Eighth Shepherd By Bodie Thoene Brock Thoene Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2008 Bodie and Brock Thoene
All right reserved. ISBN: 978-0-8423-7528-3 Chapter One
There was a hawk soaring high above Bethany that day. It was the flight of the raptor that made Peniel remember Shimona the Leper and the Valley of Mak'ob for the first time in many months.
Where had they all gone? he wondered. All those leprous sons and daughters of Israel, rejected and forsaken by all but other lepers, had been embraced by Yeshua. In His arms they had been healed, made whole.
Ten fingers and ten toes. Noses. Ears. Lips. At the command of Yeshua, all had returned intact and better than before.
He had sent them to the priests as a testimony. From there? Where had they all gone? He had healed them all, yet it seemed they had vanished into the landscape without a trace.
For the first time Peniel wondered how many had been silenced by the enemies of Yeshua.
Now, once again, a miracle beyond comprehension had occurred. Today El'azar of Bethany, beloved friend of Yeshua of Nazareth, had been raised from death. More than that, he had been restored-resurrected from rotten decay that clung to the nostrils and stung the eyes of the living who had gathered at his tomb.
Eternal things have come to earth, Peniel thought as he watched El'azar of Bethany embrace his sisters.
The celebration of El'azar's resurrection was unlike any Peniel had witnessed. The gates of the Bethany estate were besieged by hundreds and then thousandswho heard the news that El'azar was alive and flocked to see.
Inside the walled compound a great feast was prepared for Yeshua and His band of followers. The talmidim looked proud of their Master as they sat at the table with the family. They seemed more confident now than at any time in their travels with Yeshua.
"Let them come," Thomas boasted with his hand on the hilt of his sword. "And even if they kill us, what of it?"
John agreed. "They're beaten now for certain. What can Rome do? Or Herod Antipas? Caiaphas, the high priest, and his puppets are beaten. Yeshua will raise us up again, though they kill us a hundred times!"
Peniel's father, a potter by trade, agreed with all and rejoiced at the miracle, yet he said this to his son: "It is a bright, clean cup we drink from today. A new way of looking at life and death. And yet, here is the dark crack that runs through the cup of our joy: They will fight harder, I think, to kill the man who has returned from death. They will plot secret ways to kill Yeshua, who we know now is the source of life. Be careful, Son."
Peniel embraced his father at the gate. "What do you mean, Father?"
"You know well how they put you out of the synagogue when Yeshua gave you eyes. I have heard that in other towns lepers healed by Yeshua's command and returned home from the Valley of Mak'ob have been banished as well, put away as though they are still bearing the disease. There is a rumor about the daughter of the Chazzan of Jericho. Banished, though she is plainly healed. They don't want anyone to know what Yeshua is capable of."
Peniel peered at the circling hawk and wondered about Shimona. "He tells everyone he heals not to speak of it."
"Too late. The cat is out of the bag, as they say. The dead man out of the tomb. The secret is shattered like a clay pot and everyone knows. ... Everyone!"
"I don't know how long we'll stay in Judea," Peniel said grimly.
"Send word to me in Yerushalayim when you are returning, my son. You know you and your Master will always have a home."
Peniel stood on the parapet and watched as his father made his way up the road against the flow of thousands coming to see El'azar, the dead man who now lived. He searched the sky, but there was no further sign of the hawk.
* * *
Cut into a solid rock face in the Kidron Valley beside the eastern flank of Jerusalem, the tomb of Ra'nabel ben Dives was modest by comparison with its neighbors. The simple rectangular portal boasted no columns and only half as much ornate facade as the nearby tomb of the priestly Hezirs.
Still, Bera ben Dives, oldest of Ra'nabel's five surviving brothers, and now head of the Dives clan, was proud of his family's monument. Located on the lower slope of the Mount of Olives, not far from the sepulchres of kings and facing the grand eastern wall of King Herod's Temple platform, it was a fitting memorial for men of wealth and power.
Inside the quarried space were a preparation room and four burial chambers. There was also an ossuary vault where dried bones would eventually be collected. At the moment only two of the vaults were in use. One contained the remains of Bera's mother and father, while his brother's fresh corpse occupied the other.
The brothers Dives were gathered in the open air of the forecourt, just outside the tomb's narrow opening. A pair of servants grunted as they used wooden poles to lever a heavy round stone into place, sealing the entry.
"Cut down in his prime," Bera intoned to the solemn nods of his siblings. "A man of vision and leadership, with the heart of a servant."
Murmurs of agreement all around.
"High Priest Caiaphas sent a personal note of condolence," one of the brothers observed.
"Ra'nabel was held in the highest regard by Lord Caiaphas," Bera said, lifting his chin and tilting his head to the side. "Since the time of our grandfather, every high priest has welcomed our family's advice."
This was an exaggeration-actually, an outright falsehood-but one understood and accepted by all the brothers. Their paternal grandfather had been a leather tanner, a dishonorable and despised profession, but one in which he had accumulated great wealth from curing the hides of sacrificial animals. He had split the profits with the high priest and so began the association.
Bera continued, "Naturally we all assumed Ra'nabel would fill that role for our generation. But since the Almighty has seen fit to cut him down, I will do my best to meet the need." Then Bera added with modestly downcast eyes, "I will try to uphold the honor of our family."
Ezra, the youngest ben Dives, inquired, "Is it true that Ra'nabel was investigating the charlatan Yeshua of Nazareth?"
"You are not to mention that name!" Bera rebuked Ezra sharply. "Wild stories! Rumors! Gossip! That deluded blasphemer El'azar of Bethany returned to life when our worthy and noble brother lies here?" Bera put the palm of his hand on the sealing stone in a dramatic gesture of bereavement. He betrayed no sense of irony when in almost the same breath he accused Yeshua of trickery and then credited the man with bringing the dead back to life.
"They say he works miracles," sixteen-year-old Ezra persisted.
"Superstition! Poison, more likely!" Bera exclaimed. "Perhaps El'azar and the Nazarene conspired to kill our brother. From perfect health to stone-cold dead? Is it reasonable? Is it likely?"
"I-I had a dream," Ezra said. "Ra'nabel appeared to me. It was a warning, he said."
Led by Bera, the four senior ben Dives spat between their fingers and made the gesture against the evil eye. "Childish nonsense!" Bera chided. "Anyway, you are too young to meddle in such things. I will present myself to Lord Caiaphas. Neither El'azar of Bethany nor the Galilean will trouble our house much longer."
* * *
The one-room stone hut where Shimona the Leper lived was proof that even after happy endings, the road of life continues with unexpected twists and turns.
Shimona's father was still Chazzan of the synagogue in Jericho. He was an upright man, a righteous man, respected by all in the community. The citizens of Jericho had almost forgotten that the Chazzan's grown daughter and her husband were lepers living in the Valley of Mak'ob.
The Chazzan had been surprised to see his daughter on his doorstep after so many years of believing she was among the living dead. Shimona's mother wept to see her face but did not embrace her. The Chazzan did not allow Shimona's sisters to come near her.
She had stayed in the shed behind the house until nightfall. After dark she followed her father to the rabbi, and they called the Levite priest. At the side of the synagogue in Jericho they had listened patiently to Shimona's story about Yeshua coming to the Valley of Mak'ob and healing everyone.
"You say he healed them all?"
"Yes! He healed us all!"
"Everyone in Mak'ob?"
"Every one," Shimona declared. "Yeshua is Mashiyah! He is the Son of the Living God!"
This declaration shocked the Chazzan, the rabbi, and the priest. The rabbi made the sign against the evil eye and turned his back on Shimona, commanding her to be silent.
The officials conferred together in the synagogue by lamplight while Shimona waited outside beneath the stars.
When they emerged at last, neither Shimona's father nor the rabbi nor the priest in Jericho believed her story. Every word must be tested, they declared. Shimona had been irrefutably pronounced unclean-she and her leprous husband. Had her husband not perished horribly in the dying cave of Mak'ob?
How could Shimona, so near to death, have been healed? Though she had returned home in the stinking rags of a leprous beggar, the dread disease did not seem to be evident.
Was there a possibility that Shimona had indeed been healed by Yeshua of Nazareth? And that the one some proclaimed a charlatan was actually a miracle worker? Yet the high priest himself had declared Yeshua a fake Messiah in league with the devil.
What if this was a trick? What if Shimona the Leper was not truly healed? What if the eyes of those outside the Valley of Lepers who beheld her were bewitched and blinded to the truth by a demon? Perhaps Shimona the Leper had been sent back to Jericho by Yeshua to infect all who came near her!
The rabbi of Jericho had said, "Perhaps ... just perhaps ... Shimona is like a fireship in a battle, sent among our ships by the enemy to set us on fire."
Shimona's father had stared at her in fear as he considered his other children, his home, and his reputation. "What shall I do with her, Rabbi? How can we be sure?"
The rabbi considered the danger for a moment before he replied. "Torah and Mosheh command that anyone suspected of leprosy be isolated from the congregation of Israel. How could we know for certain, unless she is isolated for a time? Say, perhaps a year or so? Does Torah not command Shimona the Leper to live apart until her wellness can be proved without any doubt?"
"But where can she live, Rabbi?"
The rabbi held up a crooked finger. "Chazzan, you hold lease tenancy on a grove of sukomore fig trees from Zachai the Publican, whose soul is like that of a leper. I remember there was a stone cottage there."
The Chazzan concurred. These were the facts. "The old gardener who cared for the figs died recently. The stone house is vacant. The grove of sukomore fig trees needs a caretaker."
The rabbi snapped his fingers. "Blessed are you, O Lord, who gives us answers for troubling questions! So, figs. Perfect! The very fruit by which Lucifer, the great serpent, tempted Eve. Then, after the Fall, they covered themselves with its leaves. But the Lord saw through their deception. Yes! Eliminate all deception! Shimona must live in the grove of fig trees."
"This property is outside the city walls about half a mile," the Chazzan volunteered. "It is the perfect place for Shimona. The stone cottage will be her dwelling."
The rabbi added, "Warning signs must be posted: 'Shimona the Leper lives in this place.' She must remain confined to the orchard. For her to cross the boundaries and enter the company of normal, healthy people will result in stoning. Agreed?"
Shimona's father raised his eyes heavenward in relief. Then he considered the fruit of the orchard. "But what about the fig harvest? How will I sell it if anyone knows it is tended by ...?"
"Sell it in Yerushalayim," the rabbi had declared. "Figs is figs. Shimona will live in isolation until such time as Yeshua is proved a prophet or a devil, and she is pronounced free from leprosy or sent back to the Valley of Mak'ob!"
Less than a year had now passed since that meeting of the elders of Jericho. Shimona the Leper had not seen her father or mother since that night. She lived in isolation in the cottage and tended the fig trees for her father.
It was, to her, as it must have been for Adam and Eve in Gan Eden before the Fall. Once a week someone came with an oxcart to collect baskets of fig cakes that she harvested, prepared, and left at an appointed place. Supplies were left behind for her. She had chickens in a pen, two goats for milk and cheese, and a small garden beside the house where she raised vegetables and food enough to live on. She wore the castoff clothes of her sisters. There was a stream on the downhill side of the property that marked the border. She did not cross it to leave her verdant prison, nor did anyone from the outside come in.
There was a fine well in the yard in front of her little house. The water was clear and good for washing her body and her clothes.
Each day she woke up before dawn and said, "God who hears my prayers and sees to every need, I love it here!" Then she sang songs of praise that she made up as she went along.
Each morning and night she looked at her smooth skin and knew that she was indeed healed-whole, well! And she thanked the Almighty One for sending Yeshua into the Valley of Mak'ob.
Of course, there were small irritations, including the army of field mice that lived in the grove. Shimona called the rodents "Philistines" and fought a constant battle against them. Sometimes they snuck into the house and spoiled her flour. They chewed her clothing as she slept. She set traps and captured a great number every day. But there were always more.
She prayed, "Blessed are you, O Lord, God of the Universe. You hear my every prayer. You know my needs before I ask. So, Lord of Heaven and Earth, if you will not banish the Philistines from this sukomore grove, please send me a cat! Please. Lord who hears all my prayers and knows my needs, please, O Lord! Send a cat to keep me company. A cat with sharp teeth and keen eyes to hunt and catch the horde of Philistines who are my enemies and the enemies of this orchard, which my father has rented."
But no cat came to the orchard.
Day after day, month after month, Shimona expected and looked for an answer to her prayer. She did not stop hoping, though she lived alone with the chickens and the goats. She fought the army of Philistines on her own.
"Lord, is it so much to ask?" The heavens seemed like bronze in the matter of cats.
Shimona sent word to the Chazzan, her father, and begged him to send a feline to help her defend the fig grove. He did not heed her request. She heard from him less and less as time passed.
Undaunted that her family seemed to have forgotten her and abandoned her in the fig grove, Shimona never lost hope.
She remembered her Father in Heaven, for whom nothing was impossible. She prayed that one day, perhaps, the Messiah would cross the creek and enter the sukomore grove with His disciples. She could see it plainly in her mind. Yeshua, the Deliverer of Israel, and His band of holy men would accept Shimona's offering of cakes of figs, and she would feed them all a hearty meal.
In preparation for that possibility, Shimona composed a song about a gray-striped cat riding on the shoulder of the Messiah. She decided that if Yeshua ever came to the sukomore grove, she would sing Him the song. Then perhaps Yeshua, who healed lepers and fed five thousand with only five loaves and two fish, would see her need for help and answer her request.
Excerpted from Eighth Shepherd by Bodie Thoene Brock Thoene Copyright © 2008by Bodie and Brock Thoene.Excerpted by permission.
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