24. Syrians

24. The Syrians Are Upon You.

859 BC

Fort Jezreel, Jezreel Valley, Israel

Obadiah brushed wet hair from his forehead and opened his mouth to the slight drizzle misting the headquarters rooftop. “Thank you, Lord!” The rains had returned two years ago, including early afternoon showers from the Great Sea.

A long peal of thunder reverberated from the towers and the old stone walls, rattling the fort at its foundations. Merchants stuffed cantaloupe into sacks, tied them to donkey packboards, and headed out the gate.

Obadiah’s children stomped puddles, giggling and splashing. His third daughter, eleven,i splooshed over to them, tilting her head to one side. “Daddy, tell us again about when the Goatskin Kid opened the sky.”

He pulled Yedidah to him in a side-hug for the story. “Well, he was taller than Ahab. Beautiful beard. Remember his name?

In unison, his five children answered, “Elijah.”

The three girls stood back and let their little brothers cling to their father.

The younger boy, six, tugged on Obadiah’s sleeve. “And fierce. Elijah was fierce like a lion.”

Obadiah held his son’s head in his hands. “Gentle as a kitten. And the way he called to the crowd made me want to sing.”

His older son fixed his eyes on Obadiah. “And then he killed the Moloch monsters.”

“Terrible sight. Everybody had their daggers out. I’m glad you weren’t there.” Obadiah pointed an arm toward the valley. “Then a huge rain floated the bodies out to sea.”

He had reached the familiar end of the Return of the Rain story. His sons knelt by him and spun tops on the roof pavers, while his daughters set up a board game.

Two elders with their children occupied far corners of the roof, well out of hearing.

He pulled Yedidah to him and whispered. “I remember Ruthie insists no more than fifty in the Misliya cave. How many in our Qafzeh cave?”

The shoulder of his robe muffled her reply. “Twelve. A glorious team feeds them.”

Thank the Lord. I couldn’t hide one bubbler until Yeskah and Ruthie stepped in.”

Whenever we have a friend going to Megiddo or the Galilee, I send a little pile of your silver.” She glanced at the fort gate below. “The blacksmith’s wife is part of the team. Old friends with Yeskah. They keep their bubblers in pita and mutton. And squash.”

Seems like it was only seven in that Galilee cave last week.”

When you get back, it will be fifty.”

He held her tight and nuzzled her hair. Three weeks ago, he had listened with the fort commander to scouting reports. Syrian troops were mobilizing in Damascus, and spies said the troops’ campfire chatter described the Jordan River approach to Samaria City.

A few days later, a runner popped into the fort from farmers trudging up the Jezreel Valley. Ahab had ordered his Akko chief to bring fifty men to the capital. That week, a dozen more chiefs marched through with their fifties, leaving their farms in the middle of the harvest.

Ahab needed Obadiah at the capital. “I have to leave.”

“I understand.” Yedidah’s voice vibrated his chest. She pushed back and looked into his eyes. “I’d love to keep you here, but there’s nothing for you to do.”

“Even the children talk of the invasion.” Yedidah wrung her hands and pressed into him. “Go to Ahab before your pacing wears a groove in the floor.”

He clung to her. The fort was the safest place he knew. But not safe enough. “Please, Lord, Ahab needs me. You’ve got to protect Yedidah and the kids.”

###

The hills on the way to Samaria Cityonce sad and brown—glistened in greens from lime to emerald. Since Elijah executed four hundred Moloch priests, the winter rains returned and blessed the leaves of every growing thing from oaks to salt bushes.

On the first switchback at the base of the Samaria Hill, a rider called from behind, “Message for the king.” Obadiah’s driver and bodyguards swerved wide.

The rider passed them on the inside, his steed dripping sweat. As he touched heel to horse, one word sounded clear over hoof beats and the crunch of chariot wheels. “Syrians.” Horse and rider disappeared around the next turn.

Hi-yah!” Obadiah’s driver waved his whip. His team leaned into the turn and came out at a fast trot.

Obadiah swiveled in his chariot. A rider in mottled gray emerged from the Tirzah valley, followed by three riders wearing the coppery red of Syria. They would reach the city several beats after Obadiah.

The road snaked back and forth up the escarpment. At the city gate, stone pillars thick enough to shade a horse held timbered wings open to the road. On the narrow threshing floor, Obadiah’s chariot and bodyguards skirted piles of chaff and stalks. They entered the broad plaza and weaved through clusters of vendors and buyers haggling over chickens and melons. Troops posted next to the palace glanced once, then let his little group thread their way through.

At the foot of the palace stairs, guards cooled the back of the messenger’s horse with wet cloths and held a bucket as he drank.

The rider stood on the terrace with Ahab.

Obadiah mounted the steps two at a time. “Three red robes from Tirzah are climbing the hill.”

The rider swept his arm toward the river. “They’re in the Jordan Valley, sir. Down from the Golan and across the Galilee.

The king dismissed the rider, who led his weary mount to the livery.

With a wave of his hand, Obadiah sent his chariot and horses across the plaza after them.

He turned to Ahab. “The Syrians are upon you, my king. Ben Hadad is attacking from the Jordan.” As boys watching the troops in Gibbethon—and dozens of times since—he and Ahab had quizzed each other on an attack from the river. But this was no drill. Whatever scenario Ahab chose, men would die. “How many troops do you have here on the hill?”

“Close to seven thousand in the woods and the fort. And they’re eager to get back to the harvest.”

The buzz of conversation on the plaza fell away.

At the city gate, sunlight flickered from the spear of a soldier leading three in coppery red uniforms. Where were their horses? Ah-ha. A deep glow warmed Obadiah from the inside. The scout had made them approach his king on foot.

Vendors, buyers, and troops stepped back and opened a path. Soldiers rammed the butts of their spears against the plaza pavers and iced the Syrians with their stares.

Ahab stood beside the balustrade, hid his hands in his armpits, and tucked his elbows into his sides.

Obadiah held his breath. These messengers would report to Ben Hadad that the king of Israel shrank from contact.

As the Syrians followed the scout up the steps, their daggers glinted in the sun.

Ahab unfolded his arms and took the center of the terrace, his arms loose at his sides.

Obadiah leaned back against the balustrade. Good show.

The scout bowed to Ahab—“My king”—and stepped aside.

Stiff and straight, the Syrians lined up before Ahab. Square-trimmed black beards brushed their chests while they stole looks around the terrace.

What does this son of Hadad have to say for himself?” Ahab crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes to slits.

The messenger at the center took one stride forward and tipped his head back. He recited in a high-pitched voice as if reading from an accountant’s tablet. “Ben Hadad says…”

Obadiah swallowed hard. The message would be a threat. In early lessons, Commander Omri had taught young Ahab and Obadiah the purpose of a threat—Ramp up the fear, so victims can’t think to organize their defense, and the city falls with lower cost.

In those long ago lessons, Obadiah had stored threats on the same mental shelf as ladders and ramps—to be used or set aside in a siege with no danger to his own skin. Yet if these troops captured Fort Jezreel, they would shove his children into copper mines. Fear dried his mouth. Are you watching, Lord?

Ben Hadad says, ‘Your silver and your gold are mine. And your wives and children, even the most handsome. All mine.’”

The threat could have come verbatim from King Omri’s lessons. The aim? To make the king shudder.

Instead, Ahab sneered. “Please inform Ben Hadad, ‘Whatever you say, my lord. It’s all yours.’”

With eyebrows bobbing, the messengers turned to one another, then composed their faces still as stone. As they followed the scout across the plaza, their shoulders displayed the yellow-winged torch of Syria.

Zak leaned over and whispered in Obadiah’s ear, “What’s he mean—all yours?”

Ahab winked as if he heard Zak. “‘Answer a fool according to his folly …’”

Obadiah returned a crooked smile. “‘… or he will be wise in his own eyes.’”

Zak leaned back, and Obadiah propped his arms on the balustrade. Were they wise to mock? If the Syrians closed in, Obadiah’s people could drink for weeks from Omri’s thirty-six cisterns. And a wall twice as tall as Obadiah surrounded the plaza, honeycombed with chambers full of grain and oil.

For those wanting escape, nine tunnels hidden among boulders and shrubs exited the hillside. Commander Omri had taught Ahab and Obadiah, when they besiege a city, do not guard the exits. Let those inside leave. So, instead of fighting you tooth and nail, they hand you their city. If Ben Hadad used the same strategy, he would keep routes open into the rolling countryside.

Yet, Moses had described the delicate man who, bottled up in a walled city with nothing to eat, hides the flesh of his child from his wife. Obadiah shuddered. Kill their child, hide the body from Yedidah, and sneak bites?

With Ahab at his side, Obadiah spiraled up the stairway of an observation tower in the plaza’s northwest corner.

On the wall, they worked their way around piles of heavy rocks, smooth and uniform, then rested their elbows on the parapet. No foreign troops occupied the nearby grade. Yet far off toward the Jordan River, where the slope dropped into Tirzah valley, Syrian soldiers would be cutting branches for shelter.

Obadiah nudged Ahab’s biceps. “A pincer move?”

Ahab shook his head. “Not enough of us, and I’m not pulling troops away from Jehu or Bidkar. If my father was right, Ben Hadad’s next threat arrives tomorrow.”


Background

More of Elijah on Mt. Carmel in The Boy Who Closed the Sky, chapters 34-38

Invaded – 1 Kings 20:1-4

Ben (son of) Hadad, the title of several Syrian kings – 1 Kings 20-22

Fear as a siege tactic – 2 Kings 18:17-37

Answer a fool – Proverbs 26:4-5

Open escape routes – The Art of War, by Sun Tzu

Tirzah – 1 Kings 16:6-23

Citizen soldiers – Deuteronomy. 20:5-8, Amos 5:3, 2 Chronicle. 26.11, 2 Kings 25.19

Jehu and Bidkar – 2 Kings 9:25

Hide the flesh of his children – Deuteronomy 28:55

iThis Ch. 24 is in 859 BC. And 13 years ago, in Ch. 03. No Guards, 872 BC, Biah says, “I take the babies home for a visit” – So this 3rd daughter could be up to 13+ yrs old.

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