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“Hey Hophni, you ready for another day of adventure?” Phinehas and his little brother had just finished breakfast and were getting ready to go out and play.

“Do you think we can have more fun today than we did yesterday?” asked Hophni. “I’ll never forget the look on the face of the old lady we scared. You looked like you were dead with the sheep blood you smeared all over your head and clothes, so when she got real close and you jumped up and started growling and barking, I thought she was going to die of fright! What do you have in mind for today? Are we going to hang out with our friends again?”

“I don’t think so,” answered Phinehas. “They can’t keep up with us. They are all too chicken. They won’t chance getting in trouble because they’re idiots. They are not as smart or as quick as we are. That’s why they like being with us - we make their lives interesting.

As they approached the door, their mother stopped them. “Where are you going, boys,” she asked.

“We are going to take the sheep out to the pasture beside the river,” Phinehas lied. “Is that OK?”

“Why yes, boys! That’s very good of you. Just watch them closely, won’t you,” she answered.

“Of course, Mom,” Phinehas assured her. The boys went out to the sheepfold, Phinehas opened the door, called the sheep and slowly walked out. The sheep began following him and Hophni brought up the rear, keeping stragglers close to the rest of the small flock.

Half way to the pasture, Hophni called, “Where are you going, Phinehas? That’s not the way to the riverside pasture.”

“I know,” answered Phinehas. “I’m leading them to Tola’s sheepfold. He will be happy to keep them there while we go to the marketplace and see what we can glean.”

“You mean take?” asked Hophni.

“Of course,” answered Phinehas. “You are not flaking on me are you?”

“No, I’m in. We’re a team.” Hophni answered.

In a few minutes the boys were leading the sheep into Tola’s mother’s sheepfold. Tola’s father had been killed three years earlier and his mother struggled to keep food on the table. “If you will let our sheep stay in your fold while we are gone we will pay you this evening when we come back to take our sheep home,” Phinehas promised Tola.

Arriving in the marketplace, a few minutes later, Phinehas and Hophni began walking around looking at the food and wares for sale as if they were shopping for their parents. Seeing a young mother with a toddler and a few sheep for sale, Phinehas said, “Hophni, see the lady to your left selling sheep, the one with the toddler? You go over there and begin inspecting her sheep. I’ll stay here for a few minutes so she doesn’t think we are together. When I get there, I’ll create a problem for her with her toddler. While she’s not looking, you untie the knot that keeps the sheep together, then pick up one of the sheep and take it to Tola’s sheepfold, but don’t go there directly. If she asks about a kid carrying a sheep, you want people sending her in the wrong direction. I’ll meet you at Tola’s, so stay there. You ready?”

“Wicked!” said Hophni. “Let’s do it!” as he started slowly walking toward the sheep.

As Phinehas approached the sheep a few minutes later, he pulled a small knife out of the pocket in his robe, squatted down between the toddler and her mother, and quickly cut the toddler’s arm just enough to draw blood, then slipped the knife back into his pocket. The toddler screamed and struggled to get around Phinehas to her mother.

Phinehas turned to the woman and said, “Oh my! Your daughter’s arm is bleeding! It looks like a cut. I have a small cloth I can cover the cut with,” he said, pulling the cloth out of his pocket.

“Oh thank you,” she said as she applied it to her toddler’s arm.

Phinehas looked up and said, “Look, your sheep are loose. You take care of your daughter, I’ll get them back here for you.

“Oh thank you,” the woman said again.

It only took Phinehas a couple minutes to round up the sheep and bring them back to the woman. She was too busy caring for her toddler to count the sheep.

Are you and your baby OK, now?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said. Thank you for helping me. You are a fine young man.”

Phinehas left her and made his way back to Tola’s sheepfold where he found Hophni.

Walking back to the marketplace, to the opposite end from where they had already been, they saw some people scuffling and others yelling obscenities. They ran to the scene and found that people were upset because a woman who was leprous had come to buy food. No one wanted to touch her money or let her come near their food and no one would buy food for her.

She was not going away but kept trying to approach the vegetables shouting, “I need some food or I’ll starve.” People were threatening her with sticks to keep her away.

Picking up a tomato from a vendor’s pile, Phinehas threw it at the lady, hitting her squarely on her shoulder. He had already thrown a second one before she turned her face in his direction. The tomato hit her squarely on her left cheek. Then some of the vendors began throwing vegetables at her as well.

As she cursed, turned and walked away, Hophni said, “Wicked! I guess we showed her not to mess with us.”

As the crowd began to disperse, Hophni turned to Phinehas and asked, “What’s next?”

Phinehas answered, “I don’t know. So far today’s adventures have been rather boring; stuff we have done before. We’ve even hit people with tomatoes before. Let's split up. If either of us finds something new, something really exciting, we’ll find each other, and plan our strategy for some real fun. Remember the signals - an ear scratch means “I don’t know you;” a hand on the throat means “don’t talk;” a scratch on the head means “I have a plan.”

“OK,” said Hophni. “Keep me in sight.”

The boys started walking slowly in different directions. Hophni had not gone far when he saw a buyer give several coins to a vendor. The vendor turned around and put the coins into a small bag and put the bag into his cloak on the ground just in front of the bags of wheat he was selling.

Hophni found his brother and said, “Come with me. I’ll point out a vendor of wheat to you. You approach him from the front, I’ll circle around behind him. I know where he put his moneybag. You start bargaining, I’ll steal his moneybag. Exciting enough for you?”

“This is big time,” said Phinehas. “Let’s do it.” Phinehas slowly walked to the vendor Hophni had pointed out and asked if he wanted to sell him all his wheat.

“All my wheat? You are just a kid you can’t buy all my wheat,” he replied.

“Of course I can’t,” Phinehas replied. “I’m shopping for my father. What is your price for one bag?”

“Seven dollars,” replied the vendor.

“My father will buy all your wheat for five dollars a bag.”

“I won’t sell for that price. You are crazy,” said the vendor.

“I’m not crazy, Phinehas replied. “You can sell all your wheat to my father at once or you can hope to sell a few bags by nighttime. Your choice.”

As they were negotiating, Hophni was already behind the vendor. He reached over the bags, lifted the vendor’s moneybag out of the cloak, and walked away.

“Last chance,” said Phinehas. The vendor didn’t reply, so Phinehas walked away toward another wheat vendor, then on out of the marketplace to meet up with Hophni back at Tula’s house.

“Wicked! Now that was big time!” exclaimed Hophni as Pinehas strode up.

“How much is in the bag?” asked Phinehas.

“I haven’t looked,” answered Hophni. “But I’m sure there is enough to pay Tula and have plenty left over.”

The boys each pocketed a few coins then hid the moneybag where Tula wouldn’t find it, and walked back to the marketplace, looking for another adventure.

Phinehas was talking with one of his friends, and Hophni, daydreaming about his new wealth, was watching a small group of children playing a game together. Suddenly, unexpectedly, his arms were both wrapped in hands and pinned to his sides. Looking up he saw two large men, one on each side lifting him off the ground. The woman from whom the boys had stolen a sheep was right behind the men shouting, “That’s the boy! He stole my sheep!”

The men carried Hophni kicking and shouting curses to the edge of the marketplace and sat him down next to a vendor selling rope. Still holding on to him, one of the men said to the vendor, “I need a piece of your rope to tie up this thief.”

“I am not a thief!” Hophni protested. “How could I steal a sheep? You have the wrong boy.” Just then Hophni saw Phinehas approaching, and when they made eye contact Phinehas scratched his ear, then put his hand over his throat, then scratched his head.

“Why are you tying up this boy?” Phinehas asked.

“He stole one of my sheep,” the woman said.

“When did this happen?” asked Phinehas.

“Earlier today,” answered the woman holding her toddler closely.

“It cannot be this boy,” Phinehas replied calmly. “He was tending our father’s flock in the pasture down by the river all day. I left him there and came to the market this morning to buy some things for our mother. While I was here I brought your sheep back to you and your daughter. I went right back to the pasture, and we just arrived a few minutes ago from taking the sheep home. It must have been some other boy who took one of your loose sheep while I was gathering the rest of them. I’m sorry I didn’t see him take it.”

“How can I trust you?” asked the man still hanging on to Hophni.

“I don’t lie.” Phinehas answered. “Our father is Eli, the high priest. We are in training to be priests ourselves.”

There was a long silence as the men looked at each other, then the boys, then the woman and her toddler.

Finally the woman said, “Maybe I accused the wrong boy. I was sure it was this boy, but I can’t imagine a chief priest of Israel’s son stealing a sheep. He wouldn’t even need it.” Then she turned to Hophni and said, “I apologize. Will you please forgive me?”

“Yes,” said Hophni quietly looking at Phinehas with a smirk on his face.

“Wait a minute!” one of the men said. “My brother here is ready to take your word for it. I’m not. I don’t think either of you boys is telling the truth. I know the High Priest, Eli who they claim is their father. You hold our prisoner here while I go to his house to find out.”

“You are too suspicious,” his brother said. “You think everyone is out to steal from you.”

“I’m a realist,” said the first brother. “You are the gullible one in our family.” It won't take long to find the truth. Grabbing Phinehas’ arm he said, “I’ll take this one and find out if Ely even knows him. If he doesn’t claim them both, we’ll be back and you boys will never forget the pain we inflict on you.”

When Eli responded to the knock on his door, opened it and said, “Phinehas, where’s your brother?” the man said, “Hello, Eli, there has been a misunderstanding. It looks like your sons have been telling the truth. I’ll let your brother go.”

“Where is your brother, and where are the sheep?” asked Eli before the man turned to leave.

“We left the sheep with Tola. Hophni and I went to the marketplace this afternoon to buy mother a present. This man and his brother thought we were thieves. Hophni is being held by this man’s brother. I’ll go with him to get Hophni, and we’ll bring the sheep to our fold on the way home.”

As they turned to leave, Eli said, “We have two good boys with great reputations.”

Family Discussion Questions

This story is fictional, based on the true account of the events recorded in I Samuel 2:12-36 and I Samuel 4:4-11.

Q. What words did you hear in the story that you didn’t know?

A. Give your children the meaning of each word they remember but can’t define.

Q. Did Phinehas and Hophni remind you of Phinehas and Ferb? If so, how were they alike and how were they different?

A. Possibly for alike: Both are always thinking up crazy schemes; both think they are smarter than anyone else. Possibly for different: Phinehas and Ferb don’t end up hurting anyone but Phinehas and Hophni do. Phinehas and Ferb avert disasters, Phinehas and Hophni create disasters for people. Phinehas and Ferb are cartoon characters, Phinehas and Hophni were real people that show up as adults in the Bible.

Q. Where in the Bible are Phinehas and Hophni, who were they and what is their story?

A. Phinehas and Hophni show up in I Samuel 2:12-36 and I Samuel 4:4-11. This is the story of them as adults, of the end of their lives and of what God thought of them. It is pretty interesting except for little kids who may need a short sanitized description.

Q. Were Phinehas and Hophni just precocious kids playing pranks and getting away with misdemeanors or were they doing things that God hates?

A. The character development of Phinehas and Hophni in Wicked! was taken from Proverbs 6:16-19, and the question, “What might children be doing that develops into the character descriptions in I Samuel 2 and 4 of adult Phinehas and Hophni?”

Q. Why do you think the story was titled, “Wicked!?”

A. It was not only intended to illustrate wicked behaviors children and adolescents get involved in but to comment on how in the evolution of language words originally associated with evil become words of congratulation and admiration.

Q. Can we together come up with other words that used to connote evil and now have good connotations?

A. Some common ones are “bad!” and “sick!” Your kids may be able to educate you about other words whose original deprecation have become admiration.

Q. I Samuel 2 and 4 demonstrate that God uses imperfect people to accomplish his will, but he also sometimes eliminates people who hurt his children. Can your children think of other evil people God used or evil people He eliminated?

A. God used Joseph’s brothers, the Egyptian Pharaoh, Rahab, Haman, Nebuchadnezzar, Herod, Palate and Judas Iscariot, several of whose lives ended violently.

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Copyright © 2015 by Rex Johnson
All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used with author’s permission.

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