Jabesh, Gilead, Israel, 876 BC
1 Kings 16:30-32
A warm, round body crawled over Elijah’s feet, and tiny hands slapped the floor. “Mama. Baba. Ga. Dada.” The sweet smell of a freshly bathed infant drifted up.
Nathan squatted in front of the baby. “Hi, little guy.” He clapped, and the baby looked up. “Ga.”
The baker set a tray on the counter and handed hot loaves to the first woman in line
Elijah’s stomach grumbled at the tantalizing smell.
The baker beamed at Nathan. “Omar. The baby’s name is Omar.”
Nathan dropped on hands and knees. “That’s a good name.” He wiggled his head and gave a huge smile. “Omar.”
Omar grabbed Nathan’s nose. “Ga-ba-da.”
Nathan pulled away and blinked.
Elijah crouched over them.
Nathan brought his face to Omar and whispered in a thick voice, “When I find the right girl, we’ll have baby boys just like you.” He glanced up at Elijah. His eyes brimmed with tears.
The baker’s wife pushed past her husband, smiled at Omar, and brushed his curly black hair. “Our fourth. And he’s got my father’s eyes.”
Omar grabbed Nathan’s ears.
Nathan slid his long fingers around Omar’s tiny chest and picked him up. He held Omar’s face up to a man in line for bread, gazed deep into Omar’s eyes, and spoke for Omar. “Good morning, sir.”
Omar wiggled. “Ga-ba-da.”
The man grinned.
With his eyes fixed on his squirming bundle, Nathan moved to a gray-haired woman in line. “Omar is so glad to see you, ma’am.”
Her eyes twinkled. “Omar! Who’s got you, Omar? That big old boy from Tishbe got you?” She clapped her hands, and Omar rewarded her with a belly-laugh.
As Nathan and Omar put on their show, Dad and the baker paused from weighing shekels from the strong box and exchanged silly grins.
Elijah remained by the wineskin and allowed himself a private smile. His eyes flitted from Nathan to Dad and back again. He pressed a finger alongside his cheek and held his elbow in his palm. What was happening?
Before this moment, Nathan had always ducked out and stood among the donkeys. He talked with children who petted Balak and Balaam, but if an adult came close, he bent and fiddled with cinch straps. Now, with Omar in his arms, he talked with strangers. Not face to face, but talk, nonetheless.
Nathan stood the baby on the floor and grinned up at the baker’s wife. “Does he walk?”
She shook her head, No, as Omar plopped onto his bottom. “Baba.”
Nathan set his jaw. “Okay, Omar. Let’s show everybody how you crawl.”
Omar sat and gazed at Nathan’s foot. “Goo. Coo.”
Undaunted, Nathan made a small, adult bow to the bakery crowd. “Maybe later.”
Dad collected his five silver shekels from the shopkeeper, shuffled back a step, and studied Nathan.
Elijah tilted his head. Nathan perform for an audience? When his sister Sheerah and Racham the potter’s son got married and had a baby, Nathan could put on shows with small folk in Tishbe.
As Elijah left the bake shop, Dad took his arm. “Both you boys will soon be of an age to…” He pulled at the collar of this tunic. “Um, you’ve seen how the girls stare at Nathan.” Dad coughed. “What I mean is, your mother did well to send those figs to Milkah. Her father’s a good man, and Milkah will make you a good wife.”
Elijah ran his fingers over his smooth cheeks and raised an eyebrow at Nathan. “Big brother’s the one with the beard. Maybe we should find him a wife.”
He pulled his cloak up around his hips and hopped over a deep winter rut. A light breeze touched his hair. He pulled five donkeys across the rut by their lead lines, and Nathan followed with five.
Shops lined the street. Smoke from cooking fires mixed with the smell of manure. A hoopoe perched atop an oak and called “oop-oop-oop” while faint white clouds drifted high above. There would be no rain today.
Elijah tossed his head back. “Check out that blue up there. Only a week until Passover.”
Dad waved at the sky. “‘The winter is past. The rain is over and gone.’”
Nathan picked up the song. “‘The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.’” He tipped his head toward Elijah. “Your turn, little brother.”
Elijah rubbed his chin. “‘The… um… the fig. The fig tree puts forth her green figs.’” He laughed and tapped his temple. “I can do this. ‘And the vines… with the tender grape give a good smell.’”11 Songs 2:11-13
Dad shook his head. “Your beard will grow, son, and you’ll memorize the next lines.”
On the trip into Jabesh a week later, Elijah jabbed Dad with an elbow and tipped his head toward Nathan.
Dad nodded and pursed his lips. “Um, yes. Today, boys, we’ll stop first at the bake shop.”
They sauntered into the bakery.
Elijah stood back as Nathan hoisted Omar onto the berm beside a tray of bread and wiggled his tiny toes. “This little sheep went to market…”
Customers gawked and grinned while the young man and the baby giggled and chattered.
At each trip into Jabesh, Nathan’s eyes twinkled, and the bakery became Omar’s place, their first stop.
Fifty days after Elijah watched Omar grab Nathan’s nose, the naked sun of summer beat the dusty streets of Jabesh. The Feast of Booths would start in a week.
As Elijah led Balak and Balaam toward the bakery, a black-painted cart swerved around the corner and headed for them. He pulled the donkeys out of the way and jumped into the ditch with Dad and Nathan.
In the cart, a bronze statue stood as high as Balak’s withers, its arms extended over a wire basket.
Elijah cringed. He had heard of this idol with arms that dropped screaming babies into fire.
The driver’s mouth hung open in a smirk. He wore a black cloak with a bold pink drawing of the statue on its shoulder.
The blood drained from Dad’s face as he pressed his lips flat. “Moloch.”
Nathan stiffened. “Kronos of Sidon.”
Elijah led his five donkeys out of the gutter and glared at the back of the cart. “What’s he doing in Jabesh?”