David's Mighty Men
by David Keyser 9/23/2013 / Short Stories
ALEPH THE KING'S MIGHTY MEN
I, Elika of Harod, joined David Ben Jesse in the hills of Ziph when the second group went out to him. I did not go with the first 400 because, at that time, I thought them to be rascals. I went with the 200, we thought we were better, but he soon taught us otherwise. I was with him as he fled from King Saul. I stayed with him in the wilderness. I was there when he began to reign over Judah at Hebron. I was there seven and a half years later when all Israel came to make him King over them; what a glorious day that was. I went out with him during Absalom's rebellion and returned with him after the boy was killed. I stood with Nathan the prophet and the warriors when Adonijah tried for the throne and that with my Lord David on his deathbed; I stood although my joints cried out with pain as I got from my own bed to stand the last time for his will. Now Solomon reigns and I am old. He does not favor me; I shall probably be forgotten.
I record here my personal remembrances of this great King and soul. I also record some instances concerning others who surrounded us. I do not bring hearsay to these pages. I set down as fact only those things told to me by trustworthy witnesses; such as Sarah, the wife of my youth, the lady Abigail and a few of my fellow warriors. Much information came to me, 1 pass on only a portion. However, the reader will probably view this largely as the scribal wanderings of a tired old man. Perhaps I have become a frustrated cleric in my dotage.
I remember the first time that I met the King. He was young and powerful and graceful. He had, as he always did, a ruddy head and beard. You could always find him in the masses with that redness in his hair. He greeted me with a smile that day, me a dissident debtor in search for a leader I could believe in. His smile was sincere, disarming and almost innocent. I knew from this first encounter that I would follow this man all of my life. At first I wondered if he had really been anointed by Samuel. By the time I was sure of this I no longer cared.
ALEPH THE KING'S MIGHTY MEN
Adino was the first to start referring to David as the King. I suppose that many of us had this thought and desire for some time. We did not understand why Samuel did not do more to establish David as the King of Israel. Was he not the King maker? the prophet of the most High God? Adino and Eleazar and Benaiah had come with the first four hundred. Some said that they were the first after David's family to come or even that they came with Shammah and his other brothers at the very beginning.
Adino was dark and swarthy; taller than most but not as tall as Saul. He was, I would say, a whole head taller than David himself. He was thickly built and powerful and carried himself with a great confidence. It was rumored that he did not come after David because he was in debt or beleaguered by King Saul. He came, it was said, from a satisfied and stable situation with the simple and true desire to make David King over Israel. No one knew how he first heard of David or what occasioned his joining him. Adino did not often share his thoughts with any man. Adino approached battle as farmer approached his fields or a vine dresser approached his vineyard. He merely strapped on his armor, picked up his weapon and departed for battle as a man leaves for work. Usually he would use a sword, sometimes a broad spear or even a battle ax, there seemed to be no reasoning as to why he picked the weapon that he did. But whichever weapon, it always was most effective against the enemy. One reason that Adino was always so effective in battle was because he always slept well the night before the battle. Many of us would do well if we were taken by surprise and had to fight. But if we knew that we might die in the morning, most of us did not sleep at all. Such was not the case with Adino. It was as if he knew; knew that he would live, knew that he would be victorious, and knew that David would be King. It always seemed to me that in Adino's mind David was already King.
It was at a captain's meeting when we were fugitives from King Saul that I first heard Adino say it. Most of us were advising an early frontal attack on the Philistines, but David could not hear it. Tempers began to rise but no one wanted to openly defy David. I remember David leaning back in his camp chair and looking at all of us. Adino rose slowly, purposefully.
"Very well, my King. We do it your way," he said.
David did not move. Not even his eyes moved. It seemed that he stopped breathing for an instant. Everyone was very silent.
Then Eleazar stood, then Shammah, Joab, Abishai, then others including myself until we all stood. It was very peaceful in the camp.
David finally leaned forward over the sheep skin map before him on the small table and pointing to a hill and wadi with his dagger gave his strategy. Then followed questions, answers, agreement.
From that day it was settled in everyone's mind and heart. Right or wrong we were following David. Either to the throne or to the grave. Some days it did not seem to matter which. When the sun was broiling you in your armor and you were wounded and bleeding and had a terrible thirst, you just went on because you knew of nothing else to do.
Also, from that day on most slept the night before a battle. Death no longer frightened us. I now think that I understand why this was so. In the first place we were confident that each of us would not die until our mission was fulfilled. Then we would be content to sleep with our fathers. Our goal and our loyalty to our King gave us our sense of purpose and a contentment and a new freedom to be ourselves. I soon began to realize that as long as we were so united we could not be defeated. Deep inside ourselves we knew that we were on Jehovah's side.
If Adino had boldly declared David the King of Israel or even just of Judah it would not have been more effective. However, David would probably have rebuked such a declaration while Saul lived. But Adino merely declared David his King. That was allowed. And that we all could do; for we were masters of our own lives if nothing else and if we wished to declare David our own liege Lord that was the business of each man there.
Shammah and Eleazar soon began the same practice. "Aye, my King," became the usual answer. Then most of us did the same. At first we said it constantly, even over the smallest of matters. But then David would seem displeased. From then on we were careful not to use it too often. The new recruits caught on quickly. In the end, some said that this was how David actually became King, first over Judah and then over all Israel; not by an inheritance or by popular acclaim but by the allegiance of one man at a time. There never was a Kingdom such as this on the face of the earth. How would there ever be another
GIMEL THE KING'S WIVES
The day David met Abigail the sun was bright. It needed to be else her beauty would have outshone everything else. Samuel had just died and the land was not at rest. The old seer had been the spiritual leader of most of us. He had not judged for years, not since he had anointed Saul King. But that old man heard from God. And we were always hungry to hear those words. Now he was gone and who was to replace him? There was not another like him. Certainly no one would follow Saul in spiritual things. I thought that David could be both King and prophet. But I did not speak it.
In the confusion that was upon the land during the mourning for Samuel David had moved us to the wilderness of Paran. I thought one hill was as good to hide in as another. The fool Nabal was from Maon and kept his many goats and sheep near Carmel. For a long time we had camped near his men. Some weeks they were always in view. Other times we would see them every few days. Because of our presence thieves were afraid to steal from Nabal.
We were very short of supplies. We had taken nothing from Saul's camp when we were there except a piece of his own skirt to show what we could have done. David would not strike him. Some were grumbling that a victory was forfeited and now we had no food for the children's mouths. We had been moving around a great deal and many of us now had women and children to feed. David sent a message to Nabal reminding him of our protection and as King if he would send us some food. Nabal acted in his usual manner. He said that he had no regard for David. That many rebels were leaving their masters these days. Obviously referring to our necessary departure from Saul. He sent no food.
When our messengers returned and told him David got very angry. I did not blame him but it made me uneasy.
"Put on your swords," he roared. "We will put an end to this worthless fellow." And we were off to Carmel. We did not even send the scouts first to locate any of Saul's troops. Some remarked that David was getting reckless.
As we descended and made a bend in the road just outside Carmel David was still complaining against this man. We knew that there would be trouble. Nabal was a dead man and had not learned it yet. Then there was a wondrous sight. There must have been twenty five donkeys loaded with food; bread, hundreds of loaves, wine, roasted grain in sacks, we scooped it out by the handfuls, clusters of raisins and more fig cakes than we could count, and prepared sheep, still warm and succulent smelling. And behind the servants and all this food was Abigail the wife of Nabal.
As soon as she saw David she dismounted her donkey and hurried to kneel before him. None of us could take our eyes from her. She had a great deal of dark brown hair which had a pleasant wavy nature. She was dressed as a rich man's wife who had departed in haste; the old coat was not as fine as her dress and it hung loose and open. She was an excellent figure of a woman, robust and strong. She moved gracefully and with purpose and showed a great deal of womanly humility but at the same time great character. That day she did not smile. We learned later that she did smile often and when she did all around her would smile.
"It was my fault, my lord," she said. "I was not there when your servants came."
David just looked at her and listened. We knew from his eyes that he felt as we did.
"Please listen to me," she begged without seeming to beg. "You are very close to the heart of the Lord, Please don't waste your anger and take your own revenge on a man like Nabal. The servants told me how he acted toward your messengers. And as soon as I heard I brought you this food. Do not take your own revenge, my lord. You are too great a man for that. You will rule all Israel one day. Please remember me when you do."
Then she looked up at him with those large brown eyes. She was very gentle and she did not blink. There was a long silence. I looked at the King; he took a deep breath and became much calmer. He did not take his eyes from her for some time. Then he spoke.
"Thank God you have stopped me woman," David said. "I was proceeding unwisely and in the heat of anger." We were all relieved. We took the food with the donkeys and departed. After we had returned to camp and unloaded David sent the donkeys back.
We heard about two weeks later that Nabal had been told of David's intentions and had died of fear. David sent immediately for Abigail and she came to our camp to stay as his third wife. No matter how discouraged we would get after that her encouragement and her smile would always warm us.
VAU - THE ALIENS
The Ziphites were a worthless lot. No one was ever able to tell me who their ancestors might be. They were certainly not the sons of noble Judah or of Benjamin. They were all small of stature and perpetually had beards that looked like they were just growing back from being shaved off. They had skin dark from the sun and few garments. Most would be seen with only a waist cloth and a stick used to herd their few goats. They traded in anything that they could buy or steal. They raised a few vegetables, or rather their women did and none of them was a beauty. As a matter of fact, Ira asked me one day as we camped again in the wilderness of Ziph, "Elika, have you ever seen a comely Ziphite female?" I thought for a moment," No, I can not say that I have. You know, Ira, it seems that there should be a few of them. But no, they are all scrawny and ugly and dirty." "What a sort they are," Ira said.
And that they were. They smiled a lot but you always felt that the smile was hiding some evil scheme which could burst upon you at any moment. And many of them had no teeth that you could see. And the rest had many dark spaces in their mouths. And as Ira had said, they were to a man, woman and child always dirty. Even their dogs appeared at the point of starvation. We suspected that they had turned us in to Saul at least once before, namely just before the Rock of Escape. We had, therefore, no reason to trust them. But, until this day we had not thought much about distrusting them as they had always acted just frightened enough of us to put us off our guard. But this day we knew that they had turned us in to King Saul; for a reward I would suppose. But they were not much on choosing a side. Another of their clan told Helez that we were betrayed. This one also did it for a promise of money but when Helez heard this he threatened to behead the scoundrel on the spot and the man ran for his life.
"They know no loyalty to any man," Helez roared as he watched the Ziphite depart in haste. "And we have been betrayed to King Saul,...again."
Our regular group of scouts was already out, but David sent out two more patrols to see how Saul would approach. And sure enough one patrol found him and about three thousand crack troops and reported back. Our numbers were still less than seven hundred. "They are about a half days march away on the wilderness road," the man reported breathlessly. "There are thousands and my captain says it is Abners own home garrison and some others." "Good," said David after a few moments. "They will camp not far from here tonight." Many of us nodded to one another. David had spared Saul's life in the cave near Engedi and we did not expect that he would do so again. We should have remembered the grief that came upon David after he cut off the edge of Saul's robe there. When David and Abishai left to penetrate the camp of Saul that night, I gave them even odds for returning. I could see myself farming again. But they did return with Saul's spear and his jug. David had spared Saul again.
"I would have pinned him to the ground with one blow," Abishai confided to a few of us. "But he forbade me." He must have a plan that we have not understood, I thought to myself. I remembered this thought some time later when David mourned Saul's and Jonathan's deaths and I remembered again when he mourned Absalom's death. I finally learned that David Ben Jesse although a man of considerable cunning was not primarily a man of the head, but of the heart.
Then, in the morning when David taunted Abner for not protecting his lord, Saul again acted ashamed and it seemed that there might be a peace. But David did not entrust himself or us to him. We went our separate ways. Abner, however, never forgot this embarrassment and when he later served David he was more careful and slept less; although not careful enough.
ZAIN - DESTINY
We all knew that a change was about to come. It was in the very air we breathed. At first we had been an army of fugitives. But we had never acted like outlaws. Our leader was not an outlaw. He was an anointed King. It was just that there had been two anointed Kings of Israel for some years now. Our leader had always conducted himself as a prince except in the matter of Nabal. And there Abigail had reminded him of his destiny. Our leader was a prince indeed and that fool Nabal did not recognize him as such. No fool did. But she did. And the fool had died of fear and that gracious lady became our prince's lady. She fed us well that first day that she came to us with all that food. And it had always been good to see her in the camp. Her presence had always reminded us of David's destiny. Any one of us would have died in her defense as quickly as for David himself.
This day was special. We were an army, a royal army by now though still in exile. We camped at Zikiag and waited for news of the battle between Saul and Philistines. Our camp looked good. The tents were in order and arranged around David's own. Our banners were posted around his tent and the officers meeting tent. A brisk wind kept the banners spread and the sun was bright across the sky. There were a few high clouds that dimmed the sun from time to time but still it was a bright day. It was not the sun that made this day special. We could feel a change very near.
When the Amalekite was first seen approaching we let the junior officers respond to the sentry's call. We saw them escort the foreigner into the camp and begin to question him. He was very short of breath and had obviously been running for some time. David motioned for the man to be brought forth. The man fell on the ground before David.
"Where are you from?" David asked.
"From the camp of Israel, I escaped," he responded still gasping for breath.
"How did it go? Speak man!"
"It's lost, terribly lost, my lord. Most of the army of Israel has run away. And....and King Saul and his son Jonathan are dead."
"Dead? How do you know?" His voice was very soft and earnest.
"I know from firsthand experience my lord," he responded as he pulled a King's crown and bracelet from a filthy bag tucked under his belt.
"I put the King of Israel out of his misery. He was in great agony, sorely wounded. On Mount Gilboa I found him leaning on his spear. He had been struck and would surely have died, a gaping wound in his side. He had removed his armor and bound himself tightly with his belt. The bleeding had stopped but he had the gray pallor of death. He begged me to kill him because his life would not depart. So I stood over him with my sword and he lay down as if preparing for sleep. Then I killed him, my lord. One clean stroke through the heart. He did not suffer at my hand, my lord. And,... and I bring you his crown and bracelet."
He extended a thin brown arm with the booty.
The King looked at him for a long time. He did not take the crown or the bracelet. Finally I took them and set them aside.
David finally let out a great groan of agony and tore his tunic. We all did the same. We had the man held until our prince would decide what to do with him.
We all mourned and fasted that day. It was a bittersweet victory. What we had been waiting for had finally happened. Now the greatest desire of each and every one of us could be filled. The way was now clear for our David to be King. He had steadfastly and repeatedly refused to lift a hand against Saul. Now it was done for him. We were excited and sad at the same time. Why this way? Why could it not have been done peacefully? Jonathan had already agreed that David and not himself would be King after Saul. And Jonathan would have been at David's side. But now Jonathan was also dead. It was what we had all wanted but it was not as we had wanted it. Our greatest grief, however, was the grief of David. We would recover faster and be ready to move ahead. But he always felt these things so deeply. We wondered about the will of Jehovah.
Late in the afternoon I talked to Eliahba in whispers against his tent. We sat where we could see David's tent in case he emerged. The sun was low and a cool breeze had come up. We covered our feet with our skirts.
"They were both anointed," I said. "Yes," Eliahba answered, "but Saul did not follow the Lord." "Then why did the anointing remain upon him? Or did it?"
"You know that it did, or at least it would return from time to time. You know that he prophesied. We said, 'Is Saul among the prophets?'"
"Yes, we did," I answered. "But he became so evil. Then Samuel anointed David and there were two Kings and we have waited for this day. And yet, I am not completely happy."
"But this is the way we have it, so let's accept it as it is," Eliahba said. "Look he's coming out!"
David emerged from his tent in his armor. We looked at each other in wonder. Would we go to battle now so late in the day? And against whom?
He ordered the Amalekite brought as we assembled. The man came cheerfully obviously expecting a reward.
"Why were you not afraid to strike the Lord's anointed?" David asked.
"Why, my lord, as I told you, he suffered." Fear covered his face now.
"He,...he asked me to. To put him out of his misery. I did it quickly and well. He was,...yes, he was actually grateful. Yes, my lord David, he was grateful, If you had been there you would have seen that clearly for yourself. I am your servant, my lord."
The man looked anxiously at David. We waited. David glanced at Benaiah and said," Cut him down."
We had always said that Benaiah was quick with the sword. The man's head was gone in an instant. Even I flinched. Benaiah wiped the blade on the man's own tunic and sheathed his sword. Then I thought that it was just a normal reaction of grief on David's part. After all Jonathan was dead in the prime and beauty of his young manhood and what was another Amalekite? They were mostly trash anyhow.
Later it became very clear to me just how seriously David took being anointed. I wondered how that felt. The power and the responsibility of it all. Did it leave a man like a normal man? This was surely why he had the Amalekite struck down. He had time to reflect. The others agreed.
Then he grieved some more for Jonathan. He wrote a lament that all were to learn.
"How have the mighty fallen. Tell it not in Gath. Do not proclaim it in the heathen capitals. Saul and Jonathan loved and beautiful in life. Now struck down. The love of Jonathan was more beautiful than that of women."
If ever I doubted that a man could love a man that strongly and remain pure in it, I knew now that it was possible. David was a man sought after by women and admired and loved by men. Yet he loved Jonathan above women. It was a pure love. There was none of the Sodomite there. Maybe it was part of the anointing. I loved Shammah of Harod, my cousin, and Eliphelet and others, but not like David had loved Jonathan. Perhaps it was a prince's bond.
GIMEL THE KING'S WIVES
Maacah the daughter of Talmai, King of Geshur, was given to David as a prize of battle and a treaty of peace while we were still at Hebron. The Geshurites had always been a problem for Israel since they were not dealt with decisively under our great father Joshua. They seemed harmless enough and were usually willing to be subjected and pay tribute when confronted. However, we had to do more than confront them while in Hebron. They claimed to recognize only Saul's house as sovereign over Israel and Judah even while David reigned over Judah in Hebron. And, as usual, they persisted in having a King over their small province of Geshur near Syria.
This was a King who held court and pretended to decide on his alliances. It became obvious to us while in Hebron that old Talmai should be impressed of our dominance when his shepherds were steeling sheep from some of the flocks of Judah and claiming that they had belonged to Geshur all along. It took us the better part of the afternoon to subdue their hastily gathered army and they surrendered when the losses started to amount to something. In return the old King offered his still unmarried older daughter Maacah to "David Ben Jesse, King of Judah and of all Israel". David accepted her as he was beginning to cement treaties between himself and some of the small surrounding districts. And we were making considerable efforts to appear statesmanlike at the court in Hebron. It was becoming obvious that David was destined to be a King with an established court and capital and not a wandering ruler like Saul.
Maacah was really too old to be married for the first time. Somehow the old King had been saving her for an important alliance, although I doubt that he ever thought that it would be David Ben Jesse. She was a big girl, large in bone and in body. She had a plain face but a great amount of yellow hair and she had an easy, honest smile. Little did I suspect when I witnessed their wedding that she would be so capable of defending and promoting her own in the palace intrigue in the years to come. Her first born was Absalom and David loved him dearly from the beginning. He had his mother's hair but his father's fine appearance in all other respects. Maacah's second born was the princess Tamar who looked nothing like her brother, and grew to be a very comely girl. Maacah also found simple but effective ways of showing the court, especially the Princess Michal, that she too was a princess by birth and not just by marriage. If Michal demanded a special guard or escort that the other wives did not have, before long Maacah would have one as well. Perhaps a little less impressive than Michal's, but special just the same. When Absalom was small, his mother would have the servants refer to him before others as "Absalom, prince of Israel, Judah and Geshur". As he got older though we suspected that the King ordered this stopped as Geshur was no longer mentioned and should have always been considered a part of Israel itself. The women always assured me that Maacah's ambition for the boy knew no bounds. And that although she loved Tamar, nothing was allowed to interfere with Absalom's future possibilities. Even after Tamar's defilement by Amnon, which Absalom took harder than did his mother, word was that the girl was told to be quiet and that Maacah did not intercede with the King for fear of damaging Absalom's chances to the throne. Ultimately I believe that this ambition, sown into the boy from early childhood, was responsible for his ultimate rebellion and death.
After Absalom's death Maacah became a mere shadow of a person and did not live long. She blamed others for Absalom's downfall, especially Joab who had a certain responsibility in the matter to say the least, and quietly, she even blamed the King himself. She lost a lot of weight and died in her sleep.
The rivalry between Maacah for Absalom and Haggith for her son Adonijah was legendary. My wife often told me that they were both ruined by their mothers long before they rebelled. Even as small boys they were pushed to defeat the other sons of the King in games and Maacah and Haggith would get so involved especially against each other that you often thought that they would actually
get into the game themselves. Haggith was smaller than Maacah but she was wiry and mean.
BETH THE KING'S SIBLINGS
David's older sister Zeruiah was not a young woman when I first met her. She was often present in the hills of Ziph and the other places that we frequented before David was accepted as King of Judah in Hebron. She would come and go from her father's place near Bethlehem seemingly at will. She came to see her sons. And she gave the necessary lip service to David Ben Jesse when she was in the camp, especially as she entered and departed the camp. Some of us wondered how she came and went so freely although we were more concerned that she would lead Saul and his men to us. She often assured us that no one was able to follow her and she was usually looking back when we first caught sight of her approaching the camp. And, she always seemed to know where we were. Occasionally, Abishai or Asahel would return part way with her. Joab always had important things to do for the King. But even if she made her own way back no one ever seemed worried about this woman traveling alone or occasionally with one of her maids. Zeruiah was a large woman and she wore several coats of various lengths at the same time. When she arrived she would great us all heartily and then take her three sons aside and begin unloading the many pockets of her garments and the mysteriously interwoven bags hidden in her clothing. Each bag had a shoulder strap of a different length and supported a bag somewhere on her person. I remember Eliphelet remarking to me once that old Zeruiah's body and clothing could conceal Saul himself if she we not to be trusted. However, for one thing she could always be trusted; to look after the interests of her three sons. When she was in camp they would spend long hours in Joab's tent and talk late into the night. David was the only one who dared enter one of these sacred conferences. This he seldom did, apparently from lack of interest. But when he was in a lighter mood he would stroll into Joab's tent casually and unannounced. Then we would hear Zeruiah's shouts of welcome as her boys joined in. They acted more like boys than men when she was in camp, except Joab; he always held himself high. I can not
remember how many times I heard her say to Joab, "Now, you take care of that son." And whatever it was, if I knew of it, it was always accomplished.
As the oldest, Zeruiah favored Joab in public although most knew that Asahel, her baby, was her favorite. Asahel was the only one generous with the bounty after one of her visits. He once blessed me with a whole joint of lamb. I vow that woman was a walking storehouse. Some of the younger men believed that David would be King solely on Zeruiah's efforts if necessary. I knew that David would be King because he was anointed to be so, but after him Zeruiah's sons would predominate. She had trained them so and they would "see to it" and God help any man or woman who stood in the way.
When Asahel was killed I expected a great uproar. Abner had truly tried not to kill the boy, but he would not stop pursuing Abner after that unfortunate incident by the pool at Gibeon. This was only supposed to be a sporting event between the Benjaminites and the men of Judah. But war was still in the hearts of the young men and almost like small boys playing with wooden sword sticks, they did not know when to stop. In the end many were dead and we of Judah were at war with Benjamin.
We had hoped that an alliance could be formed early after the death of Saul. Saul's son Ishbosheth was no Jonathan and would not make much of a King. Abner was already half on our side. But things were too unsteady after all the years of Saul chasing David around the wilderness. And the boys got carried away. It might have been possible to overcome the divisions even then. But then Asahel took out with a vengeance after Abner. Abner was powerful but he was a man of large frame and muscle. Asahel was known as the fastest and most tireless runner in Judah, so Abner could not out run him for long. He finally finished the boy with the but end of his spear, still trying I believe, to ward him off. But Abner was a very powerful spearman and even the blunt end ran the young man through.
This ended any hopes for peace at the beginning of David's reign at Hebron. It did not take Joab long to avenge Asahel's death and Abner was gone. I lived long enough after David's death to see young Solomon deal with Joab.
Everything they were, Zeruiah's boys, was put there by their mother. They were extensions of her life force, and mercy was not a part of it. It was no idle comment when David declared that the sons of Zeruiah were "too hard' for him after Joab killed Abner. The King was a man of mercy. In the end it took seven long years to establish the throne of David over all Israel. And that because a few young men and the sons of Zeruiah could not curb their violence.
Abishai was the steadiest of the three of the sons of Zeruiah, but he still reacted from pride quite often. He would have killed Shimei as he cursed David when the King was fleeing his son Absalom. Personally, I would have liked to have seen that. This Benjaminite Shimei was a ragged looking fellow and profane at that. Abishai's eyes flashed hated as soon as he heard the fellow and I judged that the scum was as good as dead. But the King silenced Abishai. "Let him curse," David said. "Perhaps God has bidden him, or perhaps God will hear and shorten my trial." As I was saying, after Asahel's death Zeruiah came quickly to Hebron. 1 do not know why she was not already there. The more established we got the less we saw of Zeruiah. She was not a woman of the court. A woman of the camp, yes, but not of the court. The women of the court were slender and sweet smelling. Zeruiah was of a different sort. I preferred Zeruiah. She arrived in great grief and silence. She greeted the King with the words," My Brother." And retired instantly to Joab's tent. We expected that she would ask to see the King, probably privately, but she did not. She left quietly in a few hours. Then Joab killed Abner. Zeruiah never mentioned the entire affair again. It was then that I understood, that her family within the family of Jesse was strong unto itself and that her vengence was simple and direct. She was a she-bear who cared for and never let go of her cubs.
The King's other sister, Abigail, Old Abigail we all called her to distinguish her from our lady the King's wife of the same name, was a shadow of a woman. As long as I could remember she had been such. She and Zeruiah were only half sisters after all. Old Abigail was slender and if she had a womanly shape it was not for anyone to know. She wore long robes of several layers and usually kept her head covered on all occasions . I remember once noticing her thick black hair during an unguarded moment in the hills of Ziph when she visited our little band. It was a very hot day and she let down for a few minutes She had very fair skin and delicate features. As the afternoon sun filtered through the branches and played across her face, I thought her quite attractive. She was not spoken for then and I thought to myself that perhaps I could be related to our future King by adding her to my family. That opportunity never came. Then I was caught by surprise years later in Jerusalem when I saw her at one of the smaller of the King's feasts with a light veil over her head. Her hair was almost entirely gray. How the years had passed for us all. She had become an accomplished nurse and had saved not a few dying warriors. She had also become close to our lady Abigail, the King's wife, who nursed many of us including myself back to health on several occasions. Old Abigail had one child, a son, Amasa, cousin to the King. All cousins in favor were referred to, however, by the King and one another as "brother." Old Abigail, in her quiet way, promoted the interests of Amasa effectively. But Amasa was an administrator at heart and not a soldier. He carried out many organizational duties for the King and always did a fine job. Once he completely reorganized the care of the King's stables and planned the breeding of the King's horses to produce a better line. The King expressed his appreciation of this several times at court. Another time he was told by the King to reorganize and rehorse the royal chariot corps, partly with his new breed of horses. This was considered an infringement of Joab's authority and Joab did not take it very well. I do not think that he ever forgot.
Amasa made the wrong decision to stay with Absalom when that separation came. Ultimately the boy's forces could not win and Amasa was left on the wrong side. The King, desiring to unite all Israel again and not really trusting Joab since the affair with Abner, offered the command of the army to Amasa in Joab's stead after the defeat of Absalom. I would not have given you a shekel for Amasa's life after that. Sure enough it was not long. Amasa was a fit man; he exercised regularly and kept his fair beard neatly trimmed. He approached command as an administrative task and went right to work. When the trouble with Sheba Ben Bichri came up we were back in a war posture again and Joab saw his chance for treachery and feigning a brotherly kiss disemboweled Amasa in the road. The people were shocked. And Joab was again securely in command again. The King could bear no more deaths in his family, especially after Joab delivered Sheba without sacking the city of Bethmaachah. So Joab stood for the remainder of the King's lifetime. As I have said, I have lived to see that jackal dealt with by Solomon. I speak cautiously as my own fate is not secure under this reign.
Old Abigail said little after the death of her son. He was buried with state honors in Jerusalem and she did all the proper things throughout the mourning period. Some said that she had no feelings, other than that she was not capable of showing the depth of her anger toward her sister's family. Zeruiah seemed a little embarrassed over the matter, but soon recovered. I suspected Old Abigail's revenge would surface one day. She had added Bathsheba to her close friends and she was one of the three old nurses caring for the King during his last months. They had much time to talk. The King's instructions to Solomon concerning Joab were probably the result of Old Abigail's intercession. Zeruiah started to object when Joab was executed, but Solomon made it clear that all objectors would be similarly dealt with. I do not think that she cared for her own life in her old age, but there was still Abishai and his house who would unconditionally support his mother. So she swallowed her words; she had nothing left.
ALEPH THE KING'S MIGHTY MEN
Adino was perhaps the only one ever to stand up to Joab in a direct confrontation. It was not well known, and I was one of the few to witness it. As the King was mourning for his son Absalom I started to approach him as I had done years before in the wilderness. He had always seemed to appreciate my comforts when I got up the nerve to offer them. I was just outside the King's tent with Eliphelet trying to decide to go in. As I said, it was little known but the King had not responded to Joab's first admonitions concerning the shame of the people when he mourned Absalom so greatly. The people thought that they had done wrong by winning for the King and were creeping back to their homes. Joab's chiding of the King was perhaps correct but it was done in his usual churlish manner and he never understood the heart of the King. How could he? He own heart was cold. We had all heard him rebuke the King; tent walls do not stop voices.
"You shame your victorious warriors by mourning this rebellious boy, my King. Now get up and praise them for their victory!" The King's voice was not heard.
Joab was then in a huddle with Abishai and some of his captains for quite some time and nothing was stirring from the King's tent. They would mumble among themselves and watch the King's tent. Finally he straightened himself and started angrily towards the King's tent once again, this time speaking aloud. "We will not allow it, No, no more, by Jehovah we will not! If he is King, by God he will act like one!"
Adino moved in from the other side where he had been watching since Joab's first berating. He pulled himself to his full height and with his right hand on the hilt of his sword stood in the King's door. Joab saw him move into position but continued to come. I reached for my weapon. Eliphelet touched my arm in warning. They stood face to face for what seemed like several minutes. Neither spoke. Finally Joab walked away in silence shaking his head. Benaiah and Shammah had stood ready also. But this was between Joab and Adino alone. Joab never had the same stature again among the mighty. I could see that
Adino loved David more than life and Joab did not. Although I wager that Adino would have taken him easily. Joab was better at deception than open conflict.
Eliab was the King's oldest brother. He was a great man with a great belly and a bushy ruddy beard. When he was quiet, which was most of the time, you heard little from him. But when he was not, and this usually meant that he had some wine, he literally roared. He roared his words and he roared his laughter. Many believed that he had much influence with the King, but I believe that he used it rarely. He was, I admit, like a second father to David, especially since Jesse's death before the death of Saul. Jesse did not live to see David become King at Hebron. Eliab was clever in his actions and almost seemed to know when David was facing danger. Eliab knew Saul. He had served with him along with the other two oldest brothers Abinadab and Shammah in the old days. Shammah told me that from the time David came to court Eliab was concerned for he knew what sort of man Saul was. Just when things were getting the most dangerous during David's and Jonathan's friendship as boys, Eliab suddenly decided to call David home for a family sacrifice. The family had a regular habit of sacrificing in Bethlehem on the anniversary of the death of Boaz, Jesse's grandfather, and on the anniversary of the death of Obed, Jesse's father. Eliab had begun the same tradition on the death of their father Jesse. This was not unusual for families in Israel, but Eliab, as the head of the family, decided to begin this tradition just when Saul would have surely done harm to David. Shammah said that he sent a servant to bid David come early one morning and announced to the family that they would observe the following day each year at that time. David was glad for a reason to leave court and Jonathan made his excuses for him. Of course, Eliab could have had some very effective spies at court, but Shammah was sure that Eliab knew in his heart, as a father would, when David was in danger. This proved to be effective on other occasions as well. Although Shammah was a regular with us in the army and the guard, Eliab did not often venture far from the family farm near Bethlehem in Epathra. I visited him there on several occasions with Shammah and once on my own. I sought to honor him. I guess that I saw him a little bit as David's father also as he was old enough to be David's father and mine. Somehow in my mind I felt that if David was to be our King, then the best and strongest counsel should come from the head of his own family, which was Eliab. I would ask questions about David's boyhood which Eliab seemed glad enough to answer. "Yes, he did kill a lion with his sling." And then occasionally, I would venture into the area of the current local rebellion of one of our neighbors, usually a group of Philistines, or a question on state policy. This Eliab tended to ignore. He said that he was merely a farmer from Bethlehem. I thought he was being modest. On the one visit that I made alone to Bethlehem to talk to Eliab I was most concerned. The rivalry between the wives of David seemed to be at an all time peak. Bathsheba and Maacah and Ahinoam were on the edge of all out war, mostly in promoting the interests of their sons. Amnon was, after all, the first born and Ahinoam had much support at court for his designation as the crown prince. However, Absalom was the son of a woman that considered herself to be a princess in her own right and by her standards her only legitimate competition, the princess Michal, had no children and she, the princess Maacah, was entitled to win. Bathsheba was clearly counting on the fact that she was, if not the favorite wife of the King, at least she was most favored along with the lady Abigail. All of this made for a great deal of misery in court and as usual, much as I hate to admit it, the King would become most indecisive when his sons were in conflict. He did not want to deny any one of them anything. As a result, he made no commitments regarding his wishes for a successor. It would have been easier if he had made himself clear. Myself, I would have even accepted Amnon to stop the bickering and constant pressing for an advantage. It was really too early to be trying to decide such things as the oldest, Amnon, was still yet a boy although he began to look like a man, as much as Amnon ever did. Absalom was a marvelous looking lad and Solomon was strong, quiet and aloof. Then too, the King was very busy establishing Israel as a true state among the nations. He had taken a loose confederation of tribes which had followed an itinerant King, Saul, and cemented a strong federation under a strong court with a permanent capitol at Zion. No more were the village elders the last recourse in the judgment of the people. They could always appear to the judges at court and even to the King himself. And, for the most part, this was readily accepted because our King was loved by the people. This made the bitterness at court seem even more unbearable and vicious. But I get ahead of myself here. So I went to Eliab at this time with a heavy heart. He welcomed me as a honored guest and had a delicious feast prepared. It was not a court feast but it tasted wonderful and was a true feast for a Bethlehem farm. We drank wine afterward and he talked of Jesse, and Obed and Boaz. He seemed quite comfortable but a little curious as to why I would visit him. Finally I began to tell him of how it was at court. The longer I talked the more uncomfortable he appeared.
"And, so, if these women do not stop," I concluded. "I do not know what shall become of the court or the throne for that matter. If only you could come and..."
"I, I am," he began, lifting his hand to silence me, "only a simple farmer. Elika, you must understand." I started to speak. His hand quieted me. "Yes, the King is my brother. My youngest brother at that. But, he is the King. He has been anointed for the position. And, I,...I can call him here to honor our fathers two maybe three times a year. But on these matters of which you speak, only he can settle them. It is not my place. You will see. David is sometimes slow to decide. Why, I remember...well no matter that. But he is considering while he is silent. In the end he will decide and it will be enforced. Now, here, have some more wine; from my own vines. Good is it not?" I was disappointed at first. But I trusted Eliab's words. And I knew from that time forward that the head of the King's family was not the head of the King. He was, however, as the oldest brother the head of Zeruiah who had been widowed early in life and he often was a great help in curbing her actions when he was aware of them.
Dr. David J Keyser has served as an international theology teacher and college adjunct faculty. His earned degrees include a B.S. , an M.Div, an M.S., a Th.M., and a Ph.D. in Theology. He is the author of over a dozen fiction and non-fiction books. www.davidjkeyserphd.info www.booksoffaith.info