Blubbering and blowing, he pulled his face from the water. “Ruthie?” [How long ago?i]
26. A Few Blades of Grass
Obadiah strolled beside Ahab through the fort gate. The two wore their signature white robes and purple headscarves.
Ahab draped an elbow over Obadiah’s shoulder. “Come help me find grass.”
A hoopoe called from the turret then fluttered down and landed on an acacia by the road. The Jezreel Valley spread before them under the dawn.
Obadiah said, “One time I followed you out this gate, and you almost got us killed.”
“This time we’ll take guards,” Ahab replied. “We need a few more blades of grass. The herd boys have spotted the large patches. But if you and I find enough to feed another mule, I won’t have to butcher it.”
Obadiah leaned an elbow on Ahab’s shoulder. Did Ahab know Yeskah and Ruthie had smuggled fifty bubblers into the Misliya cave and perfected their feeding network? Had spies told him the father of Obadiah’s youngest guard was feeding another fifty in a Galilee cave? It would feel so natural to tell him how much silver from the royal treasury bought the food for both caves. But no king’s pride could handle that kind of talk.
Instead, he scowled at Ahab. “You know as well as I do that kid in the goatskin called this drought down on your head because of Moloch.”
“My head?” Ahab glared. “His is the head that will roll. You’ve never caught on to priorities, Biah.”
“And I never will. Not to what you call priorities. But I’ll help you find grass.”
Obadiah led the way back into the fort.
When the two friends came back out, they rode in chariots and were surrounded by bodyguards. Ahab leaned over his chariot rail to Obadiah. “See? Guards this time. I’ll search toward Beitshan while you find what you can on the way to Akko. Meet me back here when the sun’s high.”
Ahab turned east, and Obadiah west.
With his guards, Obadiah peered behind boulders, under knots of oaks and sycamores and into folds in the bank. They disturbed gerbils and hamsters, sand partridge and quail but did not find enough grass to keep a goat alive.
When the morning sun had climbed high over the Gilead mountains, Obadiah paused under the low spreading limbs of a gigantic oak. Water trickled from the base of Mount Carmel into a tiny meadow. “The most grass I’ve seen today. How many mules will this feed?”
Zak replied, “A few. But to save the herd, we need twenty like this.” He scanned the valley and then gripped Obadiah’s shoulder. “Look. The caravan. Over by the acacias.”
An endless column of camels plodded in from the coast road with huge rectangular bales bouncing beside their humps.
Zak rocked from foot to foot. “See those two boys in front of the camel puller?”
Obadiah turned. “Tall and thin? Solid gray headscarves?”
“Right. The first one. In the goatskin. It’s been a long time.” Zak gripped Obadiah’s arm. “Trust me, sir. You want to talk with that young man.”
Obadiah tapped the driver. “I do?”
Zak turned his mount to walk beside the chariot. “I was there. I heard him tell the king, ‘neither dew nor rain.’ You’d have loved it. The bodyguards jumped for him, but he flew through the market. I mean that boy had wings. His name’s Elijah. I just heard it the other day. The king’s spies dug it out, but nobody knows where he’s from. Yet.”
Obadiah gripped the rail. What was the goatskin kid doing in these parts? “The king will want to meet him. Briefly.”
As Obadiah’s chariot neared the boys, Zak leaned in from his horse. “That’s the one. He’s starting a beard, and see how his knees and elbows poke out from that ridiculous goatskin? Everyone in the market was laughing at him.”
The two young men paused and eyed Obadiah’s approaching group.
The camel puller passed them, and a few white wagtails flitted out from the acacias, then the flock flooded the path, darting and racing under the camels.
Obadiah announced, “I’m going to give this boy the royal welcome.” Before his chariot rolled to a complete stop, he jumped to the ground and made a grand, sweeping bow to the young man in the goatskin. “Good morning. Would your name happen to be Elijah?”
The boy spread his legs wide and brushed his headscarf back. His long, hooked nose commanded a thin line of scraggly black whiskers sprouting along a broad chin. He kept his eyes on Obadiah as he reached behind and pulled his friend up close. “You know my name, sir. I don’t know yours.” The accent was pure Gilead.
“My name is Obadiah.”
“Glad to meet you, sir.” His eyes darted over Obadiah and his guards. His feet shifted. “You wear the king’s robe and ride in his chariot.”
“I work with the king.”
The boy pulled in a deep breath then slowly released. “Can you bring me King Ahab?”
Obadiah pressed his lips together, turned to Zak on his mount and whispered. “He’s asking for Ahab. Are you sure this is the one you saw?”
Zak shrugged then jumped down, reins in hand, bringing his barrel chest and broad jaw on a level with the boy. “I was there. I watched the king’s guards chase you through the market.”
“Sorry, sir. I wasn’t looking behind me.”
“No, you sure weren’t.” Zak laughed then raised an eyebrow at the second young man. “Who’s your sidekick? I don’t remember him.”
“My brother. He joined me later.”
Zak bobbed his head side to side. A few gray hairs strayed from his scarf. “Well, both of you listen up. No one can bring the king. He does as he pleases. Plus, there something you need to know—”
Obadiah grabbed Zak’s arm. “Where are you going with this?”
Zak backed off from the boys. He handed his reins to a nearby guard, pushed Obadiah behind the chariot, and whispered in his ear. “Relax. This kid is the bubbler with the highest price on his head.”
Obadiah released his grip. “You’re usually so careful.”
“Trust me on this. These boys will not hurt us.” Zak patted Obadiah’s shoulders and returned to the two boys. He waited while a camel puller passed behind them. “He is cautious with good reason. You need to know, this is the man who hides a hundred bubblers from the queen.”
“Bubblers?” The boy shuffled back next to his brother. “But you…” He turned to the House of Omri insignia on the chariot.
Obadiah rested a hand on the chariot wheel. “Some things are not what they seem, son. I run the king’s business, but I feed those his queen tries to kill.”
The boy linked arms with his brother. “Sir, a few days ago the Lord told me, ‘Show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.’ That’s why I’m here. So, please bring Ahab.”
Obadiah went still. For three years, Ahab had talk about removing this young man’s head. He seemed determined to meet the king, yet he shouldn’t be left alone with Ahab.
“Listen, son, um, the king’s been searching for you. Every principality and kingdom swears they don’t have you. So, if I tell Ahab you’re here, and he finds an empty spot on the road… Look, if you want to talk to the king, hop in with me, and I’ll take you to him.”
“I’ve never ridden in a chariot.” He refocused on Obadiah. “I’d be honored to ride with you, sir. But, my business with the king has to do with this mountaintop.” He pointed to Mount Carmel. “I can’t think of a reason you should trust me. But as sure as I stand and face the Lord who commands angel armies, we will not move from this spot. We’ll wait right here for Ahab.”
Stroking his beard, Obadiah glanced at Zak then faced the boys again. “Well, young man. Let’s try this.” He pointed to the base of Mount Carmel. “See that patch of green under the oak with the low limbs?”
“That’s where Ahab will find us, sir.”
Obadiah tapped Zak on the wrist. “Take two guards and protect these young men while I try to fetch Ahab.”
As his chariot rolled toward the Jordan River, Obadiah nudged his driver. “That boy better not be playing games with me.” They passed Fort Jezreel. Beyond the Dothan cutoff, they found Ahab sitting under a dried-up fig tree.
“Biah.” Ahab called, ducking out from beneath the branches. “How much grass did you find?” He frowned as the chariot pulled up. “What happened to your other guards?”
“They’re with your goatskin boy.”
Ahab knit his brows. “Goatskin?”
“‘Neither dew nor rain.’ That day at the fort, the kid who left without saying goodbye.”
Ahab sputtered. “The goatskin boy. My people have been starving for three years. You should have wrapped that boy in chains and dragged him behind your chariot.”
Obadiah shrugged. “He says he’ll see you now.”
“He’ll see me?” Ahab’s nostrils flared. “The arrogant twerp thinks he can jerk my chain like I’m his pet lamb. I should have grabbed him by the neck that day he pranced up to me in the market.” Ahab raised an eyebrow. “Did he say when we’ll get rain?”
Obadiah pursed his lips. “Rain. The Lord told the boy to show himself to you, then the rain.”
Ahab climbed into his chariot. “Take me to this charmer.”
His horses wheeled around and galloped past Fort Jezreel.
Obadiah followed. “I sure hope you’ve got this one, Lord.”
At the low-spreading oak next to Mt. Carmel, Obadiah’s chariot rolled to a halt in a cloud of dust. He sauntered behind as Ahab stomped over to Zak and the two boys.
The boy in the goatskin grasped a root poking above the ground and pulled himself to his feet.
Ahab shook his finger in the boy’s face. “Troublemaker! You ruined our harvests.”
“Thank you, sir,” Elijah spoke in soft, clear tones.iv He “My king, you and your father destroyed our crops when you turned from the Lord and followed idols.”
Ahab’s face turned gray as ash.
The boy leaned toward Ahab. “I didn’t come to argue, my king. The Lord says to bring the tribes.” He aimed his long, bony arm up the mountain. “On Carmel. The fourth day of next week. At sunrise.”
Obadiah held his breath. Gideon and Saul had called the tribes together, but to declare war. Ahab would either laugh this soft-spoken youngster out of the valley or slice off his head.
Yet Ahab lowered his eyes under Elijah’s silent stare and took a step back.
The boy tilted his head. “And please invite the four hundred and fifty Moloch agents along with those four hundred Asherah officials Jezebel takes to dinner.”
Obadiah [BETTER BEAT?v] pinched his lips together. Where did this boy find his bravado? What was his interest in the queen’s goons? And how would he affect bubblers in hiding?
The boy raised his chin toward Ahab. “Don’t leave anyone out. Understand?”
Obadiah’s jaw dropped. Ahab acted like any junior officer who knew a dismissal when he heard one.
Obadiahxi covered Ahab’s hand with his own. “I’ll notify the tribes, my king.”
Gideon and Saul called the tribes together – Judges 6 & 1 Samuel 11
28. The Tribes Gather [Bible lines?xii]
The Crest of Mount Carmel, Israel
Obadiah stood with Ahab and their bodyguards, surrounded with the murmur of the crowd.xiii
Elijah and his brother stood on his right.
Tribal leaders directly in front of him waved the banners of Gad, Simeon, and Reuben. On his left were the standards of Manasseh and Ephraim. On the far north side of the crest, early light revealed the banners of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali. And on Obadiah’s right, against the dark blue of the Great Sea, the banners of Issachar and Zebulum.xiv xv
Ahab cocked his head toward Elijah. “Everybody’s here, kid. You can start your show.” He patted the top of a shoulder-high boulder.
The boy ran a hand through his scraggly beard and tugged his goatskin down over his knees.
Zak crouched, cupped his hands for the boy’s foot, and boosted him onto the boulder.
“Who’s that on the rock?” The call came from under Zebulun’s banner, a ship in full sail.
“Where’s Ahab?” came from a waving banner of Reuben.
The boy planted his feet and squared his shoulders.
Obadiah tugged on his lip. These tribal leaders needed to see more than good posture.
Oblivious to the goatskin riding above his knees, Elijah lifted his chin and sang out over the crowd, “How long do you plan to stumble between two opinions?”
Jaws closed. Heads turned.
Standing tall, the boy opened his arms wide. “If the Lord is God, then follow the Lord. If Moloch is God, then follow Moloch.”
Men answered not a word.
As Obadiah crossed his arms over his chest, his stomach fluttered. More, boy. Give us more.
The boy spread his hands to the crowd. “So, who’s real? Moloch or the Lord? A test. Let the real one answer with fire.” He pointed his lanky arm at the Moloch officials clustered behind the tribes Manasseh and Ephraim. “There they are. Four hundred and fifty. Let them butcher a bull and lay the pieces on the wood. But here’s the catch.” He drew out the words. “No fire.”
A low murmur swept the crowd. Mouths opened. Men glanced from face to face.
Obadiah squinted. What did the goatskin boy mean by “no fire”?
The boy called to the crowd. “We Hebrews will do the same. Butcher a bull and stack the meat. But without fire.” He swung his arm in a deliberate arc across the crowd. “You see the picture. Two bulls. And no one starts a fire.”
He turned to the gaping Moloch officials. “You call on your idol, I call on the Lord, and the one who sends fire is divine.” He took a step back on the broad surface of his rock.“How about it?”
Obadiah gripped Ahab’s arm. Did people understand? Would they agree?
“Fire.” On the far north edge of the mountain top, an olive-tree banner bobbed up and down. The tribe of Asher. “You got it right, boy. Fire!”
Obadiah tapped Ahab’s shoulder with his fist. “There.”
Ahab pointed to a Zebulun banner on the right. An elder yelled, “The real God. Fire.” Another stepped forward under Dan’s coiled serpent. “Fire! By fire!” An elder of Ephraim tossed back, “Fire.” Then a low chant rumbled across the mountain—fire-fire-fire-fire-fire.
Ahab slapped his thigh. “What is this trickster up to?”
Obadiah pulled him close and muttered in his ear. “We’ll learn together.”
The boy called to the Moloch officials huddling at the edge of the crowd. “Do you black tunics know how to build an altar?”
They gawked at him.
He held up two fingers. Then one. “Remember? Two altars. One fire.”
Obadiah blinked.xvi “I like where he’s going with this.”
Ahab growled, “If he ever gets there.”
The boy shouted across the crowd to the Moloch agents. “No flint, no pyrite. Got it? Those little idols you carve from stone. The ones that tell you which babies to burn? Ask them for a spark.”
He drew himself up to full height. “Since there’s four hundred fifty of you and only one of me, you get to supply both bulls. And since I’m in a generous mood, I’ll let you go first. Okay, boys? Build your altar, butcher your bull, and beg your baby-burning masters to light your fire.”
“They’re nuts if they go for that,” Ahab sputtered in Obadiah’s ear. “Moloch can’t make fire.”
Obadiah BEAT.xvii Moloch made neither rain nor fire. But if these officials refused the boy’s offer, they were out of business.
Large stones rattled against each other as the black tunics rolled them into a rectangle and shot looks to kill at the boy in the goatskin. Branches cracked and snapped as they dragged them in and stacked firewood. Their bull bellowed then sank to his knees under their knife. They skinned him, cut him into pieces, and laid the meat on the firewood.
The boy yelled, “Stay clear. Let us see your hands. No flint. No pyrite.”
“How will they make fire?” Obadiah poked Ahab in the ribs.
Ahab shook his head. “I don’t care how those birds do anything. I just want rain.”
The officials called out, “Moloch, put your fire under our bull.” They twisted and writhed, gyrated and shouted.
The air sat still and dry.
The boy imitated their dance steps. “Nice moves, but I don’t see smoke or sparks. Did your little stone gods go to the beach?”
The boy yelled, “Why do you call them ‘Lords of dew and rain’ when they only make dust and wind?”
Obadiah laughed. “If you’d hired the goatskin kid for court jester, we could have avoided this drought.”
Ahab sneered. “I need rain, Biah. Not jokes.”
In a desperate frenzy, the Moloch officials jerked from side to side, swinging their hair round and round, strewing their robes and headscarves on the ground.
Shortly after noon, the boy held his skinny belly and laughed for the crowd. “Louder, boys. Louder! You couldn’t wake your gods with a brass band.”
They drew tiny lancets and sliced their skin. They flailed their arms, flinging blood into the crowd. Yet, as the sun passed its peak, the dancers leaped lower, stepped slower, ground to a halt and sank to the ground.
On the raw meat of their sacrifice, blood—whether of the ox or the dancers—still glistened.
Ahab turned his back. “A useless game.”
Obadiah’s stomach knotted. Would the Lord send the boy fire?
Obadiah and Ahab – 1 Kings 18
The tribes’ encampment formation – Numbers 2:2
iBlubbering and blowing, he pulled his face from the water. “Ruthie?” [How long ago?]
iiiBecca – I like seeing these interactions sprinkled through between Obadiah and Ahab. We could also get a few more thoughts from Obadiah, too.
ivhad perched his solid gray headscarf in a roll over his tight black curls. No longer the meek and mild child by the acacias, he would see and be seen. He still wore the old goatskin which exposed his knees and elbows, but his attitude had changed.
vObadiah [BETTER BEAT?] pinched his lips together. What was Elijah’s interest in the Molochs and the Asherah goons? And how did his interest affect the bubblers Obadiah was hiding?
vii“Ride with me, Biah.”
viiiHe tapped the rail.
ixlooked straight ahead.
xObadiah [thought?] climbed in beside Ahab.
Under the giant oak, the boy and his brother watched the royal chariot bump along toward the fort.
xidragged his gaze away from the boy in the goatskin and
xiiDid I keep Elijah’s familiar lines from the Bible the same here as in his book? check.
xiii at the south edge of the crest of Mount Carmel.
xvObadiah steadied himself with a hand on Ahab’s shoulder. “They have honored your call, my king. Enough men to mount an attack on Edom.”
xviBetter BEAT – Obadiah blinked. “I like where he’s going with this.”
xvii Obadiah BEAT. Moloch made neither rain nor fire. But if these officials refused the boy’s offer, they were out of business.