The story continues…If you missed the first part, look at the previous entry.
Jonathan took the lead in their climb up the cliff in the dark. Ziba was in no hurry to get to the top and meet whatever awaited them there, but at the same time, he was having a hard time catching all of the rocks and dirt that fell from Jonathan as he climbed above him.
“Watch it!” Ziba hissed as a particularly large rock came loose and hit him in the shoulder.
“Sorry,” Jonathan said quietly. “We need to be quiet.”
“Why?” Ziba hissed back. “Don’t they know we are coming?” Jonathan didn’t answer, but Ziba tried to be quiet anyway. On one hand, Ziba wished they had a full moon that would light their way up the rocky cliff. On the other hand, he was grateful for the darkness. Even if the Philistines had invited them to come up, he had to admit that if the roles were reversed, he wouldn’t expect the enemy to climb such a treacherous cliff in total darkness.
The minutes stretched into an hour. Ziba felt his arms, legs and back straining, his eyes and hair were full of dirt and debris, and he struggled to keep from coughing from the dust. Finally he saw Jonathan disappear above him, and he realized that they had reached the lip of the cliff. He continued climbing for another minute, then saw a hand reach down to pull him up. He took it and Jonathan and he were at the top.
They both sat at the grassy top of the cliff, looking at each other in silence. While they gathered their breath, Ziba looked around them. The place where they sat was slightly lower than the rest of the plateau where the camp was situated. The sounds of the revelry from earlier had died down, and apparently most of the camp had gone to sleep. Ziba raised himself up cautiously and looked closer.
“They don’t even have a guard up at this point,” Ziba whispered in amazement. “We could walk all the way to the other side of the camp and no one would ever know.”
“Our business isn’t at the other side of the camp,” Jonathan said quietly. Ziba watched in amazement as Jonathan stood up and pulled out his sword. “Watch my back.”
“Always.” Ziba stood and pulled out his spear and loosened up the shield that he had carried up on his back.
Jonathan stepped forward quickly and came over the rise onto the plateau. A small fire had burned down to embers, and Ziba saw that the man who had talked to them what seems like an eternity before was sitting hunched over by the fire. Ziba watched as Jonathan took his sword and put the blade beneath the chin of the sleeping man. A scowl came over the man’s face as he lifted his chin and opened his eyes. When he saw the two Israelites standing before him, his face took on a look of surprise.
“Knock, knock,” Jonathan said, then ran the blade over the man’s throat. The man’s eyes rolled back in his head, his hands clutched his throat and his legs began to kick the fire.
The kicking legs stirred two others who lay near the fire, and Ziba wasted no time. He rammed the spear into the neck of one and the chest of the other.
“We need to be quieter or this whole camp will wake up,” Ziba said.
“Well, they are bound to wake up sooner or later,” Jonathan said, running his sword through another sleeping Philistine.
“Let’s make sure as few as possible ever wake up again,” Ziba said. He jabbed another sleeping Philistine with his spear, but this one screamed.
“Guess naptime is over,” Ziba said.
With the scream, most of the men kept sleeping, but one or two raised their heads. One, apparently an officer, actually stood up and began to shout.
“To arms! To arms! The enemy is among us!”
At that, many more began to stand up. Many had stripped their armor from them, and most were unarmed. Jonathan and Ziba kept stabbing, hacking and spearing as many men as they could. But within a minute or two, they found Philistine soldiers, some armored and some not, surrounding them.
“At last!” Jonathan shouted. “Someone to fight!”
Ziba could see that most of them were still hung over from the previous night. As Jonathan waded deeper into the camp, swinging and stabbing as he went, Ziba followed him. One or two tried to get around Jonathan and attack them from the rear, but every time someone jumped forward, Ziba stuck them through the chest or stomach with his spear.
Time seemed to stand still, as Ziba and Jonathan became surrounded by more and more Philistines. It wasn’t until the sun rose in the east, blood red over the hillside, that Ziba realized they had been there for several hours.
The red sunrise shown down on what looked like a nightmare of hell. The reddish light showed a camp littered with the dead and dying, blood spattered against tents and bedrolls, some tents on fire, and panic all around them. And in the middle of it stood two men, demons almost, faces blackened by soot and dust, swinging and stabbing as if sent by their God himself to dispatch as many of the Philistines to their version of the afterlife.
That’s what Ziba saw. In their drunken stupor, the Philistines saw much worse. The panic was on the edge of being out of control, when one Philistine captain stood above the others, spear in hand.
“Look at them! Look at them! There are only two of them! Take them!” he shouted. His words made sense to the Philistines, and Ziba realized that the battle was about to turn against them.
“Oh mighty God,” he breathed, even as he continued fighting.
A moment later, he felt God’s reply. His gut began churning and suddenly he felt as if he was on a boat on a lake. The ground rose and fell around him. A second later, there was a roar like a tremendous waterfall, and the ground became like water. The Philistine captain who so bravely had stood and tried to rally the troops fell, and a horse began to trample him into the dirt. And Ziba saw that the battle was no longer in their hands.
This was God’s battle.
* * *
“What is going on?” King Saul said as he entered the command tent outside Gibeah. He had bivouacked his 600 troops outside the town and had joined them, mostly to make sure that they didn’t abandon him as well.
“We are getting scattered reports that there is something happening in the Philistine camp,” Abner said, his face glued to the map laid out before them.
“Are they mustering for an attack?” Saul asked.
“I don’t know,” Abner said.
“Well, find someone who does know,” Saul said. “This could be it.” The unspoken words that both of them thought were: This could be the end.
As they spoke, they heard the sound of a horse galloping toward them. A few seconds later, an out-of-breath soldier pulled the flap away and started to rush into the tent. He was stopped by the two armed guards there, but Saul waved them away.
“It’s all right,” Saul said. “You’re one of Uthai’s men, aren’t you?”
“Yes, your majesty. Amnen sir.”
“Well, spit it out. What do you have for me?”
“Commander Uthai says that fighting has broken out in the Philistine camp,” Amnen said.
“Fighting? Could it be just a brawl?”
“No, your Majesty. It is happening just north of the Geba garrison. Our scouts said they can see dead bodies, many of them. One of the attackers is using a spear, and the other is using a sword.”
“Could it be Edomites? Ammonites?” Saul said.
“No, I don’t think so. That sounds like Israelite armory,” Abner said.
“And there were only two?”
Amnen nodded. “That we saw. But there were so many bodies, there has to be many more attackers. But that’s not what so significant.”
“What’s so significant?”
“The entire camp is in a panic. They were shouting so loud we could all hear it in Geba.”
Saul looked at Abner.
“This is our sign. We either take this opportunity or we give it all up.”
“But your majesty,” Abner said. “They still outnumber us.”
Saul opened his mouth to respond, but he never got the words out. The ground rolled beneath them in the morning light, and both of them fell to the floor. Saul jumped back up as soon as he could, his face flush with excitement.
“God has not forgotten us!” he nearly shouted. “If that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is. Muster the troops. Find out who is missing. I would wager my teeth that those two men are Israelites. They are brave men, and we will not leave them there to die.”
“But your majesty,” Abner stammered. “How can we think of attacking when they outnumber us 20 to 1?”
“How outnumbered are those two? And what stopped them? Are you and I lesser men than they?”
Another horse was heard, riding hard. This time, Saul didn’t wait for the messenger to come inside the tent, but opened the flap and went out to meet him.
“Look at that sky, Abner! God has given us another sign. Red is the sky, but not as red as the ground where those Philistines are camped. We will meet them and we will defeat them.”
The horseman had handed his reins to another, and now bowed before the king.
“Your majesty,” he said, then hesitated.
“Speak up, son,” Saul said. “Do you have more good news for me?”
The young man looked up at the king for a long moment before speaking.
“Your majesty, the Crown Prince Jonathan and his armorbearer are missing.”
Saul looked at the young man, then at Abner, and his lips drew back into a thin line. Somehow, it all now made sense.
* * *
The sun rose higher in the sky, and the sun beat down on the two of them, but Ziba didn’t dare pause to wipe the sweat from his eyes. Even after the shock of the earthquake, the number of Philistines around them had grown so thick that all he could see around him were armored Philistines. The battered iron shield he carried, a relic from their night attack on the Geba garrison, grew heavier with each moment. He jabbed time and again around him at the hesitant Philistines, who were more concerned with keeping them cut off than in finishing them off.
Jonathan was behind him, his sword swinging and jabbing with an erratic rhythm, and even though he dared not look at him, Ziba could tell that he was getting tired as well. It was only a matter of time.
“Funny,” Ziba said to Jonathan over his shoulder. “I never pictured us dying this way. Together, back to back, in battle. I’m not complaining mind you. It’s just that…” He paused to skewer another Philistine.
“Just that what?”
“I always imagined I would die surrounded by my grandchildren.”
Ziba heard Jonathan laugh behind him.
“You’re much too young to be thinking about grandchildren. First you need a wife.”
“Yeah, well, we’ve already had that discussion. You know how I feel about that.” Ziba heard Jonathan hack at another Philistine, followed by a howl.
“Well, I’m not letting you marry my sister,” Jonathan said. “She’s not right for you.” Jab. Smack with the shield. Swipe. Scream.
“At this point, it all seems pretty moot,” said Ziba. “I don’t see a way out of this for us.”
“God got us here,” Jonathan said. “God will get us out.”
I pray so, Ziba said to himself, and continued fighting. God, get us out of here.
A few minutes later, he noticed that the number of Philistines on the side opposite the cliff was getting smaller, and then he saw them turn and begin fighting someone else.
“Jonathan!” he shouted.
“I see,” Jonathan said. “They’re fighting each other. Wait. Those are Israelites!”
Ziba watched with one eye as he continued fighting, and saw that the Philistines were fighting other troops. They were dressed like Philistines, but their hair was long instead of cropped short in the Philistine style, and their physical features were different. A few minutes later, Ziba and Jonathan were only facing three men. Half a minute later, they were alone, surrounded by dead Philistines.
“Where are they going?” Ziba asked.
“Look,” Jonathan said. A dozen men broke away from the sides that were fighting each other and ran toward them. Ziba raised his spear and shield to defend them, but Jonathan put his hand out and Ziba lowered them.
The men stopped a few feet away from the two and immediately dropped to their knees, bowing their head.
“Your majesty,” one said. “I am Mareshah of the tribe of Judah.”
“Get up, you fool,” Ziba said to him, taking the free moment to wipe his face with a rag. “You want the whole world to know that the crown prince of Israel is in the middle of the Philistine camp?”
The men rose quickly.
“Mareshah, what are you men doing here?” Jonathan asked.
Mareshah and the others hung their heads. “We were among the hundreds who joined the Philistines. We did not have the courage to fight what we considered overwhelming odds. But when we saw you, you and your companion, fighting when we would not, taking on the entire army, we could not stand by and let it happen.”
“How many of there are of you?” Ziba asked.
“Not many,” Mareshah said. “A few hundred.”
“But that’s a few hundred more than we had last night,” Jonathan said. “And we are in the midst of them. Dressed like that,” Jonathan gestured at the Philistine armor the men wore, “the Philistines won’t know who is their enemy and who is their friend.”
“We are at your command, Crown Prince,” Mareshah said. “Just tell us what to do.”
“The first thing you do is find us some horses,” Jonathan said. “If this battle goes the way I think it will, the Philistines will be running soon. And I have no intention of letting them get away.”
* * *
The army of Israel consisted of 1,000 troops—a few hundred guards from Gibeah had joined the 600 bivouacked outside the city. Saul wished he had horses for all of them—to be truthful, he wished he had better weapons and training for all of them—but he had to go with what he had. Even now he felt a fire stirring in him, a fire he hadn’t felt since he had first hacked two oxen into 12 pieces years ago. And he recognized the fire for what it was.
Saul looked out at the motley group of Israelites, who all had heard the rumor of a battle going on north of them, and then looked up at the sun. It was mid-morning, hours since he had heard of the battle.
“We have no more time, Abner,” Saul said. “Reports tell us that the battle is growing hotter, and yet we are not a part of it. I must lead our army into battle.”
“Sir…your majesty…you cannot be replaced,” Abner said. “In all likelihood, it is your son in the battle, and he may have already been lost. We cannot afford to lose you too. Let me take the men on horses and attack. March the men as fast as you can and join us at Geba.”
Saul looked at Abner, then at the sun, then at the troops. It was all madness anyway, and there was no hope of overcoming such massive numbers of Philistines. And yet, God had shown that he was not alone….
“No, Abner,” he said finally. “God is calling me. I will take the soldiers on horseback. You join us as soon as you can.”
Abner watched in horror as Saul motioned for the horsemen to follow him, and rode the eight miles north to Geba.