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Chapter 1 continued: “That Man Must Die!”

November 9, 2014 0 Comments

“That man must die!  We can’t allow him to say the things he is saying without suffering the wrath of Pharaoh Necho.”  Jehoiakim, King of Judah, glared at the priests and rabbis gathered about him.  Fools!  They had no understanding of the intricacies of international politics.  Without Egypt to protect them from the creeping threat from Babylon, the lucrative trade through the pass of Megiddo – not to mention the trade with the merchants of Tyre and Sidon – would be imperiled.

 

          It had been three and one half years since he’d taken the throne from his weak brother, Jehoahaz, with the help of his Egyptian sponsors.  From that time forward, he had used his position to prepare his people for a new, cosmopolitan Judah.  Their infatuation with an uncompromising religion had blinded them to the need to be pragmatic.  Only by compromising with Judah’s more powerful neighbors could his country hope to regain the greatness of King David’s time.  To build his vision of a New Jerusalem, he had killed a prophet who had stood in his way once before – Uriah.  Jehoiakim had no problem doing so again.

 

          “Pashur acted wisely in stopping Jeremiah and putting him in the stockade,” said Ahikam.  Jehoiakim turned to eye the old man, who had been an advisor to his father Josiah.  It had been Ahikam who had prevented him from having Jeremiah executed when he first took the throne three years ago.  But that was then, and this was now, and Jehioakim’s power was much greater.  “The king should allow him to go his way as is the law for a man who has been flogged and publicly rebuked in the stockade,” continued Ahikam.  He met the king’s stare and did not blink, while keeping his own countenance placid, revealing nothing of the emotional churning in his stomach.

 

          “Jeremiah has already prophesied falsely concerning Babylon.”  All eyes turned to Shemaiah, who rose to speak out against Ahikam’s counsel.  The contempt which the two rival prophets held for each other was well known, as Shemaiah and Jeremiah had frequently locked horns, particularly over Judah’s dealings with Egypt.  Along with his younger associate, Hananiah, Shemaiah never missed an opportunity to disparage Jeremiah’s words.  “Though Babylon appears to be on the ascendancy, the Lord will clearly aid Egypt to prevail and elevate the House of David,” he continued.  “Thus, Jeremiah is a false prophet and must meet with the fate of a false prophet.”

 

          Jehoiakim smiled to himself. Without hesitation, he seized the opportunity afforded him by Shemaiah.  “In the morning, we shall take him down from the stockade and imprison him.  Then, when Necho defeats Babylon, we shall have him stoned to death just as the Law of Moses requires!  Let us retire to our chambers and take this action at dawn.”  With that, the king rose and left the room, leaving the rest to realize that they had just been made party to a conspiracy to kill a prophet of God.

 

          Ahikam left quickly, but discretely, and sought out his son, Gedaliah.  As chief scribe, he was responsible for keeping the scrolls and overseeing their recopying.  He was also the one who scheduled the reading of the sacred books in the Temple.  His had been an honored position in the time of King Josiah, Jehoiakim’s father.  But in recent years, his influence had waned.  He must now do what he could to save Jeremiah’s life, which unfortunately, was very little. 

 

          Making his way from the King’s palace to the Temple of Solomon, Ahikam found his son in the temple library.  “I need you to act quickly,” he told Gedaliah.  “Seek out Baruch and tell him that Jeremiah is to be thrown into prison at dawn.  He must be freed before first light if he is to live to an old age.  I will seek out some of our friends among the Rechabites and see what aide they might give us.”  He looked at his son, a man of gentle spirit.  One who never grew angry at those around him, he was a good man, but too trusting.

 

          “Fear not, father.  I will find Baruch.  This isn’t the first time that Jeremiah has gotten himself in trouble with the powers that be, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.”

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          Hamath was a provincial capitol of the Assyrian Empire – at least, what was left of it.  Just over sixty years had passed since Assyria had launched an invasion of Egypt.  That invasion had resulted in the fall of Thebes and the subjugation of the Egyptians.  But in the last thirty years, the Egyptians had driven the Assyrians back.  Now, in an ironic twist of fate, the Egyptians were coming to the rescue of their former enemies.  Babylon was on the march from the east.  Ninevah, the capitol of Assyria, had fallen.  So too had Haran, their northern provincial capitol.  Weakened though Assyria was, Pharaoh Necho wanted to preserve her as a buffer zone between Egypt’s vassal states and the advancing barbarians from Chaldea.  If Assyria fell, Jerusalem was only slightly more than a fortnight’s march away. Along with Judah, Tyre, Ashkelon and other kingdoms would come under the spreading evil.  Then, nothing would stand in the way of an invasion southward toward the Third Kingdom.  It was for this reason that Egypt had decided in the last several years to come to Assyria’s aide.

 

          Amhose could smell the salt scent of the breeze blowing off the Great Sea, less than-days march to the west away.  As Necho’s commanding general, he was pleased with the power he held in his hand.  Arrayed behind him were 100,000 soldiers – mostly Egyptian, but numbering in their ranks were Greek mercenaries, Nubions and Libyans.  Their mission was to march north to Carchemish, where a large Egyptian garrison had been harassed in recent months by the Babylonian scourge.  Under his leadership, they had slowly wrested territory away from the Chaldeans (Osiris be praised!).  In a display of typical overconfidence, their king Nabopolasser had returned to Babylon last year.  Amhose had immediately overrun the garrison the Babylonians had left at Qurumati.  All the Babylonian dogs had been put to the sword.

 

          But now Nabopolasser’s brash son, Nebuchadnezzar, was harassing the Egyptian garrison at Carchemish.  Located on the Euphrates river, the garrison controlled a key choke point on one of the most important rivers in the world.  Amhose’s orders were to march his army north to Carchemish, relieve the garrison and wipe out the invaders.  To move this army to its destination would take four more days.  He had led his army out of Hamath two days before, and had encountered only scattered bands of Chaldeans since.  Amhose had no doubt that they would quickly dispatch the raiders near Carchemish when he arrived.  Once he had secured the garrison, he was to then march southeast along the Euphrates toward Babylon.  Necho wanted him to strike the barbarians directly by laying siege to the enemy’s capitol. 

 

          Amhose wiped away the sweat from his balding pate, cursing the onset of middle age which not only marred his youthful looks, but also was beginning to add inches to his waist.  He had risen quickly through the ranks to become the general of Pharaoh’s armies.  At the age of thirty-two, he was ruthless, afraid of nothing.  Yet this last plan was insane.  It was a mad plan dreamed up by a middle aged king who liked to play soldier.  In truth, Necho had no idea what real soldiers did.  But the invasion of Babylon was another issue – one with which he would deal when the time came. Amhose looked up at the sky.  It would be dark in a few hours.  He would give the order to halt once they had crested the next hill.  Though expecting no trouble, he would make sure that every precaution to secure the camp was taken.

 

          Amhose shifted his attention to several approaching riders.  As they drew near, he could see they were an advance scouting party returning from their search for signs of the enemy.  His personal guard had met them and were escorting them to his carriage.  Amhose motioned the driver to stop, and bade his servants bring water to the scouts.  They reined in their steeds and dismounted, immediately bending to one knee and saluting their general.  “Rise and report,” commanded Amhose.

 

          “My lord, we came across 5,000 Babylonians a day and a half ride from here.  They were camped at the foot of Mt. Tadmor, and were preparing to break camp when we came upon them.”

 

          “Were you seen?”  Amhose asked the chief scout.  While he was sure the man was a capable officer –  Amhose could not recall his name – the general would be derelict in his duty if he did not ask this question.   

 

          “No, my Lord,” the scout replied.

 

          “You are certain?”  Amhose saw the scout captain stiffen at the implied lack of faith in his abilities.  A good sign – a display of hesitancy would have shown his next statement to be a lie.

 

          “We were not seen, Lord Amhose,” the scout said slowly and distinctly so there could be no misunderstanding of his answer – or his disgust that the question had been asked.

 

          Amhose eyed the captain.  His scouting party of twelve were strong, sure warriors. He was content that the information the man carried was accurate.  He decided to ask the scout his assessment of the situation.

 

          “What do you believe the enemy is up to?”

 

          The scout paused to consider his words, then answered.  “As you know, Mt. Tadmor is located near the Karasu river, a tributary to the Euphrates.  There are several explanations for why they were there.  The most likely explanation is that they were one of the raiding parties which had been harassing Carchemish – if not the only raiding party.”

 

          “What makes you think they had been involved in a raid on Carchemish?”

 

          “They were tending to their wounded and appeared to have been there for at least a week.  However, if we don’t act quickly, their trail will grow cold by the time we return to where they were camped.”

 

          Amhose looked away at his army.  Like ants moving over the face of the earth, so his soldiers were moving north toward Carchemish.  He looked in the direction of the Third Corps, twenty thousand of his most capable troops.  “I am ordering the Third Corps to march toward Mt. Tadmor and pursue the Babylonians.  We will follow with the main army.”  He turned to the scout.  “You will report to General Ptah and guide him to where you spied the Chaldeans.”

 

          “Yes, my lord,” replied the scout.  He went, along with Amhose’s chief of staff to convey the order.

*    *    *

The Brotherhood of the Scroll

About the Author:

David Lantz is a self-published author, adjunct college professor and leadership consultant. Visit my online courses at https://generationselfemployed.zenler.com/ and like my facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/wisejargon and

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