It was in the year 15BC, during the reign of Herod Agrippa. The name of the village was Emmaus – one of the poor villages in the town of Nazareth.
Having been advised not to engage in any tasking work by the village apothecary Noel, Tirzah laid down in her house on a straw mat her mother had given her during her last visit. Unless you want to lose this child, you’ll desist from all sort of labour and use the mixture I’ve given you, Noel had warned her.
The house is a square-shaped stone structure. The interior was essentially a single large multipurpose room portioned into sections in which members of the family occupied. Hammocks can be seen hanging in separate corners of the room. Scattered around are household items – hand mill, lamp stands, earthen vessels, bushels etc. Except for the garments and cloaks that happen to be properly folded and arranged in the camel’s furniture, every other thing seemed to be unattended.
Connected to the extreme end of the room is a smaller backroom where the animals – few sheep and rams – were housed at nights. The windows are small apertures grated with woods high in the wall and the floor made of pounded earth. As for the roof, it was made of flat sturdy timbers with barely ample slope to drain off the rainwater. When it’s not raining, laundry was put out on it to dry.
Tirzah had had four females issues already Sarah, Milcah, Dena, and Jedidah. With four children to her credit, she was supposed to be a fulfilled wife – it takes a fruitful womb to produce that number of children. Unfortunately, the Israel of that era, being predominantly patriarchal, did not have much regard for female children. Their presence was only felt in the place of discharging household duties and child bearing. As far as the Jewish tradition was concerned, as long as she (Tirzah) had not produced a ben (son), she was no better than a barren.
Being a man of good conscience and with genuine love for her, her husband Eliud, much to the bafflement of his kinsmen, had resolved not to take a second wife. As was expected, many of them believed Tirzah was the bane and that she was long overdue for a replacement. It was as though his folks had resolved to make life unbearable for Tirzah. Each time any of them dropped by, they ensured they frustrated her and make her feel miserable. You are no longer at the prime of your youth anymore you know, his mother Rahab had told him the last time she visited. Give me a male child while I am still alive or my spirit will curse you from my grave, she had threatened. Even his wife’s plea to him to heed the counsel of his people had fallen on deaf ears. In due season, he always reassured her, Yahweh will provide a male child.
On the 20th day of the month Kislev (September), it occurred to Tirzah that her monthly flow had not come as it used to. By her crude count, it was ten days since the flow was supposed to start. What’s more? She observed her hips were getting unusually larger and her bosom firmer. Something isn’t right with my body, she had told her husband. Well, there is only one way to find out what it is, her husband replied. Pay a visit to Otniel. Otniel – a heavily bearded man with a grave demeanour – was the only physician in the village of Emmaus at the time. Although his approach to medicine was somewhat crude, it always yielded results. Whenever the villagers had ailments or sustained varying degrees of injuries, it was unto Otniel they went.
Taking with her 5 shekels of silver as fee for consultation, Tirzah left for Otniel’s. It was still in the first hour of the day (7 am) and being the period of winter, it was extremely cold. But for the cloak of skin she wore, she may as well have frozen. She had quite some grounds to cover as Otniel’s place was at the outskirt of the village. The few villagers she met on her way wondered and asked what took her out of her house in such a bad weather and that early. I need to attend to an urgent business at the outskirt of the village was all she told them. Village folks can be nosy.
Shalom, she hollered on arriving at the physician’s threshold. After what looked like minutes, a voice bellowed a shalom in response. Yahweh be praised, she muttered under voice, relieved at the fact that she met him at home. A minute passed before the owner of the voice revealed his face. Judging from his appearance, he was about to set out. What brings you to my home Tirzah? You are indeed lucky to have met me as I am just preparing to go out. He ushered her in and she intimated him on the reason for her visit. Otniel listened patiently to all she had to say. From all he heard, his gut told him Tirzah was with child, but he couldn’t be too sure. In order to carry out a proper test, he collected a sample of her urine and asked her to come for a feedback in two weeks.
The standard pregnancy test was actually not a difficult one to perform. All you need do is to keep, separately, emmer wheat and barley seeds moistened with a woman’s urine. If the seeds sprout, she is pregnant. Also, if the barley sprouts first, the child was most likely to be male while the child is female if the emmer grows first. In Tirzah’s case, the seeds sprouted and the barley was the first to grow.
The news of Tirzah’s test was received with great joy in Eliud’s household. It was as though she had already put to bed. As a sign of gratitude to Yahweh, Eliud went to the temple and gave a meat offering – unleavened cake baked in the oven and made of fine flour mingled with oil.
As her month of delivery drew nearer, so heightened the state of anxiety in Eliud’s household. The man ensured that his wife took every portion prescribed by the apothecary. Her sister Peninah had already come to stay in order to help her with house chores. Although she would have loved to assist her family at the threshing floor, being the season of wheat harvest, she wasn’t permitted to go beyond a stone throw from the house. As much as she was happy about the love and care showered on her during the period, she wished she could contribute to the common good.
The baby arrived eventually and it was indeed a bouncing baby boy, a healthy looking one at that. The house of Eliud was filled with rejoicing and laughter as well-wisher lifted their hands in thanksgiving to Yahweh for the blessing of a male child. As was the custom of the Jews, the baby was taken to the temple to be dedicated to the Lord on the eight day. Being the first son, he had to be redeemed. In order to do so, Eliud gave the officiating priest five standard shekels as ransom. Upon, receiving the ransom, the priest took the baby in his arms, christened him Benaiah BaTazir as indicated by his father. He then spoke a blessing over him and handed him over to his mother. As soon as the dedication ritual was over, the family returned home to a feast to celebrate the dedication.
And so the boy Benaiah was added to Eliud’s household. He developed/grew like every normal child. He was a healthy boy right from birth and hardly gave his parents unnecessary stress. The day-old baby eventually became a toddler and soon began to make friends among his age mates in the neighbourhood. He was such a lively boy and a pleasure to behold to his parents.
All was well with the child Benaiah until he turned ten and fell sick. It all started with complaints of headaches and pains in his joints. At first, his parents thought it was just one of those seasonal bouts of illness and merely treated him with the herbs commonly used to cure such illness at the time. However, much to their consternation, the symptoms didn’t abate. Tirzah had now become frantic. She watched over the poor child day and night with tears, looking up and crying to Jehovah to restore his health. The once sprightly child was gradually becoming an object of sympathy by friends and family.
It dawned on Eliud that unless he took drastic measures and sought help from without, he was bound to lose his only son. So with the help of his close relatives, he took the boy away from the house and began to seek the help of physicians from far and near. First he went to Nazareth and then to Galilee, Judea, Bethany until he was finally referred to Cephas in Jerusalem. If he is unable to do something about the child’s predicament, said Gaius of Bethany, then there will be no hope left for him. Indeed, Cephas was known throughout the province of Jerusalem as a physician of repute. Although his charges could be deemed outrageous, on most occasions, he got the job done.
So great was Cephas’ repute and goodwill that Eliud was full of hope that he would get solutions to the child’s pathetic condition on getting to him. Yes, his service would cost him a fortune but nothing was too much to keep the beginning of his strength alive. It was therefore a dismayed Otniel to whom Cephas gave the verdict of his son’s condition: I’m afraid there is nothing I can do to help him, he told Eliud. Your son’s case is such a strange one. By this time, the sickness had already crippled the child Benaiah. With the sentence pronounced by Cephas, Eliud dropped all hope of a cure for his son’s sickness and took him back home to a frail Tirzah. The ripple effect for the boy was frightening: He could no longer mingle with his equals and lead a normal. Worst of all, he’ll have to depend on others for sustenance for the rest of his life.
During this period in Benaiah’s life, miracles were rare in Israel. Indeed, the people had heard the account of great and mighty works done by Yahweh through the hands the prophets of old, but they hardly get to witness them. Although there were magicians, illusionists and sorcerers all over the place, the closest their acts got to performing miracles were parlour tricks. The only reference point to healing at the time was at the Sheep Market at the outskirt of Jerusalem, at the pool of Bethesda. It was a five-sided pool with porches surrounded by five covered colonnades. In these porches gathered a great number of silk folks who continually waited their turn to be healed. It was reported that at a certain periods of the year, an angel of the Lord would go down into the water and make it bubble. Whosoever got into the water first after it bubbled was healed of whatever ailment.
Clearly, the pool was the only hope for Benaiah and it was there they took him. At the early stage of his predicament, his parents sought the help of two young men who always helped him to the pool at the early hours of the morning and returned to take him back before it became dark. However, as he grew older, he refused to be at the mercy of his aids. He resolved to go the way of cripples and drag his body back and forth the pool day in day out. He’ll set out at the break of day and embark on a homeward journey after each frustrating day at the pool.
It wasn’t until his seventh year in the predicament that the child Jesus the Christ was born of the virgin Mary at Bethlehem of Judea. This was the child concerning whom the prophet Isaiah prophesied
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
This child Jesus grew and waxed strong in Spirit. He increased so much in wisdom and in the grace of God that those who knew of his background began to take note of him. He however, didn’t begin to demonstrate his supernatural abilities until much later. In the meantime, he humbly learnt the trade of carpentry from his foster father Joseph.
By the time he was thirty, God had anointed him with the Holy Ghost and with power. He had been instructed by the Spirit to begin the works of the Father. He was no longer Jesus the carpenter’s son but the Jesus who went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil. He now had a ministry and was busy at it with the help of his disciples. At this point in time, the Child Benaiah was no longer a child. He was a full-grown man in his 38th year as a cripple. He still continued to relentlessly visit the pool of Bethesda at Jerusalem, hoping that one day, he’ll be fortunate enough to step in first into the bubbling pool and be healed.
During this period, Jesus was not known to frequent Jerusalem as that was the dwelling place of the Jewish rulers who sought to do him harm. Nevertheless, as it was the custom for the Jews to congregate at Jerusalem for the Passover Feast, Jesus also went up with his disciples to celebrate the feast. Some hours before then, Jesus had left his hometown Nazareth feeling disappointed at the unbelief of his kinsmen. No prophet is acceptable and welcome in his own town, he had told his disciples solemnly.
On the same hour that Jesus was making his way into Jerusalem with his disciples, at the 12th hour of the day (6:00pm), Benaiah the cripple was contemplating leaving the poolside to embark on his homeward journey. It was a particularly unlucky day for him as he came late to the pool and had to sit at the edge of the large crowd of sick people. Had the angel of the Lord went into the water to stir it up, he was surely not going to get close to the pool let alone be the first to get into it. He had already turned his back against the crowd and the pool and was contemplating his move.
With his back against the pool, he was now facing the footpath through which folks came into that section of Jerusalem and went out alike. This meant that his gaze commanded the approach of passers-by. It was at this moment Jesus and his disciples made to pass by. Their passage was noticeable as they were about the only set of people coming in at the time. Something about the approaching group caught his attention and more particularly about the man who seemed to be the leader of the group. Well, he deduced he was the leader because he was the one doing the talking while the others – about twelve of them – keenly listened to him. What it was about the man that caught his attention he couldn’t tell. Although he had heard about the fame and supernatural abilities of Jesus, he had never seen him before and so could not tell who is who. Nevertheless, regardless of the reason for the force of attraction, he stared intently at the seemingly leader of the group.
When they were just a few yards away from the pool, Jesus, who had been admonishing his disciples concerning the subject of faith, fell silent as his gaze fell on the crowd of sick people before him, oblivious of his presence. Compassion welled up inside him. How gladdening would it be to see the whole of them healed, he mused. Even if he wanted to heal them all (and he could) not every one of them would have the faith to be healed. He was going to look away from the crowd when he noticed that one of the sick folks fixed his gaze on him. From all indications, the man was crippled. His gaze on him was that piercing that he could not look away from him.
As he gazed back at the man, he saw his entire life history in a flash – a man of many sorrows, crippled for a very long time. Without a doubt, he knew he had to do heal him. Instinctively, he walked straight to him. His disciples followed closely behind – they knew a miracle was about to take place; Christ doesn’t come in contact with you for nothing sake. On getting to the spot Benaiah sat, Jesus put the question to him immediately: wilt thou be made whole?
The question triggered a feeling of consternation in Benaiah. No one had ever asked him such a question. How can he ask if I want to become well? Perhaps he is trying to mock me, he thought. He must be the jester people say makes costly jokes in Jerusalem. But then, who knows if he has good intentions? Perhaps he meant to ask if I’ll like to be assisted with getting into the water in time when the pool is stirred by the angel. So in response to the perceived meaning of Jesus’ question, Benaiah answered: Sir, I don’t have anyone here to help me get into the water when it’s stirred up. Whenever I try to get in, someone else beats me to it. I should be healed long ago only if I had help.
Jesus understood his plight. His long years of misery had crippled his ability to reason well. The poor man couldn’t even answer a simple question properly anymore. Rather trying to make him understand the essence of his question, Jesus decided to address the situation head-on. He spoke to him with authority Get up, pick up your mat and walk!
That’s it! I’m definitely being mocked, he decided. He couldn’t even remember what it felt like to walk anymore as the last time he did so was 38 years ago. But almost immediately, he became excited about the thought of getting to walk again. Something from within told him It wouldn’t do you any harm to try standing like the man instructed you. He decided to take to the instruction. So placing both hands firmly on the ground to serve as fulcrum, he lifted his trunk. The second he did so, what seemed to be a surge of current ran through his body – from the crown of his head to the sole of his feet.
It was as though that flow concentrated on his lower region as he began to feel an usual strengthening of his waist region downwards. A feeling of warmth had set in…his joints had come alive, his bones revived, his twisted legs straightened out. I’m healed! he screamed as he jumped on his feet limping and then leaping and then breaking into a trot. In the heat of his excitement, he had sped off and forgotten about the man who asked him to stand up. He returned to give thanks to him but the master was long gone.
Image credit: The Faith Friends