Obadiah sits shiva

Obadiah, chief of staff for the new King Ahab, stopped his chariot in front of the house of the father-son team of grove managers, Shelemiah and Abdel. Sabbath evening in Samaria with old friends. Almost as good as being home in Fort Jezreel with Mrs. O.

He got down into the street and watched his five guards and driver shoulder a roast leg of mutton, a large basket of apples, a small bag of baby carrots, ten loaves of fresh bread, and ten small skins of wine. Enough for the evening and a good start on munchies for tomorrow.

But as they started through the trees in front of Shelemiah’s house, four tall men in black strode out to the street. The pink Moloch drawing of furnace and flames on the upper left corner of their shirts made Obadiah clench his teeth. He stared at them cold-eyed, and they smirked in his face. They strolled up the street toward the town square of Samaria, and he shook his head after them.

Would his people ever get back to the Lord? It wasn’t enough that King Jereboam set up his worthless idols. King Omri had gone to Sidon and brought back a pagan wife for his son, Prince Ahab. And now this horrid woman had taught her husband to worship Baal. He erected an Asherah pole right here in Samaria, the capital city. How would they escape the Lord’s anger?

A shriek rang out.

The guards dashed up the path, and the chief trotted after them. He caught up with them at the front gate. They stood and stared across the empty courtyard at Shelemiah’s wife. She knelt and sobbed over someone by the front door.

Obadiah pushed through and strode over beside her. Her sides heaved with sobs, and she pressed her cheek against the cheek of a man lying face up on the doorstep.

Rizpah, her daughter-in-law, stumbled out the door and knelt beside her. The mother looked up at her and wailed. With one hand, Rizpah covered the slash in the man’s throat. With the other, she turned his head.

Abdel, her husband.

The young woman threw her head back, stared at the sky, and clenched her fists. Her mouth opened wide and a voiceless gasp escaped. Then she screamed and screamed. A toddler tumbled out the door and buried his face in her robe. He wailed in time with her screams. His little brother crawled into the open doorway. He raised his head toward his grandmother and whimpered.

A sharp pang gripped Obadiah in the chest. Those arrogance, wicked men had hunt down his young friend Abdel. Why, Lord? Why do you stand far off? He bent over the little group. “I’ll get Shel.” At the gate he paused by his guards. “Admit no stranger.” He touched his driver on the arm. “Shelemiah’s grove.” They trotted out to the chariot, found Shelemiah, and brought him to the house.

That afternoon Obadiah wept with Shelemiah and his family as they put Abdel in the ground. That evening and all of Sabbath day he sat with them and greeted visitors. Many smiled at him in recognition. Others raised their eyebrows and scanned him and his six men. They got to satisfaction, because Obadiah was here for Abdel and his family, not to introduce himself. One or two turned to Abdel’s buddy, Ulam, who told them, “Abdel’s Uncle ‘Biah from Jezreel.” Obadiah did favor those persons with a nod.

For the first five days of the week, he left the city early and inspected olive groves and presses for King Ahab. Each evening he returned to the family. Early the sixth day, he left his room at the inn and joined Shelemiah and the family. “This last day of shiva your visitors will be few. Tomorrow I return to the fort, and I wish to spend this day with you.” An hour later, his guards came in and set down another array of food.

The chief picked up an apple but put it down. He still saw Rizpah trying to cover the slit in Abdel’s throat. Those wicked men in black had tossed him to her and said, “God will never notice.”

At mid-morning, Abdel’s youngest crawled onto Obadiah’s lap, and the royal chief of staff breathed a little easier. He cupped the tiny back and bottom in his hands and nestled him up against his shoulder. He smiled over at Shelemiah and then swallowed.

He croaked out a whisper, “For six years….” Shelemiah leaned in. Obadiah cleared his throat and spoke in full voice. “For six years this child’s father managed olive groves, first for King Omri and now for King Ahab. He would show me the tiniest invasion[1] of scale or scab and what he was doing to push it back. Other times he took me far outside the grove to show me a small box of diseased fruit that he pulled off the trees. Abdel spoke the truth.”

Shelemiah looked at his wife. “He even told his mother if there was too much salt in the stew.”

She nodded. “That boy just had a way of letting the truth get out into the open.”

Rizpah pulled her toddler up onto her lap. “I know how it happened. The day before they…” A sob stopped her. She shifted the child and took a deep breath. “The day before they killed my Abdel, it was all bubbling out of him and Ulam and their buddies how the Lord hates Moloch. So, when he saw that furnace and his cousin, it just bubbled out of him again.”

Obadiah stood. “Yes, we can say the truth just bubbled out of Abdel.” He handed the baby to its grandmother. “I’ll give you this child for now. Next time I’m in Samaria I hope to hold him again. I’ll go to the inn now. My crew and I leave for the fort at dawn, so tonight I tell you goodbye, friends.” He reached his hand to Shelemiah.

But a man Obadiah recognized from the first day of shiva burst through the door. “Ulam! They killed Ulam!”

Obadiah sank to the floor like the man had struck him in the chest.

Obadiah was a devout believer in the Lord.  Jezebel was killing off the Lord’s prophets, but Obadiah hid them in two caves and supplied them with food and water. – 1 Kings 18:3-4


[1] Grove managers tend to say “invasion” rather than “infection,” perhaps because scale and scab are insects, rather than diseases.

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Fun with Elijah

Fun with Elijah