18. The road to Megiddo – rough

Olive Grove, Samaria, Israel, 870 B.C.

1 Kings 18:4-5

Micaiah shivered and paced the low stone wall of the grove. He hugged his ribs and tugged his cloak tight at the neck. Why was he hiding from that Asherah official? He should have knocked the miserable creep on his back right there in the market.

When Micaiah reached to swipe at the flies on his nose, his cloak opened to the chill of the morning. For several paces he let the flies accumulate, then shook them off with a twitch of the head.

Imri sat by the charcoal fire under the ledge and whittled an olive wood mezuzah. “What happened to the lilt in my cousin’s step? You make me think of Samson when he became ‘as any other man.’ I haven’t seen a Philistine with a razor around here, but your stride’s looking way too normal.”1

Micaiah huffed and pressed his lips into a white slash. Waiting and wondering had flattened his bounce. He never should have listened to those women. If Liam’s mother wasn’t so tender… No, don’t blame Hodiah. When Uncle Gera said “hide from Jezebel’s thugs,” he should have been man enough to refuse.

Zophai lay on the other side of the fire and worked an awl into the sole of a sandal. “My little brother’s as good with leather as I am. I wish I were there to help him.”

Imri’s shoulders slumped. “If I went home, I’d mouth off, and Jezeb—”

Thrushes and redwings flew from the grove entrance and then settled back among the trees.

“Shush!” Micaiah raised a hand and ducked below the wall.

Visitors? Since the day Gera tucked them into this pocket in the hills, five Sabbaths had passed, and the only faces they had seen were Gera, Hodiah, and Othniel. He only had one duty—staying alive—and he was bored.

Imri and Zophai crept to his side and peeked over the stones.

A pebble rattled on the path. Who was coming?

He pushed Imri and Zophai down behind the wall. To show one mop of hair might be safe, but three such bumps could grab the eye.

Gera’s worn brown sandal pushed into view, and Micaiah scrambled to him over the stones. He dodged trees and bounced down the slope with Imri and Zophai thumping in his footprints. Gera stepped aside, and—thud, thud, thud—the three boys crumpled in a pile at his feet.

“I thought my Liam made noise, but the way you three bulls thunder down the hill you’ll have the queen’s assassins on our necks.”

“Sorry, Uncle Gera.” Micaiah sat up and plucked a twig from a low branch. “What happened? Did they kill another bubbler?”

Gera set a wineskin and a bag of figs on the path and pulled Micaiah to his feet. “No, no, Mikey. Good news.” He helped Imri and Zophai up. “My friend found a cave by Megiddo. One with no snooping black tunics. You leave at sundown.”

Micaiah tossed the twig aside. “Today?”

Gera swiveled with a finger on his lips. “Keep your voice down. I didn’t hide you these weeks to let the queen’s men get their hands on you.”

Zophai brushed flies from his chin. “Will the cave be warm, Uncle Gera?”

Better than that hole you’ve been in. Fill your water skins and sleep. Meet me at my shack an hour before sundown. You’ve got an all-night hike.”

###

As Micaiah approached Gera and Hodiah at the shack, fourteen young men stepped out from the trees. Strangers, all except a boy who sold sweet potatoes in the market. Micaiah’s eyes bulged, and he froze with his hand on Gera’s bench.

At Micaiah’s shock, Gera’s chest swelled. “I hid you in twos and threes, so what you didn’t know, you couldn’t tell.” He scanned the group and opened his arms. “Come to me. First thing we’ll do is pray.”

The men crowded around Gera and Hodiah.

Gera lifted his hands. “Lord, thank you for keeping these boys safe here in the groves. Please protect them on the road and in their cave.”

He let his hands fall. “No talking to travelers, men. Keep your head down and your mouth shut. Second, no groups or pairs. It makes people notice you.”

He pulled his wife close and stood behind her. “Now listen up. Hodiah’s going to show you how to stay apart.”

Hodiah tugged on Micaiah’s sleeve. “We’re sending Mikey first.” She pulled Imri over next to her. “Then I want Imri to recite Your Word Is a Lamp.2 After Imri says the whole psalm, I’ll send him, and people won’t think he’s walking with Mikey.”

The young men shuffled their feet, and one coughed.

Hodiah looked from face to face. “Get it? Each of you recites the psalm before you start, so you’re spread out on the road.”

Micaiah shuffled back a step. Space themselves with a song? Wild!

The men stared open mouthed at Hodiah, then they pursed their lips and nodded at each other.

Micaiah studied them. Good faces. The kind he would choose for friends. Could they recite all 176 verses?

[Almost every paragraph on this page starts with a name.]

“Don’t worry, boys.” Hodiah stepped back and slipped an arm around Gera. “I’ll help you with the words.”

Gera pulled Micaiah close. “Time to go, son.”

Hodiah joined their hug. “You’re doing this for me, Mikey. Staying alive.” She unfolded from them and wiped tears from her cheek. “Now, Imri. Start the psalm.”

Imri ducked his head in a sheepish grin but then lifted his face toward the sea and recited in a clear voice. “‘Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.’”

With another squeeze for Gera, Micaiah tucked his pack behind his back, and made steady strides up a fold in the ridge toward Dothan. He waved over his shoulder at the group. As he picked his way up the path, Imri’s voice followed. “‘Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart.’”

Imri yelled, “Show me some bounce, cousin.”

Micaiah lifted his steps and tossed a hand in the air.

Far over the Mediterranean, the sun floated free from clouds. They would have stars to guide their way.

The little group by Gera’s shack had disappeared, but Imri droned through the trees. “‘They also do no iniquity: they walk in his ways.’” His voice faded with, “‘You have commanded us to keep your precepts diligently.’”

The sun dipped a toe in the Mediterranean, and a hawk circled far ahead. When he got to Megiddo, would he still have his bounce and his song? He shifted the rolled-up goathide and the water skin that hung from his shoulder, patted bread, raisins, and figs in his pack, and took a swig of red wine.

“Mm.. good.” He nibbled on raisins.

As the sun submerged in the sea, the village of Gaba came up on the right. Three women balanced broad-bladed hoes over their shoulders and led donkeys loaded with bulging nets of sweet potatoes, yellow onions, and cantaloupes.

Micaiah lowered his head and moved to the far side of the road. As the women gave him quick looks and turned into the village path, he gave a heavy sigh. Uncle Gera’s method for staying alive went against his smile habit.

He ate four figs, one right after the other, with a slug of wine after each one. And followed that with a flatbread and a handful of raisins. And a long drink of water. “Mmm, good.” Hodiah knew how to pack finger food.

A quavering hoo…ho, ho, hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo came from his left. Micaiah cupped his hands, blew through slightly parted thumbs, and responded whooooh uk whooooook. The answer came back. Hoo…ho, ho, hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo. Uncle Gera had never said don’t talk with owls.

He flung his arms straight out and strutted a few strides as the psalm’s strong man who came to run a race.3 But what if a charlie horse stopped him? Seventeen guys. What if one got a cramp or—? Stop. No sense going there. “If you don’t protect us, Lord, we’re lost.”

When he passed Dothan, the bright stars of the bear twinkled in the north.4 They deserved a song. His long strides jostled the pucker from his lips. So he sang, “Make me walk the path you have taught. For that’s where I delight.”

The raisins, figs, and wine asked for an exit. He slowed his stride.

Something scurried away from the road. Had his song disturbed a caracal cat5 from its hunt? On the right, a nightjar called ow-wow-wow.

The messages from the escaping fruit came stronger and closer together. He left the road and felt around in the bushes. Why hadn’t he packed broad-bladed plants while the sun was shining? Micaiah pulled several bunches of whatever weeds he could find then crouched in the bushes.

The sound of Imri’s steady strides interrupted his business, and he called in a hoarse whisper, “Do you have something to dig with?”6

Micaiah left Imri in the bushes and passed the crossroads to Ibleam and then to Taanach. Finally he came to tiny Jenin, where he and Imri had turned so many times to visit family in Acra. He leaned against the trunk of an oak and waited.

Imri loped up and waved his left arm to show his white cloth knotted at the wrist.

Micaiah waggled his own left arm with its corresponding white cloth. “That was good timing back there by Dothan. You okay? No cramps? Got enough food? You sure you know which palm trees to wait by?”

“Yes, Mother. Just fine, thank you. I’ll watch for you from the palms if I’m still awake.” Imri hugged him and took the west fork.

Zophai came along next and waved his white-flagged wrist. “So, is this Jenin?”

“Welcome, city boy.” Micaiah pointed toward Fort Jezreel. “That way to the queen’s thugs.” He waved at the sea. “This way to a warm cave.”

One by one, fourteen men wearing white on the left wrist strode up to the crossroads, and Micaiah sent each one west.

As Micaiah watched the last man leave, he sang. “‘Blessed are they…’” After 176 verses, he started west himself.

The stars were fading, and when his road dropped into the Jezreel Valley, the sun had climbed free of the mountains of Gilead. By the time the hill of Megiddo came in sight, a clear blue sky had opened.

After the Megiddo cutoff, a few date palms rose from a grove of pomegranates, and the brown scarf Gera had described waved from the palm nearest the road.

He pushed aside pomegranate branches. Fifteen men sat and stared at him while Imri rubbed his back against the bark of a palm. “Here he is, guys. What’s next, Mikey?”

Micaiah hung his head and gave a loud sigh. Next they would crawl into a cold, damp cave. That was next.

He pasted on a smile. “Next? Uncle Gera said our guide would find us here in the pomegranates.” He kept his voice low. “We shouldn’t talk. But if anybody has extra food, maybe hold it up for somebody who’s hungry?” He yawned and then shook his head. “Someone needs to stay awake.”

Micaiah’s jaw hung loose. He held his head in his hands, then stretched on his back between pomegranate trees and avoided looking at Imri or the others. This would be his last view of the sky.

Overhead, a swallow-tailed kite screamed. Three times it fought off a kestrel, and the kestrel came back for more. Sky, where clouds scud across the sky and drop their little storms. The best places for watching sky had blossoms and tall grass that tickled the face.

Sky stretched over pomegranates or palms, olives or grass. But caves had no sky. Caves held rats and bats and moldy bread. If they had bread. He licked out the last drop from his water skin. In a cave, stagnant puddles floated with yuck whose only purpose was to crawl into caves, die, and become slime.

Zophai tapped him on the shoulder and pointed toward the road.

Micaiah sat up.

A little girl with a white cloth on her left wrist skipped up to the intersection and pushed her scarf back on her head. Tight black curls fell around her face as she pulled a branch aside and squinted under the trees. She scanned every face and then locked eyes with Micaiah. “Follow me.”

She paused and re-tied the scarf over her curls. Then she struck off through the trees.

How could seventeen men follow a child? She couldn’t be more than eight years old. Yet here in the pomegranates they sat like ducks in the backyard of a fox. Micaiah followed. He turned to Imri. “I need you to bring up the rear. Make sure everybody stays with us.” Micaiah walked behind the girl and let the others trail him. Zophai squeezed his arm. “Who is she?”

Micaiah took an extra stride that landed him beside the girl. “Who are you?”

She flicked him a sober look. “No talking.” She led away from the road toward the gurgle of a stream. Soon the only sounds came from wind ruffling the leaves or water splashing over rocks and rushing down chutes. The girl paused. “No tracks by the bank, please.”

Micaiah examined the ground. No path. Theirs would be the first footprints.

She trudged ahead through thick Abraham’s balm bushes,7 keeping several paces from the stream. The morning sun reached through the trees and sent a bead of sweat trickling down Micaiah’s brow.

At a bed of rocks, she paused. “Tell your men to step only on the large rocks. I don’t want footprints. Follow me.”

Micaiah relayed her message and followed.

Did Uncle Gera have no control over who helped him down here in the valley? This tiny girl could lead them to safety or to torture and death.

Sure-footed as a deer, their little dictator crossed on the large rocks and stepped into the stream.

When Micaiah put his feet in, he cringed from the icy flow, but his toes showed wavy clear.

No slime.

Keeping to the center of the stream, their guide approached a large opening where the current gushed out of a limestone cliff. She led them into the dark.

Micaiah stepped out of the stream up onto the bank, and the men followed. They stood gazing back at the daylight.

The girl lingered in the water and pointed into the deeper darkness. “Stay back inside. No singing. No fires. This water is good to drink. Food comes soon.”

She picked her way downstream to the rocks, waved, and disappeared into the bushes.

Micaiah puckered, but no whistle came from his lips. Was the cave his new home or a terrible trap?

1 Judges 16:20

2 Psalm 119

3 Psalm 19:5

4 Job 9:9

6 Deuteronomy 23:13

7 Vitex Agnus-Castus – Genesis 22:14

avatar
550
  Subscribe  
Notify of