Bible Snaps: Episode 15 … Holy, Terrible, Night

Thrillers, Chillers & Sci-Fi Killers. Whether or not you believe the bible is true, it contains stories that trigger imagination.

Holy, Terrible, Night

Alim notices the wound on my forearm. “Vendor fight in the market?”

“No selling today, my friend. I spent all day culling the goats. This wound is from a little doe who decided not to get caught.”

He refills my cup and then his own.  “Your day was better spent in the fields than mine was at the palace. Pharaoh summons every available wise man to give advice about the disasters. If he agrees with them, they get to keep their position. If not, we march them off to the prisons and round up their families.”

“So, I suppose there’s very little sympathy for Moses’ exodus.”

Alim shakes his head. “At first, he agrees it should be permitted, but then when the worst is over, he changes his mind.”

We carry our drinks down the steps to the landing where we sit to watch the river boats on the Nile. It’s our weekly ritual to honor our fathers, who served as chiefs of Pharaoh’s elite oarsmen and died together fighting Nubian renegades.

Alim and I are as close as brothers, but neither one of us acquired skills for the water life of oarsmen. It’s the solid friendship built between our fathers that bonds us. Both our families, one Egyptian and one Hebrew are knit together so far back that no one remembers what first brought us together.

Lately, in public, we act indifferent toward each other for self-protection. We aren’t the only ones. The pretense of hostility allows us to stay invisible to Pharaoh who puffs himself up to be as a god over anything or anyone he can touch.  His cruelty has carved our two nations into disparate social spheres, which in turn has provoked a lot of racial misunderstanding.

For over four hundred years, our two people groups have lived together. The Egyptians hold the government, but our Hebrew race continues to outgrow them in population by numbers of three to one. Everyday Pharaoh orders more Hebrew families to work in the brick yards. The taskmasters say it’s necessary because Pharaoh has launched a new building campaign. But the real motivation is plain to see. His insatiable craving to have everyone bow to his will makes for a monument of endless construction that no human labor force will ever complete.

It’s clear Pharaoh wants to be treated as god by all people. To be safe, the Egyptians pretend that he is, but in their heart of hearts, they can see that he’s only a man. We know it too. For us to pretend that Pharaoh is our god is blasphemy, because we have God. He is the One and Only God. Now a man called Moses comes to Egypt in our God’s name to ask Pharaoh to let all Hebrews leave the land.

“What does Pharaoh say now?” I ask.

“Moses hasn’t been to the palace since after the days of darkness. Pharaoh’s fury remains strong against him. Since no Egyptian livestock remains, advisors seek to develop a plan to seize Hebrew herds if anyone tries to leave. You would do best to sell your flocks as quickly as you can, because next week you might be forced to give them up without payment.”

I nod. “Chaya agrees. All she does these days is worry about the goats. It’s why she insisted on culling out the weak today. She wants our market flocks ready for sale. Moses says the time is coming soon.”

Alim places his empty cup on the tray. “Are the people ready to follow him?”

I shrug. “Truthfully? We all have questions. Some don’t believe he speaks for God, but Moses gives signs that can’t be explained.”

“Let’s see…We’ve suffered nine catastrophes because of him.” Alim counts on his fingers.

I look at him as I correct his emphasis. “You do realize they happened because your ruler is a stubborn man.”

“I guess so, but if Moses would quit asking to leave with all our workforce, then things might get back to normal.”

Alim’s words drive deep into my soul. I stand, ignoring Alim motions to sit again.

“I’m sorry Sith. I don’t like what’s happening any more than you do. But somehow this craziness must end.”

I shake my head. “It’s okay. I get it. For several weeks, Egyptian normal has become one unholy ride. But for Hebrews, every year that passes finds more of our people in the brickyards. Taskmasters treat city dogs better than us. Every time Pharaoh agrees and then changes his mind, the beatings get worse. Is there no one brave left among your people?  Someone to pressure Pharaoh from within the court ranks? For all our sakes. How much more terror will it take? You would think that blood for water, frogs, gnats, plagues, boils, rain, hail, and locusts would be enough.”

Alim remains silent.

Our conversation has never gone this far into what separates us. The territory is strange to me. I look for distraction and find it in a small gathering of birds scuffling over a feast on the riverbank near us. Soon a larger flock glides in and chases them away. Then, as the last glint of golden sun is pressed low to the ground, they take off, too, all wings and distinctions quickly swallowed by the cobalt evening sky.

I pick up my cloak to go. When I reach the first stair step, Alim’s answer finally comes.

“What you suggest can cost a man his life. Indeed, if all that you say about Egyptians and bravery is true, then it is you Hebrews who must be of stouter stock. Which, of course, must be the very reason why Pharaoh can’t stand to let you go.”

His attempt to make light of the matter crashes in on me. I usually laugh over his prodding about my people, but something changes inside me. This time it is I who remain silent.

“Same time next week?” There is a coolness in Alim’s voice.

“Maybe not for a while.” I say without pause. “Chaya worries. I’ll let you know.”

The air around me feels heavy as if a storm brews. But all is clear and beautiful under the starlit sky.

When I get home, I hear the terrible awful news. Chaya sent men to find me but our paths never crossed. She has no time to explain much of Moses’ commands because she’s busy preparing our supper.

Abner says ever since the announcement came through the elders, people arrived at our door all day wanting to buy yearlings.

“Every firstborn?” I question my oldest as we paint the side posts and lintel of the door with blood.

“Yes. Every firstborn from the palace to the mill and all the animals too.” Abner’s voice breaks into anxious tones.

I ruffle his hair. “Don’t worry. As before, we’ll be protected.”

We eat the odd supper Chaya has prepared, whole roast lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. She insists, “No meat is to be saved. All that’s left must be burned in the fire.”

I’m too tired to protest, so I burn every bit and then lay down exhausted.

By the stars, I know it’s not midnight, but it’s close. I don’t want to be awake when it happens. Sleep is almost over me when suddenly I realize an awful truth.

Abner’s best friend will die tonight.

Quietly, I slip to the door but Chaya wakens.

“Where are you going? Moses said not to go out until morning.”

“I must doublecheck the sheep pen gate. If a strong wind comes with this disaster, as it did before, the animals might get loose and be killed too.”

“Promise me you’ll come right back.”

“I promise.”

Chaya sighs and rolls over in the bed.

Outside, the air is still. The moon and stars show no sign of pending doom. Nothing is out of place. Still, I hurry. Everything Moses predicts comes true.

The house is several miles away. When I reach the door, I’m out of breath. I tap so as not to wake the whole family. “Alim, let me in.”

How much longer do I have? I pound harder.

Eventually Alim stands in front of me, grumbling. “What’s the matter? Why are you here?”

I tell him the news about the firstborn, and he scratches his head and looks around. I’m not sure he’s convinced, so I press him. “You know this will happen.”

He stares at me vacant eyed, then shakes his head and closes the door.

He’s still angry. There’s nothing I can do. I retrace my steps. It’s then, a few paces past the buildings, that I notice something. In the unobstructed view of the Nile, my eyes are drawn to a steady growing light that appears to be reflected on the water. The reflection can’t be moonlight, because the moon sits in another direction.

I look up and see a single jagged point of radiance that moves downward from the heavens, growing brighter and longer with each passing second. I stand still to watch. I feel awe, for the loveliness of it, and terror, for the realization of what it might mean.  Fear sends me running back to Alim’s house.

Just as I raise my hand to knock, he opens the door. He thrusts Chike at me, his sleepy firstborn, and says, “Take him. He can stay till morning, but then he must come back. He has chores to do.”  Then Alim goes back inside before I can point out the strange phenomenon.

Chike rubs his eyes and yawns while waiting for my lead. I don’t want to scare him, so I make no reference to the light. Instead, I rush the youth along for fear of what comes.

After a while, we reach the main road. There, I’m surprised to hear soft singing. Out from an off-road crossing, a band of children and noisy animals emerge. They move in procession in front of us, led by a towering shepherd. He could be one of many that I know, but his face is hidden by a hood. He lets the older ones pass while he waits for a little boy to take hold of his staff to steady himself as he navigates the deep ruts made by carts.

I call out to him. “Are you bringing them home with you?”

“Yes. There they will be safe. They’re firstborn. You’re welcome to join us.” His voice is joyful and kind.

I look back to track the light beam and realize it’s moved. The point of light is almost upon us. One part of me wants to wait and see what happens, but another part of me screams in silent warning, Go!

“Chike! Chike! We must go. Now!” I tug on his arm, but he seems transfixed by the glow which illuminates everything near us.

Everything.

It’s then that I notice it. The children and animals are somewhat transparent.

I hear a voice close in my ear. “Don’t be alarmed. What you guess is right. They are only the souls of the firstborn.”

I turn to look into the glowing eyes of the shepherd. He’s not human. I want to move, but my feet are frozen to the ground by the terrible, awful, wonder of everything that happens next.

The great light sweeps over the firstborn. When it does, they are all absorbed by it and their forms cease to appear. Except that they don’t stay that way.

As my eyes follow the shaft of light to a murky place just above me, the light, too, is subdued by a dark low hanging cloud, but then it bursts again from above it and becomes more brilliant than it ever was touching the ground. The widening beam continues upward as a staircase, rising high into the heavens.

It’s there on the staircase that the children reappear. They wave encouragingly at the others below, and on each riser, shepherds stand ready to give a helping hand as the climbers ascend. The older ones carrying babies pass the infants along to the shepherds who pass them up hand by hand.

“Can I go with them?” Chike voice is eager, and he seems unafraid. His face is radiant in the light.

I hear a voice without form whisper in my ear. “Nothing you do will keep him safe here. You must let him go. He’s a child of the Cull.”

Chike’s hand slips out of mine just as a loud thunderclap comes, and blackness closes over me.

I hear my name being called, and rough hands shake me. When I open my eyes, I see

Alim’s face. He’s screeching at me. “Where is he? You said you’d keep him safe. Where’s Chike?”

I sit. I’m in the road. The morning sun is on the horizon. There’s no sign of Chike, shepherd, children or any evidence of the phenomenon.

I tell them Alim all I know, and says I’ve been dreaming. He wails and calls out his son’s name over and over. Soon other screams and cries that come from the houses as Egyptians discover the dead. It seems every lifeless form is a firstborn.

I try to console him. “He’s alive. I saw him.”

“You’ve been sleeping in the road, you damn fool. Where’s his body so I can bury it?”

I shake my head. “I don’t know. I can’t remember anything after the thunderclap.”

Alim thrusts a heavy bag into my hand. “Take it. You don’t deserve it. Consider it payment to leave Egypt and never return.” He moves off cursing and yelling and tearing his clothes.

I know from the weight of the bag that it contains money. Moses predicted this, too.  I drop the bag to the ground and yell after Alim. “I don’t want your money.”

Throngs of people surge all around me. The traffic splits apart to avoid knocking me over because I will not move. I cannot face Abner. I failed to save his best friend and now I’ve lost mine.

Loud calls of grief rise in one horrible sound. But one sound comes more familiar than others. It’s my name being yelled by Chaya and Abner. I stand on wobbly legs, so they can find me. Their cries turn to joy and the rush forward. A familiar face bobs between passersby behind them.

It’s Chike.

Abner reaches me first and puts his arms around my neck. “Oh, papa! Forgive me. I’m so sorry I left you. Last night I couldn’t stop thinking about Chike, so I got up to leave, and I saw you were leaving too. I followed you but stayed out of sight. I was glad when I saw that you went the same direction as Chike’s house. On the way back, I knew we were in danger when the great light came close. So, I grabbed Chike’s hand, and then he saw me too. We ran to the house. I thought you were right behind us, but we worried when you didn’t come. Mother wouldn’t let us go out again until this morning.”

Abner’s explanation stops when we hear Chike’s name being called. It’s Alim. People point him to us, and in seconds, he’s hugging and kissing his firstborn.

The rest of Egypt is not so fortunate as us. Our firstborn sons live, but all throughout Egypt, families cry over the deaths of their beloved children. Word comes from the palace that pharaoh discovered his own child’s death in the night, and he summoned Moses, giving urgent orders that all Hebrews must leave immediately.

We move to the privacy of our home to say our farewells, and listen again to our sons’ versions of the story—the terrible, awful, beautiful details of the light that came to take the firstborn. When they finish describing it, Alim extends his hand to me, and we embrace.

Then he ruffles Abner’s hair and says, “The bravery of your family has saved my son’s life.”

But I’m quick to disagree. “Bravery alone didn’t save Chike. It’s by God’s will that he was saved. We all, because of our stubbornness like Pharaoh, deserve to be culled as weak, unclean, and unworthy people, but God, in His mercy, gives us a chance to live anew and protected. The chance comes as it did for Chike but only by a holy, terrible price. The payment of the blood of God’s lamb sacrifice.”

Everyone listening in the house nods and murmurs with agreement, and Alim says aloud, “Yes, my friend.  No truer words were ever spoken.”

 

(This imaginary story of Moses and Pharaoh was inspired by the real story found in Exodus, chapters 5-13)

 

My new blog series, Bible Snaps are short fictionalized accounts of the more chilling stories in the Bible. There may even be a few “science fiction” type stories that reference biblical disasters that seem to conflict with the laws of nature. 

If you follow along, there’s a couple things you should know.

My “Bible Snaps” aren’t an attempt to settle the question, “is the bible true?” Each person must decide that on their own. My goal is to jump into the head of bible characters and try to imagine living the experience described in the story and then use fresh and personal words to tell it.

My other goal is to keep these posts “snappy” quick. In doing this, I might only “snap” a portion of the bible story to tell, but I’ll always give you the bible reference so you can read the actual bible text that inspired me.

There are also other reading options on my website.

If you don’t like my Bible Snaps Stories, then check out “Five,” my medical Sci-Fi supernatural thriller story. All 67 episodes (blog posts) are now available, and if you read them from beginning to end, you’ll have read the entire book and will be ready for my sequel, “Six.”

If you don’t like “Five”, then read my other short stories on this blog- (search word, “un-proverbial”) or Psalms blog posts. All of these were posted before January 2015.

Just read me. I’d be honored to have YOU in my audience!

One final thought.

Why do I re-tell the “bad” or chilling parts of the Bible?

We live in rough times. People suffer under injustice. It’s good to see how the Bible, an old book that many value as true, contains helpful stories of people who were oppressed yet managed to live, survive, and thrive.

Don’t take my word or anyone else’s word about the Bible. Give it a read for YOURSELF. You may be surprised by what you find.

Thanks,

Ann

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