37. Heads

37. Seventy Heads in Two Piles
849 BC
Megiddo-Beitshan Road, Jezreel Valley, Israel
Obadiah sagged against the doorjamb of Shiphrah’s one room. “But Ahab’s children are in Samaria.”

Shiphrah raised shaky fingers to her forehead. “The general told the elders of Samaria City to come out and fight or send him the heads of Ahab’s descendants.”

Yedidah’s jaw went slack. “How could people kill grand babies?”

Obadiah moaned. The Samaria city fathers had passed Jehu’s loyalty test on schedule. Discussion in Shuthelah’s courtyard must have been brief. How much their decision depended on the general’s terror tactic and how much on their resentment of Jezebel?

He spoke in a monotone. “So they carried seventy heads to the fort.”

“And,” Shiphrah added, “General Jehu declared those heads are to stay at the gate until morning.”

Obadiah held Shiphrah’s eyes with his own. “Tomorrow morning, I need to be at that gate.”

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When the sun broke over Gilead, Obadiah and Yedidah waited with Shiphrah’s family and on the hillside facing the fort. He draped an arm around Yedidah’s waist.

On the far side of the Megiddo-Beitshan road, on the gravel apron next to the plank bridge, two piles of heads sat over black puddles. Dark clouds, perhaps flies—surged around the piles, and the breeze brought the stench of rotting flesh.

When Obadiah buried Ahab in Samaria, children had peeked from behind the skirts of Ahab’s wives. Those children would be eight years older, some with children of their own. Their heads were in these piles. Obadiah’s knees buckled, but he pulled himself straight against Yedidah and clenched his fists.

Crowds covered the road east and west. “Worse than market day,” Shiphrah’s husband said.

As people arrived, they first gawked at the heads. Then they backed up the hillside toward Obadiah.

Shiphrah whispered, “Somebody’s bound to recognize the king’s right-hand man.”

Obadiah shivered and tugged his headscarf over his cheeks.

General Jehu marched out between the two piles. He wore full battle dress of drab brown. Fifty bodyguards stood behind him.

The curious—shopkeepers and chariot captains, cooks and foot soldiers—flooded through the gate on the grass.

Obadiah whispered into Yedidah’s ear, “Where’s our daughter?” Hiding in the fort? Had Jehu’s men found her?

As people jostled for place, an old man stooped and shuffled toward the corner of the fort. A basket swung from his shoulder to the rhythm of “Fish. Fresh fish.” Obadiah gasped. “Look, dear. It’s—” But the fishmonger waved goodbye and faded from view. Obadiah rose on tiptoe. Fare well, old friend.

General Jehu scanned the crowd. Shiphrah and her husband pulled Obadiah and Yedidah behind them and stood tall. Obadiah’s hands shook.

The general called to the assembly, “I’m the guilty one. Not you. I conspired against my master and killed him.” He tapped the heads with his sword. The swirling clouds lifted then settled again. “But who killed these?”

Yedidah whispered into Obadiah’s shoulder, “How could you be friends with such a monster?”

Obadiah spoke into her headscarf. “We planned defenses together. Not as if we…”

The general sheathed his sword and raised a hand. “The Lord has carried out the words he decreed through his servant Elijah. Pay attention. Not a word the Lord said concerning the house of Ahab will fall to earth.”

Obadiah whispered in Yedidah’s ear, “That’s how to blame murder on the Lord.”

As the general raised his chin and marched into the fort, he poked at a pile with his sword. A head rolled off. Its gaping mouth faced the sky.

Jehu’s bodyguards followed him in. People milled near the gate and eyed the two piles. The general’s show was over. Did he intend to leave the heads to the dogs slinking at the edge of the crowd? Obadiah let a loud breath. One more issue beyond his control.

Shiphrah and her husband led them home. As they reached the ladder to Shiphrah’s veranda, a woman leading a donkey loaded with onions waved from the path. “Terrible, wasn’t it.”

“Horrible.” Shiphrah raised a hand in polite reply.

Obadiah breathed out, “Oh, Lord!” Shiphrah and her husband treated them well. But this house sat in public view.

Twilight turned to darkness.

In the quiet of the night, on Shiphrah’s veranda with her family, Obadiah turned to Yedidah. “Where’s our daughter?” Yedidah took a long breath. “She married a resourceful boy.”

The ladder rattled against the parapet.

Had Jehu’s men discovered them?


Background
En-Gannim, Jezreel Valley, Israel
Seventy heads, Jehu’s speech and slaughter – 2 Kings 10:1-17

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