40. Clowns

42. Bring in the Clowns (for Jehoshaphat)

866 BC

The Threshing Floor, Samaria City, Israel

1 Kings 22

Obadiah followed the smell of roasting mutton and beef as he climbed the gentle rise to the threshing floor. At what point in the party would Ahab make his move?

Pausing at the enormous gate posts, Obadiah raised an appreciative nose toward the cooks who crouched by their baking cones near the center of the plaza. Hmm… onions, garlic, peppers. With Zak and other guards crowding him, he turned and bowed toward the two kings on marble chairs under their canopy next to the gate post. King Ahab wore a tunic and robe of solid blue with a matching turban rolled high on his head. King Jehoshaphat had on similar garb but in purple.

In the buzz of dozens of conversations, Zak put his mouth close to Obadiah’s ear. “Would you like to sit, sir?” He nodded toward the pile of goatskins by the hitching rail. Jehu and a cluster of chariot captains sat on skins directly in front of the two kings under their canopy. Old don’t-you-know Jamin sat with several elders. Yet most guests stood chatting in groups of three or four, sipping from goblets and nibbling on finger foods.

Obadiah shook his head. “I’ll mingle. Hot, fresh bread, if you spot some, please.” He lifted a cup of red wine and three small pieces of strong-smelling white cheese from the tray of a passing server. “Thank you.”

He stood to the right of the seated kings, where he could see Ahab’s face. Three years had gone by with no war, primarily because Ahab didn’t have enough money and weapons to wage a proper battle. He intended this feast for Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, to provide men and materiel. Obadiah grimaced. Entirely unnecessary if Ahab had relieved Ben-Hadad of his head.

Ahab raised his voice to Jehu, seated on a skin directly in front of him. “Moses gave Ramoth to the tribe of Gad, but Ben-Hadad stole it. And here we sit doing nothing to take it back.”

Ah, the pitch.

Obadiah sucked in a breath. Not that Jehoshaphat required a pitch. He had already accepted Ahab’s daughter Athaliah as bride for his son Jehoram. What Jehoshaphat needed was an ally to promote his wars against Moab and his shipping business at Eilat.

Ahab leaned back and smirked at the king of Judah, who sat eating and drinking at his side. “How about it? Will you help us take back Ramoth from the king of Assyria?”

Obadiah wrinkled his nose and turned aside.

Ahab was not as drunk as his loud talk implied.

Jehoshaphat dipped his handsome chin and stroked his neat, black beard. Placing a hand against his chest and shifting soft eyes toward Ahab, he crooned in a strong bass, “Of course, I want to help.”

Obadiah kept his head down and peeked from under his eyebrows. What was Ahab waiting for? Three days ago Obadiah had coached him how to respond to these very words. Why wasn’t he picking up on Jehoshaphat’s cue?

Ahab’s gaze cut briefly toward Obadiah but returned full focus on his guest. He gave Jehoshaphat a conspiratorial elbow nudge and said with a voice too eager and a smile too broad, “We need your help, my king. I tried to impress you, but this little spread is nothing compared to the twenty-two thousand oxen and hundred and twenty thousand sheep at King Solomon’s banquet.”

Obadiah let out an audible sigh. Ahab may have the stage presence of well-cured oak, but he had recited his line word for word.

Jehoshaphat rewarded the tiny tap on the reservoir of history with an open smile. “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.” His smile fled. His face went blank. “Um, maybe we should ask the Lord about this.”

Obadiah hid a smirk behind his hand. Was the king of Judah having second thoughts about the alliance?

King Ahab sat up straight. “No problem.” He waved at a guard. “Bring in the counselors.”

As the guests took several more bites of mutton and offered a few more toasts, a hoopoe called oop-oop-oop from a tree behind the shops that lined the plaza, and a light breeze touched the turbans of the standing guests.

A server dangling a wineskin in a sling from his shoulder hovered the spout over Obadiah’s half-full cup. “Top that off for you, sir?” Obadiah nodded and held his cup while the server released a brief flow of red wine.

Asherah functionaries filed through the gate and onto the threshing floor.

Obadiah groaned. Too bad Jezebel had ordered her followers to stay away from Mount Carmel. The tribal elders and their bodyguards would have cut their throats at the Kishon and tossed them on the pile of dead Baal flunkies.

Ahab opened his hands to these friends of Jezebel. “Shall we go to Gilead and fight for Ramoth or stay home?”

The four hundred chanted, “War! Make war! The Lord will lay that city in your hand!”

Obadiah squirmed and avoided Ahab’s eyes. Only the alliance with Jezebel’s father could force his old friend to give board and room to such a sad excuse for entertainment.

King Jehoshaphat scowled. “Is this it? These clowns? Don’t you know any real counselors from the Lord?”

Obadiah’s shoulders tensed. Ahab only knew one true bubbler, Micaiah. And the king had banished that young man weeks ago.

Ahab fired a glare at Obadiah as fierce if they were eight years old again and Obadiah had bloodied his nose. Then he sighed and fluttered his hand at a guard. “Bring me Micaiah, son of Imlah. He’s with Gera the grove manager. On the double. We don’t want to keep the king of Judah waiting.”

The guard bowed and left.

Obadiah frowned. How would Ahab keep Jehoshaphat entertained while the guard jogged to Gera’s place on the outskirts and then tried to hurry Micaiah back?

Ahab tugged his tunic away from his throat and gave Jehoshaphat a weak smile. “You asked for someone from the Lord. I hope you’re not disappointed. This Micaiah kid, he sings and bounces. Bounces and sings.” Ahab curled his lip. “He struggles to overcome an unhappy childhood, you know. Very negative outlook. Never anything good to say. But, ah…”

Obadiah rolled his eyes. Unhappy childhood? What a lousy excuse for intelligent conversation. He ground the clay of his goblet under his foot.

Jehoshaphat clucked his tongue. “Let’s not talk that way about a messenger from the Lord.”

Ahab gave a low chuckle. “Oh. Of course. He’s a fine fellow and means well. It might take my guard a while to find him.” Ahab beckoned to a server. “Let’s give our guest another slice of that roast beef.”

The server sliced a hunk of beef onto Jehoshaphat’s purple clay platter.

King Jehoshaphat adjusted the position of the knife on the plate but left the meat untouched.

“I will awaken the dawn.” A joyful baritone shouted the song.

The guests turned toward the gate.

“Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre!”

“Heh-heh.” Ahab sat straight and beamed at Jehoshaphat. “Sounds like the boys found good old Micaiah sooner than I thought.”

Micaiah bobbed in with his messy brown hair and the familiar lift to his step. He stopped in front of the two kings in their royal robes and canopy. First, he bowed to Ahab and then to Jehoshaphat. His heels moved up and down ever so slightly as he studied the two. “The Lord’s alive, you know.” Micaiah nodded. “I merely repeat what He tells me.” He grinned at the Asherah chorus [choir?] crowded together in front of the jewelry shop. “Nothing like this show you’ve got going over here.”

Zedekiah leaped from the front row of the chorus into the center of the threshing floor. He crouched with a pair of horns on his head.

King Ahab’s face turned red, and he rolled his eyes at Obadiah.

Obadiah dropped his gaze and groaned. Where did Zedekiah get those horns ?

Zedekiah thrust forward and back, right and left. By holding the horns on his head with both hands, he could not use his arms to balance, so he toppled and staggered. Yet he recovered and yelled, “The Lord says, ‘With these you will gore and destroy!’”

Obadiah covered a laugh with his hand. Poor Zedekiah and his unbalanced bull.

Undaunted, the chorus of the four hundred cheered. “Attack Ramoth in Gilead. Attack! The Lord says, ‘Hold out your hand!’ Grasp victory! Success!”

Ahab frowned at Obadiah then studied his feet and peeked at Jehoshaphat.

The king of Judah held his head in his hands and looked at the plaza pavers.

Ahab took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Um, thank you, Zedekiah.” He pasted on a fresh smile. “Well, Mikey, um, Micaiah, what do you say? Go to war or stay home?”

Micaiah crouched and bobbed his head. “BOOMP-pah-dah BOOMP-pah-dah BOOMP-BOOMP-BOOMP.” He clicked his fingers to the beat, glued his elbows to his ribs, and rolled his shoulders.

King Jehoshaphat scooted forward on his throne and bobbed with him.

Together they clicked fingers.

A slow grin spread across the faces of Jehu and the other captains. They bobbed their heads and rolled their shoulders. Servers standing at the edge of the threshing floor twitched their knees to Micaiah’s beat.

Micaiah guffawed. “You’ve got it, King. Keep the beat going now.” While King Jehoshaphat bobbed his head, Micaiah belted out the words.

Sure thing, King.

Yeah, I mean bring.

Bring it on. War.

War, of course.

Chariot ’n’ horse.

Attack ‘em. Smack ‘em.

Easy victory.

Hold out your hand.

Accept success.

“Hold it.” Ahab jumped up and smashed his wine cup on the pavers. “No song and dance, Mikey. Just give us your report.”

Micaiah’s heels sagged. “I’d rather not, my king. I don’t like what I saw.”

With the beat lying dead in his fingers, Jehoshaphat turned on his throne and stared at Ahab. “Who is this boy?”

Ahab ignored Jehoshaphat and sat back down. “Just tell us what you saw.”

Micaiah choked. He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and licked his top lip.

Obadiah put his hand to his mouth. Silent tears slid into his beard. We don’t want to see what you saw, Mikey.

Micaiah pointed across the plaza toward the mountains of Gilead. “I saw Israel scattered.” His mouth twitched, and he took a deep breath. “Men dotted the hills like wandering sheep, and the Lord said, ‘They have no leader. Send them home to fend for themselves.’”

“Wha’d I tell you,” Ahab muttered. “Never anything good.”

Obadiah forced back a sob.

Jehoshaphat sat with open mouth and stared, first at Micaiah, then at Ahab.

Micaiah splayed his arms at his sides and turned his face to the sky. “I saw the Lord on his throne with messengers left and right. The Lord asked, ‘Who will lure Ahab to go die at Ramoth in Gilead?’”

“One said, ‘Like this.’ Another, ‘Here’s how.’ Then at center stage, ‘I’ll make those Asherah prophets think they’ve discovered Truth.’

“The Lord nodded. ‘Go do it.’”

Obadiah stole a glance at the Asherah chorus. Fooling that bunch should be a simple task.

Micaiah waved toward them. “So the Lord put this victory dance in the mouths of your clowns here and…and…” Micaiah sobbed.

Zedekiah-of-the-Crouching-Horns jumped over and punched him in the mouth.

“What makes you think the Spirit of God would leave me and talk to you, Mikey?”

Obadiah took a step toward Zedekiah. Time to put the horns away.

But Micaiah stood and wiped his mouth. “You’ll know, Zee. When you’re looking for a place to hide, you’ll know.”

The perfect put down. Obadiah relaxed.

King Jehoshaphat cringed. He must wish he’d stayed in Jerusalem. (1i) Dan – I was wondering why Jehosophat agreed even after Micaiah’s prophecy.

Ahab curled up on his chair and looked sideways at a guard. “Lock Mikey up. Bread and water until I get back.”

“Oh, my king. Don’t you understand?” Micaiah’s voice caught. “You’re not coming back.”

Obadiah studied Ahab’s face. The king’s next words could be to slice off Micaiah’s head.

i(1) Dan – I was wondering why Jehosophat agreed even after Micaiah’s prophecy.

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