Samaria City, Samaria, Israel, 871 BC1
Obadiah rocked on his knees and dripped tears onto Liam’s face.
Gera wiped the wet from his own cheeks with the back of his hand. “Help me, my brother. It’s time to put my son in the ground.”
Obadiah choked. Wait. Let Liam see if his baby, so low in Keren’s tummy, was a boy or a girl. Let him watch his sons grow into men.
Gera slid his arms under Liam’s back while Obadiah supported his legs. They carried him in, where this morning he had blown a kiss across the room to Keren, and laid him on the table.
Gera bent and let out a long howl like a wounded dog. “My boy! My boy!”
Obadiah squeezed Gera’s shoulder. “We’ll need warm water.”
When Obadiah exited the house, the three-year-old broke free from Hodiah and latched onto his leg. “Where’s Daddy, Uncle Biah?” His little brother joined him. “Wah Daddy do?”2
Obadiah hugged the boys and smiled at Hodiah.
Keren took her boys by the hand. “Grandpa is giving Daddy a bath.” She led them back to Hodiah.
Zak, Obadiah’s chief bodyguard, tipped his head toward the cast-iron pot at the fire pit. “Right. I’ll get the guys going on warm water.”
Several people looked in over the fence. Obadiah turned to the neighbor who had rushed in with news of the killers. “Let in people you trust.” The man narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips. “Yes, sir.” He opened the gate and beckoned everyone in.
A new man stood at the gate. “Wailers?”
As Obadiah approached, he brushed the front of his robe and wiped his face with his palm. He huddled with this man for several moments and returned to Gera’s side. “My guys are heating water, and I sent your neighbor to buy spices and a shroud.”
Gera stepped back and tugged at the skin of his throat. “Spices?”
“My gift, Gera. Not another word. Plus, he’s bringing wailers. Farm wives with spare time between crops. Says you know them.”
“Thank you, Biah.” Gera sniffled. “Yes. the women here are good wailers.” From his cedar chest3, he dug a linen sheet and handed it to Obadiah and Zak. They covered Liam while Gera removed Liam’s sandals, cloak, tunic, and loincloth.
The airy sound of flutes sent chills up Obadiah’s spine. Then came the wavering trill of long, high-pitched wails. Obadiah bumped Zak’s elbow. “Keep the wailers outside the wall, back in the trees.”
Zak left and came back holding a large sack. “Spices. The shroud’s on top.”
As the wails of the women and their flutes settled into the background, another guard opened the door and set a clay jar inside. “Warm water, sir.”
The three-year-old escaped from Keren and squeezed in by the jar. “Why is Daddy on the table?”
Gera hiccupped a sob.
The guard tucked the boy under his arm, lugged him out, and returned with several more jars of water.
Gera turned the sheet down to show Liam’s face . “I don’t want anyone else in here. You, me, and Zak. We’ll clean my boy up and…”
“That’s how it will be, Gera.” Obadiah nodded to Zak.
When the water jars stood empty and Liam lay bathed and wrapped in his spice-layered shroud, Gera turned to Obadiah. “Does the king’s right-hand man have a family tomb waiting for him in the valley?”
“No, my brother. We are not a wealthy family. My father’s spot waits at the northeast corner of the house. And beside him, places for Mother and us children.”
Gera threw his shoulders back, stalked out the door and into the tool wing. He emerged with a shovel.
“I’ll get it.” Zak started toward the gate.
“No.” Gera gripped Obadiah’s cloak. “No. Not the cemetery.”
Zak paused and eyed the grass by the tool wing, and Gera narrowed his eyes at his wife and his daughter-in-law. “Here, with us.”
While Gera leaned his shovel against the wall, Obadiah lifted his chin toward Zak. “We’ll need shovels.” Gera wiped tears from his cheeks and let a guttural moan escape. With the shovel in both hands, he stabbed the ground as if killing a snake, stepped back, stumbled, stood straight again, and pushed the shovel into the earth with his foot.
Obadiah took the shovel from him and removed several pieces of sod. Tears rolled into his beard. In his most terrible nightmare, he had never dreamed of digging a grave for Liam.
“My job.” Gera took the shovel back and cleared sod. When a rectangle of dirt appeared a hand wider and longer than Liam, Zak returned with shovels from the neighbors. “Let us dig, please.”
After the six guards dug the hole waist deep, Gera led them into the house and stood at Liam’s head. Obadiah stood at his feet, and three guards took each side. The eight men carried Liam out and held him at the foot of the grave.
The three-year-old took a few steps toward Liam’s shrouded form, broke into sobs, and ran back into Keren’s arms.
While Obadiah and the guards knelt and lowered Liam into the earth, Gera recited, “He that dwells in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”4
Gera straightened his shoulders and locked eyes with Hodiah. He seized an edge of his robe. The adults grasped their robes, and the babies clutched at theirs. As Gera ripped his robe, the adults tore theirs, and the little ones flicked their hands in imitation.
At the pile of loose soil, Gera stooped and threw a handful into the grave and a handful onto his head. Hodiah and Keren did the same while they held the boys’ hands. Each son threw dirt into the grave and into the air near his head. The wailing subsided, and neighbors and wailers walked past the grave throwing handfuls on Liam and on their heads.
Zak stepped toward the pile of dirt, but Gera scowled and took the guard’s shovel. “The last thing I get to do for my boy.”
Obadiah’s chest ached. “Lord help us!” With shaking hands, he stabbed a shovel into the pile and threw dirt into the grave. Shovelful by shovelful, while the guards watched in silence, Gera and Obadiah filled Liam’s grave and shaped the soil into a mound.
Hodiah rocked Liam’s two-year-old in her arms, and Keren stood next to her with the older boy’s hand in hers. She dabbed a cloth at her face and wiped Hodiah’s cheeks.
“Thank you, dear.” Hodiah wept into Keren’s shoulder.
Obadiah murmured to his guard, “We’ll stay the seven days.”
1 We get a lot of great emotion from the father and friend, but the mother and wife are just shadows in the background—easy to forget about it. It would feel more realistic if we got more of their pain and grief, too.
2 It would be nice if there was a sentence to remind the reader of their presence first, maybe mentioning what they were doing: still kneeling in the dirt, etc.
4 Psalm 91