36. Care

36. In Shiphrah’s Care

849 BC

The Bakery, Fort Jezreel, Jezreel Valley, Israel

Obadiah stabbed his arms into the robe from the baker and stooped to let the skirt cover his knees. A draft cooled his legs from the back. He slouched and gained a finger’s width of cover front and back.

Yedidah stood next to him in the full dignity of a mottled gray robe which covered her ankles. “Everyone knows you, dear. Knees covered or uncovered, we’ll never make it to the gate.”

Obadiah bowed his head. If he took two steps outside the shelter of this sorry little bake shop, Jehu’s men would nail him.

The door opened, and the baker’s wife blew in. She led a tall woman with a wide, dark forehead. “This is Shiphrah. The farmers are heading home. We’ve got to move fast.”

Shiphrah stared at Obadiah then shook her head. “Lord help us.”

He opened a slit in the shutters. Lord help us, indeed. Beside the bread counter, a gray donkey switched its tail against the shafts of a cracked and weathered cart. Net bags of onions, melons, and apples sat in the cart next to a long, flimsy wicker cage holding three skinny chickens.

Zak stepped up to the window. “There’s too much daylight out there.” He jerked the baker’s rolled-up headscarf off Obadiah. “Hold still. I smell fire and brimstone.” He draped the cloth over Obadiah’s head and neck then tugged it forward over all but Obadiah’s eagle-beak nose. “There. Just don’t talk to anyone.” He gave Obadiah a gentle slap on the cheek.

The baker patted Obadiah on the shoulder then peeked out front. “That cart’s right out in plain sight. You’ll never—”

Men on the far side of the plaza yelled. “Git! Go on!”

Dogs yipped and yowled in pain.

Obadiah tipped open a slit in the shutter.

Chariot captains under Jezebel’s window thumped their feet into dogs’ ribs. The curs let out mournful cries but tugged at pieces of the dead queen.

Go ’way! Mangy beast!”

A black and tan short-haired mutt circled low then dashed between a captain’s feet and trotted off, dragging a bloody forearm.

“There he goes!” As chariot captains dove for the fleeing mutt, five more dogs grabbed pieces of the fresh meat by the wall. The struggle of dogs and men turned the far side of the plaza into a mound of yelps, curses, and growls.

There’s your distraction.” The baker grabbed the plate of untouched food from Obadiah and shoved him out the door.

Sneaking glances at the fight, Obadiah stumbled to Shiphrah’s miserable little cart by the bread counter. He hovered in the baker’s skimpy robe, as good as naked without his signature white linen tunic and robe.

While captains cursed and dogs snarled, Shiphrah lifted her cage of chickens. “Get in.”

Obadiah stretched himself on the aged wood.

Yedidah leaned in and laid a finger to her lips. “I’ll be right here beside you.” She pulled the baker’s ragged blankets over Obadiah, reducing his world to scents and vibrations. “Chickens next,” she said. “We shouldn’t talk now.”

A bag of onions settled against his shoulder. “Muh.” He covered his face with his sleeve.

As the wicker basket firmed the blankets over him, chickens fluttered and purred like his mother’s hens in Kishion when he cuddled them under an arm. The odor of feathers and manure tickled his nose. The cart tipped and creaked. Wheels crunched pavers and hubs turned against the axle, squeak-squeak-squeak.

Like Samson’s millstone. “Old Samson didn’t die pushing a millstone,” Ahab had announced, “and you’ll not find me hiding in a corner.” With a gleam in his eye, his old friend had assembled his flying wedge but then refused to admit the victory was the Lord’s doing.

Blows continued striking distant canine ribs. Yips and yowls followed. Obadiah laughed into his ragged blanket and pictured dogs dragging off pieces of the queen while men and boys dashed out of dark caves into bright sunshine.

The cart bounced. He hit the sideboard. The wicker slid, chickens squawked, and the odor of onions filled his mouth and nose. He pressed the sleeve tighter over his face.

Such a jumbled load might attract attention. He should throw off the blankets. Send the chickens flying. Grab Yedidah and dash for the gate. Yet he ground his teeth and clenched a fist.

From the unseen world above his ragged blanket came a friendly “Ma’am.” A captain must have waved the disorderly cart through.

No doubt Shiphrah had given a modest nod, while Yedidah, in her long farmer’s helper robe, studied the ground.

The grinding of wheels on stones gave way to the rattle of planks over an empty moat and several beats later the crunch of gravel. The cart tipped forward, sliding Obadiah into the headboard. They were descending the grade.

Would they turn toward Megiddo or Beitshan? Guessing was as useless as predicting if Ahab would slap the stable boy or feed the homeless child.

Obadiah hunkered under his stinking blanket. He had followed Ahab at every turn. When Ahab struck an alliance with King Ethbaal of Tyre, Obadiah had seen the good points—even though Jezebel, Ethbaal’s daughter, brought four hundred Asherah priests. When Ahab had bargained with Ben Hadad instead of removing that rascal’s head, Obadiah had rolled his eyes but stayed by his friend. Even after Obadiah had pulled stones from Naboth’s shattered corpse, he had tried to keep Ahab from marching to his death at Ramoth.

Obadiah lacked the political power to budge his friend from the path to self-destruction. Yet he had confronted him and stuck by his side.

Other wheels squeaked. A strange woman said, “Hello,” Her tone normal, any farmer passing another on the road.

Hoofs clip-clopped. Fast rolling wheels crunched. A chariot? A farmer in a hurry? Obadiah could only guess. He no eyes. No control. No bodyguards. No horse or chariot.

This Shiphrah person was hauling him to her village, where Jehu’s search party was sure to root him out. And just as the wise woman of Abel had tossed the head of Sheba to Joab, Shiphrah would throw Obadiah’s head over the wall to Jehu.

Obadiah held his nose and breathed through his mouth.

The cart stopped.

“We’re here.” Yedidah lifted the cage. Chickens squawked.

Obadiah sneezed. And sneezed again. He peeked out onto tiny Taanach, a short hike from Megiddo. Bubblers from the Misliya cave must have run free through this village.

Instead of throwing Obadiah’s head over the village wall, she showed Yedidah the ladder to the veranda. While Shiphrah mixed cornmeal, Yedidah sliced figs, and Obadiah built a fire under the pot. The leaves and grasses caught his spark and grew it into flames. He paused. He and Yedidah were alive. And their hostess seemed to accept them. He breathed. And added tiny sticks to the fire.

Shiphrah’s husband and seven children came in from the field to bowls of steaming cornmeal mush flavored with figs.

In the family’s only room, Shiphrah spread soft, thick rugs. She and her husband curled up on one, their children on three others, and Obadiah and Yedidah on one.

Obadiah woke in the night to people on the road singing, ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation.’ The song faded as if the singers had marched on. He whispered in Yedidah’s ear. “Ahab and Mika.”

A faint “Mmf” came from Yedidah, and in the morning, she mentioned neither the singing nor his whisper.

Shiphrah hauled chickens to market, and her husband returned to the field with the children. Before he left, he hung his best robe on Obadiah. “This will keep your ankles warm, but don’t leave the house. Everybody in the village knows the king’s right-hand man.”

Great. I’m a prisoner. Obadiah picked up a broom. While Yedidah picked figs, he swept the veranda and its one room. Jehu’s assassins targeted anyone connected to Obadiah. Where had Seba and Jebus hidden their families? Everyone knew they ran Ahab’s stable and kitchen. The families of Obadiah’s bodyguards lived in villages around the fort. His daughter and her family huddled somewhere. Plus, Obadiah’s and Yedidah’s families in Kishion—easy pickings. Lord, it’s too much.

He swept every corner of the veranda. Twice. Yedidah mounted the ladder, and he clung to her. “What’s to become of us? Where’s our daughter?”

She leaned back in his arms and held him with her eyes. “We have to trust the Lord this very moment, dear.”

Shiphrah returned early from the market, color drained from her face. “The general piled the heads of King Ahab’s children at the gate of the fort.”


Background

Dogs eating Jezebel – 1 Kings 21:23 & 2 Kings 9:10

Shiphrah – Exodus 1:15

Taanach – Joshua 12:21

The wise woman of Abel – 2 Samuel 20:21

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