This is the fourth entry from my upcoming booklet “Our Darkness, His Light”.
Samuel looked up from counting his money as the two men entered his shop. They were dressed in simple robes, their faces covered with black cloth, only their eyes visible. He quickly rolled the denarii he had been counting into a small piece of cloth and tucked it into the merchandise laying before him on his table.
The men had not come to the shop to purchase anything. They ignored the baskets, the ropes, the various artifacts that hung from nails around his small shop and walked straight across the floor to the table.
“It’s time to pay up, Samuel.” One of the men said as he slammed his fist down on the table. Various bits of merchandise clattered together from the sudden violence of the man’s blow. Samuel leaned back on his stool, his heart picking up its pace. He was having trouble breathing. He was getting too old for this nonsense.
“You tell your master that I will pay him when I have the money. I know that I own him a great deal, but I can only pay so much at a time.”
The second man picked up a small basket from the table and held it in the air in front of him. “Perhaps a few years in debtor’s prison will change your mind, Samuel.”
“What good will it do for your master to throw me in debtor’s prison? If I am not selling my goods, how can I ever repay him?”
“What goods?” The second man said as he dropped the basket on the floor. He turned with his arms outstretched as if to look around the room and Samuel heard the unmistakable crunch as his foot descended on the basket. The first man leaned across the table. His hand deftly snaked in among the merchandise and snared the small pouch.
“We’ll consider this a down payment. Next time that may not be a basket that gets crunched. It may be your head.”
The two men whirled and left the room. Samuel stood shakily, his body trembling with fear. He had trouble catching his breath and his hand came to his chest. He heard a sound behind him. Naomi appeared through the folds of the doorway leading from the shop to the small room beyond, the extent of their home.
“Samuel. What was all that racket?”
Samuel leaned against the table to catch his breath and his wife instantly was at his side. Her hands touched his shoulder, patted his back.
“More of Jacob’s henchmen come to aggravate me about the debt that we owe. Naomi, what are we going to do?”
Naomi pressed a hand to her lips. Samuel turned to look at her and saw tears in the corners of her eyes. “Oh Samuel, will we have to sell the shop?”
“Never! I will never sell this shop and give in to the likes of Jacob and his money hungry hoard. I’ll go to debtor’s prison before I let him take this away from us.”
Naomi shook her head. “If you go to debtor’s prison, I will go with you. I will not stay here alone to run this shop.”
“Naomi, your love is so strong. I don’t know what I would have done without you all these years. I’m afraid it’s hopeless. They took our last denarii. There is no way we can make enough money to pay Jacob.”
Naomi reached up and touched his lips with her hand and shook her head gently. “Never say there is no hope, Samuel. There is always hope. God will provide for us.”
Samuel shook his head and pushed her hand away from his lips. “God will provide? Just where was God when these two men were threatening to crush my head like a basket?”
Naomi opened her mouth to answer but was interrupted by a sound at the door. A man stepped into the room and brought with him all of the darkness that was outside. He glanced around at the room cautiously, his eyes gleaming in the bright light from the lamps. Samuel swallowed hard and glanced at his wife.
“I’m afraid sir that we are about to close up shop for the evening.”
The man’s eyes appeared wild and animal-like. He darted around the room, searching for something.
“Sir, I said that we were closing.” Samuel stated once more as he pushed Naomi behind him.
The man stepped forward to the table. “No! You cannot close. You must help me.”
The ferocity of his voice startled Samuel and he leaned back away from the man’s wild eyes. Was he another one of Jacob’s men come to harass him? Behind him he felt Naomi pat him in the middle of the back and he turned to glance at her face. Her skin was white, her face pale with fear and she shook her head gently. He placed a finger to his lips and motioned to the back door. Reluctantly, she left him and disappeared through the curtains.
“Very well.” Samuel stated as he turned around. “Just what is it that you search for?”
“Rope.” The man stated, his eyes roving around the room.
“Rope?” Samuel asked him.
“Yes. And not just any rope will do. It has to be a certain type of rope.”
Samuel stepped around the table and motioned to the wall to his left. “I have several types of rope here. Most of them I have braided myself. There are ropes that are small enough for a tiny animal and ropes that are big enough for an ox.”
The man leaned towards Samuel and his eyes fixed on the wall beyond. Several loops of rope hung on wooden pegs.
“You say that you have braided these yourself?”
“Yes.” Samuel stated proudly. “It’s one of my better products. I’m very proud of my work. My father taught me how to braid ropes when I was a small child. You will find that my ropes are some of the best in town. Is that why you came here? Because of my fine reputation?”
The man glanced at Samuel as if he were crazy. “No. I don’t know why I chose your shop. I just need a rope.”
The man reached over to a nearby loop of rope and took it from the wooden peg. He felt the caliber of the rope, stretched it out from hand to hand and jerked on it.
“How strong is this one?”
“It’s medium strength.” Samuel stated as he reached and took the rope from the man. “It could probably corral and guide a small donkey.”
“That won’t we strong enough.” The man stated loudly. His eyes were even more wild now. His face was covered with a thin sheen of sweat. “I need something strong enough to hold up the weight of a man.”
Silence came into the room. Samuel could smell the sweat of the man, his fear. Against the sudden silence he heard shouting in the far distance. Some type of disturbance was taking place out in the streets. He gently took the rope in the man’s hands, coiled it and hung it back on its wooden peg. Immediately beneath that peg was another loop of rope. He handed it to the man.
“This one will hold up your weight.”
The man looked at the rope and gave it a few test tugs. He nodded briskly. “Good. How much?”
Samuel looked at the rope and rubbed his lip. “Uh…”
“I don’t have time for any bargaining. Here, take this.” The man interrupted him. He tossed a leather bag on the front of the table. Samuel glanced down at the bag and tentatively picked it up. He loosed the leather strap and opened the top to look in. His eyes grew wide in amazement.
“These are pieces of silver.”
The man eyed him wildly and shook his head. “No. You are too kind. You don’t deserve that money.” His hand snaked out quickly to snare the bag from Samuel’s hands. He closed the bag and tucked it into the sash of his robe and then searched the other side of his sash. He brought out another small leather bag and handed it to Samuel.
“There’s not quite as much money in there as in the other, but I think you deserve it far more than you do those thirty pieces of silver. It is all of the money from my organization. I am, or was, their treasurer.”
Samuel took the second bag and opened it and glanced inside. It was not as startling as the first bag but there was sufficient money in there not only to pay for the rope but to pay for his debt to Jacob. “This is far too much.”
The man hefted the rope over his shoulder and started for the door. He stopped and glanced over his shoulder at Samuel. “I don’t need it anymore.” He disappeared into the night.
Naomi appeared through the doorway and stepped up beside her husband. She looked at the small, black leather bag.
“Samuel, what is going on?”
“I don’t know Naomi. That man just gave me enough money to pay off our entire debt to Jacob. And, for a small piece of rope.”
Naomi smiled. “See. God does answer prayers.”
Samuel pressed the black leather pouch into her hand and started for the door. She grabbed his right arm as he passed her.
“Where are you going?”
Samuel glanced at her once and then back into the night. “I’ve got to find out what that man is doing. Something isn’t right here.”
Samuel stepped out into the night air. Already it was well past midnight. He had worked into the late hours counting for his books. He stared either way down the alleyway and asked a nearby man if he had seen the figure. The man pointed to his right. Samuel made his way through the streets towards the outskirts of town. As he came up over a rise, the breeze blew down the alleyway from a nearby hillside. There, dangling from a tree something dark moved in the wind. He stepped hesitantly from the alleyway into the opening along the hillside. A tree stood there, its branches reaching towards heaven. It was a barren tree. It was a dead tree. Hanging from the lower limbs was the man who had bought the rope. He had done the job quickly, forming the rope into a noose. His body swayed in the breeze, stiffening in death.
Samuel glanced at the ground beneath his feet and there were the silver coins scattered from the brown pouch. He knelt and started to reach for them until he remembered the man’s words. He did not understand what had transpired here tonight. For some reason the silver coins represented something far more evil than he could ever imagine.
There was a shuffling in the alleyway behind him and he turned to see two Pharisees standing at the edge of the alleyway. They glanced at him for a moment and then looked beyond him to the figure hanging from the tree. One leaned to the other and they whispered among themselves.
“Would you please pick those coins up for us, kind sir?” One of the Pharisees spoke to him.
Samuel stood and glanced down at the ground. “Why should I pick them up for you?”
“They were a payment to this man for a service that he rendered. Someone came and told us that he had hung himself. I suppose we can take the money back now.”
“He tried to give it back, you know.” The other man whispered. “We could use it for something.”
Samuel stood in the silence of the night with the wind whipping around him. Behind him he could hear the body of the man rustling in the limbs of the tree. He turned and glanced at the pieces of silver gleaming in the moonlight.
“If this man did something at your bidding for this money, then you can pick it up yourself.” He pushed between the two of them and went back down the alleyway.
The night was still and cool and in the far distance the cries of the crowd had died down. He stopped outside his doorway and looked up at his name carved into the doorpost. Yes, God had answered his prayer this night. That he now truly believed. He would pay off the debt to Jacob and he would keep his shop. He looked up at the bright stars gleaming in the night and the silvery moon shining like one of the silver coins that were tossed in the grass. Shaking his head he muttered a prayer of thanks and stepped into the house to greet his waiting wife.