19. Burial

864 BC

The veranda of Gera, the grove manager, Samaria City, Samaria

Obadiah retreated from the parapet. He must have heard wrong. They couldn’t put Liev in the ground. Not right away.

Keren hadn’t heard his song. His sons needed his hand on their shoulders, his counsel in their ears. And the child who had dropped low in Keren’s tummy—Liev deserved to see, boy or girl?

Not yet. Let Liev grow old and totter among his grandchildren, then—then put him in the ground.

Obadiah hung his head. If only he could leave this nightmare behind. Get back to Yedidah and the kids. But, no! He gave his face a coarse slap. His place today was here by Gera’s side. Lord, help me to be a friend.

Bending over the parapet, he spoke to the neighbor who knelt by Liev. “My brother. Can you find us a large skin? We’ll need a clean place to wash our boy.”

A skin.” The man stood and measured Liev with his eye.

Zak,” Obadiah called, “send a guard with our brother.” Then he hefted a child in each arm. “Gera, I need you to take a boy, please.”

As a child passed over the parapet to Gera, the boy clung to his grandfather’s neck and softened his whimpers.

Gera carried the little squirmer to the ground, and Obadiah followed with the crawler.

Hodiah and Keren reached for the babies, choked back tears, and pulled the children to them.

When the neighbor returned, he spread a large mat of goatskins near the well, and the guard with him piled on several robes.

As Obadiah knelt by Liev, his frame shook, yet he raised the boy’s knees while Gera lifted his torso. They carried him to the well a few paces from the olive tree where this morning’s bluethroat sang.

With Liev lowered to the mat, Gera bent with hands on knees and howled a moan like a wounded dog. “My boy! My boy!” He had outlived his child.

Zak squeezed Obadiah’s shoulder. “We’re building up the fire. Warm water soon.”

We need cloths too.” Obadiah glanced at the fence. “And privacy.”

A row of neighbors stared, perhaps drawn by the gossip. Old men weaken and die. Young men die in war. But this man had died while out for pickled fish.

We’ll bathe our boy away from curious eyes,” Obadiah said.

Hodiah wiped her face. “The cloths are—” A sob cut her off.

The three-year-old escaped Keren’s lap, dashed over, and latched onto Obadiah’s leg. “Why won’t Daddy wake up?”

Obadiah crouched and hugged the boy. Wake up, Lord? Not yet please. It hurts too much.

Hodiah released the younger child to join his brother. She clenched her fists and clung to her daughter-in-law. They swayed and wept in each other’s clutch.

The baby asked, “What wong wif Daddy?”

Obadiah spread his arms and looked to the boys’ mother.

She wiped her red-chafed cheeks with her palms and released Hodiah. Forcing a smile over her tears, she said. “Come to me, boys.”

They nestled in her open arms and peeked out like baby chicks from the wings of a mother hen.

Keren pulled her mother-in-law’s head to her shoulder and looked down at her sons. “Wicked people killed Daddy, so he’s not going to be with us anymore.”

Obadiah held very still. The wisdom of a mother. So simple. Yedidah would appreciate these words.

Hodiah whimpered.

A call came from the gate. “Wailers?”

As he approached the man, Obadiah beckoned to Zak, who kept his purse. “We’ll need wailers and spices and a shroud. The best for our Liev.”

Gera rested a hand on Hodiah’s back. “The women here are good wailers, aren’t they, dear?”

Hands and voice trembling, Liev’s mother stood and wiped at her wet face. “Yes, but those cloaks are too short. We’ve got something better in the cedar chest.” She touched Keren on the shoulder, climbed to the living quarters, and returned with a linen sheet.

Obadiah draped the sheet over Liev and gave the robes to his guards.

Gera lifted the sheet to show Liev’s face. “I don’t want anyone watching. You, me, and Zak. We’ll clean my boy up and…”

That’s how it will be.” Obadiah raised an eyebrow to the guards. “Men, can you shield us?” The six bodyguards held the cloaks as a curtain between Liev and the onlookers.

While Obadiah held the sheet over Liev, Gera removed his son’s cloak and sandals, tunic and loincloth. He set the pile of clothing next to Keren.

The airy sound of flutes sent chills up Obadiah’s spine. Then came the wavering trill of long, high-pitched wails. Obadiah shivered.

First came the whimper of the older boy then the squall of the younger.

Keep the wailers behind the fence.” Obadiah’s voice broke.

Zak spoke to the women at the gate, and the flutes and wails settled into backdrop for the courtyard. He returned clutching a large sack. “Spices. The shroud’s on top.”

As Zak set a jar of warm water next to Obadiah, the three-year-old slipped away from his mother and squeezed in by the jar. “Why is Daddy on the goatskins?”

Gera hiccupped.

“Come here, little one.” Zak tucked the boy under his arm. “We’re giving your daddy a bath.” He lugged him over to his mother and returned with another jar of warm water.

While the guards sheltered them with a curtain of robes, Obadiah and Zak helped Gera clean Liev then wrap him in the long shroud. Onto each turn of the cloth, they scattered a layer of aloes mixed with myrrh.

As he came to the final turn of the shroud, a stabbing pain struck Obadiah in the belly. Gera and Hodiah would never see their son again. A few hours ago, Liev had been composing a song to his wife, but she would never hear him sing. She would struggle through each day without him. The crawler and the toddler would forget his face. The child in her womb would hear his name, a sound to dwindle off through the years.

When Liev lay fully cleaned and wrapped, Obadiah motioned, and the guards lowered their curtain of robes.

As soon as Zak opened the gate, neighbors and wailers filled the courtyard.

Gera threw his shoulders back and stalked into the stable. He brought out a spade and lugged it like a club over to the corner of the house. “Here.”

Groaning softly to himself, Obadiah fumbled around in the stable for a second spade. His father back in the village had dug a grave under the pear tree for Obadiah’s great grandfather. But Obadiah had arrived too late to dig his father’s grave.

As Obadiah emerged from the stable, Gera wiped tears from his cheeks and let out a guttural moan. With the spade in both hands, he stabbed the grass as if killing a snake, stepped back, stumbled, stood straight again, and pushed the spade into the earth with his foot.

Let me.” Obadiah stepped in beside Gera. “Zak, see what the guys can get to dig with from the neighbors.” Tears rolled into his beard. In Obadiah’s most terrible nightmare, he had never imagined digging this boy’s grave.

Gera let him remove pieces of sod then nudged him aside. “This is my job.” When Gera had cleared a rectangle of red dirt a hand wider and longer than Liev, Zak returned with spades. “Please, sir. Let me and my men do this.”

As neighbors and wailers crowded around, the guards dug the hole waist deep.

Gera stood at Liev’s head, Obadiah at his feet, and three guards on each side. The eight men carried him to the foot of the grave.

The three-year-old took a few steps toward his father’s shrouded form. Then, with his eyes big and round, he shuddered and ran back into his mother’s embrace.

His little brother cried with him.

The neighbor turned to Gera. “Here, I’ll take the boys with me for a while. This is not a sight for children.”

But Keren turned to him and squared her shoulders. “Thank you, but the boys are still their father’s sons. They’re not going to wonder all their days what happened to their father.”

I-I see.” As the neighbor backed off, the crowd pressed in around the open grave.

The men lowered Liev into the earth as Gera recited, “‘He that dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.’”

Gera straightened his shoulders and locked eyes with his wife.

Her face was pale, her eyes red. She wiped at her nose.

He lifted his hands to the lapel of his robe, and she seized the edge of hers. Around the courtyard, eyes followed their movements, and hands raised to robes. As Gera and Hodiah ripped their lapels open, the others tore theirs, and the two little ones by Keren flicked their hands in imitation.

Gera stooped at the pile of loose soil and dug his fingers in. Coming up with two fists full of dirt, he threw one on Liev in the grave and the other up onto his own head.

Close behind him, in imitation of Gera and of Job’s ancient friends, Obadiah threw one handful on the grave and one on his own head.

With the babies in tow, Hodiah and Keren followed. They threw dirt on Liev then onto their heads. The two children threw dirt into the grave and into the air.

The wailing subsided. Neighbors and wailers walked past the grave throwing handfuls on Liev and onto their heads.

Zak stepped toward the pile of dirt, but Gera took the spade from his hand. “This is the last thing I get to do for my boy.”

Obadiah’s chest ached. “Gera. Please.”

With shaking hands, in slow, deliberate moves, as guards, family, and neighbors waited in silence, the two friends stabbed the dirt and filled Liev’s grave.

As the soil mounded, Keren held a child by the hand. She released him to dab a cloth at her face, then wiped her mother-in-law’s cheeks. The older woman stood and rocked a baby as she wept on the younger one’s shoulder.

Keren turned her face up, and Obadiah followed her gaze. How could the sky still be blue? Why was the Lord not weeping with them? Ah, the goatskin kid. What do you want, Lord?

“If you hold back. If you don’t deliver those who are drawn unto death, about to be killed. If you say, ‘Look, I didn’t know’—doesn’t the one who ponders hearts see? He who holds your life, doesn’t he know?”


Background

He that dwells in the secret place …” – Psalm 91:1

Job’s friends throw dirt on their heads – Job 2:12

If you hold back…” – Proverbs 24:11-12

Leave a Comment