The Tribal Council
From Rephah’s house, we rode toward Timnath-serah, “Sun City,” where the Tribal Council was meeting. The city was located just north of Gaash Mountain, “The Quaking Mountain,” as it came to be called after we emerged from Joshua’s tomb in the midst of a violent quake.
The Council had gathered on Mount Ephraim just outside of the town. We could see many large tents in the area, where the Chiefs were camped. Twelve stones had been placed in a circle, imitating the stones at Gilgal, which had been taken from the Jordan River three centuries earlier. 23 The twelve chiefs of the tribes now sat upon these stones at Timnath-serah. Two more stones had been set up in the midst of the circle, one for the judge and the other for the High Priest.
Rephah and Rebekah rode upon donkeys, leading the way for Sipporah and me upon our horses. As we rode up the hill to the gathering at the circle of stones, the people watched our approach, suspicious of strangers who might be spies for the Philistines. However, since they recognized Rephah and his wife, they made no attempt to stop us from approaching.
When we had drawn near, Rephah dismounted and walked toward the curious crowd that had gathered outside the stone circle to hear the discussion among the chiefs. “Shalom,” he said loudly. “I bring friends from afar who have come with a message from God. This is Anava, an Ephraimite from a distant country, and his wife Sipporah.”
“Shalom!” I said loudly, raising my hand toward heaven.
“Shalom!” they replied in near unison.
A man stepped forward from the midst of the circle. “If you are really from a far country, how did you know of this meeting? We did not even plan this meeting until just a week ago.”
“Shalom, Eli, son of Uzzi, son of Bukki. I wish you well as you minister to the people of Israel. As for me, you need not be concerned about repeating the mistake that Joshua made with the Gibeonites. 24 I come with no treaty in mind, nor do I ask anything of you, except to hear the message that I have received from heaven. Yahweh knew of this meeting long before you planned it. Nothing is hidden from Him.”
Some of the people looked relieved to hear this, and Eli himself was put at ease. Eli, I knew, was 58 years old at the time he began to wear the ephod, and he ministered forty years. 25
“Then we welcome you into our midst,” he said. “But do you have a letter of introduction or perhaps some token that would identify you?”
“I carry this ring,” I said, holding up my hand. “It is the ring of Zaphnath himself with the seal of Ephraim upon it.”
The chief of Ephraim stood up and came closer to examine it. “It is indeed the seal of Ephraim,” he said, “for it is identical to my own signet ring—except that it is much more worn. It appears to be older than mine, but the bull design is identical.”
Satisfied, and somewhat amazed, he returned to his seat.
“What is that strange turban that you are wearing on your head?” Eli asked. “Is that a customary headdress in your country? Where is your country? How far have you come?”
“I wear an Indie hat,” I replied. It was the only article of clothing that had remained unchanged in the cave when we received our white robes.
“What is the meaning of this word Indie?” Eli asked again.
“It is short for Indiana,” I said simply.
“Is that the land from whence you came?”
“No, Indiana was named for people called Indians. When my forefathers arrived at this place, they thought they had come to a place called India. They were mistaken, but yet they continued to call the people Indians. The hat was named for a man who was called Indiana.”
“A man named Indiana?”
“Yes, but actually, it was the name of his dog.”
“A dog named Indiana?” Eli asked, clearly confused.
“Yes, his dog was a Caleb,” I said, noting that the Hebrew word for dog was keleb, or Caleb.
Eli seemed satisfied on that point. Dogs could indicate an unclean person or a non-Israelite, but on the positive side, dogs were also a symbol of a faithful friend, and that was how Caleb had been named.
“I see then that you have come from afar, wearing a symbol of faith on your head. Are you a son of Caleb? And how did you get the seal of Ephraim?” Eli asked.
“I am a son of Abraham, the father of faith, as also was Caleb, son of Jephunneh. As for my birth place, I come from a far country that was ruled by Joseph, the father of Ephraim, from which tribe I was born. His Egyptian name was Zaphnath, and he colonized a kingdom far away to prepare the way for other Israelites, which he believed were to join them many generations later.”
“I recall from our traditions,” Eli said, “that Joseph made a long journey to an unknown part of the world and that he had established a kingdom. Our traditions tell us that He took some Israelites with him. How far away is this country?” he asked.
“If you were to take a ship from Joppa and cross the sea to the Pillars of Hercules, you would only be at the start of your journey. There is a land which Joseph found hidden across the Endless Sea, far beyond the Pillars of Hercules. Joseph sailed south and then west to the Land of Barzel, where iron is found.”
The Hebrew word for iron is barzel, spelled BRZL, now known as Brazil. By identifying that land containing large iron deposits, I knew that the elders would be interested, because Israel lacked iron with which to make strong weapons. The Philistines, however, imported iron and thus had a technological advantage over the Israelites.
Continuing my story, I said, “From there, Zaphnath went north to the Heavenly Kingdom, where I was born.”
“In Indiana?” Eli inquired with persistence.
“Yes, in Indiana,” I admitted, “at the crossroad of the Heavenly Kingdom, as we call it.” I did not want to confuse him by trying to explain that America means the heavenly kingdom 26 or that Indiana is known as the Crossroads of America, but I chose to give him descriptions that he would better understand.
“That country sounds like a wonderful country,” Eli said. “Have you come to seek colonists from Israel?”
“No, many of your descendants will find the place at the appointed time. Long after you have been gathered to your fathers, your descendants will corrupt themselves, as Moses prophesied. 27 God will then light a fire in Israel and drive out your descendants from here, as Moses also prophesied. They will wander through the nations for a long time, but in their wandering, they will find this heavenly kingdom. But do not let its name deceive you. They will have the same problems that you face here in Israel. Moving to that far country will not solve their spiritual problems or give them genuine faith. It is better to seek God’s face here. It may be that you may avoid such a long captivity.”
“So you know that we are gathered here to deal with the Philistine threat?” he asked.
“Yes, that is the main purpose of my coming. It is to help you see the way to maintain freedom and to avoid captivity.”
“It is not possible that Israel will be driven from this land,” Eli said, “for God has promised it to us as our inheritance. Yet He has chosen to subject His people to five captivities already, and the latest one, to the Ammonites, has only recently ended and is still fresh in our memories. We want to find a way to defend ourselves against the Philistines. Their power is great, and they are led by giants who are powerful warriors.”
“You will overcome the Philistines,” I said, trying to give them hope, “but not in this generation. It will require a man after God’s own heart to accomplish this, and that man has not yet been born. 28 He is the king that God promised your forefathers. It is yet three generations before the sin of Judah and Tamar 29 will be resolved.”
I turned toward the chiefs and asked, “Which of you is the chief of Judah?” A tall, stately young man stood to his feet. I looked at him with some surprise. “You seem too young to be the chief.”
“My father, Salmon, is the chief,” he said, “but he is old and not strong enough to travel, so he sent me to represent him at the Council.”
“Then you must be Boaz,” I said to him. He bowed slightly to affirm his identity. I grasped his hand and took note of the signet ring of Judah on his finger. It was a gold ring with a lion insignia.
Boaz noticed my interest in the ring and explained, “My father gave me his signet to wear, because I represent him at the Council. It shows that I represent the tribe of Judah and carry its anointing.”
“My wife, Sipporah, is from Judah,” I commented.
“What family is she from?” Boaz asked.
“She is not from one of the families of Judah in this land,” I said. “She is from the line of Zerah, the son of Judah, who left Egypt in the time of Joseph, long before Moses led Israel here.”
“Yes, I know of this,” Boaz said. “Zerah departed with others to find a new land, because he was not the firstborn of Judah. Though his hand was put forth first, and a red thread was tied to his hand to identify him as the firstborn, he withdrew it in the womb, and his brother Pharez was born first. This caused a breach, and Zerah later decided to leave. None of us knows what became of him.”
“His descendants,” I informed him, “founded many colonies along the Great Sea. Zerah’s son, Darda, went north and founded the city of Troy near a place called the Dardanelles. Zerah’s son Chalcol founded Athens and Thebes in Ionia. Some of them went to Tarshish and founded a city which they called Zerah-gosa, “the cut-off ones of Zerah.” 30 It was there that Joseph found Zerahites when he sailed to the new land afar off. and many of them went with him to inherit a portion in his new kingdom. We come from that land, and my wife is descended from them.”
“That is very interesting,” Boaz said with growing interest. “It is good to know that these sons of Israel were not lost. We have long assumed that they were assimilated into the nations and lost their identity and calling.”
“God never loses anyone,” I said, “for we are all His children. “Though they may wander afar off and even forget the God of Israel, He never forgets anyone and has a plan to regather all of His children to Himself in the end. But Pharez received Judah’s signet ring, along with the prophecies that Jacob gave to Judah. When the breach is repaired between Zerah and Pharez, a son of Judah will be born who will receive the scepter. Your son in the third generation will overcome the Philistines and will destroy the giants from among them. Are you married yet?”
“No,” he said, “I have not found the right woman yet.”
“Have no fear,” I told him, “nor be impatient. God will bring the right woman to you. You will not need to seek a wife, for God will bring to you the woman of His choice, a woman of great faith, who will come from afar under unusual circumstances. She will give you a son, who will be the grandfather of the King of Israel, the tenth generation from Judah.”
“Thank-you for that comforting word,” Boaz said with amazement.
“I see that you are a prophet,” Eli said, “though not yet a proven prophet. Time will reveal all things, and it is not for us to judge your prophecies of the future. Come into the circle,” Eli said, motioning for us to enter. “Tell us the message that you have been called to deliver.”
Pegasus and Pleiades, who had been listening silently, immediately strode confidently into the circle, and then turned to face Eli. A murmur went up from the chiefs as they obviously admired the beautiful, strong war horses that we rode.
“Your wife must wait outside the circle,” Eli said hastily.
“If you please,” I replied, “my wife, Sipporah, is my double witness before God. She carries equal spiritual authority and may be compared to Deborah, the prophetess and judge during Israel’s deliverance from the Canaanite captivity. I ask respectfully that you allow her to remain at my side.”
“In that case, she may enter, but only if you speak on her behalf,” he insisted. It was apparent that he was uncomfortable with a woman’s presence in a Council of men. But yet he wondered at the little bird that was comfortably perched on her shoulder.
“I will speak for both of us,” I promised. After all, this was their Council, and their customs had to be respected. Although Moses’ sister prophesied, and Deborah judged the people, the chiefs of Israel considered them to be anomalies, rather than seeing the principle of equality. The culture was steeped in Old Covenant thought patterns, where authority and obedience were the prime virtues, and where the sin of Eve caused them to think that God’s judgment rested upon all women.
- Joshua 4:20
- Joshua 9:15
- 1 Samuel 4:15. Eli was 98 when he died toward the end of the Philistine captivity after judging Israel 40 years (1 Samuel 4:18).
- In Old English, amer means “heavenly, and amel means “heaven.” Modern German is Himmel. The word ric, or the name Eric, means “kingdom.” Modern German is reich.
- Deuteronomy 31:29
- 1 Samuel 13:14
- Genesis 38
- Now known as Zaragoza, a city in Spain; also Saragosa, Texas