Jezreel Valley, Israel, 868? BC
1 Kings 20:13-14
“What do you mean? I heard nothing.” The sentry shifted his feet by the fire. “We’ve been here all night. You’re jumpy.”
Micaiah smothered a gasp. The soldier spoke Aramaic, the language of his village.
“Well where’s our relief crew?” The other sentry turned toward Fort Jezreel. “The sun should be up by now.”
Ten chariots rolled past Micaiah as he trembled in the dark. The light of the sentry fire showed men standing in each chariot holding swords, spears, and broadaxes. On the side of each chariot, a yellow-winged torch on a blood-red field, the flag of Assyria.
Micaiah’s mouth fell open. While he and Imri hid in Ruthie’s cave, the Assyrians had invaded. Such an invasion during his great grandfather’s time deposited Assyrian families across Israel. They extended roots, became neighbors, and created bilingual villages. So, with the children of their village, Micaiah and Imri grew up speaking both Hebrew and Aramaic.
Yet, where was King Ahab? Why wasn’t he defending their country?
Micaiah scratched the side of his head. The king was never content to sit in the palace and send messages to his troops. No. He draped himself in flamboyant robes, buckled on his sword, and carried his spear and broadax into the royal war chariot. Ahab led his men into battle.
Micaiah leaned into his calf and massaged a cramp. With Assyrians invading, the king should be in Fort Jezreel preparing his troops for battle. But the Lord had said give the king the message in Samaria City. The palace. Micaiah screwed up his mouth. Okay, so go to Samaria City. But how to get past these enemy troops?
Stars disappeared one by one. Rocks and trees formed outlines in the morning mist and took shape as the sun washed the last bit of night from the sky.
A faint rumble from Akko turned his head. The rumble grew into steady shaking of the ground from multiple feet thumping in step. Micaiah poked his head out of the bushes. Soldiers. Each wore a dark red tunic, and they marched toward the Jenin intersection, the route to Samaria City.
The moment they passed, Micaiah darted onto the road and fell in step behind the yellow-winged torch across the shoulders of the last man in the column. Chin back and chest out, he marched.
A warbler on a low-hanging oak limb flipped his long, tapered tail. Zerlip, zerlip, zerlip.
Sweat formed on Micaiah’s brow, but he forced his eyes straight ahead, took shallow marching breaths, and tried not to bounce. The breeze carried the smell of the sentry’s dead fire. Trees inside a slight bend in the road ahead promised to hide him from the sentinel.
“Stop that platoon. Man out of uniform.”
Micaiah’s pulse raced.
He followed the sentry back to the fire, pushed his heels to the ground and refused to let them lift. He puckered, but neither whistled nor hummed.
An officer curled his lip and paced a tight circle around Micaiah. “Where’s your uniform, soldier?”
“Sir. Gone, sir.” Micaiah’s mouth went dry.
The officer opened his mouth, pushed his tongue forward, and nodded in Micaiah’s face. “Lost. Where?”
Micaiah rolled his eyes. “Sir. Akko, sir.” He blinked.
“Waterfront patrol pulled you out of the wine room. Money gone. Uniform gone. Draped you in this native rag. Couldn’t find your unit, so they tacked you onto the nearest one headed for Fort Jezreel.”
“Sir. Yes, sir.” Why was the officer suggesting an explanation? Micaiah listened.
“You’re the third one this week.” The officer took a step back and shook his head. “Can’t fight in that getup, son. Fall back in with this platoon, but report to the quartermaster right outside Fort Jezreel. Get yourself into a proper tunic.” He jabbed his finger into Micaiah’s chest. “And find your unit.”
Micaiah’s pulse slowed, and he studied his feet. The officer had built an excellent case for the lack of uniform. “Sir. Yes, sir.”
Micaiah grinned as he again marched toward Fort Jezreel at the back of the row.
Next to the road, soldiers in red tunics milled or sat, small groups at intersections and larger companies along the road. At each site, the red flag with the yellow flame of Assyria waved in the morning sun.
No donkeys carried vegetables or chickens to the market in Megiddo. The road belonged to Assyria.