Numbers Fiction: Masai
The Next Leader (inspired by Numbers Chapter 34, Masai)
“You’re the one, Elizafan.” Chever slapped Elizafan on the back as they headed towards Moses and the Assembly. They walked along the wide, dry Moabite plain, overlooking the Jordan River to the west. “Surely he’s going to name you Prince of Zevulun.”
“Chever, please. Stop saying that. If he names me, I’ll be greatly honored, but I think it’s in bad taste to discuss it beforehand.” Elizafan’s eyes darted across the converging crowd, wondering if anyone had overheard them.
“Elizafan, you’re the natural choice. Wealthy, from a distinguished family. A war hero. A High Judge. Handsome, popular, a natural leader.” People in the crowd craned their necks to look at Chever.
“Stop it, Chever. If I am named, all and well; but let’s stop harping on it. Moses will declare the best person.”
“I think it will be Raui for Zevulun,” and old man croaked.
“Raui? Who’s Raui?” Chever hissed back.
“Why, Raui is a great and holy man, not like the peacock Elizafan at your side. Just your strut announces overweening pride. Raui is my bet. He’s learned and humble and patient. Wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
“Nonsense, old man,” Chever sneered. “A sweet sage might be nice for dispensing advice from his tent, but we need a leader who will conquer Canaan. A man who will stand at the head of our troops, look the enemy in the eye and attack. Yes, it needs pride.”
“Pfah,” the old man spat at the ground. “You young ones always think you know best. Well, we’ll see soon enough who’s right.” The old man turned his neck toward the platform in the middle of the assembly. Moses and the Elders were stepping up to the long, low wooden structure.
“Let’s get away from this relic.” Chever pulled Elizafan by the arm into the thickening crowd.
“I know Raui,” Elizafan whispered. “He is a great man. The old man may be right.”
“What? You think a timid scholar would make a better leader than you?”
“He is wise and brave and many seek his council. I would follow him.”
“It’s one thing to give good advice. It’s another matter altogether to lead men into battle, to judge them, to be accountable to the Children of Israel. I would not be so quick to dismiss yourself from this possibility.”
“There is nothing to dismiss!” Elizafan stomped his foot on the dry Moabite plain. A small cloud of dust enveloped his sandaled foot. “In a moment, Moses will announce the new Princes. The Princes of Israel who will lead the Tribes into Canaan. I won’t lie to you. It would be a great honor that I am not sure I am worthy of. But there is nothing to discuss or dismiss. I have no weight in this matter. God who knows the hearts of men will decide. He will tell Moses. Moses will let us know. That is what he announced. Now for God’s sake stop talking about it and let us calm down.”
“You see Elizafan, you’re a natural. I would even follow you back to Egypt.”
“Enough!” Elizafan slapped Chever across the face. “You dare hint at our sins, even in jest? Is your memory so short that you forget the rebels that cried for the very same thing – to return to Egypt? Chever, your mind has been addled by the upcoming succession. Do you hope to be at the side of a future leader? Is that why you fawn and flatter to no end? Or are you truly my friend giving me encouragement? If you are my friend, the best thing you can do is stop talking on the matter. What will be, will be. If I am selected, I will pray that God will give me the strength and the wisdom to guide our tribe. If not, I will be relieved and give whatever assistance I can, whether it is to noble Raui or someone else. Come now, Chever. I’m sorry I slapped you, but I knew no other way to muzzle your inane blabbering. Do you forgive me?” Elizafan put out his hand.
“Yes.” Chever took the hand. “You – yes. Yes, I forgive you.” Chever rubbed his cheek and held back what he planned to say. “I am your friend. I let the excitement of you as Prince go to my head. I am sorry for infuriating you. I will speak no longer on the subject.”
“Look, there is Raui.” Elizafan motioned with his chin.
“Let’s go over to him, I’d like to meet him,” Chever said.
“Can you control yourself?” Elizafan asked.
“Yes, I promise.”
“Raui, how are you?” Elizafan bowed politely. “Please meet my friend, Chever.”
“I am well, Elizafan. It is good to meet you, Chever.”
“Honored sage.” Chever bowed. “Who do you think Moses will select for Zevulun.”
“Ah, that is the question on everyone’s mind, isn’t it? It is hard to say. We are blessed with many great men. To whom will this doom go? Who will bear the burden of an entire tribe? Who will have the glory, the temptations of power and authority? Who will age before his time? Who will deal with the incessant complaints of a stubborn people? Who is worthy? Who has the strength?”
Raui looked deeply into Chever’s eyes and continued:
“Perhaps you, Chever. You strike me as a passionate man. Always concerned about your friends, your fellow tribesmen, your brothers. Perhaps that is the most important trait – a passionate care for your people. If God were to select you, I would follow you unhesitatingly. You, or whoever from my brothers God deems worthy. I do not know. I know that I am not worthy of special honor, nor do I desire it. Though I am not sure it is bad to desire honor. To lead men, to live a public life requires a certain fortitude, a certain interest and willingness to be in the public eye. Only God knows who the ideal leader is, and even then, men have consistently disappointed God. Is that helpful, Chever?”
Chever nodded silently, his mouth slightly ajar.
“I think it is you who is worthy of following,” Elizafan said.
“Thank you, Elizafan.” Raui bowed. “That is a noble sentiment. We should often think that of one another, even without the divine ordination.”
“You are correct,” Elizafan said.
“Perhaps,” Raui smiled. “It seems our questions will be shortly buried.”
The Elders finished filing onto the platform with Moses. Moses stretched his arms out over the sea of people. A wave of silence rolled over the entire assembly. Moses announced in a booming voice:
“These are the names of the men that shall take possession of the land for you: Elazar the priest, and Joshua the son of Nun. And ye shall take one prince of every tribe, to take possession of the land. And these are the names of the men: of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Yefuneh…”
Moses continued listing the new princes.
“…and of the tribe of the children of Zebulun a prince, Elizafan the son of Parnach.”
“Congratulations, Prince Elizafan.” Raui shook his hand warmly. “I believe God and Moses have chosen wisely. We shall need your courage and fortitude in Canaan. I am at your service, should you ever wish for my help.”
“Honored Raui,” Elizafan bowed. “I am thankful of your offer and expect I may make good use of it.”
Chever hugged Elizafan. “I knew it! I…”
Elizafan raised his arm as if to slap Chever.
“I’ll behave, O Prince,” Chever grinned.
“You may yet regret our friendship,” Elizafan said. “I will put you to work.”
“You are already calling in favors?”
“Not favors. Demands. There is much we will need to do and I will put your quick and incessant tongue to productive use.”
“I am yours to command, Prince.” Chever deeply bowed.
Elizafan shuddered, both savoring and loathing the obeisance of his old friend.
* * * * * *
Numbers Chapter 34
Elizafan: Name in the text of new prince of Zevulun
Chever: close to Chaver (Friend)