By Daniel Adams
(Note: Over the next few weeks, we will be serializing a story written by Daniel Adams, posting one chapter each Saturday. Don't miss a week!)
We stood at the crest of the Mount Gerizim on the road to the Valley of the Craftsman, the Mediterranean in front of us in the distance, and the lush valley below. Two days we had journeyed from my home; my old bones push to the limit, I thought. One more day of trudging along and I would be resting easy on a ship bound for Tarshish. Let the young men walk. I wanted to rest. Finally, things would go my way.
In the distance the port city of Joppa looked like a pearl on a water lily. The port had long outgrown the town thanks to Solomon’s trade routes. The resulting growth made the town a busy little hive near the water swarmed on all sides by tents and flocks, cargo trains coming and going into and out of the rolling foothills.
It was a fine day, blue sky, slight morning breeze rising off the water carrying the fresh smell of high tide all the way into the hills. I took the fair weather and refreshing wind as a sign of providence.
I deserved it, after all. At last, the acrid stench of Beth-Haran seemed a distant memory. The scent of the breeze quickened my pace.
My donkey stiffened its legs and stopped.
"Common, boy," I said as I gently urged him to follow.
He didn't budge.
“Cummon, Jabez. Why do you always do this?” I complained as I heaved on his reins. “First thing in the morning....”
Trusty old Jabez never failed to couple a serene moment with obstinacy.
“I’m sick of it,” I said, jolting the reigns again. “Two days of plodding through the dust with you, the end almost in sight, and you want to stop now?!”
Jabez bellowed and did not budge.
“No! You’re not going to stop now.” I flanked the old ass and slapped him with the reign. "I've come too far and been through too much. We're going to Joppa, now."
He bolted, of course, yanking the reigns from my hand before trotting down the road in front of me.
“Figures,” I muttered. “With you it's either feast or famine. One minute you won't budge, then the next, off you go, without me!”
I shuffled half-heartedly behind him. It had been a long couple of days on the dusty road from Beth-Haran. With the port city still a long day’s drudge away, I was in no mood to chase an ornery old ass.
“Jabez! Jabez!” I called; but did he listen to me?
No. Of course not.
I had taken him from a trader seven years ago, who practically begged me to take his reigns. I had assumed that the trader had recognized me and was making some sort of bargain for mercy. I do not bargain, I do not believe in mercy; but, I needed a pack animal. I gladly took him. That might be my last fond memory of him.
Despite my history with him, however, it still surprised me when he did this sort of thing, bolting ahead, refusing to budge, wandering off…. Once he pulled out his tether and wandered into a vineyard owned by a particularly hostile Philistine. I offered to kill Jabez over it, but to no avail.
I sighed and followed him.
I should not have been surprised; and, I found it difficult to stay aggravated with all that was going well, the weather, the improved path and the fact that Jabez was heading in the right direction. As I followed him down the trail the fresh, sweet breeze and warm sun calmed my nerves. I even found myself thankful to have an animal such as Jabez, who bore the burden of my journey. I had, after all, been in far worse situations.
My situation had deteriorated severely by noon of the same day.
“Jabez… Jabez!” I cried. My knees were sore, I hadn’t caught up with Jabez, and, above all, I desperately needed a drink of water, which he carried. “Jabez, stop. I need my water.” I hated that donkey. “Jabez!” He’d been off the trail, and then on it again, pinned to an alder, and hemmed in to a field of brambles. After I had crawled on my hands and knees through the thorns and carefully picked my way into the tangle, with no small effort, I might add, he bucked and jumped and left me stranded in the middle of the bramble. I hadn’t been able to lay a finger on him.
Presently he tramped down the middle of the road, maintaining his distance of ten or fifteen paces. When I began to close the gap, he galloped ahead, when I stopped, so did he. “Jabez,” I bellowed.
We were very close to the port city of Joppa, passing between the tents of merchants and shepherds and drawing looks from everyone we passed. We were a spectacle. Jabez led me in meandering paths through scattering flocks and in circles around tents, refusing all the while to allow me near him.
Shepherds watched in amusement. None offered a hand, or a drink. Philistines generally are not big on helping Israelite prophets.
“If I ever catch you I’ll beat you so hard…. No. No. I’ll sell you. I’m going to sell you to the meanest, ugliest, stinking leper I can find. I’ll give you away. I’ll get my water first; but, then I’m going to give you away! That way I can beat you as much as I want!”
An imposing figure stood beside the path clutching his shepherd's staff with both hands and grinning widely. He apparently had heard my tirade and had stood aside to watch as we approached.
I no longer cared. I had passed too many amused shepherds, endured much mocking and tolerated even more stares. “Jabez,” I growled. “I’ll kill you!”
“A shame,” said the Philistine as he stopped my ass with his staff. “He's a little old, but would still fetch a decent price.”
“Not nearly enough,” I huffed, resting my hands on my knees. “He owes me far more than he’s worth.”
“In my experience, it takes an old friend to stir that much anger,” said the man.
“What friend would deny a man a drink of water? Not my friend. A wise man chooses better friends than that. He’s no friend; he’s the bane of my existence.”
“Even a wise man looks foolish chasing an ass.”
“Oh yea. Sure. Now you’re going to tell me about the ass leading the man.
"No. I’ve heard that story before and let me tell you about that story: That story sucks!” I said, hunching over, hands on my knees as I tried to catch my breath.
“No. Let’s talk about the story where the donkey gets eaten by lions, or starves to death after falling into a well, or better yet, dies of dehydration after getting snared into a field of thorns, cause that’s what he is, a thorn in my side. I’ve been chasing this ass since dawn with no water. My lips are cracked, my throat is raw, and my feet are bleeding. I want him dead!”
“Then I must let him go,” said the behemoth even as I rose and stepped forward to fetch Jabez from him.
“No!” I exclaimed and halted in my tracks. “No. Don’t do that. You're right. I just had to get that out of my system. Don’t let him go,” I plead as I now sized up the herdsman.
Like a son of Gath, he stood head and shoulders above me so that I looked up toward him even from several cubits away. His heavy arm stretched to his side easily holding a staff the size of a tent pole in front of Jabez, preventing his escape. And you could have made a tent out his robe.
“I am Jonah, of Gath Hepher.”
“I will buy him from you,” he said, ignoring me.
“Wherever you’re going, I promise, he will be a nuisance. He is of little help and will, I assure you, add days to your journey. I’d only give gold for this donkey if I were heading for my execution and wished to delay the journey.”
I grabbed my flask from the back of the donkey and swilled water until it was nearly empty.
“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “I’ll throw my blanket on him and walk with you into town. If you still do not want to sell him, I’ll be on my way.”
I poured the rest of the water on my head and rubbed some of the dust off my face as I considered the proposal. Convenient, I thought, having a seven-foot native escorting me into town.
My popularity throughout the land had fallen since I had prophesied against Ashurdan III. I probably would have been killed already except that the Assyrians feared God more than the Israelites did.
I had been very popular in Israel after the Lord’s victory. So much so, that I left my home in Gath–Hepher for a rural plot in Bethlehem. I knew how quickly public opinion could turn and had no desire to remain the in the spotlight. It made me nervous, gave me a sense of impending doom. I thought I could escape it in Bethlehem; but for the praise lauded upon me from the tribe of Zebulun, again I feared for my life. When I explained my concerns in the temple I was called humble and given still more praise.
From there I fled to Tanaach, in the land of the Philistines, and was quite content there. The Philistines had no cause to praise me and feared to kill me, though they would not offer me help or haven under any circumstance. That's why this seemed so strange to me.
Ordinarily a Son of Israel might think twice before accepting help from a Philistine.
Did I think it odd that he was offering me a helping hand? Yes.
Maybe he was looking for a free mule; maybe he did not know who I was. But, why should I question good fortune at a time like this?
This might be the first thing to go my way since I left Gath Hepher.
“Sure,” I said. “Why not?”
“Good,” he said. “My name is Gerath. Have some more water.” He threw me his flask then took Jabez’ reigns. “Will you ride?”
“I’ll walk if it means I don’t have to look at that old goat anymore. How far are we from port?”
“A couple hours, at most. Are you in a hurry?” he asked, as he secured Jabez to his camel.
“Not at all. I’ve been chasing Jabez all day. I’m a little disoriented, that’s all. What are you doing in Joppa?”
“I’m meeting some merchants.” Gerath set a brisk pace. “We will be heading north by land in the morning. And what is your business, Jonah?”
“I’m hoping to book passage to Tarshish,” I mumbled.
“Tarshish. I need to get to Tarshish.”
“Tarshish,” he boomed, almost laughing. “What’s in Tarshish?”
“I have somebody to meet. Why? Is that a problem? Will I be able to get on a ship?”
“Ha, ha, ha.”
“What? What’s wrong with Tarshish?”
“Nothing, my friend. I know plenty of people in port. If a ship is leaving for Tarshish, you’ll be on it. Ha, ha.”
“What’s so funny?” I demanded.
He simply laughed again. He was not, however, kidding. In only a couple of hours I stood on the docks near to the Fair-weather, a sturdy looking ship on its way to Tarshish by way of Patmos. Gerath had already arranged my fare and presently made me a generous offer on Jabez, who had been on his best behavior.
“Jabez, I wish I could say that I would miss you; but, I can’t,” I said. “Goodbye, old friend.”
“Now,” said Gerath. “Aren’t you happy you did not kill him?”
“I am, indeed,” I said. “Give it a couple days and you might wish I had. I am happy to have met you, Gerath. The Lord directs my path wherever I go.” Those last few words just sort of fell out of my mouth. I had been careful on the road with Gerath not to speak of the Lord or of His directive to me. I paused, wondering if I spoke those words to Gerath or myself.
The Lord directs my path, I thought. The words hung like a cloud in my mind as I finished my conversation with Gerath.
“You have been a great blessing, indeed.”
“Give it couple days,” he returned.
“The God leads us all,” said the Philistine. “May he guide your every mile,” he said with a sly grin.
“Yes, well…. You, too. So long, Gerath.”
“So long, Jonah of Hepher.”