“Elyon, I am but a boy. How can I speak the words of God? How will I know what to say?”
I will put my words in your mouth. Only go; speak my words to this stubborn nation. Do not be afraid, I am with you and will rescue you. I will never leave you, my child…
Joash jerked awake and sat up, gasping for breath. A dream, it had only been a dream! Or had it? He looked at his hand, felt his robe and the solid fountain behind him. The balmy smell of the lilacs and the sea again filled the air. Joash lifted his eyes to the stars. The night sky was as dark as before.
A prophet? To Bethel? Joash shuddered. What had the voice – Elyon – said? That they would not listen, and that they would persecute him. Not could. Would. And judging from the power that Elyon spoke with and radiated what he said came to pass.
Or did it? Did it depend on him? If he said no, perhaps he would escape the unpleasant punishments that lay ahead. And if he said yes, he would be rejected… he would be identified with Elyon and would physically bear the peoples’ response to Elyon’s call. And from the sound of it, the response would not be positive.
Joash sighed and leaned hishead against the fountain.
“Elyon…” he whispered. Like a cool rain descending he felt that presence he had felt surrounded by the light. Yet still thoughts whirled through Joash’s mind, and through it all a quiet yet persistent nagging.
I will never leave you, my child… you are my prophet. At the remembrance Joash felt as though embers were burning inside his chest. The words of Elyon to his people felt as though they were etched inside permanently until he would utter them.
Agitated, Joash rose and paced. He had never asked for this! He had simply longed to satiate his curiosity whether or not Elyon was who He’d said He was. Joash was not an educated man! He did not know the words of Elyon back and forth, as Shalom did.
I will give you my words…
Joash gripped his head, longing to fling the echoing memories far away – where they could never haunt him again.
You are my prophet…
Joash ran from the courtyard and through the quiet house to the streets. A glow on the horizon, the harbinger to the morning’s sunset, spread through the dim streets.
“Shalom! Old man, wake up!” Joash yelled as he reached the market, never slowing from his sprint. Face peeked from tents, then retreated with a shake of the head.
Shalom had only just pushed himself up from his mat when Joash appeared in the doorway, windblown and gasping for breath.
“Eh- eh? Is that you, Joash?” Shalom squinted at the young man, rubbing sleep from his eyes.
Joash sank to a crouch, catching his breath. “Who else, Shalom?” He felt calmer now. Surely Elyon had chosen the wrong man – Shalom would agree.
Shalom shifted to sit more comfortably and drew his cloak around him. He peered at Joash, who rocked back and forth, arms wrapped around his knees.
“Here, what’s wrong?” Shalom’s voice softened, sensing the agony on Joash’s face though he could not see it.
Joash tried to think of where to begin. “Your god…” he cleared his throat. “…Elyon spoke to me this night. A dream, a vision – I’m not sure what to call it.”
Shalom sat up straighter with excitement. “And – and? What did he tell you?”
“He said I was to be his prophet to Bethel.” Joash nearly laughed at how absurd it sounded spoken aloud, how weak and pitiful when not spoken in Elyon’s powerful voice. “He said that he could no longer stand the idol worship Bethel performed. And…” Joash’s mouth suddenly felt dry, and he struggled to swallow. “He said they would not listen, but that I would be persecuted.”
Shalom lifted his face to the heavens in bliss. “Oh, thank you, Elyon. Praise your name, O Lord!”
Joash felt shocked. “What?”
Lowering his head, Shalom kept his eyes closed a moment longer. Then with a smile he opened his eyes and gazed at Joash. The young man was struck again by how vivid and strong the old man’s stare was.
“Long ago, the sin of this city overwhelmed me. I was fed up with the idol worship, the sacrifices, and the false priests. I…” He chuckled. “I yelled at Elyon in my anger, and in response he showed me that there would be a day when he would raise up a prophet. Through this prophet He would cry for repentance, in the hopes of bringing His people back to Him.”
Joash gave a morbid chuckle. “All right, old man, how long have you known?”
Shalom shrugged. “Since the first day.”
The words they had exchanged suddenly rang anew in Joash’s mind. “Elyon will use me for what He is going to accomplish soon in Bethel – but he will use you even more…Before you were born I knew you, before you came into existence I had set you aside as my prophet to Bethel.”
Joash groaned. “Shalom…no. I can’t do this. How do I tell Elyon he needs to find someone else?”
Shalom hooted until tears ran from his eyes. “Tell…tell God that He has chosen the wrong man? Do you think He knows less about you than you do? Or do you think He cannot see how the future will unfold? Joash, you cannot run from what God has for you. Good luck trying,” the old man laughed, “but it will only bring you grief and sorrow.”
“You’ve got it backwards, Shalom. Doing what Elyon has told me will bring me grief and sorrow.”
Shalom reached for his cane and Joash jumped to his feet to help him stand. Hobbling into the shop, Shalom eased onto the stool he had sat on and made pots for years. The light of the dawn lit the booth in gold and pearl hues.
The old man motioned to his clay, wound in damp rags, and Joash hastily knelt and cut a slab, then lifted it to the wheel. Shalom wet his hands and gently worked with the clay, steadily smoothing and forming it. Joash watched with impatience.
“You have seen me do this many times, eh?” Shalom asked, without waiting for an answer. “Elyon also does this many, many times,” he continued as the clay gradually took the graceful form of a jug.
“Tell me, what is clay alone good for, if not molded and fired, or made into something useful? Only to get dirty in, eh?” Shalom laughed. “And we are also useless, until we allow Elyon to form us. Tell me,” Shalom said again. “Can the clay see what its maker is doing?”
Joash shook his head, sensing where Shalom was going. The old man nodded for him to speak.
“So…” Joash sighed. “So can we not see what Elyon’s purpose is, until He is done.” He stood. The words he had longed to hear – ‘forget it’, ‘Elyon chose wrong’, ‘Surely He would not ask that of you,” – were not to be found here.
“Shalom…” He said, tears in his voice. “I don’t know what Elyon was thinking, but I am not a prophet. I don’t want to speak to Bethel – I don’t want to be His messenger. I can’t.”
The sadness in Shalom’s eyes shocked Joash. For a moment, instead of Shalom, he saw Elyon, filled with sorrow of Joash’s rejection. Then he saw Mikal, trapped in the sins of Bethel and bewildered as her family stepped away, leaving her to an empty life.
Joash turned and ran.