Sunday, April 18, 2010

Top Ten Things I've Learned From Blogging

We've reached the end of act one, 29,000+ words, or about 30% of the story. That's about as far as I intended to go with blogging. It's been such an interesting experience I've complied my thoughts into a "top ten" list of things I've learned.

1. Great writing isn't easy. I'm not that much of a writer. In all honesty, I have a lot of work to do. I expect I'll need to do another major draft after this one before I'm ready to show my work to a professional for advice.

2. Sex sells. Blogs with pictures like "Butt Cheek Girl" (King Hur's daughter) doubled or trippled my normal readership. I trust I used the power of these graphic and literary images wisely, but there's no denying the Bible is full of them.

3. Simplify everything. The more drafts I write, the more I realize that great writing keeps everything simple. Its so easy to lose an audience. I read somewhere that Dr Zeus wrote "Green Eggs and Ham" to meet his publisher's challenge of using no more than 100 words in his vocabularly (or was it 200?). Anyway, my kids can quote vast chunks of Green Eggs and Ham, and the story still has a great message. Food for thought.

4. POV separates the men from the boys. POV stands for "point of view" - and I've tried to follow one person's POV in each scene - normally Joshua's. If Joshua is not in a scene then, a) there HAS to be good reason, and b) I choose the person who has the most at stake in the drama.

5. Every story has a beginning, middle and end - but not necessarily in that order. Hopefully, I havent confused everyone with the way I mixed up the timeline by going back and forth from Salman's dialogue with Rahab, to the actual stories he told. Its an old trick, but a good one if used for the right reasons. I wanted to introduce Rahab and the King of Jericho early to heighten the drama. Story A (Joshua) and Story B (Rahab) meet up in the second act, and then its a single time line from there. Please let me know if you found that confusing.

6. Proofread everything. I don't trust myself - too many mistakes simply slip through my guard. It's scary.

7. Images are a great hook. The key is making sure they say the right thing. I just watched "Bandslam" - a movie with poster art that doesn't do it justice. When my daughters asked to hire it, I thought "great, this is a High School Musical rip-off", but I was so wrong. It was far better, edgier and more like "Juno" (not as funny - but you get the idea).

8. Start late and finish early. I try to enter a scene as late a possible and finish as early as possible to keep things moving. This is writing 101.

9. Character is everything. I'm trying to make each character have a distinct voice. How is Joshua different to Caleb? Does Phinehas say things that Salman would never even think? I'll probably need another draft just to focus on this.

10. Know your audience. This is what keeps me up at night. Who the heck will want to read this? or watch the movie (did I mention it's based on a screenplay?). I really, really, really don't want this to appeal just to a Christian audience. That would be a massive failure from my perspective. I hope that the religious aspects of the story don't undermine the fact that its a great story - and hopefully I can do it justice. Time will tell.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A farewell to remember

Salman racked his brain to think of a solution. A fast solution.

“Alright, that’s a problem. A big problem. Let me think about it for a minute. Our soldiers wont recognize know you. They might accidentally kill you in the heat of battle. You need a sign, or a secret password, or something.”

“That’s stupid,” Phinehas interrupted, “and impractical, especially if we’re under orders to kill everyone. And what if someone finds out about it?”

“You’re right. Secrecy is everything,” Salman continued. “Tell no one about us and we can save you.”

“Should we hide somewhere?” asked Rahab, “in the granary or...”

“No no - that’s too risky,” Salman interrupted as he paced the floor thinking out aloud. “If someone finds you they’ll ask questions. It’s too risky. But... if you stay here in your home, no one will suspect anything. Yes, you must be here when we attack.”

“Or you’ll die,” Phinehas added, “you and all your family. You can be certain of it.”

“Alright, I get it,” said Rahab, “ but what’s stopping your men crashing in here and killing us by mistake?”

Salman thought for a moment then rushed back to the window and grabbed the rope. “It’s too obvious.”

“What is?” asked Rahab.

“That rope, it’ll look like you’re trying to escape.”

He scanned the room and noticed some red cord wrapped around the bed posts. “I’m not even going to ask what this is doing here,” Salman chuckled as he hurriedly unravelled it.

“You don’t want to know.”

“I thought so. But if you hang this out your window on our soldiers will know where you live. Problem solved.”

Rahab embraced him hurriedly. “Thank you.”

“Salman, we've got to go. Now!” whispered Phinehas, as he climbed out the window and slid down the rope.

Salman reluctantly straddled the window's ledge. He wished he had more time to make sense of everything. Would Rahab be executed for helping the enemy? What about after the battle - would she flee the country? Would he even see her again? There was no time to think. No time to doubt.

Salman lingered for one last look, then began his descent down the wall.

“Come back quickly,” Rahab whispered, rushing to the window. “The Jordan will flood soon.”
Salman looked up at her. “I’ll never forget you.”

Rahab leaned further out the window and smiled. A million thoughts raced through Salman's head. She likes me? I could just reach up and impulsively steal a kiss. No one would ever know. It would be unexpected, uncalled for, and unbelievable! It would be the kiss of a lifetime.

But he was too far down the rope! Their lips missed by a few inches.

Rahab supressed her laughter. “Hide in the mountains. They'll come back in a day or two. Then you can cross the river safely.”

“Thank you,” he replied.

“God be with you.”

He slid down the rope with ease, silently joining Phinehas on the ground below. Escaping into the night, they rain straight through the barley fields towards the palm trees beyond the reach of archers on the wall. Far in the distance, lightning and thunder awoke the black northern skies.

Rahab sat by her window looking out over the horizon, her tears of joy illuminated by flashes of lightning. For the first time in her life she prayed to the God of the Hebrews.

“God help them. Please.”

The Red Rope

“Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was on the city wall; she dwelt on the wall.” Joshua 2:15

The King of Jericho’s guards rode their horses hard along the moonlit road to the crossing. With fire in his eyes and Hell on his back, their Captain Giddel was seething with fury. Hashum had followed the spies into the Jericho, the King had given simple instructions, and yet nothing was working as planned.

To make matters worse, the horses were tiring and his men were complaining. Giddel looked behind his galloping steed towards his brother Hashum, who was pointing to the sky; it was starting to rain.

“Don't even think about stopping,” Giddel yelled as he violently whipped his horse, “we're going to catch them.”

But catching spies who haven’t yet escaped is an impossible task. Salman and Phinehas were still hiding in Rahab’s house, safe in the knowledge she had sent Jericho’s guards on a wild goose chase. For it was not geese being chased, but rather geese doing the chasing.

At the very moment Giddel dug in his heels and cracked his whip, miles away in Jericho Phinehas awoke suddenly in a fright and grabbed his cloak beside the bed. He ran to the window to look at the eastern sky. It was still dark, with no signs of dawn on the horizon.

“Let's go, before it gets light,” he said pacing into the other room where Rahab and Salman were packing the last supplies.

“Please, just a moment,” Rahab begged, “we’re almost finished.” Turning back to Salman, she continued. “If God is good, why did he ask Abraham to do such an evil thing?”

“You don't understand,” replied Salman.

“I know. That’s why I’m asking.”

“There's no time,” Phinehas interjected.

“Is it too hard to answer?” asked Rahab.

Salman looked at Phinehas and shook his head in amazement. He had never encountered such a feisty women. After hours of conversation, her audacity still surprised him.

“I already told you,” replied Salman, “God stopped Abraham because he had a bigger plan. Isaac didn't die.”

“What about me? I’m as good as dead, right?”

Salman looked at Phinehas again; both were completely speechless. Neither were quite prepared to face that brutal reality.

The awkwardness of the moment unsettled Rahab, so she nervously moved to the outer bedroom and began tying a long rope around the bed posts.

“Wait, what are you doing?” asked Salman.

“What does it look like? Saving your life.”

Salman rushed to help her loop the rope through the bed’s heavy wooden framework. Somehow, as they were working together his hands ended up holding hers. It was more than accidental; he needed to feel the warmth of her skin. He needed to look into her eyes and know she could be trusted.

Using the bed as an anchor for the rope, they dragged it beside the window. Salman watched her throw the rope out the window like an expert. She’s probably done this a hundred times before, he thought. How many other men have secretly escaped her home in less honorable circumstances? How on earth am I going to explain this to Joshua?

Salman noticed Phinehas smirking. He was thinking the same thing, but added a quick shrug of his shoulders like he had no idea what to do with her.

After all they had shared in those long hours of the night, it was no longer Rahab’s past that disturbed Salman, no nearly as much as her future.

“Please, I've shown you kindness,” Rahab blurted, “spare my life when you attack.”

“God forbid you die,” replied Salman, looking to Phinehas for reassurance.

“Our lives for yours, that's fair,” said Phinehas, “but I don’t know how we’ll explain this to Joshua.

“We’ll worry about that later. Why don't you come with us now?” asked Salman.

“I can't. I won't leave my family behind.”

Salman racked his brain to think of a solution. A fast solution.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Caleb's scars

“What??!” Salman gasped in amazement.

Caleb stopped in his tracks, wondering what Salman had seen. And then it clicked. The ghastly scars from Egyptian lashes on his back were completely exposed. Caleb turned around and saw Salman standing on the river bank completely horrified.

“What are you looking at?” asked Caleb.

“Why didn't Joshua come with us?”

Caleb shook his head in frustration. “Why are you asking me now? You know he wanted to, but it was too risky to leave the tribes to themselves.”

“And He never talks about the first time you saw Canaan.” Salman continued.

“You wait until I’m knee deep in the Jordan river before you ask me this?” yelled Caleb. “Son, you're opening an old wound.”

“I think I need to know,” Salman replied.

Caleb threw his arms up in the air with frustration. “You already know about the spies Moses sent! We weren’t much older than you. The others turned out to be cowards. They saw Jericho’s walls and wanted to go back to Egypt. Fools, as if slavery was the answer!”

“Why didn’t Moses stop them?” Salman asked.

“He tried. They convinced the whole camp to rebel. Your parents didn’t tell you? I’m not surprised. They took up stones against us. Sure, they repented later – but it was too late. It broke Joshua's heart. He's never been the same.”

“Why doesn’t anyone talk about this?”

“I suppose it brings up too much pain.”

“What about you?” asked Salman.

“Me? The only difference between you and me is forty years, and from where I'm standing that's not much.”

“Isn't it more like fifty?” ask Salman, “not meaning to sound rude.”

“Alright. Fifty three. I'm not one to grow old graciously.”

“I can only hope to have half your courage when I'm your age,” replied Salman.

“Well it's not doing much good now,” said Caleb as he stumbled to inch his way further into the river.

Salman looked across and saw Phinehas had reached the other side. He was waving Caleb to hurry up.

“Stay here with the horses. I'll go in your place,” Salman blurted out.

Caleb hesitated, facing his limitations was never easy. “I'm sorry, I've let you down. Too old and slow, that's my problem.” Caleb passed his satchel to Salman and took his place on the shore.

“Nonsense. The water is too deep, that's all,” replied Salman, side-stepping Caleb's bruised pride. Wading into waist depth, Salman turned around hesitantly.

“Pray for us. Please.”

“I have,” Caleb answered, “all my life.”

Salman could have sworn he saw tears swell up in Caleb's eyes, but he would never dare tell anyone. Besides, he had to deal with his own as he swam to the other side of the Jordan.
Leaving Caleb behind was a tough call. Neither Phinehas or Salman had travelled this far and Caleb's experience would be sorely missed.

Salman wondered if something went wrong, or a quick decision had to be made, who would make that call? Both Phinehas and Caleb were stubborn, but at least Caleb had the wisdom of years.

By God's grace and the prayers of Caleb, he knew they would stay safe.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Spies cross the Jordan

The three men arrived at the Jordan river just as the soft light of dawn touched the water. A flock of birds scattered in their path as they cantered around the final bend in the river, but the men were too busy studying the opposite bank to even notice.

The river was high. Caleb could tell by the water lapping around the shrubs and trees. It was also too fast for his liking, for the markers at the crossing barely stood against the steady flow.
They dismounted and undressed, preparing themselves for the treacherous swim across.

“Just wait a minute till we know its clear,” said Caleb scanning the surrounding landscape for signs of danger.

“What?” replied Phinehas. “Are you afraid? I thought you’d be the first to rush in.”

“Rush into a trap?” said Caleb, “This is the perfect place for one.” He knew he was right, but he could see by the look of surprise of Phinehas’ face he had to spell it out.

“Crossing the river makes us easy prey for an ambush. We can’t defend ourselves, and we can’t retreat quickly. Any fool hiding in the grass with a bow and arrow could pick us off.”

“So what are you going to do?” asked Salman.

“We’ll cross one at a time.”

“Great, me first,” said Phinehas pushing Caleb aside and stepping into the water. Young and muscular, he forged steadily through the current, keeping his leather satchel dry above his head.

Caleb watched him closely. For someone who grew up in the wilderness far from rivers or oceans, Phinehas moved quite quickly, but the further he crossed, the harder it became. He soon started drifting slowly downstream, further away from Caleb and Salman, and into the deadly clutches of panic.

“Keep going Phinehas!” yelled Caleb, “Don’t turn back. You can do it.”

“Come on Phinehas,” yelled Salman as he started to follow him down the river bank.

“Salman, stay here with the horses,” shouted Caleb, “He’ll make it.”

“How do you know?” asked Salman.

“I know. Just believe,” he replied with steadying calm.

They watched as Phinehas barely kept his head above water. He couldn’t possibly keep his satchel dry, but it’s buoyancy was keeping him afloat. He was going to make it, just as Caleb expected.

“Well it’s now or never.” Caleb through off his tunic off and stepped into the river in nothing but his undergarments. The water was cold and his body stiff and sore. Did he have the strength to swim across the fast moving swollen waters? Time would tell.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Midnight race to the Jordan

Across the moonlit plains the three men galloped with fearsome determination, as though all of Heaven held it’s breath in expectation. Phinehas led from the front, skillfully jumping over rocks and boulders, closely followed by Salman.

Caleb, however, lagged a little too far far behind. Not that he was a poor horsemen, but with every jump over tree stumps and ditches, his knees and back ached with pain. He usually didn't feel a day over forty, but to his own frustration, his eighty year old body was finally letting him down.

Moving out of the desert wilderness and into the Jordan valley, the landscape rapidly transformed into an oasis. The ground was carpeted with grass and lush plants, and a chorus of frogs and crickets filled the cool night air. The men galloped and weaved through large majestic palm trees that lined the river like sacred guardians of an ancient boundary.

One such tree had fallen over in a recent storm, presenting another hurdle for the horses. Phinehas was the first to jump and cleared it easily. For Salman, a slight stumble on landing was not enough to knock him from his saddle.

Finally, it was Caleb's turn. Salman waited behind to watch him negotiate the obstacle, but negotiation wasn’t one of Caleb’s strengths. He cleared the log courageously but then fell from his horse in the most undignified manner, hanging upside down with his legs still wrapped around its neck.

The fall wasn't hard enough to hurt more than Caleb’s pride, but Salman still checked to ask.

“You alright?”

“I'm fine,” Caleb replied, “just fine, keep going.”

“Let me help,” Salman insisted, as he dismounted his horse to hoist Caleb back into the saddle.

“Don’t bother, we're running out of time,” said Caleb.

“All the more reason,” replied Salman with a glance to the horizon. A faint glow in the East foretold the imminent arrival of dawn.

“There’s only an hour or so of darkness,” said Caleb. “If Jericho’s scouts see us approach the crossing from the South, they’ll know we’re Hebrews.”

“You think they have scouts?” ask Salman.

“Bet your life on it. I would, if I were them.”

“Come on,” continued Salman, “we can still catch Phinehas.”

Joshua sends spies

Several days went by as the people of Israel mourned the death of their great leader. Moses was in a much better place, and although Joshua felt a great urgency to press on with the invasion of Canaan he also wanted to respectfully acknowledge the moment.

Joshua didn’t talk much of his experience on Mount Nebo, for he was mindful how easily the people could be frightened. Stories of Lucifer and Michael fighting over the body of Moses could be taken the wrong way. If the Devil can’t deceive people into doubting his existence, then he’ll try to crush their faith with fear. Either way, Joshua wasn’t going to stand for it.

However, so many people kept asking to see Moses’ body that, in the end, Joshua had to tell the truth. He had no idea where Moses was buried. That was a secret known only to the Lord, for which Joshua was surprisingly grateful. A grave can become a shrine, and a shrine can become an idol, and if that were ever to happen people would completely miss the point of Moses’ entire life.

Mindful that history has a way of repeating itself, a few hours after the ritual mourning had ceased, Joshua summoned his most trusted friends under the secrecy of darkness.
Caleb, Phinehas and Salman were ordered to spy out the land of Canaan, and pay particularly attention to Jericho and it’s fortifications.

Eleazar the High Priest (and Phinehas’ father) was also there to add his blessing and prayers, even as they saddled up their horses on what was certain to be a dangerous mission.

“Caleb, enter Jericho on foot,” said Joshua, “or you'll look suspicious. Salman will guard the horses at the river until you return.”

“Why the big secret?” Salman asked, “can’t we at least tell our families?”

“It’s for your own safety, and theirs” Joshua replied. “Besides, you don't have much time.”

“How long?” asked Caleb.

“Four days at the most.” said Joshua. “We'll cross the Jordan on the fifth. If you're not back, I’ll assume you're dead, or soon will be.”

“That's the least of our worries,” replied Caleb.

“I know,” said Joshua, “I only wish I could go myself.”

“Yes, but what kind of trouble would we return to?” said Caleb.

Joshua nodded his head in agreement. Caleb was right, at least on the big things, and more often than he cared to boast.

“Eleazar, it’s time send them off.”

On Joshua’s cue, the High Priest stepped forwarded and anointed each man with oil on the forehead. “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and give you peace. Shalom.”

“Shalom,” echoed Joshua, as the three men mounted their horses.

“What were you saying?” Phinehas asked Caleb.

Caleb leaned towards him with a crazy look in his eyes, “If you even smell of fear,” he whispered, “I'll kill you myself. You and Salman.”

“Oh that’s comforting,” Phinehas replied.

“Stop your squabbling and get out here,” Joshua ordered, and slapped their horses on the hind legs to send all three charging off into the night.

Eleazar stood solemnly watching them off under the moonlit sky. Joshua sensed the Priest’s fatherly pride wrestling with fear for his own son’s safety.

“He would be in more danger if he stayed,” said Joshua philosophically, “We all would.”

Although Eleazar kept his mouth shut tightly with stoic resolve, he still had to wipe the tears from his eyes. “There’s no safer place to be,” Eleazar replied, “other than in God’s will.”

“Amen,” said Joshua, as he gazed into the glorious night sky. “God’s will be done.”

The stars were too numerous to be counted.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Death of Moses

A cool breeze swept across the mountaintop bringing a chill down Joshua's spine.


Joshua turned to Caleb. He sensed the same thing. Behind them stood an enormous majestic angel picking up the body of Moses. The old prophet was dead, and in the arms of the most beautiful being Joshua had ever seen. But no sooner were Joshua's eyes transfixed on this heavenly guide, his attention diverted to another, larger angel who appeared behind it.

The larger angel drew a flaming sword and confronted the former with unquestionable authority. “Lucifer, put him down.”

The armed Angel stood his ground, staring his old rival into submission. In an instant Moses' body was thrown to the ground and the one who had carried it transformed into a completely different creature. Now dark and shadowy, Joshua couldn't tell if it were beast or man. But the stench was undeniable.

The shadowy figure hissed and hurled around lunging at the angel in a frenzy of hate. It was Lucifer – undeniably, and the real angel was Michael, protector of Israel. The fight was so swift, neither Joshua nor Caleb could discern who was winning. A blurred flash of light intertwined with darkness spun like a whirlwind around them.

And then it was over as quickly as it began.

Michael had Lucifer by the scruff of his neck and threw him to the ground. Lucifer rolled over but stopped motionless in his tracks with the tip of Michaels sword poised perilously above his throat. “The Lord rebuke you,” Michael proclaimed with a booming voice.

Lucifer transformed instantly into a pile of rocks underneath Michael’s sword.

He was gone.

Michael kicked the rocks aside and they vanished into dust. The great angel sheathed his sword and respectfully picked up the body of Moses.

Joshua and Caleb stood motionless, petrified with fear and trembling. It was the most terrifying thing they had ever witnessed.

Michael carried the body alone towards the northern valley. The men scrambled to see where he was going but kept a respectful distance. But he was too fast. Before they knew it, they could no longer see Michael. He had vanished in a barren landscape with no where to hide.

Caleb rushed around the other side of the summit to see if he hadn't back tracked. Nothing.

Joshua looked in every direction and saw nothing as well. “Maybe we're not supposed to know?”

Caleb rested hands on his side catching his breath. “Good,” he replied, “We don't have to carry his body back down.” He laughed to himself as he walked away, leaving Joshua to follow behind.
“I'm not getting any younger,” yelled Caleb from a distance.

Joshua laughed, not at what he had witnessed, but at how Caleb could brush off something so serious with a light hearted comment. Seeing Moses' staff lying on the ground, he picked it up respectfully and ran to catch Caleb with a youthful energy he had so sorely missed on the climb up.

For Joshua at least, the death of Moses marked the conclusion of a dark chapter in Israel’s history. Things can only get better, he thought.

They had to. They simply had to.

A Conversation with Moses

Reaching the summit, Joshua and Caleb breathed in the panoramic view with amazement. It was their first long look at the promised land from the vantage point of a mountaintop. The air was fresh and clear, and time itself seemed to slow down and catch it’s breath with Joshua and Caleb.
Moses sat down and rested by a large boulder to absorb the scenery. “Seeing this, I can’t help but think of Abraham.”

Joshua snapped out of his daydream. “Of course,” he replied. “What about him in particular?”

“Two things,” replied Moses. “His father Terah was told to leave the city of Ur and go to Canaan first, but he never made it. He settled half way. That’s all we know about him. A timely reminder, don’t you think?”

“Yes,” replied Joshua, knowing full well what Moses was implying. Compromise was not an option. No matter how difficult the task, Canaan must be conquered.

“What’s the other thing?” asked Caleb.

“Well, we know that Abraham was born into a family that worshipped many gods,” continued Moses. “Somewhere between his journey from Ur to Canaan he found the One True God.”

“We don’t know exactly how?” asked Joshua.

“Other than God simply revealed himself,” replied Moses. “What’s more intriguing, is why Abraham? And how he made the inner journey from idolatry to faith, without any knowledge of God’s law I might add. He was far from perfect, as you know. If you like, that is the true miracle.”

Joshua brooded over Moses‘ words. Something didn’t add up. In fact, it never really did. If
Moses was going to die today, there would never be another time to ask.

Joshua threw caution to the wind and blurted out his inner-most thoughts. “Through Abraham's Seed all nations shall be blessed?”

“Not the Canaanites,” chuckled Caleb.

“That’s was is written, right?” Joshua continued.

“Yes,” replied Moses, “What’s your point?”

“Surely God wouldn’t want to destroy the Midianites and Canaanites, and all the other nations he asks us to conquer?” Joshua continued. “If he can pardon Abraham’s sins, why does he judge others?”

“There’s a simple answer to that,” replied Moses, “but it probably wont satisfy you.”

“Let me guess,” said Joshua. “God is God, he judges who he wants, when he wants?”

“Yes,” replied Moses, “but truth be told, He’s bigger than that. He’s far bigger than you or I could ever imagine. What we know of Him is tiny compared with what we don’t know of Him. And that’s where things get very interesting.”

“Yes but calling it a ‘mystery’ is cold comfort to someone on the sharp end of Phinehas’ spear, don’t you think?” asked Joshua.

“Not necessarily,” replied Moses. “Think about it. God hides himself, so that we might find Him. He wants us to seek Him. I find that fascinating.”

“At times, I find it disturbing,” replied Joshua. “But maybe because I'm afraid of myself. My own heart is not pure.”

“I’m sorry, you’ve lost me,” interrupted Caleb, “both of you. Just believe. It’s as simple as that.”
“Caleb’s right,” said Moses. “Joshua, be strong and courageous. Wherever you walk, the land is yours.”

Joshua could see something more in Moses' eyes but he dared not ask. There was always a distance between himself and the great prophet, perhaps because he could never truly understand what it meant to have experience all that Moses had. Joshua slowly turned his back to Moses and joined Caleb to gaze once again on Jericho.

“If God is for us, what’s there to fear?” said Caleb.

Joshua went to say something but kept quiet. It no longer seemed appropriate.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Moses at Mount Nebo

The slaughter of the Midianites was long forgotten when the Children of Israel finally reached Mount Nebo. Joshua was burdened with other thoughts and responsibilities as Moses anointed him in front of all the elders. He was chosen not to be King, as some had wanted, but simply a humble servant. There could only ever be one true king over Israel; God Almighty.

This day was to be the last occasion for Moses to address the people. Joshua stood in quite reverence as the old prophet publicly read out the law and the commandments once again.

It was a sermon he had heard many times before. The words were etched in Joshua’s soul. Victory was assured to the Hebrews, if only they remained faithful to Almighty God. Their lives would be blessed with bountiful crops, healthy families and prosperous trade.

The curse of disobedience simply worked in reverse. Defeat at the hand of their enemies was certain. Their crops and fields would be cursed, their women would remain barren, and their life would be dogged by poverty and disease. Ultimately, they would be enslaved to their enemies and forfeit the land God had promised them.

“I set before you life and death,” said Moses, “blessing and cursing, therefore choose life.”

Life - fancy being told to choose it, thought Joshua. Yet we are that stupid. If Moses’ departure accomplishes only one thing, I hope it shocks us into remembering.

It was a mournful occasion, knowing that Moses would never inherit the promised land he had inspired so many to believe in. It was Moses who defied Pharaoh, the mightiest ruler of the world, and boldly proclaimed “Let my people go.” It was Moses who parted the Red Sea and carried the bones of Joseph across. It was Moses who sent twelve brave spies into the promised land only to have them all return as cowards.

All except Joshua and Caleb.

The two men embraced their elder prophet and escorted him up the arduous climb to Mount Nebo's summit. As the tears and wailing of a nation subsided in the valley below, Joshua couldn't help but notice the strength and vitality with which Moses tackled the climb. If this was the mountain where Moses would die, he certainly wasn’t acting like it. The closer he approached the summit the younger he appeared.

A quick glance from Caleb confirmed his suspicions. Although they were younger and fitter, both men struggled to keep up with Moses. Perhaps the angels were helping Moses to his final destination? Or maybe the cares of the world were lifting off his shoulders? What ever it was, Joshua sensed an unbridled joy in Moses’s spirit that he hadn’t seen in many years.

The higher they climbed Mount Nebo, the more they could see. Across the vast dry desert valley lay the greener lands of the river Jordan. They could see the crossing, one of several actually, but the main route through which Joshua would attack.

Further still, some twenty six miles away stood Jericho, known as the City of Palms (and for good reason). The straight road approaching the city was lined with tall palm trees. Rows of palms bordered the lush fertile fields - fields bursting with crops that could feed an army.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Cold blood

“What is it?” asked Joshua.

“Come here,” Moses replied, “both of you.”

Joshua and Phinehas cautiously approached, with Caleb following behind, if only for moral support.

Moses glared into their eyes. “I said kill them all.”

“We did,” Joshua replied “they're only women and children.”

Moses breathed a deep sigh, stroked his beard, and took time to compose himself.
“I know the torment that grips your soul,” he continued. “Spare them and our sons will be fighting for a thousand years, or worse, they'll marry. Whose children will they raise? Abraham’s or Baal’s? You think the Messiah will come if there are no children of Abraham left on the earth?

Joshua could barely accept what he was hearing. “But surely...surely the only just thing to do... I didn't know...”

“Oh yes you did,” Moses interrupted. “You just didn't want to know. You wanted to bargain with God. Believe me, I've been there myself.”

Joshua bowed his head in shame. He had never felt so humiliated in all his life. If this is what a leader must do, he thought, God why did you choose me?

Moses turned his attention to Caleb, who by now was looking rather sheepish himself.
“Caleb, spare the girls. Get rid of the boys and women.”

“Yes,” Caleb answered, “if that's what you want, I’ll do it.”

Moses raised his finger sternly, “No. That's what God wants.”

Who could answer that? thought Joshua as he watched Caleb and Phinehas walk back and begin the gruesome task of separating the living from those who would soon be dead.

Moses gently put his arm around Joshua, pulling him aside from the cries of mothers desperately clinging to their children. “A great prophet will come after me.”

“The Messiah?” asked Joshua.

“Yes,” Moses replied. “Be sure to do everything he tells you.”

Amidst the bloodcurdling screams and wailing, Joshua stood emotionless watching Moses walk back into the camp. Is this what I’ll become? He thought to himself. If this is leadership, then it's a burden too great to bear. “God,” said Joshua to himself, “I just want to be free.”

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Kill them all?

“Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man intimately” Numbers 31:17

The next day Joshua and the troops returned to camp, after a harrowing night securing the Midianite villages. It was a ugly task going house to house, confiscating weapons and supplies, made all the more difficult by what to do with the women and children.

Although Joshua expected a nasty reception, having widowed and orphaned most of the civilian population, he still felt sympathy for their desperate plight. What future could they have without husbands and sons? he thought. Who would work the fields and feed their families?

Leaving them to fend for themselves was tantamount to a death sentence. In the end, Joshua decided the only humane thing to do was to bring them back to camp. They could live outside and work for their keep. The Hebrews had been slaves themselves and would surely treat them well. Besides, the servant of a gracious master enjoyed a better life than than most free men.

Twelve thousand weary soldiers returned to camp that day, officially under Phinehas' command, but all looked to Joshua for moral leadership. They longed for the joy of seeing their wives and children again, hoping that their loving embrace would wipe the horrid memories of a bloody battle.

Joshua knew the burden of Zebulan's death hung heavy on Salman's heart. War is hell, he thought, even when you win. There’s always a price to pay. There’s always loss, pain and death. Good men die.

There were no words with which he could comfort Salman. All he could do was pray that the young man’s faith would not fail. Pray and watch from a distance. But Joshua’s solemn mood was shattered the moment he caught sight of the Hebrew camp. No one rushed to greet them. Children and wives that would normally run to embrace the returning soldiers were held back from celebrations.

It was to an old angry prophet they returned. Joshua was somewhat surprised to see his harsh countenance as they approached the western gate. A sinking feeling hit Joshua’s stomach as he dismounted his horse. This is not good, he thought. If Moses knows something I don’t, why do I feel like I’m about to be disciplined?

Moses raised his staff to halt the march.

Caleb walked up beside Joshua for moral support. “Maybe now, we should beg for forgiveness,” he whispered.

“Somehow, I think not,” replied Joshua.

Moses seemed too angry to speak. Joshua couldn’t help but notice him staring at the thousands of Midianite women and children they had taken prisoner. Joshua glanced at Phinehas, hoping he might be able to offer some glimmer of hope, but he was none the wiser.

All Phinehas could do was step forward and say the obvious. “We won. The Midianites are no more.”

Moses remained silent and unimpressed.


Joshua stood transfixed in the moment. So many mixed feelings awash with blood. Death is never pleasant, he thought, even the death of an enemy. He begged to be my slave? As if I was the free man.

The deathly silence was broken by Salman walking towards Phinehas. The crowd parted, and everyone saw he was carrying his brother's body in his arms.

“Zebulan is dead.”

“You tell his wife,” answered Phinehas

“You’re that heartless?”

“What, you're his brother, of course you'll tell his wife,” replied Phinehas.

“Tell her what?” asked Salman, “You rode the camels too early and too far. Your reckless lust for glory broke our ranks. No, you tell her.”

Joshua sensed the tension rising, but felt like he couldn’t take sides. His purpose there was to unite, not divide the troops.

Phinehas walked closer to Salman, close enough to whisper. “I led from the front. It's war. What did you expect?'

Phinehas turned aside to walk away but Caleb stood in the way. He wasn't moving, and after a moment of uneasiness, Phinehas yielded and walked around him.

Joshua realized the situation was deteriorating. “Salman, we did all you could to save your brother.”

“I prayed he would live,” replied Salman.

“You'll see him at the resurrection.”

Somehow Joshua's answer didn't seem enough, both for Salman and Joshua. But it was the only hope they had. It would be a long march back to camp.


Salman charged first, but smashed his shoulder against the giant’s shield.

Caleb was tossed aside like a rag doll, his axe slipping from his grip.

Joshua lunged at his throat, but the giant grabbed the sword, crushing Joshua’s right hand in the process.

“Out of my way Grandpa,” roared the ogre as he knocked Joshua unconscious.

Salman threw a rock and smashed his right eye - but a wild kick in reply threw Salman back onto Zebulan.

“Two at once!” he said, wiping the blood from his face. “Number twenty and twenty one.”

“You can count?” said Salman.

The humor went unappreciated, as the giant kicked the sword from Salman’s hand then plunged his massive boot on Zebulan's chest. He was raised his sword high in the air to decapitate him.
Joshua stammered to he feet, dazed and confused. His sword was missing, but Caleb’s axe would do.

Salman hastily threw a knife into his back.
No reaction. Nothing. Not even a flinch.

The giant's sword rained down with morbid finality. Zebulan struggled to free himself but couldn’t escape the sword plunging deep through his chest.

Joshua swung the axe with one hand and struck the giant clean through the neck, sending his head flying into the backside of a passing camel. It was a stunning kill, but not enough to console Salman, who rushed to cradle Zebulan in his arms.

“Oh God, save him. Please,” he wept.

Joshua stripped off his tunic and pressed it firmly onto Zebulan’s bloodied chest. “Salman, pay attention!” Joshua ordered. “Hold this down hard, You hear me? We can't lose him. You must stop the bleeding.”

Blood was everywhere.

In the middle of the battle, Phinehas and his men were completely drenched in it. But it was royal blood they were after. Only two Midianite Kings remained, and the best of their henchmen were fighting to the very last man.

The rest of the Hebrews (those not helping the wounded) quickly surrounded the enemy, blocking every path of escape. Phinehas led the final push, slashing and jabbing his way through the remaining hundred or so Midianites. He was brutally unstoppable, slaying men with both the sharp and blunt ends of his trusted spear. Indeed, it became such a spectacle, his comrades stood back and watched in awe as Phinehas finished off the lot of them.

In the end, plump King Reba stood cowering behind King Hur, both arrayed in fine costume and jewelry.

But the party was over.

Dripping with blood and sweat, Phinehas took a moment to catch his breath and feel the adrenaline surging through the veins of his muscular limbs. He glared at King Hur like a rabid wolf.

“Sin always comes to this,” shouted Joshua as he pushed his way through the crowd. He felt compelled to witness the final judgment of his enemy.

“Joshua, you’re insane, the whole lot of you,” replied Hur.

“Maybe,” said Phinehas as he wiped his face. “You can’t reason with us, so why bother?”

The ground squelched with blood as Phinehas stepped forward for a closer look. But his face was so filthy he could barely open his eyelids. Just as he paused again to wipe his eyes, Hur charged forward and tackled Phinehas to the ground. Reba saw his chance and rushed in to help, but although Phinehas lay flat on the ground, he managed to raise his spear just in time for Reba to walk straight into it.

Phinehas flipped to his feet. Checkmate.

King Hur realized it was over. He lowered his sword to the ground and raised his arms slowly in the air.

Joshua stepped forward over the dead body of King Reba. “Hur, You brought this on yourself.”

“Take us a slaves,” Hur replied, “We'll serve your gods.”

The other Midianites dropped their swords.

“Gods? There’s only one true God. Serve you own,” cried Phinehas “ Hell.” And with that he rammed his spear into King Hur. One hundred other Hebrew spears finished the rest in an instant. There they lay, the last of the Midianite men, bleeding, gasping, dying.

The battle was won.

The Giant of Midian

Joshua scanned the battlefield with relief. The Hebrews were gaining the upper hand. All around him, Midianites were either dying or fleeing. In the centre, Phinehas was driving a wedge through their ranks, moving ever closer towards the last two kings.

“Well done,” said Joshua, as he greeted Salman bloodied and breathless,

“They’re almost finished?” Salman asked.

“That’s when its most dangerous,” said Caleb, with his eyes fixed elsewhere. “Only the tough ones are left.”

“Good Lord!” Joshua interrupted, “it's a Nephraim!”

“A what?” asked Salman.

“Look behind you,” Caleb added. “The Nephraim are giants. What’s he doing this side of the river?”

“Coming our way,” said Joshua.

The three men took positions to defend Zebulan. Joshua knew it was now their courage would be tested. Everything else had been a rehearsal for this moment. Walking eight feet tall, with the weight of three men, the Nephraim stormed his way towards them.

“We strike him at once or not at all,” ordered Joshua. “Salman take the left. Caleb, the right. Now he’s strong, but not quick, and his eyes aren’t as sharp as ours.”

“How do you know?” asked Salman.

“I killed one at the tavern in Bethel.”

“Forty years ago,” Caleb added. “And he was a one armed drunk.”

“Spare him the details,” Joshua replied, “they only make it worse.”