When the tribal elders make marriage a requirement for claiming her land, Milcah bat Zelophehad must find a betrothed straightaway. The only problem in finding a husband is that all her suitors were slain while conquering the land of Canaan. Men avoid her in order to stay alive.
After praying to God to send her a bold suitor, a man from her father’s clan plummets from a tree right on top of her. Is this God answering prayer or a foolish antic by Eli, the war-scarred brother from one of her clan’s rival families?
Will settling in Canaan sort out Milcah’s troubles, or have her woes just begun?
Six years after the battle for Ai
The camp at Gilgal, outside the fallen fortress of Jericho
Milcah bat Zelophehad stood in the noonday sun, on a hill not far from the rowed tent tops of camp. She waited with her older sisters. Her sisters waited for their husbands. She waited for Hanoch, the man who had asked her eldest sister if he could arrange a betrothal when he returned from battle. Hanoch, a brave soul, did not care that another suitor lay buried deep beneath the ground somewhere in Canaan.
Battle-hardened warriors traipsed along the path toward their homes in Gilgal. Men from the tribes of Israel, the sons of Jacob, carried satchels of spoils. Some bulging. Others thin. But all contained wealth from fallen cities.
“Do you see them?” she asked, rising on tiptoe. She twisted the gold band on her finger—the ring with the ruby as solid and handsome as her Hanoch. He had sneaked it to her before he departed.
“Not yet,” her sister Hoglah said. “I have seen few of our tribesmen. Perhaps the men of Manasseh ventured farther north with Joshua.”
Two men passed on the trail. One fighter tugged a wide-bellied cow toward its new home. Would Hanoch bring her livestock?
Her eldest sister’s brow furrowed. “Reuben assured me our clansmen would return before spring. Our men may be burdened with carts or taking care of any wounded,” Mahlah said.
Hurry beloved. Milcah fisted her hand. Her golden band fit snug against her skin. She would not leave her sundrenched outpost until Hanoch marched toward her eldest sister, bowed, and settled on a time to discuss a marriage feast. Please, God. May Hanoch make haste.
Drawing closer, Mahlah wrapped her arm around Milcah’s waist. The softness of her sister’s veil and the slight scent of myrtle bolstered Milcah’s weary bones.
Until she glimpsed Mahlah’s husband, Reuben, stalking closer alongside men from their clan and alongside Hoglah’s husband.
She strained her neck. Where was Hanoch? He should be with his clansmen.
Reuben’s firm-set mouth and pity-filled eyes impaled her hopeful spirit.
Her vision blurred so that all the men of Manasseh were buoyed by a sea of tears.
“No. It cannot be.” She swallowed the last of her whisper.
The shake of Reuben’s head revealed her fate.
She slumped in the dirt and wailed.
Death had claimed another intended.
So Joshua took the entire land, just as the Lord had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war.
One year later
The Israelite camp at Gilgal in the conquered land of Canaan
Milcah braced her legs on either side of the tent peg, wrapped a cloth around the tip, and wiggled, jiggled, and wiggled the peg some more. After almost seven years of being staked in the same place, the peg battled to stay in the ground. On this day she would leave Gilgal and leave the sad memories of lost loves behind.
She dropped her weight and struggled to free the bronze anchor anew. With a fierce tug, the stake escaped from its soil home. Taut ramskin buckled as the once-tall tent sagged to the side.
A squeal emerged from within the cock-eyed dwelling.
Tirzah, Milcah’s youngest sister, poked her head from the tent flap. Her lips crumpled downward like their home.
“What are you doing? I’m hardly dressed.” Tirzah’s gaze darted down the main pathway. “Enid isn’t about? Is he?”
Milcah flung the hand-saving rag over her shoulder. “Your betrothed is in the fields where I am going to fetch a cart and a donkey. We don’t want to carry this tent on our own.” She quirked a brow at her prune-nosed sister. “Do we?”
Tirzah arched her back. “Truly, not.” She covered a yawn. “Will you see if Hoglah has bread baked?”
“Hah. Waking you was trouble enough. Demanding food from Hoglah will make a balking donkey seem tame.”
“There may be bread leftover in my pouch,” Tirzah said.
“The one with the rocks?” Milcah’s mouthed soured. “I’m sure our sister has prepared food for our travels. I’ll see what hasn’t been packed.” Milcah grabbed a coil of rope. “And you have our belongings ready to move. I’d rather donkeys and camels carry the weight and not our shoulders.”
As she turned to leave, she thought she saw a tongue returning to Tirzah’s mouth. She may have been mistaken. Dawn did not cast much light.
“Shalom, Sister.” Milcah stifled a laugh. Nothing was going to steal her tempered joy this morn. Year after year of battles had come to an end. No more men would die by the sword. And she and her sisters would claim a portion of the conquered land in their father’s name. The name of Zelophehad would live again through his daughters’ inheritance.
A few yards from the trodden path, a tent flattened in the shadowy sunlight. The tribes of Israel would soon be on a march to Shiloh to set up the Tabernacle, the home of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Afterward, her people would not congregate in a camp as one people. The tribes of Israel would separate and settle the land God had bestowed on each son of Jacob.
Milcah headed into the outskirts where her sisters Noah and Hoglah cared for livestock with their husbands. Farther and farther, her sisters had settled to keep up with their growing herds. Bounty was a blessing, but the memory of five dark-haired girls sharing the same tent still nestled in her heart.
Her mother and father had prepared their offspring well for this journey. A heaviness settled behind her eyes. If only her parents had lived to see this day. Mahlah had become a strong leader. Noah oversaw abundant livestock. Hoglah prepared the tastiest of food. All three daughters had married within their father’s clan. The clan of Hepher. Her sisters had done as God commanded. Their tribe of Manasseh wouldn’t lose a single portion of land. Now, Tirzah was set to marry. Milcah had taken care of their youngest sister all her life. A tear dripped from Milcah’s lashes. When Tirzah slept in Enid’s tent, what would be left for the fourth daughter of Zelophehad? What did a woman without a husband do as she aged? Those thoughts were best left for another day.
The murmur of excited voices, the squeak of rolling carts, and the clank of clay jars banished the usual silence of early morning.
Dodging a wagon in her path, she cut between staked tents whose owners had not begun their labors. The ground dipped. A pebble lodged between her toes.
Ugh. Not now. She had too many nieces, nephews, and sisters to organize for their journey north.