The veranda of Gera, the grove manager, Samaria City, Samaria
Obadiah retreated from the parapet. Put Liev in the ground?
Keren hadn’t heard Liev’s song. Little Eran and Zabad needed to feel his hand on their shoulders, his counsel in their hearts. And Liev deserved to see if the child who had dropped low in Keren’s tummy was boy or girl.
Not yet. Let Liev grow old and totter among his grandchildren—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 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 Zabad passed over the parapet to Gera, the boy clung to his grandfather’s neck and dampened his whimpers. Gera carried the little squirmer to the ground, and Obadiah followed with Zabad.
Hodiah and Keren reached, 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 piled on several robes.
As Obadiah knelt by Liev, his frame shook, yet he raised Liev’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 keened like a wounded dog. “My boy! My boy!” He had outlived his child.
“We need cloths too.” Obadiah glanced at the fence. “And privacy.”
Zak squeezed Obadiah’s shoulder. “We’re building up the fire. Warm water soon.”
A row of neighbors stared, perhaps drawn by 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—” A sob choked her.
Evan 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? The hurt is too real.
Hodiah released Zabad to join his big brother. She clenched her fists and clung to her daughter-in-law. They swayed and wept in each other’s clutch.
Zabad said, “What wong wif Daddy?”
Obadiah spread his arms and looked to the boys’ mother.
Keren 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 chicks from the wings of a hen.
“Wicked people killed Daddy, so he will not be with us anymore.”
Obadiah held still. The wisdom of a mother. So simple. Yedidah would appreciate her words.
A call came from the gate. “Wailers?”
As he approached the gate, 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 covered Liev with the sheet, 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. He shivered.
First Evan whimpered, then Zabad squalled.
“Keep the wailers behind the fence.” Obadiah’s voice broke.
Zak spoke to the women at the gate. The flutes and wails settled into a backdrop of sound. He returned clutching a large sack. “Spices. The shroud’s on top.”
As a guard set a jar of warm water next to Obadiah, Evan slipped away from his mother and squeezed in by the jar. “Why is Daddy on the goatskins?”
“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, Zak, and Gera cleaned Liev. Then they wrapped him in his shroud. With each turn, Obadiah scattered aloes mixed with myrrh over of the long cloth.
At the final turn, a searing pain stabbed him in the belly. Gera and Hodiah would never see their son again. Keren would struggle through each day without Liev’s song. Little Evan and Zabad would forget their daddy’s face, and the child in Keren’s womb would know only a name which dwindled through the years.
When Liev lay cleaned and wrapped, Obadiah motioned, and the guards lowered their curtain of robes.
The moment 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, lugging it like a club, and glared at a piece of sod by the corner of the house. “Here.”
Groaning to himself, Obadiah fumbled in the stable for a second spade. In the village, his father 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 at tears 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 neighbors have to dig with.” Tears rolled into his beard. In his most terrible nightmare, Obadiah 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 one 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. These eight carried him to the foot of the grave.
Evan took a few steps toward his father’s shrouded form. Then he shuddered and, eyes big and round, ran back into his mother’s embrace.
His little brother cried with him.
The neighbor turned to Gera. “Perhaps this is not a sight for children. I’ll take the boys with me for a while.”
But Keren squared her shoulders. “Thank you, but the boys have a right to know happened to their father.”
“I-I see.” As the neighbor backed off, the crowd pressed in around the open grave.
In a voice that filled the courtyard, Gera recited, “‘He that dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.’”
The men lowered Liev into the earth.
Gera straightened his shoulders then locked eyes with his wife. Hodiah’s face was pale, her eyes red. And she wiped at her nose. As Gera lifted his hands to his robe, she seized the edge of her own robe.
Around the courtyard, eyes followed their hands.
As Gera and Hodiah ripped a gash in their robes, the others tore theirs, and the two little ones by Keren flicked their hands in imitation.
Gera then stooped to the pile of loose soil. He threw one fistful on Liev in the grave and the other up onto his own head.
Close behind him, Obadiah imitated Gera. He threw a handful on the grave and one on his own head.
With Evan and Zabad 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.
Neighbors and wailers walked past the grave throwing their handfuls.
The wailing subsided.
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 heaved. “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.
Obadiah collected Gera’s spade and headed for the stable. “I’m awake, Lord. What do you want?”
“Rescue the perishing. If you hold back—if you say they’re none of your business, doesn’t the one who ponders hearts see? He who holds your life in his hand, doesn’t he know?”
“He that dwells in the secret place …” – Psalm 91:1
throwing dirt on heads – Job 2:12
“Rescue the perishing.…” – Proverbs 24:11-12