One more battle. One more chance. Salmah stood atop a hill overlooking a broad green valley lavished with purple orchids, yellow lilies and wild onion blossoms covering the battlefield like the promise of victory. But the victory that Salmah prayed for was not to conquor King Og and his vast army but to conquor and lay to rest the burden of shame he’d carried all his life.
He plucked an arrow from his leather quiver and ran his hand down its length. Pointing it to the lush valley, he checked the alignment. Straight. It should be, it was his father's and never used. The shame sickened his stomach. He rubbed the bronze tip on the end, sharp and heavy. "Nahshon, son of Amminadab, of Judah," the engraving read. His father had been the commander of the tribe of Judah - the biggest and most powerful of the 12 tribes of Habiru. But when the Lord Shaddai set the land of Promise before them, his father advised against taking the land.
'Listen to the spies,' he had said. 'The giants are as tall as watchtowers. A thousand of our arrows would bounce off one shield. They’ll slay us and take our women and children captive.'
But it was his father and the entire army of the Habiru that died instead. The Lord sent them back to the desert to die in cowardice and fear. And Salmah's friends never let him forget.
Now that Salmah was twenty he was old enough to lead the tribe and the taunts had increased.
"Another day of heat and wind, thanks to your father, Salmah. We could be sitting under an oak tree in the land of promise if he hadn’t been such a coward."
Everyday after practice they raised their hands to him in mock salute. "Salmah,son of Nahshon the brave."
"Nahshon, commander of the greatest war never fought."
Every evening Salmah came in alone from practice, the last one to finish, and over their meal of manna the tirade continued. "It's your father's cowardice that forced us back to the desert and this tiresome manna day after day. If he faced the giants we’d be toasting you with wine!”
They raised their bowls of manna to each other and laughed, and then dipped their heads together against this young man who awaited his rightful position as captain of the tribe of Judah.
And everyday Salmah's spirit steeled a little more against the shards of shame they hurled at him. He turned his face like flint towards the threats of the Kinahu. He would not tremble in fear at the base of their fortified cities or turn and run from the giants, the Rephaim of the land, unlike his father, Nahshon.
Salmah gazed westward into the land of the Kinahu. The river Yarden glowed in the rising sun like a golden sword protecting its fertile nation. Its lush green valley shamelessly tempted conquorers and invited their courage only to be humiliated by its city walls that grazed the heavens. Its olives and grapes had been crushed and sampled by every known nation in the world.
And soon it would be his turn. He would conquor it. Today he would prove that he was ready. He must.
A shadow fell across the view and Salmah knew without turning around that Barak, captain of the tribe of Judah towered over him. He trembled under the vibration of his massive chest as it rose and fell, and he felt Barak’s hot breath on the top of his head.
Salmah prepared for the usual insult. Barak always had a sneer in his voice that never failed to pierce the steel of Salmah's spirit.
"Salmah, we’ve been talking.”
They were always talking, Barak and his boys. Barak was the one who taught them how to aim their arrows and sink their barbs into Salmah's tender soul.
He brought his fist down on Salmah’s shoulder and shook him, as if to test his balance.
“You’ve fought all winter and your courage hasn’t failed. By this time next year we’ll be burning those filthy goats of the Kinahu” He jerked his black beard to the west and spit.
“We’ll need a captain to take us in there.” He jiggled Salmah’s quiver on his back and pushed him towards the waiting army. “You’ll fight with me today.”
Salmah did not respond, but waited, sure that Barak was preparing choice words to shame him again. But Barak was silent. Salmah shoved his sword back into the bronze sheath around his waist, and let its clang echo through the valley like a victory shout.
He turned around and faced the chest of Barak, captain of the tribe of Judah. In the glint of his chain mail, Salmah caught his own reflection. His long brown hair blew in the breeze, and his mother’s blue eyes appeared naïve and over anxious. He dropped the smile.
"Yes my lord. I will fight beside you today," said Salmah, bowing his head before his captain. "I will not retreat from your side nor from the enemy at the front."
"And tonight, you’ll clean your sword beside me at the fire," said Barak.
Salmah raised his eyes to meet Barak's and nodded at the rare complement. Although Barak smiled under his beard, his eyes remained hard.
"May the Almighty be our shield," said Salmah, searching Barak's eyes and sensing the flick of a viper under the commander's tongue.
by Pam Mytroen