The boy pushed the small piece of stone under the rock and hid the tool he had been using in the folds of his robe.
“Bel! Bel, where are you?”
His brother called again and Bel ran back towards their tent.
“Here I am, Amos. What do you want?”
“Ima is looking for you. What have you been doing?”
His brother frowned at him. He suspected the child had been whittling at some piece of rock or wood.
“You know Abba will thrash you if he finds you’ve been making graven images again.”
“They’re not graven images!” Bel’s voice bristled with indignation. “They’re my way of expressing my appreciation of Yahweh’s creation to him.”
“Hah!” Amos dismissed the idea, turning his back on his small brother.
“Well, you’d better hurry. Ima sent me to find you. She wants you to do some errand for her.”
Bel sighed as Amos strode away. They were so different and having twelve years between them probably meant they would never be close. He was always going to be Amos’ irritating little brother.
Bel made sure the carving tool he had hidden was safe in the folds of his robe before going to find his mother. She wanted him to take food to old Hannah.
He carried the dish carefully, not wanting to spill its precious contents. This food was Yahweh’s gift to them and needed to be treated with respect and gratitude. He didn’t mind going to see Hannah. She was his friend – one of the few people he enjoyed talking to. She seemed to understand him.
He looked back at the tent to see if anyone was watching him.
He balanced the dish on top of the rock, where he had been sitting earlier and retrieved the tiny carving he had been working on. It was nearly finished. He weighed it in his hand, admiring the delicate form of the ear of wheat before tucking it in with the carving tool.
‘It’s for you, Yahweh,” he whispered. “You do understand that, don’t you? It’s for you; to say thank you for the beauty of creation. It’s not a graven image to worship. I want to show you my love in the only way I know how. So I’m doing this for you – although I don’t know what I will ever do with all the little things I’m making. Hannah is the only one I ever show them to. But my carving is improving with all the practice I’m getting. You can even see this is an ear of wheat!”
Chuckling to himself as he chatted to his God, he picked up the dish and carried it to Hannah’s meagre shelter.
“Bel!” The old woman’s eyes sparkled with delight. At least, that’s how it seemed to Bel. She was always glad to see him.
“That smells delicious. Come. Join me and we can talk.”
“Hannah. It’s just manna, like always. I collected it for you this morning as you are unable to go out at the moment. Let me pour you some wine to go with it.”
“Come, eat with me,” Hannah invited.
He shook his head.
“I must go to join my family for their meal, Hannah. But I will sit with you while you eat.”
His stomach rumbled as he placed the wine on the low table and watched her serve herself a small helping of the manna. He was always amazed at her gratitude for the simple fare Yahweh provided for them every day. She picked up a piece and held it out to him.
“Here, Bel. I can’t eat alone and a growing boy like you is always hungry.” She tossed it across the table to him.
He caught it and smiled.
“Thank you, Hannah. I am hungry.”
They laughed together as his stomach rumbled again in confirmation.
For a moment they sat in silence, enjoying the food, comfortable in one another’s presence.
“So what have you been making today, Bel?”
Hannah loved this child. He had a wonderful gift he did not yet recognize. She knew few people acknowledged it. Many thought he was doing evil in the Lord’s sight, as he whittled pieces of stone and wood, releasing the plants and creatures he could see contained in their rough natural forms. But Yahweh had opened her eyes. She saw what even the boy himself did not see, for he was still young and did not appreciate or understand his special skill.
Hannah believed Yahweh had anointed this small boy for some great purpose none of them knew about at this time. She could not imagine how the One God would use this gift, but she knew he would. She was certain that however Yahweh led Bel to use it, it would bring glory to the Creator.
Bel was digging in the folds of his robe.
“Here, Hannah. This is what I have been working on today. He held out the tiny carving. Hannah caught her breath.
“Oh, Bel! It’s exquisite.” She took the little piece of rock from him and cradled it in her hands. She turned it around, taking care not to be rough with it; afraid she may break off one of the grains and spoil its beauty.
“It’s quite strong, Hannah. You won’t break it.”
The boy laughed, delighted at her approval.
“I can see how sturdy it is now I look at it closely. Bel, it’s a lovely little thing. It speaks to me so much of the love of Yahweh.”
The boy stopped laughing and gazed at her, his eyes open wide with surprise.
“Does it? Does it really? You’re not teasing me?”
“No. Bel, I mean it. No one can make such a beautiful thing without loving Yahweh – and unless Yahweh, himself, has given them the gift to do so. I believe he has anointed you, Bel, with a special gift you will use to bring him glory and honour. A gift which will be remembered for generations to come.”
The boy sucked in air as if he was being starved of life.
“Oh, yes!” His voice was hoarse with longing.
“Oh, Hannah, yes! That’s been my prayer for as long as I can remember. I know I’m still young, but I long to worship Yahweh in the only way I can – and that way is to carve for him. Do you think he minds? Others think I am disobeying him when I carve, but my heart is so full of love when I’m carving, it just fills me with joy.
“My fingers can feel a piece of wood and know what is hidden in its depths. When I cut away everything that’s obscuring the object, something beautiful emerges, like a butterfly when it breaks free from its cocoon. I don’t know how it happens, but it does! It’s as if Yahweh is guiding my hands. As if the objects which appear are carved by him, not me. Does that make sense?”
Hannah nodded. She reached out her hands to the little boy, touched by his passion and sincerity.
“Come here, Bel.”
The boy hesitated for a moment, then walked around the table and took her outstretched hands in his.
“Place your hands on top of mine, palms upwards, so my hands are holding and supporting yours. Keep them open to receive, for I am going to pray a blessing on you.”
Bel did as he was told. He could hardly breathe. There was a sensation of new life in the air. It crackled around him. He staggered and the old woman tightened her grip on his upturned hands.
“Yes, Yahweh, we feel your presence.” Her voice trembled with emotion.
“Yahweh, our Creator, thank you for this moment. You have given me such a privilege to pray with Bel at this time. I am only a woman, not educated or wealthy – not even young and agile – yet you have blessed me with this moment.
“Yahweh, I pray for Bel. You have anointed him and gifted him with such a beautiful skill. He is young, yet. Others are stifling his ability to be able to worship you in the open as he carves. I pray that will change today. Give him the courage, small as he is, to carve without fear of what others may say. Give him the words to reply to their comments. Make him shine with your light and life and love so others can see you in him.
“And Yahweh, don’t let it stop there. Give him opportunities to learn other skills. Skills in working with gold, silver, bronze, and any others you may need of him. You have granted me a glimpse of what he will accomplish, Yahweh. It is wonderful and will bring glory to you for generations. Let nothing be put in his way to prevent your plan from being fulfilled in his life.
“Bel, listen to your heart, for Yahweh wants to talk to you.”
The child sat and listened, with his hands still supported by the old woman and his eyes screwed tight shut.
Then deep in his heart, he heard a gentle whisper.
“I have anointed you today for a task only you can do for me. As you grow, you will learn other skills. I will bring people into your life who will teach you. But you will surpass all their abilities, for only you can do the work I have planned. You will be a skilled worker in gold, silver and bronze, as Hannah has prayed; but you will also work with wood and stone; with fine linen and leather. You will make things for me, as I decree, for the place of worship I will guide Moses and his successors to build for me. The furniture and other contents you make will bring glory to me for generations and your name will be mentioned in the records of my people.
“From today you will no longer be called by your childhood name of Bel, but by your given name of Bezalel, for you will live under the shadow of my wings, under my protection, as your name foretells. People will honour and respect you as you grow and develop your skills.
“Do not keep what you have learned to yourself, but pass these skills on to others that they too may worship me in their turn.
“Bezalel, my anointed, do what I have called you to do, for in this way you will worship me all the days of your life.”
The boy’s hands slid out of Hannah’s as he dropped to his knees.
“I will, Yahweh. I will do as you say.”
Hannah could hardly hear his whispered response, but her heart filled with joy and she began to hum a hymn of praise, her voice increasing in volume as the joy burst out of her and the child joined in, leaping to his feet and whirling in circles to express his delight.
“Bezalel,” Hannah called him and he stopped, shocked at the sound of his full name. He had wondered if people would take him seriously when he asked them to call him Bezalel, but here was Hannah, doing just that.
“Did you hear him? Did you hear what Yahweh said to me?”
Hannah shook her head and smiled.
“No, I did not hear. But some of it he told me too.”
“Oh, Hannah! He has asked me to do impossible things. My father and Amos will beat me when they see me carving! How am I going to find the teachers I need to learn the skills in gold, silver, bronze and fine fabrics Yahweh told me to learn? We are not wealthy. How will I pay for lessons and the raw materials if I am to learn to work with gold? Where …?”
“Bezalel, stop! All things are possible for Yahweh! Don’t worry. He will remove all obstacles and open the way ahead for you. It may take years, but he has an important task for you. He would not have given it to you and anointed you today if he was not going to make it happen.
“You have changed Bezalel. You are not the little boy you were when you walked into the tent carrying the manna. You are taller, somehow, straighter, and there is a dignity and a glow about you which witness to your encounter with Yahweh.
“Go home and you will see. It may not be a smooth path but you will walk it and fulfil Yahweh’s plan for you if you listen to him for his guidance.”
Bezalel had drawn himself up to his full height, while Hannah was speaking. He did feel older, taller, more confident.
The old woman smiled at him again.
“Go, Bezalel. Go home and begin to learn. Go home to worship the One God.”
On impulse, he flung himself into her arms, still only reaching her chin as she sat in her chair. Her arms tightened around him and she kissed the top of his head.
“Go with Yahweh, my son, and fulfil your destiny. But don’t you forget old Hannah!”
He saw her eyes fill with tears as he drew away.
“Never, Hannah.” He whirled away from her and rushed out of the entrance of her tent. She closed her eyes briefly, still struggling to hold back the tears as he left. But his swift footsteps stopped and she heard him returning.
She opened her eyes and saw him standing in the doorway.
“Hannah, thank you. I’ll never forget what happened here today.”
And he never did.
… Not when he arrived home and Amos called to him.
“Bel.” His brother stopped speaking, his eyes wide with astonishment.
“Why, Bel, B…, Bezalel, what has happened to you?”
… Nor when a man arrived in time for supper three days later … a skilled worker in wood and stone who, on seeing Bezalel’s work, offered to teach him all he knew and then introduced him to others with different skills who taught him in turn.
… Not when Moses summoned him asking him to work on the contents of the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, for the glory of Yahweh.
… Nor, as he made the items Yahweh instructed him to make. As he worked, it seemed to him these items pointed to a greater future; a light, a new way. Not just for his people, but for all people. He knew they would have a great significance for later generations, even though he didn’t understand what that was.
… Nor did he forget when his own sons and other young men sat at his feet with chisels and pieces of wood as they learned how to expose what their own fingers felt and their own eyes saw, in the chunks of wood or stone they were holding.
No, he never forgot Hannah. She lived for many years. He ensured she was well cared for in her old age. She lived to hear about Moses’ commission from Yahweh when he gave Bezalel instructions to make beautiful things for the Tent of Meeting.
She nodded when Bezalel went to visit her.
“Yahweh is faithful, Bezalel,” she said. Her voice was faint and trembled with the effort of speaking.
“I am glad I have heard about the fulfilment of his promise.”
“I’ll bring the smaller items to show you before I give them to Moses,” Bezalel said.
“No, my son, I will not see anything you make for Yahweh now. He has blessed me with many years and I am grateful. This is now the end for me. But you will go on, from strength to strength, bringing glory to Yahweh, as he planned it should be.”
Bezalel left her with a heavy heart. As she listened to his footsteps fade away, her breath, her final breath, sighed her life away.
When they found her later, the woman who prepared her burial, placed back in her hand what Hannah had been clutching as she died. A little piece of yellow rock, carved into an exquisite ear of wheat. It was obvious it had been precious to her so, flaunting all tradition, Hannah was buried with it in her hand.
An exquisite ear of wheat.