An old man sat on a stone by the city gate. He seemed to peer at everything without noticing anything in particular, squinting even when clouds covered the sun. His tough, sinewy arms ended in leathery hands clutching a staff to support a back bent by years of hard labor among the fields. He sat with his fellows, other wizened old men with bent backs and squinting eyes, smiling when it pleased them to smile, and watching. Few people bothered about the old man. Little children running by occasionally kicked up dust in his direction, but they meant no disrespect and went flying about as little children do, uninterested in anyone who could be still for so long. Young men walked by, or stood around waiting to be hired for a day of work, respectful of the old man’s space, but preferring to converse among themselves. Middle-aged men passing in and out of the gate nodded their heads and longed for the day when they too earned their place to sit and watch and do nothing else. Women and girls weaved in and out among them all with their pitchers of water or market baskets, occasionally bowing their heads to the old men, occasionally flirting with the young men, always busy about something. The old man watched all this as he always did, saying little, smiling when it pleased him to smile.
A man with great wealth and used to having his own way in everything approached the city, surrounded by a great entourage. When he saw the old men sitting in the city gate he said to one of his slaves, “Run ahead, and tell those old men to move out of our way.”
The slave did as his master commanded and approached the old man. He bowed low, “Good sir, my master respectfully requests that you and your fellows move from this spot so that he and his entourage may pass through the city gate unhindered.”
The old man did not answer. He peered at the slave for a moment, then looked away. The slave, thinking the old man must be deaf, leaned closer and began again in a louder voice, but a young man standing nearby stepped forward. “Man, return to your master. It is not our custom to ask these aged men to move from their places.”
The slave ran back to his master and repeated the young man’s words. The rich man laughed and sneered, “Go back and tell those old men that they must move.”
The slave returned to the old man. “My master says that you and your companions must move. Please, sir, do as he says. He is a man of great wealth and power.”
The young man stepped forward once more, bowed a little to the slave and repeated, “It is not our custom to ask these aged men to leave their places.”
The slave returned, trembling to his master, once again repeating the words of the young man. The rich man leaned over the side of his divan and smacked the slave to the ground. “Forward!” he barked to the entourage. A dozen armed slaves drew their swords while the company moved forward.
When the wealthy man arrived at the gate, he shouted at the young man, “You, Boy! I have little concern for your customary regard for these old fools. I want them removed so that my entourage and I may pass.”
The young man bowed a little before the wealthy man. “SIr, it seems to me that these men take up very little space, and that you may pass quite easily through this gate.”
“Silenece, boy! These men are in my way and I want them removed! You two slaves! You move this old man! We will remove them ourselves if we must.”
Two burly slaves approached the old man. As they placed their hands on him, the old man said, “My quiver is very full.”
The two slaves let go of the old man and stepped back. The wealthy man jumped down from his divan. “So now you can speak for yourself? Tell me, old man, where is this full quiver of yours and how do you expect to pull the bow-string with those weak arms of yours?”
The old man did not answer. The rich man growled in exasperation and stepped forward to pull the old man out of place himself.
“My quiver is very full.”
The rich man ignored the old man and grabbed hold of his arm. An arrow whizzed past the rich man’s ear and into the post of the city gate. The rich man whirled around to see the young man who had spoken earlier aiming a second arrow, this one to kill. With him many other men lifted bows or twirled slings. Women and children gathered, scooping up rocks or broken pieces of pottery.
The rich man looked to his armed slaves, but their swords lay on the ground next to their unconscious forms. His other slaves backed away slowly, ready to run if the small mob turned violent. The rich man dropped the old man’s arm in astonishment. “Wha-what care you for this old man?”
A middle-aged man who looked very much like the young man stepped forward, “This man is our father, our grandfather. All these old men are our fathers and our grandfathers.”
The rich man stared at the old man until a wistful look came into his eye. Then he sighed deeply, returned to his divan, and ordered his entourage to leave the city.
The mob drifted quietly away, like a fine morning mist now evaporating in the heat of the day. The old man sat and watched. When the mist faded completely, he smiled, because it pleased him to do so.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their enemies in the gate.
To those who wonder, no, I am not part of the Quiverfull movement.