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© Copyright 2003 Richard S. Barnett  


The Force of God

Chapter Four


by Richard S. Barnett



The victories the Lord gave us at Aijalon and Merom opened the way for Israel to conquer the other cities of the Highborn and claim all of Canaan.
Although we had slain the kings of the Highborn and trampled the pride of their armies, the Highborn didn't pit their full numbers against us at Aijalon or Merom. Each king had left a son or two behind with enough soldiers to defend his city. It would take more than more than two great battles to take possession of the land.
Our conquest began to seem like a journey through a mountain range where another always mountain awaits beyond the one we have just climbed. No matter how many mountains we had climbed already, we had to begin again at the foot of the next. Winning one battle didn't make the next any easier.
Although we had crushed the armies of the Highborn and slain their kings, we had not yet taken any of their cities. To keep our army together, Joshua had passed through Canaan like a whirlwind. The heirs of the kings we had slain lost no time in mending their city walls and putting on a few tatters of their former power. We of Judah still had a lot fighting to do to claim all that we had won. It was the same for all the other tribes, only they no longer had as many men to fight the Highborn.
I said farewell to Gera when he left with the men of Benjamin, and to Haddar who went with the men of Manasseh. Joshua led the men of Ephraim and Dan in taking over the cities of the coastal plain while the men of Judah joined under Caleb to take over their share of the hill country and the Negev.
Caleb wanted to conquer Hebron, the largest city in the southern Highlands, which still called itself Arbah City after the first of their kings. He first had to capture Jarmuth, Summit City, which guarded the pass into the Highlands. To take Summit City, Caleb needed a strong assault force so he struck a bargain with the men of Simeon.
"Come up with us into our share of the land and we will fight the Canaanites," he invited them. "Then we will go with you into your share"
The men of Simeon eagerly joined forces with Caleb. Simeon was a small tribe with barely a thousand fighting men who were never the equal of a hundred of Gera's Benjaminites. The men of Judah should have been ready to do their part to claim their share, but they held back as if the men of Simeon had come to do their fighting for them.
"Come brothers, let us march forth in our thousands, as countless as the drops of rain when the Lord opens the windows of the heavens, as far beyond numbering as the locusts on the plains and the stars in the sky," Caleb told the men of Judah. "Even if a man is newly betrothed, let him leave his bride as he would his sheep! Let every man furbish his spear and polish his weapons of bronze like gold."
Five thousand men came in grudging answer to Caleb's call. I still wonder how many came only because that wily old Caleb took Acsah with him when he went to speak to the men. I think that he also encouraged her to cajole the womenfolk of Judah whenever she was not dazzling all the men with her eyes.
Now that we were closer to claiming our share of the land, my thoughts turned to Acsah. "She," I thought, "is the kind of woman a man needs to settle down and make a place together in this land." The thought of her drove me to win the battles ahead. Acsah became a dream to fight for and a reason to die fighting because I could see no way to win her. The fact that Caleb was the half-brother of my dead mother could only help my two older brothers if either one should claim her, and they made no secret of coveting her. I would rather have died in battle than live to see one of them win her for his own.
With the men of Judah and Simeon behind him, Caleb now felt ready for war, though not to charge blindly into battle. Although his name means "dog," no one could mistake Caleb for one of the curs that slink around Canaanite cities. Caleb's father must have named him for a hunting dog--the kind that never lets go once he grips his prey in his jaws. Dark, solid, and careful, Caleb always had a clear plan of attack.
"Don't think that every battle will be short and easy," Caleb warned us. "Our foes will not give in without a fight. You must have the hearts of lions to go into combat with me. The cities on the hills are one with the rock on which they stand, and the men behind their walls will fight for their lives and for their little ones. To fight against them takes more than numbers; to cast them out, we shall have to learn new ways of making war.
"We shall not fight against the strength of the Highborn in direct attack, nor shall we besiege their cities or let them gather a great army to fight against us.
"As Joshua has taught us, we shall sweep through their countryside before they can gather their forces. We shall spare those who join us and serve the Lord. If the people of the land will sell us their crops, we shall buy them. We shall drive the people who don't join us into their cities and shut them in; we shall let no one come out and draw water or get food.
"We'll burn their fields, their vineyards, and their orchards. Under cover of smoke, we'll creep up to harry their walls and draw out their fighting men. They will come forth to drive us away but they'll march into our traps! If their warriors won't come out to us, then we shall learn their weaknesses and find ways to take their cities by stealth."
Caleb made me a leader of a hundred that day. My brothers were jealous because Caleb wouldn't even trust them with troops of their own. Many men in my hundred grumbled that they should have my command because they were older, and three of them even tried to attack me one night when I was coming back from Caleb's tent. I wounded one and the others ran off. The man I hurt told me that my brothers had talked them into getting their revenge on me. I freed him with a warning to choose more trustworthy friends in the future.
Enough friends from my old troop had joined my hundred that they quickly put an end to any more discontent. Caleb also helped by keeping everyone too busy for idle talk. He wanted his all of forces to do as he ordered, and he directed us in surprise attacks, laying ambushes, and feigning flight until he was satisfied.
"Tomorrow, if the Lord is with us, we shall march on Jarmuth, Summit City!" he told us. "Let every man be ready to set forth at dawn."
In that time when the Highborn had a king in every Canaanite city, each city wasn't much more than a fort and a few houses behind walls and its so-called king was barely more than a leader of a robber band who preyed on the people of the land and trader caravans. Summit City was no different--a strong place perched on a height at the edge of the foothills overlooking the coastal plain. Traders kept their distance from Summit City, so Shikha, the so-called Adonai Bezek or Prince of Lightning and King of Summit City, lived by robbing the people of the land or making war on his neighbors.
The king had men watching for us. Caleb sent me ahead to scout out the land, and I reported finding his soldiers keeping a lookout on all the heights while his patrols were searching the countryside around Summit City for any signs of Hebrews.
"So," said Caleb, "that means their king doesn't know our position and he has weakened himself by spreading his men all over the country. The Lord has delivered Summit City into our hands!"
Caleb called all his leaders of hundreds together and told us his plan for taking Summit City. "First, we draw the little fox out of his den, and then we spring our snare and catch him."
"Ah, just like Ai?" I asked.
"Well, my son," Caleb answered, "don't you think the ungodly have learned that trick by now? This time, take your men and ambush any Amorite patrols that come your way, but don't slay them all. I want you to let a few get away each time. They'll run for help, and when the king brings his men out against you, I'll lead the rest of the army around and attack them from the rear. Then Summit City will be ours!"
We were north of Summit City, so my men and I waited for night to hide ourselves in the brush above a pass into the foothills. The new moon of the early rains had risen and the beginning of the season for plowing the fields and sowing wheat and barley was upon us. Nights had turned cooler and longer, and mists filled the valleys in the mornings, and I felt fortunate to have such a good time of year for wreaking havoc on the Highborn.
We ambushed the first enemy patrol the next day and moved to another hiding place where we struck another patrol the day after. These patrols each numbered no more than a score of men, and we let two or three wounded men escape each time. When we saw no more Amorite patrols on the third day, we knew that their leaders must have heard about us. I sent a message to Caleb, and he brought up his thousands by night and hid them near the trail from Summit City. I left my hundred in the same pass while a few of my men and I camped out in the open to draw the Highborn into the trap.
The sun had reached the highest point of his journey and blazed with the full heat of summer before we saw the plume of dust that marked an approaching body of troops. I could tell that five chariots led the force--too few for a real army but probably enough for the king and his guards. We heard their foot soldiers behind beating their weapons in time against their shields.
We held our places as if we were resting from the midday sun until the five charioteers whipped their horses into a gallop. We ran for the pass, turned, and shot a few arrows to make them angry enough to chase us into the pass. I blew my horn and all my men came out of hiding. The horses plunged, screamed in fright, and overturned the chariots under our shower of stones and arrows. The charioteers hid under their overturned chariots or fled on foot to their army.
I recognized the biggest of the running charioteers. Although he now wore gilded armor and a king's golden helmet with horns, I knew that huge frame belonged to the soldier who got away when we caught the five kings at the cave of the sheepfold. I had last seen him marching north to meet the kings of the north at the waters of Merom, and I wondered how he had got away from that battle. I can only guess that he made himself king of Summit City after Joshua put his father to death at the cave of the sheepfold.
"That's Shikha, the king," I shouted to my men. "The Lord is with us!"
Shikha bellowed at his foot soldiers and urged them to hurry and attack us. As soon as a hundred men rallied to him, he led the charge, leaving the rest of his forces spread out along the trail.
I sent most of my men back to their hiding places after they killed the other fallen charioteers, keeping only a single troop with me. We backed slowly into the pass to draw the enemy after us and I blew my horn three times. My watchman on the hilltop lit a fire to tell Caleb to close his trap. My men came out of hiding and rained stones and arrows on the advancing column while we fell back without letting the Highborn fight us hand-to-hand. Shikha tried to rally a group to attack us, but they didn’t dare charge uphill in the face of our stones and arrows.
A fresh outburst of shouting from the mouth of the pass told me that Caleb had come to attack the Highborn from their rear. When their king heard, he tried to mass enough soldiers to break through our trap. His men only panicked and fought each another to get away. Caleb's men soon appeared on both sides of the pass and joined with my men while Caleb himself met me.
"Well done, Othniel. The jackal stalks the hare and forgets the lion. We have this jackal where we want him. Now let's end this battle."
He raised his horn to his lips and sounded three long blasts. As their echoes died away, Joshua raised his arms to command silence and shouted in the Canaanite tongue to the Highborn below, "Drop your spears and swords or you die where you stand."
I heard a roar of rage above the clang of falling weapons and I saw Shikha running uphill at us.
"We can't stop that brute ourselves," I told Caleb; "he's too strong."
"We don't have to fight fair. Here, grab this!"
Caleb held out the butt of his spear. We held the shaft between us and plunged downhill at Shikha. We caught the fellow off balance and knocked him off his feet. Caleb ran after him as he rolled downhill through the furze and he beat him senseless before he could get up.
Our men dragged him out and bound him while the rest of his troops dropped their weapons and fled.
When the fighting ended, I found Caleb with a dozen of our men standing guard over Shikha. Even stripped of his armor and royal purple and trussed in the Egyptian way with his hands over his head, the way he raged cowed our men.
"He says his god will smite us for laying hands on him, Shikha, the Prince of Lightning and king of Jarmuth, Summit City," Caleb explained his ravings.
The Highborn, as the Amorite rulers of the Canaanites called themselves, claimed to be the descendants of giants, and one look at this fellow was enough to make anyone believe them. Shikha stood five or six hand spans taller than me. Caleb showed me the helmet with bull's horns that he had worn to make himself look even more terrible.
"The Canaanites claim these horns are the emblems of Baal-Hadad the Mighty, their god of lightning and thunderstorms who mounts the clouds and brings the rains," Caleb told me with a grin.
"The Lord of Israel is mightier yet!" I exclaimed as we hugged one another for joy and thankfulness.
"Summit City can't hold out against us now," Caleb declared. "They don't have enough men left. Our friend here had to hire ten divisions from the Perizzites, the Plainsmen, to do his fighting for him!"
"He's learned that the Lord of Israel fights for us!" I answered.

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