“You did what?!” Zechariah’s beard bristled and his lip quivered with intense anger. The buzz of conversation from nearby council members suddenly died as fast as a fire dies out when deluged with water. The other Pharisees and Sadducees stared at Zechariah’s outburst. Ignoring them, he seized my collar and leaned closer toward me. His hot breath left moisture on my cheek.
“I—I told the Romans,” I stammered, stunned by Zechariah’s sudden wrath. “I told the Roman commander that there appeared to be an attempt at murder.”
“FOOL!” Zechariah stormed. Snatching up a brass lampstand, he hurled it across the council room where it slammed into the far wall with a sharp clang. Faint sparks sputtered to the ground. “Fool! Why would you involve the accursed Romans in our battle—OUR battle with this—this usurper?”
He whirled around and charged out of the room with his robes wildly waving behind him. Completely bewildered, I turned to Caiaphas, who was seated a few chairs away. “Caiaphas? Sir? What—what was that about?”
Caiaphas stood up. His dark brow leveled and he gazed cooly and steadily at me for several seconds, then turned without a word and departed. In desperation, I looked at the other older, influential Pharisees.
“What? Why are you all leaving?” I demanded as they filed out of the council room.
Several high-ranking Saduccees rose and followed them. After glancing uncertainly around, most of the younger council members tiptoed out as well.
“Where are you going?” I cried.
The last one paused on the threshold and looked back at me. Doubt filled his youthful eyes as he hung his head. “I don’t know,” he barely whispered. “Where is Israel going? What good can there be when pagan Romans lord over us, and our own religious leaders are violent, self-centered hypocrites? I see no hope for our restoration. We have almost no one to look up to; just a handful of rabbis who remain trustworthy. All the others are after money and fame.”
I pondered Jonas’ words for a few moments. “The Messiah will come,” I countered.
Jonas’ face contorted in grief as he forced out the words. “I can believe in the Messiah no longer.”
I sprang to my feet, unconscious of my raised voice. “How can you say that? Every prophet has spoken of the one who will restore glory to Israel. From Isaiah to Micah, and even the great King David, they all have prophesied about the future King of the Jews. You cannot lose hope! Will God go back on his word?”
Jonas glanced at me; terror and fear filled his eyes. He turned and fled.
Even my own friend could not trust the Scriptures. Could I? A debate raged furiously in my mind.
Gideon defeated the Midianites with only 300 men. God was with him.
Yes, but that was back then. There have been no prophets for 300 years. Has God forsaken us? Has he left us to suffer the fate we so justly deserve for our failings?
“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” “The Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.” Scriptures speaking of God’s enduring faithfulness flooded my mind. “Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.” “Come, let us return to the Lord, for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.” “Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”
Yes, I told myself, I can trust what God Almighty says. If we only return to him, if we repent and seek him with all our heart, we will find him.
Tears flowed, splashing down onto the cold stone floor. I bowed over in a flood of relief and gratefulness. Israel still had hope. Then another passage struck me blindside, full-force. I reeled and almost fell to the floor as I forced myself to methodically and calmly recite aloud the prophecy of Amos.
“Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord!
Why would you have the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, and not light,
as if a man fled from a lion,
and a bear met him,
or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall,
and a serpent bit him.
Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?
“Oh, Lord,” I cried, “may it not be so! Have mercy on us!”
Then it hit me. Malachi’s prophecy. “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple;” I ran through the words rapidly. Where was that one part? “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.” There! I sighed. The coming of the Lord would be painful. It would produce wonderful results, but the process would be excruciating. I continued reciting. “Then I will draw near to you for judgment.” I shivered in fear. Would Israel be ready? Woe to those who do not repent! And Jonas… I couldn’t keep thinking about it. My heart was too full. I rose. Dusk was falling as I moved to a dim corner of the council chamber. The lamps had not yet been lit, and I sat in near total darkness, contemplating the vast significance of what I had just realized.
Suddenly, I heard a noise, and my head snapped up. Several shrouded figures appeared surreptitiously in the ajar doorway.