King Nahash

That day was soon to come, for no long time after the assembly at Mizpeh, Nahash, king of the Ammonites, summoned his tribesmen to war, and led his host against the great walled and fortified city of Jabesh. He coveted the rich and fruitful region of Gilead and lusted to drive the Israelites once and for all across the Jordan. But this stronghold of Jabesh which—seven miles east of the river—stood on a lofty tableland and on the ancient road from the Red Sea to Damascus, lay in his way. He could do nothing until it was reduced and captured. The defenceless people that dwelt in the villages round about it fled before him and sought refuge within its gates. And Nahash went up and laid close siege against the city. His tents clustered thick about its walls, and though the men of Jabesh repelled the furious assaults his tribesmen made against it, he beset it so closely that not so much as a sack of corn could be smuggled through its gates.

Weeks went by, and there came no relief. Day by day the store of food in the city dwindled. The horrors of famine came upon the people and a dreadful sickness broke out among them, so that even among the watchmen on the walls some were found at morning stark and dead at their posts. The city was reduced at length to such desperate straits that all hope was abandoned of holding out many days longer.

Undefeated, but broken with grief and despair at the miseries around them, the chief men of Jabesh sent out envoys to King Nahash announcing that they would surrender the city and would agree to any terms he might impose, provided only that he made a covenant with them to spare the lives of all within it, to withdraw his tribesmen from their territory, and molest them no more.

King Nahash himself received the envoys who had been sent out to him. They abased themselves before him, and as he listened to their hollow voices and watched their faces, wan and haggard with famine, he laughed aloud. The name of this king meant serpent, and the guile of the serpent was in his countenance as with flat and crafty eyes he glanced at the officers that stood about him, and bade the envoys get them back into the city.

‘Tell them that sent you hither,’ he said, ‘this shall be my covenant. Fling open your gates and surrender yourselves forthwith! And for token of my mercy, I will gouge out the right eye of every man among you who has resisted me. One of every man’s eyes, I say, from out of his head! Yea; and from this day forward you shall look crookedly and askance one at another, and shall be a shame and reproach to all who see you and the scorn of your enemies. For verily,’ he said, ‘there is in all Israel none now to heed or help you!’

Enraged at this foul boast the chiefs of Jabesh determined to fight on, but, to gain time, pleaded for a seven days’ truce. ‘And if,’ they said, ‘when the seven days have gone by, no ransom shall have come, then will we surrender ourselves into the hands of the king, and he shall do with us as seems best to him.’

Assured that he had the city and all within it at his mercy and could beat off any attack that might be made upon him, Nahash agreed to a seven days’ truce. He invited the envoys that had been sent out to him to eat and drink and make merry, and laughed the louder when they refused, and, turning back, stalked off like spectres and were admitted into the city.

Under cover of night there crept out of Jabesh a few picked men. They were to make their way through the camp of the Ammonites, cross the Jordan, scatter themselves among the tribes of Israel, and do their utmost to raise a force strong enough to come to their aid, and to raise the siege.

On the morrow the miserable pittance of food allowed to every man, woman and child yet alive in the city was halved. And death within its walls took far heavier toll of them than had the spearmen of Ammon.

The messengers came to Gibeah, and when they told the people of the straits to which the inhabitants of Jabesh had been reduced by famine and sickness, and the insults that Nahash the king had heaped upon them, grief and horror came on all who heard. The streets resounded with the women’s lamentations.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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