At the end of the week, Elijah tossed an empty waterskin into his donkey’s pannier and turned to Nathan, “What would you think about hauling with more donkeys?”
Zarephath, Sidon, 869 BC
1 King 17:17-23
Elijah plucked a handful of dead leaves. The vines were losing moisture to the dry wind faster than their five donkeys could haul water. He shifted his donkey’s pannier. He couldn’t ask this donkey to carry a heavier load. “With more donkeys, we can save more vines.”
“Yes, Nathaniel.” The woman of wealth leaned across her donkey’s withers and waved her lashes at the country boy. “Could we each handle one more donkey?”
Nathan nodded slightly as he grinned at Neetz. “I think we’re ready for one more, Neetzevet.” He blinked, shifted toward his brother, and shuffled his feet. “Um, right, Elijah. Good idea.”
“Would you like me to ask my father about more donkeys, Nathaniel?” Neetz glanced up at him and touched her hair.
Nathan wiped his sweaty palms on his tunic. “Oh. Your father. Um, more donkeys.” He took in a long breath and turned to Elijah. “More donkeys is a good idea, right?”
Elijah rolled his eyes. Nathan had said, “Message delivered,” not “Message received.”
Two mornings later, Neetz showed up at the widow’s gate with five more donkeys, their panniers filled with empty waterskins. “My father thinks your move to double the donkeys is good management, Nathaniel.” As she transferred the lead lines to Nathan, her eyes closed and her fingers lingered on his.
As they left for the vineyard, Elijah slammed the gate closed behind him. With Bernice in distant Ramoth and Neetz next to Nathan every day, would he lose his brother?
# # #
For three years, although hot winds sucked moisture from the vines, the little band of irrigators poured water. Tiny buds pushed withered skeletons fluttering to the ground. When they poured more water, the buds became leaves and thickened into lush green.
So, although the sun bored down from the center of the sky, and the arid breeze caked Elijah’s nostrils with dried mucous, he sat in the dense shade of Hashabiah’s vines.
In the next row, Zim dug a hole.
When the hole achieved cup shape, he stood. Zim no longer had to look up at the leaves. He had grown so tall that the blond mop on his head reached the edge of Nathan’s shoulder and rode level with the tops of the vines. He stepped over to the sprouts Elijah had marked for transplanting.
Elijah held his breath. How would the teacher correct the student’s classic error?
Simple. Nathan cleared his throat.
Neetz sat up straight, glanced at Zim, then focused on Nathan.
Zim flashed Neetz a grin, backed up, hoisted a water skin, and filled the hole. The water soaked in. Error solved.
Nathan pointed to the wet soil. “Why did you pour good water down that empty hole?”
Neetz’s eyes twinkled.
Zim propped his hands on his hips. “Cause now it’s not thirsty and won’t steal water from my baby.”
Elijah applauded. “Behold the transplant king.”
Neetz sat silent, yet if Nathan had been the one to speak, she would have echoed “transplant king.”
Zim bowed to his admirers, then swaggered over and slid his shovel under a sprout. But as he lifted, an uncut root clung and dragged the tiny vine off the shovel. When it landed, most of the dirt fell off the roots.
“Nothing to be ashamed of, king.” Nathan grinned. “That even happens to Mr. Lijah.”
“No worries, Zim,” Neetz gushed.
“But see those little hairs on the roots?” Nathan pointed. “Move fast now, before they dry out.”
Neetz clutched her hands before her. “Hurry, Zee-zee.”
Elijah slapped his palm against his forehead. As Nathan and Neetz danced at the edge of glance and touch, how much longer could Nathan’s loyalty to Dad bind him to the invisible Bernice?
Zim sliced the offending root with his shovel, and the whole plant came free. Without spilling a spoonful of dirt, he walked his sprout baby over and plopped it into the hole. One hand scooped in dirt while the other patted the loose soil onto the roots. He glanced over at Elijah’s transplants, then dug out a little hollow to match them and filled the void with water.
“Hurrah!” Elijah cheered. “He’s got it, Nate.”
Nathan, Neetz, and the widow clapped.
Zim bowed to the applause.
Elijah leaned next to Nathan and lowered his voice. “When you took over Dad’s vineyard, you were about Zim’s age.”
Nathan kicked a clump of dirt. “That boy could run this vineyard. As Neetz’s assistant.”
Elijah turned to face south. “I wouldn’t mind working with our old dad again.”
“You, ah, getting any, you know, hints from the Lord about going home?” Nathan crossed his arms, rubbing his forearms with his thumbs.
Elijah leaned over. “When I do, you’ll be the first to know. You think Sheerah and Rocky are hitched?”
“Sure hope so.” Nathan’s eyes brightened. “What about that black-eyed beauty with the lamb she named Chops?” He raised his eyebrows.
Elijah dipped his chin and swallowed. “She’s married to the butcher’s son in Jabesh, the one with the real beard and the silk tunics.” Elijah tipped his head back. “She gave up on that kid from the other side of the ridge whose cheeks only grew peach fuzz. Long ago.” He turned toward Mt. Hermon, took a deep breath, and puffed it out fast through his nose. “Mother tried to get me to see her when I left for Fort Jezreel. Shoulda listened.”
Mother. Elijah laid one hand on the other and let out a long sigh. Had the Moloch thugs found her in Ramoth?
And Dad. Had the king’s men traced Elijah’s awkward elbows and knees to Tishbe? If he ever did go home, would he see his father’s square-jawed smile? Or blackened timbers tumbled in among rough-cut limestones?i
While Elijah used his shovel to chop out a dead grapevine, Nathan guided a long runner from a mother vine into a trench. He covered the runner but left the leaves poking out to become sprouts for transplanting. Zim and the widow dug holes for baby vines while Neetz, between glances at Nathan, packed soil around the roots of a young vine.
The sunii pulled away from Mt. Hermon into the light blue sky. Atop three nearby vine posts, a trio of azure-bellied bee-eaters flashed their yellow throats. They swooped into passing dragonflies, pinched one in each beak, and returned to their perches.
In the first week in the month of Aviv, on the first day of the weekiii, Elijah stepped into the path between vines and turned south, away from the group. He stood with head up and shoulders back. “Yes. I see.”
i This image plagued Elijah’s thoughts for five months as Elijah…
ii Where’s the sun in 34? In Ch 35 it’s dawning over Hermon.
iiiHmm… Will the 1st day of the week work?
He’s not going to leave Zarephath on the 7th day.
In “Send Ahab” he tells them to meet on the 4th day of the week.
In the Valley what’s Elijah going to do on Shabbat? Stay with Hashabiah’s Uncle Uzziel in Acco?