It was the hour of sunset, and Saul was returning home from the fields with a yoke of his father’s oxen. He had been ploughing after the ingathering of the barley harvest. When he saw the commotion in the streets and heard the wailings and lamentings of the women, he questioned one who stood by.

‘What aileth the people that they weep?’ he said.

Those near at hand gathered about him, and the two messengers from Jabesh were brought into his presence. They told again of the disaster that had overtaken their city and the vile revenge that Nahash would wreak upon its defenders unless immediate help were sent. And as Saul looked into their ravaged faces and heard the dreadful story of their wrongs and of the insolence of King Nahash, his mind went up in a flame of fury and the spirit of the Lord came upon him.

Snatching the iron two-edged sword from out of the leathern sheath of one of the messengers, he turned himself about and with his own hand struck down the oxen that he was leading in from the fields to his father’s house, and hewed their carcases in pieces before their eyes.

Then he lifted up his bloody hands above his head, and he cried with a loud voice to those who stood by: ‘Which of you is on the Lord’s side? Which on the Lord’s side? Jehovah calls to war!’

They answered him with one voice, ‘Ay!’ And he chose from among them the hardiest and fleetest of foot, and sent them out through all the coasts of Israel. And to each was given a fragment of the slaughtered oxen. Whithersoever they went, he commanded them to summon the people to arms, and bid them flock with all haste to the standard he would set up at Bezek.

‘Vow unto them,’ he said, ‘by the life of their king that whosoever cometh not out after Saul, so shall it be done unto his oxen as I myself have done unto these.’

The messengers sped on by plain and valley and mountain, from village to village, city to city, and whithersoever they went, they called the people to war. And when the men of Israel heard the threat that Saul had uttered against those who should refuse to follow him, the fear of God came upon them. With one consent they flocked together to Bezek—a mighty host.

Now Bezek lay to the west of the Jordan and some five and twenty miles from Jabesh towards the east. But the tribesmen of Israel were scattered far and wide, and travel was slow; and five full days went by while they were mustering at Bezek. The morrow would be the last of the seven days of respite which the men of Jabesh had covenanted for with King Nahash. Saul sent for the messengers and told them to win their way back into the city as covertly as they had come out, and to assure those who had sent them that on the morrow deliverance would come.

‘Say this unto them from King Saul,’ he said. ‘Be strong and fear not! Verily before to-morrow’s sun mounts hot above your heads your woes shall be avenged.’

Soon after nightfall the messengers made their way by stealth through the Ammonite camp. They knocked secretly on the gate, gave the countersign agreed upon before they set out, and the watchmen let them in. Never came messengers more welcome. The silence of death was over the city. Its defenders after waiting so many days in vain had concluded that the messengers who had been sent out were captured or had perished. They had resigned themselves to their fate. Tears rained down their faces; exceeding great was their joy.

And even though dark had now fallen, an envoy was at once sent out by torchlight to King Nahash bringing him word that on the morrow at noonday all within the city would surrender themselves to his mercy, if he were then prepared to receive them. It pleased him well; the hour of his vengeance drew near.

Lulled into a false security, the camp of the Ammonites soon lay hushed in sleep. The night was starry but dark; their watchfires burned low; and even the sentinels drowsed at their posts.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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