Tubal glanced at the ground. “Jerusalem.”
Above the Plains of Ammon, Israel
Elijah rubbed a hand down his beard. “Jerusalem? Couldn’t we just hang around Jabesh? Maybe see how the boys are taking care of Milkah.”
Tubal flashed a grin at Gaddi. “I’ll need your help with this.”
Gaddi scooted over and pulled Elijah into the back seat between him and Peleg. “Do you doubt your sons are taking care of their mother?”
“Well, no.” Elijah thrust his chest out. “They’re good boys. Men.”
“But still it’d be nice to check in on them.” Peleg laid his fingers across Elijah’s forearm. “It’s how we’re made.”
“You felt us move into the messenger’s time, right?” Tubal said. “So, there’s nobody you want to see in Jabesh.”
“What are you talking about?” Elijah shook his head.
Peleg gripped Elijah’s forearm. “Everybody we know is gone.”
“They’re not gone.” Elijah pried a finger from his wrist. “You saw me drop my robe to Elisha, and he stopped the river for my family to cross.
“Tubal, just drop us over the road. Show Peleg my family. My brother’s carrying Milkah in the chariot, and the boys are walking beside them. They’ll be in Tishbe in a few hours.”
Gaddi took a fresh grip on Elijah’s arm. “Do as our boy says, Tubes. Low. Close the cover, so we don’t scare anyone.”
While the chariot cruised beside the stork-filled updrafts of the river valley, Elijah and his friends leaned over the side. A camel caravan stretched from the Salt Sea to the mouth of the Jabbok. A few farmers led donkeys carrying produce, and several groups of soldiers in armor patrolled the road. No one else appeared.
“My family made good time,” Elijah said. “They must be close to Tishbe.”
Tubal turned, the reins tight in his hands. “Have you got him?”
Peleg leaned into Elijah.
Gaddi gripped his other arm. “Go ahead.”
Tubal guided the chariot above the Jabesh-Tishbe turnoff. The only traveler was a man leading a donkey loaded with melons.
Elijah frowned. “Where…?”
Tubal set the chariot down on the ridge where Elijah had told Milkah he would build her a house.
Rows and rows of well-tended vines spread on one side of the ridge, and sheep grazed the pasture on the other. But three strangers in foreign clothing sat on Elijah’s veranda, and at the far side of Milkah’s pasture, her family’s house had two new rooms.
“Let me loose.” Elijah twisted under Gaddi’s grip and bit at Peleg’s fingers. His old friends had become his enemies. “Don’t you see? Something’s wrong.”
“Let him go.” Tubal lifted Elijah’s hand and guided his steps to the ground. “We’re not in our families’ time, boy. We’re a good three hundred years later. The Assyrians moved our people out and brought others in.”
Gaddi stepped down and put a hand on the small of Elijah’s back. “It takes some getting used to.”
Peleg flexed his hands. “It helps if I pretend I’ve been asleep.”
Elijah pointed to his parent’s home below. “But where’s my father? My mother? I left them there—getting on in years, but in good health. Where’d they go?”
Tubal turned to Gaddi. “You studied this, right?”
Gaddi took a breath. “The invasions began about a hundred years after our time, boy. So, your parents are buried where they planned. No one in our generation was killed or taken captive.”
With shoulders slumped, Elijah studied what had been Milkah’s pasture and his father’s vines. Everyone he’d known was gone. He circled the chariot and team then climbed in and sat with his face in his hands.
“Look, there’s nothing here for us.” Peleg draped an arm around Elijah. “We’re supposed to show our boy the Messenger scroll in Jerusalem.”
Tubal and Gaddi climbed aboard.
Elijah spoke through his fingers. “How long to Jerusalem?” How long would it hurt not having Milkah at his side?
Tubal shook the reins, and Peleg squeezed Elijah’s knee. “We’re here.”
The rancid smell of garbage hung heavy in the air, tinged with the odor of boiled cabbage.
“Is that ready yet?” floated down from a shuttered window.
The crumbly brick walls of a narrow alley pushed in on the chariot.
Elijah sat up. “Where’s the temple?”
“No, son. That’s one thing you don’t want to see. The Babylonians knocked it down, and the miserable hut a few of our people built in its place makes men weep.” Tubal tied the team to the rail of a rickety staircase.
Several windows filled with shutters of weather-beaten wood decorated the walls. Yet, at the top of the stairs, shutters hung open on two broad windows.
“Looks like what we want is up there.” Tubal led the way up the stairs.
Elijah followed, wincing at the pain in his hip.
“In here.” At the top, Tubal pushed through a flimsy wooden door. Light from the open windows flooded the room. “Don’t worry, son. They can’t see or hear us. But try not to bump anyone.”
Three men with gray beards stood at a table. A scroll stretched in front of them. Each man dipped a turkey quill into a tiny pot of black ink and copied the words of the scroll onto a fresh parchment.
“Fascinating.” Elijah whispered. “Look how they scribe their parchments with parallel lines to keep their sentences straight.”
From a table in the corner, Tubal lifted a scroll. “Here’s what we came for.” He led Elijah down the stairs and back to the chariot.
Gaddi and Peleg stood on either side of the chariot and unrolled the scroll onto the back seat.
Elijah read the first line aloud. “The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by my messenger.”
He scanned. “Wow, this messenger says the Lord’s unhappy with us.”
He read aloud. “‘Who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appears?’ Powerful. Mmm… Oh, I like this. ‘Then they that feared the Lord spoke often one to another.’”
But he shook his head as he read the final words aloud. “Look, before the great, dreadful day of the Lord I will send you Elijah the bubbler. He’ll turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers, so I don’t strike the earth with a curse.”
He rolled the scroll up and shoved it into Tubal’s hand. “Take it back up and leave it in that room.” These men were his friends. He had to warn them. “These words are a sham. An invention. A forgery.”
“No, son.” Tubal said. “The Lord inspired these words.”
“Tubes, this messenger guy’s nuts. For starters, like I told my brother Nathan, I’m no bubbler. Look, the sky closed when I got mad at them for burning Baby Omar and told the king no more dew nor rain. Then the Lord consumed my sacrifice with a flame taller than Ahab’s chariot team. That’s not bubbler. That’s the Lord. Handling situations.” He shook Tubal’s shoulders. “Understand? Bubblers dress strange and act weird and … I’m no bubbler.”
Tubal shrugged. “You’re talking to the wrong person.”
“Slow down, boy.” Gaddi laid a hand on Elijah’s shoulder.
Elijah brushed the hand away. “Slow down? Halt. Stop this messenger guy from naming me.”
He turned toward the dark alley. “Do you know what happened when I was hiding from Jezebel?” Elijah shoved his face in front of Tubal then Gaddi then Peleg. “I’m not sure you’re ready to hear that story.”
Gaddi closed his droopy eye. “It’s okay, son. You’d be surprised at the things we hear.”
“Where were you hiding?” Peleg asked.
“Mount Horeb,” Elijah said. “Some call it Sinai.”
Tubal stepped in front of him. “Where Moses lifted the two tablets?”
“Right,” Elijah said. “The Lord asked me what I was doing there. I should have told him how Jezebel said I was dead meat.”
He gave his friends a sheepish grin. “But I took off on a rant. ‘I have been zealous for you, Lord. Everyone has forsaken the covenant. They throw down your altars and kill anyone who speaks up for you. I’m the only one left. and they’re trying to kill me.’ I blamed the entire nation.”
Elijah leaned back against the brick wall. “You don’t hear much in there about turning the heart of the fathers. Anyway, the Lord showed me an earthquake. Pieces of mountain dancing across the valley. Then a tornado. After that a huge flame.”
He pushed off from the wall and brushed brick crumbles from his robe. “The Lord’s voice was so soft. He asked again. ‘What are you doing here?’”
Elijah hung his head. “I’m ashamed to say, I treated the Lord like some deaf beggar. I spit out the very same words only louder. ‘I have been zealous for you, Lord….’”
Tubal, Gaddi, and Peleg tipped their heads toward the ground.
“So, the Lord gave up on me. Told me to anoint my replacement and go on home. I don’t know where your messenger got my name, but he’s mistaken.”
Tubal raised a hand.
Elijah pushed it down. “You know who you need for turning hearts—but he’s not available as far as I know—you need that old softie, Moses.”
“Moses!” The three heads raised.
“Look how he begged for mercy for the children of Israel. They were dancing around Aaron’s golden calf, and the Lord said. I’ll destroy them and make a great nation out of you, instead. But Moses pleaded, ‘forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out.’ A heart of compassion. My brother Nathan can quote you the entire story.”
Gaddi opened his mouth, but Elijah clamped a hand over his face. “Compassion is not in me. I’m too angry to turn anybody’s heart. Too hard in the bit. Like Aunt Millie, ‘I’m right, I know I’m right, and that settles it.’ Me—help fathers reconcile?—Not gonna happen.”
“And another thing. This messenger person thinks I’m going to turn children?” Elijah stomped down the alley and back. “My kids think I’m a murderer. They love me and wish it wasn’t so. But they’re convinced I called fire down on a hundred soldier boys just to watch them turn to cinder. My own mother…” He wiped a tear from his eye.
Tubal swallowed hard. “I … I get what you’re saying, boy. But the messenger names you.”
Elijah waved toward the door at the top of the rickety stairs. “Forget the messenger. Let’s slide this wagon back into Milkah’s time and drop in on Tishbe for a moment.”
He stared off at the end of the alley. “I know. I know. You’ve got some place you want to—” He whirled on his friends. “How come Gaddi’s eye still droops?”
“Malachi” is Hebrew for “my messenger” – Malachi 1:1
“miserable hut… makes men weep” – Ezra 3:12-14
“Bubbler” – Malachi 4:5 the Hebrew root of “prophet” is “to bubble.”
“Mount Horeb,” Elijah said. “Some call it Sinai.” – Exodus 31-33. Deuteronomy 9:13-14
“blamed the entire nation” – Romans 11:1-4
“blot me out.” – Exodus 32:32-33
“called fire down on a hundred soldier boys” – 2 King 1