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08 Fight or not?

Obadiah entered the banquet at the far edge of the threshing floor. He sat between the flails that leaned against the hitching rail and the donkeys tied to it. Behind him, the fruit and vegetable shops stood shuttered1 for the festivities.

He sat rigid and fiddled with his fork. Three years had gone by with no war, primarily because Ahab didn’t have enough men, money, or materiel. Now this feast for Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. Biah stared in silence at the two kings under their canopy. The afternoon felt early. At what point in the party would Ahab make his move?

Ahab raised his voice to Jehu over at the next table. “You know Ramoth over in Gilead belongs to us, but here we sit in Samaria doing nothing to take it back.”

Biah cringed. Here came the pitch. Not that Jehoshaphat required a pitch. He had reigned eighteen years, only four fewer than Ahab, and needed an alliance to promote his wars against Moab and his shipping business at Eilat.

Ahab leaned back and smirked at the king of Judah eating and drinking at his side. “How about it? Will you help us take back Ramoth from the king of Syria?”

Biah made a face and turned away. Ahab was not as drunk as he acted. He needed an ally and knew very well that Jehoshaphat liked to keep on good terms with his northern neighbors. He had already accepted Ahab’s daughter Athaliah as bride for his son Jehoram.

Jehoshaphat placed a hand against his chest and turned soft eyes on Ahab. He dipped his handsome chin and stroked his neat, black beard. “Of course, I want to help,” came his strong bass voice. “Especially after such an impressive feast.”

Biah kept his head down but peeked. Would Ahab pick up on Jehoshaphat’s cue? What was he waiting for? They studied this three days ago.

Ahab cut his eyes briefly toward Biah but returned full focus on his guest. He gave Jehoshaphat a conspiratorial elbow nudge and said with a voice too eager and a smile too broad, “Ah, but this little spread is nothing compared to the twenty-two thousand oxen and hundred and twenty thousand sheep at King Solomon’s banquet.”

Jehoshaphat rewarded Ahab’s tiny tap on the reservoir of history with an open smile. “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.” But the king’s face went blank. His smile fell. “Um, maybe we should ask the Lord about this.”

Biah hid a chuckle behind his hand. “Horses” had triggered pictures in Jehoshaphat’s mind of chariots and troops and bags of silver. Hence the urge to pray.

King Ahab sat up straight. “No problem.” He waved at a guard. “Bring in the counselors.”

The guests took several more bites of mutton and offered a few more toasts.

Asherah prophets filed through the gate and onto the threshing floor.

Biah groaned. Too bad Jezebel had ordered her men to stay away from Mount Carmel. The crowd that cut the throats of the Baal prophets would have loved to slaughter her Asherah prophets and toss them both in the Kishon.

Ahab opened his hands to the Asherah prophets. “Shall we go to Gilead and fight for Ramoth or stay home?”

The four hundred spoke in unison.2 “War! Make war! God will lay that city in your hand!”

Biah squirmed in his seat at the embarrassing, childish display of hyper-loyalism. He avoided Ahab’s eyes. Only the alliance with Jezebel’s father could force his old friend to give board and room to such cheap entertainers.

King Jehoshaphat scowled. “Is this it? These Asherah guys?”

The corner of Biah’s mouth twitched. What kept the word “sham” from Jehoshaphat’s lips?

Jehoshaphat continued. “Don’t you know any counselor from the Lord?”

Biah set his drink down. Now what? Ahab had thrown the only bubbler he knew out of town.

Ahab glowered at far-away Biah. He sighed and fluttered his hand at a guard. “Bring me Micaiah son of Imlah. He’s with Gera the grove manager. On the double. We don’t want to keep the king of Judah waiting.”

The guard bowed and left.

Ahab tugged his tunic away from his throat and gave a weak smile to Jehoshaphat. “You asked for someone from the Lord. I hope you’re not disappointed. This Micaiah kid, he sings and bounces, bounces and sings.” Ahab curled his lip. “He struggles to overcome an unhappy childhood, you know. Very negative outlook. Never anything good to say. But, ah…”

Biah rolled his eyes. Unhappy childhood? What a rotten lie. He stood and jutted his chin across the distance. “My king!” Ahab and Jehoshaphat glanced at him, and Biah batted the lie away with his hand as though it were a fly. He sat back down and took slow breaths.

Jehoshaphat clucked his tongue. “Let’s not talk that way about a messenger from the Lord.”

Ahab gave a low chuckle. “Oh. Of course. He’s a fine fellow and means well. Um, I say, he means well. It might take the boys a while to find him.” Ahab beckoned to a server. “Let’s give our guest another slice of that roast.”

The server slid a slice of beef onto Jehoshaphat’s plate.

King Jehoshaphat glanced at the meat and took a deep breath, but he left the meat untouched.

Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn.” The guests turned toward the song that floated through the gate.

Heh-heh.” Ahab sat straight and beamed at Jehoshaphat. “Sounds like the boys found good old Micaiah sooner than I thought.”

Mikey bobbed in with his messy brown hair and the slight lift to his step. He stopped in front of the two kings sitting on their thrones in their robes of state. First, he bowed to Ahab and then to Jehoshaphat. His heels moved up and down ever so slightly. “The Lord’s alive, you know. I merely repeat what He tells me.” He grinned over at the Asherah chorus. “Nothing like this show you have going here.”

Zedekiah leaped from the chorus front row into the center of the threshing floor. He crouched and held a pair of horns to his head.

Ahab’s face turned red. He rolled his eyes at Biah. Biah closed his eyes and groaned.

Zedekiah thrust forward and back, right and left. With both hands holding the horns on his head, he could not balance with his arms, so he toppled and staggered with his thrusts. But each time he recovered and sang out, “The Lord says, ‘With these you will gore and destroy!’”

Biah covered a laugh with his hand. Poor Zee and his unbalanced bull.

Undaunted, the chorus of the four hundred cheered. “Attack Ramoth in Gilead. Attack! The Lord says, ‘Hold out your hand!’ Grasp victory! Success!”

Ahab frowned over at Biah and then studied the floor by his feet. He peeked at Jehoshaphat.

The king of Judah cringed and held his head in his hands.

Ahab took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Um, thank you, Zedekiah.” He pasted on a fresh smile. “Well, Mikey, um, Micaiah, what do you say? Go to war or stay home?”

Mikey crouched and bobbed his head forward. And back. He clicked. His fingers. To the beat. He put his hand to his lips. “Pah-PUMpah, pahpumpa-PUMpah.”

Jehoshaphat scooted forward on his throne and bobbed with him. Together they clicked fingers. Slow grins spread across the faces of Jehu, Bidkar, and several other chariot captains. They bobbed their heads and rolled their shoulders. Servers standing at the edge of the threshing floor twitched their knees to Mikey’s beat.

While King Jehoshaphat bobbed his head, Mikey belted out new words to the ancient tune.

Sure thing, king.

Yeah, I mean bring.

Bring it on. War.

War, of course.

Chariot and horse.

Attack ‘em. Smack ‘em.

Easy victory.

Hold out your hand.

Success!

Hold it.” Ahab jumped up and hurled his wine cup to the threshing floor. “No song and dance, Mikey. Only your report.”

I’d rather not, my king. I don’t like what I saw.” Mikey’s heels sagged.

With the beat lying dead, Jehoshaphat turned on his throne and stared at Ahab. “Who is this boy?”

Ahab ignored Jehoshaphat and sat back down. “Just tell us what you saw.”

Mikey choked. He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and licked tears off his top lip.

Biah sat with open mouth and ignored the tears that dripped onto his plate. Why didn’t Mikey do the little ditty again? What kind of horror had he seen?

If you insist, my king.” Mikey’s face drooped. He pointed to the mountains of Gilead. “I saw Israel scattered.” His mouth twitched, but he took a deep breath and continued. “Men dotted the hills like wandering sheep. The Lord said, ‘They have no leader. Send them home to fend for themselves.’”

Ahab muttered. “Never anything good.”

Biah choked back a sob.

Jehoshaphat sat with open mouth and stared, first at Mikey, then at Ahab.

Mikey splayed his arms out at his sides and turned his face to the sky. “I saw the Lord on his throne with angels left and right. The Lord asked, ‘Who will lure Ahab to go die at Ramoth in Gilead?’”

One said, ‘Like this.’ Another, ‘Here’s how.’ But one angel took center stage. ‘I’ll make those Asherah prophets think they’ve discovered Truth.’”

The Lord nodded. “Go do it.”

Biah’s mouth quirked. Should be a simple task.

Mikey waved toward the chorus. “So the Lord put this victory dance in the mouths of your puppets here and…and…” Mikey sobbed.

Zedekiah-of-the-Crouching-Horns jumped over and punched him in the mouth.

What makes you think the Spirit of God would leave me and talk to you?”

Biah jumped to his feet. Time to put the horns away.

But Mikey stood and wiped his mouth. “You’ll know, Zee. When you’re looking for a place to hide, you’ll know.”

Biah sat back down and glanced at Jehoshaphat. The king cringed. He must wish he’d stayed in Jerusalem.

Ahab curled up on his throne and looked sideways at a guard. “Lock Mikey up. Bread and water until I get back.”

Oh, my king. Don’t you understand?” Mikey’s voice caught. “Do what you want with me, but you’re not coming back.” He turned to Biah. “You hear me, Biah? Our king’s not coming back.”

1 Shutters in 851 BC?

2 Unison believable?

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