Elijah the Tishbite stood nervously just inside the doorway of King Ahab’s luxurious palace as Beerah, the intimidating captain of the king’s guard paced a slow, hostile circle around the dirty prophet, studying him in the flickering torchlight with a mix of genuine wonder and hostile mockery. He stopped a mere half-pace before Elijah, glancing for a moment into the eyes of one of the two watchful guards positioned behind Elijah.
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“From where do you come?” he asked indignantly, shifting his sight back to the dark eyes of Elijah and leaning ever closer to the face of the strange vagabond.
“From the east,” replied Elijah disinterestedly, “the land of Tishbe.”
“What is your message for the king?” demanded Beerah for the third time, pressing his face yet closer to Elijah’s.
Elijah shifted his own dark eyes more directly into Beerah’s. He struggled within not to reveal his intimidation to this man who sought it with such apparent hunger. Elijah was not a man fearful of other men but neither was he a man experienced in dealings with people. He was not a man of the city but of the wilderness, more accustomed to a meal of locusts and honey than seasoned meats and fruit, more at home on the floor of a dry cave than the bed of a warm house, and more at peace with the voice of almighty God than the chatter of vain men.
“My message,” he repeated evenly into Beerah’s threatening eyes, “is for the ears of the king.”
The light from the torches mounted on the walls of the palace shined of Elijah’s dark eyes as Beerah’s simmering stare tried to penetrate into the thoughts of this strange vagabond. Behind him he could hear the approaching footsteps and complaining voice of King Ahab who would likely be accompanied by his servant Obadiah, governor of the king’s household.
“You call me from my evenings rest?” Beerah heard the king complain, “To meet with a person unknown to me?”
Beerah held his menacing eyes on Elijah as the footsteps of the king and Obadiah grew louder in the corridor behind him, stepping away from the silent vagabond and raising his hand to rest comfortably on the hilt of the short sword fastened tightly around his waist.
“I have heard of this person my king,” pleaded the voice of Obadiah from the darkness. “He is said by many to be a prophet!”
Elijah forgot Beerah and his attempts at intimidation as the portly form of King Ahab emerged from the shadows of the corridor into the dim light of the torches. Ahab was drunk with wine that sloshed carelessly from the bejeweled cup in his hand as he suddenly slowed his pace, fixing his eyes curiously upon Elijah.
“A beggar! You call your king to hear the words of a beggar Obadiah?
Elijah was unmoving in his stance, staring intently at Ahab as the king came to a halt several paces before him.
“More than a beggar according to many, my king,” said Obadiah thoughtfully.
Elijah wore the dirt and dust of the wilderness caked tightly to his skin by a layer of dried sweat. He was clothed in the dark brown leathery skin of a beast, likely a camel with much of the hair remaining on the sleeveless garment that hung loosely from his lean muscular shoulders to just below his knees. It was open at the front but tied tightly at the waist with a belt that was apparently made of the same beast as the garment was. It was the garment of a man of no means, of no friends to help him and no family to care for him. He wore no sandals on his dirty, calloused feet and seemed oblivious to the cold, stone floor on which he stood.
“Give heed King Ahab,” muttered the strange prophet in a soft, nearly incoherent voice.
Beerah quickly turned his suspicious attention back to Elijah, whose eyes remained fixed with strange intensity upon his portly king.
Obadiah stepped forward curiously, remembering the careless passion which he had heard Elijah speak with in times past.
“Speak cautiously Elijah,” he warned, “give heed yourself for this is the King of Israel whom you address.”
Elijah’s earlier nervousness was now departed and his spirit stronger. Words came to him without forethought and though aware of his danger, he had become strangely detached from it.
“The land shall be cursed King Ahab,” he continued in a hoarse, whispery voice which belied the deeper, more powerful tone that Obadiah remembered as being Elijah’s norm.
“For as I stand before the Lord and God of Israel,” continued the prophet, “so shall cease the rain and dew except by my word.”
“You curse my land?” asked the drunken king. “You come to me in the hours of my rest to bring drought upon my kingdom? You dare to-“
“The land belongs to our God!” interrupted Elijah boldly.
The two guards behind Beerah stiffened with the changed tone of Elijah’s voice, looking to Beerah for a subtle nod or sign that they should seize the suddenly irate prophet.
Elijah felt his heart pumping faster as the eyes of those surrounding him bore down on him. He was neither fearful nor courageous at that moment and the words which came from his mouth were not his own, for Elijah himself was no longer his own man, but a greater and more powerful man of God as he had so often prayed to be. As another man might be possessed of a demon, so was Elijah’s spirit now possessed by the power of the living God.
The king hesitated a long moment, studying the strange vagabond standing before him in the shadowy darkness of the palace corridor.
“Heed my word King Ahab,” warned Elijah in a hoarse, whispery voice, taking a small step closer to the king, “Turn your heart from Baal lest further judgment from God befall you.”
Ahab stepped cautiously backward, into the more comfortable shadows of the corridor, unable to break his gaze from the penetrating, dark eyes of Elijah. Finally he opened his mouth to command that Beerah seize the prophet but Elijah bolted before the command could be uttered, crouching low as he spun fast on the heel of his left foot whilst driving his shoulder hard into the ribs of the nearest guard standing behind him.
Before a command could be voiced or a sword drawn, Elijah was beyond the gate of the palace, sprinting hard toward the waiting, desolate wilderness that was his home. The cool nighttime air was invigorating and the moon large and full as it hung low over the distant horizon, illuminating Elijah’s way with a strange, unearthly glow that filled the sky from east to west. Elijah breathed deeply of the sweet nighttime air as his legs became stronger than he could ever remember them being. His speed became greater and the increased wind rushing against his dirty, weather-beaten face invigorated him even more.
Behind him scurried the kings frantic guardsmen onto their horses as Ahab stood unsteadily in the gateway to the palace, sloshing wine from his goblet as he bellowed angry orders. They quickly spurred their horses into the settling dust left in Elijah’s wake but already was Elijah a small, disappearing speck of dust fading quickly into the face of the wilderness.
In two days time would the riders return fruitless and without explanation as to how a man on foot could so easily evade capture of trained guardsmen on fleet horses. Angry spittle would fly into Beerah’s stern face as King Ahab bellowed threats and insults but in the end, the threats would cease as realization came to Ahab’s angry mind that Beerah and his guards were competent men. The escape of Elijah the Tishbite could not to be blamed on the guardsmen any more than his arrival.
In months to come more riders would be dispatched to conduct ongoing searches throughout that land of Israel and beyond. Threats would be made to any and all who might be so foolish as to hide the prophet or lie about knowledge of him but yet was Elijah not to be found.
“There are many stories of him,” King Ahab mused aloud one day as he rose to his feet whilst the morning meal was being cleared from the low dining table where he had sat. Near the far end of the table stood Obadiah, head of the kings household, supervising the servants as they carried away plates and bowls of food. Obadiah looked nervously into the kings eyes as servants scurried past him.
“He has many followers Obadiah,” continued Ahab.
Obadiah had served the king for many years and knew his masters tactics of conversation. He had long suspected that King Ahab knew or suspected that he was a follower of Elijah the Tishbite.
Obadiah nodded dutifully toward the king, “You know of my former visits to the caves where Elijah once taught.”
Ahab nodded as he stepped over the floor pillows gathered around the dining table, making his way toward the outside courtyard of his palace, wine glass in hand. He motioned for Obadiah to follow.
“He speaks of the God of our fathers,” explained Obadiah as he snatched a pitcher of wine from the tray of a departing servant before following after his king.
“He speaks against me Obadiah!” snapped Ahab without turning to face his servant, “He speaks against my wife and against our gods!”
Obadiah hesitated before speaking, knowing his delicate position as a servant to the king on the one hand and a follower of Elijah on the other. Elijah was a man known of by the king and his guardsman for many years. He lived as a vagabond preacher in the wilderness and teaching in caves surrounding Samaria.
“He never speaks of insurrection my king,” offered Obadiah weakly. “He speaks badly of our people losing their way and straying from the God of our fathers but he never-“
“He blames me for this Obadiah!” snapped Ahab, turning to face Obadiah. “Our people were at the feet of Baal long before I became king but yet he blames me!”