“How come Gaddi’s eye still droops?”
A Back Alley of Jerusalem
Elijah poked Peleg in the chest. “And you’ve got clay in your beard.”
Tubal fluffed the whiskers around his cheerful face. “And these beautiful scars from the forge still decorate my arms. Plus, your knobby knees belong on a sea gull.”
“Good one.” Elijah guffawed. “But we just floated in here from the sky and smelled the ink on the quills of those three copyists up there. They can’t see us, but we see each other. Why do we look so—”
“Ordinary?” Peleg patted his beard. “I was hoping this would be fresh and clean and I’d have smooth skin like when I was eighteen.”
With one finger below and one above, Gaddi forced open his droopy eye. “I’d trade this for a good one any day.”
“Go figure.” Tubal wagged his head. “Maybe after we tote you around we’ll have a chance to look better? I don’t know what age I’d ask to be.”
“I’d like to go back before this hip started hurting.” Elijah slapped his leg.
“Well right now we’re going forward.” Tubal climbed into the back and slapped the seat beside him. “Hop in while Peleg changes our time. If we leave you in this scruffy little alley, they might teach you to copy scrolls.”
“They’d have to see me first.” Elijah sat between Tubal and Gaddi.
Peleg shook the reins. The chariot tilted then straightened. The horses swished their tails.
Elijah dropped his jaw. “My. What a team.” A pair of big bays, led by two horses with hair so white he might find pink skin underneath. i
“Beauties,” Peleg said. As he lifted the reins, the chariot hovered above the treetops.
“These four could outrun any”—Elijah jumped up and stood on the seat—“Whoa!” He steadied himself with a hand on Gaddi’s shoulder and raised hand to shield his eyes from the sun.
The Great Sea shone in the distance, and a temple rose on the hill before them. Gold columns glistened in the sun against white walls five times the height of Elijah’s home in Tishbe.
Tubal draped an arm around Elijah’s waist. “Now there’s a temple worthy of the name. I wouldn’t show you the tiny shack back there, but our people have been improving it ever since, and King Herod took the temple on as his project.” He turned to Gaddi. “Did I get that right?”
“Yes, sir. Twenty years ago.”
“King Hiram, you say? From Sidon?” Elijah gawked at the light playing off the stone walls.
“Different king.” Gaddi squeezed Elijah’s ankle. “Herod, from Rome.”
Elijah glanced down at his friends. “Rome?”
Peleg tapped Elijah’s knee. “Out across the Great Sea. A little city with armies everywhere. Controls the world.”
Elijah sat back down. Another place to visit. Another tuck in time. Too far from Tishbe and Milkah. His stomach churned at the pace.
In front of the temple, a plaza spread broader than Milkah’s pasture. Paving stones fit tight and smooth without dirt or grass between. Like blocks in a wall, but horizontal, extending left and right in a pattern as intricate as Uncle Hashabiah’s floor in Zerephath.
People filled the plaza and pressed against a wall in front of the temple.
“Why the crowd?”
“This is the Day of Atonement.” Tubal said, “They’re waiting for the burning of the incense.”
“Oh boy,” Elijah said. “Let’s go in.”
Peleg guided the chariot up next to the temple and set it down behind the wall which kept back the crowd.
Elijah reached one foot out. “Wait. Is somebody gonna call me a bubbler?”
“That’s a chance you’ll have to take.” Gaddi pushed him onto the pavement. “Don’t trip on the rope.”
A thick rope snaked over the wall and into the temple.
Peleg led the way through the tall, arched entry. He followed the rope beside the altar of burnt offerings, past the hand-washing basin, and in through a door between broad gold posts.
The rope looped around the waist of an old gentleman with a white beard standing with his hand over his mouth by the Table of Show Bread.
A tall young fellow with broad shoulders and a kind face stood beside the altar of incense. “Don’t be afraid, Zachariah. Your prayer is heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.”
Elijah whispered, “Zachariah wrote a book. My brother Nathan could tell you all about it.”
“That was five hundred years ago,” Gaddi said. “This Zachariah’s a priest. He drew the short straw to burn incense on the altar.”
White-faced, the priest fell back half a step and looked behind him at the door.
The young man continued. “When your baby arrives, you’re going to leap like a young deer. And not just you. Many will rejoice at your son’s birth. You’re going to name him John. Your son will be a great man, and he won’t touch wine or strong drink.”
The young man raised both eyebrows to his headscarf. “And he’ll be filled with the Holy Spirit—get this—as soon as he’s born.”
Zachariah turned as if to leave.
“You can’t go until you’ve burned the incense.” The young man pointed to the bucket dangling from Zachariah’s arm. “Plus, you need to hear about your son. He’s going to turn many in Israel to the Lord.” He rocked from foot to foot. “See, John is going to lead in the strength and style of Elijah.”
Gaddi elbowed Elijah. “I figured somebody would mention you.”
The man glanced up at them.
Elijah gasped. “Hey, can you—?”
But the man raised and eyebrow and refocused on Zachariah.
“Your son John will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and open the eyes of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just. He’ll get people ready for the Lord.”
Elijah whispered, “turn the hearts” then covered his mouth with his hand.
Zachariah sputtered. “But we’re too old.”
“Look, I am Gabriel, come directly from the Lord.”
The old man grabbed the sides of his head and let his fingers slide down his cheeks.
Gabriel continued. “But because you don’t believe this good news, you’ve said your final words for several months—until this baby is born.”
Zachariah moved his lips, but no sound came out.
Gabriel laid a finger on Zachariah’s chin. “Know this. Every word I’ve said is going to happen at the proper time.” He walked out past the laver and the altar of burnt offerings.
Elijah trotted after him. “Wait up! Are you the Gabriel who explained Daniel’s visions? I love that story.”
But Gabriel sauntered through the gate and disappeared into the crowd with no one turning a head.
The people pressed against the wall.
“Why’s Zachariah taking so long?”
“What’s keeping the old boy?”
“We need an age limit on who can burn incense.”
Head down, Elijah shuffled back into the holy of holies and nudged Tubal. “He borrowed Mr. Messenger’s line about turning hearts, but he didn’t call me a bubbler.”
With shaking hands, Zachariah set the bucket down and added wood to the fire. When the flames burned strong, he dipped a small shovel into the bucket and poured incense onto the fire. The smoke rose and filled the holy of holies.
As the old priest passed the laver, Elijah pulled Peleg and the others into the crowd.
“Mmm … smell the incense.”
“Here he comes.”
“We didn’t have to drag him out after all.”
Zachariah stood in the entrance and moved his lips. But his voice stayed silent. He rubbed his hand over his mouth, then pointed back inside. With his hands, he outlined in the air the shape of Gabriel.
“You saw somebody?” A man asked.
Zachariah nodded and opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He hung his head and trudged through the crowd.
“So, that old man’s going to have a baby.” Elijah led Gaddi to the chariot. “Do we have a moment to go back and check on Milkah?”
Tubal pulled Elijah into the back seat between him and Peleg. “I hope you get to tell Milkah what you saw.”
Gaddi stepped onto the driver’s platform. “Next stop we see Zachariah’s baby all grown up and turning many to the Lord.” He gave the reins a twist. The horses whinnied and the chariot shuddered.
Tubal jumped to his feet. “Gaddi, wha’d you do?”
Day of Atonement – Leviticus 23:27-28
Zachariah in the temple – Luke 1
Gabriel explained Daniel’s visions – Daniel 8:15–26, 9:21–27
iSD I remembered a description like this in your last sub. Did you move it here instead? If not, it’s repeating.
1 thought on “03. Zachariah A5”
The horses snorted tossed their heads.
Tubal jumped to his feet. “Gaddi!”
The chariot shuddered.