Mother had it right. Ahab needed him. He served the king. Although he hated the Baals, he was the king’s man.
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 almond 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.”
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
The Stables, Fort Jezreel, Jezreel Valley, Israel
Obadiah led a horse out of its stall and waited in the aisle for the stable boss—the boy Ahab had slapped—to join him.
The boy had grown into a man as tall as Obadiah. He owned full biceps and a thick black beard. “You’ll be back in a week, right, sir?”
“The Lord willing and if Syrians don’t attack.” Obadiah ran a finger along the top of the door jamb and winked. “And I expect you’ll have these stables free of dust.”
“Sir. Yes, sir.” The stable boss laughed. He led a horse out to the bodyguards waiting by the chariot. “You, um—” He glanced at the early shoppers traipsing through the fort gate then lowered his voice. “You heard what happened to the children in Jabesh?”
Zak looked up, his face a thundercloud. “And the boy in Beitshan.”
Nodding in unison, the guards dropped their stares to the paving stones.
The driver knelt with his head resting against the ribs of a horse. As he clipped a harness ring in place, he said. “They killed a man in Akko, sir. With his wife and children watching. Yesterday.”
As the others closed in around the chariot, the driver stood. “I know those thugs belong to the queen, but somebody’s got to wake up and do something.”
“Wake up” from my driver? Obadiah squelched a scream. What are you saying, Lord?
Twisting the reins of his horse, the youngest guard edged up by Obadiah’s elbow. “My father’s a bubbler, sir. Despises the Molochs and the Asherahs. If the queen’s men…” He bowed his head.
Obadiah leaned toward the young guard. Could Jezebel strike this close?
The others collected around them.
Zak lifted his hand. “Gossips who want only peace complain. They say too many think they’re Nathan rebuking King David. They want this young man’s father to keep his opinions to himself.”
The youngest guard’s face flushed. “When my father feels the Lord’s thumb in his back, sir, there’s no shutting him up.”
Zak gripped the young guard’s shoulder as he gazed into Obadiah’s face. “What’s your opinion, sir?”
Obadiah’s muscles tightened. “We need to speak with the same voice. If we can.” He paused. Around the circle of guards, lips opened. Eyebrows lifted.
With every face toward him, Obadiah asked, “Does a bubbler speak his own words or the words of the Lord?” In the silence, a horse lifted a foot and put it down, a harness strap creaked, and every guard held his eyes on Obadiah.
Zak cleared his throat. “Well, sir, I say no real man can see a baby burn and keep the Lord’s anger bottled up. We need to spout off against that evil.”
Grunts of assent came from around the circle. Faces relaxed.
Obadiah tapped the stable boss on the shoulder. “See you in a week.” He stepped into the chariot and closed his robe against the chill. “Mount up. We’ve got olive groves to inspect.”
“The Lord go with you.” The stable boss waved, and Obadiah and his guards rolled out the gate.
Brown trees drooped along the borders of withered up barley fields, and a clear blue ruled the sky. After six hours, Obadiah led his men through the gate of Samaria City and paused his chariot on the public threshing floor.
Across the plaza on his right stood the king’s palace. On his left, the marble facade of an Asherah temple.
And in front of the temple, a little girl.
She fell. As she hit the paving stones, a row of children jerked to a halt with her.
A thick-set man poked her with his stick and mocked — “Up, girlie. You’re almost there.”
Obadiah clenched his fists. He controlled stables, kitchen, and cleaning crews. Kept the books and supervised the olive oil business. Yet he could not touch Jezebel’s slave traders.
“Biah!” King Ahab called from his palace veranda.
Obadiah waved. “My king.” As he stepped onto the pavers, he turned to Zak. “I’ll be a moment. Keep my guys with the chariot.”
The slave girl struggled to her feet alone, and Obadiah gawked. Filth covered her. She clutched a ragged robe at her throat. The child took a step toward the alley, and the other children shuffled with her, bent over toward the chain.
With a well-scrubbed smile on his face and ten bodyguards at his side, Ahab trotted down the palace stairs. Wearing a sparkling white linen cloak and a purple headscarf, he met Obadiah halfway between the threshing floor and the palace.
Obadiah gave a quick glance at the slave girl then gripped Ahab’s forearm. “The fort is calm. Jehu and Bidkar have everything under control in the Valley.” He waved toward the gate. “Gera’s waiting for me to join him in the grove. I just stopped to let you know we’re on schedule. Inspecting olive groves this week.”
“Look who’s here.” The king turned his back to the chain of children, and his bodyguards parted to show Hiel, the leading elder of Bethel.
Obadiah had chatted with Hiel during meetings of the Seventy. His six guards stole glances. The man stood shorter than most, yet his thick, hairy arms opened so wide Ahab had once called him a gorilla. His colossal head sank between broad shoulders as if he were a tortoise, and seemed to turn without benefit of a neck.
Obadiah checked on the slave girl. She was moving toward the side of the temple.
“Hiel.” He grasped the man’s broad, callused paw. When young Ahab and Obadiah were still learning how to hold a weapon, Hiel had brought the battle to an end by sending a javelin through the lungs of Tibni son of Ginath. And Omri had taken the throne.
Ahab clapped Hiel on the shoulder. “He’s agreed to do the rebuild in Jericho. Biah, I want you to drive down there and bring me back a progress report.”
Obadiah stepped back. “Rebuild? My king, haven’t you heard the words of Joshua? ‘Cursed is the man who—’”
“Oh please. Don’t bend your nose out of shape over that old saw. People have been rebuilding the City of Palms right along. All we’re doing is sprucing up the looks of the place. Plus, King Jehoshaphat wants to move the Judah border to include Jericho, so we’re shoring up our defenses.”
He patted Hiel’s cheek. “And we have this pillar of the community next door in Bethel to lead our effort. He’s to be thanked.”
Hiel sent up a weak smile. “Um, glad to help, my king.”
Ahab clapped Obadiah on the shoulder. “Drop the kids off at grandma’s for a week and take Yedidah with you. Enjoy yourselves in the sun while your report helps defend the nation. How is Yedidah anyway? The kids? You’ve got to bring them up before the summer heat.”
“Yedidah sends greetings.” A coldness formed in Obadiah’s chest at his friend’s heartless chatter. Ahab refused to see the chain of children. Plus, as if condemning little ones to misery in Jezebel’s temple wasn’t enough, he ran off at the mouth about Jericho while he flouted Joshua’s ancient curse.
Obadiah took a step toward his chariot. “Sorry, Gera’s waiting for me to inspect—”
“Gera can wait. Come with us, Hiel.” Ahab steered them toward the temple facade. “You’re looking a little droopy, Biah. You need to wake up.”
Whoa! Obadiah stopped dead on the pavement. Lord, what’s going on?
Ahab tugged him along. “Forget those boring old olive groves and take a minute to check out this marble I installed.” He spanked a column and let his hand linger on the stone. “Top grade. Inside and out. Good as temples in Tyre or Zarephath. Maybe better. We can entertain guests from any capital in the world.”
Hiel scanned the facade. “Magnificent.”
Guests were to enter between marble pillars, but kidnapped children were driven into the alley beside the temple. As their chain scraped the paving stones, three slavers herded them. One led the column. A second strutted beside them. And a third followed, leading a camel hung with baskets.
“Please, my king, I don’t understand how the boys and girls behind this marble mean so little to you.” [Needs a hookii]
iNot since that goatskin kid marched in here and told the king ‘neither dew nor rain.’” – Yes! This is properly timed. Elijah showed up 1 Kings 17:1 a few months ago.
ii[Needs a hook]