Yet the twelve tribes of Hebrews finally reached the Promised Land, promised long before to Abraham of Ura, then to succeeding patriarchs by the God of the Covenant. The actual taking and possession were not without many hardships, mostly brought upon themselves because they hated following the Mizraimite-cultured Mosheh’s orders. It wasn’t because he reminded them of Mizraimite taskmasters--which he could not help--but because they trusted no one anymore and perversely suspected that FC had led them out into the desert only to let them perish from thirst and starvation.
Their suspicion became a self-fulfilling prophecy, quite like Prince Ahmoseh’s back in the Land of Red and Black. It was the second generation, not the first that started out, that succeeded in entering Ken’an. The first was doomed when FC grew disgusted with the way they resisted Mosheh his leader. One incident would not have precipitated FC’s drastic act. A dozen, however, tried FC’s patience. Finally, going beyond the limit of provocation, the first generation succeeded in alienating FC from them. FC declined to lead them any farther than the southern borders of Ken’an. Since they were fair game to more powerful nations--unable to enter in--they had no further choice but to live out their remaining days and die there in the desert.
Evenso, at the encampment of Kedesh-barnea, life was not all bad. The people took their fate, for the most part, with better grace than they had taken the trek from one water hole to another in the earlier days. Finally, with the second generation on its feet and able to move, the Hebrews were on the march. FC and FC’s appointed leader ushered the Hebrews into the Promised Land. Once there, Wally continued to observe the development of the Hebrew tribal nation and the rise of its leaders, the Sopetets. Sopetets were not like the leaders of other nations, and least like the Mizraimite governors from whom the name was taken. They were king, prophet, army commander, and supreme court judge in one. Though remarkable in combined powers, they were few and far between, or so it seemed during times of national distress.
Yet vital as they were in times of trouble, the tribes gave them little attention until neighboring countries made raids and took territory from the Hebrews, killing many men and pillaging the survivors to absolute penury. Then they cried earnestly to the Sopetet, or if there wasn’t one, for FC to raise one up immediately.
More and more, always attracted to the nightly dancing and orgies, the tribes turned from their invisible, imageless El Elyon to Ken’anite fertility gods and ways, then fought among themselves. The loosely-organized, tribal nation was falling apart, with each man grabbing what he could. Why not? They knew nothing was certain anymore. It was useless to fight for the nation and be concerned for a neighbor when a powerful foreign army could march in any day and take all there was worth taking.
About this time Wally saw a “meteor” appear in the night sky. Was it yet another world-sized diamond? He had monitored those that were supposed to cross Earth’s path, and this was perhaps one. But it looked much like the strange thing that visited Ibbatha before the overthrow of the Hyksos. But this one, though it shone like a golden sun, did not shoot forth gorgeous, trailing plumes as if seeking to show it was greater than anything else in splendor. The heliodore streaked in from the blackness of space and from the first kept its round shape, even when it gradually diminished in size and sailed down toward the dark earth.
“What next?” Wally wondered. He had already seen what the “Eye of Pher” had seemingly provoked. All the goodwill and peace Joseph had wrought between Mizraimites and Hebrews had been swept away in the space of a moment. After the turmoil and suffering they endured in Mizraim, what would this one do now that the Hebrews were residing in the Promised Land?
He didn’t like the feel of it, any more than he had liked the splendid “Pher’s Eye”. After serving as inspiration for trouble all across Mizraim, the so-called Eye had eventually moved from the Temple precincts and he had lost track of it. Now seemingly it had drawn a brother into the Wargame!
The newcomer may have shone beautifully in the few seconds that it flew through Earth’s atmosphere, but there was a cold, hard gleam to it, an edge that would do justice to a razor or a sword, rendered most alarming because it was coupled with highly evasive, purposeful behavior that might best be described with a term from extinct Hindi--“kundalini” or serpent power--the same quality that chiefly characterized the first OP.
“One is more than enough!” thought Wally. Definitely, he was fighting a losing game. After all, he had just been dealt a losing hand--two OPs against one World Assistant Linked Liaison Yeoman, Fourth Class, and this volunteer player, FC, that did whatever FC pleased.
“ What is turning these trouble-makers out?” he wondered. “How many more are still to come? That makes three OPs I’ve had to face!” Except that events were running forward again, things were looking really looking dismal. Not since the destruction of most of the Local Supercluster--Orion and its Nebula being the exception-- and the imminent supernova of the first Sun, not to mention the cometary armada and the trauma of the Re-location, had Earth’s prospects sunk so low in Wally’s estimation.
Baraq, the son of Abinoam--a recently deceased chieftain of Naphtali--finally made up his mind to obey the summons of the Sopetet in Ephraim. It had taken him two years to act, after hearing the Sopetet’s words from a messenger: “Come at once! God has given the king Jabin and his commander and all the host with them into our hands!”
Two years he had struggled with the urge to stay where he was. He was now forty, an age when most men settled back and enjoyed the dappled shade of a fig tree and fondled grandchildren on their knees--that is, if they still had figs to their name! But even if the walled city of Kedesh had been spared the troubles of others so far, things could not go on as they had--the far-ranging forces of the king of Hazir wouldn’t allow it. Jabin coveted everything the Hebrews had, and he fully intended to get it! Seizing this village and that, raiding a town here and a city there, Jabin was making even Naphtali feel his hot breath, like a prowling lion’s on their neck!
So Baraq forsook his fig tree and grandsons. As for his sons, they were grown but came quick with excuses for remaining in comfortable, safe Kedesh. What could he do? They had taken wives and claimed they could not leave young children.
“You are free to go off to far places, but we are not!” they told him. “If we leave the poor mother and the feeble babe at her breast, then we would suffer reproach. Besides, why should we bear arms for the sake of mere strangers who live afar off?”
So he settled his affairs on his fields outside the walls and adjudicated the last cases with the elders at the gate. He strapped on ill-fitting, badly-sewn leather armor and a somewhat rusted sword--though the haft was newly fitted by Heber the Kenite tinker. Then he told his wife, Te’enah, what she already knew, that he was going to seek the Sopetet, and she stopped with him at the door.
“But why go to her now? It is too late. She has probably given up the idea of fighting Jabin. It is foolish anyway to resist so mighty a king, holding so many chariots! Is there a shield or spear to be seen among forty thousand in Israel? Besides he is our neighbor and there is no hiding from him.”
“Why go to her, you mean?” he said too loudly to his spouse, drawing the attention of servants. “Yes, I know the Sopetet’s a woman. But I’ve heard some things that make me think she’s--”
At the mere mention of her far-off rival, the good wife flinched as if she had been stung. Whatever he said flew over her head, for she wasn’t about to listen to any foolish speculations or tall tales, even though it might well have been Heber the talkative Kenite who tickled Baraq’s ear. She shook her head as he continued out the door. How could a notable man such as her husband put so much stock in some foreign Ephraimite woman, declaring such things in public? she wondered. It was beyond her comprehension! She followed him out into the street, feeling suddenly inspired to save her husband and household from the grasping and presumptuous Bee of Ephraim.
“But ours is a stout, walled city, a mother of Israel!” Te’enah declared to him. “Why run off to seek help or give aid elsewhere? We afford refuge to all who come seeking it, and so God protects us with his hosts. We bind their wounds, make them fit again, all without charge. The slayer who struck down a man without meaning it, he is safe amongst us all his days and need fear nothing. Why not remain here, husband, where you can do much good in the coming troubles? If the Uncircumcised should come and shoot out the lip against us, you will know what to do! The rest of the men here, like Dan to the south and the north--”
Te’enah turned aside and spat. She was really just getting started, and showed herself a true descendant of the singer and dancer, Naphtali the blessed patriarch.
“--the others are women compared to you! Look, that arm and leg! Is there a noble oak or terebinth, any branch and thick trunk in the forest to compare? Nay, you are a Re’em of the mountain and the great plain round about Mount Tabor. Your sweeping horn knows no equal among the herds. The stones flash fire beneath your stamping hooves. And all the daughters of Israel burn with hot jealousy for me. So do not forsake your mother, your natal city! We are lost if you do!”
It was a bold gambit on her part--and quite true that Abinoam’s son knew no peer in Naphtali--but Baraq’s face grew red and determined, a sign he meant to put her arts and claims to the ultimate test.
“Daughter of Gephen, loose my foot for no Hebrew city is safe anymore! We sit on the approaches to the west, and the children of Hazir will soon run their chariot wheels down our backs, just as they have in the lands of the north, south and east. They will come and tear these walls to pieces in a day’s span! They need do nothing but set a fox upon the wall. He will run and the wall will fall down and kill us all. You know they were never built right from the foundation stones. The foundation stones were not set beneath the wall. A cony could topple it by digging a den. Even the gate cannot keep a he-goat out if he butts against it to reach his mate. No, I must go! There is no good in staying here, apart from our brethren, Zebulun and Issachar, Manasseh and Ephraim, Benjamin and Judah--”
“Ai ai ai ai!” the good wife began to wail, drawing attention and possible support and intervention from neighbors and passers-by. “My good man, the shield and buckler of this city, is running to catch the whirling wing of Lapidoth’s bee. He should cast her safe beneath a flynet, rather than let her lead off our menfolks like she does! No woman can be a proper Sopetet! Who does she think she is! She ought to stay close by her tent and milk her goat, and strain the milk for fine curds to please the good man rather than take sticks and run the ox and the bull out to pasture with the young men. No, your duty is to remain here, my husband, and defend us and your home, is it not? No one in Israel will fight with you anyway! They are all fit for only leading the goat and the sheep to the sprig of grass, not fighting the giants of Jabin! We are undone if you forsake us! Undone! Ai ai ai!”
Her performance was quite affecting for the time--and a point about the fitness of Israel in the contest with Jabin had scored in the quick and drawn some blood.
“Baraq, good fellow! Listen to the mother of your sons! You really aren’t thinking of--” someone with good intentions accosted him, tugging his arm when there was not even a slight chance of holding such a man back now.
Baraq’s eyes flashed. He may have his doubts, but an unwelcome crowd of busybodies had collected around them and that he did not like.
Seeing the ominous gleam of possible lightnings to come, they shrank back.
“Stand aside!” he said, though it was hardly necessary now. “My duty? Ha! I have considered it well. Let these pitiful walls save themselves! For no man can save them! No, I must go to the aid of my country rather than cower here while the people perish beyond these walls. Even if I must fight Jabin alone, I will do it!”
He strode off to collect his tawny ass at the stable nearest the gate and go to the place already appointed to meet forty Naphtalites from the countryside, skilled in hunting and fighting, who kept his confidence and had been chosen to accompany him.
Shaking her head, his wife went back in the house and barred the door. Te’enah had maybe lost the contest, publicly, but privately she could enjoy the last word about the matter. “No good will come of it!” she said to Pishtah her daughter-in-law very soon after Baraq had gone for good. “How in the name of Yon Sinai can a woman help get up an army to deliver us from the Hazirites? Jabin the king has nine hundred chariots, all of iron! Think of that, my daughter! And we? In all the tribes we have maybe one or two! I don’t think we have even one! But the son of Abinoam, as long as I have kept his bed warm and given him fine sons and a daughter, always plowed a different furrow from other men. Why, he’ll stand and fight against the tumbling stones of a falling mountain if it seems best to him. Ai ai ai! It has been my sorrow to have married a man so stubborn like that! Now why can’t he be like his firstborn, the good Shaphan, who is sensible and will not forsake his fig tree?”
Working the loom, the daughter-in-law thought secretly she would give a thousand Shaphans for one manly, “stubborn” Baraq. She wisely said nothing while Te’enah poured out dry words like the Kishon poured dust and she, meantime, sweat. She also kept her mouth closed, at least for now, when she caught her mother-in-law fondling a Sidonian teraphim when she thought no one was observing her.
“Hark, are you the Deliverer?” shrieked a goatskin of rattling bones that had just rushed out of a cave to intercept Baraq and his men. The old woman--for the bag of old bones turned out to be human--began to weep piteously, throwing herself down in his path. “Ai ai ai! My sons and husband are dead! All slain by the king of Hazir and his proud multitude! I have only this cleft in the rock now and the wild herbs of the field. My house, the fields and flocks, the men-servants and maid-servants, are--”
“What do you want of me, Old One?” Baraq said sharply. He had come a long ways and had much farther to go.
The woman, with one eye white and scaled, looked confused. She hobbled closer toward him, facing Abinoan’s son straddling a tawny ass reserved for chieftains and nobility. “You ask me what I want? Nothing! Ai ai ai! Nothing! I shall go down to the dust in a day and a day hence, and so I need nothing you can give me. But--but--there is one thing!”
“If you, O mighty man, should pass the Tree of the Bee between Ramah and Bethel, speak to the Great One, the Mother of Israel seated there. Ask why there is no Deliverer in this land these twenty years. I will lay my bones deep in Sheol before you return with her answer. And I have no gold or silver to give you, nor one kid from the herds that covered these hills in days gone by. I am only a mother with withered breasts and my womb is dead. No more sons to replace those that have been taken by the king! No more husband! Alone! Forsaken! Ai ai ai!”
“I will do it! Now let me pass in peace!” Though he had spoken his word, Baraq and his men turned away, lowered eyes smarting with unwept tears, for her words burned in their ears and hearts.
Why is there no Deliverer?
They went on, but not in peace. Israel was a sea of hopelessness and misery. There were countless widows like the old woman living in the cave and crying out for a deliverer she would not live to see. Twenty years Jabin had reigned, and all were spent despoiling the glorious land, Baraq reflected as they rode south. It seemed clear that nothing could withstand him.
“Why do I strive against him?” he wondered many times as they came to a town and found it sacked by a neighbor, clan fighting clan, even family against family, when both towns belonged to the same tribe. Often as not, above the gutted, smoking ruins would rise a high place, a grove with the altar and other abominations of Chillelu and Hibishu looking as if they had seen much service.
At least, in Naphtali such places were relatively unknown. If people followed such practices, they did so in secret and not in the public eye. But everywhere they proceeded in Manasseh, the groves proliferated and the signs of fighting and havoc among the brethren of Israel increased. Sickened at heart, Baraq was strongly tempted to turn round. Kedesh, with all its faults, looked fair to his eyes now.
“Surely, there is no hope for us,” he had to think, “for the Lord has given us into the hands of our enemies because of our taking strange gods.” But he would look a fool who did not know his own mind, he thought, if he turned back now. “Hasn’t the Sopetet summoned me?”
He decided it was best, despite his misgivings, to go through with the journey. When he accomplished that, then he would return straight home and mind his own fig tree--just like everyone else was doing.
Jabin’s forces had penetrated deeply, indeed. They had left Manasseh and were well into Ephraim and still they saw stumps of olive trees, grape vines pulled out of the ground, blocked and bone-polluted wells, and rubble where thriving houses, villages, towns and cities had once stood. Here and there shadows crept under cover of the trees and bushes as they passed. Who were they? Orphan children? Man and women driven witless because of their calamities? Or just people so terrified of Jabin they dared not approach passers-by?
It was not easy to find water and food in such destruction. It was good they had brought provisions, or they might have suffered greatly on the way. Closer to Bethel they found villages with people in them again. But the children who came running to greet them were dirty and naked, uncovenanted, the thin, old men at the gate bleary in eye and head and good for nothing, and the young men? Dead! Impaled on stakes long since. As for the women and young maidens, Jabin had taken them away to serve in the harems and households of his captains.
By this time, Baraq knew all the tales of Heber the tinker had not been embroidered. It was, indeed, far worse than the Kenite could describe. Amazingly enough, they came to a walled fortress. Invited in, they found Ephraim’s best, feasting and drinking. When Baraq commented on the scenes round them to the noble-looking sons of Ephraim, they laughed.
“Why ought we weep for them?” they crowed. “They have gods. Let their own gods deliver them. We have ones that do so much better by us. For see how we have been blessed! So why ask us to help them? Are we their keepers? Let them first turn from their gods to ours! Then we will consider them brethren and defend their wives and children from the northerners! Until then it is not our affair what the Hazirites do with them.”
Leaving with his men, fearing he would strike out in anger, Baraq hurried out of the fort. Skeletons lay thick by the entrance. It was a boneyard. Now he knew the cause. Whoever clung to that cruel gate, sought refuge in vain.
Why is there no Deliverer?
It was a question he could not escape and would take to the Sopetet herself.
They reached a grove, and it had evidently been a high place because of certain curious natural features but there was no sign of it now but the processional avenue of fine tamars. Tents clustered thickly on the meadow that opened before a bald knob of stone that overhung the grove. From the talk issuing forth, he could tell the accents of twelve tribes. Then out a gash in the big rock above a stream fell directly into a pool, and women were gossiping and washing clothes and children wading as Baraq stood, looking for the “Bee of Ephraim.” She was, according to report, supposed to preside beneath the tallest tamar and administer judgment and counsel to all who came. Why she chose a tamar, nobody could think, but she certainly could not be looking for cooling shade since the tamar produced the least of all.
“Lead me to the Sopetet!” he commanded the first old man who came hobbling toward him, picking the way with a stick so short he had to stoop to make it work.
“The Sopetet, eh?” inquired the oldster, grinning upwards with a small, egglike, mostly bald head strangely screwed on a child-sized body.
“No, no!” said Baraq, shaking his head. “You’ve got it wrong, Old One. I have no case to bring. But it is a very important matter to the holy nation. I have been invited by the Sopetet regarding Jabin the king. Lead me and my men at once to the hall of meeting! I have no time to waste!”
With no protest, the old one whirled around and began tapping the ground ahead of him as he left Baraq without another word.
Shaking his head over this inauspicious beginning, Baraq and his men followed. It was difficult to squeeze with dignity between close-pitched tents, tethered animals, and many standing men and women, not to mention numerous children. Whole families squatted on the path and would not move for anyone. Yet the old man got round them all, sometimes retracing his steps and trying another route, until abruptly they came out in front of a broad-trunked tamar.
“Lapidoth, dear,” a voice addressed the old man. “I will see to this one and then I shall be coming shortly.”
Then the oldster did a strange thing that made Baraq and his men’s mouths fall open. He crouched low and began to jerk and peck about like a chicken, making chicken-like clucks, and even fluttering his arms like a mother hen who would gather her chicks.
“Lapidoth?” sounded a gentle but firm voice. The chicken act ceased, and Lapidoth stood up, looking surprised. He blinked his eyes, then seemed to remember where and who he was.
“Excellent! Excellent!” cried the one who had led Baraq to the right tree only to turn chicken, and then he tapped quickly out of sight.
So this was it? Baraq looked down and found someone in somber green and black robes sitting at the sun-beaten base of the tamar. He strode up to the woman, for some reason breathing hard, legs spread wide. Then, shifting his dusty feet, he glanced about and then back at the bent, shawled head of the Sopetet. She had not moved by then, so he felt impelled to begin the meeting though he was disappointed, to say the least. Could THIS be the renowned Sopetet? the Mother of Israel? The mighty Bee who, alone, confronted the might of Jabin the king but so far had proved ineffective?
But he had come a long way, and so he gripped the superlative Kenite haft of his sword and began.
“Well, O greatly honored Wife of Lapidoth, I have come. I am Abinoam’s son, of Kedesh-naph--”
An even-toned voice rose and cut across his, stopping the words in his mouth.
“Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded, saying, ‘Go and draw toward Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and the children of Zebulun’?”
“Yes!” declared Baraq stoutly. “And so we have come, the brave-hearted men of Naphtali, at your call!”
The head did not move, but beneath the cowl of the shawl the lips moved. “God commanded it, but you did not come when called. These two years you sat comfortably beneath your fig tree while the whole land has been made a widow, without husband and son. People blame me because they think I can find no man to lead the armies of the Lord. Even you blame me, in your secret heart!”
Recalling the grief-crazed women starving in caves all along the route, Baraq felt suddenly chilled by the stiff breeze that ran down the cliff face into the clearing. He had been reprimanded by the Sopetet! No man had ever done that, leastwise a woman! Baraq nearly choked. He searched for words on his behalf, since his men were witnesses of his discomfiture, but found none.
Slowly, the Sopetet rose. How tiny she was! How insignificant! He was amazed. No one had told him this. The shawl fell back and he saw her face for the first time. She was not a young woman, nor extremely old. She was not ugly, nor well-favored. She looked like nothing that would draw great numbers of people to her judgment seat. Her garment was ordinary stuff and not dyed prettily with patterns. Her feet and hands were bare of work of fine beaten gold. The first impression was only strengthened. She was nothing out of the ordinary except perhaps a chin that jutted like a man's with strength. Yet his heart leaped strangely as the Bee’s gaze rose to his face, only to glance upwards, her eyes screwed almost shut as if appealing to a greater Man than Baraq could ever be.
Baraq glanced back around at his men, who all looked bewildered, amused, annoyed, and questioning. Rubbing his beard, he knew he had to think things over. His men gathered round.
“Well, what do you think” he asked some of them. He listened until he grew disgusted. They knew nothing more than he did.
People were closing their tents and retiring. Children played no more and the last meal had been taken. Someone took up a flute. Baraq and his men were left to their own devices.
Abinoam’s son went to see to his mount, then returned to the tamar tree, lay down beneath his outer cloak and tried to sleep.
“It is to be expected that they treat us like this!” remarked one fellow. “Ephraimites have no love of us, not since Father Jacob made Joseph greater than his elder brothers and then blessed his brats beyond our noble fathers!”
“Yes, that is the reason for her rebuff!” puffed another. “We came all this way to aid them, and this is the gratitude they show us! I knew they would act this way!”
Feeling put upon, Baraq’s men continued to talk in his fashion to such a length that he finally got up and removed himself. He went off to the edge of the meadow for some peace and quiet.
As he slept, toward morning a bitter cold wind blew on him, and he heard a voice.
“Son of Abinoam!”
It only had to be said once to a man of war. He leaped up, his eyes searching the gloom until he saw a woman standing a dozen paces beyond him. The Sopetet?
Debora spoke. “I could not say it in the hearing of the people, but the Lord God added to the first word when you appeared onto me: ‘And I will draw onto you to the river Kishon, Sisera--’”
The wind increased, pelting him with hail and snow. The back of his legs, neck, and arms were white as milk, yet he noticed, with a jolt, that not a breath of the wind reached the Sopetet. How could that be? He started to throw his cloak around his shoulders when a gust wrenched it from his hand and flung it away off into the depths below. Now he was freezing to death. He took a few, manly steps toward the woman, as he had done formerly at the big tamar. Yet his knees went to water. Losing his balance, he stumbled backwards and almost fell as a lightning bolt of pain erupted in his backside--a spot once kicked by a she-ass. “What is wrong?” he wondered. “Has she cast a spell on me?” His strength seemed to have turned to curds and whey.
He sank down, gripping his trembling knees for support, gazing desperately up at the robed figure. “What? I cannot stand on my own feet!” he thought, sweating down from his brows despite the flying ice.
The wind increased in fury. He felt so faint and cold he would have gladly crawled into a hole in the ground, like a badger or cony--if there had been a hole! At that moment something came frightfully clear. His brave words in Kedesh were utterly swept away by the shattering reality of war. He had not the slightest shred of belief in Israel’s chances and her “fighting men.” As for the God of Israel weighing into the balance--
“I cannot do what she asks! I cannot do it, though she command all the mighty winds of heaven!” he thought. “To attack Sisera openly in that way with nothing but farmers and shepherds is madness! Why, he will surely crush and grind me like a shekel of corn in a quern with his nine hundred chariots and multitude of footmen!”
“What do you say, Baraq the son of Abinoam?”
Thrashed repeatedly by wind and cold, it was all Baraq could do to form the right words of refusal, for he was somewhat unnerved by her and wished to get away at once.
“The Lord God will deliver him into your hand,” she said, as if divining his dread.
What was a man to do? He tumbled forward on his watery, buckling knees and nearly fell on his face before the Sopetet. Gasping, he drew his sword, which seemed to weigh like an ox, and thrust it against the rocky ground, and in that way he raised himself to meet her gaze. But thought he met it, what mortal woman had eyes like that? They were sharp swords that cut into his inmost being.
“If you will go with me, then I will go. But if you will not go with me, then I will not go.”
He was certain that would do it. No respectable woman would ever go into battle with men, even if she expected victory. And if she wasn’t respectable and insisted on going anyway? Well, who would blame him if he turned her down on that account? He had his own honor to think of, after all.
Suddenly, the biting wind veered away. Warmth flooded back, reviving and raising the son of Abinoam to a man’s dignity. Baraq noticed that the Sopetet turned her head and gazed back toward the camp. Then she faced him, her shawl thrown back.
“I will surely go with you,” Debora said with a fierce, smiting light in her eyes. “I will go, notwithstanding the battle will not be to your glory since you do not believe in your heart of hearts. For the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman because you demanded this indignity of a woman.”
Baraq’s ears felt like they had been boxed, both very hard. He heard a terrific ringing after she had finished speaking. But he had heard her words--not at all what he had expected. He had heard them, and would he ever forget them as long as he lived?
That same morning Lapidoth came to Baraq and his men and said they were ready.
“What?” protested Baraq. He had come a long way and would have liked a longer rest for himself, his men, and their asses. Besides, he still had a dull throbbing pain in both ears.
The Sopetet came, quelling the protest with a glance, and they proceeded together down the path.
Everyone turned to watch them go, and no one said anything to hold the Bee of Ephraim back. It seemed to Baraq there had been a meeting of some kind and everyone knew what was decided except him!
Abinoam’s son found the orphan boy he had hired to watch his mount. He glanced back to see what Lapidoth and his wife had to make the long journey with to Mount Tabor and the battlefield. Nothing, apparently! They were just watching him as his men got on their asses.
Baraq went to mount his fine tawny ass. It bucked and threw him off before he was even up. He tried again. A whirlwind, she kicked like a fury and tried to bite any part of him she could reach. Anyone could see it was impossible to do anything with such a she-devil. Red faced and glowering, Baraq turned and saw the two Ephraimites gazing at him. “She must have eaten an evil weed to drive her mad!” he grunted to the two, though in his rage he would rather have killed it. “You take her then!”
It was more a grudging challenge than a gift, but Lapidoth cried “Excellent! Excellent!” as if he were being handed a cooing dove!
Taking twenty pieces of silver from his purse, Baraq ill-humoredly bought a donkey off a trader who kept a herd for those who needed replacements. He returned and was amazed to find Lapidoth and his wife seated on the ass, now very placid and looking as if it would never stamp a fly on purpose. He was not a very happy commander, the butting he-goat of Kedesh who reluctantly followed the Bee and her elderly husband northward to the dry wadi of the Kishon.
The wind was even worse than usual when Jael went to catch a milch-goat for some fresh milk. Usually, the nanny was so docile she would come to her like a pet, but this time she ran, trying to pull free from her tether. That too was pegged with one of Heber’s barbed nails, so she didn’t get away.
Jael looked up. Fierce, black clouds with lightning flashes and thunder came from behind her while wind blew hard in her face. But the storm-clouds soon passed, flying toward Mount Tabor and its dry river. The wind died, and the goat came to her hand and submitted meekly. Jael soon had her milk skin full, for the goat produced abundantly for the household. The task done, she went back inside the tent and hung the skin on a tent pole in the corner so no vermin could get to it. In a day or so it would be excellent curds.
The next day she checked the skin and found, to her disgust, that it had sprung a leak and the entire thing had emptied. She soon had the mess cleaned up. She also knew how to start a new skin. She cut off a little piece of the old, put it inside another skin she stitched water-tight and then went to do the milking. Her nanny’s teats dragged in the grass, they were so full. It was no difficulty getting her cooperation, and soon the new skin was bulging. Then, for no reason since the weather was fine and clear, the goat went mad. She bucked and stamped, bleating as if wolves were leaping at her.
The barbed peg that held her pulled clear this time, and she scampered off as if pursued by a wolf pack. It was a miracle with all her stamping she had not stepped on the milkskin with a sharp hoof and burst it. Jael stood, hand on hip, shaking her head. But she knew the she-goat would return of her own. She was just too much a pet to want to wander free and too smart to brave the plain alone.
She glanced toward Kedesh for a moment. Heber was tarrying again! Why, she wondered, did he have to do so much talking to customers? Why couldn’t he just make the things they wanted and collect his pay and come home like other tinkers. But Heber loved the talking more than he loved the trade and the good pay. It was his way and he had not changed from the day she was taken for a wife.
Any other woman, in her tent, might have been afraid to be left like that for hours at a stretch. But Jael, having enjoyed the safe conduct pass of their trade to come and go even in hotly besieged cities, was afraid of no man. Besides, she knew where Heber kept a specially sharp sword in case some passing vagrant wasn’t satisfied with bread and milk and got out of hand.
But they seldom had trouble-makers on their hands. In times past they had faced some fierce tribesmen, however.
“We will have to kill you now,” an Amalekite chieftain announced after Heber finished work. “Otherwise, you will go and aid our enemies.”
“But you place too high a regard on my tinkering,” replied Heber with a deep bow. “It’s not my knives and swords but your great might and cunning that will overwhelm your foes!”
So, after some discussion, they let them go. Then Heber went to the opposing tribe of Girzites and worked twice as hard. He fashioned double the amount of fine weapons, letting them have every two for the price of one.
After the Amalekites attacked and was utterly defeated, the chieftain’s first wife and widow turned as she was being led off to slavery and said to Jael, “We trusted you, and you betrayed us to these Amalekites.”
“Nay,” replied Jael, “you stinking dung of a she-camel in her heat, you thought we were as you are. You were going to cut our throats like dogs after your victory. It was your puffing pride and my husband’s cunning that saved us the first time out of your crooked hands.” After this was noised abroad they never lacked for work, and there was no more trouble of this kind.
Heber’s wife went back inside the tent and hung the new skin.
A gust of wind blew the tent flap back. Jael got up and went to secure it. Then she noticed the shadow falling across the entrance. “Husband, it is too long this time!” she was about to complain but the shadow lingered, unlike Heber, and she hesitated.
“Who is it?” she called out, wondering if it were only a shadow of a branch of the great terebinth.
“Sisera, commander of the forces of Jabin the king.”
Jael’s heart skipped a beat or two. Heber had done work for the Hazirites, even this general, and so there was the tie of business between them. Only of late it had become thread-bare on Sisera’s side, since Sisera defrauded Heber of rightful payment and insisted he had found rust, gravel, cracks, pits, and other weaknesses in the work.
No one had ever said that to him before, but Heber insisted he do the same amount of work again and be paid only for the second lot. His name meant more to him than the gold and silver! So Heber had labored many hours and completed his work, and again the inspecting Sisera had screwed up his face and said he did not like it so much. He had seen much better, he said, in Sidon and Tyre and such places. How could he be expected to pay the same prices when the work was inferior. Heber had told his wife how he did not show his wrath to the general but gathered his things and went away, without his rightful wages.
Now this Sisera, Jabin’s hireling general, was at her door! But wasn’t he supposed to be at the River Kishon to face the unarmed shepherds and farmers of Naphtali and Dan gathered on the heights of Mount Tabor? Hiding her amazement, Jael peered out. She had heard no wheels and horses’ feet. Where were Sisera’s iron chariots? He was supposed to have nine hundred, not counting his multitude of armed footmen. Stepping out from the tent, Heber’s wife bowed to the general, greeting him.
“Turn in, my great lord, turn in to my tent. Fear not. My husband was your friend and servant.”
Sisera, his feet swollen and clotted with blood, missing the soles of his sandals, limped and stepped inside the tent.
Jael quickly laid out some blankets and her best pillows. With a loud groan that would have brought tears to his old mother waiting for him in Harosheth, he sank down immediately and lay back on a pillow, breathing hard. “Give me, I beg you, a little water to drink, for I am very thirsty.”
How pitiful a request it was, croaked out through the parched, cracked lips of a hard-pressed man! Jael slipped quickly behind a curtain, seized the new skin and poured it in a wooden bowl, keeping back only watery whey. The she spit in the milk.
“Fresh-drawn milk strained through a clean cloth for you, sire!” she said, manfully resisting the urge to fling it in his face as she knelt and presented the bowl.
Drinking as if he had not drunk a drop of water the whole day, Sisera drained the bowl, then let Jael take it away.
He sank back on the cushions after allowing an embroidered flynet to be laid over his feet and legs.
“You are a good woman, wife of Heber!” he called out. “Among all my wives and concubines there is none so worthy and kind as you, I think. I will be going soon. Do not fear.”
The good woman said nothing, manfully resisting the urge to fly at him and scratch his eyes out.
After a moment, he heaved up on his arm and turned to Heber’s wife.
“Stand in the door of the tent, and it shall be, when any man comes and asks of you, ‘Is there any man here?’ that you will say, ‘No.’ He will believe you and go away.”
So Jael stood in the door. She looked out urgently through a crack for some sight of Heber and his wagon. But still he tarried in Kedesh! She turned slowly and glanced back at the mighty general. He didn’t look so mighty now! Wet, white froth of milk still clinging to his dirty, tangled beard and on his lips, he lay, mouth open, breathing hoarsely. He was asleep! Jael gazed at him, eyes widening. Dare she leave the tent door? She took a step, then another, and still Sisera’s eyes remained closed.
It was the rich sweet, half curdled milk, she knew. He had drunk much. Heber always got sleepy after taking a big draught. The effect was even greater for a weary, footsore man. Now she had reached her objective: a mallet and some tent pegs. Taking one nail, she crept behind Sisera. His hairy head had slipped from a pillow and lay on the floor of the tent, but still he slept like a baby.
Nothing, seemingly, could wake him. He would sleep for hours if anyone let him, having come on foot across the plain to her tent, trodding on every brier and burr in his haste. Perhaps he had come all the way from Mount Tabor that way, circling round in the hills to reach his city and king. No wonder he was weary onto death! Jael knew she could do it. She could play the man in Heber's place.
It wasn’t the disgraceful, mean defrauding that Heber had suffered at the commander’s hands. That was not cause for taking any man’s life unawares. No, in all their travels she had seen the sword of this man lying heavy and bloody upon the whole country. She had seen the orphans, the husbandless wives, the starving old widows. In Jabin’s royal city she had witnessed the gory shrines of Hazir’s gods and how this man piled up heads of countless slain Hebrews as offerings--brought in by his nine hundred iron chariots along with many weeping women captives and gold and silver. For all the motherless children, for all the women bereft of husbands and sons, she would play the man of war in her own tent!
Sisera was dead! But it was no time for a victory dance. First, she had to run outside and dash water from a jug in her face to stop the sick, weak feeling from overwhelming her spirit. After that, feeling strength return, she went back inside to face what she had to do.
Yet it was a very hard and loathsome task. Jael forced herself to touch the dead man she herself had made dead She quickly removed his earrings and gold necklace with the ornament, and other bracelets and rings--Heber would be glad to get his rightful pay and they would do a dead man no good!
There was no sword, valuable a spoil of war as that would now be. He must have thrown it away so he could run faster, she thought. Finished, she took the last of the milk in the skin, which was only the watery whey, and rinsed her hands. Then she took the mallet and smashed the serving bowl thoroughly and flung the pieces a good distance from the tent. Last of all, she pulled the flynet up over the dead man’s face, not to protect it from swarming flies but to remove the evil of the destroyer from her eyes.
A little later Jael felt the ground tremble beneath her feet. A host of men was coming her way. She peered out. Baraq, leading several thousand victorious Naphtalites and Danites, rode up on a whinnying, kicking Ken’anite horse. They were all mounted on nervous Ken’anite horses accustomed more to chariots than to men on their backs. Bowing, Jael went out to meet him. “Come, and I will show you the man whom you seek.”
Baraq looked at her with astonishment, then drew his sword and went with her. Jael led him into the tent, and there he saw that the great Sisera was dead, with the nail fast in his forehead and on his blue lips white milk and curds.
Seeing such things on battlefields was one thing, inside a close-confining tent is quite another. He was sick right on the spot, with Jael smiling behind her hand.
Arriving later, Heber, for once, knew nothing of the matter and had to be told all by his wife. She added what Baraq had told her too. The River Kishon, normally dry, was the ground on which Sisera had assembled his chariots and men. There they waited, but the Hebrews on the heights on Mount Tabor did not dare descend, or they would have been massacred. Then, suddenly, a wall of water poured down through the dry channel and caught the nine hundred chariots and the horses. It passed, and when chariots and footmen struggled to get out, wheels and feet alike mired hopelessly in the mud. Seeing the host of Sisera and Jabin the king floundering in the river bed, Baraq sent his ten thousand at once to fight in the name of the Lord God of Israel. The enemy fled on foot, each man for himself, so it was easy to pursue and cut them down. The Naphtalites and Danites chased them all the way to Sisera’s natal city of Harosheth, killing every one but Sisera, who got away on foot. d
Her tale ended at their own tent, with Baraq seeing great Sisera vanquished by a woman's tiny sword, a common nail!
“Was not the Sopetet on Mount Tabor with Abinoam’s mighty son?” Heber wanted to know.
Jael smiled. “Yes, he spoke of her. He was angry, and he said that she had told him how the honor of victory would go to a woman, because he demanded that she a woman accompany him to the battlefield, lest he not go at all. Then Abinoam’s son took the body of Sisera. He tied it to an ass, head over the hindquarters of the beast, with a Danite to lead it to Kedesh and present it to the city. Afterwards, he left to go and destroy Jabin the king and his city so that the land might have peace.”
The tinker shook his head as he gazed at his wife. On her lap was spread the costly ornaments of gold and jewels collected from the obliging foe. He need not work for many days with such a fee in hand, and with other earnings already put by he might even cease from his wanderings and return to the tribe and his married sons a comfortably rich old man. “I just know someone will make a grand song of this thing!” he sighed. “Who would have thought my one little sword of a nail would bring down so mighty a man of war as this to the dust!”
Fingering her war trophies, the tinker’s nail gazed at him with shining eyes and held her peace. And it was true what good Heber said, though the song was not altogether about his fine nail and meticulous craftsmanship. It came to pass that the women of Israel sang “A Song of Debora and Baraq,” and how it was that Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite earned honor and renown above other women--just as it had been foretold by a little Bee between Ramah and Bethel. In the song Heber’s wife was “Most blessed of women . . . of tent-dwelling women most blessed.”
But there was one thing the women of Israel did not know to put in their song. Sisera’s gold neck chain held a large pendant jewel that glowed brightly golden like the Second Moon. Heber had looked at it and tried to assign a value, but being a tinker and no dealer in gemstones he set it aside and stepped outside the tent. It was well he did. At that moment a firebolt shot through the tent roof and screamed skywards. The roar it made was so great Heber’s right eardrum burst, and he would suffer a ringing in both ears the rest of his days.
Jael too was outside, tending her prize milch-goat, but she saw everything. Running back, she grabbed goatskins, dipped them in water, and helped him beat out the flames in the tent roof. Indoors, the smoke was thick but nothing else was destroyed, except the gold and jewels taken from Sisera had all fused in a solid mass. That night they lay and stared out the hole at the stars.
“What sort of fire could do that?” Jael wondered aloud, and Heber remembered in time not to shake his bandaged head and make the ringing worse.
“There is no fire, no such flame that could do it,” he replied with assurance, for a tinker knows fire better than most men.
After that, the surviving farmers crept out of their holes and caves. Now they could replant war-shattered fields, clean out blocked wells, rebuild houses and families, and live as men again and not beasts. And thanks to the tinker’s nail the land knew peace for six barley and wheat harvests.