Where are they in relation to the wall & the trees & sound?
Olive Grove, Samaria, Israel, 870 B.C.
1 Kings 18:4-5
Micaiah shivered and hugged his ribs as he paced the terrace. Why was he hiding from the Asherah official? Waiting and wondering. He should have knocked the creep on his back right there in the market.
As he brushed flies from his nose, his cloak opened to the morning chill. He shuddered and tugged it tight. For several paces he let the flies collect, then shook them off again with a twitch of his head.
In a small indentation of the hill, Zophai and Imri, Micaiah’s cousin, sat by a charcoal fire. Zophai worked an awl into the sole of a sandal, and Imri an whittled an olive wood mezuzah. “What happened to the lilt in your, Mikey? You make me think of Samson when he became ‘as any other man.’ I haven’t seen a Philistine with a razor in this olive grove, but your stride’s looking way too normal.”
Micaiah huffed and pressed his lips together. If he hadn’t listened to those women, he could be helping his father in the fig trees. But Hodiah was so tender… No, don’t blame her. When Uncle Gera said hide in this olive grove, he should have been man enough to refuse.
“I want to go home.” As Zophai, let the sandal fall into his lap. “I want to work with my kid brother.” He gazed out across the Shechem valley. “He makes the most beautiful sandal’s in Samaria.”
Imri’s shoulders slumped. “If I went home, I’d mouth off, and Jezeb—”
Thrushes and redwings scattered from the grove entrance and then settled back among the trees.
“Shush!” Micaiah raised a hand and knelt at the edge of the terrace. Visitors on the path below? During the five weeks since they hid, they’d seen only the faces of Gera, Hodiah, and Othniel.
Imri and Zophai crept to Micaiah’s side and peeked over the stones. A pebble rattled several paces below. Who was coming?
Micaiah pushed Imri and Zophai down. One mop of hair might go unnoticed, but three such bumps on the limestones could grab the eye.
On the path below, Gera’s worn brown sandal pushed into view.
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 you three thundering bulls will bring 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 hoisted 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 scrubbed flies from his chin. “Will the cave be warm?”
“Warmer than that hole you’ve been sleeping in. Fill your water skins and nap. Meet me at my shack an hour before sundown. You’ve got an all-night hike.”
With the sun high out over the Mediterranean, Micaiah approached the shack.
Gera and Hodiah got up from their bench, and a group of1 young men stepped out from the trees. Strangers, all except a boy who sold chickens in the market. Micaiah’s eyes bulged, and he froze with his hand on the bench.2
Gera’s chest swelled. [Did this switch to Gera’s pov?] “I hid you in twos and threes, so what you didn’t know, you couldn’t tell.” He opened his arms to the group. “Come to me. First thing we’ll do is pray.”
As the men crowded around him, 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. Keep your head down and your mouth shut. And, no groups or pairs. Walk alone or people will notice you.”
He stood behind his wife. “Now listen up. Hodiah will show you how to stay apart.”
Hodiah tugged on Micaiah’s sleeve. “I’m sending Mikey first.” She pulled Imri next to her. “Then I want Imri to recite Your Word Is a Lamp. After Imri quotes the whole psalm, I’ll send him, and people won’t think he’s 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 path.” [have them recite different verses so they’d all be different distances from each other and have them not follow in the same line, one on one side of the road. Another in the middle the next back in line with the first, then following across the road from him. Etc.]
Micaiah stepped back. Space themselves with a song? Wild.
The men smiled at Hodiah, then pursed their lips and nodded at each other. [They all did the same action? That’s odd.]
Micaiah studied them. Good faces. The kind he would choose for friends. Could they recite all 176 verses?
“Don’t worry, boys.” Hodiah stepped back and slipped an arm around Gera. “I’ll help you with the words.” [Or she could recite different verses for them before she sent them off. Or they could together.]
Gera drew Micaiah close. “Time to go, son.”
Hodiah joined them in a hug. “You’re doing this for me, Mikey. Staying alive.” She unfolded from them and wiped tears from her cheek. “Okay, Imri. Start the psalm.”
Imri ducked his head in a sheepish grin, then he 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 the fold in the ridge toward Dothan. He waved over his shoulder at the group.
Imri’s voice followed. “‘Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart.’” He yelled, “Show me some bounce, cousin.”
Micaiah lifted his steps and tossed a wave at Imri.
Micaiah could no longer see the little group by Gera’s shack, yet Imri droned through the trees. “‘They also do no iniquity: they walk in his ways.’” His voice faded with the next words. ‘You have commanded us to keep your precepts diligently.’
A hawk circled far ahead in a cloudless sky. The sun dipped a toe in the Mediterranean, but stars would guide their way.
When Micaiah reached Megiddo, would he still have his bounce and his song? He shifted the water skin that hung from his shoulder, checked the bread, raisins, and figs in his pack, and took a swig of wine.
“Mmm…good.” He nibbled a few raisins. “Yes.” Fresh. Sweet.
As the sun submerged in the sea, the village of Gaba appeared on Micaiah’s right. Three women approached, each balancing a broad-bladed hoe over her shoulder. They led donkeys loaded with pomegranate, yellow onions, and melons held by nets..
Micaiah lowered his head and moved to the far side of the path. As the women gave him quick looks and turned into the village path, he heaved a 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. He smacked his lips. Hodiah knew how to pack for a hike.
A quavering hoo…ho, ho, hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo floated in from his left. Micaiah cupped his hands and blew through slightly parted thumbs. Whooooh uk whooooook. The answer came back. Hoo…ho, ho, hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo. Uncle Gera never said not to talk with owls.
Micaiah flung his arms straight out and strutted. [why?] What if a cramp3 stopped one of the men? No sense worrying. “If you don’t protect us, Lord, we’re lost.”
When he passed Dothan, the bright stars of the bear twinkled in the north. They deserved a tune, but Micaiah’s long strides jostled the pucker from his lips, so he sang, “Make me walk the path of your teachings. For that’s where I delight.”
Deep in his belly, raisins and figs asked for an exit. He slowed his stride, but messages from the fruit came stronger and closer together, so he left the path and felt around in the bushes. Why didn’t he collect leaves to clean up with while the sun was shining?
A nightjar called ow-wow-wow. Something scurried away. A caracal cat disturbed from its hunt? When Micaiah held several bunches of weeds, the sound of steady strides interrupted. Had his cousn stopped short of reciting the whole psalm? Micaiah sent a hoarse whisper onto the path. “Imri? Do you have something to dig with?”
Micaiah left Imri in the bushes, thrust his shoulders back, and headed north again. He crossed the intersections for Ibleam and then for Taanach. At tiny Jenin, he stopped at the crossroads. Here he and Imri had turned toward Akko many times to visit family. He leaned against the trunk of an oak and shook his head. More useless waiting. His life on hold because the king had married that Sidonian head of hair.
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. “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 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.” Truly? Were caves warm? How could a dark place be warm? But he slapped Zophai on the back. “See you there, man.”
One by one, fourteen more men wearing white on the left wrist strode up to the crossroads, and Micaiah sent each man west.
As the last man left, Micaiah chanted in a low voice, “‘Blessed are they …’” After 176 verses, he started west.
The brilliant stars faded and, when Micaiah’s path dropped into the Jezreel Valley, the sun peeked over the mountains of Gilead. By the time the hill of Megiddo came in sight, the sky opened clear and blue.
After the cutoff, three date palms rose from a grove of pomegranates, and a brown scarf waved from a trunk.
Micaiah pushed through the pomegranate branches.
Fifteen men lolled on the grass and stared at him.
Imri rubbed his back against the bark of a palm. “Here he is, guys. What’s next, Mikey?”
Next? Micaiah hung his head and gave a loud sigh. They would crawl into a cold, damp cave.
He raised his head and pasted on a smile. “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 shook his head. “Someone needs to stay awake.”
Micaiah’s chin trembled. He held his head in his hands, then stretched out on his back between trees and avoided the eyes of Imri and the others. This view of sky would be his last.
Overhead, a swallow-tailed kite screamed. Three times the bird fought off a kestrel, and the kestrel returned for more. Here was the place to hide, where blossoms and tall grass tickled his face and clouds scudded across the sky to drop their little storms on unsuspecting hills.
No hawks circled in caves. They held no blossoms. 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 to the path.
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 lifted a branch and squinted under the trees. She scanned every face before she locked eyes with Micaiah. “Follow me.”
The child stopped and re-tied the scarf over her curls. Then she struck off through the trees.
How could seventeen men follow a girl who couldn’t be over eight years old? Yet here in the pomegranates they waited, ducks in the backyard of the fox.
Micaiah turned to Imri. “I need you to bring up the rear. Make sure everybody stays with us.” Micaiah walked behind the girl, and the others trailed him. Zophai squeezed his arm. “Who is she?”
An extra stride landed Micaiah beside the girl. “Who are you?”
She flicked him a sober look. “No talking.” She led away from the path toward the gurgle of a stream. Only the wind ruffling the leaves or water splashing over rocks and rushing down chutes broke the silence. 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 Abraham’s balm bushes, keeping several paces from the stream.
The morning sun sent a bead of sweat trickling down Micaiah’s brow.
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 and clear.
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 from the stream to the bank. Was the cave his new home or a terrible trap?
The men followed and 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. Who was this tiny guide? She had said nothing about whistling.
1 Where put fourteen?
2 Get closer into Micaiah’s pov.
3 Is this his greatest worry about what might stop them? Doesn’t seem to fit with “no sense going there” and “if you don’t help us, Lord, we’re lost.” I’d think his worry would be a bit more serious than a cramp.