The Lord lifted Elijah’s chin. “We don’t want Nathan to wear out his welcome with Benmelech.”
Beersheba 871? B.C.
1 Kings 19:3-18?
[Birds, flowers, breezes, sunshine, animals…]
“Let’s go home.” Elijah retrieved Nathan from Beersheba and hiked north. How to tell his brother about those moments with the Lord in the desert? Several times he opened his mouth and closed it again. Word couldn’t convey the experience.
As the sun sank behind them, Elijah found a hidden spot in a green clump of Abraham’s balm bushes on the far side of Arad and folded himself down into the grass.
“Nate, the Lord did something that felt like Mother.”
“The Lord’s like Mother?” Nathan slouched beside him.
“Remember how she takes your face in both her hands to help you listen?”
Nathan nodded slowly. “She makes me look right into her eyes.”
Elijah’s voice thickened. “On that mountain back there, I could feel the Lord’s two hands holding my face and his eyes reaching into me.”
Nathan rolled onto his back. “I’d still be standing there with his hands on my face.”
Crickets sang. An owl hooted.
Nathan fell asleep.
Elijah cupped his face in his hands and pictured the tornado, the earthquake, and the fire. As he recalled the deep silence of the cave, he slept.
In the morning, Nathan shoved branches of the shrub aside and gawked at the majestic mesa which still rose from the edge of the Salt Sea. “There’s that unclimbable thing again. Look at the sides. I wonder if anyone’s ever been on the top. Useless, though. Even if you could build Milkah a house up there, how would you grow vines?”
Milkah? Elijah scowled. Milkah was farther out of reach than the top of that bluff. He clamped his mouth shut, led Nathan down the path to the Salt Sea, and joined a caravan heading north.
As they hiked with the wispy-bearded camel pullers, Nathan kept his head down, but Elijah chatted now and then. He kept glancing at the trail ahead. Soon he would push open the family’s gate where Mother had urged him to speak to Milkah. Would either woman be there?i
At the Ein Gedi junction, Nathan poked him. “Did you know the Amorites called this place, ‘Hazezontamar’? Say that three times rapidly.”
“That’s what Chedorlaomer called Ein Gedi when he made the mistake of carrying—”
Elijah elbowed him. “Of carrying off Lot. So Abraham—”
“Remember how you told Dad if we had Abraham’s three hundred eighteen armed servants they could help us rescue those little slave girls?”
Elijah winced. “I was so serious, and Dad laughed. But with black tunics like Sakkar around, I wish Dad had Abraham’s troop in Tishbe to protect Mother and Sheerah.”ii
“And Milkah.” In mid stride, Nathan turned to Elijah. “Don’t give up on Milkah, little brother. Linen tunics mean nothing to her.”
“So you say.” Elijah bent his head forward then stiffened straight. What girl would wait for a boy who disappeared without a word? As his absent months stretched into years, the butcher’s son must have looked better and better. No doubt she nursed a baby over the butcher shop in Jabesh.
North of Ein Gedi, he and Nathan bedded down with a caravan. Surrounded by the murmur of camel pullers and the odor of grunting camels, they slept well. In the morning, Elijah jabbered like normal. “Before we see Mother, the Lord has an errand for me in a place we’ve never seen, Dancing Meadow.”iii
They kept going north then west into the hills. At the edge of the village, Elijah paused. “This should only take a minute. Then home to Mama.”
Nathan trailed Elijah as he approached a man in a checkered gray turban and a soiled gray robe who led a donkey loaded with bags of onions. “The Lord be with you.”
“The Lord bless you, sir.”
“Would you know the Shaphats? We’re looking for Elisha, son of Shaphat.”
“Old farming family. Right back the way you came.” He glanced at the sun. “You should see them out plowing.”
“Twelve pair of oxen breaking sod in one field?”
“That’s the Shaphats. They’ll be on your left.”
“Thank you for your kindness to a pair of strangers, sir. When you’re in Gilead, look for us in the Tishbe Vineyard.”
Elijah turned back to the oxen. He and Nathan walked out into the field, well away from the teams, until they stood in plain view of the twelve drivers without spooking their oxen. The boy driving the twelfth pair stopped his team and jogged over.
Elijah smiled. “The Lord be with you.”
“The Lord bless you, sir. Elisha’s the name.” He stood about as tall as Elijah’s sister, Sheerah, and wore the standard farmer-gray checkered turban wrapped high on his head. Dirt from the sod colored the hem of his gray cloak, while black whiskers sprouted on his chin and promised to cover his cheeks. “That’s my father, Shaphat, driving the lead team.” He waved toward the oxen and offered a broad smile to Elijah and Nathan.
“This is for you.” In one quick move, Elijah stepped up, draped his cloak over Elisha’s shoulders, and walked away.
Yet Elisha moved just as fast, right beside him, matching stride for stride. “I’ll kiss my father and mother goodbye, and then I’ll come with you.”
“Exactly as you should. Your parents know you first and best. Compared to them, what have I done?”
Elisha dashed to his team and unhitched the plow.
While Elijah stood at the edge of the field, Nathan tugged his sleeve. “Why did you toss your robe on this fellow? What’s he supposed to do?”
Elijah cut his eyes right and left then lowered his voice. “The Lord’s exact word.” He pulled Nathan over and spoke into his ear. “‘Successor.’”
Nathan jumped back. “Successor? You mean assistant.”
Elijah laughed. “If you could have grabbed my attention on Mount Carmel when the fire was licking up the water, I might have wanted an assistant.” He tilted his head and paused. “But that dream froze in the rain, and when we ran from Jezebel, I left the fire on the mountain. Out in the desert, the Lord spoke. And I listened. I’m neither his fist nor his fire. I’m only what he tells me at the moment.”
“Whoa there, little brother.” Nathan rocked back on his heels. “Slow down with the poetry.”
“Sorry. Got a little carried away. But successor is the Lord’s word, not mine. I’m giving him the errands from the Lord and going home to Mother.
Across the field where Elisha unhitched the plow, the boy’s father and the other drivers gathered to him. Each man took a turn at stepping aside and gawking at Elijah and Nathan waiting at the edge of the field. Then they slaughtered Elisha’s two oxen and broke his plowing equipment in pieces.iv
Elisha jogged over to Elijah and Nathan. “It’s a party, and you’re invited.” He waved at young boys trotting away on distant paths. “We’re inviting the neighbors. Join us, please.”
“We’d be honored.” Elijah made a slight bow. “The Lord gave me two assignments I’d like to pass on to you.”
Elisha raised both eyebrows. “Yes, sir. What would those be, please?”
“In Damascus, to anoint Hazael king over Assyria. And in Ramoth, to anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel.”
Elisha pursed his lips. “Tall orders for a newbie. Thank you, sir. When?”
“The timing is up to the Lord. Be listening.”
Elisha gave a crisp nod. “Very well, sir.”
Elijah and Nathan joined the butchering with Elisha.
The men made a fire with the pieces of plowing equipment and roasted the meat. The young boys came back with neighbors in tow, and everyone stood around munching roast ox.v
Elisha’s father approached. “We’ve got a good soft rug for you fellows and breakfast in the morning. Please spend the night.”
As the neighbors drifted off to their homes, Elisha showed Elijah and Nathan to their sleeping room.
They slept well, and in the morning broke fast with Elisha’s family.
“You’re all welcome up in Gilead at the Tishbe vineyard.” Elijah bowed.vi
He and Nathan pointed their strides back down the path to the Jordan River.
At the Adam City intersection, Nathan paused. “Too bad you sent that young fellow to Ramoth. We could have said hello to Bernice.”
Elijah cringed. “That name. I wish I’d never mentioned her.”
“I have to talk with Dad about Bernice, Lijah. A promise is a promise, no matter how long ago.”
On the far side of the river, up on the Gilead plateau, a caravan of miniature camels and camel pullers slid silently along the distant King’s Highway past clumps of tiny oak trees. In one of those far off patches of shade, Elijah had helped Nathan sling how many goatskins of Tishbe wine into the panniers of how many camels?
His nose wrinkled. In those oaks, a flimsy slave girl stinking of her own dung had clung to him before her owner dragged her away.
Elijah pointed to the plateau. “See the grove where we sold wine? I wonder if Rocky’s up there waiting for Dad to bring him lunch from Uncle Abner’s?”
Nathan laughed aloud. “Those little spots of green all look alike from down here. But remember looking down on this river crossing?”
“You told me a hundred times how the waters stood in a heap here for Joshua, and I never dreamed one day we’d stand down here and ache for home.” Tears welled in Elijah’s eyes. “Call me crazy, Nate, but all I’ve ever wanted was to help Dad in the vines.” He swallowed his tears. “For you, Neetz. For me, home.”
“After we see Mother,” Nathan leaned into him, “I’m taking you over the ridge.”vii
iElijah rubbed his chest, warming a memory of home that never left (OW!!!) 🙂
ii But with nearby men dressed in black tunics, like Sakkar, I wish…
iii[No comment from Nathan? No, hey wait, I thought we were going straight home.?]
iv So, in all research, Elisha’s family gave him no guff about up and leaving them? Had the Lord prepared Elisha or his father or someone close?
v I’m also wondering if you might slow that scene down a bit and have Elijah explain to the young boys on the trails what the symbolism was behind burning the plow equipment and killing the ox.
vi To me, it would’ve been nice to see a sappy goodbye to Elisha but that would be a rabbit hole we don’t need to jump down! Nice restraint!!
viiHe glanced toward a certain hill, but Elijah’s heart had raced well ahead of Nathan’s thoughts.