David Bruce: George Peele’s DAVID AND BATHSHEBA, AND THE TRAGEDY OF ABSALOM: A Retelling — Scene 9

— Scene 9 —

Outside the walls of Rabbah, the capital city of the Ammonites, stood King David, Joab, Abisai, Cusay, and others, including a drummer and an ensign carrying the army’s banner.

King David said, “This is Rabbah, the town of the uncircumcised, the city of the kingdom, where wicked Hanon sits as king. Rob this king, this Hanon of his crown. Unpeople Rabbah and the streets thereof. Kill everyone, for in their blood and the slaughter of the slain lies the honor of King David’s line. Joab, Abisai, and the rest of you, fight this day for great Jerusalem.”

The Ammonite King Hanon and others appeared on the walls of Rabbah.

Joab said, “See where Hanon shows himself on the walls. Why, then, do we refrain from assaulting the city so that Israel may, as it is promised, subdue the daughters of the Gentiles’ tribes? All this must be performed by David’s hand.”

King David said, “Listen to me, Hanon, and remember well. As surely as He does live who kept my army safe, at that time our young men, by the pool of Gibeon, went forth against the strength of Isboseth,and twelve to twelve did with their weapons play, so surely are thou and thy men of war to feel the sword of Israel this day, because thou have defied Jacob’s God, and allowed Rabbah with the Philistine allies to rail upon and insult the tribe of Benjamin.”

After King Saul of Israel died, Isboseth — his son — and David contended for the throne of Israel. They met by the city of Gibeon and agreed that twenty-four men — twelve men from each side — would fight to decide who would become King of Israel. All twenty-four warriors were killed, and then the two sides engaged in a full-out battle, with David’s army earning the victory.

King Hanon replied, “Listen, man. As surely as Saul thy master fell, and gored his sides upon the mountain-tops, and Jonathan, Abinadab, and Melchisua, watered the dales and deeps of Askaron with bloody streams that from Gilboa ran in channels through the wilderness of Ziph, at that time the sword of the uncircumcised was drunken with the blood of Israel, so surely shall David perish with his men under the walls of Rabbah, Hanon’s town.”

The Philistines had defeated the Israelites at Mount Gilboa. Seeing that the Israelites were losing the battle, Saul committed suicide by falling on his sword.

Joab said, “Hanon, the God of Israel has said, David the king shall wear that crown of thine that weighs a talent of the finest gold, and triumph in the spoil of Hanon’s town, when Israel shall hale thy people hence, and turn them to the tile-kiln, man and child, and put them under harrows made of iron, and hew their bones with axes, and their limbs with iron swords divide and tear in twain.”

King David had ordered the Israelites to kill all the citizens of Rabbah following the forthcoming victory. Some would be baked in ovens for baking tiles. Some would have their flesh torn from their bodies by having harrows dragged over them. Some would be cut to pieces with swords.

2 Samuel 12:30-31 (1568 Bishop’s Bible) described what happened after King David was victorious:

30 And he took their king’s crown from off his head (which weighed a talent of gold, and in it were precious stones) and it was set on David’s head, and he brought away the people of the city, in exceeding great abundance.

31 And he carried away the people that was therein, and put them under saws and under iron harrows, and under axes of iron, and thrust them into the tile-kiln: thus did he with all the cities of the children of Ammon. And so David and all the people returned to Jerusalem.

By “put them under saws” is meant “sawed them to death.”

1 Chronicles 20:3 states, “And he brought out the people that were in it, and tormented them with saws and harrows of iron, and with other sharp instruments, and so dealt David with all the cities of the children of Ammon: And David and all the people came again to Jerusalem” (1568 Bishop’s Bible).

 (Many translations of the Bible say that King David set the conquered people to work with these implements and to work in the tile-kiln.)

Joab said, “Hanon, this shall be done to thee and thine because thou have defied Israel.”

He then ordered his troops, “To arms, to arms, so that Rabbah feels revenge, and Hanon’s town becomes King David’s spoil!”

They fought the battle, and the Israelite army was victorious. Hanon was killed in the battle.

Wearing the late King Hanon’s crown, King David met with Joab, Abisai, Cusay, and other Israelites.

King David said, “Now clattering arms and wrathful storms of war have thundered over Rabbah’s razed, pulled-down towers. The avenging ire of great Jehovah’s arm made the gates of Rabbah to open for His people, and clothed the cherubim in fiery coats to fight against the wicked Hanon’s town.

“Pay thanks, you men of Judah, to the King, the God of Zion and Jerusalem, Who has exalted and raised Israel to this, and crowned David with this diadem.”

Joab said, “As beauteous and bright is he among the tribes as when the sun, attired in his shiny, glittering robe, comes dancing from his oriental, eastern gate and hurls like a bridegroom his radiant beams through the gloomy air. Like such does King David appear, crowned with the honor of his enemies’ town, shining in riches like the firmament, the starry vault that overhangs the earth — so appears David, King of Israel.”

Abisai said, “Joab, why doesn’t David mount his throne, David, whom Heaven has beautified with Hanon’s crown? Sound trumpets, shalms, and instruments of praise, to Jacob’s God for David’s victory.”

The musical instruments sounded.

Having traveled from the place of Amnon’s murder, Jonadab entered the scene.

Jonadab said, “Why does the King of Israel rejoice? Why sits David crowned with Rabbah’s rule? Behold, there has great sorrow befallen in Amnon’s fields because of the evil deed of Absalom. Absalom has overturned with his swordAmnon’s shearers and their feast of mirth, nor do any of King David’s sons live to bring these bitter tidings to the king.”

Jonadab was incorrect when he said that none of King David’s sons were alive to carry the news to him. Absalom had killed only Amnon. Jonadab may have been afraid that after he left, Absalom had returned and had killed David’s son Adonia and David’s other sons.

King David said, “Evil hurts me! How soon are David’s triumphs dashed, how suddenly declines David’s pride! As the daylight sets and diminishes in the west, so dims David’s glory and his magnificence. Die, David, for to thee is left no seed who may revive thy name in Israel.”

Without sons to succeed him as King of Israel, his name could be lost to memory and history.

Seeing Adonia and some of King David’s other sons coming toward them, Jonadab said: “In Israel some of David’s seed is left.”

Perhaps Amnon had been killed in Judah, and perhaps Jonadab had earlier meant that none of David’s sons in Judah were still alive.

Jonadab said to the people around King David, “Comfort your lord, you servants of the king.”

He then said to King David, “Behold, thy sons return in mourning clothing, and Absalom has slain only Amnon.”

Adonia and some other sons of King David entered the scene.

King David said, “Welcome, my sons. You are dearer to me than is this golden crown or Hanon’s spoil.

“Oh, tell me, then, tell me, my sons, I say, how came it to pass that Absalom hasslain his brother Amnon with the sword?”

Adonia replied, “Oh, king, thy sons went up to Amnon’s fields to feast with him and eat his bread and oil, and Absalom upon his mule came, and to his men he said, ‘When Amnon’s heart is merry and secure, then strike him dead because he raped Thamar shamefully, and hated her, and threw her out of his doors.’ This he did, and they with him conspired and killed thy son Absalom to get revenge for the wrong done to Thamar.”

King David asked, “How long shall Judah and Jerusalem grieveand water Zion with their tears! How long shall Israel lament in vain, and not a man among the mighty ones will hear the sorrows of King David’s heart!

“Amnon, thy life was as pleasing to thy lord as to my ears is the music of my lute, or songs that David tunes to his harp, and Absalom has taken away from me the gladness of my sad distressed soul.”

Joab and some others exited.

Following the murder of Amnon, Absalom went into exile and stayed with his grandfather Talmai, the king of Geshur.

A woman from the town of Thecoa, which was about ten miles from Jerusalem, arrived and stood before King David.

The woman of Thecoa knelt and said, “God save King David, King of Israel, and bless the gates of Zion for his sake!”

King David said to her, “Woman, why do thou mourn? Rise up from the earth. Tell me what sorrow has befallen thy soul.”

The woman of Thecoa rose and said, “Oh, king, thy servant’s soul is sorely troubled, and grievous is the anguish of her heart. From Thecoa has thy handmaid — thy servant — come.”

King David said, “Tell me, thou woman of Thecoa, what ails thee and what has happened.”

The woman of Thecoa replied, “Thy servant is a widow in Thecoa. Two sons thy handmaid had, and they, my lord, fought in the field, and no man went between them to stop the fight, and so the one did smite and slay the other.

“And then the relatives of my sons arose and cried against the one who smote his brother, wanting him therefore to be the child of death and saying, ‘For we will follow and destroy the heir.’”

In other words, the relatives wanted to kill the living son to avenge the killing of the other son.

She continued, “So they will quench that sparkle that is left, and leave neither name nor children on the earth to me or to thy handmaid’s dead husband.”

King David said, “Woman, return; go home to thy house. I will give the command that thy son shall be safe. If any man say that thy son shall be otherwise than well, bring him to me, and I shall chastise him, for I swear that as the Lord does live, not a hair shallshed from thy son or fall upon the earth. Woman, to God alone belongs revenge. Shall, then, the relatives slay thy living son for his sin?”

King David did not realize this, but the woman of Thecoa had told a parable in which the two sons were Absalom and Amnon, and the relatives included King David.

The woman of Thecoa said, “King David has spoken well to his handmaid. But why, then, have thou determined so hard a part against the righteous tribes, to follow and pursue the banished, when to God alone belongs revenge? Assuredly thou have spoken against thyself. Therefore, call home again the banished. Call home the banished so that he may live, and raise to thee some fruit in Israel.”

She was asking that Absalom be allowed to return to Israel and father some children.

An intelligent man, King David said, “Thou woman of Thecoa, answer me one thing I shall ask of thee: Isn’t the hand of Joab in this action? Tell me, isn’t his finger in this deed?”

The woman of Thecoa replied, “It is, my lord; his hand is in this deed. Assure thyself that Joab, captain of thy army, has put these words into thy handmaid’s mouth, and thou are as an angel from on high to understand the meaning of my heart.

“Look, Joab is coming to his lord the king.”

Joab wanted to reconcile King David and his son Absalom. As a military man, Joab knew that if the two men remained unreconciled, Absalom could decide to raise an army, oust David, and become King of Israel. Chances of that happening were much less if the two men were reconciled, although it could still happen if Absalom were ambitious.

Joab entered the scene.

King David said, “Tell me, Joab, did thou send this woman in totell me this parable in behalf of Absalom?”

Referring to himself in the third person, Joab said, “My lord, Joab did ask this woman to speak. Andshe has spoken, and thou have understood.”

King David replied, “I have, and I am content to do the thing you want me to do. Go and fetch my son, so that he may live with me.”

Joab knelt and said, “Now God be blessed for King David’s life! Thy servant Joab has found grace with thee, in that thou are sparing Absalom, thy child.”

He stood up and said about Absalom, “He is a beautiful and fair young man. In all his body no blemish is seen. His hair that twines about his bright and ivory-white neck is like the wires of David’s harp. In Israel there is not such a splendid man, and here I bring him to entreat you for grace.”

Joab brought in Absalom to see King David.

King David started to upbraid Absalom for murdering Amnon: “Did thou slain Amnon in the fields of Hazor —”

But then he stopped and rejoiced that Absalom had returned to Israel: “— ah, Absalom, my son. Ah, my son, Absalom!

“But why do I vex thy spirit so? Live, and return from Gesur to thy house. Return from Gesur to Jerusalem. What good does it do for me to be bitter to thy soul? Amnon is dead, and Absalom survives.”

Absalom said, “Father, I have offended Israel, and I have offended David and his house. To avenge the wrong done to Thamar, Absalom has done wrong.

“But David’s heart is free from sharp revenge, and Joab has gotten grace for Absalom.”

King David said, “Depart with me, you men of Israel, you who have followed Rabbah with the sword, and ransack Ammon’s richest treasuries.”

He then said, “Live, Absalom, my son, live once more in peace. Peace be with thee, and with Jerusalem!”

Everyone except Absalom exited.

Absalom said to himself, “David is gone, and Absalom remains, flowering in the pleasant springtime of his youth.”

But he was ambitious, and his ambition was unfulfilled.

He said, “Why does Absalom live without being honored by the tribes and elders and the mightiest ones, so that round about his temples he may wear garlands and wreaths set on him with respect so that everyone who has a cause to plead might come to Absalom and call for right?

“Then in the gates of Zion I would sit, and publish laws in great Jerusalem, and not a man would live in all the land unless Absalom would do him reason’s due.

“Therefore I shall address me, as I may, to love the men and tribes of Israel.”

Absalom was thinking ahead. He would become a judge and resolve disputes. By settling disputes in favor of the northern tribes, he would become influential among them, and when he wanted them to, they would follow him.

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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