Monday, August 6, 2012

In a Clearing in the Forest of Ephraim

As well as Eleazar was able, he had prepared Josheb for burial. All around him, survivors of the blocking force were doing the same for their fallen comrades. The wounded, all but the worst cases, had been loaded in carts and taken to Mahanaim.
Eleazar stood on the portion of the ridge where the heaviest fighting had taken place and gazed across the clearing. Where only an hour ago, the battle had raged, groups of soldiers had now begun stacking the enemy dead.
As many battlefields as he had stood upon after the slaughter had ceased, he was always dumbstruck to observe how men could massacre one another. The slain lay in heaps along the ridge and in front of it. Friend and foe together were locked in the enbrace of death.
The charnel-smell assailed his nostrils and he breathed a prayer of thanks that darkening clouds had covered the sun as it inclined toward evening. It would rain, he thought. Strange how almost always, after these contests of butchery, the rain would fall. I was as though God were weeping torrents of tears over his fallen creatures and washing the earth clean of the bloodiness of their hateful awfulness.

He saw, as he looked, a lone figure stumbling toward him and recognized the slender form of Ethan. As his adopted son drew nearer, Eleazar saw that, though unhurt, he was covered head-to-toe in the blood and grime of battle.
He moved stiffly toward the lad to embrace him and saw that Ethan’s begrimed face was streaked with tears.
They clung tightly to each other and Eleazar was overwhelmed by the memory of the long distant battlefield where he had first encountered this youngster.
“Father, how could they have slaughtered each other so?”
As many times as he had heard this question asked and as many times as he had asked it of his own heart, Eleazar had no words to answer and so, remained mute. Instead, he was awash with memories of his own first experience of the aftermath of battle. He had stood, stomach churning, gazing on the slain as Jonathan had tried to comfort him.
“How have men been created in the image of God,” Ethan wondered aloud, “that the only way they can settle their quarrels is to blaspheme Him by murdering one another?”
Again, having no reply, Eleazar kept his silence. Watching as the funeral details began to heap wood around the piles of enemy slain, he glanced at his son.
“You have been helping to gather the dead.”
“Yes,” Ethan replied.
“An unpleasant but necessary task.”
“If were left to me, they could rot where they lay.” Ethan’s face flushed with anger. He stopped short as his eye fell upon the ordered rows of the dead laid out along the ridge. These had died holding the trap shut on Absalom and his rebel army. The boy flushed a deeper crimson.
“I meant the enemy.”
“I know.”
Ethan looked down at the lifeless form of Josheb. The shattered halves of his broken spear lay across his breast. His arms were crossed over them as if he grasped them to himself. Eleazar had tenderly washed his face and his countenance bore the expression of one who had just laid down to sleep.
Eleazar laid a gentle hand upon the young man’s shoulder.
“Come, we must attend to these.”

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