Once upon a time there was a rather foolish, but lonely, man named Elias. He was not the eldest son of his family, and had no fortune to claim. He had a craft, being a jeweler, but always wound up working long hours for others and never getting ahead. One day a trader came to him with a proposition, that if he would invest in a shipment of precious metals and gems to come by caravan from the East, he would make his fortune with his skills.
But what to do? He had no capital, no property, no equity… not even any livestock. He could not raise the funds among friends or family, so finally, in his desperation to make his fortune and his reputation (which he felt sure would solve all of his problems), he took out a loan at usurious rates with some disreputable money lenders. Having no collateral, he wagered his freedom against his debt. He made his investment. He cast his lot. He hoped for the best.
Fate, however, was not kind to poor Elias. (Or, so he thought.) As he waited, day by day, for news of the arrival of his fortune. He worried his way through every report of distant wars, distant sandstorms, and bandit activity. Unseasonably harsh weather made everything even more risky, and at long last, with his caravan weeks overdue, a poor survivor finally made it to his city… only to report that the caravan had been waylaid by highwaymen, and all was lost.
His creditors’ “representatives”, big surly men with markedly bad attitudes, appeared at his doors that same day, to claim him and his tools. A quick stop by the Temple and magistrates, to make everything legal and tidy, and *poof*, there he was, sold into slavery, working for the next 7 years for his creditors. Well, he had no one to take leave of, he owned nothing to “shut up” or settle accounts for. So, by that night, he just settled into his new quarters, having “changed employers” in his mind.
Life for poor Elias was not “happy”, but he was not “suffering” either. He was a fine and skilled jewelsmith, and his masters had considerable wealth. For the first time in his career, he had nearly unlimited resources. Between that, and no longer being distracted by the worry of how he was going to make his fortune, suddenly he began creating real masterpieces. His work far exceeded anything anyone had ever seen him do, or even that he ever thought he COULD do. He changed. He changed from “craftsman” to true “Artist”. As he developed not only skill and creativity, but also logistical and administrative skills.
Well, by the end of his first year of servitude, little Elias had indeed made an enviable reputation for himself. His work traveled far and wide through the kingdom, on only the most noble of customers. One day, an ambassador of the king himself came to the home of Elias’ owner, seeking to buy out Elias’ indenture. The offer was so good, along with the prospects of good will from the crown, that Elias was sold on the spot. Immediately, his little shop and tools were packed up, a royal coach was waiting, and Elias found himself on his way to his new home at the King’s Palace.
“Six more years,” Elias thought, as the royal carriage rolled along the marketways and streets to his new home. “Six more years before I am again my own man,” he sighed. “Well,” he thought, with resignation, “it could be worse. I could be cold, or hungry, or they could beat me. I am well fed, well cared for, and generally well treated. Life is not so bad. Empty, perhaps, but not so bad.” And so the horses clip-clopped on.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
When Elias was shown to his new shop and quarters, he thought he was dreaming. It was magnificent. Every forge, kiln, furnace… every sort of tool… every surface, curve, anvil, and vise… all there for his shaping and crafting of metal or stone into beautiful shapes. And his STORES!!! Gold, silver, bronze, and access to the Royal Treasury for gems of every description. It was incredible, it was unthinkable, it was… wonderful! His own chambers were comfortable, verging on opulent. He had his own chamber servant to deal with housekeeping. There was space to work and think, to draw, his own fireplace, his own bathing room. Poor Elias had never imagined he’d live in such luxury.
After reporting to the Chief Steward of the Palace, little Elias was presented to the King and the royal family. The King was kind, but stately. He made clear that Elias had cost him a great deal of gold, but that the work he had seen with Elias’ hallmark would make the investment worthwhile.
Elias had only one command from the King..
“Do your best work.” He could take all the time he needed for a piece. He could requisition anything he needed to do it. He was to be honest with his accounts. But he was to create beauty, of the finest order he could muster. Just “do his best work.”
At first, Elias scarcely knew what to do. He had never EVER had orders like that. Customers always had something specific in mind. Either a piece that “looked like” another piece. Or a family crest of some sort. Or a cluster of fruit. Or something… But slowly, gradually, he began to let himself dream of beauty and beautiful things, shapes, motifs, curves… and bit by bit, day by day, Elias began to do his best work. Masterpieces flowed from his shop.
A year passed. Elias was very comfortable, well respected, and the King loved his work. The King had even begun an account in Elias’ name, that when he was free, he would have capital to start his own business with. All this, and he was satisfied, but he was not yet truly “happy”. “Five more years,” Elias thought. “Five more years until I am my own man. Well, things could be worse.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The Chief Steward would visit him in his shop from time to time. Even the King or members of his family would come visit from time to time. They enjoyed his quiet company, and his unceasing attention to creating beauty. But they always went away realizing, Elias was never yet “happy”.
One day, the King came to Elias’ shop accompanied by a beautiful young woman named Miriam and her two small children.
“Elias, may I interrupt you for a moment?” the King asked.
“Of course, Majesty,” Elias replied promptly, leaving his workbench and stool to bow as he approached the party. “What brings you, this day?”
“Elias, you craft beautiful jewelry that adorns me, my family, and my home. But you work alone. And it is not good for a man to be alone. There is beauty in you that you’ve not yet touched. This is Miriam. She is the widow of a faithful retainer of mine who gave his life in my service. She and her children are now under my protection.
“Miriam is also an artist. She can draw and paint with such passion and grace that from any distance it is easy to confuse her flowers or birds with the living thing. If you are willing, I should like to see what the two of you could create together… she aiding in the design… you applying your talent in the crafting… together to create greater beauty.
“I would place her quarters down the passageway here, and she could draw and sculpt, as you mold, forge, and smith. Would you be willing to try such a collaboration?” the King proposed.
“Of course, Majesty, if that is your will,” Elias responded.
“Good, then,” the King answered, inclining his head to them as he made to leave. “I’ll let you all get acquainted then, and see to the arrangements. Do well.” And he left.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Now poor Elias wasn’t entirely sure what to do about all this. He was, after all, just a slave. But, it turned out, Miriam was also. She and her husband had belonged to the King, but he treated her more as family than servant, so she seldom thought of it. Her children were well cared for, and just as spoiled as those of the royal household, so she was quite content.
For many days, Miriam simply sat and watched Elias work. She watched him heat metal to brilliant red or white brilliance in his furnace… then draw it into wire, or spirals… or pound it into plates, or leaves, or even foil. She watched him seat gems, precious stones, cut, uncut, semiprecious, pearls, chips… all forms of glitter and glint in gilt. Sometimes, when it would not disturb him, she would approach his bench, his work, and just rub her hands along his pieces, as though she could learn something from their very feel.
Elias had thought her presence would disturb him. But she was so quiet, so attentive, so focused… he found she did not disturb him at all. In fact, he rather liked her being there. He enjoyed her attention, not so much to HIM, as to the work. That felt… “gratifying”… to him, somehow. Then, one day a couple weeks after her arrival, he found it disturbing when she did not come in and sit at her accustomed spot as he worked. He… he wondered where she was, though he would never admit that he cared.
At the end of that day, she came in to the workshop with a parchment in her hand. She sat silently on her stool and waited for him to finish his work. When he did, her gentle voice called out…
“Elias, may I show you something? I’d like to know what you think.”
He came over as she unrolled the scroll and he saw her work. It was a beautiful rendering of one of his favorite masterpieces. It was a Rose broach… beautiful hammered petals with pearls inlaid at the center. The beauty of the sketch, it’s detail and realism caught his breath. He’d never known an artist of this caliber before. But, seeing his joy and amazement, she smiled and felt encouraged to unroll the scroll further, and he saw that she had drawn a matching necklace or multiple roses, chained together like a wreath of diminishing size, and delicate earrings, and even a diadem that could be made, all in the same design. He had never thought of this before, but what a tremendous set this would make!
Without uttering a word, yet in the sheer shock of joyful discovery, Elias threw his arms around Miriam and laughed. Together, nodding and laughing, they began to chatter about the designs. From that moment forward, they never worked their arts without the other’s help and cooperation.
The year cheerfully came, and went. On his anniversary, Elias said, “Four more years. Life is not so bad. Four more years and I am my own man again.”
Days came and went. Masterpieces, the envy of the entire kingdom, flowed through the hands of Elias and Miriam. Their lives, their minds, their hearts drew closer. Ultimately, they seemed to think and feel as one, and Elias grew as fond of her children as if they were his own. The year flew by, until Elias could not remember what life was like without this shop, or without Miriam, or without the children.
Elias asked Miriam to be his bride. Joyfully, she said, “You must ask the King for my hand. He is my guardian. But if he says yes, then I am willing.”
So Elias prepared a magnificent bracelet for his King… with panels in it for each of his children and scenes of the family. Miriam sketched the designs, and Elias crafted the molding and polishing. Gems punctuated the piece, without rendering it gaudy. No one had ever seen a “Family” presented in such a way before. It was the finest, most beautiful piece, Elias and Miriam had ever crafted.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“My dear Elias! You have asked for a private audience, and it is my pleasure to oblige! Your work is unparallelled. But where is your partner? Why is Miriam not with you in this appointment?”
“That’s what I wanted to speak to you about, Majesty. Thank you for seeing me and for your kind words. But I would seek a further boon, if you are willing. I ask for the hand of Miriam in marriage. She completes me, I have grown to love her. I cannot imagine life without her. I seek your permission to wed her. She is willing and joyful, if this meets with your approval.”
The King nodded, and had Miriam called to his presence along with his own family. Together they sat and talked. The King heard Miriam appeal as well, for permission to wed, and granted his approval joyfully. Elias and Miriam gave the King his gift of the family bracelet, and all together they began to plan a great celebration and wedding.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The next three years past in what seemed a flash of joy. Elias no longer marked his anniversary of enslavement, but only his anniversaries of joy… his wedding, the birth of his two children, the births of his eldest children. Elias and Miriam had never known such peace or happiness in all their lives. But then, one day…
The King summoned Elias to his presence, and said, “Elias, it is time for you to prepare to leave my service. Your indenture is finished, your servitude ended. You may now return to your home, and I will send with you this sizable fortune with which to establish yourself.”
Elias was crushed… “My lord… Majesty… No! No! I am at home here. My family is here. Your family is here. I am happy and satisfied here as I never imagined I could be. You have taken me into your home as though we were kin. No, Majesty… I do not want to leave. Let me stay, let me continue to serve you. THIS is freedom, not life out here. Allow me, please to remain.”
The King was very solemn as he answered, “Dearest Elias. This cannot be. You came to me a slave indebted. Your term of service is ended. You have more than repaid your debt. What would my people think, knowing you entered my service for a term… believing I refused to free you? That is contrary to law and to custom. That cannot be!”
“Majesty, can you not retain my service? Can’t I tell the people that this is MY choice? That you offer me my ‘freedom’, but that I CHOOSE to remain, because I love it here? I love you and your family? I love my family, and we are all together here? This… this house… this service… is where my joy is! I would remain here! If you will allow it…”
“Very well, Elias. If that is your choice, I will arrange it. But your choice must be made public. Do you make this choice freely, for your whole life? Do you choose my service for your lifetime, and foreswear your freedom out of love alone, not fear?”
“I do, Majesty. I love you, and this house, too much ever to want to leave.”
“So be it, then, Elias. Craft for yourself a single ear ring or stud, and in one week, my arrangements will be complete.”
“Yes, Lord,” and Elias bowed, returned to his shop, and told Miriam of all that had transpired. She was delighted, for she, too, never wanted to leave the royal family’s service.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The next week, the King and his family, and Elias and his family, all went together to the Temple and there was a great assembly of the kingdom, come to see what all the fanfare was about.
There, before God, the King and Elias exchanged words of covenant and mutual commitment. Elias abandoned his “rights” forever, foreswearing his freedom, surrendering to permanent servanthood in the household of the King, out of love alone. The King, for his part, swore to care for Elias and his family as “his man” forevermore, providing for them and treating them with fairness and kindness as long as they lived. The people witnessed this, and said “Amen”, as the families returned to the Palace.
When they reached the door of the Palace, the King stood solemnly with Elias at the doorpost of the main entrance.
“Elias, you have sworn me your lifelong service this day. You have given up all right to freedom and choice for the rest of your life. You have promised, before God, to enter this house as family forever, and never to leave this threshold without my will, my word, my authority. Do you remain determined in that?”
“I do, my Lord.”
“Then stand here, and endure…” and the King placed Elias’ ear against the doorpost, took an awl from the Chief Steward (who had himself, years before, stood right where Elias was standing)… placed the point at Elias’ earlobe, and with one swift sharp blow from the heel of his hand, pierced his new Bondservant’s ear.
“Welcome to you, Elias… now of my very family. I have myself drawn your blood this day, and it now rests in the threshold of my house. Your blood will be a testament, marks a covenant, between you and me. We are now bound together, for the rest of our lives. Congratulations.”
Everyone hugged, laughed, and cried as they went inside to a magnificent banquet always thrown at the induction of a new bondservant. Miriam helped Elias put the special ring into his ear, and the King blessed them all, as family, as for the first time, they all sat down to eat together.
Without a doubt, they all lived, quite happily, ever after…
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Well, almost… There is another way to tell this story…
21 “Now these are the ordinances which you are to set before them:
2 “If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment. 3 If he comes alone, he shall go out alone; if he is the husband of a wife, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife, and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall belong to her master, and he shall go out alone. 5 But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,’ 6 then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently. [Exodus 21]