The two girls were too busy with the work their mom had given them in the yard to notice the figure approaching. Although they were only 11 years old, they were expected to help out taking care of the crops and the animals. They lived on a small farm in Canaan. The work was very hard, especially now that their dad had gone away to fight the invaders from the desert. When one of the girls chanced to look up she was startled by the silent figure hobbling toward them. She grabbed her twin sister, who screamed when she saw the figure coming closer. They ran off toward their one-room home, calling for their mom.
The mom heard the scream and came racing out, carry a big, heavy wooden club. Ever since the men went off to fight the invaders from the desert, she had been afraid for the safety of the family and kept the club near her. She never knew when or if the invaders would reach them, but if they did, they would surely kill her and her girls. Or make them slaves. That’s what the people said in the village. When she heard the girls scream, she was ready to fight for their lives.
She raised her club high over her head and started to approach the figure. But the figure moved so slowly and looked like it was ready to fall over. This couldn’t be one of the desert invaders, she thought. People said the invaders were so strong and fierce that no army could beat them. This figure was a man, but he was filthy and his clothes were little more than shredded rags. His hair was matted with blood and one arm hung useless at his side.
“Ayla,” cried the staggering figure, “it’s me, your husband.”
“Oh no! My dear husband, what happened to you,” she cried, rushing to support him as he collapsed. “Quick, girls, get water. It is your father. Bring water right away,” she shouted. The girls jumped into action.
The next day, after Ayla and the girls had cleaned and bandaged their father’s wounds, fed him, and let him rest, he told the story of how he and the other Canaanites tried to stop the desert invaders. “We thought we had beaten them back, but then rams horns sounded, making a deafening noise, and men in robes–they looked like priests–appeared carrying a great wooden box. Suddenly all their fighters turned on us with a savage fury we had never seen. They shouted to their god and smashed against us with swords and shields and spears. We had no chance. Suddenly everybody started to run. I got hit and knocked down. I was nearly trampled to death except I rolled into a little ditch. I pretended I was dead until night and then I crawled away. Many had died. It was terrible.”
“But you had your little Baal with you? Surely he helped?” asked Anya, one of the twin daughters. Baal was one of the gods to which the family prayed. They had gods for this thing and that thing, but Baal was supposed to be one of the best.
“We had many gods with us, so many gods. Each fighter carried one, two, sometimes even three. We prayed and prayed and at first it seemed to work, but then they brought out that great box and called on their god. Everything went terribly for us after that. They swarmed all over us.”
“Their god lives in box? What does he look like?” asked Karin, the other daughter.
“I have heard that nobody sees their god, not even their high priests,” said Ayla, the mother.
“You mean the god never comes out of the box?” asked Anya.
“The god isn’t in the box. They say that the Israelites carry rules carved on stone in the box. The rules are the rules of their god. Everybody lives by those rules,” Ayla continued, repeating what she had heard from other women at the well in the village. But you never knew what was true. There had been so many rumors as the desert invaders approached.
“Does Baal make rules for us?” asked Karin.
“Baal’s priests only makes rules that suit themselves, rules about sacrifices. They don’t make rules that help us,” Ayla replied.
“Don’t talk about Baal like that,” snapped Ervad.
“The people in the village say the invaders call themselves Israelites and that their god promised them this land,” Ayla continued.
“But it is our land,” cried Karin. “This is our home.”
“Not anymore,” her father said dejectedly. “The Israelites will spread throughout the whole land. Sooner or later they will get here. We can’t stop them.”
“What will happen to us?” asked Anya.
“I don’t know. I will pray to Baal and ask him what to do,” said her father.
“A lot of good that will do,” said Ayla, under her breath. She had her own ideas about what to do next. She had heard many things about this new god, about all his rules, and she liked what she heard. This new god had rules that protected people.
At the village the next day, Ayla heard the latest rumors. The Israelites were sweeping across the countryside, punishing everyone who had fought against them or who worshipped Baal or any other god except their god, who didn’t even have a name. “They call him ‘Adonai’ but that isn’t his real name,” one woman said. Ayla would be happy to give up worshipping Baal if for nothing else but this: Baal and the other gods their people worshipped asked for human sacrifices, which were always young girls. If they didn’t have any slave girls to sacrifice they would pick one of their own. With twin daughters, Ayla lived in fear that one day the priests would demand one of her daughters be sacrificed. What kind of god, she thought, asked for the lives of young girls? She would never pray to that kind of god, not anymore.
When she returned to her home, Ayla found her husband in the grove where he put the statue of Baal. He was praying to Baal, asking for guidance. He had arranged statues of other gods there too. “Are you crazy?” Ayla shouted when she saw him. “The Israelites are punishing everyone who worships any god but theirs. That’s what they are saying in the village. Quick, get rid of those. You’ll get us all in terrible trouble.”
“Baal has been good to us. He makes things grow on this farm. We can’t give up Baal,” he argued.
“Baal didn’t help you in the battle. None of those gods were any help against the Israelites. And someday Baal might want one of your own daughters. I won’t give one of our daughters to Baal, and I won’t let you put us at risk because of Baal. Destroy those statues now,” Ayla demanded.
He didn’t destroy the statues. He secretly moved them to a little cave near a stream. The Israelites came and searched through the village and the surrounding farms. Ayla and the girls swore they would worship only the Israelites’ god. Their father hid when the Israelites came. They didn’t find him or the gods he had hidden. Some villagers resisted the Israelites and were taken away and punished.
Ayla and her daughters were sincere in their promise to worship the new god and started learning the ways of the Israelites. It was hard at first to get used to the unusual ideas about this new god: there were no statues of it, it had no name, it was the one and only God, and it provided laws by which the whole community could live in peace. They learned about the 10 commandments and of all the laws Adonai had given the Israelites at Mt. Sinai. They learned about the miracles Adonai had performed for the Israelites in the desert. They learned of Joseph, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham and of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. But the best thing they learned, Ayla thought, was that Adonai doesn’t ask for the sacrifice of people. In fact, Adonai stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, his son. “This new god is merciful and kind, not like Baal,” Ayla told her daughters. Even when the Israelites made Adonai angry, he always forgave them when they repented.
The months went by and the family learned more of the ways of the Israelites, although the father kept sneaking out to worship Baal. Ayla knew this and demanded he stop. “You’ll get us all punished for nothing. Baal is a piece of stone made by your friend, Masur, the stonecutter. It is no more a god than any rock in the garden,” she pleaded. “Adonai is the real God. He is so powerful that nothing has stopped the Israelites, yet he is kind and forgiving. He gives us good rules and doesn’t allow human sacrifices.”
“Don’t fool yourself, Adonai is like any other god. What do you think will happen at their big New Year and harvest festivals in the fall? There will be sacrifices. They even said so. You can bet they will sacrifice girls just like the priests of Baal did because all gods want those sacrifices. That’s what gods do,” her husband warned.
Ayla, Anya, and Karin made the pilgrimage to the Israelite tabernacle for the New Year and harvest celebrations, but they were worried about what would actually happen. Ayla remembered Ervad’s warning about human sacrifices. They joined many people along the road. When they finally arrived, it looked like everybody in the world was there. Plus, there were thousands of sheep and goats and cattle.
The tabernacle itself was beautiful and in the center, they were told, was the special box–the Ark of the Covenant–containing the two tablets with the 10 commandments. They couldn’t approach the ark, but they could feel the presence of Adonai. When the sacrifices began, people brought up sheep and goats and cattle. They didn’t sacrifice people, only animals, which they ate.
Many animals were killed and then roasted on a big fire. The cooked pieces of meat were passed around to all the worshippers. After that, everyone drank wine and sang songs of prayer, praising Adonai, thanking Adonai for the many blessings they received, and asking forgiveness for their sins. For the first time, Ayla, Anya, and Karin truly felt love for Adonai and the rules he gave the people. “Thank you Adonai for saving my precious girls,” Ayla prayed, and she suddenly realized the one thing she must still do at home.
When she got home, she sent the girls inside to tell their father all about the trip. Instead of going inside herself, she picked up the big club she once thought she would use to protect herself against the Israelites and rushed to the secret cave where her husband had hidden his idols. She immediately started smashing them with the stick. Her husband came running in to stop her. He grabbed the club from her hands, but he was too late. Ayla had smashed the idols to bits. “They did not sacrifice any girls,” she proclaimed. Adonai is the only God. Adonai is our God, our only God, the one God.”
Of course, we know that the Jews went on to settle the land of Israel, the land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for their descendants. They eventually built a great Temple in Jerusalem where they put the Aron Kodesh containing the Ten Commandments and the Torah. They established a community under the laws of God, a kind and loving community based on studying the Torah, caring for the needy, and¾ in keeping with their prayer, the Shema: Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad,¾ dedicated to Adonai, the one God.