“You need to go south. And you need to start before the queen’s scouts get down into the Jordan.”
Fort Jezreel, Israel, 871 BC
1 Kings 18:2-19
Elijah hung his head and followed Nathan and Shillem out the back door into the twilight. The murmur of courtyard conversations filtered into the empty alley with the aroma of roast lamb and the smokd of cooking fires.
Nathan did the talking. “Thank you, sir. You saved us from freezing in the rain.”
Shillem laid one hand on Elijah’s shoulder and one on Nathan’s. “You boys will have clear skies tonight.” He patted their packs. “We stuffed enough bread and cheese in here for a good hike. And dates and your own Tishbe wine from the shop. Nobody likes river water, so we loaded you down with four skins from our spring.”
“Better not let the sun see you at that Jericho intersection. Caravans come through there, and the queen’s agents will interrogate the pullers about who they saw.” He tugged them to him in a long squeeze then turned back to his shop.
Elijah plodded beside Nathan along Rehov’s muddy little lane. His cheeks burned. “We won,” he had proclaimed. “The Lord won. Things are different.” He had appointed himself to run at the head of the king’s chariot and announce the new order to the queen. He had seen himself as the king’s personal assistant with his own House of Omri chariot. But tonight his wise words felt like the stumblings of a cripple.
The chatter of families and the aromas of the evening meals disappeared behind him with the few lights of the tiny town, and he descended into the Jordan Valley. An owl hooted its greeting, and Elijah trekked south.
The stars of the Strong Man rose over the Gilead mountains and rotated toward the sea. The familiar smell of camel dung wafted up from the trail. A splash at the edge of the stream announced a night heron foraging for fish. Trudging beside Nathan, Elijah past Zerothan, Adam City, and the Jabbok River. Then Beth Gilgal and the Plains of Moab.
The Strong Man faded, and Nathan pointed to the new walls of Jericho standing against the dawn. “The poet asked, ‘What will you do in the thickets of the Jordan?’” He turned to the reeds of the river bed. “Like old Shillem said, we’ll hide.”
Elijah followed his brother in and sat with his arms wrapped around his ribs. “Nathan, I’m scared.”
Nathan shook his head and muttered, “You should be scared, Lijah. You’re sitting where Jezebel helped Hiel butcher two of his children.” He sat up and peered through the haze at the heavy wooden beams of the gate. A stocky, black-headed bunting perched on the thick round limestone pillars of the gateposts. He raised his bright yellow collar and buzzed chirp-chirp then tseep-tseep-tseep.”
Elijah flinched and scooted his feet around, turning his back to the city. “I don’t want to hear that story again, Nate.”
Nathan shrugged. “I wonder how it felt to old Joshua’s captains. While they jabbered plans for taking the next city, their commander cocked his head and bubbled out, ‘The man who rebuilds Jericho shall lay the foundation thereof on his firstborn, and on his youngest son shall he set up the gates of it.’i Maybe in a different voice, you know? Could be, the words surprised him as much as them. And those few words, that was it. Like a pocket in his mind opened, let one thought escape, and snapped shut.”
Elijah doubled up and hugged his knees together. “Can’t we talk about something else?
Nathan scooted over next to Elijah and rocked back and forth.
A nightjar did its monotonous poor-will-ow.
“Talk about a know-it-all.” Elijah stared between his knees. “I thought I was doing the right thing. You saw me. Running with the king’s horses, spouting off about the new order. I wasn’t thinking about a baby boy buried under a gate post.” He dropped his head in his hands.
Elijah started at the touch of Nate’s hand on his arm.
[Any noises here with the beginning of the day? Or maybe a descriptive detail about the action of the sun rising?]
“We better get some sleep.” Nathan stretched on the lumpy stalks. “Not Shillem’s soft fluffy bed.”
“We’ll be fine.” Elijah pulled the river plants over for shade and for cover from the eyes of the camel pullers. He slept, and when the sun went down, he woke and slapped Nathan on the shoulder. “Old Shillem said to go south.”
He passed Beit Hoglah and the City of Salt. The Judean Desert rose on the right while the salt crust along the Salt Sea spread on the left.
[Maybe another descriptive detail or two about this area or what they see.]
“Hey, Nate, how much longer until we soak our feet at Ein Gedi?”[BEAT?]
“Mm… half the night? You okay for this?”[BEAT?]
“I’m good. I’m good.” [BEAT?]
In the middle of the night Nathan nudged him away from the Salt Sea and up the path into Ein Gedi. He lay face down with Nathan at the edge of the main pool and sucked in all the water he could hold. Nathan found a more private-looking pool. Elijah stripped down with him, and slid in. [cool water. Describe bathing]
As Elijah dressed, Nathan pointed up at the moonlit cliff. “Look.”
A herd of Nubian Ibex watched them from the rocks.
[What are they? Describe their shape and horns]
Elijah rested his hand on Nathan’s shoulder. “Remember when David hid from King Saul in the cave here? Think of all the lives he could have saved that night if he had let Abishai pin the king to the ground with his spear. I sometimes wonder, if I had been David, would I have let Saul live?”
“You think too much.” Nathan chuckled.
As the day started to break, [show it] Elijah arrived at the Arad Junction. He pointed to [describe and name] bushes part way up the slope. “Let’s sleep in there.” He crawled into a thick section of the shrubs with Nathan and dozed the day away.
When they woke in the twilight and crawled out of the bushes, Elijah sucked in a quick breath and stood still.
A huge isolated mesa rose from the edge of the Salt Sea.
“There, big brother. Right up there on that hunk of rock. That’s where I’d like to build a house for Milkah.”
Nathan laughed. “You’d be the rest of your life climbing to the top.” [show the slope?]
Elijah turned his back on the tall mesa and climbed west with Nathan up the small trail into the mountains of Judah, munching on Shillem’s dates and cheese and glugging Tishbe wine. About midnight they surfaced on the plateau and hiked through Arad. As merchants were opening doors and setting wares out in view, he walked into Beersheba with Nathan.
A frail woman pulled a blue scarf over her head and directed them to Benmelech’s house.
Elijah thanked her and tugged Nathan a few steps farther down the street. [Earlier on this trip show Elijah thinking about getting alone in the desert. This comes really unexpectedly. Consider giving us a couple of lines of inner thoughts that help the reader understand Elijah’s frame of mind and thought process that leads up to this. (Beyond the explanation that Elijah gives verbally to Nathan in the next few lines. Consider taking us inside of Elijah’s head a little more.) ] He stopped and swung Nathan around to face him. “Look, I have to go spend some time alone. You think Benmelech…”
Nathan scratched his cheek. “I like Benmelech, Lijah. He’s been coming to Tishbe to buy our wine since … but I came on this hike to be with you. And what’s this ‘have to’ business?”
Elijah hung his head. “Look, I really messed up back there acting like such big stuff.” He flinched when a nearby shop door slammed open against a wall.
“And…and ever since Sakkar at the fort, I’ve been running from the queen. I think. I just need to get out in the desert and, and…”
“Come here.” Nathan pulled Elijah into a hug. “Go. And the Lord go with you. Let’s refill your water skins.” He led Elijah to the well in the center of the village and tossed the bucket in. “You do know Abraham bought this well, right, little brother?”
Elijah frowned at the ground.
Nathan pulled the bucket up full of water. “So, tomorrow we’ll do a little lesson on how he paid seven lambs to Abimelech.”
Elijah held his waterskins with the mouths open.
Nathan poured, filling each skin with water. He tucked three flatbreads and a wedge of cheese into Elijah’s bag. Then he laid a wineskin from his pack in Elijah’s hands. “Tishbe. Nothing but the best.”
“Thanks, Nate.” Elijah squinted into the sun and brought a shaky hand to his forehead. “Don’t know when I’ll be back again.”
i Joshua 6:26