THE SON OF JESSE
THE SON OF JESSE
THE CENTURY CO.
Copyright, 1922, by
THE CENTUBY Co.
PMNTID IN U. g. A.
TO THE READER
This book has three sources: the Bible, the
critics, and my own imagination. I have used
whichever seemed to suit me best for each
episode, and have sometimes blended all
THE SON or JESSE
PART I. AT SAUL'S COURT 3
PART II. IN THE WILDERNESS 85
PART III. WITH THE PHILISTINES 139
PART I. THE KINGDOM 183
PART II. BATHSHEBA 249
PART III. ABSALOM . . 277
THE SON OF JESSE
"He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy
ways; they shall bear thee up in their hands lest thou dash thy foot
against a stone." Ps. xci, 11, 12.
AT SAUL'S COURT
SAMUEL was certainly getting to be an old man.
He had been on his ass only an hour, and the
sun was still low in the sky, yet already he was feel-
ing stiff and hot, and the thought that Saul might be
close on his track was unpleasantly insistent. He
groaned and halted the ass. Elihu, who was
driving the cow, halted too.
"Elihu," said Samuel.
"My lord," replied the man, flicking away an
insect from the cow's flank.
"You say you know this man Jesse yourself."
"My father was his servant, and as a child I
lived in his house."
"Yes; you told me so."
"Many times, foolish old man," muttered Elihu
to himself, crossly, but softly, "but you don't attend
to what I say, and forget it the next minute."
Elihu was annoyed with his master. He saw
4 DAVID THE SON OF JESSE
no sense in making this journey to Bethlehem just
when the hot weather was beginning to be disagree-
able. "Dragging a cow, too," he grumbled; "as
if there were not enough cows in Bethlehem, that
we must drag the beast along the stony road, past
the stronghold of the Jebusites, too, who would as
soon cut our throats for the sake of a cow as reap
any harvest they had not sown."
Samuel had apparently been plunged in thought.
He now looked up and said :
"We had better not delay here "
"I could have told you that," grunted Elihu in
"We are too near Jerusalem. When we are
safely past it I will get down and walk, for this
ass has an uneasy movement, and galls me."
"So would anything, short of a litter," mumbled
Elihu, shoving the cow on again.
"What did you say?" and Elihu suddenly found
a pair of piercingly bright blue eyes, overhung by
thick white eyebrows, fixed motionless upon his.
It was a horrible moment. He gasped for breath,
licked his lips, and answered with a stammer:
"Only only my lord that the ass would need
some litter when we got to Bethlehem."
Samuel laughed, and took his eyes off Elihu,
who breathed again.
AT SAUL'S COURT 5
They were now passing under the rocky cliffs on
which was perched Jerusalem, and cow and ass
were hit and prodded as an encouragement to make
the best of their speed. Half a mile beyond the
town Samuel stopped, and with many groans and
lurches heaved himself off the ass, and proceeded
slowly on foot.
"As regards Jesse " said Elihu, presently, in a
"Well?" said the Prophet.
"When you were in Bethlehem last you did not
visit him, did you?"
"What should I visit him for?"
"You seem interested in him, now."
"Interested? I am only going to make a sacrifice
for his house there is nothing remarkable in that."
"Nothing remarkable oh, no nothing remark-
able in pushing a cow all the way from Ramah to
Bethlehem twenty miles if it's a step in the hot
weather, too. Don't you think Saul would think it
remarkable if he heard of it?" Elihu's disgust and
vexation had got the better of his discretion, and he
felt that he must say what he thought, or burst.
"I am afraid," said Samuel, coldly, "that neither
you nor Saul quite understand the ways of the
Lord," and Elihu was silenced again.
It was not long before they came to a grove of
6 DAVID THE SON OF JESSE
trees by the wayside with a tall stone standing
among them. The grove presented a curious sight,
for from all the branches hung, dancing and quiver-
ing in the light breeze, innumerable rags, of all
colors and lengths. Elihu had provided himself
and his master with what was required, and pulling
two pieces of linen from his girdle he handed one
to Samuel, and tied the other to a branch within
convenient reach. Samuel's long arms stretched
above his head seemed an age in awkwardly at-
taching his rag to the sacred tree. At last they sank
by his side; he turned to his servant, who was
standing still with an obviously assumed air of
infinite patience, and said slowly:
"Elihu, you can wait here; I am going over
there" pointing vaguely eastward "and I may
be away some time. See that the ass and cow do
not stray"; and with these words he stepped out
of the grove, leaving Elihu staring after him, open-
"Mad; mad beyond a doubt," was his con-
clusion. "The Lord be praised the fit did not
seize him till we had reached the shade of the
sacred grove; there at least one can sleep at one's
ease"; and in a few moments the ass and the cow
were tethered and Elihu was on his back, snoring.
Directly Samuel was out of the shadow of the
AT SAUL'S COURT 7
trees he took hold of the long cotton gown which
hung to his ankles and pulled it up through his
leather belt till his legs were bare almost to his
knees. He had a considerable way to walk, over
rough ground, and needed as much freedom for
his limbs as he could get. He turned to the left
of the road along which they had come, and went
almost at right angles to it, at first through vine-
yards and gardens, then through corn-fields, then
through waste land, going down hill all the time.
When he reached the waste land he began to go
very cautiously, pausing behind every stone or
olive tree and scanning the land before him with the
greatest care. At last he seemed to see what he had
been looking for. In the shade of a group of olive
trees half a dozen men were sitting, so deep in
conversation that Samuel was able to creep up
behind them, unnoticed, and dispose himself com-
fortably within earshot, entirely unperceived by
"As for the corn in the field of lilies, we shall
not harvest it for a week," said one, in an ill-
tempered, aggressive voice.
"You will be fools, then it is ripe now for
harvesting," said another, with a sneer.
"I tell you, Jeconiah," cried the first speaker
with a rising voice, "I will do nothing to gratify
8 DAVID THE SON OF JESSE
any shepherd in Judea what do / care where and
how the sheep are pastured?"
"Hophni is right!" cried another; "I myself "
and in a moment all the group were protesting and
arguing and denying. In the middle of the disputa-
tion a long whistle was heard, and immediately
there was silence.
"That was his whistle," said Jeconiah; "there
he is, coming up the hillside." There was another
pause, and Samuel waited a moment, breathless.
Then he twisted his head and got a glimpse of the
It was a boy about fifteen years old, well grown
but slight, with a mop of golden-red hair, and large
blue smiling eyes. From his bag, oaken club, and
long staff, it was plain he was a shepherd; from
his silver bracelet, and the beads twisted round his
head, it was plain he was not a servant, but the son
of the owner of the flocks.
"The Lord be with you," he said, and pressed
his finger-tips against his lips, his forehead, and his
breast. Samuel noticed the clear, mellow sound
of his voice and its musical intonation.
"May you have peace," answered one of the men.
"Sit down," said another, "and let us consider
about the pasturage of these sheep of yours."
"My father's sheep," suggested the boy.
AT SAUL'S COURT 9
"Of course your father's sheep. You cannot
come up among our corn-fields; it is impossible."
"Impossible," insisted Hophni; "we are resolved
against it, no matter whose the sheep."
"It does not rest with you," exclaimed Jeconiah
fiercely; "it is a custom of our fathers that in May,
after the harvest ..."
"I care for no custom no sheep come into our
"Let the sheep into the corn-fields!" exclaimed
the boy in a shocked voice. "Who would be such
a heathen! Such a fine harvest as it has been. I
came up just now by the field of lilies and the crop
was a pleasure to look upon."
"We shall not harvest it for a week," grunted
"Surely a few days more would improve it if
only the Jebusites were not making raids again.
In a week, I fear there may be nothing to harvest."
Hophni and his friends stared at one another.
They were horribly near Jerusalem.
"Had you not heard?" continued the boy,
smoothly. "They were at Geba a few days since
and carried off all that was in the fields. I am
sure my father could spare a man or two to help
you, and then you would not mind the flocks being
in the bare fields, would you?"
10 DAVID THE SON OF JESSE
"If he would help with the harvest . . . what
do you say?" Hophni appealed to his friends, and
Jeconiah had enough sense to be silent. There was
a whispered consultation, and it was agreed in the
end that in consideration of some help to save the
crop from the Jebusites the sheep should be allowed
in the fields after the harvest.
"After all, Hophni," said one of his supporters
timidly, "it is the custom of our fathers. . . ."
Hophni grunted, but did not deny it.
The matter being settled, the men rose from the
ground. A few minutes were spent in salutations,
and they separated; the boy going down the hill to
his flocks, the others going upward to their fields
and vineyards. Samuel, too, when the others were
out of sight, got up, and returned, slowly and pain-
fully, to the sacred grove.
By the time he had reached it, plucked the un-
willing Elihu from his sleep, untethered the beasts,
and mounted the ass, the shadows were lengthening.
They had now only about a mile to go to Bethlehem,
but Samuel was anxious to arrive in good time, and
they made no delays. At the foot of the ascent on
which Bethlehem was perched, and beside the gate
in the wall that enclosed it, they found a well, and
Elihu tried hard to persuade his master to wait
and refresh the beasts and themselves with a draft
AT SAUL'S COURT 11
of what he declared was the most delicious water in
the world, but Samuel only shook his head im-
patiently and pressed forward.
A child playing by the gateway saw them, gave
a shriek, and disappeared in one of the stone huts
which formed the village. Presently a cautious
head or two was peering out at them, and in a few
moments a group of dignified old men approached,
bowing and saluting, and driving back the crowd of
villagers who had somehow learnt that the Prophet
Samuel had come, and wanted to have a look at him.
One of the old men stepped forward and said,
in an anxious voice, "Yahweh be with you. Do
you come in peace?"
"Yahweh bless and preserve you," replied
Samuel. "Yes, I come in peace. I have come to
make a sacrifice for Jesse, the son of Obed, for him
and all his household. Here is the beast for the
There was a great bustle among the villagers.
Some rushed off to Jesse's house to tell his women
to prepare for Samuel and to begin the arrange-
ments for the feast, some surrounded Elihu, greeted
him as an old friend, and led him and the cow off
to the place of sacrifice ; others began pushing Jesse
forward, shouting out to him that he was in luck
but that he always was a lucky man.
12 DAVID THE SON OF JESSE
Jesse did not seem at all flustered by his pro-
motion. He came forward, saluted Samuel and
showed him the way to his house. It was a big
house, for Jesse was a well-to-do man; it had two
rooms and a courtyard between them. Preparations
for the sacrifice were in full swing and all the
household were busy making ready the accessories
of the feast the main dish, of course, would be
the sacrifice itself.
Directly Jesse arrived he went with his sons into
one of the rooms, where they all purified themselves,
by bathing and washing their clothes. Then they
came out into the courtyard and found Samuel!
waiting for them.
"Jesse," said the Prophet, solemnly, "I have
come to-day to choose out one of your sons for
the service of Yahweh. Let me then look at them
one by one, that I may see which of them he has
taken for his servant."
Without any words Jesse turned to his eldest
son, Eliab, and signed to him to go to the Prophet.
Samuel looked at him; he was tall and handsome;
but Samuel shook his head and let him pass.
"Abinadab!" called Jesse; and another stepped
up to Samuel. He shook his head again.
"Shammah!" But Shammah too was rejected.
Four more of Jesse's sons went up to Samuel, who
AT SAUL'S COURT 13
looked carefully at them all, but chose none of them.
There was a long pause. Samuel was waiting.
At last he said :
"Are these all your sons?"
"There is still the youngest," answered Jesse.
"He is in the fields, keeping the sheep."
"Send and fetch him," said Samuel; "we will
not begin the feast till he is here."
At a sign from Jesse one of the young men
hastened off in the direction of the fields to find the
shepherd, while another brought a blanket and
folded it on the ground for the Prophet to sit on
while he waited. The others turned to their house-
hold affairs, leaving him alone in the gathering
darkness of the courtyard.
"He had to be of the tribe of Judah," thought
Samuel; "no other would meet with the same favor
from all the rest. Besides, Judah grows stronger
every day the south of the country is all theirs, the
Canaanites no longer hold up their heads here, even
Simeon and Dan are practically absorbed. A king
from the tribe of Judah has a better chance than
any other. . . . Then as for this boy of Jesse's.
He seems a born leader. Every one I have spoken
to seems to think well of him for one reason or an-
other. If he can affect men like that at his age
there is a chance he may be able to lead the nation
14 DAVID THE SON OF JESSE
later on. Anyhow, I will risk it. He is still a
boy, it is true, but Saul will last a few years yet
there is no immediate hurry. When Saul gets
worse the boy must be brought to Gibeah, and if
he is the right sort he will manage for himself after
that. . . . Saul must not get wind of it, though.
. . . Yes, I don't doubt he had to be from Ju-
dah. . . ."
By this time it was quite dark. Suddenly a
light appeared in the doorway of one of the rooms,
and a figure stepped through it, silhouetted by the
lamp some one else was holding. It was the figure
of a boy, naked, except for his loin-cloth, from the
purification. For a moment the light behind his
head made his golden hair shine around him like
a flame; then he turned round and took the lamp
in his own hand so that the light fell on his face.
He stepped through the dark space toward the
Prophet who sat waiting for him, the beauty of his
face and smiling blue eyes lit up by the lamp in his
hand, his white limbs shining faintly, his step lithe
and wary. And Samuel heard a voice in his heart
"Arise, anoint him: for this is he."
He got to his feet, and moving toward the place
where his ass was tethered slipped his hand into
AT SAUL'S COURT 15
the saddlebag and took out a flask. Then he
turned back to the boy.
"What is your name?"
"David, the son of Jesse."
Samuel paused. He could not help remember-
ing the other consecration ... he had felt as sure
then that he was right . . . but this time, this
time. . . .
He drew David toward him and poured the flask
of oil over his head, kissed him on both cheeks and
said: "David, son of Jesse, Yahweh has anointed
thee to be king over his inheritance."
There was a pause. David gave a little gasp,
and said in a low voice: "But Saul? And Saul's
"Wait," answered Samuel in as low a voice, "the
time of your kingdom is not till after the kingdom
of Saul. And if you value my life or yours tell no
one of what I have done to you."
Nothing more passed between them. They went
back into the living-room, where the feast was now
ready, and in a few moments all the household were
sitting on the floor enjoying the rare meal of beef.
They ate and drank and made merry, and in the
faint light of the poor oil lamps no one noticed that
David's hair was wet and his forehead shining, and
16 DAVID THE SON OF JESSE
that his eyes smiled more brilliantly than before.
"Sing to us, David," said Jesse, when the eating
and drinking slackened. David took his harp from
wall and sang the old song of his fathers:
Judah, all thy brethren shall praise thee;
Thy hand shall be upon the neck of thine enemy,
Thy father's sons shall bow down before thee. . . .
The sceptre shall not depart from Judah,
Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet,
Until peace has come to the country,
And unto him shall the people be obedient. . . .
FOUR young men were together under the long blue
shadow of one of the rocks in the desert of Judea.
Two of them had thrown off their outer garments
and were engaged in wrestling; a third a boy of
about sixteen was watching them from the top of
the rock, and shouting words of encouragement now
to one, now to the other; the fourth was looking on
the ground for pieces of stone suitable to use in his
sling. Suddenly one of the wrestlers gave a shout,
and threw his opponent to the ground.
AT SAUL'S COURT 17
"Well done, Joab! Well done!" cried the boy,
waving his arms.
"Now, David," said Joab, a trifle breathlessly,
"I 'm ready for you."
"No, thank you," said David, looking up from
the ground and smiling. "I want to be able to
walk home for the feast of the new moon, and not
lie in one of the caves, with a broken leg."
"You wait a bit, Joab," said Abishai crossly,
sitting up and rubbing the back of his leg. "Next
time I '11 settle you in a way you won't like."
"Next time! next time!" laughed Joab; "next
time will be like last time, and the time before!
Now, Asahel, if David 's afraid of me, I'll take you
"Don't you touch him!" cried Abishai; "you're
so rough, you '11 injure him a child like that!"
"I 'm not a child ! I 'm not afraid of him ! I '11
fight him if David won't!" cried Asahel eagerly,
slipping down from the rock and beginning to pull
off his coat.
"Asahel!" said David suddenly. "I believe I
heard one of the lambs down in the gully bleat. I
should n't be surprised if it was that lion again
he 's getting so daring. Run and see what it is, do,
and call out if I 'm wanted."
"All right." Asahel was proud of his speed,
18 DAVID THE SON OF JESSE
and forgetting Joab's defiance he bounded off to-
ward the sound of the bleating.
Joab laughed. "Asahel might be one of David's
precious lambs," he said, and began to put on his
coat, for evening had come and there is a very quick
drop in temperature in the Judean desert at night.
Abishai dragged himself up from the ground with
a groan and began limping toward the rock on
which he had thrown his coat; before he had
reached it David swung himself up, pulled down
the coat and threw it at Abishai 's feet.
"David! David!" Asahel's voice sounded thin
and distant. "David! the lion!"
"Ah! son of Azazel!" ejaculated David, and
seizing his club and his sling he bounded off with
a step almost as rapid as that of Asahel himself.
Joab and Abishai, left alone together, did not
speak. Joab was thinking: "David is a strong fel-
low; but though he makes a joke of it he is serious
enough in knowing I am his master at wrestling.
As for Abishai, I am sick of knocking him down.
Some day I will go out against the Philistines, in
the king's army, and show them how I can wres-
tle. . . ."
Abishai was thinking: "Joab thinks he is better
than I am at wrestling, but he only gets me down
by a trick as far as strength goes I am his master.
AT SAUL'S COURT 19
I will get David to show me one of his tricks
David will do anything for me and then we shall
see what will happen to Joab. . . ."
They were both far enough away from the rock
where they were sitting, when the sound of a shout
at a great distance reached them. Immediately they
were listening keenly; Joab jumped up and an-
swered with as loud a shout as he could achieve.
"That was not David," said Abishai.
"No," said Joab, "David went south. That
shout came from the west."
"A messenger from Bethlehem," suggested Abis-
The shout was repeated, nearer at hand.
"Very likely," agreed Joab, and again gave his
answering call. In a few minutes a man appeared,
coming down the track from the west, and it was
not long before he reached the place where the
When he saw there only two, and that they were
Joab and Abishai, his face fell.
"Where is David?" he asked. "Jesse has sent
me for him in a hurry."
"He's not far off," replied Joab. "Here's
Asahel David won't be far behind."
"He killed it! he killed it!" shouted Asahel,
jumping and dancing with delight as he came to-
20 DAVID THE SON OF JESSE
ward them. "It was a lion and he killed it. And
there was a bear too. Hullo, Ithra, what are you
doing here? David has just killed a lion. . . ."
David came up a few yards behind Asahel, and
hearing from Ithra that his father wanted him and
was in a hurry, he stopped for nothing, but picked
up his bag, called out to his nephews to mind the
sheep, and set off at such a pace up the hill that
it was evident he would not be long in getting home.
The others lingered round Asahel and listened to
his eager story of how the lion had been killed and
the bear driven off.
David had a stiff two-hours' climb before him.
There was now practically no light left, but the
ground was so familiar to him that he covered it
almost as quickly as he would have done by day.
In a few minutes the rhythm of his movement had
caused a curious quickening of his mind. Start-
ing from the obvious wonder at what caused his
father to send for him at such an hour, he was soon
weaving webs of romance, triumph, and mystery,
the shuttle in his brain passing rapidly to and fro
between the threads of the past and the future.
The starting point of all his dreams was now
that wonderful scene in his father's courtyard where
he had first been brought face to face with a
prophet. He seemed again to see, peering into his
AT SAUL'S COURT 21
own eyes, scanning them, searching, he felt, his in-
most thoughts and weaknesses, the old man's fiery
eyes, deep-set in his white, thick-lined face. Again
he heard the low voice, shaking yet emphatic, an-
nounce him as the Lord's anointed; again he felt
the thick, sweet-smelling oil drop on his hair, trickle
down his neck, and lodge, a rich pool, in the hollow
of his collar bone. . . .
Since then he had heard nothing of Samuel.
Now, perhaps, the time had come. . . . Saul was
dead, and Samuel had come for him to take him to
Nob and proclaim him king. They would journey
northwards together, through the night, Samuel in-
structing him as to his policy in the difficult situa-
tion in which he would find himself. . . . He
would listen to everything and say nothing, but
when it came to acting he would use his own judg-
ment Samuel should find he was no puppet-
king. . . . When they reached Nob well, what
about Jonathan? . . . and the Benjamite guards
of the king? . . . Oh . . . Samuel would have
collected a few strong Judeans at Nob they would
have arranged to arm his nephews and one or two
others he knew, and to send them northwards as
quickly as possible so that by the time Jonathan
arrived they would be ready for him.
David's pulse beat quicker and the scene became
22 DAVID THE SON OF JESSE
more vivid. "Jonathan comes forward at the head
of his men; Samuel lays his hand on me and cries,
'This is the Lord's anointed'; the Benjamites look
at me some throw down their weapons, some slink
over to my side but the rest draw close to Jon-
athan. Jonathan, tall, strong, angry, and frightful
to behold, steps out from among them and cries out :
'David, son of Jesse, let us fight for the kingdom ! '
I break from Samuel and the fight begins . . .
well, in the end I hit him a violent blow on the 'head
with my club, and he lies dead at my feet . . . the
onlookers cry, 'Long live King David ! ' I fall back
bleeding and triumphant into Samuel's arms. . . .
Oh ! here is the well ! I must have come up the hill
at a good pace."
David took a deep draft of the water, threw a
few handfuls of it over his head and chest, and in