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4 Judah's Return

When Judah reached his house in Chezib, he was met by the menfolk and relatives of his daughter-in-law, as well as most of the villagers and Hireh. Knowing he had the strength to put down any man in Chezib, he made to pass through their ranks when his mother-in-law hissed, "Dog of a Hebrew! Would you slink back into our midst after all the evil you done us here?"

A blow from something fell across the back of his head. It felt to Judah like an oaken club, nearly smashing his senses to pieces. He staggered forward, falling against the men barring the path to his own house; but they rained more blows upon him, until he was lying on the ground, beginning to bleed from cuts and bruises.

"Cut off his stones!" shrieked Hireh's wife, dumping a basket of pig slops on him. "I'll die sores in my breasts before I see a Hebrew get any more sons off our vigin daughters and then slay them like cattle!"

Tamar came out slowly from the house. Her head was veiled in black, and a widow's mourning garments draped her full body. Having restored the line of Er by rightfully taking the father-in-law as a last resort, her hands were clenched, nevertheless, behind her back.

"Take him out to the road," she said to her relatives. "Do not slay him, or his blood will be upon my head."

After his signet and the cord were ripped from his neck, Judah was dragged from the village by the same, long-striding legs that had once brought him to Chezib. As the young men took him away, they continued to kick and beat on him, cursing him all the way for the deaths of their friends Er and Onan and even tearing out the hair of his beard. By the time they had thrown him by the wayside, bloody and naked and covered with spittle and pig offal, Judah was barely conscious. He lay for some time groaning in pain and unable to move after everyone had gone.

"I am sorry, stranger, this had to happen, but you had to be stubborn and follow your peopleís bad ways instead of ours."

It was Hireh, who had come back to give a parting word.

Hireh was never conscious of self-contradiction, as he went on, "You should have followed your own customs more astutely; your daughter-in-law knew the laws of your Hebrew inheritance as well as you and expected you to willingly do what was right by her. As it is, you gave her no choice but to do as she did, and now even Shelah will have nothing more to do with you and has gone off with a Chillelu priest to holy Jebus. Whatever has happened to you, then, is your own fault. You are lucky they donít kill you and do other things to you."

Judah only groaned; he could not defend himself against anyone. Hireh soon grew tired of trying to talk to Judah and retired to his own vineyard to pick fresh grapes for his bag. Only when the light began to turn to dusk did Judah find enough strength to stand. He wavered on his feet, and seemed uncertain at what course to take. Then he breathed out a deep sigh, let his head hang in hopeless resignation, and turned back on the road to Enaim, toward the eastern hills of Hebron.

He took only a few steps before he crumpled backwards on the road. It was a great effort for him to stand again, but Judah struggled on. He knew if he went back, there would only be another beating. And another would kill him, he realized. So he forced himself to go on, knowing he had to be out of the area before dawn, for they would come back looking for sign of him, and if they found him his own daughter-in-law could not keep them from making devilish sport of him.

The thought of the torture and ignominy the uncircumcised liked to award the circumcised whenever they got the chance stuck such terror in his heart he went on, regardless of great weakness and bleeding wounds. He gained several hills, and when they lay between him and the village he breathed a little easier and continued on, but without the haste that made his agony so great.

Several times he stopped to rest when he thought it good, and paused at the stream that ran close to the road at one point. It was a vaguely familiar place. He bathed his bloody face in the cool waters and forced a drop or two down a battered throat. A sharp memory of red-stained teeth forced him out of the stream before he could take more of a drink. He scrambled back to the road. He kept walking (while he thought of all that had happened to him), and lay down to rest when it grew dark.

He was soaked with blood and dew in the morning and so stiff from his beatings he could only crawl at first on his hands and feet. His hunger was great, but he was in a desolate and uninhabited region. He would not find shelter for a long time yet, he knew. The lion, bear, desert leopard and wolf abounded, yet he could not provide meat for himself as they could. He had nothing, not knife or bow. The Chezibites had taken everything, and had stripped him just to make it all the more humiliating and likely he would die in the open from exposure. He would have fortunate, in such circumstances, to find even such work as swineherd to any local farmer, though they paid nothing and he would have to eat carob pods along with the pigs or starve to death.

Judah thought of his father's sheepfold at Hebron and began to weep, even more bitterly than his wife had wept in Enaim. He could see his condition more clearly, since being turned out on the road and left to die and feed carrion vultures. He had gone away from Hebron full and now he was returning worse than empty. Once finely clothed, he was now sheared like a sheep. Once rich, he was now a pauper. Once honored by all, he was a byword for shame and degradation. He saw it all and wept sore as the bruises and cuts that covered his body from head to toe.

Judah wondered at himself, how he could have fallen so far. He had left three graves behind in Chezib, containing all his issue in life except Shelah, who was fanatically bent on entering the utterly depraved Chillelu priesthood. So Judah knew he was as good as a dead man now, without sons or daughters who would acknowledge him. All his wealth and substance had been taken away, with no chance he could ever get his flocks and house back. After all, his position in Chezib had depended on the good graces of his heathen neighbors; once lost it was irretrievable. They would kill him on sight. It mattered nothing to them that he had admitted his guilt, and that Tamar was more righteous than he. He knew their greedy, heathenish minds, and how forgiveness can be overshadowed in a human mind by lust for another man's goods.

At that moment Joseph came to mind, thrusting sharp into his heart like a sword. Everyone had reaped something from selling Joseph, he recalled, and later Judah took some of the multitude of sheep Joseph would have possessed if he had still been around to claim his portion. That was a pricking thorn to his brothers, who accused him of Covenant-breaking and demanded he leave his share to them when Judah first decided to pull out of the whole, bloody mess. It provoked an ugly scene at Hebron, and Judah shivered from the memories that flooded into his mind as he struggled to put more distance between him and the infuriated Ken'anites.

Yet he continued to think of the past, and how ugly his parting from the camp of Jacob had been. Gad was nursing a split lip and missing tooth from Judah's swift kick when Simeon parted him and Judah, and the handmaids' sons would have fallen on both Simeon and Judah with oaken clubs but Father Jacob chose that moment to step forth from his tent to see the cause of the disturbance. Of course, no one would tell him, and Simeon gave him some lie or other to make him go back to his tent of mourning.

"You greedy, Kena'nite swine!" Gad had hissed at him, when Judah continued to separate out his share of Joseph's sheep. "Filthy, stinking hymen of a goat!" he continued. "We know you intend to transgress the Covenant and take a wife in secret from along the native women!" Paying the bloody-spittled hypocrite no attention, with the murderous looks of his brothers as a parting memory, Judah had turned and taken all his flock away from Hebron forever.

Judah paused in his tottering struggle up the road, overcome with the pain of the past. What kind of reception could he expect from them after that? Judah wondered mournfully. And how truthfully could he face his father? He had helped steal his father's own favorite and sell him into slavery, causing him greatest grief and covering the varicolored robe with the lie of lamb's blood so that Jacob would never know the truth. Added to that treachery, he had gone and done exactly as Gad had charged: he had leaped over the law of God prohibiting intermarriage with idolatrous people. No wonder the Almighty had struck his unlawful family dead!

Thinking such thoughts, Judah was inclined to turn around and suffer the worst the Chezibites could inflict upon him. Perhaps that would be better than to kill his father with more suffering, he thought. His brothers, he knew, would never let him tell Jacob the full story of their villainy--and live.

Once mighty, Judah's strength was fast fading. Blood oozed everywhere on his body from untreated cuts and wounds, covering his bare limbs and backside. He had climbed the hills for hours, and his beatings were taking a grim toll on his stamina and will to live. He kept going for a short distance more, then slowly collapsed by the roadside, a beaten and broken man with no strength or heart to go on any longer.

"My God! My God! I have greatly sinned against Thee!" Leah's fourth son cried through swollen and split lips. "Why art Thou so far from me, from the words of my groaning?" In a little while, as he lay exposed on burning ground in the killing midday heat, he ceased twitching and was still.


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