Below follows what I've written thus far of my book about the origins of the nation of Ånhrush. As I complete more chapters, they will find their way here.

--Zack Hart


1: Life and Death in the City          2: "Heaven and Earth are On Fire"

 

 

OASIS IN THE DESERT

The Story of the Gomai family and Ånhrush

 

by Zack Hart

First Web publication: May 29, 2005

 


 

CHAPTER ONE

Life and Death in the City

 

            “Mr. Gomai?”

            Amminadab looked up from his ledger to see Master Melles Joseph’s young attendant. He was surprised and wondered what was going on. “Yes, Abihu? What does the master want?”

            “He wants to see you in his office right away, sir.” The scrawny youth sounded a bit concerned, although it could just as easily have been his cracking voice. Nevertheless, when Master Melles called someone to see him, he was serious. Amminadab left his desk and walked to the main office.

            Joseph greeted him solemnly. “Peace to you, Amminadab.”

            “And to you also, Master,” Amminadab replied as he knelt at Joseph’s desk.

            “Rise, friend,” Joseph said. “Though you work for me, you know what friends we are.” It was true; over Amminadab’s nine years at Melles Bank, he had not only become one of Joseph’s most important employees (he was a fellow executive of the company), but also one of his most trusted confidants. They often ate at one another’s homes, and Joseph’s Limite slave taught both their children to read and write–a luxury most people only dreamed of in those days.

            Joseph continued, “When you were updating the royal ledgers, do you recall under what name you entered those hundred gold ingots? Was it Apkeng?”

            Amminadab took a moment to recall those tablets. Apkeng was one of the king’s viziers, as well as a faithful customer of the bank. When Amminadab remembered that transaction, he was mortified. “Why–why no, it wasn’t!” he stammered in unbelief.

            “I was afraid not,” Joseph said sadly. “When he discovered his money was missing, he was furious. He convinced His Excellency to freeze our operations until the money was restored to Apkeng and the one responsible for this act punished. He wanted you dead, but I wouldn’t stand for it; I care for you too much to see you beheaded, Amminadab.” He sighed and said, “That’s why I have to dismiss you from my service. I’m losing dozens of ingots every day you’re still here; surely you understand.”

            Amminadab understood, but he was still astonished. They had worked so well together until now; could this really be the end of his job? How could such a simple error have cost the company so much money—not to mention Amminadab’s position?

            No matter how many times he went over it on the walk home, it didn’t get any easier to understand; it only frustrated him more. He reviewed the situation in his head more times than he could count: on those tablets, he had recorded Mr. Apkeng’s account balance in the standard cuneiform of the day. However, as he could now remember, he had omitted a single wedge from the figure, costing Apkeng the massive sum of 100 ingots of gold—millions of dollars in today’s economy.

            The situation wasn’t just frustrating Amminadab; it was totally disheartening him. He worried that his family would lose their beautiful home, with its private garden, intimate rooms, and rooftop awnings, only to live on the street, begging for food and money. Amminadab had worked hard to make the money to buy that house, one of the largest in town. With all but one of his eight children still at home, along with his wife, father, siblings, and uncle, they needed a big house, and were fortunate to find this two-story urban villa. If they lost it, they would have nowhere else to go.

He thought, “What can I do now? What will the family say when I tell them—or worse, if they find out from someone else?” He stopped to ponder that possibility. As the only working member of the household, they all depended on him for their welfare. If the family found out from someone else, he would surely be in the fire when he got home. “I must tell them myself,” he decided.

            It was on this note that he resolved to get home as quickly as he could. With no spare silver to take a rickshaw, Amminadab quickened his pace until he was practically jogging. This didn’t make the trip home any harder, though, since he had walked this path almost every day as far back as he could remember. He hardly had to think about where to turn and where not to, even at the breakneck pace at which he was now walking. A walk which normally took half an hour now flew by in all of eighteen minutes.

            At last, he reached his front door. May the blessings of our God be upon you as you enter this place, the Gomai household, the home-made sign above the door read. Amminadab read the familiar words and was comforted. He and his family had trusted in their God for so many generations, no one really knew who started the practice. As he reflected upon the sign’s blessing and all it had meant to him, a supernatural peace came over him. “Perhaps this won’t be so bad after all,” he thought as he opened the door.

            Immediately, his wife, Abigail, ran to greet him. But in place of the warm smile that normally graced Amminadab’s face, a strange, mildly distraught, half-smile, half-frown could be seen. Abigail knew something wasn’t right. “Beloved,” she asked, “what’s wrong?”

            “Now is not the time for me to tell you,” Amminadab replied. ”I’ll explain the matter at a family meeting.”

            “But when will that be?” Abigail wanted to know.

            “As soon as everyone is home.”

            “They already are, Beloved.”

            “Very well. Call for them, and we’ll begin.” With that, Abigail ran off to bring all the family members to the living room.

            They filed in slowly, wondering what could have prompted Amminadab to call this meeting. While they regularly met together before dinner, it was usually not urgent. A typical meeting would begin with prayer and focus on reviewing the day or week, discussing plans for the immediate future, and reaffirming their mutual faith in their God. Abigail’s manner of calling the others to the main room of the house, however, had an urgent tone to it, which surprised and confused everyone.

The first to arrive were Amminadab’s twin brothers, Isaac and John, followed by their sister, Jochebed. Amminadab’s youngest children, Dinah, Shlomo, and Moshe, entered from across the room, having been interrupted from one of their games. The teenagers, Ben-Hesed, Miriam, and Peleg, entered next; they were quickly followed by Amminadab’s oldest son, Joshua. Josiah, the family patriarch and father of Amminadab and his siblings, hobbled in slowly, with some help from Abigail. The last to enter was Levi, Josiah’s younger brother. All the other living family members—Amminadab’s two other siblings and his second-oldest son, Jacob—were living elsewhere with their own families, and naturally had no idea of the day’s events.

            As always, Amminadab began with a solemn prayer. “Blessed are You, Yahweh our God, who has created all things for Yourself. I thank You for all these You have gathered in this place, and for Your guidance, which is sure and steady. Impart to us wisdom, that we may speak and act according to Your perfect will. So be it.” Those last words echoed around the room in low mutters.

            With the prayer concluded, Amminadab began the meeting. “I called this meeting because of an unexpected turn of events. By my salary, we have all enjoyed the wealth of the kingdom, without anyone else having to work. However, that cannot be anymore, for I have lost my job.” The words were a shock to everyone. Many of those gathered gasped, and Josiah bowed his head. No one knew what to say.

            “However, I won’t let all I’ve worked for slip away,” Amminadab continued. “You all know what a blessing this house is for us. I will not allow us to reach the point where we must move out to save ourselves.”

            Josiah interrupted, “But what will we do?”

            Isaac said, “Surely you know your salary was great; not even eight people at decent jobs could make an ingot a day. We would all have to work in order to save the family—even the youths.” Although he was exaggerating, he had a point; even though the kingdom of Ham-Ham was the economic powerhouse of the known world, most of the country’s wealth belonged to the king, government employees, and merchants. Common craftsmen and forum hawkers made comparatively little.

            “And that is exactly what we must do,” Amminadab returned. “All of us that can work, must work. It will be difficult, there is no doubt about that; but it’s all we can do.”

            Slowly this realization dawned on each of them. They would have to learn new skills and work hard, or else they would lose everything. Creditors in Ham-Hamiyat, where they lived, were rapacious and uncompromising. If the Gomais incurred a debt of any size, nothing would be safe.

            John broke the silence. “Why must we all work? How did you lose your job, anyway? I want to know before I decide to help.” Cries of “Me too!” rang across the room. Their many easy years had made the other family members reluctant to work hard. They needed a good reason if they were going to go out and look for jobs.

Amminadab took the time to explain the events that led to his firing in great detail, since he knew those details would increase their understanding of the situation. Once he was finished, while a few were still cross with his costly mistake, for the most part they realized how wrong they were to seek an easy way out. When that meeting was over, the family was united in its quest for survival, and everyone except Josiah and the youngest children pledged they would soon begin the search for work.

Once the meeting was concluded, the women went off to the kitchen to prepare the evening’s dinner. Isaac, John, and Joshua, meanwhile, went to the homes of the other relatives to relay the news and call them to the main house. Meals with the whole family gathered were uncommon, but this was certainly the appropriate time to hold one. With the whole family working together, the task at hand would be much easier.

At sunset, dinner was ready and the other three families had all arrived. There was Jacob, who had surprised everyone last year with his early marriage; Reuben, Amminadab’s oldest brother; and Ruth, his older sister, each with their spouses. Gradually, the sumptuous feast was laid out on the dining tables, as the family members began reclining around them. The normal festive atmosphere was present, though mixed with a certain amount of anxiety over the future.

After Josiah led the family in prayer, the meal began. While normally they would eat liberally, they were more reserved tonight. The chatter that characterized their meals was also gone. Even with their new resolve, they were still uncertain.

Reuben broke the silence. “So, Amminadab, what are you going to do? Will you look for another job as well?”

Amminadab replied, “It only makes sense for me to do so. Why should I stay at home and let everyone else do the work?”

“Ah, I see. I wasn’t sure about that,” Reuben said; and the discussion ended.

“But what about us?” Ruth’s husband Noah asked. “How will we be involved?”

“Well, Noah,” Amminadab said hesitantly, “as one family, you’re all immediately involved. However, I worry that perhaps we will run out of money while we look for work. Surely you know how difficult it can be to seek out jobs on an empty stomach…?”

“Naturally, Father-in-law,” Noah responded. “I have some money left over every week. If ever you find yourself lacking, send for me.”

“And me also,” Jacob chimed in. “We don’t have much now, but we still have something left over every payday.” Reuben was quick to agree.

Amminadab smiled, which he hadn’t done since that fateful meeting with Master Melles. It warmed his heart to know he had such a caring family. These words of reassurance melted the anxiety away, and the festive atmosphere took over. The family feasted as if they were starving, and songs rang in the air.

After the other relatives had gone home and the children put to bed, Amminadab felt tired from the day’s events. He walked into his bedroom, where Abigail was already fast asleep. The calm of the moment contrasted sharply with the panic and frustration he had felt that afternoon, and he slipped easily into a deep sleep.

 

The adults and teenagers rose with the sun, and dressed quickly. Soon they would begin their search for work and survival. But before they left, they sat down for breakfast. Usually, only Abigail and Miriam prepared the meals; but this morning, all of them helped. They ate quickly and, while eating, made a plan for the day.

“Here’s what I recommend,” Amminadab said. “Let’s all go to the Central District together, and then split off. Don’t bother just looking for jobs you want, since there may not be any. Investigate any opening you find, no matter how trivial it may be. Always apply, and be on the lookout for each other—and for criminals. There are so many in Central, and they’re brutal.”

“It sounds like a good plan to me,” Joshua said. The others quickly agreed.

“Well, what are we waiting for?” said Abigail when they had all finished their breakfast. “Let’s go!”

As a group, they looked formidable. The ten of them walked close together, always looking out for pickpockets or other criminals. In less than an hour, they were in Kingdom Forum, looking at the huge temple that stood in the exact center of the city. The founders of Ham-Hamiyat built it centuries ago to honor their many gods; and even now, hundreds of citizens thronged in and around it. The Gomais, of course, never visited it, but instead worshiped Yahweh at home.

From here, they split up, with the women accompanied by one man each. Dozens of shops and craft workshops were mere minutes away, and there were almost always open positions in the government offices that flanked the forum. However, all the high-ranking jobs there required a belief in the pagan gods of the temple, and so were off-limits to the Gomais. Most of them avoided the government center, but Ben-Hesed wasn’t so worried.

He walked into the offices of the Financial Ministry, which had a “Help Wanted” sign posted out front. He was an excellent math student, so the organization seemed a perfect fit. A billboard was off to one side in the lobby, with open positions explained on it. He walked over to it and looked at the first tablet he saw. It read:

Entry-Level Position Available: Accountant’s Assistant

Pays 4 Silver Coins/Day

Training Provided; See Front Desk to Apply

Ben-Hesed was delighted to find such a job. He started to run to the front desk, but then calmed down and walked. He approached the desk and asked the secretary, “Hello, I’d like to apply for the accountant’s assistant opening you have.”

“Very well, and what is your name?” the secretary asked.

“Gomai Ben-Hesed, madam,” he quickly answered.

“Alright, Mr. Gomai, I’ll send you to the head accountant’s office for an interview. Just go up that ladder over there and turn left; the name on his door is Hichal.”

“Thank you, madam,” Ben-Hesed said, and headed off for the head accountant’s office.

Meanwhile, Levi had found a potter’s store in need of a clerk, and was conversing with the owner. He discovered the previous clerk had left the store in search of a higher-paying job only three days ago. Since he had once worked as a trader’s accountant, the owner was glad Levi had walked in. While he couldn’t be certain yet, he thought he would likely be hired, and the owner said he would make a decision within two days.

Isaac had accompanied Jochebed to a market just off the forum, and they both found promising openings in adjacent stalls. Individually, they asked the merchants about the jobs, and were hired on the spot. Inwardly, they thanked God for these blessings. By the time they headed back to the forum that afternoon, they had not only been fully trained, but they had made a few sales, too, complete with commissions.

With her father nearby, Miriam walked into a perfumer’s workshop several blocks from the forum. The idea of making perfume, which was one of her favorite objects, fascinated her, so when she saw the “Help Wanted” sign in the window, she couldn’t help but inquire. When the head perfumer and owner of the business talked to her, she was happy to have a potential employee, but was uncertain about hiring someone so young. She walked out after being told to return in four days, by which time the owner would have made a decision.

Amminadab, meanwhile, looked at the possibility of becoming a woodworker. A wood studio near the perfumer’s workshop was in need of an apprentice, and while he had never made anything out of wood before, he was willing to learn. Josiah was one of the most successful woodworkers in town when he was younger, and as a child Amminadab would watch him at work, amazed at the apparent magic he performed on the wood. When the craftsman suggested he try making something on the spot, he was surprised at the ease with which he shaped the wood. So was the craftsman; he hired Amminadab that minute.

Unfortunately, this left Miriam to navigate the streets of central Ham-Hamiyat on her own. Until today, she had never left her family’s neighborhood and the safety of her and her friends’ homes. She was only fourteen and feared what might happen if she was out in the streets very long; scenarios of muggings and worse flashed through her mind. To avoid any potential thieves, she applied for every job opening she could find. In fact, she applied at so many places, she lost count of all the people with whom she had spoken.

It was an hour before sunset when they all converged on Kingdom Forum from their various searches. Isaac, Jochebed, and Amminadab shared their successes and encouraged their kin. John posed the question of where to search tomorrow.

“Well, it seems to me that we’ve searched all the businesses in this part of town,” Amminadab said. “We should probably look in the South Market Industrial District tomorrow.” They all concurred, and with this decided, they headed home.

The following day was much like the last, except there were only seven of them still looking. Once the three newly employed family members had said their goodbyes and headed to work, the others started off toward where they would search. South Market was somewhat less glamorous than Central, and was only now recovering from an economic downturn. Amminadab knew what he was talking about, it seems: there were job openings all over the area. Once again, they split up and began looking.

The first studio John saw was that of a glassblower. A wave of hot air from the huge oven across the room hit him as he walked in. All along the walls were finished and half-finished vessels, and clay jars full of beads were waiting for pickup near the door. He saw the owner hard at work on what looked like a vase. “Sorry to interrupt you,” he said, “but I was wondering about the job opening you have posted.”

The glassblower looked up from his work and mentally examined John. “Not a problem, sir. Tell me, have you ever blown glass before?”

“No, sir, but I’m willing to learn.”

“Willing to learn, eh? What do you want to be paid?”

“I’ll take whatever you’re willing to pay me, sir.”

The aging glassblower thought about it for a few minutes. “Well, I suppose you’ll be a good addition to my shop. Welcome to Khalos Glassware.”

John did his best to hide his ecstasy. “Thank you very much, Mr. Khalos!”

A few blocks away, Peleg walked into a bakery. Two of the three brick ovens were slowly baking various pastries and loaves. The three bakers in the building were all busy; either they were kneading dough for some new piece of bread, or they were putting the finishing touches on a more expensive baked masterpiece. Peleg could almost taste the freshest loaves as their scent wafted through the air. The shelves on which they sat were emptier than one might expect, but this bakery was in need of three more bakers if it was going to run at full capacity. Peleg thought he would be a shoo-in with so many positions open. However, when the master baker interviewed him, he decided against hiring him, due to his age.

As he walked out, Peleg ran into Abigail. “Mother! I wasn’t expecting to see you here,” he exclaimed. “Anyway, you’re sure to be hired at this bakery. I was just inside, and it needs as many bakers as it can get.”

“Why, thank you, son,” Abigail said; and then Peleg headed off in search of another studio. After a moment’s thought, she went inside and struck up a conversation with the baker. As the interview progressed, he could see she had the experience his bakery needed. After only a few minutes, she was hired.

Joshua, meanwhile, wandered into an underhanded potter’s studio. Since his childhood, he had loved working with clay, although it was difficult to find in the retail markets. This experience helped him in his interview. The head potter, however, was unable to guarantee him a job, since he had been swamped with applicants. It would take him seven days to choose someone with all the options he had.

By now, the sun was low in the sky, so he headed back to the intersection from which they had started that morning. As the others congregated there, they shared their job finds and possibilities. Already, Ben-Hesed had applied for half a dozen jobs, while Peleg had difficulty finding anyone that might hire a boy of his age. When the seven of them were all together, they returned home.

For many days, this is how it went. The Gomais would choose a different part of the city each day, and those who had already found jobs would walk with the others as far as they could before heading off to their workplaces. Three days after they had begun their searches was a pagan festival, so they stayed home and dedicated the day to God. In such an overwhelmingly pagan city as Ham-Hamiyat, it was all they could do to maintain their faith.

Slowly, news trickled in of other successful job hunts. The potters who took interest in Joshua and Levi finally made their decisions in favor of those two. Ben-Hesed found work as a page-boy at a Central District bank. However, Miriam and Peleg could find no one who would employ them. Even in the recovering South Market, there was no demand for young workers. While they both were discouraged, Abigail assured them that if God wanted them to work, He would surely have provided jobs; and He probably had something else in mind for them in the immediate future.

            Months passed, and slowly, everyone who was now employed grew accustomed to their new professions. Each of them became more and more skilled as time progressed, and with improved skills came improved pay. None of them could have imagined the lives they now led, since they had all relied on Amminadab’s high salary at Melles Postal. For that matter, none of them could have imagined the events that would soon unfold.

            Early one autumn morning, Abigail rose to prepare breakfast, as she always did. This morning, however, she stopped when she passed Josiah’s room. The old man wasn’t always in the best health, but now she could hear him moaning as if in pain. She went in to check on him, and as she entered the room she said, “Father-in-law… Is something wrong?”

            The look Josiah gave her said it all, but he still spoke. “Oh, Abigail,” he groaned, “I have the worst headache; everything is swimming; I can hardly move without feeling something hurt.”

            “Then we must bring you a doctor immediately,” Abigail responded quickly. Unfortunately, since it was still very early, no doctors were at work yet. Knowing this, she instructed Peleg, once he was up, to visit the family doctor when everyone else was going to work. He did as he was told; and once the doctor had the chance to examine Josiah, he made a quick diagnosis: Josiah was dying.

            “I know this isn’t what you wanted to hear,” he told the assembled family, “and I wish there was some way I could help. However, this disease is beyond anything I have ever seen. I have no idea how to cure it.”

            “So what can be done?” Amminadab asked sadly.

            The doctor hesitated a moment, then spoke. “All you can do is to make him as comfortable as possible. As we all know, death is part of the cycle of events in our world. Without the balance between life and death, among other things, chaos would reign. Certainly, these aren’t comforting words; but it’s all I can offer you.”

            The family was saddened, but nevertheless understood. Once the doctor had left, they all sat silently, processing this new reality. Slowly, they came to accept it; and as the days and weeks passed, a change was evident around the house. Everyone went out of their way to accommodate Josiah, since he was the most respected of them all. While Josiah thanked them for their empathy, he also wished to himself that they wouldn’t make such a “fuss”, as he thought of it.

            Just as everyone was settling into this new way of life, another shock caught them off guard. While everyone knew Miriam hadn’t been acting normally, no one thought anything of it; after all, they each reasoned, everyone was behaving differently from before. Little did they know her real reason for acting as she did. However, she knew she couldn’t keep her secret forever; eventually, it would be obvious. Thus, she spoke up one night at dinner.

            “I have – I have something to say,” she stammered. Instantly, all eyes were upon her, waiting for her to continue. Her heartbeat quickened as she mustered up the courage to say what she had to say. “I – I’m pregnant –“ and here her voice cracked as she broke down. While everyone else was gasping in astonishment, Abigail leaned over to comfort the sobbing girl. Between hysterical gasps, she cried, “I’m so sorry!”

            “Now, Miriam,” Abigail said to her, “now isn’t the time to feel sorry. Right now, we must help you through your term – “

            Amminadab suddenly lost his typical good demeanor. “Who was it?” he yelled. “I’ll make sure he’s held responsible!” All the men agreed with an emphatic “I’m with you!”

            Abigail retook control of the conversation. “Husband, now is hardly the appropriate time to think about justice for the poor girl. She needs us to love her, not interrogate her. We’ll find the future father soon, but not tonight.” With that, she rose from her reclining position at the dinner table and escorted Miriam to her room. No further discussion of the matter was permitted that evening.

            The days that followed this one were scarcely different from the others. Before long, Miriam identified the father of her yet-unborn child, and negotiations between their two families began. To everyone’s surprise, the young man, named Absalom, had been seeing Miriam for some time before the child was conceived. They lived only a block apart, and had known each other from childhood. Everyone agreed that marriage was the only legitimate option for the two, and plans were drawn up.

            Those plans underscored the spiritual differences between the Gomais and every other family in Ham-Hamiyat. Absalom’s family, the Gatangas, wanted a traditional pagan temple wedding, which the Gomais would not tolerate. They instead wanted the wedding to take place in the courtyard of either family’s house, with Josiah officiating. Either way, the marriage was sure to be accepted by their friends and neighbors. This debate continued on for some weeks, but the Gomais eventually got their way.

            As more details were worked out, Amminadab made a friend out of Absalom’s father. Boaz worked in the royal government – in fact, he was an undersecretary to one of the king’s advisors. Although he had no interest in working for the king, Amminadab was fascinated by the inner workings of the government, of which Boaz had extensive knowledge. Their similar political views made it easy for the two of them to get along.

            On a certain pagan holy day, not long before the wedding, Boaz brought Amminadab out to Kingdom Forum, not only to shop for wedding supplies, but to talk. Once they had bought the few remaining items they needed, the conversation began. “You know, Amminadab,” Boaz began, “I know you come from a long line of honorable, wealthy men, just as I do. I know you’re capable of more than carving wood; that’s why I want to make you an offer.”

            “Go on,” Amminadab said. “You’ve got my interest.”

            “I know of a position in my department that was recently vacated, and I’m sure you would be the perfect man for the job, given your past. You would make so much more money than you do now, I’m sure the rest of your family would no longer have to work.”

            Amminadab was suspicious. “There’s a catch, isn’t there?”

            “Well, there is one. You probably know by now that all government employees must adhere to the common faith, which you don’t. I know you’re a man of character, and one of great faith, but is there any way you could follow our gods and our customs? It seems a shame to me to refuse such good pay over such a trifle…”

            “It may not be a trifle to you, Boaz, but the faith of my fathers is the most important thing to me. As I’ve told you before, we have followed our God for a dozen generations, and He has been faithful to each one of us. If I leave that all behind for money, I stand to lose more than I would gain.”

            “How could you possibly lose more than all the money the government would pay you? What is there to lose besides your traditions?”

            Amminadab was silent for a moment. He thought of all Josiah had taught him when he was a child, and what he in turn had taught each of his children. He remembered his father say that their God was the only God, that He had promised the Gomais a blessed future in return for purity and faithfulness, and that to leave Him for present riches and pleasure would surely lead to eternal misery. “I’m sorry, Boaz, but you couldn’t understand just what I would lose. I can’t take the job.”

            Boaz looked disheartened and confused. “Very well,” he sighed. “I knew you were an honorable man.”

            This was the only such conversation they ever had. Once Amminadab had settled the matter, Boaz knew there was no point in bringing it up again. They remained friends, but this issue was one they would never repeat. The wedding preparations continued apace; and within a few short weeks of that conversation, Absalom and Miriam were wed.

            The marriage was by no means easy in its first months, but the couple did their best to be happy. Both sets of in-laws supported them while Absalom sought work; nevertheless, they mostly gave to prepare the way for Miriam’s slowly-developing child. She was growing larger every week, thanks in part to her relatives’ generosity. Before long, as everyone knew, she would bring the child into the world.

            That world looked increasingly as if it would not include Josiah. That family doctor knew what he was talking about when he made his diagnosis: the old patriarch’s health kept gradually declining, leaving him in more pain and with less vision every month. This did nothing, however, to dampen his spirits. He knew deep within himself that a greater experience awaited him in eternity, when he would be in the presence of the God he trusted. The peace this gave him surprised the family; but as he told them one evening, “For me, it’s a godly thing to live, but a much more excellent thing to die and be with God. When eternity comes to you, remember this.”

 

            Eternity came to Josiah one warm spring day, some weeks after he spoke those words. He awoke when a sharp pain suddenly swept across his body and knew his end had almost arrived. He called for Abigail, who had not yet gone to work. She could sense the agony in his voice and came running.

            “Father-in-law!” she began, with worry and compassion in her voice. “Is it time?”

            The words came slowly but steadily from Josiah’s mouth. “I believe it is. Call the others – let me see them one last time.”

            As Abigail roused everyone from their beds, they came quickly and gathered around the old man. They had taken his seemingly continuous existence as a part of their lives for granted until they heard of his impending death from the doctor. Now that he was about to die, they wanted to enjoy their last hour with him. Amminadab and his siblings kneeled closest to their father, some with tears in their eyes; Levi was right beside them. Joshua spent some time explaining the situation to the younger children before they joined the elders.

            After what felt like a lifetime, Josiah addressed them. “My beloved children, grandchildren, and brother,” he said hoarsely, looking at each if them in turn, “your loving care in these last months has blessed me more than you may know. I know now, more than ever, that you have all taken my many words about our God to heart. I thank God for your faithfulness, and I know you will do well after He takes me. I love each and every one of you. You shall see me again one day… in Paradise.” With this, he breathed his last.

            Everyone was moved by his last words. It saddened them to lose so trusted and wise a man, but many of their tears fell from hearing how he loved them. They couldn’t help but wish they had had time to return his affection before he died. They took the time to comfort one another before they left for work – that is, all of them but Isaac. He chose to stay home with the children while only Jochebed went to their shared job in the market.

            Another surprise came that afternoon, as Joshua was walking home. Just as he turned the corner to his street, Absalom came running up to him. “Joshua, come quickly! Miriam’s time has come!”

            Joshua could hardly believe his ears. He had lost his grandfather only that morning, and now he was about to gain a nephew? He took a moment to collect his thoughts. “I had almost forgotten amid all the sorrow of this morning! Abigail and Jochebed should almost be back from their jobs; I’ll bring them to your house as soon as I find them. They would make far better midwives than I, I’m sure.” With that they both laughed a little, and Joshua went on his way.

            Within half an hour, he and his mother and sister were gathered around the struggling girl as she lay on her bed. As the only women in the room with past childbearing experience, Abigail and Boaz’s wife, Bilhah, coached Miriam through every dilation and push, while Jochebed fetched whatever the others needed. All this excitement and anticipation was too much for Joshua and Absalom; they stayed in the adjoining room after gathering their other relatives to the small apartment. The men and children all stayed out of the room where soon a new cry would be heard. As it had been that morning, the wait for what would eventually happen felt like a lifetime. As they waited, the men had little else to do but talk.

            “So, Absalom, does the cause outweigh the effect?” asked Saul, the younger brother who was always too curious for his own good. He hit Absalom on the shoulder in fun as he finished.

            Boaz was shocked. “Saul! This is hardly the time to ask your brother such things! Rest assured, you’ll find out when you have a wife – and not a day before!”

            The young teen was blushing. “Sorry, father. I just wanted to know,” he said sheepishly.

            More time passed before anyone thought of a better subject to discuss. Absalom broke the silence in despair. “Oh, by the gods! Whatever am I going to do now? I’m only paid enough to support Miriam and me. How I wish I hadn’t put us in this mess!” He put his head in his hands.

            To his surprise, Amminadab put his arm around him. “Now, son-in-law, I know you regret your mistake; but there’s no point in despairing. ‘To live in the past is to die in the present,’ my uncle Esau always said. You know your father loves you, as do I – why, I love you as one of my own, since you are now. We’ll both contribute what we can to help build your new family a fine life.”

            “Brother! What are you saying?” John asked in bewilderment. “We hardly have enough for ourselves, and you want to sacrifice some of our hard-earned silver to support them? I can’t believe this!” Other Gomais agreed.

            It was now that Amminadab knew he had to reveal his secret. “Look, brothers and sons. We have more than you realize. We’ve all been working so much, we’ve had bags of excess wages. I just kept them hidden so we wouldn’t lose ourselves. You know what I mean; remember Josiah’s lessons to us. ‘You cannot love both God and money,’ he said once; ‘you’ll destroy your own soul if you try.’” He sighed. “I only did what I could to protect the ones I love most of all.”

            It didn’t take long for his words to sink into their minds. They realized how wrong they were to have criticized the man who now was their patriarch. They quickly and earnestly apologized for their hasty words, and all was well again.

            There wasn’t much silence before they heard what they had been waiting for all afternoon, and into the evening as well: from the next room, two cries sounded. First they heard Miriam as she made her last, most difficult push; and then came the cry of her newborn son as it emerged. Abigail took the blanket Jochebed had brought to her and wrapped him in it. Everyone rushed into the room to see their newest relative, while Bilhah kept them all a safe distance from the new mother.

            She and Abigail both turned to Miriam. “What will you call him, daughter?” Abigail asked, once the girl was relaxed enough to speak.

            “I will call him Judah,” she said, “because even in hard times like those I’ve experienced, and even on days like today, I will praise God for His blessings and love for me.” This was not unlike the many namings that had come before in the Gomai family; mothers and daughters had said words like those for generations.

            Abigail smiled and brushed aside a tear. “It is an excellent name.” She handed the baby to his mother and said to the family, “Just as God has given Judah to our family, let us give praise to Him.” They ended that eventful, exciting day in praise, thankful to have witnessed such great events of life and death in their hometown.

 


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CHAPTER TWO

“Heaven and Earth are On Fire”

 

            Joshua was simultaneously ecstatic and distressed. Because of his high-quality vessels, his master potter had just granted him journeyman status; and that meant he suddenly made twice the money he had made as an apprentice. He knew Amminadab would be happy for him, but not for that reason alone. As the firstborn, the other Gomais were surprised he was still single; but that might soon change, as he had recently found himself interested in the daughter of a regular older customer.

            However, all was not right in his heart. Despite the satisfaction his job gave him, the pagan work environment was almost overwhelming. It was not unusual for customers to discuss religion with the other workers in the shop, but they often gave him a hard time because of his unheard-of monotheism. Often they would say things like, “What, aren’t the ancient traditions good enough for you? Besides, surely many gods can do more than your one on his own.” Furthermore, that older man wouldn’t so much as let Joshua speak to his daughter unless he came to the upcoming harvest festival—and Amminadab would certainly not stand for that.

            The words of those customers, as well as those of his coworkers, Joshua often heard in his head. They made him think, and inwardly he doubted all he had known from his childhood. Why don’t we participate in the common festivals? he wondered. And what about the idols everyone else has in their homes? Questions like these ran through his mind everyday after work.

            One autumn day, it was just too much to keep inside. “Father,” he said one afternoon after work, “will you explain a few things I don’t understand?”

            Amminadab was glad to be of help, and answered quickly, “Of course, son. What do you need to know?”

            Joshua hesitated, anxious about the questions he was about to ask. “Many of the customers in my master’s shop question my faith,” he said, his voice trembling, worrying about how his father might react. “They don’t understand why I don’t go to the festivals, and to the temple on holy days. So many have spoken that now, even I have trouble understanding. What did Grandfather tell you about these things?”

            “Peace, my beloved firstborn,” Amminadab began. “First, know that none of this changes the love I have for you as your father. We have all had our difficulties understanding the traditions we have passed down, even me. Remember that even when we doubt, Yahweh does not forsake us.

            “Since the earliest days we have followed our God, He has commanded us not to partake in the revelries of the heathens around us. They do strange and evil things at the festivals and the temple, things by which we would defile ourselves in doing them. Unlike many of our traditions, I know this from experience. When I was a youth, I secretly went to a festival, and my memories of that day linger still. I saw goats, camels, even people, being sacrificed before the temple to Dednas, the pagan god of stone, and to Ham, the protector of the kingdom. I saw drunkards everywhere and young women openly giving their bodies to the men that were there. The rich and powerful were there, dressed in their best robes; and the priests that were conducting the ceremony led the people in chants to the gods.

            “It was that day when I decided never to allow my family to attend such a spectacle of excess and wickedness. That is why we stay home on holy days—would you want to see such sights as I have described?”

            “Certainly not, father,” Joshua said. “If I had known that before, I would never have doubted. But what about idols? Many have said it gives them something to focus on when they pray. Why don’t we have one for Yahweh?”

            Amminadab answered, “In short, we don’t need one. Have you ever had trouble praying, simply because you had nothing to look at?”

            Joshua thought for a moment before saying, “Well, no. Are there other reasons?”

            “It so happens there is another one,” Amminadab said. “The pagans have come to rely so much on their idols, they no longer pray directly to the gods they represent. Instead, the idols themselves have become their objects of worship. This is one thing I remember from that festival: the sacrifices were performed directly in front of a large statue.”

            Suddenly Joshua thought of something his customers had not directly addressed. “What about sacrifices, now that you mention them again? You have already said the heathens sacrifice animals and even men; why do we sacrifice food on the roof? It seems rather tame compared to directly killing something and offering it to God.”

            “That is something Josiah, God rest his soul, spoke much of to me and my brothers. You see, your grandfather was responsible for offering them from his youth, when his father became paralyzed. He asked the same question you’ve now asked, and he passed the answer down to me.” Amminadab paused for a moment to gather his thoughts.

            “’The heathens,’ he told me, ‘offer blood sacrifices to their gods to appease them and gain their favor. But Yahweh’s favor is not gained so; He asks instead for obedience and thankfulness. To show Him we are thankful for His blessings upon us, we offer Him a meal, like one we would eat. The purchase of its ingredients and its preparation are a four-fold expression of thankfulness and obedience. In buying the flour, fruit, vegetables, herbs, and wine for the meal, we both thank Him for providing us with food and money to buy it, and demonstrate our willingness to give of ourselves; for He has commanded us to live selflessly. In making the meal, we thank Him for blessing us with the skills we need to live, and show that we are ready to work for Him—even though it may be hard.’ Never have I heard him give such a full explanation for any other of our traditions.”

            “Nor have I, father,” replied Joshua. “But I have one final question, which more people have asked me than I have been able to count…”

            Before he could continue, a most unexpected man entered the house with Abigail. It was none other than Melles Joseph, fresh from a hard day’s work! Amminadab could hardly believe his eyes. He bowed and embraced Joseph and said, “Friend! It’s been a long time since I saw you last.”

“Yes, it has,” answered Joseph. “In fact, I don’t think we’ve seen each other since that sad day when I had to release you. But that doesn’t matter now. How have you and your kin fared? It must have been a year and a half since I’ve seen any of you.”

            “We have done very well, despite some troubles,” Amminadab responded. “My father is dead now, but Miriam is married and has a child of her own. What of your family?”

            “Oh, much is as it was. The bank lost less money than I thought from Apkeng’s fury, and the effects of that sad day didn’t last long; in fact, business has never been better. That is why I came to see you.”

            “Is that so?” Amminadab asked. “What exactly did you have in mind?”

            Joseph said, “Well, I have a feast planned six nights from now, and I discovered one of my clients and guests is your in-law, Gatanga Boaz. He’ll be there with his entire family, and he wanted all of you among them, since your families are now united. What do you say? Will you come, friend?”

            Amminadab didn’t need to think twice. The bonds of marriage, even between in-laws, were very important to him—perhaps more so than to others. “Of course I’ll be there,” he said, “as will as many of my blood relations as can attend. I haven’t forgotten the way to your home, Joseph; as soon as I know how many will come with me, I’ll be sure to inform you.”

            “Excellent! I simply knew you would come. You’re not one to discard friendship, as some do. Thank you, Amminadab.”

            “And thank you for inviting me, Joseph. I’ll see you soon.”

            “Indeed you shall, friend. Goodbye.” With that, Joseph departed for home to plan the dinner.

            Shortly afterward, Amminadab remembered his conversation with Joshua was yet unfinished. “My apologies, son. Let us return to our discussion. Now what were you about to ask me?”

            Joshua had no trouble picking up the conversation right where they had left off. “I was about to ask why Yahweh is our only God. Dozens of customers have asked about that; they are confident that many gods could do more than one. I know this has been central to our ways since earliest times, but I want to know why this is so, beyond all doubt.”

            Amminadab thought for a moment before answering. “Indeed this is the most important part of our faith, son. Generations ago, when Yahweh first spoke to our ancestors, He made it clear that He is the only true God—that all others are impostors created by men to make the world simpler than it really is. The pagans believe their many gods are all-powerful, but only over one or two special areas each. Our God, however, is Master over all the world, which He made for Himself. Even though it seems many gods should be able to accomplish more than one, when that One has more power than the many combined, He is clearly more powerful. Do you understand now, Joshua?”

            “Yes, father,” Joshua said. “Your explanation has helped me greatly. Now why have we never shared all this with anyone besides our in-laws?”

            “We have, at various times in our history,” Amminadab replied. “I did so when I was your age, as has every firstborn Gomai son. We all have wondered why we are the only family in Ham-Hamiyat to follow Yahweh, and have tried to convince others to join us. However, the heathens have never been willing; they fear they will lose the respect of their friends and relatives. I fear it would take a great tragedy to change their minds, but if Yahweh wants them to know Him, He will make a way. Until then, though, there is little we can do.”

            Despite this statement, however, Joshua was now determined to tell someone—anyone—about what he now knew. “Well, perhaps I can speak to a guest or two at Master Melles’s feast, now that I’m going to attend. Do you think anything good can come of that?”

            “God can do anything,” Amminadab said, “through a willing man. I cannot say for certain what might happen if you try to convert someone to our ways; anything is possible. However, I won’t stop you if that is your intent. Only remember Josiah’s words: ‘Whatever you plan to do, do it with all your heart.’”

            Joshua didn’t need any more encouragement than that. Six days later, it was the day of the feast; he spent as much time praying as Joseph spent preparing his home for the guests. When the sun was low in the western sky, and all the Gomais were gathered at their own home, they put on their nice robes and gowns and walked the reasonably short distance to the Melles villa. As they approached the front door, they saw other guests, including Miriam and Absalom. To their surprise, Boaz, Bilhah, and the other Gatangas arrived at the same time.

            “Amminadab, my brother-in-law!” said Boaz as he embraced Amminadab. “It’s so good to see you again. I trust you remember Bilhah and my brothers, Habakkuk, Abihu, and Naphtali.” Each one bowed slightly to greet Amminadab. “Here also are my children. Saul and Absalom you have already met; these are Ephraim, Nadab, Ruth, Carmel, and Hannah.” He gestured to each child as he said their names, and they bowed low in deference. “Also, here is my mother-in-law, Asenath. Since Bilhah’s father died, we have taken care of her, as any honorable family would.” Now it was Amminadab’s turn to bow; it was not only polite to honor one’s elders in those days, but required.

            After Amminadab introduced Boaz and Bilhah to the Gomais they had not met at Judah’s birth, they all entered the house. Joseph greeted them all warmly and introduced them to his other guests, whom neither family knew from previous encounters. There were several of them, many with their families; all were friends and either important employees or major clients of Joseph. All told, there were about fifty people gathered there that night. Surprisingly, though, it was not too crowded; Joseph’s villa was even larger than the Gomai house, and was rumored to be second only to the royal palace in size. Since Melles Bank was the most powerful financial institution in the kingdom, outside of the government, Joseph was among the richest men in the city—perhaps even the known world.

            After they were all seated, lotus-position, on their mats, Joseph ordered his servants to bring out the first course. Soon they reappeared, huge platters in their hands. Joseph knew how many guests to expect that night, and planned accordingly. They fared sumptuously on many dishes, both indigenous and foreign: local filled pastas, Saruan sweet vegetables, and southern fruits formed only some of the appetizers. Tastier and more exotic foods came in later courses, and everyone had much from which to choose.

            As they dined, they talked. They discussed many topics, ranging from national politics, to the cultures that brought them their food, to their jobs. Each sentence spoken revealed more about the guests. There was Seth, the middle-aged trader who had been to the capitals of all three of the great kingdoms on the continent; he had much to say about both foreign cultures and their food. Lamech, meanwhile, loved to talk about politics in his native Lim, especially how they compared to Ham-Hamite society. He was an ambassador from that country, who had come so far from home to improve international relations.

            To the silent surprise of the Gomais, philanthropy was absent from everyone else’s words. With three bedrooms in their house for which they had no personal need, they had plenty of room to spare for weary travelers and down-on-their-luck locals. More often than not, they housed and fed such people in those rooms, as they had done for generations. Despite their many differences from the pagan majority, they had always assumed kindness to strangers was a common virtue. Now they knew otherwise, especially after the following conversation:

            “I say, Abimelech, the beggars have been multiplying as of late, don’t you think?” Joseph said to another bank executive.

            Abimelech nodded as he finished a bite of his food. “Yes, Joseph, I must agree. It’s becoming quite the annoyance, seeing them outside the bank and on all the great avenues. They make the city uglier by their mere presence.”

            Many others muttered words of agreement. Joseph, however, replied loudly enough so that all could hear. “I couldn’t have said it better. They’re so needy, too. Every day, as I walk to work, at least one shouts out a bold request. I’ve never heard such arrogance from any others.”

            Joshua could no longer contain his indignation. “Arrogance?! Those people are starving! How can you simply ignore their suffering?” he blurted out.

            Everyone was shocked at his words, even his family. No one dared speak against someone of as high a position as Master Melles held. Joseph was the most shocked of all. After he had gathered his thoughts, he said, “Their suffering is punishment from the gods. Are you suggesting I undo that punishment and risk bringing their wrath upon me?”

            Joshua quickly said, “Your gods are nothing compared to the God of my family. He is Lord of all the world – even of your deities.”

            This statement set the whole room in an uproar. Joshua had briefly forgotten that his was the only monotheistic family there; having over thirty angry pagans shout him down reminded him. Among the many remarks made in the following moments, that of Joseph’s wife stuck out. She yelled to Amminadab, “Is this what you teach your children, Father Gomai: disrespect and boorishness in high company?”

            “The folly of youth takes many forms,” Amminadab said sheepishly as he ushered his family out of the house. He knew this was sure to be the end of Gomai involvement in society. The rich of the city enjoyed much respect; to not give it, especially to a dinner host, was a terrible social mistake. No aristocratic family would want such a young man at their own dinners.

            After they had returned home, Amminadab took Joshua aside. “What were you thinking, firstborn?” he said, his voice filled with annoyance. “I know you wanted to talk to other guests about Yahweh, but to say such words to our host?”

            “I – I’m sorry, father,” Joshua stammered. “I simply couldn’t bear the anger I felt at such disregard for the welfare of the poor.”

            “I understand that, son,” Amminadab replied, his tone softening. “Our generosity is part of our unique way of life, a result of following Yahweh’s commands. I, too, wish others would help the hurting rather than add to their burden with their insensitivity. However, angry words will only weaken your argument. It is as our ancestors taught us: harsh words create more anger, but soft words spoken from love stop arguments.”

            Joshua suddenly realized the full effect his actions would have. “Oh, father, what have I done?” he cried in anguish. “I’ve ruined our place in society! Now what are we to do?”

            “Don’t worry, Joshua,” Amminadab said. “Nothing happens beyond God’s will. Surely this won’t be our end. Who knows? Perhaps God will send us away from this city to a place we could never imagine. Why, that might not be so bad…”

 

That thought would return to Amminadab sooner than he expected. Two months after the feast, he was walking to his master’s workshop. Everything was normal until he was startled by a shout. He turned to see what caused this sudden outcry, and quickly looked away; if there was one thing he could not bear to see, it was a rape in progress. However, his conscience got the best of him, and he ran to the poor woman’s aid. “Release her at once!” he shouted as he tried to separate the criminal from his victim.

“Get lost!” the rapist yelled back, and pushed Amminadab aside. To his surprise, no one else came to help; the other passersby simply looked away and kept walking. Without assistance, Amminadab could do no more, as well he knew, and so walked away, sorry he could not have stopped this atrocity.

No sooner had he turned onto his workshop’s street than he stumbled into another crime in progress. When he saw an old man fall to the ground some distance ahead, he rushed to help him up. “I’ve been robbed!” the man said as he rose. “There he goes!”

Amminadab needed no further word. He ran off in the direction this new victim pointed his bony finger; the thief immediately knew he was being pursued and started running. After only a short chase, he apprehended the youth and clutched the elder’s money pouch.

“It’s mine!” the young robber yelled in protest, but Amminadab overpowered him and recovered the bag. Once he did, he said, “Now why did you do that? Can’t you earn an honest day’s wages, or must you steal another’s?”

The youth defensively replied, “It’s all I know.”

“Well,” Amminadab said sternly, “there are plenty of trades a young man like you can learn. Ask around at your local guild hall.” He turned around to return the money bag to its owner, and suddenly had an idea. He reached into his own pouch and pulled out a silver coin. “Here, buy yourself a good breakfast,” he said as he gave it to the boy.

As he worked, he thought about what he had seen that morning. It disturbed him to know that such crimes were shamelessly committed out in the open; worse, however, was the idea that these were only two crimes in a very small section of Ham-Hamiyat. Why, there were forty thousand people in this great city; how many more such crimes might be committed every day, both on the streets and off? He disliked the thought of raising his family in this environment.

When he met up with Joshua on their walk home, he shared these thoughts. Much to his surprise, he wasn’t alone in his uncertainty about the city; he could tell Joshua had had similar experiences recently. When he asked about this, Joshua told him of his own walk to work.

“As I turned onto the Avenue of Dednas, I saw a beggar. He cried out to all who passed by, but they gave him nothing. When a man in fine robes walked past, he pushed the poor beggar to the ground and yelled, ‘Leave us alone, filth! We don’t want the gods to put your curse upon us.’ I quickly recognized the man – it was none other than Gatanga Naphtali!”

“You didn’t say anything, did you?” Amminadab interrupted, worried the events of the feast had repeated themselves.

Joshua was quick to assure him. “No, father; I’ve learned my lesson well. Once the rich man was gone, I slipped the beggar a few silver coins and went my way.” He paused and sighed. “Oh, isn’t there some way we can stop this?”

“It seems not, firstborn. I worry that this will affect the children – not just your siblings, but your nephews and your own children, when you have them. I’ll raise this issue at tomorrow night’s meeting.”

That meeting began just as all meetings did. After prayer, each member of the family went over the events of the week. Most of them reported nothing unusual; but when it was Abigail’s turn to speak, she expressed familiar worries about the city. “There is so much crime,” she said. “Only today, as I was walking home from the bakery, I witnessed a terrible beating. It seems the victim owed his attacker some money and had run out of time to repay him. How I wish I could have done something for the poor man!”

“Yes, beloved, crime is out of control here,” Amminadab said. He recounted the events he had witnessed the previous morning, as did Joshua afterwards. After he finished, he sighed deeply and said, “Oh, how I wish we could just leave town! Surely there are better places to live in this world.”

While many in the room agreed with him, Isaac could not understand why they wanted to leave. “What, have you forgotten your wages?” he asked in bewilderment. “If we move to another city, we’ll have to look for new jobs all over again! I, for one, won’t do it. Jochebed and I have become some of the best merchants in town. Sure, our coworkers may charge more than is reasonable sometimes, but is that really enough cause to throw it all away? I don’t think so.”

“Nor do I,” Levi added. “I’ve lived here for all of my seventy-one years. I’ve come to know this city by heart. In fact, the family has always lived in this city. We have so much history here; just think of all the stories our ancestors have told us. Why should we forget all that just to escape crimes we’re not victims of?”

“What makes you think we’ll forget our family’s great past just because we won’t live here anymore?” Joshua asked. “We have always passed down the tales of our ancestors, and I cannot imagine a simple change in address stopping that.”

Levi interrupted and said, “True, but where will the context for those stories be? If you can’t take your children to a certain place and say, ‘This is where this or that event happened when I was just a boy,’ I doubt the story will mean more to them than any other they might hear. And if they don’t learn from your life, what sort of father would you become?”

“Uncle!” Jochebed stopped him. “Please, that’s enough. You don’t need to harass Joshua to get your point across.”

“I’m sorry, Jochebed,” he said. “I just don’t want to leave my life-long home behind over something so trivial.”

“I don’t think it’s quite so trivial,” Amminadab said. “With so much crime, the children are bound to witness some of it if we stay. What would that do to their young, impressionable minds? I don’t want to find out.”

Isaac re-entered the conversation and said, “Well, you wouldn’t find out if you reminded them that committing those crimes is against our way of life. Surely you haven’t forgotten the lessons Josiah taught us when we were children. If we happened to see a crime in progress, he would remind us of the commands Yahweh gave to our ancestors – that such behavior is against His will. If we were able to learn these things from our father, why are you so worried that your children won’t learn from you?”

This debate continued on, seemingly for hours. Every adult in the room had his or her own reasons to either leave or stay in Ham-Hamiyat, and no one was willing to change his mind. Sprinkled in with this were the occasional questions of one person’s character, which the women quickly stopped. It seemed there might be no end to the discussion, especially since Amminadab didn’t want to either split the family or force the unwilling members to leave with him.

Everyone was so focused on deciding the future home of the family that no one noticed that John had not yet returned from work. These days, Khalos Glassware was very busy, and today was even busier than normal. More customers had come in than ever, or so it seemed to John, Master Khalos, and the other workers. It was almost sunset before they were able to go home.

After he had locked the door of the glass studio, John started for home. He stopped, however, when he caught an unusual smell in the air. While unpleasant smells were common in industrial districts, this one surprised him. It seemed to be smoke, but John wanted to be sure. He looked around for some potential cause and, to his horror, found one. A couple of blocks away, a building was in flames.

Immediately John ran to see if there was hope in putting out the fire. When he arrived, however, he found only chaos. People were fleeing the area, shouting, “We’ve been cursed! The gods are punishing us! Run for your lives!” No one was even trying to save what apparently was a smithy, so John went to the nearest well and drew out a bucket of water. Unfortunately, when he threw it on the building, the fire grew; a huge flame roared up through the roof-hole, and ashes flew everywhere.

No sooner had this happened than the building to its right suddenly started burning. John could hardly believe his eyes as the fire spread to the whole block. Once he snapped out of this trance, he knew he had to alert the other Gomais – and any other citizens he should pass on the way home. He ran quickly through the streets, shouting, “The city is burning! Leave while you can!” Soon, people were panicking, running to their homes to gather up their relatives and what possessions they could carry.

 

            “As the Lord lives, I will not leave this city!” Levi was resolute in his decision to stay. Over an hour after the meeting had started, there was still no consensus on leaving or staying.

            Just as he said those words, John burst through the door, out of breath from his run home. Abigail ran to him and carefully lowered him to the floor. Once she had brought him some water, she asked, “Brother-in-law, what happened to you? Is everything alright?”

            Instead of answering her, John said between breaths, “We must… leave the city… at once.”

            “Not this again,” Levi said, his patience with the debate running thin. “Don’t tell me you want to leave, too.”

            “The city… is burning,” John replied. “Go up to… the roof… and see… for yourself.”

            While Levi wouldn’t go, Joshua did. What he saw above the rooftops shocked him: already, most of the South Market District was in flames, and the smoke was aglow in the sunset. He hurried down the ladders as quickly as he could and said, “John is right! It looks as if heaven and earth are on fire!”

            Many of the women screamed in fright. Amminadab calmed everyone down and said, “We don’t have much time, then. Go through all the rooms and gather together everything small enough to carry. Isaac, go tell Absalom, Miriam, and our other relatives; have them meet us here. Abigail, go to the Gatangas’ house and warn them – and bring back the children; they went over to play.”

            At once, the house became a flurry of activity. The men collected those possessions that could be carried and folded awnings and carpets around them, bringing the makeshift bags to the living room. The women and teenagers packed all their plates and drinking mugs into the few empty water pots, which the men then placed with the other things. Amminadab hurriedly assembled a large cart from the family loom and Joshua’s pottery wheel, which were too large to carry as they were, using the tools he had brought home from work. Once all their smaller things were packed, they loaded them into the cart, starting with the biggest bags.

            Meanwhile, the other Gomais and the Gatangas were busy with their own departure preparations, once Isaac and Abigail had given them the news of the fire. Their actions were little different from those of their kin. When Abigail came to retrieve her children, they were surprised and confused by what was going on. She comforted them, when they heard of the fire and were afraid, and told them all would be well. In truth, she wasn’t sure of that, but she nevertheless trusted that Yahweh would see them through this catastrophe.

            It was almost dark by the time they were all assembled in the Gomais’ living room. Many were frightened, worrying that they might not survive what by now was a terrible conflagration. Many others said silent prayers, begging God to spare them.

            Once he was sure all the Gomais were present, Amminadab spoke. “If we are going to escape the city without loss, we must all work together; we must all share the load. Everyone who is strong enough will carry a bag. We are to stick together, both on the streets and in the desert. After we pass through whatever gate, we will head northeast – left of the Red Moon – to the Great Spring for more water. From there, only God knows which way He will lead us. Isaac,” – he turned to his brother – “when you returned here, did you see any flames near the Avenue of the Moons?”

            “No, brother,” Isaac quickly replied, “nor were there many people fleeing down it.”

            “Then we will take that to the Lunar Gate. Come, let’s take our bags and go!”

            And so the Gomais began their escape from the burning city. Once they had squeezed the cart through the front door, they were on their way. The Avenue of the Moons was only a couple of blocks from their house; within minutes, they were on it. In just a few more minutes, they saw some familiar faces.

            The Gatangas lived on the other side of the avenue from the Gomais, and it was their first choice of escape route as well. When the Gomais reached the intersection with their street, the two families met up.

            “Amminadab, my friend!” Boaz cried, delighted to see his in-laws safe. “I was worried about you and your family. I’m happy to see all of you together in this dismal hour.”

            Amminadab was equally happy. “Trust me, Boaz, I share your feelings. The world is getting more dangerous by the moment.”

            “It certainly is,” Boaz replied. “The desert could be just as dangerous, or so my cousins say. They’ve lived out there for years, and I’m going to join them. I’m sure they can teach my family and me some valuable lessons on the wanderer’s life.”

            “I hadn’t thought of that. Why, I’ve never even set foot outside the city.”

            “Then by no means should you be left to perish in the wilderness with your kin. Come with us; besides, I’d love to be in your company.”

            Amminadab thought it over for a minute. “Well, there is strength in numbers. I suppose it couldn’t hurt.”

            “Excellent, friend! Come; let’s be on our way.”

With that, the two families rearranged their belongings to take advantage of their one, shared cart, and continued on their way. The avenue was not crowded at first, but as they approached the huge brick walls that surrounded the city, the throng thickened. When they reached the Lunar Gate, it was so thick that traffic had come almost to a standstill. Some worried the flames would overtake them if the pace didn’t increase. Once it did, though, their fears vanished. After an hour of travel, they were safely outside the walls.

In keeping with their plan, the families journeyed the extra two miles to the Great Spring and emptied the pots they had been using as packages. While the men drew water from the deep, clear pool, the women used spare cloth to repack the newly-loosened items. Rather than continue on, they decided to spend the night there.

They weren’t alone. Thousands had come to drink from the spring, since it was the closest one to the city. A few also felled the smaller trees. While none of them had the tools they needed to cut down the huge, mature cedars that surrounded the spring, the saplings proved easy to hew. Since it was a cloudless night, almost all of them slept under the boughs of the great trees.

Meanwhile, the fire raged on in Ham-Hamiyat. By the time the Gomais and Gatangas passed through the Lunar Gate, a quarter of the city was destroyed. Surprisingly, many of the richest citizens, and even the royal family, stayed put, praying earnestly to the gods for mercy. They received none; while they were still on their knees, the fire swept through and roasted them alive. However, they were in the minority; fully 90 percent of the populace made it outside the gates, many with a good portion of their possessions.

When the sun rose the next day, some returned to the city. They were searching – some for plunder, some for their homes, and some for survivors. None found anything more than smoking ruins and blackened skeletons. In the course of the night, the entire city burned to the ground; only those few buildings made of stone still stood. In the years to come, those buildings crumbled; so too did the kingdom once ruled from Ham-Hamiyat. With no more king or organized government, it was only a matter of time before the once-great kingdom fell apart.

And so a simple industrial fire brought an end to an old way of life at every level.

 


 

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