"Of course, we have laws against murder and stealing. But no law would cause a Chaldean to side against his own kindred. What you did today is unthinkable to the Babylonian mind." Naaman was exasperated by his dinner guest. They had finished their meal and now sat and talked, sipping their wine.
Daniel sighed. "Let me try to explain this a different way. We met outside the Temple of Isthar, the Mother of Marduk. Yet Marduk is your chief god - greater than his mother and father, Enki. I have heard a little of how this came to be, but before I make my point, explain your religion to me in your own words. How did Marduk come to be your chief god?"
Naaman took a gulp of his wine and cleared his throat. "The great oceans rose up to consume the earth. The goddess of the ocean, Tiamat, would not listen to reason, and so the rest of the gods set out to destroy her. One after another, Tiamat killed those that came against her. Then Marduk made a deal with the Council of Gods. He would destroy Tiamat if they would make him king of the gods. They agreed, and he succeeded in killing her, along with her lieutenant, Kingu. At the suggestion of his father, Enki, Marduk made man from the blood of Kingu."
Daniel took a long drought from his wine goblet and looked into the pool of dark liquid. Without looking up, he said, "What is the purpose of man, then? What happened next?"
"Until man was created, the gods had worked to grow crops and feed themselves. After Marduk created man, the gods treated man as their slave. As man multiplied, a great deal of noise was made here on earth, so the gods decided to send a flood to destroy him. Enki, however, warned a man named Unipishtom, who built a large boat so that his family and many animals would survive the flood. When the flood came, it lasted seven days. After the flood ended and the boat landed on dry ground, Unipishtom offered sacrifice to Enki and to Marduk. The gods, so hungry were they because they had not eaten, flocked around his sacrifice like flies and consumed it. Because they realized that they needed man to feed them, they decided never again to destroy mankind."
Daniel leaned forward, and looked into Naaman's eyes. "We have a similar story of how a flood came upon mankind, but there are a few key differences," said Daniel. "Would you like to hear them?"
"Yes," said Naaman. "But I'm not sure how this ties into the explanation of why you would help an alien against your own kindred."
"You will see in a moment," replied Daniel. "Like you, we have a flood story. It involves a man called Noah who, like Unipishtom, was told to build a great ark. Noah thus saved both his family and two of every living creature. It rained for forty days and forty nights, after which Noah and his family floated in the boat for a long time before finally landing on dry ground."
"But that is where the similarity ends. We believe in one God, while you believe in many. God caused the flood, not because man was making 'too much noise,' but because man had committed many evil sins. Men were not only sinning against God, they were sinning against each other. When Noah's ark finally found land he offered a sacrifice to God. God promised never to destroy man again by a flood, but not because He needed man to feed Him. No. God made that promise because He loves all men. Your gods want you to serve them; to be their slaves. Our God wants us to love Him, and know Him as both Lord and friend. Our God wants us to live just, moral lives, treating all men equally."
"And that is why you helped the Ashkelon man? Because your god wants you to treat all men equally?" asked Naaman.
"Yes," said Daniel.
"Then your god is a weak god. I have watched your two peoples interact. You are the first Israelite I have seen act the way you did. If your god wants you to treat all men equally, then he can't be a strong god - no one except you obeys him!"
Daniel eyed his host. Naaman was visibly agitated over this conversation. Instead of exhibiting confidence and self-superiority in his derision of Daniel, he seemed to be struggling over some inner turmoil.
"What if I told you that before you came to Jerusalem, even before you defeated Egypt at Carchemish, one of our wise men - a prophet named Jeremiah - predicted what would happen?"
"You heard me. Not only did he foretell that this would happen, but that it was our God's will that we be taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar. And, he foretold how long we shall be in captivity in Babylon."
Naaman was dumbfounded. "How long?" he said meekly.
"For seventy years."
"Why on earth would your god want Nebuchadnezzar to defeat you - to see our god Marduk triumph over him?"
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Daniel looked back at his parents for what he knew would be the last time. He could see his mother crying. Beside her, his father stood straight and tall, his face displaying no emotion. But to Daniel’s surprise, his father had given him something of infinite value. Once again, to reassure himself that he had it on his person, he grasped the bulge in the nap sack which hung on his back. And once again, he felt the outline of two scrolls nestled within. One was his father’s copy of the Torah - the five books of the law given word for word - some said even letter by letter - to Moses by Jehovah God.
The document had been missing for over one hundred years, hidden during the reign of the evil king Manasseh. Workers restoring a portion of the temple wall had found it only a few years before Daniel had been born. When King Josiah was yet a lad, his father had been one of the scribes assigned the task of recopying the Torah. So exacting were the requirements of making the copy - not one letter could be changed - that Daniel’s father had only managed to make two copies. It was said that the Torah contained the secrets of the universe, but only those blessed by God would ever unlock its meaning. For the first time in years, Daniel realized that his father truly loved him.
He walked on, his train of thought distracted by the sight of other exiles who, like himself, were no friends of King Jehoiakim. There were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, three of Daniel’s friends who had helped in the rescue of Jeremiah. So this is how Jehoiakim would rid himself of those who opposed him! But not all were Jehoiakim’s enemies. Shemaiah, a rival of Jeremiah, was also going - no doubt to spy on Jehoiakim’s foes in exile.
As they marched, Daniel could see the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, watching them leave. Beside him stood his hated right-hand man, Naaman, the Captain of the Guard. Daniel thought bitterly of the note that Ezekiel - who would be allowed to remain in Jerusalem - had slipped him. It had been written by Jeremiah, now in hiding. “Upon your shoulders God has placed the burden of His people. You are the key to returning them safely. Remember, things are not always as they may appear. You must be a father to Nebuchadnezzar. The Lord will provide a way for that to happen. May the Lord bless you and keep you.”
Words! Just words! Ezekiel and Jeremiah weren’t being forced to abandon their homes! Daniel cursed the day he had ever become involved with Jeremiah. Just then, Daniel saw flying above the head of Nebuchadnezzar a large bald eagle. He watched it high above, and became mesmerized as he watched it circle. Once, twice, three times ... it circled seven times, and then flew East in the direction of Babylon. Daniel’s thoughts were jerked back to the second scroll hidden in his pack - the Scroll of Isaiah. Like the Torah, it too contained wisdom and prophecy. Daniel had committed much of it to memory already. At the sight of the eagle, those words came rushing at him now:
“Those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. They shall rise up with wings as eagles. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint.” With those words, all the bitterness flowed out of him. Just as quickly, he felt an abiding peace. He thought of Jeremiah’s message. Mere words? No.
Daniel realized that they were much more than mere words - God did have some great purpose in store for him. Daniel set his mind to the task at hand, and settled into a steady pace. It would be a long march.
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“So, you are the great Jeremiah!” Naaman said. “Come, prophet, King Nebuchadnezzar would see you.”
Jeremiah lowered his eyes and followed Naaman into the inner recesses of the tent. He did not know what to expect, but was relieved to learn that he would not be made to wait and guess. Within the inner chamber of the tent, Nebuchadnezzar and several of his generals waited for them. Even the king’s parrots, housed in a bird cage in a corner of the tent, fell silent as the man of God entered the room.
“Greetings, prophet of the God of Daniel,” Nebuchadnezzar said. “We have heard much about you, and have found your words to be most useful.” Nebuchadnezzar handed Jeremiah the scroll which he and Baruch had worked so hard to reconstruct. Jeremiah gazed into the young king’s eyes who, unlike his generals here in the tent, was not dressed in the garb of a warrior. Instead, Nebuchadnezzar wore a sandlewood-colored robe, with a plain circlet of gold around his neck. “I am told you had no love for your now dead king, that you want his half-brother Zedekiah placed on the throne of Jerusalem in his place. But I have half a mind to destroy this city instead. Why should I not?”
Jeremiah, who had been bent over, looking down at the ground in obeisance to the Babylonian king, now stood to his full height - a good three inches taller than the Babylonian monarch. In a hoarse but steady voice, Jeremiah responded: “Ten years ago, as Pharaoh Necho led his army to meet that of your father’s, King Josiah of Judah rode out to challenge the Egyptians at Megiddo. There, Pharaoh slew Josiah, and placed Jehoiakim on the throne. From the beginning, Jehoiakim was a pawn of Egypt, sinning against God and man.”
“But the King of Judah does not represent the Lord or His Temple,” Jeremiah continued. “You are right, I do wish to see Zedekiah placed on the throne. You took him into captivity in Babylon, and there God has safely kept him for such a time as this. The Lord our God has given you His holy city, Jerusalem. You have not conquered it of your own might. Its gates have been opened to you. You may violate her and her sacred Temple, but know this: A time will come that must inevitably follow - Babylon will be scattered and cast aside in favor of another who will do the Holy One of Israel’s will. Violate her not, and you will prosper.” Jeremiah stood still, staring at the young king before him, oblivious to the tension in the room. From behind the prophet, one of the guards placed his hand on his sword hilt, waiting for Nebuchadnezzar’s order to chop down this insolent, dirty Bedouin.
Suddenly, from the bird cage in the corner of the tent, the two parrots began to chatter. “King of Babylon ... King of Babylon ... King of Babylon,” the two screeched in chorus. They wailed and squawked, and then in unison said, “Listen!,” and were quiet.
Jeremiah, who in the confusion had never taken his eyes off of Nebuchadnezzar, said, “Place Zedekiah on the throne to rule as your vassal, and the Lord will bless you.”
Nebuchadnezzar struggled visibly to control himself. In the years since his ascendancy to his father’s throne, he had grown increasingly intolerant of those who would stand in his way. When this prophet’s scroll had come into his possession, he had used it as the propaganda tool he had seen it to be. Nebuchadnezzar had not expected Jeremiah to defy him in this way.
Yet Nebuchadnezzar was a religious man. He saw Marduk as providing him with divine guidance. While Daniel and this Jeremiah might claim that it was their God which directed his footsteps, he was convinced it was Marduk. The parrots had spoken at the behest of Marduk - and Nebuchadnezzar would listen.
But only up to a point.
“Very well,” Nebuchadnezzar said. “I will place Zedekiah on the throne of Judah. But know this: I will not allow her to go unpunished. I will take as tribute the gold from your temple. I will also take with me several thousand Hebrews into exile back to Babylon. Neither you nor anyone else shall deny me of my destiny. I will grant you three days to convince Coniah, son of Jehoiakim, to surrender totally. Then, I will take the vessels of your temple, and leave Naaman behind as regent until Zedekiah arrives and is installed as your new king. This audience is at an end.”
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Troas awoke, thankful that it had all been a nightmare. No! Not a nightmare! A reliving of last night's horror. He had come to Ashkelon, the capitol of what had once been the Philistine nation. His assignment was to meet with King Ohlm, to win his approval of the alliance now being formed under the leadership of Tyre and Egypt. Because Troas had arrived in the city at the time of the Spring Planting, he had been told that any audience would have to wait until after the sacrifice to their god, Dagon.
Troas had heard rumors of their god, but last night was the first time he had encountered those who worshipped him. Their ceremonies had begun innocently enough. The people had gathered around mid-afternoon in the city square. Food was prepared, and magicians plied their trade among the growing crowds. The priests of Dagon received tribute from all who came, paid in the form of goats, chickens, and coins of gold or silver. As dusk approached, the court musicians began to play a low, rhythmic beat. Seemingly out of nowhere, families with infants began to appear. They formed a semicircle around the center of the square, where the priests of Dagon gathered at a twenty foot high statue of their god. The god sat cross legged. In a pit hollowed out in its lap burned a bonfire. Above the leaping flames, Dagon held out his hands, palms up, the elbows resting against his ample belly. As the bonfire roared, tips of the flames would engulf his hands like waves crashing onto a beach.
As Troas had watched, lots were cast among the families gathered there. Seven families were chosen. The babies were snatched from their mothers' arms and taken to the chief priest. Troas had watched in horror as the priest would take the babies one by one and place them into Dagon's outstretched hands. The piercing screams of the infants fell on deaf ears as the bonfire burned away their flesh. Using a shovel, the priest would remove the remains of each baby and dump it into a clay pot before feeding his next victim to the voracious god. Incredibly, the mothers of these babies simply watched without any display of emotion. More incredible still was what happened next.
Seven priestesses came out from behind the idol. They danced to the beat of the music before leading the fathers of the sacrificed babies to the foot of Dagon. There, the seven couples engaged in sexual intercourse, as the crowd nodded their heads to the beat of the music and began to chant. At that point, Troas had left the scene and returned to his room. While many cultures incorporated fertility rights into their religion, whereby the male god of the air was enticed to fertilize the female god of the earth, he had never seen the sacrifice of infants practiced! Troas could not help but wish they would choose a different way to entice their god to grant them a successful springtime planting! He shook his head violently to try to wipe the memories from his sleepy head. He had a job to do. His own personal moral sensibilities would have to be put aside.
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Jeremiah fought to hold the vomit which wanted to erupt from his stomach. Twenty yards up the hill from where he stood, smoke curled from the embers of the previous night's fire. There in front of him, in the pit into which he had just peered, were the charred remains of the babies that had been sacrificed the night before. Twelve little babies, the stench of their burned flesh causing his body to be racked with nausea. Jeremiah fought the battle with his stomach, and lost.
Baruch stood by, helplessly, watching his friend and master. It had been nearly a year now since Daniel and the others had been carried off to Babylon. Ever since their delivery of Jeremiah's scroll to Jehoiakim, and its destruction, they had been on the run. They were taking a great risk in returning to the vicinity of Jerusalem, and would rendezvous with Ezekiel and Gedaliah tonight at the Inn of the Two Rams. Jeremiah had wanted to pass through the valley of Gehenna on their way there. Crossing from the west of Jerusalem to south of the city, it merged with the Kidron Valley and the Valley of the Cheese makers. Over the years, the city elders had dug a trench through the city which emptied into the Valley of Gehenna to use for Jerusalem's sewage. It was not uncommon to find parts of dead animals in this place. It was also a place that the kings of Israel had in the past sometimes come to sacrifice children to the Canaanite gods. Jeremiah had heard that the shrine of Topath was once again in use in the Valley, and had come to see if for himself.
Baruch wished they had chosen a different path.
Jeremiah spat, and wiped his mouth with the hem of his cloak. "Forgive me, Baruch," he said looking around them. "The fact that Jehoiakim allows this to happen within a two day ride of Jerusalem demonstrates just how far he has fallen."
"We should move on, Jeremiah," Baruch said.
Jeremiah looked into his eyes, and Baruch braced for the coming storm. "Not yet! I want to speak to these worshippers of Dagon. Their temple is that way." They walked in silence for a quarter mile, approaching the small temple and those who were there. Two women were preparing the midday meal, while a third was sewing a cloak where it had been torn. They had not yet washed the paint from their faces that marked them as temple prostitutes of their god. As the two men drew near, the women stopped what they were doing and looked at them.
"You there," Jeremiah said as he walked toward the woman closest to him. "Could you spare a cup of water for two weary travelers?" The youngest of the three - she appeared to be no more than 15 - looked questioningly at her two companions. The woman sewing the cloak, and obviously old enough to be the girl's mother, nodded her head. The young girl rose and went into the temple, emerging a few moments later with a vase of water and a cup. Looking into her eyes, Jeremiah held the cup as she poured it.
When she was done, without taking a drink. he held the cup at head level and slowly poured the water onto the ground. "Thus you have poured out the life of the little ones of Judah by casting them into the fire. Why have you committed such an abomination?" The woman in charge put down her sewing and rose from her chair.
"You fool! The god of our fathers has abandoned us! Ever since Babylon made King Jehoiakim bow the knee, our crops have died. Even now, Babylon is again afoot in the land and is passing through - some say on the way to attack Egypt. We have turned to Dagon - and he has heard us."
"But the babies that were burned last night - we saw their remains - do you care nothing for them?" Baruch pleaded.
"Some must die so that the rest may live," said the other girl who had watched silently from over by the cooking pit. "Their mothers can always make babies, but unless their husbands can grow crops, all will parish. You fools. You would have us all die for the sake of your precious laws. You care nothing for Israel - you seek only to impose your will on others."
"Do not be too hard on them, my dear," the leader of the three said as she walked up to Jeremiah, intertwining her arms with his right arm. "They have no doubt traveled far, and have forgotten the pleasures of a woman," she said to the other two, and turned her attention to Jeremiah. "Rest a while and share your manhood with us," she said, smiling invitingly.
Until that moment, Jeremiah had believed all that was needed to turn Israel from her evil ways was to have a righteous king. He had thought that if Jehoiakim would simply repent - or failing that, a new king found to take his place - then Israel would be saved. In that instant, Jeremiah saw that the evil had run much deeper than he had ever dreamed. Not just the king, but the entire nation, had turned away from the Lord. Jeremiah shook off the arm and retreated. "Come Baruch, let us be on our way," he said in a hushed, defeated tone. The two turned and walked away as the women laughed and taunted them from behind their backs.
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A steady flow of pilgrims made its way toward the Gate of Benjamin, the northern gateway to the Temple of Solomon. Unnoticed among the throng of people, Baruch said to his companion, “It is not too late, we can still turn back.”
“I told you before, the Lord has called me to speak out. Now is the time. This is the place. You don’t have to come with me if you don’t want to.” Jeremiah’s gaze did not lift from the dusty ground in front of him as they proceeded.
“I won’t abandon you. I just don’t want to see you end up like Uriah,” Baruch replied.
A tear escaped Jeremiah’s eye and trickled down his wrinkled sun-scorched face before being captured in the tangle of his beard. With his head bowed to hide his sadness, thoughts of his old friend, Uriah, flashed through Jeremiah’s mind. From the start of Jehoiakim’s reign in Jerusalem, they had both spoken out against the atrocities committed by this king - a man long suspected of having conspired with the Egyptians to gain the throne of his late father, King Josiah. Since ascending to the throne three years ago, Jehoiakim had prostituted the faith, and sold Israel’s soul in exchange for Egyptian riches. Uriah, older and more brash than Jeremiah, had gone into the Valley of Ben-Hinnom during the first year of Jehoiakim’s reign to deliver a withering proclamation against the king as he sacrificed to Dagon. Uriah had spoken out for all to hear his words at the foot of the Topheth, their idol.
And for that, Uriah had paid with his life. Never had any prophet been killed by the political powers of Israel. But Uriah had. Indeed, Uriah had learned of Jehoiakim’s plan to take his life and had fled to Egypt, but the king used his ties to Pharaoh to have Uriah taken prisoner and brought back to Jerusalem for execution. And Pashur, the First Keeper of the Door, had not said a word! So blinded by the profits from trade with the Egyptians were Jehoiakim and the Temple Priests that they would do everything to safeguard their position, including murder.
Now Jeremiah was about to follow in Uriah’s footsteps. Would the Lord protect him as he went forward to proclaim the Word that the Voice of the Lord compelled him to utter? He said a silent prayer, ignoring the urge to turn and retrace his steps back across the viaduct over which he had just traversed. He looked at his friend and faithful servant, Baruch, who at forty-two, was two years his senior. Baruch had willingly followed him since their boyhood days growing up in Anathoth. It had been Baruch’s plan that Jeremiah’s young teenage disciples, Daniel and Ezekiel, accompany them on this day. “If you insist on going to the temple on this suicide mission, at least allow us to provide a plan of escape for you, God willing,” he had said. As usual, Jeremiah left those concerns to Baruch. When the Lord prompted him to action, his only thoughts were the accomplishment of the task at hand.
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The River Jordan was less than one hundred feet wide - the current flowing nearly ten miles an hour. Cool to the touch, Naaman knew his men would enjoy taking a swim to cool their sweaty bodies - if they were here with him. His army marched north with their prisoners toward Riblah where Nebuchadnezzar awaited them. Accompanied only by his aide-de-camp, Mag, Naaman had come alone to fulfill his pledge to Timnah.
Only a few miles farther north, the Jordan river emptied into the Sea of Chinnereth before exiting at the great lake's southern tip. From there, it would wend its way south another seventy miles from where Naaman stood, passing near to Jerusalem on its way to the Great Salt Sea. No, the river of the Israelites was not at all like the great Euphrates of his home land. Not as wide or as long, it flowed much more swiftly as it descended over 1,000 feet from the Judean Mountains to the Great Salt Sea. Looking closely at the water as it coursed within its banks below him, Naaman saw that the water was clean, not at all like the muddy water of his homeland's river. His appreciation for the Jordan River, so utterly nonexistent when Daniel had first urged him to dip himself in its living waters, had grown immeasurably.
Naaman walked back to a little cove in the riverbank. Not as deep as the main part of the river, Naaman had chosen this spot to immerse himself as Daniel had told him . He was sure that he would be in over his head were he to leap from the bank directly into the main flow of the river. Unbuckling his sword and chest armor, he removed his tunic and handed it to Mag. Daniel's directions had been explicit: Naaman must enter the river, totally immersing himself, and then climb back onto the bank. He must repeat the ritual seven times before the leprosy would be cleansed from his body.
Naaman shook his head, feeling very self-conscious at the moment. "Go away. I will call you if you are needed," he ordered Mag. After he was out of sight, Naaman heaved a sigh and stepped into the water. He wasted little time, bending completely underneath the water, dunking his head before emerging to the bank. Naaman felt the goose bumps grow on the skin as the cool air came in contact with the droplets that streamed off of him. He looked at his hand and shoulder, but saw no change in the leprosy.
Again, he repeated the process and emerged back onto dry land. Three, four, five times more Naaman repeated the process, each time looking to see if the leprosy had shrunk, each time seeing that the marks had not changed. "What a fool I am," he said aloud, debating whether to again enter the water, or give up and retrieve his garments. Torn between the two choices, he suddenly dove head first into the cove, his momentum carrying him out into the main river itself. Coming up for air, Naaman immediately realized that the strength of the current would carry him far down stream unless he acted quickly. In spite of his strong swimming strokes, the naked warrior was carried some twenty yards down stream.
Naaman was forced to walk barefooted through dense, prickly underbrush before again returning to where he had started. There was no change in the leprosy. He wanted to quit - but how to explain the scratches all over his body? No, he might was well finish what he had started. Naaman looked up at the sun through the leaves of the tree branches overhanging the side pool. "If you, the god of Daniel will cleanse me, I will be your servant," Naaman whispered softly. Gingerly, he again entered the water of the Jordan and immersed himself for a seventh time, staying under water for as long as he could hold his breath. Finally, gasping for air, he stood up and wiped the water from his eyes. Opening them, he saw a white dove sitting on a tree branch he was sure wasn't there before. Noticing Naaman's awareness of it, the bird flew up directly into the sun. After a few moments, Naaman lost sight of it. Then, remembering his leprosy, he glanced at his hands - and saw that the markings were gone! Glancing at his shoulder, where the other patch had been, he saw that it too was clean.
"Yes!" He shouted, and began to jump up and down, splashing in the water like a little boy. He did not stop shouting, laughing and playing until he heard a familiar voice call to him.
"Lord Naaman, are you all right?" Mag's look of concern changed to bewilderment as he saw his commanding officer naked, playing and laughing in the water.
"I'm cleansed, Mag! I'm cleansed! Daniel told me to immerse myself seven times in the Jordan River. I did, and now I'm cleansed! The leprosy is gone. Forever afterward, I will ..." Naaman caught himself just in time. He had been about to say that he would worship the God of the Hebrews from this moment on, but thought better of it. A high ranking official in the Babylonian government, it might cause problems if it were widely known that he was now a follower of Jehovah God. He would have to think about it, and talk to Daniel. "Never mind, Mag. Everything is all right. I'm finished with what I came here to do. I'll put my clothes and armor back on, and we will go rejoin the troops."
"Very well, sir. I will wait for you with the horses over there." Mag pointed to where the animals were tethered, and walked off in their direction.
As he dressed in private by the little cove underneath the tree where the dove had appeared, Naaman continued to rejoice, though quietly. Before he knew it, he found himself humming a little tune he had heard Daniel sing from time to time. He would have to ask one of the Hebrew prisoners they had with them to teach him the words, and sing it for Daniel when he returned. And then, the irony of his circumstances hit him: He had conquered Jerusalem, on behalf of Nebuchadnezzar. He had burned their Temple, and even now took thousands of Hebrews into captivity. Even still, Naaman the conquering warrior had himself been conquered by the power of this people's god. Though he had inflicted pain and death, this god had granted him mercy.
As he walked to rejoin Mag and the horses, Naaman bowed his head and tried to hide the tears which began to flow.
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The daylight streaming in through the window warmed the otherwise dingy room. Facing south, its occupant had a clear view of the Valley of Hinnom. It was into this valley that a ditch dug from the city flowed, carrying with it a steady stream of sewage. Jeremiah's quarters were in the old City of David, on the southern edge of Jerusalem. Though most people would not have desired to see the city refuse dump out of their window, Jeremiah preferred it that way. For him, it was a constant reminder of the depth to which his beloved people had sunk.
He looked over at Baruch and Gedaliah as they finished the breakfast he'd served them. "So the city is excited by the news of last night's victory, are they?" he asked.
"Many say that it is because Zedekiah freed the slaves as you implored him," Gedaliah, ever willing to see the bright side of any situation, volunteered eagerly.
"Yet the Babylonians remain. Is it not clear to you why they do so?" Jeremiah answered, not taking his gaze from the view of the window.
Gedaliah shook his head no and sat silently, waiting for the answer.
"We have learned Zedekiah made the attack at the recommendation of a Greek mercenary. The Greek was the one directing the battle plan. They wanted to strike before another army of Babylonians arrives," Baruch interjected.
"So, neither of you see this as a conclusive victory, only a short reprieve before the end?" Gedaliah asked softly.
"I'm afraid so," replied Jeremiah. "That brings me to why we wanted this meeting. We have a job for you, one we have discussed with your father Ahikam. It has his blessing." Gedaliah nodded. "Go on."
Jeremiah continued. "Years ago, the prophet Isaiah wrote of this day when he said:
For though your people, O Israel, may be like the sand of the sea, only a remnant will return. A destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness.
"Gedaliah, the time of destruction has arrived. We always knew that it would come. We want you to leave this city as soon as possible and alert our people of what God is planning - and to not give up hope. You, Gedaliah, must prepare the remnant. You are spoken well of in the Court of Nebuchadnezzar - Daniel has seen to that. Once the destruction of the city is accomplished, Nebuchadnezzar will still have need of someone to whom he can entrust the governorship. The Lord willing, it will be you."
"But what shall I say, Jeremiah?"
"As you go throughout our land, you will say 'Behold, days are coming when the Lord will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. For thus declares the Lord: I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. In those days, and at that time, I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth. In those days, Judah shall be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell in safety; and this is the name by which she shall be called: The Lord is our righteousness'."
"The Branch of David - the Messiah?" Gedaliah asked, his eyes wide.
"Yes," answered Jeremiah. "It is for this reason that when Nebuchadnezzar destroys Jerusalem and her temple, that they must submit. In the end, the Lord will use this destruction for His holy purpose. When that happens, the remnant which remains will look to you to lead them."
Gedaliah looked at Jeremiah and Baruch, trying to fight back the tears which welled up in his eyes. "And my father agrees with this?"
"Yes," Baruch softly replied.
"Then I will go and say good-bye to my father in case I never see him again. I will do as you ask." Gedaliah rose and, wiping the tears from his eyes, opened the door and left. Baruch and Jeremiah watched him leave, knowing that in the eyes of many within the city, Gedaliah would be seen as a deserter and a traitor.
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