31. The Battle at Ramoth
Ramoth, Gilead, Israel
Obadiah rode between the two kings, Ahab and Jehoshaphat, following the Jabbok River Valley toward Ramoth. The tread of infantry shook the earth ahead of them, while chariot horses and mounted archers clop-clopped behind them.
Ahab tapped his shoulder. He wore armor the same cut and color as Obadiah’s. “Why such thick clothing, Biah?” He waved toward the circling vultures. “Do you begrudge our friends on high a few nibbles of your rotting flesh?”
Two years ago, when Ahab told the king of Syria to save his boast for after the battle, he had put together a strategy for defending Samaria City. But for this attempt to recapture Ramoth he had not voiced the first idea of how to set the battle. When Mikayhu told the king he would not be coming home, Ahab had prepared his troops for battle. A battle with no plan. Commander Omri had called him “noble warrior,” but Ahab had twisted the words to mean “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. 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 valiant 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 Mikayhu. Or he thought the danger applied only to Ahab. He might also 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 gorilla who drilled Tibni son of Givath? 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 old Hiel.” Ahab spread his hands as far as he could. “He sends his regrets. Says the arm isn’t what it used to be.”
Obadiah and the two kings followed their foot troops onto the north bank of the river.
A light breeze came from the mountains on the east, and the early morning sun beat on them from a cloudless sky.
Syrian soldiers blanketed the plain, and their spears pointed at Obadiah. Behind them, the red side panels of hundreds of battle wagons displayed the yellow-winged torch of Syria. 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. “Stick with me, Biah. The old team. Together again.”
King Jehoshaphat pulled up with several chariots from Judah. He saluted Ahab. “At your signal, my king.”
Zak rode up in his chariot and stopped next to Obadiah. The youngest bodyguard drove, while three guards crowded him on horseback. They carried bows and clusters of arrows laced to each blanket harness at the withers. Zak patted a clutch of javelins standing strapped to his chariot rail. “Our little gang can still put up a good fight.”
Syrian drums rattled chants of the gods Deber and Resheph.
The Hebrew drummers dressed in battle gray answered with a beat from the psalms.
Archers behind Obadiah sent a volley of arrows into the approaching Syrians, and the reply arrows stabbed the grass around Obadiah. One glanced off his chariot rail.
Shouts of “Charge!” echoed across the field in Hebrew and Aramaic.
Feet pounded turf as Hebrew infantry sprinted toward the Syrians shouting a line from a psalm, “Praise be to the LORD our Rock, who trains our hands for war, our fingers for battle.”
Steel rang against steel. Men cried out. The smell of blood rose.Vultures and kites circled lower.
At the head of the Hebrew chariot captains, Obadiah, Ahab, and Jehoshaphat gripped javelins and cut into the mass of Syrian troops.
A pair of red-paneled chariots closed in on Jehoshaphat’s royal colors.
He charged, yelling Judah’s battle cry, “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, Ahab! They’re looking for you, my king.” 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, poised to shout, ‘Don’t begrudge me my thick clothing.’
But Ahab slumped over the rail of his chariot.
Obadiah’s stomach dropped. “Ahab!” He jumped out, dashed over and screamed in the face of Ahab’s driver, “Take him out! Take him out!” He jumped back into his own chariot and pounded his driver on the arm. “To the king.”
As he followed Ahab, his head rang with, “He’s not coming back.” Obadiah pressed his palms against his ears. Mikayhu had to be wrong.
In 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.
Ahab lowered his gaze to Obadiah.
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 adjusted a leg that looked uncomfortable. “There. Rest a bit while we whip Ben-Hadad.”
Ahab croaked, “Thanks, old friend. Rally the troops for me.”
Before he could burst into blubbering, Obadiah stepped back into his chariot. “Take me in.” He dabbed at his eyes. “Lord, please don’t let Ahab die.”
As he neared a Hebrew chariot, Obadiah yelled, “Get us a victory for King Ahab!” A Syrian chariot captain missed Obadiah with a javelin and charged with another in his hand. Obadiah picked a javelin from his basket and screamed, “For King Ahab!” He threw. The missile stuck in an arm, and the Syrian slumped in his chariot.
The battle surged in a confusion of dust, horses, and warriors. Obadiah slapped his driver on the shoulder. “To the king.” He’d only stopped one Syrian, but Ahab bled close by. His chariot raced through falling arrows, dodging the dead and wounded. In the acacias, he leaped out while his chariot still rolled and knelt by Ahab’s chariot. “My king.”
Blood pooled on the deck of Ahab’s chariot. His head moved in a tiny nod while his eyes remained closed.
“They’re giving us a rough time, my king. But we’re holding our own.”
Ahab’s complexion had turned white.
Obadiah squeezed Ahab’s knee. “Ahab, you know I always loved you.”
Ahab’s mouth twitched.
Obadiah swallowed. “Busy killing Syrians. Back in a moment.” His legs wobbled as he climbed into his own chariot.
His driver took him back into the battle. Obadiah threw javelins at Syrians and missed again and again. He wiped at the sweat and dirt caked on his face.
The shadows grew long. Many had died, but the winner—Syria or Israel—was not clear.
Obadiah touched his driver on the shoulder. “To the king.”
As the chariot rolled into the acacias, Obadiah yelled, “We need old Hiel.” He jumped out and knelt by Ahab. “I’m no good 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. 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. “Find General Jehu. Tell him the king is dead.”
As chariot and driver disappeared into the battle, Obadiah knelt by Ahab. He lifted and let fall the metal armor plates which had shifted to give the arrow entry. He pulled Ahab’s tunic up around his neck. He couldn’t talk strategy with his friend or convince him to stay home. He could only adjust his clothing.
Several cries of, “The king is dead,” floated in from the battlefield. Foot soldiers and archers emerged in twos and threes paused in the acacias, asked if the king was really dead, then drifted toward the Jordan River. As Mikayhu had foreseen, “They have no leader. Send them home to fend for themselves.”
Ben Hadad’s drums beat a retreat. Obadiah sent the order by the nearest soldier, and the Hebrew drums answered with retreat. The Hebrews had inflicted heavy losses on the Syrians, but without Ahab, Obadiah lacked the heart to press the attack into the night.
The clash of steel ceased.
In the fading twilight, screams died. Moans rose from the dark. Syrians would soon scour the battlefield, killing wounded Hebrews, stealing weapons and horses.
King Ahab was dead.
Obadiah stood. He must rescue their dead and wounded.
The Battle of Ramoth – 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
“Who trains our hands for war” – Psalm 144