864 BC i
The Stables, Fort Jezreel, Jezreel Valley, Israel
Obadiah led a horse out of its stall and waited in the aisle.
The stable boss—the boy Ahab had slapped—to join him. He had grown as tall as Obadiah and owned full biceps and a thick black beard. “You’ll be back in a week, right?”
“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 and waited in the sunshine. “You, um—” He glanced at the early shoppers traipsing through the fort gate then lowered his voice for only the bodyguards by the chariot to hear. “You heard about the children in Jabesh?”
Zak looked up, his face like a thundercloud. “And the boy in Beitshan.”
Nodding in unison, the guards dropped their stares to the paving stones.
The driver knelt with his forehead resting against the ribs of a horse as he clipped a harness ring in place. He spoke quietly. “They also killed a man in Akko, sir. While his wife and children watched. Yesterday.”
He stood as the others closed in around the chariot. “I know those thugs belong to the queen, but somebody’s got to wake up and do something.”
Wake up? Obadiah squelched a scream. What are you saying, Lord?
The youngest guard approached Obadiah. He twisted the reins of his horse in his hands. “My father’s a bubbler, sir. Despises the Molochs and the Asherahs. If the queen’s men hear…” He bowed his head.
Obadiah leaned toward the young guard. Could Jezebel strike this close?
As the others collected around Obadiah, one slapped his knee. “That kid in the goatskin [Oops!ii] started it all with his ‘neither dew nor rain.’ Crops have failed. Herds are dying. And anyone with a drop of Jacob’s blood in him thinks he’s the voice of God, talking back to the king. If everybody’d just—” His face went white, and he turned to the youngest. “Oh! I didn’t mean…”
The youngest guard’s face flushed. “When my father feels the Lord’s thumb in his back, there’s no shutting him up.”
Zak gripped both men and gazed into every guard’s face in turn. “Now listen up. We all say our share of foolishness in a day. But in this group we protect each other.”
Obadiah’s muscles tightened. “Zak’s right. And we need to speak with the same voice. If we can.” He paused. Around the circle of guards, lips opened. Eyebrows shot to the sky.
With every face toward him, Obadiah asked, “Does a bubbler speak his own words or the words of the Lord?”
In the silence building around his question, 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. I won’t be surprised if any of us spouts off against that evil.”
Grunts of assent came from around the circle. Faces relaxed.
As Obadiah stepped into the chariot, he closed his robe against the chill. “Mount up. We’ve got olive groves to inspect.”
“The Lord go with you on the road.” The stable boss backed out of the way and waved.
In the once-green countryside, brown trees [Oops!iii] drooped beside fields of shriveled barley and wheat. A relentless, pale blue ruled overhead. After six hours under the cold winter sky, 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.
In front of the temple, a little girl fell.
As she hit the paving stones, a row of thirty-some children jerked to a halt with her, and a thick-set man poked her with his stick. He 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 down, he turned to Zak. “I’ll be a moment. Keep my guys with the chariot.”
The slave girl by the temple struggled to her feet.
Obadiah gawked. The child was covered in filth.
With a well-scrubbed smile on his face and ten bodyguards at his side, Ahab trotted down the palace stairs.
The little child took a step toward the alley, and the other children shuffled with her, bent over toward the chain. She clutched a ragged robe to her throat against the chill.
In a sparkling white linen cloak and purple headscarf, Ahab met Obadiah halfway between the threshing floor and the palace.
Obadiah gripped Ahab’s forearm. “The fort is calm. Jehu and Bidkar have everything under control.” 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 inspecting olive groves this week. On schedule.”
“Look who’s here.” The king turned.
Hiel, the leading elder of Bethel, emerged from the bodyguards.
Over the chariot rail, Obadiah’s six guards stole glances. The man’s large head sank between broad shoulders and seemed to turn without benefit of a neck.iv He stood shorter than most men, yet his thick, hairy arms opened so far that Ahab had once called him a gorilla.
“Hiel.” Obadiah grasped the man’s broad, callused paw. Back during the battle to seat Omri on the throne, when Obadiah was learning how to hold a weapon, Hiel had sent a javelin through the lungs of Tibni son of Ginath. Since then, Obadiah had chatted with Hiel during meetings of The Seventy.
Ahab grasped Hiel and Obadiah by their arms. “Hiel’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, have 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 bring Jericho across the border into Judah, so we’re shoring up our defenses.”
He patted Hiel’s cheek. “And we have this pillar of the community in Bethel to lead our effort. He’s to be thanked.”
From the top of his torso, Hiel sent up a weak smile. “Tha—um, glad to help, my king.”
Ahab turned his back to the chain of children and clapped Obadiah on the shoulder. “National defense, Biah. Send the kids to grandma for the week and take Yedidah with you. Enjoy yourselves in the sun while you help defend the nation. How’s Yedidah anyway? The kids? You’ve got to bring them up before the summer heat.”
A coldness formed in Obadiah’s chest. “Yedidah sends greetings.” Ahab refused to see the children chained in front of him. As if condemning children to misery in Jezebel’s temple wasn’t enough, he had to flout Joshua’s curse and run off at the mouth about Jericho.
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 to the temple facade. “You’re looking a little droopy, Biah. You need to wake up.”
Had Ahab just told him to wake up? Lord, what’s going on?
“Forget those boring old olive groves and take a minute to check out this marble I installed.” Ahab 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 the children’s 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.”
“The children? They like what they do.” Ahab shrugged and checked his manicure. “Once they get cleaned up and trained. We feed them right, you know. Don’t forget. Income from this temple buys chariots and troops.”
Obadiah squeezed his eyes shut. Ahab was feeding him double talk. No herdsman chained or starved goats or cattle. What had happened to the Ahab who smuggled pitas to a homeless child in a back alley? He should see these little ones up close.
Obadiah raised an eyebrow toward Hiel and touched Ahab on the wrist. “Please, my king. What goes on behind the temple?”
Keep the Lord’s anger bottled up – Amos 3:8
i The year is 864 BC.
__26 years ago, in 890, Obadiah was 8 years old. [Ch 01. Wrath] He is now 34.
__8 years ago, in 872, Obadiah took over olive oil production. Chapter 04. Basics
__3 years ago, in 867, Jezebel introduced her first Asherah temple.
__1 year ago, in 865, in Fort Jezreel, Elijah told Ahab, “Neither dew nor rain.”
iiOops! Kid in Goatskin? Not yet Brown tree s?Not yet.
iiiOops! Kid in Goatskin? Not yet Brown tree s?Not yet.
ivAs if he were a tortoise with a head which turned but never extended beyond its shell.