Chapter 4: The God of Our Ancestors
“Your brother is a madman,” Nebach ranted when he returned home three days later, “a reckless, foolish madman! Do you have any idea how hard it was for me to keep the King from killing Balaam on the spot? Do you have any idea how close King Balak came to ordering my own death at Balaam’s side, so foolish was I to try to protect him? My God, Ket, I’ve never seen the King in such a state. He’s a good man, but he’s terrified for his people. He needed Balaam’s curse to give the people the strength to fight a superior force. Instead, Balaam blessed the biggest threat Midian has ever faced. He blessed them! Could he not have simply refused? Stayed home? Said, ‘No’? Now the army is even more demoralized than ever and King Balak is desperate. At least Balaam was able to leave uninjured in the bedlam that followed.”
“What will the King do?” Keturah asked.
“I don’t know. Seek peace. Seek mercy. I don’t know,” Nebach replied, focused on the plight of Midian, “All I know for now is that Balak has consulted the priests of Baal, the elders of Midian and even Cozbi’s father, Zur, for guidance. According to Zur, the multitudes on our borders worship a golden calf as their god. Apparently, one of Zur’s best selling items when he stayed in their camp years ago were his idols of Baal. ‘Perhaps the women of Midian should invite the people at our borders to join us in worship,’ the priests of Baal suggested. ‘Yes, yes!’ the elders of Midian added, “The women of Midian would be no threat to the Israelites, and if the Israelites aren’t interested or, Baal forbid, take offense – it won’t be the King who’s offended them, just some Midianite women. Even then, diplomacy may still have a chance.’ It seemed a reasonable plan, so Balak asked the elders of Midian and others he trusts, such as Zur, to send their daughters into the midst of Israel, unofficially mind you, as a gesture of good will.”[i]
“Baal,” Mother harrumphed, “It is a good thing Balaam doesn’t know. He would go on another tirade for sure.”
“And get us all killed in the process,” Nebach added, pacing. “Don’t talk to me of your brother. When I think of the danger he’s created . . . not just for himself, but for you and me, the children and all Midian.”
“Is it really that bad, husband?” mother asked reaching for Nebach’s arm as his pacing brought him near.
“Yes, and then some,” Nebach said, a far away look in his eyes. “If the invitation to share in worship doesn’t work, then diplomacy will be our last option and, failing that, war or surrender.”
“But Nebach, you have fought superior foes before, and won,” Keturah insisted.
“Yes, we have, recently in fact. Too recently. We are not as strong as we once were. If everything fell our way, if the army was confident and inspired, and if we were blessed by a miracle – no small miracle mind you – perhaps we could prevail. Perhaps . . . but even then, I hate to think of what would remain,” Nebach said shaking his head.
“What should we do?” mother asked.
“Pray,” Nebach replied, “Pray like your life depends upon it.”
The people encamped at Shittim[ii] on the plains of Moab in the heart of Midian. To Caleb’s surprise, they weren’t visited by traders, not even Zur. But some Midianite women had been curious, and came by to visit.
It seemed odd and out of place and Caleb couldn’t help but be suspicious. Women don’t usually travel alone or even by themselves, without men to protect them. Perhaps they were prostitutes, without men for protection.
“There’s a disturbing trend in camp,” Joshua informed him. “The women of Midian are corrupting the men of Israel.”
“Corrupting?” Caleb asked, misunderstanding Joshua’s meaning. “Since when do you care of such things? Men will be men. They need the attention of women.”
“It’s not corruption of the flesh that troubles me,” Joshua explained. “This is worse, far worse. It’s corruption of the spirit. The women of Midian have enticed Israelites to worship Baal.”
Caleb drew in a long breath, held it, then exhaled slowly through his nose. “This will not go over well with Moses,” Caleb replied. “He’s become increasingly agitated lately, and I’m afraid this may push him over the edge.”
“Maybe he’ll simply let God take care of this one,” Joshua offered. “God does seem to be taking this to heart. Nearly 24,000 people have died from a new plague now afflicting the camps.”[iii]
A soldier raced up to them and skidded to a stop. “Joshua! Caleb! Come quickly. Moses is assembling the judges. He’s furious.”
Caleb and Joshua looked at each other and, without a word, walked briskly towards the tent of meeting. The soldier followed like a puppy at their heels.
Caleb glanced back at the soldier. “Tell the captains to meet us at the tent of meeting,” Caleb ordered. “Now!” Caleb added, when he didn’t instantly comply.
The soldier raced away to carry out his orders.
As Caleb and Joshua reached the tent of meeting, the gathering crowd slowed their progress. Caleb and Joshua pushed their way through and then stopped outside the tent to assess the situation.
They heard Moses inside the tent, addressing the judges. “The Lord has spoken to me saying, ‘Take all the leaders of the people and execute them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.’ The Lord is outraged that the leaders of Israel have allowed those within their charge to play the harlot by worshipping Baal.”[iv]
“But many of the elders may not have known that their people were betraying the Lord,” one of the judges protested. “Would the Lord require their death simply because they didn’t respond to misdeeds unknown to them?”
“We shall see who knows what and who ignored what,” Moses replied. “But your point is a good one, and I shall bring it before the Lord. In the meantime, slay all of the men who have joined themselves to Baal of Peor. For they knew the Law and cannot claim ignorance.”[v]
The judges nodded in agreement, though many wept – knowing how the unpleasant task set before them would affect the loved ones of those who would die.
As the judges were exiting the tent, Zimri approached with Cozbi on his arm. As always, she wore a little golden calf around her neck.[vi]
Zimri and Cozbi stopped before reaching the tent of meeting and greeted the man’s relatives. “Sister,” he said proudly, this is Cozbi, daughter of Zur, the head of a wealthy Midianite household.”[vii]
Zimri’s relative said a brief, “Hello,” before Zimri and Cozbi walked off arm in arm.
So enamored were the pair that they walked straight into a group of angry judges. In moments, they found themselves surrounded by hostile faces as angry judges shouted, waived their fists, tore their own clothes and spat on the ground.
Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb emerged from the tent of meeting and waded through the crowd of judges.
“What’s going on here?” Moses demanded.
“This man, Zimri son of Salu, is a leader of a household. He has sinned gravely with this woman, who brazenly wears an idol among us,” the man shouted, pointing at the little golden calf that hung around Cozbi’s neck.
Caleb paled at the realization that the woman in question was Mishael’s friend, Cozbi, whom he had met so long ago.
Moses turned to Zimri and said “What have you to say for yourself, Zimri, son of Salu?”
Zimri put his arm around the woman protectively and said, “This woman came to me and asked if I would join her in worship of Baal. She doesn’t know our customs and ways. I should have said, ‘no,’ but I have been so long without the company of a woman, and have never known anyone like her,” he said with a smile in her direction. “I have sinned gravely, Moses, I know. But please, forgive me. And do not punish her, for she doesn’t know our ways.”
“It is not I who must forgive,” said Moses, raising his voice so that all could hear. “It is God who forgives and the angel who bears God’s name as a part of his own – the one who goes before us in the desert.[viii] Ask God to pardon your offenses, or ask the angel to intercede, but do not ask me for forgiveness, for I cannot grant it.”
Caleb turned to Japeth, who’d appeared moments before and said, “Have someone bring Zipporah. Quickly! Go now!”
Turning to Cozbi, Moses spoke harshly, “Who are you to bring such sin upon us? Why have you come to entice us away from the worship of our Lord?”
Cozbi stood mute, uncomprehending, as a slight trembling gripped her body.
Moments later, though it seemed like an eternity, Japeth returned with Zipporah.
Moses repeated himself to Zipporah, who translated what Moses had said.
“Sir,” the woman said meekly from the shelter of Zimri’s arms, “I . . . I meant no offense. I am Cozbi. My father Zur is the leader of a great household within Midian. I have been sent as an emissary from King Balak himself, who counts my father a trusted friend. Father and I met with the King at Beor, overlooking your encampment. Balak said, ‘Behold, these people spread out over the land are mighty and numerous. Go to them in peace, and seek out those who would join you in worship of Baal. Be friendly and inviting, for you are an emissary of Midian and our fate rests with you.’”
When Zipporah finished translating, the judges gasped in shock. Moses’ face reddened with anger and surprise.
“You c-c-came here at the direction of King Balak?” Moses said, with a slight stutter of disbelief. “He hasn’t even sent an official emissary of peace and friendship, yet he seeks to undermine our strength, the bedrock which grounds us, our faith in the Lord? He sends the women Midian to entice Israel to play the harlot with Baal?”
Zipporah once again translated and, though it didn’t seem possible, Cozbi’s face became whiter still.
“No,” Cozbi said, her voice barely audible in contrast with Moses’ thunderous tone, “that is not what he meant to do. He said . . .”
“Silence,” Moses’ boomed over the rising murmurings of the crowd.
Though Cozbi didn’t understand, Moses’ command nevertheless it struck her like a physical blow from its sheer volume and force. She burst into tears, terrified, pulled away from Zimri’s grasp and ran into the only apparent shelter – the tent of meeting.
Angry shouts rose from the judges as they realized that not only had a woman entered their sacred tent of meeting, she carried with her the graven image of Baal around her neck. Realizing the danger that Cozbi now faced, Zimri raced into the tent after her to bring her out immediately – fearing that if the judges had to retrieve her she wouldn’t make it out alive.
When Phineas, Aaron’s grandson, saw the two enter the tent, he arose from the midst of the congregation and took a spear in his hand. As Phineas bolted towards the tent, Caleb turned to intercede, but Joshua restrained him with a firm hand on Caleb’s arm.
“He’s just going in to bring them out,” Joshua whispered, “we must protect Moses. There’s no telling what may happen next.”
Caleb hesitated for a moment, and was a moment too late.
Inside the tent of meeting, a man’s shout was cut short. Then a woman screamed too. It was also cut short.
Phineas exited triumphantly with his spear covered in blood.[ix] The crowd roared its approval. Caleb felt sick.
Caleb reached to draw his sword, but Joshua stayed Caleb’s hand. Caleb glared at Joshua, furious that Joshua had delayed him before.
“He murdered them,” Caleb hissed.
“They were not innocent,” Joshua responded, his voice level, his eyes hard.
“They were not charged. They were not tried. They were not given a chance to plead their case. What did they do? Do you know? I don’t,” Caleb answered angrily. I knew this girl. I knew her father. “If she transgressed our laws, she probably had no idea she was doing so. She . . .”
“Enough!” Moses shouted above the buzzing voices of the masses. “Phineas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, has turned away the Lord’s wrath from the sons of Israel, in that he was jealous for the Lord, so that the Lord did not destroy the sons of Israel in jealousy. The Lord’s covenant of peace is with him and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel.”[x]
Moses took a breath, looked around dramatically, and continued, “Today, in your sight, Phineas has atoned for . . .” In mid-sentence, Moses’ voice trailed off and it appeared he was listening intently, but his brow furrowed as if confused.
The congregation went silent, straining to hear what only Moses could.
Then Moses staggered, shook his head as he tried to organize his thoughts and spoke in a whisper that carried like distant thunder before a storm, “And the Lord has said, ‘Be hostile to the Midianites and strike them. For they have been hostile to you with their tricks, with which they have deceived you in the affair of Peor, and in the affair of Cozbi, the daughter of the leader of Midian, their sister who was slain on the day of the plague because of Peor.”[xi]
Caleb stalked off, too disgusted by what had just happened to stay and remain quiet. Moses, having just justified the killings to the satisfaction of the judges, was in no danger from the mob so Joshua followed.
“This is not over,” Caleb said, as Joshua caught up to him and kept abreast despite Caleb’s long strides.
“It is over,” Joshua said. “You will not harm a hair on Phineous’ head.”
Caleb stopped to face Joshua, his eyes angry and blazing. “The Lord’s covenant of perpetual priesthood is upon him and his descendants? He has no children. Not yet anyway. So he’ll be safe on the front lines. A virtual shield of righteousness will surround him and those who fight by his side.”
Caleb glared at Joshua, expecting an argument. He received none.
In the morning, Joshua and Caleb met with Moses, dressed in their battle armor, awaiting instruction. “Joshua. Caleb,” Moses said with a nod as they entered the tent. “The Lord has spoken to me, saying ‘Take full vengeance for the sons of Israel on the Midianites.’ ”[xii] Moses voice trailed off as if he were going to say something further. Confused, his brow furrowed.
“What is it Moses?” Joshua asked.
“Nothing,” Moses answered. “See that it is done.” Moses looked away, “Lord? I . . . .”
Moses sat down abruptly, exhausted, in truly rare display of weakness, “Sometimes I just feel . . . I hear His Voice, but can’t feel His presence. It’s like . . . I don’t know . . .” Moses never finished the sentence.
Moses’ countenance changed to one of unyielding resolve, as if having made a decision he now needed to prove something. “This war, we shall conduct with the zeal of Phineas. Arm men from among you for the war, that they may go against Midian to execute the Lord’s vengeance. A thousand from each tribe of all the tribes of Israel you shall send to the war.”[xiii]
“A thousand?” Joshua asked.
Caleb quietly did the math in his head, “But that’s only two percent of our armed forces!”[xiv]
“The Lord shall see to our victory and know that we trust in him completely. Twelve thousand it shall be, and not a man more,”[xv] Moses said emphatically. “We shall see, once again, what the best of your men can do.”
“Yes, Moses,” Joshua and Caleb said in unison nodding, before turning and walking out of the Moses’ tent.
“Joshua,” Moses called out as the two men exited the tent, “a moment please.”
Caleb and Joshua exchanged glances and, with a nod, Caleb continued walking. Joshua ducked back into the tent.
“What was that about?” Caleb asked Joshua.
“I’m not sure,” Joshua replied. “Moses seemed distraught. Unfocussed. He spoke of the census we just completed and asked my assessment of our armed forces, now over 600,000 strong.[xvi] He rambled on about an inheritance and spoke with tears in his eyes about whether he would be remembered for good or for ill, and I tried to reassure him that everyone knew how zealously he has acted on their behalf and on behalf of the Lord.”
“ ‘Do they?” Moses asked. ‘Do they really? You are kind, my friend,’ Moses said with a sad smile. ‘It’s little wonder that the Lord said you knew His spirit. The Lord said you would guide His flock when I am no more.”[xvii]
“What?” Caleb exclaimed.
“I know,” Joshua continued, “I thought he would pass the reigns to a Levite when the time comes. He may well still do so.”
“Still,” Caleb mused, “He could make a lot worse choices.”
“Thanks a lot,” Joshua said, at the backhanded compliment.
“You’ll make a fine leader one day, Joshua,” Caleb said seriously. “I know it. You know it. Moses knows it. God knows it. Who else matters?”
“The people?” Joshua asked.
“They know it too,” Caleb answered. “Just try not to let yourself get killed by the Midianites.
“Amen to that,” Joshua replied.
“And let’s exercise some restraint if we win,” Caleb added.
“When we win,” Joshua responded with finality.
Joshua and Caleb rallied the troops, twelve hundred of Israel’s finest. Moses had heard that Caleb ordered Phineas to the front lines and countermanded the order by decreeing that no Levite would fight in the war against Midian. So they chose a thousand from each tribe, except the tribe of Levy, and instead chose two thousand from the descendants of Joseph – one thousand each from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.
To Moses’ annoyance, Caleb ordered that Phineas and the Levites disperse among the troops on the front lines, bearing holy objects and rams horns to inspire the soldiers to victory. Though Moses didn’t like it, he saw the wisdom of having the people’s spiritual leaders in plain view to give support. Still, Moses didn’t appreciate Caleb jeopardizing Moses’ prophecy towards Phineas – by placing Phineas in harm’s way.
The Israelite soldiers did indeed fight with the zeal of Phineas, and with Phineas beside them directing the holy vessels and ram’s horns which trumpeted to the heavens.[xviii] Under Phineas’ direction, the Levites accompanied the troops, guarding their souls, as Joshua and Caleb set about directing them in the war at hand.
Their strategy was simple or relatively so. Nearly the full contingent of twelve thousand troops in a frontal assault. Several hundred troops to approach from the sides of the battle field, so that the enemy would think they had been outflanked and devote resources to two false fronts. Scouting reports indicated that Midianite generals directed the fighting from the center rear. The frontal assault would act as a spearhead, driving straight into the enemy and on towards their leaders. If successful, the Israelites would split the Midianite army in two, capture their generals and cut off their ability to fight as a single cohesive force.
The battle raged for nearly half a day, as the Israelites drove relentlessly down the middle of the Midianite army. The sounds of their rams’ horns comforted the troops and frightened the enemy. By mid-afternoon, the Israelites had split the Midianite force in two and surrounded their leaders.
Then the fighting began in earnest, as the Midianites realized what had happened and desperately tried to re-establish contact with and protect their generals. The soldiers who remained with the Midianite generals fought valiantly to protect them. But one by one, the generals fell, until only one remained.
A tall strong general with curly brown hair, a neatly trimmed beard and a colorful uniform now badly soiled, seemed to realize that his men stood no chance prevailing. He signaled them with a shrill whistle, which momentarily put a halt to the fighting. Dramatically, he called out to his men, raised his hands and dropped his weapons.
Caleb called out to his men, “Hold! Hold! Don’t attack any man who has laid down his weapons.”
The Midianite general and his beleaguered men laid down their weapons. As battles raged all around in the distance, here there was calm, like the eye of a storm. The Midianites and their general were herded together, and their weapons gathered.
Caleb and Joshua looked at each other, and then at the general who stood proudly between with his men. “He fought bravely,” Caleb said.
“He cannot live,” Joshua replied.
Caleb nodded solemnly, “But he shouldn’t die a criminal’s death either.”
“What are you suggesting?” Joshua asked.
“That we give him a chance to die a soldier’s death,” Caleb replied. “That we give him a chance to die fighting.”
“It’s foolish,” Joshua said simply.
“Perhaps, perhaps not,” Caleb replied. “When he is dead, we can let the rest flee unarmed. As they flee and pass through the ranks of those still fighting, surely all will know that the Midianite generals are dead, that we are an honorable people and that fighting is hopeless. It may speed the end of this war.”
Joshua thought for a moment and reluctantly agreed.
Caleb stepped forward in front of the Midianite general and drew his sword. The man didn’t even flinch. He must have expected to sacrifice his life for his troops. Caleb admired his bravery. Caleb nodded to Joshua, who picked up the general’s own sword and tossed it on the ground at the general’s feet. Caleb motioned with his eyes and his sword for the general to pick it up and to fight.
The Midianite smiled, understanding, retrieved the sword, and stepped forward. “Nebach,” he said, pointing to himself and thanking Caleb with his eyes.
“Caleb,” Caleb responded, raising his own sword to a battle ready position.
Why does that name sound so familiar? Nebach wondered, as the hairs on the back of his neck rose of their own accord.
No one interfered as the two men commenced the fight, simultaneously swinging swords that clanged above their heads. Parrying, thrusting and slashing, they fought hard. On and on and on they fought.
Joshua began to wonder whether this was such a good idea after all. Perhaps he should halt the fight and simply execute the man. But that would undermine their goal, and might embolden the Midianites. Still, Joshua thought, Caleb is in danger.
Then the battle turned for the worst. As Caleb brought his sword down from above his head, the Midianite slashed upward at it defensively, catching the sword in such a manner that Caleb’s sword broke in half. The Israelites and Midianites gasped in shock and anticipation.
The Midianite general thrust his sword at Caleb, who tried to spin away, but the sword bit Caleb’s side. Not a mortal wound, nor even a particularly serious one, but enough to double Caleb over and expose his back to his foe. As quick as desert lightning, the Midianite reversed his grip on the sword so that in bringing it back down its tip would sever Caleb’s spine.
Instinctively, Caleb reached into his boot, where he kept his stone craftsman’s hammer. Not as big and heavy as his stone cutter’s hammer that he kept at his side, but a hammer nonetheless. In one fluid motion he grabbed the hammer by its head and pulled it up, letting its momentum carry the handle through his hand. He grasped the end of the handle and then swung out and up with all his might, twisting to his feet and out of the way of the Midianite’s sword.
Caleb’s hammer struck hard at the side of the general’s head, with an unmistakable crunch of metal on bone. The blow knocked the man off his feet, and spun him high in the air. He landed on his back, staring vacantly into the blue sky.
All were stunned at how quickly the battle had turned, and how suddenly it ended. The Midianites were the first to regain their composure. They fled in all directions. The Israelites drew their weapons to strike them down.
“No!” Joshua called out. “Let them go. Don’t harm them.” Then he turned to Caleb, who had dropped to his knees and fighting hard to breathe. “Are you all right?” Joshua asked.
“Next time . . .” Caleb said as he struggled to catch his breath, “. . . I have another . . . bright idea . . . say ‘No’ . . . for God’s sake.”
Rising to his feet, wincing, and clutching his side, he added, “That man certainly fought well. I’ll give him that . . . far too well.”
“Come,” Joshua replied. “Let’s see if your strategy worked. But first . . .” Joshua bent down and picked up the general’s sword. He swung it, tested its weight and admired its detailed carvings. He handed it to Caleb, handle first, careful not to touch the razor sharp blade. “Spoils of war,” Joshua concluded.
Nebach’s lieutenants and the other generals’ officers fled through the Israelite army. Most of Nebach’s lieutenants picked up weapons when they reached the front and turned around to fight, attempting to lead the men as best as they could. But some of the lieutenants who had served under Nebach, and most who’d served under others continued to flee and spread the word as they went, “The generals are dead, including Nebach.”
Those who fled also spread doubt and uncertainty and fear, picking up Midianite soldiers in their wake like magnets. More and more Midianite soldiers dropped their weapons and ran. Soon, the odds were no longer in the Midianite’s favor and the tide turned sharply in favor of the Israelites. What had looked grim when for the Israelites when the fight first began, now turned into a slaughter as the remaining Midianite soldiers, who fought, quickly died.
When the fighting ended, the battlefield was littered with dead and dying. The moans and cries of the wounded Midianites were almost as horrifying as the battle itself, but there was nothing to be done. The wounded Midianites were quickly and mercifully killed rather than be left to the elements. Wounded Israelites who had a chance of surviving were carried home, while those who did not were killed quickly as well. Soon the field of battle fell eerily silent.
Joshua and Caleb gathered their captains. “You have won a great victory today in the name of the Lord,” Joshua said. “But our work is not done. As long as the Midianite army exists, it’s a threat. As long as the Midianite leaders exist, they are a threat too, both to the physical and spiritual well being of our people. You know how they sent spies among us to turn us from the Lord. Now we are tasked by the Lord himself to finish this war.”
The captains nodded grimly and began making plans. Joshua and Caleb listened carefully, without interjecting.
“They’re learning,” Joshua said to Caleb.
“But they’ve made no provision to avoid injuring those who can’t fight,” Caleb observed, “the old, the infirm, the women and the children.”
“I am not sure that is what Moses had in mind when he sent us on this mission, Caleb,” Joshua said. “You saw his demeanor.”
“He’ll have a change of heart when victory is ours,” Caleb responded. “He must. We can’t slaughter innocents in the Lord’s name. We just can’t.”
“Well . . .” Joshua hemmed, “I’m inclined to agree that the women and children, at least, should be spared. If we let civilian men live, there’s no telling what Moses will do. He might order them all killed – the men, women and children. Let me think about it.”
“Alright,” Caleb replied. He wasn’t satisfied at all, but knew it was the best he could do. Joshua was right. If they brought back any men, it might infuriate Moses. With women and children Moses might show compassion, especially once the Israelites prevailed and the threat was no more.
Joshua informed his captains of the rules of engagement – take the women and children captives, kill all the Midianite soldiers, when it came to civilian men they were to use their discretion. No one complained or offered any protest. Nobody wanted to kill women or children.
“I thought for a moment, you were done for,” Joshua said to Caleb as they walked on towards the city.
“As did I,” Caleb concurred. “Thank God I kept that hammer in my boot. I’m glad the general died as a soldier, though. I’ve no heart for executions.”
“That’s quite a sword,” Joshua couldn’t help but observe.
“I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” Caleb replied. “It broke my sword like a child’s toy and doesn’t even have a nick. Whoever made this sword was truly a master craftsman.”
Caleb handed the sword to Joshua hilt first as they walked.
“It is a work of art, for sure,” Joshua said, admiring the delicate designs etched into the metal and running his finger gently along the blade – only to pull it away quickly with a gasp. He had not even felt the blade before realizing that it had entered his flesh. Looking at the razor thin line of blood on his finger, he said “You are lucky that the general’s swing only nicked you, or this thing would have cut you in half before you ever felt a thing.”
“God blessed me today,” Caleb said.
Joshua arched an eyebrow at Caleb.
Thank you Lord, Caleb prayed silently as they continued walking. With Caleb’s arguments for compassion in the name of the Lord, as well as the passage of time to heal the deepest of wounds, Caleb found it harder and harder to remain angry at God. Caleb could feel the familiar longing for God’s comfort rise once again within him. He pushed it back down, though not as hard as before. It’s a start, he realized.
Just outside the city, Joshua gathered the remaining captains of the tribes, and those who’d succeeded the fallen. “Have your men search every house, every tent and every place where a Midianite could hide. The soldiers of Midian cannot be allowed to live. Few things are more dangerous than an enemy defeated, which hasn’t been destroyed. These men are soldiers, who’ve chosen to fight against our people. If they choose not to fight now, it’s of no consequence to you. For who is to say they will not oppose us tomorrow when the danger to them has passed? We cannot keep them in our midst. We cannot let them go. What we must do is hard, but do it we must.”
The men nodded and spoke in hushed whispers among themselves. The best Midianite soldiers had stayed, fought and died – the rest should be easy, comparatively so. The men serving under Caleb fanned out and entered the city from the South and East. At about the same time, the men serving under Joshua entered Midian from the North and West. Joshua and Caleb traveled in the midst of their men, not leading from the front or giving orders from the rear.
As Caleb and Joshua entered the city from opposite directions, the soldiers in the front entered the city without incident. Then a shower of stones from the rooftops cascaded down upon Caleb. On the other side of the city, a similar shower of stones cascaded down upon Joshua.
Thus, at nearly the same time, at both ends of the city, Caleb and Joshua were showered with stones. Caleb took several hard blows, which knocked him unconscious before his men dove to cover him with their bodies. Joshua took a stone to the side of the head. He dropped hard as more stones continued to pummel his still form. His men, too, quickly covered his body with theirs. Then their attackers were found and put to the sword.
Caleb and Joshua were taken separately to safety under palm groves at either end of the city. Two large contingents of men were left for their protection. The remaining Israelite soldiers attacked the city with vengeance.
With renewed anger at the attack upon Joshua and Caleb, they killed every Midianite male they could find – whether they were soldiers or civilian, cripples or elderly.[xix] They mistreated women and children, and killed anyone who tried to stop them. They took everything of value they could carry, and still fight.
Caleb stirred at the sounds of mayhem. He heard women screaming and soldiers laughing. One woman’s scream was cut off abruptly, and was quickly replaced with loud sobs and pleas. Caleb staggered to his feet, his hand on the hilt of his sword.
“Caleb?” Japeth asked. “What are you doing? You should rest.”
“What’s going on out there Japeth?” Caleb asked.
“Most of the hard work is done. The men are just blowing off steam. Having a little fun. It was pretty grueling out there,” Japeth replied with a shrug.
Another scream turned Caleb’s head. He strode purposely towards a nearby house.
When the Israelites attacked, Balaam came to get us to shelter us in his caves. But Midian fell quickly, far more quickly than expected. Enemy soldiers went from house to house, killing and looting. Old men, sick men, men so maimed in prior wars that they couldn’t walk much less fight were slaughtered like animals. Not a Midianite man survived, or so I am told.[xx]
Uncle Balaam was in our home when the soldiers arrived. Two of them beat down the door and broke into our house. My mother and little Yoshi cowered in a corner. Balaam stood in front of them protectively. I tried to reach my staff, but one of the soldiers saw my intentions and reached it first. He admired its craftsmanship briefly, before hitting me in the stomach with it and dropping me to my knees.
The other soldier advanced on Mother, Yoshi and Balaam. Balaam stood his ground, raised his hands to show they were empty, and invoked the Name of God – trying to protect us with the only power he possessed. The soldier stabbed him through the heart, with hardly a glance. Balaam crumpled to the ground. Mother screamed. Yoshi started to cry.
The soldier who killed uncle Balaam grabbed mother, threw her to the ground and climbed on top of her.
Yoshi jumped on the man’s back and began pounding him with little fists. “Stop hurting my mommy! Stop hurting my mommy!” he yelled. The soldier reached around, grabbed Yoshi and threw him across the room into a wall. Yoshi’s little body lay frighteningly still and quiet, not far from Balaam.
I tried to rise to protect mother and made it to all fours before the first soldier kicked me full force in the stomach, once again knocking the wind from me. He rolled me over and pinned me to the ground. I tried to fight him, but I had no chance. He was at least twice my size, and had weakened me with two well aimed blows to the stomach.
He tore at my clothing, exposing my breasts. His foul breath and sour sweat made me physically ill as his hands pawed at me. I struggled to fight him off, and he punched me in face. I lay there, dazed, and could feel my eye swelling as he tore away most of the rest of my clothing and opened his own. I was conscious, but lacked the energy to continue fighting.
I heard screams and cries from mother, but couldn’t help myself much less her. In my nightmares, in The Dream and even in the Dark Vision, I was always afraid, if not terrified. But now I felt distant and removed, as if this was happening to someone else and I was a cold unemotional observer.
God, how can this be? Where are you? I wondered, but I received no response.
Once again the soldier’s leering face and fetid breath brought me back to the peril I faced and to the reality that I lay there helpless as a bride on her wedding night. How many a Midianite bride had suffered harsh treatment by their husbands little worse than this? I wondered incongruously as I awaited my fate.
I tried to imagine I was one of them and that the horrible man on top of me was my betrothed. But I couldn’t hold the image in my mind. Relax. Don’t fight it. It will only hurt more if you fight it, came the advice I gave brides on their wedding night. I realized that good advice, even if true, could still be ridiculous.
I spent my whole life protecting my chastity. I couldn’t bear to have its stolen from me now. With what little strength remained, I reached up towards his eyes, trying to gouge them both out. But with my one eye now swollen, I missed my mark and jabbed my thumbs into his cheeks – a useless gesture that brought his fist down hard upon my mouth. I could feel my lip swelling and taste the blood in my mouth.
The soldier continued to grope and grab and paw at me a few moments more and then forced my legs apart and raised his hips, ready to force himself inside of me. I closed the one eye that remained open. I didn’t want to see his expression as he violated me.
Even as I heard my mother continue to scream and cry through her own ordeal, I prayed. Please God, not like this, I prayed. Have I displeased you in some way?
The soldier gasped, but I felt no pain between my legs. I felt the unexpected nick of a blade at my breast, and opened my one good eye. The soldier on top of me was wide eyed in surprise.
Ducking through the doorway, it took a moment for Caleb’s eyes to adjust to the light. An old man lay dead in the middle of the room. A little boy sat still as death against the wall. A soldier lay on top of a middle-aged woman whose face was badly bruised and whose robe was torn.
To Caleb’s left, in the darkness, another soldier lay on top of a young woman. She tried to fight back. He punched her hard in the mouth, leaving her stunned and dazed. The soldier pushed back onto his knees and opened his clothing, exposing his excitement. The woman’s eyes seemed glazed, her face bruised, her clothing torn away so that she was essentially naked. She closed her eyes at what was coming.
“Stop!” Caleb commanded.
But the soldier paid him no heed. As he covered the girl, he raised his naked bottom in an act that was both aggressive towards the girl and disrespectful towards Caleb.
Still somewhat disoriented, Caleb drew his sword and thrust downwards toward the disobedient soldier’s back, expecting the dull tip of his sword to at least get the man’s attention. Caleb had forgotten that he carried a new sword. When he felt the resistance that would have signaled a painful, though not serious blow, he stopped the thrust, not realizing the resistance he felt was the sword piercing the man’s chest.
Had he struck with any more force, he’d have killed the girl as well. The soldier gasped, opened his eyes wide and arched his back as the sword pierced him. He collapsed, dead, to the side as Caleb withdrew the sword.
Wide eyed and dazed, the girl stared at the sword. She regained her composure and covered her nakedness with her hands.
Caleb turned to the other soldier, who now realized his commander was present. The soldier halted his attack, jumped up and moved back. He stared at the now sightless eyes of his comrade in arms.
Japeth burst into the room and surveyed the situation silently, as Caleb sheathed his sword. Caleb hadn’t meant to kill the man, though he felt little remorse.
How often had Caleb played out a similar scene in his head, over and over again? Of course, the woman in his imagination was not some unknown Midianite girl, but his wife – the soldier, not an Israelite, but an Egyptian sent by Pharaoh.
If only I could have been there for Sarah, he thought briefly.
The soldier who saved me, for the moment at least, sheathed his sword. I couldn’t look him the eyes, as I lay there exposed. I desperately tried to cover myself, but had nothing within reach to use. The silence in the room terrified me. No one said a word.
“Caleb?” Japeth said gently. Caleb ignored him.
“You,” Caleb said, addressing the living would-be rapist. “What’s your name?”
“Oodar,” the soldier replied, looking down at the ground.
“Oodar,” Caleb said with quiet menace, “Spread the word, and spread it fast. Women and children are not to be harmed. They’re to be taken captive, but not raped or molested in any way. If a woman or child resists, use whatever force is necessary to subdue them, but no more. Do you understand?”
“Yes. I . . . yes,” Oodar said, without moving to go.
“Well?” Caleb said, the menace in his voice growing.
Japeth knew better than to question Caleb when Caleb had that tone in his voice. So he waited silently for instruction, as Oodar quickly left the house.
Caleb went to the boy, checked his breathing and picked him up gently. The middle aged woman got up slowly, her back to the wall, her eyes on the two soldiers. Caleb placed the boy in her arms, then turned his attention to the young woman.
“It’s ok,” Caleb said in a reassuring voice, unable to make out her features in the dim light of the room. “No one will hurt you.” Caleb gave her his full length war cloak, so she could cover her nakedness.
She rose slowly out of the shadows. She was slight and quite beautiful. Even with a black eye and swollen lip, and the terror in her eyes. Long red curls framed her face, cascaded over her shoulders and spilled down her back. She looked him briefly in the eyes and then immediately looked away.
In that moment, he recognized her, but couldn’t bear to say her name. He was mortified what his men had done to her and her loved ones. Caleb turned to Japeth with anguish in his eyes.
When the soldier gave me his war cloak to cover my nakedness, the simple act of kindness brought tears to my eyes. I wanted to look at him, but my vision was blurry and I looked away quickly, ashamed.
He gave orders to a soldier, who gave a cloak to mother as well. The man’s voice sounded familiar though I couldn’t quite place it.
My gaze turned to Yoshi, who cried softly in mother’s arms. Yoshi! He’s alive! I realized, and ran over to hug them.
Three of us huddled together for a moment before being herded gently outside.
On the way out, I casually picked up my staff and used it as a walking stick. No one seemed to notice or care. They didn’t view it as a weapon, at least not in my hands.
Once in the light, I realized why the voice of the soldier had sounded so familiar. The recognition stunned me as much as my attacker’s blows.
“Caleb?” I asked.
Caleb turned at the mention of his name, concern and sadness in his eyes. I saw compassion and embarrassment fleet across his face. Then his eyes went hard and cold, as he resumed his command.
Caleb barked orders and we were ushered off to a make shift pen in the market place. Other women and children were being herded there as well. Placed in the pen, pressed up against the women and children of Midian, at least we were together, mother, Yoshi and I. We were hurt, but not gravely so. Others were hurt worse than us.
Uncle Balaam! my mind screamed, as the tragedy struck me. Oh God, uncle! I would never again learn from him, or delight in his stories. Never again would he make Yoshi laugh, or impart his wisdom to me.
Caleb heard Mishael say his name. He looked at her briefly. She must hate us, Caleb thought. We’ve attacked her, beaten her, tried to rape her, killed her people – maybe even her family – judging be dead man in her house. Caleb wanted to comfort her, but there was nothing he could say. There was nothing he could do for her, except have her taken out of harm’s way.
“Take these people to the central square,” Caleb ordered one of his soldiers. “Set up a guard and have someone spread the word that the women and children are to be brought there and detained, unharmed. I’m going to find Joshua.”
“Where is Joshua?” Caleb asked Japeth. “Why has he allowed this to happen?”
“He was knocked unconscious too sir,” Japeth replied. “But he’s awake now. I’ll take you to him.”
Without daring to look back at Mishael, Caleb strode purposely away.
It took all of that day and late into the night for the Israelite soldiers to gather the terrified women and children of Midian. We were hungry, exhausted and shivering in the cold night air. We huddled together for warmth.
“What will become of us mother?” I didn’t feel at all like the strong confident woman I had grown to become. At that moment, I was just a little girl seeking the comfort of her mother.
“Quiet child,” mother whispered, “Be watchful. Be silent.”
I wanted to ask more questions, but I held my tongue. Her authority represented the only real stability left in my life. So I waited and watched and remained silent.
Yoshi awoke the next morning, crying and in pain. That’s a good sign, I thought, as mother comforted him as best she could. I wish I had my medicines. But there was no escaping to retrieve them.
Shortly after sunrise we were led away into the desert. As we walked, other groups of women and children merged with ours until it seemed that all of the women and children of Midian were being herded through the desert like lambs. I had an eerie feeling of déjà vu.
Our group remained at the head of the crowd. At one point, when we reached a small hill, I looked back at the women and children and could hardly believe the multitude. There were tens of thousands, maybe even as many as a hundred thousand widows and orphans trudging through the desert, with soldiers to their left, to their right, front and rear.
In front of us, Caleb and another man led the way. They stood out from the other soldiers, both in bearing and apparent authority. They walked as if they owned the world. They pretty much do own the world, I thought, at least what’s left of my world.
We crested a small rise. Before and below us spread the millions of Israelites, spread out across the desert as far as the eye could see. I gasped at the breath-taking sight that I’d seen once before. How can so many people just wander across the desert? I wondered, like all who crossed their path.
Seeing them there, without sufficient food or water to survive such a journey, I understood why they caused such fear wherever they went. Surely they will consume all the food and water that Midian has to offer. Fear tightened my chest. As outsiders and captives, if the Israelites ran out of food or water, we’d be the first ones to die of hunger and of thirst.Caleb
Joshua and Caleb led their men back towards camp with the women and children in tow. The contingent consisted of a small band of soldiers, maybe six or seven thousand, marching approximately 75,000 women and children through the desert.
“Joshua?” Caleb said as they walked. “Are you all right?”
Joshua looked pale, and had suffered more from the stoning than had Caleb. Joshua blinked, focused on Caleb’s face and smiled, “I’ll live.”
“Looks like the Midianite soldiers had a little fight left in them,” Caleb said.
“So it would seem,” Joshua said. “I can’t believe we were that careless. We should have known better.”
“How could we have known?” Caleb asked.
“We should have approached with greater caution,” Joshua said.
Caleb shrugged, “Live and learn.”
Joshua chuckled, “At least we lived long enough to learn.”
We camped on the rise. In the morning, we were shown how to gather a strange substance that covered the desert floor, which tasted like fine cakes. I had explored the desert often and extensively in search of ingredients for medicine, but I had never encountered such a substance before.
What magic is this? I wondered. Is their leader truly a sorcerer? The God of Midian didn’t look kindly upon sorcery, which is why Balaam and I bridled at first when people thought we worked magic. I found it hard to understand how the God of Midian could allow His followers to fall prey to such a people.
How can He allow His people to meet such a fate, even if many of us have fallen away from His Ways? I wondered. Then again, maybe our fate was punishment for the transgressions of Midian. But even true believers, such as Balaam, died by the sword.
For the first time in my life, I began to question the God of our ancestors and the sacrifices I’d made.
After a breakfast of manna, the women and children were herded together and then walked to the outskirts of the Israelite camp. Moses, Eleazar the priest and the leaders of the congregation went out to meet them.[xxi]
Caleb looked back briefly, surprised to see Mishael and her family leading the women and children not twenty yards from where he stood. He had tried to put her out of mind, but had found it impossible. He wanted to go to her and comfort her, but his position didn’t allow it and he didn’t know what comfort he could possibly offer.
“Moses,” Joshua said in a voice that carried to all those assembled. “We have made war against Midian, just as the Lord commanded. More than that, we have killed every male, at least those who’d come of age. We’ve killed the five Kings of Midian, Evi and Rekam, Zur and Hur and Reba too. We have captured the women of Midian and their little ones. Their cattle and flocks and goods we have plundered. We have burned their cities and camps with fire, and took all that they had as booty.”[xxii]
Caleb grimaced at the description of the destruction of Midian. It was all so unnecessary and brutal, and seemed so unfair.
Moses grimaced too, but for a completely different reason. Moses’ glared at the captives, who trembled in fear. His gaze burned into Caleb and then settled on Joshua.
Moses’ was angry, almost too angry to speak. But when eventually he did, his voice boomed like thunder in a desert stricken with flash floods.
“Have you spared all the women?” Moses boomed in reproach. “It is the women of Midian who have caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, so the plague fell upon the congregation of the Lord.”[xxiii]
The rage in Moses’ voice caused the captives to weep, though they couldn’t have known what he said.
Moses’ eyes were black as death as he resumed his tirade. “Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man intimately. But all the girls who have not known a man intimately, spare for yourselves.”[xxiv]
The soldiers drew their swords, with grim resolution upon their faces. This was not a task they relished, but they weren’t about to disobey.
Mothers held tight to their children and huddled together, eyeing the soldiers’ weapons. Women and children trembled in fear, as their weeping and wailing reached a crescendo pitch.
Caleb looked at Joshua. Joshua shook his head slightly, warning Caleb not to intercede. But Caleb couldn’t remain silent.
“No!” he shouted, drawing his sword and addressing his soldiers, while never breaking eye contact with Moses. “Any man who harms a captive will die by my sword.”
The soldiers froze in place, uncertain what to do.
“No?” Moses boomed, “Who are you to defy me? Who are you to defy the Lord?”
“You are not the Lord, Moses, and this cannot be His will!” Caleb responded without shouting, in a low menacing voice. “The Lord has forbidden us to harm strangers and innocents. It’s the law of the Lord, just as you’ve taught us. I cannot stand by while they’re slaughtered in the Lord’s name.”
“Lower your sword and step aside,” Moses growled in return. “It isn’t your place to interpret the law.”
“Nor it is yours,” Caleb responded. “If it’s anyone’s, it’s the judges’. But whether it’s yours or it’s theirs I’ll not lower my sword. I’ll lay down my life, if I must, to protect women and children in the name of the Lord.”
“So be it,” Moses stormed, before turning to Joshua. “Tell your men to carry out my orders, and to carry them out now!”
Joshua looked at Caleb and then at Moses, and then back at Caleb. The day that Joshua had long feared had finally arrived. With divided loyalties and nothing to guide him but his sense of righteousness, Joshua drew his sword.
Caleb turned to Joshua and adopted a defensive posture. But Joshua didn’t face him. Joshua’s eyes remained on Moses.
“I cannot,” Joshua replied. “I can’t kill women and children in the name of the Lord.”
“When you defy me,” Moses bellowed, “you defy the will of the Lord! You’ve seen what has happened to those who’ve defied me – the Lord’s killed them by plagues and by fire and by opening the earth. God’s had me put rebels to the sword, and brooked no insurrection.”
“Be that as it may,” Joshua replied. “Moses, this time you’re wrong.”
“We’ll see who is wrong,” Moses spoke with quiet fury, as he turned to address the soldiers. “Captains of the tribes hear me! The Lord’s entrusted me to lead you and interpret His will. Who knows better the mind of God, Joshua and Caleb, of me? If Joshua and Caleb won’t step aside, they’re the first who must die. Fail to follow my orders and you will die too.”
The captains looked from one to the other. One stepped towards Joshua and drew his sword. “I am sorry,” he said to Joshua, “you have taught me well . . . and you too Caleb,” he said with a nod, “but Moses leads the people and I follow Moses.”
Other captains stepped forward drawing their swords as well. “Please,” one said, “it needn’t be this way.”
But Joshua and Caleb wouldn’t yield, nor would they strike the first blow.
Caleb and Joshua were surrounded by ten men, all brandishing swords. Caleb held a sword, which gleamed blindingly in the sun. The intricate carvings on its blade were exquisite and unmistakable.
“Nebach’s lost his sword,” Yoshi said with the innocence of a child.
Mother burst into tears, realizing Yoshi was right. Nebach’s sword in another’s hands could mean only one thing. Nebach was dead.
I felt sick to my stomach. I’d have known, if I thought about it, that Nebach was probably dead. He’d not have fled into the desert. He would have died with his men. Still, the confirmation was striking and left no room for doubt.
The ten soldiers surrounding Caleb and Joshua began to move in slowly. They were cautious and afraid, for they knew what they faced. Caleb and Joshua stood back to back, swords moving slowly back and forth like cobras ready to strike.
Zipporah dropped to her knees and held Moses’ robe, “Moses please you cannot do this thing. This order you have made . . . the women and children of Midian . . . you can’t do this. What’s come over you? Jealousy, anger, vengeance for the Lord? Please you can’t do this.”
Moses looked sternly at Zipporah, “I can and I will.”
“Would you kill your two generals and slaughter innocent women and children?” Zipporah pressed. “For what?”
But Moses’ heart had been hardened. “I’ll have new generals if I must. But I cannot abide rebellion.”
“Husband please,” Zipporah begged, “how can this be God’s will? How can you kill Joshua and Caleb after all they’ve done for the people? There must be another way.”
Moses looked at his shepherd’s staff, and then down to the soldiers. Many of the soldiers carried similar staffs. There was another way, and Moses was willing to try it.
“Hold,” Moses ordered. The captains ceased their advance. “Lay down your swords, Joshua and Caleb, and fight with the staff. If you defeat the captains of Israel, perhaps Midian should be spared. But if you lose . . .” Confident of his position, Moses tossed Joshua Moses’ staff, which had parted the Sea of Reed.
Joshua picked it up, shocked Moses would part with it. He looked over at Caleb and said, “Lay down your sword.”
“I’ll not lay it down,” Caleb hissed in reply. “I have sworn to protect these people and I’ll not back down now.”
“Caleb, think,” Joshua pleaded. “It’s your only chance to save them. If you fight with the sword, you’ll kill many of our best men, but you’ll eventually be killed. Then what do you think will happen to these women and children? But if we lay down our swords and fight with the staff, if we defeat all of our captains, Moses may change his mind. Would you kill our best men for merely following Moses’ orders?”
Caleb looked uncertainly at his captains. They would fight to the death if they were fighting with the sword. Would their deaths and my death change Moses’ mind. Would Moses be more likely to change his mind if we prevailed with the staff?
Caleb’s head throbbed and his side ached. He felt so tired and unsure. He just wanted to rest, to die if he must. But he didn’t want to kill his men.
Caleb sheathed his sword and Japeth threw him
a staff. “Thank you,” Caleb said, “for
standing with me, Joshua.”
“Where else would I stand?” Joshua replied.
The captains too sheathed their swords and each picked up a staff. They advanced on Caleb and Joshua – splitting into two groups of five. All at once they charged, seeking to land a hail of simultaneous blows. But Joshua and Caleb were faster and stepped into the attack, so that it was not quite simultaneous.
Parry and thrust, jab and strike. Joshua and Caleb landed the first blows, each striking a captain across the head. The two captains fell and remained motionless on the ground. Suddenly, the odds seemed significantly better.
The remaining captains attacked again, as the sound of staff on staff cracked – another captain fell, then another and another. Each of the fallen captains had men serving as seconds. Their seconds jumped in and dragged the fallen away. Two captains faced Caleb, and three more faced Joshua.
Joshua and Caleb were beginning to tire. Caleb prayed to the Lord silently for the strength to continue, fearing not for himself but for the captive women and children. Joshua also prayed for the Lord to intercede on their behalf – to soften Moses’ heart to the plight of the captives.
Moses looked at the seconds whose captains had fallen. They had gathered in a group, and looked anxiously at Moses. With their captains unconscious, they had no leader but Moses.
Moses stared into their eyes, and then nodded over to the fray. Each second knew he was to replace his fallen captain. Seeking to avenge their captains’ honor, the seconds joined in the battle.
Caleb had a sinking feeling that they would need to defeat every soldier in the army before Moses relented. So be it, Caleb decided, as he marshaled his strength.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing – Caleb and Joshua holding their own. I’d surmised Joshua’s name for their discussions with each other. They defeated the original ten soldiers, and some of those soldiers’ replacements. Now as each soldier fell, he was replaced by a fresh man.
For a moment, I thought I saw a dark shrouded figure standing at the sorcerer’s side. It must have been an illusion, for he cast no shadows himself, but rather cloaked himself in darkness as the sun touched upon the horizon.
Caleb and Joshua seemed to be fighting for hours, though I knew it wasn’t possible. My God, I wondered in awe, where do they get their strength and stamina? They seemed to be fighting for us, or at least so I imagined. But why would they risk their lives for us? It made no sense to me at all.
As the sun sank lower beneath the horizon, I saw the first sign of fatigue. One soldier, then another, landed a blow upon Caleb. Then another snuck past Joshua’s guard. Caleb and Joshua began to stagger, as their opponents’ blows began to land. Caleb and Joshua could barely defend themselves, as they struggled to remain on their feet.
A vicious blow struck Caleb square on the temple, sending him spinning to his knees as another blow to the back of the head drove him face first onto the ground. He tried to protect himself and cover up, as blow after blow continued to rain down.
Then Joshua fell, too, caught by a blow to the back of the head. He fell obviously unconscious, though the soldiers continued to strike.
Caleb saw Joshua fall, and wanted to protect him. But Caleb couldn’t even protect himself. Raising an arm, he tried to fend off repeated blows, but the staffs struck his arms, his head, his ribs and his back. Just before losing consciousness, Caleb heard a high pitched yell and saw pretty red hair, fair skin and blue eyes. Mishael, he marveled, as the world faded to black.
“Stop!” I screamed, rushing to Caleb’s defense. It wasn’t a conscious decision to come to his aid.
I stepped in with my staff and wounded Caleb’s nearest attacker. I forced the others to step back and reassess the situation. Joshua and Caleb lay motionless on the ground. There was no need to keep beating them. Their battle was done.
But I’d wounded one of the soldiers and stood staring them down. There was no way they’d let my interference go unpunished. Besides, I was a far more interesting opponent than the two men on the ground.
One of the soldiers just grinned and swung hard at my head. He probably would’ve killed me with that single blow alone, if I hadn’t been well trained to defend against such attacks. I deflected his attack easily and struck him hard behind the ear. His momentum carried him forward, throwing him face first in the dirt.
All of the other soldiers who’d faced Caleb, as well as those who’d faced Joshua, turned their attentions to me. It was now eight against one, but at least they weren’t replacing the fallen. No one believed I could possibly prevail.
Lord God of Midian, God of my ancestors, help me! I prayed, even as I dodged and parried and struck back at my attackers.
I broke one soldiers’ arm. I broke another soldier’s ribs. I took another one out with a blow across the temple. But the fight was exhausting. I was rapidly tiring, and it was still five against one.
I broke the nose of the fifth soldier before a blow caught me in the ribs. I’d deflected it slightly, so it hadn’t hit with full force. Still, the pain was so excruciating it robbed me of breath. I managed to parry several more blows, but every movement caused agony to my severely bruised ribs. Then the tip of a staff drove down hard into my thigh. I hobbled in agony. A staff caught me square in the stomach, doubling me over and bringing me down to one knee. Another strike hit me in the back and pitched me faced first into the dirt.
I desperately tried to cover up, but there was little I could do. Blow after blow eventually got through, causing me to cry out in pain, until one struck my head. The head strike barely hurt at all, it just put me to sleep, mercifully ending the beating I endured.
I wasn’t so much aware of regaining consciousness, as I was aware of increasing pain. My whole body throbbed with pain, and any movement caused agony. Even the movement from breathing hurt more than I could bear, so I did what I could to breathe as shallowly as possible.
Someone was caring for me, but I couldn’t tell who.
Whether I passed out from the pain or simply fell asleep, the lack of consciousness was a blessing.
Through the haze, I slowly became aware of someone stroking my hair, singing Midianite lullabies and holding my hand.
“Mother?” I asked, through the fog of pain.
“No child,” the woman said as my eyes began to focus, “my name is Zipporah.”
I recognized the woman who’d stood by the sorcerer’s side. She was the same woman who’d translated for Caleb, years ago, after the attack at the well.
“Water,” I croaked. As much as I hurt, I thirsted even more.
Zipporah dribbled water into my mouth from a wet cloth. Then she allowed me to suck more water from the cloth.
“Where’s my mother and Yoshi?” I asked, straining to speak above a whisper.
“Quiet, little one, be at peace, you need to rest now.” Zipporah spoke to me in Midianite in soft gentle soothing tones.
“What happened?” I whispered.
“Don’t you worry about that,” Zipporah replied. “Just rest, and get well. We’ll talk soon enough.”
“Caleb?” I persisted, wondering if he lived. Zipporah seemed surprised I knew his name, and probably didn’t recognize me. Given how badly I was beaten, I must have been fairly unrecognizable.
“Your efforts to protect him were heroic and very very foolish,” Zipporah answered. “But he’s alive, little one . . . thanks in large part to you.”
I smiled weakly and let go of consciousness, as I once again passed out.
When I came to again, Zipporah sat by my side. “What’s your name, little sister?”
“Mishael,” I replied.
“I’ve always loved that name,” Zipporah said. A hint of recognition flickered through her eyes.
“Hungry. Thirsty,” I managed.
Zipporah gave me some water, and then fed me some kind of broth. It had mashed bits of chicken and vegetable, and tasted delicious.
“How, long?” I asked, unable to finish the question.
“Since the fight?” Zipporah offered. “Several days. We weren’t sure if you would make it. It was touch and go for awhile.”
“Several days?” I asked, disoriented.
Zipporah nodded and said, “We’ll speak again soon.” Then she arose from my side and quickly strode away.
“Where’s my mother?” I rasped, “and my little brother, Yoshi?”
Zipporah reached the tent opening and apparently didn’t hear me. She continued on through without breaking her stride.
Within days, I was up and walking with Zipporah’s assistance. Amazingly, nothing was broken, but I had welts and bruises everywhere. I walked like an old woman, hobbling around.
I wanted to ask about my family, but couldn’t bring myself to do it. As prisoners of war, we’d all likely be slaves. I hoped mother and Yoshi were together and well treated. But I couldn’t bear to find out. When I was strong enough to visit them, I’d find out and find a way.
During mealtime, a hideous smell invaded the camp, which made it impossible to eat. Oily grey ash fell like nasty evil snowflakes.
“What is that?” I asked Zipporah, “And what’s that god awful smell?”
Tears welled in Zipporah’s eyes. Then they flowed down her cheeks. She sat down on some pillows, put her head in her hands and cried.
Zipporah’s reaction surprised me. I limped over to where she sat, and sat down by her side.
“Zipporah?” I said gently, reaching out to hold her hand. “What is it?”
“Midian,” Zipporah replied, “our people . . .” she added in between sobs. “Oh Misha,” Zipporah wept, “Midian is no more. Our cities, our towns, our people have been decimated.”
“The war is lost,” I said forlornly. I suppose I knew when we reached this camp. Marching across the desert with the other women and children, I half expected to see Nebach swoop down like a protective eagle.
“Worse than that,” Zipporah responded, “The cities and towns were looted and sacked, and all of the Midianite men were put to the sword,”[xxv] Zipporah said.
“The soldiers fought to the last man?” I asked. It was hard to believe. Usually soldiers surrendered when all hope was lost.
“No,” Zipporah replied, her lips quivering as she spoke, “all Midianite men were killed: those who fought to the death; those who were too injured to continue fighting; even those who surrendered; those who weren’t soldiers were also put to the sword; those who refused to fight; and those sick or old. All Midianite men were put to the sword.”
“All of them?” I asked incredulously, unable to process the enormity of the tragedy.
“Yes, all of them,” Zipporah wept, “well all except my father, who’d befriended Moses years ago. Maybe some were away traveling, or escaped into the desert. But as far as I know, all of them died by the sword.”
“My God,” I said. The soldiers I could understand, but the sick and the feeble and the elderly too? I could feel the tears welling in my eyes, as I imagined Hammarab surrendering weaponless, unwilling to fight, only to be killed by a soldier who lacked compassion or mercy. But then Hamarab was shrewd. I prayed to God he escaped. If anyone could, he could. I needed at least some shred of hope.
I needed mother and Yoshi, now more than ever. Whether together or separate, well treated or not, I needed to see them – if only for a moment. I needed to know they were surviving this ordeal.
“Zipporah,” I said, a lump rising in my throat, “when can I see my mother and brother? Their names are Keturah and Yoshi.”
Zipporah looked ashen and struggled to regain her composure.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Oh Mishael,” Zipporah said, once again sobbing uncontrollably, “I’m so sorry.”
My heart began pounding. I thought I would faint. The lump in my throat felt the size of an apple. I wanted to ask. I needed to ask. But I couldn’t possibly speak.
“When Caleb and Joshua fought the captains of the army,” Zipporah continued, “they fought to protect the innocents of Midian. Moses ordered the soldiers to kill the women and boys. Only girls who were virgins escaped death by the sword.”[xxvi]
“Oh my God,” I replied, unable to fathom such a slaughter.
“The mothers and the boys, even the infants, were killed. They were taken back to Midian and put to the sword.”
“But that can’t be!” I protested. “There were at least 50,000 women and boys with us that day! What kind of monsters could slaughter so many innocents in cold blood? How could anyone stand by and let something like this happen?”
“Oh, Misha,” Zipporah wept, “I really don’t know. They’ve challenged Moses before, over such trivial things. But the one time it truly mattered, they chose to turn a blind eye.”
“But my mother,” I said devastated, “and my little brother Yoshi . . . he’s only six years old and such a sweet little boy.”
“I’m so sorry,” Zipporah said through a torrent of tears.
I sat stone faced and in shock. I still couldn’t believe it. The magnitude of such a tragedy was beyond comprehension. My mind seemed determined not to focus on the horror, as if focusing on it would drive me insane. A stray thought entered my head – a question asked but not answered.
“Zipporah,” I asked, “what are those flakes falling from the sky, and what’s that hideous smell?”
Zipporah choked back her tears to finally answer my question. “Midianite men, women and children, who were slaughtered in the war . . . Moses ordered their bodies burned. There were too many to bury. He feared that leaving them exposed would result in a plague. The smell is from the fires. The flakes are the ashes of our people.”
I don’t know how long I wept or whether I fell asleep or blacked out. I only know that I awoke some time later, groggy and disoriented, parched and hungry, but with no desire to eat or to drink. Once again, Zipporah knelt by my side, concerned.
“Thank God, little one,” Zipporah said stroking my hair. “You’ve been asleep for several days. I feared you’d lost the will to live.”
“If I could will myself to die,” I croaked, “I would. What is left for me in this life? All that I knew and loved are gone. Mother, Yoshi, Balaam, Nebach, Hamarab . . . Cozbi.” What happened to Cozbi? She wasn’t a virgin, but she was young enough . . . maybe she survived.
“Zipporah,” I said. “My best friend and I visited your people long ago . . . Her name is Cozbi. She may have come here recently, to look up an old friend . . . named . . . Zimri, I believe.”
Zipporah sadly shook her head. She described Cozbi to me perfectly, as I nodded confirmation. “She’s dead.”
“Dead?” I asked hollowly, not terribly surprised.
“She was the first one to die, even before the war began,” Zipporah explained. “The elders were outraged at the women of Midian. They believed the women had come here to undermine our faith. I know it’s little consolation, but Zimri and Cozbi died quickly, together. I was there. I’m so sorry little one.”
“No,” I said softly, expecting to cry. But I was empty of tears, and numbed beyond pain.
I lay down and closed my eyes, and tried to will myself to die. Barring that, I’d take sleep or any other form of escape. Even a nightmare, any nightmare, would be better than this.
When I awoke, Zipporah was once more at my side. Outside, the ashes had stopped falling. A heavy rain was washing them away.
“Zipporah,” I said sleepily, “don’t you have other duties?”
“Yes . . .” Zipporah answered. After a long pause, she continued, “but I can’t bring myself to do them. I can’t bring myself to even look at, or be anywhere near, my husband. Attending to you is a mercy.”
We were silent for time. I couldn’t bear to dwell on my loss, but I couldn’t put it out of mind either. I didn’t want to feel sorry for myself, but I just couldn’t help it.
I lost everything – my family, my friends, my home, my possessions, my community and even my dreams. I saved myself all of these years, remaining unmarried and chaste, for an unfulfilled prophecy now incapable of fulfillment.
Even when Midian had countless eligible men, few were true to the God of Midian, even less bore the Mark and fewer still risked their lives for others. With the men of Midian destroyed, even if a few happened to survive, the chances were nearly nil that he could possibly be my prince . . . unless Hamarab survived. At this point, I wouldn’t hesitate to accept him as my prince. I longed for his strength, his comfort and protection.
“Zipporah,” I asked hesitantly, “what’s to become of me now?”
She looked at me sadly, with a hint of fear behind her eyes. “You’ve been given to Caleb as his slave. You will do as he says and he will see to your sustenance.”
“Your expression frightens me, Zipporah. Is he that bad a man?”
“No,” Zipporah continued, unable to look me in the eye. “But he must put you to the test and, if you fail, carry out your sentence.”
“What test?” I asked, wondering, Can this get any worse?
“Moses’ edict still stands.” Zipporah steeled herself to continue. “All of the Midianite women who’ve known a man carnally must die.”
“But how do they know . . . ?” I asked, unable to finish the thought.
“The mothers were easily identified. Others admitted to having husbands. The elderly women were presumed to have known men. They were all taken back to Midian and slaughtered with the boys.” Zipporah spoke almost mechanically, having difficultly getting through it. But she paused for a moment, to gather the strength to continue.
“Of the females remaining,” Zipporah forced herself onwards, “those who are undeniably women, will be tested without delay. Any girls on the cusp of womanhood, will have their garments inspected regularly for the next several moons. Those who show the signs of womanhood will be tested when their time of the month has passed. Those who show no signs of womanhood, after the passage of several moons, will be presumed to be virgins and needn’t suffer the test.”
“But what’s the test?” I asked, even though I really didn’t want to know.
“The same test used by husbands to determine the virginity of their brides . . . except there’ll be no wedding first, or even subsequently, to consecrate the event.”
I couldn’t speak, couldn’t think and didn’t know what to say. My life had become a horror, which still grew worse each passing day.
“Mishael,” Zipporah whispered, “you must tell me the truth. I will do everything that I can to save you, but to do so I must know. Are you a virgin?”
How could she possibly understand that I’d been saving myself all these years? I’m neither vain, nor possess false modesty. I know people see me as beautiful. At eighteen all my friends have been long ago married. I’m probably the oldest virgin here – by several years at least. .
“What if I don’t pass the test?” I asked, as a shudder traveled down my spine.
“Then Caleb must execute your sentence, or suffer it himself.”
My sentence, I thought, would have to be death by the sword. At this point in my life, death by the sword would have been merciful. Still, like creatures large and small, given a chance I clung to life.
Zipporah looked me in the eyes to confront my apparent evasiveness, “You haven’t answered my question.”
“Yes, Zipporah,” I said, returning her gaze without flinching. “As hard as it may be to believe, I have never known a man carnally.”
Caleb remained unconscious for several days longer than I did. When he regained consciousness, Zipporah asked me to do his bidding and make sure he remained comfortable. The absence of healers attending to him surprised me.
I asked Zipporah for permission to search for plants in the desert, which I believed would aid in Caleb’s healing. She denied me permission, but had one of Caleb’s soldiers find the plants I described.
Zipporah watched as I prepared the plants, as did an Israelite healer Zipporah had oversee my work. Zipporah interpreted as the other woman and I discussed the plants and their properties. The woman knew a little desert medicine, but she had quite a bit to learn. Then again, she could probably teach me a thing or two about sewing up injured soldiers.
The poultice I prepared smelled awful and stung. Caleb winced when I applied it, and then passed out from the pain. Unconsciousness was a blessing at this stage of healing.
Caleb felt the cool wet cloth on his forehead and saw stars when he tried to open his eyes. Quickly shutting them against the light, he moaned. He tried to sit up slowly, but the pain took his breath away. I haven’t felt like this since . . . since Moses struck that rock at Meribah, Caleb thought. Hunger gnawed at him. Thirst closed his throat.
“Caleb,” he heard a voice say from a distance. “Caleb? It’s ok. Keep your eyes closed and be still. You have been badly wounded, and have been unconscious for just over a week. Do you recognize my voice?”
Caleb couldn’t clear his head. The voice seemed familiar, but he couldn’t attach a name. He opened his eyes a little, then slammed them shut in excruciating pain.
“Keep your eyes closed! Even half dead you’re as stubborn as a mule,” the woman said with a laugh. “Well, it’s good to see you’re making progress. Let’s let him sleep for awhile.”
Caleb heard soft footsteps fading away as he fell into a deep sleep.
Caleb awoke once again to the feel of another cool cloth. He opened his eyes, and winced against the light. He tried to focus, but found it difficult. A young woman, lurking in the shadows, called out in a language Caleb didn’t understand.
“Back to the land of the living I see,” said an older woman entering the tent. “Look at me,” she said holding her face close to his. “Do you recognize me, Caleb? You’ve slept for only twenty four hours this time.”
Caleb’s eyes focused on Zipporah. He smiled slightly, winced, smiled more broadly and winced even more – a spiraling cycle that caused the woman to laugh.
“Stop, Zipporah,” Caleb croaked. “If you make me laugh it will kill me. I swear it.”
“Oh, I think you can manage your own demise without any of my help,” Zipporah said amiably, as she dribbled water into his mouth, before letting him suck on a wet cloth.
The water tasted as sweet as any Caleb could remember.
Zipporah spoke rapidly in Midianite to the young woman in the shadows. The woman ducked outside the tent, without giving Caleb a clear view.
“Who?” Caleb asked, trying to conserve his energy.
“Never mind her,” Zipporah replied. “We’ll speak at length about her later.”
“Joshua?” Caleb asked.
“That one,” Zipporah answered, “is as stubborn as you, but much better off. He was on his feet within days, though I insisted he rest. Would he listen? No. When does Joshua ever listen? The two of you,” Zipporah huffed, “are an incredibly well matched pair.”
“The women and children?” Caleb asked, as he remembered why he and Joshua had fought.
Zipporah looked down, unable to tell the tale again.
“Zipporah?” Caleb pleaded.
She refused to meet his gaze.
“I’m sorry,” Caleb said. “I should never have sheathed the sword.”
“No, Caleb,” Zipporah replied. “You mustn’t blame yourself. What you did for my people . . . I . . . I’ll never forget. You fought valiantly and risked your life, for people you didn’t even know.”
“They were women and children,” Caleb said sadly, “what should it matter if I know them?”
“It shouldn’t,” Zipporah answered, “but to many, still, it would have. You did all that you could do and, for that, I’ll be forever grateful.”
“What happened?” Caleb asked, as the shadowy figure returned, carrying a jug of fresh cool water and several clean cloths. She poured some water on a cloth, careful not to spill a drop, then replaced the cloth from Caleb’s forehead with the one she’d just prepared.
Caleb recognized her immediately, despite how badly she’d been beaten. Mishael! he marveled, wondering how she’d survived.
Mishael looked down, embarrassed. But Caleb saw the devastation in her eyes.
How could Moses have done this? It was beyond comprehension.
“When you and Joshua fell,” Zipporah began, “I thought they’d kill you – both of you. You’d dispatched all the captains. Their seconds sought revenge. This little one here saved your life. It was the bravest thing I’ve ever seen . . . and quite possibly the stupidest. Mishael stepped in between you and the soldiers, and fought valiantly for a time. She must have bested at least five soldiers before she succumbed to their blows. When she was beaten unconscious Moses called off the attack. You and Joshua both have her to thank for your lives.”
Caleb looked at Mishael and smiled, though it
pained him to do so.
Mishael returned the smile weakly. Her eyes remained sad.
“Zipporah,” Caleb whispered, “send Mishael out for a moment.”
Zipporah spoke to Mishael, who nodded and left.
“What happened to the women and children, Zipporah?” Caleb asked once again.
“I tried to reason with Moses,” Zipporah explained, “then turned to begging and pleading. But Moses wouldn’t listen. He had hardened his heart. I told him the soldiers should take me too. I am a Midianite woman. I think for a moment he considered it. Then Gershom and Eliezar ran to my side. I told Moses he should have his sons killed too, for they are Midianite, just as I am. Moses ignored all of my pleas, and called a soldier over to stand guard. Then the women and boys were taken back to Midian and slaughtered.”
“Moses told the soldiers,” Zipporah said with unmistakable bitterness, “that when they returned they could divide the spoils of war, people and things . . . .” Zipporah’s voice trailed off. She sighed heavily, not wanting to continue. “When the soldiers returned, the women and things were divided: 675,000 sheep, 72,000 cattle, 61,000 donkeys and . . . 32,000 girls . . . ”[xxvii]
The last figure struck Caleb hard, as he did the math in his head. 32,000 girls, he calculated, had been gathered in the square. There were probably the same number of boys, and just as many mothers and grandmothers. Even if some of the older boys were killed earlier, mistaken as men . . . there must have been at least 50,000 women and boys slaughtered in cold blood, at Moses’ direct order, in the name of the Lord!”
Caleb shuddered at the thought, as he tried to fight back tears. Caleb realized that the tragedy suffered by his own family, as horrific as it was, paled in comparison with this. He had difficulty focusing on Zipporah’s words, but Zipporah wasn’t finished.
“. . . Moses ordered that the remaining girls of marrying age be tested to make sure they’d not known a man intimately. Those who failed the test were slaughtered as well.”
“What kind of test?” Caleb asked, though he knew the answer before Zipporah said it.
“The same kind of test that has plagued women on their wedding nights for an eternity,” Zipporah said quietly.
“Oh, Lord,” Caleb whispered.
“Despite your defiance of him,” Zipporah continued, “or perhaps because of it, Moses insisted that you and Joshua receive your share of the booty – including animals, goods and people. Moses gave you the eldest girl and gave Joshua the second eldest. You each must test your slaves and execute them if they fail. If you refuse, you’ll be executed together with your slave.”
Moses must believe that the eldest are lying, Caleb realized. He wants to assure our full participation. Caleb admired Moses’ shrewdness, even as he despised Moses’ actions.
Caleb sighed, “So, who’s the eldest and is there any chance she’s telling the truth?”
Zipporah looked Caleb in the eye, surprised he hadn’t made the connection. “Mishael is the eldest, by several years in fact. She insists she’s a virgin . . . but it’s hard to imagine . . . I’m so sorry.”
Caleb’s mind swirled with thoughts, confusing images and feelings. My God she’s lost so much already. If she’s telling the truth, how can I steal what she has so scrupulously guarded? But if I refuse, then both our lives will be forfeit. We must somehow run away. Caleb knew they’d be under guard, but they had no choice but to flee.
As Caleb healed, I made sure his tent remained clean and organized. Often he watched me as I worked. Occasionally, out of the corner of my eye, I could see him looking and I could not help but smile. I liked Caleb watching me. He looked at me protectively and with a subtle hunger.
Caleb began to heal quickly under my care, though he seemed reluctant to leave his tent and return to his duties. I couldn’t help but wonder when he would perform his duties towards me, though I didn’t dare ask. Each day brought a new level of comfort between us, marred by an unspoken tension of an uncertain future.
Once, while Caleb watched me, I saw a glimpse of fear in his eyes and I knew without a doubt that his mind had turned to the test. I looked away, embarrassed.
I dreaded facing the test and, in a strange way, looked forward to it. Regardless of the outcome, I’d be free my vows to remain chaste for my prince.
Caleb tossed and turned every night. Mishael attended him every day, dressing his wounds and attending to his needs. She seemed quite an accomplished healer.
Several days after Caleb regained consciousness, Joshua came to visit Caleb. “How are you?” Joshua asked, as he hobbled into the room.
“Better,” Caleb responded. “But it feels like it did after Meribah, remember?”
“How could I forget? I think I was injured almost as badly then, as I was in our recent skirmish,” Joshua added.
“Have you heard what happened when we were unconscious?” Caleb asked.
“Yes. I am sorry,” Joshua replied. “I wish we could have done more. But it must have been God’s will that we did not succeed . . .”
“No,” Caleb cut him off. “I cannot accept that. It was Moses anger, jealousy and vengeance on behalf of the Lord – arrogance and misunderstanding – this was not the Lord’s will. It can’t be. I won’t accept it. If the deaths of Sarah, Joseph and Jephunneh showed me anything, Joshua, it’s that the slaughter of innocents just cannot be God’s will. Maybe that’s why God let my family die, so that someone here would see . . .”
“I only meant it wasn’t our fault,” Joshua said. “We did the best we could to prevent this.”
“But what if we’d fought to the death?” Caleb wondered aloud. “Maybe spilling Israelite blood would have changed Moses’ mind.”
“Is that what you would have wanted?” Joshua asked. “The death of loyal soldiers?”
“If it would have saved innocent women and children?” Caleb responded. “Absolutely. No question. I’d trade their lives and my own to save innocent women and children.”
“The women weren’t so innocent,” Joshua replied.
“But most of them were and you know it,” Caleb responded in anger, “and the children? My God, the children! How could Moses give such an order? How could our soldiers carry it out? How could our people stand by and let this happen?”
“What’s done is done,” Joshua said decisively, “there was nothing we could have done to change Moses’ mind, except defeat every soldier, one by one, in our army. Because that’s what it would have taken. Moses made that perfectly clear by replacing fallen captains with their seconds in our fight.”
“Perhaps,” Caleb responded. “But I wish I’d fought to the death. At least then I wouldn’t wonder whether the slaughter of my family was in vain. Maybe God prepared me in Egypt, so I would stop this very tragedy.”
“Enough!” Joshua ordered. “We did our best and that’s all there is to it. Your death would’ve accomplished nothing, except allow you to avoid the future.”
“What future is that?” Caleb asked Joshua bitterly. “Raping and killing the slaves we’ve been assigned?”
“Mine has provided adequate proof,” Joshua muttered, unable to meet Caleb’s gaze. “Yours will too,” he added softly.
Caleb winced, but said nothing. Joshua believed Mishael would fail. Caleb could hear it in Joshua’s voice.
“You will do this Caleb,” Joshua ordered, in a quiet but commanding tone. “We tried to change Moses’ mind. We challenged Moses, but we failed. It’s amazing Moses let us live, much less continue in our former positions. We still command the army, Caleb. But we must follow Moses’ orders.”
This was the first Caleb had heard that they’d continue to lead the army. Caleb doubted he could return to duty, not after what had just happened. But this wasn’t the time to discuss it.
“You know who’d have to step in if you refuse to do your duty?” Joshua asked, pointing a thumb towards his own chest, “It was not an unpleasant task, testing my slave. If I had to test yours, too, I wouldn’t complain. I could even carry out her sentence if the evidence went against her. But whether she lives or dies, if you refuse to follow Moses’ orders, I’d have to carry out your sentence.”
If you can catch us, Caleb thought, gritting his teeth.
“Don’t even think about fleeing,” Joshua said without missing a beat. “I’ve posted soldiers all around to prevent your escape. If you manage to flee, Moses will have me executed in your place. If I can’t stop you from fleeing, it’s a punishment I’ll accept.”
Caleb felt defeated. He truly didn’t know what to do. His only way out now seemed impenetrably blocked.
Caleb sent for Zipporah, hoping to gain information that might provide a solution. While he waited, his thought’s drifted to Mishael and how extraordinarily beautiful she was – long red hair, milky white skin, striking blue eyes and delicate features. Yet she was not only beautiful, she possessed a sharp wit, a dedication to learning and the fire of intelligence that made her incredibly attractive.
Doing my duty needn’t be horrible, Caleb thought. I could at least try to make it . . . pleasurable for her. Caleb shook his head. What am I thinking? Somehow, he felt incredibly excited and utterly disgusted, all at the same time.
Caleb struggled with the guilt of his thoughts and emotions, until one more emotion crept into the mix – fear. What if she isn’t a virgin. What if I can’t provide the proof necessary to save her life? That’s what Moses wants as a final test of loyalty. He wants Mishael to fail the test, so that I will be required to . . . to . . . Caleb couldn’t bring himself to think it.
Zipporah entered the tent and she could tell what Caleb was thinking. “Misha assures me she’s a virgin,” Zipporah said.
“Did she tell you this before or after you told her the consequences of her answer?” Caleb asked.
Zipporah thought for a moment and looked down. “After. I’m sorry. I so wanted to hear the right answer.”
“Zipporah,” Caleb said tentatively, “It won’t be enough for me simply to say she’s a virgin, will it?”
Zipporah shook her head, “No. I am afraid not. After the girl is tested, midwives must verify her status by inspecting the . . . evidence.”
“You could be that person, couldn’t you?” Caleb said brightening, thoughts of a protective conspiracy forming in his head.
“I will be,” Zipporah said, “but I won’t be alone. Moses insisted that Qwara also verify Mishael’s status. The two of us must wait outside during . . . and verify the truth after.”
“Would Qwara . . .” Caleb began.
“Lie to protect Mishael?” Zipporah finished. “I doubt it, and wouldn’t trust her to do so. She’s still a new wife to Moses and much favored in the household. She wouldn’t want to risk her position, or worse consequences if she were caught in a lie. No, I think that Qwara will report back honestly to Moses, whatever the outcome.”
Caleb desperately wanted to end the conversation, but he had one last question that he couldn’t avoid. “When?”
“As soon as you’re well enough,” Zipporah replied. “You can draw it out a week or two, at most,” Zipporah said as she rose to go. “Rest.”
As Caleb healed, so did Mishael, until her movements across the room were fluid and graceful and mesmerizing. The purple welts and bruises on bits of uncovered skin faded quickly – one of the blessings of youth.
Caleb also recuperated fairly quickly, though he tried not to show it. He enjoyed having Mishael attend to him, even if he couldn’t understand her language – not that she spoke all that often. What was the point? Neither spoke the other’s language. Nevertheless, Caleb enjoyed simple things, like watching her clean and straighten the tent. She moved with such an easy confidence.
Mishael’s knowledge of healing impressed Caleb enormously. She applied a foul smelling salve, made from a mixture of desert plants, using a recipe known by neither Zipporah nor any of the Israelite healers. Caleb winced and complained when she first applied it.
Mishael winced too when she first applied the salve, as if she also felt the pain she had just caused her patient. She looked at him with concern and tenderness in her eyes, and spoke to him in a reassuring tone that reminded him of Sarah. Her hands were nimble and quick, and never wavered from her task.
The salve sped the healing process faster than anything Caleb had ever seen. So much so that Caleb wished she had a little less knowledge of medicine. After a full week recovering, Caleb’s progress was remarkable.
The next time Mishael applied the salve, Caleb winced as if in pain. For the briefest of moments Misha’s eyes showed concern. Then they narrowed and instead of her usual soothing reassurance, her voice and demeanor conveyed nothing but scolding.
Misha’s scolding seemed so harsh in her incomprehensible language, Caleb started laughing and found he couldn’t stop.
Misha furrowed her brows, but succumbed to laughter herself.
Such a delightful laugh, Caleb observed, it suits her.
Mishael shook her head and exited the tent.
Caleb watched her leave, and then fretted about the obligation that loomed in his future. Mishael saved my life, lost her family, lost her friends and lost her freedom. Now, I’m obligated to take from her the one thing she has guarded her whole life? It would be better that I take her life than the remainder of her dignity. There must be another way. There must be another way. But if there was, he couldn’t see it.
“Zipporah,” Caleb said on a day when Zipporah had accompanied Mishael. “We need to talk.”
Zipporah nodded and replied, “That is why I accompanied Mishael today. Moses has enquired after your health.”
“I’m touched,” Caleb said, without bothering to hide the sarcasm.
“He expects you to carry out your obligation soon,” Zipporah continued.
Caleb spoke grimfaced, “Can’t we delay it any longer?”
“No,” Zipporah replied. “I’m sorry.”
Caleb glanced uneasily at Mishael, who went about straightening the tent without any hint of understanding their conversation. Still, Caleb felt uncomfortable talking about Mishael’s fate in front of her. “Zipporah, if we are to discuss this, please ask Mishael to leave.”
Mishael looked up at the mention of her name, and Zipporah said a few words to her. She nodded and left gracefully. Caleb felt empty and tight in the chest whenever Misha left the room, as if the air exited with her.
“It won’t be so bad, Caleb,” Zipporah said kindly enough, “You might even enjoy yourself, and there is no reason that you cannot be . . . considerate. Not the most ideal circumstances, to be sure, but something tells me that you two have formed something of a bond already.”
“You know I don’t want to do this, Zipporah,” Caleb said. “Well, at least a part of me doesn’t,” Caleb admitted. “But if I must . . . well . . . I must.”
“Are there any particular arrangements you would like?” Zipporah asked.
Caleb seemed to consider a moment before replying. As Caleb described the arrangements he desired, Zipporah’s face betrayed surprise and a little disappointment. Zipporah wondered if she had somehow misjudged him. Regardless, she would do as he requested.
Caleb and Joshua had a light workout with swords, their first since the Midianite war. They quickly realized that Caleb couldn’t use his new sword in mock battle. When their swords clashed, Caleb’s sword cut through Joshua’s, which created only enough resistance for Joshua to lean back out of the way. Even then, Caleb’s sword nicked Joshua’s cheek.
Caleb set the new sword aside. “I suppose I should find a different sword for our workouts,” he said.
“That would be best,” Joshua agreed, examining his now severed sword.
Caleb was so distracted that any further work out would just be dangerous. Besides, neither Joshua nor Caleb brought any other weapons.
“You have a big night ahead of you,” Joshua said tentatively.
Caleb grunted in response.
“Oh, come now,” Joshua said. “It won’t be such a hardship. If you’re not up to it, I suppose I could always . . . help you out . . . What are friends for?”
Caleb glared at Joshua before saying, “Moses wouldn’t approve.” Caleb’s tone of voice made it clear that he didn’t care a whit about Moses’ approval, and cared even less for Joshua’s offer.
“This is really difficult for you, isn’t it?” Joshua asked surprised.
“I haven’t been with a woman since . . . since,” Caleb could not bring himself to say it, “and Mishael saved my life Joshua. She saved our lives. How can I do this to her? Even if she is proven pure, no man will have her after this.”
“If she’s to live, it’s as a slave,” Joshua replied, “in which case who would have her even if she remained a virgin, another slave? We haven’t taken male captives as slaves, though I suppose we might in future wars. Under the circumstances, I’m not sure it matters if she remained a virgin, assuming she still is one.”
“God cannot possibly want me to take her under these circumstances,” Caleb insisted. “But then, I’m not sure I have any choices God would approve of . . . ”
“God understands when we have to make the best of bad choices,” Joshua replied. “He understands when the choice left to us is no real choice at all.”
“Perhaps,” Caleb admitted. “I just wish I had more time to consider what choices may exist.”
“Caleb,” Joshua said, “Don’t forget what Moses told me: if you or ‘the girl’ flees, your punishment will be mine.”
Caleb knew better than to ask Joshua to escape with them, even if that’d been Caleb’s plan. Joshua had accepted Moses’ order as the consequence of their defeat, even though Moses stacked the odds against them. Joshua wouldn’t betray Moses further and would not abandon the Israelites.
“I understand,” Caleb responded. “I’ll do what I must.”
I was not told when the day would come, but come it did and Zipporah prepared my body as I tried to prepare my mind. She washed me carefully from head to toe and rubbed my skin with sweet smelling desert flowers. She dressed me in robe of thin white linen, tied at the sides and on the shoulders with little bows – nothing else, just the robe.
Zipporah took me by the hand and led me outside into the crisp night air, so different from the warmth of the tent. My breasts reacted instantly, and I became acutely aware of how little the linen concealed. I leaned slightly forward so that the fabric fell away from me and wasn’t quite as revealing.
We walked for at least ten thousand heartbeats before arriving at Caleb’s tent. Zippporah led me inside, still holding my hand.
Pillows and blankets covered the floor near the center of the tent, spreading in all directions. In the middle, lay a white sheet made of the same thin linen as my robe, but much larger. Three oil lamps cast an eerie glow, as their flames danced slowly without rhythm.
The familiarity of this tent, in which I had come to feel comfortable in Caleb’s presence, now seemed empty, foreign and frightening. Grasping my hand firmer now, Zippporah led me to the sheet and turned to face me.
“Listen, child,” she whispered, her hand still firm around mine. “Listen well,” she said caressing my hair and brushing it back over my shoulders. “I know you’re afraid. You say that you have not known a man and I believe you. The truth shall soon be seen. My husband himself has decreed that I confirm Caleb’s judgment, as he is uncertain that Caleb would report truthfully if you do not pass the test. I too, shall have a second, Qwara, my husband’s second wife. This is good, if you are true, because my husband may not trust my report, for he knows well that you and I come from the wellspring of Midian.”
Zipporah looked me in the eyes, trying to discern the truth of the situation from my reactions. Then she continued, “If you are not pure, I need to know now child. Trust me and I shall intervene with Caleb and try to find some excuse to send Qwara away.”
The lump in my throat and the tears in my eyes kept me mute. I nodded once, slightly, without breaking eye contact and could feel the tears fall from my eyelashes. Looking into my eyes, Zipporah seemed relieved, yet saddened. She led me to the sheet and laid me down on my back.
She secured me with leather straps, which were affixed to tent stakes sunk deep into the earth. My wrists were bound together, high above my head. My knees were bound wide apart, with the leather straps through the robe’s bows. My feet were pulled down and secured tight with more straps. The dress was wide enough at the base to accommodate this odd position, while still covering me completely.
I tried to remain still and calm, but felt helpless, vulnerable and frightened. This wasn’t what I’d expected. I thought he’d treat me like a wife – perhaps rougher and more insistent to assure evidence of virginity – but more like a wife than like a . . . a . . . sacrifice. I’d heard stories of ritual sacrifices to evil gods who accepted the hearts of virgins to forestall their wrath.
Zipporah sat next to me and brushed my hair out of my eyes. She touched my face tenderly. Leaning close, she brought her lips to my ear and said what I had told many a bride in preparation for their wedding night, “Try to relax. It will go easier.” Then she kissed my forehead and stood up to leave.
“My second and I shall be listening outside and shall wait until after it is done before checking on you. God be with you child.”
I tested my bonds as Zipporah exited the tent. I could wriggle and squirm, but that was about all. Then I was alone.
Caleb took a long, steaming, hot bath. The hot water and the solitude relaxed him. He was not one to second guess his decisions, but this particular decision wasn’t easy and he found it difficult making peace with it.
Am I doing the right thing? Caleb wondered. He allowed his mind to go blank and focus simply on breathing, deeper, slower and deeper still. In . . . out. . . inn . . . . ouut . . . innn . . . ouuut. Each breath calmed him further, until he accepted what he must do.
Caleb dressed in his finest blue robes, which had been carefully cleaned for the evening. On one hip, Caleb strapped the elegant Midianite sword. On the other hip, he strapped an Amorite dagger, its razor blade and wicked point every bit as deadly as the sword. Caleb stood, took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Then he headed towards the tent that served as his bedroom. The cold night air felt good against his skin.
When he reached his tent, Zipporah and Qwara sat vigil on either side of the tent’s entrance. Soldiers loitered farther away, squelching any possibility of fleeing – with or without Mishael – not that he would even consider fleeing if it might mean Joshua’s death.
Caleb’s eyes met Zipporah’s briefly and she nodded. “Everything is as you asked,” Zipporah said, pleading with her eyes. Caleb looked away uneasily.
“Qwara,” Caleb said, acknowledging the other woman as he opened the tent flap.
Can I really do this? Caleb wondered in the instant before entering. If I take her virginity when she’s lost everything all else . . . her family, her friends, her freedom, her dreams . . . I might as well kill her up front, quickly and mercifully. If she’s not a virgin, am I to defile her further, only kill her publicly in some twisted display of loyalty? Either way, it would be better I kill her now.
Caleb knew he must stick to his plan. But he wasn’t sure he could go through with it. Caleb’s right hand rubbed the hilt of his dagger nervously. After tonight, nothing will be the same, ever.
Caleb stepped into the tent, steadfast as a soldier on a mission of life and death.
It took a few moments for Caleb’s eyes to adjust to the soft glow of the oil lamps, whose dancing flames cast a gentle orange hue and ever shifting shadows. Mishael lay upon a white sheet, tied to Caleb’s specifications. The restraints were loose enough to allow some movement, though not much. Colorful pillows and blankets lay around her, at her sides.
The sight of Mishael took Caleb’s breath away. Her stunning red hair fanned out and around her, framing her delicate face and contrasting with her pale skin and blue eyes. The white gossamer dress clung in all the right places. Caleb hungered for her instantly and felt his body react.
Caleb wanted to take her then and there and felt his resolve slipping away. Please God give me strength to do what I must, Caleb prayed, even though he knew his plan was ungodly.
My heart leapt as I heard the swish of fabric brushed aside. I could hardly think. Each breath came short and shallow, bringing desperate gulps of air. Please Lord, I prayed silently, let him be kind and not cruel.
Caleb stood inside the entrance to the tent, tall and muscular, with long dark curls framing an angular face and strong nose. I saw a confusing mix of expressions in his eyes – lust, resolve, sadness, approval.
He wore the clothes of a soldier, recently cleaned, and spoke to me in a soothing voice as he approached. If only I understood his language or he mine, then maybe I could change what would come. Perhaps he would listen.
My breath caught as he sat down next to me and looked into my eyes. A fresh masculine scent emanated from him. My body reacted unexpectedly to him. Can he smell me, too? I wondered. I turned away, embarrassed.
Speaking softly, Caleb reached across with a strong, calloused, battle-hardened hand, held my chin gently and turned my face towards his. His warm clean breath washed over me.
Caleb brushed a stray hair from my face and looked deep into my eyes. He caressed my cheek with the back of his forefinger. He could have groped or squeezed more tender areas, without regard to any protests I might have made. Yet despite his strength, he touched me softly. My breathing became even more irregular.
Caleb smiled and then let his gaze travel down the length of the robe, which clung to me, hiding little. My body reacted as it had outside, but unlike outside I couldn’t conceal the reaction. I bit my lower lip to keep from moaning or begging or pleading.
He lay down by my side, with his head propped up on one hand. Caleb ran his other hand down my face, across my neck, over my shoulder and then up my arm to the wrists. His touch raised goose bumps, despite the warmth of the tent. A finger traced the leather straps that held my wrists.
The quiet murmur of his voice soothed me, but held no meaning. But the hunger and longing I saw in his eyes frightened me.
Reaching up to my hands, his fingertips brushed my palms lightly, before tracing their way down my arm, then across the fabric covering my breasts.
I struggled to pull away and the leather straps bit into my wrists. I stifled a cry and tried to relax. My wrists burned from the mistake.
“Shhhh,” he said, followed by words that conveyed meaning only through tone.
I tried to remain calm and unmoving as Caleb explored the curves of my breasts and my hard nipples, concealed only by thin fabric. Sensations overwhelmed me – exquisite pleasure from his touch mixed with sharp pain at my wrists and ankles when I could not remain still.
With one hand exploring my breasts and the other entwined in my hair, Caleb leaned in closer and kissed me on the mouth. I opened my mouth to protest. He penetrated me with his tongue. The feel and taste of his tongue was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. My entire body seemed to melt.
He broke off the kiss so he could again stare into my eyes. His fingers danced and teased and explored up and down my body, with the gossamer linen the only barrier between us. His penetrating gaze and unrelenting exploration caused moisture to well up inside of me. He kissed away tears of embarrassment, soothed me with his voice and startled me with a twinkle in his eyes.
I closed my eyes, the darkness my only privacy.
Mishael’s vulnerability, beauty and undeniable presence excited him in a way that made him question how the evening would unfold. Caleb felt like a starving man looking at a forbidden meal he had been encouraged to eat. The exquisitely thin cotton fabric did little to hide Mishael’s delicate form. If only I could explain, Caleb thought, looking deep into her clear blue eyes.
Caleb leaned down again, bringing his lips to hers in another gentle kiss, which transitioned to a playful nip at her lower lip. Mishael gasped in surprise, once again opening her mouth. Caleb sought her tongue with his and found it.
Caleb loved the taste of her mouth, and her exquisitely small tongue. She was hesitant and uncertain, but didn’t fight him or seem revolted. For the briefest moment, Caleb even thought he felt her tongue exploring his, but dismissed the impression as wishful thinking.
Caleb once again pulled away and smiled. For the first time that evening, Mishael returned a faint smile of her own, a nervous smile to be sure – but a smile nonetheless.
Could it be? Caleb wondered. Someone so lovely, with such a gentle disposition? Someone smart enough to learn the healing arts, and disciplined enough to learn the martial arts? How could she have endured poverty and passed into womanhood without having been married off for an enormous marriage price? It seemed improbable, if not impossible.
Caleb once again lowered his face to Mishael and kissed her. As they kissed, Caleb’s fingers continued to roam, enjoying the feel of her ribs and the way her slender frame curved inward at her belly and flared out at her hips. Mishael shivered as the palm of his hand caressed her belly and his fingers found the cotton covered curls below before moving down and away to skim over her thigh.
As Caleb’s hand began exploring upwards, over the cotton robe and along the inner portion of her thigh, her breathing became erratic and she struggled against her bonds. She cried out softly through clenched teeth and did her best to remain still.
Caleb avoided the juncture where her thighs met and once more caressed Mishael’s tummy before continuing his upward journey. He caressed her breast firmly and then rougher still, playing with her nipples until the pressure caused her to moan – whether from pleasure or pain Caleb couldn’t quite tell.
Still he loosened his grip and kissed her hard on the mouth, his tongue penetrating her forcefully without the slightest hesitation. Mishael responded passionately to the kiss, dangerously weakening Caleb’s resolve – not that she understood his resolve or knew whether she should weaken it.
Caleb ran a hand down the side of her dress, finding each bow and pulling on it slowly until it silently came undone – bow by bow. Starting at the right shoulder, then down the right side, up the left, and finally to her left shoulder – until the portion of the dress covering Mishael lay on top of her like a sheet.
Caleb searched Mishael’s eyes once more, seeing only hunger and longing now, not fear or embarrassment.
Should he continue as planned? His body ached for her, wanted her every bit as much as he had ever wanted Sarah. He wasn’t sure what to do.
Caleb moved once more to kiss Mishael, thrilling at the way her lips parted as he approached. Like a little bird, waiting to be fed, he marveled.
As Mishael responded passionately to his kiss, Caleb slipped his hand under the top of the dress now draped over her like a sheet. Her skin felt shockingly soft and smooth against his calloused hands. When Caleb’s fingers once again found hardened nipples, without the barrier of the thin cotton robe, Mishael moaned with pleasure. She squirmed against her restraints, and once again cried out in pain.
Caleb took his time exploring the contours of her breasts and ribs before his hand wandered lower, to explore her tummy and the recess of her belly button.
Moving lower still, Mishael’s heart beat like the wings of a hummingbird as his hand moved towards nether curls. Caleb played with them absently as he looked into her eyes.
“You are so beautiful, Misha,” he said, using her nickname for the first time. Caleb kissed her and explored lower until his fingers found delicate folds. Mishael moaned and did her best to remain absolutely still, though at times that became impossible.
Caleb’s rough yet gentle fingers began tracing a familiar circuit – tracing her silky nether lips, then dipping barely inside, drawing out moisture, before focusing, always focusing, on that special little place at the apex of her sex. Her body opened like a flower, wet with the morning dew, as he traced that circuit, over and over until she began to squirm uncontrollably.
She cried out as the leather restraints tore at her chafed skin. She fought to still remain still. But each circuit became a rhythmic dance, altered slightly with each pass. Dipping into her, he explored deeper and lingered longer every time, careful, ever so careful, to avoid tearing delicate flesh. Her sex had become an inkwell, his finger the quill, as he traced intricate designs on a perfect empty parchment.
Caleb knew from his explorations she’d not intimately known a man. He could take her, as was his right, and the proof would save her life. She seemed to want him, as he did her, at least her body did. He was sure. He’d never wanted anything more, but he didn’t know what to do.
With the discipline of a soldier, Caleb kissed her chastely on the lips and then sat back, allowing both of them to catch their breath.
After a moment, I realized he was no longer touching me. I opened my eyes to see him sitting by my side. Savoring the moment, Caleb leaned forward and with exaggerated slowness pulled the linen down as if revealing a work of art. I trembled under his gaze.
Caleb spoke words I didn’t understand, though I felt their passion. His eyes burned, and tears flowed down his face. Something is wrong, I thought briefly, my mind only now beginning to function again.
When Caleb picked up the knife and held it high, point down, over my naked breast, I thought surely I would faint. But I’m a virgin, I thought, terrified that somehow, in some way, I’d failed the test.
Caleb wished he could ask for forgiveness beforehand. He knew he’d never receive it afterwards. He wondered if he could forgive himself for what he was about to do.
Closing his eyes, Caleb rocked slowly back and forth, davening without prayer over the unholy act he would perform.
It’s the only way, Caleb thought, already mourning his loss. I can’t steal what she’s safe-guarded for the entirety of her life.
Caleb knelt next to me, a wicked knife in his hand, its deadly tip hovering over my heart. He closed his eyes and began to sway back and forth.
I couldn’t have failed the test! I thought, fighting down panic. I struggled mightily against my restraints, which caused white hot bolts of pain. But it had little effect except to bring tears to my eyes.
“God no, Caleb! Please,” I cried loudly, begging now for my life. “I’m a virgin. Please don’t do this. I have never been with a man.”
But Caleb continued, unhearing, unseeing, intent. Mere seconds felt like a lifetime as he gripped the knife in his left hand and tested the blade for its sharpness. The finger with which he’d touched me was now coated with his blood.
Caleb’s blood dripped down the blade, until a single droplet fell. I thought of the blood rituals of my ancestors as the drop splashed upon my breast.
I was terrified. I was helpless. I screamed.
Mishael’s scream startled Caleb. For an instant he saw the scene through her eyes, and regretted the effect he’d had on her. He immediately through the knife to the edge of the tent and then covered her mouth with his left hand, muffling her scream.
“Shhhhh,” he said, quietly, his hand still over her mouth. “It’s ok. I won’t hurt you. I promise. Don’t be afraid.”
Caleb kept his hand over her mouth until the panic and terror left her eyes. The fear remained, but he didn’t expect that to change until the evening with him was over. He removed his hand from her mouth and reassured her with his eyes.
Caleb took a dark cloth, dipped it in the water and wiped the droplets of blood from my chest. He used the cloth to wipe his finger, but the knife had cut it deep. More blood welled up immediately, though he didn’t seem to mind.
Once more he lay down next to me, his eyes seeming to search mine. Whatever ritual he’d just completed, I didn’t like it one bit. I was angry, afraid and confused.
Then Caleb resumed touching me, as he had only moments ago, once again following that slightly irregular circuit. His now injured finger slid over delicate folds, moving up towards their apex, where he focused, before moving on. I gasped when he dipped inside of me, so gentle and yet so strong.
The circuit, so rhythmic, changed constantly to prevent anticipation, driving me wild in a way I’d never experienced. I squirmed in pleasure from his touch and moaned in pain from the leather restraints. But my most delicate flesh remained intact and untorn.
Caleb sat up, turned around and lay his head on her thigh. Mishael struggled violently, but in vain, to close her legs, biting her lip and drawing blood to prevent screaming in pain.
Caleb resumed his exploration, tenderly, with his injured finger. He carefully penetrated deep inside, tapping upwards from within. Her silky smooth insides seemed to swell. His other hand caressed her tummy, in little spirals moving down, through curls that hid little, much less the apex of her sex.
Relentless tapping from within and gentle caresses from without found her most sensitive spots, both inside and out. Whimpers turned to moans and then to cries of pleasure and pain, as she struggled mightily to pull away, to find relief and end her ordeal.
But Caleb wouldn’t stop until the end came of its own accord. He was transfixed and entranced, as she began to lose all control.
I struggled wildly, involuntarily, in both ecstasy and agony. But it wasn’t true agony, because the sharp pain canceled felt like an appropriate punishment, which relieved the guilt of experiencing pleasure. Indeed, the pain itself seemed to enhance the pleasure, like a dark shadow adding depth to the experience.
Mishael’s pleading became desperate, her struggling violent and out of control. She arched her back and began to tremble and shudder and shake. Caleb’s hands moved along with her, as her tummy trembled and shook, as he coaxed wave after wave of pleasure from her little body.
I felt like a new wineskin filled completely with sweet liquid, then left in the hot sun until it trembled and burst.
I exploded in ecstasy beyond anything I could have imagined, and then enjoyed spasms of pleasure that faded slowly away. It was like childbirth in reverse – childbirth and then labor pains – but with pleasure instead of pain, pleasure unbearably intense, which lessened with each contraction.
As the pleasure subsided, the pain came to the fore – throbbing worse with each heartbeat and to satiate the guilt. It felt right to feel pain as the remnant of pleasure. My world had crumbled around me and left me alone.
Caleb admired my naked form, so helpless and inviting. When his eyes finally met mine, I knew he would finally take what I’d preserved.
Caleb stood over me and removed his clothes. Too exhausted to protest, I lay there expectantly. This was not how I expected to surrender myself to a man. But I was so tired of saving myself, and so tired of waiting. I wanted him to take me as a man takes his wife, and I pretended he was my prince and the love of my life.
I looked at Caleb through watery eyes, as he loomed large above me. I imagined he bore the mark of Midian and believed in my God. His chiseled body, hard as stone, glistened with sweat in the candle light.
Kneeling between my legs, he lay gently down on top of me, his eyes locked on mine and his weight pressing me into the pillows. I could feel barest tip of him, smooth as silk and yet hard, caressing and teasing the opening of my sex.
I tensed in anticipation of a thrust that never came. Then an explosion of liquid fire seemed to warm my insides. Ripples of pleasure fanned out from my womb, like ripples on a lake from a casually tossed stone.
Caleb’s mouth covered mine and he teased me with his tongue. He nibbled playfully on my lip and then he looked into my eyes. He seemed satiated and satisfied, but I didn’t understand.
Has he completed the test? I wondered, confused. I felt relieved and yet disoriented. Nothing made sense at all.
Caleb rolled away, knelt at Mishael’s side, surveyed the scene and was satisfied. She was so beautiful tied, so vulnerable and helpless, Caleb ached to finish and perform his obligation. But he refused to give in, though the temptation was great. The stage was set. The deed was done. He lay down by her side.
Caleb placed his head on my naked breast, as my hammering heartbeat slowed. Soon he was snoring softly by my side and I knew the test was done.
Yet Caleb hadn’t stolen the gift, I’d thought was only mine to give. He came right to the threshold, but never consummated the act. In that moment, I realized, it wasn’t just my gift to give.
Caleb had given me that gift – which I’d safeguarded for my prince – the gift of my virginity.
Caleb almost fell asleep with his head on Mishael’s breast, as her heartbeat slowed to a steady rhythmic beating. He rolled over and snorted, tucking his hand underneath a pillow. Quietly and then louder, Caleb pretended to snore.
Unlike Caleb, I couldn’t sleep. The slightest movement hurt my wrists and ankles and knees. I stilled my body and mind as best I could and slowed my breathing, trying to relax. I could feel his fluids mixed with mine, leaking from me.
Zipporah and Qwara entered the tent with a soft swish of fabric. I feigned sleep, embarrassed to be tied as I was, so immodestly and completely exposed.
“Oh child!” Zipporah exclaimed, in barely above a whisper, “I thought he’d be kind . . . but at least there’s no doubt you’ve passed the test.”
In that moment, I could picture the scene as Zipporah must have experienced it. I saw the torn and bruised skin where the leather restraints held me. Caleb’s fluids, tinged pink, oozed out from inside of me, staining my white dress and the sheet on which I lay. Traces of blood darkened my sex and thighs, as well as Caleb’s manhood as he slept. The unmistakable smell of passion’s aftermath confirming what had occurred. The audacity of it stunned me.
I felt like a damaged gourd, bruised and leaking, as I tried in vain to staunch the growing “proof” I had passed.
Zipporah spoke softly to Qwara, who took a knife from her belt. Together, they deftly cut the leather straps. Gentle as they were, even slight movement from the blade cutting the leather caused me to cry out.
“Shhhhh,” Zipporah said, stroking my hair and looking into my eyes. “You have done well, little one. You have passed the test and will live to see another day. Try to remain quiet, so we won’t wake Caleb.”
They helped me to my feet, causing the blood to flow to my injuries. I bit my lip to prevent a high pitched scream from escaping, as pain took my breath away. They dressed me in a dark cotton shift, which slipped easily and quickly over my head.
Qwara picked up both halves of my soiled white dress, together with the sheet on which I had laid, and placed them into a black bag at her hip.
They walked me out of the tent, holding my arms so I wouldn’t collapse. The cold desert air, slapped me across the face and brought tears to my eyes. Zipporah saw the tears and remained silent for a time.
“I know,” Zipporah eventually offered, “a woman’s life is hard. Slave or wife, this part of a woman’s life is little different. But the pain will subside and it is not always painful. With a good man, sometimes it can even be pleasurable . . . You will heal,” she added, “in time.”
Zipporah’s words mirrored those I had said, time and time again, as I ministered to brides on the day after their weddings. Meant as a comfort, the words now felt hollow and meaningless, devoid of the empathy they needed to convey.
It’ll be different, I vowed, if I help future brides.
They brought me to the woman’s tent, removed my dress and laid me down. Carefully, they cleaned my injuries, as I tried to remain still. Tears washed my cheeks, not just from the pain, but from the confusing swirl of emotions that were as raw as my wrists. They washed my thighs and my sex to remove the blood they thought my own. Caleb’s fluids still flowed from me, though they had slowed to a trickle.
“You are strong,” Zipporah said, “you’ll be well soon. You’ll see. We’ll come visit as soon as we can.” Zipporah stood up with Qwara and they exited the tent.
I felt emotionally abandoned and utterly alone. I heard others in the darkness. I heard their sobs. I heard their moans. But I managed not to listen, as I cried myself to sleep.
Caleb missed Mishael as she recuperated in the woman’s tent. He desperately wanted to speak with her, to explain what he’d done and why. But he couldn’t risk explaining through a translator. He hoped she understood, though he didn’t count on it. The liberties he had taken were extreme.
To keep his mind off Mishael, Caleb trained particularly hard with Joshua. The workouts left him exhausted and too tired to consider the future. But when he lay down to sleep, Caleb couldn’t help but worry. Will she hate me for what I did, he wondered. How can she not help but feel violated? How is she faring with the women?
It was not like Caleb to worry, but he hadn’t had anyone to worry over in a long time. Mishael was his slave and he could do with her as he wished. But her thoughts and feelings mattered to Caleb. He didn’t want her to be his slave, doing his bidding because he commanded it. Having spent his life as a slave, he found the prospect of owning a slave distasteful.
Caleb considered freeing Mishael, which was his right now that he owned her unconditionally. Though it was probably a foolish fantasy, he wanted to get to know her as a free woman who chose voluntarily to get to know him. But he didn’t know what she’d do if freed and was afraid to lose her. After what he’d done to her, he’d understand if she hated him. Keeping her as a slave might be the only way to continue spending time with her, and maybe with time she could forgive him.
Ever since Mishael had come back into his life, he faced impossible choices. But then, with Mishael in his life, he felt more alive than at any time since leaving Egypt. Caleb didn’t know what to do.
I must have woken hours later, for the morning hadn’t come. The pain of the restraints seemed diminished and far less painful than the awful pangs of guilt tearing me apart. I felt like a fraud, there amidst young girls far more injured than I. These girls had suffered agony and lost everything. I, on the other hand, still had my precious virginity and had experienced ecstasy at Caleb’s touch, despite the slaughter of my family and friends.
These girls who were being tested, several weeks after their capture, were incredibly young and barely of age. The only reason they hadn’t been tested earlier was because it wasn’t clear they could yet bear children. But as their bodies betrayed them with the pull of the moon, they spent time in a tent for menstruating slaves and were subsequently returned to their master for testing. Those who passed their tests were then taken to the special tent, where I had been taken, until their bleeding had stopped and they could return to their master.
Most of the girls didn’t have matrons like Zipporah to care for them. They were escorted to and from their master’s tent by callous soldiers or hostile wives. Those who passed the test were sometimes forced to wear their soiled garments, marched through the camp and then dumped, unceremoniously, with the other broken and bleeding girls.
Some of the girls were beaten or whipped if they objected to the test, but nearly all were brutalized in one form or another – the better to assure evidence of passing. Midianite brides typically suffered similar treatment, but at least they had become wives, respectable and respected with a family to call their own. As captives, these girls faced an uncertain future, with the hardship of slavery their only certain reward.
I did what I could to provide assistance and comfort. But with nothing other than dampened rags, I could do little more than cleanse them and hold them close. Whenever I could rest, I felt guilty and ashamed. So I worked beyond exhaustion, until I fell asleep holding one of my girls.
When Zipporah returned, she marveled at how quickly I healed. I asked her for more water, clean rags and some desert plants. She readily agreed and provided more than I expected, often staying for hours to help me minister to the girls. At night, after Zipporah left, it fell to me and a few others to provide comfort to the newly injured and the badly abused.
After everything that happened, it actually strengthened my faith. The God of Midian had prepared me to help heal these unfortunate souls. I didn’t blame Him for the tragedy, though I knew He could’ve prevented it. The God of my ancestors rarely involved Himself in the worldly affairs of man. Besides, my people had fallen away from worshipping Him. They’d been seduced by lenient gods, false gods, impotent gods who had no power at all.
The tragedy of Midian was horrific beyond measure, but I couldn’t help but wonder, half in question half in prayer, Could the remnant of Midian be brought back into the fold? Could I help them to return to the God of their ancestors?
I didn’t know whether I’d have the opportunity, but I vowed to create one if I could. Though drowning in guilt and shame, my new-found mission helped buoy my pummeled spirit.
For the first time in my life I thanked the Lord for The Dream, which had saved my life and prepared me to help these girls. Had I married and had children, like other girls my age, I’d have been taken back to Midian and slaughtered with the rest. I had no doubt that the God of Midian had saved me so that I might provide comfort and assistance to the remnant of Midian.
I knew I’d been chosen to save my sisters and to shepherd them back home, to the God of their ancestors, Elshah Deye. I had no illusions about my mission and how dangerous it was. Fear of a foreign God had, after all, started the war with Midian.
I knew I would never find my prince, not after the slaughter of Midianite males, young and old. But I also knew I couldn’t abandon my vows: I would marry a man who worshipped only the one true God of Midian, as did his mother, and her mother and so on back through time; he would bear the Mark of Midian, as a sign of his faith; and he’d be a warrior who risked his life for my people – I would marry such a man or I wouldn’t marry at all.
The daughters of Midian were my family now. I needed nothing else. I just prayed for the chance to shepherd them back into the fold.
For seven days I cared for the daughters of Midian, a bleak but fulfilling task. They came in broken and bruised, bleeding and traumatized. I treated their physical injuries and emotional wounds. We bonded like newfound sisters with no other family.
At the end of seven days, I was returned to Caleb’s tent. Caleb was away on some scouting mission, but was expected home soon. I passed the time by cleaning. His tent needed it desperately.
When there was nothing left to clean and Caleb still hadn’t returned, I asked Zipporah if I might return to the slave women’s tent to minister to my sisters. Zipporah immediately agreed and was relieved by my request. She was a Midianite too, and she cared for us all.
I spent many hours with Zipporah, combing the desert for special plants, with a soldier close behind to assure our safe return. I taught Zipporah what I could and she was amazed at my knowledge.
I was amazed at how much I’d learned from my uncle, Balaam. I only wished that I’d had more time with him. I could have learned so much more. I wished I had his Healing Scroll, which he kept with him at all times. I missed my family so much.
A week later, Zipporah told me of Caleb’s imminent return. “He asked that you be made ready and brought to him tonight.”
“Made ready?” I asked Zipporah, now a little afraid.
“Bathed and dressed,” Zipporah clarified, “He didn’t ask for anything special.”
Excitement, fear and guilt churned my stomach. What does Caleb want from me? Has he regretted his deception? Will he take that which he left me?
Zipporah bathed me and dressed me in an extraordinary blue robe that matched the color of my eyes. The robe wasn’t as revealing as the last one I’d worn for him. Still, it flattered my form, somehow elegant yet demure.
“What does Caleb want of me Zipporah?” I asked when we were done.
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” she replied evenly, without expression.
“Do you think . . . Do you think he will . . .?” But I couldn’t finish the sentence.
“Oh Misha, who can say?” Zipporah said. “You passed the test. You are his now. He can do as he’d like. Be thankful you are his. You could have done far worse, you know.”
How well I knew the truth of her words. Spending time with my sisters had driven that point home. I had exceptionally good fortune in becoming Caleb’s new slave.
“Come,” Zipporah ordered. “It’s time to find out what he wants.”
Zipporah and I entered Caleb’s tent. The soft glow from oil lamps sent my heart racing with memories of the last night that Caleb and I spent together. My future, so uncertain then, remained uncertain now and weighed heavily on my mind.
I hadn’t seen Caleb standing in the shadows. As our eyes adjusted to the lamplight, Caleb motioned for me and Zipporah to sit on the pillows. He wore a clean simple robe and looked incredibly handsome.
I wanted to thank him for the thought he gave to preparing our last night together and the tenderness he showed that evening, notwithstanding my injuries. I wanted to tell him I knew he’d risked his life to assure mine, and to save the women and children of Midian. I wanted to tell him that the gift he gave had touched me deeply.
If only I could speak with him directly, I would have told him all of these things and more. But I couldn’t share such intimacies with Caleb through Zipporah, as much as I longed to do so.
Caleb sat facing us for a long while without speaking. Measured by the beating of my heart, It took an eternity before he spoke. When he did speak, the deep rich tone of his voice comforted me though I didn’t know what he said. He spoke slowly and paused frequently, so that Zipporah could translate accurately.
“You were very brave,” Zipporah translated. “Zipporah’s told me you understand that Moses required . . . the test.”
I blushed in response, my eyes moist and my heart in my throat, but I wouldn’t look away.
“I hope you will forgive me,” he continued.
Caleb waited for a response. But I couldn’t speak without completely losing control over my emotions. I had so little control over my life. I couldn’t lose emotional control as well. So I waited, mute, hoping he would continue.
Caleb swallowed, took a deep breath and plowed forward, “Having passed the test, you were given to me by Moses as a slave to do with as I will.” He paused so that Zipporah could translate, then continued immediately, “You have lost so much . . . and for that I am truly sorry.”
I opened my mouth to speak, having regained my composure somewhat, but Caleb held up a hand in an unmistakable gesture that I should remain silent.
“Please,” he said, looking down and away, breaking eye contact for the first time, “let me finish before you speak, this is not easy for me.”
I remained silent and waited.
“I know what it is to lose family. You have lost your family, and so much more. I am told that when I fell unconscious, you protected me with your staff and took a terrible beating as a result. I saw the evidence of it myself on the night we were together. You risked your life to save mine,” he said, “Why?”
I looked at Caleb, then at Zipporah, wondering if this were a rhetorical question. He had just told me not to speak. Zipporah nodded, but said nothing.
“I . . . don’t know,” I replied. “You needed protection, and you came to my aid – once, long ago, and then again in my home. You even seemed to be fighting for us when you faced your own soldiers – though I wasn’t really sure. In truth, I acted without thinking, but this may have been why.”
Caleb nodded, satisfied with my answer and was about to reply but I hadn’t finished speaking.
“What you risked for us,” I said, choosing my words carefully. “What you risked for me,” I continued, with unwavering eye contact. “What you allowed me to retain, when everything in my life had been taken,” I whispered past the lump in my throat. “I will always remember . . . and be grateful.”
Caleb looked pleased and slightly surprised. “You are an extraordinary young woman, so brave and beautiful.”
Caleb paused before continuing, “I have not felt towards anyone, in a long long time, as I feel towards you. As my slave, you are mine to do with as I will. You do understand this, don’t you?”
I blushed in response and looked down. So this is to be my fate, I thought, feeling guilty excitement, sadness and loss.
“You are mine to do with as I will,” Caleb repeated, and then paused.
Zipporah gasped in surprise before translating the rest. Caleb motioned that she translate.
“And it’s my will,” Zipporah translated, “that you shall live as a free woman, and not a slave or concubine.”
I hadn’t considered such a possibility. I felt dizzy and short of breath. It was a good thing I was seated.
“I cannot profit from your tragedy or that of your people,” Caleb continued. “I have known slavery most of my life and I have hungered for freedom. I can’t keep you as slave and deny you my lifelong dream.”
I could see the admiration in Zipporah’s eyes and the sincerity in Caleb’s. He spoke further and once again there remained silence before he nodded for Zipporah to translate.
“I cannot I accept Midian’s gold and livestock, as the spoils of war,” Zipporah translated. “I give you your freedom, more precious than possessions, as well as my share of the wealth of Midian.”
“Wherever you go,” Caleb continued, “I’ll be your protector, for I cannot remain here . . . that is, if you will have me, after all I and my people have done.
“Caleb!” Zipporah said, without translating these last words. “You can’t leave us. Not now. You are needed here more than ever.”
“How am I needed, Zipporah?” Caleb demanded. “How? Moses doesn’t listen or respect what I say. He’d sooner see me dead than allow my dissent, even if I only seek to hold him to the Law he himself taught us. How can I stay and command soldiers who’d slaughter women and children, or stay among people who would turn a blind eye? How can you, of all people, stay with your husband Moses after this horrible thing he has done to your people?”
“Do you think I’ve not asked myself the same question a thousand times?” Zipporah responded in anguish. “But am I to run away and assure that I can’t influence Moses? He’s but a man, Caleb, and men make mistakes. Great men make great mistakes, which can result in even greater tragedy. Am I to take Moses’ sons[xxviii] away from their father? Who shall speak up for the enslaved girls of Midian? My place is here and it’s with Moses, as bitter as that may be. My place is here, as is yours. You have influence with Joshua, who still has Moses’ ear. God Himself chose Joshua as Moses’ successor. Stay, Caleb, I am begging you.”
“Just translate, Zipporah,” Caleb insisted, his eyes hard.
Zipporah and Caleb argued for a few moments, before Zipporah translated what Caleb had said.
Caleb continued and Zipporah translated without further argument. “I don’t know if I can stay with these people – my people – who are responsible for such tragedy through deed and inaction. The slaughter of Midian’s women and children cannot be the will of God. But I’ve become distant from God, and I no longer understand Him.”
Caleb’s eyes became moist and he looked away. He fought to control his emotions, and then turned back to look at me, “I don’t know where my future lies. But I’ll protect you in your travels, at least until you become settled – if you’ll have me, that is.”
“He cannot do as he says,” Zipporah added, as if still translating. “The Israelites need him. He’s their much needed conscience for when Moses goes astray. Caleb may feel distant from God, but he’s closer than most I’ve ever known, and yet not so close as to lose all perspective. God didn’t want this tragedy and only Caleb seemed to realize it.”
It seemed strange to hear a Midianite talk so reverently of a foreign god. But, if the majority of Midianites could forsake their ancestral God, how difficult would it be for a Midianite such as Zipporah to accept the god of people who would slaughter women and children?
“Moses needs someone like Caleb, who may not hear God’s voice directly, but who understands Him in a way Moses does not.”
“What should I tell Caleb?” I asked, not knowing how I could reject his offer of protection.
“Tell him you need to think about it,” Zipporah said, “Tell him anything except, ‘Yes.’ ”
I looked at Zipporah, confused and uncertain. “Can I think about it?” I asked Zipporah, though she immediately translated for Caleb.
“Yes, of course,” Caleb replied, “I’ve had a tent prepared for you. Get some rest.”
The tent Caleb had prepared was close to his own, with an abundance of pillows, an oil lamp and some clothes. How he managed it without Zipporah finding out earlier, I don’t know. But I was flattered by the effort.
Zipporah came by the next day and I asked if I could speak with Caleb. An hour later, Zipporah returned to Caleb’s tent with Caleb in tow. I met them at the tent’s entrance.
“Thank you for coming,” I said as Zipporah translated and Caleb motioned me into his tent.
“I don’t know what to say to your generous offer,” I said when we were inside.
Caleb looked at me with a quizzical expression. “Surely you are not rejecting my offer of freedom. Is it my share of Midian’s bounty you can’t accept? Who, more than you, deserves what little wealth this represents?”
“No,” I replied, “It is not my freedom or your share of Midianite wealth that I can’t accept. Those gifts are beyond generous. But I’ve hardly had time to consider my future as a slave, much less my future as a free woman without a family or people.” Zipporah translated.
Caleb listened and waited for me to continue.
“Your offer of protection until I get settled assumes I will leave, and perhaps I must. But much as it pains me to remain here, I don’t think I can leave – freedom or no freedom. How can I abandon the daughters of Midian? Every day new girls suffer in the women’s tent with no one to care for them. Am I to run away and lick my wounds, or help my people as best I can?”
“I only meant I am at your service,” Caleb explained. “whether you stay, or whether you go. I would be honored to help you in any way I can.”
“There is one thing you can do,” I said. “Take me to Midian. I must retrieve something valuable.”
“Of course,” Caleb agreed, “but I’m afraid everything of value has been taken already.”
“Perhaps,” I responded. “Still . . . I must try.”
“Then it is settled,” Caleb said. “We’ll leave tomorrow at dawn.”
When Mishael told Caleb her desire to stay with the remnant of her people, Caleb felt the sting of her words through a guilty heart.
Is it wrong of me to want to leave my people, rather than help them steer a more honorable course? Caleb wondered. How much can one man take?
Caleb’s guilt grew as he realized the enormity of the sacrifice made by Mishael and Zipporah. They shamed him, unintentionally, by their selfless resolve.
The crisp morning air complemented the dew on the ground and the manna we collected to eat along the way.
Caleb and Zipporah talked among themselves. I didn’t know what they said, but I supposed it had to do with Caleb’s statement the night before about leaving the Israelites.
My thoughts turned inward, to friends and family I would never see again. We walked along a path beaten smooth by the feet of Midianite women and children who, after enduring the march, faced a grisly demise.
The smell hit them first, the cloying smell of death and rotting flesh that even a moistened cloth over their mouths and noses wouldn’t abate. Caleb dreaded what they’d find when they reached the city itself.
Then came the bodies, scattered here and there, husks of people mummifying in the desert sun, desecrated by creatures large and small. Most were the larger bodies of adults, elderly women mostly, Caleb assumed, though it was often hard to tell. A few, however, were smaller – unmistakably children.
My God, Caleb thought, why? Why couldn’t I stop this? Why didn’t You intervene?
Caleb wished he understood what moved God to act or to stay His hand. But he didn’t. Caleb wondered if God allowed the deaths of Jephunneh, Sarah and Joseph, so that Caleb would fight for the lives of innocent men, women and children. If that were His plan, assuming He had a plan for Caleb, perhaps the death of Caleb’s family could serve a noble cause.
But whether or not God had a plan, Caleb knew he had to fight to protect innocents. As the Israelites’ wars grew increasingly violent, the Israelites needed to hear what Caleb had to say. They needed to face an insider who would stand in their way. Zipporah was right. Caleb had to stay with his people. Leaving them now would render his family’s death meaningless.
I couldn’t bear to look at the bodies we encountered along the way, and averted my eyes as we passed. The closer we got to Midian, the more unbearable the smell became. I struggled to prevent the gorge from rising in my throat. We covered our mouths and noses with wet rags, but nothing seemed to help.
Caleb insisted that we circle around Midian and attempt to approach from upwind. Although it took longer to reach our destination, it made the journey far less horrific. Soon, we no longer passed the remains of women and children. The smell of death lessened, but it had been so deeply seared into our minds I wondered if it would ever go away.
By taking a circuitous route, we approached Midian from the side of town where I had lived with Mother, Nebach and Yoshi. Home. The word felt foreign in this empty shell of a town.
We passed through the small square that served as our local market in years past. Without the constant hum of activity, the people milling about looking at wares and the friendly conversation, the square itself seemed dead.
In the middle of the square, a pile of bones and ash stood testament to the abomination so recently committed. A tiny skull lay at the edge of the pile. Yoshi? I wondered. Tears burned my cheeks.
I didn’t wail, or make a scene. Zipporah wept silent tears as well. What kind of people could commit such an atrocity? What kind of God must they worship that they would think this His will?
I thought of Uncle Balaam and the many happy days spent learning how to gather plants, how to heal and how to write. Would anyone remember Midian? I wondered. As I looked back over my life, Balaam’s insistence that I learn to write took on a much deeper, darker, significance – as did his words, “Through you, Midian shall be remembered.”
Skeletons and ash. A child’s skull. I should have fought to the death, Caleb told himself. Maybe I could’ve made a difference. How could my men have done this? How could anyone have done this? How could anyone have done this in the name of God?
God. This can’t possibly have been God’s will, can it? Caleb knew that it could not.
Caleb wondered what consequences would flow from such a hideous act. God can’t turn a blind eye, can He? Caleb realized he didn’t care whether or not God did anything in response. Nothing could make this right.
Caleb thought back to Joshua’s comments to the children about God – about how parents some times allow bad things to happen to their children so that they will learn a lesson. Is there a lesson here, Lord, Caleb wondered, and, if so, is it worth the price that Midian paid? If there was, Caleb didn’t see it. But then Caleb only saw the present. He couldn’t possibly envision how the lesson of Midian might impact the future even three years from now, much less three hundred years or three thousand years.
Caleb vowed that, regardless of whether or not God acted in response to the massacre, Caleb would dedicate his life towards preventing his people from committing such an atrocity again. Never again, he vowed, never again.
Caleb knew he had failed and might fail in the future. But he also now knew he could never give up. He could never run away. He couldn’t hide from the slaughter of innocent men, women and children. By staying with his people, he could possibly save innocent lives . . . maybe. Even without guarantees, Caleb was certain that nothing, absolutely nothing, could possibly be nobler.
I paused at the entrance of my family’s home, trying to steel myself for what lay inside. Oh Uncle, I thought, did they take you to the fires?
“Would you like me to enter for you?” Caleb asked, as Zipporah translated. “If you tell me what you’re seeking . . . ”
“No,” I interrupted Zipporah’s translation, “I must do this myself.”
“I understand,” Caleb responded, placing a firm hand on my shoulder, “But you’ll not enter alone.”
I nodded, appreciating Caleb’s protectiveness, replaced the dampened cloth over my nose and mouth, opened the door and entered. As my eyes adjusted to the lack of light, I saw Balaam lying as we had left him. His crumpled body looked so small.
Miraculously, the room didn’t bear the stench of death or decay. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought him merely sleeping and the events I experienced an elaborate hoax.
How is this possible, Lord? I wondered silently.
“I wanted to do more,” came a whisper, like an echo. I turned to look at Caleb. But he hadn’t said a word.
The stress of events must have made me delusional. But I could not and would not fight the feeling of God’s presence and love. I had never before experienced a relationship with God – not a personal relationship like the one Balaam had.
Is this how you experienced God, uncle? I wondered, as I knelt by Balaam’s side. I couldn’t bear to look at him, but neither could I look away. I rolled him over gently. His face looked peaceful.
Carefully, I reached into Balaam’s robe, searching for the scroll he always carried on his person. Finding a scroll, I removed it from the hidden inner pocket. Even in the dim light of the room, I could see that I held an unfamiliar scroll. Neatly written on the outside were the words, “Elshah Deye.”
I placed the scroll under the belt of my robe and once again reached into Balaam’s robe. My hand found another hidden scroll. This too I’d not seen before. The writing on the outside was a single word, “Midian.”
Reaching in yet again I found the scroll I’d been seeking, entitled “Medicine.”
I kept searching to make sure that I had found all of uncle’s scrolls, but I found nothing more.
“Lord,” I prayed silently, “Please bless and keep Balaam, Mother, Nebach and Yoshi, Hamarab, Cozbi and all of Midian’s dead, and may their memories be a blessing.”
“Their memories shall be a blessing,” came the whisper of the wind, “. . . through you.” A chill ran up my spine and raised the hair on the back of my neck.
My eyes were now accustomed to darkness of the room as I stood and looked around before leaving. What I saw in the corner made me gasp – then I screamed.
When Mishael had rushed to Balaam’s side, Caleb averted his eyes. He wanted to give her what privacy he could. When she screamed, Caleb turned and his eyes followed hers.
In the corner lay two bodies, a mother trying to protect her child. Both were skewered by a sword sunk into the ground. Caleb watched as Mishael leapt to them and grabbed the handle of the sword, struggling desperately to pull it from the ground.
Caleb flashed back to Jephunneh, Sarah and Joseph. He bolted outside.
My mother lay protectively, covering Yoshi’s body. An Amorite sword pinned them both to the floor. The killing blow buried the sword deep – so deep into the ground that I couldn’t make it budge.
Pinned as they were, I hoped they died quickly. I couldn’t let my mind picture anything else. Fortunately, like Balaam, their bodies somehow hadn’t decayed.
I sat there and wept, draping my body over theirs. I would have traded my life without the slightest hesitation. It was such an incredibly pointless loss, it left me hollow and empty and crushed like a dried husk.
Outside the front door Caleb fell to his knees, hyperventilating, crawling, trying desperately to breathe. Please God, not again! Caleb begged, as his emotions spewed forth with the contents of his stomach.
The pain he’d buried long ago was now ripping him apart. He refused to suppress it, not this time, not now. He just hoped it would kill him and put an end to his suffering.
“Why” no longer mattered. He no longer blamed God. He no longer blamed himself. Caleb could feel God’s comforting presence, and didn’t push Him away.
I remember Zipporah prying me away, with comforting words I never heard.
We passed Caleb outside, curled into a ball, as tears coursed down his cheeks.
“Zipporah?” I remember asking, though I received no response before everything went black and I feinted in the desert sun.
Drained and disoriented, Caleb looked around. Japeth and Zipporah were making camp under the palms. Three covered forms lay just beyond the grove. Mishael slept fitfully under as hastily made lean to.
Caleb pulled himself together and helped them finish the camp. No one said a word about Caleb’s absence or return.
As the night became chilly, they made a fire to keep warm. Caleb carefully lifted Mishael and set her near the fire. She didn’t even awaken and barely stirred for several hours.
Caleb and Zipporah sat in silence, as Japeth scouted the area. Japeth knew that, for the moment, he was in charge of their security.
Caleb wept in the distance, when I awoke near daybreak. He must have wanted some privacy, though he hadn’t gone far away.
“Why is he crying, Zipporah?” I whispered. “He must have seen his fair share of death.”
“Caleb lost his family in Egypt,” Zipporah explained, “his father, his wife and his five year old son, Joseph.”
“Lost?” I asked, not sure I really wanted to know.
“Pharaoh ordered his soldiers to kill the first born of Israel,” Zipporah explained. “Caleb didn’t know. He’d been working in the quarry. His wife and his father did their best to save Joseph, so Pharaoh’s soldiers killed all three.”
For a moment, I saw the scene in our home through Caleb’s eyes; three dead – an older man, a mother crouched protectively over her child with a sword driven through them both. God of Midian help him, I prayed.
Zipporah finished in hushed tones, “I’ve never seen Caleb weep until now. . . . It frightens me.”
My heart went out to Caleb, who sat off in the distance, shoulders heaving. I wanted to comfort him and to take comfort from him. Our shared tragedy created a bond between us, intimate in its own way.
Should I join? I wondered. No, despite what we had shared, in many ways we remained strangers. He deserved what little privacy he sought for himself.
Caleb hated to cry, but it felt good to release the emotion he’d bottled up for years, ever since the death of his family. Caleb wasn’t ashamed to cry. How often had he told his brothers-in-arms that there was no shame in weeping for lost friends? How much less shame should one feel in weeping for a lost wife or child, father or uncle. Still it was a personal matter, not easily shared.
Caleb’s grief turned from his own tragedy, to that suffered by Mishael. He marveled at her strength in the face of a tragedy so much greater than his. Caleb had lost his family. Mishael had lost her family, her friends, her home, even her people as a whole, yet she bore her loss with dignity and not a hint of bitterness. She endured poverty and remained chaste, all in service to her god. Caleb envied her faith, which seemed strengthened by adversity. He wondered about a god that could inspire such loyalty. But there was so much more to her. She was strikingly beautiful, intelligent, quick to smile, knowledgeable in medicine and skilled in the martial arts.
Mishael was the only woman he’d ever met, who was every bit Sarah’s equal. Caleb knew that he desperately wanted her in his life. Yet he couldn’t ignore reality. She worshipped only the god of her ancestors. He worshipped only the God of his. After everything she’d been through, she’d never abandon her god. After everything he’d been through he’d never abandon the Lord. As much as he might feel for this woman, she could never raise his children as he would want them raised – to worship, exclusively, the Lord God of Israel.
Caleb’s relationship with God finally seemed on the mend, and there was no one and nothing he’d let get in the way of that. I can’t wallow in self pity, Caleb firmly decided. He’d had years of self-pity. Enough was enough.
When they’d set out for Midian, they hadn’t expected to dig graves. After considerable searching Caleb found a couple of shovels. Caleb and Japeth attacked the dry earth. The struggle to dig graves felt like honest hard work.
By early afternoon, three deeply dug graves lay all in a row – well, two and a half, really – a harsh grim reminder of the death of a child. Caleb and Japeth then rested until sunset. Then they gently lowered the bodies into the graves using sheets.
Mishael and Zipporah watched, spilling silent tears into the dirt. Caleb looked at Misha and though his own heart would break. He shoveled dirt over the bodies and remembered his family from long ago.
I sat by the graves and prayed, weeping and rocking as has always been our custom. When the sun dipped below the horizon, the air quickly grew cold. Caleb sat next to me and offered the warmth of his presence. He draped his arm over my shoulder. I let him pull me in close. I appreciated his strength and the comfort he provided.
When Misha finally fell asleep, he laid her gently near the fire, and covered her with a blanket to make sure she kept warm. Caleb knew that he needed to begin thinking of the future.
“Zipporah,” Caleb whispered, “I know I can’t leave, and that I’m needed more than ever. But I’m afraid what will happen when we next go to war. Will I be anymore effective in preventing the slaughter of innocents?”
“I don’t know,” Zipporah answered. “Pray for God to help guide you. The Lord may be counting on you to intervene.”
“How can you stay with him,” Caleb asked, “after what he’s done to your people?”
“It’s not easy,” Zipporah admitted. “But as strange as it may seem, I know he’s a good man. Moses’ orders were horrible and he’ll suffer terribly one day. But he did what he did in the name of the Lord. As misguided as it was, he genuinely believed the Lord required it.”
“Is that an excuse?” Caleb asked.
“No, of course not,” Zipporah responded, “which is why I know that he’ll suffer. Moses’ is responsible for millions. It’s a staggering responsibility with the potential for devastating mistakes. He needs a man like you, like Joshua as well, to help him avoid those mistakes.”
“I tried,” Caleb said. “Lord knows that I tried.”
“Yes, He does,” Zipporah said, “and He needs you to keep trying. Next time, if there is a next time, maybe Moses will think twice before issuing such harsh orders . . . or maybe he’ll back down if both you and Joshua challenge him.”
“I know,” Caleb said, with exhaustion in his voice. “I’m just so tired of killing . . . even soldiers during war.”
“Sleep,” Zipporah suggested, “Pray. Rest. Do what you must for now. Tomorrow is another day. Perhaps it’ll be many years before we face war again.”
From your lips to Gods ears, Caleb said in silent prayer. God help me to be what You want me to be.
The next morning, Caleb and Zipporah sat next to me by the fire.
“Have you thought more about what you would like to do?” Caleb asked through Zipporah.
“I’d like to leave, but I can’t,” Mishael responded. “I don’t know how I can live with those who’d slaughter women and children. But I also know I just can’t abandon my sisters.”
“As a free woman, you could stay in Midian,” Caleb offered, “though the people would likely treat you as an outcast. Your share of Midianite wealth will support you for awhile, but eventually you’d need to find some sort of employment.”
“I can heal the sick,” I suggested, “and tend to those injured through accident . . . or battle.”
Caleb smiled grimly. “I’m not sure that my people would willingly place themselves in your care.”
I thought for a few moments. “I can work as your servant.”
Caleb shook his head in refusal. He found the thought of it repugnant. She deserved so much more.
“I’ll renounce my freedom then,” I said quickly. I couldn’t let him send me away. “I’ll remain your slave if I can stay . . . to do with as you will.”
“No,” he responded, “I’d sooner marry you than have you as a servant or slave. But I cannot accept the worship of a foreign god in my house. My children will worship only the god of my ancestors.”
“Nor can I abandon my God,” I replied frustrated and indignant, “and my children too will worship only my God.” I rose to my feet and stormed off into the desert.
Caleb and Zipporah exchanged heated words. Caleb stayed behind. Zipporah ran to my side. Together we walked through the brisk morning air.
“What will you do?” I asked Zipporah, when I’d finally calmed down.
“The same thing as you,” she answered, “endure.”
“Endure,” I echoed hollowly, succumbing to self pity. “My life had such promise. When I was a little girl, uncle spoke to me of God. He was a true man of God. More than anyone I’ve ever known.”
“Your uncle the sorcerer?” Zipporah asked.
I sensed skepticism and judgment. I’d told her some of my life, but I’d left out crucial details – personal details she didn’t need to know. She knew I’d remained a virgin out of loyalty to my God, but that was as far as I’d told her. Now I wanted to tell her more. Perhaps I needed sympathy to soothe my self-pity.
“Uncle Balaam had a dream that changed my life forever. There’s no doubt in my mind that it came from the Lord. Indeed it echoed events that have recently come to pass. Uncle said I must wait must wait for man who believed only in the God of Midian, as had his mother, and hers back through time. He’d be a strong man, a godly man, who’d bear the Mark of Midian. He’d risk his life for our people. He’d be my husband. He’d by my prince.”
“You believe in the God of our ancestors?” Zipporah asked with surprise. “The God of our forefather Midian?”
“Of course,” I replied, before continuing my story. “I was only three when Balaam had The Dream. I had it later myself. We endured poverty and hardship, I remained pure, for the Lord. I suppose it saved my life, Zipporah, and prepared me to serve. But I’m tired, so tired. Our people have been decimated. What chance have I now of ever finding my prince?”
“But with a sorcerer for an uncle, I was sure you worshipped Baal,” Zipporah said matter of factly, shaking her head.
“Uncle hated that title, though he learned to accept it. Our people called him a sorcerer. They called me a witch. Uncle taught me powerful potions, unguents and salves – combinations of ingredients that worked like magic indeed.” It was hard to talk about uncle so soon after burying him in the ground. “He was true to the God of our ancestors, like my mother before me and on back through time.”
Zipporah smiled, then hugged me, then looked me in the eyes. “Oh sister,” she said. “it’s so good to meet another True Midianite. Even before this last war there were so few of us left.”
“Us?” I asked confused, “You believe in Elshah Deye too? But then how could you marry any Israelite? Marry Moses no less? And your children, who do they worship? I don’t understand. How can this be?”
“Come. I will explain,” Zipporah said with secretive grin, as she grabbed my hand, turned us around and began heading back towards camp.
Caleb!” Zipporah shouted, as she
pulled me along.
“What is it?” Caleb asked. “Are we under attack?”
“No. Nothing like that,” Zipporah said, out of breath. “God may have answered your prayers. I think He’s shown me the way.”
“What do you mean?” Caleb asked.
Zipporah sat Misha by his side.
“Misha,” Zipporah said, “tell Caleb The Dream.”
“But . . . ”
“No buts, Misha. Tell him,” Zipporah commanded, once again.
So I told Caleb the story and Zipporah translated my words. I could see the admiration in his eyes for the hardships I had endured, just to remain true to my God.
What’s the point? I wondered. This won’t change a thing.
Still, his admiration pleased me, so it wasn’t a total waste.
Caleb marveled that Mishael’s beliefs had in fact saved her life. If she’d married, she’d be dead by now. Slaughtered by my own soldiers. Could it be, Caleb wondered, that her god isn’t false? Just thinking such a thought made him feel guilty and unclean.
No, it must have been coincidence, Caleb tried to tell himself. But God manifests Himself through coincidences, or so it seemed in Caleb’s life. Are the coincidences in her life manifestations of her god?
Caleb was utterly confused, and little mistrustful. Was Zipporah finally proselytizing for her Midianite god?
“You still don’t understand?” Zipporah said with delight. The merriment in her voice irritated Caleb and me. “Don’t you see the miracle from God that has brought you together?”
“Zipporah,” Caleb said harshly. “You know I can’t abandon my God.”
“Nor can I abandon mine,” I added, once Zipporah translated.
“But don’t you see?” Zipporah continued, “Caleb here is your prince!”
Caleb and I both thought she was crazy, at least judging from the look on his face.
“Caleb risked his life to save Midianites,” Zipporah argued.
“So did Joshua,” Caleb replied.
“Joshua risked his life to protect you,” Zipporah stated. “Only you sought to protect our people.”
“But Zipporah,” I argued, “Caleb isn’t even a Midianite, he doesn’t bear the Mark of Midian.”
“Doesn’t he?” Zipporah asked, “Did you not see him during the test?”
“I saw what I wanted to see. I was pretending he was my prince.”
Zipporah smiled and shook her head. “You saw he bore the Mark of Midian.”
“How can you know such a thing?” I asked. The Mark of Midian was personal. Only loved ones usually saw it.
“Caleb wasn’t exactly modest, when I collected you after the test.”
“What is this mark of Midian?” Caleb asked, highly agitated. “How could I possibly bear it? I bear no mark of foreign gods . . . unless it is a scar received in battle from an enemy intent on mischief.”
“Does it matter what or why? The fact is that your bear it,” Zipporah said evading the question. “Is the only thing keeping you apart your belief if different gods?”
“The only thing?” Caleb said. “You make it sound like that’s trivial. Would you trivialize my commitment or Mishael’s to our faith?”
“Caleb, Mishael, just answer my question,” Zipporah insisted. “Is the only thing separating you belief in different gods?”
“If Misha worshipped the God of Israel, I’d marry her tonight,” Caleb said.
“And if he worshipped the God of Midian, as did his mother and his mother’s mother, I too would marry him tonight. But it’s not enough that he convert. The Dream was clear in this regard.”
Zipporah’s smile seemed to widen.
“This isn’t a game!” I shouted.
“Nor is it funny,” Caleb agreed.
I could see in Zipporah’s eyes she had a secret she wanted to tell. But since she wanted to savor it, she was driving Caleb and I crazy.
“Mishael,” Zipporah commanded, with a twinkle in her eye, “tell Caleb who Midian’s parents were.”
“Midian’s parents?” I asked, exasperated and angry.
“Just tell him,” Zipporah commanded.
“Midian’s mother was Keturah,[xxix]” I said, “and Midian’s father was Ibrahim,[xxx] formerly Ibram,[xxxi] son of Terah.[xxxii]”
Caleb seemed startled when Zipporah translated, which confused me even further.
“Now, Caleb,” Zipporah commanded, “tell Mishael who Israel’s grand parents were.”
“Sarah,” Caleb said with a pause, “and Abraham, formerly Abram, son of Terah.”[xxxiii]
“So ‘Ibrahim’ and ‘Abraham’ . . .” I said, beginning to understand.
“Are one and the same,” Zipporah explained in each of our respective tongues. “Just as the Mark of Midian and ‘circumcision’ is one and the same, passed down from our common ancestor – our forefather Abraham. Those who keep our ancestral ways, like their mothers before them, observe this ancient ritual with each of their sons.”
“Your belief in the God of your ancestors is not an impediment to marriage,” Zipporah continued. “You both believe in God Almighty – Elshah Deye – El Shaddai.[xxxiv] There is no more of an impediment to the two of you marrying, than there was for me and Moses.
I sat in stunned disbelief, with Caleb equally stunned by my side. The God of our ancestors . . . is one and the same! Once again, in an instant, my world turned upside down.
Caleb was awed by the power and majesty of God, and by His firm guiding hand that had touched both of their lives. Caleb glimpsed the tiniest morsel of the Lord’s majestic plan. It left him humbled and amazed and honored to play his part.
Caleb proposed marriage on the spot, when he recovered his senses. Mishael accepted without the slightest hesitation. But they decided to wait before formalizing the marriage. With Misha’s family’s recent death, she needed more time to mourn. So they courted for a year, until the mourning period passed.
Caleb and Mishael were married in a simple ceremony performed by Jethro, Zipporah’s father. To Mishael’s delight and surprise, it wasn’t the first time she’d met Jethro – he had officiated at the wedding of Keturah and Nebach. Joshua, Japeth and Zipporah were the only other attendees, though word of the marriage spread like wildfire through the camp.
Misha settled into a life that made her happy and fulfilled. She tended her flock of Midianite sisters, ministering both to their bodies and souls. As word of her skills at healing spread throughout camp, she began tending to Israelites who could benefit from her care.
In the evening, around campfires, she told stories of Midian to the Midianite girls. At first she told her stories in Midianite, but as the years passed, only the older girls still spoke their native tongue. The Midianite toddlers learned the language of their captors. So Misha began telling her stories in the Israelite tongue.
During one such story telling, Moses happened by. He sat quietly on a rock, and seemed eager to listen. Misha wondered if she should stop. She was afraid of his reaction. But she wanted him to have an inkling of what he had done.
As Moses sat on the rock, I told the story of uncle Balaam and how he was true to Lord God of Abraham.
I told of uncle’s initial refusal to meet with the King, despite promises of riches beyond anything he’d known. I told how he eventually agreed, at the instruction of the Lord, to meet King Balak, but lost his focus on God as he walked along the way. I told how his donkey, He-yah, and the angel set him straight. The children clapped and laughed. It was their favorite part. I told how uncle blessed the Israelites at the command of the Lord, instead of cursing the Israelites as ordered by the King. I told of uncle’s three blessings in the presence of King Balak, risking his life out of loyalty to God. I told how uncle was killed by and Israelite’s sword. I told of my mother and little Yoshi, who also worshipped the Lord, whom Moses had killed in the name of the Lord.
I expected to be punished, maybe killed, for telling these tales. But Moses did nothing except listen in a daze. Then he stood on shaky legs and returned to his tent, where he remained for several weeks.
Moses’ was depressed and obsessed when he returned to his tent. Day after day he continued to write. But while writing usually cleared his head, this writing left him confused, disturbed and thoroughly unsettled. When Moses finished writing and the ink finally had dried, he rolled it up carefully and set it next to his carefully arrayed scrolls.
Moses stood up to leave and felt nauseous and dizzy. He stumbled and grabbed for the nearest handhold. He reached for a scroll. They all tumbled to the floor and scattered on the ground. Moses staggered a moment, but managed not to fall. Then he made his way to bed, where he slept a fevered sleep.
Zipporah did her best to replace the scrolls in the correct order. But Zipporah couldn’t read and the scrolls weren’t marked. Most had distinctive spindles she’d seen time and time again. Yet some were so similar she just had to guess. Moses could fix it, she reasoned, if she’d made a mistake. She’d tell him what had happened and suggest he mark the scrolls better.
We wandered and grew older. Caleb and I had our children. Many of the Midianite girls were freed or adopted by their owners. Others were treated poorly, worked hard or abused. I told the story of Midian to anyone who’d listen. We settled into a rhythm and, for some of us, life was good.
As the Promised Land approached, I became obsessed with the urge to write – to tell the story of two peoples, two people and one God. Caleb supported my writing and brought me parchment, quills and ink. He teased me about the angel he said stood by my side.
Caleb returned after sunset and approached the tent where he lived. An otherworldly glow emanated from within. Caleb smiled with pride, and almost walked away.
But now and then, like this night, Caleb just couldn’t resist. He peered through the tent flap. Misha sat, quill in hand, readying herself to write. She was oblivious to the figure who glowed white by her side.
The figure touched her shoulder. Misha began to write. Caleb smiled with contentment and then turned and walked away.
The slaughter of Midian is now all but forgotten. The Israelites who were adults when the slaughter occurred are all dead and buried, all except three: Moses, Joshua and Caleb.[xxxv] But God has not forgotten.
God has forbidden Moses his greatest desire – entry into the Promised Land. Moses blames it on events in the wilderness of Zin,[xxxvi] something about striking a rock when he should have just spoken to it.[xxxvii] That makes no sense to me, but then I wasn’t there. Perhaps Moses is right, but there’s more to the story.
As for me, I’ll always believe this is his punishment for Midian.
I’ve written these scrolls hoping, one day, they’ll be found. I’ll soon sprinkle them with preservative and place them in urns, and then seal them up the urns and bury them deep in the earth.
If you’re reading these scrolls, then they must have been found. Uncle Balaam always said Midian would be remembered through me. Perhaps the lessons of Midian will help you and yours.
I dip the quill into the inkwell and finish with these words: May the Lord God of Abraham bless all who worship Him. May we be one, as He is one, unified siblings with one Father. Peace unto you[xxxviii] and unto you peace,[xxxix] as you dance in the footsteps of the Lord.
[i] Numbers, 25:1-2.
[ii] Numbers, 25:1.
[iii] Numbers, 25:9.
[iv] Numbers, 25:4.
[v] Numbers, 25:5.
[vi] Numbers, 25:6.
[vii] Numbers, 25:14-15.
[viii] Exodus, 23:20-24.
[ix] Numbers, 25:7-8.
[x] Numbers, 25:11-13.
[xi] Numbers, 25:16-18.
[xii] Numbers, 31:1-2.
[xiii] Numbers, 31:3-4.
[xiv] Numbers, 26:1-2 and 26:51.
[xv] Numbers, 31:5.
[xvi] Numbers, 26:51.
[xvii] Numbers, 15:23.
[xviii] Numbers, 31:6.
[xix] Numbers, 31:7.
[xx] Numbers, 31:7.
[xxi] Numbers, 31:12-13.
[xxii] Numbers, 31:7-12.
[xxiii] Numbers, 31:15-16.
[xxiv] Numbers, 31:17-18.
[xxv] Numbers, 31:7.
[xxvi] Numbers, 31:14-18 and 32-35.
[xxvii] Numbers, 31:32-35.
[xxviii] Exodus, 2:22.
[xxix] Genesis, 25:1-2.
[xxx] Genesis, 25:1-2.
[xxxi] Genesis, 17:3-5.
[xxxii] Genesis, 11:26.
[xxxiii] Genesis, 11:26..
[xxxiv] Genesis, 17:1.
[xxxv] Numbers, 32:10-12.
[xxxvi] Numbers, 27:12-14.
[xxxvii] Numbers, 20:8-12.
[xxxviii] Shalom Aleichem (Hebrew), םכילע םולש; As-Salāmu `Alaykum (Arabic), السلام عليك
[xxxix] Aleichem Shalom (Hebrew), םולש םכילע; wa `Alaykum As-Salām (Arabic), عليك السلام
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