David Bruce: George Peele’s DAVID AND BATHSHEBA, AND THE TRAGEDY OF ABSALOM: A Retelling — Scene 10

— Scene 10 —

King David, Ithay, Sadoc, Ahimaas, Jonathan, and others met on the Mount of Olives.

Ithay, a military captain from Gath, commanded 600 soldiers. Although Gath was a Philistine city, when David was a young man, Ithay’s father, the King of Gath, had been kind to him.

Sadoc was a high priest, and Ahimaas was his son. Abiathar was a priest, and Jonathan was his son.

King David was barefoot, with some loose covering over his head, and all of them were mourning.

Absalom had raised an army and was rebelling against his father. King David had fled Jerusalem with some followers, and he and they were mourning on the Mount of Olives east of Jerusalem.

King David said, “Proud lust, the bloodiest traitor to our souls, whose greedy throat not earth, not air, not sea, and not Heaven can glut or satisfy with any abundance, thou are the causes for these torments that suck my blood, piercing with the venom of thy poisoned eyes the strength and marrow of my tainted bones.”

The lust could be King David’s sexual lust for Bathsheba, or Absalom’s lust for power, or both.

King David then described God’s parting of the Red Sea to save the Jews and to punish the Jews’ enemies:“To punish Pharaoh and his cursed army, the waters shrunk at great Adonai’s voice, and the sandy bottom of the sea appeared, offering his service at his servant’s feet.”

He continued, “And, to inflict a plague on David’s sin, He makes his bowels traitors to his breast, winding about his heart with deadly grip.

“Ah, Absalom, the wrath of Heaven inflames thy scorched bosom with ambitious heat, and Satan sets thee on a tower of lust, showing thy thoughts the pride of Israel, of choice to cast thee on her ruthless stones!”

Satan was tempting Absalom with power over Israel, but he was tempting Absalom only so that he could destroy Absalom.

King David continued, “Weep with me, then, ye sons of Israel. Lie down with David, and with David mourn before the Holy One Who sees our hearts.”

King David lay down on the ground, as did all the others with him.

He continued, “And fill the face of every flower with the dew of your tears. Season this heavy soil with showers of tears. Weep, Israel, for David’s soul dissolves into tears, filling the fountains of his drowned eyes and pours her tears on the unfeeling earth.”

Sadoc, high priest of the Israelites, said, “Weep, Israel. Oh, weep for David’s soul, strewing the ground with hair and torn garments to serve as the tragic witness of your hearty woes!”

While mourning, ancient people would sometimes cut off some of their hair. They would also tear their clothing.

Ahimaas, Sadoc’s son, said, “Oh, I wish our eyes were conduits to our hearts, and I wish that our hearts were seas of liquid blood, to pour in streams upon this holy mountain, to serve as witness that we would die for David’s woes!”

Jonathan, the son of the priest Abiathar, said, “Then this Mount of Olives would seem to be a plain drowned with a sea, which with our sighs should roar, and, in the murmur of its mounting waves, would report our bleeding sorrows to the heavens as witness we would die for David’s woes.”

Ithay, a military captain from Gath, said, “Earth cannot weep enough for David’s woes. Then weep, you heavens, and, all you clouds, dissolve into drops of tears, so that piteous stars may see our miseries, and drop their golden tears upon the ground to serve as witness how they weep for David’s woes.”

Sadoc the high priest said, “Now let my sovereign raise his prostrate bones, and mourn not as a faithless man would do, but let him be assured that Jacob’s righteous God, Who promised never to forsake your throne, will still be just and pure in his vows.”

King David said, “Sadoc, high priest, preserver of the Ark of the Covenant, whose sacred virtue keeps the chosen crown, I know my God is spotless in His vows, and that these hairs shall greet my grave in peace.

“But that my son would wrong his tendered soul, and fight against his father’s happiness,turns all my hopes into despair of him, and that despair feeds all my veins with grief.”

Ithay, the military captain from Gath, said, “Think of it, David, as a fatal plague that grief preserves, but does not prevent, and turn thy drooping eyes upon the troops that, because of their affection for thy worthiness, swarm about the person of the king. Cherish their valor and their zealous love with pleasant looks and sweet encouragements.”

King David said, “I think the voice of Ithay fills my ears.”

Ithay replied, “Don’t let the voice of Ithay be hateful to thine ears. Ithay’s heart would soothe thy bosom with his tears.”

King David asked why Ithay and his soldiers were loyal to him: “But why do thou go to the wars with us? Thou are a stranger here in Israel, and thou are a son of Achis, the mighty King of Gath. Therefore return to Gath, and stay with thy father. Thou came to me only yesterday. Should I now let thee partake in these troubles here with us? Keep both thyself and all thy soldiers safe. Let me abide the hazards of these battles, and may God requite the friendship thou have shown to me.”

Ithay replied, “As surely as Israel’s God gives David life, whatever place or peril shall contain or threaten David the king, the same will Ithay share in life and death. I will go wherever you will go, and I will share whatever danger you face.”

King David said, “Then, gentle Ithay, be thou still with us, a joy to David, and a grace to Israel.”

He then spoke to Sadoc, who had taken the Ark of the Covenant with him when fleeing from Jerusalem:

“Go, Sadoc, now, and bear the Ark of God into great Jerusalem again. If I find favor in God’s gracious eyes, then He will lay his hand upon my heart yet once again before I visit death, giving it strength, and giving virtue to my eyes, to taste the comforts and behold the form of his fair Ark of the Covenant and holy tabernacle.

“But if he should say, My wonted love is worn, and I have no delight in David now, then here lie I armed with a humble hearttoembrace the pains that anger shall impose, and kiss the sword my lord shall kill me with.

“Sadoc, take thy son Ahimaas, and Jonathan the son of Abiathar, with you when you return to Jerusalem, and in these fields I will rest until they return from you some certain news.”

Sadoc, Ahimaas, and Jonathan would serve as spies for King David in Jerusalem.

Sadoc replied, “Thy servants will with joy obey the king and hope to cheer his heart with happy news.”

Sadoc, Ahimaas, and Jonathanexited.

Ithay said to King David, “Now that it shall be no grief to the king, let me for good inform his majesty that, with unkind-to-kindred and graceless Absalom, Achitophel your ancient counselor directs the state of this rebellion.”

Achitophel, one of King David’s counselors, had gone over to the side of Absalom and was advising him.

King David said, “Then does it — Achitophel’s advice — aim with danger at my crown.”

He knelt and prayed, “Oh, Thou, Who holds His raging bloody boundary within the circle of the silver moon, Who girds Earth’s center with His watery scarf, limit the counsel of Achitophel, no bounds extending to my soul’s distress, but turn his wisdom into foolishness!”

God’s raging bloody boundary was the circle of the silver moon, which meant that God’s raging bloody territory included the entire Earth. God’s watery scarf was the ocean, which wrapped around the Earth like a scarf.

King David was praying that God would limit Achitophel’s counsel, which should be wise, so that it would not hurt King David. He wanted Achitophel’s counsel to be that of a foolish, not a wise, man.

Cusay entered the scene. His coat was torn, and his head was covered with dust.

In ancient times, grieving people sometimes poured dust on their head.

Cusay said, “Happiness and honor to my lord the king!”

King David replied, “What happiness or honor may betide the state of him who toils in my dangers and extreme circumstances?”

Cusay replied, “Oh, let my gracious sovereign cease these griefs, unless he wishes his servant Cusay to die — Cusay’s life depends upon my lord’s relief!

“Let my presence with my sighs perfume the pleasant repository of my sovereign’s soul.”

Cusay wanted to do King David’s mourning for him.

“No, Cusay, no,” King David said. “Thy presence to me will be a burden, since I care for theeand cannot endure thy sighs for David’s sake. But if thou return to fair Jerusalem, and say to Absalom that just as thou have been a trusty friend to his father’s seat, so thou will be to him, and call him king, Achitophel’s counsel may be brought to naught.”

King David wanted Cusay to pretend to serve Absalom but to give bad advice that would counter Achitophel’s good advice.

King David continued, “Then along with Sadoc and Abiathar, thou and they may learn the secrets of my son, and thou can send to memessages by Ahimaas and friendly Jonathan, who both are there in Jerusalem.”

Cusay replied, “Then rise, and trust God with the outcome of these actions.”

“Cusay, I rise,” King David said, “although with unwieldy bones I carry weapons against my Absalom.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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