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Great Wrath


Daegaer wrote, @ 2004-01-10 11:55:00
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'Omri was the king of Israel, and he oppressed Moab for many days, for Kemosh was angry with his land. And his son reigned in his place; and he also said, "I will oppress Moab!" In my days he said so,' the scribe read, his cultured voice the only sound in the room, ' But I looked down on him and on his house, and Israel has been defeated; it has perished forever!'

The richly-dressed courtiers looked sidelong at the king. He was tall, as a king should be, and fair to look upon as a king should be, and since the war he was no longer running to fat. For a king, he was dressed simply. He was not laden down with jewels, nor did he adorn himself with the gaudy robes he had worn before the war, saying they were a distraction and unnecessary. He never smiled any more either.

None of the courtiers had the courage to say the word 'perish' in his hearing. The scribe was brave, for a non-fighting man. The king glanced up suddenly, and they all looked away from the darkly angry face.

* * *

One hundred thousand lambs and one hundred thousand sheepskins a year. One hundred thousand lambs and sheepskins that could not be traded, that could not be used to secure a good bride for Kemosh-natan, Mesha's son who would be king after him. One hundred thousand lambs and skins that went north to Samaria and made Israel richer, and stronger, and able to eat away at Moab's lands until all the good farmland was taken, and the tribute was still levied from a smaller, poorer vassal. In the days of Mesha's father the tribute went north to Omri, in the days of Mesha it went north to Ahab.

But then Ahab died.

Ahaziah the son of Ahab was young and handsome. He would have been a strong king, but within a short space he too was dead, having fallen from the window of an upper room. Israel was in turmoil, its nobles looking at the throne and the dead king's even younger brother. That year no tribute went north to Samaria from Mesha. The next year Jehoram the son of Ahab proved stronger than anyone thought, and came south with three armies, and the inhabitants of Kir-hareseth looked out upon the soldiers of Israel and Judah and Edom, and they lifted up their voices to Kemosh, and wept.

* * *

'And the king of Israel built Atarot for himself, and I fought against the city and captured it. And I killed all the people of the city as an offering for Kemosh and for Moab. And I brought back the sacred things from there; and I brought them before the face of Kemosh,' the scribe read.

The courtiers smiled. Surely the king's heart would lighten, surely he would think on his valour and be comforted. He was still a young enough man, he would come to see the sweetness of life again. He would put sadness away from him, and would eat and drink and be once more their plump and mild tempered king. The king looked at them, and his face was that of a wounded lion, or the eagle that stoops down from the sun. One by one the courtiers dropped their gaze to the floor.

* * *

The people of Kir-hareseth grew thin and great-eyed. They peered out fearfully at the armies of the enemy and did not cease calling on Kemosh to save them. But there was no answer, and the enemy did not leave, and the kings of Israel and Judah and Edom dined nightly before the walls while their heralds called mockingly for Mesha to come and join them.

And the officers of Mesha's storerooms came to him, and told him there was no more food, that all the stores had been apportioned equally among the army as he had decreed, and that the army and the people would starve together after they had eaten the last of the stores that very day.

'As Kemosh lives, I will not go down to dust like a whipped dog!' Mesha cried. 'May Kemosh do thus and so to me if I do not take with me in death even one of my enemies and the enemies of Moab.' And he gave orders that seven units of the men of valour should eat and drink well one last time, that they might have strength. And having eaten with his officers, Mesha kissed his wives and children and embraced Kemosh-natan his son who was to be king after him and went forth to battle.

'May I take even that son of a dog, Benhadad of Edom,' said Mesha, and he and the seven units fought valiantly, cutting through the Edomite ranks to reach their king, but they could not break through for Israel and Judah stood with Edom that day. And the seven units of the men of valour sold their lives dearly so that Mesha could regain the safety of the walls of Kir-hareseth, and the king wept for shame.

* * *

'And Kemosh said to me, "Go, take Nebo from Israel." And I went in the night and fought against it from the daybreak until midday, and I took it and I killed the whole population: seven thousand men, both citizens and foreigners, and women citizens, foreigners, and servant girls. For I had dedicated it to extermination for Ashtar Kemosh. And from there I took the vessels of Yahweh and I presented them before the face of Kemosh,' the scribe continued.

The courtiers did not look at their king, although they could hear a slight rustle of cloth and imagined him leaning forward, an avid and starved look on his face. It had been a very great revenge. It should have been enough, they thought. Could the king not be satisfied and rejoice in his victory at last? Kemosh did not desire eternal grieving.

None of them had ever dared to say that to the king.

* * *

The enemies of Moab beat upon the gates of Kir-hareseth, and the bracings shuddered and groaned and the wood buckled inward. As the citizens of Kir-hareseth wept and prayed, Mesha ran into the House of the Lord of Moab and seized the horns of the altar and cried out to Kemosh.

'Why have You forsaken Your people?' he cried, and in his heart he promised anything, anything if Kemosh would spare the city and spare the people. And his heart quietened and in the stillness of the House he knew that his voice had been heard and that his offering accepted, and he rejoiced that though he would die his people would live.

And coming into his own house he thought on what he would do, and looked with great fondness upon his wives and his children, and Kemosh-natan his son who would be king after him. But as he looked upon the face of his son he felt again the stillness that he had felt in the House of the Lord of Moab and in the stillness he heard a voice, quiet and small, that said, 'Give this'.

And Mesha closed his eyes that he might not look upon the face of his son, and said 'My son, we must offer a sacrifice to the Lord Kemosh. Come.'

They gathered together oil and incense, and Mesha took from the House the knife the priests used and they went, Mesha and Kemosh-natan, up onto the walls of the city. Mesha ordered the soldiers on the walls to lay wood upon the top of the wall, that all Kir-hareseth might lift their eyes up to the sacrifice.

'Where is the lamb for the burnt-offering?' Kemosh-natan asked.

'Kemosh will provide himself the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son,' Mesha said, and was silent.

And when the wood was put in order he took his son Kemosh-natan, his eldest son who was to be king after him, and bound him and laid him upon the altar, and took up the knife. He could not see the face of his son, for tears blinded him, and he laid the knife down and wept, and his son wept also.

'My father,' said Kemosh-natan, 'will the city be spared, and the people? Will you be revenged upon all your enemies?'

'Yes,' Mesha wept, 'yes.'

'Then, my father,' Kemosh-natan said, 'have faith.'

And Mesha took up the knife once more and looked up to heaven, but no voice came, nor any angel to stop him, and he slew his son who was to have been king after him, and laid the fire in the wood with his own hands. And there was a mighty wind, and great wrath fell upon the armies of Israel and Judah and Edom, and they screamed and scattered as if all the hosts of heaven pursued them. And the gates of Kir-hareseth were flung open, and what remained of the soldiers of Moab pursued their enemies, killing many, until they were utterly fled back to their own lands.

* * *

'I have built the High House, for it had been destroyed. I have built Bezer, for it lay in ruins. And the men of Dibon stood in battle formation, for all Dibon were in subjection. And I am the king over the hundreds in the towns which I have added to the land. And I have built the House of Mehdeba and the House of Diblat-en and the House of the Lord of Meon, and I brought there the flocks of the land,' the scribe read.

The king looked at him, impassive, as if the great list of temples and sacrifices to Kemosh were a little thing that any man might have wrought. The courtiers had on many occasions praised his devotion, his endless sacrifices. Fully one hundred thousand lambs and the price of one hundred thousand sheepskins every year were given to Kemosh, a price easier to bear now that their great king had regained the territory lost to Israel.

The scribe laid one writing-tablet aside, and picked up another. ' And in Horon-en, there lived the House of David. Kemosh said to me, "Go down, fight against Horon-en!" I went --'

'Enough,' the king said.

'But my lord, there is still the destruction of Horon-en, and the dedication of its people to Kemosh, and your rebuilding of the cisterns and settlement of the garrisons,' the scribe said.

'Enough. It is satisfactory. It may be inscribed,' the king said wearily. 'I will hear no more.' He stood up, and the scribe and all the courtiers bowed. 'Bring word when it is finished.'

'My lord,' a courtier murmured. 'Shall we give word for the finest of the royal flocks to be selected, so that you may offer sacrifice when the monument is put up?'

'Why not?' the king said, his voice heavy and tired. 'Let me give more to Kemosh, gift upon gift. Let them be the finest. I know full well He is not satisfied with less.'

He walked slowly from the hall, and the courtiers did not meet his gaze.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

2 Kings 3: 4-6
Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheep breeder, and he had to deliver [annually] to the king of Israel 100 000 lambs and the wool of 100 000 rams. And when king Ahab died, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. So king Jehoram marched out of Samaria at that time and mustered all Israel.

2 Kings 3:26-27
When the king of Moab saw that the battle was going against him, he took with him seven “hundreds” of swordsmen to break through, opposite the king of Edom, but they could not. Then he took his eldest son who was to reign in his stead, and offered him for a burnt offering upon the wall. And there came great wrath upon Israel; and they withdrew from him and returned to their own land.

Unusually, a document exists that gives the non-Israelite version of events, the 'Mesha Stele' or 'Moabite Stone', a victory monument recording Moab's successful bid for independence from Israelite domination. The scribe here quotes from it. In the its text Mesha attributes all his success in gaining freedom, and regaining the fertile farmlands of northern Moab to the grace of Kemosh. The Mesha Stele does not mention a sacrifice of the crown prince, but does detail the slaughter of civilians as part of a herem to Kemosh, the total slaughter of all living things in an enemy city as a huge sacrifice (also practiced by Israel).

"Kemosh-natan" (Kemosh has Given) is the same name as Jonathan, with a different divine element.

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