45. Fire and Brimstone
The Headquarters Roof, Fort Jezreel, Jezreel Valley, Israel
Obadiah closed his eyes against the afternoon sun. He lay on the northeast corner of the headquarters roof next to Yedidah. Twitching a smile at her soft snore, he tugged his headscarf over his eyes and snuggled deeper into his couch.
Familiar sounds rose from the plaza below. Shoppers and farmers haggled over melons or mutton. Pedestrians greeted headquarters guards. Chariot wheels crunched against paving stones.
His bodyguards lounged along the west side, and at the roof’s center elders of various tribes chatted in twos and threes.
The odor from the stables mixed with wood smoke and the aroma of fresh bread floating across from the bakery.
In Obadiah’s recurring dream, he lazied along on Lavan, next to Ahab on Shochar. The boys poked fun at each other as if their mighty stallions were tired old donkeys. Obadiah always laughed and smiled through this scene.
A voice came from outside the dream. “Chariots headed our way.”
He brushed at the words as if a fly buzzed. Don’t interrupt.
The race to the fort was about to begin. The prince and the king’s right-hand man were toeing their steeds to the line. The bushes had moved, but it was only the wind pushing the junipers. The Syrians were nowhere near. Next, the prince would dangle a pine cone by Lavan’s ear.
Something touched his arm. Who’s bothering me?
Anyway, this dream was wrong. Ahab had bled to death on the plain outside Ramoth. Obadiah had wept for days then tried to go on without him. His last full-on spell of sobbing had been years ago.
Obadiah squeezed his eyes tighter. The sunshine was his friend. And the light breeze. He would go back to sleep and run that old dream again.
No, the sweet fragrance of laurel filled his nose, and Yedidah’s fingers gripped his shoulder. She spoke full voice into his ear. “Chariots.”
The dream could wait.
Thank you, Lord, for this woman. A few times he’d asked Yedidah if she wanted to move back to the village. But, no, the fort was home. In Keslote, their sons and sons-in-law managed the pear trees and the pottery. In Samaria, Keren, Gera’s daughter-in-law had worked by his side and become a proficient olive grove manager, then an effective boss of grove managers. Three years ago, Obadiah had turned over the entire olive oil operation to her. A granddaughter here in the fort and more grandchildren at the end of an easy chariot ride to Keslote. His couch on the roof—
The scent of laurel gave way to clean-scrubbed skin with a hint of fresh sweat. Zak.
Obadiah pried one eye open.
His bodyguards cast glances down at him as they stared over the parapet.
Obadiah watched Zak’s lips.
“Chariots, sir. Coming on fast.”
With a grunt and a heave, Obadiah rolled to his knees.
Two guards pulled him up to stand beside Yedidah.
Elders lined the wall on Obadiah’s left.
Obadiah’s bodyguards watched over his shoulders.
He spread his arms on the parapet and scanned the plaza below.
In the open gate of the fort, young King Joram stood spraddle-legged, watching the road from Beitshan.
The elders beside Obadiah discussed their king below as if he were a steer or ram.
“Didn’t he get hurt?”
“Maybe he should be resting.”
“The young heal fast.”
Obadiah sighed. Not one vote of confidence, and that child king down there must be unsure of himself. He might fear whatever raced toward him in those chariots yet would not know how to counter the danger.
King Joram stood alone in the open gate and squared his shoulders. He called. “Send a rider. Ask if they come in peace.”
Ask? Obadiah snorted then hid his face from the elders. Lord, forgive me. Israel’s enemies had talked about Ahab’s bravery and his brains. If a contingent of warriors had approach King Ahab, he would have sent a company armed with slings, javelins, and arrows. The king’s right-hand man might have known to give such counsel, but King Joram, son of Queen Jezebel, had never consulted with Obadiah.
The lookout called, “The rider reached them.”
Silence stretched out.
“He isn’t coming back.”
“Send another rider.”
King Joram was as naïve as his brother before he fell through the lattice. At least Ahab wasn’t here to watch.
The lookout called over his shoulder, “The second rider isn’t coming back either. And the lead chariot drives like General Jehu—a maniac.”
General Jehu was a true servant of the Lord, and having him at the top had kept Jezebel from chopping off Obadiah’s head. The general loved to drive, but why had he hurried off on an all-day trip without his driver?
King Ahaziah of Judah stepped out the side door of headquarters and joined King Joram at the gate. The two young kings put their heads together, glanced at the fleet of approaching chariots, then strode into the fort.
Joram grimaced with each stride until he disappeared in the stable.
Yedidah dug her nails into Obadiah’s arm. “I hope our king is feeling better.”
As the two kings drove their chariots out from the stables and through the gate, an elder pulled in his breath. “The King of Judah’s gonna wish he’d stayed home.”
Obadiah bit at the inside of his cheek. The kings had left as if going to a parlay—without one bodyguard. Lord, help us.
The lookout called, “They’re heading behind the fort.”
With Zak and Yedidah, Obadiah shuffled along to the southeast corner, and the others found places along the south parapet.
At the back of the fort, while the many chariots in General Jehu’s train waited next to a patch of oak trees, the general kept going to the entrance of the vineyard Ahab stole from Naboth.
The two kings pulled in beside the general. Joram wore the bright blue of Ahab, and Ahaziah the deep purple of Jehoshaphat. General Jehu met them in the drab browns and grays of his mail.
Directly overhead, at the center of a perfectly clear sky, a hawk and a kestrel screamed at each other.
“I don’t like this,” Zak whispered.
The three chariots had barely halted when King Joram wheeled his around and raced away.
From his chariot basket, General Jehu raised a recurved bow. A man would need the strength of an ox to bend such thick wood, yet Jehu notched an arrow to the string, aimed at the fleeing king, and drew the feather to his shoulder.
The arrow sank between King Joram’s shoulders, and he slumped over the chariot rail.
The row of elders gasped.
“Dear Lord.” Obadiah turned toward pain in his and found Yedidah’s fingers digging in. Enough with Ahab’s family. What about my own?
Zak gripped Obadiah’s shoulder. “I’m getting you out of here.” The words came through clenched teeth.
While King Joram’s horses slowed to a halt, King Ahaziah raced away.
General Jehu pointed, and a hail of arrows fell on the King Ahaziah’s purple robe as he chariot disappeared around a hill.
While most of the chariots with Jehu left the oaks and raced after King Ahaziah, one stopped at King Joram’s stalled horses. The captain jumped out.
“Bidkar,” Obadiah said.
Bidkar dragged Joram’s corpse from the chariot and dumped him onto the field of Naboth in a pile of royal blue.
Obadiah covered Zak’s hand with his own. “This must look bad to you. But General Jehu’s a good man. Plus, I helped him get that new stable built up in Dan. Made sure he got the troops he needed when the Philistines surprised him at Hadera. Let’s wait a while and watch how this—”
Zak flung Obadiah’s hand off. “That’s foolish talk, sir, and you know it. You and General Jehu have been through a lot together. But that was before today.
“Jehu’s killing the king changed everything. Exactly like when Baasha and Zimri reached for the throne. By nightfall, the general will either be king, or his head will sway on a very tall stake. But he can’t go back.
“Your old friend Jehu’s got a list of new enemies, and you’re at the top. Angels had to drag Lot out of Sodom, and I smell fire and brimstone.” Zak yanked Obadiah to his feet.
Laurel – Isaiah 44:9, 14
Kings Joram and Ahaziah – 2 Kings 9:14-16
His brother fell through the lattice – 2 Kings 1:2-14
King Ahaziah raced away – 2 Kings 9:27-28
Baasha and Zimri reached for the throne – 1 Kings 15-16
Dragging Lot out of Sodom – Genesis 19:16