David Bruce: George Peele’s DAVID AND BATHSHEBA, AND THE TRAGEDY OF ABSALOM: A Retelling — Scene 17 (Conclusion)

— Scene 17 —

King David, Bathsheba, Solomon, Chileab, Adonia, and Nathan the prophet were at David’s headquarters at Manahaim. With them were their trains of attendants.

Solomon, Chileab, and Adonia were three of David’s sons. Solomon’s mother was Bathsheba.

None knew yet that King David’s army had conquered the rebels and that Absalom was dead.

Bathsheba asked her husband, King David, “Why does my lord, the lamp of Israel, from whose bright eyes all eyes receive their light, dim the glory of his sweet face, and paint his countenance with his heart’s distress?”

King David’s face showed his distress. He was worried about the battle, and he was worried about his son Absalom.

Bathsheba continued, “Why should his thoughts retain a sadness, when every pleasure kneels before his throne, and sues for sweet acceptance with his grace?”

As king, David had many pleasures available to him. Why, then, should he be sad?

Bathsheba continued, “Just take up your lute, and make the mountains dance, recall the sphere of the sun, and restrain the clouds, give ears to trees, make savage lions tame, impose still silence on the loudest winds, and fill the fairest day with foulest storms.”

King David was skilled with the harp, and Bathsheba attributed to his skill such powers as making good weather bad, and bad weather good.

She continued, “Then why should passions of much meaner power bear head against the heart of Israel?”

King David — the heart of Israel — was allowing the emotion of melancholy to affect him.

King David replied, “Fair Bathsheba, thou might increase the strength of these thy arguments, drawn from my skill, by urging thy sweet sight to my sad mood. Your beauty has always served as sacred balm past all earthly joys to cheer me up and make me forget my griefs.

“But, Bathsheba, fair Peace is the daughter of the Highest and her beauty builds the towers of Israel. Fair Peace is she who in chains of pearl and unicorn horn leads in her wake the ancient golden world,the world that Adam held in paradise,whose breath refines all infectious airs, and makes the meadows smile at her arrival … she, she … my dearest Bathsheba, by ‘she’ I mean fair Peace, the goddess of our graces here … has fled the streets of fair Jerusalem, the fields of Israel, and the heart of David, leading my comforts in her golden chains linked to the life and soul of Absalom.”

King David was mourning because Israel was not at peace and fair Peace had departed, taking with her the things that would comfort him. Among the things that would comfort him were the life and soul of his son Absalom.

Bathsheba said, “Then is the pleasure of my sovereign’s heart so wrapped within the bosom of that son Absalom that the result is that Solomon, whom Israel’s God affects and to whom you gave the name ‘Solomon’ because of God’s love, should be no salve to comfort David’s soul?”

Bathsheba gave birth to her second son with David after God had forgiven David’s sins; because of God’s forgiveness, David named his son Solomon, a name that means Peace.

2 Samuel 12:24 states that King David “called his name Solomon, and the Lord loved him” (1568 Bishop’s Bible).

King David said, “Solomon, my love, is David’s lord. Our God has named him lord of Israel. In him — for that, and since he is thy son — David must necessarily be pleased at the heart, and he shall surely sit upon my throne.”

Solomon was figuratively David’s lord because Solomon would succeed him as King of Israel.

King David continued, “But Absalom, the beauty of my bones, fair Absalom, the portrait of love, sweet Absalom, the image of content, must claim a portion in his father’s care, and be in life and death King David’s son.”

Nathan the prophet said, “Yet, as my lord has said, let Solomon reign, whom God in naming has anointed king.

“Now is he apt to learn the eternal laws, whose knowledge being rooted in his youth will beautify his age with glorious fruits.”

Solomon was still young, and he could learn knowledge that would take root in him now and lead to fruits for Israel later when he ruled.

Nathan the prophet continued, “In contrast, Absalom, incensed with graceless pride, usurps and stains the kingdom with his sin.

“Let Solomon be made thy staff of age, fair Israel’s rest, and the honor of thy race.”

King David said, “Tell me, my Solomon, will thou embrace thy father’s moral instructions and engrave them in thy heart, and satisfy my zealous desire for thy renown with the practice of such sacred principles as shall concern the state of Israel?”

King David wanted Solomon to rule well and acquire a lasting reputation as a righteous king.

Solomon replied, “My royal father, if the heavenly zeal, which for my welfare feeds upon your soul, were not sustained with the virtue of my own, and if the sweet accents of your cheerful voice should not each hour reach my ears as sweetly as the breath of Heaven reaches him who gasps while being scorched with the summer’s sun, I should be guilty of unpardoned sin, fearing the plague of Heaven and the shame of earth.

“But since I myself vow to learn the skill and holy secrets of his — God’s — mighty hand whose cunning tunes the music of my soul,it would content me, father, first to learn these things:

“How the Eternal framed the firmament.”

Solomon wanted to know how God created the heavens.

He continued, “Which bodies lead their influence by fire, and which are filled with hoary winter’s ice.”

Astrologers believed that heavenly bodies influenced human lives. The fiery heavenly bodies are stars, which can have a beneficial or malicious influence. The icy heavenly bodies are comets, whose appearance in the sky was regarded as portending evil.

Solomon continued, “What sign is rainy, and what star is fair.”

The constellation Orion appeared in late autumn when bad weather appeared. Astronomers have long used the stars to make weather predictions.

The three astrological water signs are Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces. The three astrological fire signs are Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius. The three astrological earth signs are Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn. The three astrological air signs are Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius.

Solomon continued, “Why by the rules of true proportion the year is still divided into months, the months to days, and the days to certain hours.”

The phrase “true proportion” means “proper ratio.”

We must pay attention to astronomy today to keep our calendars up to date. The Earth orbits the Sun once every 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 45 seconds, and so every four years we have a leap year in which one extra day is added to the calendar.

Understanding astronomy involves understanding God’s creation that is the universe.

Solomon continued, “What fruitful race shall fill the future world, and for what time shall this round building — the Earth — stand.”

Today, we also want to know about the future of humanity and the planet Earth.

Solomon continued, “What magistrates, what kings shall keep in awe men’s minds with bridles of the eternal law.”

The first things Solomon mentioned were mainly theoretical knowledge, but this was practical knowledge. Studying good and effective kings can help people learn how to rule well and effectively.

King David advised, “Wade not too far, my boy, in waves too deep. The feeble eyes of our aspiring thoughts behold present things and record past things. But things to come exceed our human reach, and they are not depicted yet in angels’ eyes. For those things to come, submit thy sense, and say these things:

Oh, Lord, Who now is creating the future world, Thou know all to come not by the course of heavenly stars, comets, and planets, not by frail conjectures of inferior signs, not by monstrous floods, not by flights and flocks of birds, not by the bowels of a sacrificed beast, and not by the figures of some hidden art, but by a true and natural presage, laying the ground and perfect architecture of all our actions now before Thine eyes, from Adam to the end of Adam’s seed — the last man on earth.”

The inferior — worthless — signs can include astrological signs. Such unusual natural happenings as huge floods were sometimes thought to predict bad things in the human and political world. Some people thought that the flight of birds — either to the lucky or the unlucky side — could predict the course of future events. Priests examined the entrails of sacrificed animals in an attempt to understand the future. Some people used occult symbols such as those on Tarot cards to try to correctly predict the future. All of these ways to try to predict the future are superstitions.

A true and natural presage is a true and natural sign of what will occur. Today, we make predictions based on science, which is based on knowledge of natural laws and mathematics.

King David continued, “Oh, Heaven, protect my weakness with thy strength! Look on me so that I may view thy face, and see these secrets written in thy brows.

Oh, sun, come shoot thy rays upon my moon! So that now my eyes, eclipsed to the earth, may brightly be refined and cleared and so shine to Heaven.

Transform me from this flesh, so that I may live, before my death, spiritually reborn with thee.

Oh, Thou great God, ravish my earthly spirit!

Do these things so that for the time a more-than-human skill may feed the organons — bodily instruments — of all my mind.

Do these things so that when I think, Thy thoughts may be my guide, and, when I speak, I may be made by choice the perfect echo of Thy heavenly voice.”

King David paused and then said, “Thus say, my son, and thou shall learn them all.”

Solomon said, “A secret inspired frenzy enraptures my soul, lifting my mind above her human bounds, and, just as the eagle, flying from her resting place with violent hunger, towering in the air, seizes her feathered prey, and thinks to eat, but seeing then a cloud beneath her feet, lets the fowl fall, and is emboldened with eyes intending to challenge and defy the sun, and soars close to the sun’s stately sphere, so Solomon, mounted on the burning wings of divine zeal, lets fall his mortal food, and cheers his senses with celestial air, walksin the golden starry labyrinth, and holds his eyes fixed on Jehovah’s forehead.”

Eagles were thought to be able to look directly at the sun; Solomon wanted to be able to look directly at God.

Solomon continued, “Good father, teach me further what to do.”

Nathan the prophet said, “See, David, how his aspiring spirit mounts and is even now of a height to wear a crown. So then make him the promise that he may succeed you as King of Israel, and make old Israel’s bones rest from the turmoil of war.”

King David said, “Nathan, thou prophet, whose ancestor was Jesse, from whom the Messiah shall be descended, I promise thee and lovely Bathsheba that my Solomon shall govern after me.”

Bathsheba said, “May He — God — who has touched thee with this righteous thought preserve the harbor of thy thoughts in peace!”

A messenger arrived and said, “My lord, thy servants of the watch-guard have seen one running here from the wars.”

King David said, “If he has come alone, he is bringing news.”

The messenger added, “Another man has thy servant seen, my lord, whose style of running much resembles that of Sadoc’s son.”

“He is a good man and brings good tidings,” King David said.

Ahimaas, the son of Sadoc, entered the scene and said, “May peace and contentment be with my lord the king, whom Israel’s God has blessed with victory.”

King David asked about the other matter that he was greatly concerned about, “Tell me, Ahimaas, does my Absalom still live?”

Ahimaas answered, “I saw a troop of soldiers gathered, but I don’t know what the tumult might mean.”

Ahimaas knew that Absalom was dead, but he also knew that telling a king bad news can be dangerous.

King David said, “Stand nearby, until some other messenger may inform the heart of David with a happy truth.”

Cusay entered the scene and said, “May happiness and honor live with David’s soul, whom God has blessed with the conquest of his foes.”

King David asked, “But, Cusay, does the young man Absalom still live?”

Cusay replied, “May the stubborn enemies to David’s peace, and all who cast their spears against his crown, fare always like the young man Absalom! For as he rode through the woods of Ephraim, which fought for thee as much as all thy men, his hair was tangled in a shady oak, and hanging there, he sustained the stroke of well-deserved death by Joab and his men.”

Many of the enemy soldiers, in addition to Absalom, had died in the woods of Ephraim.

“Has Absalom sustained the stroke of death?” King David said. “Die, David, because of the death of Absalom, and make this cursed news the bloody spears that through Absalom’s bowels rip thy wretched breast.

“Hence, David, walk the solitary woods, and in the shade of some cedar that the thunder slew, and fire from Heaven — lightning — made its branches black, sit and mourn the decease of Absalom.

“Against the body of that lightning-blasted plant, break thy ivory lute into a thousand slivers and hang thy stringless harp upon the dead cedar’s boughs, and through the sapless hollow-sounding trunk bellow the torments that perplex thy soul.

“There let the winds sit sighing until they burst. Let a tempest, muffled with a pitch-dark cloud, threaten the forests with her hellish face, and, mounted fiercely on her iron wings, tear up by the roots the wretched engine of destruction — the tree — that held my dearest Absalom, leading to his death.

“Then let them toss my broken lute to Heaven, even to His — God’s — hands that whip me with the strings, to show how sadly His poor shepherd sings.”

He went into his pavilion — a large tent — and sat alone with his back to the others.

Bathsheba said, “Die, Bathsheba, to see thy David mourn, to hear his tunes of anguish and of Hell.

“Oh, help, my David, help thy Bathsheba” — she knelt and then lay prostrate — “whose heart is pierced with thy breathy swords, and bursts with the burden of ten thousand griefs!”

King David’s cries as he mourned the death of Absalom were swords made out of breath that pierced Bathsheba’s heart.

Bathsheba continued speaking about King David’s sorrows, “Now thy sorrows sit and suck my blood. Oh, I wish that my blood might be poison to the powers of thy sorrows, and I wish that their lips might draw my bosom dry, as long as David’s love might ease him, though she — I, Bathsheba — die!”

Nathan the prophet criticized the extreme grief of David and Bathsheba: “These violent passions don’t come from above; they don’t come from Heaven. David and Bathsheba offend God the Highest by mourning in this immeasurable way.”

King David stood and looked out of his pavilion and said, “Oh, Absalom, Absalom! Oh, my son, my son! I wish to God that I had died for Absalom! But he is dead! Ah, dead! Absalom is dead. And David lives to die for Absalom.”

King David sat again inside the pavilion and mourned.

Joab, Abisai, Ithay, and their train of soldiers arrived.

Joab asked, “Why does the queen lie so prostrate on the ground? Why is this company so sadly faced? Why is the king now absent from his soldiers, and why isn’t he marching in triumph through the gates?”

He drew back part of the pavilion, revealing King David inside, and said to him:

“David, awake. If sleep has shut thine eyes — the sleep of affection — and so thou cannot see the honor offered to the victor’s head, then know Joab brings conquest pierced on his spear, and joy from all the tribes of Israel.”

David’s affection for the dead Absalom was making him not rejoice in his country’s military victory. It was deadening him to the pleasure he would normally have felt because of this good news.

King David asked, “Thou man of blood, thou sepulcher of death, whose marble breast entombs my bowels alive, didn’t I order thee, indeed, beg thee, even for my sake, to spare my Absalom?

“And have thou now, out of scorn for what would contribute to David’s health, and out of scorn for doing my heart some happiness, given him the sword and spilt his purple soul?”

This society used the word “purple” to refer to both royalty and the color of blood.

Joab, a military man who rejoiced in the victory and knew that it would greatly help Israel, said:

“Does it irritate David that he breathes as a victor and that Judah and the battlefields of Israel should clean their faces and remove from their faces their children’s blood?

“Are thou weary of thy royal rule?

“Is Israel’s throne a serpent in thine eyes?

“Is He — God — Who set thee there so far from and undeserving of thanks, that thou must curse His servant — me — for His sake?

“Have thou not said that, as is the morning light of the cloudless morning, so should be thine house?”

“Have thou not said that your house should not be as flowers that by the brightest rain grow up quickly and as quickly fade?”

“Have thou not said that the wicked are as thorns, which cannot be preserved and protected with the hand, and that the man who shall touch them must be armed with coats of iron and garments made of steel, and with the shaft of a protected spear?”

Harmful thorns ought not to be protected; they ought to be destroyed.

Joab then said, “And are thou angry that the life is now cut off of the man who led the guiltless swarming to their deaths, and was more wicked than an army of men?

“Advance thee from thy melancholy den! Come out of thy pavilion! And deck thy body with thy blissful robes, or, by the Lord Who sways the Heaven I swear that I’ll lead thine armies to another king who shall cheer them for their princely chivalry, and not sit daunted, frowning in the dark, at a time when his fair looks, refreshed with oil and wine, should dart into their bosoms gladdening beams, and fill their stomachs with triumphant feasts.

“If thou act the way the other king acts, then when elsewhere stern War shall sound his trumpet, and call another army to the battlefield,Reputation still may bring thy valiant soldiers home after their victory, and for their service Reputation may happily confess that she lacked enough worthy trumpets to sound their prowess. Their prowess was so great that she needed additional trumpets.

“You have a choice to make.

“Take thou this course I am recommending and live. Come out of thy pavilion and reward thy troops and lead Israel and ensure that your reputation will live.

“Or refuse to take this course I am recommending, stay in your pavilion, mourn as I lead away your soldiers, and allow your reputation to die.”

Abisai said, “Come, brother, let him sit there until he sinks. Some other king shall advance the name of Joab.”

The brothers Joab and Abisai started to leave.

Bathsheba rose and said, “Oh, wait, my lords, stay! David mourns no more, but rises to give honor to your acts.”

King David came out of the pavilion and said about Absalom, “Then happy are thou, David’s fairest son, who, freed from the yoke of earthly toils, and sequestered from any perception of human sins, thy soul shall enjoy the sacred lodging — Paradise — of those divine ideas that present thy changed spirit with a Heaven of bliss.

“Then thou are gone; ah, thou are gone, my son! To Heaven, I hope, my Absalom has gone. Thy soul there placed in honor of the saints, or angels clad with immortality, shall reap a sevenfold grace for all thy griefs.

“Thy eyes, now no longer eyes but shining stars, shall deck the flaming heavens with novel lamps.

“There thou shall taste the drink of seraphim, and cheer thy feelings with the food of archangels.

“Thy day of rest, thy holy Sabbath day, shall be eternal; and, with the curtain drawn back, thou shall behold thy Sovereign face to face with wonder, knit in triple unity, unity infinite and innumerable.”

He then said to Joab and Abisai, “Courage, brave captains! Joab’s tale has stirred me, and made the suit of Israel preferred. I now will rule Israel to the best of my abilities.Now may old Israel and his daughters sing.”

Joab said, “Bravely resolved, and spoken like a king.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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