David Bruce: George Peele’s DAVID AND BATHSHEBA, AND THE TRAGEDY OF ABSALOM: A Retelling — Scenes 6-8

— Scene 6 —

In the Royal Palace at Jerusalem, Bathsheba sat with her handmaid.

She said to herself, “Mourn, Bathsheba, bewail thy foolishness, thy sin, thy shame, the sorrow of thy soul. Sin, shame, and sorrow swarm about thy soul. And, in the gates and entrance of my heart, sadness, whose arms are most often wrapped around herself, hangs her lamentations. No comfort comes from the ten-stringed lyre, the twinkling cymbal, or the ivory lute, nor does the sound of David’s kingly harp make glad the broken heart of Bathsheba.

“Jerusalem is filled with thy lamentations, and in the streets of Zion sits thy grief.

“The babe is sick, sick to the death, I fear, the fruit that sprung from thee to David’s house; nor may the pot of honey and of oil gladden David or his handmaid’s countenance.”

By “handmaid,” Bathsheba meant herself.

Deuteronomy 8:8 calls Israel “a land wherein is oil olive and honey” (1568 Bishop’s Bible).

2 Kings 18:32 calls Israel “a land of oil, of olive trees, and of honey” (1568 Bishop’s Bible).

Bathsheba continued, “Uriah — it causes me grief to think about him! For who among the sons of men does not say to my soul, ‘The king has sinned, David has done amiss, and Bathsheba has laid snares of death to take Uriah’s life’?

“My sweet Uriah, thou have fallen into the pit and gone even to the gates of Hell on account of Bathsheba, who would not shroud and conceal her shame.

“Oh, what is it to serve the lust of kings! How lion-like they rage when we resist!

“But, Bathsheba, in humbleness attend the grace that God will send to his handmaid.”

— Scene 7 —

King David, wearing loosely fitting clothing, walked sadly in a room in the palace at Jerusalem. Some attendants were present.

He said to himself, “The babe is sick, and sad is David’s heart to see the guiltless bear the guilty’s pain.

“David, hang up thy harp, hang down thy head, and dash thy ivory lute against the stones. The dew that falls on the hill of Hermon does not rain on Zion’s tops and lofty towers. The plains of the Philistine cities Gath and Askaron rejoice, and David’s thoughts are spent in pensiveness.”

The Philistines were enemies of King David and Israel.

King David continued, “The babe is sick, sweet babe, whom Bathsheba with the woman’s pain of childbirth brought forth to Israel.”

The prophet Nathan entered the room.

King David asked, “But what has Nathan to say to his lord the king?”

The prophet replied, “Thus Nathan says to his lord the king: There were two men who were both dwellers in one town. The one was mighty, and exceedingly rich in oxen, sheep, and cattle of the field. The other was poor, having neither ox, nor calf, nor other animals, except for one little lamb that he had bought and nourished by hand. And it grew up, and fed with him and his family, and ate and drank as he and his family were accustomed to eat and drink, and in his bosom slept, and was to him as was his daughter or his dearest child. There came a stranger to this wealthy man, and the wealthy man refused to take one of his own animals or some of the abundance from his own storehouse to prepare and make the stranger food, but he took the poor man’s sheep, which was a large part of the poor man’s possessions, and prepared it for this stranger in his house.

“Tell me, what shall be done to the wealthy man for doing this?”

King David replied, “Now, as the Lord does live, this wicked man is judged and shall become the child of death. The wealthy man who without mercy took the poor man’s lamb away shall restore fourfold to the poor man.”

King David did not realize this, but Nathan the prophet had told a parable in which the wealthy man was King David, the poor man was Uriah, and the lamb was Bathsheba.

Nathan said to King David, “Thou are the man; and thou have judged thyself. David, thus says the Lord thy God by me:

I anointed thee king in Israel, and saved thee from the tyranny of Saul. Thy master’s house — his palace and kingdom — I gave thee to possess. His wives into thy bosom I did give to you, and Judah and Jerusalem I also did give to you. And, thou know, if this had been too little to give to you, I mighthave given thee more. Why, then, have thou gone so far astray, and have done evil, and sinned in my sight? Thou have killed Uriah with the sword. Yes, with the sword of the uncircumcised thou have slain him. For that reason, from this day forth, the sword shall never go from thee and thine, for thou have taken this Hittite’s wife to thee. For this reason, behold, I will, says Jacob’s God, in thine own house stir evil up to thee. Yes, I before thy face will take thy wives, and give them to thy neighbor to possess. This shall be done to David in the light of day, so that Israel openly may see thy shame.”

King David said, “Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord, I have. Oh, I have sinned grievously! And, lo, from Heaven’s throne David does throw himself and groan and grovel to the gates of Hell!”

He fell down.

Raising him, Nathan the prophet said, “David, stand up. Thus says the Lord by me: David the king shall live, for he has seen the true repentant sorrow of thy heart.

But, because thou have in this misdeed of thine stirred up the enemies of Israel to triumph, and to blaspheme the God of Hosts, and say that he set a wicked man to reign over his loved people and his tribes — the child shall surely die, that earlier was born, his mother’s sin, his kingly father’s disgrace.”

Nathan the prophet exited.

King David said to himself, “How just is Jacob’s God in all his works! But must the babe die that David loves so?

“Oh, the Mighty One of Israel will not change His judgment, and says the babe must die!

“Mourn, Israel, and weep in the gates of Zion. Wither, you cedar-trees of Lebanon; you sprouting almonds, with your flowering tops, droop, drown, and drench in Hebron’s fearful streams.”

The word “drench” meant to sink in water.

King David continued, “The babe must die who was to David born, his mother’s sin, his kingly father’s disgrace.”

He sadly sat down.

Cusay entered the room.

The first servant asked Cusay, “What tidings does Cusay bring to the king?”

Cusay said, “To thee, the servant of King David’s court, this is the news that Cusay brings. Just as the prophet prophesized, the Lord has surely stricken to the death the newborn child given birth to by the wife of Uriah, who by the sons of Ammon was earlier slain.”

“Cusay, be quiet,” the first servant said. “The king is sorely vexed. How shall the person who first brings this news fare, when, while the child was yet alive, we spoke, and David’s heart would not be comforted?”

Overhearing these last few words, King David said, “Yes, David’s heart will not be comforted! What are you murmuring, you servants of the king? What news does Cusay have to tell to the king? Tell me, Cusay, is the child still living, or is he dead?”

Cusay answered, “The child is dead whom David fathered with Uriah’s wife.”

“Uriah’s wife, say thou?” King David said.

He paused and then said, “The child is dead, so then David’s shame ceases.”

King David would never have to look at the child as the child grew, and so he therefore would no longer be reminded of his sin and shame were he to look at the child.

King David then said, “Fetch me food to eat, and give me wine to drink, water to wash, and oil to rub on my skin to clear my looks.

“Bring down your shalms, your cymbals, and your pipes.”

All of these items were musical instruments.

He continued, “Let David’s harp and lute, his hand and voice, give praise to Him who loves Israel, and sing the praise of Him who defended David’s reputation, who put away his sin from out of his sight,and sent his shame into the streets of Gath.”

Gath was the home of some of his and Israel’s enemies; they would rejoice when hearing of King David’s shame.

King David continued, “Bring to me the mother of the babe, so that I may wipe the tears from off her face, and give her comfort with this hand of mine, and dress fair Bathsheba in beautiful clothing, so that she may bear to me another son who may be loved by the Lord of Hosts.

“For where my dead son is, David must necessarily go, but never may my dead son come where David is now.”

Some attendants brought in water, wine, and olive oil. They also brought in musical instruments and a banquet of food.

Bathsheba entered the room.

King David said to her, “Fair Bathsheba, sit thou, and sigh no more.”

He ordered the servants, “Sing and play, you servants of the king. Now David’s sorrow sleeps with the dead, and Bathsheba lives to Israel.”

They ate, drank, and sang.

King David said, “Now prepare at once weapons and warlike engines for assault, you men of Israel, youmen of Judah and Jerusalem, so that Rabbah may be taken by the king, lest it be called after Joab’s name and David’s glory will not shine in the streets of Zion.

“To Rabbah King David marches with his men, in order to chastise Ammon and the wicked ones.”

— Scene 8 —

The sheep-feast was occurring. Amnon was present at the sheep-feast, and he was the master of the feast, but Absalom and many men who obeyed his orders were also present at the sheep-feast.

Absalom had wanted Amnon to attend his sheep-feast, but instead he was attending Amnon’s sheep-feast.

Or perhaps this was Absalom’s sheep-feast, and he was honoring Amnon by making him the master of the feast.

Either way, Absalom had a malicious purpose hidden in his heart.

Absalom and several of his men stood together in a field.

Absalom said to them, “Set up your mules and give them good provender to eat, and let us meet our brothers at the feast.

“Accursed is the master of this feast. He is the dishonor of the house of Israel, he is the cause of his half-sister’s loss of reputation, and he is his mother’s shame.

“Shame be the share of him who could such ill contrive, to rape Thamar, and, without a pause, to drive her shamefully out of his house.

“But may his wickedness find just reward! Therefore, Absalom conspires with you to bring it about that Amnon dies at whatever time he sits to eat, for in the holy temple I have sworn to get revenge for his villainy in Thamar’s rape.”

Seeing Amnon and some others coming toward them, he said, “And here he comes. All of you, speak gently to him, this man whose death is deeply engraved in my heart.

Amnon, Adonia, and Jonadab came over to Absalom and his followers. Amnon and Adonia were two of King David’s sons. Jonadab was King David’s nephew and a close friend to Amnon.

Amnon said, “Our shearers are not far from here, I know, and Amnon to you, all his brethren,gives such welcome as our fathers formerly were accustomed to give in Judah and Jerusalem.”

He then said, “But, especially, Lord Absalom, Amnon gives welcome to thee, the honor of thy house and progeny. Sit down and dine with me, King David’s son, thou fair young man, whose hairs shine in my eye like the golden wires of David’s ivory lute.”

Absalom asked, “Amnon, where are thy shearers and thy men, so that we may pour in us plenty of thy wines, and eat thy goats’-milk, and rejoice with thee?”

Amnon replied, “Here come Amnon’s shearers and his men. Absalom, sit and rejoice with me.”

A company of shepherds arrived and danced and sang.

Amnon said, “Drink, Absalom, in praise of Israel. Welcome to Amnon’s fields from David’s court.”

Stabbing Amnon as he drank, Absalom said, “Die with thy draught; perish, and die accursed, you dishonor to the honor of us all. Die for the villainy you did to Thamar. You are unworthy to be King David’s son!”

With Amnon dead, Absalom exited with his followers.

Jonadab, Amnon’s good friend, said, “Oh, what has Absalom done for Thamar? He has murdered his half-brother, great King David’s son!”

Adonia said, “Run away, Jonadab, and make it known what cruelty this Absalom has shown to Amnon.”

He then said to Amnon’s corpse, “Amnon, thy brother Adonia shall bury thy body among other dead men’s bones, and we will grieve as we tell Israel about Amnon’s death and Absalom’s pride.”

Absalom was proud because he had punished Amnon instead of allowing King David to do it, as King David had wanted.

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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