The big cat screamed again, closer this time. And then Sebastian saw her, high on a rock above his head. Her muscles tight, she sprang at him before he could look away. Her claws and mouth were stretched wide with triumph as she came down at him and it was all he could do to bleat out a desperate “Yahweh, save me!” before he closed his eyes, waiting to die.
The thud beside him didn’t register until he heard a man say gently, “You’re safe now, little goat.” Still trembling, Sebastian dared to look up. The man’s face was like nothing he’d ever seen: a nose that collapsed and turned into the skull, eyes that weeped puss. And his skin...overall, dark, much like Sebastian's Israelite master, but in places as white as the newborn lambs after a springtime rain.
“Are you afraid of me too, Little One?” The man’s voice was sad. He reached out to pick the goat up and Sebastian noticed his mangled hands before he added, “Don’t worry; this is one curse reserved just for mankind.”
Curse. That was a word Sebastian understood. The priest had mentioned the curse of sin just before he put his hands on Sebastian’s head. The shepherd who led him into the desert had told him he was carrying the curse away from the people just before he had walked away, leaving Sebastian alone and afraid. Curse meant being abandoned, never seeing your family or friends again. Curse meant dying in the desert, away from the God his master sang praises to during the quiet, peaceful nights on the grazing lands.
The man stroked Sebastian’s coat, removing the brambles and burrs that were evidence of his blind race from the lion. His hands, though misshapen, were soft and soothing. It wasn’t long before the goat was asleep in his arms.
“How did you come to be out in the desert all alone, Little One?” the man wondered quietly. “A good shepherd would have rescued you by now.”
Bohamar himself had once tended the largest flock on the mountain. Many a night he’d spent combing the rocks for a wandering lamb or kid. But that had been long ago, before the disease and his exile.
As they entered the camp, a low murmur of voices roused Sebastian. He opened his eyes to see an assortment of men, women and children huddled around a fire. Most faces were scarred with white patches like Bohamar’s.
“Where did he come from?”
“A kid couldn’t make it this far out on his own.”
And then one voice, more frantic than the rest: “He didn’t come on his own. That kid is the scapegoat—don’t you realize what you’ve done, bringing him here? It isn’t enough for you that Yahweh cursed us with disease, now you bring on us all the sins of His people?”
Bohamar recognized the woman as an Israelite, newly afflicted. “Who is this Yahweh that He curses the innocent to death?” an old man shouted. “What have we done or this kid to deserve to be cast out?”
And the woman told the story. Of the Garden and the broken fellowship, of Abraham and the covenant, of Moses and the Law. “Don’t you see? The scapegoat must go back to the desert; having him in camp is tempting Yahweh! Disaster will come upon us all!”
From Bohamar's arms, Sebastian began bleating at the mention of Yahweh’s name, his heart full of thanksgiving that the Creator of the universe had heard his cry and sent the shepherd to save him. “Baa, baa,” louder and louder until the human’s voices were drowned out. One by one, the people fell silent, touched by the joy they encountered so rarely.
A final, thundering “Baa!” still hung in the air when Bohamar spoke. “Look around you, woman...what further disaster can come here? Today I heard a voice from the heavens, telling me to leave the camp, that I AM had use of me. And I was there to save this creature. He rejoices to be alive in this place of death and decay; he carries more than sin to us. His heart holds hope; his life, mercy.”
The old man, quieter now, asked, “Is there hope, then, even here?”
The lepers gathered around the woman as she told of Yahweh’s love. Leaving Bohamar, Sebastian curled contentedly at her feet.
“[The high priest] is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.” Leviticus 16: 21-22 (NIV)
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