What do you want, Lord?
“Rescue the perishing. If you hold back—if you say they’re none of your business, doesn’t the one who ponders hearts see? He who holds your life in his hand, doesn’t he know?”
20. A Time to Mourn
Gera’s Courtyard, Samaria City, Samaria, Israel
Obadiah sat with Gera at the base of the ladder. He held the toddler, and Gera the crawler.i Hodiah and Keren sat nearby, and Obadiah’s guards formed a loose semi-circle around the family.
The courtyard hummedii with greetings and condolences.
From near the gate came the scratchy voice of old Jamin, the elder from Shechem. “‘There’s a time to mourn and a time to dance,’ don’t you know?” He rested his wrinkled hands and full, white beard on the top of a long, stout cane andiii peered between mourners.iv
Obadiah handed the baby to Hodiah and stood. The few times he’d heard old Jamin speak during meetings of the Seventy, elders had nodded in agreement. Why was he here?
The crowd opened for Jamin as he stumped behind his cane. When he reached Obadiah, he tipped his head toward Gera’s little family. “This is ‘a time to mourn,’ and friends should not grieve alone.”
Gera made as if to rise, but old Jamin lifted a palm. “Don’t get up, young man. I came to mourn your son and to speak to the king’s man.”
Gera relaxed. “We’re honored.”
Jamin lowered his voice and turned to Obadiah. “It’s an invasion, don’t you know?”
Obadiah gripped one hand with the other behind his back and checked the courtyard for eavesdropping eyes and ears. “Invasion?”
Jamin leaned in. “You’re wondering how much to consult with this old geezer. We’ve been invaded by agents from King Ethbaal. Tell me, do those who whisper of Asherah agents killing the Lord’s bubblers go mute when the king’s man appears?”
Obadiah spoke into Jamin’s ear. “You heard what happened in Beitshan?”
The elder flapped a hand but kept his voice low. “Beitshan, Jabesh, Akko, Ramoth, the villages of Jair.” He slashed a hand toward Gera. “This good man’s son right here in our capital. The queen murders those who speak for the Lord wherever she wishes, don’t you know?” Old Jamin drew up straight behind his cane. “Bubblers hide in hedgerows. Spouters of truth. Good men who can’t—who won’t—close their mouths against evil in high places. Children of my friends. They starve or die at the hand of the queen.”
Obadiah glanced around. “And how many more will refuse to keep quiet?”
Jamin tipped his cane forward and jabbed his finger against Obadiah’s chest. “That’s what the queen is asking, young man. And her thugs will hunt them down.”
A child started to rolled off Gera’s lap.
Obadiah lifted the toddler to his shoulder. Did the ancient elder grasp logistics? “I’ve got six guards. Should I send three to protect bubblers in Akko and three to Ramoth?”
The old man’s coal-black eyes flashed. “You’re asking the wrong question, don’t you know?”
Obadiah rocked from foot to foot. “Some ask if all who contend against evil are inspired by the Lord.”
“And I ask if their words agree with our ancient teachings.” Jamin patted Obadiah’s hand. “Take heart, young man. The Lord has not abandoned us. Our Moses will awaken.” Then he stumped across the courtyard.
Rubbing his chest where Jamin’s finger had jabbed, Obadiah shrugged. Moses? The elder from Shechem was too quick to applaud his own melodrama.
Obadiah set the toddler’s feet on the ground and let him cling to his fingertips.
“Gera?” A man called from the gate.
“Over here.” Gera stood.
A man in the mottled gray cloak of a farmer hurried through. “It’s my uncle Caleb from Nakrab. He’s come to see your, um, guest.” He lowered his voice. “And he’s scared.” Before Gera could respond, the farmer faced Obadiah. “You’re the king’s man, aren’t you? We’ve heard so much about you. You’ve got to help my uncle. He’s from my mother’s side, and he’s frantic.”
Obadiah flicked his eyes toward the gate then mouthed to Gera, “Where can I hide?”
Gera gave Obadiah’s wrist a light rap. He set the crawler in Keren’s free arm and stood. “The king’s man will be glad to help. Bring your uncle in.”
“Oh, he can’t come in. He’s afraid he’ll interrupt. So terrible what happened to Liev.” The farmer stared into Obadiah’s eyes. “You’ll help, won’t you?”
What’s going on, Lord? Obadiah searched the man’s face.
The farmer jerked Obadiah’s arm toward the gate. “Please hurry. My uncle is . . . nervous.” At the last second, Obadiah latched onto Gera’s sleeve and dragged him along.
Words flowed from his captor. “We love my uncle, but he talks. I had to hide him at the back of the house.” He pulled the gate open and led Obadiah through. “I didn’t know who might hear him and… and misunderstand.”
He pushed through the five rows of olive trees to the path and addressed the trunk of the ancient oak tree. “I brought the king’s man. This is my Uncle Caleb from Nakrab.”
A shoulder covered in a dark gray robe came out from behind the oak. Uncle Caleb peeked around the bark and edged aside his dark gray scarf to show wrinkles and straight gray hair. He stood the same height as Gera. But instead of Gera’s cheerful grin, he wore a deep frown, and his eyes sagged in puffy red rings.
“Is this the king’s man?” He shrank toward the oak trunk, his arms tight to his sides.
Gera took a firm grip on Obadiah’s elbow. There would be no escape.
The farmer sighed and stroked his uncle’s arm. “Yes, uncle. Obadiah runs the king’s olive groves. He came to mourn Liev.”
Gera pointed to the path through the trees. “Would you like to see his royal chariot?”
The uncle heaved a sigh. “No. No. Too many people.” He captured Obadiah with his arms around his waist. “You’re who they say you are. I can tell.”
Obadiah brushed at the uncle’s arms as if it they were long cockroaches. Yet, the uncle held firm and gazed deep into his face. “Please, sir. Is it true what the queen’s men did to the children in Beitshan?” His grip tightened.
Obadiah leaned away from the man. This frail person was going to come out with a story like Hiel’s in Jericho. A nephew or husband or cousin in danger.
“Pardon me, sir.” He pried the uncle’s arms from his waist and moved the man’s hands to the farmer’s arm. “How can I help you?”
“And in Akko? In Jair? In Jabesh?”
“What is it you need, my friend?”
“Because my…” he peeked up and down the path. “… my son says the most terrible things about the Moloch’s and the queen’s brothels. He won’t be quiet. And I’m afraid for him.”
“Excuse me a moment, sir. Gera, come here.” While the farmer held his uncle beside the oak tree, Obadiah pulled Gera up the path.
Gera’s feet shuffled along.
Obadiah clasped both Gera’s arms. “I can’t do this. That poor man thinks the king’s man can make the queen’s men go away, and I don’t have that power.” He dropped his arms to his sides.
Gera took slow, even breaths.
In. Out. In. Out.
Then he squeezed Obadiah’s forearms. “Look at the man, Biah. He knows you can’t make Jezebel’s enforcers disappear. But he doesn’t know if you or the Lord or anybody hears. Or cares. What he needs from the king’s man is hope.”
While two dozen conversations buzzed from the courtyard, a deep blue sky shone through the leaves, and from farther up the path a graceful prinia trilled a rolling breep-breep, breep-breep.
“Okay, Lord, slow me down. Straighten me out.” Obadiah squared his shoulders and returned Gera’s stare. “I can do this.”
Gera punched him in the chest and escorted him back to the oak.
The uncle covered his mouth. He hadn’t gone to pieces. Yet.
Obadiah approached and hovered a hand over the man. “Thank you for waiting. Sir, ‘the Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a hiding place in times of trouble.’”
The uncle blinked.
Obadiah let his hand settle on the man’s shoulder. “King David said those words, and he knew trouble. You are not alone. Important friends are working on a… a place. To hide your… I’m not at liberty to say more. You understand, secrecy is…”
The uncle clasped his hands under his chin and faced Obadiah. “Oh, I understand, sir. I do. And with all you’ve got on you, I’m so grateful to have the king’s man looking into this for us. I’m sure everything will be all right.”
The farmer tightened his arm around his uncle. “I’m putting you in our spare room, so you don’t have to climb that path back to Nakrab in the dark. Come. We have enough soup left for a cup or two.” With the back of his hand, he shooedv Obadiah and Gera toward the courtyard.
Gera watched the farmer and his uncle disappear around a bend in the path. “Did you catch where the uncle’s son lives?”
“Didn’t ask. We’ve got to find a place to hide people.”
A time to mourn – Ecclesiastes 3:4
Kidnappers – Exodus 21:16
Why do you hide yourself? – Psalm 10:1
Deliver the weak – Psalm 82:3-4
Gera’s Courtyard, Samaria City, Samaria, Israel
Obadiah sat next to Gera. “How long did Liev manage olive groves?”
Gera pursed his lips. “Mmm… he worked the groves with me for six years.”
Obadiah turned to Zak. “You know, if Liev found woolly worm or black scale, he showed us. He never hid a problem. Wanted things to be right.”
“That’s Liev,” Zak said.
Keren gave a soft moan and released the child in her lap.
The little one slid off and toddled straight to Obadiah, who nestled him against his shoulder. “Sometimes Liev led me far outside the grove—whether or not I wanted to go—to a hole where he buried diseased fruit he’d pulled off the trees. Liev was incapable of hiding a problem. He put everything out in plain sight.”
Gera lifted his chin toward Hodiah. “He even told his mother if there was too much salt in the stew, didn’t he, dear? That boy couldn’t hold back.”
“Our Liev has a way of letting the truth bubble out.” Liev’s mother squeezed Keren’s wrist. “We can talk as if he’s still with us if we want to, dear.”
Her face contorted in pain, Keren said, “Yes, we can. And I know how it happened.”
Obadiah leaned toward the two women. Until this moment, Keren had stirred only to tend to her children or to hug a friend. She stuck close to her mother-in-law, her cheeks wet from weeping, her skin blotchy, eyes puffy. Holding back tears that would flow if she didn’t have two babies to care for. [Tasha]vi
She locked eyes with Liev’s mother and father.
When Gera blinked, Keren sat bolt upright. “I need to say this. The day before—” A sniffle stopped her. With a haggard countenance and a hand under the low bump that sheltered her third child, she shifted on the goatskin, took a breath, and began in a stronger tone. “The day before the queen’s men…”
Obadiah scanned the remaining crowd. This girl was putting her family in danger. Compared to her normal dulcet tones, the new, loud Keren turned heads and raised eyebrows. Her anguished voice washed over the courtyard like a wave. Chatter in the almost empty courtyard ceased. Guests tapped each other on the arm. Heads turned.
Obadiah put a hand on Gera’s wrist and held it there. His friend must be torn between pride in his daughter-in-law and fear of the queen.
Gera and Hodiah beamed at Keren. Spies or no spies, she was past warning.
Still cradling a baby in her arms, Keren set her jaw and raised her voice another notch, each word distinct and clear. “The day before the queen’s men killed my husband, it bubbled out of Liev and his friends about how the Lord hates Asherah.” She hiccupped. “Those boys were quoting Moses about smashing idols.”
She glanced around the courtyard, pausing at faces. “They may have been joking around, but when my Liev saw that poor girl in the dirt… ” She wiped her nose. “He couldn’t hold back. He spouted off, like Liev does.” She beamed at her mother-in-law.
“That’s our boy.” Hodiah’s neck flushed. Her voice had risen. Perhaps higher than she intended. She ducked and glanced around. Then she pursed her lips and shook her head, sat up wide-eyed, and spoke more loudly than before. “Opens his mouth and spouts truth.”
“Truth.” The word drifted from the thinning crowd. People glanced around. Then lowered their eyes.
Obadiah rose from the goatskin.
Heads in the crowd turned to him. Someone coughed. A bluethroat sang from an olive tree beyond the gate.
He handed a baby to Hodiah. Liev’s widow had given a grand speech. If she would let it rest, their family might live through the week. Perhaps he could steer them to a safer tone.
Keren raised her chin. “I’m not done talking, Uncle Biah.”
Obadiah glanced from Keren to Gera. “Not . . . not done?”
Obadiah sat at the base of the ladder. The younger generation used to respect their elders.
Keren rocked the baby. “Look, Uncle Biah, our perfect hatred of Jezebel didn’t keep the queen’s thugs from killing my Liev. If you suspected he would run into killers, you would have sent guards to protect him. But your six guards can’t cover all the bubblers.”
She pulled the baby up to her shoulder. “We’re not strong enough to kick Jezebel out, but we can help people. So, when the Lord’s man wakes up and gets people organized, we can protect good men. Men like my Liev.”
Gera leaned over and whispered, “Reminds me of Deborah calling out Barak.”
Barak! I’m no general, and young Keren’s no prophetess. As Obadiah glared into the distance, Zak spoke at his elbow. “Someone to see you, sir.”
Obadiah narrowed his eyes. He’d been squelched by young Keren, and Zak was intruding. “Well?” Obadiah flung words at him. “What is it?”
Zak backed away.
The fishmonger from Gibbethon shuffled across the courtyard, the basket swinging from his shoulder with the rhythm of his call. “Fish. Fresh fish.” He turned, winked, and faded from view.
Old Jamin, the elder from Shechem, stood in the fishmonger’s place. As usual, he rested his chin on the top of his stout cane. “A cave, young man. Hide people in a cave.”
Smashing idols – Deuteronomy 12:3
Perfect hatred – Psalm 139:22
Deborah and Barak – Judges 4 & 5
Hiding in caves from the Midianites – Judges 6:2
David in the Cave of Adullam – 1 Samuel 22:1
iTasha – They’re walking, but still called babies? Do they have names? How old are they? They could add more to the scenes with any simple cute baby things.
iiTasha – This immediately put a positive image in my head, but obviously this is a sad affair with the condolences.
iii[The courtyard hummed with greetings and condolences. From near the gate came the scratchy voice of old Jamin. “‘There’s a time to mourn and a time to dance,’ don’t you know?”***Love this guy.:)*** The elder from Shechem peered between mourners across the courtyard. He rested his hands, wrinkles, and full, white beard on the top of a long, stout cane.***You know I love commas, but how about, “He rested his hands, wrinkles, and full white beard on the top of a long stout cane.”***]
ivShanna What exactly is resting on the cane?
vShanna – This action seems a little dismissive. Could the farmer perhaps wave or nod?
viTasha – [This sentence could be adjusted. As a mother of four, there’s often plenty of tears while caring for babies. 😉 Maybe she’s using the babies as a distraction? Or letting the tears flow EVEN while caring for babies? The babies may have made her grief worse knowing they’d never remember their dad.]