Fort Jezreel, Jezreel Valley, Israel
Obadiah brushed wet hair from his forehead. “Thank you, Lord!” He turned and opened his mouth to the downpour. The rains had returned two years ago, including early afternoon showers from the Great Sea.
His children stomped puddles on the headquarters roof, giggling and splashing.
Obadiah pulled Yedidah to him in a side-shoulder hug as their oldest daughter, twelve now, splooshed over to them, her black eyes snapping. “Daddy, tell us again about when the Goatskin Kid opened the sky.”
“Well, he’s not a kid anymore. Taller than Ahab. Beautiful beard. He goes by Elijah.”
The three girls stood back and let their two little brothers cling to Obadiah and Yedidah.
The younger boy tugged on Obadiah’s sleeve. “And fierce. Is he fierce?”
Obadiah held his son’s head in his hands. “Gentle as a kitten. Then Ahab boosted him onto a boulder, and the way he called to the crowd made me want to sing.”
His older son stepped back and fixed his eyes on Obadiah. “And you saw them kill the Moloch monsters.”
“I did. Terrible. I’m glad you didn’t have to watch.” Obadiah pointed an arm toward the valley. “The rain floated their corpses out to sea.”
The rain fell to a slight drizzle, misting the headquarters. Two elders with their children occupied far corners of the rooftop, well out of hearing.
A few feet from Obadiah, his sons sat and spun tops, while his daughters set up a board game.
iHe pulled Yedidah to him and whispered. “How many bubblers in our caves?”
“Ruthie insisted fifty is the limit in the Misliya.” She whispered her reply.
He sucked in a quick breath. “I didn’t realize how many had come to us. The Lord prodded me to hide people. But I couldn’t help one person until you and Yeskah made it happen. And Ruthie.”
“I send Yeskah a little pile of your silver when someone goes to Megiddo.”
She glanced at the fort gate below. “The blacksmith’s wife is part of the team. Old friends with Yeskah. They keep their bubblers in pitas and mutton.”
“And how many in the Galilee?”
She squeezed his arms. “It’s amazing. Twelve bubblers in the Qafzeh cave and a glorious team who feeds them.”
He held her tight and nuzzled her hair.ii “I have to leave.” Three weeks ago, he had listened with the fort commander to scouting reports. Syrian troops were mobilizing in Damascus, and their campfire chatter described the Jordan River approach to Samaria City.
A few days later, a runner popped into the fort from a group of fifty farmers trudging up the Jezreel Valley. Obadiah interviewed the runner.
Ahab had ordered his chief in Akko to bring fifty men to the capital. That week, a dozen more chiefs marched through with their fifties, leaving their farms in the middle of harvest.
Ahab needed Obadiah at the capital.
“I understand.” Yedidah’s voice vibrated his chest. She pushed back and looked into his eyes. “I’d love to keep you here, but there’s really nothing for you to do.”
A long peal of thunder reverberated from the towers and the old stone walls, rattling the fort at its foundations. Merchants stuffed cantaloupe into sacks, tied them to donkey packboards, and headed out the gate.
“Even the children talk of the invasion.” Yedidah wrung her hands and pressed into him. “Go to Ahab before you wear a groove in the floor with your pacing.”
He clung to her. The fort was the safest place he knew for Yedidah and the children. “Please, Lord, Ahab needs me. You’ve got to protect Yedidah and the kids.”
The next morning, Obadiah and his bodyguards took the Dothan road toward Samaria City. The hills—once sad and brown—glistened in greens from lime to emerald. Since Elijah executed four hundred Moloch priests, the winter rains returned and blessed the leaves of every growing thing from oaks to salt bushes.
On the first switchback at the base of the Samaria Hill, a rider called from behind, “Message for the king.” Obadiah’s driver and bodyguards swerved wide.
The rider passed them on the inside, his steed dripping sweat. As he touched heel to horse, one word sounded clear over hoof beats and the crunch of chariot wheels. “Syrians.” Horse and rider disappeared around the next turn.
“Hi-yah!” Obadiah’s driver waved his whip. His team leaned into the turn and came out at a fast trot.
Obadiah swiveled in the chariot. A rider in mottled gray emerged from the Tirzah valley followed by three riders wearing the coppery red of Syria. They would reach the city several beats after Obadiah.
The road snaked back and forth up the escarpment. At the city gate, stone pillars thick enough to shade a horse held timbered wings open to the road. On the narrow threshing floor, Obadiah’s chariot and bodyguards skirted piles of chaff and stalks. They entered the broad plaza and weaved through clusters of vendors and buyers haggling over chickens and melons. Troops posted around the palace glanced once then let his little group thread their way through.
At the foot of the palace stairs, guards cooled the back of a horse with wet cloths and held a bucket as he drank.
The rider stood on the terrace with Ahab.
Obadiah mounted the steps two at a time. “Three red robes from Tirzah are climbing the hill.”
The rider swept his arm toward the river. “They’re in the Jordan Valley, sir. Down from the Golan and across the Galilee.”
With a wave of his hand, Obadiah sent his chariot and horses across the plaza to the livery.
He turned to Ahab. “The Syrians are upon you, my king. Ben Hadad is attacking from the Jordan.” As boys watching the troops in Gibbethon—and dozens of times since—he and Ahab had quizzed each other on an attack from the river. Yet this was no drill. Whatever scenario Ahab chose, men would die.
The king dismissed the rider, who led his weary mount to the livery.
Obadiah said, “How many troops do you have here on the hill?”
“Close to seven thousand in the woods and inside the fort. And they’re eager to get back to the harvest.”
The buzz of conversation on the plaza fell away.
As Obadiah turned toward the city gate, sunlight flickered from the spear of a soldier leading three in coppery red uniforms. Where were their horses? Ah-ha. A deep glow warmed Obadiah from the inside. The scout had made them approach his king on foot.
Vendors, buyers, and troops stepped back and opened a path. Soldiers rammed the butts of their spears against the plaza pavers and iced the Syrians with their stares.
Ahab stood beside the balustrade, hid his hands in his armpits, and tucked his elbows into his sides.
Obadiah held his breath. These messengers would report to Ben Hadad that the king of Israel shrank from contact.
The Syrian daggers glinted in the sun. As they followed the scout up the steps, Ahab unfolded his arms and took the center of the terrace, his arms loose at his sides.
Obadiah leaned back against the balustrade. Good show.
The scout bowed to Ahab—“My king”—and stepped aside.
Stiff and straight, the Syrians lined up before Ahab. Square-trimmed black beards brushed their chests while they stole looks around the terrace.
“What does this son of Hadad have to say for himself?” Ahab crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes to slits.
The man at the center took one stride forward and tipped his head back. He recited in a high-pitched voice as if reading from an accountant’s tablet. “Ben Hadad says …”
Obadiah swallowed hard. The message would be a threat. In early lessons, Commander Omri had taught young Ahab and Obadiah the purpose of a threat—Ramp up the fear, so victims can’t think clearly to organize their defense, and the city falls with lower cost to you.
In those long ago lessons, Obadiah had stored threats on the same mental shelf as ladders and ramps—to be used or set aside in a siege with no danger to his own skin. Yet if these troops captured Fort Jezreel, they would shove his children into copper mines. Fear dried his mouth. Are you watching, Lord?
“Ben Hadad says, ‘Your silver and your gold are mine. And your wives and children, even the most handsome. All mine.’”
The threat could have come verbatim from King Omri’s lessons. The objective? To make the king shudder.
Instead, Ahab sneered. “Please inform Ben Hadad, ‘Whatever you say, my lord. It’s all yours.’”
With eyebrows bobbing, the messengers turned to one another then composed their faces still as stone as they followed the scout down to the plaza, their shoulders displaying the yellow-winged torch of Syria.
Zak leaned over and whispered in Obadiah’s ear, “What’s he mean—all yours?”
Ahab winked as if he heard Zak. “‘Answer a fool according to his folly …’”
Obadiah returned a crooked smile. “‘… or he will be wise in his own eyes.’”
Zak leaned back, and Obadiah propped his arms on the balustrade. Were they wise to mock the Syrian? If the Syrians closed in, Obadiah’s people could drink for weeks from Omri’s thirty-six cisterns. And a wall twice as tall as Obadiah surrounded the plaza, honeycombed with chambers full of grain and oil.
For those wanting escape, nine tunnels hidden among boulders and shrubs exited the hillside. Commander Omri had taught Ahab and Obadiah, when they besiege a city, do not guard the exits. Let those inside leave. So, instead of fighting you tooth and nail, they hand you their city. If Ben Hadad used the same strategy, he would keep routes open into the rolling countryside.
Yet, Moses had predicted when bottled up in a walled city and the tender, delicate man has nothing left to eat, he hides the flesh of his child from his wife. Kill their child, hide the body from Yedidah, and sneak bites? Obadiah shuddered.
With Ahab at his side, Obadiah spiraled up the stairway of an observation tower in the plaza’s northwest corner.
On the wall, they worked their way around piles of heavy rocks, smooth and uniform in shape, then rested their elbows on the parapet. No foreign troops occupied the nearby grade, yet far off toward the Jordan River, where the slope dropped into Tirzah Valley, out of sight from this tower, Syrian soldiers would be cutting branches for shelter. The line of Ben Hadad’s troops and supplies stretched from the back side of Damascus.
Obadiah nudged Ahab’s biceps. “A pincer move?”
Ahab shook his head. “Not enough of us, and I’m not pulling troops away from Jehu or Bidkar. If my father was right, Ben Hadad’s next threat arrives tomorrow.”
More of Elijah on Mt. Carmel in The Boy Who Closed the Sky, chapters 34-38
Invaded – 1 Kings 20:1-4
Ben (son of) Hadad, the title of several Syrian kings – 1 Kings 20-22
Fear as a siege tactic – 2 Kings 18:17-37
Answer a fool – Proverbs 26:4-5
Open escape routes – The Art of War, by Sun Tzu
Tirzah – 1 Kings 16:6-23
Citizen soldiers – Deuteronomy. 20:5-8, Amos 5:3, 2 Chronicle. 26.11, 2 Kings 25.19
Jehu and Bidkar – 2 Kings 9:25
Hide the flesh of his children – Deuteronomy 28:55iii
i Maybe start He held her tight and nuzzled her hair. Here?
ii Maybe start with this line? He held her tight and nuzzled her hair.
iii – I need to chart the ages of his children, so I know how old they are in each chapter. See 00 Characters.