The Rejoicing Woman of Gilgal
Updated: Apr 6, 2020
A short story devotional on the power of celebration
The conflict with the Philistines was fierce all of Saul's days, so whenever Saul noticed any strong or brave man, he enlisted him. - 1 Sam 14:52
Setting the Stage...
Background Reading: 1 Sam. 15-17
The people of Israel were accustomed to battle like one becomes accustomed to a persistent headache. Every border of their landlocked nation throbbed with the constant pressure of attacking forces, and each good report to the interior, like a beam of light piercing between the eyes, inevitably bore with it shooting pangs of loss.
The nation yearned for relief. The women, children, and elderly no longer measured time by days and weeks, but by the inches children had grown, by extra scars and scrapes on calloused, hard-working hands, and by the steady trickle of the aged exiting life without the chance to bid their sons or grandsons farewell.
On the fortunate occasions of a wedding or birth, they knew many years had passed, for seldom did a young man with any promise escape the eyes of the king’s recruits, and if he did, rarely would he endure the censure of homemaking while friends took up the sword.
In these days, the opposing forces of hope and fear were palpable, seeming to stretch time itself like a bowyer bending the wood for his bow perilously close to breaking point. The ache from the tension was dull and constant – livable – and were it not for the periodic pounding of messenger feet upon the dirt road to punctuate the monotony with the latest news, it would have been almost forgettable. Almost.
But the Israelites would not forget this day. This day brought a messenger. Anticipation swelled in the air, breeding insatiably upon the fears the last message had introduced. A little over a month earlier, a messenger had come with somber news, and his words had fallen upon the volatile emotions of the crowd like a lit match to oil.
“We are held at bay across a valley by a giant Philistine warrior- Goliath, they call him. They say the army doesn’t have to fight if we’ll only send one man out to confront him.
But we have no one who can match him in strength or size.
The point on his spear alone has to weigh 600 shekels!
We spend the morning enduring his threats and the rest of the day fighting and dying in vain, only to wake up once more to him taunting us as if we were little children.
If ten could advance him, we might be saved, but one? The troops are losing heart. The King has promised tax exemption and the hand of his eldest daughter to inspire a hero, but no one has come forward yet. No one Israelite can bring down this man. We do not stand a chance.”
With these fatal words, the stretched bow of time suddenly snapped as the power of fear overcame that of hope and brought the sharp awareness of reality back into the mundane.
The month that followed passed as if it were a year.
Every second a child asked a question his mother feared to answer.
Every minute a woman stopped her labor, exclaiming it was useless, and then out of desperation, took it up again.
Every hour a young wife hung her head, eyes heavy with tears falling for the fear of a future as a slave forced into an enemy bed.
Several women sent young ones to the camp to draw their fathers home. Elders told stories of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and victories in the Promise Land in an attempt to comfort, and some repeated the tales as if reciting empty words- hoping to hope. Others prayed to the God of Israel for a savior, but only few believed that their weary cries would indeed move the Almighty to action.
They met this messenger with even more anticipation than the first. As a cry rang throughout the town heralding his coming, anxious questions circulated rapidly in the growing murmur of the crowd. Older children ran with all speed to the front of the throng, weaving around the bystanders to see first-hand the vicious Philistine army they imagined was marching closely on the messenger’s heels.
Their mothers followed behind with as much haste as they could muster, their pained and nervous expressions causing the young ones riding upon their hips or pulling against their hands and skirts to scream and cry out. But this day the tired mothers did not expend the effort to quiet them, for they knew that even the little ones understood that this day would deliver a verdict to either shatter or restore the nation’s faith.
They braced themselves for the worst as the messenger appeared in the distance, running at top speed, waving his arms like a madman.
Gasps erupted involuntarily and an ominous moan gained in volume. Their quickening pulses, like war drums, began to beat as one. Those toward the front squinted into the horizon searching for enemy troops, but saw only the messenger, running as if flying, faster than it seemed any messenger had come before.
He was screaming a single word over and over, but they could not make it out.
An unearthly hush descended over the crowd as they strained their ears to hear. As the boy mounted the crest of the village hill, his countenance and speech cleared like the sky after rain. He was smiling with arms held high in the air, shouting “Victory!”
With rapt attention the crowd soaked in the messenger’s report about the shepherd- boy hero from Bethlehem, but before he could finish, the eager ones in the crowd dispersed, jaunting down the roads with cries of joy, ready to share the unexpected news with those who awaited them at home.
The news spread more rapidly than fire. Women brought out their dusty tambourines and suffered the children to bang on the pots and bowls. The old who were able danced in the street and those who weren’t kissed everything alive that passed. This day they would sing. This day they would celebrate. This day they would not forget.
(On Original Last Nights...DVD - watch Chapter C)
Questions for Discussion and Thought
What did the men’s return after years of war mean to the women of Israel?
What victories has God helped you win in your life (health, character, conquering sin, increasing in faith, etc...)?
Do you take time to rejoice over and share those victories?
The Old Covenant requires the Israelites to celebrate festivals to the LORD multiple times a year (Ex. 12, Lev. 23, Deut. 16...); Paul charges the Philippians to “Rejoice in the LORD always (4:4);” and the Psalms repeatedly urge all those who fear God to praise him and celebrate before him:
Let Israel celebrate its Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.
Let them praise His name with dancing and make music to Him with tambourine and lyre.