Obadiah covered Ahab’s hand with his own. “I’ll notify the tribes, my king.”
Mount Carmel, Israel
Obadiah stood with Ahab and their bodyguards, surrounded with the murmur of the crowd at the south edge of the crest of Mount Carmel.
On Obadiah’s right, Elijah and his brother surveyed the crowd.
Directly in front of him, tribal leaders waved the banners of Gad, Simeon, and Reuben. On his left, the standards of Manasseh and Ephraim.
Obadiah stretched on tiptoe and steadied himself with a hand on Ahab’s shoulder. On the far north side of the crest, early light revealed the banners of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali. And on his right, against the dark blue of the Great Sea, the banners of Issachar and Zebulum.iii “They have honored your call, my king. Enough men to mount an attack on Edom.”
Ahab cocked his head toward Elijah. “Everybody’s here, kid. You can start your show.” He patted the top of a shoulder-high boulder.
The boy ran a hand through his scraggly beard and tugged his goatskin down over his knees.
Zak crouched, cupped his hands for the boy’s foot, and boosted and boosted him onto the boulder.
“Who’s that on the rock?” The call came from under Zebulun’s banner, a ship in full sail.
“Where’s Ahab?” came from a waving banner of Reuben.
The boy planted his feet and squared his shoulders. The goatskin had climbed above his knees again.
Obadiah tugged on his lip. These tribal leaders needed to see more than good posture.
In a strong voice, the boy sang out over the crowd, “How long do you plan to stumble between two opinions?”
Jaws closed. Heads turned.
Standing tall, the boy opened his arms wide. “If the Lord is God, then follow the Lord. If Moloch is God, then follow Moloch.”
Men answered not a word.
More, boy. Give us more. Obadiah crossed his arms over his chest, and his stomach fluttered.
The boy spread his hands to the crowd. “So, who’s real? Moloch or the Lord? A test. Let the real one answer with fire.” He pointed his lanky arm at the Moloch officials clustered behind the tribes Manasseh and Ephraim. “There they are. Four hundred and fifty. Let them butcher a bull and lay the pieces on the wood. But here’s the catch.” He drew out the words. “No fire.”
A low murmur swept through the crowd.
What did it mean? Obadiah reached for Ahab and again stood on tiptoe. Mouths were opened. Men glanced from face to face.
The boy called to the crowd. “We Hebrews will do the same. Butcher a bull and stack the meat. But without fire.” He swung his arm in a deliberate arc across the crowd. “You see the picture. Two bulls. And no one starts a fire.”
He turned to the gaping Moloch officials. “You call on your idol, I call on the Lord, and the one who sends fire is divine.” He took a step back on the broad surface of his rock.“How about it?”
Obadiah gripped Ahab’s arm. Did people understand? Would they agree?
Obadiah tapped Ahab’s shoulder with his fist. “There.”
Ahab pointed to a Zebulun banner on the right, where an elder yelled, “The real God. Fire.” Another stepped forward under Dan’s coiled serpent. “Fire! By fire!”
An elder of Ephraim on the far left picked up the word, and then fire-fire-fire-fire-fire rumbled in a low chant across the mountain top.
Ahab slapped his thigh. “What is this trickster up to?”
Obadiah pulled him close and muttered in his ear. “We’ll learn together.”
The boy called to the Moloch officials huddling at the edge of the crowd. “Do you black tunics know how to build an altar?”
They gawked at him.
He held up two fingers. Then one. “Remember? Two altars. One fire.”
Obadiah blinked. “I like where he’s going with this.”
Ahab growled, “If he ever gets there.”
The boy shouted across the crowd to the Moloch agents. “No flint, no pyrite. Got it? Those little idols you carve from stone. The ones that tell you which babies to burn? Ask them for a spark.”
He drew himself up to full height. “Since there’s four hundred fifty of you and only one of me, you get to supply both bulls. And since I’m in a generous mood, I’ll let you go first. It’s yours, boys. Build your altar, butcher your bull, and beg your baby-burning masters to light your fire.”
“They’re nuts if they go for that,” Ahab sputtered in Obadiah’s ear. “Moloch can’t make fire.”
“Moloch can’t make rain either,” Obadiah said. “But what choice do they have? If they refuse this boy’s offer, they’re out of business.”
Large stones rattled against each other as the black tunics rolled them into a rectangle and shot looks to kill at the boy in the goatskin. Branches cracked and snapped as they dragged them in and stacked firewood. Their bull bellowed then sank to his knees under their knife. They skinned him, cut him into pieces, and laid the meat on the firewood.
The boy yelled, “Stay clear. Let us see your hands. No flint. No pyrite.”
“How will they make fire?” Obadiah poked Ahab in the ribs.vi
Ahab shook his head. “I don’t care. I want rain.”
The officials called out, “Moloch, put your fire under our bull.” They twisted and writhed, gyrated and shouted.
The air sat still and dry while the boy imitated a few of their dance steps. “Nice moves, but I don’t see a spark. Not even smoke. Did your little stone gods go to the beach?”
The boy yelled, “Why do you call them ‘Lords of dew and rain’ when they only make dust and wind?”
Obadiah laughed. “If you’d hired the goatskin kid for court jester, we could have avoided this drought.”
Ahab sneered. “I need rain, Biah. Not jokes.”
The Moloch officials flailed their arms and jerked from side to side in a desperate frenzy, swinging their hair round and round. Their robes and headscarves lay strewn on the ground.
Shortly after noon, the boy held his skinny belly and laughed for the crowd. “Louder, boys. Louder! You couldn’t wake your gods with brass horns.”
They drew tiny lancets and sliced their skin, so their moves sent blood flying into the crowd.
Yet, as the sun passed its peak, the dancers leaped lower and stepped slower. They ground to a halt and slouched. Heads low, they sank to the ground.
On the raw meat of their dead ox, blood still glistened. vii
Ahab turned his back. “A useless game.”
Obadiah’s stomach knotted. Would the Lord send the boy fire?
Obadiah and Ahab – 1 Kings 18
The tribes’ encampment formation – Numbers 2:2
iDo the Elijah chapters update us on caves well enough?
iiDid I keep Elijah’s familiar lines from the Bible the same here as in his book? check.
iv Becca – Stopping here. Such great writing, as always! (this was the last line of that sub which she checked)
v This is not computing in my mind. What does this have to do with the real God? I think my confusion is because I am beginning at the end of a chapter. – EH
viBecca – I like seeing these interactions sprinkled through between Obadiah and Ahab. We could also get a few more thoughts from Obadiah, too.
vii The ox’s blood or the dancers’ blood? Or maybe.a combination of both?