The Trip to Timnah
We rose early the next morning, and after a hasty breakfast, we put the plow and other farm implements onto the cart, put the python on top, hooked up two donkeys, and then began our journey down the hill to Timnah. As we rode the horses on either side of the cart, my eyes scanned the trees along the road to see if I might catch a glimpse of our lion friends, but if they were there, they remained hidden. Neither did Sippore alert us to their presence as she scouted the road ahead of us.
We drew near to the Valley of Sorek and made our way down the hill to the valley below. The Brook Sorek flowed out of the valley toward Timnah and beyond, watering the plain as it made its way to the Great Sea. It served as the border between Dan and Philistine territory, but the tribe of Dan had never been able to occupy its God-given land in the plains north of the brook.
As we neared Timnah, we came to the crossroad just outside the city. Straight ahead the road made its way toward Ashdod near the Great Sea. To the right was a sign that read “Fox Farm,” where an enterprising Philistine had figured out how to take advantage of the abundance of foxes by establishing a fur trade.
To the left, a bridge crossed over the Brook Sorek and led to the gate of the walled city. There we crossed the bridge and made our way to the town. A soldier stood guard at the gate and asked about our purpose for coming. Manoah pointed to the farm implements in the cart and explained that the python was for sale. Sipporah and I, he explained further, were friends visiting from afar. The guard, seeing two women and a child in the group, found no reason to be suspicious, although he seemed curious about my unusual hat, which he concluded had to be a style used only in a distant land.
“The last time we were here,” I said, addressing the guard, “a giant named Goliath was guarding the gate. What has become of him?”
“He has returned to Gath,” the guard said. “It seems that his family pardoned him and recalled him from exile. You are free to enter.”
The town was small and crowded, for the walls limited its size. Most of the houses were situated on the wall—and, indeed, were used to stabilize the wall itself. The main street was lined with a few shops and a tavern, providing food or services for the town. Manoah drove the cart directly to the tanning shop and greeted the owner. He had been here before to sell sheep skins and knew the tanner quite well.
Even before the cart came to a full stop, Samson jumped down to the dusty street and ran off to play with friends. Sippore followed him from above. We soon noticed a few curious heads poking out of the windows and doors along the street. I knew that some of the people remembered us from our visit a few years earlier. No doubt they recognized the horses and probably were looking to see if any lions had accompanied us. But this time we had come alone, so we posed no danger to the townsfolk.
“Dagonel, 11 my friend, shalom!” Manoah said to the tanner.
“Welcome! What have you brought for me today?” he asked.
“I bring you Thuban,” Manoah said, “from the Valley of Sorek. He attacked my son and lost the battle.”
Dagonel looked at the great python in the cart. “It is indeed Thuban,” he said. “Did you see his mate?”
“No, he was alone,” Manoah replied. “I have no use for this snake. We do not eat snake meat, and I thought you may want to use its skin. I hope that killing a god will not make me an enemy of the Philistines.”
Dagonel chuckled. “That will not be a problem. The gods are worth more dead than alive. I will take its skin, stuff it, and create a new god out of it, one that is more accessible to the people. Do not worry. They will love it, and if I use my craftsmanship well, I can build a shrine to it, where men may leave gifts to gain its favor.”
“Who will get the gifts?” Manoah asked.
“The gifts will be accepted by Thuban or by one of his agents, and they will disappear,” Dagonel said with a sly grin. “And, of course, the presence of the shrine no doubt will give me good fortune.”
“No doubt,” said Manoah. “I will sell it to you for a mere twenty shekels of silver.”
“I can pay no more than fifteen.”
“Give me eighteen, and Thuban is yours for an eternal income.”
The deal was struck, and the python was removed carefully. Then we moved on down the street to a blacksmith’s shop to sharpen the tools. The sign above the shop read:
1 peh for Philistines
2 peh for Israelites
Member: Philistine Blacksmith Guild
“A peh is a third of a shekel,” Pegasus whispered in my ear. “The word literally means mouth, and has to do with blowing or scattering. The root word is from pa’ah, which means to shatter or break into pieces. In this case, a peh is a shekel broken into three parts.” 12
“Then it will cost him a few shekels to sharpen his tools and knives,” I muttered back, silently counting the tools in his cart. “And this may take some time to finish the job.”
As the smith did his work, we heard a commotion down the street, coming from the direction of where Samson had gone. “I think I will investigate this,” I said to Sipporah. “Wait here; I will be back shortly.”
Pegasus broke into a trot down the street, and I found Samson. He was holding an older boy high in the air, spinning him around, as the boy screamed for help. “Samson!” I shouted. “What are you doing? Drop him immediately!”
Samson threw the boy to the ground, knocking the wind out of him. He lay there trying to catch his breath. A young red-haired girl about Samson’s age stood nearby, and a younger girl, who seemed to be her little sister, clung to her. Both girls were crying. Two birds, male and female, weighted down by rocks tied to their legs, tried unsuccessfully to fly away.
“These birds belong to Eglah!” 13 Samson said angrily. “This bully took them from her!”
“Is that true?” I asked Eglah.
She nodded her head and looked up with a tear-stained face.
“Then here are your birds,” I said, picking up the stone weights and giving them to her. Turning to the boy, who by this time was sitting on the ground in sullen silence, I told him, “It is not right to take what belongs to others.” Without acknowledging me or even indicating that he had heard my words, he got up quickly and trotted away without looking back.
By this time a small crowd had gathered in the street. They all knew the bully and had no sympathy for him. “Who is that boy?” I asked.
Sippore descended and landed upon Eglah’s shoulder. Surprised, she cringed for a moment, but then regaining her composure, her face brightened. “Look, a tame dove!” she exclaimed.
“Her name is Sippore,” I informed her. “She is my wife’s dove. Sippore is a very special dove, and you must be a very special girl, because she loves you.”
Eglah froze for a moment, and I knew that Sippore was speaking into her ear. Eglah’s eyes widened, and then she carefully untied her doves and set them free. The doves flew away happily, and the people in the street wondered why she had done this, for she was poor and had been selling doves to earn a little money for her family.
Sippore then stroked Eglah’s face with her beak and flew into the air in the direction of the two doves. I reached into my pack and pulled out a silver coin, giving it to Eglah. “Here, my dear,” I said. “Your kindness should be repaid. This should more than cover your loss.”
She took the coin and then threw her arms around me to thank me. The women standing around us clapped their hands and cheered, as Eglah and her sister happily scampered off with the coin.
“Why are you so kind to this little girl?” a man asked. “You are not even a Philistine. Why would a stranger care for any of us?”
“I recognize the value of pearls,” I responded. “God cares for all of His children—and the birds of the air as well. The God of heaven desires to set all men free by the truth that He reveals.”
“The Philistines are a free people,” the man stated, and the other men listening to our conversation agreed.
“Are you free indeed?” I asked. “Are you not ruled by giants? Did you not invite them here to ensure your freedom? But did they not become your masters?”
“They are sons of God,” the man responded. “It is the will of God that we should submit to them.”
“The duty of the sons of God is to set men free,” I answered. “The Israelites have a law called the Jubilee, 16 which is the foundational law of liberty. It ensures that no man is enslaved beyond a certain period of time. In the year of Jubilee, every man returns to his inheritance that God has given him. No government or creditor can keep a man from returning to his property in the fiftieth year of the calendar. Have your ‘sons of God’ ever declared a Jubilee?”
“No,” he admitted. “We have not heard of such a law.”
“Unfortunately, even the Israelites have never kept a Jubilee,” I said. “It is a law that has been neglected since it was given to them by Moses, and they are now in their seventh Jubilee cycle. Perhaps if they had kept this law, you would have heard of it. If you had seen its beneficial effects, you might have adopted such a law yourselves.”
“It is doubtful that our ‘sons of God’ would institute such a law,” the man replied. “They have laid claim to our land and the people too.”
“There is still hope,” I said. “As an individual, you may practice the principle of the Jubilee.”
“How can I do that?” he asked with a puzzled look.
“All sin is reckoned as a debt,” 17 I explained. “For example, when the boy stole the two doves from Eglah, God’s law says he owed Eglah double restitution—four doves. 18 I knew that God would require it of him, for the law of God applies to all men equally. But God also wants us to love our enemies and to do good to those who mistreat us. When I gave Eglah a silver coin to pay for the doves, it covered her loss, but also released the boy from his debt before the great Judge in heaven.”
This is what the sons of God do,” I continued. “They release debt and set men free, not only from human bondage, but also from the penalties decreed by the court of heaven.”
“Why are you kind to a Philistine bully?” a woman asked.
“God Himself is kind and merciful,” I replied. “He is a good God, a Father to all of us, and we are His children. He has raised up true sons of God to express His kindness and love to all who live on the earth. True sons of God are not sent to obtain slaves, but to serve others.”
“Are you, then, a true son of God?” she asked.
“I am,” I said, “and my wife is one as well.”
“How can a woman be a son of God?” she asked.
“In the spiritual realm,” I explained, “there is neither male nor female, bond or free, Philistine or Israelite. 19 We are all children of God, and we are all called to give freedom to our brothers and sisters. And it is not just outward freedom, but also inward freedom that God offers. It is freedom from the slavery of human nature, which is compelled to violate the laws of God. Human nature since the sin of Earthyman, your forefather, has been your greatest taskmaster.”
“Can we indeed be set free from human nature?” the man asked.
“Yes, but one must know the proper way. The Israelites have been given a partial revelation to accomplish this, but they have failed to understand it or to implement it in their own lives. Now that the Philistines rule over Israel, you have been given the opportunity to learn from them and to study their laws. Do not waste this opportunity, for it will not last forever.”
“We worship at the temple of Dagon in Ashdod,” the woman said. “Must we go to Shiloh to worship at Israel’s temple?”
“Woman,” I said, “believe me, an hour is coming when neither in Ashdod nor in Shiloh will you worship God. True worshipers will worship Him as their heavenly Father in spirit and in truth, for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth. 20 He is not bound to any city, nor is He a local god. He is the Creator of all things, and His Spirit is in all that He created. If you seek Him with all your heart, He will allow Himself to be found, and the truth will make you free.” 21
Before she had time to respond, a voice interrupted us from behind the crowd.
“There you are!” It was Manoah and Naamah riding their cart full of newly sharpened tools. Sipporah was with them, riding on Pleiades. “We have finished our business and are ready to go home. Are you hungry? It is getting to be time to eat.”
“I have food to eat that you do not know about,” I said. 22 “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work. Look about you. Do you not see fields ready to be harvested? I have sown seed, others must water, and still others must labor to harvest the field. 23 The harvest is plenteous, but the laborers are few.” 24
Manoah did not know how to respond.
“Let us go, then.” Turning to the crowd, I held up my hand and said to them, “I bid you all shalom. I hope to see you again someday, but if not, may our heavenly Father—the God of Love—send you more of His sons to share His word with you.”
After leaving Timnah, I turned to Manoah and said, “Your son has a good sense of justice, which he will need as a future judge of Israel. However, his sense of mercy needs to be developed, too. Otherwise, he will not be able to minister justice by the mind of God.”
Manoah grunted. “You sound like my brother.” After a short pause, he added, “But I will do what I can to teach him mercy.”
The donkeys enjoyed the ride home, for they knew they were heading home. When we arrived at Manoah’s house late in the afternoon, we saw a Philistine convoy coming around the bend in the road heading in our direction.
- Dagon was the fish god of the Philistines. Dagonel is “the god Dagon.”
- 1 Samuel 13:21
- Eglah means “heifer.”
- Baasha means “wicked.”
- Shual means “fox or jackal.”
- Leviticus 25:10-13
- Compare Matthew 6:12 with Luke 11:4
- Exodus 22:4
- Galatians 3:28
- John 4:21-24
- John 8:32
- John 4:32
- John 4:33, 34
- Matthew 9:37