Continued from Part One…
Onions and Garlic
Jakob sipped the thin watery broth that sat before him. The aroma of onions and garlic filled his nostrils, the same as it did every night. His stomach turned. He took another sip.
Though his memory of this evening ritual had no real beginning, something else was different tonight.
Jakob glanced to the corner of their cramped living quarters. As was normally the case, his younger brother lay sleeping on a rough mat, wrapped in strips of rag his mother had collected over the years.
His father's weathered face bowed slightly over his bowl, his eyes tired, but lit with a proud flicker.
Jakob's eyes continued to travel the room, searching, probing to see what was different about this otherwise ordinary night. Then from the corner of his vision, he saw his mother's eyes flit nervously between his father and he.
Jakob held his breath.
His heart beat seemed to echo from the walls back at him.
His mind raced, Have I been sold? he thought. Am I to leave my father's house?
Sensing his sudden discomfort, Jakob's mother spoke quietly, but suddenly.
"You must tell the boy."
His father simply nodded, then took another sip.
Onions and garlic.
"I have been to see Moses."
"While you were tending the sheep this afternoon. He called a meeting of the family heads. I was selected to go. I heard him speak with my own ears. There will be one more plague."
Jakob’s mind raced.
One more plague? What could it be?
How much worse could it get? Would Akman be alright?
“Did Moses say what it would be?”
His father’s eyes lifted briefly from his broth to glance at Jakob’s mother, then quickly returned to where they had gazed. His mother’s eyes turned down, glistening wet in the flickering light of the single candle that lit their meager room.
“Jakob, you will need to select a lamb from the flock, the best we have. It will need to be without blemish. Do you understand? This is very important. It must be spotless. Do you have such a lamb?”
“Yes father, I have Snow.”
“Good. Tomorrow is the tenth day of the month, you must set it aside then. Tend to it carefully. Ensure it is not harmed. It can live in here with us. For now, it will be as part of our family.”
“For how long, Father?”
Jakob’s father’s eyes lifted briefly to meet his own; they shone with unfamiliar wetness.
“Four days. It will live with us four days.”
All was quiet now.
Just before dawn was his favorite time of the day. His imagination roamed the hills and valleys of some far off place that called to him in deep and soulful tones, ignoring the pressing realities of clay-pits, singing rods that bit and tore, plagues and forbidden friends.
Jakob shifted on his thin mat, adjusting the pressure on his side, hoping he hadn't disturbed the young lamb. Snow had taken to sleeping close by Him through the night, finding comfort in his warmth as he adjusted to the unusual surroundings of the house and life away from his mother.
Jakob's hand rested gently on Snow's head. The soft warmth, now so familiar to him, spoke to him of connection and friendship. It reminded him of the cycle of life and the purpose of existence. It heralded a message that even in the harshest realities of suffering, comfort can be known.
Tonight the plague would come.
If his father knew of this plague, he had not told Jakob. Instead, each day he checked that Jakob was caring well for the little lamb. He had forbidden Jakob to fulfill his usual duties, demanding that he remain in careful watch over Snow; reminding him constantly of the necessity that this little lamb be kept perfect. "Spotless," he would say. "Without blemish." Jakob wondered at the tone of desperation in his father's voice.
He thought, too, of his mother. And while he had never doubted his mother's love for him, he noted the increased show of affection toward him, where stealing a glance toward her, he saw the anguished longing in her eyes.
Jakob wondered about the plague. What was coming?
Jakob counted the nights that had passed since he had last seen his friend. The full moon festival was tonight. Tomorrow he would once again see his friend.
The sounds of the waking household drifted through the thin curtain that hung loosely beside his mat, signaling the end of his solitary wandering and marking the beginning of his labors. Snow lifted his head, no longer afraid of the strange household noises that once made him run for cover, turning his eyes toward his master he stood quickly to his feet. Jakob gently ran his fingers through Snow's woolen coat and felt the lamb press warmly back into his hand. With one last playful tussle, Jakob strode out into the day.
"Is the lamb with you?" his father asked in his thick morning voice.
“Yes, Father. Why are you not at the pits? You are normally gone before I rise.”
“I will never go to the pits again. The guards are still weak and fearful, they will not come. Besides, I have much to do today, much to prepare.”
“Prepare? Prepare for what?”
“A feast – tonight we will feast. Then, after we have feasted, we will throw ourselves upon the mercy of the God of our Fathers.”
Jakob had heard of feasts. Akman had told him of the great banquets held in his father’s house, of meat and fruits, of sweet breads and spiced wine. Jakob had often dreamed of them as he sat with his family, sipping his watery broth made with onions and garlic.
Had some great fortune befallen them? Had his father won the favor of an Egyptian lord?
Where was the food? What meat would they eat?
Jakob tried to recall when he had last eaten meat. Scattered fragments of distant memories blew through his mind.
He shook his head. What did it matter?
What a tale he would have to tell Akman tomorrow. The joy of telling him would make waiting all the more bearable.
Jakob busied himself for a good portion of the day. Between the chores his father set for him and tending to Snow, the day had almost spent itself before Jakob had a chance to consider the words of his father that morning.
‘…we will throw ourselves upon the mercy of the God of our Fathers.’
Jakob wondered what those words meant. Jakob had never heard of Akman’s gods having mercy.
What sort of god was the God of our Fathers?
As the afternoon shadows drew longer across the scarred land of the once-mighty Egypt, Jakob found work to do that put him close by his father. His father had been busily collecting their few belongings and binding them together in a fashion Jakob had seen the caravaners doing in the marketplace.
“Father, has Moses told you of the plague?”
“Did he tell you what would happen?”
Jakob’s father turned to face him, his busy hands now still except for a slight tremor.
“Come, walk with me a while. Bring the lamb.”
Father and son walked in silence for a while, and quietly, just a step behind them, walked a small white lamb. They found a cool place to sit in the fading light of the afternoon, just near the smooth flat rock Jakob’s mother used to grind the grain.
After a few minutes of quiet thoughtfulness, Jakob’s father spoke:
“Tonight, the final plague will be poured out across our lands. All the others we have been spared from. YAHWEH, in His mercy, shielded us from His wrath as He struck our captors. But tonight will be different. Tonight, a Destroyer from the throne room of the heavens will be unleashed – he will bring his sickle and reap a harvest of death and destruction like this land has never seen.”
Here his father paused and looked hard into Jakob’s face, “All this land, my son, even ours.”
Jakob could not breathe. His chest began to tighten.
How could this be? We have always been spared the plagues. How can we escape such a judgment?
As he watched the final light of the sun strike the distant hills, Jakob saw his mother walking out to meet them. In one hand she held her largest bowl, the one she used to make their evening broth, in the other she carried a knife.
Snow pressed his head into Jakob’s hand. Once again he felt the comfort of his soft wool and the warmth of this little lamb’s friendship.
As he found his voice he asked, “Father, are we all to die? Is that why we will feast tonight?”
“One day we shall all pass from this earth, but tonight, the Destroyer only comes for one from each family. My son, tonight he comes for you – for every firstborn across these lands.”
Though the air was still warm, Jakob felt suddenly cold. Death had reached out his fingers and gripped his young heart. Through tears he could see the Destroyer, filling the doorway of heaven, sitting atop a great pale horse. But as terror racked his body, he heard his father quickly speak again.
“Son, be still. Our God has made a way.”
“Though the thief comes to destroy, by God’s grace, he will pass over us this night.”
“Our God has made a way.”
As his mother soothed his fears and wiped his tears, Jakob watched as his father carefully picked up the little lamb. As he tenderly held it, he spoke softly, “Son, someone must die tonight. It has been decreed. But tonight, another will die in your place.”
For the first time in Jakob’s life, he saw tears stream untamed down his father’s face. And though the lamb showed no sign of fear, or struggled in any way, Jakob reached out his trembling hand and placed it on his little friend’s head.
As the crimson stain soaked into the stone in the growing darkness of the evening, a boy and his father wept together.
Waiting for Akman
No sweat stung his eyes this time, it was still too early for the heat of the day to torment him.
He was not hiding behind his rock, he had no fear now.
He had faced the Destroyer. He had heard him at the threshold, had seen the lintels tremble. And while he had spent most of the night without sleep, he had not been afraid. The Destroyer would not enter – could not enter – for he was restrained.
Jakob recalled the crimson stain on the killing stone. He saw now the same stain darkening on the frames of his door.
He heard again the words of Moses as his father whispered them through the darkness of the night: "YAHWEH will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your house to strike you.”
Over and over, he whispered these words through the long hours of the night, gripping Jakob tightly as if to shield him. But there was no need. The blood of the lamb had stood over me, Jakob thought to himself. The blood of the Lamb was my shield and defender; it has spoken a more powerful word than death's sting could utter.
Jakob held a light staff. His father's flock stood close by him as if expectant of the journey that lay before them, all except the lamb he loved – the lamb that had died in his place.
Tears once again found a home in his eyes, this time welling up in gratitude for the sacrifice, and thankfulness to God for His mercy.
Jakob blinked the water from his eyes as he peered down the dusty trail. The only signs of life were the distant cries of countless mothers grieving. His father beckoned from the hill above him; they were the last family to leave. Jakob stood still, a faint hope resounding. He was still waiting – waiting for Akman.