Fort Jezreel, Jezreel Valley, Israel
Obadiah held Yedidah tight and nuzzled her hair.
Her voice vibrated his chest, but his robe muffled her words.
Three weeks ago, scouts reported the Syrian army was mobilizing in Damascus, and spies said the troops chattedi about this opportunity to see the Jordan River Valley and Samaria City.
Two weeks ago, a dozen of the king’s chiefs in Akko, Megiddo, and Yokneam had marched past the fort with their groups of fifty. Runners from the chiefs popped in. The king had requested their help. With General Jehu, the fort commander, Obadiah heard each runner. To pull these citizen soldiers away from their farms in the middle of harvest meant Ahab felt the threat to Samaria City was real.
Yedidah freed her face from Obadiah’s robe. “The bubblers are safe in their caves, and royal silver flows to our buyers. Ahab needs you, Biah. And you need to be with him. Go, before you wear a groove in the floor with your pacing.”
As Obadiah swung into the first switchback at the base of the Samaria Hill, a rider called from behind, “Message for the king.” The driver swerved Obadiah’s chariot wide, and the bodyguards edged their horses over with him.
The rider passed them on the inside of the curve, his light roan horse dripping sweat. As he touched whip 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 the chariot. Fort Jezreel and Yedidah hid out of sight beyond the rolling purple. Vultures circled beneath the clouds, and the hills—once sad and brown—glistened in greens from lime to emerald. Since the return of the winter rains, new leaves had blessed the branches of every growing thing from oaks to salt bushes.
A rider in mottled gray emerged from the Tirzah valley. Behind him came three riders wearing the coppery red of Syria.
As Obadiah climbed the escarpment, the road snaked back and forth to the city gate. Stone pillars thick enough to shade a horse held timbered wings open to the road.
On the narrow threshing floor, his 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 around the palace glanced once then let his little group thread their way through.
At the foot of the palace stairs, the light roan, sweating horseii drank from a bucket while guards cooled his back with wet cloths.
The rider stood on the terrace with the king.
As Obadiah approached, Ahab leaned over the marble balustrade. “Syrians by the river.”
Obadiah mounted the steps two at a time. “I just came from the fort. Not a red robe in sight.”
The rider swept his arm toward the river. “They’re in the Jordan Valley, sir. Down from the Golan and across the Galilee. They’ll soon be in Tirzah.”
With a wave of his hand, Obadiah sent his chariot and horses across the plaza toward the livery. Yedidah and the children were in Fort Jezreel, the safest place he knew. He had chosen to help Ahab fight for the capital. If he tried to race back toward the fort, the Syrians could cut him down and slaughter his guards. By hiking the hidden trails of the hills, he might make it to the fort alive, but would arrive weeks after the Syrians were either defeated or in charge. Enough daydreaming. He pounded a fist against the marble railing. “Please, Lord, I can’t be there. You’ve got to protect Yedidah and the kids.”
He turned to Ahab. “The Syrians are upon you, my king. Ben Hadad is attacking from the Jordan.” The familiar words soothed. As boys cheering the troops in Gibbethon—and dozens of times since—he and Ahab had quizzed each other on an attack from the river. Yet this was no drill. Whatever scenario Ahab chose, men would die.
The king dismissed the rider, who led his weary mount to the livery.
Obadiah said, “We saw the chiefs and their fifties in the Valley passing the fort. How many troops do you have here on the hill?”
“Close to seven thousand in the woods and inside the fort. And they’re eager to get back to the harvest.”
The buzz of conversation on the plaza fell away.
As Obadiah turned toward the city gate, sunlight flickered from the spear of a soldier leading the 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.
Standing beside the balustrade, Ahab 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.
Yet, as the Syrians followed the scout up the steps, Ahab unfolded his arms, took the center of the terrace, and waited for them with his legs spread wide and his arms loose at his sides.
Obadiah whispered, “Show ’em, my king.”
In spite of Ahab’s stance at the center, the Syrians shot glances at both him and Obadiah, two men of the same age and height in matching purple headscarves and white robes.
The scout, however, bowed to Ahab. “My king.” He stepped aside.
Stiff and straight, the Syrians lined up before the king with their heads inclined. Square-trimmed black beards brushed their chests while they shot glances upward.
Ahab crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes to slits. “What does this particular son of Hadad have to say for himself?”
Ignoring the slur on his king’s title, the man 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. Ben Hadad’s message would be a threat. In early lessons at the feet of Commander Omri, young Ahab and Obadiah had discussed the purpose of a threat. “Ramp up the fear, so victims can’t think clearly to organize their defense, and the city falls with lower cost to your men.”
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 the fort, 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 objective? To make the king shudder.
Ahab sneered instead. “Please inform Ben Hadad, ‘Whatever you say, my lord. It’s all yours.’”
With their faces still as stone, the messengers turned and followed the scout down to the plaza. Their shoulders displayed the yellow-winged torch of Syria.
Zak leaned over and whispered in Obadiah’s ear, “All yours?”
Ahab winked. “‘Answer a fool according to his folly…’”
Obadiah returned a crooked smile. “‘…or he will be wise in his own eyes.’”
Zak and the other guards shook their heads.
Obadiah leaned back and propped his arms on the balustrade. Were they wise to mock the Syrian? The next phrase of the proverb read, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you’ll be like him.”
Yet, 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.
If someone wanted to escape, nine tunnels led to hatches hidden on the hillside among shrubs and boulders. And if Ben Hadad had been listening in when King Omri taught them—“do not guard the exits, so instead of fighting you tooth and nail, those inside can leave and give you the city”—the Syrian king would keep open routes into the rolling countryside.iii
The line of Ben Hadad’s troops and supplies, however, stretched from the back side of Damascus. Syrians might already have Fort Jezreel and Megiddo surrounded.
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 in shape, 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, troops in coppery red uniforms 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. I’m moving another five hundred troops from the woods onto the plaza.iv If my father was right, Ben Hadad’s next threat arrives tomorrow.”
The Story – 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
National Military Service – Deuteronomy. 20:5-8, Amos 5:3, 2 Chronicle. 26.11, 2 Kings 25.19
Jehu and Bidkar – 2 Kings 9:25
iIs chatted Too casual?
iiiSimplify? – And if Ben Hadad had been listening in when King Omri taught them—“do not guard the exits, so instead of fighting you tooth and nail, those inside can leave and give you the city”—the Syrian king would keep open routes into the rolling countryside.
ivDelete? I’m moving another five hundred troops from the woods onto the plaza.