16. Jericho

16. Jericho B4 Hiel.docx Obadiah 1947 words

Wait, please.” Hiel called.

He loped over to the chariot and tipped his huge head up toward Obadiah. “Come. Please come visit us in Jericho. It’s … it’s important. And, like the king says, bring your wife.”

16. Jericho

864 BC

The King’s Highway, Manasseh, Israel

Obadiah stopped his chariot at the Jericho junction as the sun brushed the mountains over Jerusalem. The odor of camel dung drifted from a caravan camped by the river, and a flock of sandgrouse skimmed in low over the sand, claiming the water’s edge for the evening. A nightjar gave an early call, chonk-chonk-chonk.

On the chariot deck, Yedidah rocked from foot to foot. “The City of Palms. I never thought I’d be here.” Their bodyguards reined their mounts in close to the chariot.

Obadiah pointed to several rows of withered palms and brown fig trees standing next to rows of green trees. “My guess is, the owners only have energy to carry water to part of their trees.”

He curled his lip at the piles of fire-blackened stones surrounding the city. Joshua had cursed the man who reset them, yet Ahab scoffed as if the old words had lost their value.

Shouts rose from the narrow street which led into the city. Two packs of curly-headed children kicked a ball. At this distance, the ball looked like the goatskins stuffed with rags which children kicked up the path in Keslote. On both sides of their contest, smoke trailed from dingy little houses thrown together from blackened stones. Beyond the city, the track disappeared up a gray-walled canyon toward Jerusalem.

A woman and two girls led five donkeys out of the city. With their heads bowed and headscarves draped, they passed Obadiah’s little entourage. The empty sacks and nets fluttering from pack boards may have carried onions or chickens to this morning’s market.

At a knee-high wall on the right of the entrance, a knot of men wrestled a block of stone up a ramp.

Obadiah stepped down and approached. “Good afternoon.”

A workman glanced up, turned, and called, “Hiel!”

Beyond the masons, a man strode out from behind a wall. His short legs and gorilla arms identified him as Hiel, the leading elder of Bethel, the man who dared to mock Joshua’s curse.

Weeks ago, Obadiah had decided to accept [tellingi] the strange man’s plaintive invitation and give a progress report on what Ahab called “the rebuild.” Although a sour taste rose in his throat at the sight of Hiel, Obadiah stepped down from the chariot to greet him.

Obadiah!” Weaving a path through fire-blackened rocks, Hiel hustled to the chariot. “Came to see if you could believe your ears, eh? Know anything about stone? I’ll put you to work.” He grasped Obadiah’s forearm with his ponderous paw. [He reached a ponderous paw toward Obadiah’s forearm. Obadiah shrank back, but then allowed ]

[iibuild up Obadiah’s emotions/feelings toward Hiel during the conversation portion]

Obadiah tried to return the squeeze, but his fingers failed to encircle Hiel’s sapling arm. “Well, you heard Ahab, how proud he is of this project. He’s been badgering me for a full, in-person progress report.” He turned to the chariot. “I brought Yedidah, my wife. This is our first time to see the City of Palms.”

“I’m honored by your visit.” Hiel bowed from the waist.

Yedidah stepped down from the chariot and joined Obadiah. “Thank you. It’s been a long trip, and I’m eager to see your work.”

Hiel looked away and cracked a knuckle. Then he swept an arm toward the wall. “The work proceeds a block at a time. We can see more in the morning.”

The sun had dropped behind the Jerusalem mountains, and twilight was creeping down the slope.

He waved at his crew. “That’s all for today.”

The workmen left the huge stone on the ramp and trudged into the city.

If we were in Bethel, I’d put you up at our house. But the best I can offer you here is Rahab’s Inn. The same food as The Joshua House, but fewer bugs.”

A sycamore tree at the third corner shaded two ugly little block structures on both sides of the street. Hiel’s workers entered the one on the right.

Hiel unfolded an arm toward them. “Walk with me?”

With Yedidah following in the chariot and the bodyguards on their horses, Obadiah joined Hiel for the hike to Rahab’s Inn.

Zak and the other guards stabled the horses and chariot while Obadiah and Yedidah followed Hiel up the ladder.

Rahab’s innkeeper eyed Obadiah’s group then disappeared.

While Hiel’s crew lit candles in sconces at the edge of the veranda, Yedidah asked, “Don’t they have servants?”

They eased onto the goatskin mats. Obadiah whispered, “Try not to think about when these were last cleaned.”

A cool breeze from Jerusalem brought the fragrance of poppies off the mountain. “An adventure.” Yedidah tweaked her mouth.

Hiel came in, and Obadiah patted the spot on his right.

Not the cleanest, but the food’s good.” Hiel lowered himself to the mat.

The aroma of butter and onions filled the room as the innkeeper and his sons entered with plates of steaming food. He poured white wine into their cups while a son set a large plate in Hiel’s hands. Fish smothered in barley and onions. Buttered squash on the side.

Hiel inhaled the steam. “Gray mullet. Sometimes they fry it.”

Yedidah accepted her plate. “This smells good. We rarely get river fish in Jezreel. If you don’t mind my asking, how did you decide to rebuild the walls of Jericho?”

Obadiah tipped his head toward Yedidah. I should bring you more often.

Hiel dragged his hands through his hair. He touched his spoon. Then cleared his throat. “Um, yes. The boy catches mullet and bream. Sometimes bream. Excellent fish.”

As Yedidah set her jaw, Obadiah grinned at his plate. Any of their five children could warn Hiel against trying to avoid their mother’s questions.

She flashed a smile at Hiel and tightened her fists. “It must be exciting to handle such ancient stonework.”

Hiel hung his head. “Ma’am, the day we dropped the first rock into the footing, my little Abiram died.”

Yedidah’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh no.”

The guards glanced wide-eyed at Hiel and shifted on their seats.

Obadiah laid a hand on Hiel’s shoulder. The man looks grotesque, but if you prick him, he bleeds.

I should have listened.” Hiel sighed. “A snotty nosed bunch had spread the word around Bethel that our first born was going to die.”

He tipped his head up. “You wouldn’t believe. Neighbor kids lined the fence and gawked at us. Said a fellow had named me as the killer—like I’m another Mesha of Moab.”

He opened a massive fist. “Does this hand look like it could kill a child?” [Biah response?]iii

Obadiah flinched. That hand had thrown a javelin through the heart of Tibni son of Ginath and could crush a grown man’s skull.

I can’t imagine how you and your wife must be hurting.” Yedidah stared at her food.

Yes, ma’am. Hurt. We had talked, you know, about our Abiram caring for us in our old age. He’d be the one to bury us someday.”

He took a breath. “I should have listened, but the king pays good silver. And on time.”

Obadiah rubbed at his mouth. Silver from kidnapped children.

So I asked a friend. ‘What’s this Joshua talk?’”

Yedidah smoothed her tunic. “A friend?”

He reads a lot. My friend starts with, ‘Well, there’s three interpretations.’” Hiel rolled his eyes.

Three!” Yedidah frowned. “How did—”

I pinned him down. ‘The words. Show me what Joshua said those five hundred years ago. I don’t care how many interpretations. What are the words, man?’”

Uh-huh.” Zak’s head shot up.

Yedidah deepened her frown and hooked an arm through Obadiah’s. “What did he do? Your friend.”

Oh, you’d have loved it. Took him days to borrow a scroll. Then he calls me in. Spreads it out, you know, and pulls a pointer out of a little cloth bag. Explains like I’m his pet baboon how the oil on our fingers stains the papyrus. And hands me the pointer. ‘Read it yourself.’”

Zak shook his head.

Yedidah gasped. “Why that—”

That’s what my wife said. He was testing, could I read. Well, I read it right out to him. ‘Cursed be the man before the Lord who rises and builds this city Jericho; he will lay the foundation in his first-born; and in his youngest son he will set up the gates.’”

Yedidah sighed. “But it doesn’t—”

Like I told my friend. Not a word about killing or dying. I’ve got a business to run.” He glanced at his crew. “And the king wants to hire me to stand these walls in place.” He jammed a fist on his hip. “Simple decision. I thought.”

Obadiah spoke just above a whisper. “But…?” [More Biah BEATS/thoughts?]iv

Hiel sighed. “‘Cursed.’ The word stands in plain sight. But I was looking at the king’s silver.”

The huge shoulders sagged, while the long arms went limp. “And our baby’s dead.”

Yedidah bowed her head and wept softly.

Obadiah reached to hold Hiel’s hand but settled for a thumb. Through selfish ambitions, his old friend Ahab had again brought death, this time to the child of the well-respected elder of Bethel. Who could stop him?

The veranda fell silent except for a candle sputtering in its sconce.

Hiel wiped clammy hands on his robe. “The words are plain. ‘…in his youngest son he will set up the gates.’ I don’t know what to do. Where to run.”

He shook his head and faced Obadiah. “But see, there’s something else. I know who you are.” v [Ominous BEAT SS]vi

“Who I am?” Obadiah leaned away from him.

That day behind the temple with those children on the chain, I saw you would defy the queen.”

Obadiah sat bolt upright. A few words from Hiel to Jezebel would turn his family into enemies of the state. vii


Background

In Ahab’s time, Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho. – Kings 16:34

Mesha of Moab – 2 Kings 3:27

Cursed before the Lord is the man who rises up and rebuilds – Joshua 6:26

City of Palms inhabited – Judges 1:16, 3:13; 2 Samuel 10:4-5, 2 Kings 2:4-5, 18

Rahab – Joshua 2

iWeeks ago, Obadiah had decided to accept – telling

ii Becca – If you build up Obadiah’s emotions/feelings toward Hiel during the conversation portion (it doesn’t have to be a lot, even just a few lines), I think the way Hiel surprises him will be even more surprising to readers as well.

iii Becca – Between these two portions of Hiel’s text, could you add a thought or subtle response from Obadiah to break it up?

iv Becca – This is the first we’ve heard a word or thought from Obadiah on this page. Maybe add some more of his inner thoughts or actions as the others talk above.

vJohn – In a couple of places I’ve deleted a paragraph space between Hiel’s dialogue. I don’t know if that’s correct or not. It seems that when Hiel’s continuing talking, without anyone else or any significant action occurring, that the current paragraph can carry on without a break for the new line.

vi Consider adding a second action beat here indicating more of the transition and maybe something that would leave Biah in doubt as to how to take what follows. Maybe something about the tone of his voice or something in his eyes, etc.

viiBecca – This definitely raises the stakes!

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