Posted by: John-Paul | June 18, 2018

Joshua and Caleb: Chapter 5 Musician in Bondage

A formless tunic covered the twisted, slender frame of Caleb ben Jephunneh as he sang. The hunch of his back caused him to bend over the lyre he strummed.

El Shaddai is my hiding place

El Alyon is the stronghold of my heart

He keeps me safe, come what may

Oh, how I love Elohim, my God!

A shadow fell across Caleb’s closed eyelids and he opened them. His master stood over him with fists on his hips. Benipé scowled.

“Is that a new song?”

“Master?” The middle-aged man didn’t scramble to his feet, as other slaves were required. Benipé understood how difficult it was with his twisted right arm and leg. Instead he watched Caleb sweep long, graying, red hair away from blue eyes and turn his head to look up.

“Did you just create that song?”

“No, master.” The musician had created it days before when crying out to the Lord about Sarah’s plight and their bondage to this man.

“You say you cannot create new songs for festivals and parties where we entertain but you sing something to your foreign god that I’ve never heard.”

Caleb shrugged. “How many songs to El Shaddai do you know?”

“Very few.” Benipé crossed his arms. “I still think you could create songs for us if you wanted.”

Caleb lowered his eyes and head. “As you say, master.”

The troupe leader nudged a pillow in front of Caleb and sat on it. “Tell you what: You create a new song for the festival of Tekh next week and I’ll grant you some small wish.”

The musician grinned. “Meaning you would not set me free.”

“Correct. An extra day of rest, some meat for your supper.”

Caleb looked directly at his master. “Don’t let some man take Sarah off for personal attention.”

Benipé lurched back. He started to reach for the switch he used on his slaves but Caleb’s steady look stayed his hand. He rose to his feet.

“That’s no small wish. All my customers get what they request.”

“While your slaves get only heartache.”

Benipé said, “Be glad I don’t beat you for your insolence.” Then he walked away.

Late that afternoon, Caleb hobbled his way to the hovel where he lived with Sarah. In a sack, strapped like a pouch over his shoulder, he carried the week’s ration of millet from the master’s storehouse.

Once inside the makeshift door, he laid aside his walking stick, hoisted the sack onto the bare wood table, and hung his lyre on its peg on the wall. A look toward the curtained-off bedchamber told him Sarah was at the baths. She would be getting cleaned for that night’s party. Caleb shook his head to dispel the image of her dancing naked for the client’s guests. He sniffed an armpit and decided he should wash as well.

The crippled man pulled off his tunic.

He struggled to lift a stone jar full of water to the table with his good left arm. Then he carefully poured some water into the washbasin.

He cleaned himself as well as he could despite his curled right hand. He was glad his movements were limited more in his fingers than in his shoulder and elbow.

Finished, he carried the basin outside and tossed the water. He returned to dress in a freshly washed linen tunic.

Caleb moved his legs quickly, struggling to keep up with Benipe’s troupe of musicians and dancers as they stepped through the streets of Heliopolis. With his crippled hand, he cradled his lyre and stool against his curved torso as his left hand supported him on the walking staff.

Beside him, Sarah walked as upright as a statue, her pace slowed to match her husband’s. A traveling cloak hid her small, statuesque body but passers-by stopped to admire the beauty of her face and dark hair.

At the client’s home, Caleb set the stool in a corner out of the way of slaves hurrying with preparations for the party. He groaned as he collapsed on the stool and sat panting with the lyre in his lap. Only then did he turn his head to look up at the arrangements.

Several couches and low tables formed three sides of a rectangle. The open end faced the doorway through which early guests began to arrive. Sarah and the other dancers sat in another room, readying their costumes and waiting their turns to perform.

Lamp stands stood in front of richly colored cloths that draped the walls. His breathing eased, Caleb looked to the corner in which the musicians sat tuning their instruments. The harpist heaved to his feet and carried his stool and instrument over to join them.

Benipé finished conferring with his client, the host of the party, and came over to speak to the musicians. “Nothing special is desired for this evening. We’ll start with the usual songs of thanksgiving to the gods for their blessings and go on from there.”

The troupe leader looked at the nodding heads topped with aromatic cones already lit. He raised his staff and beat the tempo for the first of the songs.

Later, Caleb strummed the last chord on his harp and watched the bevy of young, female dancers scurry away to the applause of the party guests. Benipé glanced at the harpist over the heads of the other musicians and murmured the name of the next song.

Caleb shifted around on his stool so he could still watch the master but avoid seeing his wife in the open area between the tables. Having witnessed one of Sarah’s performances and its effects on male guests, he did not want to see it again.

In the waiting room, the dancer raised her arms over her head, her hands crossed at the wrists so her palms met. Lifting one knee and pointing her toes, she slowly extended and straightened the leg to place her foot flat on floor. Repeating with the other foot and rolling her hips, Sarah strode out to stand between the tables. A long, orange veil covered her long, dark hair and wrapped her small body to the ankles.

Benipé thumped four measured beats on the floor with his staff and the musicians began to play. Sarah spread her arms and waved them to the beat of the music while slowly unwrapping the veil from her undulating body. Beneath, she wore nothing but a sheer linen skirt that hardly hid her nakedness.

Dropping the veil, Sarah danced between the tables, thrusting and rotating her hips and upper torso, crooning the words to a bawdy song. At times, she danced to a guest, caressing his face in smiling invitation. As the music swirled toward completion, she danced behind the honored man and caressed his hair, his face, his chest, all the while singing about the pleasures of love. Without missing a beat, Sarah took his hands, pulled him to his feet, and danced out of the room with him.

Caleb stumbled tiredly through the entrance to his home. His sour mood was not helped by the sight of his wife’s brother seated on a stool at the table.

“Where is she?” Perez ben Yakov demanded. He didn’t rise to lean over the stooped musician. He didn’t have to.

Caleb turned his head to look on the same level with his seated brother-in-law. “She is continuing to entertain one of the master’s clients tonight.”

Perez snorted. “Only one of them?”

Caleb turned away and hung his lyre on its peg then limped over to the cupboard for a drink of beer. He didn’t offer any to the other man.

When he turned back, Perez still glowered at him. Caleb asked, “What do you want me to do? Refuse her to the master and his guests? How long do you think I’d live after that?”

“Coward!” Perez rose and stepped toward the doorway.

The stooped man mumbled, “Just because you can’t have her tonight…”

Perez stuck his head back in through the doorway. “What did you say?”

Caleb turned and looked up at the larger man. “I just said you’re welcome to go rescue her… as you always do.”

Perez scowled and disappeared. The musician smirked at the jab he’d given his brother-in-law. Perez had been unable to protect his sister from the Egyptian rapists who had also injured her husband. Blows to the head had crippled Caleb’s right side. His fingers had curled into a claw and his leg and back had turned so he hobbled stiffly.

Taking back a husband’s care for his sister, Perez had returned to taking a husband’s favors. Caleb had objected to his master but Benipé had merely shrugged.

“This is Egypt. Brothers often marry their sisters, especially among the exalted ones.”

Sarah had tried to soothe him. “Please, Caleb, don’t make trouble with my brother. You know how aggressive he can be when thwarted. I don’t want him to cause you more harm.”

Caleb had given her a pained look and turned away.

Much later, Sarah skulked back into the hovel. She immediately pulled the loose robe off her small body, poured water into the washbasin, and rapidly washed all over. Finished, she picked up the basin and turned to see Caleb watching her. Blank-faced, she carried the basin outside and returned. Her back to the bed, Sarah pulled a clean tunic over her dark head. Then she lay on the bed apart from Caleb.

He reached to put his good arm around her for comfort. She stiffened and he withdrew.

“I love you, Sarah.”

She snorted quietly. “I wish you could show it by keeping the master’s clients away from me.”

“As my Creator lives, so do I,” he sighed. “It hurts me to hear you say that. It hurts worse that you need to.”

Sarah sat up and held her knees to her chest. She rocked back and forth.

After a while, she wiped her hands across her eyes. “I know I should be grateful that you gave of your health to defend me. It just angers me that it wasn’t enough… that it’s not enough now.”

Caleb turned onto his hunched back and cradled the claw of his right hand with his supple left one. He massaged the tight muscles in his forearm in an attempt to relax their pull on his fingers. Inwardly, he thanked God Most High he could use them still to pluck the strings of a harp or lyre.

He looked at his wife. “I wish you would let my good arm comfort you. I have the need to hold you as much as you need to be held.”

Sarah paused in her rocking. “If only it would help. Only if it stops will things be better.” She resumed rocking.

“And I would give my good arm and leg for that to happen!”

Sarah sighed and lay down again. This time she scooted back against him and reached to pull his good arm around her. “Why, Caleb? Why must I go through this? Why must you go through seeing me go off with other men?”

His arm tightened. “I don’t know, Princess. I wish I did. All I know is someday soon, El Shaddai will remember His promise to Abraham and rescue us from slavery in Egypt.”

Some time later, Caleb sighed as he lay on the floor of his hovel. He gently beat his head against his sound left hand and the claw of his right.

 “How long, O Lord, will You keep Your people in bondage to their oppressors? How long will You continue to allow these Egyptians to mistreat Your chosen ones? How long must Sarah and I endure abuse at the hands of wicked men?

 “El Shaddai,” he groaned, “Your promise to Abraham goes unfulfilled. Because it does, Your people suffer from the cruelty these Egyptians inflict upon them. Because of that, my wife is forced into wickedness and pain. How long, Elohim, must we go on?”

Caleb remembered a storyteller speaking of El Shaddai’s promise to the patriarch. God himself had passed between the halves of a heifer, a female goat, a ram, and two birds. The Creator declared,

Know this: your descendants will live as outsiders in a land not theirs; they’ll be enslaved and beaten down for four hundred years. Then I will punish their slave masters; your offspring will march out of there loaded with plunder.

Caleb remembered the storyteller’s astonishing words.

And he believed! Believed God! God declared him “Set-Right-with-God.

The musician clenched his left hand into a fist.

“Help me, O Lord, to have the faith of Abraham. Help me to believe You will deliver us as You promised.”

He waited for a time, listening to the silence in the hovel, hearing only the beating of his heart. Finally, he rose, lay on his bed, and cuddled his trembling wife.


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