Heritage of Hope
by Becky Schmaltz
It was after the Flood that Noah’s descendants migrated from the harsh mountain terrain of Ararat to the fertile plain of Shinar, or Sumer, between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers. There, headed by a Hamite by the name of Nimrod, the people built an advanced civilization and began to stray from the truth of God. Disregarding the command of God to “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth...” (Genesis 1:28), they organized a dictatorship and built a tower, “...whose top is in the heavens...” (Genesis 11:4). Gradually they abandoned the worship of the true God and turned to a paganism that became the root of all subsequent pagan religions.
God “...came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the LORD said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them... let Us go down and there confuse their language...” ...so the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth; and they ceased building the city.” (Genesis 11:5-8) As He had once done at the Flood, God again directly intervened in the course of earthly events. In a miracle that would powerfully impact the rest of time, God forced the people of His creation to obey Him when they had refused in their rebellion. He struck at one of His greatest gifts to humankind—speech.
“...the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth”. People could no longer understand each other properly. They still thought in an identical way, but they expressed their thoughts with different words. Utter confusion ensued. No longer able to communicate, they left the plain of Shinar with their families, who at least were able to understand them.
Japheth’s descendants, generally speaking, travelled northwest around the edges of the Mediterranean. The Hamites went southeast. The family of Shem, who had, for the most part, kept out of Nimrod’s sway and held to the worship of the true God, settled on the plain of Sumer and became the Semitic peoples.
What follows is the imaginative story of a Semitic girl and her family who lived in the city that was later called Babel. For convenience’s sake, in this narrative it is called Nimron, after it’s ruler, Nimrod.
The house ahead was small- red sandstone, with a little courtyard on one side and three bleating goats tethered in the shade. Krissidai, poised unsteadily on the shifting lip of a sand dune, squinted and lost her balance. Her father turned around, slowly.
She nodded and stumbled forward. Water was all she wanted- if only they could make it to the courtyard, rising from the oasis in the distance.
Shade- blessed shade, and a cool bench to sit on. She sat down and stretched out her knees. They were bloody.
The door from the house creaked open, and there was a voice- slow, and steady, refreshing, stumbling a little like water over rapids. And then there was water, and she thought of nothing else.
When she had drank, and she was wet through her ears and her hair and up to her elbows, she felt awake again and thought of Nato.
Her brother was playing with a baby goat on the other side of the courtyard; evidently he had drunk, for he was damp from head to toe and the fever had eased from his eyes. He looked so like their mother, with his tousled tan hair and tan eyes and tan skin. Krissidai had her father’s smile, wide and slow, and hair all her own. It fell in dark, thick crinkles to her waist.
She saw her father and their host at the same time, for they were talking together. Her father’s voice was cracked with thirst and exhaustion, and instinctively she groped for the cool, fitted stones of the wall. No more wandering, she prayed weakly, fiercely. Not now, not forever...
“Where are you h-headed?” The man’s voice filtered distantly into her consciousness. She sat up and clasped her hands. Her father’s answer was long in coming.
“I do not know, exactly. After the Tower...”
After the Tower.
Krissidia got up, sloshed to the gate, looked back through the palms of the oasis to the red sands of the desert- rocky, arid, beautiful in its hostility. Had there ever been a time before the tower? She was beginning to wonder. It had been two years, but still she could close her eyes and see life, vivid but distant, in Nimron—life as it had been.
The great square, the temples, the people. She had almost forgotten what it was like to be able to talk with anyone. To walk down a street- to see a street!- and know that anything you said would be understood. There had been the houses, with their terra-cotta sculptures and courtyard fountains and mosaics in the walls. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine herself back in her room, with the wind coming in off the Tigris billowing the curtains and making the candles throw flickering shadows on the walls. And there had been books, stacks and piles and rows of books. She could still smell the fragrance of the library.
And there had been her mother. Unbidden, the thought rose. Her blond, quiet, serious mother who read and grew flowers and played with her and Nato down on the tiles. Her father had been different then- busy. Preoccupied. Businesslike. He had taught politics at the temple school.
And then the day when her father had come home from the temple school frowning. Her parents had talked long into the night that day, and the next morning it seemed to her that the people in the streets were talking as Nato had when he was a baby. It was very odd. Her father had not gone to the school; her mother had tried to go to the market and returned with bewildered fright in her eyes. Krissidai’s best friend, Mikea, seemed only to speak in half-sentences. The world, it seemed, was going crazy.
The city had fallen apart, literally. The spring festivals at the temples were unattended, since no one could understand what the priests were saying anyway. Most of the families in Krissidai’s neighborhood had packed up what they could of their possessions and left. The town had become a shell of the past. Krissidai’s father, Meton, had been a traveller in his youth; now he set off with his family to begin life anew. It had been two years since then- terrifying in more ways than she could count. She did not like to think of them.
And yet— Krissidai shook her head and returned to the courtyard and the babble of the spring— if it had not been for the Tower and the terror and the confusion, they would never have found the Scroll. She thought of it in capitals, now. They would have lived forever without knowing. Over and over Krissidai had wrestled the question in her mind- had it been worth it? Still she did not know.
But her father was talking.
“When I was young,” he was saying, “I went with a group of merchants to explore the lands west of the Great Sea. It was rugged there, cold, but very beautiful and- and unspoiled. Perhaps Jehovah shall lead us there.”
The older man started, and Krissidia turned in time to see a burst of joy and astonishment break over his face.
“Y-you worship Jehovah God, Creator of heaven a-and earth?”
Her father looked up, and there was a look of weary peace on his face.
“Krissidai,” he said quietly, “show the man the Scroll.”
She took the leather bag, rugged, and warn, from her back and undid the threadbare straps. Carefully, reverently, she took out a bundle wrapped in cloth and gave it to the man, her grasp touched with hesitance.
He took it as reverently, to her vague relief, and lifted out a thin scroll of finest parchment. Its rolls were of teak, and Krissidai could never smell the fragrance without remembering the little teak jewel box that had sat on her windowsill- once upon a time. The parchment was curled around the edges, but the handwriting inside was strong and fine.
Their host drew an involuntary breath and held it up to the sunlight that filtered through the vine trellis overhead. For a moment his jaw tightened with emotion.
“I am Phut,” he said unexpectedly. “I am sorry I have n-not introduced myself sooner. Th-this scroll- where did you- when d-did you-”
“After the Tower,” he said at last, “we fled the city. Two weeks later we found this scroll in an empty farmhouse by the river. I do not know how it got there, but it has shown us the way to God.”
Phut was scrutinizing the initials penned along the edge of the parchment, sheer astonishment written in her features.
“It was my uncle’s,” he said a little unsteadily, looking back at them. “I am a nephew of Shem- Ham is my father. Shem wrote it- that is, he copied it from an earlier account and w-wrote the last part.”
Nato, who had been trying to climb a tree and scraped both his knees, reappeared in the doorway.
“What Shem and Ham?” he asked innocently, “-the Shem and Ham on the Ark? What about them?”
“They were- Ham was this man’s father!” Krissidai and her father said together, emerging from an astonished silence. Krissidai felt suddenly very shy. For two years now she and Nato had read the scroll until they knew all the stories backwards and forwards- Creation, the Fall, the Ark. They had both liked the Ark best. Now, to be so abruptly confronted with Ham’s son was slightly staggering. She sat down again and blinked.
“Did you ever see it?” Nato said suddenly, his eyes glowing, “the Ark, I mean.”
“See it? When I was your age it was my f-favorite playground. It is still there, by Ararat.”
Nato sat down, agog, to contemplate this, and Phut’s voice took on a graver tone.
“After the Flood,” he began, “my grandfather saw to his sorrow that the world was again t-turning away from the true God of Creation. As the people moved out from Ararat, he and my uncles sent with them c-copies of the Message so that they would not forget. I have not seen my family for many, many years- y-you might say that I’m something of a loner. They- you might say that we went our separate ways long ago.” He looked sad and grave. Krissidai wondered what he was remembering. “Besides, I never could talk very well with people, so I came here to t-talk with God. But tell me, Meton, how has the world gone?”
For a moment Krissidai’s father did not look up.
“The world,” he said at last, huskily, and Krissidai knew that he thought of Nimron, and of the aunts and uncles and the temple school. “Phut, the world has forgotten.”
For three weeks they stayed with Phut. Nato was perfectly content- there was plenty of water and plenty of animals to play with, and the last wish of his heart was satisfied.
Krissidai’s father talked all day and long into the night with Phut of the stories and the commands and the prophecies in the Scroll- it seemed to Krissidai that he wanted to hear everything a hundred times, a thousand, to impress it irrevocably into his memory.
As for herself, she was slightly bored. One could only play with goats for so long, and the conversation between her father and Phut usually ended up far above her head. She took to spending long hours by the spring, chewing water mint and thinking. She thought of all the time that had gone before and all the time that would come, and of Noah, who had stepped from the Ark into an empty, clean world. Phut thought that Noah might still be alive, somewhere. And she wished that people had not forgotten.
And then, because such thoughts made her dizzy, she would go to help Nato feed the baby scorpion he had adopted. She couldn’t say much for his choice of pet, but at least it was something to do.
It was on a humid, overcast, foggy day that they left. Krissidai could feel herself getting a cold, and the threadbare sandals on her feet were damp and soggy. She looked into the floating, thinly discernible landscape and wished for just a moment that they could stay there forever.
Phut came toward her, his eyes straying to the worn bag on her back.
“Keep it well,” he said softly. “The world has forgotten. Perhaps we can teach it to remember once again.”
He suddenly seemed strong and tired and wise, standing there, and to Krissidai he seemed inexpressibly old. She felt very young and foolish. She met his eyes and smiled.
“I will,” she said solemnly, “I promise you that at least one person, sir, will not forget.”
For a moment, standing on the ridge with her toes curled in her boots Krissidai felt strangely that she was frozen in time and space. Before her a sweeping, stinging panorama of mountain ranges spread to the farthest horizon. They were brown, brooding mountains; almost they seemed placid. But a cold gust of wind slapped at her face; she looked once more to the south, where a thin glint of blue darker than the sky seemed to edge the rim of the world. She felt very small, and skidded down the slope to where her father was trying to find a pass through the rocks.
It shouldn’t have happened— her father had warned her a hundred times to be careful of her footing. But it did; she had been thinking of her mother, looking down at the garnet-studded ring on her finger. And she wondered if the aching reality of the memories would ever ease.
Her family had left the city together, and it had not been so bad. Almost it had been an adventure. The novelty of sleeping on the bare ground, having nothing to do but walk and play. Eating strange foods at strange times almost made up for having to leave. Every evening they would make camp, and their father would go to the nearest farm and try to barter for food the gold and trinkets they had brought with them. Goats in the yard were a good sign; there would be cheese, and perhaps milk.
The day of the earthquake, she and Nato had gone with their father to a little village to trade for supper. Her mother, exhausted by their travel, had stayed at the camp to start the fire.
Krissidai hated to think of the earthquake itself—the sudden jarring of the earth beneath her feet, the buildings that had collapsed around the dusty little square, Nato screaming beside her. The world had hardly stopped shuddering when their father had left them with a family in the village and gone back to search for their mother. They had not understood the people around them when they were spoken to, and in spite of the kindness of their hosts, Krissidai thought that it had been the worst few days of her life. Almost a week later their father had returned. He had found their camp, buried under a landslide of rocks.
“Where’s Mommy?” Nato had wailed, but their father had turned away and said nothing. Even now, two years later, he had never told them that she was dead. It was assumed, but never spoken of. They had gone on, alone, but for many months afterwards their father had not smiled.
Krissidai squeezed her eyes shut, trying to bring her mind back to the present . She twisted the ring around her finger- it was all she had of her mother’s. In her mind it was the link that bound her to the memories of the past.
And then, suddenly, the ground dropped out from under her. She had stumbled onto a slope of loose rocks— twisting as she fell, she dug her fingers into the gravel. A fingernail broke. The incline’s sheath of pebbles was only an inch or so deep, and desperately she scrabbled a handhold into the dirt underneath. She couldn’t breathe. In all of her worst nightmares, ever since they had entered the mountains, she had fallen off a cliff or into a crevice. Now, with her worst dreams coming true, she felt sick to her stomach and dizzy.
And then she felt the threadbare straps of the sack on her back give way, torn by the force of her fall. Instinctively she was twisting to grab it when a glint of purple caught her eye. Her mother’s ring had slipped from her finger and had fallen onto a jutting piece of rock, wavering over a dark chasm. She froze in terror, and in that fraction of time it seemed to her that the choice lay between the past and the future.
When her father had stumbled back up the slope, weak with fear, she was sitting quite still on the edge of the path, where the grass began, and clutching the scroll to her chest. Her chapped hands were empty, save for a white imprint of a band on her fourth finger.
He said nothing...he was like his daughter, in that strong emotion rendered him wordless. She looked up at him, and in her face he saw a hope rekindled. No longer did she long to live in her memories.
“It’s strange,” she said, a little incoherently.
“Knowing-” she smiled faintly. “Knowing- all of a sudden- what’s really important.” Then, abruptly, she put her hands to her face. “Daddy, do you think that- wherever we’re going- we could plant some flowers like mother did?”
Later, wrapped in a furry cloak with the orange light of the campfire staining her face, she listened as her father recited the Scroll to her. He was trying to memorize it. Nato was roasting nuts and sucking his burnt fingers.
“...and the evening and the morning were the third day. And God said, Let there be lights in...”
“..the firmament of the heaven,” Krissidai prompted.
“..the firmament of the heaven.”
“To divide the day from the night...”
Krissidai wasn’t listening anymore.
“Daddy,” she said soberly, “Phut said that perhaps we could help people to remember. About Jehovah God, and creation, and everything.” She was silent for a moment, thinking of her cousins and friends back in -. “But- I don’t think- that...that some of them will want to listen very much.”
Her father looked into the whipping flames, his face grave.
“You are right,” he said at last, and she started, unconsciously she had been hoping for a word of assurance. “Most of them will forget. Perhaps all but a handful will forget.. Will choose to forget. But what the world does, whether they remember, what they will do for the rest of time doesn’t mean a thing in the world. He is the same. His Word is the heritage of our hope. His truth is immovable. Whether we believe it or not makes no difference at all to the Truth. Never forget that, Kriss.”
For a moment she did not reply.
“Yes,” she said presently, drawing her knees up under her chin, “it’s like the sun. People could say it wasn’t there, but it still would be. Whether people notice it or not, it does what God made it to do. And it’s always there to come back to- the Truth, and God, I mean. Not the sun.”
She looked up at the star-encrusted vault overhead. Always there, she thought, and a thrill of security washed over her.
It was two months later that they rounded the rugged green slope of a hill and saw the valley that would be their home. It was almost autumn, and the tapestry of the woods had begun to fade into threadbare splendor. A river meandered across the valley in circular swoops of azure, and rugged cliffs reared their solidity into the sky, wrapped in shimmering waves of heat.
Their father stopped, and a smile broke slowly across his face.
“This is it,” he told them, “23 years ago I came up this river from the Great Sea. So, Kriss, where should we build...” he trailed off, his brow creased in astonishment. Krissidai followed his gaze, and her jaw dropped in amazement.
“People!” Nato yelled, “Daddeeeee, people!! Can we go see them??”
Farther down the river, clustered on a sloping field under the cliffs, was a little group of drab brown tents. Perhaps a score of people were outside; a dog saw them and barked. As a man broke away from the group and came towards them, Krissidai swallowed twice. Neighbors, she thought incredulously.
“It looks like a city,” she said, and somehow it did not even seem funny.
They met the man in the middle of the field, a little way from the tents. Obviously the leader, he was short and swarthy, and his smile was broad and friendly.
“Welcome,” he said solemnly, and because the formality seemed so absurd in the middle of exactly nowhere, he laughed. “My name is Trabor, and these are—well, my family and the others travelling with us. We have fled Sumer to begin life afresh. And you?”
Krissidai and her father didn’t answer. They were staring dumbly at the scroll in Trabor’s hands.
"That?" they said together, ungrammatical in their eagerness. Trabor smiled.
“It is the true word of the true God,” he replied. “Would you like to hear it?”
Krissidai started laughing, a little hysterically. And them out of the blurred crowd behind Trabor a face came into clarity. A face older then she remembered, infinitely more tired, infinitely more joyful, lit with a radiant inner hope.
She was choking, and then she found her voice.
“Mother!” she screamed. “Mother!”
And it was the beginning. <>
Beechick, Ruth. Adam and His Kin: The lost History of their Lives and Times. Arrow Press, 1990.
Bryant, T.A. Today’s Dictionary of the Bible. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1982.
Morris, Henry M. The Genesis Record. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1976.
Stanton, Mary, and Albert Hyma. Streams of Civilization, Volume One. Arlington Heights, Illinois: Christian Liberty Press, 1992.
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