Biblical Short Story: David and the Death of Ishbosheth

The sweltering heat of the midday had given way to a bearable sort of heat and the cool evening breezes from the west were beginning. David, now girded in some of his light armor, wandered over to a window, hearing much tumult outside. Two men with full, thick beards, one of whom had obvious reddish-brown stains below chest level on his garments, were riding black horses into the camp and headed straight for David’s headquarters. “We have some visitors, princes. Let’s meet them outside.”

The two bearded men dismounted when they saw David and his men approaching on foot. David was in the middle, with Abishai and Joab to his right and left, some of his more seasoned warriors next to them, and the younger men to the outside, including Benaiah son of Jehoiada. One of the two bearded men removed a bag with contents the size of a large melon from the side of his horse, and said “Hail, my Lord the King!”

This hairy man walked about two spears’ lengths away from David, knelt, and said, “Behold, the head of Ishbosheth the son of Saul your enemy!” He then stood, removed a bloodied, severed head from the bag, cast the bag carelessly behind him, and held it by the hair as high as his left arm could hold it in front of him, with a wide, full-toothed grin, breathing heavily through his teeth. With a careful eye, David sized up the usurper. The white of his teeth shone brightly in the sun through the blackness of his beard, dark complexion, and bloodied garments. Women in the assembled crowd gasped, some scurrying away.

David clenched his jaw and narrowed his eyes. It seemed like he took an eternity to react. He turned around and began to walk away. Four of his men, responding to this reaction, slowly reached their hands closer to their belt-sheathed swords. After David had gone about 5 paces alone, he stopped, tilted his head slightly upward, and said quietly, “As the Lord lives, who has redeemed my soul from all adversity…” He then turned to face the two men, whose bushy eyebrows were now furrowed at the odd behavior of the king they had made. “How did you do this, sons of Benjamin?” The bearded man using his left arm was an identifier.

“I am Rechab and my brother is Baanah. We came upon Ishbosheth at midday, when he was resting upon his bed, and smote him under the fifth rib. We have avenged my Lord the King of Saul’s seed. We have ridden all night to reach you and bring you these tidings.”

He nodded, then turned slightly to his right, beginning to walk away, and cocked his head squarely at the two men. The four men who had reached to their swords silently unsheathed them but had since moved to the periphery of the attention of Rechab and Baanah. David began to speak with the cold, matter-of-fact confidence of an experienced executioner. “When I was in Ziklag after the death of Saul, a man came to me, saying he had slain Saul, thinking he had done me a favor. That man was slain  where he stood. How much more, when a righteous man is slain in his own bed by his own kindred.” David finished walking back to his headquarters, a few of his men joining him, only hearing the short-lived pleading of the two men before the sounds of metal crushing and slashing into bone and flesh began and ended. “Make sure Ishbosheth’s head is buried with Abner in the place of honor here in Hebron. Do as you see fit with the others,” he ordered one of his younger men, who went to clean up.

David and his men reconvened at his headquarters. David’s men were elated, since they knew what Ishbosheth’s death meant for David. David’s somber and irritated disposition was typical David – his moods were frequently contrary to the mood of everyone else around him. Great victories usually meant David would warn the men how close they were to catastrophe and upbraid them for carelessness. Yet when David and his men were plundered by the Amalekites, they would find him singing songs of conquest or encouragement. Losses or retreats resulted in unmitigated enthusiasm about the planned counterattack he had in mind. Even though they expected it by now, it was still jarring and could suck the air out of a room. His men had just dealt with his reaction to Abner’s death; now this.

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