Bible Stories, Continued -The Toast

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Judges 4:4-21.


At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’” Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” And she said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh…

Now Sisera had fled away on foot to the tent of Jael wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between King Jabin of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite. Jael came out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; have no fear.” So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. Then he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink; for I am thirsty.” So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. He said to her, “Stand at the entrance of the tent, and if anybody comes and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say, ‘No.’” But Jael wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, until it went down into the ground—he was lying fast asleep from weariness—and he died.

After the battle was over, of course, it became pretty quickly apparent that it wasn’t Jael, wife of Heber anymore. It was Jael, hero of the Israelites. Jael, slayer of Sisera. Jael, master of the tent peg. Sometimes–never to his face, of course, never when he was standing too close nearby–it was Heber, husband of Jael.

Deborah wrote a song about her, for fuck’s sake. With timbrels and everything. People sang it to him when he went into work, like it was the first fucking time anyone had thought to sing it to him.

He was being too sensitive, and he knew it, not that it helped. He’d caught himself snapping at her once or twice in the last few days for no real reason. Last night, when she’d come into the tent giggling and feeling her way towards the bed in the dark, he’d rolled over and pretended to be asleep, even as she ran her fingers along his hairline the way he liked and whispered his name.

She was perfectly unconscious of the whole thing. “It was nothing,” she’d say, grinning, in the wine tents as some luscious young Tishbite ran to fetch her another cup. She never brought the story up. Someone always had to ask her about. “He was sleeping! He was asleep! I just put the peg where it needed to be.” She’d take a sip and draw up her eyebrows as if to say What else is there to say?

What was there to say? Was he really the kind of Kenite who was only happy when he was outperforming his wife? What kind of marriage was that? He should be happy for her. He would be happy for her. He’d never thought of himself that way–the kind of petty, jealous man who needed to feel stronger and more important than his wife–before.

But Jael, he had to admit, had also never really outshone him before. She was a solid, homey type, his Jael. She did what had to be done without complaining or boasting. She never stayed that long in the wine tents, not even now, when half the tribe of Benjamin and most of the lesser sons of the Levites were ready to flay each other alive to buy her a mess of pottage.

“I have skins to dry,” she’d say calmly, as the crowd erupted into groans and begged her to stay. “The crushed skull of Sisera isn’t going to dry these goat skins for me.” Always leave ’em in stitches, that was Jael.

She was a good woman, Jael this wife of his. And he wasn’t going to let her know how much it soured his insides to see her praised and applauded everywhere they went. It wasn’t her fault. It was his.

She was Jael, just Jael, in the tent. Who she was everywhere else didn’t matter.

2 Kings 2:23-25

bearsElisha went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some youths came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!” When he turned around and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths. From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and then returned to Samaria.

The youths ended up being fine, all forty-two of them. It had been a relatively light mauling. It was hard for two bears, even big ones, to inflict serious damage on more than five dozen half-drunk young men. Not that this stopped them from pointing out faint or imaginary scars on their bicep to any local maiden walking slowly enough to corner into conversation.

“Must’ve been fifty–a hundred bears, like,” Bildad the Hittite said, putting his cup of wine down decisively. “A bear for each of us. Two bears each.”

Zehud the Canaanite, who had spent most of that afternoon passed out underneath an Asherah pole, nodded vigorously. “Some of the bears fought back to back. Teamed up, didn’t they. Like a tank of bears. Rotating. ‘Sawful. Didn’t even say one word to the old man, and there he was laughing, with bears pouring out of the hills. Lucky we survived.”

Ephraim the Cushite leaned casually against Ephraim the Babylonian and drew his hands up into claws, pantomiming the bear attack. “Double bears. Double bear attacks. Lucky we survived, those double bears.”

Saharab the Taverner kept her mouth shut and poured another round.

The bears had been more confused than anything else. One minute they’d been clawing fish in a cold mountain stream, the next they were in the middle of a buzzing group of youths, uncertain as to how they’d gotten there but with a vague desire to start mauling. It was only after batting Zilpah the Hebronite into Mehipsobeth the Assyrian and watching him faint in terror that either of them began to ask just what they were doing.

Not that it was difficult to make Zilpah the Hebronite faint. Shileeh of Tyre could make Zilpah the Hebronite faint, and Shileeh of Tyre made Remoboan of Tyre look like Gilgag of Habor.

After that, they headed for the hills in the direction of what they hoped was Lebanon.

There were tall trees in Lebanon for climbing, and plenty of shade. There was a long rest for them in Lebanon, and they both felt they had earned it.

Judges 16:17-21

delilahHe told her his whole secret, and said to her, “A razor has never come upon my head; for I have been a nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If my head were shaved, then my strength would leave me; I would become weak, and be like anyone else.”

When Delilah realized that he had told her his whole secret, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, saying, “This time come up, for he has told his whole secret to me.” Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her, and brought the money in their hands. She let him fall asleep on her lap; and she called a man, and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. He began to weaken, and his strength left him. Then she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” When he awoke from his sleep, he thought, “I will go out as at other times, and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him. So the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes. They brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles; and he ground at the mill in the prison.

What a lot of people didn’t know was that Delilah didn’t care two figs about Samson or Israelite politics. She just loved stealing hair. Anyone’s hair. Didn’t matter whose. The dim figure in the dark, the heft of the braid in her hand, the thin sharp sound of the scissors, and then the quick exit out the back window.

Samson was just another mark in a long line of marks.

Genesis 2:20-24

adam eveThe man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.

Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”—therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.

He wouldn’t stop naming things, like it was still his job, even though it had been nearly three hundred years since the last time he’d been asked. He still did it all the time. “Raven,” he said, pointing at a large black bird that would just as likely as not turn out to be a crow. He didn’t even get the species right half the time, which drove her crazy. “Raven.”

“Raven,” Eve said without looking up from her mill. It did make him happy, she had to admit that. And he did have the sweetest smile.

“Raven,” he repeated happily, and the big bird heaved itself up into the sky and flew away. Adam let his plow drop into the dirt and came over to stand by Eve in the shade.

“Eve,” he said quietly, bumping against her with his hip. Then, lacing the fingers of his right hand in her hair: “Eve.”

Jonah 1:8-17

jonahThen they said to him, “Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” “I am a Hebrew,” he replied. “I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were even more afraid, and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them so.

Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more tempestuous. 

But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

After that day, Jonah found it impossible to stop slipping back into whales. The smell of baleen, the peaceful dark, the afternoon rush of salt water and krill around his ankles. It was more home than home had ever been.

John 14:1-4 

jesusDo not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.

It was all he could talk about, the rooms and the various configurations he had planned for them, as soon as they came back. He got to work right away, and for centuries the house echoed with drilling and hammering and the thoughtful shnk-shnk-shnk of curled wood shavings drifting to the floor.

“Do you think they’ll come?” he asked every afternoon, as if he had not asked the afternoon before and would not ask again in afternoons to come. “Do you think they’ll like it?” He was a little flushed.

“They’ll come,” his father had reassured him. “Of course they like it. You made it for them, so they’ll like it.”

Jesus wriggled a little in embarrassment. “It’s probably stupid. It’s just rooms. A lot of them are used to more than just a room.”

“It’s not stupid. They’ll come, and they’ll love it.”

“I hope so. Do you think…should I put a sign out by the mailbox, do you think? Or balloons? Sometimes it’s easy to miss, if you don’t know where to look for the turnoff. Should I make a sign or something, do you think?”

“If you want to make a sign, make a sign.”

“Maybe balloons would be more festive. More like, hi, come in, it’s a party.”

“Or get balloons. It’s your party.”

“I hope they come soon.” Jesus blushed. “Not that I’m not having a good time here, just us. I am, you know.”

“I am too.”

“I just hope they come soon is all. Everything’s finally ready, so I hope they get here soon.”

“They’ll be here. They’ll come.”

[Images via Wikimedia Commons]

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