A Trip to Ashdod
The day of battle was far spent, so the men of Judah decided to wait until the next day to bury the dead Philistine soldiers. Sipporah and I too decided to spend the night at the camp of Judah. Boaz was too busy to visit with us, as we would have liked, but I was able to inform him briefly that I wished to claim the body of the Philistine general and to return it to his people for a proper burial in Ashdod.
This would also give me an excuse to see if the Philistines had given up trying to subdue Samson, or if they might be planning a greater war with Israel to avenge their losses.
Boaz consented to release the general’s body into my custody and provided a cart and donkey with which to convey the body to Ashdod.
We rose early in the morning and joined the procession to the top of the ridge. Finding the general’s body, we left him in his armor and put him carefully in the cart.
“Farewell, my friend,” I said to Boaz. “I will tell you—or send word—if there is trouble ahead with the Philistines.
“Give my greetings to Ruth,” Sipporah added.
“I will tell her,” Boaz said. “Godspeed to both of you.”
I drove the cart and let Pegasus follow. Sipporah rode Pleiades. It took a while to maneuver the cart through the piles of dead bodies, but the men of Judah moved them aside so that we could find a path through them all. Some of the men removed armor and brought it to others, who had formed a line down through the ravine to the cave. The armor was to be stored there in neat rows, and, of course, the men of Judah understood that they were not to speak of this to anyone.
Others began to pile dead bodies on carts and bring them down the hill to the Valley of Sorek, where still other men of Judah were busy digging a mass grave. The Philistines were to be buried without honor and without monuments, forgotten soldiers of a lost battle.
We set out along the dusty road along the ridge toward Zorah and eventually turned to go down the hill to the plain. We rode silently past the turnoff to Timnah and again passed the ash heap that marked where the house of Avoda had once stood. Dogma paused for a moment at the bridge, pondering which way to go.
“Come with us,” I said to him. “There is nothing left for you here. Be our companion. You are part of our family now.”
“Yes, you are right,” Dogma said. “My inheritance is now with you. I am no longer a Canaan dog; I am now a Kingdom Dog, for I have been released from my people and have a new identity.”
With that, we continued our journey, and by early afternoon we had reached the high walls of the city of Ashdod.
“Dagon is the great fish god,” Dogma informed us. “He is revered not only as a god of fertility, but also as a god of military power and war. In fact, Ashdod itself, as you can see, is a walled fortress and its name means powerful or strong. The other temple of Dagon is located in Gaza, a city whose name has a similar meaning. It means strength.”
“This is certainly a strong city, built to show forth the power of a military god,” I replied. “But when men have faith in their own flesh, their strength can be destructive.”
“Yes,” Dogma said. “Dagon worship combines war with fertility in order to destroy many first-born sons. It is similar to the Canaanite worship of Baal farther north of here. Baal is said to be the son of Dagon. Women come to the temple to be purified before marriage. They lose their virginity to a temple priest, believing that this purifies them for their future husbands. Many of them become pregnant, and so their first-born sons are called sons of God, because they were fathered by one of the priests representing Dagon. So those first-born sons are brought here to be sacrificed to Dagon.”
“As you may have guessed,” Pleiades added, “this horrid practice originates with the Nephilim, who claimed to be the true sons of God. They know that the true Son of God is yet to be born of a virgin, and so they are trying to prevent this from happening. This is why they assign priests to destroy virginity. In their twisted way of thinking, they try to make women ineligible to bring forth the promised Son of God.”
“Their practice,” I said, “only oppresses women by violence and force. Their fertility rights degrade and destroy women, as well as marriage itself. Such is the male-dominated religion of Dagon.”
“There is a female counterpart to Dagon,” Dogma said. “She is worshiped in Ashkelon, where I was born. She is Atargatis, a fish goddess, a mermaid, who destroys men and manhood. Atargatis and Dagon compete with each other, but in the end, they both serve the purpose of the Nephilim by corrupting and destroying men and women, in the attempt to prevent the Son of God from being born.”
“Do not forget that both temples are inspired by the serpent,” Sipporah added. “The fundamental problem does not originate with the Nephilim, but with the serpent in the garden.”
“Yes, that is so,” Pegasus replied. “Both men and women have been deceived since the beginning. This explains why they would submit to fertility rites that are so destructive. There is a strange spell that has been a veil spread over the whole earth. 79 It blinds the eyes and causes people to think that evil is good, that harlotry is marriage, that sin cleanses, and that death is fertility.”
By this time we had arrived at the city gate, where we informed the sentry of our mission. Looking at my Indie hat, he said, “You are not from around here.”
“No,” I said. “We are from a far country. Wherever we travel, we respect the laws of each nation and seek peace for all men. We have recovered the body of your general and have brought it here for proper burial,” I said. “I heard that he died with honor, doing his duty as a good commander.”
The guards gathered around the cart to inspect Nadev’s body. “What reward do you want for this service?” the guard asked.
“I seek no reward. I worship a God of kindness, and so any act of kindness on earth has its reward in heaven. That is sufficient.”
“Then enter the city,” he said, satisfied that we meant no harm, but that we had performed a great service for the city and its army. The soldiers surrounded the cart and escorted us toward the temple of Dagon. As I drove down the main street, a crowd began to form a procession behind us. Some wept in mourning, not so much for the general, but for their own husbands and sons who had been lost. The survivors of the battle, I could see, had reported their great loss, and the city had already published the names of the soldiers killed.
When we reached the temple grounds, the Philistine guards unloaded Nadev’s body upon a stretcher and took it to a high altar to administer whatever last rites were customary. Soon the attention of the people was focused upon the altar.
“Perhaps we should leave,” Pegasus said. “I am not comfortable in this oppressive setting, and I do not think there is anything more that we should do here.”
“You are right,” I replied. “Let us leave quietly.”
We slowly rode back down the wide street of Ashdod. The donkey obediently pulled the now-empty cart against the flow of traffic that was hurrying toward the temple. But I noticed that one man followed us at a distance. As we passed again through the city gate, he picked up his pace and caught up with us. We stopped to wait for him.
“Shalom,” the man said. He was deeply tanned, his hair was gray, and his skin was weather beaten from long days in the sun.
“Shalom,” I responded. “What can I do for you?”
“My name is Bocheru,” the man said. “I am the captain of a Sidonian ship. I landed in Ashdod three days ago and came here to buy wheat for the city of Taranto 80 that lies across the Ionian Sea. I arrived last evening, only to discover that there was a shortage of wheat in this area. I also found the city in mourning. I heard that an Israelite named Samson killed a thousand soldiers. What more can you tell me? What happened to General Nadev and his men?”
“My name is Anava,” I replied, “and this is my wife Sipporah. What you have heard in the streets is true. The soldiers were well aware of Samson’s prowess. That is why they sent a large army to capture him. But still, they underestimated the power of the God of Israel, who strengthened him in battle. Although they had bound him with new ropes, he broke the ropes like burned flax. He then killed the Philistines with the jawbone of an ass that lay on the ground within his reach. We were unable to bring all of the bodies back to Ekron, but we decided to return the general’s body, because he struck me as having noble character. He was only doing his duty.”
“Who is this Samson?” Bocheru asked.
“He is your nephew, the son of Manoah,” I replied with a knowing look. “Manoah has spoken to us of his long-lost brother, Bocheru.”
Bocheru was alarmed that his identity has been discovered. “Please do not tell anyone of my Israelite heritage,” he begged. “It would be bad for business. And if anyone knew that I was related to Samson, there is no telling what might become of me!”
“Your secret is safe with us,” I said. “We too are Israelites from beyond the Pillars of Hercules.”
His eyes widened. “Do you know, then, about the land of Barzel, where iron is found? 81 Have you come from there?”
“We are from a land far north of Barzel,” I said, “where Joseph once reigned as king.”
“I have not been there,” Bocheru said, “but I have heard of it in my travels. In recent years I have made a good living by purchasing wheat from the Philistines and selling it to various cities on the north side of the great sea. But tell me, how is my brother doing? Is he well?”
“He misses you, of course,” I said, “for he does not know if you are alive or dead. Your father died quite a long time ago. Manoah married a woman of faith called Naamah. She was barren for some years until at last God gave her a son whom they named Samson. He was born in Beth-shemesh just as the sun was rising, so they named him for the sun. Samson has been a Nazirite from birth, and the Israelite elders elected him to be their Judge after the last feast of Sukkoth.”
“I suppose that since there is no wheat here, I should go to Zorah and visit my brother,” Bocheru mused.
“That is an excellent idea,” I replied. “Manoah understands why you left, but he was still hurt by it. If you return, even for a short visit, perhaps it would go far to root out the bitterness in his heart before his time on earth is done. It may also heal the void in your own heart.”
“I think you are right,” Bocheru said. “I need to reconcile the past before I die, and perhaps now is the best time to do this.”
“But why is Samson judging the Philistines?” Bocheru asked with a puzzled look. “Is he not supposed to be judging disputes among the Israelites? Is he trying to deliver Israel from captivity?”
“That is a long story.” I replied, “You may recall from your early years in Israel that God threatened to put Israel into captivity to foreign nations if they refused to abide by His law.”
“Yes,” Bocheru said. “Israel has suffered under many captivities in their history.”
“God planted a vineyard in Canaan,” I continued, “and called Israel to bring forth the fruit of the Kingdom to fulfill the terms of the Birthright. He also gave Judah the Dominion with the authority to bring forth fruit in the vineyard. But when the time came to bring forth fruit, God found no fruit that was fit for Him to eat, for their rebellious hearts brought forth only wild grapes.” 82
“Yes,” Bocheru said. “My own father was a tyrant. That is why I left home many years ago. Though he owned a vineyard, he did not bring forth spiritual fruit that was fit for consumption. I myself am proof of that!”
“That is why God sold Israel into the hands of other nations,” I said. “He transferred the Dominion Mandate to other nations to see if they would do what Israel failed to do. Today it is the Philistines who hold the Dominion. If they had understood the law, they would have known that Dominion comes with an equal level of responsibility. They were given the authority to bring forth fruit, for that has always been the purpose of the Dominion Mandate.”
“If Israel, who received the law from Moses, was unable to bring forth fruit, how could the Philistines succeed where Israel failed?” Bocheru asked.
“They cannot succeed,” I said, “nor do they know of this responsibility. Yet ignorance of the law is no excuse, although it certainly lessens one’s accountability. Nonetheless, after twenty years, during which time the Philistines have failed to bring forth fruit, God has determined that they should begin to be brought into judgment. So God raised up Samson to bring judgment upon the Philistines. It also explains why Samson burned the wheat of the Philistines.”
“I think I am beginning to understand,” Bocheru said thoughtfully. “The destruction of the wheat and vineyards is a sign of spiritual things. When the Philistines failed to give God the fruit that He requires, God then judged their own earthly fruit.”
“That is what has happened,” I confirmed. “Yet since God has also decreed that Israel should serve the Philistines for forty years, Samson is not able to deliver Israel fully. He can only bring a level of judgment upon them for the next nineteen years. Both Israel and Philistia are under divine judgment at the same time.”
“I see,” Bocheru said. “This judgment is bad for my business, but it is worse for the Philistine economy. What shall I do then?”
“You might find wheat in Ashkelon. Samson did not burn wheat that far south. However, it may be expensive even there, for Samson’s actions have caused a general shortage of wheat in the entire country. You may have to go to Egypt to find wheat to export.”
“Yes, that is probably what I will do,” he said. “But meanwhile, I will spend a few days with my brother, if he will have me. Right now, however, I must return to my ship and tell them to prepare to sail for Egypt in four days’ time.”
“It has been a pleasure speaking with you. I would appreciate it if you would take this cart and donkey to Manoah. Tell him that Boaz gave him to me to transport the general’s body to Ashdod. Now that our mission has been completed, we no longer have need of a cart.”
“I will be happy to deliver this donkey and cart to Manoah,” Bocheru said. “Shalom, then. Perhaps we will meet again in our travels.”
Bocheru turned west toward the harbor, and we turned south along the coastal highway to Ashkelon.
As Ashdod faded from our view, the sun prepared for its nightly dip in the great western sea. Again, we felt the familiar wrinkle in the fabric of time, and found ourselves on the outskirts of Ashkelon.
- Isaiah 25:7
- Taranto is a city on the south coast of Italy.
- Barzel means “iron” in Hebrew. The land is now called Brazil.
- Isaiah 5:2 (KJV)