They locked eyes in the darkness and he could faintly make out the contours of her face. Her brown skin, a muted warm glow, framed by her dark tresses and red veil; all colors bled of their vibrancy by the pallid moonlight. He thought he saw flecks of gold in her eyes but couldn’t be sure. Despite her veiled and muted presence, he couldn’t help but notice that the woman was both strong and beautiful.
‘Grasshopper!’, his companion hissed under this breath, disturbing his thoughts. ‘Keep climbing; I need you to move up, I’m right behind you.’ There was annoyance in his partner’s voice and Grasshopper felt himself shrink into himself. His name wasn’t actually Grasshopper of course, but he had earned the ignoble moniker and found himself unable to shake it. He took a deep breath, expelling his sadness and fear and found his footing. With his toes, he explored the cracks of the wall, his sandals slung over his shoulders, as his fingers clawed into the wall’s gaps. He scaled the wall and reached for the rope dangling out of her window. With relief, he grabbed it, feeling his weight and the rope’s solidity and pulled himself up through the window in the city wall. As he squeezed his body through the small, wood-framed opening, his face brushed against her hair and he inhaled her perfumed scent, heavy with spice and frankincense. ‘Thank you’, he softly whispered, and not long after, the two companions found themselves in her abode, a dark womblike place of tapestries and pillows, oil lamps gleaming on cedar wood cabins.
‘I am Rachav’, she said matter-of-factly, ‘and I am a whore. They are looking for you, you know. From where do you hail?’ She clearly was a woman who knew her own mind, who had the emotional dexterity to not be shocked by any given situation and who took ownership of her life’s choices. ‘You must be Israelites; the King of Jericho had the town criers deliver reports about you.’
‘We are’, the men answered, taken aback by their own honesty and vulnerability. They stuttered. ‘We come in the Name of the Most High God.’
She snorted a little. ‘That’s what they all say, these conquering men and their swords and chariots and Gods.’ She deftly fixed her scarlet veil, a small gesture weighted down with innuendo. ‘What makes you think that you will be better?’
‘We would rather not conquer at all, but the land has been promised us.’ Grasshopper felt apologetic and fraudulent and he couldn’t quite identify why.
‘By this God of yours? How can a Sky God take possession of the earth?’
The men glanced at each other. They felt uncomfortable answering her questions. Would the city guards be upon them soon? Still, they proceeded. ‘Our God is the only God in heaven above and earth below—He redeemed us from Egyptian bondage; He is a friend to the orphan, widow and stranger…’
‘And a friend to whores too?’ Her tone was sarcastic, with an unspoken hint of yearning. Her voice softened. ‘ Come, then, strangers, and hide. There are stalks of flax on the roof that you can lie beneath, and I will distract the guards.’
The two companions found themselves under bundles of flax, scratching their skin and tickling their nose. Grasshopper reflected on where they were and how this came to be. He felt a tingling down his spine. Was it fear or desire, or perhaps a mingling of both? The land curved out before them, gleaming silver in the moonlight, the hill land sprawled out like a beautiful woman’s back. He remembered their first scouting, when Moses and Joshua had sent them to explore the land, twelve of them went and only two came back with words of encouragement and vision. He remembered tasting the fear in his mouth then, and all those years, he spent atoning for his lack of courage. He was, after all, one of the ten who had failed. In fact, he was the one who had failed most.
He cast his mind back to that moment. They had come up through the Wilderness of Zin, navigating the sparse and hostile land, dry, thorny, bristly shrubs scratching their calves and shredding their sandals. Their water sacs emptied soon, the sun drinking in the sweat of their bodies. By day three, their tongues cleaved to their palates and their eyes had turned treacherous as they saw mirage after mirage shimmer on the horizon. ‘We will die in this wretched God-forsaken place!’ they complained bitterly, as they sauntered on, with blood-stained fingers and cracked lips. The Negev was a vision of muted red; like the inside of a kiln, and equally as hot. The ancient city of Chevron rose from among the red, forbidding and impenetrable, at once a lure and a warning. Just when they thought they could continue no more, they stumbled upon the Wadi, a verdant garden, green and lush like Eden, with date palms tall as the sky, bejeweled pomegranates, succulent figs and clusters of sweet grapes, each the size of men’s fists. They named the place Eshcol and lingered there; perhaps longer than they should have, and shorter than they wanted to. And that was their error; being lured in by this land flowing with milk and honey.
During their time of repose, in the midst of night, the horrors would befall them, as the darkness bled the colors out of the day. Under the cover of darkness, in the silence that felt unnatural for a place of such life, they started hearing eerie sounds. The shuffling of feet, rumbling in the distance. Whispers in a language they could not understand. The companions would hear these things night after night. One of the men would found themselves ensnared in an unexplained trap; another with an arrow lodged too closely to their own head. And on it went, until they finally glimpsed them. Men. Large men. Men in plated armor and tall headdresses, with greedy eyes and hungry blades at their hip. In fact, the men were unseasonably large—giants even; coarse and rough and cruel and eager for the kill. And in the dabbled glades of the Wadi, with none else but the moonlight to guide them, Grasshopper found himself hopelessly alone one night, with only one of these giants for his companion. The accumulation of his fears pummeled him; the promise of fecundity and new life, sweetness and families and new homesteads and second chances gone in an instant. He was supposed to hold guard but couldn’t. He ran; not back to the encampment in the Wadi, but further still, until he reached the safe mass of Israelites; bodies packed close together, dirty and weary and impoverished from bondage and the dust of the road—but safe, and familiar, and his own. And among them, he found their leaders, and stumbling, he threw himself at their feet.
‘There are giants out there’, he panted. ‘And we are like grasshoppers in their eyes! And in our own eyes also!’
He had not known the weeping would come. Night upon night, week upon week. The loss of heart and spirit; of mission and focus, of devotion and courage. Grasshopper soon learned that he would spend the rest of his life in atonement for the clusters of despair that he offered his people from that strange land of milk and honey.