29. Murder

29. Murder by Committee

858 BC

Naboth’s Vineyard behind Fort Jezreel, Israel

Obadiah followed Ahab and his bodyguards behind the fort’s kitchen.

Ahab spoke over his shoulder. “The garden I want to show you is right up here.”

“A garden, my king.” Obadiah’s lips trembled while ‘Your life for his life’ echoed in his head and ‘King’s gonna die throbbed in his ears.

Ahab pointed across a fence at trimmed rows of mature vines heavy with grapes. “Perfect expansion for my kitchen garden. Lettuce, carrots, spinach, melons—triple our fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Obadiah’s forehead wrinkled. “It’s a vineyard. Naboth’s vineyard.”

Ahab shook his head. “I offered him a better one, much larger and on the trunk road. I even told him to name his price.” Ahab’s mouth twisted as if he had bitten into a sour fig. “He told me the Lord would never let him trade away his ancestors’ land.” He gritted his teeth. “What’s so special about the man’s family that he can’t sell a field?”

Obadiah leaned on a fence post. “You don’t get it, do you?”

Ahab thrust out his chest. “I get that he’s a sentimental fool. Won’t part with silly old vines planted by great, great, great Uncle Hiram.”

“No, I mean you don’t… know. You’re in so deep with Jezebel and her gods—” He patted the post. “This hunk of wood knows more of Moses’ teachings than you do, old friend.”

Ahab’s face clouded over. With a few words to his guards, he could remove Obadiah’s head.

Obadiah let out a breath. He had swerved near the edge before. “As long as our heads are both attached, my king, you and I talk straight with each other.”

Ahab studied the cabbage at his feet. Then his eyes twinkled and he slugged Obadiah in the chest. “Biah, my hopeless friend.”

How do I get through to him, Lord? My friend under sentence of death. Obadiah planted himself in front of Ahab’s face. “Now listen up, my king. Naboth is not being sentimental, and everyone in Jezreel knows he’s no fool.”

Ahab frowned. “But—”

“Hush.” Obadiah stopped him with a raised palm. “Naboth was quoting Moses. ‘Don’t sell property outside the family unless you fall into extreme poverty.’” He dropped his palm. “Naboth is far from poor, so it’s not legal for him to sell.”

“You’re kidding. The Lord’s got rules for land? Insane!” Ahab threw his head back. “You’re crazy. The rule’s crazy.” He slammed the gate shut. “I want that vineyard.” Ahab stomped up the path between the cabbage and the onions.

Woid-woid-woid. A common whitethroat scolded from the fence.

As Ahab disappeared around the corner of the fort, Obadiah tucked his scarf against his neck. A chill rode the breeze.

###

“Help! Someone, help me!” Grunting, cursing men dragged something—someone—across the threshing floor.

Obadiah leaped from his rolling chariot and met the struggle on the gravel apron next to the plank bridge. “Here! Here! What’s going on?”

Naboth the vintner pleaded, “Help!”

Four men held his arms. Six his legs. They wore the solid gray robes and headscarves of merchants. Their backs were turned to Obadiah.

Naboth raised his head. His iron gray curls fell around his square face. He kicked and screamed, “Obadiah! Help me!”

“Shut him up!” A hand stuffed a headscarf into Naboth’s open mouth and muffled his screams.

Obadiah jerked Naboth’s nearest captor around by the shoulder. The face of the spice merchant appeared. The man batted Obadiah’s hands away and re-attached himself to Naboth’s leg.

Obadiah tripped and landed on his nose in the gravel. The kidnappers hauled Naboth toward the back of the fort.

“Let that man go! He’s my friend.” Obadiah had been buying Naboth’s wine for years. He preferred the red wine from Naboth’s vines in the valley. He climbed to his feet and hurried after them.

A line of soldiers held spears chest high, blocking his path to Naboth. Ahab’s troops.

Naboth needed help. He had to get through. As Obadiah looked from face to face, troopers stared past him. Every man but one. The eyes of the butcher’s son from Jokneam wavered. Then met his gaze.

Obadiah touched the boy’s shoulder. “Step aside, son. It’s the right thing to do.”

The soldier dropped the butt of his spear and shifted his weight.

Obadiah slipped sideways through the opening and patted the butcher’s son on the arm. “Thank you.”

Zak and the others jogged up, but the butcher’s son crossed his spear in front of them. “No more.”

The scrum was about to disappear with Naboth behind the fort. No time to convince the butcher’s son to let six more through.

Obadiah spread his hands toward Zak, turned, and dashed around the corner of the fort.

Grunts and curses came from behind a thick bunch of bushes.

“Help!”

“Shut him up.”

“Hold him.”

“Let me go!” Naboth screamed.

“Keep him down.”

Obadiah pushed branches aside and stepped into the shrubs. The stench of a soiled loin cloth and the sweat from bodies under stress rose to meet him.

“Obadiah! Help me!” Naboth’s gag had fallen out. He lay pinned on his back with men kneeling on his shoulders and arms, legs and feet.

This is Ahab’s doing. Obadiah grabbed the nearest man by the hair and jerked his head around. “Get off my friend!”

The man twisted. The fort’s potter. A skilled artisan known in the valley for elegant pottery. His kiln had fired the dishes in Obadiah’s apartment. “Why are you—? Naboth is our neighbor. Our friend.”

Yet the potter’s face grew black. He knocked Obadiah’s grip loose. “Keep out. This is not your business.”

“Obadiah, help.” Naboth struggled. “Help me!”

Hands jerked Obadiah away. He turned. The cobbler. A kind man, yet when Obadiah yanked him around by his robe, he hoisted a small boulder overhead.

Naboth screamed, “Obadiah!”

The cobbler hurled.

Obadiah dove to deflect the missile, but it smashed Naboth in the head.

He lay in silence.

The men released him.

“What are you doing?” As Obadiah lunged for the cobbler, a second rock crushed Naboth’s skull. Then a dozen stones landed, bashing in his chest and snapping his arms and legs.

The grunts and yells ceased. Branches slapped against cloaks, and footsteps faded toward the corner of the fort.

Obadiah sank to his knees and rasped out a faint “help.” He crawled to Naboth and pulled rocks from his crumpled form, then lay beside him. A hoopoe cried, oop-oop-oop. Obadiah flinched and closed his eyes.

###

A hand tugged Obadiah’s hip and rolled him onto his back. “The troops have returned to their camp. The merchants to their shops.” Zak covered his face with both hands and collapsed in the grass on the other side of Naboth. “We need to find this good man’s family and help them bury him.”

Obadiah sat up and looked at the sun. Then rubbed his head. “Have I been here long?”

“A couple of hours.” He drew a breath and released it. “We couldn’t see what was going on.”

“Ahab was behind it. Had to be.”

Zak snorted. “While we were looking for a way around that line of troops, our youngest guard told me what he’d heard at the bread counter. The queen’s servants came in and ordered those rolls I like filled with dried apricots and nuts. They got to whispering how Jezebel was berating Ahab. ‘What kind of king are you? In Tyre we know how to deal with this kind of problem.’”

###

Obadiah crashed through the spice shop door. In one hand he clutch a scroll Zak had handed him an hour ago.

The entrance bell dinged.

The merchant sat near the back arranging baskets on shelves. Without looking up, he called. “Good afternoon. The coriander is fresh. I just got in a good stock of castor bean.”

Obadiah flung aside pungent rods hanging from the rafters and pushed over a stack of small casks. “Did you get a message under the royal seal? I bet she sent them only to your tight little circle.”

The merchant put a finger to his lips and aimed glances at the door. He snugged the string closed on the flap of a tiny burlap bag.

Obadiah knocked the little bag to the floor. “Show me your letter.” A whiff of cinnamon floated up.

The merchant’s eyes opened wide. He backed away.

Obadiah shoved Zak’s scroll under the man’s nose and pointed to King Ahab’s seal.

The shopkeeper’s face blanched. “Where’d you get that?”

“Never you mind where.” Obadiah opened the scroll and read. “Proclaim a fast and seat Naboth in a conspicuous place. But put two scoundrels facing him and have them say he cursed God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.”

The merchant cringed and backed against the wall.

Heat flushed through Obadiah. The scroll in his hand shook, and his nostrils flared. He hovered over the merchant. “You joined hands with two worthless punks to help that whore from Sidon murder your neighbor.”

“Biah, you don’t understand.” The merchant covered his head with his arms. “I’ve got a wife and kids. Don’t forget what she did to Tolah when he crossed her last year.”

Obadiah yanked the man’s arms aside and barked into his face. “And nobody called this scheme for what it was? Couldn’t. She only invited those who stink of her perfume.”

As the spice merchant shrank, Obadiah loomed over his trembling form. “Since no honest citizens are to be found, our queen fills the room with pond scum. Announces it at five. Done by six.”

“Believe me, Biah. I didn’t like it, but I’ve got a wife and kids.”

“So you told me. I’m sure Ahab has extra sackclothi he’ll loan you.” He strode out and kicked the door closed.


Background

For Elijah’s view of this murder, see The Boy Who Closed the Sky, Ch. 55-56ii

The Murder of Naboth – 1 Kings 21:1-15iii

Trade Away Inheritance – Number 26:52–54, 33:54, Joshua 13–22, Leviticus 25:23

Biblical hours – Matthew 27:46-50, Mark 15:34-37, and Luke 23:44-46

Ahab’s sackcloth – 1 Kings 21:27

i( Colleen – you have passed over the part where Ahab repents. 1 Kings 21:29. Do you intend to mention it? ) Yedidah has ways just as good as Zak’s of hearing rumors. She’s trying to tell me something about sackcloth. I’ll let you know. pp. 279 ff Elijah.

iiPp276-278 Elijah

iii Or use this as the epigraph.

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