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Chapter 22

 

Since Macro's miraculous resurrection, people gathered daily at the Temple to worship him. They brought gifts of grain, jewels, money and perfume, to lay at the feet at his image. Macro promised to give them everything they needed - if they obeyed his dictates. He encouraged them to indulge in perverse, violent acts against any who refused to follow him. Their lustful appetites were insatiable and wickedness continued unchallenged because people had no conscience, not knowing the difference between right and wrong.
Throughout the world, those without the mark were continually reported. Some were dragged into the streets and beaten by frenzied mobs loyal to Macro. Others, more fortunate, escaped and fled the cities, seeking refuge in isolated places. In spite of persecution and death, many from all nations continued to furtively seek out Christian groups. They knew Macro for the monstrous beast he was and chose to worship the real God. Despite persecution or martyrdom, Christians knew they would be released one day from their suffering to enter the Kingdom of heaven.


Simon, Ari and some of their group sat in the huge cave around a large glowing fire, while others kept watch at the entrance. Tonight they met to discuss the future of their growing community. Every shelter was overcrowded with people seeking refuge. Food expeditions were becoming more dangerous. A few nights ago, some of the men had been captured after curfew in one of the cities not too far away. All knew their fate.


Simon, still the spokesman and leader, felt responsible for all the people. His face was drained of colour and he broke down under this heavy burden and wept. The death of these faithful men had robbed him of his energy. He knew they must all endure the terrible days ahead. Some Jews had been employed by Warwick to spread false predictions throughout Israel. Their love for God had grown cold. Simon began to speak with a trembling voice. "We need to decide whether to stay here or try to find a safer, much larger place to hide. Perhaps we should attempt to reach Petra, in Jordan, where we would be more protected by the natural terrain of the area."(1)   A sigh escaped the lips of some of the mothers as they interrupted, "That's about 250 kilometres south. It would be too dangerous a journey."


"I am concerned too. We all need to make up our own minds on this matter. Some may choose to remain here. If so, a portion of the rations, some animals and vehicles will be left behind for them."


Ari joined in the wrangling in an effort to calm the women.
"I think we should try for Petra. There will be shelter for us in the mountainous country. The caves and tombs will make an excellent stronghold. I have heard most people living in and around that area refuse to worship Macro. Many Jews have already fled there to safety."   Simon was glad Ari was able to still the fear in some of the women.


"Let us all consider these two options tonight," urged Simon.
"Tomorrow evening, those willing to risk the journey should have everything packed ready to leave. It will be a difficult journey and perhaps not all of us will reach our destination. We must get out of Israel as soon as possible and avoid places like Jericho and Jerusalem. The safest route would be down through Jordan, travelling by night and using the Kings Highway(2) as much as possible.


Before you make your decisions I must tell you what I read in a book by Harold Willmington. He wrote that Jesus, when He returns to receive the remaining Hebrew people, will come to the southern part of Jordan, of which Petra is the capital. For some reason the land of Edom will not be allowed to fall into the hands of the Antichrist.(3) Many years ago a Bible scholar hid thousands of copies of the New Testament in and around the rocks and caves, to provide terrified survivors the welcome opportunity to read God's word."


Simon continued speaking to the attentive group.   In fact, in 1974, this same writer visited Petra. He left a large Bible, signed by his students, with an accompanying letter and placed it in one of the many remote caves. Petra, once called the Rainbow City because of its brilliant high rock walls, is inaccessible except through a narrow gorge in the mountains. Ancient buildings, cut from the solid rock mountains remain today, and a spring bubbles freely over the rose red rocks. In view of the belief that Jesus Christ will go to Petra, this could be the best option.(4) Ari and I have decided to go there."


The following morning, even when people had decided whether to stay or go, they were unsettled. They were afraid for the safety of the children and the more feeble of their number. Others felt sad because their close knit community was being broken up. More recent arrivals had only just begun to settle. Now they were on the move again.


Food, cattle, first aid equipment, two cars and a truck were set apart for the 20 men, women and children who had decided to stay behind. They had made this place, near the Sea of Galilee, a comfortable hideout. They knew the chances of being caught and killed were not much different to those travelling to Petra.


By nightfall, fully loaded cars and trucks stood ready. The cattle restlessly tossed their heads and flicked wispy tails against the sides of the truck. Simon called everyone together. He needed to encourage those staying behind. His prayer reflected his thoughts concerning their desperate situation.


"Dear Heavenly Father, let the hands and the hearts of these people be strong. Although they will be cut off from us we will be with them in spirit. May they still rejoice in the God of their salvation. He is our strength in times of trouble. Whatever happens, we know that nothing can separate us from God's love. Our confidence and hope is that one day we will meet again, even if only in heaven. Bless you all my friends and helpmates."


Simon wept as Stephen, the appointed leader over those remaining, stepped forward to pray for their friends.   "Thank you Lord for Simon and Ari who have taught us your ways, when there is a world wide famine of the word of God. I pray that you will protect them as they travel to their next place of refuge. Go before them and make their way safe."


He ended his prayer and began to sing. It was a beautiful benediction handed down by God to Moses. 'The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.'


Everyone joined hands and sang this, their last song together, as if their hearts would break. Slowly and cautiously the laden cars and trucks edged their way into the night. Because of what Simon had read from Willmington's book, he knew this was not just an escape from Macro, the Antichrist. This was also their own personal escape from the effects of the Armageddon war to begin very soon. The journey was less than 300 kilometres. They hoped to make it in about 6 hours, but realized it may take a few days. Not only would they have to travel longer distances over back roads, but there could be many unexpected dangers. As their plan was to avoid major cities as much as possible, they turned south to avoid the city of Afula, south of Nazareth, and headed for the town of Bet She'an near the Hussein Bridge. This would take them across the Jordan river into Jordan. The bridge was less than 40 kilometres from their present location. About midnight, just after they had crossed from Israel into Jordan, Simon's mobile phone beeped and crackled out Stephen's desperate message.


"Simon! Macro's troops have discovered our camp. Several missile carrying four wheel drive vehicles are at the entrance."
Simon heard a whoosh and screams, followed by the thud of exploding shells. He prayed those trapped in the area that was once their refuge, might escape. As Simon listened, all he heard was the continuing thud of exploding shells.


Bombs continued to explode, sealing the entrances to many of the caves, leaving terrified women and children entombed forever. A machine gun rat-a-tat-tat-ed its deadly bullets into the tethered cows. A puddle of blood-red milk seeped into the ground where the animals lay dead. The soldiers used grenade launchers to destroy any remaining camp vehicles. They quickly accomplished their mission, spraying anything left with automatic rifle fire. Clouds of dust and smoke rose from a battlefield strewn with the broken bodies of brave men. Soldiers looking for survivors, rolled the bodies over with heavy hob-nailed boots, but no one had survived the massacre. A damaged mobile phone lay on the ground beside Stephen - its words broke the sudden silence.   "Can anyone hear me? Stephen, are you still there?"   A soldier stomped his boot on the hard plastic, snuffing out Simon's frantic voice.

 

Simon and his passengers knew the end had come quickly for those at the camp. As they continued their slow, sad, journey towards Petra, he remembered the first line of their last song together. The old priestly blessing tugged poignantly at his heart strings.   "The Lord bless you and keep you ......


Simon consoled himself that Stephen and the others killed, were now with the Lord. Although Simon trusted his Lord implicitly, it seemed to him that time was running out for all left on earth, not only those in Israel.


The NovelNotes Feature

These are a helpful feature of this novel. Their use is optional. They may be used if you want to understand more of the underlying Biblical aspects of the story, or the historical and factual material. However, you do not have to use these to follow the story line of the novel.
Chapter 22 NovelNotes

1. The normal population of Petra is less than 100 people. Many others come into Petra daily from the surrounding areas, to sell their wares to tourists. Petra is somewhat of a rock fortress and entry can only be gained through a narrow opening extending over a couple of kilometres. People live there in magnificent buildings engraved into the rocks. There is a capacity for many others to live in the rock caves.

2. The Kings Highway runs North and South in present day Jordan.

3. Simon's assertion here is directly from Scripture. In the book of Daniel, Chapter 11, verse 41, it says that the Antichrist will not be able to take over Edom and Moab, which are present day Jordan.

4. When Jesus Christ returns to earth (His Second Coming) He will go to Bozrah and Petra, to take the Jewish residents with Him to Jerusalem for the Battle of Armageddon. See Isaiah, Chapter 63, verse 1 and Zechariah, Chapter 14, verse 5.

Continue to Chapter 23