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27 A gathering of the tribes

On the fourth day of the week, Obadiah stood on Mount Carmel with King Ahab and watched the sun chase the stars from the sky and then bleach away the night itself.

You summoned.” He swept his arm around at the crowd. “And your people gathered. Would my king care to mingle with the unwashed throng?”

Ahab scowled. “Where’s that kid?”

My, my. Aren’t we grumpy today? Is it the hot dry breeze? Did Mr. Goatskin’s mention of rain make you hope for a muggy morning?”

When’s he gonna start his rain dance?” Ahab crossed his arms and tilted his head back.

A man climbed down from his donkey, leaned on a stout cane, and peered at Obadiah. “Your runner handed me your message, don’t you know?” His voice carried well, and those several paces away glanced his direction.

The king nodded, his fifty guards opened formation, and the man hobbled into the royal circle. He fastened his rheumy gaze on Obadiah. “Name’s Jamin. Tribe of Simeon, don’t you know? Everybody in Shechem’s my friend. I serve the people, don’t you know?” He punctuated each declaration with a sharp dip of his head. “Always alert for the call. Course, you’re too young—”

Barley cakes!” Two little boys shrilled. “Raisin, fig, date. Get ’em while they last. Hot barley cakes!”

Barley cake, Jamin?”

Don’t mind if I do. Did the lads say date-filled?”

Obadiah raised an eyebrow at a guard, and two hot, date-filled barley cakes passed from hand to hand among the guards and then to Jamin. The two squeaky merchants circled the guards—“Get ‘em while they last.”—and soon sold their cakes.

Good cakes. Fresh dates.” Jamin handed one to Obadiah. “Thank you very much, young man.”

Obadiah nibbled on his cake. “Shechem, you say? Tribe of Simeon?”

That’s right. Gang of us there on the southwest corner, don’t you know? Waving those silly little Gate-of-Shechem banners.”

Hmm… Maybe you prefer the banner of Ephraim, my tribe.”

Hmpf! Boring sheaf of wheat. No offense intended.”

None taken, my friend. My favorite is the banner of Naphtali.”

Ah! We’d swell the ranks to follow their gazelle, don’t you know?”

Muttering came from the crowd, and faces turned to the center.

Does he think he’s Moses?” Ahab stood on tip-toe and scanned the crowd. “Look at the banners. Mr. Dew-Nor-Rain’s got the tribes arranged for the Ark of the Covenant. See? In the north you’ve got Naphtali, Dan, and Asher. On the west—”

Oh, that young fellow has nothing to do with our formation.” Jamin chuckled. “Old birds like me answered your call. We’re partial to our places, don’t you know? And that tall young Levite put himself right there in the center where he belongs.”

Elijah stood with his arms folded, and Ahab approached with Obadiah and Jamin at his side. The guards opened their circle and closed around the four men. Too-tall Elijah glowered down into Ahab’s face. “The Baal officials are here, but not the Asherah.” He narrowed his eyes and patted a waist-high boulder. “We proceed.”

Obadiah stood back and pasted on a broad smile for Jamin. “So, what’s your take on our young Levite?”

Beard’s too thin. Now my grandfather had a beard to be proud of. And his grandfather received runners from Deborah and Barak. To fight Sisera right here at the Kishon, don’t you know?”

Obadiah studied Jamin’s weathered face. Hmm… Barak fought Sisera four hundred years ago. That meant how many generations back? And how many years between generations? Maybe Jamin should add two or three “greats” to that story.

Elijah clambered onto the high boulder.

Look.” Obadiah tapped Jamin’s shoulder. “He’s about to speak.”

Speak?” Jamin grasped Obadiah’s sleeve. “My grandfather spoke of Gideon’s runners.”

Would the old man recite every call to battle? Even the one nobody liked to talk about?

Pomegranates! Figs! Almonds!” A hawker peered between the guards.

Ahab nudged the nearest man. “Pomegranate sounds good. Buy everything he’s got. Spread it among my guards. I’ll take a few almonds, too. Ask how long it will take him to bring a pomegranate and two figs for every guard.”

Relaxed, Elijah looked out over the crowd.

Jamin thumped his cane on the ground, hung his head, and let it roll from side to side. His voice rang out as if Obadiah stood on the next hill. “Liked to been there when young Saul sent around those pieces of ox meat.”

Quick smiles from the crowd flashed his direction. Well, old Jamin had named the four official calls to fight. He could stop talking now. Unless…

Elijah straightened, and everyone turned his way. He raised his hands, and the murmur fell off.

Jamin boomed over the silence, “But not when they brought around pieces of that slave cut up by her master.”

Ouch.

The guards scowled, and Obadiah pinched his lips together. Jamin had a perverse need to review all their history, but he should be more selective. Israel had plenty of feel-good stories: Rebecca gave a drink of water to Abraham’s servant, Ruth sided with the Lord’s people. Joseph trusted the Lord even in prison. Obadiah shrugged. At least Jamin knew his stuff, the ugly with the good.

Elijah thrust his shoulders back and lifted his chin to the crowd. “How long do you plan to stumble between two opinions?”

A slow smile built on Ahab’s face. “We could use him to rally the troops.”

Elijah planted his feet and opened his arms wide. “If the Lord is God, follow Him.”

Ahab plunked his elbow into Obadiah’s ribs. “The lad’s religious like you, Biah.”

If the Baals are divine, follow the Baals.” Elijah aimed his lanky arm at the Baal officials.

One side of Obadiah’s mouth curled up. The Baals. So-called lords of dew and rain that promised fertile crops. Little male gods who enticed the Children of Israel to sneak off to dozens of Canaanite high places. The golden calves King Jeroboam introduced as “the gods who delivered you out of Egypt.” Oh, yes, the Baals were popular. But divine? Fat chance.

Elijah swept his arm over the crowd. “Where are the officials of Asherah? Those foreigners who dine alone with Jezebel and whisper dark secrets in their strange tongue. Go check the closets in the back corners of the fort. Those wimps are afraid to show their face.”

People in the crowd nodded to each other, and Jamin turned to Obadiah. “Your boy got that right.”

Did he? Obadiah scratched his jaw. Were the Asherah officials cowards? King Ethbaal ruled Tyre, Zarephath, Sidon, Byblos, and Cyprus. He dispatched his daughter Jezebel to dominate Ahab, and he posted four hundred agents of Asherah at her side to suppress Ahab’s officials. These agents answered only to Jezebel and King Ethbaal.

Obadiah leaned over to Ahab. “Those black tunics wouldn’t even let me hand your order to their main man.”

Ahab sighed. “Jezebel takes orders only from her father.”

High on his rock platform, Elijah smoothed the front of his goatskin. “We’ll do a simple test. Two altars. One fire.”

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