Ahab el Omri gloomily surveyed the dust and heat that were obvious through the entrance to his large and comfortable house. Barely noticing the sweating slave who wielded the fan which kept him cool, Ahab thought of the events which led up to his present situation. The drought, the people dissatisfied with his rule, his angry wife.
His father, Omri the Chieftain, had laid the foundation for the style of rulership and way of life that he, Ahab, followed, as well as the foundations of the city of Samaria that Ahab had so ably continued building. Omri had definitely not worshipped at the altar of Yahweh, the omniscient all-controlling god that the tribes of Judah and Israel were supposed to worship. And they HAD worshipped Yahweh, right up until the end of the reign of Solomon, that horse and gold-loving son of David.
But then even Solomon was not perfect. Towards the end of his reign he had taken to worshiping idols, like Chemosh, god of Moab, and Molech, the god of Ammon. Disgusting! Of course, Solomon had been greatly influenced by his numerous wives - they wore him down. Ahab shook his head, smiling to himself. How a man could possibly deal with seven hundred wives, plus three hundred concubines. What could he want with concubines, when he had hundreds of wives that he barely knew? Insane!
Anyhow, Yahweh had finally disposed of Solomon, then Rehoboam his son had ruled for a short while, but then Jeroboam had opposed him. Having been promised rulership of the ten tribes of Israel by Yahweh himself (so they said!) Jeroboam actually did not worship Yahweh for long, but instead had two golden calves made. He told the people to worship those, and even appointed ordinary people as priests - unheard of, but there you go! The word is that in the end Yahweh disapproved of Jeroboam’s lifestyle and sent a ‘man of the True God’ to chastise Jeroboam.
Those damned prophets! They were nothing but trouble, but what could you do? The prophets were different people, and now and again one of them would have a direct line to some unearthly power, so it was always wise not to antagonize them too much. Jeroboam had tried, pointing to the prophet who was annoying him, and ordering his soldiers to grab hold of the prophet. Immediately Jeroboam’s outstretched arm and hand had withered and twisted, like a dried-up tree branch! Needless to say, the soldiers were awe-struck, and did not move! Jeroboam begged the prophet to forgive him, and to ask Yahweh to restore his arm. The prophet eventually gave in and did as he was asked, much to Jeroboam’s relief, but soon after that the prophet himself was killed in strange circumstances. They SAY it was a lion that killed him, but you have to wonder. Anyhow, after that Jeroboam went back to his old ways.
But that is how it went, in the lands of Israel and Judah - intrigue, blood and deceit. Some of the kings followed the rules laid down by the god Yahweh, but most of them went their own way, worshiping many different gods. But always the god Yahweh cropped up now and again. He was never seen in person, not since the old days before Moses, but his prophets sure stirred things up. Still, what good is a god if you can’t see him?
That is what Ahab’s father, Omri, had thought. He had had many gods, idols whose faces Ahab was well acquainted with, and Ahab had taken it even further once he became king after his father died.
He had married Jezebel, daughter of Ethball, king or Sidonia. The Sidonians were a strange and fierce race, cruel to prisoners in war, and it is said they even sacrificed humans to their god Baal. Jezebel herself, though very beautiful, was a cold, powerful, evil woman, and Ahab had originally married her as a political move, to get the Sidonians on his side. Their large, well trained army was a benefit in any war. Jezebel, however, was something else!
Ahab was attracted by her physical beauty, challenged by her intellect, and found her presence exciting. It took all his considerable strength to overcome her resistance in bed, but this only excited him more. She fought tooth and nail (and with whatever weapon was close at hand) only giving in when it became obvious that he was going to overcome her anyway. Then she.......... .
His pleasant reverie was disturbed by a figure shuffling past in the dust outside. At first he thought it was that cursed prophet of Yahweh, Elijah the Tishbite, from Gilead, but it was only an old man going slowly past in the hot sun. Ahab thought back to over three years ago, to the beginning of the hot season. Elijah had appeared on the scene, and informed Ahab that, because of Ahab’s disregarding his laws, Yahweh had declared there would be a drought, until he decided to let it rain again. Ahab had dismissed Elijah, idly toying with the idea of sacrificing the old prophet to the god Baal, but thought better of it. You never knew with these prophets. Some were what he called ‘fill-in’ prophets, having the occasional vision, but little else, while others were the real thing. Elijah had an air of confidence about him, so Ahab was careful when it came to him. Still, Ahab had had soldiers out looking for the old prophet after only one year without rain. His soldiers had even looked in the neighbouring nations, but even after almost three and a half years Elijah was still nowhere to be found. Prayers and sacrifices to Baal had proved fruitless, which angered Ahab even more.
So here he was, in the cool of his luxurious home, pondering what to do. The people were becoming mutinous, as all their gods seemed unable to end the drought. Crops and animals were all dying, and food was low.
“Obadiah!” called Ahab. A man seated in the shadows at the back of the room rose and quietly came forward. “My lord?” he said softly. Obadiah was Ahab’s most trusted servant, head of his entire household. Unknown to Ahab, Obadiah was a worshiper of the god Yahweh, and some years ago had rescued about one hundred of Yahweh’s minor prophets from death. Jezebel had been angered by one of them and had ordered soldiers to round up and destroy all the prophets of Yahweh that they could find. Obadiah, being so closely involved with the royal family, was aware of this order and had quickly and secretly hidden one hundred of the prophets in two large caves out in the mountains. It had taken a long time for Jezebel to calm down, especially when only a few prophets could be found and killed. Fortunately Obadiah had the resources of the king’s house at his command, so he also fed the prophets by sending bread and water at regular intervals. Ahab said to Obadiah: “We must find some water and green food for the animals; I don’t want to lose any more of my horses or mules."
“I know, my lord, but what can we do? The people have little left, and even my lord’s water supply is extremely low. It has not been this bad ever, in my memory,” said Obadiah.
Ahab gazed at him sourly. “I know it’s bad, but the damn fools will expect me to do something about it,” he muttered. He sat and thought for a few minutes, then said: “The only thing we can do right now is go and look for water ourselves. We don’t want to stir up any trouble, so you and I will have to go. If someone out there has access to a spring that has not dried up, he is definitely not going to tell anybody else about it, for fear someone takes it from him. Or kills him for it.”
Ahab went on: “The most likely areas to look, as far as I know, are to the east, towards the torrent valley of Farah, and south-west towards the pasture grounds of Sharon and the Yarkon river, so I myself will investigate the Sharon area. You go to the other. If you find something worthwhile, send a message immediately to the stable overseer, so he can send some of the herd there.”
Obadiah respectfully backed away from Ahab, saying: “Yes, my lord, I will make arrangements and leave immediately.”
Ahab spent the rest of the afternoon preparing his horse, getting food together and changing into clothes that would not attract too much attention out in the land. He took his weapons as well, as there were still the occasional bandits to deal with, and even though he was unlikely to be recognized, his enemies would be glad to know he was alone and far from help. You couldn’t be too careful! Jezebel had only been informed that he would be away for a few days, and as he often went hunting, or visiting neighboring kings and chieftains, she did not even ask any questions. As evening fell Ahab mounted his horse and quietly left the city. Obadiah, having made similar preparations, had left earlier than Ahab, but after two days of searching he still had no worthwhile result to report. The moon was half full, casting a good light in the clear, cloudless conditions, so he trave1ed mostly at night to avoid the burning heat of the day.
On the third day the sun was coming up over the horizon, when he spotted a lone figure in the distance. At first he paid the figure little attention, as he was looking for somewhere to make camp, where he would be out of the direct sunlight. Soon, though, it was obvious that the man that he had spotted was heading straight for him, so he studied the advancing figure more closely. The man had on a light coloured robe, had sandals on his feet, and a staff in his hand. His beard was flecked with gray, so Obadiah respectfully dismounted and waited for the older man to approach.
The man, as he came closer, called out in a strong voice: “Obadiah!”
Obadiah’s eyebrows went up in surprise, but as the man approached Obadiah immediately recognized him.
“My lord Elijah!” exclaimed Obadiah. He fell to his knees, then prostrated himself in the dust at Elijah’s feet. Elijah put his hand out and raised Obadiah up. “You only need to worship the true God Yahweh, not me,” he said gently.
“Elijah the prophet!” exclaimed Obadiah again. “My lord the king was searching for you, but you were not to be found,” he continued.
“That is true,” Elijah said amiably, “but I am here now. And I want you to go to the king and tell him ‘Elijah is here’.”
Obadiah shook his head, looking glum. “My lord,” he said, “what sin have I committed that you want me to be put to death?”
Elijah smiled and said: “But Obadiah, what do you mean? I do not want you to be put to death.”
“Ahab sent messengers into all the land, even to all the nations and kingdoms round about us, looking for you,” explained Obadiah, “and he made them swear on whatever god they worshipped that they could not find you. And now you are saying ‘Go to your lord and tell him that Elijah is here’?”
Obadiah looked anxious and continued: “It is sure to happen that, as soon as I leave here, the god Yahweh will himself carry you away to I know not where, then when I bring Ahab here and you are gone, he will most certainly put me to death!”
Elijah smiled, then said: “Obadiah! Obadiah! I would not send you to your death. As Yahweh is alive, I promise to be here to meet with King Ahab.”
Obadiah glumly shook his head, but remounted his horse and said: “My lord, I will leave immediately. May Yahweh himself protect me.”