28. A Life

28. A Life for a Life

859 BC

Fort Jezreel, Jezreel Valley, Israel

Obadiah stepped out the headquarters front door with Seba. “Can’t you take the singing?” They were hiding Mikayhu in the stable until they could sneak him into a cave. But maybe psalms would sound better in the kitchen.

“Singing’s not the problem.” Seba guided Obadiah to the threshing floor.

A stiff breeze blew through the open gate of the fort. Out in the valley, acacia trees waved lush and green. The sun, partway toward its peak, had melted into a buttery haze. Shoppers and farmers trudged through the gate on their way to market stalls across the plaza.

In the far left corner of the threshing floor, beside piles of straw and chaff, the bodyguards frowned at Mika and a friend. Mika’s cheeks were still innocent of whiskers, yet a beard threatened to sprout on his friend’s face. From a pack at his waist, Mika pulled a sword and presented the handle to his friend. “Strike me, Yotam.”

Yotam said, “Stop it, Mika.”

Obadiah gave a loud sigh. Obadiah and his guards had been careful not to speak of Mika in connection with the battle of Tirzah. They left it to the fort’s children to think Mika was a playful kid who liked to sing.

But this game made him hard to hide. Obadiah reached. “Give me the sword.”

Mika slid under his arm and pushed the handle of the sword toward Yotam. “Hit me with it.” Mika pointed to his forehead. “Here.”

“Go away.” Yotam’s face flushed red. “I don’t like this game. Sing something.”

Three young boys dashed up. “Can we play, Mika?”

“No game. Honest.” Mika wiped tears from his face, laid the sword down, and knelt in front of Yotam, folding his hands toward him as in prayer. “The Lord says if you don’t hit me, the moment you leave, a lion will kill you.”

Lion. Grrraaoh! Let us play.”

Obadiah’s hand went to his mouth. Lion. Was the Lord talking through Mika?

But Yotam’s face turned milky white. He glanced around with feverish, over-bright eyes and lurched into Seba’s immovable frame. “Easy, boy.” The stable boss stroked the child’s shoulders as he would a nervous horse.

Obadiah tugged on an ear. The Lord couldn’t be in this. The child’s imagination taken him too far. Obadiah lunged for the sword.

Mika dodged him and gripped Yotam by the wrist. “Strike me.”

The boy knocked Mika’s grip free, squeezed past two farmers and their donkeys in the gate, and hammered the plank bridge with his feet. The farmers stopped and stared as Yotam flew to the bottom of the grade.

“No, Yotam! No-oo.” Mika clutched the sword. “A lion…” He sagged by the gatepost.

At the bottom of the grade, Yotam turned toward Beitshan and loped out of sight behind a small grove as if he’d never heard ‘lion.’

Obadiah scratched at his face. He should have made public proclamations. ‘This lad presented the attack squad for the battle of Tirzah. Do as he says.’

The three young friends dashed after Yotam to the foot of the grade. Mika rose and shouted, “Grab him. Don’t let Yotam go!” Then he collapsed in a heap and whimpered.

Obadiah yanked him to his feet. “What’s going on, Mika?”

Please, Uncle Biah.” Mika pressed his palms against his cheeks and planted his feet wide. “Can you make Yotam come back?”

Obadiah jerked his scarf off and combed his fingers through his hair. The Lord had sent Mika with the message which guided Ahab to victory at Tirzah. But this lion talk? Mika had cracked.

The three young friends turned and trudged up the grade. One giggled and kicked at a pile of straw. “Your lion better be speedy, Mika. Yotam’s half way to Beitshan.”

A deep roar came from the road. Followed by a scream.

Obadiah flinched.

The three young boys huddled together by the pile of long, wooden flails.

Mika rubbed his wrists. “Oh, Yotam! I’m so sorry, Yotam.”

Farmers, shoppers, and bodyguards thundered across the planks, collected on the gravel apron at the top of the grade, and buzzed with questions.

Zak pushed through. He lifted a hand to shield his eyes from the sun, jogged down the grade, and disappeared around the corner toward Beitshan.

Obadiah strode out to the apron and waited with his guards. A woman leading a donkey loaded with cantaloupe and pomegranates tugged on his sleeve. “Who got hurt? What happened?”

Zak reappeared, tears glistening on his cheeks. He climbed the grade with Yotam’s bloody form stretched across his massive forearms. The child’s head and feet swayed with Zak’s steps.

Obadiah brushed the woman off. He met Zak on the grade and walked beside him.

Mika left his sword and dashed out to the gravel apron. “Oh, Yotam! Why didn’t you listen?” He reached toward the dead boy but withdrew his hand.

On the threshing floor, the three friends huddled, watching and shaking.

The crowd followed Zak into the fort.

Give me something to cover this boy.” Zak knelt at the center of the threshing floor and laid the dead child on the pavers. Obadiah knelt with him. “Where can we find his father?”

The crowd pressed in, gawking and muttering. A woman gasped, “Yotam!” She forced her donkey’s lead line into the hand of the woman beside her, then dashed out the gate.

Seba pushed through and handed Zak a cloak. Obadiah helped spread the cloak over Yotam’s mangled body.

The Lord wants you to strike me.”

Obadiah stood. Why was Mika still playing this terrible game? What’s going on, Lord?

At the far end of the threshing floor, behind the flails, Mika extended the sword to his three young friends. Faces white, breaths fast, the boys flattened against the locked door of the bakery.

“Mika, stop.” Obadiah weaved a path through the crowd. “Put the sword down.”

Mika laid a finger on his forehead and lifted the blade. “Hit me here.”

One boy pushed him away. “You’ll get us killed.”

Obadiah stood on tiptoe to see over two men.

A second boy, eyes round as saucers, grabbed the sword. “Remember, you asked for this.” He whacked Mika’s head with the flat of the blade.

Oh!” Obadiah ducked.

Zak gripped him by the arm. “This is no game, sir.”

Mika staggered and wiped at the blood running down his face. He pulled a white scarf from his pack. “Thank you, my brother. Please tie this over the cut.”

The friend sniffled, but he knotted the scarf and slipped it over Mika’s head. Blood continued to drip.

Obadiah straightened and wagged his head in a slow, side-to-side sweep. How had tender Mika produced such horror?

Mika raised a corner of the scarf. “Thank you.” He wobbled out the gate and down the slope. But instead of heading toward Beitshan, he rounded the curve toward Megiddo.

Obadiah tapped Zak’s shoulder. “Keep everyone here.” He crept between trees to the edge of the path and hunkered behind the thickest bushes. Confronting Mika to take his sword had solved nothing. Maybe by spying he could get a handle on the boy’s strange actions. How had his pack produced that cloth? Why he was going to Megiddo?

With the clip-clop of many hooves, Ahab’s chariot and fifty mounted bodyguards rounded the curve.

Mika pulled the scarf over his eyes and stepped into the center of the road, blood dribbling from his chin.

Obadiah rubbed his arms. Didn’t the boy know the danger of challenging a royal retinue?

Mika called in a high sing-song, “A prisoner. A prisoner. They brought me a prisoner.”

What? Why the act?

The bodyguards aimed their spears at Mika, but Ahab waved the spears down and touched his driver on the arm. His chariot rolled to a stop. “What’s your problem, soldier?”

Mika continued his sing-song. “They brought me a prisoner. A prisoner. Said if you lose him, it’s your life for his life. But I have many responsibilities. And the prisoner escaped.”

Ahab spread his feet on the chariot deck and spat out his answer. “Why bother me with this? As you said, a life for a life.” He turned, and the driver lifted the reins.

Mika pulled off the bandage and wiped blood from his chin.

Ahab fell against his driver. “Mika. I thought you were hiding.”

Obadiah gripped the branches in front of him. He had not told Ahab where Mika was for fear Jezebel would worm the location from him. And whenever Ahab visited the fort, Seba locked Mika out of sight.

Oh, King.” With feet like lead, Mika plodded over to the chariot and turned his face up. “The Lord says you let Ben-Hadad go free. So it’s your life for his life, your people for his people.”

At first, Obadiah squelched a small yelp. Mika sounded as if he had watched sackcloth-covered Syrians crawl up to Ahab’s chariot.

Then Obadiah sagged to the ground. The Lord was sentencing his lifelong friend to death.

Ahab’s face swelled dark and red. He clenched a fist and glared. The pitch of his voice rose. “You arrogant…”

Obadiah jumped to his feet, ready to stiff arm Ahab again.

But Ahab lost color, and his eyes turned dull. He slumped onto the chariot rail, face-to-face with Mika. His voice quavered. “Miserable kid.”

Miserable? Obadiah rubbed his forehead. Honest, accurate, trustworthy Mika— Ahab was pouting because he’d been caught.

The driver nudged him. “Where to, my king?”

Ahab gave a deep sigh. “Samaria.”

As the royal chariot drove on, Mika knelt at the edge of the path and wept.

Obadiah pushed through the bushes. He dropped on one knee beside Mika and wept with him.

Mika glanced up and swiped at his cheek. “King’s gonna die, Uncle Biah.”

Hoofbeats approached from Megiddo.

Come.” Obadiah lifted Mika’s arm. “We can’t let the queen’s men find you out here.”


Background

A life for a life – 1 Kings 20:35-43

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