"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
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
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
"Missing?" Saul frowned and looked off toward the
"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
"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
Saul glared. "You always blame me when anything goes
"Father, I'll go look-"
"No, you won't!" both men shouted.
"I'll send one of the servants." Saul turned as if to
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 thanMesha 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
"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
"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
"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."
* * *
Jonathan went out to work in the west field. Not long
after his father and Jehiel had left, his mother came out to
him. It was not her habit to do so, and he stopped the
oxen to wait. "Is something wrong?"
"No. Nothing. Sit with me in the shade and rest a
"Father wanted me to plow-"
"I will not keep you from your work for long, my son."
He secured the reins and followed her. She led him to
the same tree where he had sat earlier with his father and
uncles, listening to talk of kings and war.
Kneeling, she laid out fresh bread, a skin of wine, dried
dates and raisins.
Jonathan's brows rose slightly. Perhaps she meant to
sweeten words that would sour his mood. His defenses
She looked up at him. "You are still upset that you
weren't allowed to go with your father."
"These are troubled times, Mother, and he is too important
a man to be guarded by only one servant. What if
they meet some Philistines?"
"Your father is looking for donkeys, not a fight."
Women would never understand! "You don't have to
look for a fight to find yourself in the middle of one."
His mother sighed. "You love your father, Jonathan. In
that, I know your heart is ever in the right place. But you
must learn to use your head, my son. I saw you stand and
watch your father and Jehiel depart. Did they head for
the garrison? Did they go armed to accuse and ready to
fight?" She folded her hands in her lap. "You would have
urged your father to look in Geba first. Would that be in
keeping with protecting your father, or urging him to
"But that's probably where the donkeys are."
"Just because a lamb is missing doesn't mean it's in a
lion's mouth. Jehiel will try to track the donkeys. We can
hope the Philistines had nothing to do with them. If they
did, then they're gone and that's the end of it."
Jonathan rubbed his face in frustration. "The
Philistines take everything they can get their hands on."
"I did not come out here to talk about Philistines or
donkeys. God knows where the donkeys are. And if it is
God's will, He will let your father find them. I care more
about my son than a few beasts of burden." She stood and
squeezed his hand. "I came out to tell you I am very proud
of you, Jonathan. You have courage. I just want you to
live long enough to have good sense."
She leaned down and covered the bread with a cloth.
"If all Israel has its way, we will soon have a king like
every other nation around us. And what else does a king
do but draft sons into the army or make them run before
his chariot? Your sisters may one day end up cooks or
bakers or perfumers in some palace in Judah's territory,
since Judah thinks it must be one of their own rather
than a Benjaminite to rule. A king will take the best of
our crops and herds and give them to his assistants. He
will want a portion of everything we have. These are the
things the prophet Samuel told your grandfather and the
others who went to Ramah to ask for a king. Samuel
speaks the truth. All you have to do is look around you
"We are at the Philistines' mercy, Mother. Would you
have us sit and do nothing?"
"My father, Ahimaaz, was a great man. He said we must
trust in the Lord. God is our king."
"God has abandoned us."
"Men who say such things have no faith, and without
faith, we have no hope." His mother raised her hands in
frustration. "I know, I am but a woman. What could I
know?" She raised her chin, dark eyes sparkling. "But I
do know that you are my son. You are the grandson of
Ahimaaz. Listen to his words, not mine. If a man is going
to follow God, he must align himself with men of God.
Samuel is God's anointed prophet. He speaks God's Word.
Listen carefully to what he says."
"I wasn't in Ramah." How did she know so much of
what was said there?
"I wish you had been. You'd have heard for yourself
the words of the prophet rather than hearing your mother
repeat what she overheard." She sighed. "I came to say
that many things could change and it could happen
quickly. While you work in the fields, pray. Ask the Lord
what He requires of you."
And what did the Lord want of him but to fight, to
drive the idol worshipers from the land?
His mother studied him. Her eyes darkened and grew
moist. She shook her head slowly, rose, and walked
* * *
A day passed, then another, and Jonathan's father and
Jehiel did not return. His mother said nothing.
The men gathered at Kish's table and complained about
the Philistines; then complained about Samuel's corrupt
sons, who were now assigned to rule over Israel. Jonathan
sat with his younger brothers-Malkishua, Abinadab, and
Ishbosheth-and ate in silence, worrying about his father.
Saul's cousin Abner cut off a portion of roasted goat.
"Samuel was not pleased when we met with him at Ramah.
He took our request for a king as a personal affront."
Kish dipped bread into the bowl of lentil stew. "He is
not long for this world, and we need a man to rule before
he goes the way of all flesh. There are none like Samuel in
"All too true! But his sons are despicable."
"They hold court in Beersheba and collect tribute like
One of Jonathan's uncles reached for a cluster of grapes.
"They have been helpful in the past."
Kish gave a harsh laugh. "Only because we paid them
larger bribes than those who complained against us! Joel
and Abijah cannot be trusted. They are greedy and will
turn their rulings to whomever gives them what they
"And what they want changes from one day to the
"How does a man like Samuel come to have sons like
"Kish, you convinced Samuel, didn't you, my brother?
He said we would have a king."
Kish poured wine. "The question is when? And who
will it be? A Judean? So it will be, according to Jacob's