Sitting down the old man leaned his weary frame against the tree, availing himself of its shade. Resting his forearms across his knees, he examined hands that would no longer blister. He wondered if his wife bristled at the touch of his calloused skin. “I have three sons, so my touch still means something to her.” He mused.
The snapping of a twig behind him announced the arrival of a visitor. Without raising his gray head, the old man looked around the trunk of his resting place while his aged eyes squinted to see who had come.
“Good morning,” the guest offered. His upraised hand complimented the greeting.
“Oh, it’s you Mahalalel. Gods blessing to you also. What brings you here so early?” Already tired, the old mans voice cheered at the opportunity to take a longer respite from his labors.
“I couldn’t sleep at all last night. I spent half the night talking with my sons. Trying to get them to see that you’re not insane, just a little misguided. They’re convinced you’ve lost your mind and need to get some help.” Mahalalel’s cheerful tone evaporated as soon as he stated his real reason for his coming.
The eldest of the two braced himself, “Here we go again.” He didn’t allow the groan of his heart to wrinkle his brow, he kept those words prisoner. “We’ve already been through this, Mahalalel, and I’ve not had a change of heart on the matter. You must know by now that you are wasting both your time and mine.” He gently parried.
“Yes, but this silliness about God judging the earth, I still don’t understand why you think that. Much less say it. Every one I talk to has had enough of your words of gloom and doom. It has to stop before you have no friends at all. I mean, more than half the people in the city are laughing at you. Do you really believe that’s a good way to tell them about Gods’ love?”
Before the venerable soul could respond, the uninvited guest kept up with his unsolicited and predictable speech. Both of them had heard it so many times from one another, they could almost finish each others sentences.
“The people are happy. Don’t you want happiness for them? Well? Don’t you? Look around you man, the young people are always smiling. Mothers are having their prayers answered by becoming grandmothers. Laughter blesses them and their houses are filled with the sound of it. Why do you persist with such idle tales?” Although they’d had somewhat the same conversation in the course of at least two generations, this time there seemed to be desperation in his heart as he was almost begging the wizened old preacher to stop.
“Happiness? Perhaps. But, they do not have joy,” it was not a defensive remark and his conviction for having said it only irritated his guest all the more. He continued, “Sin, sad to say, makes men happy. There is pleasure in it, but for a very short time. Still, you have to agree with me that it is not joy. Nothing like it.” He stated, and would have gone on, but as usual his oft present neighbor interrupted.
“The doctors all think you’re suffering some sort of illness they can’t yet figure out. They’ve said that perhaps a different blend of herb might be the cure for what obviously ails you. Some of them are even considering there may be some physical reason for your state of mind. Maybe you could see one of them?” Although Mahalalel was sure of the answer, he hoped that posturing as a genuinely concerned enquirer, he would affect a change of heart and put an end to the old mans’ words and ways.
“I wish I could believe that you care, and then I could offer my thanks for your words. Still, I’m not sick and neither is my mind. Have you considered that maybe the people themselves are sick and should be coming to me?” The veteran, partly in jest, but adamant nonetheless, countered.
“Father, “The old mans youngest sons’ words were a welcome excuse from this hundredth version of the same talk, “where did you put those other dowels? You know the longer ones we carved a few days ago. I’ve looked everywhere and…”
“They are under your brothers’ workbench, I’m sorry boy, I knocked the whole pile over this morning looking for my axe. You remember? My axe, the one you promised to return?” The love of this father to his son shone like the sun and rays of it came through in his voice.
“I thought I did. Sorry.” The boy said with a peaceful smile, knowing his beloved father meant no harm in his making sport of him. “Umm, could you show me how much pitch I’m supposed to use on those timbers again?”
Needing a good reason to end the tradition of their talks, the old Preacher excused himself from his guest, “Mahala” he abbreviated his name, “I’m sure we’ll talk again, but I must get back to work or risk my sons feeling as if they’re only my slaves.”
“Of course, and you promise to go see the doctor? There’s got to be some reason for all of this. We’ll talk soon, I hope.”
“Oh, I’m pretty sure we both know that we shall. As far as my going to see your doctors, well, I have neither reason or time to do that, so if you’ll pardon me. My sons need me.” He said as he gestured to his son to help him stand.
The father threw an arm around his boys’ shoulder, “Mahalalel, as always, I enjoy our talks. You always strengthen me to believe even more what I’ve been saying for all these years.”
Irritated consternation, nearing disgust, swept over his countenance as he watched the two of them walking away. “Fool, fool, fool and you have your own sons believing such things. Wrath. Judgment. Silly old man, go see a doctor.” Muttering, he turned to tell the townspeople that he’d failed yet again.
“Mahalalel,” her indifferent tone greeted him as he slammed the door, “why, why, why do you bother with that old fool? I’m beginning to think you’re the one who’s lost their mind. Jareds’ daughter is to wed this morning. Why do you insist on ruining the day, talking to that lunatic?”
“That’s exactly why I do talk to him. He casts his joyless cloud over the hearts of the people. He can believe what he chooses. I’m just trying to reason him into silence so the rest of us can get on with our own happiness. He just won’t listen. I told him to see one of the doctors.” He half explained and half defended himself against her attack.
“It’s been how many years? And still you feel as if you can get him to change his mind? The only thing you need to concern yourself with is that God loves all of us. That old loon just isn’t happy unless he makes someone miserable and he thoroughly enjoys tormenting some ignorant souls with his talk about ‘evil’ and ‘judgment’, just leave him alone.”
“I can’t do that. It’s not just his words. What about the children? They’ve heard him talking to the sky. It frightens them. Does he have the right to scare our young and expect that no one will do anything? I’ll go to my grave knowing I’ve done what I can to make our home and the homes of others safe from men like him. Mark my words.” His demeanor complimented his posture as he encouraged himself.
“My lord, enough of this talk. There’s a wedding this day. Let’s pray for these two and ask that God would continue to smile on the union of our countrymen with their daughters and our daughters with their sons. Surely, you don’t believe that God is displeased with the ways we’ve been kind to them and taken them as our own? We are all Gods’ children and He wants us to be happy.” She announced as she whisked off her apron and waved it like a banner of love and tolerance.
“It’s time. Call the children, would you? I need myrrh, the aroma of bread is good for a feast, but not on the gown of your wife.”
“Father, father, does this board go on the first or second floor?” Although he’d worked on this enormous project since his earliest days, he was embarrassed that the days of his apprenticeship had been too long.
“That one?” His smile erased the wrinkles of his age “it goes in the rubbish. Your brother cut that one too short.”
“Father, when are we leaving? We’ve been talking about this trip for years and making all these plans. It’s starting to feel as if all of this has been for nothing. Well, nothing good, anyway.” The lads concern was deep and his despair etched premature lines on his face.
“What do you mean ‘nothing good’?” With a gentleness few ever saw, the old man searched his sons’ eyes, hopeful he was not giving in to the counsel of the townspeople. The wisdom of his years had taught him that his offspring must have a faith of their own; but, still, he sincerely assumed his role in that faith
“Well, it’s just that, well, you know. Getting laughed at and having rocks thrown at you is not what I would call 'good.' Would you?” He forced the words past his trembling lips, not wanting to disrespect the elder.
“The people still live as they have since the days of even my youth and still nothing bad has happened to them. Are you sure of what you say?” Full of fear, but needing to hear it again, the young man pressed his father for some comfort, “it’s really starting to get to me.”
“Son, I understand. As much as I would like to reassure you; you know by now that this is something you must settle in your heart each day. How many times I’ve told you that you must hear from the Lord about more things than you need to hear from man, well, I’ve lost count.” A firm, gentleness caused the patriarch to raise his voice. “Put that board down. Go get your brothers. It’s time to pray.”
A passive, yet hostile group stood a stones throw from the four figures praying beside the monstrous project, the cool morning air carried their whispered words to the ears of those who’d come to mock them and laugh again at the work of their hands.
“You’re an evil man!” an antagonist shouted, hoping his words would put an abrupt end to the tiny gathering. “God loves us and you just can’t accept that. Such wickedness has never been seen. God as my witness, it shall never be seen again.”
“Judgment? Foolish, deceived old man. Life has continued on this way for generations and still you insist on telling us these lies. Even the devil himself is not a liar compared to the likes of you. What father would infect his sons with such heresy?” Another dared.
“He’s a God of mercy. If He were going to issue the judgments that you profess, then tell us why He didn’t judge Father Adam in the way you claim that He’s going to judge us?” A third adversary broadcast his challenge of doubt.
“Father, how are we to know if we’ve done this right?” a son queried, paying no mind to the crowd nearby.
“Boys, I realize that what we have done has never been done before. None of us here have any way to know this will work. Only God knows. It is for us to trust His instructions about the way this has been done and to leave the outcome to Him. As I’ve always said, ‘I can’t have your faith; you must have your own.’ And if there has ever been a time when that was more needed, this is that time, for each of you.”
The whole city moved as one man, gathering near the man and his tiny clan. Mahalalel had had his fill and led the people to the brow of a nearby hill to put an end to the years long saga.
“Enough! Enough!” The leader proclaimed, “Old man, you and your lunatic family must leave. For too long you’ve poisoned the people with your words of destruction. You’ve tried to take from all of us the happiness that is our God given right and for too long you have frightened our children. Away with you. Away with all of you!”
A raindrop landed on the back of Mahalalel’s outstretched hand as he pointed a defiant finger at the old Preacher, yet his words froze in his mouth as more rain baptized the people in fear.
“Noah!” her voice searched for her husband, the man who’d found grace in His eyes.
“Shem, Ham, Japheth, it’s time.”
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