14. To bury a son

Samaria City, Samaria, Israel, 871 BC
Genesis 49:29-32

Obadiah1Obadiah is the king’s right-hand man. rocked on his knees and dripped tears onto Liev’s2Liev is Gera’s son. face.

Gera3Gera is chief grove manager. 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. It’s too soon. Liev needs to see if the new baby is a boy or a girl. He needs to watch his sons grow into men.

A sob shook Gera’s frame. He slid his arms under Liev’s back while Obadiah supported his legs. They carried him in, where this morning he had blown a kiss across the room to Keren4Keren is Liev’s wife., 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.” He went out to the courtyard where Hodiah5Hodiah is Gera’s wife. and Keren held the children. Hodiah glanced up and wiped her face. “Gera knows where things are, but—” A sob cut her off.

The three-year-old broke free and latched onto Obadiah’s leg. “Where’s Daddy, Uncle Biah?” His little brother joined him. “Wah Daddy do?”

Obadiah hugged the boys and smiled at Hodiah.

Keren wiped her nose and 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?”

Obadiah approached, brushing the front of his robe and wiping 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 chest, he dug a linen sheet and handed it to Obadiah and Zak. They covered Liev while Gera removed Liev’s cloak and sandals, 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 courtyard, 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 escaped three-year-old 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 to show Liev’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 Liev 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 and stalked out the door. He took a shovel from the tool wing.

“I’ll get it.” Zak started toward the gate.

“No.” Gera gripped Obadiah’s cloak. “No. Not the cemetery.”

Zak paused, and Gera narrowed his eyes toward his wife and his daughter-in-law.

They both nodded. Hodiah turned toward the grass by the tool wing and choked out. “Here.”

Gera tugged on Obadiah’s cloak. “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 out a guttural moan. 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 Liev.

“My job.” Gera took the shovel back and cleared sod. When a rectangle of dirt appeared a hand wider and longer than Liev, 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 Liev’s head. Obadiah stood at his feet, and three guards took each side. The eight men carried Liev out and held him at the foot of the grave.

The three-year-old took a few steps toward Liev’s shrouded form, broke into sobs, and ran back into Keren’s arms.

While Obadiah and the guards knelt and lowered Liev into the earth, Gera recited, “He that dwells in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”i

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 Liev and onto their heads.

Zak stepped toward the pile of dirt, but Gera scowled and took the guard’s shovel. “The last thing I 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 Liev’s grave and shaped the soil into a mound.

Hodiah rocked Liev’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.”

i Psalm 91

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What a touching scene, Dave.