September 28, 2008
Beast of Burden
IVP author and friend of Likewise, Mark Eddy Smith, gives us a brief breather in the Fortnight of Donkey Tales by allowing us to post his "The Lion & the Donkey," inspired by 1 Kings 13.
"Hildiah," said the LORD, "There comes a man I want you to kill." God was a snow-white lamb, such as Hildiah loved to eat. He wondered, half-seriously, if the LORD would mind being eaten. Hildiah had been lying in the shade of a vine when the lamb had approached him and curled up fearlessly between his great tawny forepaws. Reclining his head upon Hildiah's chest, the LORD nuzzled his mane.
"My Lord?" said Hildiah, recognizing the lightning-brightness of the wool.
"There comes a man," repeated the lamb, "who is great in my kingdom. Him I want you to kill; even this very day."
Hildiah's strength bristled within him; his chest surged with wounded pride. "Just one, my Lord?" With a single swipe of his paw Hildiah could cave in the side of a bull's head. One man would provide no challenge at all. He wanted to be like Phrygeon, who had killed five hundred hyenas even though he was the runt of the litter. He wanted his deeds to be remembered for all time. With great effort he managed to put away his disappointment. "Thy will be done, my Lord," he said.
"This man," said God, scratching the top of his head against Hildiah's chin, "has been sent by me to prophecy death to the priests of the altars, whom Jeroboam has appointed from among the people, for verily their bones shall be burnt on the very altars at which they sacrifice. For I am the LORD. They shall have no other gods before me."
"Amen," said Hildiah, "Lord have mercy."
"I have further instructed him not to eat or drink anything in this place, nor to return by the way he came, for I am the LORD."
"Amen," said Hildiah, "Lord have mercy."
"Nevertheless, he has been deceived by another who bears my name, and is even now at sup with him. For this reason, he will never be buried with his ancestors but will die in Israel, though he belongs to Judah."
"Amen," said Hildiah, "er--"
The LORD stood up and stretched his tender frame. "Here he comes now."
"Lord," said Hildiah, "What is his name?"
"That," said the Lord Most High, "is a secret, and will remain so until the end."
The lamb kissed Hildiah on the muzzle, then walked slowly away.
Hildiah stood also and shook his mane. Just at that moment, from over a ridge, appeared the man of whom the LORD had spoken. He was riding on a donkey who, at the sight of Hildiah, paused and seemed to sag. A terrible suffering was in its eyes, and Hildiah was moved. What had the LORD told the donkey? Did it know that its master would be killed today, from right off its back? The man himself seemed lost in thought, not caring whether he was moving or not, or in which direction.
He had always admired donkeys, ever since hearing the story of Balaam's ass, the one who refused to carry his master forward when it saw the angel of death lying in wait up ahead. Three times it had turned aside, courageously enduring its master's whip. Would this donkey turn aside also? His eyes dark with uncertainty, Hildiah crouched beside the vine and waited.
With a sigh that was loud enough for Hildiah to hear, though it was still some distance away, the donkey resumed its walking, bearing the man forward. Hildiah's stomach growled, followed by his throat, as he allowed his hunting instinct to take over, erasing all doubts and uncertainties. A feast lay before him, and the LORD had ordained it. He would do as the LORD had commanded.
He sensed the donkey watching him, though his own eyes were on the man. He began his charge. Still the man seemed oblivious to everything around him. Would he not even look up, to face the doom the LORD had prepared for him? He gathered himself for a leap and in that same instant the man did look up, just as if he had expected Hildiah to choose that moment to pounce. In the instant before Hildiah's paw crushed his cheek, the man mouthed words. Hildiah had no understanding of human speech, but he was almost sure the words meant "sorry". The man even managed a sad smile before Hildiah's paw connected. His leap took him clear over the donkey, and he was so shocked by the man's demeanor that his chin smashed into the road. He stood up slowly, shaking his head, his vision filled with the man's gentle smile and calm, sad eyes. He turned, and saw the donkey standing over the man, weeping bitterly. Hildiah moved quietly to the donkey's side, and together the two kept silent vigil until evening fell, and another man, and another donkey, came to bear the man of God away.
While the other man dismounted and knelt beside the crumpled body, the other donkey continued toward the lion and the first donkey, and for a moment the three of them nuzzled each other in mute and mutual sorrow, until Hildiah's emotions overwhelmed him, and he loped away. For the rest of his life Hildiah could never look at a donkey without experiencing an overwhelming sense of grief, and he never again wished for deeds that would be remembered.
Copyright 1996 by Mark Eddy Smith. Used by permission. All rights reserved.