David Bruce: George Peele’s DAVID AND BATHSHEBA, AND THE TRAGEDY OF ABSALOM: A Retelling — Scenes 2-3

— Scene 2 —

Joab, Abisai, and Uriah stood before the walls of the city of Rabbah, the capital city of Ammon. Others, including a drummer and an ensign who carried the army’s banner, were present.Joab, the commanding officer, was King David’s nephew. Abisai was Joab’s brother, and so he was another of King David’s nephews. Uriah was Bathsheba’s husband. Both Abisai and Uriah were elite soldiers.

Nahas, the King of Ammon, had helped David before David became King of Israel. When King Nahas died, King David sent some ambassadors to the late king’s son, Hanon, in Rabbah. King Hanon, however, was convinced that the ambassadors were spies, so he cut off half of each man’s clothing and half of each man’s beard and sent them thus disgraced back to King David.

King David sent Joab to lead the Israelite army against Ammon. The Israelites defeated the Ammonite army and their Syrian mercenaries. The following spring, the Israelite army, again led by Joab, returned and again defeated the Ammonite army. They then besieged Rabbah, the capital city of Ammon.

The above events are recounted in 2 Samuel 10.

Joab said, “Have courage, you mighty men of Israel, and discharge your fatal instruments of war upon the bosoms of proud Ammon’s sons, who have insulted your king’s ambassadors by cutting half of each man’s beard and half of each man’s garments off, to spite Israel and Israel’s daughters’ sons!

“You fight the holy battles of Jehovah, King David’s God, and ours, and Jacob’s God, Who guides your weapons to their conquering strokes, orders your footsteps, and directs your thoughts to stratagems that harbor victory.

“He casts his sacred eyesight from on high, and sees your foes run seeking their deaths.”

The enemy, of course, think that by running away they are seeking to save their lives, but God, Who is omniscient, knows that they will die.

Joab continued, “God laughs their labors and their hopes to save their lives to scorn, while between your bodies and their blunted, edgeless swords, he puts armor of his honor’s proven and tested value, and he makes their weapons wound the sense-less winds.”

The winds are without senses: They are unable to see, hear, smell, taste, or feel.

Abisai, an elite soldier, said, “Before this city of Rabbah we will lie, and shoot forth shafts as thick and dangerousas was the hail that Moses mixed with fire, and threw with fury round about the fields, devouring Pharaoh’s friends and Egypt’s fruits.”

The seventh plague of Egypt was a thunderstorm of hail and fire (lightning).

Uriah, another elite soldier, said, “First, mighty captains, Joab and Abisai, let us assault and scale this kingly tower, where all their conduits and their fountains are. Then we may easily take the city, too.”

The city of Rabbah had two parts: an upper part and a lower part. The lower part had a tower and contained the city’s water supply. Once the upper part ran out of water, it would fall.

Joab said, “Well has Uriah counseled our military efforts; and as he recommended us, we will assault the tower.Let Hanon now, the king of Ammon’s sons, repulse our conquering passage if he dare.”

King Hanon of Ammon appeared upon the walls of Rabbah with Machaas, who was the King of Gath.Some soldiers and attendants also appeared with them.

King Hanon said, “What would the shepherd’s dogs of Israel snatch from the mighty issue of King Ammon: the valiant Ammonites and the proud Syrians?”

His issue was his citizens, who were metaphorically his children.

The Syrians were allies of Ammon.

He continued, “Your recent successive victories cannot make us yield, and they cannot make our courage quail. If you dare attempt to scale this tower, our angry swords shall smite you to the ground, and avenge our losses on your hateful lives.”

Joab said, “Hanon, thy father Nahas gave relief to holy David in his luckless exile, lived his fixed period of life, and died in peace. But thou, instead of reaping his reward, have trodden it under foot, and scorned our king; therefore, thy days shall end with violence, and thy vital blood shall cleave to our swords.”

King Hanon’s ally, King Machaas of Gath, a Philistine city located approximately 30 miles southwest of Jerusalem, said, “Go away from here, thou who bear poor Israel’s shepherd’s hook, the proud lieutenant of that base-born king, and keep within the compass of his sheepfold.”

David had been a shepherd before becoming Kingof Israel.

King Machaas of Gathcontinued, “For, if you seek to feed on Ammon’s fruits, and stray into the Syrians’ fruitful meadows, the mastiffs of our land shall torment you, and pull the windpipes from your greedy throats.”

“Who can endure these pagans’ blasphemies?” Abisai said.

“My soul feels discontent at this disparagement,” Uriah said.

Joab said, “You valiant men of David’s army, attack and beat these insulting cowards from their doors.”

The Israelites attacked and seized the tower and the lower part of the city.

Joab said, “Thus have we won the tower, which we will keep, in spite of the sons of Ammon and of Syria.”

Cusay arrived outside the city and asked, “Where is Lord Joab, leader of the army?”

Joab said, “Here is Lord Joab, leader of the army. Cusay, come up, for we have won the stronghold.”

“In a happy hour, then, has Cusay come,” Cusay replied.

Cusay went up to Joab and the others in the conquered part of the city.

“What news, then, does Lord Cusay bring from the king?” Joab asked.

“His majesty commands thee immediately to send home Uriah from the wars, because of some service Uriah should do,” Cusay said.

Uriah said, “I hope that no anger has seized the king and made him suspect that I am disloyal.”

“No, it has not,” Cusay said. “Rather, he wants to show you favor on account of your loyalty to him.”

“Here, take him with thee, then, and go in peace,” Joab said. “And tell my lord the king that I have fought against the city of Rabbah with success, and scaled where the royal palace is, as well as the conduit-heads and all their sweetest springs. King David can come in person to these walls, with all the soldiers he can bring with him, and capture the city as his own exploit, lest I surprise it, and the people give the glory of the conquest to my name.”

Joab was generously telling Cusay that King David could come and capture the top part of Rabbah, thereby taking the credit for capturing the city.

“We will give him your message, Lord Joab,” Cusay said, “and may great Israel’s God bless in thy hands the battles of our king!”

“Farewell, Uriah,” Joab said. “Hurry to see the king.”

Uriah replied, “As surely as Joab breathes as a victor here, Uriah will hasten to see King David and then return.”

Cusay and Uriahexited.

“Let us descend from the walls we are on, and open the palace’s gate, taking our soldiers in to keep the stronghold,” Abisai said.

“Let us, Abisai,” Joab said.

He added, “And, you sons of Judah, be valiant, and maintain your victory.”

— Scene 3 —

Amnon, Jonadab, and Jethray stood together outside Amnon’s house in Jerusalem. Amnon’s page— a young servant — was also present.

Amnon was David’s oldest son: the son of David by Ahinoam. Jonadab was thenephew of David and son of his brother Shimeah; he was a friend as well as a first cousin to Amnon. Jethray was one ofAmnon’s servants.

Jonadab said to Amnon, “You wear upon your truly triumphant arm the power of Israel as a royal favor, and you hold upon the tables of your handsbanquets of honor and all thought’s contentment.”

Amnon was privileged. As a son of King David, he had much power and wealth. All his power and wealth was like a feast. He seemed to have everything needed to make him happy, yet he looked ill.

Jonadab then asked Amnon, “What means my lord, the king’s beloved son, to allow pale and grim abstinence to sit and feed upon his fainting cheeks, and suck away the blood that cheers his looks?”

Despite having a feast of power and wealth, Amnon looked as if he were wasting away.

Amnon replied, “Ah, Jonadab, it is my half-sister Thamar’s looks, on whose sweet beauty I bestow my blood, that make me look so amorously lean. Her beauty having seized upon my heart, so entirely consecrated — dedicated — to her contentment, sets now such a guard about his vital blood, and views the passage with such piercing eyes that no blood can escape to cheer my pining, wasting-away cheeks, but all is thought too little for her love.”

According to Amnon, he appeared bloodless because his lovesickness for his half-sister kept his blood from flowing freely.

Jonadab said, “Then from her heart thy looks shall be relieved,and thou shall enjoy her as thy soul desires.”

To “enjoy” a woman meant to have sex with her.

Amnon asked, “How can that be, my sweet friend Jonadab,since Thamar is a virgin and my half-sister?”

Thamar and Amnon shared the same father: King David.

Quickly coming up with a plan, Jonadab answered, “Do as I advise thee. Lie down upon thy bed and pretend that thou are fever-sick and ill at ease. When the king shall come to visit thee, request that thy half-sister Thamar may be sent to prepare some delicacies for thy malady. Then when thou have her solely with thyself, enforce some favor to thy manly love.”

Jonadab used a euphemism to say, “Rape her.”

He looked up and said, “See where she is coming here. Ask her to go inside with thee.”

Thamar entered the scene and asked, “What is ailing Amnon, causing such sickly looks to lessen the attractiveness of his lovely face?”

Amnon replied, “Sweet Thamar, I am sick, and I wish for some wholesome delicacies prepared with the skill of thy dainty hands.”

“The king has already commanded me to do that,” Thamar said. “So then come and rest thyself, while I prepare for yousome delicacies that will ease thy impaired soul.”

“I go with thee, sweet half-sister,” Amnon said. “Looking at thee eases my pain.”

Thamar, Amnon, Jethray, and the pageexited.

Staying behind, Jonadab said to himself, “Why should a prince, whose power may command others to serve him, obey the rebel passions of his love when they contend just against his conscience and may be governed or suppressed by will?”

According to Jonadab, Amnon ought to be able to control his passion for his half-sister. Amnon had the power to control other people, so why shouldn’t he be able to control himself?

Jonadabcontinued, “Now, Amnon, loose those loving knots of blood that sucked the courage from thy kingly heart and give it passage to thy withered cheeks.”

By raping his half-sister, Amnon would be able to satisfy his lustful passion and regain the bloom in his cheeks.

Jonadabcontinued, “Now, Thamar, ripened are the holy fruits that grew on the plants of thy virginity, and rotten is thy name in Israel.”

By losing her virginity without first being married, Thamar would lose her good reputation.

Jonadabcontinued, “Poor Thamar, little did thy lovely hands predict an action of such violence as to contend with Amnon’s lusty arms muscled with the vigor of his kind-less love.”

This sort of “love” was without kindness, and it was not the sort of love that a man ought to feel toward kin such as a half-sister.

Jonadabcontinued, “Fair Thamar, now dishonor hunts thy foot, and follows thee through every concealing shade, revealing thy shame and nakedness, even from the valleys of the land called Jehosaphat up to the lofty mountains of Lebanon, where cedars, stirred with the anger of the winds, sounding in storms the tale of thy disgrace, tremble with fury, and with murmur shake the earth with their feet and shake the heavens with their heads, beating the clouds into their swiftest movement, to bear this wonder round about the world.”

Now that Thamar had lost her virginity without first being married, dishonor would follow at her footsteps wherever she went, and even the wind would spread the news of her dishonor throughout the world.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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