01. The Forcing of Wrath
A Village Near Gibbethon, Philistia
As little Obadiah ate breakfast on the veranda next to his young friend, Ahab, far above them, a hawk wheeled and banked. The sun touched no clouds. A good day for a battle. Maybe a head would roll. Back home, Yedidah, the potter’s daughter, would shiver when he told her.
As servers removed dishes of plump, sticky dates and plates of fresh, hot pita bread to the kitchen, Obadiah snickered and edged closer to Ahab. “What are you hiding?”
Ahab glanced around the veranda and slid his hand from his cloak. He showed an open palm. Empty.
Flashing a big grin, Obadiah reached for his friend’s robe.
But Ahab grabbed his wrist. He cut his eyes left toward his father, Commander Omri. Then right toward the bodyguards.
Obadiah snorted. Whatever Ahab’s game, adults were not to be alerted.
The adult in charge, Commander Omri, sat straight and cleared his throat. He enunciated each syllable.
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.
From around the veranda came soft amens.
While the commander laid out siege plans with his captains, Obadiah led Ahab to the parapet—a low wall of limestone extending above the stable around the living quarters. He reached for the ladder to the ground, turned, and blinked.
Ahab was sneaking flatbreads from the guards’ platter, slipping the fresh pitas into his cloak.
As he descended to the grass, Obadiah shot glances up toward the veranda.
Ahab came down and set off toward their hillock.
Heading toward the latrine on the far side of the village, Obadiah called over his shoulder, “See you at the sycamore.” A tingle touched the back of his neck. As soon as a thick shrub hid him, he crouched and checked on his friend.
Ahab sauntered toward their hilltop sycamore, but at the fifth house on the left he glanced behind him and ducked behind 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. Then disappeared behind a shed.
Heart pounding, Obadiah dashed to the shed and skidded to a halt. He froze. “What?”
A bone-thin child with dirt on his face cowered under his stare.
Ahab stooped and shoved flatbreads into the lad’s cloak. Except the cloak was Ahab’s. The sleeves, rolled triple thick at the cuffs, covered all but the tips of the boy’s fingers.
Obadiah grabbed Ahab’s arm. “Why the big secret?” His nostrils flared. He took in a noisy breath. His buddy had hidden this escapade from him.
Ahab drew himself to full height. “He’s Philistine, so you can’t tell anyone.” Grabbing Obadiah’s shoulders, he bumped him jaw to jaw. “Understand? Not one word.”
Three days later, with the homeless child shoved to the back of his mind, Obadiah led Ahab in a chase along the village path. He guffawed. “You’ll never catch me.”
“My grandmother could catch you and knock your skinny—”
A man with a basket slung from his shoulder came out the headquarters gate. In a creaky voice, he called, “Fish. Fresh fish.” Three or four days each week he sold bream and tilapia to the cook and gave pleasant nods to Obadiah and Ahab.
Yet, Obadiah slid to a halt and cringed. The fishmonger had replaced his familiar gap-tooth smile with a stare of cold steel.
Ahab slammed into Obadiah and laughed.
Without blinking, the fishmonger pointed a long bony finger at Obadiah. “‘How long will you sleep, lazy bones? Wake up.’”
Goosebumps slid down the back of Obadiah’s neck, but he snorted. “Who invited you?” Then scrubbed a hand over his face. His father did not approve of such words to an adult. Veering away, he rammed through the gate and pulled Ahab in with him.
“What got into Mr. Fish?” Ahab peeked with him out through the wrought iron.
As the man shuffled on, the basket swung from his shoulder with the rhythm of his call. “Fish. Fresh fish.”
Ahab crouched with Obadiah by the gate, his raven-black curls glistening in the sun. “Race you to the stable door.” He seemed to have forgotten the fishmonger’s strange act.
Obadiah forced the fishmonger out of his head. He searched the path and then dangled a small white stone in front of Ahab’s nose.
Ahab stretched toward the stable door.“For once in your life, try to run.”
The pebble dropped.
Obadiah flew along the path, his sandals slapping dirt and his elbow gouging Ahab’s ribs.
A gold and white hen squawked at the approaching danger and collected her chicks into the safety of a low-spreading fig tree.
As he shot between the stable guards, Obadiah raised his chin and thudded into the heavy wooden door the same moment as Ahab.
“I won. I won.” They raised their arms and pranced.
A red and brown rooster strutted from a bed of anemones, crowed twice, and swaggered with them.
While one guard leaned against the stable wall, the other grunted and unlatched the door.
Obadiah entered the homey aroma of hay and horse droppings.
A soft huh-huh-huh-huh greeted him, and smooth noses bobbed over stall doors.
Ahab crowded in beside Obadiah. “That bay mare from Akko. She’s mine.”
Obadiah laughed. “From Akko? That’s the one I want.”
Ahab marched straight to the seventh stall on the left, raised on tiptoe, and peeked in. “Where’d she go?”
“Oh, she’s out, sir.” A smooth-cheeked child, shorter and thinner than Obadiah or Ahab, stepped from the next stall and leaned a pitchfork against the wall. “The captain took her.”
“What captain?” Ahab slapped the boy then poked him in the chest, knocking him back against a post. “I never said anyone could take that mare.”
The stable boy put his hand to the bright red mark on his cheek. He stifled a whimper and wiped a dribble of blood from his nose.
Obadiah’s nostrils flared. Ahab carried food and clothing to a homeless Philistine child yet bullied their own stable boy. Obadiah yanked Ahab around by the shoulder. “Pick on somebody your own size.”
“Go jump in the sea.” Ahab grabbed Obadiah by the sleeve, swung him around, and aimed a fist at his chin.
Obadiah ducked and grabbed Ahab’s collar. “That mare’s no more yours than she is mine.” He smashed his friend’s face with the heel of his palm. The impact shocked his forearm, and he flailed his wrist against the pain.
Ahab grabbed at his nose, then gawked at the blood in his hand. Ripping Obadiah’s robe, he screamed. “Stinking Philistine pond scum!” He crunched his fist into Obadiah’s teeth.
Obadiah stumbled back and tasted blood. He touched his lips. His fingers came away red.
A stable guard burst in and seized him by the shoulders.
The other guard grabbed Ahab.
Ahab swatted at him. “What are you—?”
“Shush!” The guard pinched Ahab’s ear.
“Come along.” Obadiah’s guard dragged him out by the ear, past the spreading fig tree and the leafy bougainvillea. He shoved Obadiah’s nose against on the fifth rung of the ladder. The commander’s office waited at the top.
Obadiah jammed his hands into his armpits. “But—”
“I’m right behind you,” the guard growled.
Obadiah climbed, and the moment he stepped off the ladder, the stable guard jumped to the veranda beside him and latched onto his ear lobe. There would be no escape.
Two breaths later, Ahab stood next to him in the grip of the second guard.
Obadiah glared, and Ahab returned the look.
The guard led him to the center of the veranda, to a doorway into the main structure.
Weela-wee-ooo floated in from a high branch.
Obadiah twisted toward the call.
But before he could glimpse the golden oriole, the guard forced him through the doorway into a large, cold room. “In you go.”
Sandals scraped the stone floor and echoed off smooth-cut limestone walls. The door shut out the rustle of the breeze in the bougainvillea, but the song of the oriole floated in through the window.
From stone benches shoved against the walls, five bodyguards grinned at Ahab and him.
His guard propelled him forward. “We have something to show the commander.”
Three doors in the middle of each wall led off this central room. A bodyguard stood and disappeared through the 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.
“My. My. What have we here?” Commander Omri entered and wagged his head side to side. He stood taller than his guard, and white hairs streaked a beard trimmed to jut from his chin. He wore a dark gray cloak over a light gray tunic.
As the pressure eased on Obadiah’s ear, he thrust his shoulders back. Nobody got away with giving the commander’s son a bloody nose. The commander might chuckle while the executioner swung his broadaxe against Obadiah’s neck. But he would die proud, and his father would bury him under the pear tree next to his great grandfather. Yedidah and his parents would speak of him with respect.
“Chin up,” the commander snapped.
Obadiah tipped his head back, and Ahab followed.
The commander ran a finger over the blood drying under Ahab’s nose then squinted at Obadiah’s split lip. “‘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 a stable boy whimpering by the stall.”
“That’s it? Nothing more to report?”
The guard shook his head. “Nothing more.”
“Thank you. Return to your post.”
The two stable guards bowed and left.
The commander crossed his arms over his chest. “Why was the stable boy whimpering?”
Obadiah glowered. The guilt belonged to Ahab. But how could his friend feed a homeless boy in the alley then slap a stable boy?
Obadiah drew himself to full height. When the executioner’s axe sliced his throat, how long would he feel the pain before the world disappeared? He shook his head. Pain meant nothing. He had done right.
The commander shook Obadiah by the shoulders. “Did you hurt the stable boy?”
Obadiah’s mouth fell open.
“No squirrel in that tree.” The commander turned away from Obadiah and lifted his son’s chin. “Did you strike the boy?”
Obadiah edged closer to Ahab, so the crook of their arms nested together. His friend had never hurt anyone before. The excitement of their foot race must have spilled onto the stable boy. Ahab deserved only four or five blows 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 stable 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 the stable boy give you the bloody nose?”
“I did, sir.” As Obadiah touched his broken lip, his face burned. Words jumped into his throat ready to fly. You sneak food to that homeless kid, but bully—he bit back the words. He had promised silence about the Philistine child.
Yet, the stable guards hadn’t let him finish. He was already dead, with nothing to lose. Obadiah thrust his head high. “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. “Blithering idiot!”
“Enough.” The commander waded in. He gripped each by the nape of the neck. A pair of puppies. “Don’t spill your blood in here.” He steered them out and parked them by the ladder. “Down you go. Beat each other’s brains out in the grass and let me know who wins.”
As Obadiah shuffled down rung to rung, he massaged the wrist which had stiff-armed his friend. How could Ahab feed one child then slap another? And what did the fishmonger mean by “wake up”?
Obadiah and Ahab – 1 Kings 18:3
Israel army at Gibbethon – 1 Kings 16:15
who causes grass to grow – Psalm 104:14-15
“the low wall around the veranda” – Deuteronomy 22:8
Latrines outside the camp – Deuteronomy 23.12, 2 Kings 10:27
“How long will you sleep?” – Proverbs 6:9
The forcing of wrath – Proverbs 30:33