21. Keren

21. Keren i

864 BC ii

Gera’s Courtyard, Samaria City, Samaria, Israel

Obadiah asked Gera, “How long did Liev manage olive groves?”

Gera pursed his lips. “Mmm … seems like he worked the groves with me for six years.”

Obadiah turned to Zak “You know, if Liev found woolly worm or black scale, he showed us. He never hid a problem. Wanted things to be right.”

“That’s Liev,” Zak said.

Keren gave a soft moan and released the child in her lap.

The little one slid offiii and marched straight to Obadiah, who nestled the baby against his shoulder. “Sometimes Liev led me far outside the grove—whether I wanted to go or not—to a hole where he buried diseased fruit he’d pulled off the trees. Liev was incapable of hiding a problem. He put everything out into plain sight.”

Gera lifted his chin and shifted toward Hodiah. “He even told his mother when he thought there was too much salt in the stew, didn’t he, dear? That boy couldn’t hold back.”

“Our Liev has a way of letting the truth bubble out.” Liev’s mother squeezed Keren’s wrist. “We can talk like he’s still with us if we want to, dear.”

Her face contorted in pain, Keren blurted, “Yes, we can. And I know how it happened.”

Obadiah leaned toward the two women. Until this moment, Keren had stirred only to tend to her children or to hug a friend. She had stuck close to her mother-in-law, her cheeks wet from weeping, her skin blotchy, eyes puffy. Holding back new tears that would flow if she didn’t have two babies to care for.

She turned toward Liev’s mother and father, and the three locked eyes.

Gera blinked.

Keren sat bolt upright. “I need to say this. The day before—” A sniffle stopped her. With a haggard countenance and a hand under the low bump that sheltered her third child, she shifted on the goatskin, took a breath, and began in a stronger tone. “The day before the queen’s men…”

Obadiah scanned the remaining crowd. What kind of danger was this girl causing herself and her family? Compared to her normal dulcet tones, this new, louder Keren was turning heads and raising eyebrows.

Yet her anguished voice washed over the courtyard like a wave. Chatter in the almost empty courtyard ceased. Guests tapped each other on the arm, and heads turned.

Obadiah put a hand on Gera’s wrist and held it there. His friend must be torn between pride in his daughter-in-law and fear of the queen.

Gera and Hodiah beamed at their daughter-in-law. Whether the queen’s spies watched or not, she was past warning.

Still cradling a baby in her arms, Keren set her jaw and raised her voice another notch, each word distinct and clear. “The day before the queen’s men killed my husband, it bubbled out of Liev and his friends about how the Lord hates Asherah.” She hiccupped. “Those boys were quoting Moses about smashing idols.”

As she glanced around the courtyard, pausing at faces, Keren’s eyes turned sober. “So, when my Liev saw that poor girl in the dirt.” She sniffled and wiped her nose. “He couldn’t hold back. He spouted off, like Liev does.” She beamed at her mother-in-law.

That’s our boy.” Hodiah’s neck flushed. Her voice had risen perhaps higher than she intended. She ducked and glanced around. Then she pursed her lips and shook her head, sat up wide-eyed and spoke more loudly than before. “Opens his mouth and spouts truth.”

“Truth.” The word came softly from somewhere in the thinning crowd. People glanced around then lowered their eyes.

Obadiah rose from the goatskin.

Heads in the crowd turned to him. Someone coughed. A bluethroativ sang gorgeous notes from an olive tree beyond the gate.

He handed a baby to Hodiah and stood. Liev’s widow had given them a grand speech. If she and Hodiah would let it rest, their family might live through the week. Perhaps he could steer them to a safer tone.v

Keren raised her chin. “I’m not done talking, Uncle Biah.”

Obadiah glanced from Keren to Gera. “Not…not done?”

Sorry.” She rocked the baby. “Maybe a woman isn’t supposed to… look, our perfect hatred of Jezebel didn’t keep the queen’s thugs from killing my Liev.”

Obadiah sat back down at the base of the ladder. The younger generation used to respect their elders. He eyed Keren.

“If you suspected he would run into killers, you would have sent guards to protect him. But even your six guards can’t cover all the bubblers. And, like the elder from Shechem said, that’s not the question.”

She pulled the baby up to her shoulder. “We’re not strong enough to kick Jezebel out, but we can help people. So, when the Lord’s man wakes up and gets people organized, we can protect good men. Like my Liev.”

Obadiah squirmed.

Gera placed a hand on Obadiah’s wrist and whispered, “Reminds me of Deborah talking to Barak.”

Barak! I’m no general. As Obadiah stared into the distance, two goatskins flopped on the paving stones next to him. Zak sat on one and pulled a young guard down to the other. “Tell Biah what you told me.”

The young guard sat motionless, his chin tucked to his chest

Obadiah narrowed his eyes. He’d just been squelched by young Keren, and now Zak was intruding. “Well?” Obadiah flung the words at him. “What is it?”

The young guard lifted his head. “A cave, sir. Hide people in a cave.”


Background

Smashing idols – Deuteronomy 12:3

Perfect hatred – Psalm 139:22

Deborah and Barak – Judges 4 & 5

i[Keren, Gera’s daughter-in-law, speaks up.]

ii[1. Tells how Liev was killed. 672 words]

iii This is a more natural shifting of the child than earlier when it was “pass the potato” style. EH

iv The bluethroat. I’m torn between liking its repetition as a circle from the beginning and thinking three bird references are too much for one chapter. EH

v[2. Declares the Lord’s man will organize people to protect good men like Liev. 241 words]

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