ENCOUNTER WITH A PROPHET
A whistle was blown below. The men were picking up their gear and moving back into formation. Jacob went back to the wagon he rode with Trax. Cornelius got back on his horse and rode at the head of the column. As he rode, he thought more on the son of this impossible virgin birth whose name would be Immanuel. He learned early on when studying Scriptures, to pay special attention to the meanings behind names. Immanuel in Hebrew means ‘with us is God.’ There is no other way of interpreting these words. God will be born among men and the sign for mankind will be that His birth will be through a woman who have not known any man. Impossible as it sounds, Cornelius thought it made sense. He recalled another impossible occurrence in the book of Moses where God intervened and caused the barren wife of Abraham to give birth in her eighties. This was written as fact, as something that had already happened. There were a lot more supernatural events recorded in the Scriptures. Others would say that they were nothing more than tall tales… exaggerations, but not him. In his heart, he always believe them to be true.
A few hours later, the column reached the crossroads. To the right, the road goes to the city of Capernaum. According to Jacob, it is the trading center of the Galilee region with a population of thirty thousand people. The column turned left on a bridge over the Jordan River toward the village of Bethsaida. Bethsaida is a farming and fishing village with an estimated population of about four thousand people mostly Galilean Jews. The main village is about a mile from the lake and is enclosed by a perimeter wall. However, the fishing community preferred to keep their homes closer to the water where their boats lie on the pebbly shoreline.
The road they were on went through the main village then out the east gate. As Cornelius rode through the gate, he noted how the populace watched him and the column with outright disdain. The other towns and villages they went through, the people mostly stared with blank faces, but here their looks can almost be construed as rebellious. The reason becomes clear as the column enters the village square. The column came upon a crowd of angered men and weeping women. But they were not looking at his column. Their focus were mostly on a squad of thirty auxiliary soldiers** who were tearing down an unrecognizable building. But Cornelius figured by the reaction of the crowd that this building was significant to them. He signaled for the column to continue on through the crowd. The crowd who then realized that a greater number of Romans were there, began to disperse fearing greater violence. As his column marched by, he called to one of the Legionaries that always stayed with Cornelius.
** auxiliary soldiers are Roman Legionaries made up of foreign descent
“Cestus. You come with me,” ordered Cornelius “The rest of you march ahead with the column”
Legionary Cestus was a head taller than him. He was a veteran of the Spanish campaign and was one of the survivors who closely fought side by side with Cornelius in the trap that almost decimated their whole unit. Ever since then, he loyally followed Cornelius. Still on his horse, Cornelius rode through the remainder of the crowd with Cestus making way for him. He approached the soldiers that were tearing down the building.
Cestus then snapped to attention, took two steps ahead of Cornelius and with a commanding voice he shouted, “Auxiliaries! Cease what you are doing, NOW!”
The soldiers realized the presence of an officer, they halted in what they were doing.
“Who is in charge here?” Cornelius asked looking around menacingly.
Two soldiers stumbled out of a house hurriedly fixing their clothes. A sobbing sound can be faintly heard coming from the inside of that same house. An elder woman that was held back by some men of the village quickly dashed to the house and entered it. A scream of agony was heard within. Cornelius kept his focus on the approaching men, one of them clearly the squad leader – an optio.
“Sir!” They came to attention and saluted sloppily.
“What occurred here?” asked Cornelius. “Why was this place torn down by your men?”
“Your honor, serr. We were ordered to by our commander,” the squad leader spoke with a deep accent of that of a Syrian descent.
“Serr, one of our patrol was ambushed by Jewish rebels. The commander believes them from here. So, we destroy their praying place.”
“I see,” Cornelius could not fault them for following orders. “Well, you completed your task. You are done here!” He then turns to Cestus, “Cestus, take command of this men.”
“Auxiliary!” Cestus called in a commanding voice, “Alright lads. Form up into three lines and get ready to march like real Legionaries.”
“Halt!” Cornelius pointed at some of the men who were going to gather some bundled items that came from the collapsed building. He saw among the loot a large bounded scroll nicely covered in deep colored felt trim with silver tassels. He recognized what it was. It was the holy copy of the Scriptures, the Torah. He ordered, “No loot today. These items stay!”
The soldiers grumbled but they quickly went silent when the hulking figure of Cestus stared them down. The auxiliary unit was soon filing by, joining the column. Cornelius scanned the crowd until he spied a cluster of elderly men helping another older man sitting on a bench nursing a bleeding cut on his head. Cornelius called to them in Hebrew, “Please, take back what was taken.”
He did not wait for them to respond. He wheeled his horse around and went to the head of the column at a trot.
The story continues on in my next post a week from now.
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