The Book of Voices

Biblical Microfictions by Joseph Zitt

Gideon

(Context: Judges 6:39)

I have never asked much of you. Well, rarely — I have rarely asked much of you. But that scarcely compares to what you have asked of me. And, yes, I realize that I asked you for another small miracle last night, and that you performed it, and for that great favor I am infinitely grateful.

But please, now, if it be your will, I ask you to show yourself again, so that my wife will let me go out and fight your wars. Please, if you will, perform for me just one more tiny miracle.

I have received your commands, or what I believe to be your commands. Perhaps it might help if your angels would wear the same body two visits in a row. As it is now, with them incarnating into a different apparent body each time, we cannot be certain when one appears that it is the same angel to whom we spoke last time. It is hard to tell whether a person really is an angel, and really was sent by you. And now that Chaim down the road suffered that prank where a visiting man, pretending to be sent by you, got him to stand naked and shout your names repeatedly in a field where the women of the next town were having a gathering, nobody particularly trusts that any angel or any orders from you are real.

So now this person (whom I do truly believe is your angel) has told me to leave my home, leave my fields, leave the winepress where I have to thresh the wheat (and I do look forward to the end of this war, so I can get back to threshing the wheat in the field). If you want me to take a small number of men, take an even smaller number of weapons, surround both the Midianites and the Amalekites, and somehow vanquish them, I suppose that I can do that.

But my wife, my beloved Zehava, who is beautiful and strong and honest and, as I am frequently reminded, much smarter than I am, has her doubts. She needs proof that things are true. So she demands miracles. She knows that, of all the gods, you are the only one who can perform miracles, so she asks for them, as if for you to sign your commands.

The sacrifice that we set up for you where we tore down the Asherah and the altar of Ba’al? That was her idea. And she was the one who came up with the argument that saved me when the men of the city came after me: “If your god is so great, step back and let him trigger his own miracle and deal with me.”

It worked. You know that I was terrified, but it worked. Now they cheer me, call me Jeruba’al, say that only Ba’al himself should contend against me. In truth, my Zehava should be getting the praise, getting the fame.

And now your messenger (or, at least, the person whom I believe to be your messenger) has appeared and given me new orders. The plan seems, if audacious, consistent with your previous commands.

But Zehava is rational, is prudent, is cautious. She reminds me that we have no proof other than faith that the messenger comes from you. She says that we cannot depend faith alone if I am to risk my life.

So yesterday she presented me with a test, and I (shyly, tremulously, speaking from my small place to your great power) requested it of you: that we put a fleece out on the ground, and that in the morning there would be dew only on the fleece, but the ground would remain dry. Impudent, I know, for a human to demand not only a miracle but a specific miracle from you. But when Zehava presents her case, I respond, for with all her beauty and honesty, her wrath is second only to yours.

You responded as we asked: in the morning the ground was dry but the fleece was drenched with dew. We wrung a bowlful of water from it. (And Zehava made soup from it, perhaps her best ever: I am not sure whether is was her handiwork or yours, but, even though the chicken that we placed in the soup was not the plumpest and healthiest that we have had, that nagging cough that I had for the past week is now gone, for which I thank you and her.)

So once we had awakened, fed the herd, done the day’s threshing, and had our meal. I prepared to pack for the trip and battle. But when I started to collect my clothes, Zehava stood between me and my pack and glared. “What do you think you are doing?” she demanded.

“I am preparing for battle, as the Lord’s messenger commanded me.”

“You are that convinced that he was from the Lord,” she said, not as a question but as a statement.

I must admit that as her lovely brown eyes stared through me like daggers, my certainty in your word began to waver. “Well, he did tell us consistent things,” I said carefully, “and the Lord did perform the miracle that you devised.”

“You are convinced that it was the Lord,” she demanded. “You are convinced that it was a miracle.”

“Did it fail your test? Was there dew on the floor? Did the fleece remain dry?”

“The dew was on the fleece and the floor was dry. But that alone proves nothing.”

I stood silent, attempting to follow what she might mean. I failed. “Was that not the test?”

“That was half a test,” she said. “Tell me: have you ever in the past left a fleece on the threshing ground overnight?”

“No, I have not,” I replied. “But the water —”

“So how can you pretend to know that what happened was a miracle? Is it not possible that when a fleece is left on the ground, it naturally absorbs the dew from the ground, drawing the dew up to collect on it?”

“I… suppose… that it is possible.” I let the clothes that I was carrying fall to the ground. Zehava looked down, glared at the clothes, then at me, then at the clothes again, then back up at me, and crossed her arms. I bent down and picked the clothes up again, brushing them carefully to remove any dust that might have collected on them.

“So that proves nothing on its own,” she said.

“What sort of proof do you need?”

“You will not leave today,” she said, “but will remain home overnight. For the rest of today, the fleece will hang in the sun outdoors so that it will be completely dry. Tonight, you will place it on the threshing ground again. You will have the Lord, if that’s who that is, do the reverse of what he did last night: this time, the ground will become wet but the fleece will remain dry.”

“I cannot just have the Lord do something,” I said. “I can ask him, pray to him, request actions of him. But no one tells the Lord what to do.” I refrained from adding, “any more than anyone can ever tell you what to do.”

“This must happen,” she said. “For you to leave on this journey, he must show us a simple miracle. For a Lord that makes the mountains tremble, changing the behavior of dew is not too much to ask, is it?”

“I… suppose… not,” I replied. “But what if both behaviors are natural? After all, last night was the full moon. It is waning tonight. What if the full moon draws dew to fleece, but it is too weak on other nights?”

“You are saying that only to be difficult. If the full moon draws dew to fleece, then the dew would be distributed differently on other nights. The only night on which the fleece would naturally remain dry would be the night of the new moon. Of course, he can decide to make the moon jump from full to new in a single night if he wants — but he would then have to deal with a world of angry women and disrupted tides. And even the Lord might not want to face that.” (Let me hasten to say that I am not telling you this to incur your own wrath at my beloved Zehava or at myself, but rather to lay out the logic of her argument.)

I sighed. “Yes, I will ask him. Your way of thinking is, as always, reasonable and true. So if the floor is wet and the fleece is dry, you will let me leave for battle?”

“Yes, I suppose so,” she said. “But only once I am convinced. You know that I only raise these questions because I care about you. You know that without some help from someone who can think clearly, you might wander off into some dangerous situation based on your imaginings, and might be hurt. I question you and challenge you because I love you.”

“I know that, my beloved,” I said. “But may I pack now so that I may leave in the morning?”

“Have you already forgotten that you were going to hang the fleece outside to dry? How can you lead men into battle if you cannot remember these simple things?”

I avoided rolling my eyes. “Yes, my beloved. Let me put these clothes on the table, and I will fetch and hang the fleece immediately.”

“And at nightfall,” she said. “We will place the fleece on the threshing floor together, then close the door so that no person can enter the room and disrupt the experiment.”

She stepped aside. I put my clothes on the table, turned and kissed her on the cheek (leaning forward, since she did not uncross her arms), picked up the fleece, and came out here to hang it up.

So here we are now, just you, me, the sun, and the chickens. And I am asking you, humbly, nervously, to perform this one tiny miracle. It will make everything else much simpler. Oh, and please do not make rain tonight, or everything will be confused, and I will be stuck at home yet again.

Also: could you give me some inspiration as to how I might quickly find the three hundred ram’s horns. torches, and earthen jars that I am told that we need for this battle? I will not ask why we need them; I am just collecting things as I am told. For I know that you are all powerful and all knowing, and have some sort of scheme in mind.

Maybe when I get home after the battle (and I am hoping that you are not just in one of your wrathful moods and that you do intend for us to avoid being slaughtered in this war), my vigilant Zehava will explain to me how this all made sense. For now, though, I will proceed on faith.

And could you please let Zehava and me know of, perhaps, some secret code word or handshake that your angels might use to identify themselves when they come around again, or some trivial instant miracle that they can do to show us that they are who they are? It will keep my home peaceful, and might even make Zehava happy.

That is all, I guess. I look forward to this miracle, if it be your will, and to what ever future wonders you choose to provide. Yours, of course, is the power and the glory and the knowledge of all things. I remain your trembling servant. If you have any further messages, you know where to find me: threshing wheat over in the winepress. Hallelujah. Bye. Amen.

(Next: Zadok.)

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September 1, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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