And I Will Make Thy Name Great
by Louis Evans
Abraham, the potter’s son, was sweeping out the workshop late one night, the air hot, the sweat beading on his brow, the kiln still radiating the baking heat it had absorbed over the course of the day.
This was when he heard the voice.
Abraham looked around.
No source of the voice was apparent. No person had stepped into the shed, nor were the flames of a djinn visible. Four copies of the idol of Suen, god of the moon and chief among gods, were cooling on the shelf opposite the kiln, and sometimes Suen spoke to believers, but the idols were not yet consecrated and certainly could not host the presence of the god. No raven perched in the workshop’s eaves, croaking out an imitation of speech. Abraham was baffled.
“Boy! You, boy!”
Abraham spun around and pointed to his chest with an exaggerated flourish.
“Me?” he asked the empty room.
“Yes, you! Abraham, son of Terah!”
“Who are you?”
“I am the Lord your G-d, creator of the universe, ruler of heaven and earth, and my name is—”
And it seemed to Abraham that the voice at this time spoke a name, a name of majesty and awe, but Abraham did not speak that name again for all of his days.
Abraham was no priest or initiate but he knew how to conduct himself in the presence of a god and so he prostrated himself on the floor, grateful that he had nearly finished sweeping when the Lord spoke to him, so that he would not get his face dirty.
“Yes, Lord?” asked Abraham, son of Terah the potter, of the city of Haran.
And the unnamable Lord spoke to Abraham, saying,
Go from thy country, thy people and thy father’s home
to the land I will show thee.
I will make of thee a great nation,
and I will bless thee.
Thou wilt be a blessing, and
I will make thy name great.
Abraham remained prostrate on the floor, and he gave thanks that he was Abraham, son of Terah the potter, and that his father had taught him that the small tradesman is his own man, equal among all the lords of all the Earth, and that greatness may inspire respect but it cannot compel obeisance. And Abraham the potter’s son spake to the Lord, saying, “No, thank you.”
Abraham considered lifting his head just ever so slightly to see what was happening, but ultimately decided against it.
When the voice came again, it seemed slightly less confident.
“No, thank you,” said Abraham to the Lord his G-d, creator of the Universe, ruler of Heaven and Earth, and then he added “my Lord,” just in case it was necessary.
And once more the Lord spoke to Abraham, saying, “Are you sure you understood me just then?”
Abraham nodded. “Yes, O Lord. I understood your offer. You are most gracious, but no thank you.”
And the Lord spoke unto Abraham, saying, “but I really think perhaps you didn’t understand me just then.”
And the Lord gave unto Abraham a vision of his life as Patriarch. A vision of wives and servants; of many large tents and retainers; of caravans of camels and troops of sons and grandsons, following him through the desert from oasis to oasis; of descendants as numerous as the stars. And the Lord caused to pass before Abraham the likenesses of countless men and women who reached out to him, calling him father, patriarch, progenitor, and Abraham heard his name spoken by men and women from the ages to come, blessing each other in his name and passing on his birthright, and truly these generations were as numberless as the stars in the sky.
And it was a mighty vision, and Abraham was sorely tempted.
But then he thought of Sarai, his betrothed, and the life they meant to live in Haran, and the family of reasonable size that they would raise in his father’s household. And he thought of his inheritance, a small business of good reputation in the local community, which he would squander if, like his father, he moved from city to city.
And, also, Abraham had a sneaking suspicion that if the Lord had wanted him to go anywhere particularly pleasant or even reasonably convenient, the Lord probably would have referred to that specific place by name, rather than pussyfooting around it with all of that “to a land that I will show you” nonsense.
And so Abraham, still prostrate on the floor, said unto the Lord for a third time, “No thank you.”
“Well,” said the Lord his G-d, Creator of the Universe, Ruler of Heaven and Earth, whose name may not be spoken. “If it’s going to be like that, then fine.”
And the presence of the Lord departed, and Abraham the potter’s son was alone in the workshop, and he stood up and finished the sweeping.
And Abraham married Sarai and had a regular number of children, regardless of what anyone had thought about her infertility, and inherited his father’s business, and lived as a potter in the city of Haran for all of his days.
And his children had children, and those children had children, and soon enough none knew that they were descended from Abraham son of Terah. And they spread out in the way that descendants do, moving for jobs or spouses and that sort of thing, but not, to choose an example completely at random, moving to a foreign dynasty and being enslaved for centuries and following a pillar of fire through a desert or anything noteworthy like that.
And so it was years later that one of those descendants was David, the shepherd boy, living in the hills of Canaan.
Saul was king in Canaan in those days, and the Philistines made war upon Canaan, and in the Valley of Elah the two armies were encamped. And the Philistines sent forth the giant Goliath, who challenged the Canaanites to single combat, but none would face him.
Meanwhile David was up in the hills, tending to the sheep, which meant, you know, hanging out on a hill. Nailing the occasional wolf with his slingshot. Shepherd stuff.
And the Lord spake to David, saying, “Shepherd boy!” And after some low comedy around introductions and mysterious voices and whatnot, the Lord made his pitch, and He spake to David, saying,
Go from thy hillside, down into the valley
and smite the Philistine with your sling stone.
I will make of thee a great king,
and I will bless thy nation.
Thou wilt be a blessing, and
I will make thy name great.
“Let me get this straight,” said David.
“Take your time,” said the Lord, whose words were more patient than His tone of voice.
“You want me, a full-time shepherd, part-time harpist, to go down into the valley.”
“Where the armies are fighting.”
“And you want me to go kill a giant with, basically, a pebble.”
“And in exchange for this suicide mission you are offering . . . pretty much just fame?”
And the Lord could tell which way this conversation was going, and so He made to pass before David a vision of the life of a king. A vision of battle and glory, of the conquest of Jerusalem, city of milk and honey, fortress of the Jebusites. A vision of countless wives and countless concubines; of rich tributes, a palace of cedar, chests of gold and treasures of jewels; of a great temple of the Lord erected in gleaming marble; of steles bearing his name and the name of his house; of conquests in his name; of proud sons of noble bearing; of a dynasty for the ages.
And David was a young boy, thrilled by glory and adventure, and sorely tempted. But he remembered the sheep, and the quiet days he had spent on the hillside, and he spoke to the Lord, saying, “nah.”
For unlike a potter’s son, who must learn to talk to customers, a shepherd boy talks mostly to his sheep and can easily grow up into a real asshole.
“Ugh,” said the Lord his G-d, Creator of the Universe, Ruler of Heaven and Earth, and He left.
And David stayed on the hill with his sheep, and the armies of the Philistines and the Canaanites came to a diplomatic agreement that nobody really liked, but at least it avoided open bloodshed. And Goliath did not die in battle, yet still he died shortly thereafter, of congestive heart failure. For the years are not kind to a man who is six cubits tall.
And in the years that followed the land was conquered repeatedly, by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Achaemenids, Hellenes, Seleucids, and at last the Romans from across the sea, for everyone wants a piece of the land called Palestine. Truly it is God’s own country.
But only in the sense that it is a beautiful land and pleasant to reside there. Not in any sort of larger, theopolitical kind of way.
In those days Herod was king in Palestine, because you can’t keep a bad guy down, even if you wind up as hard as you can and dickpunch the prime timeline right in the Patriarchs. And in those days was born Yeshua, son of Joseph, who grew up to become a carpenter.
One warm afternoon Yeshua was in his workshop, planing a plank of wood, and the Lord came to Yeshua, saying, “Yeshua, son of Joseph!”
“Yes?” said Yeshua, and he continued planing the timber with iron and rule, because he was a pretty laid back guy and so skipped past the whole “a mysterious voice is addressing me by name, how alarming” stage of things.
And the Lord, heartened by this attitude, spake unto Yeshua of Bethlehem, son of Joseph, saying,
Go up to Jerusalem, home of King Herod
Preach there a new and godly faith
I will make of thee a great prophet,
and I will bless thy teachings.
Thou wilt be a blessing, and
I will make thy name great.
And Yeshua continued planing for a few more strokes, until the Lord despaired of his ever replying. Whereupon Yeshua spoke unto the Lord his G-d, and he said,
“No, I don’t think it’s for me.”
“Prophecy, religious leadership. It’s harder than it sounds to set people on the right path. Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”
“Oh, that’s clever. You make that one up yourself?”
Yeshua was not listening to the sarcasm of the Lord. Instead he was rubbing his hand contemplatively on his beard.
“But out of the timber of, you know, regular timber, I’ve made some pretty great chairs.”
“I offer you the greatest role in all of human history, founder of the world’s most populous religion, and you’re going to pass on that because you prefer . . . chairs.”
“Have you ever made a really good chair, O Lord?”
“I am the Lord your God, ruler of the universe, maker of all things visible and invisible!”
Yeshua finished planing the wood. He brushed away the shavings with a rag and took out a chisel, and began to notch the plank by hand.
“Nevertheless,” said the Lord, “I admit I haven’t done much with chairs. Personally. As such.”
“You give a man the first good chair of his life and watch him sit down in it and you’ll see a face with more bliss than you thought possible. When people hear preaching they mostly just end up feeling guilty.”
And the Lord felt that He had well and truly lost control of the discussion at this point, and so He caused to pass before Yeshua a vision of his ministry: of faithful disciples hanging on his every word; of throngs of seekers kneeling at his feet; of miracles of the raising of the dead and the multiplication of loaves and fishes; of turning out the great temple of Zeus in Jerusalem and the moneychangers there; of a new Church named after his teaching; of missionaries, monks, bishops, popes, priests, nuns; of songs and sculpture and masterpieces; of men and women speaking in a thousand tongues always to praise his name and to give each other solace.
And Yeshua saw that there was much good he could do, yet he suspected that much evil might come of it as well. And he saw the crosses that the faithful would wear, and he thought of the field in Golgotha where the Roman legions executed condemned criminals by means of crucifixion, and he thought, when you got down to it in the end, a cross was a pretty unwholesome use of wood.
Compared to a chair.
And Yeshua opened his eyes from the vision and the Lord his God saw his expression and was like, “Don’t even bother to tell me, I get it,” and so the Lord disappeared.
And Yeshua, son of Joseph, lived to a ripe old age, and married a nice Jewish girl named Mary—as well over fifty percent of women in the area were named at the time—and had children, and made a series of very well regarded chairs, so that wealthy Roman citizens said if you needed some furniture in Palestine you could do no better than going to Bethlehem.
And the years turned.
And faiths rose and fell. And the Emperor converted to Mithraism and the next Emperor converted to Platonism and a third Emperor married a horse, and the barbarians rose in the West and the Persians and Arabs rose in the East and the Empire fell, not all at once but bit by bit, like a tablecloth being yanked off the edge of the table by a cat over the course of centuries.
And one day in Aachen, the city whose name sounds like a sneeze, there was a young boy named Charles, the mayor’s son, sitting out in the garden.
And the Lord came to Charles and said,
Claim thou the kingdom thy father will leave you
Take up thy sword and thy father’s throne
I will make of thee a great king,
and I will bless thy nation.
Thou wilt be a legend, and
I will make thy name great.
But Charles knew what his father Pepin had done to young Childeric, first making him king of the Franks with many expansive promises, and then later having Childeric decapitated and claiming the throne for himself. And so Charles had learned the lesson that only the wise learn, which is to look every gift horse in the mouth, with advanced dental tools if necessary.
And so Charles spoke to the Lord, saying, “what precisely must I do?”
And the Lord replied to Charles with the voice of one who is waving a hand about idly, as if to say, “oh, it’s nothing”, and he spake to Charles, saying,
“Just poison your brother, assume the throne, conquer Saxony, Bavaria, the Kingdom of the Lombards, bits of Spain, that sort of thing.”
“And what will you give me?”
“I will increase your lands and your fiefdoms, and I will cause you to be acclaimed Emperor, in the temples of, ugh, Odin and Jupiter—”
When the Lord spoke the name of these gods he did so with resentful disdain, and there followed, at this time, the unmistakable sound of an unseen mouth violently grinding invisible teeth.
“—and I will make your name so great that everyone will stick the word “great” right onto the end of your name and leave it there!”
And in that time and that place, where all the barbarians spoke Latin and the Romans spoke mostly Greek, the offer meant that Charles would always be known as Carolus Magnus, or Charlamagne.
And the boy who could be Charlamagne thought about this offer, and the Lord did not need to make a vision pass before him, because it did so all on its own. A vision of armies, of serried ranks of cavalry, of castles besieged, of an Imperial coronation in the temple of Jupiter in Rome, of tapestries to his glory and manuscripts recounting his deeds, of endless tributes from the Slavs and envoys from the Saracens. And all this seemed pretty great to Charles.
But then he thought about how his father was never home, always off conquering this or subduing that, and how the crown of the Franks weighed upon him as the yoke upon the oxen, and Charles the First shook his head at the Lord, and said, “No thank you, I think I’ll focus on internal improvements and legal reform.”
And the Lord left, though he could be heard to mutter “Are you kidding Me,” as he did so.
And Charles the First ascended to his father’s throne and was promptly poisoned by his brother Carloman instead of the other way around.
And the Frankish kingdom grew and it shrank, and the Spanish and Lombard kingdoms grew and they shrank, and Kings and peoples did an elaborate stochastic dance for centuries, and the Mongols arrived and then left for some reason, and there were never any Crusades, as the kings of the West saw no particular reason to invade a bit of the eastern Mediterranean which had been captured by the Turks, and all the kingdoms bore the names of duchies or principalities you have never heard of. And boats got better and some asshole “discovered” the “New World”, which is really just the leftmost bit of the same old world if you think about it, and the kings of the West were pretty terrible about the whole thing, with colonies and smallpox and so forth, and the lands of the New World became their own nations, like Vespuccia and Montreal and Texas.
And in the isle of Brittania in the North Sea, where they worship the god with horns of a stag, one man invented the machine loom and another one invented the steam engine, and all of a sudden the Industrial Revolution was on like Donkey Kong.
And the peasants left the farms and came to the cities and worked in factories for pittances, and in place of lords and serfs there were capitalists and laborers, and the workers’ lives were bitter with harsh labor with steel and concrete and all sorts of work in machinery, and in all their harsh labor the bosses worked them ruthlessly.
And in this age was born Karl, son of Heinrich Marx the lawyer, of the line of Abraham and David, though obviously nobody had ever heard of Abraham or David, and he grew up in Trier in Prussia.
And Karl went to college in Bonn, where he wished to study philosophy and his father wished him to study law and they exchanged angry letters about it often, by the excellent Prussian postal service, because in every Prussia in every timeline the mail always comes on time.
And one night while Karl was composing an especially impassioned letter to his father, the Lord came to Karl Marx and He spake, saying,
Go down to Berlin, crown jewel of Prussia
Join thou the Communist Party there,
I will make of thee a great writer,
and I will bless thy Party.
Thou wilt found an empire, and
I will make thy name great.
And Karl, who had been raised by rationalists and by liberal humanists spake, saying, “Am I hallucinating?”
And the Lord spake to Karl and said, “Listen, kid, you’re not my first choice either but we can at least be civil about it. I Am That I Am, the Lord thy G-d, unnamed and unnamable.”
And Karl said, “I am pretty sure that gods don’t exist, and that religion is the opiate of the masses, and that Allfather Odin is just a myth.”
And the Lord said, “Got it in one, Karl, but I am the real deal.”
And Karl said, “but if you exist, Lord, then why not Odin? Or Athena? Or Karya, the supreme god of the Turks? Or—”
And the Lord said, “listen, we’re getting a little off topic, here, let’s just skip straight to the vision. Yes? Good?”
And before Karl could reply, the Lord caused to pass before his eyes a vision of the future, driven by the iron laws of dialectical materialism; of the springtime revolutions in Berlin and Paris and Kyiv and Volgograd; of years of underground preaching and secret meetings and pamphlets; of general strikes and mass uprisings, of the fall of the Tartar Czar and the Chinese Emperor; of the dictatorship of the proletariat; of the industrialization of the great Eurasian hinterland; of rebels in Latin America and Africa and Indochina; and of countless men and women of all races and all stations, arguing with one another, brandishing books to one another, and on each cover of the book his name; of great Premiers and Potentates standing before the world on electrotelemagnetic screens and proclaiming the gospel of Marxism to the planet.
And Karl was a freshman in college, so he was not exactly surprised to see himself become a figure of world-historical import but still it felt pretty nice.
But he thought about those revolutions, and the years spent in hiding, being dragged off and tortured by secret police, and the years spent in power, having other people dragged off and tortured by secret police, and it felt a little, you know, time is a flat circle, and not at all like the glorious future of equality of which he had dreamed.
So Karl said “No, thank you” to the Lord, who disappeared in a sigh of disappointment but also relief, for, frankly, He had had pretty mixed feelings from the jump about getting involved with organized atheism.
And Karl got his law degree, and did some pro bono work for labor organizations, but never really got involved in radical journalism. And there were workers revolts and peasant revolts and nationalist revolts and they all had their own philosophies and names. And the nineteenth century begat the twentieth century, and there was a war to end all wars, and then another war after that, and plenty of genocides, though none of the Jews, who had never existed in the first place, and the radio sang and the atom split and the great powers glared at each other and divvied up the globe and then the globe decided to undivvy itself, which was pretty awkward, and then came some moon landings and a computer printed HELLO, WORLD!, and there was Jimi Hendrix.
And in the fullness of time the Lord came to me, across the ocean and across a continent from Prussia, in the city of Yerba Buena, in the state of Alta California, in the Republic of Greater Texas, and he spake unto me, saying, “hey kid, wanna be huge on Twitter?”
“Not really,” I said.
And the Lord made to pass before my eyes a vision of likes and retweets and a verified checkmark; and of the social media thinkfluencers who would follow me. And I spake to the Lord, saying, “Honestly that whole lifestyle seems like a hot mess, thanks anyway.”
And the Lord sighed, saying, “yeah, alright,” and made as if to depart.
And I spake unto the Lord, saying “hey, buddy, you seem beat. Come, stay with me. Eat of my pizza. Tell me all about it.”
And the Lord told unto me the story I have just now related, from the patriarch without a patrimony to the abdicated atheist, to my own day.
And I thought, you know, maybe this has to do with His issues? An unnamed G-d obsessed with making someone else’s name great?
But I didn’t bring it up, because it seemed like the Lord was having a hard day.
“Hey, O Lord,” said I, “wanna hang out for a bit and watch the Great Brittania Bake-off on Netflix?”
And the Lord G-d, Ruler of the Universe, Creator of Heaven and Earth, spake, saying, “yeah, I’d like that a lot.”
And so we did. And no names were made great, but pastries certainly were.
Author’s note: Those of you reading the text of this story may notice that when written, the word “G-d” is given with a hyphen in the place of the vowel. This style derives from a commandment that forbids Jews to erase the name of G-d. In order to avoid the written name of G-d ever being lost, some Jews are very careful to never write it out at all. On the other hand, if you’re listening to this podcast, you heard the word “G-d” quite normally. I asked a rabbi about it, and she told me the “impermanence of spoken words is also holy enough to hold the divine”. I thought that was quite beautiful.
About the Author
Louis Evans’s bar mitzvah reading was Parshat Korach. G-d kills a lot of people in that story, with plagues and fire, but he read the bit where the Lord sends miraculous life. Louis’s work has appeared in Nature: Futures, Analog SF&F, Interzone and many more. He’s online at evanslouis.com and on twitter @louisevanswrite. He’s praying for peace and justice soon and forever, in Ukraine and all around our world.
About the Narrator
Kevin M. Hayes has been reading science fiction since he was old enough to read, and has been writing it for almost as long. He is active in the Pittsburgh SFF organization, Parsec and helps put on Confluence, a genre fiction conference every year. He has had stories published in Six from Parsec and Triangulation as well as TV Gods and most recently in The Realm Beyond. He has narrated other stories for Pseudopod and, amazingly, has also published a few limericks.
He lives in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania with the love of his life, some of her children and all of her cats.