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Kings Shall Come to the Brightness of Thy Rising
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I raised my fists at the western night sky.
‘How long, O Lord?’ I cried in anguish. ‘Shall You turn Your face from us for ever? Will you not restore the kingdom to Israel? Why do you let the oppressor rule over us?’
A voice spoke from behind me.
‘It is because the hearts of His people have hardened, though they serve Him with their lips.’
I turned in alarm, expecting to see an angel of wrath.
It was nearly so, for I saw a tall woman of fifty summers, whom any good Jew who travelled to the feasts in Jerusalem would recognize.
‘The prophetess Miriam, daughter of Anna, Mother-in-Israel.’ I gasped and bowed. ‘Why do you honour your humble servant with your presence?’
Her mother never left the temple, for she was of very great age, and spent all her hours in prayer and fasting. Miriam travelled throughout the land as her envoy, but soon it was plain that the Spirit of the Lord rested upon her also.
She turned her piercing but kindly eyes upon me. It seemed that she could see deep into my soul.
‘Peace be with you, my son. I am sent to those all who seek the consolation of Israel -- even those who dwell in the farthest reaches of the land. The time is at hand, God has heard the cry of your heart. But the answer is not what you think, Johannan ben Salomon.’
‘Then what must we do, mother-of-Israel, to cast out these Romans? Now they demand that we register for a new tax! Will not Messiah come and set us free?’
‘There is a greater oppressor within you, my son. But Messiah is at hand to free us all.’
I did not understand the former part of her saying then, but certainly the latter. My heart kindled within me as would the heart of any son of Judah.
‘Truly?? How do you know this? Has God given us a sign of his coming, mother-of-Israel?’
‘Look up to the skies above you, my son. Have you not seen the sign of his coming from the east?’
I gaped in awe. I had kept my head down on my daily tasks and inner torment for too long.
If it was a star, it was the greatest I had ever seen. And it moved! It was slowly drifting westward toward Jerusalem. The other stars appeared to fade and bow before its glory and majesty.
But that was only the beginning of the wonders I would witness that night.
I once was a proud young zealot, then I became an angry inn-keeper near the city of Jericho. This is an account of the beginnings of the strange and wonderful journey that Jehovah has led me through to this day.
I took on the management of my father’s inn once he died, but my heart was with Judas Bar Joses and his bands.
O, how I hated the Romans – ever since they slew my elder brother!
I struck at them when I could, joining Judas’ night raids. Nevertheless, Tamarah, my beloved and faithful wife, persuaded me to desist for her sake and for the sake of our little twins -- Thomas and Shimon.
A devout son of Abraham, I dutifully despised all gentiles, recited the Torah and Talmud regularly, gave to the poor, kept my wife and children in subjection, never failing to attend the synagogue every Sabbath. Although I kept the law as faithfully as I could, I could not rid my heart of its emptiness, restlessness and anger. How my wife bore with me I know not.
But all that began to change the night that the prophetess came. But she was not the only strange visitor.
‘Come within, mother-of-Israel, you are our guest at our expense for as long as you wish. Harvest has passed and the nights grow cold. Come within! Innkeepers have never had such an honour since Deborah’s time. There are few guests tonight, for most have gone to the places of their birth to be...’
I clenched my teeth on the last words.
‘....to be registered for the Roman tax! And who would wish to say they were born in Jericho?’
The prophetess smiled, ignoring my frustration.
‘I thank you, Johannan. The blessing of God be upon you for your kindness. Yet there are greater honours to be bestowed upon you this night, although I know not yet who or what they be. God shall reveal it in His time.’
In the excitement of this prophecy and catering for our special guest, we did not hear the first knock on the door. Little Thomas answered at the second knock, but the moment he saw the visitors, he ran to tell us.
‘Abba! Abba! They are kings here! Many kings of many colours!’
I scoffed and scolded his seeming fancifulness, but Tamarah calmly went to investigate.
There are few things that could shake my wife’s composure, yet she returned to the kitchen as white as her best flour.
‘Are they Romans??’ I cried, seizing the sword hidden in the larder.
‘No, no, my dear.’ she replied, grasping my sword-arm. ‘They are guests indeed, not enemies. Perhaps Thomas spake truly. If they are not kings, they are high princes at the least -- but from far off lands! The prophetess greets them and has speech with them, thanks be to God, but we have little to feed such guests! We have only a little bread, herbs and fish until the Sabbath.’
My duties as host overcame my amazement.
‘Come, my dear, go you to the house of Thaddeus the spicer and beg of him whatever you can. Spare no expense, for these guests will pay well. Hammer on the window if you must. Young Bethany and I shall attend the guests.’
Nodding dumbly, she hastened into the night, seizing two large baskets on the way.
As I walked into the main guestroom with trays of our best wine, I tried to put on my most welcoming face. Gentiles may be despised, but I had found that rich gentile guests were more generous and open-handed than those of our nation.
I glanced at their faces and realized why my wife had been so awe-struck.
The Prophetess Miriam had indeed welcomed them, treating them as old but highly respected acquaintances. She did not seem to feel the same amazement.
There was an aura of greatness that hung about them, even though they were not dressed as richly as kings. One I recognized as having the mark of a Babylonian satrap, or even a prince, One was exceedingly dark of face, but with no less majesty in his bearing. The others had the look of the far orient, maybe even the farthest of all. A strange sense of destiny crept over me. The same feeling I had when I saw the great star.
The Medean appeared to be the main spokesman of the company, and he spoke to Miriam with grave courtesy.
‘Your name is well known to us indeed, prophetess. Your fame and that of your brother prophet Simeon goes before you. The blessings of Yahweh and his angel-star shines on our meeting. Is it not His will that we should thus meet? We seek the counsel of Simeon and the wise elders of Jerusalem concerning these great matters. You have been summoned by the star above us then?’
‘My lord, I seek the face of God daily with prayers and fastings, and it is for such times as these that I am sent here and there. I am here to serve you as much as God will enable such a maidservant as I.’
She became aware of my humbled presence and introduced me as their host and a as a worthy son of Abraham. The guests greeted me with gracious words, and overwhelmed me with more honour than what surely any inn-keeper has ever received. I stammered my thanks and welcomed them as grandly as I could, but felt rustic and unlearned.
He requested rooms for the night and provision for their servants and their many camels.
I hastened out to attend to these matters as quickly as may be, for I knew that matters of great moment were about to be spoken of amongst these strange and mighty guests.
After they had drunk from their goblets a little, pronouncing various blessings over my house, I invited them to the best couches in the feasting room. Bethany came in, wide-eyed and a little frightened, bearing the best fore-meats she could find in the house. Even she was received with great courtesy and retreated to the kitchen blushing and overcome.
‘And now,’ said the Medean noble, putting down his goblet, rising to his feet and addressing the prophetess ‘...we must speak of who we are and of our mission. Strange doings and mighty portents have already come to pass.’
I brought more candles but stayed in the shadows to hear them speak, but they appeared to address me almost as equal in state as the prophetess.
‘O maidservant of Jehovah God, and O my worthy host, hear now my tale. I am Balthazar, son of Balgonathar, prince of Seleucia. But my highness of state is of little worth to me. They speak of me and my fellowship as the Magi, bestowing powers upon us that we do not claim. We are but disciples of the sciences. We are of an ancient order that looks back over many and many generations to the days of Nebuchadnezzar, the conqueror of nations. Have you read in the Holy Scriptures the account of the great Hebrew prophet Daniel?’
I nodded fervently. In my childhood I sat eagerly at Rabbi Joseph’s feet and begged him to tell those tales many times.
‘Do you speak of the king’s soothsayers and magicians that could not recall his dream for him?’ the prophetess inquired.
‘Truly so, lady. The blessed Daniel alone recalled and interpreted it, winning the favour of the king, and staying also the sentence of death upon all the wise men. Some of these perceived that Yahweh was God in very truth, and became disciples of the lord Daniel.
Thus did my order come into being and has continued to this day: the order of Daniel. No other god have we served but the God of Israel, even when many of my fellow magi fell back into idolatry and even sorcery.
But Jehovah sustained us even through times of persecution.
We pray to Him three times daily as Daniel taught us. We study the scriptures daily. We read the skies for the signs of the times -- not as the sorcerers do, for deceitful gain or as servants of the evil one. Rather do we read the messages of Jehovah’s will in His creation. We grieve at the terrible things coming upon the face of the earth, and the gross darkness on the hearts of the people. Therefore do we pray the more earnestly.’
He turned his grey and solemn eyes upon us again.
‘And now our vigilance has been rewarded. For a great light has appeared in the heavens, like a star brighter than all others. Even the very gleams of its rays spoke to us of hope. A hope for all mankind!
We prayed and inquired of Jehovah what it meant, and how we could find this hope. Then the word of the Lord came to us: Seek for the King of the Jews.
Then the great star drifted off toward the land of Judea. Therefore do you behold us here. Not only this, but my fellow travellers here have come from afar, even from the ends of the earth, seeking the same hope as do I. But they shall speak of their own quest.’
He bowed towards his friends and sat down.
Then the traveller with the face as dark as the colour of night arose to address the prophetess..
‘I am Melchior, a prince of Ethiopia, and a scholar of ancient writings from the ends of the earth.’
In my ignorance, I had thought that none but slaves came from Ethiopia, yet here was one with the bearing and presence of any king I had ever seen. His speech was as cultured as any learned rabbi I had ever heard.
He smiled, his teeth like polished ivory or pearl, his eyes sparkling as bright as the great star above us.
‘My studies and uses of the herbs of the southern lands have made the unlearned think that I have miraculous powers of healing, thus they call me Magician also.’
His fellow-travellers laughed and nodded their understanding.
‘We have a tradition within my family that our ancestor was no less than the Queen of Sheba, she of whom it is spoken in the Hebrew Holy Scriptures. It is said that she gave birth to a son by King Solomon himself, and so began the dynasty of the kings and queens of Ethiopia. Thus the king this day calls himself the “Lion of Judah”. Of this tale, Candace, his daughter, has grave doubts. Nonetheless, she and I studied the Hebrew scriptures because of this.’
From under his robes he produced an ancient scroll and looked at it in great reverence.
‘Through reading these sacred words, we have become convinced that Yahweh-Jehovah is the God of heaven and Earth, and the source of all life and wisdom. I am now a proselyte of the Hebrew faith, and observe most of the great feasts in Jerusalem.
Yet I am unsatisfied and unfulfilled. Where is the heart in all the observances spoken of in the law? Why do we fail to obey them? In despite of all God’s faithfulness, why do we turn our backs upon Him? Is there no hope for us?’
He searched through the scroll in his hands and found the prophecies of Jeremiah.
‘Yet here is hope: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant.. “ Truly this portion of Scripture has burned in my heart of late, yet I do not understand why, or what it means. What covenant is this, wise lady? ‘
Then the prophetess stirred and spoke from the same portion: ‘“...I will put my laws in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts….’ The time spoken by the prophet has come. The covenant is soon to be cut, yes, in your own lifetime, my lord. And it begins with a small child: the king of the Jews!’
‘Then I long to see him, and honour him, lady! Tell me where we may find him?’
‘Alas! I am ignorant of these things. If Simeon ben Haram were here… were he not so ill, so old.. for it is given to him to speak of the times and seasons of nations. I speak only of things of the heart. Seek counsel of him in Jerusalem, or of the scribes, for they are greatly learned in the scriptures.’
‘Then we shall do so, lady.’ said Balthazar. ‘And surely your king will rejoice to hear of the consolation of Israel also, when we announce the coming of your Messiah. But let us hear now from him who comes from the land of the Hindush.’
Knowing King Herod as I did, and my bitterness toward his tyranny, I would have spoken, but the stranger from the land of the Hindush arose and forestalled me.
Would Herod rejoice at this news? This I doubted, but was it my place to speak of it?
Had I known what Herod would do to the children of Bethlehem, I would have spoken indeed.
The Hindush prince was more colourful in dress than his fellows. His face was not as dark, but his teeth were as white as those of the Ethiopian. The great turban on his head was intricately tied, beyond the skill even of the Arab traders I had hosted. He had a liveliness in contrast to the others’ grave demeanour, but no less courtesy.
‘O my worthy host and O good and great prophetess, for many years I have desired this pilgrimage to Israel, the land of the hope of the world.
I am Khasbharna of the line of the Brahmins, but I do not claim descendance of the god Brahma. I also serve no other god but Him whom you name the God of Israel.’
He happened to notice little Thomas peeping at him from the doorway. I rose to hasten him off to bed, but the Hindush prince gently stayed me and invited the boy to sit with him, treating him to a rare delicacy in a box by his side. Thomas came very willingly, and there he remained until the end of the prince’s discourse. He smiled, saying he had never had children of his own.
‘When my father left his estate to me, I soon became weary of riches and the pleasures they bring. I have seen that there is a great hunger in the heart of every man, no matter how rich or exalted he may be, for that mysterious, hidden fruit that alone can feed the heart, but cannot be seen with the eye. What it is I know not its fullness yet.
I inquired of all the wise among the Hindush, for there were many, and all claimed to know the nature of this fruit. But their own fruit was soon shown to be as tasteless and as rotten as my own. All their gods were cruel tyrants as much as any ruler I had studied, and often worse!
So I despaired until I met a great wise man who had travelled from the furthest isles of the uttermost west at the prayer of the Raja Ramagathan.
This stranger was a druid, Colm Ui-Connan, a teacher of very great wisdom from the great place of learning in Tara of Hibernia. He had travelled for many years and learned many tongues and customs from many lands. Much learning and speech was exchanged between the stranger and the wise men at the Raja’s palace.
Pale of face with eyes of blue had the man of the west, yet we felt a kinship in our quest for the true fruit. He spoke of the past glory of the people of Israel, and told many a strange and wondrous tale of which you all know from the holy writings you hold. He spoke of a great and righteous God who cared for his people, a God unlike any other I knew!
When he left for his own lands, he spoke of this prophesied Messiah who would fill our hearts with this fruit that I longed for, and that He would be called Emmanuel -- God with us. A God who was willing to dwell among us as a man, born of a virgin!
Hence I forsook my own land to seek for the land of the Jews, and fell in with our exalted company here. By chance, some would say!
Alas that my friend Colm of the far west was not with me, but he prophesied that salvation begins in the land of the Jews, and that the season of salvation for the peoples of the west was not yet. “As the sun arises in the East, and goes to its rest in the West, so shall it be.” said he.
Therefore I come to behold Him, the Dawn of the Salvation of the world in this land.’
He relinquished the boy to his mother, bowed and reclined upon his couch.
Then the sage from the remotest lands of Sina arose and bowed deeply many times. His interpreter and friend, once a far-travelled Dorian merchant captured by Chinese pirates, arose with him.
The wonder of these events hung heavily upon them. It showed even in the strange and inscrutable face of the man of Sina. His eyes, shaped unlike any I have seen, were nonetheless deep wells of wisdom as they looked upon us.
‘I am Kong Wah, son of Kong Hsi, once proud lord of the province of Ornan of Sina. As a renowned scholar, I was an advisor to two great Emperors for many years. I have ever served and worshipped Shang Di, all honour to Him, Whom many of our scholars still consider is the one true God.
It is a great grief to see many of my people forsaking the God of our fathers, and building their own shrines to mere beasts and demons. Therefore blessing and prosperity sent from Shang Di has left us, and we suffer many wars, floods, plagues and famines.’
He sighed deeply, and looked out into the clear night sky as his interpreter spoke.
‘With the emperor’s leave, I forsook my post to seek the mercy of my God for my people and to find the path of truth and wisdom that my heart hungered for.
I was drawn westward in my seeking, for a dream came to me of a great light, like the star we see this night, drifting to western lands. I had heard rumours and tales from the west of a nation who had a God like to mine: mighty, just and merciful.
Thus I travelled for many a day over land, by ship and with camel traders to Media, with whom we had traded for many years.
At last, by the grace of Shang Di, I chanced, or so it seems, on the honoured prince Balthazar.”
He bowed to his fellow travellers, who bowed their heads gravely in return as the interpreter spake of their kindness and hospitality toward the company from SIna.
‘When the great light appeared in the heavens, I, too, was filled with this strange sense of hope and joy. It travelled its own path, unlike any other. So when my friend Balthazar spake of following its path, I determined to come, weary of travel though we were.’
Others now arose one by one and spoke of a similar story. It seemed they had come from almost every race and tongue.
There was an Arabian, a Sharman from the far north, strange dark men in strange garments from the south. It seemed that all the peoples of the world had come to witness the appearance of the Messiah that Miriam spake of.
Miriam drew a breath of wonder and whispered an ancient saying from the prophet Isaiah:
‘ “...And the gentiles shall come to Thy light, and kings to the brightness of Thy rising…” Simeon spake truly.’
When they finally retired, I went to the stables and servants’ quarters to see that all was in order, but I walked as a man in a dream.
“Rabbi Joseph has not told us any of this!’ I muttered to myself.
The prophetess was standing silently near the palm grove, gazing up at the great star in deep reverie. Tamarah, tired but exhilarated by the events of the night, approached from the other side.
‘Mother-in-Israel,’ she exclaimed with eyes opened wide. ‘Have you not heard in the town, the rumours among the shepherds on the hills? Their fellows outside Bethlehem say they have seen hosts of Angels who proclaim the birth of the Messiah. Some say they saw him in a stable, born in a manger! But how can He be born in such low estate? I would not have believed it had not these great ones come to us.’
The prophetess turned and smiled at me, triumphant laughter in her eyes.
‘What say you to all these things, my son?’
‘I have been blind, Mother-in-Israel! Long have I believed that all gentiles dwelt in darkness. Yet we see this night that the God of Israel has spoken to many in many lands.’
‘God has had a witness in all nations throughout the ages, my son. Their hearts have made room for Him where, sadly, many in Judea are closed!’
Before I could answer, Tamarah looked up in alarm.
‘But where is little Shimon?’
I hung my head in shame and mumbled.
‘He is with the rebel youths, stoning the garrison in Jericho.’
Without a word, Tamarah sped into the night to find our son, hiding her anger toward me. Many times I had encouraged him in these perilous deeds, for so had I done in my own youth.
The prophetess was also displeased.
‘Johannan ben Salomon! Why do you sow the seeds of violence? Now your son will reap this harvest. The Romans are upon us because our people have sinned and turned their hearts away from their God.
You have seen that God is bringing a light to the gentiles. Will you continue to suffer the tyrant within to rule you – and your sons? That is not the way to restore the kingdom to Israel. These good men within, gentiles though they be, they serve our God’s purpose, even as King Darius did of old. Messiah comes with a covenant of the heart, which these servants of God have understood.
When will you forsake your anger and make room for him also?’
I could not answer or look in her eyes, so she left me and returned to her room.
I returned to my own room to spend a sleepless night, her rebuke ringing in my ears.
The years have passed since that wondrous night. We are old, Tamarah and I, and Bethany has taken the management of the inn.
My mood had softened toward the Romans, but to our deep sorrow and my shame, Shimon grew to be as rebellious and angry as his father had ever been. He rejected the Messiah and joined the zealots, dying at the hands of Herod’s men. The zealots were assailed, taken unawares, while bringing a sacrifice in the temple.
But to our great joy and pride, Thomas, more like to his mother in mood, grew to be a mighty man of God.
In spite of his doubts, he joined the disciples of the prophet Yeshua of Nazareth.
It was my son who returned with the true message of the Messiah after He died and rose gloriously from the dead. I now follow the Way and worship God in the new covenant of which the prophetess spake.
At certain times, some of the great wise men from the east returned seeking news of Messiah and His kingdom.
At one such time, Khazbharna of the Hindush returned, an old man, but with the same eagerness to hear news.
Thomas, my son spoke of the way of salvation, and led the old man into the new covenant with Yeshua as he had done for us.
He also spoke of the old prince’s kindness those many years ago, and it was this that made him resolve, as a child, to seek for Messiah, rather than follow his brother into the way of the sword.
Straightway, Khazbarna invited him to come to preach the way of King Yeshua to his own people, the Hindush.
In both pride and sadness, I let him go.
Although little news can reach us from so far, I have heard that Thomas has spread the good news to many in that land.
And it all began with that night of nights when the gentile princes came to seek the Brightness of the Arising of the Messiah.
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