17. They’re Off!

15. They’re Off!

??? BC

Olive Grove, Samaria, Israel

Micaiah shivered. He should have knocked that Asherah creep on his back right there in the market. Instead, he paced like a coward in the cold, hiding in an olive grove.

A few steps away, in a dent of the hill, the cobbler’s son huddled over a charcoal fire and worked an awl into a sandal. He paused the awl. “What’s happened to your bounce, Mikey? You’re like Samson when he became ‘as any other man.’”

Micaiah snorted. He closed his cloak against the chill and hugged his ribs.

Imri, Micaiah’s cousin, whittled an olive wood mezuzah.i He laid the knife in his lap. “Your hair’s still over your ears, but your stride looks way too normal.”

As he brushed flies from his nose, Micaiah’s cloak opened again to the morning chill. He tugged it tight. For several paces he let the flies collect, then shook them off again with a twitch of his head.

If he hadn’t listened to those women, he could be digging donkey dung into the roots of his father’s fig trees. But Aunt Hodiah was so tender…

No, don’t blame her. When Uncle Gera said hide in this olive grove, he should have been man enough to refuse. Micaiah huffed and pressed his lips together.

Not true either. His father and mother had helped Uncle Gera hide him. They had to be missing him, but if he went home, the Asherah thugs would trace him and wipe out his whole family.

“I want to go home.” The cobbler’s son let the sandal fall into his lap. He gazed out across the Shechem valley. “You should see the sandals my kid brother makes. The most beautiful in Samaria.”

“If I went home I’d spout off.” Micaiah’s cousin slumped his shoulders. “And Jeze—”

Thrushes and redwings scattered from the grove entrance then settled back among the trees.

Raising a finger to his lips, Micaiah knelt and peered over the ruff-cut limestone blocks that lined the terrace.

His buddies crept to his side and peeked with him.

On the path below, a pebble rattled.

Micaiah pushed the other two heads down behind the limestones. One mop of hair might go unnoticed, but three such bumps on the wall could grab the eye.

Gera’s worn brown sandal pushed into view.

Micaiah scrambled over the stones. He dodged olive trees and bounced down the slope with his buddies thumping along in his footprints.

Thud, thud, thud—the boys piled at Gera’s feet.

“I thought my Liev made noise, but you three thundering bulls will bring the queen’s assassins on our necks.”

“Sorry, Uncle Gera.” Micaiah sat up and plucked a twig from a low branch. “What happened? Did they kill another one?”

“No, no, Mikey. Good news.” Gera set a wineskin and a bag of figs on the path. He gripped each boy by the hand and hoisted him to his feet. “My friend found a place by Megiddo. One with no black tunics snooping around. You leave at sundown.”

Micaiah tossed the twig aside and yelled, “Today?” Then he ducked and glance over Gera’s shoulder.

Gera’s finger flew to his lips. “Keep your voice down. I didn’t hide you these weeks to give you up to the queen’s men.”

Micaiah scrubbed flies from his chin. “Will the Megiddo place be warm?”

Gera squeezed his eyes shut for a second. [BEAT] “My friend found a special place. You’ll like it. Fill your water skins and meet me at my grove shack an hour before sundown. Get a nap. You’ve got an all-night hike.”


With the sun high out over the sea, Micaiah and his buddies approached Uncle Gera’s grove shack. “Get a nap?” Might as well tell ….ii

Probably Gera’s friend had found them a house of limestone with a cozy fire, hidden in the hills of Megiddo near a bubbling spring. Dream on.

[But your parents are bringing extra robes and tunics.]

A group of young men lounged among the trees. Strangers, all except a boy who sold chickens in the market. Micaiah touched his hand to his mouth.

Gera rose from his bench. “I hid you in twos and threes, so what you didn’t know, you couldn’t tell.” He opened his arms. “Come. First we pray.” As the men crowded him, Gera lifted his hands. “Lord, thank you for keeping these boys safe in the groves. Please protect them on the road and in their cave.”

Micaiah twitched. His cozy house of limestone crumbled, replaced by a dark, dank cave.

Gera pointed to each man in turn. “No talking. Keep your head down and your mouth shut. Walk alone and on different sides of the path from each other, so people don’t think you’re a group.”

He tugged on Micaiah’s sleeve. “I’m sending this boy first. On the left.” Gera tapped Micaiah’s cousin on the shoulder. “Now listen up. This next fellow recites Your Word Is a Lamp. Then we send him off, and nobody thinks he’s with Mikey.” Gera slipped an arm around the cousin. “Don’t worry, son. We’ll help with the words.”

Micaiah stepped back. Space themselves with songs. Ha.

The young men shuffled their feet and one coughed. Some pursed their lips. A few nodded. Good faces. The kind he would choose for friends.

“Time to go, son.” Gera pulled Micaiah into a hug. “You’re staying alive for Liev. We’ll take care of your father’s trees.” He unfolded, wiped tears from his cheek, and tapped Micaiah’s cousin on the arm. “Okay, start the psalm.”

Micaiah’s cousin ducked his head with a sheepish grin, then he lifted his face toward the sea and recited in a clear voice. “‘Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.’”

After another squeeze from Gera, Micaiah tucked his pack behind his back and made steady strides up the ridge toward Dothan. He waved back over his shoulder.

His cousin’s voice followed. “‘Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart.’” He yelled, “Show me some bounce, man.”

Micaiah lifted his steps and tossed another wave over his shoulder.

Each time he turned his head, the little group by the shack stood waving. As he rounded a hill, the men disappeared from view, yet his cousin’s voice droned through the trees. “‘They also do no iniquity: they walk in his ways.’” His voice faded after, “‘You have commanded us to keep your precepts diligently.’”

A hawk circled far ahead in a cloudless sky, and the sun dipped a toe in the western sea.

Micaiah shifted the water skin that hung from his shoulder. When he reached Megiddo, would he still have his bounce and his song? He took a swig of wine. “Mmm…good.” He nibbled a few raisins. “Yes.” Fresh. Sweet.

As the sun submerged in the sea, stars came out of hiding, and the village of Gaba appeared on his right. Three women approached, each with a broad-bladed hoe slung over her shoulder and each leading a donkey. The twilight revealed loads of pomegranate, yellow onions, and melons.

Micaiah lowered his head and moved to the far side of the path. The women glanced at him and turned into their village path. He heaved a sigh. Uncle Gera’s method for staying alive went against his smile habit.

He enjoyed four figs one right after the other with slugs of wine. He followed them with a flatbread and a handful of raisins. Then a long drink of water. He smacked his lips. Gera’s wife knew how to pack for a hike.

Micaiah hugged himself. If only he could had someone to talk with. A quavering hoo…ho, ho, hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo floated in from his left. Micaiah cupped his hands and blew through slightly parted thumbs. Whooooh uk whooooook. The answer came back. Hoo…ho, ho. Uncle Gera never said not to talk with owls.

Micaiah flung his arms straight out and strutted. The stretch felt good.

What if a cramp stopped one of the men? Or they took a wrong turn in the dark? Or if bandits attacked?

Oh, stop. No sense worrying. They’d do what they could to stay safe, but the possibilities were too vast. “If you don’t protect us, Lord, we’re lost.”

When he passed Dothan, the bright stars of the bear and her cubs twinkled in the north. They deserved a tune, but Micaiah’s long strides jostled the pucker from his lips. Instead he sang, “Make me walk the path of your teachings. For that’s where I delight.”

Deep in his belly, raisins and figs asked for an exit. He slowed his stride, but messages from the fruit came stronger and closer together, so he left the path and felt around in the bushes. He should have collected leaves while the sun was out.

An eagle owl called oo-hu. Something scurried away, perhaps a caracal cat disturbed from the hunt.

When Micaiah held several bunches of weeds, the sound of steady strides approached. He sent a hoarse whisper. “Cousin? Did you bring something I can dig with?”


When Samson became as any other man – Judges 16:17

iMezuzah is Hebrew for doorpost and in English means the decoration on the doorpost which holds Deuteronomy 6:4–9. Whether the custom has evolved enough to consider “mezuzah” an anachronism is a matter for discussion.

ii “Get a nap?” Might as well tell ….

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