Warrior Prophets 2: Chapter 7
Not yet, the Voice caressed him. You will not die yet, my son. I shall leech the poison from your veins and restore your battered soul. Do not give up the fight, Ehud. I still need you.
For what, Ehud thought to the Voice. Have I not done enough violence? Have I not killed enough of my brothers?
It was necessary, the Voice answered. The Tribes have forgotten Me. They have waxed fat on the wealth of the land. They have grown arrogant from their material success. Now darkness shall come and eventually they shall remember Me and cry out My Name.
But why, God? Why so much violence? Why brother against brother?
The Brotherhood of Israel was close to an end. Only by bringing them to the edge of despair can I salvage national unity.
I don’t understand. I don’t even know where I am.
You lay within the ashes of the city of Givaah, Ehud. The defenders of the city are dead. This city of evil has been burned to the ground. I have protected your body even as I drain the poison from you.
Givaah is destroyed?
Not only Givaah. The Tribe of Benjamin is on the brink of destruction.
How could this happen!?
I will show you.
Ehud felt himself rise from his body.
He saw his prone body covered under a layer of ashes, resting serenely on a thatched bed. Half-burned logs of oak, which had once been part of the ceiling, criss-crossed protectively over his body. They had fallen from the collapsed roof and shielded his body from the elements.
God, what is happening to me? Ehud thought agitatedly.
I am showing you what has transpired these past few months as your body has been recuperating. Do not fear, Ehud. Be strong and of good courage. You are still counted amongst the living. I have merely taken your spirit to see what you could not otherwise. I require that you witness and understand these events, for you shall be the savior of your people. I have found you worthy to walk in My ways, Ehud.
Ehud felt his consciousness rising above the city of Givaah. There was no life left in the city. He saw burned out husks that were once homes. The skeletal remains of men and children were strewn about the blackened fields. Old vultures nibbled on dry bones. A cold wind blew ashes and dead leaves into the air. Though his spirit had no mouth, Ehud imagined the taste of bile and slag.
His spirit ascended above the hills of Benjamin. Fields that should have been plowed for the winter grains lay burned and fallow. Ehud saw one desolate city after another. Skeletal structures of walls rose from blackened ground as if resisting burial. Then he saw the bones. Mounds and mounds of human bones thrown into ditches. Ehud cried with tearless eyes.
I have not shown you how they died. It was a massacre. This is one of the better places where the tribes showed a semblance of some compassion. Here at least they placed the dead into a mass grave. In many other battles the dead were left to rot where they fell. After the first thousand, even the Levites gave up burying everyone.
But come, there is more that I must show you.
Ehud’s spirit glided eastward, high over the pockmarked earth. He flew through clouds, marveling at their texture. As he exited a bank of clouds he could see the Moabite mountain range, across the Jordan River. He remembered Boaz telling him once of the search for the tomb of Moses upon those mountains and the Kenite Raskul who had mischievously guided them. Raskul in the end sacrificed himself to save Boaz’s bride, Vered, from the poisonous missiles of deadly Akavish, the insane Philistine whom they had vanquished together all those years ago.
Ehud’s reminiscing was interrupted as his spirit descended to the desert, still west of the Jordan River. He recognized the distinctive Rock of Rimon, the mountain stronghold his tribe had conquered from the Amorites decades earlier. He saw soldiers of Israel arrayed in the valley, surrounding the mountain.
His spirit penetrated the mountain and he found himself in a dark, torch-lit cavern.
“How much longer can we stay here?” Yakshal argued. Tall Yakshal had taken command of the surviving Benjaminites upon the death of most of their leadership. “The Israelites are starving us. I say we attempt escape and make for Moab. It is not so far and they have ever been friendly to us.”
Ehud noted the few hundred men assembled in the large cavern, listening attentively to grim Yakshal in the center of the gathering.
“Are you mad?” young Tamir asked. “The tribes will destroy us the moment we leave the Rock.”
“We shall surely perish if we stay,” Yakshal retorted. “I would rather take my chances outside, than die of starvation in this hole.”
“What does Prince Giltar say?” Tamir looked at Giltar. The prince of Benjamin sat against the cavern wall with his head bandaged.
“I am no longer worthy of guiding what remains of our people,” Giltar stated in a raspy monotone.
“You are not even worthy of being alive,” Yakshal replied hotly.
Giltar looked at his wrinkled hands wordlessly.
“He may have some ideas worth listening to,” Tamir insisted.
“His ideas and arrogance have led to our utter destruction,” Yakshal said. “I would sooner kick him in the face than listen to his cursed voice.”
“I am deserving of all your hatred and loathing,” Giltar said as fresh tears streamed down his face into his grey beard, “and were it not for some inner compulsion, my own hands would have ended my blighted life. But now at the very end, as I drink the full cup of failure, I think I perceive some truth. It is all from God. We had forgotten the God of Israel and the instruction of Moses. In our pride we worshipped our own strength. We must remember to rely on God. Yakshal, I think that you are correct that we cannot allow ourselves to starve to death. But I would wait. I would wait until we have no choice. Salvation may yet come from elsewhere. Let us be patient, and when our supplies run out, I would seek peace with our brothers; perhaps their tempers have cooled as well.”
All the survivors started murmuring at once, debating Giltar’s suggestion.
Ehud’s spirit flew out from the cavern, northwest across the desert.
He approached the city of Bet-El where the armies of Israel were assembled.
Ehud spotted Boaz with his fiery red beard berating rotund Gheda. They were surrounded by the princes and generals of the tribes.
“How is this possible?” Boaz cried. “How is it possible that we have destroyed a tribe of Israel?”
“They brought this upon themselves,” Gheda coughed. “If they had not been so obstinate, if they would have accepted unification, all of this bloodshed could have been prevented.”
“You are deranged,” Boaz pointed his finger at Gheda. “We are all guilty of this madness. We must protect the survivors at the Rock of Rimon. But how shall the Tribe of Benjamin continue if we have massacred all of their women? Furthermore, in your anger and stupidity,” Boaz pointed at all the princes, “you swore that your daughters shall not marry into Benjamin. Shall a tribe perish before our very eyes?”
“I have a solution,” Gheda stood straighter. “There are those from amongst us that did not participate in our war or in our vow.”
“Who? All the tribes are here.” Boaz said.
“The residents of Yavesh Gilaad from the tribe of Menashe did not send their sons to battle nor are any of their elders present. Their daughters shall marry into Benjamin.”
“Just like that? Knowing them, they shall refuse.”
“This is a matter of survival. There is no choice.”
The other tribal leaders echoed their approval.
“Don’t you see?” Boaz pleaded. “You are repeating the same mistake again. You are forcing your will on our brothers. You will force their daughters to marry the Benjaminites against their will?”
“We may have been forceful in our attack on Benjamin, but must be equally forceful in remedying the situation. The residents of Yaveeh Gilaad must be punished for their treachery; for not joining our cause. We can at least salvage their women to save the Benjaminites.” Gheda noted the other princes nodding their heads in agreement. He lifted his fist and his voice. “We march now! To Yavesh Gilaad. For vengeance, and to bring wives to our brothers in Benjamin. Let us go!”
Ehud’s spirit floated eastward across the Jordan River. He witnessed the sun rising and setting in rapid succession. He arrived at the city of Yavesh Gilaad of the tribe of Menashe. He saw the unprovoked attack by the tribes of Israel against the quiet city. An army, twelve thousand strong, stormed the unprotected city. Every single male resident, including children, was run through by spear or sword. The few that attempted escape were shot by vigilant archers. Every woman with her hair covered, the traditional garb of a married woman, was likewise murdered. The only ones spared were the women with hair blowing frantically yet freely in the winds of battle. Ehud saw the massacring army then ride westward with four hundred maidens, captives of war.
His spirit followed the marauding army back west, across the Jordan and into the desert, until they reached the Rock of Rimon. Ehud’s spirit flew ahead of the Israelite army and once again penetrated the walls of the cavern.
“We are on our last rations, Giltar,” Yakshal accused the prince of Benjamin. “Shall we starve to death or shall we take our fate into our own hands and escape this tomb?”
“I would sue for peace, Yakshal. I am willing to go out myself, unarmed, though they may shoot me on sight. Then you will no longer need to seek my opinion.”
“If you go out, they will know we are desperate. I cannot allow it.”
“You cannot stop me.” Giltar stood up slowly from his position against the cavern wall. “You will have to kill me if you disagree with my actions.” Giltar walked to the cavern entrance.
Yakshal intercepted Giltar and held his sword to the elder man’s neck.
“I should kill you, Giltar,” Yakshal said, looking at the Benjaminites on either side of him. “You have caused us such losses, such destruction, that I should kill you for threatening us further. But I will not.” Yakshal lowered his sword. “It is a lost cause in any case and I will not be guilty of placing more blood on my hands, but I will not let you pass.”
“Stand aside, young man!” Giltar said with a voice from his past. “You are now the one who would doom us to death, when I give the only possible hope for life. Let me ask for peace. At most you lose a worthless old man. It will not alter or detract from the disadvantage you have. Move aside, I said!”
Yakshal, surprised, moved out of Giltar’s way. Giltar shuffled slowly but steadily towards the cavern opening. He hesitated by the entrance, took a deep breath and stepped into the open air to face the army of Israel.
Thousands of troops surrounded the rocky mountain outcrop. Fresh forces galloped to join the bivouac. Several hundred bound women sat in front of the approaching riders as they descended to the valley below the Rock of Rimon. Fat Gheda rode at the front of the new forces, with a determined grin on his face.
“Sons of Benjamin!” Gheda called out. His voice echoed between the valley and the mountain. “We mean you no more harm!”
“Not much more harm is possible,” Giltar called down. Hearing Giltar unharmed, Yakshal, Tamir and the other Benjaminites exited the cave and joined him.
“We wish to make some small restitution; that a tribe of Israel shall not perish,” Gheda said.
“Will you bring our sons and daughters back from the netherworld? Will you bring our wives and children back from gruesome death? What is this small restitution? You have assured the destruction of Benjamin. Israel will forevermore be incomplete.”
“Nay, Giltar, Prince of Benjamin. We have brought you wives. Young women that you may marry and thereby regenerate your tribe. Four hundred women, all young and of child-bearing age.”
“Who are these women and why are they bound? You would have us take unwilling brides?”
“These are the daughters of Yaveesh Gilaad. Their fathers did not join us, nor did they swear off their daughters from you as the rest of the tribes have done. We have punished them and killed all their inhabitants. These women are the only survivors. They have nowhere to go and no family to object. All the tribes are in agreement as to this action. They shall be your brides.”
“Four hundred brides for six hundred men?” Giltar asked. “Which third of our men shall remain brideless?”
“We have considered this as well. You decide the matching of these women as you see best. Whichever men still lack brides shall go to the festival of Shilo. At the summer festival, when the moon is full in the month of Av, those families that remain true to the traditions of Moses still go on pilgrimage to Shilo. Their daughters dance in the field during the festival. Each man should lie in wait and grab a woman he fancies. We shall explain,” Gheda patted the pommel of his sword, “to their fathers that your men can keep their daughters and that it would not be breaking the oath of all the tribes. By taking the women against their will, they have in no way violated the oath. What can they do if their daughters are taken by force? Our oath remains unbroken. Our forces shall meet you at Shilo on the fifteenth of Av to ensure that it is done.”
Gheda motioned to the soldiers to release the women. The soldiers cut the bonds of the women and dumped the fresh orphans unceremoniously on the dusty valley floor. The girls, already numb from the massacre of their families, barely flinched at the pain from their falls.
“We leave you,” Gheda waved, “in peace.”
“Wait!” Giltar called. “Our food supplies are finished. Leave us some provisions.”
“Very well. Captains! Organize sufficient provisions for them and the women and any mounts we can spare. We would not have our restored tribe flounder with its new lease on life.”
Gheda trotted out of the valley, leaving the four hundred women and the provisions at the Rock of Rimon. The army of Israel followed him. Ehud watched as the tribes made their way back to the desert road and then dispersed north, west, east and south; each man to his home.
The Benjaminites walked cautiously down the mountain turning their heads from the women of Yaveesh Gilaad towards the provisions on the ground.
Young Tamir was amongst the first to reach the bottom of the valley.
“Would you take me as a bride?” a young blond girl approached Tamir. “I don’t want to marry some old grouch.”
“Umm, sure, why not?” Tamir answered distractedly. “Would you mind if I have something to eat first and then I’d be happy to talk to you.” Tamir dug into the Israelite supplies and chewed heartily into some dried meat.
“Men,” the girl humphed.
Ehud’s spirit sped back westward to his body at Givaah. He opened his eyes to see a bright morning sun. He tried to move his body and felt his limbs to be stiff but healthy. He moved the beams of wood that were atop his body and stood up from his bed.
God, are you still with me? Ehud thought.
Eternally, though I may not always be so direct.
What should I do now?
Ehud noticed the rumbling in his stomach. He sympathized with Tamir several miles away as he looked around his surroundings for any trace of food.
* * * * * *
Book of Judges, Chapter 20
43 They inclosed the Benjamites round about, and chased them, and overtook them at their resting-place, as far as over against Gibeah toward the sunrising. 44 And there fell of Benjamin eighteen thousand men; all these were men of valour. 45 And they turned and fled toward the wilderness unto the rock of Rimmon; and they gleaned of them in the highways five thousand men; and followed hard after them unto Gidom, and smote of them two thousand men. 46 So that all who fell that day of Benjamin were twenty and five thousand men that drew the sword; all these were men of valour. 47 But six hundred men turned and fled toward the wilderness unto the rock of Rimmon, and abode in the rock of Rimmon four months. 48 And the men of Israel turned back upon the children of Benjamin, and smote them with the edge of the sword, both the entire city, and the cattle, and all that they found; moreover all the cities which they found they set on fire.
Book of Judges, Chapter 21
1 Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpah, saying: ‘There shall not any of us give his daughter unto Benjamin to wife.’ 2 And the people came to Beth-el, and sat there till even before God, and lifted up their voices, and wept sore. 3 And they said: ‘O LORD, the God of Israel, why is this come to pass in Israel, that there should be to-day one tribe lacking in Israel?’ 4 And it came to pass on the morrow that the people rose early, and built there an altar, and offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings.
5 And the children of Israel said: ‘Who is there among all the tribes of Israel that came not up in the assembly unto the LORD?’ For they had made a great oath concerning him that came not up unto the LORD to Mizpah, saying: ‘He shall surely be put to death.’ 6 And the children of Israel repented them for Benjamin their brother, and said: ‘There is one tribe cut off from Israel this day. 7 How shall we do for wives for them that remain, seeing we have sworn by the LORD that we will not give them of our daughters to wives?’ 8 And they said: ‘What one is there of the tribes of Israel that came not up unto the LORD to Mizpah?’ And, behold, there came none to the camp from Jabesh-gilead to the assembly. 9 For when the people were numbered, behold, there were none of the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead there. 10 And the congregation sent thither twelve thousand men of the valiantest, and commanded them, saying: ‘Go and smite the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead with the edge of the sword, with the women and the little ones. 11 And this is the thing that ye shall do: ye shall utterly destroy every male, and every woman that hath lain by man.’ 12 And they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead four hundred young virgins, that had not known man by lying with him; and they brought them unto the camp to Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan.
13 And the whole congregation sent and spoke to the children of Benjamin that were in the rock of Rimmon, and proclaimed peace unto them. 14 And Benjamin returned at that time; and they gave them the women whom they had saved alive of the women of Jabesh-gilead; and yet so they sufficed them not. 15 And the people repented them for Benjamin, because that the LORD had made a breach in the tribes of Israel. 16 Then the elders of the congregation said: ‘How shall we do for wives for them that remain, seeing the women are destroyed out of Benjamin?’ 17 And they said: ‘They that are escaped must be as an inheritance for Benjamin, that a tribe be not blotted out from Israel. 18 Howbeit we may not give them wives of our daughters.’ For the children of Israel had sworn, saying: ‘Cursed be he that giveth a wife to Benjamin.’ 19 And they said: ‘Behold, there is the feast of the LORD from year to year in Shiloh, which is on the north of Beth-el, on the east side of the highway that goeth up from Beth-el to Shechem, and on the south of Lebonah.’ 20 And they commanded the children of Benjamin, saying: ‘Go and lie in wait in the vineyards; 21 and see, and, behold, if the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in the dances, then come ye out of the vineyards, and catch you every man his wife of the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin. 22 And it shall be, when their fathers or their brethren come to strive with us, that we will say unto them: Grant them graciously unto us; because we took not for each man of them his wife in battle; neither did ye give them unto them, that ye should now be guilty.’ 23 And the children of Benjamin did so, and took them wives, according to their number, of them that danced, whom they carried off; and they went and returned unto their inheritance, and built the cities, and dwelt in them. 24 And the children of Israel departed thence at that time, every man to his tribe and to his family, and they went out from thence every man to his inheritance.
25 In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
END OF TEXT OF BOOK OF JUDGES
(Don’t get nervous. The story is not over yet. We’ll hopefully be spending much more time on earlier chapters of Judges and tie it all in to Ehud, Eglon, Boaz and a few more characters…)