Chosen Ch. 4: “Encounter at Geba”


SIX YEARS LATER

Jonathan and Ziba pushed silently through the grass on their bellies until they could see over the edge of the hillside. The evening was still, and as the sun set over their left shoulders, they moved as quietly as they could so they wouldn’t be noticed by the Philistine guards below.

Saul had spent the past six years training an elite military force to respond to outside threats, such as what had happened in Jabesh-Gilead. That same six years had given both Jonathan, as the crown prince, and Ziba, as his armor bearer and bodyguard, the time to grow into young men. Jonathan looked much like his father, tall and slender, but with powerful shoulders and a commanding presence that caught the respect of those he spoke to. He was just old enough to sprout a beard, which grew in wisps on the end of his chin, but nowhere else. His eyes were grey and sharp, constantly searching around him but with an innate intelligence that people respected.

Ziba now looked more like his father Achim; half a foot shorter, but with powerful arms and shoulders, most of it from the years of learning his father’s trade when he wasn’t carrying armor and weapons and hiking long distances in training for the army. His leg muscles were thick; where Jonathan was built to be a runner, Ziba was built to be a weightlifter. His light brown hair curled around his shoulders, and his face was still clean of hair, even though he was two years older than Jonathan.

A clearing stood before them, with four watchtowers overshadowing a large meadow that had been cleared for greater area of vision. Ziba found that the spot they had chosen was directly across from one of the towers, with a second far to the east, nearer the ravine. Two others stood off to the west, on the other side of the road that led to Gibeah.

Beyond the watchtowers and the scattered torches lay a 10-foot-tall wooden fence. Beyond that, Ziba knew, lay the Philistine garrison of Geba. They lay and looked at the layout of the defenses, then Jonathan pushed away from the edge and retreated, with Ziba following closely and silently behind.

Jonathan said nothing until they reached the bottom of the small hill and were close back to their own forces.

“Just as you described it, Ziba,” Jonathan said. “You would make a good scout.”

Ziba shook his head. “Thanks, but I am kept plenty busy protecting your backside.” He added quickly, “That is, your royal backside, Prince.”

Jonathan grinned. “You never let me forget that, do you? Six years as my armor bearer and you act more like a mother than you do a warrior.”

Ziba’s eyes narrowed and his smile disappeared. “Just let me get close to those donkey- eating Philistines, and you’ll see what kind of warrior I can be.”

Jonathan slapped Ziba on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, Ziba. If your father is there at the garrison, we will get him out. Regardless of what Abner says.”

Ziba grinned again. “Like I said, a prince trumps a general any day. Besides, when he and your father went off to Bethel, he left you in charge. Didn’t he? That says to me that you call the shots. Including the rescue of worthy servants in the employ of the royal family.”

“Who just happened to be the father of my trusty armor bearer and bodyguard,” Jonathan added.

Ziba shrugged. “There is that. There’s also that other thing—the fact that we don’t have any weapons. I mean, other than the occasional bronze axe or sickle. How do you propose we take on a garrison of armored Philistines with no weapons?”

Jonathan winked. “I have an idea about that. And if we are successful, we might get a few of those fancy iron swords, spears and shields we are always hearing about.”

As he finished those words, the two of them reached the line of Israelite soldiers standing at the edge of the trees just east of the road to Gibeah. One big man with one ear cut off stepped forward. It was Uthai, the sergeant of arms for the division of men that Saul had left with Jonathan. The man saluted Jonathan by striking his leather-armored chest with a balled fist.

Jonathan nodded at him in reply. He stepped forward and spoke quietly to Uthai.

“OK, here’s the plan. We are not here to attack the Philistines. We are here to rescue someone. But the Philistines don’t know that. So your job is to draw attention to the division here south of the garrison while Ziba and I sneak in to rescue Achim.”

Uthai stared back of the two of them without speaking.

“Something wrong, Uthai?” Jonathan asked. “Speak up, because in a minute it will be too late.”

Uthai paused, then shook his head. “I don’t like this, your majesty.”

“Uthai,” Jonathan said, slapping his shoulder. “I don’t like it either. But the first thing you learn in the army is that you have to do things you don’t like to do. I don’t want anyone hurt or killed. I just want you to get their attention. I figure some of those close-order drills you are famous for should do the trick. Don’t you agree?”

Uthai nodded, a slight smile coming to his face. “I believe the men and I can manage that.”

“Just make plenty of noise and make them think there are three times as many of you,” Jonathan said over his shoulder. “When that draws them out from the garrison, Ziba and I will make our move. Most importantly, Uthai, make sure no one gets hurt.”

Jonathan and Ziba slipped back into the darkness and Uthai turned to the troops.

“Attention troops! Ready for close order! Form ranks!” he shouted.

 

Ziba and Jonathan moved as quietly and quickly as they could in the darkness. They heard the voice of Uthai behind them. Ziba cringed, hoping that some random arrow would not find Uthai in the shadows. This whole adventure was a rescue that he had intended to do alone, but his pledge to the family had made him tell Jonathan of his intentions. Jonathan had done nothing until Saul and Abner with their men had left Gibeah. But when he was officially in charge, he wasted no time rallying the men to go into battle. Trouble was, after six years of training, they had lots of discipline, but still very few weapons. Ziba knew that Jonathan could justify the raid by saying that as a weapons maker, Achim was worth the risk. But Ziba knew that Jonathan’s feelings and motivations went far beyond that. Achim was family, just as Ziba was.

They passed the spot where they had climbed the hillside earlier, and continued sweeping around to the east in a wide semi-circle. Soon they came to the path that ran along the upper edge of the ravine. Beyond them, just beyond the light of the nearest torch, was the easternmost lookout tower. Jonathan and Ziba waited in the darkness for something to happen.

A few minutes later, a shout went up from the garrison. Philistines began running out of the gate in the middle of the wooden fence. Ziba watched the men in the lookout tower turn to look down the south road toward Gibeah, the road where Uthai were marching in close-order drill. Jonathan tapped Ziba on the shoulder, and the two of them crept silently past the tower and into the open gate and into the fenced area.

Ziba discovered that the garrison towers and fence were intended to keep armies out of the area, but once you were inside, it was pretty easy to get around. The two of them followed the line of the wooden fence around to the west and directly to the edge of the ravine. To the left, Ziba could see the low form of the garrison barracks. Behind that, he saw a lower building that appeared at least partially buried underground. Outside the entrance stood a single soldier, who was apparently guarding something. Ziba suspected that it was the entrance to the garrison jail.

They stood in the shadow of the fence, about 50 feet away, and considered what to do. As all Philistines were, the man was heavily armored, while Jonathan and Ziba wore the typical leather armor of the Israelites. Ziba’s first inclination was to shoot the soldier with an arrow. But a shot at night would very likely only bounce off the iron scales, making the guard angry, and be very, very loud.

Jonathan silently tapped on Ziba’s shoulder and through gestures gave Ziba the outline of a plan. Ziba paused, then nodded. Jonathan backed into the shadows and crept closer to the ravine, while Ziba worked his way back in the direction of the barracks.

Ziba waited until the guard was looking the other direction, then crossed the open area to the barracks. Then he straightened himself and began walking rather stiffly toward the guard, as if he were expected.

Just as they hoped, in the dark the guard mistook Ziba for one of his friends.

“Did you save me any dinner?” the guard said. Ziba said nothing, but continued walking toward the guard.

“Did you? Hey, answer me, you mongrel,” the guard continued. Ziba gritted his teeth and continued walking toward the armored soldier. Finally, Ziba was close enough that the soldier finally realized that he was an enemy soldier. He opened his mouth to shout out a warning, but at that instant, Jonathan appeared from behind him. He ran a sharp bronze blade across the Philistine’s throat, while holding the other hand over his mouth. The guard’s eyes grew wide as blood poured down his front, then he collapsed silently to the ground.

Ziba reached down and pulled a ring of keys from the guard’s belt. Grabbing a nearby torch, he turned and unlocked the big padlock on the door to the sunken building. After a short amount of fumbling, he unlatched the heavy wooden door and opened it wide. He raised the torch and looked inside.

The simple jail consisted of a hole in the ground reinforced by rocks with a roof of wooden beams. One end of the jail consisted of the heavy door. Ziba looked inside at the one room and saw his father, lying on the ground.

“Father! We’ve come to rescue you.”

“So you have, so you have!” Achim said, struggling to stand up and walk toward the door. “But we must rescue my friend as well.” He motioned at a very old man with a bandaged head who shared the jail with him.

“Who is your friend?” Ziba said.

“A Philistine, but don’t worry. He has agreed to share the secrets of iron with us.”

Ziba stepped forward and helped Ziba out the door. Then he reached out to the old man.

“I am Ziba,” he said, holding out his hand.

“He can’t answer you. When they found out that he was willing to help us, they cut out his tongue. But he still wants to help. His name is Leal.”

The old man smiled up at Ziba with a shaking hand and Ziba took it. They exited the jail and joined Jonathan, who had pulled out his compound bow and stood ready to defend against any soldiers. Ziba led Achim and Leal into the shadow of the fence and to the edge of the gate. Ziba stepped forward to watch the gate. When he saw that the sentries at the towers were looking elsewhere, he motioned for the others. Jonathan started toward the gate with the others, but stopped when a heavy man came out of the barrack door without a shirt on.

“Guards!” He shouted. “We have–.”

Jonathan’s arrow stopped him in mid-sentence. He looked down at his bare chest with the shaft of an arrow sticking out of it. He looked up at Jonathan again, then collapsed.

“Run!” Jonathan shouted.

Arrows began to fly from all four of the lookout towers. Ziba realized that Leal would not be able to keep up with them, so he ran back inside the gate to throw the thin old man over his shoulder.

The four of them stopped in their tracks when they heard a shofar sound from above them in one of the towers, and an answer come bugling back from the darkness directly ahead of them. Half a minute later, a mob of Philistines in iron armor came rushing back toward them, apparently to protect the garrison.

Ziba turned to Jonathan, who immediately shouted, “Back inside!”

They ran past the body of the man with the arrow in his chest and into the barracks, hoping that no else was there. They were alone.

The roar of the Philistines coming toward them grew louder, and then another sound was added. Ziba hesitated, listening closely from inside the barracks, then realized that it was the sound of their own troops.

In the meantime, Jonathan had stepped into the armory in the next room and picked up two iron-tipped spears, a shield and a round shield. He tossed a spear to Ziba and one to Achim. He nodded for Ziba to follow him, but gestured palm-out for Achim to stay.

“I can fight,” the older man said.

“I know,” Jonathan said. “But you will be needed to protect your friend, whether Israel or Philistia is victorious. Right now, he’s worth protecting.”

Achim nodded, and took a tighter grip on the spear that he held.

Jonathan and Ziba charged through the door and toward the gate. What they saw on the other side of the gate, however, made them pause. In their hurry to get back to the garrison, the Philistines had broken ranks and had forgotten about the Israelites. Because they were not heavily armored, the soldiers of Israel could not only run faster than the Philistines, but could outmaneuver them and were fresher when they did make contact. Using axes, wooden stakes, bronze sickles, heavy rocks and even their bare hands, the Hebrews overcame the hundred or so Philistines in the clearing outside the gate and killed them all.

The sentries in the towers were another problem, though. With two men in four towers, loaded with arrows, they began to shoot and kill any Israelites within range of their bows. The towers were lit with torches and the ground outside had torches lit on high poles and on the walls. Jonathan shouted at the men outside.

“Put out the torches!” he yelled at Uthai, who stood just outside the gate, using a shield taken from a dead Philistine to protect himself from the hail of arrows.

Uthai nodded in understanding, then yelled for the others to put out any nearby torches. Soon, only the torches on the towers were still lit. It was harder for the sentries to hit soldiers in the dark. In the meantime, a row of Israelite archers made short work of the sentries in the towers.

“Get some of our own men up there,” Uthai shouted, gesturing to the towers. “Scout the area, and make sure we got everyone.”

Jonathan trotted up to the sergeant and gripped his arm.

“Not what I had intended, but I will take it,” he said grimly. “Any idea on casualties?”

Uthai shook his head. “Give me a few minutes, and I will tell you. I think it looks worse than it is.” Uthai looked down.

“Sorry to disobey your orders, my prince, but your father—.”

“Yes, I know,” Jonathan said, interrupting. “He’d have you boiled alive if anything happened to me. Well, we got what we came for, and then some.”

“I will send messengers to the King in Hebron, letting him know of our victory here. I will also send out skirmishers to make sure no message gets back to Philistia.”

Jonathan shook his head. “They’ll know soon enough. Why worry about it?”

“I fear that we have awakened a lion by tweaking its tail.”

 

Uthai immediately set up defenses against any counter-attack. Jonathan and Ziba made sure that the armory and the dead Philistines helped arm as many Israelite soldiers as possible, even though the garrison held only a hundred men, and he had 1,000 troops following him. An hour later, they all tried to get some rest.

It wasn’t until late the following afternoon that Uthai returned to Jonathan, his face drawn into a grim line.

“Trouble?” Jonathan asked. Uthai nodded.

“Despite our efforts, the garrison sent horsemen to Gath. Philistia has already turned out its army—its whole army. It appears they take it very seriously when someone attacks one of their garrisons.”

“We should have attacked them years ago,” Jonathan muttered.

“Your father had his reasons for holding off any challenge to the Philistines. That man you shot with the arrow was the garrison commander. He also a cousin to King Achish of Gath. They are out for blood.”

“How many are we talking about?” Ziba asked.

“King Saul sent a runner from Hebron, saying that they have at least 3,000 chariots.”

“Three thousand? Ziba echoed.

“Each of them unstoppable. And soldiers like the sands of the sea. Your father asks that I take command here. You and your armorbearer are to meet him in Gilgal. That will be the rally point for the armies of Israel.”

“I pray that we have as many turn out as did for the battle in Jabesh-Gilead,” Ziba said.

“If we don’t, we are all in trouble,” Uthai muttered.

It took until almost midnight for Jonathan and Ziba to arrive in Gilgal, even with fast horses. The community had served as the staging area for the invasion of Canaan generations ago, and since had been accepted by Israel as the rally point for any danger that beset the country. Jonathan and Ziba expected to find the camp filled to overflowing with volunteers from the twelve tribes. Instead, it was relatively quiet. Jonathan and Ziba drew their horses up to a makeshift stable that had been assembled, and a page took the animals away.

“Where is my father?” Jonathan asked a soldier standing there, who gestured toward his red tent on the other side of the meadow. Ziba followed Jonathan through the camp. He expected to hear the usual loud voices and boisterous talk, accompanied by talking and maybe some singing. Instead, the men who camped here were quiet, with a somber mood overwhelming the camp. As they walked toward the crimson tent of Saul, more than once Ziba noticed that men avoided looking at them.

“Do you get the feeling we’re in trouble?” Ziba said under his breath.

Jonathan nodded. “Don’t worry. Father will be upset with me. You were just doing your job.”

Ziba sighed. “Through thick or thin, count me in. Whatever you do, I’m with you.”

Jonathan smiled thinly. “That rhyme was great when we were kids. But we’re not kids anymore.”

“Regardless, my Prince,” Ziba said. “Your fate is mine.”

Jonathan nodded as they came to the tent. “Thanks, Ziba.”

Two guards stood outside the tent with bronze spears crossed to prohibit anyone to enter. Jonathan stepped close to one of them.

“Is there a reason why the Crown Prince is prevented from seeing his father, the King?”

“King Saul is meeting with General Abner, your majesty,” the guard said. “I was instructed to let no one in.”

“I doubt very much that includes me,” Jonathan said, inching closer to the soldier. “Get out of my way.”

The guard stared at Jonathan for a moment, then flinched. He pulled his spear back, and the other guard did as well. Jonathan stepped forward and Ziba began to follow him, when the guard stepped in front of him.

“Not you,” the guard said.

Ziba stepped within an inch of the older guard. Scratches from their encounter at Geba had left the side of his face red with blood. He narrowed his eyes and his face became stone.

“I am the bodyguard to the Prince. I go where he goes. I will kill to protect him. And I am very good at what I do. If you don’t believe me, just keep doing what you are doing.”

Once again, the guard wavered and stepped out of the way. Ziba followed Jonathan into the tent. Jonathan grinned slightly at Ziba, who raised his eyebrows. Ziba had always been good at bluffing.

The giant tent was unoccupied except for a tall man who looked a lot like Jonathan with a single ring of bronze around his head. King Saul was looking over maps with Abner, his general.

“Overall, it doesn’t look good,” Abner was saying. “The Philistines are intent on chasing us out of the central passes, and every community within 20 miles of there. According to our scouts, they have many thousands and they are well armored and supplied. They intend to cut our country in half. They already control the coastline. If they take over the passes, anyone who needs to go from south to north will have to go completely around to the Jordan Valley. And it will be only a matter of time before they take that too. We need to act right away.”

“No,” Saul said. “Samuel said he would be here. We must wait for Samuel.”

“What is the value of an animal sacrifice and a pious prayer of some prophet compared to striking when strategy calls for it? If we wait too long, they will be entrenched, and we will never be able to root them out.”

Saul stared at the map and continued to shake his head. But as Ziba watched him, he could see doubt in the King’s face.

“He will come,” Saul said, still staring at the map.

 

Not only did Samuel not come, but the expected reinforcements from the 12 tribes failed to come as well. Scouts brought reports of Israelites running in fear of the massive armored Philistine army crossing the mountains from the coastline. Many hid in caves, and others crossed the Jordan to hide among neighboring countries. What was most discouraging were reports of hundreds of Israelites joining the ranks of the Philistines. There had always been interaction between the tribes of the central mountains, and the organized Philistine cities on the coast. And the Philistines encouraged it by making sure they retained a monopoly on important trades, such as ironsmithing, jewelrymaking and wheelwrights. Now many of the relationships originally developed in business had proved to be stronger than the relationship they had to their own kin.

Ziba didn’t worry about the garrison at Geba. Uthai was one of the best-trained and experienced soldiers that the army of Saul had. That was the reason why Saul had made him second to his son. What worried Ziba was if they would be able to bring any aid to those thousand men anytime soon. Challenging a garrison of a hundred men was one thing; holding back tens of thousands of fresh troops and chariots was close to impossible.

By prior arrangement, the army of Saul was required to wait seven days until Samuel arrived to ask for God’s blessing on their efforts. But as the week wore on, not only did fresh troops stop arriving at Gilgal, each night more and more seemed to disappear from the ranks. And all that time, Jonathan and Ziba watched Aaron continue to urge Saul to lead what was left of his army into battle. Finally, on the sixth day, scouts brought word that the Philistines had stopped their forward advance.

“They’ve taken up a strong defensive position here at Michmash,” Abner pointed out to Saul and Jonathan on the map. “Every minute we wait will make it more impossible for us to defeat them. From there, they can send out raiding parties west, east and north. They’ll rape and pillage the whole countryside, and there won’t be anything we can do about it.’

Saul stared at the map, then stood and walked to the open flap of the tent. Staring out, he said: “Any word of Samuel? Has anyone seen him?”

“None, my king,” said a scout standing by the door.

Saul hesitated, the nodded. “Prepare the sacrifice. If Samuel isn’t here to do it, I guess I will have to take care of it.”

Jonathan took a step forward. “But father, he’s supposed to arrive tomorrow.”

“We don’t have until tomorrow,” Abner interjected. “We need to move now.”

“Just one more day—.”

“Silence!” Saul roared at his son. “You forget your place.”

“I thought my place was learning how to someday be the king of God’s people.”

“If we don’t do something, God won’t have any people,” Saul said, shaking his head. He turned to the guards. “Take him and keep him somewhere safe.”

Two guards stepped forward to escort Jonathan out. Ziba stepped forward to intervene, but Jonathan shook his head slightly, and Ziba stepped back.

A few minutes later, an altar of 12 round stones had been prepared, and Saul stepped forward in front of the few hundred remaining soldiers in a gathering place outside. He took a knife and cut the throat of a lamb, then laid it on the altar. Then he took a torch and lit the kindling beneath it. Soon a roaring fire was engulfing the body of the sheep. Usually a feeling of optimism came from these ceremonies, but Ziba felt only a feeling of doom.

Just as King Saul stepped away from the fire, an old man in robe stepped forward.

“What do you think you are doing?” the man said. Ziba recognized Samuel, the prophet. Despite what appeared to be old age, the man carried him with amazing authority and strength. Ziba stood in amazement at the audacity in talking to the King the way Samuel did.

In contrast, the kingly bearing of Saul disappeared. The tall, powerful man looked as if he had just been caught stealing someone else’s sheep. His head bowed, and when he spoke, the words came out in stutters.

“You didn’t come. The men were scattering. And the Philistines are at Michmash. I had to do something. I knew that eventually they would even come after me here. I needed God’s favor. You weren’t here, so I did what kings are supposed to do. I took the initiative. I am king, after all.”

“What you are is a fool,” Samuel said, and the crowd gasped. Ziba watched the guards, waiting to see someone step forward to defend the king’s honor, but no one did.

“God told you what to do, and you didn’t do it. If you had, you and your sons would reign forever. You’ve shown that you can’t obey God. You don’t trust Him. Because of this, God will find someone who will trust Him and obey Him. A man after His own heart. And he will be king.”

Saul stared at Samuel, who looked at him, then simply shook his head and turned away.

“Wait,” Saul said after Samuel. “Where are you going?”

“Gibeah,” Samuel said. “There’s nothing for me to do here.”

The feeling of doom was as thick as heavy fog. Ziba stared at the two men, as they sadly separated from each other. Saul stood for a long moment starting at the departing Samuel, then at the fire that smoldered over the half-burned sheep. He looked lost.

Finally, Saul turned to see Abner coming toward him.

“Bad news,” Abner said.

Saul didn’t respond, but simply stared at him blankly.

“No one else is coming,” Abner said. “We just did a head count. We came with 2,000. We now have 600 men.”

Saul stared at him numbly, then nodded.

“Tell everyone to break camp,” he said. “We’re headed into battle.”

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