No one cared how long and far the prophet wished to sail with the ship. At Joppa it was money and trade that mattered. Every passenger paid in advance (though there were no many passengers allowed in the limited deck space aboard).
At some point beyond Tyre and Sidon, and the Syrian ports, the captain turned to ask if he wished to continue with the ship to Tarshish, and when the prophet said he would, using the common speech of Aramaic, he was then allowed to pay at the end of the voyage. When this shift was made in payment, the passenger was reasonably assured that he would not be thrown overboard in mid-sea and could be trusted to pay in full.
Since the captain safeguarded a valuable ship along with equally valuable goods, it was necessary for the passengers to win his confidence, rather than win theirs. Any passenger who impressed the captain as a possible hazard to his interests put himself in grave danger of being fed to the fish—and no questions asked.
All the captain had to do was get a couple hands from the crew and set upon the offender and in a moment he was flying headfirst into the waves below the bow.
No longer bothered with having to make payments at each port call, the prophet was left to his own society, which was extremely limited, since he had taken only one man-servant with him.
The ship's master was a businessman through and through, and not could care less who paid to sail with him. His business was his cargo, not the occasional passenger he took aboard. He had not exercised himself to ask the prophet’s name and other particulars. Why should he? By his dress and behavior, any man could be judged, and the captain was a very good judge of men, being experienced in the ways of men at sea. He saw that old man and his man-servant were different from the usual run of coarse humanity, being not rich and mighty folk but something beneath—not businessmen but something else. Regular prayers to a god whose image they never showed publicly told the captain they were priests of some kind—though in what temple’s service, he could not determine. He could tell at a glance they were decent enough and kept to their own business—not thieves and busybodies. Such types he loathed and utterly refused to keep aboard ship once exposed, either throwing them off at the nearest port if their offenses were light or overboard if not. Commanding a ship was a deadly serious task. To hazard his ship for the sake of anyone was unthinkable. Even his own life was not held by him as so dear that the ship was second in importance It had to be that way, or his ship would not be afloat very long, since so many, many things could and did go wrong at sea.
Since the captain was a busy enough man and made no effort to gain the society of the prophet, the prophet and his man-servant prayed, ate, slept, and sat alone—while surrounded by working crew members. Nothing was asked of them, since they were paying their way, except to keep from underfoot.
Left to his own thoughts and the conversation with his servant, the man of God had ample time to review his life. As happens with the aged, he returned to his childhood in Babel. He also recalled the long trek from the great city to the much smaller city of Jerusalem, the Holy Seat of the Lord. It was a terrible sight, he recalled, when he first set eyes on it.
It looked like an over-grown, very dirty village-—not at all as it should look.
The walls were destroyed, nothing but rubble above the foundation stones—though gates remained, they lacked doors and bolts and hinges, anyone could pass through at any time of the day or night! It took years and years of work before the people rebuilt enough of the city to make it look presentable, letting the work on the Temple go while they built their houses and planted new vineyards. How the Lord had used him and Haggai to admonish them for that!
For years they told the people that they must finish the Temple! Fortunately, the unexpected had happened to help the work go forward.
A court Jew, a eunuch who served as the Royal Cupbearer, had come from Babel with the king’s favor upon him, and not only that, much money and armed attendants.
His name was Nehemiah, using his Hebrew name. This man was given power by the king of Babel to restore the walls—and under his rule the walls were restored round about the city.
What a glorious thing Nehemiah accomplished! And God had favored the people of God. Together, their spirit restored, not only were the walls rebuilt but the second Temple was at last completed, after years of neglect as well as fierce opposition by the powerful neighboring princes, Sanballat the Samaritan and Tobiah the Arab.
Zechariah looked out upon the blinding blue water as the ship sailed from morning to evening. They had left one very big island, where much copper was mined, and were heading toward another about half its size. It too had many mountains, valleys, and coasts and was peopled, with many cities, and its chief wares were reputed to be wine and jewelry and fine pottery. His servant Uthai, coming from the second order of Levites, the temple musicians, was more friend than servant, having served him so long he was closer to the prophet in his affections than his own son who cared little for his father’s prophecies.
Uthai took their cloaks and shaded the prophet from the worst of the glare from the water, using sticks he had taken from the last island to prop up the cloaks. As passengers, they could claim no rights to the shadiest spots on the deck. Those were reserved for the crew when they took their rest, so Uthai did wonders in arranging as much comfort as he did for the old prophet.
“Thank you, my son,” said the prophet to Uthai, as he was handed a cup of watered wine. Then later, the servant washed the prophet’s hands and head before they sat and ate bread and cheese. Prayers were solemn affairs, which the crew observed with some amusement, since the two men never showed what gods they worshiped. Such a thing was most strange to them. They wouldn’t think of sailing without their own handy images, which they tucked in their girdles.
When the voyage lengthened the crew grew more bold. One or two spoke to the servant, inquiring about his master. Each was told the same: they were Hebrews, journeying to other Hebrews abiding in the uttermost isles.
“The Isles of Tin?” they were asked. “We know of such isles, for we have sailed there for ingots and traded our wine.”
Uthai did not know that name. He only knew that they were uttermost isles—you could sail no further upon the earth than to them.
That reply always sent the inquirer back the others with some thoughts of his own. “What could they want, going so far as that? What were they going to do there? Were they rich? No, they did not look rich! Were they going to seek work in the tin mines?
At their age, that did not seem likely. What then was their reason for so long and expensive a voyage? They were even at hazard, not only by the Romans but by the Carthaginians, who preyed upon ships of Tarshish as wolves upon sheep. Other things just as bad could happen.
Often someone would fall sick and die. It was easy to do on a ship. Slaves commonly sickened at their posts and had to be removed from their chains and cast overboard.
They were well enough while the winds remained good and the sail carried the ship across the waves, but when the wind failed them, day after day, the work of driving the ship with oars proved too much for the weakest of them. Food for slaves was rotten stuff, too.
Some fish and bread—that was all. No fruit, no wine, no meat. Only the captain ate meat, of course, and sometimes threw the scraps to the crew.
The crew that served on the deck and below it as wardens for the slaves also found amusement in the fastidious ways of their passengers, the old man and his servant who were always praying when they weren’t reading from a sack of scrolls. There was no privacy aboard ship.
Every man relieved himself in sight of the others when he grew foul enough to draw the captain’s ire. Either jumping into the sea for a bath, or using a bucket and a sponge, he washed in sight of the others. That was life aboard ship.
But these men of prayer and scribery!
They put up curtains, then washed, only removing their clothes for that purpose, then robing up again afterwards. They also were observed to wait until dark to relieve themselves—how very strange! How could grown men be so dainty? The crew could not fathom it.
The captain took an interest finally in the passengers when he noticed them with pen and ink making a copy of one of the scrolls. He watched as the old man read to the younger man, who had good eyes and could make the tiny marks on the paper that stood for words the old man read to him.
It was a slow business, but they used many tedious hours that way. The captain never seemed to tire of watching them work on the scrolls. He himself read and wrote nothing but bills of lading, using his stock of Aramaic.
These men, he could tell, were concerned with far different things than stocks of wine or copper or oil or spice or woolen goods.
The captain’s interest grew by leaps when he recognized many of the words being read and transcribed, for it turned from Hebrew to Aramaic. The scroll told of a Babelite king and then a Median king, related by a Hebrew who served these kings at court.
It was a most wonderful account. The captain heard how the Hebrew wise man proved himself wiser than all the first Babelite king’s counselors and star-gazers. He had never heard so good a story before—and the people of the Grecian islands were great story-tellers!
He forgot all about the approaching coast of Rhodes as he sat and listened to the old prophet reading the scroll of Daniyel.
When a sailor shouted a warning of a headland’s waves, the captain sprang to his feet. He looked dazedly about, trying to drag his thoughts back upon his duties. But the scroll had been so captivating. He had heard the most wonderful things. Was there truly such a God of the Heavens and Earth, who was One God, without any peer? Did he do such great and mighty things as the scroll taught?
A practical man, the skipper swept the whole issue aside as he fell to the task of swearing and shouting, to get his crew to do the necessary work to bring the ship safely into port on the north coast. Many a ship mistook the easy winds that played along the coast, thinking that they need not be so alert to danger—and they foundered on a reef or were swept by a sudden big wind up on the rocks of the beach and drowned! No, it was the open seas that were safer than the beckoning coastland whose trees waved green and delightful to the eye and hungering heart of man.
The prophet and his servant, too, watched as the captain worked the crew hard to bring the ship safely into port. At last they were in, and the captain gave order and the anchor was dropped.
The merchantman was unloaded of its wares, which were taken to the market if they could not be sold directly to dealers that met the ship. This business went on for some time, and finally the captain went to the prophet and told him that they would be staying until the next morning. Perhaps he would like to go ashore and seek lodgings? If he wished to sail with him again, they would be sailing at dawn—that is, if sufficient goods were sold and others bought and taken aboard in time.
No lover of sea-going vessels christened with the propitious livers of goats and the names and incantations of heathen gods, the prophet and his man-servant eagerly went ashore. They left the busy scene at the water’s edge and climbed up into the market and streets of the city. Children ran up and down with hoops or played blind man’s buff. Others sat, naked in the gutters, toying with little wagons and carts, if they were boys, and stick dolls if they were little girls. Soldiers for hire, merchants, prostitutes, temple priests, farmers, shopkeepers, vintners, porters, dock-workers, metalsmiths, slaves of all sorts, thronged the streets, shops, and houses that were crammed together on every inch of the steep hillsides. The foul, noisy streets did not interest the prophet, who sought peace and running water from a mountain stream rather than the vices and excitements of a big port city. Finally, they came to a small market just inside the last gate of the wall, with only a few people about, a fisherboy, a soldier, playing children, a beggarwoman, and a few tradesmen.
Knocking at the gate, a girl answered, who ran away and got a man, the gatekeeper, who could not understand their speech, though they were using Aramaic. Finally, in the passers-by, one who spoke Aramaic spoke for them and they were led into the yard. A room was available, up a tall flight of steps on the outside of the house. An old woman, screaming oaths, was turned out, and she let them all know that she was the mistress, though she was not, she was just the widow of the father of the house’s present owner-—a vintner with several farms and vineyards.
The prophet, when he understood what had happened, was reluctant to turn in at the room. He motioned to his servant to spread their cloaks in the yard by the wall of the gate. The old woman now protested, making many gestures toward her room. Finally, the helpful man who could understand both Aramaic and the native speech explained to the prophet that the old mother wanted them to have her room, lest she be beaten for turning them out. They must take it, she said.
“No,” the prophet told the man. “We will pay for a place by the wall, where we will be safe for the night from the dogs of the street.”
No one could persuade him, since he gave money for the privilege, as much as they asked for the old woman’s quarters.
When Uthai had made his master comfortable as possible, a little girl came from the house, offering them grapes on a platter. They came from the mistress and master of the house, they understood, for the platter was fine pottery of a special kind. The old widow, formerly the wife of the house, came out to them too, with water and some bread.
The prophet made signs that he was most thankful, and the old woman smiled and bowed and went away, returning later with a warm blanket for the old man.
It was still too early for sleep and the household was all the more lively at dusk, it seemed. The master’s sons ran about in the yard, gathering friends from other houses. Some who had costumes put on them on, a robe that was white in front and black in the back. The others were dressed as boys normally dressed, carrying banners, while the bird costumed fellows ran back and forth, chittering like swallows and making their hands go like wings.
The swallow song was in the native speech, but the helpful fellow saw them and came over, translating the gay words.
He brings you the spring;
Happy times will follow,
Joyous years does he bring.
His front and his back,
One is white, the other is black.
“Give grapes from your store!
Or we will all seize!
For none is so poor,
Without wine or cheese!
“The swallow will take it,
He will not refuse,
And off he will flit
To seek other dues—“
Early, before dawn, the old woman came with a lantern, and the old man rose with his man-servant and departed, but not without saluting the reputable house for its hospitality, that went beyond the payment for safe lodgings. According to the people’s customs, the man and his wife could not respectably meet with unknown strangers of “barbarian speech” without first inviting them in to their home, but they had allowed every possible convenience to be given these aged and obviously respectable way-farers.
Shown out into the street by the lantern of the old woman, the men thanked her and made haste to the port. It was easy progress downhill, but the way was very dark, and savage dogs were still running in the streets. Taking a stick, the servant led the way. As for robbers, they might have been set upon at that hour, but the wine-houses were full, and the robbers had tarried a bit too long to catch the way-farers whom they had heard about. By the time the robbers hurried to the house, they were at the ship, safely boarding.
Island to island, the ship progressed across the sea, then came to a larger sea by sailing around the largest island so far called Pelop’s Island. From that point the voyage became more tense, as they skirted the hostile coasts where Roman ships plied the water looking for merchantmen to prey upon. If not Roman, then Carthaginians were to be feared. Yet the ship of Tarshish was swift when all the slaves were put to the oars in a calm, and the sail was big enough to draw her through the water like a swallow through the air—so most often they could get away, even from smaller, swifter craft if the gods, the captain avowed, were favorable to them.
The prophet shook his head when the captain spoke of the gods.
“But you have heard the words of our holy book, that there is One God,” the prophet reminded him.
The captain was angered. How dare a passenger rebuke him?
But he quickly grew ashamed, remembering that the old man was a man of many years and much wisdom, and he was the younger man.
“Yes, so I have heard from the scroll,” he muttered, turning away so he might disguise his anger and shame.
He decided he had no taste for such tales, and wanted to stay clear of the prophet for the remainder of the voyage, but events made it impossible.
They had a Roman ship on their tail. They tried to shake it off, but the wind favored the smaller craft and it was drawing closer and closer.
“We will either all be killed and the cargo taken, or the gods—“
The prophet’s eyes this time gleamed with anger. “No! The word of the holy God is true! There is One God!”
“Yes! Yes!” the captain shouted back at the prophet, forgetting all courtesy due old age and dignity of years and wisdom. “But what good is your One True God if He can’t save us out of the hands of those Romans!”
The prophet fell silent and sat down. But he turned and raised his hands imploring, praying. His servant followed suit, each using the tongue of their fathers which the captain could not follow.
Then strange things happened just as the Roman seem about to pull even with them. The sky darkened, the air cooled suddenly and wind whipped across the ships from, driving up big waves that prevented their joining. The gale picked up, and with a terrible crash the mast of the Roman tore off and went down, dragging sailors down into the water who had been trying to secure the sail.
The captain stood, hardly breathing, as his ship raced farther and farther away from the struggling Roman ship.
“No!” the prophet shouted, pulling the captain’s arm.
“What are you saying, save my enemies?” the captain bellowed.
“They are children of the Most High! You must try to save them!”
The captain could not believe his ears, yet, behaving like an obedient child, he gave orders, and they turned just enough so that they could catch some of the sailors clinging to bits of the foundering Roman ship. They dragged ten men on board, but the rest perished.
One of the survivors drew his sword, for he was a commander, but he looked at it, then threw it into the wild sea. Instead of fighting, he knelt before the captain, thanking him for rendering him and his men mercy.
The captain turned and spat. “Not me, you fool! It’s him you should thank!”
The bewildered Roman turned to see the old man the captain indicated, but the prophet had left, going to help the men who had been pulled to safety. “Why did you save us?” the Roman cried, after he had recovered from throwing up mouthfuls of sea water.
The captain was ashamed and could not answer. Who could explain why he had obeyed the old man’s words? Could he tell the Roman that he had listened to the scroll about the One True God, and He was a God of mercy and truth and awesome power so great that three men could stand in a fiery furnace without hurt, and another man could be flung into a lions’ den without being devoured?
At a loss for words, he gave no answer and left the Roman staring at his back as he retreated to another part of the ship.
They dropped the Romans off at Syracuse, which was a friendly, open-gated, trade city to both Greeks and Romans.
Carthage too traded there freely, though it held the coasts round about with mighty fortresses and garrisons of armed soldiers. Her warships too ruled the sea in that whole region, though Syracuse was rival formidable sea power in her own right, with a king, an army and a navy. As long as they remained in Syracuse, they were safe, thanks to the great land walls and the fortresses built to secure the plain above the seaport. Long before dawn they slipped away from port and made for the open sea, hoping to elude both the nets of Carthage and Rome.
Tarshish, however, was much closer and was now represented by many a ship. Here they entered waters where they were more respected by their rivals. The many-oared warships of Tarshish could accompany them, for a charge of course. Not willing to pay the stiff charge, the captain made his solitary way. He had lost several ships in his day, two to Carthage, and one to Rome. But somehow he always returned home, raised money for another ship, and sailed with the goods of Tarshish to the east where they brought enormous profit. He hoped this time to sell his cargo and his ship and retire to a vineyard of his own. It was his heart’s dream.
Except for the fact his passenger doted on Romans, the captain realized that he had enjoyed good luck so far thanks to the old man. The gods had favored them! Of course, he wouldn’t say so in the prophet’s hearing. He feared the response he would get.
Nevertheless, it slipped out one day as they neared the twin pillars of Herakles which stand at the gates of the River Ocean.
The captain cried, seeing the big rocks between which they were sailing, “Thanks be to the high gods!”
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than his pious words seemed to fall, leaden, on the deck, right in front of the glaring, now very erect prophet.
The prophet shook his head gravely. “You foolish man! You have just thrown away the favor of God upon you and your vessel.”
“How so, old man?” the captain bluffed, waving his arms.
The prophet turned from him without another word and went and sat down with his man-servant. Together, they seemed to be praying and meditating on something.
Exasperated, yet somehow unsure of himself, the captain went below, to check the cargo, then roamed restlessly about the rest of the ship, checking this and that, without any real reason, but just to keep; busy.
The wind was good, standing in their favor, they were just about to clear the last headland in the north that stood between them and Tarshish. What could happen to them now? The old man was nothing but a false prophet out to get people's gold and silver! The captain thought, his old heathen heart regaining confidence in his gods.
To the moment they were boarded by the Carthaginians, the captain could not believe how swiftly they had leaped from being only a speck on the horizon to a nightmare he would never forget. The Carthaginians were fully armed and could see that this ship was the richest prize, which made them all the more greedy and ferocious and cruel as they quickly swept over the ship’s pitiful defenses. The captain, forced to fling himself into the water to save his life, found himself bobbing amidst a cargo of cork from an outbound ship the Carthaginians, in disgust, had just scuttled in the same area.
It was this cork that he filled his robe with just in time to keep from drowning. His ship too, its treasure taken, was sunk by the warship. He listened to the screams of the drowning men thrown overboard, though a few did as he did and grabbed enough cork to keep them afloat.
In this way he kept above the water and currents drove him ashore, and he landed several miles back on the coast.
Days later he and several of his surviving crew straggled into Tarshish, where the news of the loss of his ship had already brought to the water’s edge his “widow” and their daughters in black robes, mourning his life with garlands of flowers and many tears.
The captain was furious at the sight of them. “Who told you I was dead? Can’t you see your husband is alive?”
His “widow” was dumbfounded. “Why an old man came to our city several days ago, stepping from the deck of a warship of Carthago, and told us your ship was taken in the sea. We thought he meant you were drowned, and we were impoverished. Why then shouldn’t I mourn with my daughters?”
It was the captain’s turn to look utterly bewildered. “An old man spoke to you of my ship and the Carthaginian three days hence, you say?”
His wife nodded, not sure her husband was in his right mind because his eyes looked about so widly and his mouth was full of laughter.
“Hahaha! An old man, with a man-servant, and many little scrolls in a bag? Yes?”
His wife nodded, perceiving her poor husband had drunk too much sea water and gone mad.
The captain did a little jig in the street, then suddenly stopped stock still, staring up the road as everyone stared aghast at the mad captain.
The captain and the prophet met once again, though it was the prophet who found his words first.
“God has favored you with life and answered our prayers, my friend!” the prophet cried, seizing the captain’s arms.
The captain thought he was looking at a dead man. His face, pale and ashen, turned almost green. He collapsed right to the ground.
The next day, the captain was still resting in his home when his mind was restored, and he recalled everything.
“Bring the old man to me,” he croaked to his wife.
“Take some wine first, my husband!” she said.
He swept the cup aside with his hand. “No, bring him! I must talk to him!”
The prophet was found, and they talked long hours.
Exhausted, the captain grew joyful the more he heard the prophet tell how God had favored them.
When it was over, after the captain heard how the Carthaginian had spared the lives of the prophet and his man-servant, the captain could not bear anymore, and he slept.
Days later, he was recovered, and he walked about with his new friends, the old man and Uthai.
“I haven’t lost everything evenso,” he assured the prophet. “I never spend everything on one ship, you see. This way I can start over if I have to.”
The prophet glanced at him doubtfully.
“But the Lord has told me you will not sail again to the East.”
“What did you say?”
“The One True God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob my forefathers has told me that you will sail to the Isles called Uttermost. There you will bear word of Him to the heathen.”
The captain, shattered by the loss of his ship and the miraculous escape from death by both himself and the prophet and his man-servant, could say nothing in protest.
“His will be done then,” he muttered, gulping.
And so it happened that the captain found he could not get a ship to carry any cargo to the East. No one would advance any loan for that purpose. He could not afford both ship and cargo, so he was forced to acknowledge defeat and an income close to impoverishment.
“But I must have another ship, and another cargo!” he moaned, waking up in the night and thinking how impossible it was.
Suddenly, an inner voice spoke to him, and at first he thought it was his wife whispering, “Go to the Isles of Tin, to the sea mount port city of Iktis, and make your fortune. Carry my prophet and his man-servant, and I will bless you and your house.”
He shook his wife’s shoulder. But she couldn’t be roused. He lay back, breathing heavily. Had he imagined it?
Again, he despaired at the thought of how he could not raise money for both ship and cargo, and again, a voice spoke clearly in his mind, to go to the “Isles of Tin, and carry My prophet.”
And so the visions of Zechariah, son of Bechariah, and son of Iddo the prophet, reached the isles of the Uttermost Peoples, where tin was mined in deep mines. While Jugur the captain loaded tin ingots on board in exchange for wine, cork, and pottery, Zechariah preached to the tribal peoples, and many believed in the same One True God that Jugur now believed. This was Zechariah’s first trip to the Land of Tin, and starting with the mixed peoples of Iktis on the sea mount and adjacent mainland he gave them the visions of the Lampstand and the Two Olive Trees, the visions of the Red, White, and Sorrel Horses, the vision of the Four Horns, the vision of the Priestly Mediator, and the Single Stone with Seven Facets, and the Branch Who is the Servant, and the vision of the Light of the World, and the Two Trees, and the Flying Scroll, and the vision of the Wicked Woman, set in the ephah, and flown by two women to the land of Shinar, where mankind will revolt once again against the One True God. Finally, the vision of the Universal Sovereignty of God!
But why so many visions, given to a barbarian people of many tribes constantly at war with each other? Why did Zechariah, the prophet of Judah, travel by ship so far to this insignificant part of the world, significant only because it produced valuable tin for the ships of Tarshish to carry to the East to be made into bronze by mixing it in a crucible with copper? What could the tribes of Britain possibly understand?
The prophet himself asked these questions, many times. Jonah, he knew, had tried and failed. He had succeeded, but why was it so important to sail so far, to the Uttermost Isles? What purpose could they possibly serve God’s Chosen people, being so far separated by the seas?
Yet he returned, driven by the command of God, eighteen years later, and found the people had not forgotten everything.
Most continued in the old ways, even to burning young boys and young girl captives in hundred-foot stacks of twigs and straw to their blood-hungry gods, but some still believed in Zechariah’s God and refused to practice witchcraft, sorcery, immorality, and idolatry.
And much later, the apostle named Paul visited the same shores and found a people of God, some converted Jews, others native people who clung to the teachings and visions of Zechariah. And before Paul came others, notably Joseph of Arimathea, and some say Simon Zelotes, called the Zealot, after him. So in spite of the wars of Queen Boadicea and the Roman conquest the word of God and the knowledge of God was planted deep, deeper than any scourge of native druidcraft or paganism or Roman sword could reach.
Instead of coming to take perishable wine, pulse-bread, wheat-bread, wine and fruit away from people’s larders like the scampering, swallow-attired boys of Rhodes, Zechariah the swallow from Zion, David’s City, came bearing the Bread of Life that is imperishable and a living Word of God that is a Light to the World.