“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?”
20. A Time to Mourn
Gera’s Courtyard, Samaria City, Samaria, Israel
Obadiah sat with Gera at the base of the ladder. The two men held the babies with Hodiah and Keren seated nearby. Obadiah’s guards formed a loose semi-circle around the family.
The courtyard hummed with greetings and condolences. From near the gate came the scratchy voice of old Jamin. “‘There’s a time to mourn and a time to dance,’ don’t you know?” The elder from Shechem peered between mourners across the courtyard. He rested his hands, his wrinkles, and his full, white beard at the top of a long, stout cane.
Obadiah handed the baby on his lap to Hodiah and stood. The few times he had heard old Jamin speak during meetings of The Seventy, elders had nodded in agreement. Why was he here?
The crowd opened before Jamin as he stumped along behind his cane. When he reached Obadiah, he tipped his head toward Gera’s little family. “This is ‘a time to mourn,’ and friends should not grieve alone.”
When Gera shiftedi as if to rise, old Jamin lifted a palm. “Don’t get up, young man. No offense, but I’m here to mourn your son and to speak to the king’s right-hand man.”
Gera sat back. “We’re honored. Thank you.”
Jamin lowered his voice and turned to Obadiah. “It’s an invasion, don’t you know?”
Gripping one hand with the other behind his back, Obadiah stood on tiptoe for a quick check of courtyard eyes and ears. “Invasion?”
A soft chuckle came from Jamin. “You’re wondering how much to consult with this old geezer. We’ve been invaded by agents from King Ethbaal. Tell me, do those who whisper of Asherah agents killing the Lord’s bubblers go mute when the king’s right-hand man appears?”
The elder from Shechem sounded like he’d been listening to Yedidah. Leaning in close, Obadiah spoke into Jamin’s ear. “You heard what happened in Beitshan?”
The elder flapped a hand but kept his voice low. “Beitshan, Jabesh, Akko, Ramoth, the villages of Jair.” He slashed a hand toward Gera. “This good man’s son right here in our capital. The queen murders those who speak for the Lord wherever she wishes, don’t you know?” Old Jamin drew up straight behind his cane. “Bubblers hide in hedgerows. Spouters of truth. Good men who can’t—who won’t—close their mouths against evil in high places. Some are children of my friends. They starve. Or die at the hand of the queen.”
Obadiah asked, “And how many more will refuse to keep quiet?”
Jamin tipped his cane forward and jabbed his finger against Obadiah’s chest. “That’s what the queen is asking, young man. And her thugs will hunt them down.”
A child rolled off Gera’s lap and toddled over to Obadiah’s knee.
Obadiah reached down and lifted the baby to his shoulder. Did the ancient elder grasp logistics? “I’ve got six guards. Should I send three to protect bubblers in Akko and three to Ramoth?”
The old man’s coal-black eyes flashed. “You’re asking the wrong question, don’t you know?”
Obadiah shifted from one foot to the other. “Some ask if all who contend against evil are inspired by the Lord.”
“And I ask if their words agree with our teachings of old—to put kidnappers to death.” Jamin patted Obadiah’s hand. “Take heart, young man. The Lord has not abandoned us. Our Moses will awaken.” Then he stumped off across the courtyard.
Rubbing his chest where Jamin’s finger had jabbed, Obadiah shrugged. Moses? Perhaps the elder from Shechem enjoyed too much melodrama.
Obadiah set the baby’s feet on the ground and let him cling to his fingertips while he guided him back to his grandfather. When the baby fell into Gera’s lap, Obadiah sat next to them.
“Hodiah?” A woman called from the gate.
Gera’s wife answered, “I’m over here.” She shiftedii the baby from her lap to Keren’s and stood. “Come on in.”
The woman in a mottled gray cloak hurried through. Her long black braid swung as she dodged mourners. She spoke to Hodiah. “It’s my aunt from Nakrab. She’s come to see your, um, guest. And she’s scared. You’ve got to make him help her.”
Before Hodiah could respond, the new arrival bent over Obadiah. “You’re the king’s right-hand man, aren’t you? We’ve heard so much about you. You’ve got to help this woman. She’s my aunt on my mother’s side, and she’s frantic.”
Obadiah flicked his eyes toward the ladder then the gate. He whispered to Gera, “Where can I hide?”
Gera smothered a laugh and gave Obadiah’s wrist a light rap. He set the babyiii in Keren’s free arm and lumbered to his feet. “Our friend will be glad to help our neighbors. Bring your aunt in.”
“Oh, she can’t come in. She’s afraid she’ll interrupt. So terrible what happened to Liev.” The neighbor lady stared down at Obadiah. “I didn’t dare tell her you would help. But you will, won’t you? I’m so glad you’re here.”
What’s going on, Lord? Obadiah gripped Gera’s hand and pulled himself up.
As he searched Hodiah’s face for a clue, the neighbor lady jerked his arm toward the gate. “You must hurry. My aunt is quite nervous.”
At the last second, Obadiah latched onto Gera’s sleeve and dragged him along.
Words flowed from his captor. “We all love my aunt, but she talks. I had to hide her at the back of the house, so the neighbors didn’t hear.” She pulled the gate open and led him through. “I didn’t know who might be listening and … and misunderstand.”
She pushed through the five rows of olive trees to the path and addressed the trunk of the ancient oak tree. “I brought the king’s right-hand man like you asked, dear. Obadiah, this is my Aunt Tilly from Nakrab.”
A shoulder covered in a dark gray robe appeared by the oak. Aunt Tilly peeked around the bark and edged aside her dark gray scarf to reveal wrinkles and straight gray hair. She wore a deep frown, and her eyes sagged in red, puffy rings which suggested thumb-sucking children who crowded as she caressed cheeks, stroked hair, and cooed, “sweet child.”iv
“Is this the king’s right-hand man?” She shrank toward the oak trunk, her arms tight to her sides.
Gera took a firm grip on Obadiah’s elbow. There would be no escape.
The neighbor lady sighed and stroked her aunt’s arm. “Yes, dear. The one who runs the king’s olive groves. It’s like you heard. He’s here mourning Liev.”
The aunt jerked her scarf back and stood clear of the oak. “Are you really the king’s right-hand man?”
Obadiah flinched and turned from her toward Gera.
Gera mouthed a silent, “Please.”
Then he pointed to the tracks leading through the trees to his stable. “Come, we’ll show you his chariot.” v
The aunt heaved a sigh. “No. No, I can’t. Too many people.” She captured Obadiah with her arms around his waist. “You’re who they say you are. I can tell.”
He leaned away. Like Hiel in Jericho, this frail person was going to come out with a story of a nephew or husband or cousin in danger.
Gera, instead of rescuing Obadiah shook his head.
Obadiah brushed at her arm as if it were an extraordinarily long cockroach.
Yet, she held firm and gazed deep into his face. “Please, sir. Is it true what the queen’s men did to the children in Beitshan?” Her grip tightened.
“Pardon me, ma’am.” He pried the aunt’s arms from his waist and shifted her hands to the neighbor lady’s arm. “How can I help you?”
“And in Akko? In Jair? In Jabesh?”
“What is it you need?”
“Because my … ” She peek up the path and down. “ … my son says the most terrible things about the Moloch’s and the queen’s brothels. He just won’t be quiet. And I’m so afraid for him.” [repeat?vi]
“Excuse me a moment, ma’am. Gera, come here.” Obadiah pulled his friend down the path while the neighbor lady kept her aunt from following.
Gera turned a quizzical face but let his feet shuffle along.
The aunt stared after the two men.
Obadiah clasped Gera’s arms and faced him. “I can’t do this. That poor woman thinks the king’s right-hand man can make the bad men go away, and you know I don’t have that kind of power.” He let his arms drop to his sides.
Gera took slow, even breaths. In. Out. Twice. Then he squeeze Obadiah’s forearms. “I think she knows you can’t make the queen’s enforcers disappear. But you can listen to her. Right now, what she needs from the king’s right-hand man is hope.”
From farther up the path, a graceful prinia trilled a rolling breep-breep, breep-breep,vii and from the courtyard, two dozen conversations buzzed through the trees. Tracks led through the trees to his horses and chariot in the stable. The neighbor and her aunt stood by the oak tree. Gera held him by the forearms.
Over Obadiah’s head, clear blue sky shone through the remaining leaves. “Okay, Lord, slow me down. Straighten me out.” He squared his shoulders and returned Gera’s stare. “I can do this.”
Gera punched him in the chest and escorted him back to the two women.
“You came back.” The aunt covered her mouth. She hadn’t gone completely to pieces. Yet.
Obadiah approached and hovered a hand over her. “Thank you for waiting, ma’am. ‘The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a hiding place in times of trouble.’”
“King David said those words, and he knew trouble. Know this. You are not alone. Important friends are working on a … a place. To hide your… I’m not at liberty to say more. You understand, secrecy is…”
Obadiah let his hand settle on her shoulder.
She pushed off from the neighbor and faced Obadiah with her hands clasped under her chin. “Oh, I understand, sir. I do. And with all you’ve got on you, I’m so grateful to have the king’s right-hand man looking into this for us. I’m sure everything will be all right.”
The neighbor ladyviii tightened her arm around her aunt. “I’m putting you in our spare room, dear, so you don’t have to climb that path back to Nakrab in the dark. Come. We have enough soup left for a cup or two.” With the back of her hand, she shooed Obadiah and Gera toward the courtyard.
Gera watched his neighbor and her aunt disappear around a bend in the path. “Did you catch where her son lives?”
“I didn’t ask. We’ve got to find a place to hide people.”
The courtyard crowd grew quiet. Although diligent munchers still found mutton on the spit by the well, if they searched the jar that once held pickled cucumbers, they shook their heads and moved on. The baskets of apples, grapes, and figs had all emptied, and the guard turned each one over. Yet he still waved his broom at curious goats and chickens.
As the sun neared the end of its daily arc, mourners leaked out the gate in little groups. Men came over to Gera, patted him on the shoulder, then ushered their wives home. The crowd grew thin.
A time to mourn – Ecclesiastes 3:4
Kidnappers – Exodus 21:16
?? – Why do you hide yourself? – Psalm 10:1ix
?? – Deliver the weak – Psalm 82:3-4
iShifted x 4!
ii I’m beginning to wonder if the baby-shifting is happening too much.
iii Yes. There is definitely too much moving of babies from person to person.
iv I’m not sure how puffy rings suggest that so specifically, They could mean she reads into the night or sews by lamplight or is awake worried all night which is plausible.
v I don’t understand what is happening in this moment. Why would they see his chariot? Oh, are they trying to act like it isn’t him?
vi Has this situation occurred before where someone approached him about hiding a bubbler? I remember it, unless this is the chapter I’m remembering. I’m just thinking there may be too much repetition on this. Maybe I’m wrong, but you could think through it to see.
vii I like this. Maybe you could keep this one, but let go of the one at the start of the chapter?
viii Perhaps do a count of how many times we refer to her this way and decide if there are so many that she deserves a simple name.
ix?? – Why do you hide yourself? – Psalm 10:1
?? – Deliver the weak – Psalm 82:3-4