I don’t count my sheep anymore. They say I’m doing well these days. My livestock are thriving. Things go well. But I don’t care. Not now. There was a time when gathering sheep and goats was a major preoccupation. Of course it was, it was everything. I did plenty of deals and fast talking in order to feather the nest. But I don’t care now. Too painful to think on.
I met a man the other day. A stranger. He dropped by and we did the usual thing. Welcomed him with feasting and drinking. It was only half way through the evening that he mentioned it. That day out at Shechem. I thought he was raising the spectre of Simeon and Levi. Even feared for a moment that he might be here on some kind of killing spree. A hired man come with belated revenge in his fist for the attack on the Shechem men. Those boys ran wild that day. Retribution they called it for Shechem’s violation of their sister. But it was appalling. Not an eye for an eye. A sack full of eyes. A cart load. God knows I was broken by the attack on Dinah. But these boys knew no restraint. No shame.
But it wasn’t about that. No, it seems he had another son in mind. The one always on my mind. He met him once he said. Had a chat with him. Said he seemed like a nice guy. Course he was. Not the slaughtering sought like Simeon or Levi. Or the carnal kind like Judah or Reuben. Off sleeping with women like there’s no tomorrow. It was only as the conversation progressed that I realised. He hadn’t just met on any day. On a day when everything was normal. On a day when the sun rose and set and life continued as usual. No. He met him… on that day. In fact… this was the thing, this was what cut deep, this what added to the chill in my heart… he found him wandering lost, looking for his brothers. In Shechem. Did he send him home, did he send him safely back to me? No. Not at all. He’d heard the brothers talking, knew they’d left and headed for Dothan. That Canaanite centre that Judah loves so much. Plenty of water and amenities there. Plenty of women no doubt too.
Why? Why did he have to tell me about it now? Why did he have to do it in the first place? This stupid interfering stranger. If he hadn’t have bumped into Joe that day, if he hadn’t overheard the other boys, if he hadn’t gone out of his way to tell Joe where they were… he’d be alive. My boy. Rachel’s son. He’d still be here. Wouldn’t he? Still grinning and warming my heart and going on and on about his dreams. Wouldn’t have got attacked and killed. I wouldn’t be sitting here now with that bloody coat of his in that dark corner.
It was odd when he left. That stranger. Didn’t so much walk off into the distance. He started walking but then there was a strange kind of shimmering. He sort of faded. Long before I’d have expected him to disappear from my sight. He was just gone. Almost like… well I saw angels in a dream once. Going up and down between heaven and earth. He wasn’t quite like that, and yet, I couldn’t help wondering. He guided Joe, like they guided me. I wrestled with an angel once too. All night. Now this stranger was more like that. He smiled as he went, told me the story wasn’t finished. What did that mean? Not finished? And something about what was intended for harm being turned to good. Those were his final words. Confusing.
I don’t count my sheep anymore. I can’t. Because I sent Joe to do it that day. Sent him to check on his wayward brothers and make sure my property was being looked after. And it got him killed. If only I…
I can’t worry about sheep any more.