This week I’ll introduce you to Kamose—or you can catch up with him if you met him in Sinai. Kamose was the captain of the guard in the palace in Egypt. He escaped with the Israelites in the Exodus.
Kamose brushed the dust from his face, dust kicked up by hundreds of thousands of sandaled feet, hooves, and wooden wheels. He loosed the leather thong at the base of his neck and ran his hands through his thick hair; they came away covered in grime. Soldiers walked for hours without kicking up dust. Why couldn’t these people learn to pick up their feet?
His stomach growled and his legs ached. Eleven months in a lush valley at the foot of Mt. Sinai had made his warrior’s body soft, and now days of desert marching had taken their toll. He retied his hair and smiled as he recalled the place that had been his home for nearly a year.
Ahmose tugged on his hand. “Uncle Kamose, will you carry me? I haven’t asked for two days. Just for a little while?”
He grinned at the boy. “How old are you now?”
“Nine. Just for a little while? Please?”
Kamose swung the child onto his shoulders and grabbed his dirty feet.
“Can’t we stop yet? It looks the same as where we camped last night.” Ahmose rested his chin on his uncle’s head.
“We stop where the cloud stops, you know that. Where’s your pack?”
“Bezalel traded some of the jewelry he made for a donkey. He put all the packs and tents on it so he can help Meri carry baby Adi. You can put yours on it, too, if you want.”
“Sounds like a good trade for him.”
More and more brush appeared under their feet, and soon tiny, yellow desert flowers sprang up here and there. Tall treetops appeared in the distance.
“I think we’re almost there, habibi. I see date palms, and it looks like the cloud has stopped.” He gazed up at the glowing, puffy gift of Yahweh, thankful for its protection from the blazing late summer sun. “We should check with Joshua.”
Up at the front of the group, Joshua’s lean form was a stark contrast to Moses’ shorter, stockier body. But even at eighty years old, Moses had no trouble keeping up with his young assistant.
Joshua dropped back from Moses and fell in step with Kamose. “Moses says we’ll camp at Kadesh Barnea tonight. It’s an abundant oasis with four springs. There will be plenty of water for everyone, and all the animals, too. From there we’ll enter Canaan.”
“I know it well. I headquartered there many times when I was in the army.”
Kamose and Bezalel tossed packs off the donkey as they waited for the Levites to mark off the outer court of the tabernacle. Several of the Levites laid down silver sockets in an enormous rectangle, and others followed, attaching the silver-plated acacia wood pillars. Behind them came still more Levites, connecting fabric to the top of the pillars and stretching it out to the ground at an angle, forming a wall around the moveable dwelling that housed the presence of Yahweh.
“Ever tire of watching them build it?” Kamose glanced at Bezalel as they stood on the edge of the activity.
Bezalel shifted five-month-old Adi higher on his chest, then shook his head. “No. I am still amazed I had anything to do with it at all. I think my grandfather was right, that Yahweh planned this to be my life from the start, and that’s why I spent so much of it enslaved as an artisan in the palace. I hated it, but I learned everything I needed to know.” He smiled. “And I found Meri. And Ahmose, and you.”
Moses’s tent was on the first row, facing the tabernacle with the rest of the Levites and priests. Leaving room for a walkway between Moses’s tent and the courtyard wall, Kamose pitched the tent he shared with Joshua and Ahmose with its back to Moses’s. Another row was setting up facing theirs with room for campfires in between. All around the tabernacle in vast rectangles the tribes set up their tents in neat rows. Judah was directly east, with Issachar and Zebulon on either side. Reuben, Simeon and Gad were to the south. Benjamin, Ephraim and Manassah camped to the west and Asher, Naphtali and Dan settled north of the tabernacle.
Kamose snapped the willow poles into place and stretched the tent over them almost without thought. After doing it eleven days in a row, he could do it in his sleep.
He grabbed the corner of Bezalel’s tent and helped him finish. “Are we putting up a tent for Rebekah this time?”
“Yes, but I’m not sure if she’ll stay in it. She’s been spending so much time with the midwives. I think she likes it there, likes being needed. She’ll be around often enough, though. She can’t stay away from baby Adi very long.” He laughed as he glanced at Meri, who sat nearby with the baby.
“Uncle Kamose!” Ahmose bounded up to him. His dark eyes sparkled and some of his straight, black hair had escaped its leather tie. “They said there’s a spring! Can we go see?” The child bounced on his heels.
Kamose chuckled. Where did the young get their energy? “Yes, we can go see. Where is your pack?”
Ahmose looked from side to side. “I don’t know. I put it down somewhere …”
Kamose folded his arms over his chest and waited. “When you find it and put it in the tent, we can go.”
“Yes, Uncle.” Ahmose scurried away and returned almost instantly. He threw his bag in the tent. “Now can we go?”
Kamose chuckled and tousled the boy’s hair. “Yes, habibi, we can go.” They walked north through the neat rows of tents springing up, then out of camp northeast toward the sound of rushing water. The terrain around them grew greener the nearer they drew to the water.
A massive spring bubbled up through the desert floor. Date palms soared into the sky, bunches of round, brown fruit weighting down long branches toward the sand. Scruffy, gray-green broom bushes bordered the water on all sides. Brown babblers with curved bills and long tails bounced on tiny feet looking for insects, hopping around each other in an intricate dance. Petite scrub warblers hid in the brush, poking their streaked heads out for only a moment before pulling them back into the dull foliage.
Ahmose dropped to his knees at the edge of the spring and scooped handfuls of water into his mouth.
Bezalel grabbed him by the neck of his short tunic and pulled him back. “You’ll make yourself sick. Slow down.”
Kamose looked over his shoulder and pointed west. “There’s another spring further west, then two springs south of here, to the east of camp. And several more on the south side of camp that are smaller and not as sweet that will serve the animals. Joshua says we’ll be here only until we establish a camp inside Canaan.”
“It’s not as lush as Sinai, but it will be better than it has been the last two months.” Bezalel wandered off toward the eastern end of the large pool. As he passed a broom bush, a group of babblers escaped from the shrub, and Ahmose chased them into the shallow edge of the water, their chirps mingling with his laughter.
Kamose smiled at his carefree nephew, then raised his gaze and scanned the horizon to the north. On the edge of the foreboding desert, slopes turned into hills, and those turned into mountains.
Bezalel returned. “There’s a stream connecting this spring to the next one. It’s not huge, but it’s running water.”
“Depending on the time of year, there’s one running between all of them. This is a popular spot on several trade routes. It’s been fought over for generations.”
“Looks like the desert is coming to an end.” Bezalel pointed toward the north.
Kamose nodded. “Yes, they’ll have to choose wisely when they decide who will be first to go in.”
Disappointment pierced his heart like a dagger. One thing was certain. It wouldn’t be him.