“WE have no weapons!”
“We’ll have to find a way to make them.”
“How? There isn’t a blacksmith in the whole land of Israel to make them. The Philistines made sure of that. Those they didn’t murder, they took captive.”
Jonathan sat with his father, Saul, beneath the shade of an olive tree. His uncles, frustrated and angry, bewailed the latest Philistine raid.
“Even if we could make swords, what good would they be? Whatever the Philistines’ swords and spear tips are made of, they’re far superior to ours. Bronze isn’t strong enough. It shatters against their blades.”
“I choke on my pride every time I have to go down to Aijalon and pay hard-earned shekels to a stinking Philistine so he’ll sharpen my plowshare and sickles!”
“If I need an ax sharpened, I have to answer question after question.”
Another laughed bitterly. “I need my pitchfork repaired this year, and new points for the ox goad. I wonder how much that will cost me.”
Saul stared off toward the fields. “There’s nothing we can do about it.”
The Philistine outpost at Geba was only a short distance away, and it was the duty of Saul’s tribe, the Benjaminites, to keep close watch over it.
“Kish says what we need is a king!”
Saul shook his head. “You know what the prophet Samuel says about having a king.”
“The Philistines have kings. That’s why they’re organized.”
“If only Samuel were like Samson. Instead, all he does is blame us for what’s happening.”
Jonathan looked at his father. “Grandfather Ahimaaz said the Lord our God is more powerful than all the gods of Philistia.”
The uncles exchanged sallow looks.
Jonathan leaned forward. “Grandfather Ahimaaz said when the Philistines killed the high priests’ sons and took the Ark of the Covenant, God went to war against them.
Their god Dagon fell facedown before the Ark, his head and the hands breaking off. And then the Lord cursed the Philistines with tumors and a plague of rats. They were so afraid they sent the Ark back on a cart pulled by two milch cows and loaded with gold!”
Saul shook his head. “That was years ago.”
One of Jonathan’s uncles flung a pebble. “God leaves us alone now to defend ourselves.”
Jonathan felt confused. “But if the Lord—”
Saul looked at him. “Your mother tells you too many stories about what her father said.”
“But they’re true, aren’t they?”
Another uncle snorted in despair. “It was years ago! When was the last time the Lord did anything for us?”
Saul put his arm around Jonathan. “There are things you don’t yet understand, my son. When you are a man—”
At the sound of Kish’s angry shout, Saul removed his arm from around Jonathan’s shoulders and stood. “What now?” he grumbled. “I’m here!”
Jonathan’s grandfather strode across the partially plowed field, his fine robes billowing around him, the red tinge in his cheeks betraying his temper. His younger sons scattered like chaff before a strong wind, leaving Saul alone to face their father.
Saul came out from the shade. “What’s the matter?”
His question fanned the flames. “What’s the matter? You have to ask me?”
Saul’s face darkened. “If I knew, I wouldn’t ask.”
“You’re out here sitting in the shade, and my donkeys are missing!”
“Missing?” Saul frowned and looked off toward the hills.
“Yes! Missing! Have you no ears that you can hear?”
“I told Mesha to watch over the donkeys.”
Jonathan gulped. Mesha was an old man, easily distracted. No wonder the donkeys had gone missing.
“Mesha?” Kish spat in disgust. “Mesha!”
Saul spread his hands. “Well, I can’t be in two places at the same time. I’ve been plowing the field.”
“Plowing? Is that what you call sitting under an olive tree, talking with your brothers?” Kish shouted for the rest to hear. “Will we have enough food with all of you sitting around talking?”
“We were making plans.”
“Plans for what?”
Kish barked a harsh laugh. “We would need a king to lead us into war, and we have no king. Where are my donkeys?”
He made a fist.
Saul stepped back out of range of a blow. “It’s not my fault Mesha didn’t do as he was told!”
“You’ll lose the oxen next! How long do you think you'll manage without animals to pull the plow? I’ll have to put you to harness!”
Saul’s face reddened. He stalked back into the shade.
Kish followed. “I put you in charge! I didn’t want a servant watching over my donkeys! I wanted my son watching them!”
“You have more than one son!”
“You’re the eldest!” He cursed. “Mesha is an old man and a hireling. What does it matter to him if my property is lost? You’re the one to inherit. If you had to put someone over those animals, why didn’t you send Jonathan? He would have kept close watch over my property.”
Jonathan cringed. Why did his grandfather have to pitch him into the fray? His father’s pride was easily pricked.
Saul glared. “You always blame me when anything goes wrong!”
“Father, I’ll go look—”
“No, you won’t!” both men shouted.
“I’ll send one of the servants.” Saul turned as if to leave.
Kish yelled, “No, you won’t! You’ll go yourself. And don’t give me excuses! You’re not going to sit out here on your backside and wait for someone else to find what you allowed to wander off. Take a servant with you, and go look for the donkeys!” Kish strode back toward Gibeah, still shouting. “And don’t even think about riding a donkey. There’s only one donkey left, and that one stays here. You can search on foot! And take someone other than Mesha with you!”
Saul kicked the dust and muttered. Eyes blazing, he stormed across the field toward home. Jonathan followed.
His mother, Ahinoam, stood in the doorway, waiting for them. The whole town had probably heard Kish shouting out in the field. “I’ve filled two water bags and stuffed two packs with bread.”
His father scowled. “You’re so eager to have me go?”
She put her hand against his heart. “The sooner you go, the sooner you will be back.”
“I’ll go with you, Father.”
Ahinoam followed Saul inside the house. “Jehiel knows more about donkeys than any man in Gibeah, Saul. Take him with you. Jonathan can continue the plowing.”
She gave Jonathan a quelling look. “With both of you gone, nothing would get done.”
“Father, the Philistines may have stolen the donkeys and taken them to Geba.” The garrison was not far away.
“We should go there first.”
His mother faced him. “You’re not going. Your father has enough to do without having to watch out for you.”
Jonathan’s face went hot. “I can use a bow better than any man in Gibeah.”
“Your father is going out to find donkeys, not start a war.”
“Enough!” Saul snarled. “Pack me enough bread and dried fruit to last me a few days. There’s no telling how far the donkeys have wandered.”
His wife moved quickly to do his bidding. Saul muttered and stormed around the room, kicking things out of his way. When he saw Jonathan still standing there, he jerked his chin. “Go and find Jehiel. Tell him to hurry up!”
“I’ll go.” Jonathan backed toward the door. “But what if the donkeys are in Geba?”
Saul flung his hand into the air. “Then they’re gone, aren’t they? And Mesha will wish he had done what he was told!”
“They’ve wandered off.” Ahinoam spoke in soothing tones. “That’s all that’s happened. You’ll find them before the sun sets, my love.” She shoved more bread into a sack.
“The Philistines have more donkeys than they need. Besides, they covet horses.”
Saul shouted after Jonathan. “Tell Jehiel I’m ready and waiting on him!”
Jonathan found Jehiel hard at work repairing the wall of an empty sheepfold. “Kish is sending my father out to find some stray donkeys. My father wants you to go with him. He’s packed and ready to go.”
Jehiel straightened and brushed his hands off. “I will gather what I need and come.”
Jonathan followed him. “You could tell my father that the sheep might escape if you don’t complete your work. You could say I can serve him as well as you.” He had explored the hills and valleys all around Gibeah and even dared go close enough to the walls of Geba to hear the guards talking.
“The sheep are out to pasture, Jonathan, and there are two shepherds to watch over them.”
“What if you run into Philistines while you’re searching for the donkeys?”
“You needn’t worry about your father. We will avoid the Philistines. Even if by mischance we crossed paths with them, I doubt they would bother with two men on foot with little more than some bread and water to steal.”
Before the two men left, Saul gripped Jonathan’s shoulder. “Finish plowing the west field. Keep watch over your brothers. You know how they tend to wander.”
“I wish I were going with you.”
Saul looked past him to Ahinoam. “Soon.”