13. Sanctuary

13. Sanctuary

864 BC

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 marched in here and told the king ‘neither dew nor rain.’”i A big smile lit the farmer’s face.

Obadiah stood. “You were here? You saw that dash to the gate?”

“A thing of beauty how that knobby kneed boy dodged and danced with 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.

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, to the basement.

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. 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.”

They left 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 sanctuary of their apartment, Obadiah fit the key into the lock.

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

A pang of guilt touched him. He had neglected his father, but he would protect his wife and children. He opened the lock.

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 drying almond branches once covered with 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. 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 study Torah together?

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

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

He wet his lips. He could not go back to Keslote. Not even his mother encouraged his childish dream of hiding at home while the world went to pieces.

Yet, as the king’s man, 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 to the towers six times a day.

Holed up with his bodyguards, he would 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 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 were singing 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 heard—business, borders, silver. But I’m… I don’t know how to live in a world like this.”


Background

neither dew nor rain – 1 Kings 17:1

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

mixed their s and sh sounds – Judges 12:6

Before he had finished speaking, look, Rebekah came out… – Genesis 24:45

Heshbon – Numbers 21:25

iNot since that goatskin kid marched in here and told the king ‘neither dew nor rain.’” Elijah showed up 1 Kings 17:1 a few months ago. Drought is underway.

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