From his hiding place amongst the rocks, Paltiel peered up at the
sky. He knew the stars well, the old shepherd with whom he used
to keep night watches had made him repeat their names over and
over again. And the stars were the same as at Hebron, even here in
the foothills of the Lebanon.
Yes, calculated the boy, in an hour it would be midnight; a fire
arrow shot from the opposite hill would be the signal. And then they
would charge the enemy.
The enemy! Thousands upon thousands of trained soldiers! The
four combined armies of Mesopotamia! Paltiel shuddered. He was
only sixteen. He had never fought men before, though he had fought
jackals, and once had helped to chase a bear. But men, soldiers! His
heart felt like a lump of ice.
What was it the master had said? "Anyone who is afraid can stay
behind, and if we should not return he shall be free of his bond."
Should he turn back? There was still time. But was he really a
coward? Perhaps all the men of the tribe, now waiting in their
hiding places on the hillside all around the enemy camp, had the
Had they not all been afraid on the day of the assembly? Paltiel
remembered how pale they had looked when they rose, one after the
other, and spoke against the plan. All the older men, bondsmen or
free, the leader had asked them all. And each had the same: "How
can a small tribe of shepherds hope to win against four mighty
And then Abram, their master, had spoken.
"It is very hard for me," he began, "to order you to go to war. For
years I have taught you peace and kindness to all men, friend or
stranger. How can I order you now to go and kill or be killed?
"We are a small band, not even kin to each other, though the
common aim unites us more strongly than ties of blood. If we
should fall, there will be no one left to carry the message of God.
And yet, because we are men of peace, because the tyrant has not
attacked us ourselves, just because of that, this is our fight.
We stand for Peace, for Justice, for Kindness.
That is the way we serve the Lord of heaven and Earth.
Now this tyrant with his allies has attacked and vanquished not
only his former vassals but many tribes who had done him no
harm - and he has taken captive my kinsman, who is still one of us,
still trying to carry on the way of God, even if he has parted company
with us. He was not a citizen of the Confederation of the Five Cities
but a stranger, peacefully pasturing his sheep in the open
plains, and he is being taken into slavery now; and you know how
they treat slaves in the two-river land."
"If we stand by and do nothing, then we shall have betrayed our
duty, we shall have nothing left to live for. But if we go out and
fight, not for ourselves but for Justice, then whether we live or die,
we shall have done the greatest thing a man can do, we shall have
offered our lives for God. Whether we live or die, humanity will be
better because men have fought for Justice and not for themselves.
Therefore, whether you obey me or not, I will go, alone if need be,
and sanctify the name of God in the world with my life."
For a moment no one had moved. Then Eliezer of Damascus, the
oldest and most trusted of the Master's pupils, had stood up and
said: "You will not be alone, my Master, I too shall go." And then
more men had called out: "And I!" And I!" in the end everyone who
was able in body had joined, three hundred and eighteen men, and
the Canaanite neighbors had honored their alliance and called out
And they were still three hundred and eighteen after their long
march. Not one had taken advantage of the leader's call for those
overcome by fear to go home.
And should he, Paltiel, be the only one? No! He could not hope to
survive the battle, but he could not desert the holy cause.
There and then he prayed to God, the Lord of Heaven and Earth,
for strength and courage, and for willingness and loyalty to the end.
When the signal came he went forward joyfully and without fear,
shouting "For God and Justice." The cry was taken up all around,
and they charged down on the enemy. The enemy's guards made a
stand whilst trumpets were blown and torches lit all over the camp.
But Abram's men fought like lions. Paltiel himself struck down two
of the guards, and after that he lost count. He was in the mist of the
enemy, striking out right and left. He knew now that God was
fighting on their side, for it had become a night of miracles. Arrows
and spears rained down upon them but they were not hurt, the enemy's
weapons were as harmless as straw or dust. Thousands of the
enemy were slain but not one of the attackers was killed. At last the
enemy fled, pursued by Abram and his men.
Paltiel stayed behind. He and the rest of the boys and old men had
been told to take care of the rescued prisoners. These people were
in a sorry state. They had been beaten and starved, and made to
carry their captors belongings for them. Even now they could
not believe that they had been freed but thought they had merely
The only one of them who understood what had happened was
Abram's nephew, Lot, and he and his family helped them to feed and
comfort the others.
Next evening the main party returned. They had pursued the enemy
up to Damascus and completely scattered them. They rested the
next night. Then they started on their long way back.
They freed the captives, mostly women and children, who were unable to
march quickly and maid their progress slow. Behind them came a
long train of donkeys and camels laden with the recovered loot, or
carrying those who were too weak to walk. At the head of the
caravan rode Abram with his rescued nephew.
Paltiel soon left them behind. He had been ordered to ride ahead
and bring the news to the survivors of the Confederacy. Their Kings
had returned and gathered the remnants of their men. When they
heard the news, there was great rejoicing. "How humble they have
become," thought Paltiel, "these rich townsmen, who could only
think of themselves and their money."
The news spread to all the tribes of Canaan., and delegations arrived
from them all. Together they marched to meet Abram and his army.
They gave him a triumphal reception and showered honors upon
him. The Priest-King of Shalem, where the worship of the true God
had survived from the days of Noah, came to greet and praise
The King of Sodom asked Abram to return only his people to him
but to keep the recaptured property. But Abram swore a solemn oath
that he would take nothing for himself - "lest you say: I have made
Abram rich." Paltiel wondered whether the sodomites understood
what his master meant. But he, a pupil, knew exactly what made his
master refuse the riches. This deed had been done for God and for
Justice. It would be spoilt if they accepted a reward. Now, perhaps
the Sodomites would learn that there was such a thing as kindness;
perhaps they would learn to feel true gratitude.
However, when they were marching home Paltiel noticed that they
had received something after all: many children from strange tribes
were coming with them, to learn the way of God in the House of