Joshabiah jogged south. Why did he let that kid in the goatskin get so close? Why didn’t he yell “Grab him!” the moment he glanced at the king? What kind of captain of the bodyguards was he anyway, reacting instead of anticipating?
Several times he paused to pull tiny spines from his arms and face. Why couldn’t he hit those prickly pears after the farmer shaved off the spines?
He ran to Dothan. No goatskin. No farmboy with protruding elbows. He returned to the fort long after dark and checked with the other three guards. No one saw a tall farm boy or anyone in a goatskin with the hair turned out. Joshabiah hurried to the headquarters lobby and was admitted to the front hall of the king’s apartments.
King Ahab entered. “Where’s the boy with the goatskin?”
“We did not see him. We covered the roads to Samaria and Nazareth, Megiddo and Beitshan. We found plenty of people, but not the goatskin boy.”
“So, send runners to the tribes.”
In Joshabiah’s dreams that night, he chased goatskins one by one toward the gate of the fort, and each chase ended in the same cart of prickly pears without the spines removed.
Next morning, he lined his fifty guards up in the courtyard. “You saw that boy and heard him talk, so I’m sending five of you to each tribe. Bring me the goatskin boy or tell me what they know about him. Report to me in eight days.”
His fifty returned, and Joshabiah again was admitted to the front hall of the royal apartments. “No one in the tribes has seen the goatskin boy, but I plan a thorough search of Gilead.” He motioned a guard forward. “This man brought the boy’s accent to my attention.”
King Ahab looked at the guard. “Accent?”
“That’s right, sir. He said years like they talk east of the river.”
“Just how did he say years, soldier?”
“Oh, I can’t shape my mouth like they do. My grandfather told me old Judge Jephthah stopped our boys at the fords and asked ’em to say siboleth’ I pronounce it wrong, so grandfather, he says those Gilead troops would have floated my corpse down the river with a vulture riding along, pecking at my eyeballs.”
“All right, soldier. While Captain Joshabiah takes you to search Gilead, see if you can learn to pronounce Shiboleth.”
The door behind the king opened, and the warm scent of cedarwood drifted over to Joshabiah.
Queen Jezebel looked in. “Captain, this is for the man who brings me that boy in the goatskin.” Her servant entered, and she stepped back into the royal apartments. The servant opened a sack, and the light from the sconces gleamed dull on pieces of silver.
Joshabiah gulped down a gasp and held his face straight. He and his man left the royal hall and stood in the starlight.
“I’ve never seen that much silver before, Captain.”
“Did you catch that smell?”
“Too busy looking at the hair.”
# # #
Joshabiah led his fifty men through the Jordan River ford from Beitshan to Jabesh and stood in the early morning light shaking one dripping leg and then the other. He assigned seventeen men to search the small towns of Gilead and then sectioned off the thirty-three remaining men to search the three cities.
“Ask every person you see. Knock on every door. Meet me back here at this same ford in seven days at noon. The queen has a bag of silver for one of us.”
Joshabiah sent the group which searched Jabesh into the side streets while he went to the city gate and addressed the nine elders seated in their courtyard. “The king wants to talk with a boy who might be from here. Taller than me. Big nose.” Joshabiah squinted and splayed his elbows. “Gangly looking knees and elbows. A farm boy. Might be wearing a goatskin.”
The miller got up from his seat among the elders, slipped out a side entrance, and hurried up a back alley. He pushed open the rear door of the fruit and vegetable shop and stuck his head into a sweet smell of ripe apples. The grocer looked up, set a basket of apples down, and came over to the door.
The miller cocked his head. “Come.”
The grocer looked back into the store, caught his wife’s eye, and shrugged. He followed the miller into the back alley and over to the potter’s shop. As the potter looked up from packing vases into a basket, they took him by the arms and steered him out to the alley.
The miller pulled the other two close. “The captain of the king’s bodyguard is asking about a tall farm boy with a big nose and all knees and elbows.”
The grocer puckered and sucked in a breath. “We don’t want him talking to the Baal priest’s hired hand.”
The potter squinted. “How can we get that gorilla out of circulation until the captain of the guard goes back across the river?”
The miller rubbed his chin and looked at the potter. “Loan me your donkey.” He jabbed his finger in the grocer’s chest. “You know his family. Can you bring him to my alley?”
The potter led his donkey to the miller’s alley and went back to packing vases in baskets while the miller laced four empty grain baskets to the donkey’s pack saddle.
The grocer strode into the alley with the Baal priest’s hired hand at his side. “This young man’s a hard worker. He’ll bring you the grain you need.”
He turned to the hired hand. “The miller’s the man with the money. If I was a little younger, I’d be taking this job myself.”
The miller tapped the pack saddle and then each basket. “So, bring her back before sundown with all four baskets filled. My customers want beans, lentils, or wheat. Be sure you go first to Ezer, Helek, and Segub.”
“But those farms are the farthest out.”
“Precisely why they are late with their deliveries. Go now, before the sun gets high.”
He lifted his palm to the man’s face and showed five pieces of silver. “And when you bring me these baskets full of grain tonight, these go straight into your hand. I’ll take you out the back gate and point you onto the path.”
The miller sent the priest’s hired hand on his way and headed back toward the elders’ courtyard. On the main street, he passed the captain of the royal bodyguards standing in front of the bakery deep in conversation with the potter, the baker, and the cobbler.
As the miller passed the little group, the cobbler turned to the captain. “A farm boy, you say.”
1 Kings 18:10 – “There is not a nation or kingdom where my master has not sent someone to look for you.”
When did you hide and let the one looking for you walk right by?
When did the way you pronounce a word cause a problem?