“And [Paul] came to Ephesus, and left them there: but he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews.”
A.D. 53, Ephesus
Lea stood at the end of Arcadian Street watching the waves lap against the stone wall of the bay. The salty sea breeze flung her dark hair around her face. Ships dotted the small canal of the Cayster River bringing their goods from across the Aegean Sea into the city and trading seafarers.
One ship caught her attention. As its crew unloaded, three passengers disembarked. A man who stood shorter than the other two was completely bald by a recent shoring. His clothes and style of beard indicated that he was a Jew. His presence almost shouted it like the lamps that lit up the columns of Arcadian Street at night. His companions were more humble in dress and presence. Though the woman that was among them had the pleated hair popular of a Roman citizen.
She glanced in Lea’s direction and paused. Lea didn’t recognize her, but the woman held her gaze as though trying to decipher her innermost thoughts.
The other man took the woman’s hand and led her away from the ship. His gentle touch and guidance revealed their loving relationship.
Marriage. The thought reminded Lea of why she had ventured away from home that morning. She had come to the Agora to gather supplies and select a gift for her sister’s wedding.
She gathered the loose folds of her dress and hurried up the crowded street. The gift she had chosen earlier that morning was safely tucked away in her bag, but she still needed to acquire the things her mother had requested. She took a right down Marble Road into the marketplace.
Makeshift booths filled the open space to capacity. Lea would have loved to browse every setup, but she had already used up her entire morning. She hurried through her shopping and paused only long enough at the sundial to see how much time her people-watching by the bay had cost her. If she stayed much longer, her mother might send her father out looking for her. Again.
She squeezed through the arches of the Gate of Mazeus and Mithridates. Their white marble glinted in the sunlight, but as soon as she passed under them the other side was made entirely of black marble.
Curetes Street led her home. The house bustled with activity in preparation for the wedding. The one-year anniversary of her sister’s betrothal had come and gone and the family was waiting for the bridegroom to show himself any day.
If Lea was lucky, she would be able to sneak into the chaos unnoticed. She tucked her head under her wrap, slipped off her sandals, and entered her family’s villa.
“Lea,” her mother’s voice sounded from above.
Her mother, Kelilah, stood at the top of the staircase. Her broad hips and plump face revealed to the world she had borne her fair share of children and enjoyed the pleasures of rich society.
“Where have you been?” she asked as she hurried down the steps.
“I got caught up in the shops.”
Her mother stopped a few steps shy of the bottom. “You were wasting your time at the bay again, weren’t you?”
She bowed her head. “Yes, Ima.”
“I’ve told you not to waste your time dreaming about faraway lands when your work is here.” She waved around the large room. “Now, get those supplies into the kitchen.” She turned and rushed back upstairs.
Lea slipped the wrapped gift from her bag before she willingly deposited the rest into the hands of neighbor women and family members who were helping with the preparations.
In her room, she placed the gift under her pillow until time would bring her sister’s bridegroom to retrieve his bride. She looked around the chamber she had shared with her three older sisters.
Her oldest sister, Zahara, had been married for years and made Lea an aunt twice over already. Jerusha, the next in line, wasted no time in begging Abba to arrange her marriage as soon as she was old enough. Nava, the third sister, had waited a bit longer, but any day would be the last she would reside under their shared roof. When the bridegroom comes, Lea would be the last sister left unmarried at the age of nineteen.
She sat on the edge of Nava’s bed and sniffled. The warring emotions of sorrow and joy battled for release. She was happy for her sister. Daniel was a good man who feared Yahweh. In fact, all her sisters married good men. Abba had seen well to those arrangements. But what was to become of her?
“Ima said you’d be in here.”
Lea lifted her damp eyes to see Zahara leaning against the doorpost. Childbearing and rearing had not marred her sister’s beauty one bit. She still looked as though she had come from a full day of Roman beauty treatments. Her hair was carefully pinned to tame it and her face was painted with simple embellishments.
“Ima also said you spent the morning down at the bay again.”
Lea let her gaze drop to the majestic mosaic lion embedded into the floor.
“You shouldn’t spend so much time there alone. It’s dangerous.” Zahara sat on the bed beside her. “Slave traders could snatch you away and sell you to the highest bidder. Or toss you on one of their ships and take you away from us.”
Lea scoffed at her sister’s fear. No one wanted her. That was part of the problem.
“Do you remember when we used to imagine this lion would take us away?”
Zahara glanced at the floor and smiled. “You were the one always imagining.”
“I still want to see wild lions. Not like the ones in the arena that are beaten and chained, but ones roaming free.”
Zahara stroked Lea’s head. “Always dreaming of far off lands.”
“You sound like Ima.”
“Well, I am one you know.” She winked.
“Where are my nephews?”
“I’m sure they are running under the feet of the ladies in the kitchen. They’re hoping someone will give them a treat.”
“I should make myself useful by entertaining them. These days of waiting must be so boring for two young boys.” She rose.
“Why do you spend your time by the bay anyway?”
Lea stopped at the door. “The salt air tastes like freedom.”
“Is your life here so strangling that you would risk enslavement to be rid of it?”
“That’s just it.” Lea looked over her shoulder. “I don’t know what lies ahead of me. But something out there calls me.”
“Yahweh has called you to be here until Abba has arranged for your future.”
“What if Yahweh is the one calling me out there, while Abba’s will is that I remain here?”
Zahara stood. “You believe Yahweh has called you away?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know.” She shook her head as if trying to clear the fog of thoughts and dreams.
“Then I strongly suggest you stay in your place and allow Abba to guide you to what Yahweh has for you.”
“And if my place is out there somewhere?”
Zahara sighed. “Then trust that Abba will listen to Him.”
Lea found her two nephews in the kitchen as her sister suggested. They were nibbling on some goat cheese under a table.
“Come boys,” she called to them. “Sit in the courtyard with me and I’ll tell you a story.”
The two boys scurried from their place.
One of the women gave Lea a grateful look before returning to her chopping.
Lea walked along the pebbled path which led up the center of the courtyard. She saw the boys hiding among the shrubs.
She sat on a nearby bench. “And where have my nephews gone?” She laid a hand to her brow and pretended to search for them. “I suppose I shall have to tell myself a story.”
“Here we are!” Aaron popped his head out of a bush.
Little Isaiah crawled out from under the branches and climbed onto the bench beside her. “We want to hear the story.”
Lea plucked a stray twig from his hair. “And which would you like to hear?”
“Tell us the one about the great fish,” Aaron suggested.
“No, no. Tell us the one about the frogs,” the younger brother pleaded.
“How about the one with the lions.” He curled his fingers and growled.
“That one’s too scary.” Isaiah tucked his head under Lea’s arm.
“I like scary.” He roared his best roar.
Lea thought for a moment. “How about the one with Ruth?”
“That’s a girl story,” Aaron protested. “I want to hear about an adventure.”
“Ruth did go on an adventure. Don’t you remember?”
Aaron climbed out of the shrub and folded his arms over his chest. “A real adventure.”
“What about David?” Isaiah offered.
“Yes, tell us about David.”
“David’s life was filled with many adventures. Which one shall we hear today?”
“The one with the giant.” Aaron lifted himself onto his tiptoes and reached above his head.
Isaiah nodded vigorously.
“There once was a shepherd boy named David,” Lea started and brushed some loose leaves from her lap. “He was the youngest of eight brothers. He was small, but Yahweh had already told him he was going to be a mighty king.
“One day, he visited his brothers in the valley of Elah where the Israelites were fighting the Philistines. David heard one Philistine, a giant by the name of Goliath, taunt the Israelites by saying—”
“I defy the ranks of Israel this day.” Aaron picked up a long branch and held it high. “Give me a man that we may fight together.”
Lea chuckled. “This happened for forty days until David asked…” She nudged Isaiah.
He hopped off the bench and stood beside his older brother. “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
“The soldiers told King Saul what David had said. And David told Saul…” Lea nodded to her young nephew.
“Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight this Philistine.”
“But Saul told David he was too young to battle the giant. Goliath had been in war since he was a young boy. David was only a shepherd,” Lea explained. “But David told Saul…”
Isaiah smiled. “It’s true that I am only a shepherd boy, but Yahweh has delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear. He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine too.”
“King Saul put his royal armor on little David, but it was so heavy that David couldn’t move. So, he took it off. Instead of the armor, David went down to a nearby stream and collected five smooth stones.” She held up her fingers. “With his sling in his hand, he went back to the valley to face Goliath. And the giant said…”
“Am I a dog that you come at me with sticks?” Aaron asked.
“David said…” Lea pointed to Isaiah.
“You come to me with a spear and javelin, but I come to you in the name of Yahweh, the God of the armies of Israel, who you have defied. He will deliver you into my hands and will give your flesh to the birds of the field. Then all the earth will know that there is a God in Israel.”
“So, David drew out one of the stones from his shepherd’s pouch,” Lea continued, “and slung it at Goliath.”
Isaiah pretended to load his imaginary sling and tossed a stone in Aaron’s direction.
“And the stone struck Goliath in his forehead and he fell on his face.”
Arron imitated being struck and made gurgling sounds as he fell forward.
Lea giggled. “David didn’t have a sword, so he ran over to Goliath and drew his sword out of its sheath.”
Isaiah strolled over to his brother and picked up the branch. He raised it high.
“Then he cut off the head of the giant.”
The younger brother brought the fake sword down on Aaron’s neck.
“When the other Philistines saw their champion was dead, they ran away in fear,” Lea finished.
Isaiah jumped around in victory. “Praise Yahweh!”
Aaron rose from the ground. “Now that was a story.”
“I’m so glad you enjoyed it.”
“I’m going to be brave like David one day.” Isaiah spun the stick in his hand.
She hugged her youngest nephew close. “David was brave because Yahweh had given him experience. He didn’t live his life knowing he was going to face Goliath. He followed Yahweh each day.”
“I’m going to fight lions like David,” Aaron boasted.
“You can’t fight any lions,” Isaiah protested. “You’re not a gladiator.”
“I could if I wanted to.”
“Enough,” Lea corrected. “Aaron, you shouldn’t want to fight like the gladiators. They risk their lives for entertainment.”
“But they are so strong and brave. I do want to be like them.”
“Why not be like David and follow Yahweh?”
“Do you think He’d ever call me to fight a giant?”
“Only He knows His plans for you.”
“Tell us another story,” Isaiah begged.
The distant sound of a shofar echoed around them.
“I’m afraid it’s time for us to get ready.” Lea ruffled her nephew’s hair.
“Aww, I wanted to hear another one of your stories.”
“How about this,” Lea offered, “if you behave yourselves at the feast, I’ll ask your mother if I can put you to bed tonight and I’ll tell you another.”
“Promise.” She smiled and watched the two boys run into the house.
Inside her empty room, Lea retrieved her hidden gift and picked up her brass mirror to check her hair. Some pieces had fallen out of place.
“Can I help with that?” Jerusha, her second oldest sister, came up behind her.
“It’s gotten so long since the last time I helped you.” She ran her fingers through Lea’s dark strands.
“I need something to attract men. At least that’s what Ima says.”
Jerusha pinned the few loose bits. “You know she means well.”
“I wish her words were sweeter.”
“She does love you. Her and Abba both simply want the best for you.”
“I know that too.”
She tucked another section into a pin. “How’s it feel to finally have this room all to yourself?”
Jerusha stopped. “I didn’t mean…”
Lea patted her hand. “I know.” She hugged her sister. “I am happy for each of you. I’d want nothing more than all the happiness in the world for my sisters. But somedays I feel as if I’m left to an unknown path.”
“Yahweh will guide your path.”
“Then why hasn’t He yet?”
She twisted a pin in her hand. “How do you know He hasn’t?”
“Then have a little faith. Your time will come, sweet sister.” She kissed her forehead.
“Now, let’s get downstairs before they leave without us.”
Lea joined the large processional from their house to the synagogue where their father, Rabbi Caleb, blessed the union.
Nava, Lea’s third oldest sister, sat next to her bridegroom, Daniel. She couldn’t take her eyes off him. Lea could see the warmness in her sister’s cheeks even under her sheer veil.
When the ceremony was complete, Daniel took Nava away to the home he had purchased for them. After a short time, they returned to take their honored place among their guests to signal the start of the wedding feast.
After helping Zahara gather food for her two boys, Lea stole away to congratulate the couple. “May Yahweh bless you,” she bowed to Daniel.
“Greetings, new sister.” He bowed back. “I’m so happy you could share this day with us.”
“I would be found no other place, dear brother.” She knelt beside her sister. “I have a gift for your wedding day.”
Nava’s eyes brightened. “Really?”
She opened her bag and retrieved the gift. “This is for you.”
Nava carefully unwrapped the fabric to reveal a polished silver salt shaker. It practically glowed in the lamplight.
“Oh, sister. It’s beautiful.” She pulled Lea in close and embraced her.
“I’d been saving for months. Do you truly like it?”
A tear streamed down her cheek. “I do. It’s the most precious gift of the night.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, my love,” Daniel interrupted. “You are.” He winked.
Nava’s blush grew wider.
“I shall leave you two to your other guests.”
“Thank you, sister.” Nava pulled her in for another hug. “I shall treasure it always.”
She rose and made her way back to her nephews. “Are we ready?”
Zahara lifted an eyebrow.
“I promised the boys I’d put them to bed tonight so we could share another story.”
“But don’t you want to stay?”
“You enjoy the feast. Stay as long as you’d like. I’ll sit at your house until you and Noam come home.”
“If that is your wish.”
The boys each took one of Lea’s hands and led her away.
“What story will it be?” Aaron wondered as they walked the nearly empty marble-paved road.
“Tell us about Adam and Eve,” Isaiah suggested.
“No, about Abba Abraham.”
“How about the fall of Jericho?” Lea offered.
“Oh yes, I like that one,” the younger brother agreed.
“Very well.” She cleared her throat. “Once there was a woman named Rahab who lived in the city of Jericho.”