43 Tribes

Obadiah read the order aloud. “King Ahab requires you to assemble at sunrise, the fourth day of this week, on Mount Carmel.”

Mount Carmel, Israel, 871 BC

1 Kings 18:2-19

Obadiah strolled into the center of the king’s fifty bodyguards, nudged Ahab, and swept his arm toward the crowd murmuring around them. “You summoned, and your people gathered.” He pointed toward the light creeping up from the mountains of Gilead. “Perhaps not at your bidding, my king, but the sun has chased a few stars and even now bleaches the night from the sky.”

We don’t need your poetry this morning, Biah.” Ahab folded his arms across his chest and turned toward Elijah’s head poking up from the center of the crowd. “What’s that miserable bean pole doing, anyway?”

Obadiah bit back a smirk. “My, my. Did someone get out on the wrong side of the royal bed?”

Royal bed or stable floor. What’s it matter? We’ve had three years of hot dry wind.” Ahab sighed. “When does Mr. Goatskin start his rain dance?” [How is Ahab dressed? Does he wear a crown?]

[Consider adding a descriptive detail or two regarding the setting before this sentence.] A wrinkled man with white hair and beard climbed down from his donkey and peered between the guards and boomed. “Your runner handed me your message, don’t you know?”

People several paces away glanced toward the old man.

Obadiah offered a small smile. The man’s two hands and bearded chin rested on his long, stout cane in a silhouette similar to the grandfather who had taught little Obadiah’s fingers how to coax milk from the udder of a nanny goat. Obadiah elbowed Ahab.

Ahab nodded, and the guards opened ranks.

The man hobbled into the royal circle and fixed his rheumy gaze on Obadiah. “Name’s Jamin. Tribe of Simeon. Everybody in Shechem’s my friend because I serve the people, don’t you know?” He punctuated each declaration with a jut of his chin. “Always alert for the call. Course, you’re too young—”

Barley cakes!” Two little boys shrilled at the guards. “Raisin, fig, date. Get ’em while they last. Hot barley cakes!”

Barley cake, Jamin?” Obadiah raised an eyebrow at a guard.

Don’t mind if I do. Did the lads say date-filled?”

Obadiah nodded at the guard.

Cakes passed from hand to hand.

Soon Jamin held two hot, date-filled barley cakes.

A guard at the edge of the fifty huddled with the taller boy. “Where’s your scales, child? Can’t weigh silver to you without scales.”

No scales, sir.” He and his brother turned large, round eyes on the first row of guards. “Mommy said to accept whatever silver you think her hotcakes are worth.”

The guard knit his brows and turned to his mates.

One reached past him and thrust a chunk of silver into the boy’s hand. “Here, son. Those cakes smell better than the fare they force down us at the fort.”

Thank you, sir.” He popped his eyes wide open and slipped the silver into a tiny purse.

The two squeaky merchants grinned at each other and pushed through the crowd. “Get ’em ‘fore they’re gone.”

Wait, boys. Wait.” A guard at the edge turned and lifted empty palms to his mates. Several heads near him nodded, and rough chunks of silver passed from guard to guard, ending in a tidy pile in his two palms. He huddled with the boys, then barley cakes followed the path of the silver back among the guards.

The two little boys held up three empty hands and a full purse. “Thank you!” They scampered off.

Good cakes. Fresh dates.” Jamin handed one to Obadiah. “Thank you very much, young man.”

Obadiah nibbled on his cake. “Shechem, you say? Tribe of Simeon?”

That’s right. Gang of us there on the southwest corner, don’t you know? Waving our silly little Gate-of-Shechem banners.”

Hmm… Maybe you prefer the sheaf of wheat flown by Ephraim, my tribe.” Obadiah BEAT (inspected the restless crowd?).

Hmpf! Boring. No offense intended.” BEAT

None taken, my friend. My favorite is the Naphtali gazelle.” BEAT

Ah, young man! How we’d swell the ranks to follow that flag, don’t you know?” [iShortened a little?] BEAT

Muttering came from the crowd, and faces turned toward Elijah, standing at the center with arms folded.

Obadiah stood on tip-toe. “Check out the banners, my king. In the north, Naphtali, Dan, and Asher. On the west—”

He thinks he’s Moses.” Ahab snorted. “Waiting for the Ark of the Covenant to come out of hiding.

Oh, that skinny young man out there in the middle had nothing to do with our formation.” Jamin chuckled. “Old birds like me answered your call, and we’re partial to our places, don’t you know?”

With old Jamin bobbing and hobbling between them, Obadiah and Ahab approached Elijah.

As the bodyguards enclosed Elijah in their ranks, he stood on tiptoes to scan the crowd. “The officials from Baal are here, but not those from Asherah.” He lifted empty palms [better BEAT] to Ahab.

Those guys answer only to Jezebel’s father,” Ahab replied.

Very well.” Elijah pursed his lips. “We proceed without them.” He patted a waist-high boulder. “A boost, please, sir?”

Without waiting for a direct order, a guard knelt and cupped his hands.

Elijah steadied himself with a hand on the guard’s shoulder and stepped from the cupped hands to the boulder. “Thank you, sir.”

The crowd murmured and turned toward him. [Was there any pushing or shoving? Did the crowd just include men, or were there women and children, as well?]

Obadiah stood back with wrinkled old Jamin. “So, what’s your take on this young man?”

Beard’s too thin. Now my great grandfather had a beard to be proud of. And his grandfather received runners from Deborah and Barak. To fight Sisera, don’t you know? Right here at the Kishon.”

Obadiah studied Jamin’s weathered face. Barak fought Sisera four hundred years ago. That meant how many generations? Perhaps old Jamin needed to add a few “greats” to his grandfather’s title.

Elijah stood tall on the boulder. [Either here or elsewhere on this page consider giving us a few details that help us see Elijah more, especially now that we’re not in his point of view. Is his hair long? Is his face smooth or weathered? Etc. ]

Look.” Obadiah tapped Jamin’s arm. “He’s about to speak.”

Speak?” Jamin grasped Obadiah’s sleeve. “My grandfather spoke of the runners from Gideon calling us to fight the Midianites.”

So what’s the big event?” A voice called from under Zebulun’s flag of a ship in full sail.

Ahab invited us.” A quavering voice came from near the Naphtali gazelle. “Where’s Ahab?”

Obadiah tugged / rubbed his lower lip. Elijah better get control of this crowd or go home.

Jamin thumped his cane on the ground and rolled his head from side to side. His voice rang out as if Obadiah stood on the next hill. “Liked to been there when young Saul sent around those pieces of ox meat.” [I wasn’t sure what story with Saul he was referring to and other readers might get lost as well.]

Quick smiles from the crowd flashed toward old Jamin. Obadiah smoothed the front of his tunic. Everyone’s friend in Shechem had named the four official gatherings of the tribes. Now if only he would stop talking.

Elijah straightened, and everyone turned his way. He raised his hands, and the murmur fell off.

From under Dan’s scales-of-justice banner, a man called, “Who’s the skinny kid on the rock?”

Jamin boomed over the silence. “How ’bout when they brought around pieces of that slave cut up by her master?” [I believe I remember this horrific story. Wasn’t she a concubine? But I don’t understand why he’s bringing these up.]

A few people gasped.

The guards scowled.

Obadiah pinched his lips together. Why didn’t old Jamin tell feel-good stories? Rebekah giving water to Abraham’s servant. Ruth siding with the Lord’s people. Joseph trusting the Lord even in prison. Obadiah shrugged. If Elijah didn’t get control of this crowd, Jamin could tell whatever stories came into his wrinkled old head.

Elijah thrust his shoulders back, lifted his chin, and called in a clear voice. “How long do you plan to stumble between two opinions?”

Mouths closed. Faces turned toward Elijah.

Obadiah wiped his brow and grinned. The young man in the goatskin had their attention. Now what?

A slow smile spread across Ahab’s features. “We could use this boy to rally the troops.”

Elijah planted his feet and opened his arms wide. “If the Lord is God, follow the Lord.”

People bumped each other’s shoulders and turned somber looks toward Elijah.

Ahab plunked his elbow into Obadiah’s ribs. “The lad’s religious, Biah. Like you.” [Good line. But I thought he would have figured this out before, like when Elijah said that it wouldn’t rain for three years.]

If the Baals are divine, follow the Baals.” Elijah aimed a lanky arm at the Baal officials huddled beyond Asher’s tree banner. “They call themselves lords of dew and rain, so when we get any moisture, they jump around in their black tunics and brag about how they burned our babies in the Moloch fires and opened the sky. But when the clouds stay in the sea, the Baals hide and hope we forget about them until the next rainstorm. Divine? Fat chance.”

Several people nodded and echoed, “Fat chance.”

Where are the officials of Asherah?” Elijah swept his arm over the crowd. “Those foreigners who dine alone with Jezebel and whisper dark secrets in her Sidonian tongue. Go check the closets in the back corners of the fort. Those wimps are afraid to show their faces.”

People nodded to each other, and Jamin turned to Obadiah. “Your boy got that right.”

But did he? Obadiah scratched his jaw. Were the Asherah officials cowards or well trained troops? He leaned over to Ahab. “Those black tunics wouldn’t even let me hand your order to their main man.”

Ahab sighed. “Jezebel takes orders only from her father.” [Similar to page 3.]

High on his rock platform, Elijah smoothed the front of the goatskin. “We’ll do a simple test.” He pointed at an arrangement of stones covered with weeds.

Ahab poked Obadiah. “What’s that boy found?”

i It’s Elijah’s big showdown, but things like date cakes and flags are putting a long pause to it. But it’s interesting that the tribes had their own flags. Didn’t know that. Maybe it could be shortened a little?

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