Warrior Prophets 2: Chapter 5
“Congratulations, Ehud!” Prince Giltar slapped Ehud on the shoulder. “That was a masterful battle. We did not lose a man! You were brilliant to focus your attack on Boaz. I think the Judeans have learned their lesson.”
“This is not cause for celebration,” Ehud muttered as he walked in the moonlight with Giltar outside the gates of Givaah.
“We have defeated our enemies. What more can you ask for?”
“It is not done. They are still camped around us.” Ehud motioned at the army surrounding them. “They will attempt again tomorrow, with greater force. We must prepare.”
“Are they mad? What chance do they have without their vaunted hero?”
“We are all mad to be engaging in this senseless battle. Nonetheless, they outnumber us and if anything they will be further enraged by their defeat.”
“What will you do?”
“We must prepare the ground. If we cannot best them with numbers, we shall let the land assist us.”
“I leave it to you then, Ehud.”
“I will not take any chances this time,” Elimelech said to Gheda in the Prine of Judah’s tent. “We shall go with a force five times as large as Benjamin’s and I shall lead them myself.”
“It is prudent to use overwhelming force,” Gheda said as he patted his stomach, “but is it wise for you to lead? Or anyone from one of the tribes for that matter?”
“Who else but someone from one of the tribes?”
“A Levite perhaps. We are neutral as far as the tribes are concerned. We have no tribal inheritance. We have no territorial interests. We are spread about amongst all of the tribes and known to all of them. We are the natural unifiers of all the tribes. And with such an overwhelming force, victory is assured.”
“And which Levite do you suggest to command the armies of Israel?”
“Why I would think it would be obvious to you, Elimelech. I should lead the united tribes of Israel. I have been at the forefront of the unification effort. It was my woman that was killed by the hand of those murderers. I should be the one to both exact retribution and bring the tribes together in victory.”
“There is some sense in what you say,” Elimelech volunteered hesitantly. “Perhaps we should lead together.”
“You know as well as I do, Elimelech, that there can be only one leader at a time. The tribe of Judah had its chance today, and that did not turn out well at all. I’ve spoken with the other princes about this. They insist that you stay behind tomorrow and allow me to take the reins.”
“You discussed this behind my back?” Elimelech asked in growing anger. “What military experience do you have? How will you deal with Ehud? He is the biggest threat.”
“Each of us must do what we can to secure victory, Elimelech. I am not without guile in earthly matters. I know how I shall deal with Ehud should our paths cross.” Gheda patted his sheathed sword.
“In any case, there are not many warriors of Judah left on the field,” Gheda continued. “Perhaps it would be better if you tended to the wounded amongst your family and consoled the mourners amongst your many cousins. How many thousands did you lose today?”
Elimelech closed his eyes and grimaced at the reminder of the disaster.
“Very well. I shall stay behind. I just want this over with already.”
“Pass the butter,” Gheda commanded his arms-bearer, Ralton.
Ralton, the young gangly Levite, reached to the other side of the wide table Gheda had placed in front of his tent. The table was laden with fresh bread and pita, olive oil, wine, mead, figs and scallions. Gheda had ordered a sumptuous breakfast for himself and was sitting beside the table enjoying the food surrounding him. “All must take note of who is in charge now and that we are in command of the situation,” Gheda told young Ralton through a mouthful of pita, as a thin rivulet of olive oil dripped from his fleshy lips.
“Gheda, the troops are ready. We are wasting precious minutes of the day,” a commander from the tribe of Dan urged.
“Calm yourself, commander,” Gheda waved his flabby hand. “There is no rush. I shall not run at Givaah like some green soldier. Let them become anxious as to the time and method of our attack. We have the strength of numbers and we shall destroy their resistance in due time.”
“Yes, Gheda,” the commander answered. “However our men are also tiring, and after yesterday’s massacre, they are not feeling so confident, even with our numbers.”
“Can’t a leader eat his breakfast in peace?” Gheda slammed his beefy fist onto the table, making the dishes bounce. “Very well, commander. We shall proceed. Ralton, give me my sword.”
Ralton took the sword in its scabbard from against the breakfast table and handed it to Gheda as he rose from his chair. Gheda smoothly drew the sword from its scabbard, careful not to touch its sharp edge. He noted with approval the dark liquid staining the cutting side of his sword. One slice will suffice, Gheda thought.
“Take me to the front line, commander,” Gheda bellowed. “We shall finish this pointless resistance and earn our place in history.”
Gheda, Ralton and the commander walked down from the encampment to the troops in the valley surrounding the city of Givaah. The Israelite army was organized in three waves of attackers. The princes expected that one wave would be enough, but they had decided on two more as reinforcements.
As Gheda walked through the waiting soldiers, he noted that the men were perspiring in the rising summer sun. He was comforted by the endless number of soldiers, but slowed his pace as he saw the Benjaminites arrayed in front of the gates of Givaah.
“I don’t need to be in the very front,” Gheda said to the commander. “A general should be able to direct his men from some distance. He needs to see the bigger picture. I shall stay here in the second battalion. You, commander, you should lead the first attack.”
“As you command, Gheda. The battle plan has been decided already, you merely need to order when to start and direct us as you see fit.”
“Very good, very good. Let’s get on with it then. Proceed.”
The commander walked briskly to the front of the line.
“Forward!” the commander ordered, sword drawn. Thousands of swords left their scabbards as the tribes of Israel marched against their brother once again.
Gheda was excited by the movement. The second wave, of which he was a part, marched forward, up the hill to Givaah. Parts of the wheat fields they were trampling seemed abnormally moist in the late morning. Gheda tried to spot Ehud. Ehud is the one we need to watch out for, he thought. There he is! At the very front of his men. Is he praying? It won’t help him. But they are not moving to engage. Are they wet? Why do they all seem as if they’ve bathed in the Jordan. Very strange.
The tribes marched resolutely up the hill as the Benjaminites stood their ground. Ehud seemed to be counting to himself.
“Swords!” Ehud bellowed. A wave of swords left their scabbards and appeared in the hands of the Benjaminite defenders. Ehud continued counting quietly to himself. The front line of the Israelites narrowed the distance. A normal army would have used the downhill advantage to meet our advance, Gheda thought. Why is he letting us get so close?
“Archers! Now!” Ehud exclaimed.
After those words time moved at a painfully slow pace for Gheda. He noticed half a dozen Benjaminite archers with fire on their arrows letting loose their projectiles. The front line of the tribes, led in an orderly unison by the commander, fell into an extremely long and deep ditch, stopping the assault. The fire arrows hit their hidden marks and the entire field seemed to go up in flames. A wall of flame rose in front of Gheda’s wave, cutting his group off from the first wave of Israelite attackers, now stuck between the trench and the fire. Another wall of fire rose behind Gheda, separating his wave from the third group behind him.
“Charge!” he heard Ehud yell.
The Benjaminites jumped over the trapped Israelites in the deep ditches, lopping off hundreds of heads as they crashed into the first wave of attackers. The Benjaminites hacked and sliced into the panicked soldiers who were unable to advance or retreat. Many of the Israelites ran to the sides, trying to escape the deadly Benjaminites and the blazing fire. Very few of the attackers of the first wave survived.
“Through the fire!” Ehud commanded.
Gheda then saw a sight he would never forget for the rest of his life. Thousands of Benjaminites jumped through the wall of fire. He finally understood Ehud’s brilliance. Their soaked robes, shields and head gear protected the Benjaminites from the flames. An army of steaming men appeared amongst the confused Israelites. Trapped between walls of fire and soldiers that could only be compared to the minions of Hell, pandemonium ruled the Israelite attackers. The Benjaminites methodically cut down the Israelite soldiers. Ehud ran from melee to melee, tearing down whatever resistance built up.
“Attack Ehud!” Gheda finally found his voice. “He is the key! Attack Ehud!”
Some of the Israelites took heart from the command, and turned to find the short blacksmith. Gheda, despite his wide girth, moved quickly, avoiding other deadly squabbles, until he was directly behind Ehud. Ehud was surrounded by half a dozen Israelites. Ehud, a sword in each hand, stood blocking the blows of the Israelites surrounding him, ducking under fatal slices. Gheda, feeling the heat from the flames, fell to the ground and crawled towards Ehud. Ehud stepped away from the pressing Israelites. Gheda crawled within sword’s-reach of Ehud’s leg.
Let it end, Gheda thought, as he nicked Ehud’s ankle with the tip of his sword. Gheda crawled away from the fracas and ran parallel to the walls of fire, seeking an exit.
“Retreat!” Gheda called out. “Retreat! Let’s get the out of this hell.”
The Israelites, confused yet again, ran in either direction trying to escape the fires. The Benjaminites pursued the army of the tribes, killing many from behind. Bodies littered the burning wheat fields of Benjamin.
“Enough!” Ehud called out woozily. “Let them run. Put out the fires. Perhaps they got the message this time, though I don’t know what trick I would use tomorrow.”
Ehud surveyed the carnage. Again he could see thousands of corpses. Not one Benjaminite dead. Why don’t they understand? he thought. Why don’t they give up this damned battle? This will scar our relationships for generations to come.
Ehud walked slowly through the field and then promptly fainted, as the poison coursing through his veins finally overtook him.
The tribes of Israel retreated from around Givaah. They regrouped at Bet-El. The princes of the tribes had all ripped their robes and placed ashes on their heads. All of them had lost family members on this second day of defeat. All of the survivors, ashen-faced and smelling of smoke, wept and took upon themselves a fast. Priests and Levites offered animal sacrifices to God, begging for mercy, forgiveness and understanding. Gheda sat in the center of the camp, head bowed in shame, embarrassed by the failure and secretly bemoaning all the wasted meat of the animal sacrifices.
“You walked right into a trap,” Elimelech accused Gheda as nightfall settled. “I will lead the army myself!” Elimelech faced the other princes. “We cannot count on just mere force. We must use some of our own subterfuge.”
“But we lost so many,” the prince of Naftali said. “God is clearly on their side.”
“They have done evil!” Elimelech answered. “They are defending criminals, and now at their hands we have lost forty thousand of our finest men. Forty thousand! In just two days! We cannot just walk away.”
“Let us ask the priest,” the prince of Naftali said.
“Let us,” Elimelech agreed.
The princes sought Pinhas the High Priest amongst the torches lighting up the night. He stood in front of the Ark of the Covenant overseeing the offering of the sacrifices and consoling mourners.
“High Priest,” Elimelech approached, head bowed.
“Yes, Prince of Judah. What is your request?” Pinhas responded.
“I would ask a question of God.”
“Do you not tire of these efforts?”
“I tire to the death, but I would not walk away from evil.”
“Yet you would cause it. You would nurture it until it grows to a beast beyond your control. Elimelech, these deaths are at your feet. Your hands have slain our brethren and I am unsure if a lifetime in the Jordan River would cleanse you of this damnation.”
“I asked you! I asked before each battle if we should proceed! I had the consent of God Himself!”
“You asked poorly,” Pinhas pointed at Elimelech and spoke more forcefully than he had in years. “Your questions presumed you should attack. God leads man to where he takes himself. You sought destruction. Vengeance. Power over your brethren. It is true the sons of Benjamin have erred, but you have fought, you have all fought, for the wrong reasons. God is not amongst those with false hearts or erroneous ideals. You have brought this sorrow upon us all.”
Elimelech and the princes stood silently in front of the High Priest. All the blood drained from Elimelech’s face. He had always had his doubts. He had always been unsure of the cause, but no one had blamed him before. No one had placed the exclusive blame for the massacre upon his shoulders.
Elimelech fell on his knees. His head dropped into his hands and he started crying. He cried painful racking sobs. “What have I done? What have I done?” Elimelech asked the palms of his hands. The princes stood, shaken by the sight of a broken Elimelech. Slowly, Elimelech stopped crying. He wiped his face, stood up and looked at Pinhas.
“What shall we do?” Elimelech asked, his voice hoarse and quiet from the tears.
“What would you ask of God?” Pinhas retorted.
Elimelech stared at Pinhas. He lifted his head heavenward. He looked at the princes surrounding him and the soot-covered soldiers behind them.
“Should we go out again, to fight with our brother Benjamin, or should we desist?”
Pinhas closed his eyes, grimly pleased with Elimelech’s question.
The stones of the High Priest’s breastplate remained dim. After a moment the etched letters of the stone lit up. The shining of the letters was brighter, longer and more elaborate than the previous two times.
In a voice not fully his own, Pinhas announced:
“Go up, for tomorrow I shall deliver them into your hand.”
Elimelech let out his breath and relaxed his shoulders. He knew what he would do and he now understood that God was finally on his side.
“They are fools,” Prince Giltar said from the front of the army of Benjamin.
The tribes of Israel were marching yet again upon the city of Givaah.
The tribes came from the north, as they had previously, though Givaah was not encircled as the two battles before.
“This shall be simple,” Giltar said to tall Yakshal by his side. “We shall defeat them, even without Ehud, though I hope he recovers from his malady.”
“The healer thought it might have been poison,” Yakshal said. “Though he has yet to regain consciousness.”
“No matter. The tribes cowered before our ferocity and this time we shall chase them all the way back to their lands. Ehud was too merciful, holding back our full might.”
“Yes, Prince Giltar.”
“I see Elimelech himself leads the attack now. That is appropriate.”
“Elimelech!” Giltar called down to the approaching army. “Are you so thick-headed that you wish to test our mettle personally? Turn back now, or we shall destroy you utterly.”
“Give us the criminals, or it is you who will be destroyed,” Elimelech called back, not slowing his pace or that of the soldiers with him.
“Never!” Giltar yelled.
Elimelech, jaw clenched, continued his march.
“Charge!” Giltar commanded.
The men of Benjamin ran down the mountain towards the army of Israel, swords and spears extended. The two armies crashed into each other, shield clashing into shield. The men of Israel held their own for a few moments, but the force and momentum of the Benjaminites became too much to withstand.
“Fall back!” Elimelech ordered.
The men of Israel quickly retreated on the road, heading northward.
“Give chase!” Giltar commanded. “We shall cut down every single one of them. All men, after me!”
The men of Israel sped ahead of the pursuing Benjaminites. They descended into the valley, climbed the hill opposite Givaah and then descended to the other side, facing the city of Michmash. The soldiers of Benjamin cut down the retreating stragglers of Israel. Giltar was in the lead, hacking at the men around Elimelech. One of his victims was a young nephew of Elimelech. The youth, with barely any hairs for a beard, fell to the ground in an unnatural position. Elimelech saw his nephew fall out of the corner of his eye. Giltar almost reached the back of Elimelech, when Elimelech turned around with a creeping madness in his eyes.
“Hold!” Elimelech ordered his men. “Enough! I shall not suffer the loss of another one of my men! Elimelech raised his sword and attacked Giltar with a mad fury. Giltar, surprised, stepped back, slipped on blood on the ground and fell backwards. He knocked his head on the hard road and lost consciousness.
Dozens of Benjaminites jumped into the fray to protect their leader. Elimelech stabbed at them in rapid succession, hacking, slicing and pounding them with an inhuman rage.
“Die!!” Elimelech yelled as he cut through the entire Benjaminite front line. It was as if a tornado had exploded in their midst. Elimelech possessed a sudden unstoppable strength, speed and energy that shocked the Benjaminites. The tide had quickly turned in favor of the Israelite army. They crashed into the confused Benjaminites, with Elimelech wearing down any serious resistance. Behind the Benjaminites a large cloud of thick black smoke rose into the bright summer sky.
“Givaah is burning! Givaah is burning!” the Benjaminites cried, seeing their city in flames. From the side of the road new Israelite forces attacked the Benjaminite army.
“Kill them all! Kill them all!” Elimelech yelled insanely. The standing Benjaminite army, more than twenty thousand strong, was quickly annihilated. A few hundred managed to escape the Israelite troops and flee eastward to the desolate mountains of the Desert Road.
Still enraged, soaked in blood and standing amongst the Benjaminite corpses, Elimelech called out:
“Do not stop! Every city, every village, and every farm of Benjamin we shall burn to the ground. This is a day none in Benjamin, none in Israel shall forget. Go! Now! Burn every one!”
The Israelite army spread out along the entire territory of Benjamin. None resisted them. There were none left to fight. They placed to the torch every walled city, every village and every farmstead they could find. The stone, wood and thatched structures burned quickly in the summer heat. From the mountain of Bet-El, Pinhas, the High Priest, could see the fires throughout the region south of him. A land of lush green was suddenly pockmarked with angry red flames and dead brown enclaves. He wept openly, tears rolling down and caressing the etchings of tribal names upon the stones of his breastplate.
The army of Israel had become as locust, extinguishing Benjaminite life and property wherever they came across it.
Elimelech was drawn eastward. He couldn’t say why. Perhaps to find the few Benjaminites that escaped the ambush. He and his men came upon a shepherd in the descent towards the Jordan River.
Elimelech, sword high in the air, ran towards the lone shepherd amongst his flock. Elimelech’s men followed their wild leader. Elimelech yelled as he impaled the shepherd. The shepherd looked at Elimelech and asked, “Elimelech?”
“Hafniel!? What are you doing here in the land of Benjamin?” Elimelech grabbed his dying cousin in his arms.
“I came to buy some sheep from my brother-in-law,” Hafniel said weakly as his life ebbed away.
“Your brother-in-law was from Benjamin?” Elimelech asked, confused.
“Of course. We’re all related,” Hafniel said with his dying breath.
Elimelech laid Hafniel gently on the ground. He released his bloody sword, as if it were on fire and ran. He ran eastward. He ran down the Desert Road towards the Jordan River. He passed the remains of the walls of Jericho, sitting desolate and lonely, and vaguely remembered their fall, a lifetime ago. He passed the encampment of Gilgal where all of Israel had lived united as one large family. He kept running until he reached the bubbling waters of the Jordan. He threw himself, fully clothed, into its waters. He closed his eyes, wishing he would drown, but his body floated to the surface. The river carried him southward towards the Sea of Salt.
I am a murderer, Elimelech thought to himself. They were all my brothers. It didn’t have to be this way. Pinhas was right. A lifetime in these waters will not cleanse me of my sin. How many lives? How many generations have I destroyed? God will not forgive me. He will not forgive any of us. We shall surely suffer for such horrific deeds.
The river washed Elimelech on to the eastern bank of the Jordan River, at the mouth of the Sea of Salt. Where am I? Elimelech wondered. This must be the territory of Reuben. But Elimelech was wrong, for now it was the under the dominion of Eglon King of Moab.
* * * * * *
Book of Judges, Chapter 20
24 And the children of Israel came near against the children of Benjamin the second day. 25 And Benjamin went forth against them out of Gibeah the second day, and destroyed down to the ground of the children of Israel again eighteen thousand men; all these drew the sword. 26 Then all the children of Israel, and all the people, went up, and came unto Beth-el, and wept, and sat there before the LORD, and fasted that day until even; and they offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings before the LORD. 27 And the children of Israel asked of the LORD–for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days, 28 and Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days–saying: ‘Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother, or shall I cease?’ And the LORD said: ‘Go up; for to-morrow I will deliver him into thy hand.’ 29 And Israel set liers-in-wait against Gibeah round about.
30 And the children of Israel went up against the children of Benjamin on the third day, and set themselves in array against Gibeah, as at other times. 31 And the children of Benjamin went out against the people, and were drawn away from the city; and they began to smite and kill of the people, as at other times, in the field, in the highways, of which one goeth up to Beth-el, and the other to Gibeah, about thirty men of Israel. 32 And the children of Benjamin said: ‘They are smitten down before us, as at the first.’ But the children of Israel said: ‘Let us flee, and draw them away from the city unto the highways.’ 33 And all the men of Israel rose up out of their place, and set themselves in array at Baal-tamar; and the liers-in-wait of Israel broke forth out of their place, even out of Maareh-geba. 34 And there came over against Gibeah ten thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and the battle was sore; but they knew not that evil was close upon them.
35 And the LORD smote Benjamin before Israel; and the children of Israel destroyed of Benjamin that day twenty and five thousand and a hundred men; all these drew the sword. 36 So the children of Benjamin saw that they were smitten. And the men of Israel gave place to Benjamin, because they trusted unto the liers-in-wait whom they had set against Gibeah.– 37 And the liers-in-wait hastened, and rushed upon Gibeah; and the liers-in-wait drew forth, and smote all the city with the edge of the sword. 38 Now there was an appointed sign between the men of Israel and the liers-in-wait, that they should make a great beacon of smoke rise up out of the city.– 39 And the men of Israel turned in the battle, and Benjamin began to smite and kill of the men of Israel about thirty persons; for they said: ‘Surely they are smitten down before us, as in the first battle.’ 40 But when the beacon began to arise up out of the city in a pillar of smoke, the Benjamites looked behind them, and, behold, the whole of the city went up in smoke to heaven. 41 And the men of Israel turned, and the men of Benjamin were amazed; for they saw that evil was come upon them. 42 Therefore they turned their backs before the men of Israel unto the way of the wilderness; but the battle followed hard after them; and they that came out of the city destroyed them in the midst of the men of Israel. 43 They inclosed the Benjamites round about, and chased them, and overtook them at their resting-place, as far as over against Gibeah toward the sunrising. 44 And there fell of Benjamin eighteen thousand men; all these were men of valour. 45 And they turned and fled toward the wilderness unto the rock of Rimmon; and they gleaned of them in the highways five thousand men; and followed hard after them unto Gidom, and smote of them two thousand men. 46 So that all who fell that day of Benjamin were twenty and five thousand men that drew the sword; all these were men of valour. 47 But six hundred men turned and fled toward the wilderness unto the rock of Rimmon, and abode in the rock of Rimmon four months. 48 And the men of Israel turned back upon the children of Benjamin, and smote them with the edge of the sword, both the entire city, and the cattle, and all that they found; moreover all the cities which they found they set on fire.