12. The Basics
Shuthelah’s Courtyard, Samaria City, Samaria, Israel
Obadiah accepted the tray from Elder Shuthelah and pushed the flat breads toward Ahab. “Your father’s dream. 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.”
Shuthelah winked at Obadiah then leaned into Ahab. “My wife wants to know if the queen really has fourteen hairdressers.”
“Hairdressers?” Ahab slapped his knee. “Her attendants hover and chirp, but I have no idea what they do.”
Hesitant chords of a lyre wobbled onto the courtyard. The notes clashed with the song of a yellowhammer in the oak tree.
Shuthelah stood. “My king, if you will excuse me, my grandson needs instruction on the lyre. Let my servants know what you need.”
Ahab gave a slow nod. “Your grandson’s music is interesting. Tell him to keep playing.”
As Shuthelah disappeared onto his veranda, 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 Sidon is our ally.”
More painful chords fell from the veranda. In the oak, a hoopoe flashed its barred tail but declined to sing with the wounded lyre.
Ahab looked side-ways at Obadiah. “The elder gave in to his curiosity, yet you’re quiet. Not on your usual quest for information.”
Obadiah dipped a pita in olive oil and spices then nibbled. “Can a man know more than he ought?”
Ahab sat up straight. “Well, you better know the basics, Biah. Survival. You can quote Moses and Joshua at me all you want. Those old guys don’t understand survival.” Ahab’s eyes grew large, his voice tense. “I’m surrounded.” He ticked them off on his fingers. “Syria, Edom, Moab, Ammon, Philistines. So, I need an ally.”
“An ally. Yes.” Obadiah clamped his mouth shut, set the cucumber on the plate, and aligned it with the other. A king, no matter who his friends, is still a king. 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 would change nothing.
“Out with it, Biah. Something’s been eating at your gut ever since you walked in. Spill.”
“Ha.” Obadiah flashed a grin. Whether with words or fists, he and Ahab had never held back from each other. Obadiah aimed the cucumber spear at Ahab’s nose. “What ally tries to install a squad of four hundred Asherah priests in Fort Jezreel?”
Ahab’s eyes shot wide open. “Ha!” Ahab jabbed a fist into Obadiah’s shoulder. “So she did, Biah. So she did. Only found room for thirty, so their mates camp by the north wall.
Biah wagged his head over their tray. “My daughter asked me a question. Not hairdressers.”
Ahab lifted a cucumber slice. “The girl with the black snappy eyes? What interests that child?”
“She asked, um, how Jezebel’s four hundred Asherah priests protect us from the four hundred thousand Syrian troops staring down from 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’s eyes. He had stepped close to the edge. “Have your spies told you the market day joke?”
Ahab raised his eyebrows. “Joke?”
“‘The sheep asked the wolf to protect it from the bear.’”
Ahab shoved the plate of cucumbers at Obadiah’s belly. “Cute, Biah. But my alliance with Jezebel’s father concerns business.”
“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 from—”
Obadiah jutted his chin. “Everyone at this end of the Great Sea gossips about the silver Jezebel’s father rakes in from his temples in Byblos and Cyprus.” Little children were hurting, and Obadiah was afraid of pushing his friend too far? Two pictures hung at the back 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 child with his sleeves rolled up.
He took a quick breath. “Your life’s worth more than bags of silver. You weren’t born to sing psalms in the morning and shove kids into brothels in the afternoon.”
Ahab set the cucumber on the plate. “You forget the basics, Biah. Troops and chariots require silver. Bags and bags of silver.”
A bitter tang rose into Obadiah’s mouth. Silver from kidnappings. Yet Ahab was not alone. While many Hebrews talked “fear the Lord,” they followed the gods of Syria or Phoenicia.
Obadiah took a deep breath. Neither he nor Ahab was ready to change. Time for a new topic. “So, my king, how is life with this new wife?”
Ahab dangled a folded flat bread over the olive oil. “You’ll never understand what marriage is for me. Yedidah grew up with you in our village, and you earned her respect. Her love. But my wives came as the seal on alliances. Compared to how Yedidah’s eyes light up for you, they don’t know I’m in the room. None of them. They never will. But they’re basic to the survival of our little nation.”
As Ahab spoke, Obadiah held steady eye contact with him. “You’re right. I’ll never understand.”
Obadiah’s driver came to the gate. “Twelve applicants for grove manager, Biah.”
“Thank you. Bring one in.”
With a quick nod, the man turned and jogged out.
“You want to hang around for this, my king? Twelve interviews. Three groves need managers.”
“Who knows? I might 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. Hire them and get back to the fort.” He crossed his arms.
“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 got to his feet. “Your next grove manager.”
Obadiah stood but did not speak. 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 face lit with a broad smile. “Good to see you again, Biah. I was glad to hear you’re hiring grove 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 the disgusting taste.
Merom jutted his chin toward the veranda. “Smells good. 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 took a step back.
Merom looked at Ahab, the driver by the entrance, and the guards lounging over the courtyard wall. He turned back toward Obadiah, opened his mouth, but said nothing.
Obadiah raised his chin. “I’ve got another appointment, and I’m sure you have a full schedule. My driver will show you out.”
Merom followed the driver out. At the corner, he peeked back from under his eyebrows.
Ahab edged up to Obadiah. “Why did you turn him away?”
“You forget the basics, my king.”
“Basics? The man’s been doing groves for ten years. Did I hear wrong?”
“You heard right.” Obadiah lifted his chin and spoke in a low voice. “‘Ten years at Shiloh. Every tree greener. More olives.’”
“So why not talk with him?” Ahab faced Obadiah and folded his arms.
Fear the Lord but serve other gods – 2 Kings 17:33-39