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This is the beginning of novel about the conflict between David and Absalom.
Joab’s clear yellow-brown eyes held a stoic countenance while he stood guard next to the king’s throne. The scar on his upper lip seemed to pull his mouth into a permanent snarl. With his arms crossed, he felt sweat drip down his forearms and his back as he watched a long line of men wait to bring their problems before the king of Israel. The air in the throne room was still, smelling like dusty bodies that had not bathed in several days. Flies and gnats buzzed around the men’s eyes and noses mimicking the irritating atmosphere.
Reaching up to wipe sweat off his bald head, he caught the eye of one of the men. The traveler’s tunic was torn. Desert dust coated his curly black hair and beard. Huge sweat rings under his armpits made it obvious that he had traveled a long way climbing rocky hills on his journey to Jerusalem. Even though the man’s sunken eye sockets revealed he had not eaten much for a few days, it was the man’s troubled countenance that kept Joab watching him. Minutes later, he recognized that he was a Hittite man who served in Israel's armies. Joab noticed that the young man kept shifting his weight from one foot to the other as he looked to see that he was the next one to approach the king.
Just as the man stepped forward for judgment, David slumped forward on his throne for a moment, rubbing his eyes. With frustration he leaned back on his throne, let his head drop and let out a long sigh. When Joab took a step closer to see if the king was ill, he heard the king say under his breath. “I am so weary.”
Joab leaned over to speak in David’s ear. “My lord, do you need to rest?”
Annoyed, David flicked the wrist of his left hand that rested on the arm of his throne. “No, I do not need rest,” he hissed. He looked up at the line of men and continued, “They will just come back tomorrow then I will have twice the number of judgments.”
“Let me ask a servant to bring you a bowl of fruit,” Joab said. Even though he served as the captain of Israel’s armies, he personally took on the task to protect his cousin, the king of Israel. His admiration of his cousin’s relationship with the Lord God of Israel gave him purpose each day.
David looked up and glared at Joab. “Thank you but I do not want any fruit. I am fine,” David looked at the line of men again. He didn’t understand why he was feeling frustrated. He had everything. He knew he was the king of Israel. He knew that he was known for being the king of the fastest growing region in the east. He also knew that he felt overwhelmed. He was exhausted. Reaching his hand up to his head, he took his crown off.
“What are you doing?” Joab tried to show respect for David.
As David’s finger traced the outline of his crown, he felt like throwing it across the room. “I am just weary of being king,” he whispered.
Joab leaned down so he could whisper in the king’s ear, “People are watching you,” he said.
“Yes, they are watching,” David said as he wiped off the sweat that rolled down the side of his face. Placing his crown back on his head, he motioned for the Hittite man to come forward. At first the young man hesitated because he heard part of the conversation between the king and his captain. He twisted the strings of a small animal skin bag that he held in his hand. David motioned for him to step forward again. “State your case,” he said with apathy.
Joab leaned down to the king again saying, “Judge this concern and I will tell the others to go home.”
Ignoring Joab, David asked the Hittite, “What judgment do you wish to receive?”
The man took a step forward and bowed low to the king of Israel saying, “My lord, king of Israel, while I was fighting in battle my brother slept with my wife.”
David mumbled, “Your wife committed adultery.”
“My lord,” the man was bewildered, “my wife is young. I believe that my brother forced her.”
David looked past the man with a blank stare. Another accusation of rape did not surprise him. He understood the frustration inside a man. His eyes focused back on the man but without compassion, “According to the Law of Moses you should divorce her.”
The Hittite bowed his head before the King of Israel. He was desperate for justice concerning his wife. As he closed his eyes, he remembered how his wife grabbed and clawed the skin on her arms when she described to him what happened to her. Looking up at the king with angry concern, he questioned the judgment he received. “My lord, I know what the law says but I love my wife. What will you do to my brother?”
I startled the men in the room when David stood and walked down the steps from the throne towards the man. No one ever questioned the king’s judgment. The room became silent as they watched David put a weary hand on the man’s head. “Go home and take charge of your house.”
When the man stood up to protest, David noticed the emblem of a star tattooed on the man’s forearm and immediately recognized him as a soldier. Men from other regions were branded with the symbol of David to signify their loyalty when they allied with the armies of Israel.
With a cynical sneer, the king stated, “Be the same warrior in your home as you are on the battlefield.”
Taking a step forward, the Hittite questioned the judgment again, “Is my brother judged?”
“You should banish your brother from your household,” David said. “Guard your young wife as if she is a prized possession.”
The man insisted, “My lord, my wife is carrying his child. Shouldn’t my brother receive a stoning?"
Joab noticed David’s frustration and how he rolled his eyes at the man’s request. Maybe the king needs a sabbatical from his duties as king, Joab thought. “I will have to speak to the elders later this evening,” he mumbled to himself.
David sighed heavily then waved for the man to leave. “I have judged your concern,” he said in disgust as he turned and walked up to his throne.
“But,” the Hittite insisted again, “my brother?”
David looked at Joab and rolled his eyes again before sitting down. “Please remove this man from the throne room,” he growled under his breath.
Even though the man protested, Joab quickly began to escort him out of David’s presence. “I came here because I heard the king gave fair judgment,” the Hittite said to Joab. “I do not feel that I received good judgment today.”
The man stiffened his body when Joab struggled to drag him out of the throne room. Joab held both of the man’s arms strong. Gritting, he spoke through his teeth, “The king is not feeling well.”
“Should I come back tomorrow?” the man continued to protest. His body gave in to Joab’s strong insistence to move forward.
Guiding the man towards the door, Joab insisted, “Please take the king’s judgment and go home.” After he walked the man through the courtyard of the king’s house, the scar across Joab’s left eyebrow knit even deeper as he pondered about the actions of David that he just witnessed. Just a few weeks earlier, the people watched their king dance for joy down the street of Jerusalem as the ark of the Lord God was brought into the city. After that day, David and his men experienced one of Israel’s greatest victories in battle, killing seven hundred men on chariots and forty thousand Syrian horsemen.
Back inside the throne room, Joab took a deep breath before he announced that the king would not be receiving any more judgments for the day. When the men began complain, he held up his hand to quiet them. “Come back tomorrow,” he said before he glanced back at David, seeing that he was pacing around his throne. Placing his hand on his sword, he repeated, “Come back tomorrow. The king needs to rest.”
Joab knew that these men had traveled several miles to request an audience with the king of Israel. As they walked out of the room, he heard them grumble about needing to return home so they could harvest their crops. A few decided to sleep outside the gate of the palace so they could be at the front of the line the next morning.
Without notice, Absalom burst into the throne room carrying a chair with a black and white covered seat. His thick curly hair hung past his shoulders in sweaty black ringlets. A gold band worn across his forehead signified that he was a prince, a son of king David. As he walked further into the room, he was breathless with excitement, “Father, look at this.” When he got closer, he noticed his father sitting on the steps below his throne. Setting his jaw, he looked back at Joab who was still standing in the back of the room. He raised his eyebrows giving him a questioning look.
Joab shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t know what to say to Absalom. Instead, he focused his eyes back on David. In silence, the two of them watched as David ran his fingers through the hair on the back of his head, mumbling over and over.
Before Joab could announce Absalom’s presence, the king looked up. Absalom froze where he stood when he saw the frustration on his father’s face. The tension in the room escalated when David yelled, barely looking at him, "What do you want?"
Absalom continued standing still, tightening his hands into fists behind his back. Rolling his head around, he tried to loosen the tightness that was moving from his shoulders to his neck. He hesitated for a moment before he took a step forward. Clearing his throat, he stated, "Father, I am having trouble with one of my new servants."
David rubbed the back of his neck. The stoic look that he saw on Absalom’s face frustrated him even more. “Son, what is the problem?" his clear green eyes glaring at him.
"One of my servants will not obey my commands," Absalom stated.
"Is that all?” The sound of David’s foot tapping on the limestone floor echoed off the walls. Then he stopped. “You come in here …waste my time because you cannot be the man of your household?”
“Father, may I explain?” Silence sat thick as a fog in the room. Nervous tension between them only magnified the sound of Absalom’s heavy breathing. Why was his father so irritated?
In anger, David stood up, turned his back to Absalom as he stomped back up to his throne. “You need to seek time with me like everyone else," he mumbled.
Absalom glared at his father for a moment before he turned to leave. “Father, I’m sorry that I bothered you,” he mumbled with sarcasm.
David flipped his wrist towards Absalom, never looking up. "Make sure you have a real problem,” he mumbled again as he put his head in his hands. “My time is important to me."
Absalom started towards the door, then turned back to look at his father once again. David was leaning forward on his throne with his head down stroking the short red beard on his chin. He looked up to see Absalom glaring at him. "Didn't I ask you to leave?" he yelled.
"Yes…father!" Absalom’s said as his body stiffened. The look he gave Joab this time was not a look of concern. It was a look mixed with hurt and hate.
After Absalom left, David leaned back on his throne. “I am so weary,” he sighed. “My strength is gone,” he said without looking at Joab, “I need to refresh my soul.”
He began to sing softly as if he was the only person in the room, “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul, the testimony of Lord is sure, making wise the simple… Simple?" he sighed. Being the most powerful king of his time was not simple. As he sat slumped on the throne, his thoughts drifted to his younger days when he watched sheep for his father. He remembered the day that the prophet Samuel came to his father’s house and anointed him as the next king of Israel. “I was just a young shepherd boy,” he mumbled to himself.
Joab stood in the back of the room watching David talk to himself. After several minutes, the two of them exchanged looks without words. He knew from the expression on David’s face that he was not in the mood to talk so he walked out of the room.
When he walked out into the large courtyard, musicians were playing lyres and small drums while the king’s concubines danced. Servants were scattered around doing various cleaning. Gardeners were busy trimming the bushes that lined the outer walls. He noticed that a group of elders standing in the middle of the room whispering. They turned and looked at him before they moved to a far corner. Absalom and his mother were sitting at a limestone table by a water pool over to his right. Maacah reached across and rested her hand on her son’s arm. Her grey streaked hair was braided loosely, falling almost to the floor. She sat in her chair with the elegance of a queen as she reached up and with a delicate hand, touched her son’s face. Absalom grabbed her hand in frustration. It was obvious that he was upset.
As he watched them, Joab wondered about the chasm that was building between David and Absalom. Their relationship was changing, especially in the past few months. Everyone knew that Absalom was David’s favorite. When Absalom was a young child, he was the son that David often carried on his shoulders. Playing with him, bouncing him around, pretending to give him a horse ride. They were often seen hiding from each other in the gardens behind the palace. Then just before Absalom turned eleven, David stopped playing with him. By the time he was sixteen, David only spoke to him when he needed him for a task. Joab often witnessed tension between them during meals. When Absalom turned twenty, his father put in charge of the sheep. He was put in charge of fifteen servants for help him shear the sheep every year. Since his father did not take time to teach him, he asked Joab for help. In the last couple of years, they became close to each other. Absalom helped Joab plant his barley fields and Joab taught Absalom how to shear sheep, process the wool, and package it to sell in the local markets in Jerusalem. Just last spring, Joab helped Absalom to acquire one hundred heads of black sheep, making Absalom the only sheep herder in all the regions around to produce high quality black wool. He also was helping him to purchase two hundred head of a uniquely colored sheep called Piebald or Jacobs fleece. “They produce white wool spotted with black,” Joab encouraged. The meat is quality meat that can be sold in the market and sell the sheepskin for rugs, cover the seats of chairs with the wool.
This was not the first time that Joab saw Absalom showing disgust towards his father. Since the affair… Joab shook off the memory. “I will do what I need to do to protect the king of Israel," he whispered to himself.
David sat on his throne for several hours after Joab left the room. He did not know why he was so harsh with his son or the Hittite man. “Lord, I need rest,” he said. “My body and soul are weary.”
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