41. Ramoth

42. The Battle at Ramoth

8?? BC

Ramoth, Gilead, Israel

Obadiah rode between the two kings, Ahab and Jehoshaphat. Ahead of them, the tread of infantry shook the earth, while chariot horses and mounted archers clop-clopped behind them. They followed the Jabbok River Valley toward Ramoth.

Ahab waved toward the circling vultures and red-tailed kites as he tapped his shoulder, clothed with armor the same cut and color as Obadiah’s. “Why such thick clothing, Biah? Do you begrudge our friends on high a few nibbles of your rotting flesh?”

Obadiah hung his head. Ahab’s battlefield humor had turned ghoulish. Nothing Obadiah could say would make his friend go home. Three years ago, Ahab had told the king of Syria to save his boast for after the battle.

Ahab had put together a strategy for defending Samaria City. But had not voiced the first idea of how to set the battle for Ramoth. When Mika told the king he would not come home, Ahab had buried himself in the familiar—he prepared his troops for battle. A battle with no strategy. Commander Omri had called him “noble warrior,” but Ahab had twisted the words into “better a dead king than a live coward.”

King Jehoshaphat leaned toward them, his purple cloak swaying over his armor. “Where are your beautiful blue robes, my king?”

Ahab opened his arms and turned a broad smile toward Jehoshaphat. “While you display your royal color, I fight in humble gray to ensure the king of Judah receives the glory for today’s victory.”

Obadiah looked down. After Mika’s “not coming back,” the word victory drooped, tired as a flag in stagnant air.

Jehoshaphat drew his purple around him. “Too modest, my king. The world knows Ahab of Israel as a mighty warrior. I am privileged to fight at your side.”

The King of Judah must wish he’d stayed in Jerusalem. Perhaps he didn’t believe the Lord spoke through Mika or the danger applied only to Ahab. He might be desperate for help against his neighbors to the south.

“I wish we had old Hiel with us.” Obadiah turned to Jehoshaphat. “Have you heard of Hiel of Bethel?”

“The no-neck who drilled Tibni son of Givath,” Jehoshaphat shifted as his chariot hit a bump. “Everybody’s heard of Hiel.”

Ahab pulled a javelin from his basket. “That was back when Biah and I were learning to hold one of these. You should see the reach on that old boy.” Ahab spread his hands as far as he could. “He sent his regrets. Says the arm isn’t what it used to be.”

Obadiah surfaced with the two kings on the north bank of the river valley right behind their foot troops. A light breeze came from the mountains on the east, and the early morning sun beat unimpeded by one cloud.

With their spears pointed at Obadiah, Syrian soldiers blanketed the plain. Behind them, hundreds of battle wagons displayed the yellow-winged torch of Syria on red side panels. Although scouts had reported thirty-two groups of chariots, their war horses bobbed and pranced in one huge, rolling wave. Behind the chariots, several rows of red-robed archers waited with their backs to the gray limestones of the city of Ramoth.

King Ahab paused his chariot and leaned toward Obadiah. “Stick with me, Biah. The old team. Together again.”

As a large group of chariots from Judah paused around him, King Jehoshaphat saluted Ahab. “At your signal, my king.”

Zak rode up beside Obadiah in his chariot. One of Obadiah’s bodyguards drove, and three guards crowded him on horseback. Across the withers, they had laced bows and clusters of arrows to each blanket harness. Zak patted a clutch of javelins standing strapped to his chariot rail. “Our little gang can still put up a good fight, Biah.”

Syrian drums rattled chants of the gods Deber and Resheph.

The Hebrew drummers dressed in battle gray answered with a beat from the psalms.

From behind Obadiah, the archers sent a volley of arrows into the approaching Syrians, and the reply arrows stabbed into the grass around Obadiah. One glanced off his chariot rail.

Shouts of “Charge!” echoed across the field in Hebrew and Aramaic.

Their feet pounding the turf, Hebrew infantry ran toward the Syrians shouting, “Praise be to the LORD our Rock, who trains our hands for war, our fingers for battle.”

Steel rang against steel. Men cried out. Smell of blood rose.Vultures and kites circled lower.

At the head of the Hebrew chariot captains, Obadiah, Ahab, and Jehoshaphat gripped javelins and ripped up the sod as they cut into the mass of Syrian troops.

As a pair of Syrian chariots closed in on Jehoshaphat’s royal colors, he attacked, yelling the battle cry of Judah, “The Lord is on my side.”

The Syrians drifted away and stood at their chariot rails, scanning the battlefield.

Obadiah called to Ahab through the swirling dust, “See that, my king! They’re looking for you.” As Ahab rared back with a javelin in his hand, he disappeared behind a Hebrew chariot.

An arrow bounced off the armor on Obadiah’s arm. He glanced around for Ahab, ready to shout, “Don’t begrudge me thick clothing!”

But the king lay slumped over the rail of his chariot.

Obadiah’s stomach dropped. “Ahab!” He screamed at the king’s driver, “Take him out! Take him out!” He pounded his own driver on the arm. “To the king.”

He’s not coming back” rang in his head. Obadiah pressed his palms against his ears. Mika had to be wrong. He followed Ahab to an acacia grove near the dip into the river valley.

Ahab sat panting on the deck of his chariot, his eyes open to the sky, his hand around the shaft of an arrow protruding from the armor over his shoulder.

Obadiah jumped out and knelt beside the royal chariot.

The king’s gaze rested on his right-hand man.

Blinking back tears, Obadiah held his hand over his mouth. “You’ll be fine, my king. Just fine.” He propped Ahab up against the chariot panel and straightened a leg that looked uncomfortable. “There. Now watch us whip Ben-Hadad.”

Ahab croaked, “Thanks, old friend. Get us a victory.”

Before he could burst into blubbering, Obadiah stepped back into his chariot and braced his feet. “Take me in.” As his chariot raced into the battle, he dabbed at his eyes. “Lord, please don’t let Ahab die.”

Shouts rose in Hebrew and Aramaic. Chariots crashed into chariots. Horses screamed in pain.

Zak and the King of Judah had disappeared into the clouds of dust and clashing soldiers.

A Syrian chariot captain missed Obadiah with a javelin and charged with another in his hand. Obadiah picked a javelin from his basket and threw screaming, “For King Ahab!” The missile stuck in the captain’s arm, and he slumped against his chariot rail.

Obadiah hit his driver on the shoulder. “Take me to the king.” He’s only been away from his friend for a moment, but the grove of acacias lay next to the fighting, and he had to see Ahab. His chariot raced through falling arrows, dodging Syrian and Hebrew troops lying wounded or dead.

As they rolled under the acacias, he leaped out. “My king.”

Ahab’s head moved in a tiny nod, but his eyes remained closed.

Obadiah knelt next to Ahab’s chariot beside the pooling blood. “They’re giving us a rough time, my king. But we’re holding our own.”

The king’s complexion had turned white.

Obadiah patted him on the knee. “We fought, but I always loved you.”

Ahab’s mouth twitched.

“Busy killing Syrians. Back in a moment.” His legs wobbled as he ducked away from Ahab’s chariot and into his own.

His driver raced them into the battle. Obadiah threw javelins and missed again and again. He wiped at sweat and dirt caked on his face.

The shadows grew long. Many had died, but the winner of the battle—Syria or Israel—was not clear.

“To the king.”

His driver raced them through the battlefield. As the chariot rolled into the acacias, Obadiah yelled, “We need old Hiel.” He jumped out and knelt by Ahab. “I’m no good out there without you, my king. I’m taking you home so you can rest up. We’ll come back and finish this together.”

Ahab’s lips gave a feeble flutter. “’gether.” Then his eyes closed and his chin slumped to his chest.

Obadiah lifted Ahab’s eyelids. The light had gone out. “My king!” He stumbled to his own chariot, choked, then whispered to his driver. “Tell General Jehu the king is dead.”

His chariot and driver disappeared into the battle.

Obadiah knelt by Ahab and lifted and let fall the metal armor plates which had shifted to give the arrow entry. He adjusted pulled the king’s tunic up around his neck. He couldn’t talk strategy with Ahab or convince him to stay home. The only thing he could do for his friend was adjust his clothing.

Several cries of, “The king is dead,” floated from the battlefield. Foot soldiers and archers emerged in twos and threes and drifted toward the Jordan River.

Mika had declared, “I saw Israel scattered. Men dotted the hills, wandering sheep, and the Lord said, ‘They have no leader. Send them home to fend for themselves.’”i

Twilight settled in. Drums on both sides beat a retreat. Neither side had won this battle, but the Hebrews had lost their king.

As the screams and the clash of steel faded with the light, moans rose from the darkness.

Syrian scavengers were scouring the battlefield.

Obadiah stood. He must deny them his dead and wounded countrymen while he carried home his dead king.


Background

The story – 1 Kings 22:29-39

The Lord is on my side – Psalm 118:6

Stick with me – Proverbs 18:24

Chant of Resheph – Habakkuk 3:5 Deber and Resheph

“Who trains our hands for war” – Psalm 144

i[“I saw Israel scattered. Men dotted the hills, wandering sheep, and the Lord said, ‘They have no leader. Send them home to fend for themselves.’”]

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