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David and Bathsheba
By Roberta Kells Dorr
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2013 Roberta Kells Dorr
All rights reserved.
Ahithophel, Chief Elder of the village of Giloh, paced back and forth across the courtyard of his home, kicking the well-curb as he passed. He was not used to waiting. He reached over the stone well-curb and looked down into the depths of his limestone cistern to check the water level. The village could do without grain and fuel, but without water they would be at the mercy of the enemy.
He sat down on the worn stones of the well and stroked his gray beard reflectively. It was hot in his courtyard, and he jerked the long striped headcloth from around his neck and wiped the sweat from his face. "This silence is ominous," he murmured aloud. "If the battle had gone well we would have heard by now."
He stood up, flung the headcloth around his neck, and walked to the steps that led from the courtyard to the roof of his house. As he mounted the uneven steps, his thoughts churned: The Philistines could not have picked a better time to strike. If there had only been a little more time, a month or two, perhaps Saul would have seen his mistake and made friends again with David, his captain, and the men who had followed him into exile.
He paused to catch his breath at the top of the stairs and looked out over the cluster of houses and the city wall to the road, which the young men of Giloh had traveled toward their meeting with the Philistines in the north. The road was now ominously empty; no donkeys with wares to trade, no women carrying jars to and from the well. He leaned over the parapet and looked south where the road led down to the desert around Beersheba and the caves of Adullam. "Thank God," he muttered, "my son is with David and not fighting the Philistines at Gilboa."
The roof was beginning to cool at this time of day, and Ahithophel usually left it to the women who spent their time there weaving at the loom, which sat under the grapevine that climbed from the lower garden and fanned out over the western portion of the roof. Usually there was the steady sound of the worn, wooden shuttle, whispering through the cords, but today there was no sound from the loom. As his eyes became accustomed to the late afternoon sunlight, Ahithophel noticed that both Reba, his wife, and Noha, the wife of his son Emmiel, were at the loom as usual but were sitting motionless. This added to Ahithophel's impatience. He liked to feel things moving and throbbing around him.
"There's no reason to stop the loom," he said to them. "If there were bad news we would have heard it." Noha obviously had been crying, and now she covered her face with her mantle and wept louder. Impatiently he turned to his plump, efficient little wife. "Reba," he ordered, "see if you can stop this foolishness. There's no need for her to cry. Emmiel is with David and his men. Whether Saul wins or loses today, my son is safe."
Noha rose from the loom sobbing uncontrollably. "Emmiel is not with David's men," she exclaimed as she hurried past him. "He went with the army of Saul to fight at Gilboa."
Ahithophel looked as though he had been slapped. He seized Noha by the arm. "It is not true. My son is with David and his men in the south."
"Emmiel has gone to fight the Philistines at Gilboa," she insisted through her tears.
Ahithophel dropped her arm and glared at her. "How do you know this?"
Noha checked her tears and met his gaze with red, swollen eyes. "Emmiel told me he was going," she sobbed as she fled down the steps to her room.
Ahithophel was astounded. His only son, Emmiel, the apple of his eye, the delight of his ear, had neglected his wife and left his own fields and flocks to share the life of an outlaw with David and his men. Ahithophel had counted on Emmiel's bitterness toward Saul to keep him from the battle.
He walked to the edge of the roof and looked down the slope to where his winepress and clusters of olive trees blended into the fragrant pines of the lower hillside.
"I don't believe it," he muttered.
In the turmoil of his own emotions he had completely ignored his wife, Reba. Now she came to him and placed a firm hand on his arm. "Emmiel is strong and brave. I'm sure he will be all right."
Ahithophel did not look at her. "You think he went then? Why should he go? I don't understand."
"He would go," said Reba, "because he loves his country. His quarrel is with Saul. That a king could be so jealous of a young, successful captain like David that he would seek to kill him is repulsive to our son. He would never fight for King Saul. But Israel? That is different."
"But why? Why did he tell that sniveling wife of his and not his own father? I don't understand."
"My lord, our son is emotional and impulsive, and he knew that you would try to dissuade him with logic."
Ahithophel sighed. Reba was right. His family, friends and neighbors all looked up to him as a man of wisdom and had chosen him as the ruling elder of Giloh. He was considered wealthy by village standards; his olive oil brought the highest prices, his granaries were bursting with wheat, his flocks overflowed the sheepcotes every spring.
Pragmatic to the core, Ahithophel wasted no time in religious discussion or reflection. He believed in observing the feasts and times of sacrifice, the circumcising of children, giving the first fruits and being careful to touch no unclean thing. In return he expected and even took for granted that the God of Israel would reward him with good health, abundant crops, and deliverance from his enemies.
He was known as one who was loyal to his friends but a bitter opponent to his enemies. Above all, he cherished his family. Though his wife, Reba, kept close to the loom and the grindstone, when she chose to speak, it was noted by the amused villagers that Ahithophel usually listened. And though he, himself, was critical of Emmiel for choosing to live in exile with David ben Jesse in the desert caves of Adullam, he would listen to no complaint of him from others. He was proud of his two grandchildren: Machir, a boy of twelve, and Bathsheba, a spirited girl of six. However, it was his granddaughter with her big, brown, laughing eyes and thick, curling, wispy hair who really held the heart of Ahithophel.
Often when he was sitting at the town gate discussing important matters with the elders, he would see Bathsheba's large brown eyes peeping at him from behind the carob tree that grew in the open square. He would always pause in his deliberation and hold out his hand to her, and Bathsheba would come running to him, her small brown feet leaving little curls of dust and her hair blowing out from under the embroidered kerchief. Standing on tiptoe she would whisper something in his ear, then scamper shyly away.
His eyes followed her with satisfaction as he commented to his friends, "She will be a beauty."
* * *
The daylight hours dragged into evening, and still there was no news of the battle. A meal was spread in the courtyard, but no one cared to eat. Gradually the old men of Giloh came by twos and threes to discuss with their chief elder the strange quiet and their fears for the army of Israel. As silently as shadows they appeared, wrapped in their warm, brown, loom-woven cloaks to sit by the fire of fir twigs and dung patties in the corner of the courtyard.
"My boy went with only his shepherd's crook and sling," said one old man with terror in his eyes.
"Mine had a bow and arrows but no armor, only the clothes he was working in," another lamented.
"The Philistine chariots are swifter than eagles. Their iron weapons pierce the leather shields of our men as though they were made of air," voiced a third.
"My brother," Ahithophel cut across the babble, "it is true. If the battle is lost at Gilboa the Philistines will claim the fords at the Jordan, roll on to take the trade route to Damascus and sweep down the Jordan Valley to attack Bethlehem and our own village of Giloh. We must prepare ourselves." He rose to his feet and walked with them to the doorway.
"You, Philemon, and your family will gather fuel and water. The rest of you must collect large boulders and stones to be thrown from the walls if we are attacked."
He closed the front gate behind the frightened villagers, and turned back into his courtyard. The women had returned to their quarters, and Machir sat listlessly on the roof cutting holes in some dried gourds, which would be used for storing honey. Bathsheba stood, with large, questioning eyes, watching her grandfather. When he sat back down by the fire, she came and cuddled up close to him laying her head against his arm.
Ahithophel looked down and saw that she was fighting back tears. She's not one to weep like her mother, he thought. Feeling a sudden flow of tenderness for the little girl, he picked her up and put her on his lap.
"Now, now, don't be afraid," he said, patting her on the back, gently but rather awkwardly. "Everything is going to be all right." When Bathsheba buried her head on his shoulder sobbing, Ahithophel felt undone. He stroked her dark hair and noticed how the tendrils curled around his fingers. Somehow this was more touching than her tears.
At Ahithophel's call, a servant girl hurried out to the dimly lit courtyard, took Bathsheba's hand and led her to the sleeping quarters. Ahithophel waited until they were gone, then with a sigh he joined his young grandson on the roof.
"Grandfather," whispered Machir, "someone is coming down the road to the city gate."
"Where?" Ahithophel anxiously peered out over the dark houses to the moon-bright space before the city gate.
There was the sound of running feet and excited voices, followed by a frantic pounding on the barred gate. Several men were working to unlatch the bolts when Ahithophel and Machir reached them.
The big gate swung back, and three young men entered, breathing hard. Their clothes were torn and their bodies so covered with blood and dust that only their voices were recognizable. "Quickly tell us what has happened," Ahithophel urged.
"All is lost ... all is lost ..." One young man spoke the words through great, wracking sobs.
"What is lost?" Ahithophel demanded. The people of the village had gathered behind him in the shadows.
"Israel has lost to the Philistines. It was a massacre. Wave upon wave of chariots and spears and arrows."
"Impossible!" gasped Ahithophel.
"Saul was killed," said a second man from the shadows.
"His sons, too, all but one," said the third.
"There are only three of you. Where are all the other men of Giloh?" asked Ahithophel.
"The men of Giloh," one young man said sadly, "may all be dead. If any are alive they have fled with Saul's son, Ishbosheth, to the city of refuge at Mahanaim."
Ahithophel's voice throbbed with emotion. "My son: did you see Emmiel—my son?"
The men struggled for words to answer the agonized plea, for Emmiel had also been their friend. "We don't know for sure. We were all scattered like leaves before a mighty wind," the older man said.
"I thought I saw him with one of Saul's sons," answered another.
"Then there is hope. They may have escaped to Mahanaim in Gilead," Ahithophel insisted.
Before the men could answer, a scream pierced the night, and then one by one the women of Giloh joined in the terrible lament for the dead. The men at first stood stunned and silent. Then they, too, began to weep unashamedly for the gallant men whom they now feared would never come home to the pleasant hillside to till their fields again.
"Don't give up your hope!" Ahithophel shouted. "Some of our sons are alive and well in Mahanaim." But his voice was drowned by the wailing of the women.
Then a call came from a villager standing on the town wall. "Bethlehem is in flames!"
Before the people could climb the wall to see for themselves, there was another loud, insistent pounding on the town gate. The refugees from Bethlehem poured through the opening gate screaming, "The Philistines have ridden up the valley from the Jordan! They are looting and burning Bethlehem!"
Some of the fleeing people carried goatskin packs of wine and cheeses, and others struggled with coarse, cloth-wrapped bundles of flour and seed wheat. All were terrified and eager to hurry on.
"You will be next," they cried. "The Philistines are going to march up and take the whole ridge." With that they hurried off, leaving the villagers of Giloh in a state of panic.
Ahithophel moved among the people. "You can go if you like, but I am not moving. I will not be driven off my land as long as I have a strong right arm and a good sword. We can lock the gate and shoot our arrows from the walls."
An old man pushed through the crowd and came to where Ahithophel was standing. "It's no use," he shouted over the din. "There are thousands of Philistines. They will climb our walls, rape our women, dash our young ones against the wall and take our land. Pack up, Ahithophel, and lead your people to safety in Gilead."
"I'll not leave my good land for those fiends of Dagon. I'll not have them drinking my wine and using my good oil." Ahithophel suddenly noticed Reba was standing beside him.
Ahithophel was astonished. "What makes you think I am leaving?"
Reba looked at him firmly. "If our son is alive he will be in Mahanaim with the family of Saul, and we must get to him as soon as possible. Here we are helpless."
Ahithophel considered her logic, then looked around and saw that it was indeed true; there were no young men to defend the city. But the journey to Mahanaim, located in the Gilead Mountains east of the Jordan, would also be perilous. Since the Philistines were pouring down from the north and would soon be coming along the ridge road, the people of Giloh would have to follow the wild goat trails used by the shepherds.
Ahithophel stepped back into his home for one last look around. He saw the gourds lying where Machir had left them; the cook room still gave off the faint odor of warm bread; in the corner was his old, broken yoke. He went to the steps and mounted slowly to the roof.
The loom sat silent and motionless, the half-finished piece of work still in place. He looked to the south, toward the burning city of Bethlehem, and saw that it no longer darted with flames but glowed like a hot, red coal. Reba is right, he thought, we have no choice but to leave.
He hurried back down the steps across the courtyard, pausing by the well to run his hand over the smooth, chiseled stones. They were worn smooth with age and still gave off heat from the afternoon sun. They almost seemed to have warm blood running beneath their surface. His land and his home and all of Giloh were like a woman to him: his woman. How could he just walk out and leave her to strangers?
Faint and far away he could hear the people beginning to leave from the village gate. He looked frantically around for something he could save at this final moment. "Water," he told himself out loud. "We will need water." He grabbed the goatskin wine pouch from the wall and was filling it from one of the clay jars when he heard running feet on the cobblestone path outside. The door of the courtyard was pushed open, and Bathsheba stood there outlined by the moonlight.
"Grandfather, we must not leave the snowy doves. They would be so frightened." She ran to the corner where they sat perched on the old yoke and tenderly coaxed them into her arms.
The water jar slipped from Ahithophel's grasp and fell with such force that it broke on the stones at the base of the well. He ignored it. With a strong push he plugged the opening to the wine pouch with a twisted cloth. "We must go," he said, hurrying over to Bathsheba.
She stood holding the doves in the folds of her skirt and looked at her grandfather. "What will happen to my father if he comes and finds us gone?"
Ahithophel did not answer her. With one quick movement he flung the wine pouch over his shoulder, swept Bathsheba with the two doves into his other arm and rushed from his house.
A small group waited for them at the gate. Reba and Noha were on the gray donkey and Machir was on the dappled mule holding the reins of a donkey for his grandfather. The others from his house were riding out, leaving only a big cart filled with wheat standing under the rounded portico of the gate. Quickly he placed Bathsheba in the cart, mounted his donkey and motioned for the little group to go before him.
When they had all passed, Ahithophel drew himself up, squaring his jaw and raising his eyebrow until his face assumed a stern fierceness. He flicked the donkey's hindquarters with his whip and rode behind them out the gate and down the road to the north without looking back.CHAPTER 2
Bathsheba sat in the cart, holding tight to the sides as it bounced and bumped along in the darkness on the narrow goat trail that wound through tall fir trees past the rounded dome of Moriah. The route to Mahanaim led close by Saul's fortress at Gibeah, and Ahithophel twice called a halt to discuss with the other village elders whether the Philistines might already have occupied the defeated king's stronghold. Now, however, the only sound was the thudding of the mule's feet and the noise of the cart as it scraped through the bushes on either side.
They had traveled only a short distance when Ahithophel again signaled them to halt. "Giloh is burning," he cried, pointing to a faint glow on the horizon behind them.
Bathsheba saw the small fingers of light in the distance and felt tears sting her eyes. She clutched the doves to her cheek and looked up at the shadowy forms of neighbors and friends crowded around the cart. Some moaned as though in physical pain. At last they started slowly on again, their eyes drawn back to the distant glow for as long as it could be seen.
Excerpted from David and Bathsheba by Roberta Kells Dorr. Copyright © 2013 Roberta Kells Dorr. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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