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09 Smarty pants – 2198

Grab Erma’s CRIT

Obadiah glanced out the window. “My guys will be here any minute. We’ll be poking our noses into every corner from Jokneam to the sea, so I’ll be gone all day again.”

His wife slid her arms around him. “I still don’t get why Ahab wants you to search for grass. The fresh air does you good, though, love. Have another fun day.” She held him by the waist and leaned back to gaze into his face. “Biah, do you really think he knows about the men in our caves?”

What I think is, every day his spies hand him a list of what we buy for them. I think he knows, but that it’s better for him not to let on that he knows.”

So the king knows.” She shook her head. “Then why, oh, why would he have somebody help him who’s working against the queen?”

Obadiah held her cheeks between his palms. “Promise not to laugh? He said he trusts me because you’re the only woman I sleep with.”

Huh! You better hope I am, Mr. King’s-Right-Hand-Man.”

No, really. That’s what he said. But I think it’s more like I’m his habit, like an old shoe.” He dropped his hands to her shoulders and kissed both her cheeks. “Sometimes I think having me around makes him dream about serving the Lord and sending Jezebel back to her daddy.” He shrugged. “The king’s a complicated guy.”

Harnesses jingled in the lane. “Here’s the guards. We might be home before dark—depends on what we find. Kiss me, Didi. Hold me tight. I want to carry the feel of you all the way to Mount Carmel.”

When he released her, he loped down the hall, blew through the kitchen, and nodded at the crew. They glanced up. “Morning, sir.” He furrowed his brow. If Didi were with him, the cooks would be crowded at her elbows begging her to sample their creations. The cooks never responded to him like they did to his wife. In fact, no one responded to him like they did to his wife.

He jogged down the path between the cabbage and the onions which survived with water the king’s gardeners lugged from the hills. He hopped aboard his chariot. “Morning, men.” They rolled out the gate and parked at the bottom of the hill.

Ahab’s chariot descended the grade and pulled up next to them. “Morning, Biah. Yesterday my guys stopped their searched at some chestnut trees this side of Beitshan. Today we might make it to the River.”

Obadiah nodded. “We turned back at the Jokneam cutoff. So, we should reach Acre before sunset.”

###

Obadiah pointed to a trickle of water oozing from the base of Mt. Carmel. “Finally a bit of flow into the Kishon. The bed is so dry, it’s not a river anymore.”

His chief guard leaned back against the chariot rail. “River or not, that’s the deepest grass I’ve seen all day.”

Obadiah tapped his chin. “How many troops and mules can we station here?”

The guard pushed up from the rail. “Hang on, sir.” He shaded his eyes with his hand and pointed to a caravan of camels plodding along toward Fort Jezreel. “The camel puller passing in front of that huge boulder with the acacia tree behind it. The two young fellows right behind him. Tall and thin.” The guard pulled Obadiah around by the shoulder. “The one in the goatskin. He’s the reason for this drought, sir.”

Obadiah craned his neck. “Mr. Dew-Nor-Rain?”

I was there, sir. See those loose-jointed knees and elbows? How they poke out from that moldy old goatskin? Had everybody in the market laughing, but that boy can run. Ahab’s been sending troops into Gilead for him, but here he is. I’m telling you, sir, that kid is Elijah the Tishbite.”

Well, if you’re so sure, let’s go talk with him.”

As the driver swung the chariot around next to the two young men, the guard gave Obadiah a crisp nod. “He’s your man.”

Obadiah looked down from his chariot. “Elijah?”

The two young men stepped away from the caravan. The one in the goatskin spread his legs wide and let his arms dangle loose at his sides. His glance took in the oversize chariot with its House of Omri insignia, the five muscular guards holding spears, and Obadiah’s fine linen tunic. “Who’s asking?”

So, Mr. Dew-Nor-Rain was a smart aleck. Lord, I don’t need this. Obadiah sighed. “My name is Obadiah. I work with the king.”

Just the man I’m looking for. You can tell Ahab I’ll see him now.”

Obadiah pressed his lips together. A real wise guy. He turned to his guard. “You still say you saw him tell Ahab neither dew nor rain?”

The guard jumped down in front of the young man. “You’re the kid we chased through the market that day at the fort.”

Sorry, sir. I didn’t see who was chasing me.”

Obadiah studied the face of the young man in the goatskin, and Baruch’s limp, bloody body flashed before his eyes. Baruch’s mother wailed again in his ear. Wise guy or not, Mr. Dew-Nor-Rain did not deserve to have his throat cut by Jezebel’s friends.

You don’t understand, boy. Ahab has searched three years for you. He’ll wrap that goatskin around you and, after you’re good and roasted, he’ll eat you up. That skin, too, if there’s anything left.”

I don’t think he wants to eat me or my dad’s old goatskin, sir. But the Lord told me, ‘Show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.’ That’s why I’m here.”

I see.” Obadiah tilted his head and paused. So, Mr. Dew-Nor-Rain thought the Lord talked to him. About sending rain. And told him to put his life in the hands of the king. The boy’s simple words carried a mind-numbing load of impossible notions. But his first problem would be to stay alive. Obadiah shook his finger at him. “Don’t play games with me, boy. In this valley, the only thing insolence earns is a noose.”

The chief guard cleared his throat. “If I may, sir.”

Obadiah’s eyes widened. “Well?”

Pardon the interruption, sir.”

Obadiah sighed. “No worries, man. What is it?”

The guard turned so the young men could not hear. “He’s a village boy, sir. You’ve been a long time at the fort with chariots and guards and cooks and all, but think back to your father’s farm if you would, sir.”

Obadiah wrinkled his nose and poked the guard in the chest. “Thanks.”

The guard’s eyes twinkled. “And he’s right about the chase, sir. That boy was through the market and at the gate before any of us moved.”

Obadiah turned back to the young man. “Thank the Lord for good heads around me.”

He crossed his arms and tried to look down his nose from the extra height of the chariot but found himself eye-to-eye with the tall young man. Obadiah blinked. Perhaps the situation called for help from a lower position. He stepped down next to the young man, and looked up at him.

Listen, boy. Our scouts have searched for you from Dan to Beersheba and beyond. Everyone swears they don’t have you. So, if I tell Ahab you’re here, and he only finds an empty spot on the road…” Obadiah rubbed the back of his neck. “When my head rolls, a hundred men starve in their caves. My guards can tell you, I feed the people Jezebel tries to kill.”

The young man in the goatskin looked Obadiah straight in the eye. “I can’t think of a single reason you should trust me, sir. But as sure as I stand and face the Lord who commands armies of angels, I will not move from this spot. I will wait right here for Ahab.”

Obadiah stroked his beard. “Well, young man. Let’s try this. See the oak tree by that trickle of water coming down the hill?”

That’s where Ahab will find me, sir.”

Obadiah furrowed his brow. “I sincerely hope so, because I’m betting my neck on it. He turned to his chief guard. “Take two guards and keep this young man alive while I get Ahab.”

As his chariot rolled away, Obadiah looked back at the water dripping down the side of Mt. Carmel. His three guards sat under the tree with the two young men.

###

He found the king on the far side of the fort.

Ahab yelled. “Hey, Biah. How much grass did you find? My mules are hungry.” He glanced at Obadiah’s chariot. “What happened to your other guards?”

They’re with your goatskin boy.”

You mean…?”

Mr. Dew-Nor-Rain. He says he’ll see you now.”

He’ll see me?” Ahab glared at Obadiah. “Why that arrogant little…” His nostrils flared. “I should have grabbed him by the neck that day he pranced up to me in the market. And now he tries to jerk my chain like I’m his pet monkey?” Ahab paused his rant and raised an eyebrow. “Did he say when we’re going to get rain?”

Rain.” Obadiah pursed his lips. “The Lord told him to show himself to you, then the rain. I parked him at the base of Carmel by a dribble of water.”

Ahab’s driver wheeled around, and Obadiah followed them back past the fort, past Megiddo, to the base of Mt. Carmel. As soon as the guards and the two young men under the tree came in sight, Ahab spat out, “Trouble maker!”

Obadiah stepped down and followed Ahab. Smarty Pants meets the king. The clash of attitudes should prove interesting. “You’ve got this one, Lord.”

Ahab stomped over and singled out the young man in the too-small goatskin.1 “You trouble maker, you!”

Mr. Dew-Nor-Rain stood. His jaw clenched, and his chest heaved. He flexed his shoulders. While his arms dangled at his sides, he shook his hips and knees, wiggled one foot and then the other. With his frame relaxed, he faced the king.

Mr. Dew-Nor-Rain’s eyes bored into the king. “It’s you, Ahab. You and your father caused this trouble. You turned away from the Lord and followed those tiny little gods from Carthage.”

Obadiah sneaked a peek. Ahab’s face had turned to ash. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. The words must have jammed in his throat and slid back down one by one into his belly.

The young man crossed his arms and chuckled. He included Ahab, Obadiah, and the guards in a casual smile. “But I didn’t ask you over for a chat. Here’s what you’re going to do. Bring the people of Israel. Every tribe.” He pointed his long, bony arm up the mountain. “Bring them to me right up there on Mount Carmel.”

Obadiah held his breath. When Deborah and Barak, Gideon and Saul called the tribes together, it meant war. This skinny young man did not know what he was saying.

Even so, he towered over Ahab. Under his stare, the king lowered his eyes and took a step back. Then another.

Make it a real party.” The young man grinned. “Bring the Baal officials, all four hundred fifty, plus those four hundred Asherah officials Jezebel takes to dinner. Don’t leave anyone out. Sunrise, the fourth day of this week, on Mount Carmel.”

Ahab walked away, and Obadiah’s jaw dropped. The king acted like any junior officer who knew a dismissal when he heard one. Ahab beckoned from his chariot. “Ride with me.”

As they bumped along toward the fort, Ahab looked straight ahead. “Shut up.”

“Yes, my king.”

Your thoughts shout.”

Sorry about that.”

“That kid has me pinned in a corner. I can’t just…” He turned to Obadiah. “Look, if we don’t get rain…”

I’ll send the order.”

Before the stable boys in Fort Jezreel had the chariot horses brushed, Obadiah stood at the gate tucking copies of the order into pouches and pushing runners down the hill. Three toward the Jordan to the tribes of East Manasseh, Gad, and Reuben. One toward the Mediterranean and the tribe of Asher. Two on the En Dor ridge to Naphtali and Zebulun, and three along the Gilboa ridge to Dan, West Manasseh, and Ephraim. He found the Baal chief official buying figs in the market and gave him a copy of the order.

When Obadiah knocked on the gate of the Asherah officials’ compound, a man in a black tunic eyed him through the locked gate. In a thick Sidonian accent, he asked, “What do you want?”

King Ahab has a message for your chief.”

The chief of Asherah takes orders only from King Ethbaal.”

Obadiah poked his sheet through a hole in the gate. “Please give this order to your chief official.”

He turned on his heel and strode over to the courtyard at the city gate. Obadiah read the order to the elders of the tribe of Issachar. “Assemble at sunrise, the fourth day of this week, on Mount Carmel.”

1The last time Ahab and Elijah looked each other in the eye was the day of Dew-Nor-Rain. What do they think? Feel? Say? Do about that?

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