there also and spread through the city from street to street, house to house, like a canker in the skin, bringing with it terror and destruction. The whole city was filled day and night with the sound of wailing. Nevertheless, the princes of the Philistines stubbornly refused to be warned by it, and commanded that the Ark should be taken from Gath to Ekron.

This was done under cover of night, but report of it ran swiftly and the people broke out into open revolt. An unruly mob assembled before the windows of the house of the lord of Ekron, shouting demands that the Ark should be removed at once from out of the city and accusing him of having betrayed them into the same disaster as had already overtaken Ashdod and Gath.

He quelled the riot with a high hand; but as they had foreseen, so it came about. The Ark had lain but a few days in Ekron when the same fatal pestilence began to fret its way from one end of it to the other. And so great was the destruction that the streets were all but empty of wayfarers, the market-place was deserted except of the dead, and the doors of the houses of the living were shut and sealed close in dread of its contagion. The cry of the people went up to heaven, and the visitation of God was heavier in Ekron than it had been in any other city where the Ark had rested.

Seven months had now gone by since the defeat of the Israelites and the capture of the Ark. And the lords of the Philistines were in consternation at the calamities that had fallen upon their country. They were at their wits’ end to decide what they should do to pacify and assuage the people, for the helpless terror that had come upon them only increased the ravages of the pestilence. And tales were whispered that spectral visitants of the Avenger himself had been seen in the dead of dark, walking the streets and gazing in at the windows, and that voices had been heard, gabbling in a strange tongue.

The princes summoned their priests and diviners and asked their counsel. ‘See now,’ they said, ‘what shall be done to free ourselves of this Ark of Israel? The mere thought of it fills the people with terror. Consider the matter, and if it be you decide that the Ark should be restored to the Israelites, in what manner shall it be returned, and what shall go with it?’

The priests and diviners when they had debated the matter returned to the lords of the Philistines. They reminded them of the centuries gone by when their enemies the Hebrews had languished in slavery in Egypt, and what afflictions and disasters had fallen upon Pharaoh, the lord of Egypt, when he refused to allow them a few days’ grace from their bondage in which to worship their God and to make sacrifice to him.

‘As it was in those days,’ said they, ‘so may it be in these. The vengeance of Jehovah the God of Israel that smote Pharaoh has smitten Philistia. Our counsel then is to send back this Ark to the Hebrews, together with a peace-offering to their God. If you had been content with your victory over the Israelites, maybe he would have paid no heed and would have been pacified. But by seizing on his Ark, the symbol of his power, you have defiled what is his and his only. He is Jehovah, and mighty against his enemies.’

The princes of the Philistines listened in silence. They were divided among themselves, and were sullenly loth to swallow their pride and to acknowledge openly not only to their enemies but to their people their own humiliation.

‘Tell us now,’ said they to the diviners, ‘how can you assure us that the disasters which have befallen us, this plague and wasting sickness, this folly of horror and stagnation, are the vengeance of Jehovah of the Hebrews? Has plague never before smitten a country? Is it anywhere always peace and sunshine, and never storm and tempest? Who can say whence and why these evils come upon the world? Is man always in some hidden and inscrutable fashion responsible for the ills that befall him? Maybe this sickness and all its evils will soon be over, and our cities free of it.’

But they disputed with more confidence than they felt, and feared what might follow if, like Pharaoh before them, they held out till all was lost. Having privily debated the matter yet again, they determined at length to follow the counsel that had been given them by the priests and diviners.

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter/page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.