Read Elijah Online

Authors: William H. Stephens

Tags: #Religion, #Old Testament, #Biblical Biography, #Elijah

Elijah (9 page)

BOOK: Elijah
12.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Elijah gratefully settled into the cushions. He had traveled for two days and a night without resting for more than moments at a time.

Miriam rushed to him with a figcake and a cup of wine.

“Yes, yes,” Rejab gushed incessantly. “Perfect for the weary traveler. You are a joy to me, Miriam. Take it, Elijah, and refresh yourself.”

Elijah drank gratefully, more refreshed by the antics of his host than by the food. The joviality of Rejab offered temporary escape from the somber realities of his past musings. The medicine was good.

Rejab joyfully told the story of the day. A Bedouin tribesman was crossing the Jordan at the place where Elijah made his ford. His camel stumbled in the swift water and went completely under, not a humorous event at all to the camel or its owner. Rejab’s description of the naked man diving into the water to cut the camel’s load loose and get the animal to shore, Elijah thought, could not have been nearly so funny as his own story made it seem.

Rejab enjoyed his own storytelling immensely. As he talked, his stomach joggled with his laughter, making him look as though he was bouncing on the little stool. He gestured widely in his talk, and his voice sometimes rose to shrills.

Miriam interrupted Rejab only momentarily with her call to dinner. Throughout the meal of hot broth and bread, which the men dipped with their fingers into the large pot of dense liquid, Rejab continued his hilarity. That Elijah was quiet did not bother the host. Elijah often was quiet.

Finally Elijah interrupted. “Rejab, tell me what you know about the Baal temple at Samaria.”

The smile, which appeared to be etched permanently into Rejab’s face, faded quickly. “Have you heard of the dedication?”

“Yes.”

“That is all I know. It took place two nights ago. The city was paralyzed the next day. The people say it does not matter. They can serve both Yahweh and the baals. I am just a poor merchant. I do not know of such things. All I know is that after the prophets of Melkart speak the people I trade with are less scrupulous and more cunning in their deceit.” Rejab gripped the crude goblet of wine with both hands. He swirled the liquid and gazed at it thoughtfully. “There is something else, Elijah.”

“What else?”

“Word has come from Obadiah that Jezebel intends to make Melkart and Asherah the official gods of the court.”

Elijah’s jaws clenched. When he rose from his seat, Rejab felt a tinge of fear. Elijah turned the goblet up and finished its contents with a gulp. He clenched the empty cup tightly, a wild look in his eyes, his muscles tense. Then slowly he relaxed and set the cup on the table.

“That is what I feared, Rejab. May Yahweh reward you both for your kindness. I must retire, and I will leave before you arise in the morning. I shall not bother you.”

“You shall bother us,” Rejab objected. “I shall not interfere with your mission, but you shall not go on an empty stomach. You can serve Yahweh better if you are strong. When shall you leave?”

“I must be in Samaria when Ahab sits on his throne. I leave at the beginning of the last watch before dawn. I shall run the distance.”

“It’s twenty miles, Elijah.”

“I shall run the distance,” the prophet repeated.

Rejab looked askance at his guest. Difficult as the trip surely would be, uphill much of the way, he knew Elijah would do as he said. “Then you shall need your strength all the more. When you arise, your food will be ready.”

Elijah grasped Rejab by both shoulders and kissed his cheek, “You are the best of men, Rejab.”

The moon was dark in the early hours before morning and Miriam needed lamplight to see. She laid bramble twigs and thorns in the outdoor oven and lit the tinder with fire from the lamp. She fanned it with her breath until it blazed, then threw dried pieces of dung into the flames for fuel. By the time Elijah roused, the breadcakes were ready to serve. Rejab left tracks on the dew-covered ground as he approached with a large goatskin, the head hole and three legs tied, the other left open to serve as a spout. He filled Elijah’s cup with wine. They ate silently.

Elijah set his cup on the flat rock that served as an outdoor table. “I must go, Rejab.” He kissed them both. “Good-bye, Mirian.” The gate to the courtyard closed behind him. For a moment Rejab and Miriam listened to their friend’s rapid gait, then the sound faded and they were alone again.

 

Chapter Five

Obadiah was a full head taller than Elijah, but not so powerfully built. His slender frame was robed immaculately, his beard trimmed to a thin line and a short goatee. His mustache matched the thin line of his beard. He wore no head covering, but his finely combed hair was held neatly in place with a headband. A blue matching sash stood out in restful contrast to the whiteness of his robe. His complexion was soft, yet deeply colored from the sun, his forehead high with a prominent vein in the center. He stood with an air of confidence; his eyes indicated a quick mind. He was in control of all of the royal possessions and he administered them with talent. Ahab’s confidence in him was apparent, for often he was consulted on matters completely outside of his appointed function.

Elijah spoke in a low, urgent voice. His penetrating eyes matched the intensity of his words.

“Elijah, what you ask is too dangerous. I cannot do it.”

“You must do it. I must see Ahab.”

“He will have you in stocks in the marketplace.”

“He would not arrest a prophet.”

Obadiah shook his head imploringly. “Elijah, Ahab has given a great deal of authority over the court to Jezebel. He will order your arrest because she would want it done.”

“Then I shall not let myself be caught.”

“How can you be so certain?”

“Ahab has made certain that his palace guards are loyal to the faith of Israel, hasn’t he?”

“Yes.”

“They will allow me to escape. Before Ahab can alert others, I will be on my way to the Jordan.”

“Why can’t you simply give me a message to take to him?”

“You know that is a foolish question, Obadiah.”

“Yes. You are determined then.”

“I know what I must do.”

“All right. I will get you to him. But I must find a robe to cover you. The guards would not let you enter like that, even with me.”

With a robe covering his hairy body and with hair and beard freshly combed, Elijah walked beside Obadiah. They passed through the courtyard amid an occasional greeting by workmen and servants who had no reason to question Obadiah’s selection of companions. At the palace entrance Obadiah simply nodded to the guards.

Inside the palace proper the two men crossed a large entry hall. Their footsteps echoed on the stone floor of the cavernous room. They stopped at the double doors to the throne room, blocked by the guards’ crossed spears.

“Obadiah,” one cautioned, “our regrets, sir, but your name is not on the roster to see the king today.”

Obadiah spoke softly. “It is Elijah who would see Ahab.”

Elijah loosened the rich robe to reveal his prophet’s garb underneath. The guards looked, glanced at each other, and hesitated, uncertain.

“The Lord God Yahweh has given me a message to speak before Ahab. You would not strive against Yahweh.” Elijah spoke softly but with command, as though he, not Ahab, were regent.

The senior guard regained his composure quickly. “We are servants of Yahweh, Elijah, and admirers of your courage, but we also are soldiers in the king’s command. You cannot enter unless summoned. Why do you not simply request an audience?”

Elijah shrugged the robe from his shoulders. Standing silent only for a moment, his eyes searched theirs. “Yahweh has summoned me. That is enough.” With a hand on each spear he wrenched them from the doors, quickly threw the latch, and shoved the double doors aside. They crashed loudly against the wall as the burly prophet walked quickly toward the throne. Ahab looked up, puzzled. Elijah stopped a few paces away from the gold-inlaid throne.

The court attendants looked at Ahab in anticipation. The guards quickly followed Elijah and grasped each arm. The king hesitated, surprised. Then he regained his demeanor.

“The hairy one,” he said. “You must be Elijah.”

“I am.”

Ahab gestured to the guards to release him. “You are foolish to come into my presence unannounced.”

“Kings rise and fall by the word of Yahweh. I am his prophet. It is you who should be afraid.”

“I am being tolerant of you, Elijah. Speak what you will say and leave my presence.”

Elijah pointed his finger at Ahab. “Ahab, what does my name mean?”

The king spoke with amused condescension. “Elijah means ‘Yahweh is God,’ a fitting name for his prophet, I suppose.”

“You will learn the truth of my name, Ahab.”

Elijah turned and moved toward the door, then stopped midway between it and the throne. He turned and looked at Ahab. The king sat, now composed, looking at the prophet with a slight smile. Elijah turned to face the king directly. He raised his arm slowly and pointed a finger straight ahead. With all the fierce power he could force from his ample lungs, Elijah screamed, “
Ahab, hear my words
!” The attendants jumped with a start as the sound echoed through the hall. Ahab raised himself erect on the throne. The room was held in rapt surprise. Elijah’s eyes flashed at the king. His scream echoed again from the walls. “
Ahab! as the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, but according to my word!”

Ahab hesitated a moment, stunned by the outburst. In that moment Elijah wheeled and strode from the throne room, past the startled guards, and toward the outer doors.

“Take him! Guards! Seize him!” Ahab stood as he shouted the order. Guards mobilized and attempted to obey. Elijah broke into a run. The guards at the outer door turned toward the commotion.

“It’s Elijah! Stop him!” a guard shouted toward them. The guards made a halfhearted attempt to appear loyal, but they allowed Elijah to slip by them. The prophet, his legs pounding furiously, leaped to a chariot that was passing through the gates. The driver turned, but Elijah’s powerful hand on his shoulder forced him to the floor of the chariot. “Stay there!” Elijah barked. Yelling and snapping the reins, he sent the horses careening through the streets toward the city gates.

The street cleared at the sound of Elijah’s powerful screaming. Mothers huddled their children toward the shops; dogs scampered under carts; and men, out of the way, looked to see what the commotion was all about.

The chariot charged through the gates, slowing only enough to turn to the right to circle the wall. Ahab would have archers on the city walls where the road circled around the city to the east. He shoved the reins into the hands of the crouching driver and leaped from the slowed chariot. He landed on his shoulders and rolled to his feet, stumbled, and began to roll down the hill that sloped steeply toward the south.

The palace was in an uproar. The guards, usually efficient to a fault, fumbled, trying to look fierce and businesslike, but each one, loyal to Yahweh, was glad to see Elijah escape.

Ahab was in a rage. He had sent archers to the city walls overlooking the road that passed along its base, but he knew Elijah was too shrewd to escape by such an obvious route. He returned to the throne room. As he mounted his throne, Jehu was announced.

“Send him in immediately.”

Jehu entered, dressed in conventional robe and waist-girdle rather than uniform. He was lean and wiry, taller than Ahab. His shoulders were broader but not so thick as the king’s, his muscles sinewy rather than bulging. Veins stood out prominently on his arms and hands. His hair reached only halfway down his neck and was held tightly in place with a headcloth; his beard was short and well trimmed. He did not like Ahab, but the thought of disloyalty never had occurred to him. He walked in long strides to the throne and knelt on one knee.

“At your service, sir. The courier informed me of the event as I left my quarters.”

“Then,” Ahab said grimly, “you know your task. Assign as many men as you think necessary to run Elijah down.”

“He will be difficult to catch,” Jehu answered as he rose.

Ahab searched him with his eyes, a look of stern understanding hardening the lines in his face. “Of that I am certain. It also occurs to me that no soldier who holds sympathy for him will do much of a tracking job. Had my palace guards been less dedicated to Yahweh he would be facing me now.”

Jehu, surprised, stood silent.

“Never mind. Only be careful that the patrol you assign to the task is made up on men who are more confident of Melkart than of Yahweh.”

“As you say, my king.” Jehu bowed and departed.

Ahab sat in silence. His eyes followed the line of the lotus leaf pattern inlaid along the ivory-covered walls. How much credence could he give to Elijah’s threat? The prophet had a strong reputation among the people, but what did that matter? Still, such a threat would be the most foolish of gestures were Elijah not certain that his message was authentic.

Ahab shuddered. The storehouses were empty. In his effort to increase the wealth of Israel, all surplus food had been traded to Phoenicia. Should he stop the caravans now en route to Tyre? Should he take charge of the farmers’ silos? Such an act would be an admission that he took Elijah seriously.

BOOK: Elijah
12.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Seducing Wrath by Lynne St. James
In Pharaoh's Army by Tobias Wolff
The Adventures of Robohooker by Hollister, Sally
Tiger Bound by Tressie Lockwood
Council of War by Richard S. Tuttle
Valley of the Dudes by Ryan Field
Deception by A. S. Fenichel