The Fallen King

I wake in a sweat from the same horrible dream, trying to sift terror from reality.

My friend lies bloody and still. His woman wails over her dying child. And… there is more, but I cannot say it. I push the scene away, but it plays over and over, a fresh nightmare each time I open my eyes.

The dream begins in springtime.

Not far away, there is war and death, but I am safe at home. I wander to the roof and lean against the parapet, its warm walls soaked in the afternoon sun. A gentle breeze carries the scent of new life, rising from the valley below. Here and there, wildflowers paint little bursts of color on the ground.

It is a safe place. A quiet place. But here the arrow found me, and I fell.

My eyes meandered across the cheerful, unruly maze of courts and streets and houses, and then to my undoing. A movement, a color, a shape, the gleam of water on skin. She was hidden from others, but not from me, the King. I saw her from my place, so high above. And I watched.

It seemed a safe place, but the deadly arrow was me, and how far I have fallen.

I used my high place to spy and then steal and then kill and then hide. God made me their shepherd, but I have torn the sheep.

I wake in a sweat and my sin is ever before me. I am King over nations, but how I long for the dangerous years when God was my hiding place, when my hands were empty but clean.

“Have mercy, O God, because of your great love! All this evil I have done, but please don’t throw me from your presence. Don’t take your Holy Spirit from me!”

Well, the wailing woman whom I stole from my murdered friend clutches a dead child to her heart, and I wonder if we are forever cursed.

And that is the question, isn’t it? This good God who hates evil… How can he live with such as us? I have broken every law and humiliated the nation. I have no sacrifice to offer but this broken, humiliated heart.

“For the sake of your name, Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great. Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me.”

I comfort my stolen wife and a year later, another son is born. I watch in wonder as she embraces the child, tears of joy running down her face. Then I cringe as a servant appears, whispering that Nathan, the prophet, has arrived with a message.

Nathan, the fearless critic who exposed my cover-up. Nathan, who announced that our first son would die.

I slip from the room, remembering my many tears. Does God forgive? Really forgive? Are we forever cursed by the things we have done?

Nathan walks confidently toward my throne as I study the floor, dreading what I am about to hear. He stops a few feet away and waits for me to meet his eye.

“The Lord has sent me to tell you the child’s name,” he says, and his face softens. “He is to be called ‘Jedidiah’, for he is loved by God”.

————————————

This story is a dramatization of events recorded in 2 Samuel 11 – 12. (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Samuel+11-12&version=NIV)

Jedidiah, also known as Solomon, became the third king of Israel, succeeding his father, David.

Jesus, born one thousand years later, was also a descendant of King David’s marriage with Bathsheba.

“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.”
-Psalm 51:17 (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=psalm+51&version=NIV)

“You are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.”
-Nehemiah 9:17

The Foreigner

The village ahead shimmers in the heat, little grey houses glaring white and quivering as in a dream.

Well, it feels like a dream. I stood here ten years ago with my husband and my boys, taking one last look to say goodbye.

The girl comes close and gently takes my arm. “Mother?”

“I’m all right, Child. We’re almost there.”

A few minutes later, a noisy crowd of children falls silent and stares as we trudge into town. On the busy street, a woman glances up, nods, and then opens her mouth in surprise. “Why! Naomi?” she cries. “Is it really you? After all these years?”

Other women hear and draw near to listen. “Yes,” I say wearily. “It’s me.”

The woman considers our bags, our dirty clothing, and looks around in confusion. “But… but where’s your husband?”

“Dead,” I say simply.

“No,” she groans, and the other women shake their heads. “Your sons, then?”

“Dead.”

Her hand moves to her face, blinking her surprise. “Oh, Naomi…”

“Don’t call me that,” I say, scowling. My name means ‘sweetness’ and it galls me now to hear it. It is a name for another time, for the dream that is now dead. “I left here full, but I have come back empty. Call me brokenness or bitterness or – yes, call me that. Call me Mara.”

The girl, who has carried our bags most of the way, might have taken offense but, instead, she rests her hand on my back, makes a sympathetic sound, and leans her head against my shoulder. “We have had a difficult journey,” she tells the crowd apologetically. “Perhaps we can talk tomorrow.”

We walk on and I say, “I’m sorry, Child. I don’t mean empty.”

“I understand, Mother. It’s all right.”

A tear runs down my cheek. This girl. She has lost nearly as much as I. A dead husband. Her family now far away. I would have drowned in my grief, but there was always her hand to hold me up, her beautiful eyes attentive to my sorrow.

She is a child of Moab, Israel’s old enemy, but it was to Moab we fled during the great famine, and there we stayed until my ruin. I am not her mother, not since my son died, and I have nothing left to offer, but she will not let me go.

———-

The Girl

I hear Naomi weeping outside. We found her old home a dusty, gutted ruin, full of memories that wound her. I find a cracked urn in the corner, carry it back into town and fill it at the well, trade my scarf for a loaf of bread.

“Come, Mother. Let’s eat,” I say when I return. “We have arrived at harvest time, and this is very good! In the morning, I will walk the barley field behind the workers and gather what has fallen to the ground.”

Naomi tells me this is dangerous, but hunger is also dangerous, and so I go. But that afternoon, I learn she is right. I look up from my work to see the master of the field speaking to the foreman, who turns to me and points. The master stares, then walks toward me.

“What have I done?” I think. At home, I had my father’s protection and wealth, but here I am empty and dirty and weak, a foreigner to them and perhaps even an enemy.

The man is close now. I glance up to see his fine clothes, his long stride, his expression of authority. Trembling, I bow my head and brace myself.

———-

The Farmer

It is a beautiful day and yet… Well, never mind that. Just the normal ache…

I have worked long and hard for these things – the fruitful fields and healthy herds, the respect of my neighbors. I am thankful. I truly am. Yet lately, when I pass families on the street, or when I sit alone late in the evening, I often mourn what I have missed, and wonder why I waited so long to face this emptiness.

Well, it is an excellent crop, and the men are moving quickly. I chat with my foreman, who points out a particular gleaner, impressed by her humility and hard work. And suddenly it hits me. The town was buzzing this morning with news of Naomi’s tragedies and her return. This must be the remarkable daughter-in-law who left everything to bring Naomi home safely. Something about this story brings a lump to my throat. My ache deepens as I walk over to welcome her.

———-

A hundred years later, a child is born – the last of eight sons. He spends his youth on lonely hillsides, watching over the family’s sheep, picks stones from the stream to hurl with his sling. In time, that sling will be used to save a nation and the boy will become its greatest king.

A thousand years later, another child is born – the first for his young mother. He spends his youth in his father’s woodshop, though she knows he is the king of heaven. In time, his sacrifice will save the world.

No one knew these heroes would come, least of all through a widow, a foreigner, and a farmer, each hurting and empty in their own way. But soon it was said to Naomi, “Your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given birth.”

And so, the empty became full and Ruth, the daughter of Moab, became a mother of Israel, ancestor to her kings and Savior.

———-

This story is a dramatization of events recorded in Ruth, a brief and beautiful book that hardly needs dramatization. (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ruth%201-4…)

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”

-Ruth 1:16-17

Give Me Something Real

I grow annoyed by religious fools. God this and god that, the mumbo jumbo of the weak. Give me the facts, the real things you can feel and smell, the man who puts his money where his mouth is.

I’ve been yelling this for days, alone in this valley, just begging for someone with the courage to face me. Oh, they make a big noise up on their hill, posing at a safe distance, but every step toward me is a step toward reality, and they won’t come.

And this god of theirs. Not just their own brand of hocus pocus, but – by their telling – the one god over all the world! Well, I’m proving that wrong just by standing here, mocking him to their face.

There is a stirring in their camp, a shout. I glance at my armor bearer and laugh. For forty days, I have demanded a warrior to kill. Perhaps we will finally get satisfaction?

And, yes, someone is passing through their line. He starts down the hill, moving from rock to rock in light, graceful hops. Even at this distance, I can see he is young and thin – the armor-bearer for their champion, I suppose, but he bears no armor and does not look back. He flits down the hill like a cat on a stroll, not even looking at me.

His appearance confuses me and seems to confuse them, too. For a moment, they cheer, swords clanging against shields, but this quickly falls into a jumbled mutter. Their army and mine both stand still, watching the boy approach me, shaking their heads in wonder.

As he splashes across the stream and draws near, I see he is smaller than I thought. He carries no weapon unless he means to throw his little shepherd’s stick. Ah, I think. This is their plan. The boy is fleet and a small target. They wish for me to hurl my spear and miss, to swing my sword while he darts in and out of reach. He will dodge me for a minute or two and then slink back to his line with a sort of victory.

The blood of rage rises to my face. Mock me? We’ll see about that.

I lift my head and roar. “What’s on your mind, oh foolish king, sending me a child? But then, this little man befits your little god, who is barely big enough to fill your foolish minds! Watch now as I snap him like a stick and feed him to the birds!”

The boy stops just out of range and lays aside his staff, draws from his bag a stone, and fits it to a leather sling. I smile at this toy, imagining the clink of his pebble against my armor. I pick my target beneath his throat, lift my spear, and ready it to fly.

But I am distracted, for he raises his curly head to meet my eye, and shouts. “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands and the whole world will know there is a God in Israel.”

I really had to laugh. God this and god that, the same old mumbo jumbo of religious fools. I am still laughing as he trots toward me and sets his pathetic little sling twirling.

Give me something real, I think, raising my spear to finish the job. Something I can fe….

——————-

This story is a dramatization of events recorded in 1 Samuel 17. (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Samuel%2017&version=NIV)

Young David was a mystery to his own army and to the Philistines, neither of whom recognized the objective reality of God, who creates and sustains each one of us and the incredibly intricate universe we inhabit.

In one way, Goliath was right. Religion that does not align with ultimate reality has no value. Unfortunately for Goliath, David did not come in the name of religion.

Meeting the Lion

There are butterflies in my stomach, a rasp in my voice. So many years I have waited, yet I am almost afraid to go in.

I will be alone, I think, though you can never be sure in this place. It is, after all, a place of meeting – if a man stepping into a lion’s den can be called a meeting. A lion no one can see.

Two priests and one king he has devoured for doing what I will do. No, for doing it wrong, I remind myself. He is not unfair. Yet he is still a lion.

I take a quick breath, rest one hand against the other to slow their trembling, and I wait. I am too old to be this nervous, and too alone. My life is narrow and still. No children, no grandchildren. Just my wrinkled wife and I, living out our days. My wrinkled wife, who still stares as mothers pass, children in their arms – who stares as one starving, though we are past our years and there is no more hope.

Will the great Lion receive me, this dried-up old priest who cannot even father a child?

I walk unsteadily toward the door and step into the temple, peer into the golden, glowing Holy Place. I am to burn incense on the altar which stands across the room. Behind the altar hangs the great, thick curtain – blue, purple, and red, with embroidered angels staring back at me. Behind that, the holiest and most dangerous place of all.

I pause for an instant, remind myself to breathe, and take a few steps forward, but something goes wrong. There is a flash, a sudden glare from the golden walls, and I freeze in astonishment. There, by the altar, something stands – not a picture, but a moving creature, bright and tall.

“Don’t be afraid,” it said, which struck me as unreasonable. Dazzled and blinking, I squinted at the brilliant form, shielding my eyes with quivering hands.

“Zechariah, your prayers have been heard, and Elizabeth will have her joy. You will have a son, and you are to name him John. He will turn the hearts of the fathers toward their children, and the children toward the Lord, their God.”

“But… but how can that be?” I sputtered. “We’re too old.”

Well, that was a mistake.

“I am Gabriel,” he said soberly and glued my lips closed for months to come. Until, in fact, the day my wrinkled wife laughed with tears running down her face, surrounded by friends, our baby boy in her arms.

By then, bright Gabriel had appeared also to Mary and she, at least, believed him. A chill runs up my spine to think of it. The sun is rising on God’s ancient promise to lead us out of death and darkness, and the child in Mary’s womb – God’s own Messiah – will accomplish this.

These are things too great for me, for I was a priest of the great Lion of Judah, trembling to go before him, and afraid he had forgotten my name.

But I am different now, for I have felt the tender mercy of our God, who hears our prayers and forgets no one.

———————–

This story is a dramatization of Luke 1 (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=luke%201&version=NIV)

“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God.”
-Luke 1:76-78

Note: 2 Chronicles 26:18 and Leviticus 10:1-2 tell of a king and two priests who were punished for incorrectly performing this procedure.

What Doesn’t Change

What’s more surprising; the way our culture has changed, or the way it hasn’t?

The changes are obvious: our novel ideas about men and women and sex, about the role of government, about the value of children. The new ideas seem to have won, but – strangely – their supporters shrink back as if embarrassed by their success. As if, even in victory, they see their ideas as inferior to those they pushed aside.

This is apparent in the confusion and half-measures of their crusade, the constant attempt to dress up new ideas in old language.

If a man really could escape the ancient and obvious category of Male, why in the world should he promptly (and pointlessly) run toward the equally ancient and obvious category of Female? If he claims to overthrow gender, let him get on with it. Let him take pride in being a neuter or gelding, or whatever new category he offers to replace the old.

If a man rejects the ancient conclusions of Christianity and morality, why should he cling to its framework by claiming to be “good”? Let him take pride in being evil or offer some new category to replace good and evil.

If a man spends his career stopping the hearts of children, or surgically mutilating their gender, why hide his actions behind the veil of medicine and a clamor for rights? Let him take pride in his carnage and stop pretending that he is a doctor.

But of course, these things will not happen. Evil may triumph, but it will always hide. It may rage, but it will always feel ashamed. It cannot take pride in its distortions because it knows, as we know, that they are distortions. It will always pretend to be something else – to be that eternal, indelible thing we call Good.