The lone warrior picked his way down the steep path that led from the Plateau of Gilead to the valley of the Jabbok River. After he had left Rabbah, Eleazar had run the first fifteen miles at a steady jog. His brain swirled with conflicting emotions. He thought of how he had been a soldier from his youth, and Israel had been constantly at war with her enemies, with only brief interludes of peace. He thought of his wife.
Finally, Naarah and I can be together, he thought. I can tend my olive trees and my vineyard and my sons and not have to worry about when the next call will come, to take up the sword.
Try as he might, Eleazar’s thoughts kept returning to the death of Uriah. We all know and accept that each battle may be our last, but today, almost certainly, Uriah was deliberately placed in the front line of battle and left without support. Can God’s anointed one do what I’m certain David has done? he thought. Laying his head on a flat stone, Eleazar fell into an exhausted sleep. Then the dreams came, as they often did after battle.
In his dream, he saw Uriah contending at the gate, as he had that day. Only in the dream, there were no Ammonites, but a crowd of giants, arrayed in Philistine battle dress. Eleazar tried to rise and run to Uriah’s aid, but could not and looking down, saw that he was bound hand and foot. The giants pressed the Hittite backward, but he fought valiantly, till he stumbled and fell. Then they were on him, hacking at him with their great swords in a fearful slaughter. Eleazar tried to scream at them to stop, but could not call out. At last, they turned and took notice of him, turned and advanced inexorably toward him as he strained to free himself. When he looked up at them again, there were not giants there, but warriors, with stumps of legs or arms, or with smashed faces, or crushed skulls; men Eleazar had slain in battle, coming to exact their revenge; closer, and closer, and closer.
Eleazar started from the sweat-soaked dream. He shivered, in spite of himself, as the images of horror replayed themselves in his mind.
“You suffer from evil dreams, my son.”
Looking around, he saw an old, but richly dressed man squatted on the opposite side of his dying campfire. The ancient one was gazing at Eleazar in contemplative fashion.
“Did you speak to me?”
“I said, ‘you suffer from evil dreams.’”
“I sometimes do on the evening after a battle. Many soldiers do, I am told.”
“Ah, you are one King David’s men, then. How goes the siege at Rabbah?”
“Poorly.” Eleazar felt no desire to discuss the day’s events with this ancient, nor did he see the need to inform the stranger that he no longer carried a sword for David. Come to think of it, he reflected, his sword was still sticking in the ground in Joab’s tent. He smiled at the thought.
“Yet you smile, things must not be as bad as you say.”
“I smile because I am going home to my wife. Who are you, old man? And why do you roam the high pasturelands of Gilead at night? You’re not dressed as a shepherd.”
“Can only warriors and shepherds roam at will throughout Israel? Surely, the children of Israel ceased to be slaves when God brought them up out of Egypt.”
“Our people have been slaves in this land, as well,” Eleazar replied. “A man of your years must remember the days of Saul, when the Philistines had forbidden to us the very weapons of resistance. Perhaps it is well that warriors such as I roam the land so that ancient ones such as you may remain safely in their houses at night.” This response brought a smile to the face of the stranger. He studied Eleazar in silence before he spoke again.
“It is well, indeed, that God has raised up men like yourself, to do battle with Israel’s enemies. Yet you have troubling dreams, and always after the slaughter of battle, you say.”
Eleazar nodded acknowledgement. He was loath to discuss his dreams or their possible implications with this stranger, but something about the old man’s demeanor invited intimacy, and drew Eleazar to express his innermost thoughts.
“I am counted a great warrior by my people,“ he said without pride, “and it is true, many have fallen by my sword. It seems strange, however, that an accident of birth has made me an Israelite and my enemy a Philistine, or Jebusite or an Ammonite. What if the situation was reversed? Would I be a mighty warrior, still, in God’s eyes, though I were slaying his chosen people?”
“Eleazar, you have nothing but what has been given to you.” Eleazar was startled by the man’s use of his name, and opened his mouth to question this, but the old one continued, ignoring his reaction. “No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength, but the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear Him, on those whose hope is in His unfailing love.”
“I have heard David say these words.”
“The king is the LORD’s anointed, a man after God’s heart.”
“If you had seen what I’ve seen today, you wouldn’t be so quick to sing David’s praises,” Eleazar replied. Once again, the stranger was silent, regarding Eleazar as though pondering his fate. The warrior stirred uneasily under the gaze of this ancient one.
“Is not the king a man, even as you are a man? If you are troubled in your heart over those you have justly slain, in the service of your God and your king, how much more will God trouble the heart of the one who has shed blood unjustly? Do not judge another man’s servant, Eleazar.”
“You know my name, who are you?”
“Sleep now, my son. You have come far, but you have yet farther to go.”
Eleazar stared into the dying embers of his campfire. When he raised his eyes, the old one was gone. Looking around him, he slowly recognized the place in the light of the full moon. Long, long years ago, Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham had named this place Peniel: The Face of God. Feeling exhausted, nearly unto death, he laid his head upon the stone and sank into a deep, dreamless sleep.