Samson hopped off the cart to wait by the main road to watch the caravan coming down the road. Manoah and Naamah drove their cart to the house, and Manoah’s servants unloaded the tools in a nearby shed. Sipporah and I waited with Samson by the side of the road. As the convoy drew near, we saw that there were many wagons loaded down with wine, fruit, and other goods, guarded by three Philistine soldiers. They stopped in front of the turnoff to Manoah’s house.
“We are here to collect the new wine tax,” said an official.
Samson turned and ran toward the house to inform his parents.
“Shalom,” I said to the official. “Pardon me, but we are from a far country. What is the tax rate that you charge?”
“The tax is a low ten percent of what is produced,” he replied with an air of slight resentment. “In my view it ought to be more. Even our own people pay more than this. Israelites seem to be a privileged class.”
“Do you provide them with any government services?” I asked.
He laughed. “No, we allow them to have their own judges and court systems, and we do not interfere in their religion or local government.”
“Then,” I said, “it seems that ten percent is quite fair, since your government has no expenses, other than to pay the tax collectors.”
“That is all in one’s point of view,” he replied. “Those who are powerful rule over the weak. If Israel had been able to do so, they would have done the same to us—or worse. But because we import iron from afar and are able to make many strong weapons, we are the ones collecting the tax.”
“Yes, I see that,” I responded. “Your soldiers are well equipped. You are to be congratulated.”
The official seemed pleased. I then noticed a young boy sitting among the barrels of wine in one of the carts.
“Is that your son?” I asked, thinking that the official or perhaps one of the soldiers had brought his son on the tax-collecting journey in Israel.
“That is the son of an Israelite who was unable to pay his tax,” came the answer. “There is a drought in Judah and Benjamin, 25 and his family could not afford to pay what is required.”
“But if the tax rate is ten percent of what is produced, why should they pay tax when they have produced nothing?” I asked.
“Everyone has to pay five shekels in addition to the crop tax,” 26 he said. “They did not have enough silver to pay for such a large family. They could pay the tax for all but three members of the family, so we took their son as a slave to make up for the fifteen-shekel shortfall.” 27
“I like the looks of the boy,” I said. “How much do you want for him?”
“Well, I don’t know,” he said, studying me intently as I sat upon Pegasus. “I was thinking of keeping him myself. My wife would like a boy to help with the household work.”
“He looks too thin and frail to be a good household slave. I would give you fifteen shekels of silver for him,” I said. “That way you will recover the tax that his father owed.”
“Thirty is the price of a slave these days,” he responded.
Pegasus, who was standing behind me, put his chin upon my shoulder and whispered hoarsely to inform me, “A shekel is .388 ounces. Thirty shekels is 11.64 ounces.”
“Thirty shekels, then,” I said, calculating that this was twelve one-ounce silver coins. “As you say, that is the fair price for a slave.”
“Ah, but I know that my wife would really like him as her slave. We could go any day to the market and buy a slave at the going rate. But this boy would make a good present for my wife.”
“Then what price would you put upon him?” I asked.
“I could not part with him for less than 48 shekels,” he said. His eyes gleamed at the thought of making such a profit. A nearby soldier snickered.
“Forty-eight shekels is 18.624 ounces,” Pegasus whispered in my ear.
“Then I will pay you 48 shekels for the boy,” I said, figuring that nineteen coins would easily be sufficient and even give him about a half-shekel bonus.
“All of it in pure silver!” he demanded. “I won’t accept anything that is mixed with iron or copper.”
“I have pure silver, purer than you have ever seen,” I said. “It was smelted in my own country far away, where they are skilled in such things.” I reached for my bag of silver coins. The coins were all one-ounce silver eagles with Lady Liberty on one side. I knew that an ounce was the equivalent of more than two shekels of silver. So I counted out 19 coins (48.97 shekels) and gave them to the Philistine.
The official took a scale from his cart, put weights upon one side, and the coins on the other, and weighed the coins that I gave him. “You are still somewhat short of 48 shekels,” he said.
I took another coin out of the bag and placed it on the scale. It was obvious that the Philistine was using an unjust weight, 28 but I did not object. In fact, I expected no less from him, for such was standard practice among the Philistines, Canaanites, and all who despised or were ignorant of the mind of God. All I really cared about was to redeem the Israelite boy from slavery, for he was priceless to me.
“There,” I said with a slight smile. “The price is paid in pure silver, 999 parts per thousand. Twenty of my coins are the equivalent of 48 shekels by your scale—51½ by my scale.”
“It is a deal!” he said, ignoring my implied accusation. “But what are these markings and the strange writing on the coins?” the Philistine asked, looking at the coins carefully. “This is very fine work!”
“They are the identifying marks of those who forged the coins,” I explained. “The marks certify that each coin has a standard weight of silver that is known to all in my country. The ragged edge of the coin is designed to prevent people from shaving the edges, for if they were to do so, men could see that it was underweight.”
“What a unique idea!” the Philistine said.
“Yes,” I said, “these coins will be worth far more than their weight in silver. Everyone will want one of them, because of their design and purity, and they will be willing to pay a high price to own one. You will be able to pay the tax of fifteen shekels from your own inferior silver and keep these coins that are worth far more.”
He was obviously pleased with himself and was happy to command a soldier to release the boy into my custody. The boy was shoved toward me, and Sipporah dismounted and opened her arms to him. He burst into tears as she hugged him and consoled him.
“What is your name, lad?” I asked. By then Samson had approached him as well.
“Shemu’el ben Elkanah,” he said.
“Samson,” I said, “this is Samuel. Take him to the house and show him around. He will be staying with us tonight.”
The boys ran toward the house, passing Manoah, who was returning with a cart full of new wine.
“Here is the wine tax,” Manoah said to the Philistine. He also produced documentation about the size of his vineyard and its total yield. The Philistine was satisfied with the calculation, for everything seemed to be in order. The barrels were put upon the donkey-drawn cart at the rear, and the convoy moved once again down the road toward Timnah and toward its ultimate destination in Ashdod.
As the convoy disappeared around the next bend in the road, we walked back to the house. Once inside, I interrupted the boys’ game, asking Samuel, “How did you get your name?” I already knew the answer, of course, but I thought it was important that Manoah and his family should get to know Samuel.
“My mother promised to dedicate me to God if He would give her a son,” Samuel replied. “Because she was barren, my birth was a sign to her that I was a son of God.”
“I see,” I said, knowing that Shem literally means “name,” and in this case it referred to one who carries the name of his Father. Hence, Shemu’el means son of God. “So where are you from?” I asked.
“My father is of the Ramathites, a Zophite of Mount Ephraim,” he said.
“Ah,” Manoah said, “Zuph is not so far. It is in the district south of Ephraim, a two-day journey from here on the frontier of Benjamin.”
“From what tribe is your father?” I asked Samuel.
“He is a Levite from the family of Kohath,” he replied.
“Well, have no fear. We will return you to your family,” I said.
“But not today,” Manoah interjected. “The day is nearly gone, so you will all stay the night as our guests. This has been a good day in spite of paying the wine tax.”
That evening, we ate and drank and had good fellowship before going to sleep.
- Ruth 1:1. This was the drought that sent Elimelech and Naomi to Moab.
- Numbers 3:47
- Leviticus 25:47-49
- Leviticus 19:35, 36