The Jordan River Valley, Israel
Obadiah arrived at the Jericho junction as the sun settled onto the mountains of Jerusalem.
Yedidah rocked from foot to foot. “I never thought I’d see The City of Palms.” ii
Bodyguards reined in their mounts by the chariot.iii
Obadiah curled his lip at the piles of fire-blackened stones surrounding the houses. Joshua had cursed the man who reset them, yet Ahab scoffed as if the words had lost their value.
From the open city gateway, a woman and two girls led five donkeys onto the road. Scarves draped their bowed heads. The sacks and nets fluttering from pack boards may have carried onions and chickens to this morning’s market. iv
Shouts rosev from the city street. Two packs of curly-headed children kicked a ball like the goatskins stuffed with rags which children played with on the plaza in Fort Jezreel.vi [Option: Children shouted on the city street and kicked a ball like the goatskins stuffed with rags kids booted back and forth on the Fort Jezreel plaza.] [GG Shouts rose from the city street. Two packs of curly-headed children kicked a ball of goatskins Much like the ones kids played with in Fort Jezreel. [If it works, maybe it will smooth the sentence.] ][SS Two packs of curly-headed children kicked a goatskin ball similar to the one children played with on the plaza in Fort Jezreel.] On both sides of their contest, smoke trailed from dingy little houses thrown together from blackened stones. Beyond the city, the track disappeared up a gray-walled canyon toward Jerusalem.
A nightjar gave a chonk-chonk-chonk. The odor of camel dung floated in from a caravan camped by the river, and a flock of grouse skimmed in low over the sand, claiming the water’s edge for the evening. vii
At a knee-high wall on the right, a knot of men wrestled an enormous ashlarviii up a ramp.ix
Obadiah stepped off the chariot and approached. “Good afternoon.”
A workman glanced up, turned, and called, “Hiel!”
Beyond these masons, a man strode out from behind a wall. “Obadiah!” His short legs and gorilla arms identified him as Hielx, the leading elder of Bethelxi, whom Ahab had hired to rebuild Jericho.
Although a sour taste filled Obadiah’s throat, he had accepted the man’s plaintive invitation to come inspect the rebuild. He waited by the masons.
Weaving a path through fire-blackened rocks, Hiel hustled over to him. xii “Came to see if you could believe your ears, eh? Know anything about stone? I’ll put you to work.” He reached a ponderous paw.
Obadiah shrank back but glanced at Yedidah, who tolerated strangers better than he did. She batted her eyesxiii.xiv Obadiah allowed Hiel to grasp his forearm. [speaker?xv] “Well, you heard Ahab, how proud he is of this project. The king’s been badgering me for a full, in-person progress report.” He tried to return the squeeze, but his fingers failed to encircle Hiel’s saplingxvi of an arm. “I brought Yedidah, my wife. This is our first visit to the City of Palms.”
“I’m honored by your presence.” Hiel bowed from the waist.
Yedidah stepped from the chariot and joined Obadiah. “Thank you. It’s been a long trip, and we’re eager to see your work.”
Hiel looked away and cracked a knuckle. Then he swept an arm toward the wall. “The work proceeds a block at a time. I can show you more in the morning.”
The sun had dropped behind the Jerusalem mountains, and twilight was creeping down the slope.
He waved at his crew. “That’s all for today.”
The workmen left the stone on the ramp and trudged into the city,
Hiel followed.xvii “If we were in Bethel, I’d put you up at our house. But the best I can offer you here is Rahab’s Inn. The same food as The Joshua House, but fewer bugs.” [xviii]
A sycamore tree at the third corner shaded two ugly block structures. Hiel’s workers entered the one on the right.
Zak and the guards stabledxix the horses and chariot while Obadiah and Yedidah followed Hiel up the ladder to the veranda.
Rahab’s innkeeperxx xxieyed Obadiah’s group then disappeared.
While Hiel’s crew lit candles in sconces at the edge of the veranda, Yedidah asked, “Doesn’t the innkeeper have servants?”
Obadiah eased onto the goatskin mat beside her and whispered, “Try not to think about when these were last cleaned.”
A cool breeze from Jerusalem brought the fragrance of poppies off the mountain.
“An adventure.” Yedidah smirked.
Obadiah smiled at Hiel and patted the spot on his right.
“Not the cleanest, but the food’s good.” Hiel lowered himself to the mat.
The savory aroma of butter and onions wafted across the veranda. The innkeeper poured white wine into their cups while a young man set a large plate of steaming food in Hiel’s hands. Fish smothered in barley and onions.xxii Buttered squash on the side. xxiii
Hiel inhaled the steam. “Gray mullet. Sometimes they fry it.”
Yedidah accepted her plate. “This smells good. We don’t see river fish in Jezreel. If you don’t mind my asking, how did you decide to rebuild the walls of Jericho?”
Obadiah tipped his head toward Yedidah. I should bring you more often.
Hiel dragged his hands through his hair. He touched his spoon. Then cleared his throat. “Um, yes. The boy catches mullet and bream. Sometimes bream. Excellent fish.”
As Yedidah set her jaw, Obadiah grinned at his plate. Any of their five children could warn Hiel against trying to avoid their mother’s questions. [Nice GG]
She flashed a smile at Hiel and tightened her fists. “It must be exciting to handle such ancient stones.”
Hiel hung his head. “Ma’am, the day we dropped the first rock into the footing, my little Abiram died.”
Yedidah’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh no.”
The guardsxxiv glanced wide-eyed at Hiel and shifted on their seats.
Obadiah laid a hand on Hiel’s shoulder. Grotesque, but our blood runs the same color.
“I should have listened.” Hiel sighed. “A snotty nosed bunch had spread the word around Bethel that our first born was going to die.” He tipped his head up. “You wouldn’t believe. Neighbor kids lined the fence and gawked. A fellow named me as preparing to kill my child—like I’m another Mesha.”
Obadiah’s stomach churned at the picture of the King of Moab offering his eldest son for a burnt offering on the city wall.
Hiel opened a massive fist. “Does this hand look like it could kill a child?”xxv xxvi
Obadiah flinched. That hand had thrown a javelin through the heart of Tibni son of Ginath and could crush a grown man’s skull.
“I can’t imagine how you and your wife must be hurting.” Yedidah stared at her food.
“Yes, ma’am. We hurt morning and evening. We had talked, you know, about our Abiram caring for us in our old age. And how he’d bury us someday.”
He took a breath. “I should have listened, but the king pays good silver. And on time.”
Obadiah rubbed at his mouth. Silver from kidnapped children. xxvii xxviii
“So I asked a friend. ‘What’s this Joshua talk?’”
Yedidah smoothed her tunic. “A friend?”
“He reads a lot. My friend starts with, ‘Well, there’s three interpretations.’” Hiel rolled his eyes.
“Three!” Yedidah frowned. “How did—”
“I pinned him down. ‘The words, man. Show me what Joshua said those five hundred years ago. I don’t care how many interpretations. What are the words?’”
“Uh-huh.” Zak’s head shot up, and grunts of assent came from around the veranda.
Yedidah deepened her frown and hooked an arm through Obadiah’s. “What did he do? Your friend.”
“Oh, you’d have loved it, ma’am. Took him days to borrow a scroll. Then he calls me in. Spreads it out, you know, and pulls a pointer from its little cloth bag. Explains like I’m his pet baboon how the oil on our fingers stains the papyrus. And hands me the pointer.xxix ‘Read it yourself.’”
Zak shook his head.
Yedidah gasped. “Why that—”
“That’s what my wife said. He was testing, could I read. Well, I read it right out to him. ‘Cursed be the man before the Lord who rises and builds this city Jericho; he will lay the foundation in his first-born; and in his youngest son he will set up the gates.’” xxx
Yedidah sighed. “But it doesn’t—”
“Like I told my friend. Not a word about killing or dying.” He glanced at his crew. “I’ve got a business to run, and the king wants to hire me to stand these walls in place.” He jammed a fist on his hip. “Simple decision. I thought.”
Obadiah spoke just above a whisper. “But…?” The man was ignoring Joshua’s first word on this matter. A pain hit Obadiah in his chest, and he inhaled.
Hiel sighed. “The word stands in plain sight. ‘Cursed.’ But I was looking at the king’s silver.” xxxi
Thexxxii huge shoulders sagged while the long arms went limp. “And our baby’s dead.” xxxiii
Yedidah bowed her head and wept.
Guards around the veranda wiped at their cheeks.
Obadiah laid a hand on Hiel’s arm. Through selfish ambition, his old friend Ahab had again brought death, this time to the child of the well-respected elder of Bethel, the man whose javelin had put Ahab’s father, Omri, on the throne.xxxiv Who could turn the king from his way?
A candle sputtered in the silence. xxxv
Hiel wiped clammy hands on his robe. “And the words are plain. ‘…in his youngest son he will set up the gates.’ I don’t know what to do. Where to run.” xxxvi
Obadiah shook his head. Why not stop building?xxxvii
The innkeeper refilled wine cups and checked for empty plates.
An owl hooted near the veranda.
Hiel faced Obadiah and changed the subject. “But see, there’s something else. I know who you are.” xxxviii xxxix
Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho. – Kings 16:34
Mesha of Moab – 2 Kings 3:27
Cursed before the Lord is the man who rebuilds – Joshua 6:26
City of Palms inhabited – Judges 1:16, 3:13; 2 Samuel 10:4-5, 2 Kings 2:4-5, 18
Rahab – Joshua 2.
17. The Cave of Gilgal
Jericho, Manasseh, Israel
Obadiah flinched and jerked away. Know who you are? What did the man mean?
Hiel stiffened and took a deep breath. “That day behind the temple with those children on the chain, I saw you would defy the queen.”
Obadiah sat bolt upright. These words in Jezebel’s ears could turn his family into enemies of the statexl. “Defy the queen? What do you mean?” xli
Hiel nodded. “I saw it in your eyes.”
Obadiah scrambled to his feet.xlii “Zak, we’re leaving. Now.” He took Yedidah by the hand. They would go straight to Fort Jezreel, collect their children, and hide…. hide where?
The bodyguards dashed to the parapet, but Zak stood with his hand on the ladder, his eyes fixed on Hiel.
Why wasn’t Zak moving?
Or Yedidah. Her feet had frozen to the tiles, her eyes glued to the gorilla man seated by her feet. “Can you tell me, please, what you saw in my husband’s eyes?”
“I saw a man xliiitroopsxliv turn to when the battle looks lost.xlv Ma’am, my sister’s son. I can’t let the queen’s goons touch that boy.” [xlvi]
Yedidah hiccupedxlvii and slid palms across her wet cheeks. She jerked Obadiah’s sleeve.
Obadiah grasped her hand with both of his. Couldn’t she understand? The man was talking nonsense, and their lives were in danger. “Yedidah, please. We’ve got to get out of here.”
Yet, she twisted free and gawked at the grotesque man seated at her feet.xlviii
Obadiah barked, “Zak, the chariot.” But, instead of descending the ladder, Zak strode over and laid his hand on Obadiah’s arm. xlix
Hiel looked up at the flickering flames of a sconce at the edge of the veranda. “I must seem to you like evil incarnate. No one wants to get involved with old Joshua’s curse.” He lifted an arm. “Or with this gorilla.”
Obadiah pulled Yedidah around to face him. Why couldn’t she move? Go. Just go.
She jerked both Obadiah’s sleeves. “Listen to the man. Listen.”
The colossal head swung round, and fierce gray eyes fixed on Obadiah. Hiel rose to his knees, and his immense paws swallowed Obadiah’s hands. He pulled Obadiah down to face him. “The boy’s my sister’s son.”
“Your sister’s son.” As Obadiah bent, a sharp pain struck his lower back. He shook his head at Zak and sank to his knees. l
“In Bethel.” Hiel’s grip tightened.
“Ah. Ah.” Pain shot through Obadiah’s hands. li
“When he bubbles over, it all comes out.”
Obadiah groaned and, except for his captive hands, relaxed. [relaxed in the grip of the gorilla]?lii
Zak and the guards moved inliii and rested hands on the two men’s shoulders. As Hiel told familiar tales of divine utterance against the cruelty and flimflammeryliv of Asherah brothels and Moloch infant sacrifices, they urged him on with nods and grunts.
Hiel released Obadiah’s hands. “But no place is safe from the queen. After I saw your face next to that horrid slaver crew, when I got back to Bethel I told my wife, ‘The king’s man is going to wake up and do something about our queen.’”
Obadiah flexed his fingers and massaged one hand against the other.
Yedidah turned to Hiel. “You’re right, sir. The man I married doesn’t enjoy hearing it, but he is to ‘deliver the weak and the needy from the hand of the wicked.’”
“That’s a good psalm, ma’am. And the Lord knows how.” Hiel bit his lip. “I thought about hiding my nephew in a cave.”
“A cave?” Zak asked. He and the other guards stood with hands on knees, surrounding Obadiah, Yedidah, and Hiel. lv
“In Gilgal. The quarry where I buy limestone.”
Yedidah asked, “Have you been inside that cave, sir?” [Problemlvi]
“Once. To inspect a layer of stone. Narrow. Wet. Cold. Couldn’t breathe. The stone cutters laughed. They said my stubby legs and long arms made me a natural to work with them.”
Yedidah nodded. “So, how big is the cave?”
Hiel glanced around. “As broad as this veranda. Half as long. The quarry men crawl around on hands and knees. They handed me a lamp, and I glanced into one of their tiny tunnels. I couldn’t stick my nose in for fear I’d start screaming. I promised the Lord, ‘If you let me out of here, I’ll never come down another hole.’”lvii
Obadiah lay next to Yedidah on their sleeping rug in Rahab’s Inn.lviii “Are you sure Hiel said they have fewer bugs than The Joshua House?” lix
“He said that cave is no place to hide bubblers.”
“But don’t people live in caves? Our people hid in caves from the Midianites. David and four hundred men hid from King Saul in the Cave of Adullam. Why do I feel like someone tied a heavy weight to my shoulders?” lx lxi lxii
In the faint pre-dawn lightlxiii, Obadiah and Yedidah boarded their chariot.
Hiel rested his huge hand on the rail.“I’ll keep a close watch on my sister’s boy.”
Obadiah said, “The Lord bless you, my friend.”
“Friend. Yes.” Yedidah placed both hands on the rail. “If you lived near us you’d know. My husband’s friends call him Biah.”
“I didn’t want to presume.” Hiel squirmed. “Biah. It’s a good name.”
Obadiah dipped his chin. “Thank you.”
“Now that the Lord has you awake, I’m eager to see how He puts you to work. I’ll be happy to hear from you now and then.” Hiel turned the corners of his mouth up, backed away, and waved them onto the road.
As they headed up riverlxiv, Yedidah braced her feet against the chariot floor. “Such a nice man. It hurts to look into his eyes. He might lose another son. What would make him stop building?”
She tilted her head at Obadiah. “I don’t want to think about our friend right now. I want to think about Joshua. Did prophecies bubble out of him on a regular basis? Somebody recorded this one, but how many others did he spout?” lxv
Obadiah took a deep breath and glanced at the early rays of sunlight escaping over the mountains of Ammon. “We’ve got a day’s trip home to deal with the old bubbler Joshua and to figure how to protect today’s bubblers.”
Yedidah tucked her shoulder into his chest. “When he felt a bubble near the surface, did Joshua call the elders together? Or did the words spout forth unbidden?”
As the chariot passed rows of leafed-out palms and flowering fig treeslxvi in the growing light, the driver kept a steady hand on the reins and flicked glances at Obadiah. “I’ve a picture, sir. A trap door of sorts in the back of Joshua’s head. The door pops open, and he spouts.”
“A trap door?” Obadiah laughed. “What if he’s in the middle of laying out a battle plan with his captains?”
Yedidah stared up the road. “I see it. And these words come out in a unique voice. The old fellow can’t help it. Or maybe he’s a young fellow. He only knows the bit he spits out at the moment.”
The driver grinned at the horses. “Then the trap door closes.”
“And drive his captains crazy? No way.” Obadiah growled. “A great man like Joshua had complete control. And like my old dad used to say, ‘Never believe a thing you hear in a chariot in the Rift Valley with your wife and driver beside you.’”
Yedidah poked him in the ribs then collapsed against him in tears. “Oh, Biah. I don’t want that child to die.”lxvii lxviii lxix lxx lxxi
Cursed be the man – Joshua 6:26
Hiel of Bethel – 1 Kings 16:34
Mesha of Moab – 2 Kings 3:26-27
Gilgal Quarries – Judges 3:19
“…deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” – Psalm 82:3-4
Hiding in caves from the Midianites – Judges 6:2
David in the Cave of Adullam – 1 Samuel 22:1
iiGG [No response form Obadiah?]
iiiDrought is happening. See early copy of this chapter for details.
ivGG [Great picture of these people. Obadiah and his wife don’t greet them?]
vRose x 4
vi They reminded him of the children who played with goatskins stuffed with rags on the plaza in Fort Jezreel [ Or something like that. I kept rereading the beginning of this sentence as it was. Maybe just me. ].
viiGG [Great job with the setting details.]
viiiAshlar https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashlar (SD I don’t know what this is. Is it explained somewhere earlier so the reader isn’t confused?)
xGG [So his arms and legs are famous and he’s easily recognizable. Or has Obadiah met him before?]
xiSS I never realized that before
xiiGG [Okay, now I’m getting the sense they’ve met before.]
xiiiBETTER BEAT? This reaction confuses me. It sounds flirtatious. SD
xivJohn – Strange. The character you’ve shown so far of Ob, it hasn’t seemed like he’d need his wife’s encouragement before shaking a man’s hand. Also, this makes him look extremely weak in Hiel’s eyes, if he needs his wife’s encouragement to do this.
Putting his distaste aside, Ob allowed Hiel to grasp…
xviFor me, Sapling has connotations of weak and easily broken. Which isn’t the impression that’s been given of Hiel.
xviiSS Are Biah and them walking beside him?
xviiiGG [Does this alarm Obadiah and Yedidah, or are inns with bugs common enough that they expect it?] Maybe have the mention they talked about the bugs before they left home?
xixJohn Stabling the horses and chariots would presumably take a lot longer than following Hiel up a ladder.
If the story is from OB’s point of view, it might be that he can only see part of that action:
Zak and the guards trudged away to stable the horses, and Ob and Yed followed Hiel….
xxSD Is it a man or a woman? Short or tall? Old or young? Sweet or sour-faced?
xxi GG [What does Obadiah think of him?]
xxiiSD Since you already mentioned butter and onions. Can either that description or this one be different?
xxiiiJohn – I’m hungry after reading this.
xxivSD I think the last time we saw the guards they were at the stables. When did they arrive?
xxvJohn – Very emotive
xxvi GG [Great job of making Hiel human. Loving their dialogue.]
xxviiGG [I like this thought.]
xxixSS Good details
xxxJohn – Good way to bring in the Scripture
xxxi SS Good line (Just an idea: This line or the line below about Ahab’s selfish ambition could spur Biah to be concerned about his own connections to Ahab and maybe be concerned that he might let Ahab influence him to do something he knows he should not do. Just an idea. Feel free to ignore it.)
xxxiiERMA To me, “the” doesn’t work. More like floating body parts – they don’t belong to anyone, they just exist. Maybe just me.
xxxiiiGG [Is he not worried about his youngest? Why does he continue to build?]
xxxiv GG [Nice! I love the context of what Hiel’s victory meant for Ahab’s family.]
xxxv SS Good tension and pacing here
xxxvi GG [Ah ha. Just had to wait for it.]
xxxviiJohn – On the next page, Ob’s thoughts such as this are italicized.
xxxviiiJohn – This is a strong chapter. It works really well.
xxxixGood hook SS
xl Kingdom? GG
xliSS I like this
xliiBecca – Obadiah doesn’t want to say anything else to Hiel to find out more about whether he intends to share this info with the queen?
xliii vs. I saw a man who rallies troops when the battle looks lost.
xlivGG I saw a man of? troops to? turn to when ???
xlv“It was the fear in her eyes.” Hiel said. “The little girl. When the slaver brought out his hammer and chisel, I told myself, ‘Somebody’s got to do something.’
xlviOkay, I’m back from the end. Maybe call him “my nephew” then explain he’s my sister’s son.
Also, to me it needs a transition. We’re talking about O as a leader then all of a sudden he’s talking about his sister’s son. ???
xlviii***It says the gorilla man at her feet above.***
xlixGG [What does Obadiah think of them ignoring him in favor of hearing Hiel?]
lGG [Not following why the pain is happening. Did someone hit him?]
li[Because Hiel is gripping hard?]
lii[relaxed in the grip of the gorilla]?
liiiSS Do their boots make any sound on the floor? Do they have armor on?
lvSS What is Biah doing during the rest of this conversation? I suggest including an action beat from him before the end of the scene.
lviProblem: If the youngest guard hears this discussion, why doesn’t he speak up now about all the caves his father takes them to explore? Maybe assign that speak up to some one else when the time comes?
lviiGG [I like this discussion about a cave. Does Obadiah get his idea from Hiel?]
lviii John – Obadiah lay next to Yedidah on their sleeping rug in Rahab’s Inn.
lix GG [Maybe bring in an insect she’s trying to avoid.]
lxSD It feels very abrupt the way they’re on the sleeping rug talking and, in the next sentence, they’re leaving. Maybe insert some sort of beat where Yedidah wraps her arm around him and pats his back as if he’s one of their children. Obadiah tries to shut his thoughts down. The problem will still be there tomorrow.
lxiGG [What is she doing? Action beat?]
lxiiSS Consider adding another action beat for Biah here.
lxiiiI could be wrong here. I always thought twilight was exclusively an evening thing. John
lxivGG one word? Upriver?
lxvSS So both of these dialogue paragraphs? She brought up the subject and then decides she doesn’t want to talk about it?
lxvi Drought is on — [leafed-out palms and flowering fig trees] See early copies of this chapter
lxviiSD The shift is very sudden between joking and tears. Could there be a beat or two between? Something like: Yedidah chuckled, but the unnatural sound quivered. Her shoulders jerked as her laughter turned to a sob. She collapsed against him in tears.
lxviiiJohn – Good chapters. The tension and pressure that builds on Obadiah is very evident.
lxixGG Exceptional job with Obadiah’s and Yedidah’s impressions of Hiel and how they softened as they talked and ate with him. I loved the conflict that Hiel’s talk of opposing the queen sparks. Very nice! I wonder if Hiel’s strange form and comparison to a gorilla is over-emphasized, though it is realistic that people can focus on a particular trait, especially when its an odd trait. Maybe draw attention to other details such as a scar? Idiosyncrasies? Great work on these chapters!
lxxSS Maybe give a little more hint that the laughter is turning to tears or a hint that she’s not sharing in the driver’s humor.
lxxi SS Engaging details and development