37. The Lettuce Murder
Naboth’s Vineyard, behind Fort Jezreel, Israel
Obadiah shut the headquarters back door and led several bodyguards and the king between the onions and the cabbage. How could Ahab think sackcloth gave Ben-Hadad the right to negotiate? Obadiah shook his head. Ahab lacked the political instincts of his father.
The smell of roast lamb followed them from the kitchen then faded into the intoxicating, buttery aroma of almond blossoms. Woid-woid. A common whitethroat scolded from the fence.
Obadiah raised his voice for Ahab on the path behind him. “I found having my rooms here frustrated your father’s spies. So, when you became king, I kept this rear corner. But since you’ve discovered your headquarters has a back entry, I’m not sure where to live.”
“Funny, Biah. I could die laughing.” Ahab’s foot brushed a cabbage as he pointed ahead. “Right out here’s the garden I want to show you.”
Obadiah shoved in a verbal knife. “I take it you’re still upset with Mika.”
Mika a dreamer? Obadiah snorted.iii When the boy’s message saved them from the Syrian invasion, Ahab had insisted, “keep Mika near.” But after the bandage incident, Ahab pouted.
Obadiah twistediv the blade. “No, my king. I don’t get why you kissed Ben-Hadad goodbye and let him go free.”
Ahab gave him a stare to freeze the Ein Gedi waterfall.
Obadiah ignored the look. “When you could have lifted his head from—”
“Just shut up about it, would you? I brought you out to show you a garden spot.”
Obadiah gave two solemn nods. “I shall refrain, my king, and we shall enjoy this blue sky the Lord has given. So, where’s the garden?”
Ahab pointed to the other side of the fence. [describe?v] “Perfect for expanding my kitchen garden. We could have carrots and spinach and melons—triple our fresh fruits and vegetables.”
Obadiah wrinkled his forehead. Could there be a mistake? “It’s a vineyard, my king. Naboth’s.”
“Yes.” 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 screwed his mouth up like he had bitten into a sour fig. “He told me the Lord would never let him trade away his ancestors’ land.” Ahab gritted his teeth. “What’s so special about the man’s family that he can’t sell a field?”
Obadiah held the gate for the guards. “You don’t get it, do you?”
Ahab thrust out his chest. “I get that he won’t part with silly old vines planted by his great, great Uncle Hiram. Sentimental fool.”
“No, I mean you really don’t … know. You’re so deep with Jezebel and her gods—” He patted the post. “This hunk of wood knows more about the teachings of Moses than you do, old friend.”
“Look, Biah. Just because we were kids together…” He slapped a guard’s shoulder. “One word to this guy and …”
Obadiah raised his chin. “And as long as our heads are attached, my king, you and I talk straight with each other.”
Ahab knit his brows together and looked away for a moment. Then his eyes twinkled and he slugged Obadiah in the chest. “You nut. You weird, hopeless nut.”
Obadiah turned toward the vineyard. How do I get through to Ahab? He opened his palm under the king’s nose. “Listen. Naboth’s answer has nothing to do with sentiment.” He scraped his empty palm with his hand. “Nothing. He told you what the Lord told Moses. Don’t sell property outside the family unless you’re in extreme poverty.” He closed his eyes and shook his head. “Naboth is far from poor, so it’s not legal for him to sell.”
“You’re kidding. The Lord’s got rules about selling land? That’s insane!” Ahab threw his head back. “You’re crazy. The rules are crazy.”
He opened the gate and slammed it shut behind him. While the whitethroat scolded again—woid-woid-woid—he stomped up the path between the cabbage and the onions. “I want that vineyard.”
[Biah was in Samaria doing olives.]
A week later, Obadiah pushed into a spice shop at the edge of the plaza. The entrance bell dinged, but the merchant sat near the back of his shop arranging baskets on shelves.
Obadiah ducked under rods of sun-dried aromatic gum hanging from the rafters and leaned on a stack of small casks which smelled of cassia. “Did you get a letter from the queen?”
The merchant put his finger to his lips and aimed glances toward the plaza. “Hush, man.”
“Who else got the letter? I bet she sent it only to your tight little circle who stink of her perfume.”
The spice seller snugged the string closed on the flap of a burlap bag of cinnamon.
Obadiah shoved the flap aside. “Show me your letter.”
The merchant’s eyes widened, and he backed away. “I burned it.”
Obadiah pulled a scroll from his pocket and opened it under the man’s nose. “Is this what it looked like?”
The shopkeeper’s face blanched. “Where’d you get that?”
“Ha.” Obadiah 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 crumpled.
Heat flushed through Obadiah. The scroll in his hand shook, and his nostrils flared. He leaned over the counter and bared his teeth. “You joined hands with two worthless punks and that whore from Sidon. You murdered your neighbor.”
“Biah, you don’t understand. I’ve got a wife and kids.” The merchant covered his head with his arms. “Remember what she did to that guy who crossed her last year.”
Obadiah pulled the man’s arms aside and spoke into his face. “And nobody called this scheme for what it was?”
“Couldn’t. They didn’t invite that kind. Announced it at ten. Done by eleven. Believe, me, Biah. I didn’t like it, but I’ve got a wife and kids.”
“So you told me.” Obadiah closed the door behind him.
The Murder of Naboth – 1 Kings 21:1-15
Trade away Inheritance – Number 26:52–54, 33:54, Joshua 13–22, Leviticus 25:23viii
iMost of these dates are off.
ii BC vs. B.C.? Be consistent.
iii Also, it seems like maybe Ahab is trying to convince himself here. The way his face lost color and he slumped against the rail… there, it didn’t feel like he was just dreaming. – Becca
iv[Okay, I’m starting to realize its metaphoric.] GG
v[Maybe give us a descriptive picture of the vineyard.]
viIt feels like a missed opportunity for great drama and horror to have it actually happen in front of Obadiah. I get that he might have tried to stop it,
vii He seemed too calm coming in to the shop. I’d imagine him storming in, maybe knocking something over to get to the man. Him cringing, already suspecting why he’s there. – SD