13. Sanctuary

He belonged with Ahab. Although he hated Baal and Asherah, his place was with the king.

He stood, cupped Tola’s cheek, and kissed his mother’s forehead. “Will soon be light. Better get some sleep.”

13 Sanctuary

864 BC i

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. The 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. Not since that goatskin kid [Oops!ii] marched in here and told the king ‘neither dew nor rain.’” A big smile lit the farmer’s face.

“You were here? You saw him?” Obadiah stood and looked toward the gate of the fort.

“A thing of beauty how that knobby kneed boy dodged and danced. Ahab’s bodyguards reaching for his heels.” The farmer turned toward a donkey hitched to a load of prickly pears. “He smashed into that cart. Then under, through a pile of fresh poop, and out the gate. Left the guards holding their loin cloths.”

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 like we fear the Lord, while the rest of the week we serve the gods of the Philistines.”

“Look out, lady!” Sandals slapped the paving stones.

Red-faced and sobbing, Yedidah stumbled past the cart of prickly pears and collapsed into Obadiah’s arms.

His shoulders tightened. “What happened?”

Swiping at tears, she stretched on tiptoe, and her whisper burst in his ear. “Boys. Little boys.” She grabbed his sleeve and hauled him out of the market, into headquarters, down to the basement.

He opened the kitchen door for her into an aromatic cloud of garlic, onions, and roasting mutton.

Shaking but silent, covering her mouth with a hand, she pushed a path through chattering cooks. The Philistine boy Ahab had fed in Gibbethon looked up from the fire he was tending, but before he could smile, Yedidah had passed him.

Obadiah followed. Yedidah was not sick. Had someone threatened her? He reached between dish washers. “Morning. Pardon us, please.” Bumped an elbow. “’Scuse.” As they left the kitchen, he shut the door on the thump of knives hitting cutting boards.

Yedidah took off, dragging him down 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 tight black curls bounce with her strides.

At the sanctuary of their apartment, Obadiah fit the key into the lock. A pang of guilt touched him. He had neglected his father, but he would not lose sight of his wife and children.

Yedidah jittered beside him with both hands pressed against her mouth and tiny sobs leaking through her fingers.

He opened the lock. Here is where he belonged. With his family. Not up on Shemer’s Hill. While everyone else on earth was perishing, Noah had rescued his family, and Obadiah would save his.

In one stride, she pulled him inside and leaned against the closed door. “Lock it.”

Obadiah clicked the lock. He’d chosen this apartment in the farthest corner of the headquarters 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 almond blossoms.

He embraced his wife then stood back and draped his headscarf across the back of a low marble chair.iii He held her shaking hands. “Tell me about the little boys.”

She squeezed his fingers. “People close their mouths when they see the king’s right-hand man.” She sat on the arm of the chair and shivered.

“Tell me.” Obadiah squeezed her palms.

“Children. 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 almond trees. His six-year-old son moved a pointer across an open scroll, and the voice of the lad’s eight-year-old brother came through the lattice. “‘Before he had finished speaking, look, Rebekah came out…’” How old were the boys who had died? Did they read Torah together like his sons?

Yedidah pulled a hand free and tugged at her curls. “In Jabesh.”

He raised his chin. Jabesh lay in high valleys beyond the river, where people mixed their s and sh sounds in a quaint manner.

If he had been with those little boys in their distant city, he and his guards would have raised spears against that thug. But he lived here in this apartment where he could embrace his wife and five children. He might trouble his heart for a six-year-old and an eight-year-old on that distant mountain, but he could not protect them.

“And another boy in Beitshan.” She groaned.

Beitshan lay in their valley. Yedidah and the kids had climbed with him to the northeast turret and 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’d been shouting at an Asherah official. Quoting 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 on the door and whispered, “Why did we ever leave the village? What were we thinking?”

Commander Omri had left them no time to think. In his struggle against Tibni son of Ginath, he needed Obadiah at the fort. Instinct, not intelligence, had directed Obadiah to this isolated corner at the end of the hall.

His mother’s voice was comforting, but there would be no going back to Keslote or to his childish dream of hiding while the world went to pieces.

Yet, the king’s right-hand man had options. “I’ll—I’ll stay here. With you and our children. Gera, my man in Samaria, can handle production and sales.”

He rubbed his arms. “We’ll be safe here. Together.” Every hour, patrols circled the fort, and fresh lookouts climbed to the towers six times a day.

He would hole up with his bodyguards and fight off anyone who tried to harm their babies. Those other families without guards—he couldn’t protect. But no one would touch his own.

Yedidah chewed at her bottom lip. “Ahab’s like your brother. 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 just know you will. We’ll be all right. We’ll pray. The Lord will protect us.” Yet, her eyes flew to his spear standing in the corner.

“Yes. Pray. The Lord.” He crossed his arms over his heart. Wake up? In his mind, an old man in Gibbethon shuffled down the street as a basket swung from his shoulder with the rhythm of his call. “Fish. Fresh fish.”

She cocked her head toward the ceiling and lowered her voice. “But Jezebel lives right here over us. Ahab could have been content with five wives. Especially Amiraiv from Heshbon. A wonderful girl. Why did he have to bring that witch from Tyre?”

Yedidah held up a palm. “Oh, I heard—business, borders, silver. But I’m just … I don’t know how to live in a world like this.”


Background

Ahimaaz – 2 Samuel 28:6

Fear the Lord but serve other gods – 2 Kings 17:1-41

Heshbon – Numbers 21:25

i This date is wrong. ( In 865, last year, Elijah told Ahab, “Neither dew nor rain.” In Fort Jezreel. )

iiOops! Too early for Elijah

iii Maybe have him note how the chair came with the apartment but he would still feel more comfortable with a goatskin seating pad like they use in his village.

ivAmira – Better name?

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