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The Forty-First Day

The Forty-First Day

William Lynes, MD

March 2, 2020

Coiled and crouched, she readied herself in stealth, intense feline eyes fixed on the straggler. Her loins were wound and coiled tightly. Muscular haunches were loaded, preparing for an impending leap. Nothing distracted this perfect predator from her task. It was a matter of just waiting, the ewe grazing in the waning sunlight at the edge of the flock. Oblivious, meandering with head down, the mutton was unaware of the imminent mortal danger. There was apparent consciousness of peril in the large herd, however, for the rustling of the flock had just begun. Their call and quiet bleat picked up, signaling danger.

           It struck with a violent, hammer-like thud; blood, flesh, and balls of fur rocketing into the darkening sky. The blow knocked the lion viciously to the ground, blood pouring from the detached right eye and shattered orbit. She lay motionless, laboring for air, her one remaining eye fixed on her vanquisher, resigned to her fate.

           He was on her in a flash, brandishing a small sharp blade in his shepherd’s right hand. He opened the lion’s neck skillfully, blood spurting pulsatile from the wound, covering the dewy ground.  The shepherd used a sturdy crook to drag the dying lioness from the edge of the flock.

           He was just a boy, tall for his teenage years. Dark, curly red hair topped his ruddy, handsome, comely face. Intense, bright, intelligent eyes punctuated a beautiful countenance. Thin, but blessed with a sculptured muscular physique, David, son of Jesse, turned away from his conquest. He moved quickly to the flock, replacing, as he walked, his trusty sling and blade into his rope fashioned belt.

#

It was the forty-first day of battle. The sun ascended uneasily, as the two opposing military camps began to rise. To the southeast stood the hilltop Adullam, to the north, the elevated fortress city of Khirbet Qeiyaf. These two elevations formed the valley known for the ancient terebinth tree, the valley of Elah.

           Confidence loomed in the Philistine camp, for they were confident of their victory. They possessed a giant soldier beyond match, a jewel in their warring arsenal. At the opposite end of the valley, disorder and fear reigned in the Israelite camp. Their king seemed lost, troubled, and frightened of his foe. King Saul would not rise that morning. His bivouac was dark and silent, as many in the camp began to circle fearfully around the ruler’s tent.

           “Abner, son of Ner, must rouse the King,” the growing conclave decided with rumbling discontent. “Is he ill,” many wondered? “He must face the giant!” Then a tall man in military gear and armor stepped through the crowd. He parted the tent’s ingress and entered the king’s shelter.

           It was dark and cold within the royal abode, as Abner moved to king Saul’s side. Abner grimaced, for there was a foul odor hanging in the air. Unlit candles encircled a large bedstead on which a man lay, covered entirely by luxurious coverlets, his head concealed and not visible.

           “My king, the enemy, has amassed again. Goliath threatens us once more. May I prepare your meal? May I assist you? What would you have your servant do?” With that, Abner gently pulled back the quilted spread, revealing the face of Israel’s king.

           Longish disheveled hair wildly covered a trembling man. He lay without response to the general. His eyes were tightly closed, and spittle stained an unkept twisted beard. Slowly, one eye followed by the other opened hesitantly to the day. The king was a frightened, despondent man only just aware of Abner’s presence.

           “Water, I need water,“ the king said through parched lips.

           Abner raised a jeweled goblet to the king’s lips. With difficulty, Saul slobbered down the entire glass, spilling more than he drank on his unruly beard.

“My King, we must rise and face the enemy.”

           “What enemy?” Saul wondered aloud, his tentative voice hoarse, barely above a whisper.

           “It is the Philistines; we have camped against them for nearly three fortnights.[1] Recall the giant, my king. Goliath, the scourge, the beast, we must face him today or be overrun. Yesterday, you confronted him. Today he threatens your people again.”

           “Again?” The king said, his eyes staring cluelessly into space. Slowly with deliberation, he began to ramble. “The rascal jackal, the dark whispering jackal, we fought all night. I must rest.” With that, the man turned over abruptly, drawing the coverlet over his face.

           “No, no, my king!” Abner slowly pulled down the coverlet. “He is gone, sire. He wasn’t real; you must see that. A reverie, you conjured him again, he is not real.”

           “Not real? He seemed so real. His baying, his howling bark, it is still there, Abner! Do you not hear him?” With that, the king threw back his bedsheets and jumped to his feet. He was naked, wild, ranting, and smelled of decay. He picked up a candle and dashed it to the ground. He then raced to the ingress to escape, only stopped by the firm grasp of Abner.

           Abner calmed the delusional man. He then gently guided him to his throne. Here the general began to dress the king, eventually lacing up his breastplate armor. As he did, the king’s countenance began to clear; he seemed to calm, understanding his task.

           King Saul was a tall man, a head taller than all of the Israelites[2]. Anointed by the prophet Samuel, Saul reigned from Gibeah. In his armor, and now with some rushed hygiene, he just began to look the part of a distinguished leader. A king of a victorious past, he was troubled and feeble of late.

As he left the tent, a roar of approval arose from the surrounding crowd. Saul stood and shaded his eyes from the rising sunlight. He appeared confused after the applause, dazed perhaps, as he scanned his encouraged military. He turned quickly to return to his abode. Abner grabbed his shoulder and guided him past the cheering crowd. Saul followed, his head down, his eyes closed.

#

The flock was silent and sleeping, darkness and fog draped over the grass-covered Bethlehem field.  As was his way, David surrounded himself with his herd. He lay sleeping, a thin woolen blanket covering him.

It was early and dark when the boy arrived silently, and he quietly navigated his way through and past the flock to the shepherd.

           “David, you must wake up.”

           David turned over, suspicious at first of his early morning visitor. “Azriel, what is it?”

           The young boy kneeled beside David, dropping a cloth sack by his side. “Your father wishes you to deliver this to your brothers in the valley of Elah. You must leave now. I, Azriel, will tend the flock, the boy said proudly.”

David sat up immediately, yawning deeply in the early morning air. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes, looking at Azriel with distrust and wondering about the boy’s story. Jesse was his father, an old man now. David was the youngest of eight male children. Within the sack were an ephah of roasted grain[3], ten loaves of bread, and ten kinds of cheese. David would soon hurry off submerged in war and history.

#

Goliath from Gath was a Philistine, the colossal hulk of a man dominating the military camp. He stood six cubits and a span[4] and wore a bronze helmet with a coat of armor weighing five thousand shekels.[5] On his legs were bronze greaves, a bronze javelin slung on his back. His spear shaft was thick and long, its iron point weighing six hundred shekels.[6] He bore a thick bony face and bluish-gray skin covered with mottled markings. He had rough, unruly hair, matted, and filthy. A possessor of a wiry braided beard, hairy hands like a lion, and sandal-clad, monstrous knobby, hirsute feet. A foul odor of rotting flesh followed the man wherever he wished to go, for he hated to bathe. His diet was as his stature, gigantic. He consumed a lesser man’s weight in wine daily. He was the Israelite’s nemesis, shouting swear words and cursing continually while threatening their military encampment.

“Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.”[7]

The Israelites gathered in the valley. Silence overwhelmed them with consuming fear evident on their faces. The group slowly parted in its center, backing up away from the giant. Quietly, king Saul was left standing across from the vaunted beast.

           The king’s shoulders were hunched down, and he looked a stature of a lesser man. Dressed in heavy armor and helmet, the articles of war were a dwarfing image on the man’s stunted frame. He possessed a visible tremor in both upper limbs. His countenance became one of embarrassment, as he dropped his bronze javelin inadvertently on the ground.

           Abner quickly stepped to the king’s side. He picked up the javelin, returning it to Saul. “My sire, Goliath, has challenged your people. You are the king and his obvious foe.”

           “HaHaHa,” Goliath roared in disdain, his deep grizzly voice echoing throughout the valley. “Is this not Saul, the son of Kish, of the family of the Matrites, an insignificant rat from the tribe of Benjamin? You are but a mite, a rascal that I will soon smite with my sandaled foot. Your God is not here today; he is not with you. You are but a withering fool. You are less than a child to me, and I will eat your brain with your own golden ladle.”

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