The night sky shone with a million stars, and the city below added to the number ten thousand of its own. He shivered, pulled his knees close to his chest and watched the distant windows glow with a warm, orange light, flickering with quiet life. Each window was a story, a chapter, a verse, in the telling of Jerusalem’s tale. The city on the hill lay arrayed with these stories, these jewels, and he watched her with longing.
He could hear his breath as he sat at the mouth of his cave. The mountain on which he now sat was only one of a great multitude that rolled across the countryside, and it sang now the same song with the great chorus of hills. Insects, small and hidden, cricked and chirruped their night sounds. A dark breeze rolled and sighed through the nooks and caves of the hillside, and these sounds together created a deep and holy silence.
He was tired, exhausted, perhaps more physically weary than he would be for years to come, but this night was not for sleeping. He was meant to meet someone here, and he waited, eyes fixed on the glimmering city. He remembered a psalm, and it silently played on his lips.
There was a rustling of brush, a flapping of wings unseen, and then, a presence. Invisible, quiet, but there. He felt it sitting next to him. He could hear its voice in his ear, close and still, even and smooth as stone.
beautiful isn’t it?
“Yes,” he said softly.
i love to watch them at night. i can see them better.
A cloud drifted close. He could almost hear it touching the mountain.
you love them.
He rubbed his face, cleared his eyes, stroked his beard.
how much do you love them?
He let the crickets answer.
you can have them, if you want them. they are a burden to me. every one of them.
He clasped his hands to his ankles. The breeze ran through his sleeves. He steadied his gaze.
i want to show you something. will you let me?
He sighed. “Yes.”
There was another flapping of wings, and he felt the wind rush past his ears. He was still staring at the same city, but he seemed also to be looking past it, looking into its very soul, as indeed a city must have one, and he saw it with overwhelming clarity. It moved and sighed as a living thing, pulsing and breathing, its people the blood in its veins, their work the air in its lungs, their sins the shame in its dreams.
He saw farther and deeper. He saw all of Israel, and beyond.
He saw people.
He saw a boy crouched over a brown puddle, his face as grimy as the water’s. He felt the boy’s stomach rumble. He felt the boy tighten the rope around his waist. He felt the hunger barely abated. He saw a king at table. He felt the fullness in the king’s belly as he ate still more. The boy clenched his stomach against another pang of hunger; the king doubled over and vomited on the floor, an obscene pool on gilded stone.
He saw a father, calloused hands covering tired eyes, drunk with despair because he failed to feed his family. He felt the fear in his mind, felt the tears burn his eyes. And he saw the man for whom this father toiled, indulging his daughter with another soon-forgotten gift.
He saw a woman– no, a girl– bent low before an old man. He saw the man’s face writhe with pleasure. He saw him mash the money into her face, spit on her, and leave. He saw the girl washing herself, and felt the shame dwelling in the pit of her innermost place.
He saw more.
A man impaled on a sword.
A child holding his dead mother’s hand.
He saw a flag. A nation. A kingdom.
And he saw the lines of power and impotence that connected them all.
He felt – yes, he knew – every trail of selfishness between the two fathers, every flayed and bleeding bond from the shamed girl to the old man, every cord of greed and want that joined the starving boy with the gluttonous king. He saw the terrible and fragile web that joined them all. And in this, he saw every kingdom that ever was and ever would be. He felt within himself a desire beyond anything he had yet felt. He wanted to feed the child at the table of the king. He wanted the old man to feel the girl’s foot upon his neck. The desire to set all these things right, to make right every wrong, to take control, to tear apart the web with one effortless sweep of his right hand, was almost overwhelming. He felt a hunger greater than the need for bread, a yearning greater than the want of glory. With his whole being, he ached for justice.
Again the voice came to him.
their suffering is no pleasure to me. they have given me power, but i can hand it over to whomever i choose. i can give you all of this. the power to remake it as you want it to be. i know it burdens you. i can see your tears.
He opened his eyes to the night. Jerusalem lay still before him, its lights diminishing, its people sleeping.
the way to justice is not as you think it is. it need not be so slow in coming.
He saw how easy it could be.
you came to bring justice to the earth, did you not? be their king.
He saw the eyes of the boy, of the father, of the girl. They pleaded to him.
will you bring justice by obscurity? will you right these wrongs by living as a beggar? do something! be the king they are pleading for!
He was taken again to the kingdoms of the world. He saw the starving boy laying lifeless on the ground. He saw the girl, now a woman, taking yet another man to her bed. He saw the drunken father alone and weeping in a filthy room. He saw the eyes of the weeping orphan, still holding his mother, and he saw the soldier cut off the boy’s hand.
The voice of the unseen one seemed to weep. o justice, come quickly…
He could see himself as king. He saw the poor fed, and the wealthy reduced to tears. He saw peace. He saw the greatest kingdom the world had yet seen. And one thing more. He saw this great kingdom, a kingdom of the world, a kingdom established by power, and it was built upon a spider’s web. He saw, as clearly as the moon above, what such a kingdom would require of him: He was kneeling before the one who lived within that web. He was bent low before the drooling maw of the spider. And he heard at last the words behind the words; he heard with perfect clarity the demands of his tempter:
all these i shall give to you, if you prostrate yourself and worship me.
He stood, and his voice peeled like thunder into the night wind. “Away from me, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve!”
The presence was gone, and holiness returned to the sacred night. He sighed deeply, and tears ran down his cheeks, through his beard, onto the collar of his robe. He remembered again the Psalm he had begun, and spoke it low and secretly into the night.
Jerusalem… The mountains surround her, and the Lord surrounds his people,
both now and forever.
The sceptre of the wicked will not prevail in the land given to the just,
lest the just themselves turn their hands to evil.
Do good, Lord, to the good, to those who are upright of heart.
But those who turn aside to crooked ways may the Lord send down with the wicked.
Peace upon Israel.
He lay down, closed his eyes, and slept as a man at the doorstep of God.