Scholars disagree whether or not the Israelites had flocks in the wilderness; most say they didn’t. We know they brought their flocks with them when they left Egypt. But they were expecting a very short trip, possibly as short as eleven days. They then camped for eleven months at Mt Sinai. My research says this was a well-watered place, but even if it was, their time in the wilderness surely wasn’t.
In their thirty-eight years of waiting to enter Canaan, most of their flocks probably died from the rigorousness of the travel, the heat, the lack of sufficient food, or dehydration. A good number may have been slaughtered since we also know the Israelites complained about having no meat to eat.
They may have kept some for milk, or kept a few take with them to the Promised Land. But I believe it is doubtful that there were many true shepherds with a real flock of sheep.
Amos seems to indicate that the Israelites did not offer the proscribed sacrifices in the wilderness. However, as the time grew near to leave, a flock would have had to be built up. The sacrifices God commanded required over one thousand lambs per year. Starting with next to nothing, if properly managed a flock can essentially double every year. The male lambs are removed from the flock so only specific rams breed with the ewes. The idea is to build the flock to a certain number of distinct bloodlines so as to minimize inbreeding. Starting with 8 rams and 16 ewes, you could conceivably have a flock of over 1000 in six years. (I want to thank Carol J Elkins for her expertise on this issue.)
The priests would have known this, and would have thought ahead. They would have chosen the person they deemed the most competent shepherd to raise their flock. In The Walls of Arad, this person is Zadok.
Miriam, however, sees something else in Zadok beyond his just his knowledge and skill. She sees his shepherd’s heart.
Here are the first couple pages of The Walls of Arad:
“You want me to what?” Zadok stared at the white-haired woman sitting beside him, her face as serene as if she had just asked him to pass her a cup of water.
“Marry her. I want you to marry Arisha.”
He’d seen the girl around Miriam’s tent. Not often. She tended to stay inside, away from the gazes of others. “Why me?” He wiped his sweaty hands on his tunic. Marriage was not a topic he enjoyed discussing. “I’m sure there are any number of young men who would be more than happy to take her as a wife. She’s very pretty.” Her wavy, light brown hair and sad eyes floated through his mind.
“She doesn’t need those others. She needs you.” Miriam’s wide grin plumped the apples of her cheeks, giving her an endearing child-like look despite her age.
“Needs me? What do you mean she needs me?”
Her eyes twinkled. “Are you going to repeat everything I say?”
Zadok jumped to his feet. “Are you going to tell me what you are talking about?”
“Sit down.” Miriam spoke without looking up or raising her voice.
Clenching his jaw, he pulled his cloak tighter against the cool morning breeze drifting through the long, orderly rows of canvas tents. “You know what happened the last time I wanted to marry someone.”
She flipped the manna cakes in the pan over the fire in front of her tent. Apparently satisfied they were nicely browned on both sides, she put two next to a handful of dates on a plate and handed it to Zadok. “Marah was a selfish, spoiled child, and her father was no better. They couldn’t see past tomorrow and had no faith in Yahweh’s provision.” She grinned. “But you will be perfect for Arisha.”
“And why is that?”
“Arisha is from Arad. In Canaan.”
“In Canaan?” He pointed north. “That Canaan?”
Miriam raised a brow. “You know of another?”
He bristled. “And I am perfect because like her, I am not a true Israelite.”
Miriam’s eyes—the same piercing eyes she shared with her brother Moses—held his. “I watched your sabba lovingly build every piece of furniture in that Tabernacle.” Her bony fingers pointed to the structure hidden behind the animal hide curtain on the other side of the sandy walkway in front of them. “Your grandfather crafted the Ark of the Covenant, over which the very presence of Yahweh rests. And I watched his sabba Hur, along with my own brother Aaron, hold Moses’s arms up to heaven all day so we would not be slaughtered by the Amalekites. That man gave his life for Israel. You could not be more Israelite if you were Jacob himself.”
“But still, my mother is half Egyptian. And my father—”
Her gaze softened as she placed her hand on his cheek. “I know your father. And I have known you since you were a tiny being in your mother’s belly.” She put one manna cake on a plate for herself. “I don’t care about your blood. I chose you for your shepherd’s heart. Arisha is … she has been deeply wounded. I would like to give her more time, but I can’t. She needs to marry. She needs the gentle nature Yahweh gave you, so her heart can fully mend.”
The first three chapters are available here. And if you want to be part of my street team, you’ll receive a free paperback copy of the book, a version of the necklace Zadok give Arisha, and a novella, Mission to Bozrah, made from deleted scenes, available only to my supporters.