Warrior Prophets 2 Chapter 9
Blimah loved the midsummer festival in Shilo. It was her favorite pilgrimage of the year. There were none of the intricate rituals that were so common at the Sanctuary of Shilo during the other festivals, just good food and dancing. She lived for the dancing. Her tightly-braided raven-black hair contrasted against her white flowing dress. At seventeen, Blimah, as tall as any man, was well into marriageable age.
Her parents and her three younger brothers walked casually beside their strong ox, Elgor, with his provision-laden cart. Her family had had a good harvest of figs and was bringing the juicy fruits to Shilo to sell at the festival. Shilo was not far from their hometown of Tapuah within the tribe of Ephraim. A half-a-day walk through the green hills and valleys of central Canaan brought them within sight of the religious center of Israel.
As they approached Shilo, Blimah noticed the taller green mountains surrounding the Sanctuary hill. Olive groves and vineyards accompanied them on either side of the road during their trek. The road itself was filled with more pilgrims than Blimah remembered. Most families were on foot with one donkey or ox carrying all of their supplies. Some of the wealthier families had a donkey for each person and there were even several horses this year belonging to military and princely families. Blimah noted other white clad girls and she walked ahead of her family to seek her fellow dancers.
Gheda, on a white mare, trotted beside the walking pilgrims. He wore luxurious purple robes and was adorned with golden bracelets. When he passed by Blimah he stopped his horse and whistled quietly.
“Aren’t you a beauty,” Gheda said. “You shall make a wonderful bride. What is your name, my daughter?”
“Am I a mare, sir, that you determine my worth based on my appearance?” Blimah answered without breaking her stride or looking up.
“Do you know who I am? How dare you speak to me so insolently?” Gheda fumed.
“Does a high rank excuse bad manners? I thought that was a heathen custom.”
“Woman! Tell me your name that I should know the identity of she who shall soon feel my wrath.”
“And who is it that seeks my identity? Are you some judge or officer? You are not of my tribe and I do not owe you obeisance or false courtesy.”
“I am Gheda the Levite! Uniter and leader of the tribes of Israel!”
“Ah, the one who destroyed our brothers and sisters of Benjamin. Hail mighty savior! With such leadership, soon there shall be even fewer tribes. A pleasure meeting you, noble sir. Now perhaps stop harassing me and go destroy another tribe or something.”
“You go too far! Your tongue shall be the death of you!” Gheda unsheathed his sword and ran his mount at Blimah, slashing at her neck.
With a dancer’s speed, Blimah ducked below the sword and pivoted, grabbing Gheda’s sword arm, swiftly breaking his wrist and disarming him. Blimah held the heavy sword as Gheda howled in pain.
“My hand! You’ve broken my hand!” Gheda held his dangling hand and looked at Blimah with a combination of hatred and fear.
“It’s your wrist, you oaf. Immobilize it for a few weeks and it shall heal. But let this be a warning, Gheda the Levite,” Blimah pointed the sword at him. “Next time you threaten me, I shall kill you. I shall slice your rotund belly so that your innards will spill out and then I shall feed them to my dogs – though they may hate me for my choice of meat. Begone, fat one, and think before you look upon a woman as an object again.”
Gheda’s face became as red as the embers of a blacksmith’s forge. He held his breath until Blimah thought his head would explode. Blimah did not flinch. She merely looked him in the eye with a tight smile. Finally, Gheda, confused and pained, trotted away. A crowd had formed around Blimah. Several women patted her on the back.
“That was very brave, dear,” an older woman in dark robes said, “but beware of men of power. They do not forget insult or injury lightly.”
“Why are there so many pilgrims this year?” Blimah asked her.
“Have you not heard? They say that all the princes will be at Shilo this year, as well as the survivors of Benjamin. They shall celebrate the end of their fighting and have insisted that all of the tribes attend. We have not had such a gathering since the days of Joshua! It is perhaps a more positive attempt at unification, seeing as warfare did not go so well.”
“If this fat buffoon is the leader of such efforts, it does not bode well,” Blimah said.
“Gheda is a troublemaker. Stay clear of him and you should be fine.”
“Thank you for the advice. I shall take it to heart.”
“Ehud! You are alive!” Prince Giltar of Benjamin embraced Ehud in front of the Sanctuary entrance amidst the bustle of the pilgrims. “I thought you had perished.”
Ehud removed himself from Giltar’s embrace. “I was at the doors of death. I lay unconscious for months. I have just recently awoken to the horror you’ve left us.”
“It was a massacre,” Giltar looked at his sandaled feet. “They tried to destroy the entire tribe.”
“How many, Giltar? How many of us are left?” Ehud said.
“Six hundred, Ehud. Six hundred men. It was God’s will. I was at fault. I see that now. I was arrogant. But it was God’s will.”
“That does not absolve you.”
“True. I do not think I shall ever find absolution, but what would you have me do? Kill myself as the heathens? Do you wish to take my life?” Giltar removed his sword and handed it to Ehud.
“You do deserve to die, Giltar. But not at my hands.” Ehud returned the sword. “What of the remaining men, where are they?”
“Gheda brought us brides from Yavesh Gilaad. Four hundred are married and will rebuild our destroyed cities. The rest of the men are here and will take brides tonight, at the dance.”
“What do you mean by ‘take’? Do the brides know of this, or do you come as thieves in the night to steal the daughters of Israel from their families?”
“It is Gheda’s plan. If we take the brides against their will, then their families shall not have betrayed their oath against marrying Benjaminites. Gheda will be here with soldiers to make sure there is no protest.”
“Gheda, Gheda, Gheda. He has been behind all the insanity from the beginning. He always finds the most violent solutions.”
“You should find a wife yourself, Ehud. It is your responsibility as well to make sure our tribe continues.”
“I shall not take a woman against her will.”
“Desperate times call for desperate measures.”
Pinhas, the High Priest, watched as the masses of Israel streamed to Shilo. It gave him great pleasure to see so many attend the festival. For many years now the Sanctuary had been mostly desolate. Few families made the regular pilgrimages. Pinhas had conscripted Priests and Levites to clean the Sanctuary grounds, launder all the cloths and garments and polish all the metal utensils. Vendors from near and far arrived with food, clothing and jewelry, and most importantly to Pinhas, animals for the sacrifice. Sheep and goats were the main consumption of the Sanctuary altar. His priest would be busy this festival. And of course there were the musicians. Musicians from all over Canaan arrived for the festival of Tu-B’Av, giving it its special character. Though it was not written in the Law of Moses, this festival was one of the few that attracted people to Shilo, especially the maidens. They loved to dance by the vineyards outside the Sanctuary.
The Tabernacle structure stood proudly in the midst of the Sanctuary compound. It still had components from the original Tabernacle the Children of Israel had carried with them through the desert for forty years. That was the Tabernacle Moses had consecrated and saw filled by God’s very presence. It was the home of the Holy Ark, the Candelabrum and the other holy instruments the gifted artisan Bezalel had designed with divine inspiration. Besides the original roof of skins and fabric, this Tabernacle had walls of stone, as opposed to the original desert version.
Musicians from all of the tribes assembled in the courtyard, greeting each other and practicing on their instruments.
Pinhas had ordered the harvested fields west of the Sanctuary to be cleared for tents. The entrance to the Sanctuary on the south was reserved for families to eat and the eastern side, next to the vineyards, would be for the girls to dance.
Throughout the day pilgrims arrived at Shilo. Priests directed them to settle in the clearing to the west. Most pilgrims found the first available spot, parked their wagon and animals and started to construct their tents. Priests worked hard to make sure clear passages remained in the field to allow more pilgrims to traverse the field. The priests forced one overeager family from the tribe of Naftali to dismantle the tent they had built on the path. Two Menashite families fought as to who had gotten first to their chosen location. Donkeys brayed, sheep bleated and enterprising vendors walked up and down the path selling fresh pomegranate juice and roasted almonds.
Heads of families brought their sheep or goat into the Sanctuary compound for the Priest to sacrifice. The Priest expertly slaughtered the animal, cut it up and gave part of the meat to the owner. They then set aside some for their fellow priests. A final portion, the portion for God, was carried up the ramp of the Altar and placed upon the pyre at its top. The priests had their own fire to cook their portions and the families of Israel built dozens of fires to roast their meat outside the compound. Soon the air surrounding Shilo was filled with the aroma of freshly roasted meat.
As evening descended, torches and braziers were lit around the compound. The full moon and the cloudless night made for easy visibility on the festive night. Pinhas climbed the outer wall of the compound and faced the crowd camped out and feasting around the fires.
“Blessed are you who have come, Children of Israel, to celebrate the fifteenth of Av, the summer’s full moon,” Pinhas declared in a robust voice. “It is well that you remember God and his Tabernacle on this day. It is significant that we assemble joyously after the violence of the past few months. We are all brothers. We are united by our ancestry and by the laws of God given to us by our teacher, Moses.”
“Most of you are now too young to remember, but it was this day, this very day that our ancestors stopped dying in the desert. For forty years, ever since the curse of the spies, our ancestors would dig their own graves. They would lie in their grave. It was the ninth of Av, that accursed day. Every year a portion of the men would not wake from that night’s slumber. Their surviving brothers would bury them. It was the most horrid day of the year, the day of death. And then, after four decades of that cursed day, no one died. We thought perhaps we had miscalculated the day. The men lay another night in their cold graves. And yet again, no one died. They repeated the ritual we had performed throughout our sojourn in the desert. And that year, that last year, in the wilderness of Moab, no one died. Finally, after days of no one dying in their graves, we looked up at the night sky. Behold!” Pinhas pointed at the full moon. “The moon was full! The ninth of Av was well passed. It was already the fifteenth! Moses called for a celebration! The curse was lifted! We would live and we would enter Canaan!”
“And so, my brothers and sisters, my sons and daughters, we celebrate. We celebrate this joyous day. It shall ever be a day that signifies an end to destruction and death, the beginning of hope and life. We must reaffirm our allegiance to the God of Israel and to each other. Children of Israel! Rejoice! For God now smiles upon us and is gladdened by our presence and our unity. Rejoice!”
Pinhas pointed at the musicians assembled in the courtyard. A white-haired Levite standing in front of the orchestra raised his hands and a symphony started. Lyres, flutes, drums and cymbals produced a rhythmic tune. White-dressed girls ran from the campfires to the vineyards on the eastern side of the Sanctuary.
Blimah was one of the first to reach the dance area. She kicked off her sandals and her feet seemed to fly of their own accord on the soft grass. Soon dozens, hundreds of young girls were dancing in step with Blimah, following her graceful moves in the bright summer moon. Blimah started with the traditional dances, dances her grandmother had danced in the desert. The orchestra played new tunes and Blimah moved on to more difficult dances, dances her mother had developed in the days of Joshua. Then Blimah danced her own dance, a challenging, arduous dance that was a wonder to behold. Blimah moved like a whirlwind, full of life and joy and music. Many of the girls could not keep up. They laughed and giggled at the other girls trying. Blimah taught the dance again and more girls joined in, still giggling at the new movements.
Blimah noticed men hiding in the vineyards. They were unarmed yet had a hungry look about them.
“Men of Benjamin!” Blimah recognized Gheda’s voice from the vineyards. “Your brides are before you. Take that which pleases you and no man shall stand in your way!”
Hundreds of men walked out of the vineyards. Dozens reached dancing girls as the music continued. Many did not object and returned to the vineyards or to the campfires with their match. Many girls resisted, some screaming loudly. The men forcefully took the women. Many girls ran and danced away from their pursuers. The eager Benjaminites pursued their prey with relish. Crude laughter was heard throughout the vineyard.
A tall Benjaminite approached Blimah. “I will have you, girl,” he announced as he reached for her.
Blimah easily sidestepped him, the music adding to her speed. “You’ll have to do much better than that,” she whispered as she danced away.
A brutish-looking man intercepted Blimah and grabbed her harshly by the arm. “Come here, girl. I will have you as a bride.”
“You will not!” Blimah kicked him in the groin. The man doubled over in pain, releasing her.
“A wild one, eh! I’ll tame you, girl!” The man reached for Blimah again.
Blimah spun around, kicking the man in the face. The man fell to the ground unconscious. Three other men approached Blimah.
“This is ridiculous,” Blimah stated to the melodic meat-scented air. “I will not be some prize to be won by the grubbiest hands. I should find myself a husband before the finding is done for me.”
Blimah scanned the field as her would-be suitors pursued her. She saw some couples skipping away happily. Others were struggling. She saw a man near the edge of the vineyards separating a couple.
“Unhand her,” the squat man told the burly Benjaminite.
“Gheda said we could take who we want,” the burly man responded.
“And I say I will break your arm right now if you don’t unhand her. Find a willing mate. This girl is in tears. I guarantee you this is a lousy way to marry. Gheda is a fool. I will not repeat myself.” The squat man placed his hand meaningfully on the pommel of his sheathed sword.
The burly man unhanded the girl who ran off relieved. The burly man scanned the field for more girls. The squat man sought the next struggling couple. Blimah approached him.
“What is your name?” she asked, standing almost a head taller than him.
“Ehud of Benjamin. What is it to you?”
“Do you seek a bride?”
“I wish to minimize the violence and injustice of this dance Gheda has arranged.”
“That is noble of you. Why do you care?”
“You are filled with questions. I suggest you hide or run to your family unless you wish to be grabbed by a man not of your liking.”
“I wish to be grabbed by you.”
Ehud looked up at Blimah as if for the first time.
“What is your name?”
“I am Blimah daughter of Yosma of the tribe of Ephraim.”
“Blimah, I am honored by an offer from one so beautiful, but you know nothing about me and I nothing about you or your family. This is not how it is meant to be.”
“I fear that if I do not leave this field with you, then one not of my choosing shall take me and I do not wish to run or hide.” Blimah turned her head towards half-a-dozen men, waiting like vultures a few feet away.
Ehud looked around and saw more couples struggling. Girls punching uselessly against the chest of grinning future-husbands. Girls crying as they were dragged back to the darkness of the vineyards. Girls screaming and kicking as older men pulled them by the hair. The veins on Ehud’s forehead throbbed.
“Men of Benjamin! Brothers! Stop what you are doing!” Ehud bellowed above the din of the music. “Are you brigands that you take women against their will. I know you. I have fought alongside most of you. This is not how we shall rebuild our tribe. Listen to me. Listen to me! I shall lay a curse now. A curse! Any man that takes a woman against her will, I curse that you shall not know a day of peace in your life. If they struggle, let them go. Find one that is suitable for you. The daughters of Israel are princesses! There are more than enough women here that we can take the time to find proper matches and not the first pair of legs that cross your path. Let them go. We shall find brides for all of you, but not through this violence. Whoever ignores me, I shall show them violence! You know how I fight!” Ehud unsheathed his sword and raised it high.
Men let go of struggling women. Some apologized. Others took their time to seek out other women. Women shyly accepted the verbal advances of the Benjaminites. Laughing and giggling was heard once again. Women that had run away returned to the field. A sense of calm returned, enhanced by the pleasant music.
“Now, Blimah daughter of Yosma,” Ehud looked in her eyes, “you may seek a husband, or not, without pressure. Do you still desire me?”
“Ehud, that was the bravest, most heroic act I have seen in my life. I need know nothing further to know that I would have you as my husband.”
“But I know nothing of you, sweet Blimah.”
“How shall we correct that, my hero?” Blimah smiled.
“Time,” Ehud answered.
“There is no time like tonight.”
“True. Let us converse and get to know each other.”
The two walked to the campfires. News of the Benjaminite raid of the women had reached the pilgrims. At many of the campfires, women were introducing their new husbands. At others, fathers and sons were arming themselves and went on search expeditions to find their missing daughters.
Ehud and Blimah found Blimah’s family and sat down with them.
“Is this your husband, daughter?” Blimah’s father asked.
“Not yet,” Blimah answered. “He is not as quick as the other Benjaminites to claim me.”
“At least one man is not participating in this travesty,” Yosma said.
“Father, Ehud tried to stop it. He was magnificent,” Blimah said.
“Ehud? Ehud son of Gera?” Yosma asked.
“Yes, sir,” Ehud said.
“You are the one responsible for the death of my brother and my cousin and half of the soldiers from our tribe.”
“I am sorry, sir. It was war. Not of my making and it was in self-defense. I pleaded with the princes to hold back, but they could only think of violence. I shall leave if I am not welcome.” Ehud stood up.
“I have heard too that you are a man of honor. Stay. We were forced to swear an oath that our daughters would never marry the sons of Benjamin. I understand this ruse that was arranged. If the daughters of Israel are taken without asking then we are innocent of oath-breaking. I cannot say nay or yea to the wishes of my daughter. I couldn’t say anything to willful Blimah whether oath or not. She has always done as she sees fit. But how will you support her, man of arms, if we are now at peace?”
“I am a blacksmith, sir.”
Yosma’s eyebrow arched in respect.
“You realize that I can give no dowry, if the oath is to remain inviolate,” Yosma said.
“I have not decided yet, sir, if I wish for Blimah as a wife. I wish to know her better and not to take her merely upon the sight of her youthful beauty.”
“Cautious and wise. I think I like you, blacksmith,” Yosma approved.
“There she is!” Gheda’s voice pierced the night. He was accompanied by six armed men. “She is the one that attacked me. I will have her head.”
“You attacked Gheda?” Ehud whispered to Blimah. “I think I like you already.”
“What business do you have with this woman?” Ehud drew his sword. Blimah and her family stood up.
“Ehud? I did not see you there. It is none of your concern. I have unfinished business with this woman and if you know what is good for you, you will stand aside.”
“This woman is to be my wife, Gheda. If you make one more threatening noise, I shall do all of Israel a favor and dispatch one fat Levite from this world.”
“You threaten me? You threaten me!? Have you Benjaminites learned nothing? Men! Seize her!”
“What is the meaning of this!!??” a thunderous voice stopped everyone in their tracks. Pinhas, the High Priest, stepped out of the shadows and stood between Gheda’s men and Ehud. “You would spill blood in front of the Sanctuary? Have you not spilled enough blood between the two of you? I was forced into silence for too long, but no longer. You have both been instruments of great evil and you darken our celebration by being here. Depart, both of you!”
“One moment, High Priest,” Blimah interrupted. “There is only one villain in this story and it is the fat Levite. Ehud, my betrothed,” Blimah smiled as she said it, “has been defending me from the harassment of this evil man. Gheda accosted me as I ascended to Shilo and I can bring a dozen witnesses to prove it. I defended myself from him and humiliated this inept fighter and for that he seeks vengeance. And his sick idea to turn all the women into chattel was only ameliorated by the timely intervention of Ehud. If you seek to send anyone away it should be this pompous buffoon. Or you can save us all aggravation and let my husband skewer this pig as he deserves.”
“You see, Pinhas?” Gheda whined. “You see the regard they give me? After all of my efforts for Israel? Who is the victim here? Look at what she already did to my wrist?” Gheda raised his limp hand.
“He is here,” a new voice spoke from the shadows. “He is here!”
A bedraggled man stepped into the light. There were dried leaves in his short beard and madness in his eyes.
“Elimelech?” Pinhas asked, not sure if the Prince of Judah stood before him.
“Traitor!” Elimelech yelled. Gheda froze with a wild look in his eyes. Elimelech approached the group slowly. Then like a panther, he launched himself at Ehud, fingers around the Benjaminite’s neck in a stranglehold. They fell to the ground and rolled over the fire. Both of their garments caught fire. Blimah was quick to grab a blanket and put out the fire on Ehud. Yosma grabbed another blanket and extinguished the fire on Elimelech. Gheda’s men separated the two and held them tightly.
“Madness! What madness is this!?” Pinhas yelled.
“Traitor!” Elimelech screamed. “The blacksmith is a traitor! He is responsible for all of the lives, for all of the death, for the entire war. He is the one that drove us to it.”
“That is not possible,” Blimah said. “He is the only sane one amongst you.”
“Then you do not know him, girl,” Elimelech answered more calmly. “I have just returned from spying upon the forces of Moab, that have conquered the territory of our brothers in Reuven, and they are on their way to Canaan. I overheard and spoke to King Eglon of Moab himself and I barely escaped with my life. There is a traitor amongst us. A leader of the tribes of Israel that has ever pushed us to war. That traitor is in the employ of and has been paid by Eglon for years now. That traitor has betrayed his own blood and kin for Moabite gold. That traitor is Ehud son of Gera of Benjamin.”
“I knew it!” Gheda confirmed. “He was always the most difficult. He never gave in to our demands. He was always visiting with Eglon with his supposed copper shipments. It was all a cover for his treason! Men! Kill the traitor!”
The three men that had been holding Elimelech let go of him and approached Ehud with drawn swords. Ehud was still held tightly by Gheda’s other three men.
As the three swords closed in on Ehud’s unprotected chest, Yosma whispered to the open-mouthed Blimah, “You may wish to reconsider your choice of husband.”
* * * * * *
Judges Chapter 21
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.