“Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Three men met on the field of battle—an Amalekite, a Canaanite and a Philistine. The Amalekite showed up in full armor and raised his spear to the sky. ‘I have won many battles. I am not afraid of either of you.’ He was promptly run over by the Philistine, who brought his chariot of iron and charged with armored horses right into the Amalekite, cutting him to ribbons in the process. ‘I have won hundreds of battles,’ the Philistine said. ‘And with my chariot I cannot be stopped.’ The Canaanite looked at the chariot racing around the field and whistled once. The ground shook and a giant Anakim stepped forward from the crowd, picking up the chariot and smashing it to the ground and then stomping the life out of the Philistine. The Canaanite said quietly, ‘I have never fought in any battles, but with my big friend, of course, I never had to.’”
Abner laughed at his own joke and looked over at his younger cousin, who sat quietly on the oxcart seat. The rolling countryside passed by them slowly as they rode along in the morning light. Saul stared straight ahead, only a wisp of a smile on his face. After a long moment of laughter, Abner quieted.
“Of course, the Canaanites and the Anakim are all gone,” Abner added. “So we have Joshua to thank for that.” Saul didn’t respond.
“Oh come on, Mr. Gloom and Doom. What’s gotten into you?”
Saul shrugged. “You know me. I’m just quiet. I would have rather stayed home than traveled to Mizpah. I have a field to plow.”
“Field to plow,” Abner echoed. “Do you realize what we are about to witness? The first king chosen for Israel. We are finally going to be a real kingdom! Your father was right. This is something you definitely need to be there for.”
“Well, Father is already there. The family is represented, so why do I need to be there?” Saul paused and bit his lower lip. “Besides, there’s something else.”
Saul hesitated, struggling to decide whether he should say something. “I already know who will be chosen.”
Abner stared at him, then burst out laughing. “Ahh, so now you are a seer! I suppose you’re going to say that you are the chosen one.” Abner laughed again.
“I am,” Saul said quietly, and Abner stopped laughing.
“You’re serious,” Abner said.
Saul nodded. “Remember when those two donkeys went missing two weeks ago? I went out with Achim to look for them. I never found them, but I did find the Prophet Samuel. He told me that God had chosen me to lead Israel. He even poured oil over my head.” Saul turned and looked at Abner, who could tell that Saul wasn’t joking.
“So? That’s good news! We are about to become a royal family! That’s cause for celebration.”
“Abner, look at me. I’m no king. I can barely function as a farmer. I lose my father’s donkeys. I don’t know the first thing about ruling, or leading an army. Why me?”
“Saul, Saul, look at me,” Abner said, trying to calm his cousin down. “The first rule to being a wise king is surrounding yourself by those who can give wise counsel. You’re not alone in this. As for leading an army, I have experience. I was at the battle of Mizpah. I have led many a raid against the Ammonites. I can be your general.” He leaned forward and patted the leg of Saul.
“Trust me. It will all work out.”
* * *
A few hours later, the two of them had joined the rest of the elders from each tribe and family across Israel. The afternoon sun was warm on their shoulders as they met at the high place of worship and meeting on the hill called Mizpah. Samuel was already speaking as they arrived.
“God has shown me that your call for a king was not a rejection of me, but a rejection of Him,” Samuel said. “I give you one more opportunity to return to government of being ruled only by God, instead of your insistence that a man rule you as king. He will tax you, he will take what is yours, he will lead you to die in battle. Is this what you want?”
A ragged cheer went up.
Samuel looked at them grimly. “Very well, then we will proceed with the casting of lots. I have eleven black stones and one white stone. God will indicate his choice by the tribe to choose the white stone.”
Representatives from the twelve tribes of Israel stepped forward and one by one they reached into the bag that Samuel held, pulling out a stone. Finally they held them up.
“The tribe of Benjamin has been chosen,” Samuel announced loudly. “Now we will choose the clans.” Samuel took away stones to represent the six clans within the tribe of Benjamin, and new representatives stepped forward. After a moment, he announced:
“The clan of Matri has been chosen. Now the families within the Matri clan should send their representatives up.”
Abner watched as his uncle Kish stepped forward and joined the other representatives. A moment later, he heard:
“The family of Kish has been chosen. All adult males of this family should come forward.”
Abner joined the others up front to draw from the bag. He was disappointed, but not surprised, when he drew out a black stone just like everyone else there. Finally they all compared stones and realized that no one had drawn the white stone. Abner looked at Kish, and both realized that Saul had not come forward.
“Where is Saul?” Samuel said aloud.
“He’s back here,” someone shouted from the back of the crowd. They all turned to look as two men pulled Saul from one of the piles of baggage. The tall, young, good-looking man was as white as a sheep. He stood there shaking, held up only by the two men on either side of him.
“Behold your king,” Samuel said, an edge of sarcasm in his voice.
“Hail king!” the crowd said in unison, and bowed before the shaking Saul.
“God have mercy on us all,” Samuel said quietly.
* * *
The word of Israel’s new king spread quickly throughout Canaan, not only in the towns and villages of Israel, but in the surrounding kingdoms as well. Nahash, king of Ammon knew that he would have to strike fast if he wanted to take advantage of the new king’s disorganized start.
Two weeks after the meeting at Mizpah, the massed might of the Ammonite army stood outside the walls of the city of Jabesh-gilead. It wasn’t much of a city, for the Israelites had never mastered the art of building high, strong walls or towers. And the city fathers knew that they didn’t stand a chance against the powerful Ammonite armed troops.
An entourage, led by Jabek, the chief of the city himself, met Nahash under a banner of truce outside the walls of the city.
“Mighty Nahash, king of Ammon, we surrender before your glorious army,” Jabek said. “Make whatever treaty you will, and we will be your subjects.”
Nahash sat on his horse, looking down on the small man. “First, show proper respect. Take off your shoes.”
Jabek nodded quickly, and took off his shoes, looking down at the ground.
“Not enough,” Nahash said. “Now take off all your clothes.”
Jabek paused. “Your majesty, the whole city is watching.”
“Exactly,” Nahash said. “Do it.”
Jabesh nodded again, and began taking off his clothes.
“All of you!” Nahash said to the entourage of men. “Take off all of your clothes. Now.”
And in front of the entire city of Jabesh-Gilead, the city fathers removed their clothes and stood naked before their conqueror.
“Now about that treaty,” Nahash said, smiling to the men below him. “I’ll make a treaty with your city, but under one condition. I will gouge out the right eye of every one of you. That will prevent you from ever thinking about fighting back, and it will show the rest of Israel what I think of their new king.”
Jabek blanched before Nahash, and the other city fathers gasped. Jabek looked down at the ground, thinking quickly.
“Your majesty,” Jabek began. “Why not show how mighty you really are by confronting this new king on the battlefield? Give us a chance to call for help from Israel. When they arrive, you can once and for all show how mighty you really are.”
Nahash stared at the naked men, huddled before him. Finally he nodded.
“Very well,” he said. “I will give you seven days. Send out a messenger and call for help. If in seven days your help has not arrived, we will put out the right eye of every man, woman and child in Jabesh-Gilead, and we will take your sons and daughters for sacrifice to Moloch, our god of gods.”
The men gasped, but Jabek nodded. “That is fair and just, King Nahash.”
He looked around him and chose the youngest of the elders who stood around him. “You, Mathias, prepare to go as our messenger.”
“No.” Jabek turned in surprise at Nahash. The king shook his head atop his horse.
“Not a man,” Nahash said. “Her.” He pointed across the distance to the city gates where a lone girl stood watching the negotiations. Jabek looked at the young girl, then turned white-faced back to Nahash.
“But she’s just a young girl,” Jabek stammered. “She’s my daughter.”
“I know,” Nahash said. “I saw you talking to her earlier. Girl, come here.” He gestured for the young, dark girl to come to them, and she ran to her father.
“What is your name, young woman?” Nahash asked quietly.
“Mara, your kingship,” the girl replied.
“Mara, I am giving you a great honor,” Nahash said. “Will you ride to the new king of Israel and tell him of your city’s need for his help?”
Mara looked at her father, then back at the king. She nodded.
“I will need to find a horse for her,” Jabek said.
“No need,” Nahash said. “We will provide the horse.” He gestured behind him, and one of his officers led a horse to them. Mara stepped forward to take the horse’s reins, but Nahash held up his hand to stop her.
“But there is one last thing,” Nahash said. “We need to make sure that the new king takes you seriously. After all, you are just a girl.” He turned again to one of the officers standing by a fire, who reached down and grabbed a burning stick, still black and smoldering.
“I am being generous in letting your daughter escape this situation,” Nahash said. “But I require a sacrifice from her. Captain, put out her right eye.”
Jabek shouted and the elders pushed forward, but the soldiers around them pulled out their swords. Two Ammonites grabbed her and held her while the captain raised the smoking black stick and forced it into her right eye socket.
Her screams were loud, but short. Two minutes later, she sobbed, and her father held her. The captain who had put out her eye pulled a cloth from his pocket and wrapped it around her head, covering the blind eye.
“Now ride,” Nahash said. “Ride to Gibeah as fast as you can. Let the pain drive you forward. Remember your father and your family and your friends here in Jabesh-Gilead. Remember those who will die if you fail.