22. Pray

22. Do You Pray?i

Gera’s Courtyard, Samaria City, Samaria, Israel

864 BC ii

Obadiah raised a palm and shoved the young guard’s words back at him. “You can’t stuff people into a hole in the ground. You heard Hiel in Jericho. It’s narrow. Wet. Cold. No air.”

Zak nudged the guard. “Go ahead, tell him.”

The guard’s eyes were earnest. “There’s caves with air, sir. My father takes our family to explore them. On Mt. Carmel you’ve got the Kebara cave, the Tabun cave, the Jamal, and the Skhul. Over by Megiddo is the Misliya, and up in the Galilee, the Manot and the Qafzeh. Plus, my father talks of the Qesem cave on the Shephelah.”

Obadiah’s skin prickled. “Your father, you say.”

“Since I was three, sir.”

###iii

Obadiah stopped his chariot at the edge of the Megiddo market and felt beside him for Yedidah’s fingers. “We all know Yeskah. We’ve got to have someone like her we trust, and this is so closeiv to the fort. But are you sure she’ll help?”

“Yessie will help.” With one hand, Yedidah gripped the rail and with the other she shielded her eyes against the early morning sun. She rose on tiptoes and scanned the crowd.

“Fresh cantaloupe,” vendors called. “Hot roasted chestnuts!”

The aroma of baking bread touched Obadiah’s nostrils. Crows squawked from brown trees and watched for an opening to steal a pita. High on a distant thermal, a pair of common kestrels challenged a black kite.

Buyers fanned themselves against waves of heat as they picked over piles of pomegranates and peaches. By their feet, sparrows hustled for crumbs. Chickens clucked in their cages.

She sees us.” Yedidah waved furiously. “She has little Ruthie with her. By the cantaloupes.” Yedidah hopped from the chariot and ran to her sister with three bodyguards following. The two women hugged and put their lips to each other’s ears. The sister nodded several times and twitched smiles at the guards while her daughter clung to her side.

A boy approached Obadiah’s chariot and hoisted meat on a stick. “Mother’s roasted mutton with garlic and peppers.” A second boy lifted the corner of a light gray cloth from a basket. “Best almonds in Megiddo, sir. Hot from the fire.”

Zak dismissed them. “Maybe later, boys.”

Obadiah shook his head. “What was I thinking, Zak? I let Hiel’s dip into that scary little quarry make me forget. Our ancestors hid from the Midianites in caves. Plus, six hundred men in a cave watched David cut the tail from Saul’s robe.” Obadiah bounced his fist off his palm. “The Lord must have a cave for a few dozen bubblers. And when we find it, we’ll hide Hiel’s nephew.”

He held his breath while he played his gaze over the crowd. No Moloch or Asherah insignia. But his gang of guards would draw the attention of the wrong people. He descended to the pavement with two guards and tapped his driver’s arm. “We’ve got the whole world staring at us. Water the horses. We’re leaving soon.”

The driver walked the horses and chariot to the livery stable.

Arm-in-arm, the sisters and their guards made a path through the crowd to Obadiah.

Ruthie broke free and ran ahead, her black curls bouncing with her strides. She swung on Zak’s arm. “I know the cave, Uncle Biah. It’s the Misliya.”

Zak growled low. “Best not be talking about that kind of thing in this crowd, Ruthie.”

She lowered her voice. “It’s so scary. Reaches back under the mountain forever. Nobody goes there.”

Obadiah scratched his whiskers. How was he going to keep a secret with his chatterbox of a niece at his elbow?

When the sisters arrived, Ruthie moved to her mother’s arm. “I can buy the food for those men that Uncle Bi—”

Yeskah’s face went ashen. “No, baby. No. The queen’s men kill anyone they think is helping bubblers.”

She reached, but Ruthie bounced beyond her grasp. “Who’s going to suspect an eleven-year-old girl, Mommy?”

Obadiah stifled a grin. “Keep your voice down, Ruthie. People would wonder why one little girl buys so much food. You’d have the queen’s goons on you before the week was out.”

Yeskah winced and squeezed her eyes shut.

Tapping his temple, Obadiah paced a tight circle around the little group. Asking Yedidah’s sister to help buy food for his fugitives put her in enough danger. He hadn’t planned on surprises from her daughter.

Ruthie followed and tugged on his robe. “So, we get helpers, Uncle Biah. Everybody buys a little, and nobody notices.”

Ha! Who can you trust?” Obadiah’s words rushed out on their own.

Biah!” Ruthie’s mother stared at him slack-jawed.

Yedidah slid her hand over her mouth but couldn’t cover the twinkle in her eyes.

Friends, Uncle Biah. I’ve got friends who’d love to help feed your bubblers.” She swung around. “Don’t I, Mommy. Loads of friends.”

Her mother shook her head. “I’m not letting you get involved, Ruthie.” She gave a nervous giggle and exchanged glances with Yedidah. “She does have several friends. The way this petty dictator runs her gang makes Hummer Hobby look like a kitten. I fear for our freedoms if she ever came to power.”

Hummer who?” Obadiah asked.

Hummer. Hammur something. That old Babylon king.”

He pursed his lips. Hammurabi.”

That’s it.”

Yedidah snickered. “Sounds like her mother. Dishes it out without apology and takes it from nobody.”

Yeskah wrinkled her nose. “Look who’s talking.” She crossed her arms over her chest and frowned at Obadiah. “It’s too dangerous. I know people need to eat, but I don’t want to think about what those monsters might do to my baby.” She shuddered. “You can’t trust anyone.”

A boy of thirteen or fourteen strolled up to the guards. He held the two halves of a prickly pear skinned and speared on twigs. “I cleaned this prize for you mighty warriors.”

Yeskah’s neck flushed a deep pink. She kept her back to the boy and whispered to Obadiah’s chest, “See what I mean? A spy.”

Obadiah kept a straight face. His sister-in-law could see a baby burner behind any bush.

The boy thrust the fruit at Zak. “Please try one, sir. Strong troopers like you men enjoy the deep flavor we get only here in the Jezreel Valley.” After he sold Zak two for each person in Obadiah’s circle, the boy took his prickly pears to the next knot of people.

Yeskah watched him go. “That boy carries everything he hears straight to the queen.”

Obadiah took a long breath and turned to Ruthie. “Sorry, dear. Like your mother says, we can’t be too careful. A buyer must never know who else is buying. If the Asherah officials catch one, they’ll go from friend to friend and kill every one of you.”

Yeskah spit her bite of prickly pear on the ground. “Biah!”

He winced and rubbed his neck.

Yet, Ruthie’s eyes sparkled. She took her mother’s arm. “Right. We don’t know who to trust. So, we don’t ask anyone to help. We do like old Samuel.”

She stared up at her mother. “You remember. The Lord said, ‘I will send a man.’ The way Daddy tells it, old Samuel pulls a pomegranate off the tree and while he’s getting juice in his beard, up walks Saul.”

Ruthie shifted her gaze to Obadiah. “If the Lord can send someone to save the nation from the Philistines, he can find helpers to feed a few bubblers.” She parked her face in front of his nose. “Do you pray, Uncle Biah?”

Obadiah dangled the empty prickly pear stick from his fingers. “Do I pray? Um, well.” He cleared his throat. “My conversations with the Lord may lack the poetry of David or Solomon. Sometimes I ask him to listen in on my thoughts.”

Ruthie hunched her shoulders. “Was that a yes or a no? Do you pray?”

Obadiah sighed at Yeskah, “Little Hammurabi?” He took a long breath. “Yes, Ruthie. I pray.”

Then don’t look for helpers.” She swept her arm toward the courtyard of Elder Zillethai. “Ask the Lord to send them.” Ruthie took her mother by one hand and her Aunt Yedidah by the other. She beamed into Obadiah’s speechless face and beckoned to the guards. “Come on, guys. In close, so the entire market doesn’t hear Uncle Biah pray.”

As the guards closed in, Yeskah draped an arm around Ruthie’s shoulders and let a tear roll down her cheek.


Background

Hid from the Midianites in caves – Judges 6:2

Six hundred men with David in a cave – 1 Samuel 14:2

Hammurabi – the sixth king of the First Babylonian dynasty, c. 1810 – c. 1750 BC

Samuel & Saul – 1 Samuel 9:15

Elder Zillethai – 1 Chronicles 12:19-22

Squash – Jonah 4:6-10, 2 Kings 4:39

i [Obadiah finds unexpected help buying food for bubblers.]

ii[Scene 1. Obadiah’s young guard tells him of habitable caves.]

iii[Scene 2. When Obadiah and Yedidah ask Yeskah, her sister, to help buy food for bubblers, Yeskah’s 11-yr-old daughter, Ruthie, inserts herself.]

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