Noah bat Zelophehad has tended her father’s herds and flocks since she was a girl. With God’s gift of land, she plans to make her sisters wealthy with livestock. But when a conniving clansman takes a liking to the bold shepherdess, his scheme may snatch her from the fields she loves.
Only one person understands Noah’s gifts with the animals—Jeremiah, the mute shepherd who has been her field companion for years. After the walls of Jericho collapse, God stays silent in the battle of Ai, leaving Jeremiah wounded and Noah’s marital status in jeopardy. But, Noah remains faithful to God and her animals and trusts that she will be able to forge a future with her sisters, even when enemies abound.
Will the daughters of Zelophehad be able to settle their land together, or will Noah get left behind, trapped in the tent of a troublemaker?
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. ~ James 1:17
The camp at Gilgal
In the Promised Land of Canaan
Near the fortress of Jericho
Noah bat Zelophehad tugged her donkey farther from the ram skin tents of her tribe of Manasseh and farther from the stone fortress of Jericho. In the distance, the walls of the Canaanite city rose up, up, up, above the lush plain. How would the army of Israel lay siege to a barricaded city? No one had gone in or come out of Jericho for several Sabbaths. If any of her tribesmen dared to draw near the gates, they would be struck with arrows and rock. Boiling oil awaited warriors who neared the city of the false moon god.
The sooner Jericho fell, the sooner she and her sisters would inherit their father’s land. Land where she could watch over her herds and flocks without the oversight of her kinsmen.
Noah squinted in the midday sun. From the hill outside of camp, priests carried the gold-covered Ark of her God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The glistening seat of her God was hemmed in by warriors from the tribes of Israel. Was this their seventh trip around the pagan city? Seven. God had promised their leader Joshua a victory in battle after the seventh lap on the seventh day. Adonai honored all His promises. When this city of idols fell, all the people in Canaan would know her God was the One True God. And her God had bestowed a portion of this land on the daughters of Zelophehad. Five orphaned sisters who dared to ask for a forbidden inheritance.
A long, eerie howl echoed from the priests’ ram horn trumpets. The hum vibrated across her skin like a shiver. Soon, with one long blast, that battle horn would call her people to war.
Did the Canaanites not realize it was futile to battle a living God? Surely, the watchmen stationed on Jericho’s wall had seen her God separate the waters of the River Jordan. Her people had walked across a flooded river on dry ground. Shouldn’t the Canaanites have believed in a blink? They must be blind to miracles. Or they were fools.
She stroked her donkey’s damp neck. “At least our fighting men have plenty to drink thanks to your strong back. Now it is time to satisfy your thirst.” She led the donkey up a slight incline. Her arms burned from filling waterskins since before dawn.
Nooooaaaah. A young goat trotted in her direction. The kid butted her leg with his nubby horns.
“I have no milk for you. Where is your mother?” She gently guided the kid toward the herds of resting livestock.” Sheep, goats, and cattle slept in small clusters, forming mounds on the landscape for as far as she could see.
“You are wasting your time with that one.” Enid, a young shepherd boy, rose from the shade of a tall oak. “That goat has bothered me all day.”
“Did he nurse?” She scanned the scattered livestock for the pesky goat’s mother.
“Yes.” Enid motioned toward a boulder. “His mother rests behind the rock.”
“Tovah. Good. He is an unblemished firstborn.” She rubbed the kid’s head with her free hand. “Where is Jeremiah?”
Enid cocked his head toward the north. “With the breeding camel. She is laboring”
Heat surged through her body. “We have waited over a year for this birth.”
“Go.” He indicated the walled city and took hold of the donkey’s lead. “I’d rather watch God punish Jericho than gaze upon a bloody calf.”
Turning, she noticed the last of the rear guard rounding the east end of Jericho. Oooh Ahhh. Another ram’s horn blast announced the progression of the fighting men of Israel. Her people were gathered at the edge of camp, nearest the city, waiting to shout when the army completed their final trip. Her sisters’ screams would represent the family of Zelophehad well.
Nooooaaaah. The persistent kid butted her ankle once more.
“Your mother has food for you, not I.”
Urging the young goat toward the boulder where its mother rested, she backed away slowly, and then sprinted to where the camels bedded. Her whip bumped against her hip.
In the cool shade of an acacia tree, a camel lay on its side, ankles bound, lest the animal assault Jeremiah with her hooves. Other camels foraged for grass as if this were any other day. If they only knew that after this birth, they would witness the annihilation of a fortress.
Jeremiah knelt under the shade-giving branches, hunched near the rump of the camel. The mother’s grunts and head rears did not distract him from his duty. He would hear neither Noah’s calls, the slap of her sandals, nor the trumpet wail. The shrieks of the Canaanites and their judgment would be but a breeze upon his cheek. Perhaps today was not a bad day to be deaf and mute.
As she drew closer, a waft of blood and urine filled her nostrils. Her eyes watered. The air smelled like a slaughter.
She waved her arms to gain her fellow shepherd’s attention.
He glanced at her, but in his eyes, the usual glisten of light brown sparks had disappeared.
On the ground, the calf’s front legs and head were visible. Hazy, white film covered the babe. The mother craned her neck and snorted. Her calf’s head jostled forward but did not shift farther out of the womb. Was the calf stuck?
Kneeling by her fellow shepherd, Noah brushed the thin shield of skin from the babe’s nose. The wet sheet clung to her hand. She stretched out her arms and motioned a pull. Her thumb indicated she would be the one to finish the birth. Surely, Jeremiah could see her arms were slighter than a man’s and would easily slip into the womb. Would he accept her help or be stubborn?
Jeremiah’s brow furrowed, his arms wrapped tight around the babe. He hesitated and tugged once more. Huffing, he released his hold and nodded toward the camel.
She grabbed the castoff birthing and rubbed it on her arms. Her stomach wretched at the feel and stench of the fluid. The sun’s heat did not help the odor either. The sour taste of grain sizzled on her tongue, tightening her jaw.
Staring at her, the babe’s brownish-black eyes beheld her as if she were its only hope.
“God is the giver of life. Not me.” She brushed the soaked calf’s head with her fingers and slipped her hands in the camel’s womb. The mother attempted to kick. She mouthed a short prayer. “It will be over soon,” she said to the anxious camel. Hopefully, she spoke the truth.
Slickened fur warmed her fingers as she slid her hand down the bone of the babe’s back legs. A tiny hoof had burst through the birthing skin. The bend of one knee had wedged against womb and bone. As if peeling a lemon, she released the leg from the thick rind of its mother’s muscle. Praise be, the womb had not ruptured.
The mother bucked its head. Jeremiah lunged and comforted his beast.
With a gentle pull, the calf sprung free and slid over Noah’s knees, soiling her robe. She would need a good soak in the river to clean her garment. She removed her arms from the womb and helped Jeremiah clean the whitish sack off the calf’s body. He whisked the babe to a waiting bed of straw.
New life had been birthed into the herds of the clan of Hepher. She struggled to her feet.
A gush of water and blood drained from the camel and flooded Noah’s sandals. Warmth seeped around her toes.
Truly a dip in the Jordan awaited.
“Sorry about my arms.” She patted the mother’s rump.
Taking a small knife from her belt, she cut the mother’s bindings and hopped away from the hooves. The mother stumbled to her feet and plodded after her newborn.
Sweat trickled down the side of Noah’s face. She glanced at her soiled hands. Where was the washing jar? Next to the oak. She hurried to clean herself.
A long trumpet howl blasted from the direction of camp and from the direction of Jericho. Before the horn hum ended, an ear-splitting shout rose from her people in obedience to God’s instructions.
Beneath her sandals, the ground quaked. The stone wall of Jericho, solid and forbidding, collapsed in a cloud of white dust.