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Our Young Folk's Josephus by  William Shepard
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THE DEFEAT OF THE AMMONITES

[126] AT this time the Ammonites were waging war with the Israelites. Nahash, their king, at the head of a great and warlike army, had made an expedition against those tribes which lived beyond Jordan, and taken many of their cities and, to make it impossible for them to regain their liberty, he put out the right eye of every man who fell into his hands. For this made the men useless in war, as warriors held their shields with their left hand, and therefore in front of the left side of their face, while they looked at their enemy with the right eye. Then Nahash marched on into the land of Gilead, and encamped before the city of Jabesh. And he sent ambassadors to the people, commanding them to give themselves up and let their right eyes be plucked out, or else to suffer a siege and have their city entirely overthrown. He thus gave them their choice, whether they would lose a small member of their body or perish altogether. The citizens of Jabesh were so frightened that they could not make up their minds what to do, and they asked Nahash to give them seven days to seek for help from the rest of the Israelites, saying they would fight if they received this assistance, but would surrender themselves in case it did not arrive. And Nahash despised the Israelites so much that he allowed them to seek for all the assistance they wished.

When the messengers came to Saul he was seized with a divine fury, and sent them back to Jabesh with word that he would gather up his army and be with them on the third day. [127] and would attack the enemy and defeat them before sunrise. And he did as he said, and on the third day before sunrise he fell on the Ammonites. They were taken by surprise, and though they fought bravely they were defeated, and their king was slain. Saul pursued them to their own country, and laid it waste, and too much gold and silver and other booty.

In the second year of Saul's reign he raised an army of three thousand men. Two thousand of these he kept as a royal guard, the other thousand he placed under the command of his son Jonathan and sent him to Gilboa. Now the Israelites of that country were still under the dominion of the Philistines, who treated them very cruelly. Jonathan attacked some of the Philistine soldiers who were stationed near Gilgal, and defeated them. Then the Philistines sent a great army into the land of Israel. Saul went to Gilgal and called upon the inhabitants to arm and defend themselves. But many were so afraid at the numbers of their enemies that they fled to the mountains and hid themselves in caves, others crossed over the Jordan to the land of Gilead, and only a few remained with Saul.

Then Saul sent world to Samuel the prophet to come and advise him what to do and Samuel replied that he would be with the king at the end of seven days, and they would offer up sacrifices together. but as Samuel did not come till the evening of the seventh day, Saul grew impatient and offered up the sacrifices alone. As soon as he had done it Samuel came, and Saul went out to meet him. Samuel reproached Saul for what he had done and would accept no excuses, and told him that God was angry with him, and would take the kingdom away from him and put another man in his place. Then Samuel returned home.

Saul and Jonathan counted the men around them and found there were only six hundred, and the most of these had no arms. For the Philistines had not allowed the people they conquered to have spears or swords, and had taken all their [128] iron away, and had sent out of the country all the workmen who made those weapons. Therefore Saul was much disturbed in his mind, and knew not what to do.

His son Jonathan, however, was a bold and daring youth, and had determined upon a plan of his own. The Philistines had now come in sight of the Israelites, and were encamped near them on a mountain, just above a steep precipice. Jonathan told his plan only to one soldier, who was his armor-bearer. The Philistines did not believe that any one could climb up the precipice, and therefore they did not take care to guard it.

"Now," said Jonathan, "if you and I creep up the precipice at night and fall upon the enemy as they sleep, they will be put into great confusion and will not know what to do. But first let us ask the Lord for a sign whether it is pleasing to Him that we should do this. Let us go out of our camp in the daylight and show ourselves to the enemy, and if they mock us and bid us climb up to them, then we shall believe that God favors our plan; but if they say nothing, we shall know that we can do nothing."

So the two went out of the city towards the camp of the Philistines. And when they had come within speaking distance, they heard the Philistines laughing among themselves and saying, "See! the Israelites are crawling out of their dens and caves;" and then some of the enemy cried out to Jonathan,—

"Come on, ascend up to us, that we may inflict a just punishment upon you for your rashness."

Then Jonathan knew that the Lord would give him the victory. So he and the armor-bearer withdrew, and at nighttime they climbed up the precipice and fell upon the enemy. They slew twenty men, and the whole camp was wakened out of its sleep in great disorder, and as there were many different tribes in the army, they did know know one another in the darkness, but every tribe thought the other was a band of Israelites. [129] So they fought one against another, and many were slain in this way, while many others in seeking to flee fell headlong down the precipice.

Saul was told by his watchmen that there was a strange tumult in the camp of the enemy. So he called his men together, and they went out after the Philistines, and set upon them as they were slaying one another. Many also of those who had fled to dens and caves, hearing that Saul was gaining a great victory, now came rushing out to join him, and he soon found himself at the head of an army of ten thousand men. The Philistines were now scattered all over the country, fleeing away in terror, and Saul set out in pursuit. But first he bound himself and his whole army by an oath not to eat the least thing before evening, till they had been revenged on their enemies. Whoever broke the oath was to be put to death. Now Jonathan knew nothing of this oath. Being in hot pursuit of a band of the enemy, he came to a forest where there were many honey-bees, and breaking off a piece of honey-comb, he ate part of it. But the Israelites around him told him what had been sworn by the army, and Jonathan threw the honey-comb away.

At evening the army was ordered to halt, that they might rest and eat. And Saul told the priests to offer sacrifices and pray to God to know whether he would continue to be successful. But the priests told him they would receive no answer.

"Surely," said Saul, "there must be some cause for God's silence, and there is some sin against Him that we know not of. Now I swear that though he that hath committed this sin shall prove to be my own son Jonathan, I will slay him, and so appease the anger of God against us."

The multitude applauded his decisions. Lots were ordered to be cast, and the offence fell upon Jonathan. Saul asked him what he had done.

"Oh, father," answered the youth, "the only sin I know of is [130] that yesterday, when I knew not of the oath you had sworn, I tasted of a honey-comb before evening."

Saul said he would keep his oat and slay Jonathan. And Jonathan said he was ready to die if his father so willed it. But the multitude were so pleased with this noble self-sacrifice, as well as so grateful for the bravery which had won them a great victory, that they all swore another oath, and bound themselves to not to let Jonathan be put to death. In this way they saved him from the king his father, and at the same time they offered up prayers to God to pardon the fault he had committed.


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