10. King Ahab
867 BC i
Samaria City, Samaria, Israel
Obadiah stood next to a pillar of the city gate. With one hand he shielded his eyes from the noonday sun. With the other, he waved a steady farewell to a long line of guests departing in chariots.
King Ahab stood by the opposite pillar and focus on a spot over Obadiah’s shoulder. As elders and foreign rulers crossed his line of vision, most ducked their heads, spoke soft words of condolence, and rolled on out the gate.
Guards on horseback surrounded each departing guest. A rider in a solid gray robe turned his horse out of formation, paused, and leaned over Obadiah. “Wake up, sir. The Lord says, keep your eyes open.” The rider straightened and touched a heel to his mount.
Yet, Obadiah slammed his eyes shut. In his head, the old fishmongerii of Gibbethon shuffled through, his basket swinging from his shoulder with the rhythm of his call. “Fish. Fresh fish.” Obadiah opened his eyes a slit. No fishmonger. And the cavalryman had disappeared in the flow of guests.
As the last visitor descended the switchbacks, King Ahab stepped into the center of the gateway and stood gazing across the hills.
Obadiah joined him. Neither man spoke.
A hawk circled overhead, and a breeze from the Great Sea built puffs of white into gray clouds over the hills, the promise of an early afternoon shower.
While Ahab surveyed the hills, Obadiah raised an eyebrow to shoppers lugging produce from the market toward the gate.iii Gera and Hodiah carried two small sacks bulging with onions or figs. They paused, and she laid a hand on King Ahab’s arm. “You’re still welcome on our veranda, child.” They followed the path around the south side of the hill.
Obadiah took in a deep breath. “Your father was good to me. From way back at Gibbethon.”
“He was a good dad. And a terrific leader of troops.”
“A great king.”
“He sure let Mesha know who was boss.” Ahab drove his fist against his palm.
“And he lived his dream—a capital on this hilltop.”
“Only six years, Biah. He deserved more.”
Behind them, the elder Shuthelah cleared his throat. “May the Lord protect your guests from bandits and Syrians.” He stroked his long, white beard. “Come, please. Sit a while.” He led them past merchants loading donkeys with cages of unsold chickens next to bags of apples or onions.
Shuthelah opened his courtyard gate and called toward the veranda. “What do we have to feed the prince and the king’s right-hand man?” He took two strides in, stopped, and shook his head. “King. I mean the king.”
Ahab waved him away. “You’ll have me looking around for my father.”
In the shade of an oak, Shuthelah dropped goatskins, and Obadiah and Ahab sat. Shuthelah placed a tray in their midst with dishes of sliced cucumber, olive oil, and spices. Then he excused himself.
From the plaza, Zak looked over the courtyard’s waist-high block wall. “Do the king and his right-hand man want your bodyguards out here by the wall, or inside the courtyard?”
“Out there.” Ahab said. “The sun shines on the courtyard or the plaza, but not on the north side of the hill. When my father was planning his tomb, he said, ‘Not that bitter north side.’ He wanted the sunrise to warm his bones.”
“Sunshine. Good choice.” Obadiah nudged a cucumber slice to align it with the flatbread. “At Gibbethon I thought your father was going to chop my head off.”
“Then who would I have had to contradict me all these years?”
“Or to challenge you with ‘the Syrians are upon you—how will you defend our nation?’”
A cry of oop-oop-oop sailed from the top of an olive tree by the courtyard gate, and a hoopoe flashed the black and white bars of its tail.
Booted hoofs clop-clopped an irregular pattern through the city gate and across the threshing floor. Gallant, an Arabian of the Fort Jezreel stable known for his never-give-up heart, limped across the plaza.
Obadiah shot out the courtyard gate and grabbed the reins.
The rider lay along the horse’s neck and clutched the mane. He wore the gray robe of the king’s bodyguards. His headscarf was missing.
“Biah.” The man gasped.
Taking him in his arms, Obadiah eased him to his feet.
The rider showed no wounds. As he sank against Obadiah’s chest, he forced a whisper. “Your father, sir… Syrians.”
Death and burial of King Omri – 1 Kings 16:28
Mesha in Moab – https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesha_Stele
Fear the Lord but serve other gods – 2 Kings 17:33-39iv
Samaria City, Samaria, Israel
Obadiah croaked out, “Father.”
The ragged rasp of the Arabian’s breaths brought bodyguards running.
Gallant’s head hung low. Lather rolled from his bridle, and sweat rivulets coursed down his legs.
Zak crowded past Obadiah and laid a hand on the horse’s neck. He pointed at his men. “Water!” Bodyguards thundered toward nearby wells and cisterns. Shoppers jumped aside.
While guards poured water over Gallant from head to rump, Obadiah cupped the messenger’s chin. Had Syrians killed his father? His mother? Burned their village to the ground? When the man’s eyes rolled up into his head, Obadiah eased him into Zak’s arms and turned toward the livery. He raced across the plaza, waving his arms and yelling, “Give me a horse!”
His driver sprinted past him. When Obadiah arrived at the livery, the man hooked harness to chariot and shouted, “Horses! Horses!”
Obadiah shook the driver’s shoulder. “I don’t have time for this. Put me on a horse.”
“Pardon me, sir, but your mount will never make it. You need two horses pulling wheels.”
Obadiah threw up his hands. “Give me a horse, man. A horse!”
“And neither will you, sir. I’m driving you.” He shoved a harness at Obadiah.
While attendants led horses from stalls, Obadiah knelt beside the chariot and picked through the tangle of leather in his hands. “Lord, help us.”
The horses arrived, and Obadiah fumbled, dropping straps and hooking clasps where they didn’t belong.
An attendant took the harness from him. “Please, sir.”
Obadiah clapped a hand over his quivering jaw and backed away.
Once the driver had hooks and bridles in place, he tested connections with quick tugs, then draped the reins over the rail.
Ahab jogged up. “We may have saved Gallant. The messenger revived. He only knows it was Syrians and—and your father.”
As Obadiah stepped into the chariot, his mouth twitched.
Ahab’s hand on the rail trembled. “Look, just get there, okay? Don’t worry—I mean, Gera can handle the groves. My father lies in his tomb. Everything else can wait. I’ll catch up after I’ve done what I can for Gallant and his rider.”
“Thanks.” Obadiah laid a hand on Ahab’s then tapped his driver’s shoulder. “Let’s go.”
“Hee-YAH!” Reins slapped. Obadiah’s team clop-clopped across the plaza and out the gate. At the bottom of the hill, they turned toward the Jezreel Valley, and the horses settled into a long-distance trot.
With his gaze boring into the road ahead, Obadiah squeezed the driver’s shoulder. The sun was high. He should be in Keslote before dark.
Yedidah must be clinging to their children, hoping for word from Keslote. Were Syrians swarming the village? Were her parents alive?
Yet Obadiah had to leave her in the fort while he saw if Keslote was safe for her. He clamped his hand hard over the driver’s bony shoulder.
“Look, sir. I can only drive so fast. If I kill these horses, we’ll never reach Keslote.”
With a grunt, Obadiah released. He gripped the rail and bent his knees with the bumps in the road.
“Your father,” the messenger had said. Obadiah had felt proud to help his father lay up blocks to add rooms to their house. Across the path, Ahab’s father hired masons to build their house. But every time Obadiah’s father cut blocks at the quarry or laid up a wall, he had Obadiah and Ahab at his elbow, eager to join the fun.
Obadiah pictured cutting blocks and building a high wall around his family home, so he could tell his father, “You’re safe now.” Yet, his father wasn’t in the rooms or stable when he searched the house.
The driver stopped for water at the first village on the road. As the dust settled, guards hauled up buckets from the well. While thirsty horses sucked the buckets dry, Obadiah wrung his hands in the heat and paced beside the chariot. The messenger had not mentioned his mother or little brother, Yedidah’s family or Ahab’s grandfather. Was anyone alive?
The driver stopped for water a second time, then a third. At each pause, Obadiah’s insides quivered.
As the meadows and farms of the long Jezreel Valley opened before them, the driver pointed left toward the fort. “We need to change horses, sir. I’ve pushed these as hard as I dared.”
Obadiah drooped against the chariot rail, but he felt chipper compared to his bodyguards—ready to swoon on their mounts and cling to the manes. Their horses dripped sweat and trotted with heads hanging.
Obadiah turned the driver to face him. “Can this team make it to Keslote?”
“They could, sir. But fresh horses…”
A new team. Faster and more sure-footed. While the men secured new mounts from the corral, he could bundle Yedidah and the kids into a chariot.
At the cost of three or four hours.
“We go with this team.” He released the driver.
The chariot descended into the Jezreel Valley. The horses’ heads sagged as they carried Obadiah and his men into the foothills.
The chariot climbed a grade and surfaced in the meadow which held Keslote. As Obadiah rolled past familiar clumps of rocks and trees, the weary horses stumbled over bumps in the path. A thickness filled his throat. v
The first houses looked undisturbed. His eyes prickled with tears.
People leaned out open doorways or rose from their knees in vegetable gardens to gawk at the chariot with its horses and riders dragging behind. A few faces burst into smiles then faded, blank, sad.
Crickets announced approaching twilight.
Obadiah passed the kiln of red brick in Yedidah’s front yard. The house looked untouched, as did the others. They must wonder if them their daughter was safe, but he could not pause three doors from his home.
He tapped the driver on the arm.
The chariot stopped by the well.
Obadiah stepped out on numb feet and stumbled through the gate on the left.
A fresh mound stood by the corner of the house. While King Omri rested in a tomb cut into the rock, Obadiah’s father lay in a hole heaped with dirt.
Obadiah knelt and sifted a handful through his fingers. “I should have been here for my father.”
Keslote, a village of Issachar – Joshua 19:18
i This is 867 BC. The Olives Ch was in 872. In 865, two years from now, Elijah will tell Ahab, “Neither dew nor rain.” In Fort Jezreel.
iiAs the fishmonger shuffled down the street, the basket swung from his shoulder with the rhythm of his call. “Fish. Fresh fish.” [from Ch. 2. Pitas]
iiiPalace servants had cleared the threshing floor of flails, chaff, and straw.
ivWhy is this here? Fear the Lord but serve other gods – 2 Kings 17:33-39
vPW – mucus?