27. Tirzah

Obadiah grew quiet. Who would mop up whom?

27. The Battle of Tirzah Valley

868 B.C.

The Plaza, Samaria City, Israel

Obadiah stood on the threshing floor and gazed across the hills toward the Tirzah valley.

Mikayhu and Gera stood next to him. Mikayhu pulled on Obadiah’s elbow. “You know the Lord’s got this. Right, Uncle Biah?”

Obadiah grunted. No way did the Lord have this. Sending Ahab and twelve youths into the Syrian camp. Suicide.

Yet Ahab rolled his chariot to a stop beside them and pointed to the sun near the top of the sky. He wore his purple headscarf and flowing white robe. “The Syrians need to know who’s in charge.”

Obadiah shook his head. Royal bait.

“See you in Tirzah.” Ahab waved, rode through the gate and down the switchbacks. His youth patrol followed. By Zak’s count, including the flying wedge and its wings, the attack squad numbered two hundred thirty-two.

Obadiah turned Mikayhu toward Gera. “You’ll be safe from the queen with Uncle Gera, and when this is over I’ll take you home with me.” He stepped into his chariot, and his bodyguards mounted. They carried spear, javelin, and sword. Plus a water skin and a tiny bag of barley fried with onions and mutton.

At the bottom of the hill, he swiveled in the chariot.

Farmers on horseback lugged swords and spears as if they were rakes and shovels. A hundred groups of fifty snaked their way down the escarpment, while forty groups stayed to protect the city.

When Obadiah arrived at the long, narrow entrance to Tirzah valley, Ahab waited by the cliff at the other end by the cliff that hid the main valley.

Oaks and acacias grew in clumps mixed with boulders and shrubs. Red and pink Cyclamen sprinkled the grass carpet, mixed with the violet of delicate cross-shaped Ricotia. Thin clouds dusted the top of a light blue sky. A lark sang.

Where was the Syrian alarm? The farmers and youth patrol had padded softly onto the scene. But lookouts should have reported their arrival.

Ahab waved and disappeared around the cliff into the Tirzah valley.

Obadiah wiped clammy hands on his robe. He never should have allowed Ahab to march out of sight with such a small troop—children at that. This affair felt too much like their long ago horse race cut short by Syrian arrows.

He followed the last of the youth patrol around the cliff and into the broad Tirzah valley.

On the far side of the valley, up against the hills, hundred of coppery red tents covered the ground. Horses on picket lines nibbled grass in the morning sun. A gentle breeze rustled the grass but ignored a dark red flag hanging limp in the heat. Had the Syrians gone back to Damascus and left their tents for the hyenas?

Ah! One red-turbaned head popped up from a tent. One. But where were the hundred thousand? The fleets of red-paneled chariots?

Ahab faced the distant tents with his wedge of twelve and wings of ten. Ready to fly—but at a target of one?

A farmer crew of fifty tiptoed around the cliff corner and peered over Obadiah’s shoulder.

Yelling erupted from the distant tents. Men in red spilled out and screamed then stumbled toward Ahab.

Obadiah rolled up to Ahab. “Your target, my king.”

Ahab raised his spear. “Charge!” He across the valley with his wedge and wings at his side.

More red-turbaned heads popped up from tents. Ben Hadad’s thousands would soon emerge and swallow Ahab and the rest, but to fight—and to fight on their own terms—beat joining Ben Hadad’s chain gang.

Obadiah’s driver waved his whip, and the chariot surged in Ahab’s wake. Zak and the bodyguards raced beside him, swords drawn. Obadiah’s mouth fell open. Not only were the Syrians too few, but they couldn’t they walk straight.

Obadiah turned to the farmer fifties who had crowded into the valley and waved them toward the charging Ahab. “Mop-up time.”

Four or five dozen cursing Syrians troops approached Ahab. The first one to stagger within reach took a royal javelin through his throat. While Ahab drove on, youth commandos at his flanks gutted their own Syrians. Ahab’s sword flashed. He swooped his chariot aside, and another Syrian crumpled to the grass.

“Die, Hebrew!” A spear shot toward Hiel. As he ducked, his long arm slipped his sword between the Syrian’s ribs.

“Nice move.” Obadiah inhaled the scent of new-spilled blood.

While the Syrians shouted insults, Ahab’s child commandos dodged and thrust in grim silence.

As Obadiah’s driver swerved around a writhing Syrian, Obadiah reached for a javelin. Then he blinked. No more Syrian faces approached.

Obadiah called to Zak on his horse. “Where have they gone?”

Syrian troops with their yellow-winged torch displayed across their shoulders staggered toward the tents. Many lay face-down in the grass. A few moaned or moved, but most baked in the noonday sun while youth patrol retrieved arrows and stones from beside them.

Vultures circled low.

The hot, still air carried the stench of excrement from open intestines. Many youth commandos gagged. Several knelt and wept.

Zak pointed an arm toward the Syrian camp. “They’re in the tents.”

With the back of his hand, Obadiah wiped sweat from his eyes and howled at the farmer groups. “To the camp! Kill them in their tents!”

His chariot stirred bees and locusts, rousing the scent of chamomile from the grass. In ragged formation, the farmers followed him across the valley floor.

Obadiah’s chariot rolled over a discarded shield then three more. Tens of these red leather ovals littered the valley floor. And then spears lay among the shields.

He led the way into the camp. At the first tent, he cut the ropes, and the tent sagged. Foul vulgarities came from under the tent skins. Obadiah jumped from the chariot and used both hands to plant his spear point deep in the closest hump. With a gasp and a groan, the mound collapsed. As he stabbed more wiggling mounds, bodyguards and farmers surrounded him, slashing tent ropes and skewering dozens of shifting, cursing bulges.

As a Syrian soldier crawled from under his tent, a farmer nudged Obadiah aside, no longer holding his spear as if it were a shovel. He jammed the point between the Syrian’s ribs and loped over to the next tent.

Ahead of Obadiah, a dozen bleary-eyed Syrians in red headscarves weaved between tents.

A gray-haired farmer stabbed the nearest through a lung, toppled him into the grass, and stepped aside while younger farmers dashed ahead and sank their spears into the others.

Obadiah opened a tent door. An empty wineskin stood on a low serving tray, and cups littered the floor. He and shook his head. Israel’s victory had nothing to do with Ahab’s flying wedge. The Syrians were drunk.

Leaving the rest of the killing to the farmer fifties, Obadiah followed a lane through the tents to the far side of the camp.

Red-paneled battle wagons stood in neat rows next to hundreds of picketed horses.

Obadiah saw no more Syrians left to kill. He told the nearest farmer, “This battle is over. Go home.”

The sun had nearly completed his arc toward the Great Sea and cast long shadows from the trees and boulders of Tirzah valley. A lark still sang.

Beyond the fleet ot chariots and the tethered horses, Ahab stood in his chariot surrounded by men in coppery red uniforms.

“Coming, my king!” Obadiah grabbed a javelin and raced to him.

Ahab slowed him with a raised hand. “It’s okay, Biah.” He hab leaned over the chariot rail and talked with seven men in filthy red uniforms who knelt in the dirt and lifted their faces. They wore sackcloth draped around their waists and ropes around their heads.

Ahab asked, “Is he still alive? He is my brother.”

The men in sackcloth shot glances at each other, bowed, and scurried away toward the city.

“Your brother. Who?” Obadiah stood back against his chariot rail.

Ahab watched the men in sackcloth disappear. “They’re bringing me Ben Hadad. Or so they say.”

Obadiah shook his head. Ahab could be such a dupe. “If it’s Ben-Hadad you’re looking for, our troops saw him escaping with the cavalry.”

“So?” Ahab tipped his head.

“So, your man’s in a royal tunic trotting northeast on a horse he loosed from a battle wagon.”

Ahab tossed his head. “If those jokers produce Ben-Hadad, I plan to get back cities and put my markets in Damascus.”

“Right. Lift Ben-Hadad’s head from between his shoulders. Then do as you please about cities and markets.”

Ahab said nothing in return. Only jutted his chin forward and rocked back on his heels. What was going on inside the royal skull? “My king, do you realize this victory had nothing to do with our battle plan?” Obadiah stared hard into Ahab’s eyes.

But Ahab gazed off at the horizon. “You think? I kind of enjoyed watching the youth patrol thrust and parry.”

Obadiah rolled his eyes. “I’m spending the night at Gera’s with my guards.” Obadiah squeezed his driver’s arm, and his chariot rolled.


Two hundred thirty-two youth patrol – 1 King 20:13-15

Flying like Jehu – 2 Kings 9:20

Drunken Syrians – 1 Kings 20:16

Sackcloth & Ben Hadad – 1 Kings 20:31-34

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