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Beam Ben Buck Back to Bible Land
By Patricia A Backora
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Rated "G" by the Author.
A modern-day televangelist lusts after Bible patriarch Abraham's blessings. The frazzled man escapes them only to land in a bigger mess.
Beam Ben Buck Back to Bible Land
by Patricia Backora
Beam Me Back to Abraham’s Blessings-Adventure 1
Brother Ben Buck and his wife Miranda had just finished that day’s filming for Green Manna Ministries’ Holy Land Tour Special. Ben was jubilant. "Oh, Miranda! I just can’t get over how people are falling for my latest ‘revelation’ about the blessings of Abraham! What a gold mine!"
"If we don’t stop rehashing that baloney, we’ll start swallowing it ourselves and end up in the crazy house!" she laughed.
"Not me!" Ben cackled. "I’m the brightest brain in the cosmos! Nobody else can preach the grand old story of Father Abe and his loot the way I do! He keepeth us in green pastures!"
That night the couple went out to a local watering hole. The booze flowed like milk and honey. Brother Ben’s right-hand man kept refilling the glasses. "Time for celebration, Ben," Sam said. "We launched out into the deep and all them ‘Joe Six-Packs’ out in TV Land took the bait. Mercedes showroom, here we come!"
Miranda giggled. She gave Ben a smooch and wrapped her arms, heavy-laden with jewels, around his neck.
Ben could not hold his liquor that night...or was it something else that launched him into another world? Ben’s last recollection was arguing eyeball-to-eyeball with Sam about proper allocation of surplus ministry funds, while his wife Rosie yakked her head off with Miranda. Barely noticeable in the dim light was Sam’s cupped hand brushing over Ben’s wine cup as he leaned over the table to drive his point home. Ben thought nothing of it, because Sam always waved his hands when he argued. But once Ben drained his drink Sam grinned like a snake. What was brewing in that reprobate’s brain?
Ben’s head wobbled and his vision blurred. He felt his head sink down, down, down... He felt himself being dragged into a pulsating vortex, away from all the laughter of the wine bar, but Miranda seemed to be going with him...or was she? The final sounds Ben heard were muffled jokes about the "ministry of mooch". He blacked out.
A white, shining form flew over Ben’s head and shouted: "Ben Buck! Robber of the righteous! You shall reap the harvest you have sown and get a taste of your own bait: "The material blessings of Abraham!"
Next thing he knew, Ben was lying face-down in hot, burning sand. Oh, no, he thought, I’m in hell. That Abraham scam backfired big-time.
He heard a familiar whine: "Where’s my Evian bottle? Oh, Ben, didn’t I tell you it was dangerous to go hiking in the Negev on our own? If we don’t get help soon, a snake will bite us!" She swatted Ben on the head with a brochure. "Get up, you idiot! You’re the man! You’re supposed to protect me!"
Slowly Ben sat up and shook his dizzy head. Then they heard a faint tinkling of bells. "Look!" cried Miranda. "A camel caravan! And people with bed sheets on their heads!"
"Must be making a movie," Ben muttered. "They’ll help us get back."
It was like a scene in a children’s Bible story book. A tall, turbaned man in a striped robe approached the couple. He looks like he’s lord of the cavalcade, Ben thought. He worried about how to communicate, but surely a film crew would understand English. But where were the equipment trucks? All Ben saw was a multitude of camels, donkeys, sheep, and cattle.
The chieftain spoke softly to Ben as he helped him stand up. His speech sounded somewhat like the Hebrew heard by Ben in Jerusalem. Ben’s grasp of the language was poor, but somehow the man’s words were immediately translated to Ben’s understanding. Wherever Ben was, language barriers didn’t exist. He would try talking to the man in English and see if he likewise understood.
"My son," said the elderly man, "you have gotten lost in your journey. Please come with us as our honored guests and take refreshment. We are about to stop at the next oasis to set up camp. You and your wife must take the evening meal and rest with us there. Let all your needs be on us. Welcome. My name is Abram."
An elegantly robed woman rushed up to Miranda. "Oh, Abram!" she cried. "This man’s wife is in need of clothing to protect her from the heat of the sun!" She seemed astonished by Miranda’s tank top and shorts. She issued orders to a comely attendant, who ran to go find more clothes for Miranda.
What a transformation! Miranda, whose sole protection from the desert sun had been a smear of sun screen, was clad head to toe in a colorful caftan with a golden sash. Her short blond mane was covered with a silken veil. Likewise they dressed Ben up in the finest robe the caravan had, topped off with a striped turban.
"They must be doing a remake of Lawrence of Arabia," said Ben. "Only this time, with gorgeous gals in it."
"I hope you’re talking about me, Ben!" Miranda snapped. "Stop staring at that slave girl!"
At supper time, Ben sat with the other men, while Miranda joined the ladies of the company, who admired her blond hair. Miranda noticed that meat, and lots of it, was the main course. After being sizzled on a bed of white-hot coals, it was served up in huge hunks with whole wheat flatbread. "EEK!" Miranda cried as a medium rare slab of flesh was set before her. "I’m a vegetarian!"
"They might not have any vegetarian alternatives!" called Ben. "Don’t offend them, just eat!" As he gorged on milk-fed veal he cackled: "If Dr. Hacksaw could see me now, he’d say: ‘Naughty, naughty, Ben, better watch your cholesterol!"
Abram didn’t even crack a smile when Ben told him to stop kidding around about being the original Honest Abe, and when would the camera crew arrive to resume filming on their movie?"
"What is a movie?" Abram asked, as innocently as a child. "I am who I say I am, so why would you question my identity?"
Ben rolled up his eyes. "We’ll discuss the latest blockbusters after we prove this is one of Sam’s gags and we’re still in the 21st century. Miranda, see if your cell phone still works. Download a website, then call somebody on the phone. If there’s still a transponder satellite up in heavenly places, I’ll have that jerk’s head next time I see him!"
Miranda dug into her shoulder bag and fished the phone out. Good. The battery wasn’t dead yet. Breathing hard, she tried a video game on it first. It worked. But when she tried to download a web site, she got a CANNOT LOCATE SERVER message. She selected one phone number, then another, from the PHONEBOOK menu, only to get this message: CONNECTION FAILED. PLEASE TRY AGAIN.
"Oh, Ben!" She cried. "Israel is such a tiny country, we can’t possibly be out of range of these numbers! Before we left the hotel it worked just fine!"
Ben tried a trick question: "Abram, what’s the name of the son Sarai gave birth to?" He knew full well that if this man’s name was still Abram rather than Abraham, Isaac hadn’t even been born yet.
"Sarai’s son exists only in her heart, and mine," said the wise old chieftan. "God shall give him to me and Sarai in due time, if He will still be gracious unto me after the hasty error of judgment I made. In my zeal to see the promise of the Lord come to pass, I produced a son by my handmaid Hagar. His name is Ishmael. A headstrong lad who does not yet walk before the Lord as I do. See? He is sitting with those boys on the far side of the fire."
How could anyone miss that boisterous, overbearing boy? He appeared to be only about ten, but he was barking orders at the harried servants as if he owned the place. Never a dull moment with wild child Ishmael challenging gentle Abram’s patience, thought Ben. It wouldn’t be long before Isaac came along and this camp turned into one big soap opera.
"I love Ishmael, even if he is a handful for an old man like me," Abram sighed. "But deep in my heart I know that my Redeemer lives, and His Word of Promise to me and to My house shall surely be fulfilled in its time. My God promised me my seed would exceed the stars of the heavens in number." Abram pointed up at the deepening azure of the early evening sky. How breathtakingly virginal the heavens appeared, an environmentalist’s dream and a multi-national’s nightmare. Just the sight of that sky, undefiled by petrochemical emissions and greenhouse gases, was additional proof Ben and Miranda were in the distant past.
"Where I dwell, Abram, about the only stars you’ll see stroll up and down Rodeo Drive. Our skies are a filthy mess, but we’ll get off that subject. I won’t spoil this moment for you."
The more Ben talked with Abram, the man of faith, the more convinced he was that he was either in a dream or had been miraculously transported 4,000 years into the past.
"Abram," said Ben tremulously, "you will surely think Miranda and I are mad. We were sent here from the distant future. But if I show you evidence of that, will you believe me?" He had Miranda bring him the cell phone and showed it to Abram. "The reason I believe you now, Father Abraham, is because of this little device we brought with us. Miranda and I use it to speak with faraway people. But because there is no...er...extra moon in the sky to carry its messages, it will not work. All you can do is play tic-tac-toe on it. See?"
Abram was fascinated by the plastic marvel, with its tiny buttons and digital screen. "It is a great wonder, my son, and your clothing was unlike any I had ever seen before. Could it really be that you are not from my world? Could you truly be an angel sent by God to bring me a message?"
"Oh, no, Father Abraham. Miranda and I aren’t angels at all. See? I shall show you another item from the future." He had Miranda find her camera, then showed it to Abram. "We use this to produce images of our loved ones." He had Miranda take a flash picture of Abram in the dwindling twilight. She peeled the new photo off the developing paper.
Abram gasped when he saw it. "My own likeness produced from a burst of lightning! Surely this is sorcery! No mere man can do such a thing! Who are you people, and why do you call me ‘Father Abraham’, which means ‘father of a multitude’?"
"I am one one of your sons, that is why," said Ben, "and you shall have many millions of both natural and spiritual descendants. I do not spring from your loins, but I am a child of faith, even as you are. I preach these truths to millions: Those who are men and women of faith, the same are the children of faithful Abraham. You and your wife Sarai shall have a son together and name him ‘Isaac’. His greatest Descendant will be a poor Carpenter Who will come to make many rich, just like you."
Abraham looked puzzled. "A poor man making others rich? And what does it mean to you to be rich, Ben… possessing a vast hoard of gold?"
"Well, Father Abraham, in our world, ordinary people don’t trade with gold anymore. It’s against the law. So they use paper…uh…you don’t know what that is, I guess. It’s a bit like papyrus, the stationery of the Egyptians. It’s green and has big numbers written on it. Miranda," he called, "do you still have that hundred-dollar bill you never exchanged?"
"Yes, dear," Miranda said. She pulled it from her wallet and gave it to Ben.
The patriarch took the money and turned it over a few times. "It looks like a green leaf. How thin this is, how light to transport," he said. "And those strange characters are numbers?"
"Yes, Father Abraham. "That is how we write ‘one hundred’ in my faraway land. One hundred bucks is a lot of money to poor people, but not very much to me."
"Indeed," said Abraham. "How strange that its value surpasses gold in your society. Well are you named: ‘Ben Buck’, which means ‘Son of Buck’, the wealth you so covet. And whose image is on this ‘buck’? That of your ancestor?"
"Oh, no!" laughed Ben. "He is a Ben, same as myself, but he is not a Buck, though his image is on one. He is Ben Franklin, a wise old man who said: "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."
"So you highly value this leafy thing just because the man on it is reputed to possess a wealth of wisdom?" Abraham frowned. "All true wisdom springs only from knowing God as your dearest Friend."
Ben shook his head and grinned. "Ben Franklin will die many, many years before I am born, Father Abraham. But a true r friend I have yet to meet. The more Ben Franklins people give me, the more blessed I am. And that’s what I tell people everywhere I go. Your greatest Descendant will come to earth to make it possible for men like me to get many green bucks so we can dwell in spiritual green pastures on the earth so long as we live…at least that’s what we teach at Green Manna Ministries. We took that name because ‘manna’ is the food of heavenly angels, and prosperity comes down from heaven."
Abraham frowned. "Then you must serve an entirely different god, my son. A paper god with images of dead gods on it! That is all wrong. That is idolatry even more foolish than I beheld in Ur of the Chaldees. I serve the Unseen God, the Eternal One. Ever since the Fall of Adam, men of faith have clung to the Hope of a Promised One Who would redeem us from the curse common to all mankind: sin and death. Such a mighty One sent from God will come to impart to us the eternal riches which endure. My finest robes can be eaten with moths. Bandits could steal all my gold and silver tomorrow if the Lord permitted. My flocks and my herds, do they live forever? A lightning storm could wipe them all out tomorrow. Everything my eye can see could perish in a single night. My hope lies in things which are not seen, rather than in the fading glory all around me. I live to please My Maker, and all that I have is from Him, and is His. My eyes look for His salvation. I am but a wayfarer in this earth, an exile from the Garden of the Lord who longs to come home to the Eternal City in the heavenlies where my Maker dwells. No, my son, when God sends His Promised Seed, it will be to bring His salvation to men of faith, not to send down from the sky green leaf idols to feed the greed of men."
Shallow as a saucer, Ben said: "Your clothes might get motheaten, but MY clothes last for years. I bought them with many Ben Franklin bucks. My suits are custom-made of raw silk fortified with Duralast Polyester. Whenever I donate my old duds to the Salvation Army, there’s still plenty of wear left in them. As for my other wealth, my church has provided a comprehensive insurance policy for me…."
"I see the confused look on your face, Father Abraham, but I swear I came back 4,000 years in time to receive some of the wealth I’m entitled to as your spiritual descendant."
Abram shook his head. "I see an honored guest sitting before me, nothing more. How can you possibly be my descendant when you are so unlike me?"
"But the angel sentenced me to enjoy your blessings!" Ben wailed. "You can’t argue with an angel, Father Abraham!"
"Very well," the old man said, studying the polished con artist sitting across the fire from himself. "You may be talking out of your head, and you may even be mad, but I am a fair man. I will give you a trial period of 30 days. If you are able to properly care for some of my blessings, I will believe you are who you say and give you and your wife a share of my wealth. It will take more than magic toys and green idol leaves to impress me, Ben Buck."
Abram was more than generous. Ben and Miranda Buck were given their own tent and staff of domestics to wait on them. Miranda’s chief maid Naamah knelt down to sponge the sweating forehead of her new mistress as she lay on her pallet, pining away for Evian water in the stifling heat. "Are you better, Mistress Miranda?" the maid asked, with a coy smile.
"Yeah, I guess. Go fetch me more wine, Naamah. The well water might contain E-Coli, and I can’t drink it."
"Ah...Mistress"....the pretty girl hesitated. "You have no children of your own?"
"We have two daughters who are with friends back at the hotel," said Miranda. "Eight and twelve years old. They didn’t want to go hiking with us in this hot sun."
"But you have no son, Mistress…if I may ask?"
"Naamah, I’m 41. I’m over the hill now and don’t feel like having more kids."
"Oh, but that is no problem, Mistress! If you are not well enough to produce an heir for Master Ben, I will gladly be at your service if you will give me to him to wife."
Miranda got so unhinged she fired her slave girl on the spot and promoted a homelier slave to her fill position. She’d have to keep an eye on "Master Ben".
It wasn’t long before Sarai came calling. "Miranda," she said, "If you are unfamiliar with our ways, perhaps I should teach you to properly run a household. Can you spin?"
"Only a roulette wheel," Miranda said.
"Can you bake?"
"Not without a muffin mix, no."
"Can you make chicken soup?" the mother of all Jewish mothers asked.
"Not without a can opener and microwave."
"Can you weave?"
"Only in and out of rush hour traffic."
After a few more questions Sarai felt exasperated. What kind of woman was this, who couldn’t spin, weave, bake, or even draw water out of a well? When Sarai offered to teach Miranda how to knead unleavened bread and bake it in a clay oven, Miranda protested that her nails were way too delicate for that, and they were too far away from Mitzi, her manicurist.
Days passed. Slave girls cooked and washed for Miranda. They sponged and fanned her as she lay in her tent wallowing in self pity. She bemoaned the dearth of shampoo, conditioner, hair straightening gel, Pearl Drops Toothpaste and Kleenex. She worried about her e-mails piling up unanswered. Thousands of years and thousands of miles away, Sam and Rosie must be getting their hooks into those surplus ministry funds.
As for Ben, he wished he could ditch the flocks and herds and get back to his big bucks. Back home, Ben couldn’t even paper-train his own puppy. He could hardly manage a computer mouse, much less care for livestock. How gross, having to deliver a calf without rubber gloves! It broke Ben’s back, helping Abram’s servants haul rocks and dig up dry roots for firewood. Ben swore a blue streak when a flint knife he used to flay a carcass broke and nicked his thumb. He lost his lunch when entrails slipped out of the carcass. Even the lowliest servants laughed at him behind his back. Why, he’d never even gutted a fish before. Abram promised Ben he’d be given his own servants to perform unpleasant tasks if he passed the trial period; for no man is qualified to give another man orders unless he has first mastered the job himself.
The day came when Abram’s tribe must move on to find new pasturage for the flocks. Miranda whined about running out of Wet Wipes and Chapstick on the hot, dusty trail. She detested the brackish well water, and looked askance at the unpasteurized goat’s milk. She hated sipping from a leather wine bag, "because it tasted like shoes". Visions of Dove Bars, Popsicles, Caesar salad, and Diet Coke filled her head. Oh, for a Big Gulp packed with ice! She pined away for Pizza Hut! She missed her mocha expressos. Camels weren’t Miranda’s cup of tea. Even though her own camel was luxuriously padded, she swore with every jerk and bump. Every now and then the camel would turn his head to sneer at her, as if it knew how saddlesore Miranda got from riding him. Her back was a chiropractor’s nightmare. But she had lost weight.
Ben did some crying of his own. Where, oh, where, were Abram’s REAL blessings, the green ones with numbers on them? The only greenery in Abram’s world was the occasional oasis. Ben’s muscles were in knots from all those blessings he’d been unprepared to render service to. How long would the angel make him do penance before he could return to the coddled comfort of his hotel room?
Ministry associates wondered if Ben and Miranda ever would come back to the real world, after their mysterious mental meltdown and removal to an observation unit. The damage done by the tainted angel dust Sam and Rosie had brought along to liven up the party should have made the couple feel guilty enough to fess up. But the smell of crisp hundred-dollar bills and checks silenced consciences deadened by deceit.
What happens to Ben and Miranda after this? Stay tuned for Ben's next Beam Back adventure!
Beam Me Back to Green Pastures-Adventure 2
Pastor Ben Buck and Miranda were back on track…medically, that is. Despite the harrowing lessons they'd suffered through on their recent angel dust fantasy flight, both of them still clung tenaciously to Prosperity Theology. It would cost them too dearly to renounce that doctrine as false. Only the doctors at the observation unit knew anything about the horrific vision they'd experienced in being beamed back to the technologically challenged world of Abraham. Abraham's privations had shocked the money-mad couple: no air-conditioning, no Rolex on Abraham's wizened wrist, no designer bath suite. And as for Abraham's renowned wealth, nothing much which had excited Ben and Miranda. Vast herds of shaggy goats and sheep, mooing cattle, persnickety camels. Just a mob of smelly livestock which needed constant feeding, watering and cleaning up after. Endless backbreaking work for Ben, who had been undergoing a trial period to prove that he could manage a portion of the wealth of Abraham and prove himself worthy of being one of his heirs. And as Miranda daily observed the primitive privations endured by beautiful Sarah, it had made her wonder how Sarah could stay beautiful for long. Surely, Miranda had thought, Sarah's skin would wither to leather under that hot sun and she would need a facelift or Botox. How humiliating for her and Ben, to spend time at the medical center after coming back to the real world. But now Ben and Miranda were back in the religious meat market where they belonged, as greedy for the green as ever, both quite unreformed by their harrowing ordeal.
After their discharge from the drug treatment center, Ben had threatened to sue the pants off his partner Sam for drugging his and Miranda's drinks. But Sam had sunk to his knees, begging Ben to turn the other cheek like any real Christian would. Sam would keep his nose clean from here on out, he pleaded. And he would make it worthwhile for Ben to bestow forgiveness upon him.. Not only would Sam cede to Ben and Miranda their share of the disputed surplus ministry funds, but Sam would cook up even more lucrative donor appeals to pry money out of TV viewers. Sam knew how to falsify financial records to make income balance with legitimate outgo. From here on out Ben could skim the cream off the ministry kickbacks while Sam and Rosie took what was left. Ben just had to be magnanimous. Besides, Sam argued, no one had actually SEEN him spike anyone's drink, so why stir up bad publicity which would only scare the fish away? It would be bad for everybody. They were in the business of selling religious cotton candy, so why rob the viewers of the magic?
Ben gave a curt nod, then excused himself and left the sunny terrace to enter the refreshment lounge which overlooked the swimming pool. Miranda remained sitting at the patio table with Sam and Rosie as Ben went to the wine cabinet. His back turned to his friends, Ben popped open a bottle of cabernet sauvignon, then filled two blue goblets and two pink ones. Quickly Ben peeked out at the veranda. The three others were laughing and joking as if nothing had happened between them. Ben dipped into his pants pocket and lifted out a tiny plastic bag. Carefully he mixed a fine powder into the pink goblets with a swizzle stick.
Rosie turned to Miranda and said she needed to be excused to fix her makeup. At the same time, Ben was startled by a loud crash. He rushed out of the lounge into the hallway, slamming the door in annoyance. "Stupid cats!" he yelled. Caldonia and Calpurnia, his two pampered Persians, were battling it out again, and this time Ben's favorite Grecian statuette was the casualty, all smashed to smithereens on the marble floor.
The two cats were still squealing and fighting when Rosie went to work. She opened the lower compartment of the cabinet and took out two more blue and two more pink goblets. She poured the contents of the blue wine cups into the clean pink cups, then filled the clean blue goblets with wine from the pink ones filled by Ben. She arranged the cups on the tray, then hurriedly set the empties inside the balsa cabinet and shut the door. Good, she thought, the cats are still fighting and I've got time...
By the time the cats calmed down and Ben returned to his drinks tray, Rosie had reseated herself on the veranda. She looked relaxed. Ben brought the wine out and said, "Darn cats. That butler's never here when you need him. Too chicken. Occupational hazard, breaking up cat fights. See the scratch on my arm?"
"Oh, Ben," Miranda cried, "why don't I ring Gracie and she'll bring you a Band-aid and hydrogen peroxide for that?"
"Naw, it's just a tiny booboo. Here, Sam, here's yours." Ben handed him a pink goblet. "And a rose goblet for Rosie, too."
"To friendship and letting bygones be bygones," said Ben, raising his glass in a toast.
Miranda got cold feet. Would Ben really go through with such a rash thing? "Hey, wait a minute!" she cried. "Just because of these two, we had to spend six weeks drying out in rehab, and I've had to make excuses for us being in that place! She set her glass down. No way! If YOU want to forgive those jokers, Ben, go ahead!" Disgusted, she left the veranda.
"She's still a bit fragile," said Ben. "Nothing a night at the Film Priemiere wouldn't cure. Give her time. Hey, I'll drink with you guys. To friends," he said.
The glasses clinked and Ben took a long drink. Only when Sam saw Rosie freely imbibe did he stop sniffing the edge of his cup and swallow some himself. Ben finished and then, as if to compensate for Miranda's hostility, he grabbed Miranda's deserted glass and drained it on one breath.
"Know what, Sam?" he chortled. We raked in millions from that Abraham scam. But there's other virgin territory to exploit. David was rich, Solomon was rich…"
Ben said no more. His head wobbled, then he slumped to the floor. "Oh, my lord!" Rosie cried. "Déjà vu! I've done it THIS time! Sam, call an ambulance!"
It was one full-blown freakout. As Ben whirled through space and time, a favorite childhood chorus blared through his brain:
The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want
He maketh me down to lie
In Pastures Green He leadeth me
The silent waters by.
Ben's arm felt like it was on fire. Calpurnia's claws sure were lethal. "Oh, for cool still waters in green pastures," he moaned over and over. He blacked out.
"I found him here, my lord, beside the watering hole," Ben understood someone to say, though curiously, the thought was not voiced in English, the only language Ben was fluent in.
"Give the man a drink of water and a few raisins to revive him," spoke a resonant, commanding voice. "He must have fainted from the heat. Once he has sufficiently recovered, I shall ask him who he is and inquire about his origin."
A swarthy man in a turban rubbed oil on Ben's arm. Then he held an earthenware cup to Ben's mouth until he took a few gulps of the unfiltered oasis water. Ben hoped he would not get Montezuma's revenge from it. The man produced a small leather bag and offered Ben some raisins. Curious raisins they were, too, still attached to a stem and a bit crunchy because they were not seedless. But Ben graciously accepted the hospitality of his rescuers. At least he didn't have Miranda to worry about on this particular trip. Life in ancient Bible Land was arduous enough without having to put up with her griping. Ben studied his surroundings. He lay in a thatch of rough grass, beside a placid pool. The vegetation was scant and scrubby. Ben peered into the distance. Craggy hills were gently illumined by a late afternoon sun. Jagged rocks cast long shadows over the trackless wilderness. Ben was surrounded by several hundred bearded men garbed in a wide array of cloaks, tunics and turbans. Some carried spears, others had quivers of arrows slung across their backs. Shields, whenever Ben saw them, looked crude and patched together from leather and wood. Here and there he could see women doing chores or tending fires next to tents. Many small children ran about playing.
A red-haired man armed with a very long sword circulated among the men. They acted deferentially toward him, but with comradely affection. He must be their leader. The man walked with an air of authority and dignity. He was short and wiry, but appeared in top physical condition. How noiselessly he moved on his sandaled feet. Just like an Indian, Ben thought.
The humbly-clad dignitary approached Ben and said: "I am David, son of Jesse. Who might you be, and where are you from?"
"I am Ben Buck," Ben replied. "I come from very far away. I am a stranger in this land."
"So how did you come to this place?" David inquired. "You were half dead when we found you, and talking out of your head."
"I come from the future," said Ben. "I will not be born for nearly three thousand years."
David's men guffawed, avowing that they had never heard such a crazy notion. Ben pulled his cell phone from his pocket and took a picture of David. Ben showed David the picture on the tiny popup screen and said, "Surely you have never seen a device like this before, which can reproduce a man's image in an instant. And never have you seen such clothing as mine." Ben pointed at his suit jacket and his tie, then the watch on his wrist. "This is called a Rolex. It tells me what time of day it is. It says that it is four o'clock…er, I mean, the tenth hour of the day. At least that's what time it was when I was suddenly taken from the land of my origin."
"Surely it is sorcery!" one of the men cried. "David, a conjurer is in our midst! You must run him through this very moment!"
"Hold your peace, Jubal," replied David. "If this man is not against us, he must be on our side. Perhaps he is running away from an adversary, just as we are."
Ben looked at David intently. "David, you are destined to become a man of great wealth. You are destined to become the king of Israel. One day you will attain to God's favor and you will no longer have to run from your enemy King Saul."
David frowned. "And who are you to tell me I do not yet stand in God's favor?"
"Well, David, isn't it evident that you must be doing something wrong or you'd be cooling your heels in a palace right now? If God were already smiling upon you, you would always be comfortable and well-fed. Your face is hollow from hunger. Where I come from, we know what those green pastures mean that you're always singing about." Ben reached in his pocket and withdrew a wad of cash. "See? These green papers are called dollars. They are what makes people of my time happy, David. And when God blesses me with many dollars, I'm lying in green pastures."
David laughed. He picked up a twenty dollar bill and flipped it in the air. "As flimsy as tree leaves! Can these truly satisfy your hunger, Ben Buck?"
"Sort of, David. You give these dollars to somebody who runs a fancy eatery and you can eat to your heart's content. Where I come from, dollar bills are worth more than fine gold."
"Madness! Sheer madness!" many of the men called. "The hot sun has roasted your brains, Ben Buck!"
"Perhaps, gentlemen, but if you had enough of these green bucks, you and your leader wouldn't have to roast under a hot desert sun everyday, hungry and thirsty and running like a jack rabbit. Instead, David could sit in a fancy palace and be fanned by slaves…since air conditioning won't be invented till after World War II. David, as a brother in the Lord I'm going to exhort you: If you would only learn to release the Force of Faith and start confessing victory, old Saul would tuck tail and run away from YOU instead of you having to run away from him, and your father-in-law troubles would be all over."
David shook his head. "Ben Buck, you're speaking foolishness, and you'd better not speak disrespectfully of my father-in-law…even if he is trying to kill me. Those green things which float away on the breeze cannot satisfy my hunger for God, and it is an insult to His honor to say that they are tokens of His favor. I am a devoted servant of the One True God. And I love Him for Who He is, not for what He gives me. The Lord is my Rock and my Salvation. He only is my defense and my Refuge. In prosperity and in adversity, the Lord is my Shepherd, now and forevermore."
Buck blushed and bowed his head. "You are a man of great piety, David, but my blessings are so real they can be touched. I have many things to thank God for, David. Useful blessings which improve the quality of my life in the real world."
"Let us not quarrel," said David. "You might very well be a sorcerer from a foreign land, or even an ordinary man from a land we know nothing of. But thus far you have done nothing to harm us and I will not sit in hasty judgment upon you. You will feel better once you have rested and enjoyed our hospitality for a few days. Then, if you choose to remain with us, you may begin military training with my men."
David had an attendant bring his harp. "Do you enjoy music, Ben Buck?"
"Sure do. I'm sort of an old fogey and I dig Bob Dylan, the Eagles, Elvis…"
"Perhaps this will cure your madness, Ben," said David. He picked up his harp and began to strum a lovely melody in an ancient music mode quite unfamiliar to Ben. Ben yawned, then fell asleep as he lay on a straw mat beside the still waters.
Ben's hallucination fast-forwarded to a training field out in the wilderness.
No matter how Ben tried he could not master the use of the bow. His forearm, exercised with a computer mouse, was too weak to wield a sword, or any other ancient weapon. He couldn't even hit the broad side of a barn with a sling. Every arrow Ben shot would start out straight, then lurch in an arc and land well short of the clay target. The other men would point and laugh at him. David consoled him with a pat on the back. "At least you are trying to learn. And though you have not yet been born, you are not so youthful as myself. Pay them no heed, Ben Buck."
"Oh, well, David, what do you expect? All I got in high school archery was a lazy C."
Ben was tired of playing the underdog. Boldly he said: "It's high time I practiced what I preach! All you guys are wasting your time, fighting with bows and arrows. Spears and arrows aren't a Christian way to solve conflicts! You've gotta fight spiritual enemies with spiritual weapons. Satan is the one who's pulling King Saul's strings. The devil's been making Saul chase us all over the place like a chicken with its head cut off, and right now I'm gonna teach you guys how to wage war in the invisible realm!"
"Stop whining to God to save you! That's just a religious copout for spiritual laziness and unbelief! God expects US to take authority over our enemies and subdue them! Positive confession releases the Force of Faith to go forth to do battle on your behalf! Speak unto that problem and order it to go away! We're all hungry, so let's all release the Force of Faith right now to bring us our dinner! Big Macs, we command you to come to us on every wave to feed us right now!"
Ben grabbed his midsection and cried: "Nothing yet, but true faith is persistent! Let's ACT our faith out now! I'm travailing in birth. The thing I desire is real but it's still in the invisible realm. I am laboring to bring forth the answer to my need! Ugh! I groan in childbirth, expecting to see big juicy hamburgers emerge into the visible realm to feed us! Food, come to us! And while we're at it, let's fight our enemies! King Saul, I confess that even now, your mule is sinking in miry clay and you can't go on chasing us! I confess that we are free to beat our bows and arrows into plowshares because the power of my faith is even now breaking yours into toothpicks!"
"David," Ben added for good measure, "by the power of my words I LO-O-O-OSE you from the bondage of poverty! You are free to become the rich man God intended you to be! Follow my example and God will love you and bless you and lead you into green pastures just like He's done for me. Ben pointed at his expensive suit, which looked threadbare and rumpled from wilderness life. "If only you would dress for success and look like a child of God, you would deserve to be blessed like a child of God, and you would ATTRACT success! Never again would you suffer the curse of poverty and suffer the penalty of having to dwell in a dry and thirsty land! David, it's a sin to be poor and hungry, so repent of your lack of faith right NOW!"
More than a few of David's men shouted angrily and began to run Ben off. They threw dirt and stones at him. Ben blacked out, then found himself lying on a cold marble floor. A gruff voice boomed out: "You dare bring THAT weakling into my presence? Will you call THAT a fitting tribute to your king?"
Ben peered up. Two scruffy-looking men in rough garments stood on either side of him. Fearfully they fell to their faces and whimpered: "O Lord King, we present this man to you as just we found him lying in the wilderness. We swear by the light of the moon that we did not first strip him of booty."
A guard rushed over to the two brigands and held a sword up to the neck of one of them. "You BETTER not have taken anything from him! From the looks of this poor specimen, his adornments are worth far more than he is!"
"We swear he is worth his weight in gold, and he came with all the attachments, " one of the brigands whimpered.
"FOOLS!" the angry voice reverberated. "It is bad enough that you Bendonites are stirring up rebellion against me, and my wives are nagging me about the latest teen idol craze. But do you think presenting your King with a weak, middle-aged slave you scraped up off the side of the road is going to placate my wrath, or settle past due accounts? You must still make up what is lacking in the tribute your tribe owes! And you'd better have it by this time next week! GET OUT OF MY SIGHT!" The King’s secret service hustled the scruffy brigands outside.
Once Ben's head cleared, he sat unsteadily up. The sight took his breath away. This was the mother of all audience chambers, in the mother of all palaces. Las Vegas looked like Sober City by comparison. Why, this was an archaeologist's paradise. Porcelain columns sparkled with gold trim. Gorgeous oriental tapestries adorned walls inlaid with intricate mosaics. Ben saw twelve golden lions, one on each end of six carpeted marble steps which ascended to a dazzling throne of gold-plated ivory. Seated upon it was a stern-looking monarch with jet-black curls cascading to his shoulders. It must be Solomon, thought Ben, the richest king in all of history. At least Ben had got that part of his preaching right! Solomon's bejeweled crown was so massive Ben wondered if his head ached from its weight. The King wore a richly embroidered robe of red scarlet adorned with precious stones. He held a diamond-tipped scepter. Liveried attendants stood on either side of him, holding ostrich feather fans. Fair young maidens knelt on the floor, softly strumming harps for his pleasure. Hundreds of handsomely decked people stood in silent wonderment before this most glorious of earthly sovereigns.
"Who are YOU!" demanded the King. He stared down at Ben as if he were a bug.
Ben’s brain whirled. This was David’s son, and surely he would have been told about Ben Buck being run off from David’s camp. Pressed for time he sputtered, "I am Ben Balaam. I come from a city called El Dinero. It is many miles from here. I am from the future. I will not be born for another 3,000 years, Your Majesty."
The whole court guffawed. The King only grew angry. "You are either the basest of fools or a total madman. If you knew what the penalty is for lying to your king, you would not play the jester before me. But I will put you to the test to see whether you are a liar or a fool. If you truly are from the future, then surely you would know what shall befall me and my house in the coming years. Will my dynasty continue?"
"It will, Your Majesty." Ben swallowed hard.
"And who shall succeed me as king?"
"A son called Rehoboam, sire."
"Will he be a wise man, or a fool?"
Ben blinked. He desperately hoped that Solomon would not make him tell about the future rebellion of ten tribes of Israel against Rehoboam, or the rise of Jeroboam to rule over the rebel tribes.
"Ah…sire, we are all mortal men. It is not for one so lowly as myself to sit in judgment on a fellow man as being a wise man or a fool. Even the wisest of men do foolish things, and even a fool can redeem himself and become wise. Your son Rehoboam will show himself to be a decisive man of firm leadership who does not cave in to the whims of weaker men. Rehoboam will be a man of iron will who will make solid decisions and carry them out. Others will try to change him, but he will not bend like a reed in the wind. He will set his face as a flint and what he starts he will finish. Such an admirable trait in a man. You really should be proud of him, sir."
The king nodded. "Have you any other words of wisdom for me, Ben Balaam?"
"Your Majesty, I just happened to overhear your lamentation about how your wives want some new idols constructed. Perhaps I can be of some service. Where I come from, I excelled in gaining much wealth for myself by my inventiveness and cleverness in matters pertaining to religion."
The king raised his bushy eyebrows. "You are not of my nation Israel, I presume? Your beardlessness and strange apparel testify of foreign origin."
Ben rubbed his face, riddled with nicks from the flint razor he’d shaved with in past weeks. "I am from America, a land which will not even come into existence for 2700 more years. If it please the King, I shall show you evidence for that." Ben reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a laminated card. "This is my state driver’s license, with my name and picture on it, and the date of issue." An attendant handed it to Solomon.
"I cannot decipher that strange script," said Solomon. "Care to explain it to me?"
Ben did so, further elaborating on the meaning of the date as reflecting the number of years since the birth of Christ.
"He is the One I preach about," Ben casually said. "He is My heavenly King. I serve Him well, and the rewards are great. See the ruby ring on my finger, and the watch on my wrist? It tells me the time of day, and in my country, only men of means wear these elegant adornments."
The ruler studied Buck's hands and frowned. "I am not so sure about the purity of your heart, only that you are a shrewd man of ambition.” Solomon turned Ben’s hands over and felt them. “Hm-m-m...your hands are smooth except for a bit of a callus where the left thumb meets the forefinger, and calluses at the joints of the right fingers. You are quite unused to heavy toil, but I surmise that you might have been an archer at some stage in your life. Am I correct?”
“Yes, your Majesty, but a third-rate one. I did not get this beautiful watch or this ruby ring through the wages of manual labor.” Ben swallowed hard. If he didn’t grease some influential palm fast, he might be dispatched to the salt mines. “Sire, my fingers are pudgier than yours, so my rings wouldn’t fit you, but the watch ought to adjust nicely to your wrist. Would you like to try it on?”
The King slid it on his left wrist. He stared wonderingly at the platinum gold band and all the futuristic features of the timepiece. “It is magic!” cried the King. See how the little arrow circles round its tiny face!”
Ben grinned. “Oh, yes, your Majesty. And notice the little crown logo. This watch was made specially for men of distinction like you! I came back in time just to present it to you and to learn all about your great wisdom, and how you got so rich! But as you know, I was waylaid by brigands on my way here. That is why my clothing is rumpled and dirty.”
“It is clothing such as I have never seen,” said Solomon. “Coarse in texture compared to mine. It reminds me of a gray owl with a ribbon of scarlet down its front, and it is sober compared to my own attire.”
“A gray owl, you said?” Ben grinned. “In my land, owls are reputed to be birds of wisdom. So I wear the garments of wisdom when I cater to my people’s religious needs.”
“Whatever,” said Solomon, “but wolves can appear in sheep’s clothing, and a jackass can feign himself to be an owl. You say your name is Ben Baalam. That means “son of Balaam. Balaam was a wizard who got the children of Israel into hot water with God.”
“Oh, no, your Majesty, that Balaam’s not MY dad!” cried Ben. “You’re talking about some other Balaam. I come from a different country than that crumb did. I don’t lead people into hot water with God, I lead them to still waters in green pastures!”
“Your attire IS dirty from your travels.” said the King. “We shall remedy that. We have plenty of clothing in your size, and your raiment shall be appointed unto you, since you will remain here in my service indefinitely. You’re a bit unpolished around the edges, but I like you, Ben Balaam.”
“And I have so much talent to offer your Majesty,” said Ben. “My skill in marketing religious paraphernalia made me rich enough to buy Rolexes and ruby rings. I also had a horseless chariot which moved faster than a bowshot!”
“That is remarkable,” said King Solomon. “I cannot yet dispense with my horses, but my fleet of chariots are on the cutting edge of technology and they’re the envy of every other king on earth. What else did you possess, Ben Balaam?”
“I had an elegant mansion loaded with hi-tech mod cons...but, of course, it was a tar paper shack compared to your pad. But it was a happy home. And a happy home is a beautiful home. Speaking of keeping your home happy, I would remind your Majesty of my expertise in all things religious. If your wives need me to design a few religious icons for them, I’m at their...ah...your service, sire.”
The King struggled to stifle a chuckle. “You certainly are a heathen rogue, aren’t you, Ben Balaam, wanting to be of service to my harem? You’re really offbeat, too. When my father was in the wilderness recruiting men of war, they came from all walks of life. Some were fools, yet only a few were wise. Others were barking mad. One madman in particular incurred my father’s displeasure because he kept saying things which lowered the other men’s morale. That man had the easiest MOS in the army. All he had to do was watch the baggage while the others fought. That, in itself, was no disgrace, since my father considered it an honorable calling to guard the baggage if you were too weak to fight. But this particular chap was so cowardly he would hide under the camel furniture whenever he heard the approach of distant hoofbeats. One day he laid low while a few foxes invaded the chuckwagon and made off with a few legs of mutton. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he let his comrades know they had fallen out favor with the Almighty because why would they always be broke and on the run, unless their ways were not pleasing to the Lord? The other men got tired of giving that babbling fool the benefit of the doubt, so they chased that jackal out of the camp in nothing flat.”
Ben’s heart was in his mouth. “If I may inquire, Majesty, what was his name?”
“Ben Buck. My father told me that man’s vain babblings were so foolish they were unworthy of being repeated to me. I believe he was an itinerant sorcerer with a bagful of magic tricks trying to con an easy living out of others because he was too slothful to get a real life. But all my father cared to tell me was what an ungrateful, arrogant jackass the fellow was, the way he cast aspersions on my father’s relationship with God. But what do you expect?” sighed Solomon. “Envy is the rottenness of the bones and that rotten rogue envied those brave enough to go into battle. But don’t you think it’s a bit fishy that both of you are ‘Bens’ and both of you claimed to come from the future? I hope you aren’t lying about your true identity.” Ben heard a sword being drawn.
“Oh, no, sire! There’s a multitude of time travelers tripping on the highways and byways, and I definitely am not Ben Buck! I swear it on a stack of Strong’s Concordances!”
“I am a king of judgment and justice and I do not condemn a man until his guilt is firmly established,” said Solomon. “Besides, our country teems with colorful characters with odd monickers. There’s no end of Mahalaleels, Mephibosheths and Maher-shalal-hash-bazes running about. And our land abounds with Bens. Ben Judah, Ben Ammon, Ben Hadad, and countless Bens of Belial. But there’s only one Ben Buck, and you’re much too prudent and intelligent to have been the babbling brook of idiocy my father’s men drove into the wilderness.”
“That is true , Majesty.” Ben was very relieved. “Others always underestimate me, and had I been such an idiot, I would never have been so clever at money-making in my own land. Where it concerns prying money out of tight fists, I have few equals. And religion is my specialty, sire.”
“Your religion, such as it is, has served your own purposes well,” replied Solomon. “Even heathens from far-off lands need to get their daily dose of religion. Just ask the Queen of Sheba. But I will let some other heathen carve a few idols for my wives. You say you are not that same coward my father’s men drove from the camp. Well, I shall prove you to make certain you are not lying to me. You shall be put to work collecting my tribute from the disgruntled populace. If you survive the ordeal it will prove you are a prudent man with a persuasive tongue. If you are killed in the line of duty you will prove you are no coward. But if you tuck tail and run, you will show yourself to be the infamous scoundrel who called into question my father’s friendship with God. No other assignment I could give you demands so much courage as the post of royal revenue agent. Daily my tax agents face hostility and stones. Are you prepared to prove yourself to your king, Ben Balaam?”
Ben gulped. "I can charm money out of a Scottish Scrooge, Majesty.”
“Very well, then. You shall be shown to your quarters, fed your dinner, and shown the hospitality of my palace. Tomorrow you shall be briefed on the minutae of your mission. Dismissed, Ben.” Livieried servants led Ben away.
And so it came to pass that Ben Buck lived off the fat of the land. His apartment in the palace was most luxurious. Whenever it got hot pretty slave girls fanned him. Miranda could wait. What more could a man want? Ben didn't go hungry. He dined on the most exquisite kosher cuisine and dressed in the finest silks. Every day except the Sabbath Ben would be ferried about in a royal chariot to visit towns and villages to collect the King's tribute. He stopped off at one farm where a woman was hauling bundles of hay on her back. She looked cross and miserable. Ben got no warm welcome, though she had to show him respect. "I suppose you're here to collect straw for the king to feed all his fancy horses!" she grumbled. "No matter that ours will have to starve his winter!"
Her husband stood nearby. He, being more timid than she, gasped in horror. "Bridle your tongue, Miriam! Show respect to the King's ambassador!"
Her eyes flashed. "I will not! Our animals are wasting away for want of what is taken from us! I'm sick of slaving all day under a hot sun while Solomon's heathen wives prance around in luxury at our expense!"
By now dozens of hired hands were milling about, ears wide open.
Ben tried to placate her. "Sister Miriam, I'm not here to hurt you, only to teach you the principles of sowing and reaping to make you richer. Cast your hay upon the wagon and it will come back to you on every amber wave of grain. "
"You lie! Just like all the other money-grubbing bureaucrats who plague the Lord's land! We were liberated from Pharoah only to become slaves of your master!"
Ben got mad. "If you guys would learn how to confess prosperity and dress prosperity, it wouldn't be long before YOU sat on the throne too! Lady, if you’d take that bed sheet off your head that you threw on it to hide your bad hair day and go get an image makeover, you could climb up the social ladder a little! Solomon's dad David was poor as a church mouse but he got up off his duff and got rich! And now his son Solomon is the richest entrepreneur in all human history! You're all poor because you've got no faith and can't see past your next bowl of porridge! Serves you right!"
Miriam spat at Ben. Immediately she was seized by Ben's attendants.
The boldest of the hired workers raised a stave and cried: "Save our mistress! We are free men, not slaves!"
Several men rushed the chariot. One of them got nicked by a spear and retreated to doctor himself, but the others capsized the chariot, making the horses stumble and squeal. The peasants pummeled the king's men with pomegranates they owed as tribute. In the confusion Miriam broke free and ran to safety. The farm workers held no swords, but they vastly outnumbered their foes. They picked up handstaves and other implements and closed in on the king's servants, whose hearts melted with fear when they saw a troop of angry country folk rushing toward them from over the horizon. Someone set fire to the king's hay wagon. Stones began to fly. Ben got hit in the head as he hobbled away, followed by panicky wagoners who deserted the flaming tribute. Ben marvelled that a common TV preacher like himself had actually sparked off the mother of all civil wars. One which would cost David’s dynasty ten of the nation’s twelve tribes and would end the Golden Age of Israel. Ben had saved Rehoboam the bother of doing it himself.
Ben woke up in the observation unit…again. A nurse stood above him, adjusting an IV drip. "Man, I got stoned big time," Ben moaned.
"You sure did," replied the nurse. She shook her head. "My word, you preachers sure do live dangerous lives. But it's true what they say. Still waters run deep."
Site: Kingdom Age Ministry
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