“Chosen: The Battle of Michmash: Part 3”

And finally, here is the exciting conclusion of the segment on The Battle of Michmash, taken from my new book, Chosen:


It took about two hours for Abner to march the bulk of Israel’s army the eight miles to Geba. When he arrived at noon, Saul had committed the garrison at Geba to an all-out frontal assault on the Philistines across the ravine.

Even from the other side, it was obvious that the commanders of the Philistines were having a hard time rallying their troops. The pervasive partying the night before, the surprise attack at dawn, followed by the earthquake had been too much for many of the superstitious Philistines. Even though they worshipped Ba’al, Dagon or another one of the many false gods that were common throughout Canaan, most of the Philistine soldiers were all too familiar with stories of the God of Israel, a God who was all too real when it came time to rescue Israel from the folly of their actions.

Clusters of Philistine soldiers fought on, gathered by hardened, courageous officers. But as Abner watched from the outpost at Geba, he realized that the Philistines were fighting a battle on two fronts, against in many cases an enemy that they couldn’t recognize.

Abner took the luxury of five full minutes at Geba to catch his breath and see where he should commit his army. And then he turned back to his men.

“Soldiers of Israel,” he shouted over the mass of volunteers before him. “Your Crown Prince is over there. Your king is over there. Will we let them fight this battle without us?”

As one, the crowd shouted, “No!”

“Then we shall attack!” Abner said.

“But General,” one man interjected from the front row. “We are not cowards, but many of us have no weapons. How can we fight?”

“Those of you with weapons shall lead in the attack. The rest of you watch. When a Philistine falls—or even when one of your comrades fall—take up their weapon. You may not have a weapon right now, but there will be weapons soon.”

And with a mighty roar, he led the mostly unarmed army of Israel into battle with their fiercest and most dangerous enemy.

* * *

“There is no need to panic,” Achish said to his two generals. “I don’t want fear to continue spreading through the camp. I don’t need rumors, speculation or hearsay. What I do need are good, solid reports.” His head ached from the wine he had drunk the night before. He looked at Nob, his general in charge of chariots, and then at Gerar, his infantry general. He had been with the two of them long enough to sense that they were unnerved, which bothered him as well. This situation is unraveling very quickly, he thought. I need to do something right now.

“General Nob, what is the status of your chariots?”

“The chariots are in good shape at the east side of camp,” Nob said. “However, the horses are on the north side.”

“How in Dagon’s tail did that happen?” Achish said.

“Excuse me, your majesty, but we had worn down the grazing land to the east and we moved them so that they wouldn’t starve.”

“Wouldn’t starve? Well, get them over to the east side!”

“Right away, your majesty, but there is fighting in-between.”

“Fighting? Who is fighting?”

“We’re not exactly sure,” said Gerar. “Reports are spotty.”

“Spotty? Spotty! Get me some confirmed reports!” Achish found his voice rising and getting shrill, and he caught himself. It wouldn’t work to let his generals think he had lost all control. He took a minute and calmed his voice.

“Listen, do we or do we not still outnumber the Israelites?”

“We do, your majesty. Many times over,” said Nob.

“Do we or do we not have better armor, chariots, training and weapons?”

“That is true, your majesty,” said Nob.

“Are you two not the veterans of countless campaigns against Egypt, Moab and a dozen other countries?”

Nob cleared his throat. “We are, your majesty.”

Achish stared at both of them. “Then do your job. Win this battle.”

* * *

Saul’s riders attacked the Philistines without pause as soon as they arrived in Geba. Saul only took a minute to order Uthai to muster every man he could find and follow them into the pass and against the still-confused Philistines. Uthai blew the shofar the garrison kept for many purposes; two short blasts and then one long. It was the signal throughout Israel for all-out attack. Attack. Attack. Without anyone saying so, the men who fought for Israel’s side knew that they were not only fighting a common enemy, they were not only fighting for their king. They were fighting for their lives and the lives of their children. All had wanted to fight, but none had had the courage to fight. But someone had found that courage. And now the battle was engaged, with the future of Israel at stake.

“Keep blowing it, Uthai,” Saul said. “Every time you blow it, our troops know that we are still in the battle. Every time you blow they know that I am still here.”

As he spoke, an arrow caught the soldier on his right in the chest, and he fell from his tall horse.

“Your majesty,” Uthai said. “The enemy is scattering before us, but we are too high to strike them. And there is danger of an arrow striking you off your horse. We must dismount.”

“Very well,” Saul said grudgingly. “Have two men take the horses toward the rear. But we must press forward. If we pause, the Philistines will regroup, and it will be a different battle altogether. We need to cut off their western flank.”

“But then the enemy will get behind us and cut us off,” Uthai objected.

“I don’t want any Philistines escaping this battlefield!” Saul shouted, grabbing him by the collar. “We cut off the western flank and we cut off their means of escape.”

Saul gestured toward the west and his men pushed forward as fast as they could, hacking and stabbing their way through the weak opposition.

The sun shone down unmercifully hot in the midday, and his men grew faint, but Saul was unrelenting. To him, the red dawn had covered his vision. He was in a battle haze, where all around him was tinted red. This battle was everything to him.

Then Saul heard the shofar behind him. He turned to Uthai, who fought next to him. “Abner has arrived with reinforcements.” The Philistines they were fighting heard the sound of the horn as well, and Saul could see them sag visibly in their efforts. Then Saul heard another shofar, this one far off to his right. He looked at Uthai.

“That must be the two men who started all this,” Saul said. Jonathan, Saul thought.

Uthai stretched to see to the east. “If it is them, they have gotten reinforcements of their own.” He pointed to the dust cloud that showed the battle line to the east.

“Outstanding!” Saul said. And then they heard another shofar, this one to the north.

Two short, one long. Attack.

* * *

“Your majesty!” said the messenger, falling on his face before Achish. “Fresh forces have fallen on our soldiers to the north.”

“Who are they?” Achish asked, an edge in his voice.

“It is not known, your majesty, but many believe that those Israelites who were hidden in the caves of Ephraim have heard of the battle and have come to join their brothers.”

“Then they will die with their brothers!” Achish shouted. He looked over at Nob and Gerar, who slowly shook their heads.

“What is it?” Achish spat, his control rapidly falling away.

“Your majesty, this is one battle. If we leave now, we can regroup and fight again later,” Gerar said.

“Why in Ba’al’s belly would I do that?”

Nob stepped forward and pointed at the map.

“We are cut off from all exits north, east and south. Our only way out is the way we came.”

“Retreat?” Achish said, his face turning white.

Gerar nodded quickly. “A tactical retreat, your majesty. Our troops are out of control, and we have been unsuccessful in restoring order. If we retreat now, we retain most of our strength and can attack again when the battle is more in our favor.”

“If we retreat now, Gath doesn’t lose her king,” Achish added, thinking to himself. He looked at Gerar, and then at Nob, then nodded slightly.

“Ready my chariot,” he said. “I leave in fifteen minutes.”

* * *

It took more than a little while for Jonathan and Ziba to find horses, enough for them and for their small command. In the meantime, more and more Israelites who had joined the Philistines began turning back to Israel in defense of the crown prince. By the time Mareshah had found a dozen horses, nearly a hundred men were fighting by the side of Jonathan and Ziba.

“We can’t leave them here,” Ziba said, once again wiping the sweat and blood from his forehead. He had been nicked at the hairline about an hour before, and blood continued to run into his eyes. “We have to stay here and fight.”

“We will, Ziba,” Jonathan said. “It’s not time to use the horses. When the panic starts, we will need them. Remember, there are thousands of Philistine soldiers, but only one King Achish.”

“And only one Prince Jonathan, remember that,” Ziba added.

“Something I am sure you won’t let me forget,” Jonathan said, grinning.

They fought for another hour, pressing continually westward. They heard the sound of the shofar to the south.

“Father is here,” Jonathan said.

“Will it be enough?” Ziba asked him.

“We started with two frightened men, now we are an army again.”

“Frightened? Were you frightened? I wasn’t frightened,” Ziba said, then grinned, and Jonathan grinned back.

They heard the shofar blow again, then heard another farther to the south.

“Reinforcements,” Ziba said to Jonathan. “This is getting better all the time.”

Then they heard the blast from still another shofar, this one off to the north. They looked at each other.

“Who is that?” Ziba asked. Jonathan shrugged.

“Just keep pushing northward. We will find out soon enough.”

A few minutes later a shout came from among the Philistines, and then another. Then Ziba could see a panic striking them all. As one, the men they had been fighting began to run away from them. They grabbed one Philistine soldier, dirty and half dressed, and held a sword at his throat.

“What’s everyone’s hurry?” Ziba asked.

“King Achish has fled the battlefield!” he said, his eyes as big as saucers. “Please don’t kill me.”

“Fight with us then,” Jonathan said. “Help us kill this coward king of yours.”

The man nodded. “I never liked him anyway.”

The Israelite soldiers began to chase the fleeing Philistines, but Jonathan held up his hand and they paused.

“We have a dozen horses. Ten of you come with Ziba and me. We’re going after Achish. The rest of you continue north and join up with whatever mystery force has joined our side up there. Mareshah, you’re in charge.”

Ziba and Jonathan mounted their horses and ten joined them. Exhausted, bleeding, and without food or water for almost a day, the ten of them headed west at a gallop.

* * *
“They’re breaking! They’re breaking!” Uthai said, his sword finding rest in the skull of another Philistine.

Saul looked over the crowd and saw what Uthai was talking about. Even with the many hundreds they had killed, thousands of Philistines stood before them like an ocean. But it was a receding ocean. Saul could see that the soldiers in the distance were moving west, not toward them. And like the tide, the pull of the retreat took on a life of its own. Soon, only a few men stood before them, with the others in full flight.

“We can’t let them escape!” Saul shouted. He looked behind him and saw that Abner and his footsoldiers had joined them without him seeing it.

“But your majesty,” Abner said. “Our own men are exhausted and starving. We didn’t bring any food or water. Surely a ten-minute break to refresh ourselves won’t make that much difference.”

“Look at me,” Saul said to Abner, and Abner could see the blood in his eyes. Then he raised his voice to those who gathered around him. “Look at me, all of you.

“This I swear before God. If any man stops for food before this day is over, I put a curse on them and they are under sentence of death! I will have my vengeance on my enemies! That is my oath!

“Now onward!”

* * *

Jonathan, Ziba and their followers hacked their way through the dense crowd of fleeing Philistines, pushing ever westward. Within minutes, the Israelite lines were left behind them, and they were completely surrounded by armored and half-armored Philistine soldiers.

But this was not the disciplined ranks that had frightened everyone in Israel for so long. Many had already dropped their armor and weapons and were scrambling and jostling past each other in a desperate attempt to run from the battlefield.

“Look at them run!” Ziba said. “It’s almost a shame to cut them down.” He paused. “Almost.”

“Over that rise is the village of Beth Aven,” said Jonathan, pointing ahead of them with his bloody sword. “Beyond that is Aijalon. If the king gets that far, we’ve lost him. It’s open country on the other side, and we’ll never catch him.”

“How fast can a Philistine chariot go?” Ziba said, and Jonathan looked at him. Ziba grinned. “It depends on how many Israelites are chasing it.”

Jonathan grinned back. “Well, let’s hope we are faster than Achish’s chariot today.”

“Hyah!” Ziba yelled and kicked his horse, and the others followed suit. They continued to push westward through the densely packed crowd of fleeing men.

* * *

The sun was setting by the time Saul, Abner and the rest of the Israelite army got to Aijalon. They were cut, tired, hot and thirsty and hungry from an entire day of battle, but Saul had been unrelenting. Behind them lay a solid path of bodies, almost all Philistine soldiers who hadn’t been fast enough to escape the wrath of Saul and his newly weaponized Israelite army.

Saul rode next to Abner through the town, their frantic first efforts given way to a steady trot. Horses and men were exhausted; it was obvious to everyone there. But Saul still had blood in his eye, and a fixed, almost insane look on his face. He and Abner kept riding west until they reached the far end of the town. There they met Jonathan and Ziba, surrounded by their ten companions.

Ziba had found a barrel of water and was washing the blood from his scalp and face. Red water ran like rivers down his leather armor. Around him, the other men sat propped against a stone wall, many of them drinking water from the same barrel.

Jonathan sat on the steps of a nearby house, eating. When he saw his father and Abner ride up, he stopped.

“If you’re looking for Achish, you’re too late,” he said to his father casually. “He and his royal guard came through here about an hour ago.”

“When did you get here?” Saul asked, an edge in his voice.

“About ten minutes too late,” Jonathan said.

“What do you have there?”

“Honeycomb,” Jonathan said, lifting it up to offer it to his father. “Found it in a dead tree nearby. Want some?”

“Did you not hear my oath? That no one was to eat today under penalty of death?”

Jonathan stopped, and dropped his hand to his side. Ziba and the others stood, with Ziba quickly walking up to stand next to Jonathan.

“No, Father, I didn’t,” Jonathan said, suddenly very serious.

Saul sighed, and Abner cleared his throat.

“Your majesty, your word is law,” he said. “Once you have made a command, it must be carried out.”

Saul looked at his son, then at the men around Jonathan, then turned to the men behind him.

“Abner is right,” Saul said sadly. “I have made an oath. No one can break a blood oath and live. Jonathan must die.”

Ziba stepped between Jonathan and Saul.

“Over my dead body,” he hissed, lifting his spear in front of him threateningly. The others who had ridden with Jonathan stepped forward and joined Ziba in front of Jonathan, many of them drawing their swords.

“Your majesty!” Saul heard behind him. He turned, and a battle-scarred Uthai stood with the rest of the army. “Your son has won a great battle today. If it were not for him, we would still be huddled in our homes, wondering when the Philistines would come to take them away from us. Instead, we have driven them from our land.”

A cheer went up from behind Uthai. Then someone started a chant, and others quickly joined him.

“Jonathan! Jonathan! Jonathan!”

Saul sat on his horse and looked at the men who had followed him into battle against overwhelming odds, then at Abner, who had helped him lead those men, then at Uthai, then at Ziba and his comrades, then at his son Jonathan. The chanting went on, louder and louder for several minutes.

“Jonathan! Jonathan! Jonathan!”

Finally Saul held up his hand for silence.

“I have sworn a blood oath. My word is law. What am I to do?”

“Free him!” shouted someone, and others quickly joined in.

“Free him! Free him! Free him!”

Uthai stepped forward and the other men stopped chanting.

“Your majesty,” said Uthai. “I have heard your blood oath. But this man—your son—was used by God today. What he did today was God’s doing. What are you saying to God if your word is more important to you than God’s doing? I swear not a hair shall fall from Jonathan’s head today.”

Uthai walked slowly around Saul’s horse and stood with Ziba in front of Jonathan. Others began to join him until there were more in front of Saul than there were behind him.

“Very well,” Saul said, looking in amazement at the crowd before him. “I will agree that God has used Jonathan to create a miracle today. But he has still broken my oath. Because of this, I will no more take him into battle with me. Jonathan will be relieved of his command from this day forward. He will remain at the palace.

“He has two brothers,” Saul said. “Perhaps they will be more willing to obey orders than their older brother was.”

Ziba looked at Saul, then at Jonathan. If Jonathan was removed from command, he would not need an armor bearer. What would happen to him?