David Bruce: George Peele’s DAVID AND BATHSHEBA, AND THE TRAGEDY OF ABSALOM: A Retelling — Scenes 12-14

— Scene 12 —

Semei stood on a road near the village of Bahurim, which was located east of the Mount of Olives.Semei had been a follower of Saul, and he hated David because David had succeeded Saul as King of Israel. He regarded David, who had been a shepherd in his youth, as a tyrant. His pockets were filled with stones to throw as weapons, and he was waiting for David.

Semei said to himself, “The man of Israel who has ruled as king,or rather as the tyrant of the land, bolstering his hateful head upon the throne that God unworthily has blessed him with, shall now, I hope, lay as low as Hell, and be deposed from his detested chair — the throne he sits on.

“Oh, I wish that my bosom could by nature bear a sea of poison that would be poured upon David’s cursed head — the head that sacred balm has graced and consecrated King of Israel!

“Or I wish that my breath were made the smoke of Hell, infected with the sighs of damned souls, or with the reeking vapor of the throat of that serpent that feeds on adders, toads, and venomous roots, so that, as I opened my revenging lips to curse the shepherd for his tyranny, my words might cast rank poison into his pores, and make his swollen and rankling sinews crack like the combat-blows that break the clouds when Jove’s brave champions — God’s angels — fight with fiery swords.”

King David and his men were traveling east.

Seeing David, Semei said to himself, “See where is coming he whom my soul abhors! I have prepared my pocket full of stones, mingled with earth and dust, to throw at him, Bursting with disdain, I greet him with stones and earth and dust.”

KingDavid, Joab, Abisai, Ithay, and others arrived on the scene.

Semei yelled, “Come forth, thou murderer and wicked man. The lord has brought upon thy cursed head the guiltless, innocent blood of Saul and all his sons, whose royal throne thy baseness has usurped.

“And, to revenge it deeply on thy soul, the Lord has given the kingdom to thy son Absalom, and he shall avenge the traitorous wrongs of Saul.”

Apparently, Semei meant that Absalom would avenge the traitorous wrongs committed against Saul. Or perhaps Saul had committed a wrong: the wrong of acting in such a way that allowed David to become king.

Semei continued:

“Even as thy sin has still importuned Heaven, so shall thy murders and adultery be punished in the sight of Israel, as thou deserve, with blood, with death, and with Hell.

“Hence, murderer, flee away from here!

“Let me alone to take away his head.”

He threw stones and earth and dust at David.

Abisai, who was the son of Zeruia,asked aboutSemei, “Why does this dead dog curse my lord the king?”

King David said, “Why meddles thus the son of Zeruia to interrupt the action of our God?

“Semei accosts me with this reproach because the Lord has sent him to reprove the sins of David, printed in David’s own brows with blood. David blushes for his conscience’s guilt.

“Who dares, then, ask him why he curses me?”

Hearing David, Semei said, “If, then, thy conscience tells thee that thou have sinned, and that thy life is odious to the world, command thy followers to shun thy face; and by thyself here make away thy soul and commit suicide, so that I may stand and glory in thy shame.”

David replied, “I am not desperate, Semei, like thyself, for I instead trust the covenant of my God, which is founded on mercy, built with repentance, and finished with the glory of my soul.”

David knew that he had sinned, but he was hopeful and not desperate about his future life.

Semei said, “You are a murderer — and you hope for mercy in thy end! May hate and destruction sit upon thy brows to watch the exit from your body of thy damned ghost, which with thy last gasp they’ll take and tear, hurling a piece in every part of Hell. Hence, murderer, thou shame to Israel, foul lecher, drunkard, plague to Heaven and earth!”

He again threw stones and earth and dust at King David.

Joab said, “Does David think it is merciful to refrain like this from following the laws of self-preservation in this extremity of his distress, in order to allow his subjects to be so reckless in words and deeds?

“Send hence the dog with sorrow to his grave.”

Joab and Abisai, his brother — both were sons of Zeruia — wanted Semei dead.

King David said, “Why should the sons of Zeruia seek to check Semei’s spirit, which the Lord has thus inspired?

“Behold, my son Absalom, who issued from my flesh, seeks to take my life with equal fury to that which thou two want to take the life of Semei.

“How much more then the grandson of Jemini — Semei — wants to take my life, chiefly since Semei does nothing but God’s command?

“It may happen that God will look on me this day with gracious eyes, and as a result of Semei’s cursing bless the heart of David in his bitterness.”

Semei said, “Do thou fret and vex my soul with sufferance and tolerance? Oh, I wish that the souls of Isboseth and Abner, whom thou sent swimming to their graves in blood, with wounds freshly bleeding, gasping for revenge, were here to execute my burning hate!”

Isboseth was Saul’s son, and Abner was the commander of Isboseth’s army. The two men quarreled when Isboseth took one of Abner’s concubines. Abner left Isboseth and attempted to join the side of David, but Joab killed him because Abner had earlier killed Joab’s brother. Isboseth’s own soldiers killed Isboseth.

Semei continued, “But I will hunt thy foot with curses still.

“Hence, monster, murderer, mirror of contempt!”

He again threw stones and earth and dust at King David.

Ahimaas and Jonathan entered the scene, bearing Cusay’s news for King David.

Ahimaas said, “Long life to David, and death to his enemies!”

“Welcome, Ahimaas and Jonathan,” King David said. “What news does Cusay send to thy lord the king?”

Ahimaas said, “Cusay wishes my lord the king to cross the Jordan River immediately, lest he and all his people perish here, for wise Achitophel has counseled Absalom to take advantage of your weary arms, and come this night upon you in the fields and attack you.

“But the Lord has made Achitophel’s counsel scorned, and Cusay’s policy preferred with praise. Cusay’s policy was to enroll every Israelite man as a soldier, and so attack you in their pride of strength, vastly outnumbering you and your men.”

Referring to King David in the third person, Jonathan said, “Abiathar in addition entreats the king to send his men of war against his son Absalom, and not risk his person in the field.”

Abiathar did not want King David to fight in the forthcoming battle.

King David said, “Thanks to Abiathar, and to you both, and to my Cusay, whom the Lord reward. But ten times treble — thirty — thanks to His soft hand Whose pleasant touch has made my heart to dance, and play and sing Him praises in my zealous breast, who turned the counsel of Achitophel into accordance with the prayers of his servant’s — my — lips. Thirty thanks to God!

“Now we will cross the river all this night, and in the morning we will sound the voice of war, the voice of bloody and unkindly and un-kin-ly war of son against father.”

Joab said, “Tell us how thou will divide thy men, and who shall have the special charge herein.”

He was asking into how many battalions King David would divide the soldiers, and who would lead each battalion.

King David said, “Joab, thou thyself shall for thy charge conduct the first of three battalions of all my valiant men.

“Abisai’s valor shall lead the second of three battalions.

“The third of three battalions fair Ithay, whom I most should grace for the comfort he has done to David’s woes, shall lead.

“And I myself will follow with my guard in the midst.”

Ithay said, “That David should not do; for if we soldiers were to flee from battle, even ten thousand of us would not be valued half as much by David’s enemies as he himself is. Thy soldiers, loving thee, deny thee this. Thy soldiers won’t let thee participate in the battle.”

Ithay was saying that if King David’s soldiers were to be forced to flee from the battlefield, David’s enemies would devote all their efforts to finding and killing David, even if it meant missing the opportunity to kill ten thousand of David’s soldiers. For that reason, King David’s soldiers wanted King David to not participate in the battle.

King David said, “What seems best to them, my people, then, that will David do.

“But now, my lords and captains, hear the voice of him — me — who never yet pierced piteous Heaven with his prayers in vain. So then let my words not slip lightly through your ears.

“For my sake, spare the young man Absalom. Joab, thyself did once use friendly words to reconcile my incensed heart to him. If, then, thy love to thy kinsman is sound and unimpaired, and thou will prove thyself to be a perfect Israelite, befriend him with deeds, and touch not a hair of his — not that fair hair with which the wanton, playful winds delight to play, and love to make curl, and in whichthe nightingales would build their nests, and make sweet bowers in every golden tress to sing their lover to sleep every night.

“Oh, Joab, don’t spoil Jove’s — God’s — fair ornaments, which he has sent to solace David’s soul!

“The best, you see, my lords, are swift to sin. When we sin, our feet are washed with the milk of roe deer, and dried again with coals of lightning. We enjoy committing the sin, but we hate enduring the punishment of that sin.

“Oh, Lord, thou see the proudest sin’s poor slave, and with his bridle thou pull him to the grave!

“For my sake, then, spare lovely Absalom.”

Ithay replied, “We will, my lord, for thy sake favor him. We will spare Absalom.”

— Scene 13 —

In his house, Achitophel stood alone, holding a noose.

He said to himself, “Now Achitophel has set his house in order and settled his affairs and taken leave of every pleasure there.”

Looking at the noose, he said, “On this depends Achitophel’s ‘delights,’ and in this circle must his life be closed.”

He paused and then continued, “The wise Achitophel, whose counsel proved always as sound for fortunate success as if men asked the oracle of God, is now treated like the fool of Israel.

“So then set thy angry soul upon thy soul’s wings, and let her fly into the shadow of death;and for my death let Heaven forever weep, making huge floods with its tears upon the land I leave, to ravish them and all their fairest fruits. Let the flood of tears destroy the agricultural crops of Israel. Let all the sighs I breathed for this disgrace hang on my hedges like eternal mists, to serve as mourning garments for their master’s death.”

Garments were sometimes hung on hedges to dry after being washed.

Achitophel continued, “Open, earth, and take thy miserable son into the bowels of thy cursed womb. Once in a surfeit thou did spew him forth. Now because of deadly hunger suck him in again,and let his body be poison to thy veins.”

The earth had once over-eaten and then vomited forth Achitophel; now, he wanted the earth to devour him.

He continued, “And now, thou Hellish instrument of Heaven, at once execute the arrest of Jove’s just decision, and stop the breast of him who curses Israel.”

Jove literally refers to Jupiter, the Roman name of the king of the gods, but metaphorically it refers to God. All of God’s decisions are just, and God had decided to have Achitophel treated likea fool. To stop being treated like a fool and thereby arrest Jove’s just decision, Achitophel committed suicide.

2 Samuel 17:23 states, “And when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his ass, and arose and gat him home to his own house, and to his own city, and put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died, and was buried in the sepulcher of his father” (1568 Bishop’s Bible).

— Scene 14 —

In the Wood of Ephraim, Absalom stood with Amasa and the rest of his train.

Absalom had gathered many soldiers and was ready to fight King David’s army.

The battle was about to start.

Absalom said, “Now for the crown and throne of Israel to be confirmed with the power of my sword and written with David’s blood upon the blade.

“Now, Jove, let forth the golden firmament — the stars — tolook on him — me — with all Thy fiery eyes that Thou have made to give their glories light.

“To show Thou love the power of me, who is Thy hand, let fall a wreath of stars upon my head,whose influence may govern Israel with state exceeding all her other kings.

“Fight, lords and captains, so that your sovereign’s face may shine in honor brighter than the sun; and with the virtue of my beauteous rays make this fair land as fruitful as the fields that with sweet milk and honey overflowed. God, in the whizzing of a pleasant wind, shall march upon the tops of mulberry-trees, to cool all breasts that burn with any griefs, as in the past when he was good to Moses’ men.

“By day the Lord shall sit within a cloud, to guide your footsteps to the fields of joy, and in the night a pillar, bright as fire, shall go before you, like a second sun, in which isthe essence of his godhead.

“So that day and night you may be brought to peace, and never swerve from that delightsome path that leads your souls to perfect happiness, this shall God do for joy when I am king.

“So then fight, brave captains, so that these joys may fly into your bosoms with sweet victory.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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