For some years after the defeat of King Nahash and the Ammonites, there was peace in Israel. Nevertheless it was a peace that could not be of long continuance. The tribes in the south of Canaan were still under the overlordship of the Philistines, and were compelled to pay tribute and to trade with them. In order to levy this tribute, to control and keep watch on the country and to quell any show of rebellion, the lords of the five cities had stationed officers in different parts of the country.

Saul, then, in much was a king only in name. Until by force of arms he could fling off the domination of the Philistines, Israel could never be a free people. This was his secret aim and desire, and with this end in view he gathered about him a standing army. He chose from among the tribesmen who had fought at Jabesh three thousand of the best men in Israel for strength and hardihood and valour: archers, slingers and spearmen. The rest he dismissed and sent them home with orders that they were to hold themselves ever ready to take up arms for Israel and to fight under him whenever, as in times past, the need came to summon them to war.

He then divided his standing army into three equal companies, each one of them a thousand strong. Of chariots and horsemen he had none. One of these companies he stationed above Michmash, a village on the steep-cliffed heights above a ravine, where ran the great highway between Gilead and the coast. To hold this Michmash was to hold the key of the defence of all central Canaan. Here Saul himself set up his standard.

His second division was stationed on the ridge near Bethel. The third, under the command of his son Jonathan, was on the heights of Geba, which lay on the other side of the valley looking towards Michmash. With these forces he held the pass beneath.

Now at this time Saul’s son, Jonathan, was in the flower of his youth. Like his father who loved him and delighted in his company, he was of an impetuous and wayward spirit and impatient of control, but true and faithful. He had not the mighty stature of the king, but was as bold and hardy as a she-lion with her whelps, and was of a rare ease and grace of body. He exulted in all martial exercises, and was renowned as an archer and for his skill with the sling. He pined to prove himself a soldier and a leader of men.

At Geba, where he was stationed with his thousand, there was a small garrison of the Philistines. The officer in command of it was vainglorious and insolent. He had openly flouted the king and opposed by every means in his power the establishment of his army. In all his dealings with Jonathan he used him with contempt. The young prince was by nature courteous and sensitive, and he burned with anger at this Philistine’s insults.

There came a day when there were high words between them. At an affront against Israel fouler than any that had passed this man’s lips before, Jonathan rose up in a fury and smote him where he sat. Then he fled out of the house. And of the Philistine garrison not one escaped with his life.

But report of his wild action speedily reached the princes of the five cities. They determined to stamp out the flame of revolt before it could spread further. They gathered together an army—chariots, and horsemen, and footmen—as the sand on the seashore for number. By way of the pass of Beth-horon, it marched against Israel.

Terror seized upon all who heard of it; the roads flocked with fugitives. So sharp was the fear and dread of the Philistines, the ancient and implacable enemy of Israel, that many even of Saul’s picked troops deserted the king and fled into hiding. When he mustered those that remained with him, he found that they were only six hundred men in all.

Powerless to oppose the advance of the Philistines with a force so weak and unstable, he withdrew across the valley to Geba where Jonathan was stationed. And the Philistines seized Michmash, encamped there, and fortified it. From thence they sent out raiders in three divisions, with orders to ravage the country, to slay and spare not. One of these divisions took the road to Ophrah, which lay five miles

  By PanEris using Melati.

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