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No one heard, so Kelubai put his fingers in his mouth and gave a shrill whistle. His relatives raised their heads. He pointed at the darkening sky. They looked up and stared. "Find cover!"
Men, women, and children dropped their hoes and scattered. Kelubai followed. Farthest out in Pharaoh's field, he had the longest distance to run. The black swirling clouds moved with frightening speed, casting a cold shadow over the land. Was it the great lion of God that let out such a rumbling roar from that blackness? Screaming, hands over their heads, people ran faster.
A shaft of jagged light flashed and struck the middle of the barley field. Flames shot up from the ground and the stalks of ripened grain caught fire. Something hard struck Kelubai in the head. Then another and another, like small pebbles hurled at him from an open hand. And the air grew cold, so cold his breath came like puffs of smoke as he panted. His lungs burned. Could he make it to cover before one of those bolts of fire struck him down? He reached his mud-brick house, swung the door shut, and leaned against it.
Gasping for breath, he saw his wife, Azubah, crouched in the corner, their two older sons cowering beside her as she held theirthird son squalling at her breast. His older boys, Mesha and Mareshah, stood wide-eyed but silent. Their mother, Kelubai's first wife, would not have been as quick to give in to hysteria. She had faced death-giving Mareshah life-with more fortitude than Azubah now showed in the face of this storm.
Tears streaked her frightened face. "What is that noise, Kelubai? What's happening?" Her voice kept rising until she was screaming even louder than the babe. "What's happening?"
He grasped her shoulders and gave her a hard shake. "Hush!" He let go of her and ran his hands over his sons' heads. "Be quiet." He kissed each of them. "Shhhh. Sit still." He gathered them all close, shielding them with his body. His own heart was flailing, threatening to burst its bonds of bone and flesh. Never had he felt such terror, but he needed to be calm for their sake. He fixed his mind upon his family, soothing, encouraging. "Shhhh ..."
"Abba." His oldest son, Mesha, pressed closer, his fingers grasping Kelubai's robe. "Abba ..."
Hard pounding came against the house, like a thousand fists hitting at once. Azubah ducked her head, seeking the shelter of his shoulder. Mesha pressed close. Hard white stones flew in through the window. Curious, Kelubai rose. When his wife and sons protested, he set Mesha beside Azubah. "Stay calm. See to Mareshah." Kelubai could not depend on Azubah to comfort them. They were not her sons, and she would always hold her own flesh and blood more dear.
"Where are you going?"
"I just want to see."
He held up his hand, commanding her to silence. Edging across the room, he reached out to take up one of the stones. It was hard and cold. Turning it in his hand, he examined it. It became slippery. Frowning, perplexed, he put it to his mouth. He glanced back at his wife and sons. "Water!" He picked up several more and brought them to Azubah and his sons. "Taste it." Only Mesha was willing. "It's water. Water hard as a stone!"
Shivering, Azubah pressed back farther into the corner. "What manner of magic is this?" When a burst of light exploded outside the window, she screamed; the boys cried hysterically. Kelubai snatched the blankets from the straw pallets and draped them over the children. "Stay down."
"You can't go out there. You'll be killed!"
He put his hand gently over her mouth. "Do not make matters worse, woman. Your fear is a contagion they can ill afford." He looked pointedly at the boys.
She made no sound, though her eyes were wide with fear. She drew the boys closer, drawing the blankets tighter, covering her head as well.
Animals bawled and screamed, their hooves pounding as they tried to run. Kelubai was thankful he had brought his team of oxen in early or they would be lost with the others. He rose and edged near to the window, staying back while looking out. An acrid smell drifted in the cold air amid the pounding. The fields of flax that had just begun blooming were now in flames. Months of hard labor were going up in smoke.
"It's Him, isn't it?" Azubah said from her corner.
"Yes." It must be the same God who had turned the Nile to blood, brought on a plague of frogs, then gnats and flies, death to the livestock, and boils to all but the Hebrews in Goshen. "Yes. It's Him."
"You sound pleased."
"You have heard the stories I have. A deliverer will come."
"Not for us."
"Why not for us?"
"What are you saying, Kelubai?"
"Something my grandfather said to me when I was a boy." He came back and hunkered down before her and their sons. "A story passed down from our ancestor Jephunneh. He was a friend of Judah, the fourth son of Jacob, the patriarch of the twelve tribes." Kelubai remembered his grandfather's face in the firelight, grim, scoffing.
"I don't understand. We have nothing to do with the Hebrews."
He rose, pacing. "Not now. But back then, there was a connection. Judah's sons were half Canaanite. Two were said to have been struck down by this God. Shelah was the last one, named for Shelahphelah, the land in which he was born: Canaan. Two more sons were born to Judah by a woman named Tamar, also a Canaanite. And then he returned to his father's tents. This was during the time of the great famine. Everyone was starving, everywhere except here in Egypt. Then unbelievably, Judah's brother Joseph became overseer of Egypt and subject only to Pharaoh. Imagine. A slave becoming second only to Pharaoh. A great and mighty God had a hand in that!"
He looked out the window. "When the Hebrews arrived, they were welcomed and given the best land: Goshen. Jephunneh was descended from Esau, Judah's uncle, and he was a friend of Abdullam as well. So he gained the ear of Judah and made a pact in order to provide for our family. That's how we became slaves, theirs at first, farming land and growing crops so that the Hebrews were free to shepherd their growing flocks. It was a loathsome alliance, but necessary for survival. And then things turned around. Other rulers came. We were still slaves, but so were the Hebrews, and with each passing year, Pharaoh's heel bore down harder upon them than us."
He looked at her. "Who knows?"
Jealousy? Spite? More likely because they were fruitful and multiplied. One patriarch and twelve sons now numbered in the hundreds of thousands. There were as many Jews as there were stars in the heavens! Pharaoh probably feared if the Hebrews had wits and courage enough, they could rise up, join with Egypt's enemies, and gain their freedom. They could become masters over Egypt. Instead, they wailed and moaned as they worked, crying out to their unseen God to save them, and thereby making themselves the brunt of contempt and mockery.
Kelubai looked up at the roiling dark sky in wonder. He could not see this God, but he was witnessing His power. The gods of Egypt were as nothing against Him. In the distance, the sun shone over Goshen. It would also seem this God could make a distinction between His people and the enemy. Pressing his lips together, Kelubai watched the fire sweep across the fields of barley. It had just come to head, harvest so close. Now, all lost.
There would be another famine after this night, and his family would suffer.
A thin thread, a distant connection might be just enough to change everything.
Kelubai took a pellet from the sill. He rolled it between his fingers and popped it in his mouth. The stone was hard and cold against his tongue, but it melted warm and sweet, refreshing. His heart swelled at the sound and fury around him. He rejoiced in it. The God of the Hebrews could turn water to blood and call forth frogs, gnats, flies, and disease. Wind, water, fire, and air obeyed Him. Here was a God he could worship. Here was a God not carved by human hands!
Cupping his hands, he held them outstretched. His palms stung as the hard pellets struck, but he held his hands steady until a small pile had gathered. Then he tossed them back into his mouth and chewed the ice.
* * *
Kelubai gathered his relatives. "If we are to survive, we must go to Goshen and live among the Jews."
"Live among the people Pharaoh despises? You're out of your mind, Kelubai!"
"The wheat and spelt are still growing. The gods of Egypt protected them. We still have those fields left."
Kelubai shook his head. "For how long?"
"The gods are at war, Kelubai. And we had best stay out of their way."
"What say you, Father?"
Hezron had been silent since the discussion began. Troubled, he raised his head. "It has been generations since our ancestor Jephunneh followed Judah from Canaan. The Hebrews will have long since forgotten how and why we came here."
"We will remind them we were once close friends of Judah."
"Close?" Kelubai's oldest brother, Jerahmeel, snorted. "A friend of a friend?"
"Father, did you not once say your father said his father's father took a Hebrew woman to wife?"
Ram was quick to follow their older brother's lead. "And how many years ago was that? Do you think the Hebrews will care that we have one of their women in our line? Ha! What use is a woman? What was the name of her father?"
Kelubai scowled. "Have you forgotten? The Hebrews came to us for straw when Pharaoh would not provide it."
"Straw we needed for our oxen."
Kelubai looked at Jerahmeel. "I gave all I had."
"Is that why you came to me for fodder for your animals?"
"Yes, it is. And now, if you but look around, you'll see there's nothing left for the animals to eat. Except in Goshen! There is pasturage there." Kelubai looked at his father. "And we have traded grain for goats. These are alliances we can build on."
"Alliances could bring the wrath of Pharaoh down upon us!" Jerahmeel stood, red-faced with impatient anger. "What protection will we have against his soldiers? No alliances. We must stay out of this war."
"Are you blind? Look around you, my brothers." Kelubai thrust his hand toward the barley and flax fields, flattened by hail, blackened by fire. "We're in the middle of the battlefield!"
"Pharaoh will prevail."
Kelubai gave a mirthless laugh. "Pharaoh and all his gods put together have not been able to protect Egypt from the God of the Hebrews. A river of blood, frogs, gnats, flies, boils! What will the God of the Hebrews send next?" He leaned forward. "We have heard the Hebrews wail for their deliverer. And their deliverer has come. Let us make Him ours as well."
"You mean Moses?"
"Moses is a man. He is but God's spokesman, telling Pharaoh what the God of the Hebrews has told him to say. It is an almighty God who destroyed our fields yesterday, and it is this God who will deliver His people."
"No." Jerahmeel glowered. "No, I say. No!"
Kelubai clung to self-control. Exploding in anger at his brother's stupidity would not convince their father to leave this place of desolation. He spread his hands and spoke more quietly. "What if we are left behind? What happens when Pharaoh and his officials are hungry and need grain? Will he say, 'My foolishness has brought destruction upon our land'? No, he won't. He'll send his soldiers to take whatever is left. The sacks of grain we have winnowed from our labors will be stolen from us. But we can take these stores with us to Goshen as gifts. All of the wheat and spelt."
"Yes, Ram. Gifts. We must align ourselves with the Jews. And we must do it now."
Kelubai felt his father's eyes upon him. He met that troubled stare with a look of fierce determination. "If we are to survive, Father, we must act now!"
His father looked at his other sons. "Perhaps Kelubai is right."
Flushed and angry, they protested, everyone talking at once. But no one had another solution to protect them from impending disaster.
"If Pharaoh hated the Hebrews before, he hates them all the more now."
"He'll be sending soldiers to Goshen again."
"Would you have the king of Egypt turn his hatred upon us as well?"
"Father, we had best stay out of this."
Kelubai had talked all morning and been unable to convince them. He would not waste any more time. He stood. "Do as you will, my brothers. Stay in your huts. Hope that whatever plague comes next will leave your barley untouched. As for me and my house, we'll be in Goshen before the sun sets, before another plague is upon us, a worse one than the last!"
His brothers all protested. "Better to wait and see what happens than be a headstrong fool."
Kelubai glared at his older brothers. "Wait long enough and you'll all be dead."
* * *
By the time Kelubai returned to the land over which he had charge, Azubah had loaded the oxen with the plowshares, the pruning hooks, and the remaining sacks of grain from last year's harvest. Stacked on top were all the family possessions. Mesha would see to the small flock of goats that provided milk and meat.
Kelubai noticed a small wooden cabinet lashed to the side of the cart. "What's this?" he asked his wife, although he knew all too well.
"We can't leave our household gods behind."
He untied the box. "Have you learned nothing these past weeks?" Ignoring her shriek, he heaved the container against the wall of his empty hut. The cabinet burst open, spilling clay idols that smashed on the ground. He caught her by the arm before she could go after them. "They're useless, woman! Worse than useless." He took the rod from Mesha and prodded the oxen. "Now, let's go. We'll be fortunate if we reach Goshen before nightfall."
Others were heading for Goshen; even Egyptians were among those with their possessions on their backs or loaded in small carts. Squalid camps had sprung up like thistles around the outer edges of the humble Hebrew villages. Kelubai avoided them and went into the villages themselves, seeking information about the placement of the tribe of Judah. They camped away from everyone.
On the third day, he approached a gathering of old men in the middle of a village, knowing they would be the elders and leaders. Several noticed his approach and studied him nervously. "I am a friend come to join you."
"Friend? I don't know you." The elder glanced around the circle. "Do any of you know this man?" There was a rumble of voices as the others agreed that Kelubai was a stranger to all of them.
Kelubai came closer. "We are connected through my ancestor Jephunneh, friend of Judah, son of Jacob. Our people followed your family from Canaan during the great famine.
Excerpted from The WARRIOR by FRANCINE RIVERS Copyright © 2005 by Francine Rivers. Excerpted by permission.
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