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The Force of God
by Richard S. Barnett
"He says, How dare you worms mock a son of Heaven!" Rifaz translated. "Spawn of the east wind from the desert: that's all we are to him."
Caleb had sent for Shikha, and though bound tight with leather thongs and a noose around his neck, he raged at us as if he were still the Prince of Lightning. The men guarding him kept their spears pointed at him. His size and threatening manner awed me as much as them. His shock of black hair and the glower on his brow gave the fellow the look of a bull ready to trample and gore us all.
"He says, 'I could squash any of you dogs with one hand—my father had better men than you licking up crumbs under his table,'" Rifaz added.
"Did he now?" Caleb asked. "Well, they do say the spirits of the proud come back as bees who forever hum, 'I am, I am!'"
"His father, whom you hanged after the battle of Aijalon, gave Shikha the task of collecting tribute from neighbors and rivals. Those who didn't pay, he took captive. The first thing he did to them was to cut off their thumbs and big toes and send them back to their people as a warning. If nobody came to buy their freedom before the next new moon, he would offer his captives to Dagon as fire gifts. And you know how he used women and children as he pleased, sir," Rifaz added.
"Those evil days have passed," Caleb declared. "Israel shall let it be known that the Lord gave us this land and that he has sworn that justice and mercy shall dwell in it."
Shikha spat when Rifaz told him what Caleb said. Rifaz told us how Shikha had defied us and our God. He promised that our base-born blood would soon flow to avenge the death of his father, the god-king Piram. A thousand of us would pay for each hair on Piram's head. Shikha took a holy oath that we would have no peace in this land as long as he drew breath.
"This dog shall henceforth be a sign for all to see that the Lord has spoken. He shall never again lift up his hands against the Lord's people," Caleb replied. "As he has done to others, so shall the Lord do to him. A thumb for a thumb and a toe for a toe!"
Much as Shikha had earned whatever happened to him, Caleb's plan disturbed me. The way he had escaped from us at Aijalon and Merom warned me that Shikha was far too crafty and evil to be turned loose, maimed or not.
"Sir, couldn't we hang him just as we hung his father at the cave? This fellow will make too much trouble. Don’t they say once you strike a serpent, you’ll regret it if you stop before it’s dead?"
"Othniel, what you say makes good sense, but our task is great. The very sight of one like this fellow, fallen from heaven and quite helpless, will attack the proud spirits of the Highborn. It'll give them spirits of fear and awaken doubts in the power of their gods."
"Yes, sir, but wouldn't hanging him do the same?"
"Othniel, I want them to see with their own eyes what will befall all those who stand in our way. They must know that the Lord rules and that evildoers will perish."
"Couldn't we send them his head as a sign, sir?"
Caleb laughed. "No, my son. Remember this; any warrior can kill, but a good leader knows when to spare lives. If we spare this one, the Highborn will see how the Lord deals with the wicked."
I couldn't think of any other reasons to argue with Caleb, and the others agreed with him.
Rifaz told his former master what Caleb had said, and Shikha cursed us with an ugly laugh as they led him away. He had bragged about maiming seventy men and now his own turn had come. I could see a grim humor in maiming the one who called himself the Adonai Bezek, Prince of Lightning. Nevertheless, I still felt that no good could come of it.
I saw Shikha a few days later as a boy led him on a donkey toward the highlands. Rifaz and a few men had come with me to scout the country east of Summit City, and we watched him from a ridge above the trail. I wanted to learn the paths into the highlands where Jerusalem, the city of the Yevusites awaited us. Our people had come from their camp at Gilgal, ready to move into Summit City and the land nearby, and Caleb was eager to march into the highlands.
Someone had bound Shikha's maimed feet and hands with linen and he wore dirty rags instead of purple, but he still seemed as huge and fierce as ever, dwarfing the donkey. Rifaz laughed because Shikha had to clasp his long legs around the donkey to keep his feet from dragging.
"Your prince doesn't look like a beaten man to me, my friend," I told Rifaz. "Can't you feel the hate and evil at work in him?"
I saw a large body of men coming towards us on the trail from the highlands. We soon recognized them as Hebrews by the leather caps and jerkins we wear for fighting. I knew them for men of Benjamin because most of them carried bows and arrows, and I wondered why they should be coming our way.
They forced Shikha and his donkey to move out of their way when they passed him, jeering at his curses and threats.
Rifaz and I hurried down to greet the Benjaminites, and the first man I saw was my old friend Gera.
"I have come to fight at your side again, my brother. See, I come with my father and a hundred men," Gera told me. Matri, his father, was one of the elders of Benjamin. He was about forty, looked better fed than Gera, and was an old friend of Caleb. We started walking together back to Summit City while Gera began telling me why they had come.
"We of Benjamin have fought against Jerusalem, the city of the Yevusites, and shut them up inside its walls. Yet they've built the walls of their city so high and strong that blind men could keep us at bay, and we haven't the numbers to force our way inside. My father has come to seek Caleb and ask him and the men of Judah to make a covenant with us. We'll fight for you if you'll fight for us. We heard from those who fled before you how the men of Judah and Simeon took Summit City, and our elders now agree that it was not the better part of wisdom for each tribe to go its own way."
Matri told Caleb the same story that evening when we gathered to break bread in the courtyard that had once been the high place of the Sun. Acsah came with Caleb and her brothers, and I saw how warmly she greeted Gera and his father and made them welcome. Although I sat near Gera, she never once looked at me.
Caleb told us why we should help the Benjaminites. "Did not the last king of the Yevusites bring the armies of the five kings against us at Gibeon? No, we dare not leave such a stronghold in the hands of enemies." he said.
"Moreover, my brothers, I rejoice to have the men of Benjamin at our side in battle. Truly, our foes will know that the hand of the Lord is against them."
Everyone shouted in agreement. Although the Benjaminites had too few fighters to make an army on their own, we all knew the bowmen and slingers of Benjamin had no equal for leading surprise attacks that never failed to shock our enemies.
"So you two will fight together again!" Caleb said with a smile as Gera and I welcomed this outcome.
Matri laughed. "It's a wonder the ravens don't follow this pair the way they follow wolves in winter."
"They do say that ravens are the wisest of birds," Caleb laughed.
"To wisdom they add cunning," Matri added. "May these two learn from the fowl of the air!"
The talk then turned to Jerusalem and how to take the city.
"See here, my friends," Matri explained, "the walls of the city of the Yevusites rise from the southern tip of a mountain ridge, and deep valleys guard its walls on the east and west until they meet at the south. Within their walls they have a good spring, while beyond the walls springs are few. We have camped by En Rogel, the Well of the Fuller, the only well close to the south end of the city. Other wells lie far out of sight of the city. Yes, weaklings could keep us out of Jerusalem for years."
"How many fighting men do they have?" Caleb asked
"They outnumber us; that much I know," Matri answered, "but their new king has not yet dared to come out against us."
"Do you know what manner of man he is?" Caleb asked.
"They say that his name is Ravisu, but now he calls himself the Adonai Tsedek, Prince of Justice, like his brother, whom you hanged after the battle of Aijalon. He is just as wicked although not as cunning."
"What about the north end of the city?" Caleb asked.
"Another wall crosses the ridge. It's not as high as the others, but shorter and far stronger. The men who guard it are watchful and brave. Yes, my friend, the Yevusites have set their city in a choice spot, for the slopes of the hills nearby also bear fine olives and grapes."
"There must be secret ways into the city?" Caleb asked.
"I wouldn't know."
"Rifaz, my friend, what do you know of this place?"
"Sir, wherever you find springs in the hill country, you also find caves and secret tunnels through the rock that feeds the springs. The rain that comes down from heaven seeps into the limestone and makes unseen passages until water gushes forth in springs."
Caleb pondered before deciding, “We must see if the Lord has made a way into the city for us. Othniel, you will take Rifaz and see what you can find. If you can't find a secret way to get into the city, we shall have to find some way to draw out the Yevusites. We'll follow you in a day or two."
"We keep watch on their southern gateway, but people can come and go unseen from the north and east," Gera said. "We send out scouts to stop them, but anyone who knows the land can slip past our guards like foxes in the night."
"Shikha, that big fellow you saw on the donkey--could he get in?" I asked.
"I don't doubt you'll find him breaking bread with the king as we speak," Gera answered. "Our people don't know the fellow and they had no reason to stop him. As far as they know, my brother, he's just one more mouth for the Yevusites to feed."
"Sir, Shikha's mouth speaks with guile," Rifaz pointed out. "You may be sure that he's warned the Yevusites about you and that he'll harden their king's heart against Israel."
"Sir," I said to Caleb, "This means that Jerusalem has become a nest of serpents. It won't fall into our hands without a fight. If my plan seems good to you, we'll go and lie in wait for all who come and go from Jerusalem and pry out its secrets from them."
"Well said, Othniel. I'm sorry now for letting that fellow Shikha go. Even so, we shall prevail, even though our way seems long and hard. Remember that the Lord is with Israel."
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