(20 Miles East of esh-Sheri’ah el-Kebireh/Jordan River)
The air hung thick in a dry hot chalk dust canopy. The sun was high and blasting hard on the narrow road. A small caravan was making its way through a narrow pass not long after leaving Medeba.
The horses, as well as the caravan guards, were nervous. Such confines were notorious for bandits. It wouldn’t take long before their suspicions were verified.
Bandits! They came out of hiding and suddenly attacked. The hired guards reeled when the attackers rode out on horses decorated in hairy skins and horns. The raiders were also covered in animal skins and wore horned masks. The outlaws simultaneously attacked both front and rear of the caravan. All of the guards were quickly dispatched. What followed was a gruesome plunder. The attackers roamed through the caravan and randomly selected individuals making death sport of them. Their bloodlust continued for several minutes until their leader took control. He rode through a circle of his men surrounding a man they had chosen as their next victim.
All of the women and children were collected and separated from the men. Some were selected as suitable for the slave trade. Others were not so fortunate. The screaming sounds of death echoed along and up the narrow pass.
In all of the confusion of the attack, Hanun escaped. He wrapped his cloak around his single most important possession, a solid gold serving platter. Though only fifteen inches across, it was heavy. It was a temple artifact that would bring a handsome profit. He had spent everything he owned knowing its true value and what he would make in selling it. But now, he and his fortune were in danger.
He crawled through some overturned wagons into the surrounding cliffs. He slowly made his way up through a maze of ledges. He tried hard not to listen to the screams below. He knew that some of the screams were coming from friends and newly made acquaintances. He worked to steady his trembling hands. He couldn’t afford the mistake of being seen or heard.
He stopped and saw that he was nearing the top. He also saw that the boulders and ledges were thinning. He thought about sitting and waiting. The bandits might finish their deeds and then leave. But what if they didn’t? What if they remained to divide their booty? What if they retreated back into the cliffs and waited for the next caravan? Could he afford to wait? Would they find him out?
Between his mounting fear and relentless heat he decided he had to do something. He examined the possible paths to the top. None of them were perfect for hiding him the entire way to the top. One path appeared to be the best so he went with it. He continued his slow and deliberate climb, always making sure something blocked any line-of-sight between him and the bandits. The screams continued.
Hanun stopped. Only a fifteen-foot upward traverse remained and then he would reach the top. But there was a problem. The traverse was open to anyone looking from below. He would have to stay low almost crawling in order to lessen his sight profile on the side of the cliff. That meant it would take longer. There was no easy way to cover the remaining distance.
So he pulled his cloak up and down on his knees he went. The maneuver was awkward. He had to hold his cloak with one hand, keeping the platter covered, and keep his balance with the other. As he moved forward, the rocky ground tore into his knees until they bled. He pressed on despite the pain as he came closer to the top.
Suddenly he stopped when a scorpion scurried out in front of him. When he did, the platter slipped from his grip. He fell flat on his face as he snatched it to keep it from slipping down the cliff. It didn’t make any noise but it did something worse. The sun caught the platter at just the right angle. It reflected long enough to catch the attention of someone below.
“What is that up there?” The bandit screamed out as he pointed. Several of the bandits, including the leader, looked up.
Even lying down flat, a portion of Hanun’s profile was visible.
The leader called out to three of his men, “Go!”
Hanun heard the command and knew that they had spotted him. The hiding was useless. It was time to move. He got to his feet and ran. He was quickly over the top and on the other side. The slope was much more gradual. He stopped long enough to scan for possible places to run or hide. Nothing was immediately obvious, so he took the path that would give him the greatest distance from his pursuers.
He was already down and going around a bend by the time the bandits made it to the top. They didn’t see Hanun until he was going uphill a half mile away. They yelled a vicious curse as they blasted off after him.
Hanun heard the ferocity in their voice. He knew what would happen if they caught him. His lungs were practically exploding as he pushed himself up the hill and then down into a ravine. He had committed himself to this route of escape. As he ran, steep cliffs bordered both sides of the ravine. He had to get out and find another way. After running for a mile he stopped to look back. The soft dirt of the ravine had left no doubt which way he had come. He had to get to higher ground. He heard the mad calls of his hunters in the distance.
Hanun ran for another mile before the ravine opened up to some rolling hills on his right side. It was an obvious route, but he knew his pursuers would know that as well. He had no choice.
He pressed up the hill and soon saw that the terrain opened up to better options. Hanun had a better bearing of his whereabouts. He knew in which direction he could find some villages. His problem was that he was on foot and that madmen were chasing him. He had evaded them, now he needed a place to hide. In the distance he saw Neba, the sacred hill. He remembered spotting it to the south from the caravan. He dare not use the road on the south of Neba. It was a long stretch that bandits roamed freely.
If he could make his way north of Neba he knew he would have a better chance of reaching Medeba. There was a garrison there and the bandits would not wander close to such places. He had a plan. He knew the difficulty but had little choice.
Hanun took a deep breath and started running around and along a series of small hills. He pushed himself for about two miles before stopping to rest. Then he heard a chilling shriek from his hunters. From the direction and volume of the sound he thought he had about a mile distance on them. They were letting him know that they had not given up.
Neba was only another mile so he began making his way north of it. The pursuing bandits let out a series of yells and then Hanun heard something else. It was the sound of horses and more yells. A group from the raiding party had found their partners in crime.
Hanun had never felt such fear. He almost wanted to fall down and give up, but the fear drove him harder to escape.
He finally reached an area just above the base area north of Neba. Being a sacred area, there were many small shrines scattered along the slope. There were also several carved-in niches almost like a caves. He thought about hiding in one them but that option was too obvious. He pressed on and down hoping for any possibility of escape. He froze when he heard the voices.
“Stop your running foolish one. If you make us find you it will go worse for you. Surrender and your death will be swift.” After that came the evil laughter. They were making the hunt into a game of evil horror.
Hanun fell to his knees and dropped the gold platter. He lifted up his eyes to the sky and cried out. “Oh merciful Creator God whose name I know not. I cry out to you. Rescue me and I will serve you. From this place your holy man, Musa, once spoke to you. Hear me, I plead and I will serve you.”
Suddenly the ground trembled. A few rocks and dirt rolled down the side of Neba. Again the ground moved. To his left he spotted a crack where some rocks had become loose. Light seemed to peak out from the crack. Hanun got up and walked over to where the crack appeared. There were several larger stones around the area of the crack. When he moved one of the smaller ones the light was unmistakable.
Just then he heard the bandits coming closer. He looked into the crack and saw that it was a small cave. He put his shoulder to one of the larger stones and pushed. It moved slightly. He only needed a small opening to enter and he succeeded.
He squeezed himself into the opening. He then looked for something to cover the hole. He spotted several small rocks. He piled them up as best he could, hoping it was enough.
He stepped into the cave when heard voices outside.
“Look, the fool dropped his treasure.” They laughed. “Come out from hiding, fool. We know you are around here somewhere.” More jeering laughter.
Hanun stepped deeper into the cave.
Without warning the light in the cave exploded with intensity. Hanun was knocked down as if the light had substance. The ground again trembled.
Some of rocks Hanun had placed at the entrance rolled off and exposed the opening.
“Look, a cave.” The bandits had discovered Hanun’s hiding place.
Hanun got up and began to move further into the cave.
Just then a booming voice called out. “I warn you. Come no further.”
The light became brighter. Hanun fell on his face and covered his eyes.
The bandits outside heard the voice and saw the light. Their reaction was completely different. “Let’s see how brave you are when we come in for you.”
Again the voice boomed out as the bandits removed several of the stones at the cave’s entrance. “Come no further. I will not warn you a third time.”
The bandits were only enflamed all the more by the words. “It is you, fool, who will suffer for your boastings.”
Hanun remained face down in the ground. His whole body trembled.
The bandits were in a frenzy when they completed opening the entrance. They pulled out their daggers and swords ready to destroy the one who had warned them.
They ran into the cave screaming, only to be slammed to the ground. A blast of wind and light hit them. It then lifted them and threw them out of the cave. They barely had time to open their eyes when another blast of light came out of the cave. This time it was mixed with fire. They watched in stunned silence as the flames of the fire encircled them. All at once the flames attacked and consumed them completely. When the fire dissipated nothing remained, not metal or even bones.
Inside the cave Hanun remained face down and trembling. He had not seen but had heard and his fear was indescribable.
The voice again spoke. “Hanun, rise up and go. Learn My name and serve me. Speak of Me but not of this place. Hurry now, go.”
Hanun wasted no time. He rose up and ran out of the cave.
He was about three hundred yards from the entrance when the ground again trembled. He looked back and saw the ground moving like a wave in the ocean. He fell to the ground as the full swell passed by him. All around him the ground shook and roared. Hanun saw that the entrance to the cave was covered over and dust was rising as the rumbling wave moved across the land.
Hanun placed his face to the ground and with tears swore an oath. “This day I am rescued. This day I swear to learn the name of the God who has delivered me. I praise the God whose hand I have seen and whose name I will learn.”
On into the night Hanun remained on the ground repeating the oath.
In the city of Jerusalem and in the palace of Jotham the King, the ground shook. Across Israel and as far as Damascus the earth moved greatly that day. Though many died across the land, few called upon the name of the LORD or turned to seek His face. Such is the story of man.
But some day that cave would again be opened. And in that day, people would again see the fire of God and hear the Name of the LORD.