Two centuries after David felled Goliath, Asa reigned in Jerusalem and Baasha in Tirzah.
Commander Omri laid siege to Gibbethon of the Philistines.
Ahab, the commander’s little boy, brought Obadiah, his village friend, to help cheer for the troops.
1 Kings 16:1-16
A Village Near Gibbethon, Philistia
Obadiah flew along the narrow path, his elbows gouging his friend, Ahab.
As their sandals slapped the dirt, a brown hen squawked at the approaching danger. She collected her chicks under the safety of a low-spreading fig tree.
Obadiah shot between the stable guards the same moment as Ahab.
Together, the two friends thudded into the heavy door and pranced. “I won. I won.”
A red and black rooster emerged from a bed of anemones, crowed twice, and strutted with them.
As Obadiah led Ahab into the stable, he tipped his head back and breathed in the smell of horse and hay. A soft huh-huh-huh-huh greeted him, and smooth noses bobbed over stall doors.
Ahab pointed to the seventh stall on the left. “That bay mare from Akko. She’s mine.”
Obadiah laughed. “From Akko? That’s the one I want.”
Ahab marched straight to the door, raised on tiptoe, and peeked in. “Where’d she go?”
Seba, the stable boy, shorter and thinner than Ahab, yet with the same jet-black curls and eagle-beak nose, stepped from the next stall. “Oh, she’s out, sir.” He leaned a pitchfork against the low wall. “The captain took her.”
“What captain?” Ahab slapped the boy then poked him in the chest, knocking him against a post. “I never said anyone could take that mare.”
Seba put his hand to the mark on his cheek. He whimpered and wiped a dribble of blood from his nose.
Obadiah’s nostrils flared. He yanked Ahab around by the shoulder. “Pick on somebody your own size.”
“Yeah? Who are you?” Ahab aimed a fist at Obadiah’s chin.
Obadiah ducked. “That mare’s no more yours than she is mine.” He smashed his friend’s face with the heel of his palm then flailed his wrist against the pain.
Ahab cupped his nose, then gawked at the blood in his hand. He ripped Obadiah’s sleeve and screamed, “Stinking Philistine pond scum!” Ahab crunched his fist into Obadiah’s teeth.
As he stumbled back, Obadiah tasted blood. He touched his lips, and his fingers came away red.
A stable guard burst in and seized Ahab by the shoulders. Another guard latched onto Obadiah.
Ahab swatted. “What are you—?”
“Shush!” The guard pinched Ahab’s ear.
“Come along.” Obadiah’s guard dragged him out by the earlobe. He passed the spreading fig tree and a leafy bougainvillea. A ladder leaned against the stable wall, and the commander’s office waited on the roof.
Obadiah jammed his hands into his armpits. “But—”
“Up. I’m right behind you.” The guard shoved Obadiah’s nose against the fifth rung.
Obadiah climbed, and the moment he stepped off the ladder, the stable guard jumped to the veranda beside him and clamped onto his ear. Two breaths later, Ahab stood next to him in the grip of the second guard. Obadiah glared at Ahab.
Weela-wee-ooo floated in from a high branch. A golden oriole. Obadiah twisted toward the call. “In you go.” Before he could glimpse the bird, the guard forced him through a doorway into a large, cold room.
The door shut out the rustle of the breeze in the bougainvillea. Echoes bounced off smooth-cut limestone walls. Sandals scraped a stone floor. Yet, the song of the oriole floated in through the window.
Five bodyguards grinned at the boys from stone benches shoved against the walls.
Obadiah’s guard propelled him forward. “We have something to show the commander.”
A bodyguard stood and disappeared through a door on the right.
Ahab squirmed. “You can’t—”
“Quiet.” The guard twisted his ear.
Obadiah studied the floor. To avoid more pain, he cocked his head on one side and held still. His friend had never hurt anyone before. The excitement from their foot race had spilled onto the stable boy.
Commander Omri entered and wagged his head from side to side. “My. My. What have we here?” The commander stood taller than his guards, and white hairs streaked his beard. Although the cloaks of the guards and the little boys mixed gray and black from the sheep that donated the wool, the commander wore a robe of solid, dark gray.
Obadiah’s guard steered him forward. “Your son—”
A second guard jerked Obadiah back and pushed Ahab forward. “Pardon me, sir. Your son.”
The commander tipped Ahab’s chin up. “I should put a ring in this one’s nose.” He pulled Obadiah by the sleeve, so the two boys stood side by side.
As the pressure on his ear released, Obadiah thrust his shoulders back. Nobody got away with giving the commander’s son a bloody nose. Obadiah would die before his ninth birthday. The commander would chuckle as the executioner’s broadaxe sliced through Obadiah’s neck. Obadiah’s father, however, would bury him under the pear tree next to his great-grandfather. And Yedidah, the potter’s daughter, would speak of him with respect.
“Chin up,” the commander snapped.
Obadiah tipped his head back.
The commander squinted at Obadiah’s split lip then ran a finger over the blood drying under Ahab’s nose. “‘The forcing of wrath brings forth strife.’” He turned to the guard who had brought his son. “Whose wrath brought forth this strife?”
“I found these two at each other’s throats, and Seba, the stable boy, whimpering by the stall.”
“That’s it? Nothing more to report?”
The guard shook his head. “Nothing more, sir.”
“Thank you. Return to your post.”
The two stable guards bowed and left.
The commander settled back on his heels. “Why was the stable boy whimpering?”
Obadiah drew himself to full height. Soon after the executioner’s axe sliced into his neck, the world would disappear. He set his jaw. Pain meant nothing. He had done right.
The commander shook Obadiah’s shoulder. “Did you hurt the stable boy?”
Obadiah’s mouth fell open.
“No squirrel up that tree.” The commander turned from Obadiah and lifted his son’s chin. “Did you strike the boy?”
Obadiah edged next to Ahab, so the crook of their arms nested together. His friend deserved only four or five lashes with the whip. Not enough to make him cry.
Ahab elbowed Obadiah’s arm aside and lifted his gaze to the far corner of the room. “The boy did nothing wrong. I pushed him. I slapped him. About a bay mare.”
“Look at me, son.”
Obadiah turned and followed Ahab’s gaze as he met the commander’s eyes.
“Ahab. They will pronounce the name with deep pride. A noble warrior.” The commander cupped his son’s jaw with his hand. “Know this. We do not slap a stable boy or shove him in anger. We treat him with respect because he fights by our side.”
Ahab squared his shoulders.
No whip? Obadiah scratched his chin. Ahab needed payback.
Commander Omri brushed Ahab’s cheek with his fingers. “Did Seba give you the bloody nose?”
“I did, sir.” As Obadiah touched his broken lip, his face burned. The stable guards hadn’t let him finish with Ahab. He thrust his head high. He was dead with nothing to lose. “I told you to pick on somebody your own size.” He gave Ahab a flying shove into the lap of a guard.
The commander shuffled back a step.
With a roar, Ahab swung for Obadiah’s nose. “Show you—!”
“Enough.” The commander waded in and gripped each boy by the nape of the neck. “Don’t spill your blood in here.” He dragged them like puppies and dropped them by the ladder. “Beat each other’s brains out in the grass and let me know who wins.”
Seba – Genesis 10:7
The forcing of wrath – Proverbs 30:33
2. What Are You Hiding?
A Village Near Gibbethon, Philistia
Obadiah edged closer to Ahab. “What are you hiding?”
A twinkle in his eye, Ahab slid his open palm from his cloak. Empty.
Obadiah flashed a big grin, set his half-eaten pita on his plate, and reached for Ahab’s cloak.
But Ahab grabbed Obadiah’s wrist. He cocked his head at the bodyguards seated nearby, then at Commander Omri and his captains in the center of the veranda.
Obadiah snorted and covered his mouth. Whatever Ahab’s game, adults were not included.
As the captains pushed their plates away, the servers hovered, their eyes on the commander. He sat up straight on his goatskin, cleared his throat, and enunciated each syllable:
“Blessed are you, Lord our God,
who causes grass to grow for the cattle,
and herbs for the service of man:
that he may bring forth food out of the earth.”
Breakfast over, Obadiah jabbed Ahab in the ribs. “Let’s go.”
Far above, a hawk banked and wheeled. The sun had an empty sky to itself. A good day to watch the battle. Their troops might slice the heads from a few Philistines, and back home, when Obadiah told Yedidah, the potter’s daughter, she would hold her breath and open wide her large brown eyes.
As he turned to leave, Obadiah challenged Ahab with Delilah’s cry to Samson. “The Philistines are upon you!”
Instead of bemoaning Samson’s haircut, Ahab was supposed to ask, “Where? Chariots, foot troops, or both? How large a force?” Ahab would lay out his plans for a counter-attack, and Obadiah would challenge. “That ravine’s too narrow for chariots. We can’t go through that village. They’ll eat us alive.”
Their game usually lasted through the morning. The next day was Ahab’s turn to initiate. Obadiah would show his battle plans, and Ahab would mount the challenges.
But Ahab wasn’t playing strategy. While the guards huddled near the commander, their platters unattended, Ahab slipped their leftover flatbreads into his cloak.
Obadiah descended to the grass by the stable door and shot glances toward Ahab climbing down from the veranda.
Ahab hit the ground, his face a mask, and set off toward the sycamore tree where the two friends watched the battle. Obadiah headed toward the latrine on the far side of the village and called over his shoulder, “See you at the sycamore.” Yet with each stride, he looked back. Ahab had a new game going.
“Fish. Fresh fish.” A tall man with a stoop blocked Obadiah’s way. Three or four days a week, from the basket slung over his shoulder, the fishmonger sold bream and tilapia to the commander’s cook and gave pleasant nods to the two boys. Yet, he had replaced his familiar gap-tooth smile with a stare of cold steel. Without blinking, he pointed a steady finger at Obadiah. “How long will you sleep, lazy bones? Wake up.”
Goosebumps slid over the back of Obadiah’s neck. He snorted. “Who asked you?” Then he scrubbed a hand over his face. Whatever had gotten into Mr. Fish, Obadiah’s father did not approve of such words to an adult.
As the fishmonger shuffled along after Ahab, the basket swung from his shoulder with the rhythm of his call. “Fish. Fresh fish.”
What was Ahab doing? At the fifth house on the left, he had ducked into a hedge.
With long, silent strides, Obadiah loped to the spot. He wrinkled his nose.
At the end of an alley, the tail of Ahab’s cloak fluttered and disappeared behind a shed.
Obadiah dashed to the shed, skidded to a halt, and froze.
A bone-thin child with black curls like Ahab’s cowered under his stare. Dirt covered the boy’s face including his beak of a nose.
While the back of Obadiah’s neck tingled, Ahab shoved flatbread into the lad’s cloak. Except the cloak was Ahab’s. The sleeves, rolled triple thick at the cuffs, covered the boy’s fingers.
Obadiah grabbed Ahab’s arm, and he took in a noisy breath. “What’s going on?”
Ahab drew himself to full height. “Jebus is Philistine, so you can’t tell anyone.” He shook Obadiah by the shoulders. “Understand? Not one word.”
Who causes grass to grow – Psalm 104:14-15
“The Philistines are upon you.” – Judges 16:20
Wake up! – Isaiah 51:17, 60:1-2, Jonah 1:6
Jebus – Genesis 10:15
3. No Guards, No Race
Fort Jezreel, Jezreel Valley, Israel
Obadiah rode out the fort gate with Ahab at his side. “Where are our bodyguards, my prince? Ten years ago, your father told us to beat our brains out in the grass, but since he became king, his eyes drill through to the back of my skull. ‘Keep my son safe.’”
Ahab tipped his head toward the open gate. Black curls fell from his headscarf and glistened in the pre-dawn twilight. “They’re right behind us, Biah.”
“Invisible bodyguards?” Obadiah scanned the gray slopes of Mount Tabor for Syrians and reined his mount back toward the gate. “I can’t let you escape the fort without guards, my prince.”
Ahab leaned back. “Just this once minus my father’s chaperones.”
Obadiah’s insides vibrated. Hunker low and race like a village boy… Not surrounded by fifty pairs of eyes. Hammer his heels into his stallion’s ribs. Thunder through the grass and scream, “Go! Go! Go!”
Then a picture rose of King Omri in his royal blue robe and scarf, tousling his son’s hair. Obadiah shook his head. “No guards. No race.” Three days ago Syrian scouts killed two farmers and a sentry in the foothills, and the king trusted him with Ahab’s safety. “Lord, protect us.”
Ahab smirked. “Our protection is about to ride through the gate. Let them find us.” He patted his stallion’s glossy black neck. “This big fellow needs to run.”
“Not without guards.” Obadiah scanned the hills again.
“Okay. Okay. Leave it to me, Biah.” Ahab wheeled his horse around on the plank bridge and trotted through the gate with his black, short-trimmed beard bouncing against his white robe.
Back home in Kishion, Obadiah’s father would say, “If you want a job done right, do it yourself.” Yet Obadiah’s stomach churned at the idea of not trusting his old friend, the prince.
In a few moments, Ahab returned. “A horse went lame. They’re selecting a fresh mount, and the captain says they’ll be with us before the sun’s out of bed.”
The entire contingent of bodyguards waited on one rider? Obadiah shrugged. Ahab was not in the habit of spinning a yarn, and the captain of the guards was a responsible man. He would bring the squad.
Obadiah clicked his tongue, and Lavan clip-clopped down the grade with Ahab beside him on Shochar. They turned toward the Gilead mountains where streamers in the sky announced the sun’s arrival. Lavan flipped his ears forward and back. Did the stallion smell intruders in the valley?
Ahab sat up straight on Shochar. “The Syrians are upon you. How will you defend our land?”
Obadiah leaned back with his hands on Lavan’s rump. This week was Ahab’s turn to give the strategy challenge. When they were bloodying each other’s noses in Gibbethon, they quoted Delilah. “The Philistines are upon you.” But here at Fort Jezreel, they focused on Syria.
“By what route?” Obadiah asked.
“Through Akko and the Jezreel Valley.”
Obadiah guffawed. “Ben-Hadad doesn’t have one friend on the coast.”
“Okay. Okay. So, you’re awake.” Ahab grinned. “They’re attacking us from Ramoth.”
“That’s easy.” Obadiah pointed his arm east. “We cross the Jordan and meet them head-on with archers and foot troops. You and I lead the chariots.”
“So, Brave Leader, where will you find terrain open enough for chariots and javelins? Those trees and boulders by the Jabbok require swords and spears.”
Obadiah could help Ahab stretch their game with feints, traps, and ambushes, but King Omri’s fifty guards were missing. Obadiah lifted his headscarf, eased a jittery hand through his hair, and tried a verbal jab. “Careful you don’t push that tired nag too hard, my prince. Shame to stress such a weak old thing.”
“Stress?” Ahab snorted. “You sit on that sad excuse for a horse and talk stress?” He glanced back at the fort and frowned. Then slowed Shochar to a walk. “Those guards are babysitters, Biah. Two little ones wrapped around my ankles and another on the way, but my father treats me like a child.”
“Not so, my prince. The king wants his heir to continue breathing.”
“He calls Hiel a go-getter. Never mentions you or me.”
A hawk and a kestrel screamed overhead about who owned a particular piece of the sky.
Obadiah shrugged. “Save your pout, my lad. When you and I fought to make your father king, I saw you make chariot captains turn and run. Hiel just happened onto Tibni first.”
With Shochar reined to a standstill, Ahab shook his head. “It’s his practice with the javelin. And his arms. Like a baboon.”
“When did you ever see a baboon?”
Ahab snorted. “Get serious. Do your parents treat you like a child?”
Obadiah stopped next to him. “My mother.” He glanced back toward the fort. Where were those guards? “You know how she hovered and knew exactly whose kids we were playing with.”
Ahab nodded. “I like your mother.”
“She likes you. Well, Mother always stays awake until her children are in bed. Right?”
“So, when Yedidah and I take the babies home for First Fruits, if we go out to see old friends in the village and return late, everyone is sound asleep. Except Mother. She’s sitting there with a lamp lit and only blows it out after we pull the covers up. She’ll be mothering us as long as she breathes.”
“May your mother outlive us all.” Ahab gave Shochar a light slap on the neck. The stallion whinnied and bobbed his head.
Obadiah blinked back the threat of Syrians.
“Lavan ready to run?” Ahab collected the reins. “He’ll have Shochar’s tail flapping in his face.”
Obadiah opened his mouth for a smart retort then closed his lips. The bushes moved. “We’ve no guards, my prince. We should return.”
Ahab followed Obadiah’s gaze. “Just the wind pushing the junipers.” He nodded toward a row of small stones under the high crown of an ancient pine. “Here’s our starting line. Race you back.”
Wiping Syrian invaders from his mind, Obadiah pulled the reins short and aligned Lavan’s front feet behind the stones. The horse’s withers rippled under his hand. Obadiah sucked in the sweet fragrance of the lilies and barley grass then faced straight ahead. “My prince, this stallion is about to run the legs off that tired old donkey under you.” He shifted his heels, ready to pound Lavan’s barrel chest and thrust him into a gallop.
Ahab reached into the mass of pine needles overhead, plucked a cone, and guided his horse in beside Obadiah’s.
Their finish line rose in the distance, a pair of acacia trees by the fort.
As Ahab gathered the reins, and dangled the cone by Lavan’s ear, an arrow whistled past his throat and thunked into the pine tree.
Hiel of Bethel – 1 Kings 16:34
Tibni son of Ginath – 1 Kings 16:21-22
Baboon – I Kings 10:22
Feast of First Fruits – Exodus. 23:16, 34:22; Deuteronomy 16:10, Numbers 28:26
Pine trees – Nehemiah 8:15, Isaiah 41:19, Hosea 14:8
4. From a Tall Chicken
Fort Jezreel, Jezreel Valley, Israel
Obadiah’s heart slapped his ribs. “Outta here!”
He whacked Ahab’s horse, and Shochar leaped ahead.
Another arrow plunked in beside the first.
Ahab flattened his frame on Shochar and kicked him into a dash for the fort.
Obadiah pounded Lavan’s sides, and the big gray sprinted after them. Lookouts had been napping. Allowed spies in too close. Of course, the miserable Syrian scouts wouldn’t collect military intelligence and go home. Not when they saw a chance to pick off two Hebrews in white linen. Three more arrows sailed over Ahab’s back.
“Go! Go! Go!” Obadiah screamed.
A breath of breeze to the left, and that arrow would have sliced Ahab’s jugular.
Obadiah pictured slinging Ahab’s body over Shochar and leading the stallion home. How to explain the prince’s death to the king? Obadiah’s shoulders tightened. Better to die himself. Yet, as they galloped up the rise to the fort, Ahab crouched on Shochar, clinging with his knees and untouched by Syrian arrows.
“Thank you, Lord.” The tension in Obadiah’s shoulders eased.
The gate guards stepped aside.
Lavan and Shochar rattled the loose planks of the bridge and trotted through the entrance onto the threshing floor.
They cut around two farmers flailing barley, plowed through chaff, and hurdled a pile of straw. As they clip-clopped across the stones of the plaza, Obadiah closed his eyes and breathed.
“A shekel for that ugly thing?” drifted from the potter’s shop, and in front of the bakery, a woman turned a grinding wheel. But for these two lives, the plaza lay empty.
Where were the fifty bodyguards King Omri had assigned to escort his son? Two sauntered out from their quarters next to the stable, stretching and rubbing sleep from their eyes. “Where have you boys been? Why didn’t you call us?”
Obadiah frowned at Ahab. “You never talked to the captain.”
“And you fell for it.” A grin spread over Ahab’s face.
“Like an egg from a tall chicken, my prince. But you almost got us killed.”
Ahab touched his throat. “Sorry. Should have listened to you.”
Obadiah bit his lip. Ahab’s “sorry” seemed as real as his grin.
Seba met them by the hitching rail. The stable boy from Gibbethon had grown as tall as Obadiah. He owned full biceps and a thick black beard. He and Jebus, the Philistine boy Ahab had fed in Gibbethon, courted girls in the nearby village of Harod.
As Obadiah slid to the ground, the thunk of arrows in pine echoed in his head. His hands shook as he gave the reins to Seba. “Rub them down. I’ll be out to check on your work.”
Seba draped the reins over the rail. He removed the stallions’ blankets and wiped their sweaty backs with thick robes.
As Ahab and Obadiah approached the gate to the headquarters compound in their matching white linen cloaks and gray headscarves, the guard greeted Obadiah. “Good morning, my prince. The king’s looking for you.” He turned to Ahab and blushed. “Sorry, my prince.”
“No worries.” Ahab cupped Obadiah’s shoulder. “Plenty of people think this ugly guy looks like me.”
A second guard grasped Obadiah’s wrist and scowled. “Wake up.”
When Obadiah jerked back, the guard put a finger to his lips and whispered, “Pardon me, sir. The Lord says to wake yourself.” Then his face lost its scowl, and he backed up next to the other guard.
Striding up the path beside Ahab, Obadiah cast lingering glances back at the guard who talked like the fishmonger in Gibbethon ten years ago.
As they approached headquarters, Obadiah’s brow wrinkled. He touched Ahab’s arm. Had lookouts reported those arrows?
The prince shrugged.
At the entrance, King Omri paced among bodyguards. His sandals slapped marble, and his long blue cloak swayed. “You left fifty good men in the compound.” His clipped white beard bobbed with each stride. “To go racing in the valley alone.” He cracked a knuckle. “A mere scouting party from Cyprus or Damascus could have cut down my son and my right-hand man.”
Obadiah ducked. No mention of arrows. “My fault, your majesty.” A proper show of humility never hurt.
King Omri laughed. “Excuses later. Tomorrow I’ll come out and officiate your race.”
Obadiah let out a slow breath. Lecture delivered. Crisis over. He stepped inside the headquarters lobby.
As the king followed them in, he announced, “I’ve got another wife for Ahab.”
Threshing Floor – 1 Samuel 23:1-14, Ruth 3:1–18
5. Another Wife for Ahab
Fort Jezreel, Jezreel Valley, Israel
Obadiah stopped just inside the door and turned to catch a glimpse of the gate guard who had whispered, “Wake up.”
Too late. The door closed. A servant with a broom hurried to him and swept up bits of grass and dirt fallen from Obadiah’s sandals.
The king lifted his chin. “A messenger arrived from Edom. Old King Jobab has agreed to my proposal.” He waved an arm toward the window. “Trade along my southeast border. This year we dock ships in Eilat and next year sell olive oil in Bozrah and Ophir.”
A second servant extended blue ceramic bowls to the boys. Obadiah splashed water on his face then burrowed into a thick cloth the man handed him. Lord, what are you saying with “wake up”? He fumbled and dropped the cloth, bent and scooped it into the servant’s hand. “Sorry.”
King Omri edged a dish of glossy purple grapes across a knee-high marble table toward Ahab. “King Jobab is sending you his daughter from Bozrah to seal our agreement.”
Obadiah turned toward the window. This deal raised the wife count for Ahab to eight.
Ahab plopped onto a bearskin, lifted a bunch of grapes from the bowl, and plucked one with his teeth.
“And don’t ask about her pretty face.” Omri flipped a hand toward his son. “Old King Jobab says she’s a real looker, but that’s a father talking. She can be a toad for all you care. What matters is my southeast border and trade routes.” Omri rubbed his hands together. “Plus, I’m counting my share of the taxes Jobab collects from caravans.”
Obadiah leaned his elbows on the windowsill. Beyond the lattice work, white doves chased through almond trees in blossom. He shook his head. Trade routes and taxes. He was born to tend pear trees. By his father’s side, he had laid up rough-cut limestone blocks to shape their four rooms in Kishion. Instead of lattice work, his family peeked through shutters. But to drink in a view of Mount Tabor’s western slope, they had only to step onto the veranda.
Ahab pulled off another grape. “This changes our strategy, Biah. If we don’t have to post half our troops along our southeast border, we can stop Syrians the moment we smell them mobilizing in Damascus.” He turned to his father. “So, Edom’s under the belt. When do we complete talks with Sidon?”
Omri snapped his fingers. “The big one. When I land Sidon, we’ll ship olive oil across the Great Sea at double the price, and King Ethbaal’s daughter becomes your queen. Not wife number nine, but queen on the throne.”
Obadiah pushed away from the lattice. This conversation was between the king and the prince. “My king, I should tend to the horses.” And confront the gate guard.
“Leave the horses to Seba. You’ve trained him well.” The king sat in a short marble chair with his knees bumping the table top. “Get your bones over here.”
Obadiah shivered in the naked room. He didn’t fit with cold marble, so unlike his family’s tiny house in Kishion, where thick goatskin rugs covered the rough-cut paving stones and intricate knitted designs hung from the walls. He turned for a last look at the almond trees and then perched on the edge of a chair.
The king slid a cut-glass carafe of olive oil across the table. “I’m sending you to learn the olive oil business.”
“Olive oil.” As Obadiah rolled the carafe between his palms, the oil made golden ripples. “I’m inexperienced, my king.”
With a laugh and a look, the king lifted Obadiah’s chin. “When I put you in charge of the stables, you trained Seba by forking out the stalls with him. Then I made you head of housekeeping. You grabbed a mop and showed my crews how to clean. I gave you control of the kitchen, and everybody says your Chef Jebus is the best thing that’s happened to our meals. Since I made you my purchasing agent, merchants utter my name with respect.”
Obadiah ducked his head. “Thank you, my king. For your kind regard.”
“My opinion comes from people in key positions whom I trust.”
“Spies.” Ahab slouched next to Obadiah in a matching chair.
King Omri ignored his son and stared out the lattice work. “I’ve wanted to build a fort on Shemer’s Hill since I first rode out of Tirzah. There it stood, high in the middle of everything. Then I found the groves around the hill produce a hundred amphorae of olive oil every day. You’ll make my dream come true, Biah.”
Obadiah jerked his head back. The king was setting him up for a fall. “Please, my king. I muck out stalls and sweep floors.”
The king leaned across the table. “You’ll learn fast, and you won’t steal from me. You’ll supervise grove managers. Next time the Seventy meets, I want you at my side. The elders need to get acquainted with your face. You’re young, but you’re my right-hand man, and people even appreciate how you’re such a fanatic for the Lord.”
“Have a grape, right-hand man.” Ahab held a bunch toward him.
Obadiah waved the grapes away. Ahab’s only job was to be prince. He knew nothing of the challenge of each responsibility the king had rattled off. Obadiah’s giant leap to the top of the olive business must look to Ahab like the next natural step for his old buddy, Biah.
Obadiah cringed at the idea of mingling with the nation’s elders. “I prune pear trees, my king. I’m a country boy.”
King Omri stepped between him and the almond blossoms. “Well, country boy, first thing after the Day of Atonement, I’m sending you to Shemer’s Hill with two talents of silver.”
Kishion – Joshua 19:18
Jobab, king of Edom – Genesis 36.33
Shipping from Eilat – Deuteronomy 2:8, 1 Kings 9–10, 1 Kings 22, 2 Kings 14:22
The Seventy Elders of Israel – Exodus 3:16, Exodus 12:21, Exodus 24, & Numbers 11:16
The Day of Atonement – Exodus 29:36, Leviticus 16:1, 23:26-28, 25:9, Numbers 6:1, 29:7
Shemer’s Hill – 1 Kings 16:24
6. Bodyguards for Obadiah
Fort Jezreel, Jezreel Valley, Israel
Obadiah wiped clammy hands on his robe. Haul two talents of silver?
When he was seven years old, his father had wrapped twelve shekels of silver in a cloth and tucked the tiny ball into an inner pocket of Obadiah’s robe. “I need you to deliver this to the cobbler in Endor.”
Obadiah’s chest had swelled. His father trusted him to carry silver.
But then his knees threatened to collapse. Thieves lurked outside the village to take his father’s shekels. He might survive their attack, but what to tell his father? His shoulders sagged.
“Just act normal, Biah. No one will look twice at you.” His father patted Obadiah on the head and turned him toward the door.
Act normal with a ball of silver bumping his ribs? Robbers crouched behind every shrub. He lowered his head and dashed out of Kishion.
But running would attract the brigands watching from the shadows.
He hunched over and slowed to a walk.
Thrusting his shoulders back, he glanced from side to side.
Every boulder hid a bandit with an evil laugh, a long knife, and a bony arm reaching for his father’s twelve shekels.
Obadiah fixed his eyes dead ahead and loped to the village of Endor in record time. He dashed past the first houses, fell through the cobbler’s door, and shoved his father’s silver at the man’s chest.
Ahab’s slap on the back jolted him into the present. “Big job, Biah. You’ll do great.”
“I don’t want you taking unnecessary risks,” King Omri said. “You’ll need bodyguards. Pick men you trust with your life.”
“But, my king—”
“I’m buying the hill from old Shemer and sending you to learn the olive business. You can take Shemer his silver on the way.”
Obadiah flinched and jerked back. He had never pruned an olive tree but was hauling enough silver to buy a hill of olive groves.
Obadiah stood on the threshing floor with six men. Their robes and sunburnt faces signified farmers, yet he knew them as soldiers who fought at his side in the campaign to make Omri king. They had eaten from one dish, warmed themselves at one fire, and slept huddled together against the frigid nights. Long after they forgot their mission, they killed to protect each other.
“We’re scouting olive oil production. You’re bodyguards, not troops looking for a fight. But with bandits and Syrians waiting for us—I’m putting Zak at your head.” Obadiah tapped the shoulder of the one man of the six whose barrel chest and bulging forearms turned heads on market day.
Grunts of agreement came from the five.
When a chariot captain had ambushed Obadiah, Zak’s javelin had split the attacker’s Adam’s apple. At twenty paces.
Obadiah waved toward the fort gate. “The king says to choose steeds from the corral. Pick a horse who can claw his way out of a canyon. We don’t plan to stop and chat with any Syrians.”
He slapped Zak on the shoulder. “I want to see the horses. I’ll be on the roof with Yedidah.”
As Zak led the bodyguards to the corral, Obadiah climbed the stairs to the headquarters roof. Several elders and their families occupied clusters in the center. Over in the northeast corner, Yedidah waited for him with their three little ones.
Yedidah, the potter’s daughter, had welcomed eight-year-old Obadiah and Ahab when they returned from cheering the troops in Gibbethon. Yet, when Obadiah described Philistine heads rolling in the grass, she did not hold her breath or open wide her large brown eyes. Instead, she propped her hands on her hips, shook her tight black curls, and called over her shoulder. “Rolling heads, Daddy. Like you said.” Then she laid her fingers on Obadiah’s arm. “I’m glad it wasn’t your head, Biah.”
Eight years later, when he asked her father for Yedidah’s hand in marriage, the man’s eyebrows slid together as one. “She’s considered no one else, son.”
He stretched on their thick rug, put his hands behind his head, and watched storks circle on updrafts over the far side of the Jordan River Valley. “The king wants me to move two talents of silver up to Shemer’s Hill. And I haven’t dared to tell my men.”
His oldest daughter rolled on her side and propped her head on a hand, so her hair fell over her face. She squinted. “How much is two talents, Daddy?”
“More silver than I thought I’d ever see.” He closed his eyes and let the sun warm his face.
“We’re back!” Zak called from the plaza.
With a grunt, Obadiah rolled to his feet. “I’ll help.” He kissed Yedidah and the girls then jogged down the stairs and around to the stables.
Five bodyguards brushed and combed five horses while the chariot driver worked with two more.
Seba came out from the stalls cradling his two-year-old son in an elbow. He leaned his pitchfork against the door jamb. “You have sound horseflesh, sir.”
Obadiah moved from animal to animal, rubbing withers and patting rumps. “Nice.” He ran his hands over the forelegs of a chariot horse and asked the driver, “Did you find us a good solid chariot?”
“I did, sir. Kicked the wheels and rattled the shafts. Best of the lot.”
Obadiah tapped the driver’s shoulder with a fist. “Let’s haul our chariot up here.”
When Obadiah and the driver returned with the chariot, Obadiah stared at the ground for a beat then looked up. “The king says we’re to haul two talents of silver.”
“Bwah!” The youngest spluttered. “Two talents! Silver? Pardon me, sir, but the king’s got his…” He covered his mouth with his hand and glanced around.
Seba and the six men converged on Obadiah.
“You’d need a mule.”
“Six guards? Sixty.”
Obadiah threw his hands up. “Crazy, I know. But—”
“Wait.” Zak’s calm voice turned everyone’s head.
“There’s five of us. Seven if we count Biah and the driver.”
The driver snorted. “What are you counting me into, old man?”
“Nothing you can’t handle, child. A donkey’ll balk if you load her with two talents. But if you spread the load to two donkeys, they mosey along. Two talents are about the weight of six toddlers like the one at my house.”
“Cheer up, sir.” The driver tipped Obadiah’s chin up. “I think old Zak’s saying—”
“Carry it like a baby,” the youngest blurted.
“Six babies,” Zak said. “Seven if Biah wants one.”
Obadiah patted his chest. “So I ride with silver strapped to me in a pack. When’s the last time you saw a man with a baby on his chest?”
“But five of us riding next to your chariot—strange together.” The youngest poked Obadiah’s shoulder with a fist.
Eyes fastened on Obadiah.
“Get these horses into stalls with food and water while I tell the king we ride in the morning.” He ducked out of the circle. Seba and the six waited at the stable door.
Obadiah returned. “King Omri thinks our ‘baby carry’ is the best idea he’s heard. As long as we’re surrounded by fifty cavalrymen with swords and javelins.”
King Omri’s battle for the throne – 1 Kings 16:21-22
Two talents of silver – 1 Kings 16:24
Endor – Joshua 17:11, 1 Samuel 28:4–25, Psalm 83:9–10
Brigands – Jeremiah 46:3-4
7. Shemer’s Hill
Fort Jezreel, Jezreel Valley, Israel
Obadiah swung his two oldest daughters off their feet, eased onto their apartment’s one chair, and perched the girls on his knees. “I’ll only be gone a week.”
“Where, Daddy?” The oldest leaned into his shoulder.
“To see a man named Shemer.”
Yedidah stood in the candlelight rocking the baby in her arms and bumping her knees into his. “I just wish you didn’t have to go, that’s all. We need you. I need you.”
He eased the girls to the floor, rose, pulled Yedidah and the baby close, and swayed with them in his arms.
Yedidah spoke into his chest. “Hold me tight. Right here. I can’t hug you up there at the gate and kiss you goodbye with the world gawking at us.”
At their knees, the girls wrapped arms around adult legs and helped them sway.
Obadiah held the baby while Yedidah blew out the candle and locked the apartment door. He followed her and the two older girls through the hall. In the kitchen, he tucked the baby close to his chest and threaded through the cooks. “Good morning, everybody. Up top, they’re bragging on Chef Jebus. Let’s keep those superb meals coming.”
He paused by Jebus. The Philistine child Ahab fed in Gibbethon had grown into a man with arms too long for his robe. He chopped onions.
Jebus laid a hand on Obadiah’s shoulder. “When I first came from Gibbethon, you used to tell me, ‘Yedidah likes onions chopped fine.’”
Yedidah wiped her nose. “The finer the better, Jebus.”
As Obadiah reached the far side of the kitchen, a man washing dishes whispered, “Pardon me, sir. But the Lord says to wake up.”
Obadiah froze in mid-stride but did not look. That was not the fishmonger, and I’m not crazy. What are you doing, Lord? He mounted the stairs and followed his family through the courtyard.
From behind the Gilead mountains, shafts of sunlight sliced into the last of the night. By the butcher shop, a golden oriole sang weela-wee-ooo from deep inside an Absalom oak, and a breeze brought the aroma of fresh bread with smoke from the ovens.
Seba stood at the stable door. “Your chariot team is harnessed up, sir.”
“Thank you, my man.” Obadiah tossed him a salute.
On the threshing floor, each bodyguard laid a blanket on his mount and strapped it into place with a light harness. Zak crooned a beddy-bye tune to a pack cradled in his arms then helped Obadiah into the shoulder loops. “Looks good on you, sir.” He swung onto his horse. “Let’s ride.”
Obadiah stepped into his chariot and blew kisses to Yedidah and the girls.
Yedidah held her face taut while the two older girls clung to her legs. She pulled the baby close, raised a hand to her chin, and wiggled her fingers. The girls said, “We love you, Daddy.”
King Omri strode out the headquarters front door and spoke for a moment with the captain of his cavalrymen bunched on the plaza. Then he stood with both hands on Obadiah’s chariot rail. “My cavalry will take you to Shemer and return on their own. After the silver is in Shemer’s hands, ask for Gera the grove manager.”
“The silver to Shemer. Then find Gera.” He gave the king a crisp nod and touched his driver’s arm. “Shemer’s Hill.”
As the king backed away, cavalrymen surrounded Obadiah. The youngest bodyguard guffawed. “With these fifty along for the ride, we could pin the silver to our robes and let it twinkle in the sun.”
Obadiah rolled his eyes. His driver took his chariot out the gate, rattled the planks over the moat, and turned south.
When the sun had climbed halfway to its crest, Shemer’s Hill rose from the lesser ridges. Oaks and acacias gave way to olive groves. Beside the path, a silhouette of Obadiah’s chariot and team rippled against a wall of gray-green olive leaves.
They climbed the several switchbacks up the west face of Shemer’s Hill then rolled through the city gate while the sun was just shy of its meridian.
Hammers and saws drowned out any warbler, yellowhammer, or great tit which might have dared to sing. Stone cutters wielded long saws to shape huge ashlars. Masons rolled each block on large wooden dowels and tapped it into place, framing Shemer’s Hill in a rectangle of limestone.
On the threshing floor, Obadiah grabbed a flail from a pile of chaff. He swung the handle, twirling the beater over his head, and set the two poles of the flail back on the chaff. King Omri’s dream was under construction.
After many long drinks from the wells in the city, the cavalry conducted Obadiah and his bodyguards out the gate and around to the north side of the hill. The cavalry captain pointed to a plain little adobe house. “There is your Shemer.” He led his riders into a park of Absalom oaks. “My men and I will camp here under the trees.”
As Obadiah and his guards approached the house, a wrinkled man with a white beard streaked in gray stood from his seat under an olive tree. “You must be from King Omri. Welcome.” He opened the door of the house. “An interesting way to carry silver. You can set the packs inside. Thank you. I’ll weigh them later.”
The guards piled their packs in the middle of the room and left.
As Obadiah tried to follow, Shemer blocked the way. “Pardon me, young man. The Lord wants you to wake up.”
Obadiah jerked back. “Please, sir. Just tell me where to find Gera the grove manager.”
Shemer’s Hill – I Kings 16:24
8. Gera the Grove Manager
Shemer’s Hill, Israel
Obadiah turned at the lone oak on the south side of Shemer’s Hill and followed a path through the olive trees to a gate. On the far side of a broad courtyard, a limestone house stood with several rooms.
Obadiah called, “Hello, the house! Gera?”
A short, plump woman appeared on the veranda. A thick gray braid fell from her headscarf and dangled over her shoulder. “Are you boys from the king? Gera will be home any moment and help you stable your horses.”
“Thank you, ma’am. We’ll wait.” Obadiah stepped off his chariot and his guards slid down from their mounts.
“Hello!” came from the path behind them.
Two men trudged in through the olives. A pruning saw hung at the older man’s belt, and a small bag swung from his shoulder. The younger man carried long-stemmed flowers with enormous blue furry seedpods.
The older said, “It’s not every day I find the king’s right-hand man at my gate. Has my wife offered you anything to eat?” Black curls mingled with white ringlets and tumbled from his headscarf.
Obadiah made two long strides to the men and clasped hands with the older. “My name is Obadiah. Please call me Biah. The king sent me to learn olive groves.”
Farmer style, the older man held Obadiah’s hand as he talked. “I’m Gera, a child of Benjamin, and my son is Liev. King Omri asked me to teach you olives.” Crow’s feet decorated his temples, and lights twinkled in his eyes.
“The king wants to increase production. You must have heard he bought the hill.”
“Word gets out.” Gera pulled Obadiah’s hand closer. “If I had two talents of silver, I would have bought this hill for my son.”
Liev laughed. “My father’s a generous man.” He jiggled the bouquet in his grip and glanced toward the veranda.
Obadiah released Gera’s hand. “Here, here. I’m keeping you.” He opened the gate for them.
Gera hurried ahead to the stable. “We cleaned stalls and brought in fresh water and hay this morning. You can tuck the chariot up next to the wall. No one’s going to roll the king’s wheels away in the night.”
When horses and chariot were in place, he steadied the ladder against the parapet as Liev and the visitors climbed to the veranda. Gera stepped off the ladder behind them. “Allow me to introduce my wife, Hodiah.” He opened both hands toward the woman with the braid.
Hodiah cast a broad smile over Obadiah and his guards, then turned toward a petite young woman who held Liev’s bouquet of blue next to her cheek. “This is our daughter-in-law, Keren.”
Straight, dark hair fell from Keren’s headscarf. Her robe bulged in the middle. She flashed a smile at Liev then made a quick bow to the newcomers.
Obadiah returned the bow then swiveled toward his bodyguards. “These men are my old friends and will learn olive trees at my side.”
Gera pointed to goatskin mats piled near the door. “Please have a seat.”
Obadiah and his men sat in a semi-circle with Gera and Liev.
Hodiah and Keren put plates of steaming mutton and cabbage in their hands then sat next to their husbands.
Gera asked Obadiah, “What experience do you have with olive trees, young man?”
“None. My father taught me pear trees.” Obadiah jutted his chin toward his guards. “We know a shovel from a saw. Yet, what pests do you fight? Do we prune a tree the same?”
Liev’s shoulders came back.
Hodiah tapped Liev on the arm. “My Gera says our Liev is the best pruner he’s seen.”
Keren beamed at her husband, and Liev’s neck flushed.
Gera turned to Liev. “What have I taught you about pruning, son?”
Liev faced Obadiah. “Well, sir, my father likes an open center to the tree.”
The youngest bodyguard blurted, “My dad says if you can throw a basket through from any direction, that’s good pruning.”
As everyone on the veranda turned open-mouthed, red climbed up the young guard’s face. “I mean. Not that anyone asked.”
Gera waved a hand at him. “I see we won’t be short on opinions here. I wish we had your father with us.”
He slapped Liev on the knee. “My Liev touched on the basics, yet his pruning is an art form. I’ll have him lead us on a stroll through the groves to show you one section from another.”
When everyone had finished eating, Hodiah stepped to the back of the veranda and patted several thick rugs hanging on a line. She addressed Obadiah. “These are yours.” She raised an arm toward the hall. “Your room is the last on the right, and the other boys can sleep in the room across the hall.”
Obadiah’s driver handed rugs to each bodyguard, then led the way. At the door to Obadiah’s room, he whispered, “Sleep well, sir. We ‘other boys’ will be across the hall.” Soft chuckles came from the guards.
Obadiah stretched on his rug, grinned at Hodiah’s ruling, and slept.
Obadiah stirred to the voice in the dark.
“How long will you sleep, lazy bones?”
Fumbling with his headscarf, Obadiah stumbled into the hall and looked for the fishmonger of Gibbethon.
Zak jostled his shoulder.
A rooster crowed. Faint light shone at the end of the hall.
Ahab’s voice came from outside. “Wake up, king’s right-hand man. I got the sun out of bed for you. And me with neither harp nor lyre.”
Obadiah scrubbed a hand over his face and led his guards onto the veranda. A chorus of crickets greeted them. As he closed his cloak against the chill, the courtyard gate rattled.
“The Syrians are upon you, sleepyhead. While you concern yourself with fruits and oils, someone must defend our nation.” Ahab stood at the gate. Beside him in the pale light, ten royal bodyguards gazed over the wall and laughed.
“‘My entire life will I sing and make music.’ Take the tenor, Biah.” Ahab spread his arms and belted out, “‘The Lord is my light and my salvation.’”
“My prince!” Obadiah scooted down the ladder. “It’s too early for your songs.”
“Early? Not all the Lord’s faithful get to curl up on a comfy rug warmed by the sun.” Ahab’s shoulders slumped for a beat. “We who shiver in the dark—we miserable ones must stretch on the dirt and tuck an old robe under our bones. For us, the morning never comes without our calling it.”
Open-mouthed, Gera gazed from the veranda. “Come in, my prince. Come in.”
Ahab pushed through the gate and wrapped Obadiah in a hug. “My father sent me. He wants to impress me with his new capital.”
Obadiah pushed back from his embrace. “But why did you get in so late last night? Did bandits attack you on the road?”
“Nothing so exciting. We got a late start.” He rocked from side to side. “I was on the roof with Amira and her two, enjoying the afternoon sunshine. My father discovered us and started telling how Shemer’s Hill is the perfect spot for his capital. High. Isolated from either valley. Central. And the double walls he’s planning. Cisterns. Tunnels. He talked himself into sending me to join you in a tour of this fine city.”
Ahab clutched his ribs and shivered. “So we arrived long after dark. The only safe camp was with the cavalry. Tell me, what training do we give our troops that they camp on the cold side of this hill? I rolled out, so I could flail my arms against my sides.”
“I don’t believe it.” Obadiah took a step back. “The king saw me off at dawn. Then sent you in the middle of the afternoon?”
“Crazy, I know. This city he’s building. Every week he rides up here to inspect the fortifications. He sent you and me to gawk and give our praise—I expect Jehu and Bidkar will take turns.”
Hodiah appeared at the parapet beside her husband. “Children, cease your gossip and bring yourselves up here, so I can feed you fresh flatbread and olive oil.”
Obadiah turned to her. “Oh, ma’am. You don’t want—”
Ahab put a hand over Obadiah’s mouth. “What my friend means is, you’ve got Biah’s bunch up there, and if this army behind me makes the climb, you’ll think a cloud of locusts has settled in your wheat field.”
While Gera laughed, Hodiah planted a fist on her hip. “Child, I appreciate how your mother taught you respect. Now bring your manners and your locusts up here, because I’ve got five ovens to feed and three goats to milk.”
Obadiah twisted a knuckle against Ahab’s ribs. “You’ve met your match, my prince.”
Shemer’s Hill – I Kings 16:24
Gera of Benjamin – Genesis 46:21, 1 Chronicles 8:7
Hodiah – 1 Chronicles 4:19
Keren-happuch – Job 42:14
Wake up. I got the sun out of bed. – Psalms 57:8 & 108:2
The Lord is my light and my salvation. – Psalm 27:1
The morning never comes without our calling it – Psalm 130
9. King Ahab
Samaria City, Samaria, Israel
Obadiah stood at the city gate and faced King Ahab on the other side of the opening. Both wore white linen robes and solid gray headscarves.
Chariot wheels clanked on pavers as guests departed. A long line of tribal elders and foreign rulers ducked their heads and spoke soft words of condolence to the new king.
With one hand, Obadiah shielded his eyes from the noonday sun. With the other, he waved a steady farewell.
King Ahab nodded to the moving file.
Guards on horseback surrounded each departing chariot. One in a solid gray robe turned his horse out of formation, paused, and leaned down to Obadiah. “Wake up, sir. The Lord says, keep your eyes open.” The rider straightened and touched a heel to his mount.
Obadiah slammed his eyes shut. In his head, the old fishmonger of Gibbethon shuffled through, his basket swinging from his shoulder with the rhythm of his call.“Fish. Fresh fish.” Obadiah opened one eye a slit. No fishmonger. And the cavalryman had disappeared out the gate.
As the last chariot descended the switchbacks, Ahab stepped into the center of the gateway. He spread his feet and faced the distant hills.
Obadiah joined him.
A hawk circled overhead, and a breeze from the Great Sea built puffs of white into gray clouds over the hills, the promise of an early afternoon shower.
Shoppers lugged produce from the market, among them Gera and Hodiah with two small sacks bulging with onions. They paused on the threshing floor and greeted the guards. Hodiah glanced up at Ahab. “You’re still welcome on our veranda, child.”
Ahab turned from his survey of the hills, smiled, and touched her shoulder.
She followed Gera around the south side of the hill.
Obadiah took in a deep breath. “Your father was good to me, my king. From way back at Gibbethon.”
Ahab glanced toward Obadiah. “Those were good days. He was a good father. Terrific leader of troops.”
“A great king.”
“He sure let Mesha know who was boss.” Ahab drove his fist against his palm.
“And he lived his dream—a capital on this hilltop.”
“Only six years here, Biah. He deserved more.”
Behind them, the elder Shuthelah cleared his throat. “May the Lord protect your guests from bandits and Syrians.” He stroked his long, white beard. “Come, please. Sit a while.” The elder led them over the freshly swept threshing floor and across the plaza. Farmers hauling cages of chickens and unsold apples pulled their donkeys aside and nodded as Ahab passed.
Shuthelah opened his courtyard gate and called toward the veranda. “What do we have to feed Obadiah and the prince?” Two strides in, he stopped short. “King. I mean the king.”
Ahab waved him away. “You’ll have me looking around for my father.”
The elder dropped goatskins in the shade of an oak. Obadiah and Ahab sat cross-legged, and Shuthelah placed a tray between them with dishes of sliced cucumber, olive oil, and spices. Then he excused himself.
Zak looked over the courtyard’s waist-high wall. “Do you want your guards inside the courtyard?”
“Out there’s fine,” Ahab said. “The sun shines on the plaza or the courtyard, but not on the north side of the hill. When my father was planning his tomb, he said, ‘Not that bitter north side.’ He wanted the sunrise to warm his bones.”
“Sunrise. Good choice.” Obadiah nudged a cucumber slice to align it with the others. “When I bloodied your nose in Gibbethon I thought your father was going to chop my head off.”
“Then who would have contradicted me all these years?”
“Or challenged your strategy, my king.”
Since King Omri became sick, neither Obadiah nor Ahab quizzed the other with their game of, “The Syrians are upon you.”
Booted hoofs clopped an irregular pattern through the city gate and across the threshing floor. An Arabian of the Fort Jezreel stable known for his never-give-up heart limped across the plaza. The horse tripped.
Ahab rolled to his knees, head up. “Gallant.”
A trusted messenger from Jehu lay along Gallant’s neck and clutched his mane. His headscarf was missing. Obadiah shot through the courtyard gate and grabbed Gallant’s reins.
“Biah.” The rider gasped.
Before he could collapse to the pavers, Obadiah caught him in his arms, patted, but found no wounds or blood. He eased him to his feet.
The rider sank against Obadiah’s chest and whispered. “Your father, sir. Syrians.”
King Omri reigned six years in Tirzah and six in Samaria – 1 Kings 16:23-24
Death and burial of King Omri – 1 Kings 16:28
Mesha in Moab – https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesha_Stele
Samaria City, Samaria, Israel
Obadiah croaked out, “Father?”
Gallant’s chest heaved with ragged rasps. His head hung low. Lather rolled from his bridle, and sweat coursed his legs.
Zak pushed past Obadiah and laid a hand on the horse’s neck. He pointed at his men. “Water!” Bodyguards thundered toward nearby wells and cisterns. Shoppers jumped aside.
While guards soaked Gallant from head to rump, Obadiah splashed water on the messenger’s face. He tried to make him drink but couldn’t open his mouth.
Had Syrians killed his father? His mother? Burned their village to the ground? When the man’s eyes rolled up into his head, Obadiah eased him into Zak’s arms and turned toward the livery. He raced across the plaza, waving his arms and yelling, “Horse! Give me a horse!”
His driver sprinted past. Obadiah arrived as the man pulled the chariot out the door, shouting, “Horses. Horses.”
Obadiah shook the driver’s shoulder. “I don’t have time for this. Put me on a horse.”
“Pardon me, sir, but your mount will never make it. You need two horses pulling wheels.”
Obadiah threw up his hands. “Give me a horse, man. A horse!”
“And neither will you, sir. I’m driving you.” He shoved a harness at Obadiah.
While attendants led his chariot team from their stalls, Obadiah knelt and picked through the tangle of leather in his hands. “Lord, help us.”
His bodyguards dashed up. As they bridled and blanketed their mounts in the livery courtyard, Zak said, “You might leave us behind. We’ll back you up the best we can.”
Obadiah fumbled, dropping straps and hooking clasps where they didn’t belong.
An attendant took the harness. “Please, sir.”
Obadiah clapped a hand over his quivering jaw and backed away.
Once the driver had hooks and bridles in place, he tested connections with quick tugs, then draped the reins over the rail.
Ahab jogged up. “We may have saved Gallant. The messenger only mumbles ‘Syrians’ or ‘Biah.’”
Obadiah stepped into the chariot. His mouth twitched.
Ahab’s hand trembled on the rail. “Look, just get there, okay? Don’t worry—I mean, Gera can handle the groves. My father lies in his tomb. Everything else can wait. I’ll catch up after my men have done what they can for Gallant and his rider.”
“Thanks.” Obadiah laid a hand on Ahab’s then tapped his driver’s shoulder. “Go.”
The driver cracked his whip. With bodyguards leading the way, Obadiah’s horses trotted across the plaza and out the gate. At the bottom of the switchbacks, they turned toward the Jezreel Valley, and the horses settled into their long-distance gait.
Obadiah drilled his gaze into the road ahead. The sun hung high in the sky. They should arrive in Kishion before dark.
Yedidah was at home in the fort, so she must have interviewed whoever brought word from Kishion. She’d know if Syrians were swarming the village and if her parents were alive. She must be clinging to their children, hoping for word from Obadiah. He clamped his hand hard over the driver’s bony shoulder.
“Look, sir. I can only drive so fast. If I kill these horses, we’ll never reach Kishion.”
With a grunt, Obadiah released his grip and hunched over the rail. Why did anyone think hours of bending knees with the bumps in the road was easier than bouncing on a trotting horse?
Young Obadiah had felt proud to help his father add rooms to their house.
Omri had hired masons to build his house. Obadiah and Ahab stayed out of the way. Yet, every time Obadiah’s father cut blocks at the quarry or added a room, Obadiah and Ahab swung hammers at his side, grunted and pushed on the blocks.
As the chariot rolled, Obadiah dreamed of building a wall to protect his father. When the blocks of his picture rose higher than he could reach, he searched for his father to tell him, “You’re safe now.” But his father wasn’t in their rooms or in the stable.
The chariot swerved to miss a large hole, jarring him from his daydream.
The driver stopped for water at the first village on the road. As the dust settled, guards hauled buckets from the well. While horses sucked each bucket dry, Obadiah wrung his hands and paced beside the chariot. The messenger had not mentioned his mother or little brother, Yedidah’s family or Ahab’s grandfather. Was anyone alive?
They stopped for water a second time, then a third. At each pause, Obadiah’s insides quivered.
As the meadows and farms of the long Jezreel Valley opened before them, the driver pointed toward the fort. “We need to change horses, sir. I’ve pushed these as hard as I dare.”
Obadiah drooped against the chariot rail, but he felt lively compared to the look of his five bodyguards—clinging to manes, ready to swoon. Their horses dripped sweat and hung their heads.
He turned the driver’s shoulders to face him. “Can this team make it to Kishion?”
“They could, sir. But fresh horses…”
He could find a chariot and driver for Yedidah and the kids while the men secured new mounts. Another team for his own chariot. Faster and more sure-footed.
But at the cost of three or four hours.
He released the driver. “We go with this team.”
As the chariot descended into the Jezreel Valley, the horses’ heads sagged. Yet, they carried Obadiah and his men into the foothills and surfaced in the meadow hosting Kishion village.
Obadiah rolled past familiar clumps of rocks and trees. A thickness filled his throat.
The first houses looked undisturbed. Tears pricked his eyes.
People leaned out open doorways or rose from vegetable gardens to gawk at Obadiah and the driver sagging against the chariot rail and the horses stumbling over bumps in the path. A few faces burst into smile at Obadiah, then faded, blank and sad.
Crickets announced approaching twilight.
The kiln of red brick in front of Yedidah’s house stood in its correct spot. Her parents must wonder about her safety, but he could not pause three doors from his own home. He tapped the driver on the arm, and the chariot stopped by the well.
On numb feet, Obadiah stumbled through the gate on the left.
A fresh mound stood by the corner of the house. Although he had helped Ahab lay King Omri in a tomb cut into the rock, his own father rested under this heap of dirt.
Obadiah pressed trembling lips together, knelt, and sifted a handful through shaky fingers. “I should have been here for you.”
Kishion, a village of Issachar – Joshua 19:20
Kishion, Issachar, Israel
Obadiah steadied himself against the ladder while his mother descended a rung at a time. In the fading light, her cheeks seemed dry, yet her eyes, red and swollen.
His mother held him by the shoulders as she searched his face. “You came.” She wrapped him in a hug. “My boy. My boy. I didn’t know if they could find you.” She released him and slid her arm through his.
Obadiah’s younger brother, Tola, bounced down the ladder and landed—thump—on the sod. Although his face sagged, he draped an arm around Obadiah’s ribs and gripped him by an elbow.
Wedged between mother and brother, Obadiah stared with them at the grave.
His mother broke the silence. “Your father was out pruning and didn’t come home. When it got dark, the neighbors lit lamps.”
Tola’s wife appeared at Tola’s elbow. Their five children arrived without a sound and cast furtive glances at Obadiah.
“The baker found him.” Tola planted his feet wide. “Over near the quarry. His pruning saw lay in the grass.”
An arrow flashed through Obadiah’s memory—thunk. Syrian scouts couldn’t return to Damascus satisfied with information on troop movements. No. They needed to pick off a rider—or a pear tree farmer.
“Biah. They found you.” Yedidah’s parents pushed through the gate and hurried across the courtyard. Tola stood back and offered Obadiah’s side to the mother. “Oh, son. I’m so sorry. Your father was such a good man.” Her children gathered behind her.
“Still is a good man, I say.” Yedidah’s father stared across the mound of dirt and flared his nostrils. “The village’ll never be the same, boy.”
Yedidah’s mother glanced up. “Are Yedidah and my grandbabies…?”
Obadiah’s knees shook. “The fort. Safe. Messenger found me.” The few words came out with a struggle. He pulled her to his side then sagged against the two women.
Tu-cu-chee-yo, a nightjar called, and a faint breeze touched Obadiah’s cheek.
Yedidah’s father cleared his throat. “Look at me, Biah.”
Obadiah lifted his head.
The man frowned. “You’re exhausted. The gang of you. We’ll stable your horses, and we have rugs for your men.”
Mendel, Ahab’s grandfather, strode through the gate. He stood taller than Ahab or Obadiah, and a pure white beard jutted from his chin. “Such a racket of wheels. Horses breathing loud enough to scare a mountain lion. Buckets bumping the well. Your man Zak takes charge out there.”
Obadiah lifted a hand and let it drop. “Zak.”
Grandpa Mendel’s enormous paw clamped onto Obadiah’s shoulder, jolting the two mothers from their grip and turning Obadiah around. “I made a token attempt as a proper host and started to fry up the mutton for your gang. Then I turned Zak loose in the kitchen. He’s finding stalls in my stable and rugs in those rooms my son built to invade my privacy.”
Obadiah gave one soft chuckle for the old village joke—King Omri had posted guards, but his father had sent them back to the fort.
“So sorry your dad is gone, boy. The Lord makes none better. Not these days. Knew they’d find you. Just didn’t think it would take so long.”
Long? He’d left the moment Gallant had arrived. Obadiah’s shoulder relaxed under the familiar grip. He bowed and let the too loud voice flow over him.
“Did you get my son laid out in his tomb?” Mendel stomped a foot in the grass. “Don’t you start on me about hiking across the valley and up into those hills to pay my respects.”
Obadiah’s mouth twitched. King Omri had said, “My father will outlive me, but he’ll never visit my tomb.”
While Mendel’s hand rested on Obadiah’s shoulder, his voice moved far away. “I let my son know square and proper, if he wanted his bones in a tomb, I couldn’t stop him. But he comes from farm stock, and an honest farmer takes his final sleep in the earth.”
Grandfather’s face washed out, and his voice faded to a distant hum—how his son had commanded armies in foreign places but Beitshan was far enough for any man to travel.
Obadiah closed his eyes and leaned against his little brother. His own quiet grave plot waited beside his great-grandfather’s. Why had he left home?
Gera didn’t need him in the olive groves. Seba ran the stables and Jebus the kitchen. The bookkeeper from Nazareth did an admirable job with the accounts. How does all this labor under the sun profit a man? Obadiah sighed. Instead of working at his father’s side, he had run after smoke and fog. Let someone else be the king’s man.
His mother held the ladder. “The trip has worn Biah out. He needs to sleep.”
Sleep? Obadiah lifted his head from Tola’s shoulder. “Just got here.” He placed a foot on the first rung of the ladder. “I need…”
Tola scurried past him up the ladder then reached over the parapet.
Mendel and Yedidah’s father lifted Obadiah by the arms.
With his feet on the third rung, he made a desperate lunge upward.
Tola steadied him by the hair.
Hands pushed his rump, raising Obadiah’s feet to the fifth rung.
Tola gripped his wrists, dragged him up, and laid him with his head hanging over the parapet.
“Sweet dreams, boy,” the grandpa boomed.
Tola pulled him onto the veranda. “My brother can talk in the morning.”
Obadiah reached through the dark and found the base of the limestone wall. He ran his fingers over the letters B I A H he had chiseled in at the quarry. Cheered by his father’s fond gaze, he had struggled with the block and slid it into place in this wall. He and his father built this room together.
Faint dribbles of light strayed under the door.
He rolled to his knees, stood, and tiptoed into the main room.
Mother sat next to a tiny, flickering lamp, and he knelt at her side. “What did old Mendel mean? I came the moment I heard.”
In the shifting flame, the rings under her eyes looked deeper.
“I mean, when did…?”
“When did your father die? Say the word, son.”
“How long ago was it?”
“No. You must pronounce the words. Your father’s not lost. Not sleeping. Each morning, I force out the words, ‘He’s dead.’ Yet, in the afternoon, I look for him to saunter in from selling pears in Beitshan.”
“When…when did my father…die? Two days ago?”
“Five. No, six. Oh my. Eight days ago. I miss him so.”
Eight days, and the message hadn’t arrived until yesterday noon. To dig the grave and lay his father in with proper respect must have taken his brother one day.
Tola padded in, sat next to Mother, and held her hand.
She sniffled and wiped her nose with a cloth. “We didn’t know how to get word to you. Your brother didn’t want to leave me alone.”
“As he shouldn’t,” Obadiah said.
Tola sat up straight. “The village hasn’t changed, Biah. The nearest horse is in Beitshan.”
Obadiah nodded. “Did old Mendel…?”
His mother squeezed his hand. “Oh, Ahab will be so proud of his grandfather. He badgered men along the path for days and got up a brave little band who carried the news to the fort.”
Obadiah pulled his mother to his shoulder. Brave indeed. If arrows could cut down a man in his pear trees, they could strike messengers on the road. “I never should have left you.”
She moved the lamp closer to the center of its dish. “No… No, it was right for you to leave, son. That boy, Ahab, needs you. Keep your eyes open.”
His mother patted his hand. “What can I feed you? We have mutton, chicken, beef, pickles, beer, wine. The courtyard’s been full of friends for days, and they keep bringing food.”
“Nothing tonight, thanks.” Obadiah sat and took in the tiny world shown by her lamp. This was not his home. Not anymore. He had laid up these blocks, but they were no longer his. Neither the blocks nor the walls, the house nor the orchard. They were for him to visit. But they belonged to his mother and brother.
And Mother had it right. Ahab needed him. Although he hated the Baals, Ahab was his friend.
Obadiah stood, cupped Tola’s cheek, and kissed his mother’s forehead. “Will soon be light. Let’s get some sleep.”
Back in his room, he snuggled into the rug. “Keep your eyes open?” What did Mother think he would see?
12. The Basics
Shuthelah’s Courtyard, Samaria City, Samaria, Israel
Obadiah and Ahab sat with Elder Shuthelah at the edge of his courtyard. The hesitant chords of a lyre wobbled over them and clashed with the song of a yellowhammer in the oak.
The elder pushed a tray of flatbreads with olive oil and spices toward Ahab and winked. “My wife heard your queen has fourteen hairdressers.”
“Hairdressers?” Ahab slapped his knee. “Her attendants hover and chirp, but I have no idea what they do.”
Painful chords fell from the veranda. At the top of an olive tree, a hoopoe flashed its barred tail but declined to sing with the wounded lyre.
“If you men will excuse me.” Shuthelah stood. “My grandson needs instruction.” He climbed to the veranda.
“Your grandson’s music is interesting.” Obadiah lifted a pita toward the departing elder. “Thank you for the flatbread!”
As Shuthelah disappeared over the parapet, Ahab turned to Obadiah. “I couldn’t have clinched this alliance on my own, but I watched how my father negotiated with Ethbaal. It took me a while, but I made Sidon our ally.”
“You’ve achieved your father’s dream.” Obadiah locked his shoulders and, stone-faced, stared past Ahab across the plaza. “King Ethbaal gives us ports on the Great Sea, and we ship our goods to markets in the west. Sidon gets a peaceful frontier, and we get extra muscle to help in a brawl. An all-around win.”
Ahab looked sideways at Obadiah. “The elder didn’t hesitate to ask about hairdressers, yet my friend from across the path in Kishion is quiet. Not on his usual quest for information.”
Obadiah nibbled on a pita dipped in olive oil and spices. By building a temple to Moloch, the god of rain, Ahab had already shown more evil than any king before him. Now, as if burning babies wasn’t bad enough, he married a priestess of Asherah. Obadiah drew a long breath and let it out slowly. “And what would a proper display of curiosity turn up, my king?”
Ahab waggled a folded pita in Obadiah’s face. “The basics, Biah. Survival. You enjoy quoting Moses and Joshua at me, but those old birds don’t understand survival.” His voice grew tense. “Like Solomon, I’m surrounded.” He ticked neighboring nations off on his fingers. “Syria, Edom, Moab, Ammon, Philistia. I need an ally.”
“An ally. Yes.” Obadiah clamped his mouth shut and aligned a cucumber spear with the others. A king is a king, no matter who his friends. A boyhood chum might push too far, and a king could call a guard to silence his oldest friend. Besides, his opinion of Ahab’s ally changed nothing.
“Out with it, Biah. Something’s been eating at your gut. Spill.”
“Hmm…” Whether with words or fists, he and Ahab never held back. Obadiah flashed a weak grin and made a tiny adjustment to the alignment of the cucumbers. “What sort of ally would install a squad of four hundred Asherah priests in Fort Jezreel?”
“Ha!” Ahab jabbed a fist into Obadiah’s shoulder. “So she did, Biah. So she did. Only found room for ten, so their mates camp in the oaks on the west.”
Biah wagged his head over their tray. “My daughter asked me a question. Not about hairdressers.”
Ahab lifted a cucumber slice. “What interests that beautiful child?”
“She asked how Queen Jezebel’s four hundred Asherah priests protect us…um…from the four hundred thousand Syrian troops perched on the cliffs of Bashan.”
Ahab shook the cucumber under Obadiah’s nose. “Asherah’s part of the deal. Always has been.”
Obadiah flicked a glance at Ahab and pushed closer to the edge. “Have your spies told you the latest market day joke, my king?”
Ahab raised his eyebrows. “Joke?”
“The sheep asked the wolf to protect it from the bear.”
Ahab shoved the tray at Obadiah’s belly. “Cute, Biah. But Solomon partnered with Hiram for shipping from the Red Sea. His great-grandson’s my business partner.
“Business.” King Ethbaal bought children from kidnappers and forced them to serve in brothels. “You know my opinion of that man’s business.” He’d said too much. Too strong. He backed away and touched his fingers to his throat.
Ahab smirked. “Do you have any idea how much Jezebel’s father makes off his temples? He saw the flow of silver when he was a young Asherah boss. The moment he stepped up to the throne, he took over the temple.”
“Stepped up?” Obadiah grabbed Ahab’s shoulder. “Jezebel’s father slit the king’s throat and kicked his corpse into the ditch.”
Ahab curled his lip. “You think I care? The man knows business.” Ahab clenched his jaw. “He stationed his lieutenants in the temples at Zarephath and Tyre. Nobody’s whispering numbers, but he’s stacking bags in his treasury.”
Obadiah jutted his chin toward Ahab. “Everyone at this end of the Great Sea wants to count the silver Jezebel’s father rakes in from his temples in Zarephath and Tyre, Byblos, and Cyprus.” His cheeks burned. Little children were hurting, yet he feared pushing his friend too far.
Two pictures hung at the corners of Obadiah’s mind. Eight-year-old Ahab slapping a stable boy. And the same Ahab stuffing pitas into the cloak of a dirty-faced Philistine child. Perhaps there was hope. Obadiah took a quick breath. “Your life’s worth more than bags of silver, my king. You weren’t born to sing psalms in the morning and shove kids into brothels in the afternoon.”
Ahab sneered. “You sound sweet, Biah. Holy. Moses would be proud. But you forget the basics. Troops and chariots cost silver. Bags and bags of silver.”
A bitter tang rose into Obadiah’s mouth. Silver from kidnappings. And Ahab was not alone. While many Hebrews talked “Fear the Lord,” they sacrificed in rituals to appease the gods of Syria or Phoenicia.
Obadiah took a deep breath. His stubbornness matched Ahab’s. Time for a new topic. “So, my king, how is life with this new wife?”
Ahab dangled a folded flatbread over the olive oil. “You’ll never understand what ‘wife’ means for me. Yedidah grew up down the path from you, and you earned her respect. Her love. But chiefs and kings sent my wives to seal alliances.
“Yedidah’s eyes light up for you. Each of my wives is basic to the survival of our little nation, but none knows I’m in the room.”
Obadiah held steady eye contact with Ahab. Was Ahab about to claim foreign wives as his third similarity with Solomon? “You’re right. I’ll never understand. Except I think Amira knows you’re in the room.”
Ahab’s face softened. “Amira.”
Obadiah’s driver came to the gate. “Twelve applicants for grove manager, Biah.”
“Thank you. Bring me one.”
With a nod, the man turned and jogged out.
“You want to hang around for this, my king? Twelve interviews. Three groves need managers.”
“Will I learn my olive business?”
“What you’ll learn is why I do a lousy job of managing your affairs at the fort while I care for olive groves.”
Ahab scowled. “You’ve got twelve men out there. Why can’t you just hire them and get back to the fort?”
“Because I need the three best.”
The driver led a man around puddles and into the courtyard. He pointed him toward Obadiah then waited at the gate.
King Ahab rose to his feet. “Your next grove manager.”
Obadiah stood. Merom. How did he get in here?
Merom strode in with long steps and extended his hand toward Obadiah.
Obadiah shied as if the hand came from a leper.
Ahab backed away and cupped his chin.
Merom’s smile opened. “Good to see you again, Biah. I’m glad you’re hiring managers. You know my record. Ten years at Shiloh. Every tree greener and more olives. When shall I start?” He looked Obadiah in the eye.
The man seemed unfazed by silence. His normal front?
Obadiah rolled his tongue around his mouth to clean out the ugly taste.
Merom jutted his chin toward the veranda. “Smells good. Got garlic and onions on that?”
Obadiah looked him square in the eye. “We won’t be needing you. I’m sorry to waste your time, but there’s been a mix-up, and we can’t use you.”
Ahab rested an elbow on an open hand.
Merom looked at Ahab, at the driver by the entrance, then at guards lounging by the courtyard wall. He turned back toward Obadiah, opened his mouth and closed it again.
Obadiah raised his chin. “I have another appointment, and I’m sure your schedule is full. My driver will show you out.”
Merom followed the driver. At the corner, he peeked back from under his eyebrows.
Ahab edged up to Obadiah. “The man’s been doing groves for ten years. Did I hear wrong?”
“You heard right.” Obadiah lifted his chin, turned to Ahab, and spoke in a low voice. “‘Ten years at Shiloh. Every tree greener. More olives.’”
“So why not talk with him?” Ahab cupped Obadiah’s shoulders. “Why did you turn him away?”
“You forget business basics, my king.”
Obadiah planted his feet wide. “He cheats on his wife. Any man who cheats on his wife will cheat on me.”
Ahab threw his hands up. “Ai-yah! You’re impossible.”
Ahab’s record – 1 Kings 16:29-33
Solomon and Hiram built ships – 1 Kings 9:26
Solomon’s foreign wives – 1 Kings 11
Fear the Lord but serve other gods – 2 Kings 17:33-39
The Market, Fort Jezreel, Jezreel Valley, Israel
Obadiah crouched at the edge of the Fort Jezreel market and pulled a few pomegranates from the pile. The fruits were small with skin too tough to peel with thumb and finger. He patted the knife inside his cloak and raised an eyebrow to the farmer.
“What you see is what you get.” The man shrugged. “You won’t find fruit that runs down your chin.” A wry smile lit the farmer’s face. “Not since that Goatskin Kid marched in here and told the king ‘Neither dew nor rain.’”
Obadiah stood. “Were you here? Did you see that dash to the gate?”
“A thing of beauty. That knobby-kneed boy dodged and danced while Ahab’s bodyguards reached for his heels.” The farmer rested a hand on a cart full of prickly pears. “He smashed into this very cart. Then under, through a pile of poop, and out the gate. Left the guards with their mouths hanging open.”
Obadiah shielded his eyes from the glare of the sun. “So, we pray for rain.”
“While we sacrifice babies to Moloch, the rain god.” The farmer shook his head. “Every Sabbath we talk about the Lord, then for six days we serve the gods of the Philistines.”
“Careful, lady!” Sandals slapped the paving stones.
Red-faced and sobbing, Yedidah stumbled past the cart of prickly pears.
Obadiah’s shoulders tightened. “What happened?”
She collapsed into his arms.
Swiping at tears, she stretched on tiptoe and let her whisper burst in his ear. “Boys. Little boys.” She grabbed his sleeve and hauled him out of the market, into headquarters and down the stairs.
He opened the kitchen door for her into aromas of garlic, onions, and roasting mutton.
Shaking but silent, covering her mouth with a hand, she pushed a path through chattering cooks. Chef Jebus looked up from the stew, but before he could smile, Yedidah passed him.
Obadiah followed. Yedidah was not sick. Had someone threatened her? He reached between dishwashers. “Morning. Pardon us, please.” Bumped an elbow. “’Scuse.”
They passed through the kitchen, and he shut the door against the thump of knives on cutting boards.
Yedidah dragged him along the empty hallway.
“What is it?” He reached for her shoulder.
“Not here.” She ducked under his fingers and crumpled her headscarf in her fist, letting her curls bounce with her strides. At the door of their apartment sanctuary, Yedidah jittered beside him with both hands pressed against her mouth and tiny sobs leaking through her fingers.
Obadiah fit the key into the door. He had neglected his father, but he must protect his wife and children. As he turned the key, she pulled him inside and leaned against the closed door. “Lock it.”
Obadiah clicked the bolt closed. He’d chosen this apartment in the farthest corner of the basement to be free from the king’s spies and to protect his children.
Beyond a latticed window, blocks of smooth-faced limestone rose higher than Obadiah’s reach. These walls enclosed his children playing under a canopy of browning almond branches once covered with pearly white blossoms.
He embraced his wife then stood back and draped his headscarf across the back of a low marble chair. The chair wasn’t as comfortable as the goatskin pads in his village, but it came with the apartment.
He held her shaking hands. “Tell me. The little boys.”
She squeezed his fingers. “People close their mouths when they see the king’s man.” She sat on the arm of the chair and shivered.
“Tell me.” Obadiah squeezed her palms.
“Children. In Jabesh. They told a Moloch thug to go back to Sidon.” Yedidah’s lips trembled. “So, the thug killed one boy and left the other a cripple.”
With his breath caught in his throat, Obadiah turned toward the window. His sons sat under the almond trees. One boy moved a pointer across an open scroll, while his brother read. “Before he had finished speaking, look, Rebekah came out…”
Had the boys in Jabesh studied Torah together?
He raised his chin. Jabesh lay in a high valley beyond the river, where people spoke in a strange accent. If he were with those boys in their distant city, he and his guards would raise spears against that thug. But he lived here in this apartment where he could embrace his wife and five children. Obadiah troubled his heart for the boys on that distant mountain, but he could not protect them.
“And another boy in Beitshan.” She groaned.
Beitshan lay in their valley. During First Fruits, Yedidah and the kids had climbed the northeast turret with him and he’d pointed out the walls.
“People tell me horrid things they keep from your ears.”
He released Yedidah’s hands. “It’s all right. So… Beitshan?”
“The boy was only twelve. He shouted at an Asherah official. Quoted Moses. Then he disappeared from the market.” She twisted her scarf in her hands. “Yesterday, the lad’s father found him by the path.”
Obadiah cringed. “By the path.”
She hung her head. “Disemboweled.”
“Lord, help us.” Obadiah slumped against the doorjamb.
Yedidah pushed up from the chair. “What if one of ours…” She tested the lock and whispered, “Why did we ever leave the village? What were we thinking?”
In Commander Omri’s struggle against Tibni son of Ginath, he needed Obadiah at the fort. Instinct had directed Obadiah to this isolated corner at the end of the hall.
He wet his lips. He could not go back to Kishion. Not even his mother encouraged his dream of hiding in his childhood home while the world fell to pieces.
Yet, he had options. “I’ll—I’ll stay here. With you and our children. Gera, my man in Samaria, can handle olive oil production and sales.”
He rubbed his arms. “We’ll be safe here. Together.” Every hour, patrols circled the fort, and fresh lookouts climbed the towers six times a day.
Holed up with his bodyguards, he would fight off anyone who tried to harm their babies. He could do nothing to protect other families. But no one would touch his own.
Yedidah chewed at her bottom lip. “Ahab’s your brother, Biah. He needs you. Besides, I know my husband, and the Lord’s got bigger things for you to do than hover over us. You’re going to wake up and do something. I know you will. We’ll be fine.” Her eyes flew to his spear standing in the corner. “We’ll pray. The Lord will protect us.”
Wake up? First his mother and now his wife sang the song of the fishmonger. “Yes. Pray. The Lord.” He crossed his arms over his heart.
Yedidah cocked her head toward the ceiling and lowered her voice. “But that horrid Jezebel lives right here. Ahab could have been content with his wives. Especially Amira from Heshbon. A wonderful girl. Why did he have to bring that witch from Tyre?”
She held up a palm. “Oh, I know. Business, borders, silver. But I’m… I don’t know how to live in a world like this.”
Neither dew nor rain – 1 Kings 17:1
Fear the Lord but serve other gods – 2 Kings 17:1-41
A strange accent – Judges 12:6
Before he had finished speaking, look, Rebekah – Genesis 24:45
Heshbon – Numbers 21:25
The Threshing Floor, Fort Jezreel, Jezreel Valley, Israel
Obadiah stooped and handed his driver a harness ring.
The driver knelt with his forehead against the ribs of a chariot horse and clipped the ring in place. Zak and the other guards checked bits and bridles, blankets and harnesses. They would inspect olive groves in Samaria for a week.
His face a thundercloud, Seba led the second chariot horse from the stable and out the path to the threshing floor. As he gave the reins to Obadiah, his hand shook.
Obadiah looked up. “What’s wrong?”
Seba glanced back at the stable where his five children crowded the doorway. His voice broke. “The queen’s men. In Harod. A little boy.”
Zak spluttered. “In Harod!”
Bodyguards jumped to surround Seba, hands on his shoulders.
Seba let out a long breath and tipped his head toward his five children watching from the stable doorway. “Their playmate.”
Zak spoke through gritted teeth. “The queen’s men. Right here in Harod. And the boy?”
“The family buried him yesterday. But my kids”—he turned toward the five—“I don’t know what to tell them.”
Nodding in unison, the bodyguards dropped their gaze to the paving stones.
A young guard spoke just above a whisper. “They killed a man in Akko. With his wife and children watching. Yesterday.”
The driver lifted his chin. “I know those thugs belong to the queen, sir, but somebody’s got to wake up and do something.”
A “wake up” from my driver? Obadiah squelched a scream. What are you saying, Lord?
The youngest guard edged up to Obadiah’s elbow, twisting the reins of his mount. “My father’s a bubbler, sir. Despises the Molochs and the Asherahs. If the queen’s men…” He bowed his head.
Obadiah put a hand on his shoulder. Could Jezebel strike this close again?
Zak lifted his hand. “Gossips who want peace but won’t fight for it complain. They say bubblers think they’re Nathan rebuking King David. They want this young man’s father to keep his opinions to himself.”
The guard’s face flushed. “When my father feels the Lord’s thumb in his back, sir, there’s no shutting him up.”
Zak gripped the guard’s shoulder and turned him toward Obadiah. “What’s your opinion, sir?”
Obadiah’s muscles tightened. “We need to speak with the same voice. If we can.” He paused. Around the circle, lips opened. Eyebrows rose.
With every face toward him, Obadiah asked, “Does a bubbler speak his own words or the words of the Lord?” A horse lifted a hoof, a harness strap creaked, and the men held their eyes on Obadiah.
A guard cleared his throat. “Well, sir, if it’s up to me, I say no real man can see a baby burn and keep the Lord’s anger bottled up. To spout off is a start in the right direction.”
Grunts of assent came from around the circle.
“Keep your kids close, Seba.” Obadiah tapped the stable boss on the shoulder. “See you in a week.”
“The Lord go with you.” Seba stepped back. The storm cloud still darkened his face.
Obadiah swung onto the chariot and closed his robe against the chill. “Mount up. We’ve got olive groves to inspect.” As his chariot rolled out the gate, he glanced back at Seba and his children.
Brown trees drooped along the borders of withered barley fields, and a pale blue ruled the sky. After six hours, Obadiah led his men through the gate of Samaria City and paused his chariot on the public threshing floor.
Across the plaza on his right stood the king’s palace. On his left, the marble facade of an Asherah temple.
And in front of the temple, a row of slave children.
A girl in the row fell. As she hit the paving stones, the other children jerked to a halt.
A thick-set man poked her with his stick and mocked, “Up, girlie. You’re almost there.”
Obadiah clenched his fists. He controlled stables, kitchen, and cleaning crews. Kept the books and supervised the olive oil business. Yet he could not touch Jezebel’s slave traders.
“Biah!” King Ahab called from his palace veranda.
Obadiah waved. “My king.” As he stepped onto the pavers, he turned to Zak. “I’ll be a moment.”
The slave girl struggled to her feet alone, and Obadiah gawked. Filth covered her. She clutched a ragged robe at her throat. The child took a step toward the alley, the other children moved with her, bent over their chain.
Ahab wore a well-scrubbed smile, a sparkling white linen cloak, and a gray headscarf. He descended the palace stairs with ten bodyguards at his side and met Obadiah halfway between the threshing floor and the palace.
While the slave children shuffled, Obadiah gripped Ahab’s forearm. “Jehu and Bidkar report no major intrusions from Syria.” He waved toward the gate. “Gera’s waiting for me to join him in the grove. I just stopped to let you know we’re on schedule. Inspecting olive groves this week.”
“Look who’s here.” The king turned his back to the chain of children, and his bodyguards parted to reveal Hiel, the elder from Bethel.
Obadiah’s guards stared. The man stood shorter than most, yet his huge, hairy arms opened so wide Ahab had once called him a gorilla. His colossal head sank between broad shoulders as if he were a tortoise, yet seemed to turn without benefit of a neck.
As the children approached the side of the temple, Obadiah grasped the man’s heavy, callused paw. “Hiel.” This man had put Ahab’s father on the throne with a javelin through the lungs of Tibni son of Ginath.
Ahab clapped the hero on the shoulder. “Hiel has agreed to manage the rebuild in Jericho. Biah, I want you to drive down there and bring me back a progress report.”
Obadiah stepped back. “Rebuild? My king, haven’t you heard the words of Joshua? ‘Cursed is the man who—’”
“Oh please. Don’t bend your nose out of shape over that old saw. People have been rebuilding the City of Palms right along. We’re sprucing up the looks of the place. Plus, King Jehoshaphat wants to move the Judah border to include Jericho, so we’re shoring up our defenses.”
Ahab patted Hiel’s cheek. “And we have this pillar of the community next door in Bethel to lead our effort. He’s to be thanked.”
Hiel sent up a weak smile. “Um, glad to help, my king.”
Ahab clapped Obadiah on the shoulder. “Take Yedidah with you. Enjoy yourselves in the sun while your report helps defend the nation. How is Yedidah? The kids? You’ve got to bring them up before the summer heat.”
“Yedidah sends greetings,” Obadiah answered in a flat voice. Ahab refused to see the children on the chain. Plus, as if condemning little ones to misery in Jezebel’s temple wasn’t enough, he bragged about flouting Joshua’s ancient curse.
Obadiah took a step toward his chariot. “Gera’s waiting for me to inspect—”
“Gera can wait. Come with us.” Ahab tugged him toward the temple facade. “Forget those boring old olive groves and check out this marble I installed.” He spanked a column and let his hand linger on the stone. “Top grade. Inside and out. Good as temples in Tyre or Zarephath. Maybe better. We can entertain guests from any capital in the world.”
Hiel scanned the facade. “Magnificent.”
Guests were to enter between marble pillars, but slavers herded kidnapped children into the alley beside the temple. One slaver led the column. A second strutted beside them. And a third followed, leading a camel hung with baskets. The children’s chain scraped the paving stones.
Obadiah tugged on his curls. “Please, my king, I don’t understand how the boys and girls behind this marble mean so little to you.”
“The children? They like what they do.” Ahab shrugged and checked his manicure. “Once they get cleaned up and trained. We feed them right, you know. Don’t forget. Income from this temple hires the chariots and troops that keep your family safe.”
Obadiah squeezed his eyes shut against Ahab’s double-talk.
Then he fluttered one eye open. His childhood friend had once smuggled pitas to a homeless foreign child. Did a glimmer of pity still live in Ahab’s heart?
Obadiah arrested Ahab with a hand on his arm. “Please, my king. What goes on behind the temple?”
Nathan rebuking King David – 2 Samuel 12:1-14
Tibni son of Ginath – 1 Kings 16:22
Hiel rebuilt Jericho – 1 Kings 16:34
Cursed is the man who – Joshua 6:26
15. At the Temple Back Door
The Plaza, Samaria City, Samaria
Obadiah clapped Ahab on the shoulder. “Bring your guards. Give Hiel, our most esteemed elder from Bethel, a behind-the-scenes look.”
“What?” Ahab stiffened.
One by one, the children disappeared into the alley.
Obadiah sidled up to Hiel. “I seem to remember a young prince who lured me away from the safety of the fort to race our stallions without attendants. You may find it hard to believe, but at one time our king led daring adventures.” He stepped back and patted Ahab on the shoulder while eyeing his chosen accomplice.
Hiel opened his eyes wide. “The big black. Was that the horse?”
“Shochar.” Ahab frowned.
“If only that mighty stallion were with us today.” Obadiah brushed the king’s elbow.
Ahab squirmed. “Biah! What are you—?”
With an arm swept low toward the alley, Obadiah proclaimed, “Come with me behind this beautiful facade, my king. You still have a heart for adventure, do you not?” He winked at Hiel.
Ahab gave a shaky laugh. “Adventure? I’ve been wary ever since you smushed my nose.”
Obadiah dangled his hand in the air. “My wrist still hurts from that stiff arm, my king.”
“You owe me, Biah. I want your first-hand report on Hiel’s rebuild of Jericho.” Ahab pulled his shoulders back and followed the slavers and their chain of children.
Hiel crowded closer to the king.
Obadiah led them past the four marble columns and into the tiny alley between the temple and the weaver’s yard. Let Gera wait.
The narrow alley emptied into a mature olive grove. A yellowhammer flicked its brown-streaked tail and sang. Sunlight played on the sparse green and gray leaves remaining from the drought.
As the king emerged from the alley, he snapped off the brittle end of an olive branch and shook its brown leaves free. “I’ve searched everywhere for that Goatskin Kid. When I roll his head in the ditch, we’ll see about ‘dew-nor-rain.’”
Between the rows of dried-up olive trees and the temple wall of rough limestone, the chain of children slouched, rubbed their bloated bellies, and dug at their armpits. Flies buzzed in their faces, settled in their eyes, and crawled on their lips.
Obadiah motioned the bodyguards forward. “Come along, men. We don’t know what danger awaits our king.” Please, Lord, let Ahab see what you see.
A young guard yawned and polished an apple on his tunic. As a girl next to last in the line gaped at the fruit, the guard followed her gaze.
Obadiah held his breath. Would this young man see a child or a prostitute?
Color drained from the guard’s face. He closed his mouth and slipped the apple into his pack.
Thank you, Lord. The guard was human enough for a child’s distress to trouble him. Or maybe he couldn’t figure how to divide an apple among so many children.
The slaver who led the chain smirked and made a slight bow. “Ahab. Needn’t have bothered. Honored to have you here.” A Persian accent marred his Hebrew.
Obadiah stared. Any citizen would address Ahab as “my king.” But this foreigner contracted by the queen flaunted his disrespect by using the king’s given name.
The slaver strutted up, leaned against the limestone, and slapped the door of the temple.
A gray-haired matron with a scowl poked her head out.
The slaver stepped back. “Your new doves, dearie.”
In the still air, the stench of excrement assaulted Obadiah’s nostrils.
Hiel covered his nose.
Ahab tried to turn back, but Obadiah held his elbow with a steady hand. “Please, my king. Learn the true price of battle wagons and chariot horses.”
The slaver cocked his head at the matron. “Tell your boss the price is two hundred eighty.”
She pulled her head back inside.
A weasel-faced man put one foot outside the door. He glanced at the slaver then squinted and blinked. “King, um, Ahab.”
Ahab raised his head and said nothing.
The temple boss brought his other foot out. He wore a dark green robe with an outline of the buxom Asherah queen sewn on the front left shoulder. He twitched his nose at the slaver and moved a hand toward the line of children. “You brought these?”
“Forty. Two hundred eighty shekels.” The slaver thrust his shoulders back.
Obadiah shuddered. Like buying chickens in the market.
A boy wailed then clamped his mouth closed.
Hiel glanced along the chain of children, then lowered his gaze to the grass.
Ahab pulled free from Obadiah’s fingers.
Jezebel’s lackey, the temple boss, shuffled his feet and coughed. “Um, the last string was four each. So, that’s, um, a hundred and sixty shekels.”
The slaver’s mouth curled. “My cousin sold you that string for five each. Seventeen Kasran boys and girls. You paid him eighty-five. These from Tadmor are seven each. Two hundred eighty shekels.”
Obadiah shook his head. If Jezebel’s lackey went to the market for a dozen apples, he might return with three figs.
Hiel kept his head bowed and his mouth closed.
Ahab lowered his eyes.
The temple boss wrinkled his rodent nose. “Well then. Let’s see what you brought.”
“Bring your silver. We’ll use my weights.” The slaver pulled a rough goatskin bag from a basket on the camel, brushed leaves from a spot next to an olive tree, and set up his scales.
The boss ducked back into the temple and returned with his purse. Crouching beside the slaver, he set several silver rings, a silver hair piece, and a necklace of silver on the left tray of the scales.
Obadiah, Ahab, and Hiel rose on their toes and watched over the back of the temple boss.
With slow, exaggerated movements, the slaver added bronze weights to the opposite tray, each weight the size of a large pearl in the shape of a turtle. “Seventy-six.”
Flies buzzed the line of children. One child whimpered.
Ahab glanced at the alley.
Obadiah clenched his teeth. Don’t let him leave, Lord.
Ahab cringed then wiped his face with his hand and stared unblinking.
The boss placed rough-cut silver pieces on the tray.
“One hundred eighty-nine.”
A handful of chips clinked onto the pile.
“Two hundred seventy-seven.”
The boss dropped in a tiny chunk.
The slaver spread his fingers. “Two hundred eighty.” He folded a small cloth around the silver, stuffed the lump into the purse at his belt, and tucked his scales and weights into their pouch on the camel.
The slavers clucked their tongues, and the children shuffled to the door, dragging their chain in the dirt.
One slaver retrieved a hammer and chisel from the camel and approached the first girl in line. When he touched the point of his chisel to the clasp on her ankle, she quivered and shrank back.
He swung the hammer. The clasp shifted with his blow and gouged her.
She flinched, and fresh blood poured onto her foot.
As Obadiah’s stomach surged, he clapped a hand over his mouth and groaned.
The matron shrank into the doorway, and the temple boss cursed.
The slaver swung again, the girl recoiled, and the hammer slammed into her foot. As the child’s head shot back, her eyes rolled up in her head, and she sprawled on the dirt, silent and still.
Obadiah stumbled behind an olive tree and retched. He looked up as the next blow popped the clasp.
Ahab gawked. His eyebrows drew together.
“Do we have to have a royal audience?” The slaver with the hammer turned toward the one with the silver.
At the slaver’s disrespect, Ahab dipped his chin. A flush crept across his face. The royal guards shifted half a step closer to their king.
The chisel hovered over the second child, and the slaver growled, “Hold still.”
Ahab took in a sharp breath. “Careful with that hammer.”
Obadiah’s neck flamed. Ahab could stop this entire process. The decision would be difficult and costly. So, instead, he asked for better aim. How long shall the wicked triumph, Lord?
Hot tears stung Obadiah’s eyes. He whirled, every muscle tensed, ready to coldcock his old friend. If he snatched a spear from the nearest guard, he could pin the slaver to the wall.
Let Ahab’s guards run him through. A good way to die. Then a vision of Yedidah and their children emerged with the sober calculation that if he lived, he might do good.
He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. “Little children made in the Lord’s image. And we chain them like dogs.”
Hiel stared at him then dropped his gaze to the ground.
The slaver laughed.
Ahab lowered his chin to his chest.
Obadiah snorted. Fat lot of help royal shame did these little ones.
The temple boss shoved the girl with the bloody foot into the arms of the matron and paced the line of children. “Thirty-six, thirty-seven, thirty-eight.” He brushed flies from his face and spun toward the slaver with the silver. “You said forty.”
“Tadmor’s a long trip.” The slaver plastered on a glib smile and rested a hand on his purse.
“I paid for forty.” The eyes of the boss darkened.
“And I brought forty.” The slaver sneered then barked a laugh. “Two didn’t make it.”
The boss’s cheeks flushed scarlet. He shoved the children toward the door and cursed the slaver by the gods of Tyre.
Obadiah put a hand to his forehead. “Oh, Lord. What have we become?” He flared his nostrils at Ahab. “Our father Jacob knew better than to drive his ewes and cows too fast, but your hired thug whips children up the trail. When one gets sick and slows him down, he leaves her to die in the heat. No mother. No father.”
“Here it comes. The sob story.” The slaver with the silver raised an eyebrow toward the one holding the chisel.
Ahab flicked a hand at Hiel. “I’ve seen enough.”
“Don’t you dare leave.” Obadiah lunged into Ahab’s path.
Royal bodyguards stopped him with their spears.
Obadiah spread two fingers above the point of a spear. “Two children, my king. Take the trail to Tadmor and check under the bushes. You’ll find the bones of two children.” He turned away then reversed. He leveled his eyes over the crouching guards. “So you can entertain guests and hire chariots.”
“Basics, Biah. You still don’t understand the basics.” Ahab pushed past him and stomped into the alley.
Hiel lagged. Although Obadiah locked eyes with him, he could not read Hiel’s thoughts.
As the bodyguards followed the king, the guard with the apple fell back and leaned toward the girl next to last in line.
Obadiah held his breath. What was the guard’s intent?
The child shrank toward the temple wall.
“Here.” The guard held out the apple.
The little girl’s chin trembled, but she lifted a scrawny arm and let the apple settle into her hand.
The guard’s face sagged. He glanced back at Obadiah then followed Ahab into the alley.
Obadiah let his breath out in a whoosh. He turned his back on the slavers and strode past the line of kidnapped children into the alley.
When he emerged, Ahab and his guards had crossed the plaza and mounted the palace stairs. The young guard had done more good with an apple than the king’s man with his job titles.
Hiel jogged out of the alley and raised an over-long arm.
Obadiah turned away. He’d failed with his friend, Ahab. There was no point in discussing Joshua’s prophecy with this gorilla.
At the chariot, he bowed his head. “I’ve wasted our day,” he confessed in a flat voice. He never should have followed Ahab to the facade. And then to manipulate his old friend into watching the delivery of slaves? A fool’s errand.
The driver asked, “Bad behind the temple, sir?”
Obadiah moaned and let the question hang unanswered.
Fish. Fresh fish rang in his head. He glanced around the plaza. Wake up? No, thank you. He’d seen enough. Better to close his eyes and dream small. Inspect groves, clean stables, keep the books. And protect Yedidah and the kids.
Zak swung onto his mount. “To Gera’s?”
“Yes, Gera’s. We’re late.”
“Wait, please. Wait!” Hiel called across the plaza.
He loped over to the chariot and tipped his enormous head up. “Come. Please come visit us in Jericho. It…it’s important. And, as the king says, bring your wife.”
How long shall the wicked triumph? – Psalm 94:3
Jacob drove ewes and cows – Genesis 33:13
A thought of kindness – Psalm 109:16
The cry of the poor – Proverbs 21:13
Guard at my mouth – Psalm 141:3
Hiding place – Psalm 32:7
16. Cursed Be the Man
The Jordan River Valley, Israel
Obadiah and Yedidah arrived at the Jericho junction as the sun settled on the mountains of Jerusalem.
Yedidah rocked from foot to foot on the chariot deck. “I never thought I’d see the City of Palms.”
“I’m glad you came.”
Bodyguards reined in their mounts by the chariot.
Obadiah pointed to withered palms and brown fig trees next to rows of green trees. “The owners must only have energy to carry water to part of their trees.” He curled his lip at the piles of fire-blackened stones. Joshua had cursed the man who reset them, yet Ahab scoffed as if the words had lost their value.
From the open gateway, a woman and two girls led five donkeys onto the road. Scarves draped their bowed heads. Sacks and nets fluttered from packboards that may have carried onions and chickens to this morning’s market.
“Good evening,” Yedidah said.
They glanced up, and the woman returned, “Good evening.”
Children shouted on the city street. Two gangs of curly-headed little ones kicked a ball similar to the rag-stuffed goatskin sphere children played with on the plaza in Fort Jezreel.
On both sides of their contest, smoke trailed from dingy houses thrown together with blackened stones. Beyond the city, the track disappeared up a gray-walled canyon toward Jerusalem.
A nightjar rattled 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.
At a knee-high wall on the right, a knot of men wrestled an enormous blackened ashlar up a ramp.
Obadiah stepped off the chariot and approached. “Good afternoon.”
A workman glanced up, turned, and called, “Hiel!”
The leading elder of Bethel strode out from behind a wall. “Obadiah!”
Although a bitter taste filled Obadiah’s throat, he waved. Months ago, he had accepted the man’s plaintive invitation to inspect the rebuild. Too late to back out.
Weaving a path through fire-blackened rocks, Hiel hustled over. “Came to see if you could believe your ears. Ever work with stone? I’ll give you a job.” He offered a ponderous paw.
Obadiah shrank back but then allowed Hiel to grasp his forearm. “Well, you heard Ahab, how proud he is of this project. He’s been badgering me for an in-person progress report.” He tried to return the squeeze, but his fingers failed to encircle Hiel’s thick 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 crept 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 with Obadiah and Yedidah at his side, their bodyguards trailing behind.
“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.”
Yedidah raised an eyebrow.
Obadiah nodded. They had discussed bugs. To be expected on the road.
A sycamore tree at the third corner shaded two ugly block structures. Hiel’s workers entered the one on the right.
While Zak and the guards trudged away to stable the horses, Obadiah and Yedidah followed Hiel up the ladder.
Rahab’s innkeeper, a short, sour-faced man with a scraggly white beard, eyed the group then disappeared.
Obadiah studied the man’s retreat. The struggle to survive in this ancient disaster would sour any face.
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 when these were last cleaned.”
The fragrance of poppies flooded the veranda. A cool breeze from Jerusalem came off the mountain.
“An adventure.” Yedidah smirked.
Obadiah grimaced at Hiel and patted the spot on his right.
“Not the cleanest, but the food’s good.” Hiel lowered himself to the mat.
Obadiah’s bodyguards surfaced from the stable and took goatskin seats around Obadiah and Yedidah.
A savory aroma 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. Buttered squash on the side.
Hiel inhaled the steam. “Gray mullet. Sometimes they fry it.”
Yedidah accepted her plate. “This smells good. We don’t see river fish in the valley. 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.
Instead of answering, 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 toward his plate. Any of their children could warn Hiel against trying to avoid their mother’s questions.
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. “No.”
The guards glanced wide-eyed at Hiel and shifted on their seats.
Obadiah laid a hand on Hiel’s shoulder. His blood runs the same color as mine.
“I should have listened.” Hiel sighed. “A snotty-nosed bunch spread the word around Bethel that our firstborn was going to die.” He tipped his head up. “You wouldn’t believe how neighbor kids lined the fence and gawked. One fellow said I was another Mesha of Moab—getting ready to kill my own child.”
Hiel opened a massive fist. “Does this hand look like it could kill a child?”
Obadiah flinched. Hiel’s hand could crush a grown man’s skull.
Yedidah stared at her food. “I can’t imagine how you and your wife must be hurting.”
“Yes, ma’am. The pain soaks in morning and evening. We had talked, you know, about Abiram caring for us in our old age. And how our first born would 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.
“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!” Obadiah 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. ‘Read it yourself.’”
Zak shook his head.
Obadiah 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.’”
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 snorted. “Simple decision. I thought.”
Obadiah spoke just above a whisper. “But…?” A pain hit his chest, and he inhaled.
Hiel sighed. “The word stands in plain sight. ‘Cursed.’ But I was looking at the king’s silver.”
His huge shoulders sagged while his long arms went limp. “And our baby’s dead.”
Guards around the veranda wiped at their cheeks.
A candle sputtered in the silence.
Obadiah laid a hand on Hiel’s arm. Through selfish ambition, his old friend Ahab helped bring death to the home of the man who had put Ahab’s father on the throne.
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.”
An owl hooted near the veranda. Hiel’s youngest was in danger, yet he continued to build. Had Obadiah let the power of “the king’s man” drag him into a similar trap?
The innkeeper refilled wine cups and checked for empty plates.
“But see, there’s something else.” Hiel turned Obadiah by the shoulders. “I know who you are.”
Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho. – Kings 16:34
Mesha of Moab burning his eldest son on the city wall – 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 jerked away from his host. “You know who I am?”
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 up straight. “Defy the queen?” These words in Jezebel’s ears could turn his family into enemies of the state.
Hiel nodded. “Your eyes told me.”
Obadiah scrambled to his feet. Hiel’s friendly gestures had proved false. The man was as dangerous as he looked. “Zak, we’re leaving.” He took Yedidah by the hand. They would go straight to Fort Jezreel, collect their children, and hide in the hills behind Mount Tabor.
The bodyguards dashed to the parapet, but Zak stood with his hand on the ladder, his gaze fixed on Hiel.
Why wasn’t Zak moving?
Or Yedidah. Her feet froze to the tiles, and her eyes remained glued to their strange host. She asked, “Can you tell me, please, what you saw in my husband’s eyes?”
“I saw a man who does right when the multitude pursues evil.” He paused to breathe. “Ma’am, my nephew. I can’t let the queen’s goons touch that boy.”
Yedidah hiccupped and slid palms across her wet cheeks. She jerked Obadiah’s sleeve.
Obadiah grasped her hand with both of his. Couldn’t she understand? Their lives were in danger, and the man was talking nonsense. “Yedidah, please. We’ve got to get out of here.”
Yet she twisted free and gazed at the grotesque man seated at her feet. Her face registered a deep calm.
Obadiah barked, “Zak, the chariot.” But instead of descending the ladder, Zak laid his hand on Obadiah’s arm. What was wrong with Yedidah and Zak?
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 physique.”
Obadiah pulled Yedidah around to face him. Why couldn’t she go, just go?
She jerked both Obadiah’s sleeves. “Listen to the man, Biah. Listen.”
The colossal head swung round, and fierce gray eyes fixed on Obadiah. Hiel rose to his knees. He swallowed Obadiah’s hands with his immense paws and pulled him down to face him. “My nephew. My sister’s son.”
“Your sister’s son.” Obadiah sank to his knees.
“In Bethel.” Hiel’s grip tightened.
Pain shot from Obadiah’s fingers to his elbows. “Ah. Ah.”
“When he bubbles over, it all comes out.”
Obadiah groaned and tried to relax.
Sandals pattered on the veranda as Zak and the guards circled them.
As Hiel told familiar tales of divine utterance against the cruelty of brothels and baby burnings, the guards rested hands on his shoulders and urged him on with grunts and nods.
“No place is safe from the queen’s men.” He released Obadiah. “But there I was behind Jezebel’s temple with those battered children and that horrid slaver crew. Then I saw your face, and I knew. When I got back to Bethel, I told my wife, ‘That man, Obadiah, is going to wake up. He’s going to deliver the weak and the needy from the hand of the wicked.’ See, I know who you are.”
Yedidah turned to Hiel. “The man I married doesn’t enjoy hearing it, but you’re right.”
Obadiah massaged one hand against the other. A “wake up” in Jericho.
Hiel bit his lip. “I thought about hiding my nephew in a cave.”
“A cave?” Zak asked.
“In Gilgal. The quarry where I buy limestone.”
Obadiah asked, “You’ve seen inside that cave?”
“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 quarrymen crawl around on their knees and elbows. They handed me a lamp, and I glanced into a tiny tunnel. 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.’”
In the faint light before dawn, Obadiah and Yedidah boarded their chariot.
Hiel looked up from the street beside them. “I’ll keep a close watch on my sister’s boy.”
Obadiah said, “The Lord bless you, my friend.”
“Friend. Yes.” Yedidah leaned 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 watch how He puts you to work. I’ll be happy to hear from you.” Hiel turned the corners of his mouth up, backed away, and waved them onto the road.
As they headed upriver, Yedidah braced her feet against the chariot floor. “Such a nice man. It hurts to look into his eyes. He might lose another son. I wish he would stop building.”
She tilted her head at Obadiah. “I can’t think about our friend right now. I want to think about old Joshua. Did prophecies bubble out of him on a regular basis? Somebody recorded this one, but how many others did he spout?”
As they bounced along, early rays of sunlight escaped over the mountains of Ammon.
Obadiah took a deep breath. “We’ve got a day’s trip to deal with the old bubbler Joshua and to figure how to protect bubblers of our own generation.”
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 gush forth unbidden?”
They passed rows of browning date palms and wilted fig trees. The driver kept a steady hand on the reins and flicked glances at Obadiah. “In the back of Joshua’s head, sir, a trap door of sorts. The door popped open, and he spouted a prophecy.”
“A trap door?” Obadiah laughed. “What if he was in the middle of laying out a battle plan with his captains?”
Yedidah gripped the rail. “And these words came out in a unique voice. The old fellow couldn’t help it. Or maybe he was a young fellow. He only knew the bit he spit out at the moment.”
The driver grinned at the horses. “Then the trap door closed.”
“And drove his captains crazy? No way.” Obadiah said, “The great Joshua had complete control. And as my old dad used to say, ‘Never believe a thing you hear in the Rift Valley with your wife and driver beside you.’”
Yedidah poked him in the ribs and chuckled—but with an unnatural quaver in her voice. Her shoulders jerked, and her laughter turned to sobs. She collapsed against him. “Oh, Biah. I don’t want that child to die.”
Mesha of Moab – 2 Kings 3:26-27
Gilgal Quarries – Judges 3:19
Does right when the multitude is pursuing evil – Exodus 23:2
Deliver them from the hand of the wicked. – Psalm 82:3-4
18. A Jar of Pickles
The veranda of Gera, the grove manager, Samaria City, Samaria
Obadiah filled his plate and sat on a goatskin at the edge of the veranda next to Gera. Although the sun still hid behind the mountains of Gilead, the warble of a finch rose, fell, and soared to a high, emphatic note.
Liev and Keren entered on bouncing steps. Liev carried Zabad, their youngest, and Keren beamed up at her husband as she led Eran by the hand. As they cleared the hallway, she withdrew her arm from Liev’s waist and moved behind him. She bowed her head and let her scarf fall around her cheeks. The young family waited while Obadiah’s guards filled their plates.
Gera turned his back to everyone on the veranda, steadied his plate on one leg, and whispered to Obadiah, “Do you know the queen is killing people? Good men who speak out against her brothels.”
“I heard. In Jabesh and Beitshan.”
Gera’s voice rose. “No, my friend. No.” Then he glanced around and dropped his volume. “From Akko, out to Ramoth.” He swept his arm west to east. “And in tiny villages along the way.”
As Hodiah sat next to the two men, Gera gripped Obadiah’s shoulder and whispered, “Somebody’s got to do something.”
Obadiah brushed off Gera’s hand. This somebody’s got a wife and kids.
Bodyguards waited on the path with horse and chariot. Obadiah joined them, ready for a day of pawing through olive limbs for soot, inspecting wilted leaves stuck to the branch, searching for scabs, aphids, scale insects—and enjoying the sunshine.
But something delayed Gera and Liev. Obadiah returned, mounted the ladder, and peeked onto the veranda.
Gera cuddled his grandsons. “We’ll go higher and higher tonight, boys. It’s time to inspect Uncle Biah’s groves.” He set them on the floor.
Keren came out and leaned against the doorpost. Since Obadiah’s last round of monthly grove inspections, the bulge in the middle of her long, loose robe had lowered.
As Liev approached the ladder, he tapped an empty jar. Tunk-tunk. “As soon as I get Keren her pickled fish, I’ll catch up with you in the grove.” He floated a kiss to her across the veranda.
She brushed her hair back from her face and sent him a soft smile.
He responded, “Rise up, my love, my fair one—”
With a wink at her daughter-in-law, Hodiah laid a palm against Liev’s cheek and pushed his face around toward the courtyard.
Obadiah ducked from view. “Sorry. I was looking for Gera.”
Hodiah’s voice followed him to the bottom of the ladder. “You children are embarrassing your Uncle Biah. Go, Liev. My daughter-in-law needs those fish. Be sure to dip plenty of juice from the barrel. And bread. Don’t forget bread.”
Gera came down the ladder. Liev blew one more kiss, then followed his father down.
Obadiah pointed to the jar cradled in Liev’s arm. “My wife had the same craving.”
“Keren even drinks the juice.” Liev laughed and strode up the hill toward the shops.
In a tree by the gate, a tiny bird sang as he flexed the delicate iridescent blue of his bib.
Gera pointed. “See the singer? Liev is composing a song to compare the bluethroat’s beauty to Keren’s.” He pushed through the gate. “It’s a secret.”
At the chariot, Obadiah rested his hand on Gera’s shoulder. “Liev’s eye declares Keren the most beautiful of women.” He pulled himself into the chariot. “Squeeze in with me, Gera, and on the trip home tonight we’ll put Liev on a horse.”
Pruning saw in hand, Gera stepped in. “That boy will author his own book of psalms. They’re good. Right up there with Asaph and the sons of Korah. Of course, this is his father talking.” His chest puffed with each word.
After long hours of beating at olive trees in the heat and wiping sweat from his face, Obadiah collected his guards. The sun hovered far out over the Great Sea. He led the men to Gera’s meeting place, a tiny grape arbor overlooking the Shechem valley.
Gera’s eyebrows had become one black slash across his forehead. As he picked up his pruning saw, he pointed toward trees sprouting new growth. “I was saving this section for Liev, but my best pruner deserted me.” He cupped his jaw.
“Maybe your best pruner is writing a song for his wife.”
Gera stepped onto the chariot. “I hope the baby came today.”
“A new baby. Let’s go.” Obadiah joined him, the guards turned their horses, and the driver flipped the reins. Obadiah’s team trotted off, jostling the chariot through ruts and around hills to the southern outskirts of Samaria City. The ancient oak that marked the path to Gera’s house came into sight.
As the chariot slowed, three thickset men in new robes of dark gray sauntered from the trees. Slavers.
Gera leaped from the rolling chariot.
“Looking for pickled fish?” A slaver spit. “We brought your boy home.”
Gera lunged past the slavers and dodged between trees toward his gate.
Zak growled, “Filthy Kasrans.” The bodyguards jumped to the ground and pointed spears at the thugs.
The chariot stopped, and Obadiah stepped off. “Stand down, men.” Jezebel’s agents operated beyond his authority.
The guards slammed spear butts down, scattering gravel.
The slavers strode up the hill, floating hyena cackles back over their shoulders.
Gera’s scream filled the olive grove.
Obadiah and the guards thundered through to the gate.
On the far side of the courtyard, Gera and Hodiah knelt by the ladder.
“What?” Obadiah flew to them. “Please, Lord, no.”
Liev lay on his back.
Hodiah sobbed and pressed her cheek against his.
Gera knelt by her side and stroked his son’s chest. “Look what they’ve done to my boy. Look what they’ve done.”
A large gash opened Liev’s throat.
“No, Lord.” Obadiah knelt and clenched his fists. To get a day’s work done, he had shoved those far-off murders in Jabesh from his mind, but a fire erupted in his chest. He would find these slavers in the night and rip their arms from the sockets.
Above him, a gasp, and the ladder thumped against the wall.
Obadiah raised a palm. No. Keren should not see Liev purple, his throat crusted with blood.
Yet she supported her protruding tummy with one hand and shifted herself over the parapet and onto the ladder. Ignoring his upraised hand, she descended, her sandals steady on the rungs.
With both hands cradling her belly, she waddled to Liev. “No, no.” Her voice grew louder. “No.” Keren dropped to her knees and pushed trembling fingers against his throat to close the gap. But the stiff hole sprang back open, flicking dried blood onto her robe. Fists clenched, she glared at the sky. Her mouth opened wide, but with no sound. She ducked, gulped a deep breath, then let out a scream that seemed to never end.
As Keren’s scream faded, Hodiah groaned. With her eyes glued to Liev’s face, she tangled her fingers in Keren’s hair and pulled her closer.
A cry came from Eran on the veranda.
Obadiah scrambled up the ladder. “Uncle Biah’s coming.” He cried, “Why, Lord? Why do you hide from our trouble?”
Obadiah knelt and gathered the two boys into his arms.
The next-door neighbor shouted over the gate. “It was those slavers. Uncle Hiram saw them kicking a little girl. Liev made them stop.”
Obadiah yelled, “Let him in, Zak. Post my guys on the perimeter!”
Weeping, the neighbor jogged over. He crouched, clutching Gera’s arm. “When are we gonna wake up and do something about that witch?” He glanced around the courtyard and ducked his head.
Wake up? Obadiah glared. Who are you to —? A sharp pain gripped his chest.
He jiggled the little boys. The Lord wasn’t hiding. The neighbor was right. Ahab, the boy from across the path in Kishion, the friend Obadiah knew and loved, had studied and planned until Jezebel sat beside him on the throne. And she brought four hundred demons from Tyre who killed or maimed anyone who opposed her brothels.
Eran and Zabad squalled. He rocked them, and they quieted.
Ahab had once awakened Gera’s family with song. But if he were to open the gate and saunter into the courtyard—a sour, bitter tang burned Obadiah’s throat.
The babies in his arms whimpered. Obadiah inhaled their fresh smell and groaned. The limestones cut his knees, but he cupped the babies’ soft hair and tender skin as if to protect them from the evil at the foot of the ladder.
Keren turned a pale, tear-streaked face up toward her sons’ cries then fell back on her husband’s still form. She stroked his face and arms.
Tears dripped from Hodiah’s chin. She smothered her face in her husband’s shoulder. “Oh, Gera! Gera! I sent him out for bread and fish. That’s all. Just bread and fish. Then he didn’t come home, and he didn’t come home. We thought you took him to help prune.” Her voice trembled. “Bread and fish, Gera. Just bread and fish.”
Gera stood and wiped his cheeks with the back of his hand. “Come help me put my son in the ground.”
Eran and Zabad – Numbers 26:36
“Rise up, my love, my fair one,” – Song of Solomon 2:10
Asaph – Psalm 50
The sons of Korah – Psalm 47
“Why do you hide from our trouble?” – Psalm 10
19. Burying Liev
The veranda of Gera, the Grove Manager, Samaria City, Samaria
Obadiah retreated from the parapet. It was too soon to put Liev in the ground.
Keren hadn’t heard Liev’s song. Little Eran and Zabad needed his hand on their shoulders, his counsel in their hearts. And Liev deserved to see if the child who had dropped low in Keren’s tummy was boy or girl.
Not yet. Let Liev grow old and totter among his grandchildren—then put him in the ground.
Obadiah hung his head. If only he could leave this nightmare behind. Get back to Yedidah and the kids. But no! His place today was here by Gera’s side. Lord, help me be a friend.
Bending over the parapet, he spoke to the neighbor who knelt by Liev. “My brother. Can you find us a large skin? We’ll need a clean place to wash our boy.”
“A skin.” The man stood and measured Liev with his eye.
“Zak,” Obadiah called, “send a guard with our brother.” Then he hefted a child in each arm. “Gera, I need you to take a boy, please.”
As Zabad passed over the parapet to Gera, he clung to his grandfather’s neck and dampened his whimpers. Gera carried the little squirmer to the ground, and Obadiah followed with Eran.
Hodiah and Keren choked back tears and folded the children into their arms.
When the neighbor returned, he spread a large mat of goatskins near the well, a few paces from the olive tree where this morning’s bluethroat sang. The guard piled on several robes.
Obadiah knelt. His frame shook. Yet, he raised Liev’s knees while Gera lifted his torso. They carried Liev to the well and laid him on the mat.
Gera bent with hands on knees and keened like a wounded dog. “My boy! My boy!” A man should never outlive his child.
A row of neighbors stared, perhaps drawn by gossip. Liev was not old or sick. He was not a trooper sent into battle. He had died while out for pickled fish. Local women would soon leave their crops in the field and appear, to offer their services for hire as wailers.
“We need cloths.” Obadiah glanced at the fence. “And privacy.”
Zak squeezed Obadiah’s shoulder. “We’re building up the fire. Warm water soon.”
“We’ll bathe our boy away from curious eyes,” Obadiah said.
Eran escaped Keren’s lap, dashed over, and latched onto Obadiah’s leg. “Why won’t Daddy wake up?”
Obadiah crouched and hugged the boy. Wake up, Lord? The hurt is too real.
Hodiah released Zabad to join his brother. Then she clenched her fists and leaned into her daughter-in-law. They swayed and wept as one.
Eran clung to Zabad and gazed up at Obadiah. “What wrong wif Daddy?”
How to answer the child? Obadiah spread his arms toward the boys’ mother.
Keren wiped her red-chafed cheeks with her palms and released Hodiah. “Come to me, boys.” She forced a smile over her tears.
They nestled in her open arms, peeking out like chicks from the wings of a hen.
“Wicked people killed Daddy, so he will not be with us anymore.”
Obadiah let a breath out slowly. A mother’s wisdom. Yedidah would appreciate Keren’s words.
A call came from the gate. “Wailers?”
Obadiah beckoned to Zak, who kept his purse. “We’ll need wailers and spices. The best for our Liev. And a shroud.”
Gera rested a hand on Hodiah’s back. “The women here are good wailers, aren’t they, dear?”
Hands and voice trembling, Liev’s mother stood and wiped at her wet face. “Yes, but those cloaks are too short. We’ve got something better in the cedar chest.” She touched Keren on the shoulder, climbed to the living quarters, and returned with a linen sheet and an armload of cloths.
Obadiah draped the sheet over Liev and gave the robes to his guards.
Gera lifted a corner to show Liev’s face. “I don’t want anyone watching. You, me, and Zak. We’ll clean my boy up and…”
“That’s how it will be.” Obadiah raised an eyebrow to the guards. “Men, can you shield us?” The six bodyguards held the cloaks as a curtain between Liev and the onlookers.
While Obadiah kept Liev covered with the sheet, Gera removed his son’s clothing. He set cloak, sandals, tunic, and loincloth next to Keren.
The airy sound of flutes sent chills up Obadiah’s spine. Then came the wavering trill of long, high-pitched wails. He shivered.
First Eran whimpered, then Zabad squalled.
“Keep the wailers behind the fence.” Obadiah’s voice broke.
Zak spoke to the women at the gate, and the flutes and wails settled into a backdrop of sound. He returned clutching a large sack. “Spices. The shroud’s on top.”
As a guard set a jar of warm water next to Obadiah, Eran slipped away from his mother and squeezed in by the jar. “Why is Daddy on the goatskins?”
“Come here, little one.” Zak tucked the boy under his arm. “We’re giving your daddy a bath.” He lugged him over to his mother and returned with another jar of warm water.
While the guards sheltered them with a curtain of robes, Obadiah, Zak, and Gera cleaned Liev. Then they wrapped him in his shroud. With each turn, Obadiah scattered aloes mixed with myrrh over the long cloth.
At the final turn, a searing pain stabbed him in the belly. Gera and Hodiah would never see their son again. Keren would struggle through each day without Liev’s song. Little Eran and Zabad would forget their daddy’s face, and the child in Keren’s womb would know only a name that dwindled through the years.
When Liev lay cleaned and wrapped, Obadiah motioned, and the guards lowered their curtain of robes.
The moment Zak opened the gate, neighbors and wailers filled the courtyard.
Gera threw his shoulders back and stalked into the stable. He brought out a spade, lugging it like a club, and glared at a piece of sod by the corner of the house. “Here.”
Groaning to himself, Obadiah fumbled in the stable for a second spade. In the village, his father had dug a grave under the pear tree for Obadiah’s great-grandfather. But Obadiah had arrived too late to dig his father’s grave.
As Obadiah emerged from the stable, Gera wiped at tears and let out a guttural moan. With the spade in both hands, he stabbed the grass as if killing a snake, stepped back, stumbled, stood straight again, and pushed the spade into the earth with his foot.
“Let me.” Obadiah stepped in beside Gera. “Zak, see what the neighbors have to dig with.” Tears rolled into his beard. In his most terrible nightmare, Obadiah had never imagined digging this boy’s grave.
Gera let him remove pieces of sod then nudged him aside. “This is my job.” When Gera had cleared a rectangle of red dirt one hand wider and longer than Liev, Zak returned with spades. “Please, sir. Let me and my men do this.”
As neighbors and wailers crowded around, the guards dug the hole waist-deep.
Gera stood at Liev’s head, Obadiah at his feet, and three guards on each side. These eight carried him to the foot of the grave.
Eran took a few steps toward his father’s shrouded form. Then he shuddered and, eyes big and round, ran back into his mother’s embrace.
His little brother cried with him.
The neighbor turned to Gera. “Perhaps this is not a sight for children. I’ll take the boys with me for a while.”
But Keren squared her shoulders. “Thank you, but the boys have a right to know what happened to their father.”
“I-I see.” As the neighbor backed off, the crowd pressed in around the open grave.
In a voice that filled the courtyard, Gera recited, “‘He that dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.’”
The men lowered Liev into the earth.
Gera straightened his shoulders then locked eyes with his wife. Her face pale, her eyes red, Hodiah wiped at her nose. As Gera lifted his hands to his robe, she seized the edge of her own robe.
Around the courtyard, eyes followed their hands.
Gera and Hodiah ripped a gash in their robes, the others tore theirs, and the two little ones by Keren flicked their hands in imitation.
Gera then stooped to the pile of loose soil. He threw one fistful on Liev in the grave and the other up onto his own head.
Close behind him, Obadiah imitated Gera—one handful in the grave and one on his head.
With Eran and Zabad in tow, Hodiah and Keren followed, tossing dirt on Liev and themselves. The two children flung dirt into the grave and up in the air.
Neighbors and wailers walked past the grave throwing their handfuls.
The wailing subsided.
Zak stepped toward the pile of dirt, but Gera took the spade from his hand. “This is the last thing I get to do for my boy.”
Obadiah’s chest heaved. “Gera. Please.”
With shaking hands, in slow, deliberate moves, as guards, family, and neighbors waited in silence, the two friends stabbed the dirt with their spades and filled Liev’s grave.
Keren held Eran by the hand. She dabbed a cloth at her face and wiped her mother-in-law’s cheeks. The older woman stood, rocked Zabad, and wept on Keren’s shoulder.
Obadiah collected Gera’s spade and headed for the stable. “I’m awake, Lord. What do you want?”
The answer came. 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?
“He that dwells in the secret place…” – Psalm 91:1
Throwing dirt on heads – Job 2:12
“Rescue the perishing…” – Proverbs 24:11-12
20. A Time to Mourn
Gera’s Courtyard, Samaria City, Samaria, Israel
Obadiah stood at the edge of the crowd with his head bowed. He had failed. The sun rode high over Samaria City, but midnight settled into his soul.
Baby Eran climbed from Gera’s lap and brushed a hand on Keren and Hodiah, then wrapped his arms around Obadiah’s leg. Eran’s squeeze had often brought cheer to Obadiah’s heart. He picked him up and held him against his chest. The darkness had settled too deep. The mound of dirt by the corner of the house showed his failure.
Scouts from Syria had killed Obadiah’s father. But agents of Israel’s own queen had murdered Liev. Obadiah slouched. He had done nothing to protect her many victims.
Zak stood at Obadiah’s side. Near the well, three guards had set up a spit of mutton. They stood a jar of pickled cucumbers by the spit, plus baskets of apples, grapes, and figs. The youngest guard turned the spit while he waved a broom at curious goats and chickens. His innocent face invited mourners to eat.
Obadiah grunted and nudged Zak’s arm. “They’re right, you know.”
“Mmm. Who? Who’s right?”
“Those who say I’ve done nothing to prevent the killings. That I pull you and the guys in close to protect Yedidah and the kids while I ignore the queen’s henchmen. Let them murder those they catch alone. Like Liev.”
Obadiah hung his head. “I’ve failed.”
Zak elbowed him and pointed toward the gate.
Chatter in the courtyard subsided. Heads turned toward the gate.
A group of royal bodyguards entered, waited while Ahab sauntered through, then surrounded him.
“Stay here and keep the guys here.” Obadiah grit his teeth. “I don’t want anybody getting hurt. This is my job.” Chin high and fists clenched, he strode through the crowd and ground his heels to a halt at the edge of Ahab’s group of guards.
The guards opened a path, and Obadiah marched up to Ahab, took his hand, and whispered in his ear. “The only way you’ll be welcome here is if you announce you’ve sent Jezebel and her four hundred back to Tyre.”
Ahab frowned, took a step back, and tried to release Obadiah’s hand.
Obadiah held tight, moved forward in sync with Ahab, and kept his lips to his ear. “Best if you leave, my king.”
“Now. Just turn around, smile, and leave.” He let go, stepped back, and twitched his lips.
Ahab glanced across the courtyard to where Gera’s little family sat near the ladder. He leaned toward the mutton spit, then turned, straightened his shoulders, and marched out the gate.
Obadiah let the royal bodyguards flow past him after their king. The last man through waved at Obadiah and latched the gate. Obadiah let out a long breath, returned to Gera’s family, and stood again with Zak. “That felt good.”
Hodiah rose to her feet and stood next to Obadiah. “Thank you, child.”
A call came from across the courtyard. “‘There’s a time to mourn and a time to dance.’”
Obadiah looked up. The voice belonged to old don’t-you-know Jamin, the elder from Shechem. Jamin maneuvered past the mutton and the pickles. He rested his wrinkled hands and full white beard on the top of a long, stout cane. The few times old Jamin spoke during meetings of the Seventy, elders nodded in agreement. What a surprise to see him up here all the way from Shechem.
Obadiah handed the toddler to Hodiah.
When Jamin reached Obadiah, he tipped his head toward Gera’s little family. “Friends should not grieve alone, don’t you know?”
Gera made as if to rise, but old Jamin lifted his 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 his hands 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 intruded on by agents from King Ethbaal. Tell me, do those who whisper of the queen’s thugs go mute when the king’s right-hand man appears?”
Obadiah spoke into Jamin’s ear. “You heard what happened in Beitshan?”
The elder flapped his fingers but kept his voice low. “Beitshan, Jabesh, Akko, Ramoth, the villages of Jair.” He slashed a hand toward Gera. “And here in our capital, the queen murdered this good man’s son.” Old Jamin drew up straight. “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 where will the next bubblers rise?”
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.”
Zabad, the crawler, started to roll off Gera’s lap.
Obadiah lifted the baby to his shoulder and tested the ancient elder’s grasp of 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?”
The wrong question? Obadiah rocked from foot to foot. “Some ask if those who contend against evil speak their own words or the words of 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.” He tapped his cane on the pavers as he moseyed back across the courtyard and accepted a slice of mutton from the young guard.
Obadiah rubbed his breastbone where Jamin’s finger had jabbed. Moses awaken? The elder from Shechem enjoyed mixing wisdom with melodrama.
Obadiah set Zabad’s feet on the ground and let him cling to his fingertips.
“Gera?” A man called from the gate.
“Over here.” Gera stood. “It’s Ishdod. Our neighbor.”
Ishdod wore the mottled gray cloak of a farmer. He hurried through the crowd and faced Obadiah. “You’re the king’s man, aren’t you? Can you come see my uncle? He’s outside on the path.” He lowered his voice. “And he’s frightened.”
Obadiah set Zabad on Keren’s free arm. He flicked his eyes toward the gate then mouthed to Gera, “Where can I hide?”
Gera gave Obadiah’s wrist a light rap. “The king’s man will be glad to help. Bring your uncle in.”
“Oh, he won’t come in. He’s afraid he’ll interrupt. So terrible what happened to Liev.” Ishdod gripped Obadiah’s shoulder. “You will help, won’t you?”
Obadiah searched the man’s face. What’s going on, Lord?
“Please hurry. My uncle is…nervous.” The neighbor jerked Obadiah toward the gate. At the last moment, Obadiah latched onto Gera’s sleeve and dragged him along.
“We love my uncle.” Ishdod pushed through the five rows of olive trees to the ancient oak tree on the path. He addressed the trunk of the tree. “I brought the king’s man. This is my Uncle Caleb from Nakrab.”
A shoulder covered in a dark gray robe came from behind the oak. The uncle 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?” The uncle shrank toward the oak trunk, his arms tight against his sides.
Gera took a firm grip on Obadiah’s elbow. There would be no escaping this frightened, nervous person.
Ishdod sighed and stroked the man’s arm. “Yes, Uncle. Obadiah runs the king’s olive groves. He mourns Liev with us.”
Gera pointed to the path through the trees. “Would you like to see the royal chariot?”
“No. No. Too many people.” The uncle fell to his knees and captured Obadiah with his arms around his waist. “You’re who they say you are. I can tell.”
Obadiah brushed at the arms as if they were long cockroaches. Yet the uncle held firm and gazed up 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 of a brother or cousin in danger.
“Pardon me, sir.” Obadiah pried the uncle’s arms from his waist. “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 hates the baby burners and the brothels. And I’m afraid for him.”
“Excuse me a moment, sir.” While Ishdod held his uncle beside the oak tree, Obadiah pulled Gera up the path. “I can’t do this. That fellow thinks I can wave a whip and make the queen’s men go away, but I don’t have that magic.” Obadiah dropped his arms to his sides.
“Breathe,” Gera said. “In. Out. In. Out.”
Then he squeezed Obadiah’s forearms and turned him toward Ishdod and his uncle. “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.”
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. “Thank you, Gera. I can do this.”
After a light punch in the shoulder, Gera escorted him back to the oak.
The uncle 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 and looked Obadiah in the eye.
Obadiah settled his hand 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…”
The uncle clasped his hands under his chin and faced Obadiah. “Oh, I understand, sir. I do. And with all the responsibility 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.”
Ishdod 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.” He waved to Obadiah.
Gera watched Ishdod and his uncle disappear around a bend in the path. “Did you catch where his son lives?”
“I didn’t ask. I have to find a place to hide him.”
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
Ishdod – 1 Chronicles 7:17
Caleb – Joshua 14
21. Squelched by Keren
Gera’s Courtyard, Samaria City, Samaria, Israel
Obadiah rejoined the crowd of mourners and sat with Gera and the family next to the base of the ladder. “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 released Eran from her lap.
He slid off and toddled straight to Obadiah, who nestled him against his shoulder. “Sometimes Liev led me far outside the grove—whether I wanted to go or not—to a hole where he buried diseased fruit he’d pulled off the trees. Liev couldn’t hide 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.” Liev’s mother squeezed Keren’s wrist. “We can talk as if he is still with us if we want to, dear.”
Her face contorted in pain, Keren said, “Yes, we can, Mother. And I know why they killed him.”
Obadiah leaned toward the two women. Until this moment, Keren 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. Her tears flowed while she cared for Eran and Zabad. Perhaps the boys distracted her from Liev’s death. Or knowing they’d never remember him deepened her grief.
She locked eyes with Hodiah then with Gera.
When Gera blinked, Keren sat 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 might be 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. Chatter 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, this family was past warning.
Still cradling Zabad in her arms, Keren set her jaw and raised her voice another notch, each word distinct. “The day before the queen’s men killed my husband, it bubbled out of Liev and his friends how the Lord hates Asherah.” She cleared her throat. “Those boys were quoting Moses and laughing about smashing idols.”
She swept the crowd with her gaze, pausing at various faces in the courtyard. “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. Then she pursed her lips and shook her head, sat up wide-eyed, and spoke more loudly than before. “Opens his mouth and out comes the truth.”
“Truth.” The word drifted through the thinning crowd. People glanced around then lowered their eyes.
Obadiah rose from the goatskin. Liev’s widow had given a grand speech. If she let it rest, their family might live through the week.
Heads in the crowd turned to him. Someone coughed. Beyond the gate, a bluethroat sang gorgeous notes.
He handed the toddler to Hodiah and cleared his throat. Perhaps he could steer them to a safer tone.
Keren raised her chin. “I’m not done talking, Uncle Biah.”
Obadiah’s neck flushed warm. “Not…not done?”
Obadiah sat back at the base of the ladder. What had gotten into Keren?
“Look, Uncle Biah, we hate Jezebel with a perfect hatred, but that didn’t keep the queen’s thugs from killing my Liev.” Keren rocked Zabad in her arms. “You’d have kept him alive if you could.”
She pulled Zabad up to her shoulder. “We don’t have what it takes to kick Jezebel out, but when the Lord’s man wakes up, we’ll know how to do some good.”
Obadiah squirmed. How does this young widow think she—?
Zak knelt at his elbow. “Someone to see you, sir.”
Obadiah growled. He’d been squelched by Keren, and now Zak intruded. “Well?” Obadiah snapped, “Who is it?”
As Zak stepped aside, at first the fishmonger from Gibbethon shuffled through, his basket swinging from his shoulder.
Old Jamin, the elder from Shechem, stood behind his cane with a twinkle in his eye. “A cave, young man. Hide bubblers in a cave.”
Obadiah rose to his feet and lifted a hand against the elder’s words. “I didn’t see you in the crowd and thought you had left for Shechem. Very glad to have with us still, but with all due respect, sir. A cave? You can’t stuff people into a hole in the ground. Narrow. Wet. Cold. No air.”
“No air?” The elder’s laugh lines twitched. “The Lord made caves with air, young man. My father took our family to explore them.”
“Your father.” Obadiah stepped closer to old Jamin.
“By Megiddo, up in the Galilee, and on Mount Carmel. Since I was three. My grandsons and their children still explore there, plus the Qesem cave on the Shephelah.”
Obadiah drew a deep breath and exhaled. “Did I let a cramped quarry in Gilgal make me forget? Our ancestors hid in caves from the Midianites.”
“Plus, four hundred men watched David cut the tail from Saul’s robe in the cave of Abdullah.” A gleam shone from Jamin’s eyes. “I think our Moses is awake.”
Smashing idols – Deuteronomy 12:3
Perfect hatred – Psalm 139:22
22. Do You Pray?
Obadiah stopped his chariot on the Megiddo threshing floor. He felt beside him for Yedidah and scanned the market crowd for her sister. “Yeskah’s someone we trust, and she lives close. But will she help?”
“Yessie will help.” Yedidah gripped the rail and lifted her hand to shield her eyes against the early morning sun.
Three days ago, old Jamin had recommended the Misliya cave by the Megiddo turnoff and volunteered to ask his grandsons not to explore there.
Obadiah’s skin prickled. The aroma of baking bread touched his nostrils. Crows squawked from brown trees and watched for an opening to steal a pita. “Fresh cantaloupe,” vendors called. “Hot roasted chestnuts!”
Yedidah rose on tiptoe and scanned the crowd. “She sees us.” Yedidah waved furiously. “She has Ruthie with her. By the cantaloupes.” She hopped from the chariot and ran to her sister.
Three bodyguards chased after her.
The two sisters hugged, put lips to each other’s ears, and nodded several times while Yeskah’s daughter clung to her side.
A boy approached the chariot and hoisted meat on a stick. “Mother’s roasted mutton with garlic and peppers.”
A second boy lifted a basket and pulled back the corner of a light gray cloth. “Best almonds in Megiddo, sir. Hot from the fire.”
Zak dismissed them. “Maybe later, boys.”
Obadiah held his breath while he played his gaze over the crowd. No Moloch or Asherah insignia. But faces around the market turned his way. He descended to the pavers with two guards and tapped his driver’s arm. “We’ve got the market staring at us. Put the horses and chariot away.”
The driver directed his team to the livery.
Arm-in-arm, the sisters made a path through the crowd to Obadiah, followed by the three guards.
Ruthie broke free and ran ahead, her black curls bouncing. She swung on Zak’s arm and kept her voice low. “I know the cave. The Misliya. It’s really close.”
Zak growled low. “Best not be talking in this crowd, Ruthie.”
She whispered. “It’s so scary. Reaches back under the mountain forever. Nobody goes there.”
Obadiah scratched his whiskers. Yedidah and her mother had spoken too freely while Ruthie listened in. How to keep a secret with this chatterbox at his elbow?
When the sisters arrived, Ruthie moved to her mother’s arm. “I can buy the food for those men that Uncle Biah—”
“No, baby. No.” Yeskah’s face went ashen. “The queen’s men kill anyone they think is helping bubblers.” She reached, but Ruthie bounced beyond her grasp. “Who’s going to suspect an eleven-year-old girl, Mommy?”
Yeskah frowned. “You can’t trust anyone.”
A child with peach-fuzz cheeks strolled up to the guards. He held the two halves of a prickly pear skinned and speared on twigs. “I cleaned this prize for you big strong men.”
Yeskah’s neck flushed a deep pink. She kept her back to the peddler and whispered to Obadiah’s chest, “See what I mean? A spy.”
Obadiah kept a straight face.
The boy thrust the fruit at Zak. “Please try one, sir. Mighty troopers like you enjoy the deep flavor of fruit from the Jezreel Valley.” After he sold Zak two for each person in Obadiah’s circle, the boy took his prickly pears to the next knot of people.
Yeskah watched him go. “That boy carries everything he hears straight to the queen.”
Obadiah took a long breath. His sister-in-law could see a baby burner behind any bush.
“Look, I don’t need the world listening in.” Yeskah grabbed Yedidah by the hand and dragged her between the livery and the bakery. Ruthie followed, with Obadiah and his guards right behind. The alley opened to a modest courtyard set back between two houses against the city wall.
Yeskah called twice, “Habakkuk, hello!” When no one responded, she turned around and pulled Yedidah and Ruthie in close. “Old friends. One family is spending the week in Akko. The other won’t hear me unless I go in and tap her on the shoulder.”
When his men crowded close behind him, Obadiah said, “This seems safe. But let’s keep our voices down.” He rubbed at the back of his neck. Buying food for his fugitives put Yedidah’s sister in enough danger. She didn’t need surprises from her daughter.
He placed both hands on his niece’s shoulders. “Look, Ruthie. One little girl buying so much food? People will wonder.”
She tipped her head.
Obadiah cocked his head to the side. Ruthie seemed courageous, but her sweet little heart didn’t protect her from the blades of Jezebel’s assassins. Obadiah curled his hands into fists and stooped eyeball-to-eyeball with her. “You’d have the queen’s goons on you before the week was out.”
Ruthie tugged on his robe. “So, we get helpers, Uncle Biah. Everybody buys a little and nobody notices.”
“Ha! Who can you trust?”
“I trust my friends. Don’t you, Uncle Biah? I’ve got friends who’d love to help feed your bubblers.” She swung around. “Don’t I, Mommy? Loads of friends.”
Her mother shook her head. “I’m not letting you get involved.” She gave a nervous cough and exchanged glances with Yedidah. “Ruthie has several friends. Older and younger too. The way this petty dictator runs her gang makes Hummer Hobby look like a kitten. I fear for our freedoms if she ever came to power.”
“Hummer?” Obadiah squinted.
“Hummer. Hammer. That old king in Babylon.”
He pursed his lips. “Hammurabi.”
Obadiah studied Yeskah. She had moved from not letting Ruthie get involved to extolling her daughter’s leadership.
Yedidah snickered. “Sounds like her mother. Dishes it out to anybody and takes it from nobody.”
Yeskah frowned at Obadiah. “I know people need to eat, but I don’t want to think what those monsters might do to my baby.” She shuddered.
He turned to Ruthie. “Like your mother says, we can’t be too careful. A buyer must never know who else is buying. If the Asherah officials catch one, they’ll go from friend to friend and kill every one of you.”
Yeskah spit her bite of prickly pear on the ground. “Biah!”
He rubbed his neck. “So, it sounds like Yedidah told you we heard about the Misliya cave. Can we hide people there? How will we feed them?”
Ruthie’s eyes sparkled as if her Uncle Biah had announced the Feast of Booths came early this year. “Uncle Biah was saying we don’t know who to trust.” She took her mother’s arm. “So, we don’t ask anyone to help. We do what old Samuel did.”
She poked her mother. “You remember. The Lord said, ‘I will send a man.’ The way Daddy tells it, old Samuel pulls a pomegranate off a tree and while he’s getting juice in his beard, up walks Saul.”
“But it’s too dangerous, Ruthie.” Yeskah shook her head.
“Not with the Lord on our side.”
Yeskah sighed. “Where did you get such courage?”
“Courage is bone-deep with you, Mommy.”
Yeskah’s face softened.
Ruthie shifted her gaze. “Uncle Biah, if the Lord can send a king to save the nation, he can find buyers to feed a few bubblers.” She planted her feet and raised her face to his nose. “Do you pray, Uncle Biah?”
Hid from the Midianites in caves – Judges 6:2
David in the cave of Abdullah– 1 Samuel 22
Hammurabi – the sixth king of the First Babylonian dynasty, c. 1810 – c. 1750 BC
Habakkuk – Between the books of Nahum and Zephaniah
Samuel & Saul – 1 Samuel 9:15
The Feast of Booths – Leviticus 23:34, Nehemiah 8:14
23. The Misliya Cave
Obadiah dangled an empty prickly pear stick from his fingers. “Do I pray? Um, well.” How do I answer this child, Lord? He cleared his throat. “My conversations with the Lord lack the poetry of David or Solomon, but we talk a lot, and he listens in on my thoughts.”
Ruthie hunched her shoulders. “Was that a yes or a no? Do you pray?”
Obadiah sighed at Yeskah. “Little Hammurabi.” He took a long breath. “Yes, Ruthie. I pray.”
“Then don’t look for helpers.” Ruthie took her mother by one hand and her aunt by the other. “Ask the Lord to send them.” She beamed into Obadiah’s speechless face and beckoned to the guards. “Come on, guys. In close for Uncle Biah’s prayer.”
As the guards joined Ruthie’s huddle, a tear rolled down Yeskah’s cheek. She draped an arm around her daughter’s shoulders.
Obadiah pursed his lips. Yeskah allowed her daughter to direct. Had the thought of prayer budged her? He gripped Yedidah by the hand and looked up. “Lord, please send Ruthie the right helpers.”
Amens came from Ruthie, Yedidah, and the guards. Yeskah added, “Yes, Lord. The right helpers.”
Ruthie jumped into the middle of the group and whispered. “Uncle Biah prayed, and we agreed with him. So, I wait by the onions. If someone asks how to help me, I tell them. But only if they ask. Does everybody understand?”
Faces went blank.
Yeskah scowled at Yedidah and pulled Ruthie to her.
“Um. No, Ruthie.” Obadiah coughed. “I…I don’t understand. You’re not a cripple, and you’re not carrying a sign. Your scarf and robe are like other children’s. Why should anyone think you need help?”
Ruthie clapped her hands. “Oh! You do understand, Uncle Biah! The only way anyone will think to ask is if the Lord gives them a poke. And when they ask, I tell them I need help buying bread. I give them a handful of your silver—and ask for pitas to feed three men for three days.”
She pointed up the alley. “You go sip wine with your muscle men, and ask the Lord to send me shoppers.”
Yeskah had gone from stone-faced to peaceful. Was she talking with the Lord about Ruthie?
Zak slid silver from his purse into Ruthie’s bag.
Yeskah led them onto the plaza and into Elder Heman’s courtyard. Perhaps she wanted to see how the Lord might use her daughter.
Obadiah sat next to Yedidah and Yeskah, with his guards around them in a circle.
Ruthie sauntered onto the plaza and approached a display where women with woven-reed bags dangling from their arms picked over a large pile of yellow onions. Ruthie adjusted her scarf, hooked her arm through the handles of her bag, and turned an onion over in her fingers.
Yeskah whispered, “When you first mentioned secret shoppers, I pictured little old ladies in the dark of night, not my baby girl.” She took a deep breath then eased it out.
Obadiah’s shoulders tightened. Ruthie was the age of his second daughter. He would fear for his baby girl, if he even allowed her this kind of adventure.
He squinted. “Okay, Lord. Ruthie’s in place. Where are her helpers?” A woman picked up a large onion, waited while her companions strolled over to the cucumbers, and turned to Ruthie as if she were speaking to her.
Yeskah whispered, “The blacksmith’s wife. Good people.”
The woman cupped Ruthie’s chin and tipped the child’s face up.
Obadiah leaned forward. “The silver, Ruthie. Show her the silver.”
Ruthie dug her fingers deep in her bag.
The robe shielded their hands. As the woman looked down, Ruthie bobbed her head.
The blacksmith’s wife opened her mouth, peeked around the market in a hurry, and closed her robe. Then she marched straight to the baker and loaded three tall stacks of pitas into the bag on her arm.
Yeskah breathed out. “Who’s going to eat all this bread? Where are the bubblers for this cave?”
“They’re waiting for my signal,” Yedidah whispered.
The blacksmith’s wife stopped next at a pile of squash.
Obadiah covered his mouth with his hand. “Didn’t I tell Ruthie no fires in the cave? Squash needs to be roasted.”
“Twice. I’ll help Ruthie find a way to cook squash for a cave full.”
The blacksmith’s wife transferred the pitas and squash to Ruthie’s bag, hugged her tight, then drifted over to the cucumbers.
Ruthie lugged her bulging bag into Heman’s courtyard and set it at Obadiah’s feet. “This won’t work, Mommy.” Whimpering, she collapsed on her mother’s shoulder and whispered. “My bag is already full. If more shoppers put food in, like Uncle Biah said, people will stare, and the queen’s spies will hear about the little girl with too much food.”
Yeskah pulled Ruthie close and put her lips to Ruthie’s ear. She turned just enough so Obadiah could hear and whispered. “Don’t be in such a rush, baby. We haven’t worked the wrinkles out, but give us a moment. We might have to roast the squash at home. Or you could get up a network of helpers to cook.”
Yedidah leaned in and joined the whispering. “Or Ruthie could recruit women who buy a few extra pitas and squash. Not enough to attract attention.”
Ruthie shook her head. “But Uncle Biah prayed. And we said Amen.” She sobbed. “I thought the Lord knew what he was doing.”
Obadiah’s youngest guard guffawed then covered his mouth.
Yeskah frowned then whispered a few more words into Ruthie’s ear. “The Lord knows how we should do this. Together, we’ll keep on asking the Lord and listening to wise people like your aunt Yedidah.”
“Your mother’s right, Ruthie.” Obadiah knelt by Yeskah and Ruthie and whispered. “The Lord does speak to us one-on-one, but there’s safety in listening to the Lord with others. Your mother is a wise woman who knows the Lord. You can trust her to come up with a plan that works and doesn’t put her child in danger.”
Ruthie wiped her cheeks. “Wanna see the cave, Uncle Biah?”
She glanced around the plaza and covered her mouth. “The cave’s right by the turnoff. If we go now, while the sun’s hot, the path will be empty. Just you, me, and my mom.”
As Ruthie led Yeskah and Obadiah out the gate, he glanced back at his bodyguards on the threshing floor holding pitas and squash. He had never wandered this far from their protection. And he was trusting himself to his niece. He whispered to Yeskah beside him. “Who are we kidding? Will bubblers follow our little Ruthie?”
“They’ll go where Hammurabi shows them.” Yeskah reached ahead and tapped Ruthie on the shoulder. “How many men can we put in the cave?”
“Oh, lots and lots. You’ll see, Mommy.”
The road sloped down in a gentle curve from the city gate.
Obadiah tipped his head back. Buzzards soared, and a swallow-tailed kite screamed. Three times it fought off a hawk, yet the hawk returned for more.
The place for a man to hide was lying on his back in the smell of blossoms. Where tall, brown grasses tickled his face and empty clouds scudded across a pale blue sky.
They shouldn’t be putting men in a cave. Hawks didn’t circle in caves. Flowers never bloomed.
In caves, rats scurried and bats fluttered. Mold crept over everything with no way to scrape it off.
And there was nothing to drink. “Why didn’t we bring a skin of water?”
Yeskah shook her head, but Ruthie glanced back. “You can drink in the cave.”
The child didn’t understand. Any liquid in a cave came from slugs and snails whose sole purpose in life was to die and pollute stagnant puddles with slime.
Obadiah’s skin crawled, and he brushed at his arm.
When they reached the main road on the valley floor, Ruthie turned right toward the fort. She looked back and pushed her scarf up on her head. “Mommy, Uncle Biah doesn’t look so good.”
His legs dragged.
He stopped mid-stride.
It wasn’t right to ask healthy young men to bury themselves in such a putrid place. “Maybe this cave isn’t—”
“You sure you want to see this cave, Biah?” Yeskah looked him up and down.
He tightened his fists and caught up with them.
“Here we are.” Still within sight of the Megiddo cutoff, Ruthie pointed to a grove of dried-up coconut palms. Their once-green fronds rattled in the breeze. Dying pomegranate trees surrounded their base. Shriveled leaves clung to flimsy limbs that would not bob with fruit this year.
“Wait.” Obadiah stood staring up the curve toward the city. “How can you hide people so close to town? We’re only half an hour from the city gate.”
“Next time the Lord makes a cave, he’ll hide it in the wilderness.” Ruthie re-tied the scarf over her curls. “Follow me.” Then she struck off through the trees with Yeskah at her side.
An extra stride landed Obadiah beside them. “I don’t see any cave.”
She flicked him a sober look. “No talking.”
Not another person was in sight. Did she sense someone eavesdropping, or did her gang of friends enjoy her mysterious commands?
Obadiah left the road and trailed Ruthie and Yeskah into the trees. The wind ruffled the leaves. Then a stream gurgled. No doubt slithering in slime.
“The water’s good to drink.” She pointed through the bushes. “No tracks by the edge, please. I want this looking undisturbed.”
The ground held no path. Their footprints would be the first. A hoopoe called. He turned left then right. The road hid behind thick trees and undergrowth.
As Obadiah trailed Yeskah and Ruthie through balm bushes, the sun sent a bead of sweat trickling down his brow.
Ruthie pointed to a bed of rocks at the edge of the stream. “Step only on the large stones. Follow me.”
Yeskah stopped. “You go ahead. I’ll wait for you here.” Her flash of a smile stopped short of her eyes. “Take good care of your uncle. And if you need help, yell real loud.”
Obadiah studied his niece. Bubblers might wonder if little Ruthie led them to protection or torture. He shrugged. As men resigned themselves to obeying the only one who offered help, they would place their feet where Hammurabi directed.
Sure-footed as a deer, she crossed on the large rocks and stepped into the tiny current.
Obadiah cringed from the icy flow, but his toes and laces showed wavy and clear.
No slime. Nice.
His guide splashed through the stream to the base of a limestone cliff, where she ducked under an overhang as high as his chest.
Obadiah turned. Yeskah waved from the path. If he didn’t need to rescue men from Jezebel, he would join her. He breathed deep and followed Ruthie into the dark.
As his eyes adjusted, Obadiah stepped onto the bank of the stream and looked back toward the faint daylight under the cliff’s overhang.
Ruthie stood in the water and pointed into the deep darkness. “They’ll have to stay back inside where it’s cold.”
“What do you think, Uncle Biah? Will your guys stay put? Let’s do this. Pretend you’re a bubbler in here alone while I wait outside.” She picked her way downstream and disappeared through the opening.
The stream bubbled.
Darkness closed in.
“Lord, let me out of here.”
Obadiah lurched down the bank and tripped, crunching hands and knees into the gravel stream bed.
He pulled his face from the current, blubbered, and blew water from his beard. “Ruthie?”
Two years later, Obadiah sat on the headquarters rooftop and opened his mouth to the afternoon’s slight drizzle. “Thank you, Lord!” A long peal of thunder reverberated from the fort’s towers and old stone walls. Merchants stuffed cantaloupe into sacks, tied them to donkey packboards, and headed out the gate.
Obadiah’s children stomped puddles and giggled. His third daughter, eleven, splashed over to him, tilting her head to one side. “Daddy, tell us again about when the Goatskin Kid opened the sky.”
He brushed wet hair from his forehead and pulled Yedidah to him in a story-telling side hug. “Well, he was taller than Ahab. Beautiful beard. You remember his name?
In unison, his five children said, “Elijah.”
The three girls stood back and let their little brothers cling to their father.
The younger boy, six, tugged on Obadiah’s sleeve. “And fierce. Elijah was fierce like a lion.”
Obadiah held his son’s cheeks in his hands. “Gentle as a kitten. And the way he called to the crowd made me want to sing.”
His older son fixed his eyes on Obadiah. “And then he killed the Moloch monsters.”
“He did. Terrible sight. Everybody had their daggers out. I’m glad you weren’t there.” Obadiah pointed an arm toward the valley. “And a huge rain floated the bodies out to sea.”
He had reached the familiar end of the open sky story. His sons knelt by him and spun tops on the roof pavers, while his daughters set up a board game carved in onyx.
Elder Heman – 1 Kings 4:31
Squash – Jonah 4:6-10, 2 Kings 4:39
24. The Syrians Are Upon You.
Fort Jezreel, Jezreel Valley, Israel
Obadiah held Yedidah tight and nuzzled her hair. “I have to leave.”
“Ahab needs you.” Yedidah’s voice vibrated his chest.
Three weeks ago, he had listened in as spies reported to Commander Jehu. Syrian troops mobilized in Damascus, chatting around their campfires about the Jordan River approach to Samaria City.
Then a runner popped into the fort with news. Ahab had ordered his Akko chief to bring fifty men to the capital. That week, a dozen more chiefs marched through with their fifties, leaving their fields in the middle of harvest.
Ahab needed Obadiah at the capital.
“Even the children talk of the invasion.” Yedidah wrung her hands and pressed into him. “I’d love to keep you here, but go to Ahab before your pacing wears a groove in the floor.”
He clung to her. The fort was the safest place he knew. Yet not safe enough. “Please, Lord, Ahab needs me. You’ve got to protect Yedidah and the kids.”
The hills on the way to Samaria City—once sad and brown—glistened in lime and emerald. Since Elijah executed four hundred fifty Moloch priests, the winter rains had returned and blessed the leaves of every growing thing from oaks to salt bushes.
On the first switchback at the base of the Samaria Hill, a rider called from behind, “Message for the king.” Obadiah’s driver and bodyguards swerved wide.
The messenger passed them on the inside, his steed dripping sweat. As he touched heel to horse, one word sounded clear over hoofbeats and the crunch of chariot wheels. “Syrians.” He disappeared with his horse around the next turn.
“Yah!” Obadiah’s driver waved his whip. His team leaned into the turn and came out at a fast trot.
Obadiah swiveled in his chariot. A rider in mottled gray emerged from the Tirzah valley, followed by three riders wearing the coppery red of Syria. They would reach the city long moments after Obadiah.
The road snaked back and forth up the escarpment. At the city gate, stone pillars thick enough to shade a horse held timbered wings open to the road. On the narrow threshing floor, Obadiah’s chariot and bodyguards skirted piles of chaff and stalks, then entered the broad plaza and weaved through clusters of vendors and buyers haggling over chickens and melons. Troops posted next to the palace glanced once, then let his little group thread their way through.
The messenger’s horse hung his head low at the foot of the palace stairs. Guards cooled his steaming back with wet cloths and held a bucket as he drank.
Obadiah mounted the steps two at a time. “Three red robes from Tirzah are climbing the hill.”
The messenger stood on the terrace with Ahab and swept his arm toward the Jordan River. “They’re in the river valley, sir. Down from the Golan and across the Galilee.”
The king dismissed the messenger, who led his weary mount across the plaza to the livery.
With a wave of his hand, Obadiah sent his chariot and guards after them. “The Syrians are upon you, my king. Ben-Hadad is attacking from the Jordan.” As boys watching the troops in Gibbethon—and dozens of times since—he and Ahab had quizzed each other on an attack from the river. But this was no drill. Whatever defense Ahab chose, men would die. “How many troops do you have here on the hill?”
“Close to seven thousand in the woods and the fort. And they’re eager to get back to the harvest.”
The buzz of conversation on the plaza fell away.
At the city gate, sunlight flickered from the spear of a soldier leading three in coppery red uniforms. Where were their horses? Ah-ha. A deep glow warmed Obadiah from the inside. The scout had made them approach his king on foot.
Vendors, buyers, and troops stepped back and opened a path. Soldiers rammed the butts of their spears against the plaza pavers and iced the red shirts with their stares.
As the Syrians followed the scout up the steps, their daggers glinted in the sun.
Ahab stood beside the balustrade, hid his hands in his armpits, and tucked his elbows into his sides. Obadiah held his breath. These messengers would report to Ben-Hadad that the king of Israel shrank from contact. Yet, Ahab unfolded his arms and took the center of the terrace, hands open at his sides.
Obadiah leaned back against the balustrade. Good show, old friend.
The scout bowed to Ahab—“My king”—and stepped aside.
Stiff and straight, the Syrians lined up before Ahab and stole looks around the terrace. Square-trimmed black beards brushed their chests.
“What does this son of Hadad have to say for himself?” Ahab crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes to slits.
The messenger at the center took one stride forward and tipped his head back. He recited in a high-pitched voice as if reading from an accountant’s tablet. “Ben-Hadad says…”
Obadiah swallowed hard. The message would be a threat. In early lessons, Commander Omri had taught young Ahab and Obadiah the purpose of a threat—ramp up the fear, so victims can’t think to organize their defense, and the city falls at a lower cost.
In those long-ago lessons, Obadiah had stored threats on the same mental shelf as ladders and ramps—to be used or set aside in a siege with no danger to his own skin. Yet his mouth felt dry. If these troops captured Fort Jezreel, they would shove his children into copper mines. Are you watching, Lord?
“Ben-Hadad says, ‘Your silver and your gold are mine. And your wives and children, even the most handsome. All mine.’”
The threat could have come verbatim from King Omri’s lessons. The aim? To make the king shudder.
Instead, Ahab sneered. “Please inform Ben-Hadad, ‘Whatever you say, my lord. It’s all yours.’”
With eyebrows bobbing, the messengers turned to one another, then composed their faces still as stone. As they followed the scout out the gate, their shoulders displayed the yellow-winged torch of Syria.
Zak leaned over and whispered in Obadiah’s ear, “All yours?”
Ahab winked as if he heard Zak. “‘Answer a fool according to his folly…’”
Obadiah returned a crooked smile. “‘… or he will be wise in his own eyes.’”
Zak leaned back, and Obadiah propped his arms on the balustrade. Were they wise to mock the invaders? If the Syrians closed in, Obadiah’s people could drink for weeks from Omri’s thirty-six cisterns. And a wall twice as tall as Obadiah surrounded the plaza, honeycombed with chambers of grain and oil.
For those wanting escape, nine tunnels hidden among boulders and shrubs exited the hillside. Commander Omri had taught Ahab and Obadiah, when they besieged a city, not to guard the exits. Let those inside leave. Instead of fighting tooth and nail, they hand over their city. If Ben-Hadad used the same strategy, he would keep routes open into the rolling countryside.
Yet, Moses had described the delicate man bottled up in a walled city. With nothing left to eat, he kills his child and hides the flesh from his wife. Obadiah shuddered. Hide the body of their child from Yedidah and sneak bites?
With Ahab at his side, Obadiah spiraled up the stairway of an observation tower.
On the wall, they worked their way around piles of heavy rocks, smooth and uniform, then rested their elbows on the parapet by the northwest corner. No foreign troops occupied the nearby grade. Yet far off toward the Jordan River, where the slope dropped into Tirzah valley, Syrian soldiers would be cutting branches for shelter.
Obadiah nudged Ahab’s biceps. “A pincer move?”
Ahab shook his head. “Not enough of us, and I’m not pulling troops away from Jehu or Bidkar. If my father was right, Ben-Hadad’s next threat arrives tomorrow.”
More of Elijah on Mount Carmel in The Boy Who Closed the Sky, chapters 34-38
Elijah executed four hundred fifty Moloch priests – 1 Kings 18:19
Invaded – 1 Kings 20:1-4
“this son of” (“Ben-Hadad” is the title of several Syrian kings) – 1 Kings 20-22
Fear as a siege tactic – 2 Kings 18:17-37
Answer a fool – Proverbs 26:4-5
Open escape routes – The Art of War, by Sun Tzu
Tirzah – 1 Kings 16:6-23
Citizen soldiers – Deuteronomy. 20:5-8, Amos 5:3, 2 Chronicle. 26.11, 2 Kings 25.19
Jehu and Bidkar – 2 Kings 9:25
Hide the flesh of his children – Deuteronomy 28:55
25. Ben-Hadad Threatens
The Palace Terrace, Samaria City, Israel
Obadiah stood elbow-to-elbow with Ahab on the palace terrace. As dawn broke over the eastern mountains, the last stars of the night faded from the sky. The rapid twitter of robins filled the plaza, while smoke from a thousand morning campfires mixed with the murmur of troops and drifted over the two friends.
Silhouettes of men on horseback appeared in the dim light of the threshing floor. A chariot wheeled through the gate. The captain waved a too-long arm and called, “My King! My King!” Several riders followed, farmers come to defend their capital from the Syrians gathered in the Tirzah Valley.
“Hiel!” Ahab trotted down the steps with a cluster of bodyguards.
Obadiah followed. Hiel had struck the blow that made Omri king. Had the old warrior come to fight?
Troops climbed to their feet. Hands went to mouths while versions of Hiel’s story floated past.
“His javelin in the belly made old Tibni, the son of Ginath, grovel in the grass.”
“Split his Adam’s apple at ten paces.”
“Twenty paces. Through the left eyeball. The right one still blinked.”
At the base of the stairs, Hiel descended from his chariot. Fifty-some farmers on horseback dropped to the pavers with him. Men who prayed they could return before the birds cleaned the wheat berries from the stalks in their field. Each carried weapons and a heavy pack.
“These brave men are skilled with sword and javelin. We came through the hills along the border with Judah.” Hiel thumped his pack. “With a few days’ worth of barley.” Several of Hiel’s riders appeared to be youngsters, not yet eighteen.
A gate guard called, “Messengers for the king.”
As Ahab turned toward the gate, Hiel and his men backed away, with Hiel sliding in next to Obadiah. “Talk to me.” He kept his voice low and his eyes on the gate.
The growing light showed Ahab’s scout leading three Syrian messengers onto the threshing floor and across the plaza to the foot of the stairs.
Before they could line up, Ahab snarled and faced them from the lowest step. “Let’s have it.”
The point man for the Syrians droned, “Ben-Hadad says, ‘This time tomorrow, I will collect your silver and gold, your wives and children. My men will search your house and the houses of your officials to bring me everything of value.’”
Ahab glowered at the messengers. “Hold them here,” he ordered his scout.
“I need to consult with the elders.” He led the way to Shuthelah’s courtyard.
Obadiah fell in behind Ahab. Here was his chance to find out about Hiel’s youngest son. He pulled Hiel to his side. “I want to—”
But Hiel raised a hand. “How’s my nephew?”
Obadiah blinked. Nephew. That boy had been in an early group. So Yedidah must have sent him to Yeskah.
“Your nephew is safe. My wife’s sister is caring for him. She won’t let us put more than fifty in the cave.”
Hiel rocked his head back and forth. “Fifty. I suppose we should be thankful she cares about the boy’s comfort.”
“Thankful? I bow down to that woman and her daughter.” He dropped his voice to a whisper. “I had no way to hide even one bubbler until they stepped in.” He glanced at Ahab ahead of them. “We have fifty in one place and twelve in another.”
Obadiah covered his mouth with his hand. “A second miracle. An elder from the Seventy sent his grandchildren to us from the Galilee. Told us to give them bubblers. Yedidah’s packing them in as fast as they arrive.”
“What do they eat?”
“Friends going to Megiddo or the Galilee carry packets of silver.” He glanced behind them. “The blacksmith’s wife is friends with Yedidah’s sister. She keeps your nephew and his companions in pitas and mutton. And roasted squash.”
Obadiah tugged Hiel closer. “I want to know about your children. Is the youngest son still alive?”
Hiel gripped Obadiah’s arm, stopped, and let the others pass them. His face lost color. “No, sir. I’m ashamed to admit. I let my son die.”
Obadiah groaned. “I’m so sorry.”
Hiel choked then spoke again. “We wept and cried. Then we wept again. Sometimes for a day at a time. The boy died two years ago when he was seven. He had the black curls and eyes of my wife’s grandfather. All my tears, all my wife’s tears, couldn’t bring him back. I had let him die.”
“You blame yourself.”
Hiel stared at the ground. “There’s no one else to blame. I tried to make believe the first death was coincidence. I wiggled the words, you know. Old Joshua might have meant this. No, he must have meant that. And every month a full bag of silver from the king helped me give the old curse a new twist.”
An image of Obadiah’s own bright little Reuben popped into his head. Would he let his boy die for a bag of silver every month? Block by block, Hiel rebuilt the city while ignoring Joshua’s curse. In the end, he must have looked around for one more block to place in a wall. Anything but set up the gates.
Obadiah’s stomach churned. He laid a hand on Hiel’s arm. “Lord, have mercy on my brother.”
At Shuthelah’s courtyard, Obadiah and Hiel flanked Ahab and inhaled the aroma of mutton roasting in garlic and onions.
Three dozen elders raised eyebrows toward their king. While in the capital to sell their harvests, they gathered to chat about crops and weather. Yet, their topic today had to be the invasion.
Shuthelah rose. His gaze flickered to Hiel’s strange form then held steady on Ahab. “My king.”
Ahab placed a hand on Hiel’s shoulder. “Esteemed elders of our land. I’m very glad to have my friend, the elder from Bethel, with me. Yesterday, you heard how Ben-Hadad demanded my wives and children, my silver and gold. And you may know of my polite response. Just now you saw his messengers again cross our threshing floor. Ben-Hadad is sending his men to take whatever he chooses from my house and yours.”
To welcome Syrian looters meant ruin. To refuse meant war. While the elders scowled, Ahab touched the gray scarf rolled on his head and brushed the white front of his robe. A gentle spring breeze ruffled the leaves of the olive trees at the edge of the courtyard, and a donkey broke the silence with hee-haw-hee-haw-hee-haw.
An elder with wavy black hair falling to his neck sat up straight and turned to face several fellow elders. “If we allow Ben-Hadad to rob us, do we think the Syrians will go away?” Everyone in the courtyard frowned and muttered to those nearby. When talk subsided, they turned to an elder whose full white beard cascaded over his chest.
A man next to him prompted, “Elder Jamin?”
“Yes.” The elder turned a face of paper-thin, wrinkled skin to Ahab. “Shechem of Ephraim. We serve the people, don’t you know?” He gave a sharp dip of his head. “Puts me in mind of the… Course, you’re too young…”
Obadiah pressed both palms to his temples. The elder whose grandchildren cared for bubblers in the Galilee had drifted close to senility. Please, Lord. We don’t have time.
“Um, elder Jamin.” The man tapped him on the shoulder. “Ben-Hadad. If we let him take what he wants, will he go away?”
Elder Jamin blinked twice. “Ben-Hadad.” He turned his head left then right. “Ben-Hadad will not go away. He will take everything we have and then chain us into his slave gangs. We can die while he loots us or die defending our homes.”
But for the trill of a warbler floating in on the breeze, the courtyard grew quiet.
“Thank you.” Ahab gave a crisp nod, spun on his heel, and marched across the plaza with Obadiah and Hiel following. As they passed the chestnut tree, Ahab spat out, “Search my house. Paw through my things.”
Ben-Hadad’s messengers waited at the foot of the stairs.
Ahab faced them with a sneer. “You may tell my lord the king, while I joked with him about his first offer, his latest plan of plunder is no laughing matter.” He turned his back and led Obadiah and Hiel to the terrace.
The Syrians snapped their chins up, slapped on sober faces, and followed the scout to the threshing floor.
As they cleared the gate, a family entered. The man bent low. On one shoulder, a bag of onions. On the other, figs. The woman stooped under sacks filled with grain. Five children wrapped their arms around rolls of bedding, while carrot greens waved from the bags on their backs. As they crossed the threshing floor, three more families lugged bedding and food through the gate, one with a loaded donkey.
Ahab shook his head. “Will they be safer inside? I’ve talked myself into a fight, but most of my troops sit in Jezreel and Megiddo.”
While the sun continued to climb, messengers returned with Ben-Hadad’s reply. “‘A curse on my head if we don’t chop your little city into dust so fine it falls through our fingers.’”
Ahab, however, anchored his feet and tapped the hilt of his sword. A thin smile played at the edges of his mouth. “Tell Ben-Hadad the one who straps on his armor should not boast like the one who takes it off.”
Obadiah raised his chin. Well put.
Bodyguards murmured and touched fists to each other’s shoulders.
Yet, as the messengers trotted out the gate, Ahab collapsed on the banister and bowed his head, crushing his beard against his chest.
A call of “Biah!” rang across the plaza. Gera, the head grove manager, waved from the threshing floor. “Over here.”
Ben-Hadad says, ‘This time tomorrow’ – 1 Kings 20:5-11
The seventy elders – Numbers 11:16-30
Shuthelah – Numbers 26:35
I joked with him about his first offer – 1 Kings 20:9
Dust so fine – 1 Kings 20:10
Strapping on armor – 1 Kings 20:11
26. A Thrill of Hope
The Plaza, Samaria City, Israel
Obadiah turned toward the city gate. “Gera!”
The morning sun showed a lad following Gera. The boy puckered as if he whistled a tune. The chatter of the plaza buried any sound, yet he bounced to a beat.
A thrill of hope stirred Obadiah’s heart. Did you send this child, Lord?
As Gera and the lad reached the palace, words from a psalm rose to the terrace. “And my salvation…” Gera placed his callused hand on the small of the boy’s back and sent him up the stairs. The boy couldn’t be a day over fourteen. “I give you Mikayhu, my king. He brings a message from the Lord.”
From the Lord. Obadiah sucked in a quick breath. Had Yedidah rescued this child? She never introduced bubblers. If you don’t know who they are, the queen can’t drag their names from you.
The child sprang up the steps. As he faced Ahab, the boy rose and fell on the balls of his feet while the music flowed through him and the breeze danced in his hair. He bowed, flashed an infectious smile, and sang, “The Loooord is my light and my sal-VA-tion.”
Ahab slapped his knee. “Gibbethon. The sycamore. We sang The Lord is my light a hundred times.”
“Sing it with me, King!” The boy hooked an arm through Ahab’s.
A royal bodyguard frowned, but Ahab’s laugh turned the guard’s frown to a smile. He pulled Mikayhu to the center of the terrace. “What’d you have in mind, son?”
Mikayhu’s heels rose and fell. “If you help with the lead, King, your friends can blend in.”
“When old Biah was a boy, he made those high notes ring.” Ahab turned to Hiel, seated by the banister. “Join us, please.”
Hiel flashed a cringe but when Obadiah pushed off the balustrade and stood next to Ahab, he joined them.
The boy cued them with a big grin and, “The Loooord.”
On the first note, Ahab boomed a baritone lead beside Mikayhu’s tenor. Hiel held his own with the bass, while Obadiah reached for the high notes. The quartet finished strong with, “Of whom shall I be afraid?”
Everyone in the northwest corner of the plaza stared, including three dogs and a donkey. Spectators crowded the base of the stairs then backed away from Ahab’s bodyguards.
Obadiah and Hiel leaned against the balustrade while Ahab slapped Mikayhu on the back. “Not bad for three old men and a boy. Asaph would be proud.”
The boy said, “Now, King, about the Lord’s message—”
But Ahab pointed to a table on the terrace. “Please, be my guest.” A servant arranged grapes, slices of apple, and pomegranate, plus three kinds of cheese. A second table held red wine, spring water, and fresh flatbreads.
Mikayhu bent over the cheeses and inhaled long. “The smell of home, King.” He straightened. “The Lord wants you to know something.”
“Relax.” Ahab gave a broad smile and wiped his hands on his robe. “Enjoy.”
Obadiah exchanged glances with Hiel. Ahab was stalling. He did not want to hear whatever message this boy carried.
The last time a child—Elijah—brought a message from the Lord, the sky closed, and the drought ruined Ahab’s kingdom. Three years later, on Mount Carmel, that child called fire down heaven and led the elders of Israel in slitting the throats of four hundred fifty agents of Moloch. The Asherah priests had stayed safe at home that day, so Jezebel’s four hundred roamed the land, killing or maiming anyone who spoke against her brothel.
Yet, whatever message Ahab feared, the child Mikayhu looked nothing like the lanky Elijah. Mikayhu was shorter than Gera, and instead of a goatskin, he wore a farmer’s robe of mottled gray.
With one bound, the child landed in Ahab’s face. “You see, the Lord says—”
Ahab tried to silence him with a raised hand, but he stepped inside the curve of Ahab’s arm. “The Lord’s talking victory. Your victory over that vast army of Syrians spread out below us.”
Ahab draped an arm over the boy’s shoulders. “Listen, Mika. Chariots and a field full of troops do not constitute a vast army. They’ve got us in a bit of a bind, but Biah and I’ve seen worse.” Ahab’s calm words told one story, his ashen face another.
Mikayhu looked up with a slight smile. “The Lord gave me a message for you, and he won’t let me leave until you hear his words. The Lord says. ‘I will deliver this army into your hand today, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’ See, King, the Lord wants you to know—”
“Yeah, right, kid. Look, you sing real nice. I’m not saying I’m worried, but—”
Mikayhu nudged Ahab in the ribs. “You sing nice too, King, but you’re anxious about how to counterattack. And that’s what the Lord sent me to show you.”
Obadiah rolled his eyes. They needed ten thousand chariots and three hundred thousand spearmen, not a singer of psalms who thought he heard military strategy from on high.
Ahab pinched Mikayhu’s cheek. “Since when does the Lord deal in battle tactics?”
“Oh, quite a while, King. First one comes to mind is Joshua at the battle of—”
Ahab guffawed. “You win. So, who does the Lord say should lead our attack?”
Without looking around or taking a breath, Mikayhu blurted, “The junior officers. They’ll deliver your victory.” He thrust his chest out and raised his chin.
“Junior who?” Ahab’s eyebrows shot together.
Hiel stood from his seat by the balustrade. “Maybe I can shed some light, my king.”
Ahab turned toward him. “Yes, my friend?”
“The junior officers are lethal. Come see what I mean.” Hiel lifted an arm toward the city gate and led the way down the steps. “Seven came with me. Other provinces sent fours and fives. Over two hundred have arrived.”
Ahab, Mikayhu, and Obadiah followed Hiel toward the gate.
The sun had not reached its peak of the day’s journey. As they traipsed past the chestnut tree, Mikayhu bumped Ahab’s elbow. “The Lord is very clear, King. The junior officers are your attack squad.”
Hiel paused on the threshing floor. “Some call them ‘junior officers’ or ‘little chieftains.’ But they train as commandos.”
Obadiah turned and winked at Ahab. Perhaps his old friend could see reason. “I’m sure those young men have good hearts and work on their fighting skills, but they’ve never seen battle.”
Ahab ignored him.
Shouts floated from below.
Hiel pointed to a clearing on the side of the hill.
Two rows of young men in mottled gray practiced with spears, thrusting and feinting against each other. Next to these, two rows fought mock battles with swords and shields.
“Ah, those were the days.” Obadiah nudged Ahab.
“Like when I split your lip, Biah.”
Obadiah touched the old wound.
“They work as disciplined teams.” Hiel pointed to a line of forty archers facing wooden targets at fifty paces. “They’ve been using sword and spear their whole lives. Back home they train in groups of sixty or seventy. This is their first opportunity for all two hundred to train together.”
A call came from the end of the row. “Pull. Aim. Release.”
Thunk-thunk-thunk. Arrows buried in targets and set them rocking.
“Nice,” Ahab said.
“Indeed, my king,” Hiel agreed.
An equal number of young men held slings.
One called, “Stones.”
From a pouch at the waist, each young man fit a round stone into a leather cup.
“Slings. Two. One. Roll.”
In unison they strode ahead, arced their slings high, and sent stones flying into wooden targets at thirty paces. Whiz, thump. The targets rocked.
Before Obadiah could remark that battles are not won with slings, Ahab said, “Effective.”
Hiel touched Ahab’s wrist. “May I speak to the junior officers, my king?”
Ahab swung an arm toward the slingers and archers. “Have at it, old friend.”
Hiel stepped into the clearing and brought Mikayhu with him. “This young man says the Lord told him the junior officers should lead the fight against the Syrians.”
One youngster fixed a solemn stare on Mikayhu. Then he turned toward Ahab. “Permission to speak, my king?”
“The boy with you is from Geba, my village. His name is Mikayhu.”
Mikayhu’s heels settled, and he rubbed his hands down his chest.
The youth swung around and faced his fellows. “This Mika works from early to late tending his father’s fruit trees.”
Mikayhu’s shoulders straightened.
The youth from Geba squared his chin toward Ahab. “His words are true to Moses, but he offended the Asherah agents, so our elders sent him into hiding.”
Mikayhu was no mere singer of psalms. He had put his personal safety aside to bring a message to the king.
Ahab stood still.
Mikayhu’s heels remained glued in place.
Bodyguards scratched their beards.
Mikayhu’s neighbor from Geba dipped his head toward Hiel. “We respect this boy and his words. If he says to fight, I’ll fight.” He thudded the butt of his spear on the grass.
Ahab squeezed Obadiah’s wrist.
Two youth’s stepped up next to Mikayhu’s village neighbor. Then three more. A moment later, every young man took two strides ahead and turned toward Ahab.
As their spear butts thumped the sod, Mikayhu covered his lips with his fingers.
Obadiah rubbed his shoulder against Ahab. “They lack a leader.”
Mikayhu beamed. “That’s the best part, King.”
Ahab chuckled. “Best part? So, who’s going to lead these bad boys?”
Mikayhu’s heels settled for a moment. “You, my king. You will lead these bad—I mean, you’re their leader.”
Obadiah covered his face. Mikayhu was a brave lad, but putting a king in front of youngsters didn’t turn them into an attack squad.
From a chestnut tree, a blackstart sent its melancholy churlee-truloo-truler.
“Biah.” Ahab’s tone belonged to a man climbing into his battle chariot. “Remember Dibon?”
Obadiah peeked through his fingers. What had he missed in the boy’s message?
Ahab stood ramrod straight with the sun on his face and a gleam in his eyes. “The attack wedge.”
“Of course, but those were your father’s elite troops, trained and—”
“No time. We go with what we’ve got. Old Samson didn’t die pushing a millstone, and you’ll not find me hiding in a corner.” Ahab lifted his chin and sniffed the breeze like a war horse.
A tiny laugh bounced out of Obadiah. “You’ve escaped the fort. We’re racing without guards.”
“This is a race we’ve never seen, Biah.”
Obadiah bit his lip. “Ahab,” Commander Omri had prophesied. “They will pronounce the name with deep pride.”
“You’ve no time to teach them your style of thrust and parry.”
Ahab’s face glowed. “But enough time to select the best.” Ahab stepped into the clearing beside Hiel and raised his voice. “I need twelve fighters to drive a wedge into the Syrians. Show me who you are.”
Thirty-seven young men stepped out from the group.
Ahab planted his feet and scowled. “Every one of us must kill our man or we leave a hole for the Syrians. I want only the best.”
Three—and then nine more—took another stride forward.
Ahab curled his arm over his head. “You twelve. Meet me on the terrace.” He raised Obadiah’s wrist in the air. “This man will show the rest your formations.” He turned to Obadiah. “Remember, ten men to each wing.”
Ahab grinned. “And, Biah, as soon as we have this…this attack squad ready, get with my chiefs and show them how to lead mop-up.”
Obadiah dropped his chin to his chest. Who would mop up whom?
Samson pushing a mill stone – Judges 16:21-31
The Lord is my light – Psalm 27
Asaph – 1 Chronicles 15:19, Nehemiah 7:44, Ezra 2:41
When the Lord dictates battle tactics – Joshua 6:1-20
The Junior Officers – 1 Kings 20:14
Over two hundred – 1 Kings 20:15
27. The Battle of Tirzah Valley
The Plaza, Samaria City, Israel
Obadiah stood with Mikayhu on the threshing floor and gazed across the hills toward Tirzah valley.
The boy pulled on Obadiah’s elbow. “You know the Lord’s got this, right, Uncle Biah?”
Obadiah grunted. No way did the Lord have this. Taking the battle to the Syrians at high noon let everyone feel noble. But to send their king into the Syrian camp with twelve youths? Suicide.
On schedule, the royal chariot rolled to a stop beside them, and Ahab pointed to the sun near the top of the sky. “Time to show the Syrians who’s in charge.” He wore his gray headscarf and flowing white robe.
Obadiah shook his head. Bait.
Ahab waved. “See you in Tirzah.” He rode through the gate and down the switchbacks. Two hundred junior officers followed.
Obadiah pointed Mikayhu toward the path to Gera’s house. “You’ll be safe from the queen with Uncle Gera, and when this is over, I’ll take you home with me.” He stepped into his chariot, and his bodyguards mounted up. They carried spear, javelin, and sword. Plus, a waterskin and a tiny bag of barley fried with mutton and onions.
At the bottom of the hill, he swiveled in the chariot.
A hundred groups of farmers, fifty in each band, followed him on horseback, lugging swords and spears as if they hauled rakes and shovels to the field. Forty more such bands of farmers stayed to protect the city.
When Obadiah arrived at the long, narrow entrance to the valley, Ahab waved from the other end. On both sides of this canyon, oaks and acacias clumped around boulders and shrubs. Red and pink Cyclamen sprinkled the valley floor, and thin clouds dusted the top of a light blue sky. A lark sang.
Where was the alarm? The farmers and junior officers had padded in softly, but Syrian lookouts should have reported their arrival.
Ahab flailed an arm one more time then disappeared around the boulders into the Tirzah valley proper.
Obadiah wiped clammy hands on his robe. He never should have allowed Ahab to march out of sight with a small troop—youngsters at that. This affair felt too much like their long-ago horse race cut short by Syrian arrows.
He followed Ahab’s junior officers to the end of the skinny entrance and rounded the cliff into the broad Tirzah valley.
On the far side, up against the hills, hundreds of coppery red tents covered the ground. Horses on picket lines grazed in the mid-day sun, while a gentle breeze ignored a dark red flag hanging limp in the heat. Had the Syrians returned to Damascus and left their tents for the hyenas?
Ah! One red-turbaned head popped up from a tent. One. But where were the hundred thousand? The fleets of red-paneled chariots?
Ahab faced the distant tents with his wedge of twelve and wings of ten. Ready to fly—toward a target of one.
Farmers tiptoed into the valley and peered over Obadiah’s shoulder.
More red-turbaned heads popped up from distant tents. Men spilled out and cursed, then stumbled toward the Hebrews.
Obadiah’s chariot stirred bees and locusts from the grass and roused the aroma of chamomile. He rolled up to Ahab. “Your quarry, my king.”
Ahab raised his spear. “Charge!” The king raced across the valley as if his tiny force were hundreds. In a moment, Ben-Hadad’s thousands would emerge and swallow Ahab and his junior officers. But to fight—and to fight on their own terms—beat joining Ben-Hadad’s chain gang.
Obadiah’s place was beside Ahab. His driver raised his whip, and their chariot surged in Ahab’s wake. Zak and the bodyguards raced beside him, swords drawn. Obadiah grabbed a javelin from the basket.
Yet, too few Syrians emerged from their tents, and these few couldn’t walk straight. Where was the Syrian army? Obadiah turned to the farmer fifties crowded into the valley. He beckoned them to follow the charging Ahab. “Mop-up.”
As soon as cursing Syrians emerged from the tents, Ahab and his junior officers cut them down.
Yet, four or five dozen evaded him and approached Obadiah. The first one to stagger within reach took Obadiah’s javelin through his throat. Obadiah drove on, leaving behind farmers busy gutting Syrians.
A spear shot toward Obadiah. He slipped aside, stuck his sword between the Syrian’s ribs, and wrinkled his nose at the scent of new-spilled blood.
While the Syrians shouted insults, Obadiah’s farmers dodged and thrust in grim silence.
His driver swerved around a writhing Syrian. Obadiah reached for a javelin. Then he blinked.
No more Syrians stood in his part of the valley.
Far ahead, Syrian troops staggered toward the tents. Many lay face-down, with the yellow-winged torch of Syria displayed across their shoulders. A few moaned or moved, but most baked in the noonday sun while junior officers and farmers picked their way among them retrieving stones and arrows.
Vultures circled low.
The stench of excrement from open intestines overpowered the aroma of chamomile.
Many junior officers gagged. Several knelt and wept.
With the back of his hand, Obadiah wiped sweat from his eyes. He called to Zak, who sat tall on his horse. “Where’d they all go?”
Zak swept an arm toward the Syrian camp. “The tents.”
Obadiah turned and howled at the farmers. “To the camp! Kill them in their tents!”
In ragged formation, the farmers followed him across the valley floor.
Obadiah’s chariot rolled over a red leather oval. Then over three more. Tens of discarded shields littered the valley floor. Then spears appeared among the shields.
At the first tent, Obadiah cut the ropes, and the tent skins sagged.
Foul vulgarities rose.
Obadiah and his driver jumped from the chariot and used both hands to plant spear points deep in the closest humps. With gasps and groans, these mounds collapsed. Obadiah stabbed more vibrating mounds. Bodyguards and farmers slashed tent ropes and skewered dozens of shifting, cursing bulges.
As a Syrian soldier crawled from under his tent, a farmer nudged Obadiah aside. Still holding his spear as if it were a shovel, he jammed the point between the Syrian’s ribs and loped over to the next tent.
Ahead of Obadiah, a dozen bleary-eyed Syrians in red headscarves weaved between tents.
A gray-haired farmer stabbed the nearest through a lung, toppled him onto the turf, and stepped aside while younger farmers dashed ahead and plunged their spears into the faster Syrians.
When Obadiah opened a tent flap, an empty wineskin stood on a low serving tray, and cups littered the floor. The Syrians staggered and stumbled from too much wine. Drunk in the middle of the day? Ben-Hadad was celebrating before he strapped on armor.
Obadiah stepped back into sunshine. A lark sang. Yet, trees and boulders cast long shadows.
He told the nearest farmer, “This battle is over. Go home.”
Men in coppery red uniforms, however, surrounded Ahab in his chariot. “Coming, my king!” Obadiah grabbed a javelin and raced to him.
Ahab slowed him with a raised hand. “It’s okay, Biah.” He leaned over the chariot rail and talked with seven men kneeling in the dirt. They wore filthy red uniforms with sackcloth around their waists and ropes on their heads.
Ahab asked, “Is he still alive? He is my brother.”
The men in sackcloth shot glances at each other, bowed, and scurried away toward the city.
“Who?” Obadiah stood back against his chariot rail. “Who’s your brother?”
Ahab watched the men in sackcloth disappear. “They’re bringing me Ben-Hadad. Or so they say.”
Obadiah shook his head. Ahab could be such a dupe. “If it’s Ben-Hadad you’re looking for, our troops saw him escaping with the cavalry.”
“So?” Ahab tipped his head.
“So, your man’s in a royal robe trotting northeast on a horse he loosed from a battle wagon.”
Ahab tossed his head. “Those jokers said they had Ben-Hadad. I plan to get back cities and put my markets in Damascus.”
“Right. Lift Ben-Hadad’s head from between his shoulders. Then do as you please with cities and markets.”
Ahab said nothing. Only jutted his chin forward and rocked back on his heels.
Obadiah stared hard at him. “My king, I hope you realize this victory had nothing to do with wedges or wings. The Syrians were drunk.”
But Ahab gazed off beyond the horizon. “I enjoyed watching the junior officers thrust and parry.”
Obadiah rolled his eyes. What was going on inside the royal skull?
“What do you mean, you let him go?” Obadiah stood on tiptoe in the center of the threshing floor. He gripped the rail of the royal chariot and glowered up at Ahab. “Those Syrians in sackcloth clinging to this chariot actually brought you Ben-Hadad, and you kissed him sweet goodbye?”
While a bulbul perched on the gate sang a bright and bubbly pi-di pi-pi di-di, a flush crept across Ahab’s cheeks.
“Are you kidding, my king? What made you think Ben-Hadad had any right to negotiate?” King Omri hadn’t passed on his political instincts to his son. “Did you think the Lord made that battle into a route so you could have a cozy little chat with the great leader from Damascus?”
Ahab shot Obadiah a glance to freeze the Ein Gedi waterfall, but Obadiah ignored the ice. “Your duty was to lift his head from—”
“Just shut up about it.” Ahab turned his back and signaled his driver.
As Ahab’s chariot rolled to the palace stairs, Obadiah tucked his scarf against his neck. A chill rode the breeze.
Two hundred thirty-two junior officers – 1 King 20:13-15
Drunken Syrians – 1 Kings 20:16
Sackcloth & Ben-Hadad – 1 Kings 20:31-34
28. A Life for a Life
Fort Jezreel, Jezreel Valley, Israel
Obadiah stepped out the headquarters front door with Seba. “Can’t you take the singing?” Until they could sneak him into a cave, they hid Mikayhu in the stable. But maybe psalms would sound better in the kitchen.
“Singing’s not the problem.” Seba guided Obadiah to the threshing floor.
A stiff breeze blew through the open gate of the fort. The sun, partway toward its peak, had melted into a buttery haze. From the lush green of the valley, shoppers and farmers trudged through the gate to their market stalls on the naked plaza pavers.
In the far corner of the threshing floor, beside piles of straw and chaff, the bodyguards frowned at Mika and a friend. While Mika’s cheeks remained innocent of whiskers, a beard threatened to sprout on the friend’s face. From a pack at his waist, Mika pulled a sword and presented the handle to his friend. “Strike me, Yotam.”
Yotam said, “Stop it, Mika.”
Obadiah released a loud sigh. Obadiah and his guards had been careful not to speak of Mika in connection with the battle of Tirzah. They left it to the fort’s children to assume Mika was merely a playful kid who liked to sing.
But this game made him hard to hide. Obadiah reached. “Give me the sword.”
Mika slid under his arm and pushed the handle of the sword toward Yotam. “Hit me with it.” Mika pointed to his forehead. “Here.”
“Go away.” Yotam’s face flushed red. “I don’t like this game. Sing something instead.”
Three young boys dashed up. “Can we play, Mika?”
“No game. Honest.” Mika wiped tears from his face, laid the sword down, and knelt to Yotam, folding his hands as in prayer. “The Lord says if you don’t hit me, the moment you leave, a lion will kill you.”
“Lion. Grrraaoh!” The shortest of the three young newcomers giggled. “Let us play.”
Lion. Obadiah’s hand went to his mouth. Was the Lord talking through Mika?
Yotam’s face turned milky white. He glanced around with feverish, over-bright eyes and lurched into Seba’s immovable frame. “Easy, boy.” The stable boss stroked the child’s shoulders as he would a nervous horse.
Obadiah tugged on his ear. The Lord couldn’t be in this. The child’s imagination had taken him too far. Obadiah lunged for the sword.
Mika dodged him and gripped Yotam by the wrist. “Strike me.”
The boy knocked Mika’s grip free, squeezed past two farmers and their donkeys at the gate, and skimmed over the plank bridge. The farmers stared as Yotam flew to the bottom of the grade.
“No, Yotam! No-oo.” Mika clutched the sword. “A lion…” He sagged by the gatepost.
At the bottom of the grade, Yotam turned toward Beitshan and loped out of sight behind a small grove as if he’d never heard “lion.”
Obadiah scratched at his face. Should he have made public proclamations? “This lad presented the attack squad for the battle of Tirzah. Do as he says.”
The three young friends dashed after Yotam to the foot of the grade. Mika rose and shouted, “Grab him. Don’t let Yotam go!” Then he collapsed in a heap and whimpered.
Obadiah yanked him to his feet. “What’s going on, Mika?”
“Please, Uncle Biah.” Mika pressed his palms against his cheeks and planted his feet wide. “Can you make Yotam come back?”
Obadiah crumpled his scarf in his hand and combed his fingers through his hair. The Lord had sent Mika with a message to guide Ahab to victory at Tirzah. But this lion talk? Mika had cracked.
The three young friends turned and trudged up the grade. One giggled and kicked at a pile of straw. “Your lion better be speedy, Mika. Yotam’s halfway to Beitshan.”
A deep roar came from the road. Followed by a scream.
The three young boys huddled together by the pile of long, wooden flails.
Mika rubbed his wrists. “Oh, Yotam! I’m so sorry, Yotam.”
Farmers, shoppers, and bodyguards lumbered across the planks and collected on the gravel apron at the top of the grade. They gawked at the intersection below and buzzed with questions.
Zak pushed through the idle curious. He lifted a hand to shield his eyes from the sun, jogged down the grade, and disappeared around the corner toward Beitshan.
Obadiah strode out to the apron and waited with his guards. A woman leading a donkey loaded with cantaloupe and pomegranates tugged on his sleeve. “Who got hurt? What happened?” He brushed the woman off.
Zak reappeared. Tears glistened on his cheeks. He climbed the grade with Yotam’s bloody form stretched across his massive forearms. The child’s head and feet swayed with Zak’s steps.
Obadiah met Zak on the grade and walked beside him.
Mika left his sword and dashed out to the gravel apron. “Oh, Yotam! Why didn’t you listen?” He reached toward the dead boy but withdrew his hand.
On the threshing floor, Mika’s three little friends huddled, watching and shaking.
The crowd followed Zak into the fort.
“Give me something to cover this boy.” Zak knelt at the center of the threshing floor and laid the dead child on the pavers. Obadiah knelt with him. “Where can we find his father?”
The crowd pressed in, gawking and muttering. A woman gasped, “Yotam!” She forced her donkey’s lead line into the hand of the woman beside her. “The neighbors’ child.” Then she dashed out the gate.
Seba pushed through and handed Zak a cloak. Obadiah helped spread the cloak over Yotam’s mangled body.
“The Lord wants you to strike me.”
Obadiah stood. Why was Mika still playing this terrible game? What’s going on, Lord?
At the far end of the threshing floor, behind the flails, Mika extended the sword to his three young friends. Faces white, breathing fast, the boys flattened against the locked door of the butcher shop.
“Mika, stop.” Obadiah weaved a path through the crowd. “Put the sword down.”
Mika laid a finger on his forehead and lifted the blade. “Hit me here.”
One boy pushed him away. “You’ll get us killed.”
Obadiah stood on tiptoe to peer over two men.
A second boy, eyes round as saucers, grabbed the sword. “Remember, you asked for this.” He whacked Mika’s head with the flat of the blade.
“Oh!” Obadiah ducked.
Zak gripped him by the arm. “This is no game, sir.”
Mika staggered and wiped at the blood running down his face. He pulled a white scarf from his pack. “Thank you, my brother. Please tie this over the cut.”
The friend sniffled, but he knotted the scarf and slipped it over Mika’s head. Blood continued to drip.
Obadiah straightened and wagged his head in a slow, side-to-side sweep. How had tender Mika produced such horror?
Mika raised a corner of the scarf. “Thank you.” He wobbled out the gate and down the slope. But instead of heading toward Beitshan, he rounded the curve toward Megiddo.
Obadiah tapped Zak’s shoulder. “Keep everyone here.” Had Mika headed toward Megiddo to avoid the blood-thirsty lion on the road to Beitshan? How had his pack produced that cloth? Trying to take the sword had solved nothing.
Obadiah crept between trees to the edge of the path and watched Mika from behind the thickest bushes. Spying might give him a handle on the boy’s strange actions.
With the clip-clop of many hooves, Ahab’s chariot and fifty mounted bodyguards rounded the curve.
Mika pulled the scarf over his eyes and stepped into the center of the road, blood dribbling from his chin.
Obadiah rubbed his arms. Didn’t the boy know the danger of challenging a royal retinue?
Mika called in a high sing-song, “A prisoner. A prisoner. They brought me a prisoner.”
What? Why the act?
The bodyguards aimed their spears at Mika, but Ahab waved the spears down and touched his driver on the arm. His chariot rolled to a stop. “What’s your problem, soldier?”
Mika continued his sing-song. “They brought me a prisoner. A prisoner. Said if you lose him, it’s your life for his life. But I have many responsibilities. And the prisoner escaped.”
Ahab spread his feet on the chariot deck and spat out his answer. “Why bother me with this? As you said, a life for a life.” He turned, and the driver lifted the reins.
Mika pulled off the bandage and wiped blood from his chin.
“Mika.” Ahab fell back. “I thought you were hiding.”
Obadiah gripped the branches in front of him. He had not told Ahab where Mika was for fear Jezebel would worm the location from him. In the fort, Mika passed as a happy child who sang. And whenever Ahab came to visit, Seba locked Mika out of sight.
“Oh, King.” Mika dragged his feet over to the chariot and turned his face up. “The Lord says you let Ben-Hadad go free. So it’s your life for his life, your people for his people.”
Obadiah sagged to the ground. The Lord was sentencing his lifelong friend to death.
Ahab’s face swelled dark and red. He clenched a fist and glared. The pitch of his voice rose. “You arrogant…”
Obadiah jumped to his feet, ready to stiff-arm Ahab again.
But Ahab lost color, and his eyes turned dull. He slumped onto the chariot rail, face level with Mika’s. His voice quavered. “Miserable kid.”
Miserable? Obadiah rubbed his forehead. Honest, accurate, trustworthy Mika—Ahab was pouting because he’d been caught.
“Where to, my king?” The driver nudged him.
Ahab heaved a sigh. “Samaria.”
As the royal chariot drove on, Mika knelt at the edge of the path and wept.
Obadiah pushed through the bushes. He dropped to one knee beside Mika and wept with him.
Mika swiped at his cheek. “King’s gonna die, Uncle Biah.”
Hoofbeats approached from Megiddo.
“Come.” Obadiah lifted Mika’s arm. “We can’t let the queen’s men find you out here.”
A life for a life – 1 Kings 20:35-43
29. Murder by Committee
Naboth’s Vineyard behind Fort Jezreel, Israel
Obadiah followed Ahab and his bodyguards behind the fort’s kitchen.
Ahab spoke over his shoulder. “The garden I want to show you is right up here.”
“A garden, my king.” Obadiah’s lips trembled while “Your life for his life” echoed in his head and “King’s gonna die” throbbed in his ears.
Ahab pointed across a fence at trimmed rows of mature vines heavy with grapes. “Perfect expansion for my kitchen garden. Lettuce, carrots, spinach, melons—triple our fresh fruits and vegetables.”
Obadiah’s forehead wrinkled. “It’s Naboth’s vineyard.”
Ahab shook his head. “I offered him a better one, much larger and on the trunk road. I even told him to name his price.” Ahab’s mouth twisted as if he had bitten into a sour fig. “He told me the Lord would never let him trade away his ancestors’ land.” He gritted his teeth. “What’s so special about the man’s family that he can’t sell a field?”
Obadiah leaned on a fence post. “You don’t get it, do you?”
Ahab thrust out his chest. “I get that he’s a sentimental fool. Won’t part with silly old vines planted by great, great, great Uncle Hiram.”
“No, I mean you don’t…know. You’re in so deep with Jezebel and her gods—” He patted the post. “This hunk of wood knows more of Moses’ teachings than you do, old friend.”
Ahab’s face clouded over. With a few words to his guards, he could remove Obadiah’s head.
Obadiah let out a breath. He had swerved near the edge before. “As long as our heads are both attached, my king, you and I talk straight with each other.”
Ahab studied the cabbage at his feet. Then his eyes twinkled, and he slugged Obadiah in the chest. “Biah, my hopeless friend.”
How do I get through to my friend who’s under sentence of death? Obadiah planted himself in front of Ahab’s face. “Now listen up, my king. Naboth is not being sentimental, and everyone in Jezreel knows he’s no fool.”
Ahab frowned. “But—”
“Hush.” Obadiah stopped him with a raised palm. “Naboth was quoting Moses. ‘Don’t sell property outside the family unless you fall into extreme poverty.’” He dropped his palm. “Naboth is far from poor, so it’s not legal for him to sell.”
“You’re kidding. The Lord’s got rules for land? Insane!” Ahab threw his head back. “You’re crazy. The rule’s crazy.” He slammed the gate shut. “I want that vineyard.” Ahab stomped up the path between the cabbage and the onions.
Woid-woid-woid. A common whitethroat scolded from the fence.
As Ahab disappeared around the corner of the fort, Obadiah closed his robe around his throat against the chill.
“Help! Someone, help me!” Grunting, cursing men dragged a kicking, screaming person across the threshing floor.
Obadiah leaped from his rolling chariot and met the struggle on the gravel apron next to the plank bridge. “Here! Here! What’s going on?”
Naboth the vintner pleaded, “Help!”
Four men held his arms. Six his legs. They wore the solid gray robes and headscarves of merchants, their backs turned to Obadiah.
Naboth raised his head. His iron-gray curls fell around his square face. He kicked and screamed, “Obadiah! Help me!”
“Shut him up!” A hand stuffed Naboth’s headscarf into his open mouth and muffled his screams.
Obadiah jerked Naboth’s nearest captor around by the shoulder. The face of the spice merchant appeared. The man batted Obadiah’s hands away and reattached himself to Naboth’s leg.
Obadiah tripped and landed on his nose in the gravel.
The kidnappers hauled Naboth toward the back of the fort.
He climbed to his feet and hurried after them. “That man’s my friend! Let him go!” Obadiah had been buying Naboth’s red wine for years.
A line of soldiers held spears chest high, blocking his path to Naboth. Ahab’s troops.
Naboth needed help. Obadiah had to get through, but as he looked from face to face, troopers stared past him. Every man but one. The eyes of the butcher’s son wavered then met his gaze. Obadiah touched the boy’s shoulder. “Step aside, son. It’s the right thing to do.”
The soldier dropped the butt of his spear and shifted his weight.
Obadiah slipped sideways through the opening and patted the butcher’s son on the arm. “Thank you.”
Zak and the others jogged up, but the butcher’s son crossed his spear in front of them. “No more.”
The scrum was about to disappear with Naboth behind the fort. No time to convince the butcher’s son to let six more through.
Obadiah spread his hands toward Zak, turned, and dashed around the corner of the fort.
Grunts and curses came from behind a thick bunch of bushes beside the kitchen garden.
“Shut him up.”
Naboth screamed. “Let me go!”
“Keep him down.”
Obadiah pushed branches aside and stepped into the shrubs. The stench of a soiled loin cloth and the odor of sweat from bodies under stress rose to meet him.
“Obadiah! Help me!” Naboth’s gag had fallen out. He lay pinned on his back with men kneeling on his arms and legs.
This is Ahab’s doing. Obadiah grabbed the nearest man by the hair and jerked his head around. “Get off my friend!”
The man twisted. The potter. A skilled artisan known in the valley for elegant ware. His kiln had fired the dishes in Obadiah’s apartment.
Obadiah shook him. “Why are you—? Naboth is our neighbor. Our friend.”
Yet the potter’s face grew black. He knocked Obadiah’s grip loose. “Keep out. This is not your business.”
“Obadiah, help.” Naboth struggled. “Help me!”
Hands jerked Obadiah away. A good-for-nothing scoundrel who hung out in dark corners gripped his robe.
As Obadiah struck his face and whacked at his hands, a second scoundrel hoisted a small boulder overhead.
Naboth screamed, “Obadiah!”
The man hurled.
Obadiah dove to deflect the rock, but it smashed Naboth in the head.
His friend lay in silence.
The merchants rolled off his arms and legs.
“What are you doing?” As Obadiah lunged for the man who had thrown the stone, a second rock crushed Naboth’s skull. Then a dozen stones landed, bashing in his chest and snapping his arms and legs.
Obadiah sank to his knees. The grunts and yells ceased. Shrubbery scraped cloaks as the little clearing emptied. Footsteps faded toward the corner of the fort.
Obadiah rasped out a faint “help” then crawled to Naboth and pulled rocks from his crumpled form. He lay beside him. A hoopoe cried oop-oop-oop. Obadiah flinched and closed his eyes.
A hand tugged Obadiah’s hip and rolled him onto his back. “The troops have returned to their camp. The merchants to their shops.” Zak covered his face with both hands and collapsed in the grass on the other side of Naboth. “We need to find this good man’s family and help bury him.”
Obadiah sat and looked at the sun. Then rubbed his head. “Have I been here long?”
“A couple of hours.” He drew a breath and released it. “We couldn’t see what was going on. And the troopers blocked our way.”
“Ahab was behind it. Had to be.”
Zak snorted. “While we were looking for a way around that line of troops, our youngest guard told me what he’d heard at the bread counter. The queen’s servants came in and ordered those rolls I like filled with dried apricots and nuts. They got to whispering about Jezebel telling Ahab, ‘In Tyre we know how to deal with this kind of problem.’”
Obadiah crashed through the spice shop door with a scroll in his hand.
The entrance bell dinged.
The merchant sat near the back arranging baskets on shelves. Without looking up, he called. “Good afternoon. The coriander is fresh. I just got in a good stock of castor bean.”
Obadiah flung aside pungent rods hanging from the rafters and pushed over a stack of small casks. “Did you receive the message under royal seal? I bet she sent them only to your tight little circle.”
The merchant put a finger to his lips and aimed glances at the door. He snugged the string closed on the flap of a tiny burlap bag.
“Show me your letter.” Obadiah knocked the little bag to the floor. A whiff of cinnamon floated up.
The merchant’s eyes opened wide. He backed away.
Obadiah shoved Zak’s scroll under the man’s nose and pointed to King Ahab’s seal.
The shopkeeper’s face blanched. “Where’d you get that?”
“Never you mind where.” Obadiah opened the scroll and read. “Proclaim a fast and seat Naboth in a conspicuous place. But put two scoundrels facing him and have them say he cursed God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.”
The merchant cringed against the back wall.
Heat flushed through Obadiah. The scroll in his hand shook. He hovered over the merchant. “You and your friends joined hands with two worthless punks to help that whore from Sidon murder your neighbor.”
“Biah, you don’t understand.” The merchant covered his head with his arms. “I’ve got a wife and kids. Don’t forget what she did to Tolah when he crossed her last year.”
Obadiah yanked the man’s arms aside and barked into his face. “And nobody called this scheme for what it was. Couldn’t. She only invited those who stink of her perfume.”
As the spice merchant shrank into the carpet, Obadiah loomed over his trembling form. “Since no honest citizens are to be found, our queen fills the room with pond scum. Announces it at five. Done by six.”
“Believe me, Biah. I didn’t like it, but I’ve got a wife and kids.”
“So you told me.” He strode out and kicked the door closed.
Obadiah marched around the far corner of the fort, past the shrubs where Naboth died, and through the vegetable garden.
In the first row of the vineyard, Ahab stood with his head down.
Obadiah slammed the gate closed. “You didn’t have to let your queen kill Naboth.”
“You don’t know her. It does no good to protest.” Still looking at the ground, Ahab shook his head.
“Good was the farthest thing from your mind. You wanted the man’s land.” Obadiah curled his lip in a sneer. “My king, send that witch back where she came from.”
Ahab shrilled, “Ha! You want Sidon to invade?”
“You’d rather be friends with the King of Tyre than have Naboth alive.”
“A visitor, my king.” Four bodyguards stepped aside to open a path for the speaker. “He asked to show you this.” With one finger, the perimeter guard held a ragged coat of goatskin as far from his nose as his arm would stretch.
“Give me that.” Ahab grabbed the garment. “The Goatskin Kid. Send him in.”
Elijah walked in. The boy had become a man. He still stood a finger or two taller than Ahab, and wore a farmer’s robe of mottled gray and a headscarf to match. No gray yet touched his beard nor did wrinkles crease his face. A young boy came in several steps behind him.
Ahab threw the goatskin at Elijah. “If it isn’t my old enemy, the walking moth nest.” Ahab smirked. “Who’s the tag-along?”
Elijah caught the skin and tucked it into his pack. “The Lord sent this young man. His name is his to tell.”
The young man tipped his chin up. “Elisha, my king. Here to listen and learn.”
Elijah took a long stride and faced Ahab within spitting distance. “My king, the Lord says, it doesn’t matter how important you think you are. You murdered a man and took his land. Dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, and dogs wait to lick up yours.”
Obadiah jerked his head back.
Ahab let out a high-pitched laugh. “With a line like that, boy, you need a long, bony finger to shake under my nose.”
Elijah examined his feet and curled his hands into fists while vultures circled over the vines. He looked Ahab in the eye. “The Lord’s going to rub you out, sir. You and your entire line to the most distant cousin.”
“Boy, what are you—?”
“Jezebel.” Elijah raised his arm and pointed to a window.
Ahab’s gaze followed.
“Dogs are going to tear your queen apart and devour the pieces by the city wall.”
Obadiah fell back a step, and Ahab gaped at Elijah open-mouthed.
Elijah edged closer to Ahab. “In tiny villages, my king, people talk of your queen’s gowns and hair dressers. Yet she is going to leave her servants and clothing in the palace and become dog dung.” Elijah shook his head. “With nothing left to bury.”
“My king?” The head guard raised his eyebrows toward Ahab but held back.
Elijah stared off at Mount Tabor. “You’re famous, you know.”
“Hear that, Biah?” Ahab turned toward Obadiah. “Treat me with more respect.”
“There’s been no one like you, my king.” Elijah raised his voice. “No one who sins with both hands so earnestly. No one who does whatever Jezebel says. No one who sells himself to do evil continually. No one.”
Obadiah squinted at Ahab’s guards. Any second now, spears would pierce Elijah’s chest.
Ahab’s face darkened. He sucked in a breath.
“My king, everyone wants to be your friend. They hover by you and your powerful cousins.” Elijah glanced at a cloud moving into position over the fort. “Not only has the Lord shown how you will leave this earth”—he glued his gaze to Ahab— “but he declares everyone in your bloodline is going to die abandoned, alone.”
Ahab’s face lost color, and he looked away, but Elijah touched his arm.
Ahab’s guards stirred then relaxed.
When Elijah threaded his arm through Ahab’s, the king jerked his chin back but moved with him to face the fort.
The fifty guards turned with them.
“My king, remember the plaza up there? That’s where we first met. It was market day.”
Ahab made one sound. “What—?
“Listen. In plazas like this, on many market days, dogs will fight over pieces of your children.” Elijah shuddered, gripped Ahab’s arm, and swiveled him to look out across the almond trees. The guards rotated with them. “In open country, my king, vultures will peck the flesh from the bones of your grandchildren.”
He removed his arm and edged away from Ahab. “The Lord has made your end clear.”
Ahab’s eyes shot daggers. The muscles of his jaw worked in and out.
Elijah hitched the strap of his pack higher on his shoulder then glanced at the clouds piled over the fort. “It’s going to rain. You should all go inside.” He turned toward the open field.
Ahab and the troops glanced up but stood still.
Obadiah’s brows drew close. Would they let him pass?
Elijah left the cabbages and stepped over rows of beans and peppers. The young man Elisha followed, and they trudged past the shrubs where the committee killed Naboth.
Yedidah met Obadiah on the threshing floor. “You’ll never believe what I heard from the palace. Ahab is tearing his clothes and wearing sackcloth.”
“You’re kidding.” Obadiah rubbed his mouth. “What an act. He’s trying to appease the Lord.”
“Can you see into his heart?”
“Do you think he’s sincere?”
Yedidah stood silent for a moment. “He’s fasting and lost his haughty walk. He tiptoes through his rooms.”
“I see.” Obadiah pursed his lips. “He’s faking. Hoping for a suspended sentence. A month, a year from now, he’ll be back out murdering some poor guy who happens to own the wrong—”
Yedidah put her hand over his mouth. “You know what I think? The Lord is going to hold off and not strike his children and grandchildren until Ahab’s son is on the throne.”
“Ahab, my friend from across the path. One day he’s slapping the stable boy, and the next he’s stuffing pitas into the cloak of a homeless child.” Obadiah shrugged. “I’ll never figure him out.”
The Murder of Naboth – 1 Kings 21:1-15
Trade Away Inheritance – Number 26:52–54, 33:54, Joshua 13–22, Leviticus 25:23
The lowlife hurled the first stone – Deuteronomy 17:7
Biblical hours – Matthew 27:46-50, Mark 15:34-37, and Luke 23:44-46
Sin with both hands earnestly – Micah 7:3
Ahab’s wearing sackcloth – 1 Kings 21:27
The Lord holds off his strike – 1 Kings 21:29
30. Bring in the Clowns
Threshing Floor, Samaria City, Israel
Obadiah and his guards followed the music of harp and lyre through the city gate and into the aroma of roasting beef and mutton.
At the center of the threshing floor, King Ahab of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah, perched in their flowing robes of state on marble chairs hauled from the palace. The two kings chuckled and chatted, their voices covered by the noise of the crowd. Obadiah passed behind them and threaded through a happy, gossiping crowd, over to the flails and the donkeys. He sat with his men and turned toward the two kings.
A server set a plate of mutton in his hands. Obadiah stabbed a sliver then put it back on the plate.
The sun was high. Time for Ahab to make his move.
Ahab smirked at Jehoshaphat then raised his voice to General Jehu and Captain Bidkar on the far side of the threshing floor from Obadiah. “You know Ramoth up in Gilead belongs to us, but we sit here in our green hills, doing nothing.” He turned to King Jehoshaphat. “So, my friend, how would you like to help us take back Ramoth?”
Jehoshaphat placed a hand against his chest and stroked his handsome beard. “Of course. Especially after such an impressive feast.”
Obadiah kept his head down. Your cue, Ahab. He peeked. Three days ago, Obadiah had drilled the story into the king.
Ahab cut his eyes toward Obadiah, then refocused on his royal guest. He nudged Jehoshaphat with a conspiratorial elbow and said with a voice too eager, “Ah, but this little spread is nothing compared to the twenty-two thousand oxen and hundred and twenty thousand sheep at King Solomon’s banquet.”
The harps and lyres stepped up their tempo.
King Jehoshaphat rewarded Ahab’s 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.” Then his face blanched. His smile fell. “Um, maybe we should ask the Lord.”
Behind his hand, Obadiah shared a laugh with Zak. When Jehoshaphat rode down from Jerusalem surrounded by bodyguards, he had been eager to show off his flowing royal purple. Yet, “horses” triggered pictures of silver leaving the Jerusalem treasury by the bagful.
“Ask the Lord? No problem.” King Ahab waved at a guard. “Bring in the counselors.”
While guests sipped wine and nibbled at beef and mutton, Jezebel’s four hundred Asherah priests filed through the gate and onto the threshing floor.
Obadiah groaned. Such a shame this gang had stayed home from the showdown on Mount Carmel, where Elijah would have gladly slit their throats
Ahab opened his hands to them. “Shall we go fight for Ramoth or stay home?”
“War! Make war!” they chorused. “God will lay that city in your hand!”
King Jehoshaphat scowled. “Is this it? These Asherah guys? Don’t you know any counselor from the Lord?”
The harps and lyres ceased.
The crowd grew quiet.
Obadiah set his drink on a paving stone. Now what? Ahab was rushing blind. He only knew one true bubbler, and he had hidden that one out of sight.
Ahab glowered at Obadiah, sighed, and fluttered his hand at a guard. “Bring me Mikayhu, son of Imlah. He’s with Gera the grove manager. Make it snappy. We don’t want to keep the king of Judah waiting.”
The guard bowed and left.
Ahab tugged his tunic away from his throat and gave a weak smile to Jehoshaphat. “You asked for someone from the Lord. I hope you’re not disappointed. This Mika kid—he sings and bounces, bounces and sings. He’s a fine boy and means well. But he has nothing good to say about me.”
Obadiah scowled at the floor. Mikayhu adored the king, but he cut no corners on messages from the Lord.
Ahab beckoned to a server. “Let’s give our guest more of that roast.”
As the server slid a slice of beef onto Jehoshaphat’s plate, Mikayhu’s song floated through the gate. “Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn.”
King Jehoshaphat dropped his knife.
Heads turned. The harp and lyre struck up Mikayhu’s tune.
“Heh-heh.” Ahab beamed at Jehoshaphat. “That’s our boy.”
Mikayhu bobbed in with his messy brown hair and a slight lift to his step. He’d gained a head in height since Obadiah last saw him, and whiskers sprouted on his chin. A young man.
Bowing first to Ahab, then to Jehoshaphat, Mikayhu moved up and down. “The Lord’s alive, you know. The only thing I do is repeat what He tells me.” He grinned over at the Asherah chorus. “Nothing like those clowns.”
One stepped out from the chorus holding a set of ram horns to his head. Zedekiah.
Ahab’s face turned red.
Obadiah groaned. What would these guys think up next?
Zedekiah leaped forward and back, left and right. With both hands holding the heavy horns to his head, he couldn’t use his arms to balance, so he toppled and staggered with each thrust—yelling, “The Lord says, ‘With these you will gore and destroy!’”
Obadiah raised a hand and smothered a laugh. Poor Zedekiah and his unbalanced bull.
Yet, the Asherah chorus of four hundred backed their man with cheers. “Attack Ramoth in Gilead. Attack! The Lord says, ‘Hold out your hand!’ Grasp victory! Success!”
Ahab peeked at Jehoshaphat.
The king of Judah cringed and held his head in his hands.
“Um, thank you, Zee. Zedekiah.” Ahab pasted on a fresh smile and asked Jehoshaphat’s question for him. “Well, Mika, what do you say? Go to war or stay home?”
Mikayhu crouched in front of the two kings. He floated his head forward and back while he clicked his fingers to a beat. This young man had grown taller but hadn’t lost his charm.
Jehoshaphat scooted forward on his throne and bobbed with him. Then snapped his fingers.
A slow grin warmed the face of General Jehu. Chariot captains wagged their heads and rolled their shoulders, while servers at the edge of the threshing floor twitched their knees. Across the crowd, heads moved, fingers clicked, hips wiggled.
When King Jehoshaphat had firm control of the beat, Mikayhu chanted.
Sure thing, King.
Yeah, I mean bring.
Bring it on. War.
War, of course.
Chariot and horse.
Attack ’em. Smack ’em.
Hold out your hand.
Ahab hurled his wine cup to the threshing floor.
Jehoshaphat’s beat lay dead among the pieces. He turned on his throne and stared at Ahab. “Who is this boy?”
Ahab ignored him. “Cut the song and dance, Mika. Just tell us what the Lord showed you.”
“I don’t like what I saw, King.” Mikayhu’s heels sagged.
“Tell us.” Ahab glared.
Mikayhu wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and licked tears from his lip.
Obadiah’s mouth fell open. What horrors had the boy seen?
Mikayhu’s face drooped. Yet, he stretched an arm toward the mountains of Gilead. “I saw Israel scattered.” He hiccupped but took a deep breath and continued. “Men dotted the hills, wandering sheep, and the Lord said, ‘They have no leader. Send them home to fend for themselves.’”
Mikayhu splayed his arms at his side. He turned his face to the sky and called to the circling vultures. “I saw the Lord on his throne with angels left and right. The Lord asked, ‘Who will lure Ahab to go die at Ramoth in Gilead?’”
“One said, ‘This way.’ Another, ‘Here’s how.’ Then one angel with a gleam in his eye touched his fingertips together. ‘I’ll make those Asherah clowns think they’ve discovered a secret formula.’”
“The Lord said, ‘Go. Make it happen.’”
Mikayhu waved toward the chorus. “So the Lord put this victory dance in the mouths of your puppets here and…and…” He sobbed.
Zedekiah jumped over and punched him in the mouth. “What makes you think the Spirit of God left me and talked to you?”
Obadiah leaped to his feet. Time to put the horns away.
But Mikayhu wiped blood off his chin and stood tall in Zedekiah’s face. “You’ll know, Zee. When you’re looking for a place to hide, you’ll know.”
Obadiah sat back. If he could talk with Ahab alone, maybe he could keep his old friend alive.
Ahab wiped his hands down the front of his cloak and looked sideways at a guard. “Lock Mika up. Bread and water until I get back.”
“Oh, King. Don’t you understand?” Mikayhu’s voice caught. “Do what you want with me. But you’re not coming back.” He turned to Obadiah, sniffed, and wiped at his nose. “Uncle Biah, can’t you make King stay home?”
Obadiah rose. He had to talk Ahab out of this fool’s venture.
Ahab whirled on him. “Shut it. I want this fight.”
King Jehoshaphat visits King Ahab – 1 Kings 22
King Solomon’s banquet – 1 Kings 8:63 & 2 Chronicles 7:5
Mikayhu, son of Imlah – 1 Kings 22:9
I will waken the dawn. – Psalm 108:2
31. The Noble Warrior
Ramoth, Gilead, Israel
Obadiah rode between the two kings, Ahab and Jehoshaphat. They followed the Jabbok River Valley toward Ramoth. The tread of their infantry shook the earth ahead of them, while chariot horses and mounted archers clop-clopped behind them.
Ahab leaned toward Obadiah’s chariot. He tapped his own armor as he pointed at Obadiah’s shoulder. “Why such thick clothing, Biah?” He waved toward the circling vultures. “Do you begrudge our friends on high a few nibbles of your rotting flesh?”
Obadiah hung his head. His attempts to reason with his friend had only turned Ahab’s battlefield humor ghoulish.
Two years ago, when Ahab told the king of Syria to save his boasts, he had put together a daring plan for defending Samaria City. But after Mikayhu told the king he would not be coming home from Ramoth, he voiced not one idea of strategy. Commander Omri had called him a “noble warrior,” but Ahab twisted the words to mean “better a dead king than a live coward.”
King Jehoshaphat paused his chariot next to Ahab’s, his purple cloak swaying over his armor. “Where are your beautiful blue robes, my king?”
With his arms opened over his chariot rail, Ahab flashed Jehoshaphat a broad smile. “I left my royal blue robes hanging in the palace. I fight in humble gray to ensure the king of Judah receives the glory for today’s victory.”
Jehoshaphat drew his purple around him. “Too modest, my king. The world knows Ahab of Israel as a valiant warrior. I am privileged to fight at your side.”
Obadiah looked down. The king of Judah must wish he’d stayed in Jerusalem. Perhaps he didn’t believe the Lord spoke through Mikayhu. Or he thought the danger applied only to Ahab. He might also be desperate for help against his neighbors to the south.
“I wish we had old Hiel with us.” Obadiah turned to Jehoshaphat. “Have you heard of Hiel of Bethel?”
“The no-neck gorilla who drilled Tibni son of Givath. Of course.”
Ahab pulled a javelin from his basket. “That was back when Biah and I were learning to hold one of these. You should see the reach on old Hiel.” Ahab spread his hands as far as he could. “He sends his regrets. Says the arm isn’t what it used to be.”
Obadiah and the two kings followed their foot troops onto the north bank of the river.
A light breeze came from the mountains in the east, and the early morning sun beat on them from a cloudless sky.
Syrian soldiers blanketed the plain, and their spears pointed at Obadiah. Behind them, the red side panels of hundreds of battle wagons displayed the yellow-winged torch of Syria. Although scouts had reported thirty-two groups of chariots, their war horses bobbed and pranced in one huge, rolling wave. Behind the chariots, several rows of red-robed archers waited with their backs to the gray limestones of the Ramoth city wall.
King Ahab paused his chariot. “Stick with me, Biah. The old team. Together again.”
King Jehoshaphat pulled up with several chariots from Judah. He saluted Ahab. “At your signal, my king.”
Obadiah’s youngest bodyguard drove Zak up in a chariot and stopped next to Obadiah. Three more guards crowding them on horseback carried bows and clusters of arrows laced at the withers. Zak patted a clutch of javelins standing strapped to his chariot rail. “Our little gang can still put up a good fight.”
Syrian drums rattled chants to the gods Deber and Resheph.
The Hebrew drummers answered with a beat from a psalm. Feet pounded turf as Hebrew infantry sprinted toward the Syrians shouting the line with the drums, “Praise be to the LORD our rock, who trains our hands for war, our fingers for battle.”
Shouts of “Charge!” echoed across the field in Hebrew and Aramaic.
Archers behind Obadiah sent a volley of arrows into the approaching Syrians, and the reply arrows stabbed the grass around Obadiah. One glanced off his chariot rail.
Steel rang against steel. Men cried out. The smell of blood rose.Vultures and kites circled low.
At the head of the Hebrew chariot captains, Obadiah, Ahab, and Jehoshaphat gripped javelins and cut into the mass of Syrian troops.
A pair of red-paneled chariots closed in on Jehoshaphat’s royal colors.
He charged, yelling Judah’s battle cry, “The Lord is on my side.”
The Syrians drifted away and stood at their chariot rails, scanning the battlefield.
Obadiah called to Ahab through the swirling dust, “See that, Ahab! They’re looking for you, my king.” As Ahab reared back with a javelin in his hand, he disappeared behind a Hebrew chariot.
An arrow bounced off the armor on Obadiah’s arm. He glanced around, poised to shout, “Don’t begrudge me my thick clothing.”
But Ahab slumped over the rail of his chariot.
Obadiah’s stomach dropped. “Ahab!” He jumped out, dashed over, and screamed in the face of Ahab’s driver, “Take him out! Take him out!” He jumped back into his own chariot and pounded his driver on the arm. “To the king.”
As he followed Ahab, his head rang with, “He’s not coming back.” Obadiah pressed his palms against his ears. Mikayhu had to be wrong.
In an acacia grove near the dip into the river valley, Ahab sat panting on the deck of his chariot, his eyes open to the sky, his hand around the shaft of an arrow protruding from the armor over his shoulder.
Obadiah jumped out and knelt beside the royal chariot.
Ahab lowered his gaze to Obadiah.
Blinking back tears, Obadiah held his hand over his mouth. “You’ll be fine, my king. Just fine.” He propped Ahab up against the chariot panel and adjusted a leg that looked uncomfortable. “There. Rest a bit while we whip Ben-Hadad.”
Ahab croaked, “Thanks, old friend. Rally the troops for me.”
Before he could burst into blubbering, Obadiah stepped back into his chariot. “Take me in.” He dabbed at his eyes. “Lord, please don’t let Ahab die.”
As he neared a Hebrew chariot, Obadiah yelled, “Get us a victory for King Ahab!” A Syrian chariot captain missed Obadiah with a javelin and charged with another in his hand. Obadiah picked a javelin from his basket and screamed, “For King Ahab!” He threw. The missile stuck in an arm, and the Syrian slumped in his chariot.
The battle surged in a confusion of dust, horses, and warriors. Obadiah slapped his driver on the shoulder. “To the king.” He’d only stopped one Syrian, but Ahab bled close by. His chariot raced through falling arrows, dodging the dead and wounded. In the acacias, he leaped out while his chariot still rolled and knelt by Ahab. “My king.”
Blood pooled on the deck of Ahab’s chariot. His head moved in a tiny nod while his eyes remained closed.
“They’re giving us a rough time, my king. But we’re holding our own.”
Ahab’s complexion had turned white.
Obadiah squeezed Ahab’s knee. “Ahab, you know I always loved you.”
Ahab’s mouth twitched.
Obadiah swallowed. “Busy killing Syrians. Back in a moment.” His legs wobbled as he climbed into his chariot.
His driver took him back into the battle. Obadiah threw javelins at Syrians and missed again and again. He wiped at the sweat and dirt caked on his face.
The shadows grew long. Many had died, but the winner—Syria or Israel—was not clear.
Obadiah touched his driver on the shoulder. “To the king.”
As the chariot rolled into the acacias, Obadiah yelled, “We need old Hiel.” He jumped out and knelt by Ahab. “I’m no good without you, my king. I’m taking you home so you can rest up. We’ll come back and finish this together.”
Ahab’s lips gave a feeble flutter. Then his eyes closed and his chin slumped to his chest.
Obadiah lifted Ahab’s eyelids. The light had gone out. “My king!” He stumbled to his chariot, choked, then whispered to his driver. “Find General Jehu. Tell him the king is dead.”
As chariot and driver disappeared into the battle, Obadiah knelt by Ahab and lifted and let fall the metal armor plates which had shifted to give the arrow entry. He pulled Ahab’s tunic up around his neck. Unable to talk strategy with his friend or convince him to go back to Samaria, he adjusted his clothing.
Several cries of, “The king is dead,” floated in from the battlefield. Foot soldiers and archers emerged in twos and threes, paused in the acacias, asked if the king was really dead, then drifted toward the Jordan River. As Mikayhu had foreseen, “They have no leader. Send them home to fend for themselves.”
Ben-Hadad’s drums beat a retreat. Obadiah sent the order by the nearest soldier, and the Hebrew drums answered with retreat. The Hebrews had inflicted heavy losses on the Syrians, but without Ahab, Obadiah lacked the heart to press the attack into the night.
The clash of steel ceased.
In the fading twilight, screams died and moans rose.
Syrians would soon scour the battlefield in the dark, killing wounded Hebrews, and stealing weapons and horses.
Obadiah stood. He must rescue their dead and wounded.
The Battle of Ramoth – 1 Kings 22:29-39
The Lord is on my side – Psalm 118:6
Stick with me – Proverbs 18:24
Chant of Resheph – Habakkuk 3:5
“Who trains our hands for war” – Psalm 144
32. The King Is Dead
Ramoth, Gilead, Israel
As Obadiah rested a hand on Ahab’s chariot, General Jehu called from the darkness. “Biah?”
Following the voice, Obadiah found Jehu by his chariot at the edge of the grove. “We leave no one behind, General. I need you to form teams. Bring our wounded and our dead, our horses and our chariots.”
“Sir. Yes, sir.” The general stepped back into his chariot and drove into the dark.
Zak appeared. “Your bodyguards are here, sir. A few cuts and scrapes. But alive and well.”
“Help me with this arrow. I don’t want to further damage our king on the trip home.”
Zak leaned inside the royal chariot and grasped Ahab’s shoulders.
Obadiah gripped the arrow with both hands and pulled. The shaft and arrowhead came straight out, glistening wet. He cleaned the arrow and tucked it under Ahab’s leg. “We struggled, but I never dreamed of wiping his blood on the grass.”
Zak knelt next to him. “You loved the man.”
“I love him still.”
King Jehoshaphat marched in out of the dark and stripped off his royal purple cloak. “Our friend Ahab needs attire befitting a king.”
While Obadiah and Zak stood Ahab beside the chariot, Jehoshaphat fit Ahab’s arms into the robe and tied it closed at the throat.
Obadiah wiped tears from under his chin and turned to Ahab’s chariot driver. “Which horse can carry the king?”
“The big black on the left, sir.”
But Zak draped an arm over the horse and shook his head. “Swing the king’s legs over one side and dangle his head on the other while his rump points to the Big Bear and her cubs? Not if you love the man.”
“Right.” King Jehoshaphat said, “A disgrace. Help me seat the king in his chariot.”
With Obadiah holding one arm and Zedekiah the other, they lowered Ahab so he sat next to the javelin basket on the deck with his feet poked over the edge.
The driver stepped in beside Ahab and nodded.
Zak brought rope and tied Ahab with his back against the front panel.
Obadiah checked Zak’s knots. When the Philistines had found King Saul and his sons lying dead on Mount Gilboa, they cut off their heads and displayed their corpses on the Beitshan city wall. “No way am I letting you roll out.” He stroked Ahab’s stiffened cheeks.
Foot soldiers trudging home stopped in the acacia grove and asked if the king had died. Several more chariot fighters gathered. Obadiah looked up in the dark. “Where is Jehu?”
General Jehu stepped in close with Captain Bidkar beside him. “We have six teams searching the battlefield for our wounded. We’re bringing everyone home, sir. Horses and chariots too.”
“Can your teams complete their work without you?” Obadiah laid a hand on Jehu’s arm.
“Yes, sir. Six strong leaders.”
Obadiah turned to Bidkar. “Can you keep up with Jehu’s driving?”
Jehu flashed a grin, but Bidkar scowled. “When his fingers touch the reins, sir, the general becomes a madman.”
“I need you two to stick together and push ahead to prepare. No linens. We’ll lay the king out in full battle dress. Plus his royal robes from his father. I want myrrh and aloes. Top grade. And make sure the royal tomb is clean.”
Jehu nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Obadiah slapped the rail as if to go but paused. “I need you to ask around for the artist who carved King Omri’s ossuary, if he’s still alive. King Ahab’s bones should rest in a box of the same design.”
“We’ll do that, sir.” Jehu nodded. “And wailers? Shall we hire wailers?”
“Talk to old Gera, my olive grove manager. Farmers around there do wailing when they’re not busy with crops.”
Jehu and Bidkar swung into their chariots and flipped the reins. They wheeled around toward the Jordan River and into the night.
Darkness had settled over the grove. The battlefield was quiet.
Obadiah tapped Ahab’s driver on the shoulder. “Lead the way.”
“Sir.” The driver turned to him. “Some of these men are wounded.”
Obadiah lifted his voice to the collected fighters. “We need a rear guard of five. We’ll not allow Ben-Hadad’s scavenger squads to pick off stragglers. Step forward.”
Seven fighters approached.
“Choose your leader, stick right on our tail, and report to me in the Samaria palace.”
Obadiah dismissed them and raised his voice to the group. “I need you to check the three men next to you for wounds.” Heads turned. Mutterings floated. “I want two healthy men to drive next to each wounded man. We’re not leaving anyone. Or his chariot or horse.”
The group mixed and chatted. When the buzz died, he asked, “Are we ready?”
One man answered, “We’ve got ourselves sorted, sir.”
“Follow the king.” Obadiah waved at Ahab’s driver and gave a morbid chuckle. As always, though Ahab couldn’t force him, he followed.
King Jehoshaphat in his chariot fell in behind Obadiah. Mounted guards surrounded them, and Ahab’s chariot fighters formed a column behind Jehoshaphat.
As they descended the gullies and canyons of the Jabbok, the stars shone brighter, and the fresh aroma of the hills replaced the battlefield odors of blood and excrement. They followed the Jordan River south and crossed at Gilgal.
As they mounted the west bank, Hiel stepped out of the dark.
Obadiah paused the procession. “The king is dead, my brother.”
“We heard. I hoped you would cross at our ford.” The elder of Bethel gazed into the back of Ahab’s chariot. “Oh, my king.” He pulled a cloth from his pack and wiped the dust of the road from Ahab’s face. “We have lost a noble warrior.” Hiel climbed into his chariot and joined the column.
The stars faded, and dawn broke. With the sun at their backs, they turned onto the Ridge Road then rolled into the outskirts of Samaria City at noon.
The king is dead – 1 Kings 22:29-39
The Big Bear and her cubs – Job 38:32
Samaria City, Israel
Obadiah paused before the city gate. His world would never be the same. Ahab, his boyhood friend, had died.
As the long column of warriors parked their chariots in the hillside pavilion, Obadiah saluted the rear guard of five, then directed Ahab’s driver to the palace.
Hiel knelt with him in the brilliant sunshine and helped loosen the knots which held Ahab in the chariot. Women, children, and young men milled around them. Obadiah searched faces for Queen Jezebel, but it appeared no Sidonian holiday had attracted her to the temple in the capital. She would be in Fort Jezreel with her sons, Ahaziah and Joram.
The older boy was now King Ahaziah. Obadiah was no longer the king’s right-hand man. His fingers froze on the knots. Where would he go? What would he do?
Jezebel kept her sons so close they hardly knew their Uncle Biah. Would the boy king try to eject Obadiah’s man, Jebus, from the kitchen? Seba from the stables? Remove Gera from his post over olive oil production? Or would Jehu and other powerful men who called Obadiah “sir” barricade him from the queen’s designs?
He raised his nose. Normal body odors from the crowd suggested they had not dabbed on their favorite sweet-smelling lotions. A few women wept.
“Zak? Where are you, Zak?” Obadiah looked around.
Zak nudged Obadiah’s elbow. “Here, sir. We’re close by.”
“Thanks. A lot going on. I can’t…”
“We’ll take care of everything, sir.”
“Thank the Lord. I need you to follow up on the rearguard who kept scavenger squads away. Send your most wide-awake man and have him bring you their leader. I need you to hear his report.”
Jehoshaphat approached. “Don’t be concerned about the robe. I leave the burial preparations in your excellent hands. I’ll be with Elder Shuthelah.” He walked across the plaza toward the elder’s courtyard.
“Even a king needs his beauty rest.” Hiel winked.
Obadiah grunted. “We’re asleep on our feet. But we need to lay Ahab next to Omri.”
Bidkar nodded. “We’ll keep each other awake, sir. A final service to the king.”
General Jehu descended the palace stairs and stepped in next to Obadiah. “The tomb is clean, and Bidkar bought the best spices. The queen is, of course, in Fort Jezreel.”
“Send a message,” Obadiah said, without specifying haste.
Instead of asking about the speed of the messenger, Jehu said, “Some of the king’s wives and children are here. Um, if you don’t mind, they need to hear a few words from you, sir.”
A crowd of women and children formed a crescent. Amira, a woman Ahab’s age, stood at the center. Not the first wife Ahab had taken, but one who made palace life adjust to her ways. She wore a tunic and robe of fine white linen with a matching headscarf. Like the others, she had stripped off her jewelry and scrubbed cosmetics from her face.
Obadiah gave the woman a quick smile and scanned the crowd. “I … I thank the Lord he allowed me to call King Ahab my friend.” Indeed, he’d always be grateful they were friends. Yet, why such formal words? He pulled at the neck of his tunic and rested a hand on Jehu’s shoulder. “After the general and I have prepared the king for burial, wives and children may accompany us to the royal tomb.”
Farmers and shoppers drifted in and stared wide-eyed at their dead king sitting up in his chariot. Bidkar and Jehu lifted him by his arms. Obadiah and Hiel took his legs. The four men carried the king in his stiff, seated position.
Women and children flowed around them, speaking in hushed tones.
Amira opened the palace door.
Inside, Bidkar directed them to a sitting room. “This way.” A bearskin rug warmed the floor, and yellow lilies in tall marble vases stood along the wall. Clean cloths lay on a marble chair, a flowing robe of royal blue on another.
Bidkar shut the door with the women and children outside.
They set Ahab on a marble table in the center of the room. Obadiah and Hiel held his shoulders while Jehu and Bidkar pushed his legs down until Ahab lay straight on his back.
A knock came, and Mikayhu lumbered in. Large pails stretched each arm and robbed his steps of their normal spring. His face held a vacant look.
“Mika!” Obadiah threw his arms around the boy. The pails thudded to the floor and sloshed water on their feet. “Lord forgive me. I forgot the king had you locked up.”
Jehu leaned against the table. “Amazing how fast a jailer can unlock a cell when he feels Bidkar’s thumb closing on his windpipe.”
Mika’s voice cracked. “I told King he wasn’t coming back. He wouldn’t listen.” The boy set the pails by Ahab’s table, left, and closed the door behind him.
Bidkar unstrapped armor from Ahab’s shoulder. “I loved it when our king told Ben-Hadad to hold his boasts until he was taking off his armor.” Obadiah’s crew washed and dried Ahab’s entire body, front and back—arms and legs, fingers and toes.
Bidkar opened the spice bags. They rubbed myrrh and aloes over Ahab and wrapped a clean cloth around his loins. They slid the blue linen tunic over him, fastened on his armor, and forced his stiffened limbs into the royal blue robe.
Obadiah tied a blue scarf over Ahab’s hair. “Your final ride, my king.” He and Hiel took Ahab’s legs, while Jehu and Bidkar lifted his torso. They carried his stiff form through the crowd, out the gate, and around the hill to the royal tomb.
Ahab’s wives and children followed. Then chariot fighters and drivers, shoppers, shopkeepers, elders, and curious citizens.
As they arrived, a group of local farmers wailed.
Inside the tomb, the ossuary containing King Omri’s bones stood at the center of a shelf carved into the rock.
“Give me a hand with this, Jehu.” While Hiel and Bidkar held Ahab, Obadiah and Jehu slid King Omri’s box of bones to the end of the shelf.
“Here we go, men.” With the crowd pressing on them, the four carried Ahab into the tomb and laid him on the shelf with his head next to King Omri’s bones.
Jehu said, “We put the word out for the ossuary carver. He should show up this week.”
Obadiah laid a javelin on Ahab’s right hand. “Farewell, my king, my friend.” He tried to curl Ahab’s stiff fingers around the javelin but they refused to bend. He never could force Ahab to do anything. Commander Omri had told them, “Beat each other’s brains out in the grass and let me know who wins.” Neither boy ever won.
As he left the tomb for the keeper to seal, Obadiah turned to Jehu and Bidkar. “I’m going to my room in the palace. If Ahab’s wife Amira wants to act as hostess, let her use the main hall.”
Ahab’s driver spoke at Obadiah’s elbow. “I washed out the king’s chariot, sir. At the pool by the wall.”
As Obadiah trudged in through the city gate, dogs snarled at him from the pool.
The king is dead – 1 Kings 22:29-39
“dogs will lick your blood” – 1 Kings 21:19
34. Fire and Brimstone
The Headquarters Roof, Fort Jezreel, Jezreel Valley, Israel
Obadiah closed his eyes against the afternoon sun and lay back next to Yedidah. He twitched a smile at her soft snore.
They lounged with his bodyguards on the northeast corner of the headquarters roof. At the roof’s center, elders of various tribes chatted in twos and threes.
Odor drifted up from the stables mixed with wood smoke and the aroma of fresh bread. Chariot wheels crunched against paving stones. Pedestrians greeted guards by the headquarters front gate. Shoppers and farmers on the plaza haggled over melons or mutton.
Tugging his headscarf over his eyes, Obadiah snuggled deeper into his couch. In a recurring dream, he lazed along on Lavan next to Prince Ahab on Shochar. The boys poked fun at each other as if their mighty stallions were tired old donkeys.
A voice came from outside the dream. “Chariots headed our way.”
He brushed at the words as if at a buzzing fly. Don’t interrupt.
The race to the fort was about to begin. Obadiah and the prince toed their steeds to the line. The bushes moved, but it was only the wind pushing the junipers. Syrians were nowhere near. Next, Ahab would dangle a pinecone by Lavan’s ear.
Something touched his arm. Who’s bothering me?
Anyway, this dream was wrong. Ahab had bled to death on the plain outside Ramoth. Obadiah had wept for days, then tried to go on without him. His last full-on spell of sobbing was two or three years ago.
He squeezed his eyes tighter. The sunshine was his friend. And the light breeze. Go back to sleep and dream that scene again.
Yet, the sweet fragrance of laurel filled his nose, and Yedidah’s fingers gripped his shoulder. Her lips touched his ear. “Chariots.”
The dream can wait. Thank you, Lord, for this woman. Through the years, at each “wake up” from the Lord, Yedidah, the love of his life, had nudged him. Then, when the time was right, she helped hide men from the dragon queen. She had secreted their friend, Mika, into the Misliya cave, where he taught bubblers to sing psalms.
The scent of laurel gave way to clean-scrubbed skin with a hint of fresh sweat. Zak.
Obadiah pried one eye open.
His bodyguards towered next to him and stared over the parapet.
Zak glanced down. “Chariots, sir. Coming on fast.”
With a grunt and a heave, Obadiah rolled to his knees.
Two guards pulled him up to stand beside Yedidah.
Elders had moved from the center of the roof and lined the wall on Obadiah’s left.
He leaned over the parapet.
In the open gate of the fort below, young King Joram stood spraddle-legged, watching the road from Beitshan.
“Didn’t he get hurt at Ramoth?”
“He should be resting.”
“The young heal fast.”
Obadiah sighed. The elders might have been talking about a steer or a ram. He tugged Zak’s sleeve. “Seven years. Didn’t Ahab die seven years ago?”
“Eight,” Zak whispered.
For eight years, that child standing alone in the gate had been without his father’s advice. Safe from responsibility for a year, until his older brother died, leaving Joram the throne. He must be so unsure of himself, with no idea how to counter the danger racing toward him. .
As the son of Jezebel, he never consulted Obadiah. If Ahab’s son were to evade the queen and seek him out, his advice would be free but formal—Obadiah hardened his wrist, the stiff-arm that had flattened Ahab’s nose. Together they fought, argued, and found answers. Together they invented the strategy game, “The Syrian’s Are Upon You.” Nothing could replace the fun of debating the boy-king’s father.
The young king squared his shoulders and called, “Send a rider. Ask if they come in peace.”
Ask? Obadiah snorted then hid his face from the elders. Lord, forgive me. If Ahab saw a contingent of warriors approaching, he would send a company armed with javelins, slings, and arrows.
The lookout called, “The rider reached them.”
“He’s not coming back.”
The lookout called again. “The second rider isn’t coming back. And the lead chariot drives like General Jehu—a maniac.”
The general was a loyal servant of the Lord, and having him in charge of the army had helped keep Obadiah’s head in place. Jehu loved to drive fast, but why had he left Ramoth without his driver? And why was he leading a small fleet of chariots?
King Ahaziah of Judah stepped out the side door of headquarters. A few days ago, he’d driven down from Jerusalem to see how King Joram was recuperating. Ahaziah hustled out to the gate. The two young kings glanced at the approaching chariots, then strode to the stables, Joram grimacing with each stride.
Seba’s youngest son, the current stable boss, brought out teams and chariots.
As the two young kings drove from the stables and out the gate, Obadiah bit at the inside of his cheek. They left as if going to a parlay—without one bodyguard. Lord, help us.
The lookout called, “They’re heading behind the fort.”
With Zak and Yedidah, Obadiah shuffled along to the southeast corner, and the others found places along the south parapet.
At the back of the fort, the many chariots in Jehu’s train waited next to a patch of oak trees, but the general drove to the vineyard Ahab had stolen from Naboth.
The two kings pulled in beside the general. Joram wore the bright blue of Israel, and Ahaziah the deep purple of Judah. General Jehu met them in the drab browns and grays of his mail.
Overhead, at the center of a clear sky, a hawk and a kestrel screamed at each other.
“I don’t like this,” Zak whispered.
The three chariots had barely halted when King Joram wheeled around and raced away.
From his chariot basket, General Jehu raised a recurved bow. A man needed the strength of an ox to bend such thick wood, yet Jehu notched an arrow to the string, aimed at the fleeing king, and drew the feather to his shoulder.
The arrow sank between King Joram’s shoulders, and he slumped over the chariot rail.
The row of elders gasped.
“Dear Lord.” Obadiah turned toward pain and found Yedidah’s fingers clamped onto his arm.
Zak gripped Obadiah’s shoulder. “I’m taking you out of here.” The words came through clenched teeth.
While King Joram’s horses slowed to a halt, King Ahaziah raced away.
General Jehu pointed, and a hail of arrows fell on King Ahaziah’s purple robe. He and his chariot disappeared around a hill.
Most of the chariots with Jehu left the oaks and raced after King Ahaziah, but Captain Bidkar stopped at King Joram’s stalled horses and jumped out. He dragged Joram’s corpse from the chariot and dumped him onto the field of Naboth in a pile of royal blue.
Obadiah covered Zak’s hand with his own. “This must look bad to you, but General Jehu’s a good man. Plus, I helped him with that new stable up in Dan. Made sure he got the troops he needed when the Philistines surprised him at Hadera. Let’s wait a while and see how this—”
Zak flung Obadiah’s hand off. “That’s foolish talk, sir, and you know it. You and the general have been through a lot together. But you just now saw him murder the king—a repeat of Baasha and Zimri reaching for the throne. By nightfall, General Jehu will either be king, or his head will sway on a very tall stake.”
Obadiah’s guards stood.
Zak planted both feet on the tiles. “Your old friend’s got a list of new enemies, and you’re at the top. Angels had to drag Lot out of Sodom, and I smell fire and brimstone.” He turned Obadiah and Yedidah toward the stairs.
Laurel – Isaiah 44:9, 14
General Jehu takes the throne – 2 Kings 9
Baasha and Zimri reach for the throne – 1 Kings 15-16
Dragging Lot out of Sodom – Genesis 19:16
35. Throw Her Down!
The Butcher Shop, Fort Jezreel, Jezreel Valley, Israel
Obadiah scowled as Zak guided him and Yedidah downstairs and across the threshing floor.
The sons of Seba and Jebus paused on their way out the gate. “See you later, Uncle Biah.”
Obadiah stiffened. “Going home early, boys?”
Zak waved then steered Obadiah toward the meat counter outside the butcher shop. “Smart. May save those boys’ lives.”
Instead of waiting out on the plaza like a customer, Zak hurried Obadiah and Yedidah around the counter and pounded on the door. While his men stacked up behind them, he yelled, “Let us in!” Zak’s beard showed as many white hairs as Obadiah’s. Where did he find all his energy?
The butcher opened, brushed bone bits from his apron, and ushered them in. When the line of troopers blocked Obadiah’s way, the butcher’s son had stepped aside to let him through. Since that day, Obadiah shopped for meat in person and commented “scrumptious” or “delicious” while the butcher bragged on his cuts.
The butcher’s wife pulled Yedidah into a hug, spilling her white locks over Yedidah’s shoulder. “My dear. Did you ever?”
The guards crowded past them and stood next to the back wall of the tiny shop.
As Obadiah and the butcher opened slits in the shutter, planks rattled over the moat, and chariots careened across the threshing floor. Several captains hitched their teams to the rails in front of headquarters. But General Jehu hung a hard right beside headquarters. He pulled in next to the kitchen in full view of those hiding in the butcher shop.
“The general’s been on the road all day.” Zak turned to Obadiah. “Worked up an appetite.”
The butcher turned wrinkled cheeks toward Obadiah. “You know the general well.”
“Yes. Yes. We rode together at Dibon.” Obadiah nodded. “The general’s a devout follower of the Lord.”
“Why did he kill our king? Did he think he was doing the Lord’s will?”
“The general hates Moloch and Asherah.” Obadiah rocked on his heels and studied the floor. “Yet he respected Ahab as a strong commander. An effective king. I want to…I have to believe it hurt him to kill Ahab’s son.”
The butcher put his eye to a slit in the shutter. “Perhaps the general felt he was helping rid the world of Jezebel’s offspring.”
“That’s it.” Obadiah pulled on Zak’s sleeve. “Look, I’ll clear this up with Jehu right now. Let him know we’re still friends. On the same side—”
“No!” Yedidah clutched his arm. Her face had turned to chalk. “Zak, don’t let my husband go out there.”
“I’m not letting Biah out of my reach.” Zak cupped Obadiah’s shoulders while Yedidah gripped his arm. “Sir, you saw what happened. The two who attempted a parley with the general are dead.”
“But Jehu’s a reasonable man. He knows I’m no threat to the throne. No king has consulted me since Ahab died. I haven’t been the king’s right-hand man for eight years.”
Obadiah’s driver stepped toward him.
Yedidah shook Obadiah’s arm. “Tell him, Zak. He’ll listen to you.”
“Sir, you know our kings don’t use reason to clear the throne room. When Baasha murdered King Nadab, he killed Nadab’s entire family. Zimri slit King Baasha’s throat in the evening, and that night—not next morning, but that night—he slaughtered every one of Baasha’s friends and relatives.”
The driver moved back with the other guards.
Yedidah shuddered. “Listen to him, Biah.”
“You love this woman, sir. And your children.” Zak shook Obadiah’s shoulders. “Jehu won’t be content to see your corpse lying in the gutter. He’ll send his men to kill everyone connected to you.”
“Lord, help us.” Obadiah dropped his gaze from Zak to Yedidah. His shoulders slumped. “There’s no hope unless the Lord puts his hand in.”
In a second-floor window above the general, Queen Jezebel appeared. She wore a royal blue gown. Around her face, fresh curls puffed into a jet-black corona. She stabbed Jehu with her stare. “Greetings, General.” Icicles dripped from her voice and cooled the plaza.
Yedidah shuddered, but the butcher’s wife gawked. “She was born to rule.”
“The woman is past tense.” Zak snarled.
Yedidah lifted fingers to her throat. “But doesn’t she look so…so…regal?”
“She uses fourteen hairdressers.” Obadiah stepped back from the shutter. “When that witch wants to lock more slaves in her brothels, she buys a string of little girls and boys stolen from distant backyards.” He gave the shutter a light punch.
The youngest guard edged in beside Obadiah. “Can I have a peek, sir?”
Obadiah guided him to the shutter with a hand on his shoulder. “She’s all yours, boy.” He opened a slit next to the guard and watched with him.
Across the plaza, Jezebel leaned from her window and twisted the gaudy paint on her face into a smirk. “General Jehu, do you remember Zimri, the chariot commander? Zimri murdered his master but found no peace.”
Zak nudged Obadiah. “The old bird knows why the general’s in town.”
General Jehu yelled, “Is anybody up there on my side?”
Men in light gray robes appeared in windows left and right of the queen.
Yedidah let out a loud breath. “Eunuchs.”
Zak whispered. “And they’re shivering, ma’am. They don’t know who’s in charge.”
Jehu’s laugh echoed across the paving stones and into the butcher shop. “Throw her down, boys!”
“Don’t touch me.” Jezebel held her chin high. “Animals.”
“Oh, I can’t look,” Yedidah said. The butcher’s wife agreed. “I know, dear.” They flinched, then pressed their eyes to the shutter.
Obadiah stood on tiptoe and gawked through a slit over their shoulders.
The eunuchs disappeared from view, and a scream echoed off the walls. A blur of curls crossed the windowsill. Jezebel shot out and thudded headfirst onto the paving stones.
As Yedidah wiped her nose, she blurted through the cloth, “Open the caves! Let the bubblers go free!”
“Hurrah!” Obadiah slapped the doorjamb. Mika could prune his father’s fruit trees and bounce and sing for the neighborhood. Men and boys who had waited for a piece of bread in the dark could till their gardens in the sunshine.
Across the plaza, General Jehu drove his team next to the headquarters wall and pranced the horses over the queen. The snap of bones carried into the butcher shop while blood splattered the bricks and dripped down the horses’ legs.
“Oh!” As Yedidah covered her face, the butcher’s wife patted her on the shoulder.
The general stepped out of the chariot and tied his team by the side door. He peeled off his gloves, raised his chin toward the queen’s scattered pieces, and then strode into the headquarters kitchen.
Zak gripped Obadiah by the shoulders. “Jehu has been in that chariot for hours and won’t leave headquarters until his belly’s full. I’m taking you out of the fort.”
Out of the fort? Obadiah clutched Zak’s wrist. “You can’t mean that.” His family was safe in Fort Jezreel. A few times he had asked Yedidah if she wanted to move back to the village. But, no, the fort was home.
In Kishion, their sons and sons-in-law managed the pear trees and the pottery. From Samaria, Gera’s daughter-in-law, Keren, sent monthly reports on the olive old business. .
Seba the stable boss and Jebus the cook lived with their children and grandchildren just around the corner in the village of Harod. Leave these men, his childhood friends from Gibbethon?
With a granddaughter here and more grandchildren at the end of an easy chariot ride to Kishion, the fort was home. Including his apartment looking into almond blossoms and his couch on the roof.
He turned to the guards crowding the back wall. “Will our guys and their families roam the wilderness in tents like Abraham and Jacob?”
“I haven’t got the details worked out.” Zak slipped his wrist from Obadiah’s grip and tapped the shutter. “But I’m taking you and Yedidah out of Fort Jezreel.”
The butcher raised his gentle voice. “Too dangerous. Wait until the city’s asleep.”
Obadiah pulled Yedidah closer. When such sharp determination edged Zak’s voice, it was best to let him lead. “But our daughter.”
The butcher’s wife opened her eyes as large as hens’ eggs. “The one who married the captain?”
“And their baby girl,” Obadiah whispered.
Zak took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Not a hoof left behind, sir. Or a granddaughter either.”
Obadiah’s chin trembled. “You’re right about Jehu. He has no choice but to wipe us all out.” He fixed Zak with a stare. “Your wife. Your grandchildren.”
Zak stepped in, a handbreadth from Obadiah’s face. “The Lord being our helper, we’re bringing everyone.”
Yedidah clutched Obadiah’s arm. “But our families in Kishion. We’re dead, Zak.”
“Not dead.” The butcher raised a finger. “My wife and I will hide you right here. At midnight we’ll sneak you out the cobbler’s tunnel.” He pursed his lips and gave a slow nod. “It’s the nearest one.”
“Yuck.” His wife hunched her shoulders. “They can’t crawl through that hole. You don’t know what creepy—”
Zak shook his head. “I’m sorry, sir, but General Jehu‘s not taking chances. He already has men posted at the tunnels. We need a distraction. Everybody’s looking one way, while Yedidah and Biah go the other.”
“Distraction?” Obadiah frowned. “We can’t wait. I know the general. His men are searching my apartment this moment. He’ll soon have them scouring every corner. Including this butcher shop.”
Zak put his hands on his hips and scowled at his fellow guards. “There’s gotta be a—”
“Now don’t you worry.” The butcher’s wife squinted out at the threshing floor. “See the farmers going home?”
Zak looked through a slit in the shutter. “Farmers. Yes?”
“They don’t usually leave this early, but when that scream from the queen hit the pavers, they started packing up. We’ll lay Biah in a cart and let Yedidah lead the donkey.”
“But we haven’t a cart.” The butcher pulled on his ear. “Or a donkey.”
“No, but my dear friend, Shiphrah, does. And her chickens are so scrawny she hauls half of them home every evening. Why don’t you give our guests a few flatbreads and that mutton in the warming oven while I bring my friend and her cart? Shiphrah takes her time. She’ll be one of the last to leave.”
As she pulled her headscarf to her neck, the butcher’s wife touched the door handle. “There’s carrot soup as well.” She marched out past the meat counter and turned left toward the market.
“But see how Obadiah’s dressed?” A young guard pulled on the butcher’s sleeve. “White on white. Ahab back from the grave. Do you have something gray we could borrow?”
“I’ll put our gardening robes on the two of them and some old gray headscarves. Biah’s so long, it’ll take two robes to cover him.”
Zak opened the oven. “Bread and soup sound good. You got any red wine?”
Obadiah leaned against the window jamb. “I’m not hungry.”
“Eat,” Zak said. “You’re going on a trip. And don’t worry about the rest of us. Talk with the Lord about us, but focus on getting Yedidah out of here.”
The butcher poured bowls of soup.
Obadiah pushed his away. “How can you think of food?”
While the guards watched through the shutter, they sipped wine, nibbled bread, and spooned soup from a bowl on the windowsill.
Zak set his wine glass on the counter. “Here she comes.”
Shutter – Proverbs 7:6-12
Jehu killing Ahab’s son – 2 King 9:24
Eye paint – Jeremiah 4:30
Zimri, the chariot commander – 1 Kings 16:15-20
Is anybody up there on my side? – 2 Kings 9:32
Not a hoof left behind – Exodus 10:26
Shiphrah – Exodus 1:15
36. Pieces of the Queen
The Butcher Shop, Fort Jezreel, Jezreel Valley, Israel
Obadiah stabbed his arms into the robe from the butcher and stooped to let the skirt cover his knees. A draft cooled his legs from the back, so he slouched and gained a finger’s width of cover front and back.
Yedidah stood next to him in full dignity. A mottled gray robe covered her ankles. “Everyone knows you, dear. Knees covered or uncovered, we’ll never make it to the gate.”
Obadiah bowed his head. If he took two steps outside the shelter of this sorry little shop, Jehu’s men would nail him.
The door opened, and the butcher’s wife blew in. She led a tall woman with a wide, dark forehead. “This is Shiphrah. Hurry. We’ve got to move fast.”
Shiphrah stared at Obadiah then shook her head. “Lord help us.”
He opened a slit in the shutters. Lord help us, indeed. On the plaza pavers in front of the butcher shop, a gray donkey switched its tail against the shafts of a cracked and weathered cart. Net bags of onions, melons, and apples sat in the cart next to a long, flimsy wicker cage holding three scrawny chickens.
Zak left his men packed along the wall. He stepped up to the window. “There’s too much daylight out there.” He jerked the butcher’s rolled-up headscarf off Obadiah. “Hold still. I smell fire and brimstone.” He draped the cloth over Obadiah’s head and neck then tugged it forward over all but Obadiah’s eagle-beak nose. “There. Just don’t talk to anyone.” He gave Obadiah a gentle slap on the cheek.
The butcher patted Obadiah on the shoulder then peeked out front. “That cart’s right in plain sight. You’ll never—”
Men on the far side of the plaza yelled. “Git! Go on!”
Dogs yipped and yowled in pain.
Obadiah opened a slit in the shutter, and the guards crowded around, watching over his shoulder.
Chariot captains under Jezebel’s window thumped their feet into dogs’ ribs. The curs let out mournful cries but tugged at pieces of the dead queen.
“Go ’way! Mangy beast!”
A black and tan short-haired mutt circled low then dashed between a captain’s feet and trotted off, dragging a bloody forearm.
“There he goes!” As chariot captains dove for the fleeing mutt, five more dogs grabbed pieces of the fresh meat by the wall. The struggle of dogs and men filled that corner of the plaza with a mound of yelps, curses, and growls.
“There’s your distraction.” The butcher shoved Obadiah out the door.
Obadiah’s driver waved and sent a stage whisper after him. “Don’t worry, sir. Zak’s working on the details. Pray hard.”
The butcher closed the door.
Sneaking glances at the fight in the far corner of the plaza, Obadiah stumbled to Shiphrah’s miserable little cart by the meat counter. He hovered in the butcher’s robe, as good as naked without his signature white linen tunic and robe.
While captains cursed and dogs snarled, Shiphrah lifted her cage of chickens. “Get in.”
Obadiah stretched himself on the aged wood.
Yedidah leaned in and laid a finger to her lips. “I’ll be right here beside you.” She pulled the butcher’s ragged robes over Obadiah, reducing his world to scents and vibrations. “Chickens next,” she said. “We shouldn’t talk now.”
A bag of onions settled against his shoulder. “Muh.” He covered his face with his sleeve.
As the wicker basket firmed the robes over him, chickens fluttered and purred like his mother’s hens in Kishion when he cradled them in his arms. The odor of feathers and manure tickled his nose. The cart tipped and creaked. Wheels crunched pavers. Hubs squeaked against the axle as loud as Samson’s millstone. More blows struck distant canine ribs, followed by yips and yowls.
Obadiah pictured dogs hauling off pieces of the queen while men and boys dashed out of dark caves into bright sunshine. He laughed under his ragged covering then closed his mouth.
The cart bounced. He hit the sideboard. The wicker slid, chickens squawked, and the odor of onions filled his mouth and nose. He pressed his sleeve tight over his face.
Such a jumbled load might attract attention. He should throw off the blankets. Send the chickens flying. Grab Yedidah, and dash for the gate. Yet he ground his teeth and clenched his fists.
From the unseen world above came a friendly “Ma’am.” A captain must have waved the disorderly cart through.
No doubt Shiphrah had given a modest nod, while Yedidah, in her long farmer’s helper robe, studied the ground.
The grinding of wheels on stones gave way to the rattle of planks over an empty moat and several beats later to the crunch of gravel. The cart tipped forward, sliding Obadiah into the headboard. They descended the grade.
Would they turn toward Megiddo or Beitshan? Guessing was as useless as predicting if Ahab would slap the stable boy or feed the homeless child.
Obadiah hunkered under the butcher’s stinking robes. He held his nose and breathed through his mouth.
He had followed his friend at every turn. When Ahab negotiated the alliance with King Ethbaal of Tyre, Obadiah had emphasized the good points—even though Ethbaal’s daughter brought four hundred Asherah priests. When Ahab bargained with Ben-Hadad instead of removing that rascal’s head, Obadiah rolled his eyes but stayed by his friend. Even after Obadiah pulled stones from Naboth’s shattered corpse, he tried to keep Ahab from marching to his death at Ramoth. Although Obadiah lacked the political power to budge his friend off the path of self-destruction, he had confronted him and stuck by his side.
Other wheels squeaked. A strange woman said, “Hello,” her tone normal, a farmer passing on the road.
Hoofs clip-clopped. Fast-rolling wheels crunched. A chariot? A farmer in a hurry? Obadiah could only guess. He had no eyes. No control. No bodyguards. Neither horse nor chariot.
This Shiphrah person was hauling him to her village, where Jehu was sure to root him out. And just as the wise woman of Abel tossed the head of Sheba to Joab, Shiphrah would throw Obadiah’s head over the wall to Jehu.
The cart stopped.
“We’re here.” Yedidah lifted the cage. Chickens squawked.
Obadiah sneezed. And sneezed again. He peeked out onto tiny Taanach, a short hike from Megiddo. Bubblers from the Misliya cave must have run free through this village.
Instead of throwing Obadiah’s head over the village wall, Shiphrah held the ladder for Yedidah, then mixed cornmeal on the veranda. Yedidah sliced figs, and Obadiah scratched a flint under the pot. Leaves and grasses caught his spark and grew it into flames.
Obadiah paused. He and Yedidah were alive. And their hostess seemed to accept them. He breathed and added tiny sticks to the fire.
Shiphrah’s husband and seven children came in from the field to bowls of steaming cornmeal mush flavored with figs.
In the family’s only room, Shiphrah spread soft, thick rugs. She and her husband curled up on one, their children on three others, and Obadiah and Yedidah on another.
Obadiah woke in the night to people on the road singing, “‘The Lord is my light and my salvation.’” The song faded as if the singers had marched on. He whispered in Yedidah’s ear. “Ahab and Mika.” A faint “Mmf” came from Yedidah.
Shiphrah hauled chickens to market, and her husband returned to the field with the children. Before he left, he hung his best robe on Obadiah. “This will keep your ankles warm, but don’t leave the place. Everybody in the village knows the king’s right-hand man.”
Prisoner Obadiah picked up a broom. While Yedidah gathered figs, he reached the broom straws into the corners of the veranda and its one room. Where had Seba and Jebus hidden their families? Everyone knew they ran Ahab’s stable and kitchen. The families of Obadiah’s bodyguards lived in villages near the fort. Obadiah’s daughter and her family huddled somewhere. Plus, Obadiah’s and Yedidah’s families in Kishion. Jehu’s assassins targeted anyone connected to Obadiah. Lord, it’s too much.
He swept every nook of the veranda. Twice. When Yedidah finally mounted the ladder, he clung to her. “What’s to become of us? Where’s our daughter?”
She leaned back in his arms and held him with her eyes. “We have to trust the Lord this very moment, dear.”
Shiphrah returned early from the market, color drained from her face. “The general piled the heads of King Ahab’s children at the gate of the fort.”
Dogs eating Jezebel – 1 Kings 21:23 & 2 Kings 9:10
Shiphrah – Exodus 1:15
Taanach – Joshua 12:21
The wise woman of Abel – 2 Samuel 20:21
37. Seventy Heads
Taanach Village, Megiddo-Beitshan Road, Jezreel Valley, Israel
Obadiah sagged against the doorjamb of Shiphrah’s one room. “But Ahab’s children are in Samaria.”
Shiphrah raised shaky fingers to her forehead. “The general told the elders of Samaria City to come out and fight or send him the heads of Ahab’s descendants.”
Yedidah’s jaw went slack. “How can people kill grandbabies?”
Obadiah moaned. Jehu’s loyalty test gave the Samaria city fathers two quick options. The discussion in Shuthelah’s courtyard must have been brief. How much did their decision depend on their terror of the general and how much on their resentment of Jezebel?
He spoke in a monotone. “So they carried seventy heads to the fort.”
“And,” Shiphrah added, “General Jehu declared those heads are to stay at the gate until morning.”
Obadiah held Shiphrah’s eyes with his own. “Tomorrow morning, I need to be at that gate.”
Obadiah and Yedidah waited with Shiphrah’s family on the hillside facing the fort as the sun broke over Gilead. He draped an arm around Yedidah’s waist.
On the far side of the Megiddo-Beitshan road, on the gravel apron next to the plank bridge, two piles of heads sat over black puddles. A lone trooper guarded the heads. Dark clouds, perhaps flies, surged around the piles, and the breeze brought the stench of rotting flesh.
When Obadiah buried Ahab in Samaria, children had mingled with Ahab’s wives and stared at their dead father. Those children would be eight years older, some with children of their own. Their heads were in these piles. Obadiah’s knees threatened to buckle, but he clenched his fists and pulled Yedidah to him.
Crowds covered the road east and west. “Worse than market day,” Shiphrah’s husband said.
As people arrived at the foot of the grade to the fort, first they gawked at the heads, then they backed up the hillside toward Obadiah.
Shiphrah whispered, “Somebody’s bound to recognize the king’s right-hand man.”
Obadiah shivered and tugged his headscarf over his cheeks.
General Jehu marched out to the two piles. He wore full battle dress of drab brown. Fifty bodyguards stood behind him.
The curious—shopkeepers and chariot captains, cooks and foot soldiers—flooded through the gate and onto the grass.
Obadiah whispered into Yedidah’s ear, “Where’s our daughter?” Hiding in the fort? Had Jehu’s men found her?
As people jostled for a place to stand, an old man stooped and shuffled toward the corner of the fort. A basket swung from his shoulder to the rhythm of “Fish. Fresh fish.” Obadiah gasped. “Look, dear. It’s—” But the fishmonger waved goodbye and faded from view. Obadiah rose on tiptoe. Farewell, old friend.
As General Jehu scanned the crowd, Shiphrah and her husband pulled Obadiah and Yedidah behind them and stood tall. Obadiah’s hands shook.
The general called to the assembly, “I’m the guilty one. Not you. I conspired against my master and killed him.” He tapped the heads with his sword. The swirling clouds lifted then settled again. “But who killed these?”
Yedidah whispered into Obadiah’s shoulder, “How could you be friends with such a monster?”
Obadiah spoke into her headscarf. “We planned defenses together. Not as if we…”
The general sheathed his sword and raised a hand. “The Lord has carried out the words he decreed through his servant Elijah. Pay attention. Not a word the Lord said concerning the house of Ahab will fall to earth.”
Obadiah whispered in Yedidah’s ear, “That’s how to blame murder on the Lord.”
As the general raised his chin and marched into the fort, he paused and poked at a pile with his sword. A head rolled off and settled with its gaping mouth to the sky.
Jehu’s bodyguards followed him in. People milled near the gate and eyed the two piles. The general’s show was over. Did he intend to leave the heads to the dogs slinking at the edge of the crowd? Obadiah let a loud breath. One more issue beyond his control.
Shiphrah and her husband led them home. As they reached the ladder to Shiphrah’s veranda, a woman leading a donkey loaded with onions waved from the path. “Terrible, wasn’t it?”
“Horrible.” Shiphrah raised a hand in polite reply.
Obadiah breathed out, “Oh, Lord!” Shiphrah and her husband treated them well. But this house sat in public view.
Twilight shifted to darkness.
In the quiet of the night, on Shiphrah’s veranda with her family, Obadiah turned to Yedidah. “Where’s our daughter?” Yedidah took a long breath. “She married a resourceful boy.”
The ladder rattled against the parapet.
Had Jehu’s men discovered them?
Taanach – Jezreel Valley, Israel
Seventy heads, Jehu’s speech and slaughter – 2 Kings 10:1-17
Taanach Village, Megiddo-Beitshan Road, Jezreel Valley, Israel
Obadiah pushed Yedidah into Shiphrah’s darkened doorway. “Stay back.” He touched the dagger at his side.
The only light came from a tiny slice of moon. They should have pulled the ladder up onto the veranda. Obadiah snorted. As if Jehu’s men needed a ladder. Why hadn’t he moved Yedidah and their daughter to Kishion years ago?
Shiphrah put a finger to her lips. The children backed into her, hands covering their mouths.
Her husband tiptoed toward the ladder, circling his field hoe overhead.
Obadiah crept beside him. Better to face his enemy on the ladder than on the veranda. How many feet shuffled below in the dark? He cocked his head and called into the night. “Who are you?”
The bushy brows and large nose of Gever, Obadiah’s son-in-law, rose over the parapet.
Shiphrah’s husband swung for his head.
“Wait.” Obadiah grabbed for the hoe but missed.
Gever dropped to the ground, and the hoe clanged against the parapet.
Obadiah shoved Shiphrah’s husband aside and pounced at the empty ladder. “Where’s my daughter?”
Yedidah scurried over and gripped Obadiah’s arm. “Gever?” She stared into the night. “Son?”
Gever’s voice rose from the dark. “Please, ma’am. Your daughter’s with Zak. I have a chariot waiting for you in the ravine.”
Obadiah shook Yedidah off. “Where are my guards?”
Her fingers dug into Obadiah’s wrist. “We’re glad to see you, son.”
Gever rose above the parapet. Sweat and dirt covered his brow. Cautious as a cat, he glanced at the hoe in the dim light.
Yedidah nudged Obadiah toward the ladder. “Let’s go. Thank you, Shiphrah, for hiding us. For the food. The rug. The robe.”
“Our privilege, dear.” Shiphrah held the ladder for them. “Go. Go.”
When Obadiah reached the ground, he cupped Gever’s shoulders and whispered, “Where’s Zak taking my daughter?”
“Zak’s not mentioning destinations, sir.” Gever led them along the path. “The chariot’s in those bushes.”
Obadiah scowled. “How’d you escape the fort?”
“Zak hid watchers by the tunnels. When General Jehu’s guards walked away from one tunnel, we left.” He pulled apart a tall pair of Abraham’s balm bushes and revealed a chariot and a team of horses.
Obadiah and Yedidah stepped into the chariot, and Gever drove along narrow trails hidden from the fort. Crickets sang. No breeze cooled them, and only the crunch of chariot wheels on gravel cut the warm night.
Obadiah wiped sweat from his palm and rested a hand on Gever’s shoulder. “These wheels ride smoother than mine. How’d you get your hands on a chariot?”
“When we got out of the tunnel, I followed Zak’s instructions, sir. I sauntered out to the chariot park and told the guard, ‘Urgent business. Authorized.’”
“Authorized by whom?”
“Zak also said to pray as I approached the guard. I did, sir. I prayed hard.”
Obadiah smoothed the front of his robe. Zak had done well tonight.
The fingernail moon had accomplished a third of its journey when Gever pulled into a patch of oak trees south of Mount Tabor.
Obadiah’s daughter and six-year-old granddaughter dashed from the shadows, laughing, black curls bobbing.
Obadiah stepped off the rolling chariot. “My girls!” He knelt and let them crash into him. Gathering their softness, he inhaled their familiar jasmine scent.
When the chariot stopped, Yedidah clambered off and leaned into father and daughters, stretching her arms to encircle her family.
Obadiah looked up at Gever’s prominent features with new respect and affection. “Well done, Captain.”
Zak led a group of horses into the clearing.
“You worker of miracles.” Obadiah clasped him by the shoulders.
“Thank you, sir. A bubbler brought a message from Mika.”
“Mika! That little guy’s safe!”
“Still sad about King Ahab but glad to be on his way home.”
Zak hitched the reins of three horses to his mount’s blanket harness. “I sent two guards with horses, chariots, and silver to Kishion and Megiddo. They’re collecting Yedidah’s family and yours.”
Obadiah glanced at Yedidah and bit his lip. He should be grateful Zak was rescuing their families, but what about the wives and children of his bodyguards? Jehu’s men would hunt them down and wipe them out.
Zak swung onto his horse and answered Obadiah’s thoughts. “Two men have gone to bring the families of our bodyguards. Not a hoof left behind.”
“Seba and Jebus?” Those two had been friends of King Ahab all their lives, so they were in as much danger as anyone. “Did you check the kitchen or the stable?”
“When we asked in Harod, they were packed up and gone. No one will say where. Very tight-lipped village.”He turned his horse toward the river. “I hope you enjoy the climate in Jericho, sir. I sent word. Hiel’s expecting us.”
Gever – 2 Samuel 1:19 “the mighty”
39. Our Dwelling Place
An Oak Grove South of Mount Tabor
Jericho. Obadiah glanced at Zak and the horses. Had someone lifted Joshua’s curse? Hiel must be getting on in years. How could he receive this army of guests? No place by the river was safe from Jehu. Not Bethel, Gilgal, nor the fire-blackened stones of Jericho. He bit his tongue.
Obadiah’s driver pointed to a chariot. “I’m to take you and your wife on these wheels, sir. Gever carries your daughter and granddaughter.” He slapped the rail. “Rides good.”
As Yedidah stepped aboard, a flash of pain crossed her face. “I hope Hiel’s well. If we lost two children, I don’t know how I could face the day.”
Nightjars flitted around them, capturing mosquitoes and moths on the wing. As the chariot descended into the Jordan River Valley and turned toward the Salt Sea, an owl greeted them—hoo-hoo-hoo. The familiar smell of camel dung wafted from the trail, and a splash at the edge of the stream announced a night heron foraging for fish.
As Obadiah held Yedidah, he leaned against the bouncing chariot rail and spoke to the driver. “Remember when our little group fought to put Commander Omri on the throne?”
“We were very young, sir.”
“We learned to depend on each other.”
“Yes, sir. Trust. Then the king made us your bodyguards, and we carried two talents of silver to Shemer’s Hill.”
“There’s never been anything like us.” Obadiah wagged his head.
As the Bear and her Cubs faded, Gilgal fell behind. Next city, Jericho and their old friend, Hiel.
Obadiah rubbed his face. What a life he’d lived. Village boy, friend of the prince. They had fought and argued. A precious struggle, even if he had never directed Ahab into a right decision.
Now Zak had sketched a new life for him in some place he’d never dreamed. Obadiah guffawed. Could his chief bodyguard, master of plans and schedules, pin down a safe future?
The chariot driver started. “You okay, sir?”
“Never felt better.” He checked Yedidah. She leaned into him with her head fast to his shoulder, breathing peacefully.
He laughed again. “The Lord has been our dwelling place and will shelter us in our new home.”
The driver winked. “You’ve become a seer, sir, looking into the future.”
Obadiah started to clap him on the back, but the reach would have disturbed Yedidah. “I can’t see any farther than you can. But we both know we can’t drift beyond his love and care. Moses saw the future. ‘The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you.’”
The driver picked up the line. “‘He will never leave you nor forsake you. Don’t be afraid; don’t be discouraged.’”
Jericho came in sight. “Here we are, Yedidah. The City of Palms.” A chariot pulled out from the city and stopped in the intersection. Hiel descended.
Obadiah jumped down. “We haven’t seen you in far too long. How are you?”
“I’m in surprisingly good health, my brother.” He captured Obadiah in his enormous arms. “We heard Jehu seized the throne.” Hiel’s face held more lines than when last they met, yet his squeeze felt strong. “News filters through the hills and floats down the river. A few details drop off while new features climb on. Takes a day or two, but we learn what happens.”
“What do you advise?” Obadiah tipped his head toward Zak and Gever. “These are my family. My friends.”
“Well, don’t squeeze them into that tiny cave at Gilgal.” He rolled his head left to right. “My nephew’s very glad to be back from your Misliya cave. Says the ladies of Megiddo did their best to keep him alive, but he prefers the open sky.” Hiel swung an arm toward Jerusalem. “Let’s not wait here for Jehu’s patrol. Follow me.”
He stepped back into his chariot and led them through Jericho to a narrow track winding up into the hills. They rode through two tiny villages and into a third. Hiel stopped at a new limestone house. “We crossed into Judah back there. The border’s a line in the mind. But Jehu’s troops don’t patrol here, so you’re that much out of sight.”
He stepped down from his chariot. “I built this house and two others for the owner. He has rooms waiting for you.”
Obadiah leaned against the chariot rail. The rising sun showed several modest houses set among fig trees, apples, and pears. A roomy garden plot graced the front of each house. Goats stretched their necks through thorn fences and stole nibbles. “You’re building houses here in Judah?”
“My sons are. I show up every few days and give direction. We build for many in these hills.” Hiel ran his gaze over Zak, Gever, and Obadiah’s driver. “Your men look strong. And if they’ve been loyal to you, they’ll do honest work for me. We’ll start by putting up a house for your family.” He glanced behind them at the path. “But where are your bodyguards?”
Yedidah hugged Obadiah’s arm. “The guards have gone to fetch their families. And Biah’s family and mine. You might end up with a village of us.”
Weela-wee-ooo. A golden oriole floated a song in from a high branch of a sycamore while Zak nudged his mount in close to Obadiah and studied Hiel’s face.
Hiel scratched his beard. “Bring your families, ma’am.”
“Thank you, sir.” Yedidah leaned toward Hiel. “For your kindness.”
“When the rains start, join me in the Arava. I’ve friends in Oboth, where Moses camped. Solomon built a fine fort with those peculiar gates of his. Good water. Lots of sunshine. And a big spreading jujube tree.”
Obadiah pulled Yedidah into a side hug. “Winters in the Arava and summers in Judah. What more could we ask?” Yet he turned and stared upriver. Where were Jebus and Seba?
A smile lit Hiel’s face from chin to forehead. He pointed to the veranda. “Two families have been expecting you. They knew you in Gibbethon.”
Obadiah jumped from his chariot and laughed as he rattled the ladder against the parapet. “Who’s chopping onions? Mucking out stalls?”
Seba appeared on the veranda. “Biah!” Jebus moved up beside him. Then wives and children appeared.
Zak joined him at the base of the ladder. “Not a hoof left behind, sir.”
The Lord himself goes before you – Deuteronomy 31:8
The Lord, his dwelling place. – Psalm 90:1
Cannot drift beyond his love and care. – John Greenleaf Whitier
The Lord, his shelter. – Psalm 27:5