The Stones: A Novel of King David

TRADE Paperback

ISBN-13: 978-1-60374-079-1

Whitaker House/ $10.99

GENRE: Historical/Biblical Fiction

 

Note:  There is also a Study Guide.  See Eleanor’s website for details.

Copyright © 2009 by  Eleanor Gustafson

 

[Please keep in mind that the first segment is a dream and not the biblical version of David and Goliath. By the end of the book, it makes perfect sense.]

 

CHAPTER 1

 

I dreamed of Goliath last night, strangely enough, considering it was Joab, David’s general, who died yesterday. Perhaps emotion was the link—the Israelites’ joy half a century ago when David killed the giant, and mine today when I saw Joab dead on the altar steps.

In my dream, I was trying to question Goliath as I have so many others in compiling this story of David. The picture was silly enough: I, Asaph—all one hundred and forty spineless, Levitical, musical pounds of me, standing eye to navel against this wool-bellied monster who had challenged not only the army of Israel, but the God of Israel, as well. When I talk with people, I try to engage their eyes, but Goliath’s head towered high and remote within its crested helmet. The bloated, belch-rumbling bulge of his middle forced me to bend backwards in an attempt to see around it.

Goliath was striding about, his eye on a flurry of activity across the brook. King Saul, tall against his own countrymen but a twig next to the Philistine, was talking with a young lad who had come upon the scene of the face-off. What were they saying? Why was the boy trying on Saul’s armor, walking as though to test its feel, then shaking his head and removing it? Watching this, Goliath worked his shoulders under his own scale armor and stamped his legs to settle bronze greaves in place.

“Goliath, my lord,” I called. “A few questions, if I may.” I trotted beside him, taking five steps to his one. “What are you thinking of in these minutes before your death? I know that’s pretty personal, but—”

“Whose death?” A reasonable question, but he said the words absently, his attention fixed on the knot surrounding the king and the red-haired boy.

“I see you’re watching David over there. He’s the one who will kill you, you know. I know the end of the story.”

The giant’s shaved jowls hung thick and lumpy, his teeth poked brown and rotten between inch-thick lips. His cropped mane added to the illusion of a naked, weak-eyed pimple atop a furry lump of brutishness. I began to understand that my insolent questions got no answers because Goliath’s mind was big enough only to size up an enemy. His left eye circled dangerously. Like another eye I knew.

Joab’s eye.

David headed downstream where he knelt by the brook to sort through stones, measuring their heft and smoothness. My dream’s eye saw him in simple shepherd’s garb, no armor, carrying only his staff and sling. He splashed across the thin stream and faced the giant, intentions clear.

Goliath stiffened, and when his mind caught up with the implications of what his eyes saw, he expanded another foot and turned black with rage. With a mighty whirl that sent his armor-bearers sprawling, he spit his injured pride in the direction of the Israelite king, who was watching from his vantage point upstream. “Look a’ me,” the giant roared, thumping a four-foot chest. “Some sorta dog you see? No, you see I Goliath. I gnaw warrior bones for supper, but here you serve up sticks. By the mighty power of Dagon and Asherah, I strip feathers and flesh from this stork and feed him to rats!”

“Goliath!” David shouted from below. “Never mind the king.” He stood with legs apart and arms akimbo, head cocked rakishly. The first fuzz of manhood sketched red along a face that was fresh, strong, handsome, fully alive. His voice warbled unpredictably between man and boy.

“That tree trunk of a spear,” the lad called. “I wouldn’t mind having it or the sword your armor-bearer is playing with.” His words were light, but his eyes never left the giant.

“Goliath, you’ve been a lion against sheep till now. But today I come against you in the name of Yahweh, the Lord of hosts, whom your people say is stuck in a box. The God of Israel will act, and you’ll be the one who’ll fatten rats. The world will know from this day on that Yahweh saves, not by sword and spear, not by size and fear, but by his power alone. I’ve killed lions and bears, you know. Their teeth and claws are sharper than yours.”

David’s voice cracked, provoking laughter. Under its cover David laid aside his staff and drew a stone from his pouch. The Philistine armor-bearers danced in anticipation of action at last. Goliath’s left eye began circling again. His face darkened, his arms took on the fur and claws of a bear. A snout, round, fur-flanked and vaguely familiar, poked through his facial armor. Now closer to nineteen feet tall than nine, he reared and roared and was no longer Goliath but a bear-like Joab, David’s loathsome commander-in-chief.  With weapons carriers and shield bearer tight to him, he thundered down the slope toward the shepherd boy. But the lad, to my alarm, appeared to shrivel even as the giant grew.  The Joab bear raised his arms, and the updraft sucked my robe until I felt myself being drawn toward the great beast’s maw. David and I both cowered before him. As those claws descended, the armor-bearer (whom I also recognized but couldn’t name) sprang from under the shield with the giant’s own sword. With a mighty, two-handed stroke he cut off the great beast’s head. Then he stuck the sword into the ground and leaned on the haft, gasping for breath.

Goliath’s armor-bearer was Benaiah.

 

I woke and lay trembling as the desperate intensity of the dream melted into reality. Joab—ruthless commander-in-chief of David’s army—was indeed dead, and Benaiah, David’s chief bodyguard, had killed him. The previous evening, I myself had watched Benaiah mount the altar; I saw Joab’s blood ooze down those steps, saw his body carried out for burial.

Why should my dream start with Goliath and end with Joab? My questioning Goliath was one of those whimsical twists dreams take. I’ve talked with nearly everyone else connected with David: why not this giant who played such a pivotal role?

The dream made me see Goliath’s brutishness as a thinly veiled version of Joab’s. Throw in the giant’s awareness of his own power, not just in physical size and strength, but more significantly, in his strategic importance to the Philistine army. Without Goliath, those enemies of Israel would have had little advantage over Saul and his sons. The parallel was clear: as Goliath was to the Philistines, so Joab was to David. Without Joab—loathsome, loutish Joab—David might well have neither gained nor held his kingdom.

Loathsome, loutish Joab. When Benaiah, David’s chief bodyguard, carried out Solomon’s order of execution, I for one breathed freely for the first time in thirty years.

It happened yesterday at the Tent of the Ark, where Joab had gone for refuge. Adonijah, another of David’s ambitious sons, had made a last, sly attempt to wiggle the throne from Solomon’s grasp, but the new king read him correctly and had him put down.

Adonijah’s death spelled Joab’s doom, for they had schemed together. When Joab got word that the prince had been killed, he came to the Tent, but not in fear. Joab afraid? He would not run from death, but neither would he give his life away. He strolled around the enclosure, measuring each of us in turn. In his eyes, we Levites were fit only for singing and praying and skinning sacrificial animals. He had made my own life miserable on countless occasions, but I took heart that his left eye, subject to circling dangerously, was today steady.

He didn’t go to the place of safety until the rattle of arms outside sent him deliberately, without haste, up the steps of the altar, into the swirling smoke, where he touched blood-blackened fingers to the nearest horn of the altar. It didn’t seem to occur to him that two vile murders would deny him legal sanctuary. Or perhaps he counted on Solomon not wanting to execute a man at the altar. A precarious perch for Joab, but he had survived all those years on equally slender footholds.

Benaiah, backed by his guard, stopped just inside the entrance. He stared at Joab. When he spoke, his voice was tight. Was he—the most powerful soldier under Joab—was Benaiah ben Jehoiada nervous?

“Joab, come out!”

Joab grunted derisively, a small smile twisting his face. “I should maybe take orders from you?”

“Come down from there, Joab: the king has ordered it.”

“Tell the king to come order it in person. Or better still, tell him to kill me himself. It might give a melon like him backbone!”

After consultation about the propriety of killing even such a man as Joab at the altar, Benaiah and his guard withdrew. Joab straightened, once more surveying the priests and musicians. The breeze wrapped a new cloak of smoke around his tunic. Apart from my nervous fingering of a prayer tassel on my garment, none of us moved or spoke for what seemed hours.

As the last rays of sun faded from the city wall above us, the high priest ordered the lamps lit. With a glance toward the altar, a Levite and a priest turned to the task but scuttled back as Benaiah reentered—with sword in hand. Again Joab smiled, a monster’s ugly grimace. Blood-crusted hands rested on the blood-crusted altar, while the blood of innocents cried out for vindication.

“Once more,” Benaiah spoke, “will you come down?”

Joab straightened proudly. “I will die here—if you’re man enough to kill me.”

His eye gleamed, his tone softened. “We’ve been through a lot, Benaiah, you and I. We go back, don’t we? The battles, the exploits. That day of the snow when you landed in the pit and killed the lion . . . do you remember, Benaiah?”

We stood rigid under his spell. Light was fading, and the lamps remained unlit. We shivered, mistaking the growing darkness for cold.

“You’re no youngster, Benaiah,” Joab said. “How long before Solomon puts you out to pasture? You have influence, though. A word from you, and we could put a real man on the—”

“Enough.” Benaiah spoke softly, almost with a touch of regret. The two grizzled warriors locked into each other’s eyes, celebrating one last moment of shared history, then Benaiah leaped to the steps.

I turned away. Tomorrow the altar must be cleansed of pig’s blood.  But for this day, this night,

 

We give thanks to you, O God

we give thanks, for your Name is near; . . .

to the arrogant I say, “Boast no more,”

and to the wicked, “Do not lift up your horns.” . . .

 

But it is God who judges:

He brings one down, he exalts another. . . . ❖

________________________________

 

Buy Eleanor Gustafson’s  The Stones:  A Novel of the Life of King David at:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Borders

ChristianBook.com

Popular Christian

Indiebound.org

Powell’s

——————————————————

 

Eleanor K. Gustafson, a graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois, has been actively involved in church life as a minister’s wife, Sunday school teacher, musician, writer, and encourager. She and her husband travel extensively, spend time with their three children and eight grandchildren, and enjoy working and camping at the family forest in Chester, Vermont.

 

 

Visit Eleanor’s  website

 

 

 

 

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About Vicki Hinze
USA Today Bestselling and Award-Winning Author of 40+ books, short stories/novellas and hundreds of articles. Published in as many as 63 countries. Featured Columnist for Social-IN Worldwide Network and Book Fun Magazine. Sponsor/Founder of ChristiansRead.com & CleanReadBooks.com. FMI visit www.vickihinze.com.

One Response to The Stones: A Novel of King David

  1. Onedesertrose says:

    I’ve read about Bathsheba. Now I’d like to read about King David. Please enter me. Thank you.

    desertrose5173 at gmail dot com

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