Wednesday, September 22, 2010

First Chapter Wednesday--Redemption



It is eighth century BC. No Hebrew will purposely venture into the Assyrian Empire, whose practice of barbarous slaughter casts a shadow of fear over all of Israel. But God calls Jonah, an Israelite prophet, to cry repentance to the evil empire's capital - the great and terrible city of Nineveh. Fearing the Assyrians and doubting the wisdom of the divine call, Jonah flees in the opposite direction. But in a series of miracles, God gives Jonah a second chance to obey.

Journey with Jonah in a wealth-laden ship of Tarshish, hear his prayers inside the belly of a great fish, witness his struggles working in a desert caravan, and feel his terror as he finally arrives in Nineveh. And while Jonah does eventually preach in the great city, the prophet still has some lessons to learn...

With historically accurate details, Redemption is a story of repentance, trust, and God's love for all his children.

PROLOGUE

Long, long ago—nearly 800 years before Jesus Christ was born into mortality, 230 years before Daniel was cast into a den of lions (554 bc), about 150 years before Aesop was born (620 bc), and approximately 30 years before Romulus laid the foundation of the city of Rome (753 bc), lived a reluctant prophet and thrived a magnificent city that was mightier than the mightiest. In about 785 bc, the choices of those living in that city would surprise many, including that same prophet.

In the middle of a vast, green world flourished the great and terrible civilization known as the Assyrian Empire. Through the middle of this most terrible of empires ran two legendary rivers: the Euphrates and the Tigris. These two rivers stretched from the mountains above the land of Mesopotamia to where they joined beyond the great city of Ur, hundreds of miles away. From there the waters continued onward to divide into many small outlets, sink into salt marshes, and finally drain into the Gulf of Persia.

The Euphrates and the Tigris were the main highways for trade among the cities of Assyria and the lands beyond. Sooner or later, from the caravans to the west bringing goods from the Great Sea, or rafts traveling up the Tigris River with wares from the populous cities to the south, all that man had to trade arrived at the center of commerce and power. This city, built larger by stages through a succession of kings, would soon become the capital of the Assyrian Empire—the beautiful, vast, and wicked city of Nineveh. Nineveh lay on the eastern bank of the Tigris, across the river from the modern-day city of Mosul, Iraq. Nineveh was built on a plain, and through the middle of the city flowed the Khawsar River, which joined the Tigris.

Nineveh stretched along the banks of the Tigris River for about seven and a half miles. From the river, the city stretched east toward the hills. Yet the province of Nineveh was even larger. The Old Testament states, “Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days’ journey” (Jonah 3:3). The city grew to include the communities of Nimroud, Kouyunjik, Khorsabad, and Karamless. Each of these four royal estates, built in succession by kings or rulers of Assyria, contained palaces, statues, gardens, and tree-filled parks surrounded by walls as if they were individual cities. During the reign of Sennacherib, walls were built to encompass the city, joining the four estates. These walls were forty to one hundred feet high and broad enough for three chariots to drive side by side along the top. High towers rose from the walls of Nineveh, which featured no less than fifteen main gates into the city.

The palaces of Nineveh were lined with calcite alabaster slabs brought from the quarries of Egypt and carved into pictures of conquests, brutalities, captured slaves, and pagan gods. Massive carved figures also featured winged females wearing garlands or carrying a fir cone or other religious emblem. Ivory and gold leaf ornamented chairs, tablets, walls, and pillars. Carved to emerge from the alabaster walls were winged sphinxes, lions, bulls, kings, soldiers, slaves, lotus flowers, and scrolls.

At Kouyunjik, winged, human-headed bulls from fourteen to sixteen feet square formed the entrance. The carvings at Khorsabad were not as large as the ones at Kouyunjik, but they featured more detail. In the center palace of Nimroud was a hall with four entrances formed by colossal, human-headed lions and bulls. These colossi stood through the ages of men, looking blindly away from their doings, their passionless faces disregarding those who had created them.
Between the palaces of Nineveh, families lived in tents or simple houses made from mud bricks. These houses were neat, with tables, couches, chairs, and—always—separate apartments for the women. Many Assyrian houses enclosed prized gardens and orchards. Throughout the city, water from the Tigris River, from the foothills of the Kurdish Mountains to the north, and from the Khawsar River was directed into canals to irrigate the farms, gardens, and orchards. From tent poles hung vases filled with clear water so that it might cool in the shade of tent shadows. There were also many cattle pastures within the city.

Together, these enclosed palaces, fountains, and parks—and among them, the smaller houses, huts, tents, gardens, farms, and pastures—formed the great city of Nineveh.

Everything in Nineveh moved to the pace of a growing empire. There were slaves to tend cattle and serve in the palaces. There were sculptors and artists constantly at work within the palaces or carving in cuneiform on large stone tablets for the city’s library. (One day it would be the greatest library in the world, with more than 22,000 clay tablets. It would contain the accounts of the conquests of Assyria, the story of the Great Flood, the epic of Gilgamesh, and other books on history, law, and religion.)

There were gardens to tend, fruit to pick, children to rear, produce to take to market, baskets to fill, and dinners to prepare. There were soldiers and guards in constant drill, and horses to exercise, groom, and feed. There were camels to unload of the goods they brought, and boats to empty. And the motion behind it all—even in the still of the night when the men and women of Nineveh rested, when nothing could be heard but the occasional bellow of a camel or the cry of a child—was the constant flow of the Tigris.

Beyond the beauty of Nineveh, though, was an enduring darkness, because Nineveh was a city enriched by the spoils of war that had come home with its returning soldiers. “In the palace at Kouyunjik, engraved in bas-relief into an alabaster slab was represented the invasion of a mountainous country. The enemy defended the summit of a wooded hill against Assyrian warriors, who were scaling the rocks, supporting themselves with their spears and with poles, or drawing themselves up by the branches of trees. Others, returning from the combat, were descending the mountains, driving captives before them, or carrying away the heads of the slain” (Austen Henry Layard, Nineveh and Its Remains [London: John Murray, Albermarle Street, 1850]; spelling standardized).

It was just one of countless battles recorded on the palace walls. Such scenes always displayed the brutality of wanton conquest and merciless treatment of conquered people. And darker still, beyond the wicked, bloodthirsty quest for power and the indolent life of plundered riches and slaves, was the daily worshipping of pagan gods with sexual sins and human sacrifice. For along with the fabrics, ornaments, and household goods that came to Nineveh, there came also storytellers, philosophers, false gods, and abominations of foreign lands. In Assyria, dark ideas accumulated; in Nineveh they flourished.

The time had come for God to send a prophet to this city.

CHAPTER ONE

T he young widow gazed into the barrel, knowing its contents would be the same meager grains she had left there the night before. She gripped the rim and slowly lowered the large earthen jar onto the floor, propping it against the rug she had rolled up to stabilize it with. By kneeling on the floor, she could reach her right arm into the barrel up to her shoulder. There, with a knife and her fingers, she began to scoop the remaining meal into a wooden bowl.

The knock at the door startled her. “Mother, there is a visitor,” her young son called out. Afraid he would answer it, exposing her in an awkward position, she dropped her tools, stood up, and immediately set the barrel upright again, the bowl and knife now inside.

“Jonah, please sit on your stool,” she whispered as she adjusted her shawl to cover her head.

Her pale, hungry son meekly obeyed. The knock came again, but she had moved across the room and was able to open the door even as the man’s hand was lifting for a third tap.

The widow did not recognize the man, and she immediately thought of the law regarding the giving of hospitality to strangers. Despair crossed her face, for she knew there would not be enough meal. But the man spoke before she could invite him in.

“Go to the city gate to gather sticks for a fire. There the Lord’s servant will find thee.” Then he turned and walked away.

For a moment she watched his retreating form disappear into the shadows of the approaching twilight. However, three minutes later she had reassured her son and carefully closed the door of her home behind her. She did not know which bewildered her more, the surprise command by the messenger, or that she had left her son to go do as the stranger had directed. She passed the pottery workshops and kilns of Zarephath. The industry of the town had slowed little during the famine; they still traded their jars with Sidon and Tyre, which were major seaports of the Phoenicians. But the trade that provided beautiful objects and clothes did not bring food when there was none to be had. The drought was severe and stretched far.

She left the city by the narrow, southern gate where the road to Tyre stretched. She had not asked which gate she was to go to, but had simply gone to the one closest to her home, being too weak herself to consider doing otherwise. Outside the gate, she obediently began to search for sticks beneath the dying trees of the drought-filled land. The ground had already been gleaned of dry twigs, and most of the lower branches of the trees had been broken off. Then she saw two sticks that had blown down during the night that had not yet been claimed. She stooped to pick them up, reflecting that she was not in need of a big fire for so small a meal.

She raised her head when she heard the footsteps along the road, and there she saw a man with a long, gray beard, wrapped in the rags of what had once been fine robes. She waited as he drew nearer. “Fetch me,” he called out hoarsely, “I pray thee, a little water in a vessel that I may drink.”

Clearly, this old man was worn from his journey. The young mother gently helped him to sit in the shade beneath a tree that still clung to a few shriveled leaves. Then, scooping to pick up the two meager sticks she had set down, she assured him, “There is still water in the well of the town. I will hasten there and return quickly.” She gathered up her skirts with her right hand so that her feet would be unencumbered by them. She was concerned that she was away from her son too long, and hurried toward the city gate as quickly as her own feeble strength would allow.
She stopped short when she heard the old man call after her again. Turning around slowly she heard him ask what she had feared.

“Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand.”

His voice pierced her heart, but she knew she could not refuse. She had been commanded to come by the messenger, who said this man was the servant of the Lord, but she would have obeyed regardless; the tradition of hospitality was too strong. Still, it was so much to ask! In weak protest she explained, “I have not a cake, but only a handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse.” Then to emphasize her plight she held out the sticks in her left hand and added, “Behold I am gathering two sticks that I may go in and dress it for me and my son that we may eat it, and die.”

Her pitiful words hung in the dry, windless day, then seemed to drift away into eternity. Then the man said, “Fear not; go and do as thou hast said; but first make me a little cake of the meal, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son.”

She opened her mouth to protest again, but then she closed it and turned with her head bowed to do as he bid. What did it matter? But the raspy voice called to her again, and though there was now more distance between her and the old man beneath the tree, she heard each word clearly. She turned to stare at him even as he spoke.

“For thus saith the Lord God of Israel” —the voice was surprisingly strong— “the barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth.”

She gasped as she stood there, and the words repeated themselves in her mind. Then the leaves above her rustled in a breeze and several broke free to fall around her like a soft, brown rain. Suddenly her heart rejoiced. “I will return.”

Back in her small home, she again tipped the barrel and dug out the meal. She mixed it with some water and the drops of oil from a clay bottle, making a cake the size of her palm. Then she built a tiny fire with the two sticks and baked the small cake in a flat pan on the fire. Her son watched her silently, but when she wrapped the cake in a cloth, picked up their now-empty water vessel, and reached to open the door, he spoke, “Mother, where do you take our cake? Will there be no supper for us?”

“Jonah, there will be supper for us, but you must wait a bit longer. I am taking this cake to a man who serves the Lord.”

“Where is this man?”

“He is outside the city gate. I will not be long.” Then she was gone and hurrying to where she had left the older man.

She paused at the city well and lowered the bucket. She felt it reach the bottom and tip on its side to receive some of the shallow water at the bottom. When she pulled up the bucket, it was only partially filled with brownish water. But it was as she had expected, and she poured it into the vessel she had brought from home. Then she hurried again toward the gate.

The old man was walking to meet her. His rest had apparently done him good, but the water she gave him and the small cake fortified him with a forgotten strength. He smiled and insisted on carrying the water vessel for her.

At the door to her home she paused, then awkwardly tried to explain, “I am a widow—my husband is dead, but you are welcome to stay with my son and me.”

“Thank you,” he replied simply and opened the door for her to pass through.

After the old man had sat down, there was an awkward moment as she realized she had promised her son she would return to make him a meal. Then Elijah spoke, “Do not be afraid to look in the barrel. The Lord has promised there would be enough. You demonstrated your faith by serving his prophet, putting the will of the Lord before your own concerns. Go and prepare the cakes for you and your son.”

Slowly the widow walked to the large earthen jar. She did not look inside as she positioned the rug and again lowered it by the rim to the floor. Somehow it seemed a bit more stable as if the bottom had been weighted. Then, as she knelt to scoop meal into her bowl, she looked into the shadowy depths and realized the knife would be inadequate. The bottom was covered with rich golden meal that was now spilling toward her. She gasped a great sob back and withdrew to get a cup.

“Mother!” Jonah called with concern. “Why are you crying?”

“Come see, Jonah,” his mother held out her hand for him, tears streaming down her face. “Come see the miracle the Lord has provided.”

Suddenly the mother could no longer contain her sobs of joy and wonder. She ran to the privacy of the other room, where much of their food had been kept before the famine. Now it was where she slept, surrounded by empty jars and a pile of sacks. She went to her knees beside a chest that sat untouched in the corner. “O, Lord of heaven, thou hast looked down upon this small house and blessed it by sending thy servant to us. And in this time of want, thou hast blessed us that we are provided for. I thank thee for the meal that does not waste and the oil that does not fail.” Her voice caught. It was a miracle that would be told through the centuries of mankind, but to her, in her own small world, it was a miracle that spoke of how the Lord loved and cared for her and her son. “I cannot give back to thee, who art the Master of all, but I offer my life to thee. I will serve thy servant as long as I am needed. And my son” —she paused as she thought of her son, her only child and comfort— “and my son I will have taught that he may grow up to serve thee.” She whispered the words, making a covenant to give her son to the Lord. A deep peace settled on her and she stayed by her bed a while longer.

When she tipped the cruse the oil did not drip, but poured in a thin, steady stream. Later, as she and her son were eating their cakes ( the old man, who was sitting on a bench near the window, spoke, “My name is Elijah. I am the Lord’s prophet. While I stay with you it will be as the Lord has promised and you will have food to eat. Tomorrow, we will talk to the men of the town about digging the well deeper. The Spirit of the Lord has told me that there is more water, but we must dig.”

The woman looked up, tears still on her cheeks, and a smile lighting her face. “After much sorrow,” she said, “it is good to have hope.”

There was a pause as the old man looked deeply into her eyes as if examining her soul. Then he probed gently, “Tell me of your sorrow.”

The young widow sighed, then pushed back her chair and carried her dish and her son’s dish to be washed in a basin of warm water over the small fire. There, with her head bent over her task, she began to speak. “My husband, Amittai of Gath-hepher, died when our son was but five. I returned to Zarephath to be near my mother and so that my father could train my son in the word of God. Last year when the famine was first severe, my mother died, and this spring my father died. Now there is no family for me but Jonah.” She indicated the lad who sat across from her at the table.

“How old is your son?” Elijah asked.

“He is now eight.”

“And who teaches him?”

“There is no one,” the young woman said with a sigh.

“Then while the famine lasts, I will stay and I will teach the lad,” Elijah declared. “The Lord has a work planned for your son.”

The woman had no response, but suddenly she found herself laughing and rejoicing. “The Lord has heard my prayers,” she said, reaching out to hug her son.

It was the beginning of hopeful, happy days in the small house near the southern gate of Zarephath. Elijah, who had gained much strength, was given a place to sleep in a loft above the now-empty goat shed behind the house. The young housewife watched the prophet mount the ladder easily, as if he were not as ancient as his wrinkled face and hands suggested.

Each day he took his meals with the widow and her son, and after breakfast he would read with the son from the scrolls the widow had kept from her father’s house. Elijah taught Jonah his prayers, and told him the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, King David, and many others.

The prophet met with the men of the city, and each of the town’s wells was dug deeper, starting with the one near the widow’s house. People often came to visit with Elijah and ask for his blessings. They were grateful to have plenty of fresh water, but even more so to have the Lord’s prophet with them, giving them living water—the word of God.

And each day the widow would go to the barrel and find more than enough meal in the bottom to fashion cakes for the day. It was a cold, scarce winter, but the little home always had food to eat and stories by the small fire. Each day Elijah would go out and return with an armful of sticks. The widow was never certain where he managed to find the wood when supplies were becoming rarer. The well near their home kept providing water, and each day Jonah learned more. So even in the scarcity, there was plenty to be grateful for.

Then one morning, after Elijah had been there five moons, the young mother arose early, her heart filling with happiness to see the sunlight streaming in the eastern window of her home. It was a warm, friendly light that seemed to seek out every dusty corner. Spring had arrived.

Grabbing a broom, she swept the floor with a vigor she hadn’t felt in a long time. Next. she went to the well and filled a bucket with water, and then began to scrub every inch of her small home with its two rooms and the lean-to addition where her son slept.

That day she fetched extra water to launder all the clothes and blankets in the house. As she was collecting bedding from the room she slept in, she stood facing the old chest she had avoided since her husband died. Taking a deep breath, she laid the bedding down and crossed the room to kneel beside the chest. The young mother gripped the sides and lifted the lid that was unsecured, revealing the contents she had put off sorting through. Then, she began to carefully remove them one by one, using her apron to wipe the dust from each and set it aside. There in the bottom, beneath her husband’s keepsakes of shells, a prayer shawl, and several scrolls, was a beautiful glass vase from Sidon. She removed it gently, sure it was to have been a gift for her.

The anniversary of her birth was a week after he had died. She stroked the vase tenderly, then set it on her bed. The scrolls she set aside for Jonah’s studies. Finally, in the bottom of the chest, she touched a robe that had once been her husband’s. It was still sturdy, and later that day she laundered it and gave it to Elijah.

“Thank you,” he said sincerely.

“It is to thank you!”

She was glad to see that he seemed to stand a bit taller now that his rags were tossed away. She filled the vase with early spring flowers and sat it on the table.

Within a week, however, tragedy came to the cheerful little household. Jonah had not yet regained his full strength from the times of hunger, and without the much-needed fresh food, or warmth from a strong fire during the long winter nights, he had grown increasingly weaker. That morning he did not come to breakfast. His mother went into the small room built onto the house behind the wall where the stove was. “Jonah,” she called, “it is past time to be up.”

Jonah moaned and tried to sit up. “Mother, I am so thirsty,” he whispered. She fell to her knees beside his bed and took his hand. It was too warm. She reached out with her left hand to rest it on his forehead. It was hot and wet.

“Jonah,” she gasped. Then she forced herself to sound calm and reassuring. “Everything is fine. I will get you some fresh water.”

She made the trip to the well as swiftly as she could, but when she returned her son was moaning and tossing on his bedroll. Lifting his head, she held it to her bosom as she fought to get him to drink from the cup of water she held to his lips. Then she wiped his hot body with a cool cloth and wrapped him in a dry blanket while she pulled the damp bedding from his sleeping mat.

Soon Jonah lay between warm, dry blankets. He began to shiver, so his mother ran to build a fire in the stove to heat the wall his bed rested against. Next, she grabbed a blanket from her own bedroll and tucked it around her son. Still he shivered, so she wrapped her own arms around him and prayed, “O, Lord, is it my own wicked heart that has wanted too much? I promised thee my son, but that knewest I coveted him for myself. Without him I would be alone, but still I promised him to thee. Please forgive my sin. It was the weakness of a mother’s heart. Do not hold him to blame! I ask that thou dost not let him perish!” She was sobbing quietly in a corner where she would not startle Jonah, when she heard sounds and knew Elijah had returned with more wood for a fire.

She rushed into the other room, where the prophet stood staring in bewilderment at the fire. “Is my labor of no value that you build a fire without cause?” he asked when she entered.

“It is to warm the wall against which my son lies,” the widow explained hastily. Grabbing his hand and pulling him toward the small room, she added, “He is ill! Come quickly.”

Elijah went to the lad and touched his hot, feverish brow. Jonah tossed and groaned, but did not open his eyes. Though his body was wet from the fever, he still shivered. His mother began to wipe his face again.

“I will get my blanket,” Elijah offered and left the room.

Even with the added blanket, Jonah did not seem to shiver less. All day his mother tended him, with Elijah rushing to bring whatever she asked for, but mostly it was she who ran to the well for fresh water or made cakes, hoping to entice her son to eat. She did not know what to do, and action was the only thing that kept her fear in check. When evening came she was exhausted.
“Go lie down for a while and I will sit with him,” Elijah said.

Meekly she obeyed, going to her own room where she rolled out her bed mat and lay down on it, still disheveled from the day. The light that entered through a small window in Jonah’s room became dimmer and dimmer as the sun set and the cloudless night wrapped the city in a soft darkness. For the next several hours Elijah tended the boy, wiping his brow with a cool cloth, holding him close when he shook violently, and trying to force water between his pale lips. Yet each time Elijah held Jonah, he could feel the boy growing weaker and his breath becoming shallower as the thin body labored to breathe.

It was deep into the night when a deeper shadow entered the room, passing before the window where the light of the moon had slipped in. The young mother had returned. She looked at the figure bent over the body of her son that lay too still.

“Tell me,” she whispered.

“He is gone.”

Suddenly, she wailed and ran toward the frail body that no longer expanded with breath. Grabbing her son to her, she spun on the man in the room who had risen and stepped back. “What have I to do with thee?” Her voice became bitter. “O, thou man of God. Have you come to us only to slay my son?” She was nearly incoherent in her grief. “Is it my sin that I loved him too much?” She collapsed onto the small bed, still gripping the limp body to her bosom, and sobbed.
Elijah started to retreat but then touched the woman’s shoulder. “God does not punish you,” he said. “You have been faithful. Give me your son.” His voice was the commanding voice of a prophet.

Weakly, she raised her head and relaxed her grip. Elijah lifted her son into his arms.

“I know that if it is God’s will, you can save him,” she said pleadingly. Then she covered her face with her hands and sobbed.

Elijah carried the body, which was wrapped in blankets and hanging lifelessly from his arms, out of her house, then crossed to the shed where his room was. Carrying him up the wooden ladder to his loft was difficult. With his left hand he would grasp the left-side support pole, worn smooth from years of use, and step upward with his left foot. Then he would pull himself up to the next rung while his right arm held tight to his precious burden.

In the loft, he walked across the creaking boards and laid Jonah upon his own bed. Then he raised his arms to the heavens, and while gazing through a window at the cold, brilliant stars in the sky, cried aloud, “O Lord, my God, hast thou also brought grief upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son?”

Then he stretched himself out upon the body of the child and cried, “O Lord my God, I pray thee, let this child’s soul come into him again!” The room was as still as the sky above. Elijah stood up; he had heard the sound of a door opening. The widow had entered the courtyard behind her house. He cast himself upon the boy’s inert form and again prayed, “O Lord my God, I pray thee, let this child’s soul come into him again!” He heard her footsteps stop below and her hand upon the door to the shed. Again he sprang up. He stuck his head out of the small window and saw her standing below in the moonlight. She did not move; she seemed frozen there at the door to the shed. Tears poured from Elijah’s eyes. Stepping quickly back to the bed, he again stretched himself upon the young boy and with great pleading spoke to his maker, “O Lord, my God, I pray thee, let this child’s soul come into him again!”

Elijah felt the small chest expand beneath him and heard a small gasp from the boy’s lips. Elijah lifted himself off and grabbed the boy’s hand. Slowly, the breathing increased, the color ebbed back into Jonah’s face, and his hand began to warm in the grasp of the older man.

“I’m thirsty,” a small voice said.

“Then let’s get you back to your mother and a drink of water.”

As Elijah lifted the boy into his arms, Jonah turned to him. “Why am I here?”

“I brought you here.”

Carefully, the old man carried the child down the ladder. It was a slow descent, as the strength had gone from the prophet, but he held tight to the still-weak boy in his arms.

The young mother was no longer below. She had lost courage, though not hope, and had returned to her house, where she was sitting silently in the dark. Elijah kicked the partially closed door until it swung open before him. Then he entered the room and moved toward the sitting figure.

“See,” he said, handing her the boy, “thy son liveth.”

Jonah struggled to sit up on her lap. “Mother, I am thirsty.”

She laughed. She cried. She held him so close that she soon felt him struggling to breathe. She laughed again. Then she turned her head toward Elijah. “Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth. Forgive my doubts.”

“The Lord loves you, daughter,” Elijah said softly. Then he left to drag himself off to his bed in his loft, where he collapsed and slept until the sun was high.

The next day, Elijah and the widow sat down with Jonah and related to him what had occurred. He sat silently listening. Finally he asked, “Was it Elijah’s prayer or his power as a prophet that brought me back to life?”

“As a prophet, I am able to exercise the power of God, but it was his will that you returned.”

Elijah had leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and peered earnestly into the young boy’s face. “He has a great work for you to do yet.”

“If I study hard, will I have this power some day?” Jonah asked.

Elijah sat up and chuckled. “You must study hard, but this power is not earned. It is given to those who have lived worthy of it that God chooses. And remember, it was his will, the power I have, and one other thing.” Elijah turned to where the young widow sat. “It was also your mother’s faith and goodness that brought you back to life.”

*******

Later, while Jonah was resting in the sun behind the house, he thought about what had happened. There were many who believed in other gods. There was a shrine to Astarte in another part of the town. But he had never heard of a miracle such as this being done in the name of Astarte or any of the Gods of the Phoenicians, Assyrians, Egyptians, or Philistines.

Jonah had been taught that these were all false gods, and he was not sure how many there were in the world. Sometimes he had wondered how he was to know that the god of his father, of his grandfather, and of Elijah was the only true God. When the miracle of the meal and oil had happened, he had been impressed, but not convinced. His mother might have miscalculated, or Elijah might have brought some with him unseen.

But they claimed that last night he had died. Perhaps he had just been unconscious, but that answer left him cold and empty. It felt like something more had happened than just a swift recovery from being very ill.

Jonah realized the time had come that he could no longer continue without knowing in his own heart if what they testified was true. He dropped to his knees beneath an olive tree that was beginning to bud in a misguided hope of rain. He bowed his head, and with the awkwardness of a boy’s first spoken prayer, he asked, “O Jehovah, Creator of the earth and” —he paused, trying to recall the words of other’s prayers— “and all things thereon.” Jonah took a deep breath. “I ask thee, is it true that I died?” He paused, but there was nothing. “Is it true that because of the power of Elijah and the faith of my mother that I live today?”

He had nothing else to ask. He kept his head bowed and eyes closed for a long time. Finally, Jonah sat up and opened his eyes. The olive tree had not changed. The goat shed where Elijah slept was still in the northern corner of the yard. The spring sunshine still shone down, warming the stone beneath Jonah’s bare toes. But slowly the warmth spread through him, and his whole being felt as if angels were embracing him. And Jonah knew.

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