“Why don’t you bring your finger down here and smush those slavers, Lord? Are you blind?”
Elijah opened the gate to the donkey pen. Streaks of light shot over the hill east of the vines. The feed trays held small drifts of hay, and the narrow stream through the southeast corner of the pen flowed clear.
“Didn’t you see those little girls, Lord? The horror in their eyes?”
His knees gave way. He reached for the gate but sank to the ground. He pounded his knuckles in the dirt. “Where are you, Lord?”
Nathan came out of the house. “Load ’em up. Ten donkeys and twenty skins of Tishbe wine for Jabesh.”
At the gate, he looked down at Elijah. “What’s wrong?” He grabbed Elijah’s hand.
“Those little girls.” Elijah gripped his hand and pulled himself up. “Why doesn’t the Lord send a whirlwind and toss those slavers into the ocean? Give me your foot.”
Nathan put his foot on a stool. “If you tell me why my fingers won’t tie laces, maybe I can tell you why the Lord doesn’t blow slavers away.”
“Right.” Elijah laced his brother’s left sandal. “The other one.” He laced the right sandal. “Those girls were no older than Milkah.”
“Who said anything about Milkah?”
Elijah stood and tied Nathan’s tunic. “I’m going to marry Milkah.”
“Of course you are. If you can talk her into it.”
Elijah and Nathan, a head taller than their father, flanked him like a pair of teenage bodyguards.
In Jabesh, Elijah gave people a polite smile, but Nathan studied his toes.
Elijah squeezed his father’s arm. “So, Dad, what do you say was David’s greatest moment?”
“Nope. I’ll not discover it for you. But why did you say the bear?”
“Because if he hadn’t grabbed that bear by the beard, he would have hesitated at the lion and then at Goliath and at everything else that ever came his way.”
“So, Nathan, why the stones?”
“Huh! So Goliath rushes and David goes, Oh, hey, I need a stone. Not that. A smooth one. Let’s see, five to knock down a giant.”
“I like it. Keep looking.”
First stop, the flour mill.
The miller gave them a glum look.
Elijah’s father clasped him by the shoulder. “What are you milling today?”
“See for yourself.” The miller led them to a large room at the back. Low walls separated piles of wheat, barley, spelt, millet, beans, and lentils.
Elijah’s father shook his head. “Your wheat bin isn’t even half full. And the barley doesn’t look much higher.”
“Only six farmers have brought in grain. Just give me one skin of wine today.”
Elijah grabbed one end of a goatskin full of wine and Nathan the other. They eased it down off Balak and lugged it behind the counter. As soon as the skin rested on its rack for the miller to draw wine for a customer, Nathan went out to stand with Balak and the other donkeys. But Elijah stayed and listened to the miller.
“Something’s wrong with our fields, but in Samaria they’ve got a Moloch, and their crops are good. Maybe that’s what we need here in Jabesh, that and the Baal temple.”
How could he say such a horrid thing? Elijah took in a sharp breath, but his father raised an eyebrow at him and nodded toward the family quarters. “What about your grandson? The priest comes with his red ink and marks that boy’s wrist. Next week the furnace. You want to burn your grandson so you can sell flour?”
The miller scuffed the floor. “You make it sound so…. But the priest only wants one child. What are the chances of me drawing the short straw?”
Elijah gasped, but his father squeezed his arm. “You’ve read it, my friend. ‘Anyone who sacrifices children to Moloch — stone him.’”
On the street again, Elijah fell in beside Nathan. “The miller talked about drawing straws for who they feed to Moloch!”
Nathan frowned. “Everybody in Jabesh stuffs him with Moloch talk. Then Dad tells it to him raw, but only Moloch squirts out of him. Give our old friend time to think.”
“What’s to think about? Just show him where that chain scraped the skin off those girls’ ankles.”
The potter opened his shop door. He liked to kid the brothers about being “all knees and elbows,” but today he waved toward his racks of unsold plates and bowls. “No wine for me, boys.
“I can fire up that kiln all I want, but when the crops fail, people still use their old, cracked ware. Now, my brother-in-law’s shop in Samaria? You should see all the customers that temple brings in!”
Elijah’s cheeks warmed, but Nathan held him by the forearm.
Elijah’s father laughed. “Your brother-in-law’s in for a serious letdown. Those Samaria shoppers will find out Baal only works when the weather cooperates. What we need is another King Asa. He cut down the Asherah pole that belonged to his own grandmother. Burned it in the Kidron.”
On their way to the fruit and vegetable shop, Elijah’s father rested his arm on Nathan’s waist. “I wish it were as simple as I told it, but I’m afraid the whoremongers of Samaria will prove me wrong.
“But maybe you changed the potter’s mind?”
“Not a chance. The only thing he can think about right now is a few more shekels in his hand.”
The grocer perked up when he saw them, yet he talked like the miller and the potter.
Elijah’s father jabbed his finger in the grocer’s chest. “You know what kind of game he plays. You told me yourself how that priest in Tyre said their crops failed because they only burned six babies and only from poor families.”
The grocer sighed and nodded.
Elijah’s father raised his voice. “So, now he burns nine of their children every spring, a few of them from elite homes. Is that what you want? That priest to toss nine little babies into the fire? Some of them your grandchildren?”
The grocer pointed to his shriveled-up apples and rotting cabbages. “It’s not personal, you know. It’s just business.”
Elijah snorted and touched his father’s arm.
His father backed off. “My old friend can’t hear me. Let my son try.”
Elijah stepped over next to the grocer. “It’s personal to those tiny babies the priest throws into the fire. It’s personal for those little girls he buys from the slavers.”
The grocer looked up at Elijah. “Oh, I wouldn’t expect a boy like you to understand business.”
Elijah’s face burned. “You want to understand that priest’s business? Go splash his red ink on your own wrist and jump in that Moloch yourself. I got donkeys out front talk more sense!”
The grocer flushed, and he turned to Elijah’s father. “You should teach your son to hold his tongue.”
“Thank you, old friend, but we do not need the horrors of Moloch, and I’ll not ask my son to hold his tongue.”
The moment Elijah got out on the street he grabbed Nathan’s arm. “We have to help those girls.”
“Don’t you see? It’s up to us. Even Dad’s friends talk like little girls are livestock. We’ll get swords and chase those slavers out.”
“We’ll take lessons. I never saw that knife until it was in my face. But we can learn. We’ll strike like…like…how’s that psalm go about the Lord’s wind and fire?”
Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind.
Your lightning lit up the world.
The earth trembled and quaked.
“That’s us.” Elijah pumped his fist in the air. “Lightning for the Lord.”
Elijah’s father chuckled. “You do know, don’t you, that nobody just goes off to sword lessons today and then fights like lightning tomorrow.”