Sukkoth in Shiloh
Thousands of people had gathered at Shiloh, and the priestly town was bustling with activity. On the plain and hills around the town, men were building meditation booths. “It is Sukkoth,” I said. “We have been transported, it seems, not to a new location, but to a different time.
“I felt fifteen years pass in a moment,” Pleiades said.
“Yes, indeed,” Pegasus responded. “We have gone ahead fifteen years from where we were just a moment ago.”
As my eyes scanned the crowd, Pegasus walked up to a young man from behind and blew into his ear. The man was startled. He turned his head and saw the horse’s nose next to his face. Jumping back a step to get out of the way, a look of recognition crossed his face. He laughed and put his hand upon Pegasus’ nose.
“Shalom, my friend!” he said to Pegasus. “What a surprise! I never thought I would see you again! What are you doing here?”
Sipporah and I dismounted, and Sippore flew high to a nearby tree to observe and discern the times and seasons.
“I see that you remember me,” Pegasus said.
“How could I forget you?” he said, hugging his neck affectionately. “You have been with me since I was a child. When I need guidance, I hear your voice in my ear. When I am sad, you comfort me. When I am lost, you find me and lead me home. You never really left me, and my love for you has only gotten stronger over the years.”
“I see,” said Pegasus, “that the seed that was planted in your heart has grown into a tree that bears much fruit. No doubt your father watered that seed continually.”
Before he could respond, a nearby voice called from behind us. “Sipporah!”
We turned and saw another familiar face. “Rebekah!” Sipporah exclaimed. It is good to see you again!”
“How long has it been?” Rebekah asked. “Twenty years?”
“It seems like just last week,” Sipporah replied. “We were just talking with Nathan.”
“Yes, this is our man,” Rebekah said proudly. “He was formed by love and matured by tears. And this is his brother, Eleazar, my youngest joy. He was just a baby when you last saw him. Now look at him! But what are you doing here? Did you come so far just for Sukkoth? When did you arrive?”
“We just arrived a short time ago,” I replied. “How old is Nathan now?”
“He is twenty-six now,” she said, “and Eleazar is twenty-two.”
“Then indeed, it has been twenty years since we saw you,” I said. “We had a mission in Israel about fifteen years ago, where we assisted two young men, Samson and Samuel. Perhaps you know them?”
“They are both well known in Israel,” Rebekah said. “Samson is known for his great strength. All the girls are smitten by him. Samuel is here in Shiloh, ministering in the tabernacle. Both are about twenty years old, just six years younger than Nathan.”
“They are our friends,” Nathan added. “We have been seeing each other three times a year when we gather in Shiloh for the festivals. They are closer in age to Eleazar, but whenever we saw each other, Samuel taught us the word of God, and Samson was our bodyguard—at least, when he was not flirting with one of the girls! But now that Samuel is twenty, he has priestly duties at the tabernacle. And now that we are grown, we will not have as much time to spend together.”
“We were able to meet Samuel just before he was given to God many years ago,” Sipporah said.
“Yes, he told us about you,” Nathan said, nodding his head. “When he spoke of the great white horses, I knew it could only be Pegasus and Pleiades, for there are none like them.” He reached out and again threw his arms around Pegasus’ neck and hugged him tightly.
“You and Samuel both know how special these horses are,” I stated, “for they are your friends, and they love you very much. Perhaps Eleazar too will get to know them, even though he is no longer a child.”
Just then a young long-haired man stepped through the crowd and put his hand on Pegasus’ nose. “How are you, my old friend?” he said. “I did not think that I would ever see you again, especially after so many years. Are you really the same? You do not look a day older!”
“You must be Samuel,” I said to him with a knowing smile. “I still recognize you through your beard.”
“Yes, it is I,” he replied. “Thanks to you, my mother was able to fulfill her vow and devote me to God after your previous departure. I have served Eli and the priests for the past fifteen years. I am now officially an apprentice, and I have just returned from my first assignment. I was asked to bring the goat to Azazel in the wilderness on Yom Kippur to remove sin and iniquity from Israel.” 78
“You are indeed called and fit for such a responsibility,” I said. “As you walked, I suspect that you had time to ponder the spiritual and prophetic meaning of that work.”
“God told me,” Samuel said, “that the two goats represent the coming Messiah’s two works—first to cover sin, and then to remove sin. The insight you gave me many years ago about the sacrifices representing the Messiah has opened up much understanding of what is done here in Shiloh. Eli, too, has received some revelation of this, so he has taught me much from the word.”
“Has His Excellency, then, taught you the word of God?”
“Yes,” Samuel replied. “He has found my ears to be more receptive than those of his two oldest sons. So while they played frivolously and wasted their time, I sat at his feet and learned the laws of God. Later, God began to speak to me and teach me His ways directly.”
“Tell me how God spoke to you,” I said with interest.
“That night I heard the voice of God calling my name,” he began. “I thought it was Eli calling me, and I ran to his side. But he had been sleeping and said, ‘I did not call you; go back to sleep.’ I returned to my bed, but I heard the voice again and ran to his side. Eli again told me to go back to sleep. The third time, however, Eli knew that it was the voice of God, so he told me to answer, saying, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.’ God then gave me a message for Eli.” 81
“What did he tell you?” Sipporah asked with interest.
“He told me that God was displeased with Eli for not rebuking his sons for their corrupt practices. When the various families of priests were fulfilling their assigned week in the Tabernacle, offering sacrifices to God, Hophni and Phinehas were seducing some of their daughters. God told me that Eli’s sons had brought a curse upon his house and that Eli had done nothing to reverse that curse.”
“Did you tell this to Eli?” Sipporah asked again.
“I did not want to tell him,” said Samuel. “But the next morning, after I opened the doors of the house of God, he wanted to know what word God had spoken. He seemed quite worried, as if he discerned an evil word. When I tried to remain silent, he became even more suspicious and adjured me to speak. Then I had no choice but to speak the whole truth of all that I had been told. I feared his wrath, but instead, he accepted the word, knowing that it was true.”
“He had been warned already,” I said. “I may have been the first to warn him twenty years ago at the Tribal Council. At that time, I only succeeded in making him angry. He has much conflict in his heart, for he is locked into his marriage alliance with the idolatrous priests in the northern portion of Dan. If he were to rebuke the sons of his wife, he would make her father angry. He wants to please God, but he believes that to do so would drive away that portion of Dan and may even collapse the central place of Israel’s government here in Shiloh.”
“How is Samson doing these days?” I asked, changing the subject.
“He is here, but I know not where,” Samuel said with a sigh. “Look for a circle of adoring girls and you will probably find him in their midst. But I do not think any of those girls will fulfill their dream of marrying him. He confided to me that a certain Philistine girl has caught his eye. After the feast, he plans to ask his father to make an arrangement with the girl’s father, so that he can marry her. She is from Timnah, and apparently, he has known her for a long time.”
“Is her name Eglah?” I asked.
“Yes,” Samuel said with a surprised look. “How did you know?”
“I met her when she was just a child,” I said. “Samson seemed quite protective of her even at such an early age.”
“Now that he is twenty,” Samuel said, “he wants to marry her, but he will say nothing of his intention until after he is elected as the judge. The Council intends to elect him as the Judge after the feast. Abdon died two years ago, but they did not replace him yet, because they were waiting until Samson came of age.”
“Are there any alternate candidates for this position that they are considering?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied with a short laugh, “Hophni has been pressuring the tribal chiefs to elect him, on the grounds that the civil and spiritual rule should be united under one head. But most of the chiefs, other than the chief of Dan, have no personal confidence in the sons of Eli—and even he looks favorably upon Samson—a fellow Danite.”
“Tell me more about Abdon,” I said. “Was he a good Judge?”
“He was a very godly man,” Samuel said. “He judged Israel for ten years after Elon died. He had a remarkable testimony about how God healed him of leprosy and restored him to his family. Everyone had great respect for him, for he understood the law well and applied it with impartiality, humility, and courage. He was also very benevolent and knew the importance of both justice and mercy.”
“I am glad to hear that,” I said with some satisfaction. “Humility is the measure of a good leader. Courage is the offspring of love, for only love gives a man the courage to give his life for others. He must have come to the place of inner peace and contentment as well, for that is what allows men to be benevolent. When these qualities meet in a man, he is a good host for the Spirit of God.”
“In his testimony, he told how a man on a white horse touched him and healed him of leprosy,” Samuel said, eyeing Pegasus. “Do you know anything about that?”
I laughed. “Yes, we were there to pass on Yahweh’s blessing to him,” I admitted. “When we saw him as a leper wasting away by the side of the road, He looked so dejected and so full of despair. He saw himself as a true failure in life! But two doves had followed us from Timnah to bear witness of his cleansing. We were able to send him with provision to Shiloh, as he rejoiced at the dawn of a new life.”
“He was a spiritual giant, a man of great inner strength,” Samuel said. “He knew the love and mercy of God after he was healed.”
“And what about you?” I asked. “What is your innermost desire? What is your secret prayer?”
Samuel paused and looked down almost sheepishly. “I want to see God face to face and to be called a friend of God,” he said, turning somewhat red with embarrassment. “It is my desire to enter the Most Holy Place and to see His glory in the atmosphere of heaven. But I know that this is unlawful, so I have tried to suppress my carnal desire. But yet, I cannot seem to shake free of it, and my heart remains conflicted. Perhaps you can help me, so that I do not fall into disfavor with God.”
“I can only tell you,” I replied, “to delight yourself in Yahweh, and He will give you the desires of your heart. If this desire was planted in you as a seed from heaven, then nothing can prevent its fulfillment. Water that seed with the word of God, and see if the tree grows. If it grows, then it will certainly bear fruit in its own time.”
“As a Nazirite,” Samuel said, “I have certain privileges that most men do not enjoy. “I am allowed to enter the Holy Place and pray before the altar of incense. 82 Even Samson would be allowed to enter the Holy Place, though he is of the tribe of Dan. But he has become soured on religion, and when he becomes the next Judge, it is not likely that he will work closely with the High Priest. Now that Eli is getting old, he is turning over most of his duties to Hophni, 83 and Samson really dislikes Hophni and Phinehas. I am not sure how often I will see him after his election.”
Then looking around, I asked Nathan, “Where is Rephah? Is he busy building a sukkah while we talk?”
“We have already built our sukkah,” Nathan said. “Sadly, our father died two years ago. Eleazar and I now care for our mother.” Rebekah lowered her eyes and remained silent.
“I am sorry to hear that,” I said, seeing a tear run slowly down her face. “How did that happen?”
“It is a long story,” Nathan replied. “Come with us. I will tell you the story in the shade of our sukkah.”
“I must leave you,” Samuel said, excusing himself with a bow. “I have duties this morning at the Tabernacle.”
“I understand,” I said to him. “I hope that we are able to talk more this evening after the day’s work is done.”
Samuel turned and walked away. We walked through the crowd, many carrying palm branches or branches from other green, leafy trees, as they busily constructed their booths for the coming week. When we arrived at Nathan’s meditation booth, we found it to be quite spacious, and a beautifully crafted harp lay on a table in the middle. Near the sukkah was their spacious tent, where they would spend the night.
The horses remained outside, but they stood on each side of the entrance in order to hear our conversation. Rebekah immediately began to stoke the fire to prepare a meal, and Sipporah went to help her.
“If I had known they were coming, I would have built a larger sukkah,” Nathan said, pointing to the horses.
“I will go out and gather more branches to make it bigger,” Eleazar said. “Surely there is no law forbidding horses to keep the feast!”
“Then perhaps I will help him carry the branches,” Pegasus said.
“He really does talk!” Eleazar exclaimed brightly. “Nathan and Samuel were right!”
“Of course they were right!” Pleiades said, scolding him light-heartedly. “They are children of God. They would not lie to you!”
“Even so,” Eleazar said, “it is good to confirm their stories. Then let us go gather branches before they are all gone. We may have to walk a while to find enough to build such a large extension.”
“Come,” Pegasus said. “Ride me. I will lead you to branches that have not yet been discovered.” Eleazar mounted quickly and easily, and Pegasus turned his head toward the west.
“Now, then,” I said, after we had been seated on the cushioned benches in the sukkah, “tell me what happened to Rephah.”
- Leviticus 16:21
- Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 5, X, iv
- Bar-Mitzvah is a “son of the commandment.”
- The story is recorded in 1 Samuel 3:2-18
- James, the brother of Jesus and head of the Jerusalem church, was also a Nazirite. Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea in the early 4th century writes about him, saying, “He alone was permitted to enter the Holy Place, for his garments were not of wool but of linen.” (Eccl. Hist. II, xxiii)
- Such was often the practice. Josephus says that toward the end of Eli’s tenure as High Priest, “Phineas officiated already as high priest, his father having resigned his office to him, by reason of his great age” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 5, XI, ii). This part of the story comes later. For now, in my story, Eli’s older son, Hophni presides as acting high priest.