Asriel crouched behind a low-lying bush near the shallow water. He sensed danger. A slight movement to his left caused the hair on his neck to stand on end. The dim light made it difficult to determine the source of the sound. Asriel wiped the perspiration from his brow. Adrenalin flooded his body. He unsheathed his blade and prepared to defend himself.
An assailant rushed at Asriel from the shadows. The two men wrestled until they met face to face. Shocked, they both relaxed their grip and rolled away from one another.
"What are you doing here? Asriel barked.
"I'm headed home," Tahath replied.
Asriel stared at his cousin with disbelief. "Tahath, I could have killed you! Why are you on this side of the river? Did you go to Zaphon to fight with the rebels?"
Tahath's tendency to fall in with the wrong crowd worried Asriel. Especially now, when so much animosity existed between their two tribes–Manasseh and Ephraim. Since they were little boys, Asriel and Tahath had been caught in the middle of the ancient feud. Jealousy divided the house of Joseph.
The conflict escalated when the news about Jephthah's victory over the Ammonites spread to Ephraim. Soon afterward, the offended Ephraimites crossed over the Jordan. They travelled to Zaphon and threatened to burn Jephthah's house to the ground.
Jephthah preferred diplomacy, but the Ephraimites refused to listen. A tribal battle followed, and now the blood of Ephraim stained the Jordan River.
Jephthah's orders weighed heavy on Asriel's heart. All fugitives must be seized and put to death. No survivors, none, allowed to return home.
Asriel feared for Tahath's life. He drew close to his cousin and whispered a desperate plea, "Tahath, my beloved cousin, you must depart from this place at once! Go now, before someone sees you. Follow the path back to where the water runs deep. Then, wait by the river until morning. Don't talk to anyone!"
Tahath retreated down the path. "I'll see you at home," He promised.
Asriel watched until his cousin disappeared into the bushes. He exhaled sharply and returned to his post.
For the most part, Tahath adhered to Asriel's instructions. He followed the path to where the water ran deep. He settled in for the night; careful to stay out of sight. Before he drifted off into a fitful sleep, Tahath considered his options. He regretted his involvement with the Ephraimite rebels, and vowed never to fight against his cousins again.
The next morning, just as the sun peeked over the horizon, Tahath surfaced from his hiding place. He ran to the river's edge and ventured into the water.
A loud voice came from behind. "Hey you! Stop right there!"
Startled, Tahath turned to see a Gileadite soldier barreling toward him.
The soldier stopped short of the water. "Are you an Ephraimite?"
Tahath froze in the water. "No," He lied.
The soldier drew his sword. "Come out of the river," He commanded. "You sound Ephraimite to me. Let me hear you say Shibboleth."
Tahath's heartbeat tripled. Asriel's warning suddenly made sense. He stepped onto the bank of the river and reluctantly said, "Sibboleth."
"I knew it!" The soldier said as he lifted his sword.
A split-second later, Tahath fell to the ground, dead.
His accent gave him away.
Fiction article adapted from Judges 12:1-6; The Holy Bible: New International Version. 1984. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Judges 12:5-6: The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead asked him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he replied, “No,” they said, “All right, say ‘Shibboleth.’ ” If he said, “Sibboleth,” because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time.
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