The Balm of Gilead

The rook or castle, sits in the corner of the board at the start of the game. Materially equal to five pawns, the rook can move in a straight line in any direction on the board. It cannot move or capture in a diagonal direction.

The castling move is done to take the king to safety away from the centre of the chess battlefield. In this move, the king moves two steps (castle kingside) or three steps (castle queenside) while the rook moves to occupy the square just on the other side of the moved king.

Castling is the only move in chess where two pieces move at the same time and can only be done if none of the castling pieces has made a move before then. The move cannot be made if any of the two pieces or any square between the them is under attack.


Gilead was just like its settlers, high and mighty, self sufficient, spacious, aloof and reluctant to commit, and yet always in a close relationship with the kings of Israel. But having flirted with Jephthah, Saul, and Ishbosheth in the past, Gilead was not exactly in King David’s good books. In fact, right at this time they were harboring his latest rebellious son, Absalom, as he camped with the armies of Israel on the rolling plains between the hills and the Jordan.

But Barzillai was different. He knew on which side the majority stood and yet chose to align himself with his friend the rightful king. He had not always been like this. When he had stumbled on David on one of his reflective strolls by the Jordan, he was instantly dismissive of the ruddy handsome boy. He had a big mouth too, and was going on and on about a bear he had just killed.

David was obviously not from around there. His “sh” speech defect gave him away as a mainland dweller. But there was a charisma and eagerness about him. You were almost forced to push your chest forward to assert yourself lest you be run into the ground by the young man’s incessant boasting and wild tales.

David would speak in short bursts, pausing to peer deep into your soul to elicit a question or a challenge to his position, before interrupting you again in perfect anticipation of what you were about to say. It was as though he became friends with everyone within two minutes of meeting them. Barzillai had reluctantly followed David over the hill to see the carcass of the so called bear. It seemed recently dead all right, but the vultures and scavengers had erased any sign of the blow to the head David claimed he had delivered.

Barzillai did not believe the young man totally, but he had a way of making you follow him even if all you wanted was to be present when his “divine favour” ran out. They kept in touch after David became king, often exchanging gifts of honey and sheep skins, as if reminding themselves of the first meeting they’d had. This time they would be meeting halfway as friends again after such a long time.

Had Barzillai come to believe in the special call of God on David? Not fully. He’d killed Goliath and had resounding success over the enemies of Israel, but still, the young man had such an appetite for controversy and scandal it was hard to see why God would choose such a man. Lying came very easily to him. The sacrifices and religious feasts were optional in his mind. The protests of the priests fell on deaf ears and were all returned by his flashing smile. Luck, yes, but divine favour? One could not be sure that wasn’t just another invention of the smooth talker.

Still Barzillai was the friend of the king. He was bringing needed succor and supplies to the weary king of Israel, and this time he would serve as his informant also. The names of the enemy standard bearers, the leaders of hundreds and fifties, the likely position of Absalom the coup plotter and even the names of the accompanying priests were all at Barzillai’s fingertips. Perhaps he would humour the king and give him the pleasure of teasing them out but in the end he would tell everything he knew.

The rewards would be great as usual: land, a daughter of the king as wife for one of his many sons, maybe even a mention in the annals of the king. But none of them would be as rewarding as the royal smile that would greet him upon arrival.

No reward would be ever as valuable as the personal friendship of the king.


Just as lotions and fragrance give sensual delight,
a sweet friendship refreshes the soul.
(Prov. 27 vs. 9, The Message)


I love to learn. I love to teach. For me the two are the same.


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