Friday, May 21, 2010

The Second King - Chapter 1: Duty

copyright ©2010 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com)
From a distance, the grumble intensified like a growing thunder clap that refused to end. And as the low-lying dust cloud approached, small flashes resembling lightning bursts reflected off the armor of the approaching army. Hooves beat the ground with the ferocity of a thunderstorm, leaving the soil pocked and up-rooted. The raucous sound was accompanied by the clack and chatter of chariot wheels, the clinking of armor and the occasional grunt of a warrior as they stoically rode the thunderous wave of invading chariots. No word was spoken. No word would suffice. This mission would bring to conclusion the soldiers' frustrations... one way or another. Growing thunder. Foreboding lightning. The storm was coming, and it seemed long overdue.

The driver of the lead chariot stole quick glances at his passenger, trying to glean some understanding of the thoughts that consumed his general. His leader's eyes were intense. Focused. Wild! These eyes reflected a fury that would not be quenched until the mission was complete, until the outcome of the journey was known. The man's eyes hinted at both confidence and fear. They suggested a righteous anger that has been strengthened by clear direction. The eyes belonged to a man of destiny, whose decisions would impact nations. The eyes belonged to Jehu, a soldier who would be king.

It was not unheard of in this region for a soldier to become the monarch. In the neighboring country of Aram, the kingdom was usurped by a mutinous soldier named Hazael. And if the rumors were to be believed, Hazael was emboldened in his treachery by words of The Prophet. This prophet foretold both Hazael's rise to power and the ensuing blood-bath that had been brought into Jehu's country. Until recently, Jehu and his men had been struggling against the forces of Hazael in support of a king they abhorred, but now they were now seeking to displace the undeserving tyrant.

Ironically, it was The Prophet who placed Jehu on this journey. Jehu would never have claimed this kingdom for his own, although deep in his heart he desired deliverance. He yearned to see his people set free from the devil-worshiping dynasty of his “king”. For forty-six years, since the time of King Omri, the rulers of this nation had rejected the One God and embraced the demonic. The Prophet warned the people of the Northern Country that they were moving toward destruction. For in rejecting the One Who Truly Is, the Northern Country could expect little more than famine, war, and cruel tyrants.

The Prophet had predicted Hazael's bloody aggression, and as with all things uttered by The Prophet, it eventually came to pass. Jehu's nation, the Northern Country, was now at war with King Hazael of Aram. Joram, king of the Northern Country, had joined forces with the Southern Country, led by Joram's nephew Ahaziah. As descendants of the wicked King Omri, both embraced their ancestor's ungodly practices. Ahaziah was in his first year as ruler and only twenty-two years of age. He had looked for a mentor and finally chose his uncle Joram. What a tragedy! How much better if Ahaziah had only chosen to follow The Prophet instead!

The Prophet was, in a word: amazing! All that he foretold came to pass. He could make iron float, cure disease and even resurrect the dead! He had protected the accursed Joram from death at the hands of Hazael's soldiers, and on one occasion, The Prophet had blinded the Arameans sent by Hazael to assassinate him. Even more amazing was how The Prophet protected these same assassins from execution, an act which led to a period of peace between Aram and the Northern Country.

***

Bidkar, Jehu's chariot officer, turned back to the general and shouted with uncertainty: “A rider from Jezreel, sir!” And after a brief pause, “Umm... I meant to say: 'Sire'.” Jehu remained silent, his lips taunt, his jaw set. But his eyes betrayed a smile.

Yes, Jehu was equally uncomfortable with the situation. He would have avoided it. He even tried to make a joke of it. But The Prophet had left him no other path. The Prophet had obviously directed his disciple carefully. It happened too quickly, and for once, Jehu was left bewildered. There at Ramoth Gilead, sitting in the company of his fellow officers, The Prophet's disciple came to speak with Jehu.

“I have a message for you, commander.” he said. All eyes turned upon this man, a well-known follower of The Prophet. No one asked, “Who sends the message?” Everyone knew. And everyone knew that it was foolish NOT to listen to The Prophet. A life, a battle, a war, an entire nation could depend upon listening and acting on what was relayed by a messenger of The Prophet.

“For which of us?” Jehu asked. He was hoping it was for another one of the senior officers. Anyone but him. But the man of God continued looking Jehu in the eyes, a deep and ageless stare, as he replied: “For you, commander.” The words were spoken softly, slowly and purposefully. But as soft as they were uttered, all the senior officers, Jehu's friends, heard each tiny syllable. All eyes were on the two of them as Jehu led the man to an inner room.

Once inside, the man spoke quickly and boldly. He poured oil over Jehu's head. The words, though uttered frenetically, seemed to resonate in Jehu's mind. It was as if they were etched permanently on stone tablets deep inside his very being. They reverberated in all directions. His mind wheeled, turning around on these words, this oil, this man, who finished all that he had come to say, opened the door and ran away just as quickly as he had spoken.

Jehu wandered out of the room, dazed and covered in oil. One of the officers, Ginath, had drawn a sword. He was prepared to chase after the man in the event that The Prophet's disciple had somehow harmed Jehu. Another man alternately looked at Jehu and the fleeing messenger, obviously wondering what had transpired. But it was yet another one of Jehu's companions that finally said: “Is everything all right? Why did this lunatic come to speak with you?”

Although his mind was still reeling, the words echoing in his head, Jehu straightened up with a smile followed by a laugh. “You know that man and the crazy things he says!” Still smiling, waving a hand over his shoulder toward the fleeing man, Jehu returned to his spot at the table and started to refill his drink.

“That's not true.” said one officer. “That was one of The Prophet's followers.” added another. “Tell us what he said.” insisted the first one. Jehu sat with a smile as he drank one huge gulp. All eyes upon him, he took another gulp, this time forgetting to smile. Eyes stared at him. Inquiring eyes. Expectant eyes.

“All right!” Jehu knew they would not let it rest. It was no small matter to be anointed with oil by a prophet, yet alone this prophet! Jehu would rather not say another word, but the fragrance of the oil kept prompting a response. He could not stay quiet. He had fought alongside these men for years and knew their tenacity. They would press in until they had an answer. In desperation and with trepidation, he summarized the words spoken quickly over him. The Prophet claimed that God had now made him king over the nation.

Before Jehu could begin his arguments against the ridiculous proclamation, he was stunned to see his companions shout with excitement, laying down their cloaks in service to him. The noise increased as a trumpet sounded and one of the officers declared loudly: “Jehu is king!”

In just a few minutes, Jehu had become either traitor or king! He could flee the kingdom or he could pursue a crown. News quickly spread around the camp as the spontaneous rejoicing spread like a joyful tidal wave.

He remembered the story of another king, who was anointed by a different prophet. It happened when the Northern and Southern countries were still one nation. The king who ruled the land in that earlier time had also rejected the One God, so God sent a prophet to declare the new king. However, the newly anointed king refused to harm the current ruler, wicked though he was. Instead, he chose to be exiled for a full decade until the old king was finally killed in a war.

No, The Prophet had left Jehu only one real choice. He could never flee. It was not in his nature. He may not have chosen this path, but he never shirked from responsibility. For years, he had placed himself in harm's way, willing to die for both his country and his companions. He had fought foreign enemies, knowing at a subconscious level that the real adversaries of his nation were domestic. But now that his companions had aligned themselves in rebellion with him, he could never abandon these men. There was only one direction for Jehu: He would claim his crown!

***

The rider from Jezreel approached at a furious pace. Recognition shone in his eyes as he stared at Jehu and the other commanders of the army. Seeing that Jehu was neither slowing down or turning aside, the new chariot turned and came along side Jehu's chariot, all the others trailing behind.

“This is what the king says: 'Do you come in peace?'”

Continuing to look forward, Jehu responded authoritatively: “What do you have to do with peace?” Then, turning his piercing, dark gaze upon the messenger, Jehu added: “Fall in behind me.” The look was convincing. Jehu was in charge. The messenger's chariot slowed down, coming into position as part of the invading force.

***

All happens at the right time. When a woman has gone through seven months of pregnancy, she may wonder if the baby will ever truly come. By the ninth month? Oh, the longing! So it was with this army. For twelve years, they had served Joram. They desired a king worthy of their service. For years, the army had endured the oppressive, ungrateful leadership of the royal family.

Oh, what a contrast from within their own ranks! The army's commanders were of the highest integrity! Even so, no man found worthy of such loyal support as Jehu! When others may have played the politics, Jehu simply lived what he believed. He treated each man with respect and was surprised to find that the men respected him. He never uttered a word against the king, but in his heart, he longed for the birth pangs of change. The gestation period had been so long, and the tensions of serving such an unworthy royal family had been agonizing. By the time Jehu was anointed, the soldiers would have been willing to trade a goat for their king. The proclamation of Jehu's sovereignty was more than any soldier had dreamed possible!

***

“A second rider, Sire!” shouted Bidkar. The driver smiled and winked as he said the word “Sire”. Jehu almost smiled back. Instead, he nodded, acting the part of a monarch on a serious mission. The driver understood the response of his new king and admired him all the more because of it. Before this day, the driver would have gladly risked his life to save Jehu. But now, he was risking his entire family. All of these men were fully committed to the task. The lives of their wives and children would be forfeit should they fail to achieve their mission. But the prize... redemption! A king worth serving!

***

Weaker men gladly place their hands in shackles: some out of fear; others from complacency; and still others in exchange for shallow comforts. Men such as this would gladly sell friend and family so that their life may not be uninterrupted by duty. They claim to disdain the character of greater men, and rationalize so well that they eventually believe their own lies. And so they are caught in a snare they have crafted for themselves. In their pursuit of pleasure and fear of deprivation, they never truly live, and so death slowly pulls them from the earth as everything they were made to be dissolves into nothingness.

The men that followed Jehu, however, were not of the weaker sort. They were, each of them, a prize in themselves. Jehu naturally respected each of them, and seeing both their dedication and belief in him, he resolved to be worthy of that gift. He knew the price they were willing to pay for him, and he desired more than anything to be the man they believed him to be.

***

The second messenger from Jezreel reached Jehu's army much more quickly than the first. Turning to match Jehu's course and speed, he also shouted: “This is what the king says: 'Do you come in peace?'”

Jehu recognized this man. His name was Obed, and they had known each other for over fourteen years. Fourteen years! They fought alongside each other at the first battle of Ramoth Gilead nearly fourteen years ago. Obed was known as a fearless warrior, and it was at that first battle of Ramoth Gilead where he earned special recognition for his unyielding valor, receiving as a reward the king's personal invitation to join the royal family's private guard. Obed was known for boldness with both sword and tongue, and consequently he earned a reputation for his devotion to the One God. This reputation earned Obed the respect of many outside the palace, but it cost him advancement opportunities with the royal family. However, while the king would never promote him, he cherished Obed's prowess in his private guard.

The years had been hard on Obed. His wife and children were constantly being enticed to join in the wickedness of the palace, and he had spent many a day fasting in prayer for his blood line to remain faithful to the One God. Jehu heard stories about how Obed's situation was further complicated when the queen mother took a fancy for his sturdy frame. The queen mother was renowned for her compelling manner, her beauty, and her occult practices. She was a witch from the land of Phoenicia, and Obed avoided her as much as possible!

Through his years of service in the guard, he had struggled with both his self-esteem and his faith as men he trained were promoted above him; he noticed their attitude towards him gradually shifted from respect to pity and eventually to disdain. But Obed persevered. For more than a decade, he had prayed to be free from his service to the royal family. For a period, he had even prayed for death to find relief from his present pain. But finally, Obed learned to pray for strength. He learned to live in complete trust that the One God would deliver both him and the Northern Country from its vile rulers. Lines creased his once smooth face and gray streaks highlighted the thick, dark curls of his beard, but his eyes reflected an inner strength that had grown in face of ridicule. The assurance of his identity out-weighed the circumstances of his position.

***

“What do you have to do with peace? Fall in behind me!”, shouted Jehu as he stared into the deep and understanding eyes of Obed, who respectfully saluted the commander. As he started to fall back into position, Obed noticed the motions of a senior officer, inviting him to drive alongside. It was General Ginath. Only a few days earlier in the more recent conflict against the Arameans at Ramoth Gilead, the two veterans had fought side-by-side. King Joram had been wounded by an enormous Aramean, and had it not been for Obed's long stride and quick sword, the king would certainly have perished that day. Obed stood valiantly over the fallen monarch against a score of Arameans, a sole defender against overwhelming odds. Ginath then led a charge that routed the enemy, placed a hedge of protection around the king and subsequently secured the city for a time.

But like Jehu, Ginath had known Obed long before that battle. These two soldiers had known and loved each other for nearly forty years. They were brothers, Obed being the elder.

Amidst the rumble of the advancing army, Ginath related the events that had led to this moment. Tears of joy welled in Obed's eyes as he heard of Jehu's anointing. In turn, Obed informed his younger brother about current events in Jezreel. The king was wounded but recovering. Furthermore, King Ahaziah of the Southern Country had also come to Jezreel from the recent battle of Ramoth Gilead to check on his uncle's condition.

“I see.” responded Ginath with a smile. Then he motioned to the two approaching chariots. Joram and Ahaziah were coming out to meet them.
(Continued...)