaam called home. It was a long walk for Yoshi, who ran ahead and called out for us to hurry when we started the journey, flitting back and forth like a butterfly. Putting his little hand in ours, he pulled us along with his boundless energy, squealing with delight if something new and wondrous caught his attention. Half way there, he rode on my shoulders, then on Mothers. By the time we arrived he was sound asleep and heavy as a log.
“Balaam,” Mother called out in the mid-morning light. “Balaam, where are you?”
“Keturah? Is it you? To what do I owe the . . . . Misha? Yoshi? Why, it’s a family outing! I can’t remember when you all were last here. In fact, has Yoshi ever been here?”
“No, he hasn’t, nor will he again. At least not until he is old enough to make it here without being carried,” Mother huffed.
“So, what brings you here now? Missed me more than you could bear, is that it?” Balaam teased.
“You know we always miss you,” Mother answered truthfully enough, “Just as you know that’s not the reason for our visit.”
Balaam waited in silence rather than ask again.
“The King is sending the elders of Midian and Moab to bring you to the palace. They want you to curse the Israelites heading this way and bless Midian,” Mother answered.[cxx]
“I would like nothing more than to bless Midian. As for cursing the Israelites, I have no desires one way or the other. But curse or bless, bless or curse, these things are in God’s hands,” Balaam responded, “not mine. What fool of a King would ask me for blessings or curses when I cannot promise one or the other?”
“The King respects you, Balaam,” Mother said. “Or, at least, he respects your reputation. He’s heard far and wide of the great Sorcerer Balaam, whose curses cause ill and whose blessings cause miracles. He is afraid of these Israelites, who made short work of the Amorites.”
“Surely he must have heard that I act as God commands in these matters,” Balaam fretted. “Yet still he wants to meet me?”
“Yes,” Mother replied, “But It’s not wise for you to go.”
“You’re telling me?” Balaam said rhetorically, knowing full well the folly of such a course.
“So you’ll refuse to go?” Mother asked hopefully.
“I will do as God wills, in this, as in all things,” Balaam said in a resigned voice. “But enough of this foolish talk of Kings and foreigners. Misha, find me the herbs that help ease a woman’s time, that little desert flower for easing pain. I am visiting the women’s lodge tomorrow and need supplies. I’d like you to join me, as I’ll need you to comfort Dinah.”
“That’s right, her marriage is tonight,” I remembered. I’d almost forgotten because she hadn’t sought out any wedding night advice, though I was invited to the wedding. “Will it take long?” I asked. “I’d like to join tonight’s celebration.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to miss it tonight Misha,” Balaam answered. “Besides, this wedding is nothing to celebrate. Dinah’s betrothed is a brute and a bully of my generation. You will be far more in need tomorrow morning – to comfort and heal.”
“Yes uncle,” I reluctantly agreed.
“Trust me little one,” Balaam continued. “All Dinah will remember in days and weeks to come will be your kindness tomorrow morning. Isn’t she one of your last friends to marry?”
“Yes,” I confirmed, “she’s the last of my true friends to marry, and even then she’s several years younger than I. Her original fiancée died fighting the Amalakites before she came of age. She’s almost an old maid, like me – though she’ll remedy that soon enough.”
Old jealousies surfaced inevitably, albeit briefly, when one of my friends became married.
“Hah!” Balaam scoffed. “Her body’s matured fully only recently, I’d wager.”
“Balaam!” Mother exclaimed in distress, glancing uneasily in Yoshi’s direction to make sure he still slept. “I didn’t think you noticed such things.”
“I may be the Sorcerer of Midian, my sister,” Balaam said. “But I have eyes to see and can appreciate God’s gifts to the eyes. Besides, what kind of a healer would I be if I didn’t notice if my patient were a woman or girl, a man or boy? Now off with you Misha, or your friend will suffer more than need be, as will the women suffering their time of month, if you don’t gather enough supplies.”
Yoshi rubbed his eyes and stood on wobbly legs.
“Ah, little Yoshi stirs,” Balaam announced. “Hello little prince, come give your uncle a kiss.” Balaam walked over, picked him up and gave him a loud kiss on the cheek.
Yoshi giggled and then returned the kiss. “Uncle Balaam,” Yoshi said as Balaam set him on the ground, “I’m hungry. What’s for dinner?”
“Hmmmm. I don’t know. What do you think, Ket, should you tell him or should I?”
“Maybe you should tell him,” mother said, as she and Balaam began to stalk the little boy with exaggerated movements.
“Maybe we should tell him together,” Balaam said.
Yoshi’s little legs started running in place, not sure where to turn. He knew what was coming next.
“Pickles!” said mother and Balaam. “Pickles and tickles,” they said in unison as they pounced.
Yoshi’s squeals of delight and laughter made me smile as I walked into the desert, searching for flowers and herbs.
True to Balaam’s prediction, Dinah had quite a rough time on her wedding night and appreciated my ministrations in the days that followed – much more than if I had attended the nuptials.
I had just begun to wonder if the elders had ever visited Balaam, when Uncle walked into our house and proclaimed without preamble, “Well Ket, you were right.”
“Of course,” Mother said without looking up as we prepared the evening meal. “Hand me those fruits and vegetables Misha.” Turning to Balaam she smiled, “So . . . what am I right about this time?”
“The elders of Moab and Midian came to me yesterday, pompous and self important.[cxxi] ‘Behold, a people came out of Egypt,’ they said. ‘They cover the surface of the land and are living opposite of Midian. King Balak has sent us here, that we may implore you to come to his palace and curse these peoples whose multitudes overwhelm us. We must drive them out of our land, or they shall consume all that we need for our own survival. All of Midian knows that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed. So the King has sent us here with fees for divination, which we have been authorized to pay in advance if you would but come and meet with him.’”
“And?” Mother asked.
“And I said to them, ‘Spend the night here. I’ll bring word back to you as the Lord may speak to me.’ So they spent the night with me. Not bad men, actually, once they get a meal in their stomachs and wine in their bellies.”
“But in the night,” Balaam continued, “I had a dream in which God came to me as Voice and Light and asked who these men were. I said, ‘The King of Moab has sent them saying there is a people who have come out of Egypt, who cover the face of the earth. The King has asked for my blessing, because he fears he cannot overcome them and drive them out.’ “ ‘Thou shall not go with them,’ the Voice said. ‘Thou shall not curse this people, for they are blessed.’”
“What did you do Balaam?” Mother asked.
Balaam raised an eyebrow. “What do you think? I rose up in the morning and refused to go. ‘The Lord will not let me join you,’ I said. Then they left.”
Mother fretted a bit. “Will the King be angry?”
“Better you ask Nebach that question when next you see him,” Balaam replied. “He knows the King’s mind, not I. But better the King be angry with me for not coming when summoned, than be furious with me for coming and refusing to do his bidding in his presence. It was you, after all, who warned me not to go.”
“True,” mother conceded. “I’ll talk to Nebach when he returns home. If you’re in particular danger I’ll send word.”
“Thank you Ket. You’re a good sister,” Balaam replied.
“And you, my dear brother,” Keturah said, “are a pain in the . . .”
“Now, now,” Balaam interrupted, “I think, perhaps I should take my leave.”
“Go with God, Balaam,” mother said, with a worried smile.
“Always,” Balaam replied, as he turned to go.
“Balak was furious,” Nebach said when he returned days later. “I’ve never heard him curse the princes of Midian so thoroughly for their incompetence. ‘Fools! Idiots!’ he yelled. ‘You can’t convince an old man to come meet with his King? What difference that he might not be able to do as I ask! You couldn’t even convince him to meet with me? There must be more competent princes within Midian who can convey a simple summons on behalf of their King?’”
“This doesn’t sound good,” mother replied.
“No, but at least the King’s anger burned towards Midian’s princes and not Balaam. It’s good that Balaam stayed away,” Nebach countered. “I shudder to think what would have happened if he came when summoned, particularly if he blessed Israel or cursed Midian. It’s one thing to refuse the King’s minions. It’s another thing entirely to refuse the King himself and worse yet to do the opposite of the King’s bidding.”
“That’s what Balaam said,” mother replied.
“You’ve seen him?” Nebach asked.
“Yes, days ago, just after the King’s men had left. He was distraught and concerned. But he was pleased that the Lord would not let him go as summoned. So can I tell him that he’s safe?” mother inquired.
“For the moment, yes,” Nebach responded. “But only for the moment. The King has sent new minions – men of greater stature, power and authority to request Balaam’s presence. Balak justified in his own mind that Balaam refused on the grounds that the men the King sent were weak minded fools, unworthy of the King’s message. This next group of messengers will be harder to refuse.”
“But should he refuse?” Mother asked.
“That I can’t say,” Nebach replied. “The King has promised not to harm Balaam, whatever may happen. But if Balaam were to go and if he should do or say something rash . . .”
Mother sighed, “These are dangerous times for my brother.”
“Indeed,” Nebach agreed, “and not just for your brother. With millions of Israelites encamped on our border, dark clouds are gathering, Ket. I fear for the future of Midian.”
“Then we must live for the moment,” Mother said without hesitation.
“You’ve taken the words right out of my mouth, dear wife,” Nebach replied as he leaned towards her for a tender kiss that blossomed into passion.
Mother warned Balaam and days passed before we heard anything. Then Balaam slipped into our home well before dawn. He woke up Nebach and Keturah as I pretended to sleep.
“The King’s messengers returned as you said,” Balaam exclaimed while trying to whisper. “They promised honor, and riches and whatever I desired if I would but come with them and see the King.”[cxxii]
“I am afraid to hear how you responded,” Mother said as her eyes followed her pacing brother.
“I told them that if Balak gave me his house full of silver and gold, I could not come with them without leave of the Lord and would do no more or less than His word,” Balaam responded. “But I told them to stay the night and I would pray to the Lord and seek His guidance.”
“What did you tell them?” Nebach pressed, less interested in Balaam’s discussions with God than his ultimate response.
“I haven’t told them anything, yet. But I’ll have to tell them I will go,” Balaam answered. “I prayed and the Lord told me in a dream that I should rise up and go with them. He also said, ‘the words which I say to you, that shall you do,’” Balaam continued pacing.
“I don’t like the sound of that,” Mother worried. “It sounds ominous.”
Nebach choose his words carefully and spoke slowly “Maybe . . . the Lord will let you do the King’s bidding. Or maybe . . . He will let you be silent. But whatever He says, or doesn’t say, give some thought to what He really means. Perhaps there is a way you can do the Lord’s bidding and the King’s or, at the very least, not refuse to serve either master.”
“Perhaps,” Balaam replied. “You offer wise counsel, Nebach. No wonder the King values you so. I will listen to the Lord and do my best to serve both masters. In the end, though, there is only one King whose Word I must follow.”
“Do take care, brother,” mother said, with a slight tremor in her voice.
“Of that,” Balaam replied, “you can definitely be sure.”
After he left, Mother turned to Nebach, “Please try to protect him my love.”
“I’ll do what I can, Ket. Of that you can also be sure,” Nebach replied, and emphasized the truth of it with a kiss.
Balaam was gone for many days, as was Nebach. Mother and I were beginning to worry when, one night, Balaam came bursting into our home looking as dishelved and troubled as ever I had seen him.
“Ket! Ket!,” he cried out, “We must talk. I need to speak with you, please. Where are you? Ket?”
“Here, here I am,” mother replied. “Calm down, Balaam. You’re scaring the baby.”
Little Yoshi, startled by Balaam’s sudden appearance and frantic demeanor, had started to cry.
The sound of Yoshi’s crying and the sight of his tears snapped Balaam out of his frenzy. He turned to comfort the little boy. “It’s ok Yoshi,” Balaam said in a soothing voice. “Uncle Balaam was just excited because something extraordinary has happened.”
“Something extra-ordinary?” Yoshi said, sounding out the difficult word.
“Yes, something extraordinary,” Balaam continued, having noticeably calmed himself, but still breathing hard. “Uncle Balaam just returned from a trip.”
“A trip?” Yoshi said with a question in his voice.
“Yes, little one. A difficult journey,” Balaam replied.
“Did you take He-yah?” Yoshi asked, speaking of Balaam’s donkey.
“Why, yes! Yes I did,” Balaam answered, “and it’s a good thing, too. He-yah saved my life!”
“He-yah saved your life?” Yoshi asked, his eyes widening as mother and I looked at each other, wondering where Balaam’s story would lead. Knowing Balaam, he’d tell us part of what he wanted to say through his story to Yoshi.
“Yes, he did,” Balaam affirmed.
“How uncle? How?” Yoshi asked excitedly.
“If I tell you, do you promise to go to bed like a good little boy when the story is done?” Balaam asked.
“I don’t want to go to bed,” Yoshi said pouting.
“Oh well, I guess the story will have to keep for another day . . .” Balaam said letting his voice trail off.
“No. No,” Yoshi said. “I’ll go to bed right after, I promise. Please uncle Balaam. I want to hear about He-yah.”
“Ok. Ok,” Balaam laughed sitting down in front of Yoshi, and winking at mother and I. Balaam’s breathing had returned to normal, he straightened his garments, ran his hands through his unruly hair and settled in to tell Yoshi a bed-time story.
“I’ll tell you a story,” Balaam began, “and it’s truly extraordinary. Hard as it may be to believe, it happened exactly this way.”
Yoshi’s eyes widened in anticipation. He loved Balaam’s bed-time stories, as did we all. Uncle Balaam possessed a true gift for story telling.
“Well,” Balaam continued, “I was riding on He-yah to meet with the King of Midian . . .”
“The King!” Yoshi gasped, as mother and I gave Balaam our full attention.
“Now you mustn’t interrupt,” Balaam chastised gently.
“Ok,” Yoshi agreed.
Balaam continued, “Well then, where was I? Oh yes, He-yah seemed to have a mind of her own and ran off into a field.[cxxiii] So I slapped her on the rump and turned her aside, and we resumed our way. Then we came to a pass in the mountains that led to vineyards and there was plenty of room to move forward, but He-yah acted up again and thrust herself against the wall, crushing my foot,” Balaam said, pantomiming an injured foot and limping around the room in an exaggerated comical manner.
Yoshi giggled at Balaam’s antics. “What did you do?” Yoshi finally asked, unable to wait any longer for the tale.
“I struck her on the rump and yelled at her,” Balaam said, furrowing his brow in anger.
“You shouldn’t hit He-yah,” Yoshi said, furrowing his own little brows.
“You,” Balaam said, holding Yoshi’s face in his hands and looking into his eyes “are a smart little boy.”
Yoshi smiled and Balaam continued, “So I tried to make He-yah go through the pass, but she refused to go and fell down underneath me, hurting my foot again. It made me so angry, that I hit He-yah with my staff.”
“Uncle!” Yoshi exclaimed, “You didn’t!”
“I did,” Balaam admitted. “And I am not proud of it, particularly not after what happened next . . .” Balaam said, pausing dramatically.
“What happened next?” Yoshi asked, jumping up and down. “What happened next?”
“Something extraordinary,” Balaam replied. “He-yah looked at me, opened her mouth and said, plain as day, ‘What have I done to you that you have hit me these three times?’”
“Now you’re just teasing,” Yoshi said laughing. “He-yah can’t talk.”
“Well, normally she can’t. But remember, this is an extraordinary story,” Balaam explained.
“Extra-ordinary?” Yoshi said, nodding his head as if Balaam’s explanation made sense. “Oh, yeah. I remember. What did you do?”
“I was so surprised, I fell over, plop! Right on my bottom,” Balaam said, demonstrating what had occurred.
“But He-yah just looked at me, awaiting an answer to his question,” Balaam continued. “I looked straight at He-yah and said, ‘I hit you because you mocked me! If I had a sword in my hand, I would have killed you!’ ”
“Uncle Balaam! You wouldn’t really hurt He-yah would you?” Yoshi asked distraught.
“No. Of course not,” Balaam replied. “I was just frightened. He-yah never talked before.”
“Extraordinary,” Yoshi said.
“Yes. Truly extraordinary,” Balaam agreed. “Then He-yah said, ‘Am I not your donkey? Have you not ridden me since I became yours to this very day? Have I ever not done as you say?’ ”
“ ‘You have always been a very good donkey, He-yah,’ I admitted.”
“Yes! Yes!” Yoshi said clapping his little hands together, “He-yah’s a very good donkey.”
“Yes, he is,” Balaam continued, “But you will never guess what happened next.”
“What?” Yoshi asked, captivated.
“Something even more extraordinary. A blinding white light appeared in front of me, and in the midst of the light an angel stood with his sword drawn.”
Yoshi gasped and covered his eyes. Peeking out between his fingers, his eyes as wide as saucers, Yoshi asked, “What did you do?”
“I fell to my knees, bowed my head to the ground and prayed he would not strike me like I had threatened to strike He-yah,” Balaam said seriously.
Yoshi, mother and I listened intently.
“Then the angel of the Lord said in a booming Voice, ‘Why did you strike your donkey three times? I have stood in your way so that you would turn aside and consider what you were doing. You were thinking about twisting the Word of the Lord so that you could avoid offending King Balak. The donkey saw me and turned from me these three times, even though your eyes were closed to me and to the Lord. If she had not turned from me, surely I would have killed you and left her alive.’”
Yoshi’s face brightened and he said simply “The angel liked He-yah.”
“More than me, I am afraid,” Balaam chuckled. “So I said to the angel, ‘I have sinned. It is as you say, my eyes were not open to the Lord, so focused was I on not offending King Balak. I did not know that you stood in the way. If it displeases you for me to meet with Balak, I will turn back this instant.’ But the angel shook his head and said, ‘Go with the men. But only the word that I shall speak to you shall you say.’ ”
“And that, little one,” Balaam continued, “is how He-yah saved my life.”
“Extraordinary,” Yoshi said, his eyes shining.
“Yes,” Balaam replied, “Truly extraordinary. Now, be a good little boy and go straight to bed, or no more extraordinary stories for you in the future.”
“I’m a big boy!” he said before racing off to bed, jumping in, shutting his eyes tight and pretending to fall asleep instantly.
“So you are,” Uncle mused. “So you are.”
“If only he would listen to me that well,” mother sighed.
“So,” mother said smiling, “What really happened out there?”
“Why, Ket,” Balaam responded, “Whatever do you mean?”
Mother looked at him skeptically, before saying, “What had you so distraught only a few moments ago?”
“I just love that little boy,” Balaam said, avoiding the question. “I look at him and I gain so much perspective.”
“So you are not going to tell me?” mother pressed. Glancing briefly in my direction she asked, “Does Mishael need to leave?”
“Mother!” I said. “I’m not a child.”
“No,” Balaam said quickly. “She is old enough to hear. But I’m afraid the rest of the story is a little less amusing than what I told little Yoshi.”
“Go on,” Keturah said.
“King Balak met me at the border of Arnon and the meeting did not start well.[cxxiv] ‘Did I not ask you to come before? Why did you refuse me? Am I not capable of honoring you as you see fit?’ Balak asked.”
“ ‘I have come to you now,’ I replied. “But the word I can speak is only that which the Lord has put in my mouth.’ ”
“ ‘Come,’ Balak commanded and took me to Kir-jath-hu-zothe. There he offered me oxen and sheep as gifts. Then he took me to the high places of Baal, so that I could see the multitudes encamped on our borders – a truly frightening sight, dear sister . . . and niece,” he added with a nod in my direction.
“I have seen it before,” I reminded him.
“So you have,” Balaam agreed. “There I said to Balak, ‘Build me seven alters and prepare me seven oxen and seven rams,’ which he did.[cxxv] When the preparations were complete, we offered the bulls and rams, one each on each of the seven alters. ‘Stand by the alter,’ I told Balak, ‘and I will go meet with the Lord. Whatsoever he shows me, I will tell you.’”
“So I went to a high place, even higher than the high place of Baal,” Balaam continued. “There I met with the Lord, and told him that which I had done. The Lord put the Word in my mouth that I was to speak to Balak and sent me back to the alters, to the King and to the princes.”
“Oh, God,” Keturah moaned, “I don’t like where this is going.”
“Hmmph,” responded Balaam. “Turning to Balak and the princes of Midian, I spoke the Words the Lord gave to me, ‘Balak, King of Moab has brought me from Aram, out of the mountains of the east, saying, ‘Come, curse Jacob for me. Come, defy Israel.’ How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? How shall I defy, whom the Lord has not defied? For from the top of the rocks I see Him, and from the hills I behold Him. The people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned with among the nations. Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of even a fourth of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!”
“Balaam!” mother exclaimed, “were you trying to get yourself killed?”
Balaam just shook his head, “I say what the Lord commands, nothing more, nothing less.” Balaam’s breathing had quickened, but he continued, “Balak turned to me, red faced and said, ‘What have you done to me? I brought you here to curse my enemies, and you bless them?’ ”
“You’re lucky he didn’t kill you where you stood,” Keturah said.
Balaam ignored her and continued, “ ‘Must I not listen to the Lord, and take care to speak that which the Lord has put in my mouth?” I asked. ‘Come,’ Balak commanded, “we shall try another place from where you can see the multitudes who threaten the very lives of our people. You shall see them spread out in all directions like locusts, and even then you shall not see them all. You shall curse them for me from there.’ ”
“So he brought me to the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah, built seven alters and offered a bull and a ram on each. There I said to him, ‘Wait here by your burnt offering while I go and meet with the Lord.’ ”
“There I met with the Lord, who once again put the Word in my mouth. I returned me to Balak, where I said before the King and all his princes assembled, ‘Rise up, Balak and hear. Listen to me, son of Zippor. God is not a man that He should lie, nor the son of man that He should repent. That which He says, shall He not do? That which He speaks, shall it not be True? Behold, I have been commanded by God to bless, and so have I blessed. That I cannot reverse. The Lord has not beheld sin in Jacob, nor seen perverseness in Israel. The Lord God is with them and the shout of a king is among them. God has brought them out of Egypt with a strong hand. No enchantment or divination shall bring them down, or destroy what God has wrought. The people you see spread before you shall rise up as a great lion and shall not lie down before it has eaten its prey and drunk the blood of the slain.”
“Balaam!” Keturah gasped, “Are you insane? What were you thinking?”
“I wasn’t thinking,” Balaam answered. “I couldn’t think. I could only say the words placed in my mouth by the Lord. I heard myself speaking as if in a dream, only I was awake and terrified and unable to remain silent.”
“Oh Balaam. What did the King do?” mother asked.
“He turned to me and screamed, “Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all you fool! If you cannot curse them, remain silent or by Baal you shall not live to see another sunrise.’”
“ ‘I fear not Baal, nor you Balak. Only the God of our ancestors, the God of Midian. Did I not tell you that all the Lord speaks, I must do?’ I said, with steel in my voice.”
“ ‘Come,’ Balak implored, ‘Please. I will bring you to another place and perhaps there it shall please God that you curse these cursed people.’ ”
“So he took me to the top of Peor, facing Jeshimon, and I said to Balak, ‘Build me seven alters and sacrifice seven more bulls and seven more rams,’ which he did. This time I knew that the Lord’s resolve was firm, and I did not as the other times seek his permission to curse Israel.[cxxvi] As I looked out across the multitudes, the people living in their tents according to their tribes, the Spirit of God came upon me and I said, ‘Balaam, son of Beor has said – the man whose eyes are open, who has heard the words of God and seen visions of the Almighty as if in a waking trance has said – How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, and your tabernacles O Israel! As the valleys are spread forth like gardens by the river side, as the trees and aloes which the Lord has planted, even as the cedar trees beside the waters grow, He shall pour the water out of the buckets and His seed shall be in many waters, and His king shall be higher than Agag, and His kingdom exalted. God brought Israel forth with a strong hand, with mythic strength. He shall eat up the nations that are his enemies, and shall break their bones and pierce them through with his arrows. You have fallen, O Midian, from your place among the exalted who worshipped the exalted One. You have forsaken the Lord God of your ancestors. Israel has become like a lion. Who shall stir him up? Blessed are those who bless Israel, and cursed are those who curse him.’”
“Ah, Ket,” Balaam said sadly, “the words I spoke poured forth through my mouth like water through a stream, unstoppable, until Balak clapped his hands together in rage and screamed, ‘I brought you here to curse my enemies and behold you have blessed them here these three times! Flee to your home, Balaam, or as Baal is my witness I will strike you dead myself. I thought to honor you this day, but your Lord has kept you from that honor.’ ”
“Balak’s actions and words broke my trance and, as the fog cleared, I replied, ‘Did I not tell your messengers that if you were to give me a house full of silver and gold I could not do other than that which my Lord commanded? My will is not my own. That which the Lord would have me speak, I must speak.’ ”
“Then the words which had come unbidden, gripped me once more and I said, ‘Behold, I will go to my people and tell them what will become of them in these latter days. Balaam, the son of Beor whose eyes are open, who has heard the Word of God and knows the knowledge of the Most High, who has seen a vision of the Almighty, and spoken as in a trance but with his eyes open, says: I shall see him, but not now. I shall behold him, but not near. A star shall rise from Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy the Children of Sheth. Edom shall be a possession, so as shall be Seir. And Israel shall do valiantly. Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion, and shall destroy him that remains of the city.’ Looking out over Amelek I continued, ‘Amelek was the first of the nations, but in the end he shall perish forever.’ Looking out upon the Kenites, I thundered, ‘Strong is thy dwelling place among the rock. But the Kenite shall be destroyed, and taken captive by Ashur. Who shall live when God is so angered? Ships shall come from the coasts of Shittim and shall afflict Asher and Eber and they shall perish forever.’”
“I left in a daze,” Balaam continued, “and I don’t know what became of Balak.”
“Uncle,” I whispered, my face pale and bottom lip trembling, “what have you done? How can the King let you live? You must flee, hide, find some place of shelter.”
“Where can I find shelter, except in the bosom of the Lord,” Balaam replied sadly. “The Lord has placed me in harm’s way. If it is His will to protect me, so be it. If not, I have no regrets for I have served Him as well as I know.”
“What is to become of us, Balaam?” mother asked. “What is to become of Midian?”
“I don’t know, Ket,” Balaam replied sadly, shaking his head. “But I am more afraid for Midian than I am for myself. As a people we have fallen away from the ways of our Lord, and He is very very angry. The future of Midian looks dark indeed.”I wished Nebach were home to protect us. But he hadn’t yet returned. For the first time in years, I slept in bed with my mother and enjoyed the comfort of her touch, the feel of her stroking my hair as we lay awake in the darkness, unable to sleep.
[i] Exodus, 35:1 - 39:43.
[ii] Exodus, 40:17.
[iii] Exodus, 40:34-35.
[iv] Exodus, 40:38.
[v] Leviticus, 9:1-4.
[vi] Leviticus, 9:5.
[vii] Leviticus, 9:6.
[viii] Leviticus, 9:7.
[ix] Leviticus, 9:8.
[x] Leviticus, 9:9-11.
[xi] Leviticus, 9:12-14.
[xii] Leviticus, 9:15-16.
[xiii] Leviticus, 9:18-19.
[xiv] Leviticus, 9:22-23.
[xv] Leviticus, 9:24.
[xvi] Leviticus, 10:1.
[xvii] Leviticus, 10:2.
[xviii] Leviticus, 10:3.
[xix] Leviticus, 10:4-5.
[xx] Leviticus, 10:6-7.
[xxi] Leviticus, 11:1 – 26:34.
[xxii] Numbers, 9:3-5.
[xxiii] Numbers, 1:1.
[xxiv] Numbers, 1:17-19.
[xxv] Numbers, 1:45-46.
[xxvi] Numbers, 1:26-30.
[xxvii] Numbers, 1:21-25.
[xxviii] Numbers, 1:33-37.
[xxix] Numbers, 1:38-43.
[xxx] Numbers, 10:11-25.
[xxxi] Numbers, 11:1-8.
[xxxii] Numbers, 11:16-19.
[xxxiii] Numbers, 11:24-25.
[xxxiv] Numbers, 11:27.
[xxxv] Numbers, 11:27.
[xxxvi] Numbers, 11:28.
[xxxvii] Numbers, 11:29.
[xxxviii] Numbers, 11:31.
[xxxix] Numbers, 11:33.
[xl] Numbers, 11:35.
[xli] Joshua, 14:7.
[xlii] Numbers, 12:1.
[xliii] Numbers, 12:1.
[xliv] Numbers, 12:2.
[xlv] Numbers, 12:4.
[xlvi] Numbers, 12:11.
[xlvii] Numbers, 12:13-15.
[xlviii] Numbers, 12:13:3.
[xlix] Numbers, 13:8.
[l] Numbers, 13:6.
[li] Numbers, 13:4-16.
[lii] Numbers, 13:17-20.
[liii] Numbers, 13:21-24.
[liv] Numbers, 13:25.
[lv] Numbers, 13:27.
[lvi] Numbers, 13:28-29.
[lvii] Numbers, 13:30.
[lviii] Numbers, 13:31.
[lix] Numbers, 13:32-33.
[lx] Numbers, 14:1-2.
[lxi] Numbers, 14:2-3.
[lxii] Numbers, 14:4.
[lxiii] Numbers, 14:5-6.
[lxiv] Numbers, 14:7-9.
[lxv] Numbers, 14:10.
[lxvi] Numbers, 14:11-12.
[lxvii] Numbers, 14:13-19.
[lxviii] Numbers, 14:20.
[lxix] Numbers, 14:21-23.
[lxx] Numbers, 14:24.
[lxxi] Numbers, 14:24.
[lxxii] Numbers, 14:26-30.
[lxxiii] Numbers, 14:31-35.
[lxxiv] Numbers, 14:36-39.
[lxxv] Numbers, 14:40.
[lxxvi] Numbers, 14:41-43.
[lxxvii] Numbers, 14:44-45.
[lxxviii] Numbers, 16:1-3.
[lxxix] Numbers, 16:4.
[lxxx] Numbers, 16:5-7.
[lxxxi] Numbers, 16:7-10.
[lxxxii] Numbers, 16:11.
[lxxxiii] Numbers, 16:12.
[lxxxiv] Numbers, 16:13.
[lxxxv] Numbers, 16:14.
[lxxxvi] Numbers, 16:15.
[lxxxvii] Numbers, 16:16-19.
[lxxxviii] Numbers, 16:20-22.
[lxxxix] Numbers, 16:25-27.
[xc] Numbers, 16:28-30.
[xci] Numbers, 16:31-33.
[xcii] Numbers, 16:34.
[xciii] Numbers, 16:35.
[xciv] Numbers, 16:41.
[xcv] Numbers, 16:42.
[xcvi] Numbers, 16:43-45.
[xcvii] Numbers, 16:46.
[xcviii] Numbers, 16:47-50.
[xcix] Numbers, 20:1-2.
[c] Numbers, 20:3-5.
[ci] Numbers, 20:8.
[cii] Numbers, 20:9.
[ciii] Numbers, 20:10.
[civ] Numbers, 20:11.
[cv] Numbers, 20:13.
[cvi] Numbers, 20:14.
[cvii] Numbers, 20:14-17.
[cviii] Numbers, 20:18.
[cix] Numbers, 20:19.
[cx] Numbers, 20:20.
[cxi] Numbers, 20:21.
[cxii] Numbers, 21:1-3.
[cxiii] Numbers, 21:10-19.
[cxiv] Numbers, 21:21-22.
[cxv] Numbers, 21:26.
[cxvi] Numbers, 21:21-25.
[cxvii] Numbers, 21:32-33.
[cxviii] Numbers, 21:35.
[cxix] Numbers, 22:1-5.
[cxx] Numbers, 22:5-6.
[cxxi] Numbers, 22:7-14.
[cxxii] Numbers, 22:16-21.
[cxxiii] Numbers, 22:22-34.
[cxxiv] Numbers, 22:36-41.
[cxxv] Numbers, 23:1-30.
[cxxvi] Numbers, 24:1-25.