Previous: As King Omri followed them in, he announced, “I’ve got another wife for Ahab.”
Obadiah shied from the servant who hurried to him with a broom. Why had the gate guard whispered the old fishmonger’s “wake up”?
The servant swept up bits of grass and dirt fallen from Obadiah’s sandals, and the king stepped onto the newly cleaned spot of marble. “While you boys were racing, a messenger arrived from Edom. Old Jobab’s agreed to my proposal.” He waved an arm toward the window. “Trade along my southeast border. And beyond. This year we’ll dock ships in Eilat and next year sell olive oil in Bozrah and Ophir.”
A second servant held out 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. “Sorry.” Obadiah bent and scooped the cloth into the servant’s hand.
King Omri edged a red ceramic bowl of glossy purple grapes across a low marble table toward Ahab. “King Jobab is sending you his daughter from Bozrah to seal the deal.”
Obadiah turned toward the window. What was the wife count for Ahab—seven? 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 daddy talking. She can be a toad. 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 Keslote. 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. “Ah, the big one. After I land the Sidon alliance, we ship olive oil across the Great Sea at double the price, and King Ethbaal’s daughter becomes, not your wife number nine, but your queen on the throne.
Obadiah pushed away from the lattice. He didn’t belong in a palace. This conversation was between Omri and Ahab. “My king, I should tend to the horses.” And confront the gate guard about his “wake up.”
“Leave the horses to your stable boys, Biah. You’ve trained them well.” The king sat upright in a short, marble armchair facing the low table. “Get your bones over here.”
The king slid a cut-glass carafe of olive oil across the table. “I’m sending you to learn the olive oil business.”
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 those boys by forking out the stalls with them. 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. You don’t cook, but everybody says you’re the best thing that’s happened to our meals. Since I made you my purchasing agent, merchants utter my name with respect.”
Obadiah wiggled his eyebrows. “Thank you, my king. For your high regard.”
“My opinion comes from people in key positions whom I trust.”
“Spies.” Ahab slouched next to Obadiah in a matching chair.
The king ignored Ahab. He stood 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 it’s surrounded by olive groves producing oil a hundred amphorae every day. You’ll make my dream come true, boy.”
Obadiah jerked his head back. The king was setting him up for a fall. “Please, my king. I clean stables 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 about the Lord.”
“Have a grape, right-hand man.” Ahab held a bunch toward him.
Obadiah waved the grapes away. Ahab, whose only job was to be the prince, could not understand the challenge of each baby-step job the king had rattled off. The giant leap to the top of the olive business must seem to him like the natural next step for his buddy, Biah.
Obadiah cringed at the idea of mingling with the nation’s elders. “I’m a country boy, my king. I prune pear trees.”
King Omri stepped between him and the almond blossoms. “Well, country boy, first thing next week I’m sending you to Shemer’s Hill with two talents of silver.”
Keslote – Joshua 19:18
Jobab, king of Edom – Genesis 36.33
The Seventy Elders of Israel – Exodus 3:16, Exodus 12:21, Exodus 24, & Numbers 11:16
Shemer’s Hill – 1 Kings 16:24
Obadiah fell back against the doorjamb. A donkey loaded with two talents of anything would refuse to lift a hoof. Two donkeys. Or a mule. But why haul that much silver anywhere?
He wiped clammy hands on his robe as if he were seven years old again in Keslote. 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 Shunem.”
Obadiah’s chest had swelled. His father trusted him to carry silver.
But then his knees shook. The moment he left their village, thieves would take the shekels. He might survive, but his father would be disappointed in him. His shoulders sagged.
“Just act normal, Biah. No one will look twice at you.” His father had patted Obadiah on the head and turned him toward the door.
Act normal with a ball of silver bumping his ribs? Wicked robbers crouched behind every shrub. He put his head down and dashed past the house at the edge of Keslote.
But running would attract brigands lurking in the shadows.
He hunched over and slowed to a walk.
Thrusting his shoulders back, he glanced side to side.
Every boulder hid a bandit with an evil laugh, a long knife, and a bony arm reaching toward his father’s twelve shekels.
Obadiah fixed his eyes dead ahead and loped to the village of Shunem in record time. He fell through the cobbler’s door and shoved his father’s silver at the man’s chest.
A slap on the arm from Ahab jolted him back 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 hadn’t taken a serious look at an olive grove but was hauling enough silver to buy the place?
Obadiah stood on the threshing floor with six men. Their robes and sunburnt faces said farmers, yet he knew them as soldiers who had fought at his side in the campaign to make Omri king. They ate from one dish, warmed themselves at one fire, and slept huddled together against the cold. Long after they’d forgotten 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 all the 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. “Come get me when you’re ready to tack up. 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. Yedidah and his three little ones lay on thick rugs in the northeast corner.
Yedidah, the potter’s daughter in Keslote, 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 had not held her breath or opened 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 he would.” Then she laid her fingers on Obadiah’s wrist. “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. “We’ve never considered anyone else, son.”
Their oldest daughter’s eyes snapped coal black like Obadiah’s, and the younger two had Yedidah’s cinnamon brown. The whole family featured tight black curls and olive skin.
He stretched out on his back next to them, 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.”
Their oldest rolled on her side and propped her head on a hand. “How much is two talents, Daddy?”
“More than I thought I’d ever see.” He closed his eyes and let the sun warm his face.
“We’re back!” Zak called from down on the plaza.
With a grunt, Obadiah rolled to his feet. “I’ll help you tack up.” 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.
Obadiah moved from horse to horse, 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 a lot of wheels and rattled a few shafts. Got us the best of the lot.”
Obadiah tapped the driver’s shoulder with a fist. “Let’s get a harness on this pair and go haul our wheels up here.”
When Obadiah and the driver returned with the chariot, the five had bridles and blankets on their mounts.
Zak said, “We’re ready to ride out in the morning, sir.”
Obadiah stared at the ground for a few beats then looked up. “The king says we’re to haul two talents of silver with us.”
“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.
The six men converged on Obadiah.
Comments came fast.
“You’d need a mule.”
“Six guards? We’d need sixty.”
Obadiah threw his hands up. “Crazy, I know. But—”
“Wait.” Zak spread his hands.
“There’s five of us. Seven if we count Biah and the driver.”
The driver’s belly shook. “What are you counting me into, old boy?”
“Nothing you can’t handle, child. A donkey’ll balk if you load her with two talents of brick. But if you spread the load to two donkeys, they mosey right along. Two talents is about the weight of five or six little ones like those at my house.”
“Cheer up, sir.” The driver tipped up Obadiah’s chin. “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 strap it to me in a pack and ride like normal. Almost. When’s the last time you saw a man with a baby strapped to his chest?”
“So, we look a bit strange. But five of us riding next to your chariot—all strange together.” The youngest smacked his fist into his palm.
Eyes fastened on Obadiah.
“Get these horses in stalls with food and water while I tell the king we’re tacked up and ready to ride.” He ducked out of the circle, and the six waited at the stable door.
Obadiah returned. “King Omri thinks ‘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
Brigandines – Jeremiah 46:3-4
07. Delivering Silver Babies
Fort Jezreel, Jezreel Valley, Israel
Obadiah locked the apartment door and followed Yedidah and the girls through the hall. For the third time that morning, he reminded them, “I’ll only be gone a week.” They’d done a lot of hugging before they came out, so their goodbyes on the threshing floor would be short and formal.
In the kitchen, he lifted his arms overhead and threaded through the cooks. “Good morning, everybody. Keep those superb meals coming. They’re bragging about us up top.”
He paused and laid a hand on the shoulder of the Philistine child Ahab had fed in Gibbethon. The boy had grown to a man with arms too long for his robe. He chopped onions.
“Tiny pieces.” Obadiah said, “Remember, Yedidah likes onions chopped fine.”
As Yedidah and the girls started up the stairs and Obadiah reached the far side of the kitchen, a cook whispered, “Pardon me, sir. But the Lord says to wake up.”
Obadiah froze in mid-stride but did not turn or look. That was not the fishmonger, and I’m not crazy, or Yedidah would have told me. What are you doing, Lord? He mounted the stairs and followed his family through the courtyard.
The boy whom Ahab had slapped in Gibbethon stood at the stable door and pointed toward the threshing floor. “You’re all tacked up, sir.” Obadiah’s bodyguards waited with their mounts and the chariot.
“Thank you, my man.” Obadiah tossed him a salute.
Shafts of sunlight from behind the Gilead mountains sliced the last of the night sky. A breeze brought the aroma of fresh bread with smoke from the ovens, and a golden oriole sang weela-wee-ooo from deep inside an Absalom oak by the bakery.
On the threshing floor, Zak crooned a beddy-bye tune to a pack cradled in his arms. He helped Obadiah into the pack’s shoulder loops. “Looks good on you, sir. Let’s ride.” He climbed on his horse. [2,500 words] [454 more words if you wish.]iii
As Obadiah stepped into his chariot, he blew kisses to Yedidah and his daughters.
The girls waved furiously, while Yedidah raised her hand to her chin and wiggled her fingers.
King Omri strode out of headquarters and spoke for a moment with the captain of his fifty 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. Got it.” He gave the king a crisp nod and touched his driver’s arm. “Shemer’s Hill.”
As the king backed away, his fifty cavalrymen rode up behind Obadiah and the bodyguards. The youngest guffawed. “With these fifty along for the ride, we could pin the silver our robes and let it wink in the sun at all the robbers waiting in the bushes.”
Obadiah rolled his eyes. He took his chariot out the gate, rattled the planks over the moat, and turned south.
When the sun had risen halfway to the crest of the sky, Shemer’s Hill rose among the lesser ridges of Samaria. Oaks and acacias gave way to olive trees, and soon a wall of gray-green leaves bordered the path, with the sun rippling a silhouette of Obadiah’s chariot and trotting team.
Obadiah climbed the several switchbacks up the west face of Shemer’s Hill and rolled through the city gate while the sun was just shy of its meridian. He paused on the threshing floor next to a flail lying on a pile of chaff.
Hammers and saws drowned out any warbler, yellowhammer, or great tit which might have dared to sing. Stone cutters zinged long saws through limestone, shaping huge ashlars. Masons rolled each block on large wooden dowels and tapped it into place. Their wall formed a rectangle bordering the hill. King Omri’s dream was under construction.
After many long drinks from the wells on the hill, the cavalry conducted Obadiah and his bodyguards outside the wall to a plain little house of adobe on the north side of the hill. The cavalrymen collected in a park of Absalom oaks below the house. “We’ll spend the night here,” the captain said.
Obadiah and his guards approached the house.
A man with a coal-black beard untouched by white stood from his seat under an olive tree. “You must be from King Omri. Welcome.” He opened the door of the house. “Please. In here.”
As Obadiah and the others entered, he held the door. “An interesting way to carry silver. You can set the packs inside. I’ll weigh them later. Thank you.”
The guards and Obadiah rolled their eyes at each other in silence as they piled their packs in the middle of the room.
On the outside again, Obadiah paused. “Very good, sir. And where do we find Gera the grove manager?”
Shemer’s Hill – I Kings 16:24
King Omri’s battle for the throne – 1 Kings 16:21-22
The sons of Shamer; Ahi… – 1 Chronicles 7:34
i Jane Perfect choice for a variety of reasons
iiWhy was the room naked? – show it, Dave
iii [2,500 words] [454 more words if you wish.]