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Neither Saint nor Superman--Multiform Ability--His Radiant Youth--The Combat With Goliath--The Sonata -- David Embarrassed by Popularity--His Friendship With Prince Jonathan--His Marriage With Princess Michal--Their Quarrel and Separation--Saul's Anger at the Dinner Table--Parting of David and Jonathan--The Lie to Ahimelech and Its Consequences--David's Simulation of Madness--A Leader of Sedition--The Pretty New Wife--Lamentation of David for Saul and Jonathan--Ishboshetk the King--His Assassination--David Monarch of All He Surveyed--His Kindness to Mephibosheth and Its Sequel--David's Sin and Crime--Nathan the Bold-- The Rebellion of Prince Absalom--Character of General Joab--David's Grief for His Son--Murder of Amasa--David's Feeble Old Age--Presumption of Prince Adonijah--Summary of David's Character-- Personality of David.




David was neither a saint nor a superman; he was an epitome of manhood. He was a representative of masculinity, and had the virtues and vices that often accompany virility. Physically, mentally, spiritually he may stand as the genius of his race. Leave David out of the Bible, there would be vast empty spaces. In his own person he represents the athlete, the shepherd, the poet, the musician, the mystic, the man-of-war, the father, the friend, and the statesman. His deeds, his poems, and his prayers are alike immortal. In spite of his gross sins, he had a certain greatness of heart that drew the love of men and women who knew him, that still commands the affection and homage of those who read the story of his life. As a shepherd lad, he was the incarnation of the strength, beauty, and grace of youth. King Saul commanded his servants to bring to the court a first-class musician.

Then answered one of the servants, and said, Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, that is cunning in playing, and a mighty valiant man, and a man of war, and prudent in matters, and a comely person, and the Lord is with him.


When Saul's incompetence became manifest, Samuel was forced by the divine voice to commit high treason, to appoint a new king while the throne was still occupied. It would seem that there was then a higher duty than obedience to the reigning power. Samuel called Jesse to a sacrifice, and passed his numerous sons in review. The first one, Eliab, was a superb creature, of such imposing face and figure that Samuel said to himself, This is the man. But the Voice whispered to him that the true value is not in outward appearance, but in the heart. It was a handsome family, the family of Jesse; and the proud father ordered his seven sons to stand in succession before the prophet. It is like a fairy story, where the obscure and neglected child turns out to be the favourite of fortune. Samuel was puzzled; he asked Jesse if these were all the sons he had. It appeared that Jesse had not thought it worth while to bring the youngest, who was out keeping the sheep.

And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to.

To the amazement of the brothers, who, however, seem to have behaved better than the brothers of Joseph, young David was anointed king in the presence of the family.

David had not wasted those long days in the pasture; he had become an accomplished musician, he had composed much poetry, and he had discov-


ered his prodigious strength in killing a predatory lion and a bear with his hands. Best of all, he had had many hours of quiet reflection and thought; in the solitude of nature, in communion with the hills, he had drawn close to God.

At the first interview, Saul did not dream that the boy was to be his successor; he saw only a radiant youth, who had come to charm his sad mind with music. He loved him at first sight, kept him in his presence, and made him his armour-bearer.

David's first exploit was to destroy the Philistine heavyweight champion, Goliath. He was an enormous fellow. His height was six cubits and a span. Now we do not know exactly how long the Bible cubit is, but it is safe to call it about twenty inches; and the span was probably half a cubit, so that the gentleman from Gath was ten feet six--a tall man in any company. He was as strong as he was tall; for his breastplate weighed one hundred and fifty pounds, and the tip of his spear weighed twenty pounds. Standing straight in shining armour, it is safe to say that he would have attracted attention anywhere.

He came out in front of his countrymen every day for forty days, and every time he challenged the children of Israel to produce a champion to contend with him, that they might have a fight to a finish. Every morning and every evening he made his little speech, until the Israelites found the repetition extremely tiresome; but as no one seemed


eager to accept Goliath's invitation, the situation continued without noticeable alteration.

David's three big brothers were in Saul's army; the boy had gone back to feed his father's sheep. Jesse sent him to the camp with food from the farm for his brothers, a fine present for their captain, and bade him return with news of the family. As David drew near to the trench, he saw the host moving out in battle array, and their singing and shouting fired his young blood. Then, to his surprise, the big Philistine stepped out, made his customary remarks, and the Israelites fled from his presence. David shot questions right and left, and soon learned all there was to know; also of the glorious reward that would be given to anyone who could eliminate the giant. His oldest brother Eliab heard him talking, and was disgusted. This is no place for a boy; what do you mean by leaving your sheep? I know what's the matter with you; you have sneaked off from home and your work, to see the battle; now get back as fast as you can. But this big-brother sneer made little impression on David, for he was full of a great plan. He talked so volubly that Saul sent for him; and the king must have laughed outright when David told him that he would fight the Philistine. But his boyish eloquence so moved the monarch that he won permission.

Goliath looked more like a fighting-machine than like a human being; but as we know to-day that a fifty-thousand-ton battleship can be destroyed by one


torpedo, so David knew that if he could hit Goliath in an unprotected place with his sling-shot, it would be all over with the big champion. He had had plenty of time to practice, and had become as skilful as many an American boy to-day; and he went forth with his small but dangerously offensive weapon. As for his defensive armour, that was in his feet; he took off Saul's cumbrous suit of mail, for if he did not succeed in hitting the Philistine, he did not want anything to interfere with his speed in running away. He knew that Goliath was not dressed for sprinting.

The disgust of the giant when he saw the fairfaced boy advancing found expression in words; but David was also a good talker, and after a slanging match, he took careful aim, and hit the big face with the first shot, so that Goliath was knocked out. Before he could recover consciousness, David was upon him, and killed him with his own sword. It must be granted that in this exploit David exhibited more skill than courage; but when you are in opposition to superior strength, you must use your wits, like Jack-the-Giant-killer.

It is pleasant to remember that the composer Johann Kuhnau (1660-1722), who immediately preceded Bach as organist of St. Thomas's church in Leipzig, and was the originator of the sonata as a composition in movements, wrote six sonatas called Musical Representation of Some Bible Stories. The piece dealing with David and Goliath is more quaint


than impressive, but it gives delight still. As it is not generally known, the separate movements--real programme music--are worth transcribing.

1. The stamping and defying of Goliath.
2. The terror of the Israelites and their prayer to God at the sight of their terrible enemy.
3. The courage of David, his desire to humble the pride of the giant, and his child-like faith in God.
4. The contest of words between David and Goliath, and the combat, in which Goliath, wounded in the forehead by a stone from the sling of David, falls to the ground and is slain.
5. The flight of the Philistines, pursued and slain with the sword by the Israelites.
6. The exultation of the Israelites over their victory.
7. The praise of David, sung by the women in alternate choirs.
8. The general joy and triumph expressing itself in hearty dancing and leaping.

Just as the Bible has been the quarry for hundreds of stage-plays, so it affords excellent material for instrumental music.

The dismay of the Philistines was equalled only by the joy of the Israelites; and from that moment until his death, David was a popular hero. Saul gave him a high command in the army, and might have continued to love him if the women had not gone out to meet David with singing and dancing and an odious comparison. "And Saul eyed David from that day forward." On the morrow Saul had one of his attacks of melancholia, and as David was


playing music in his presence, Saul hurled a javelin at him; but he was not so good a shot as the young man, for he missed him twice.

Like many another, David found his popularity embarrassing, for he knew that the king would never forgive him; he behaved with modesty and tact, and the splendid loyalty that he had perhaps inherited from his great-grandmother made him true to Saul to the end; but it was all in vain. For the more modestly he behaved, the more the people loved him and the more violent and uncontrollable became the jealousy of the king.

David lived at court; and there began that noble and beautiful friendship between Jonathan and David that has added to the beauty of the Bible and to the glory of human nature. Few things can exceed in duration true friendship between man and man; as it has no physical foundation, it does not easily decay. It is interesting to remember that David's friendship with the king's son lasted forever; whereas his love for the king's daughter, whom he took in marriage, burned out and became extinct. Princess Michal loved David, her maids told Saul about it, and he was pleased; for he saw a way of destroying him. He told his servants to let David know that he was to become the king's son-in-law; David of course made a modest disclaimer, saying that he could provide no worthy marriage settlement. Then, inspired by Saul, they told him that if he would kill a hundred Philistines,


the deed would be accepted as dowry. The intention was of course to have the rash young man lose his life in the attempt. But David went out with his own company and slew two hundred; so Michal became his wife. His popularity increased enormously; in the quaint Bible phrase, "his name was much set by."

Throwing the javelin seems to have been Saul's favorite indoor sport, though he was an indifferent shot; he once more missed David, the weapon quivering in the wall, and he missed his son Jonathan at close range. Perhaps he was too angry to shoot straight. Then he planned to kill David in his bed; but Michal let her husband down through a window, and put a dummy in his place, pretending to her father that David had threatened her if she would not connive at his escape. It is interesting to observe that this dummy was the ikon, or family god, showing that the Israelites were forever breaking the second commandment.

It is a pity that this marriage, which began as a love-match, should have ended in a quarrel, but the cause of the separation was quite natural. Michal must have been an attractive woman, for after Saul quarrelled with David, the king gave her to a new husband by the name of Phalti, who was so uxorious that when later he was forced to deliver her back to David, he followed behind her--poor fellow--weeping. He made such a noise that Captain Abner peremptorily ordered him to go home, like a dog whose services are no longer required.


And her husband went with her along weeping behind her to Bahurim. Then said Abner unto him, Go, return. And he returned.

Some time after this, King David was coming from a victory, bringing back the ark of God. He was in such high spirits that he danced before the Lord with all his might, very scantily dressed; as the procession entered the city, Michal looked out of a window, and there, to her disgust, she saw her husband the king leaping and dancing in the street. With that regard for conventional decency so much stronger in women than in men, she despised him; she thought he was making a fool of himself. It is easy to understand her rage and shame; no woman likes to have her husband make himself ridiculous. When David came into the house in bright glee and wholly satisfied with himself, his wife greeted him in a manner that first amazed and then infuriated him. She told him acidly that he had made a vulgar and silly exhibition, that everyone was secretly laughing at him. "You thought you were just wonderful, didn't you? Well, you made an ass out of yourself." David's male pride was horribly hurt; he answered brutally, and as so often happens in domestic quarrels, he insulted her family, reminding her cruelly that he had been chosen over her father; that he was better than any person in her father's house. Now he was going to do as he pleased; he would dance even more vilely than she had seen him. This was the end; he never spoke to her again. Unfortunate, but human.


Such is the power of the tongue. David had not hesitated to take her back from an intervening husband; his pride, which had not recoiled from that, could not forgive her ridicule.

When David saw that everything he did only increased Saul's anger, he had a long talk with Jonathan about it, and the two young men swore eternal friendship, Jonathan begging David not to forget his children when they were fatherless. He seems to have been certain of the speedy approach of disaster to the king, and he knew that he must fall with his father, like a loyal prince of the house. It is pleasant to observe that he never joined David in public opposition to the king, though doubtless he wished to do so. At this time they arranged a system of signals. To-morrow was the feast of the new moon; and David knew that his absence from table would be observed, though he did not dare to be present. The dinner-time came; Saul took his accustomed seat by the wall, and Abner, the captain of the host, sat at his side; the king glared at David's empty place, but said nothing. On the second day, however, he asked Jonathan what had become of David, for he knew well enough that Jonathan could tell him, if he would. The prince began to defend his friend, and Saul threw a javelin across the table at him; Jonathan rose, wild with rage, and walked out, leaving his dinner untasted. The next day, by a previously arranged signal, Jonathan went out in the field with a lad carrying his


arrows, ostensibly to practise marksmanship; but David was hidden. When Jonathan shot the arrows beyond the place where his friend lay, and told the boy to pick them up, David knew that the king was obdurate. The boy took the bow and arrows and returned to the city. No sooner had he disappeared than David sprang up; the two friends embraced, and renewed their vows of friendship in one of the most deeply affecting scenes to be found in literature. Jonathan returned to the city and David wandered off into exile; it is impossible to say which of them suffered most.

David went away to Nob, and there asked Ahimelech the high priest for food and weapons, telling him a lie, saying that he was an emissary of Saul, and that the king's business required haste. Ahimelech loved David, and gave him the communion-bread and the huge sword of the dead Goliath, which David was apparently able to swing. All might have been well if a certain man named Doeg, devoted to Saul, had not happened to be there. He informed against David; the king sent for Ahime-lech, who came with the priests; despite his protestations of innocence, Saul ordered the footmen to slay the whole company; they did not dare to commit this sacrilege, but Doeg had no scruples, and single-handed he butchered eighty-five of the holy and defenceless men. Many centuries later, the poet Dryden helped to hand Doeg down to infamy.

One of Ahimelech's sons escaped, and told David


the tragic news; David was overwhelmed with remorse because of his lie. He said, "I knew Doeg would tell, when I saw him there. I am now guilty of the death of all the members of your family." But the young man knew he was safer with David than anywhere else, so he accompanied him on his wanderings--one more evidence of the confidence that David inspired in those who knew him.

Although David behaved toward Saul with forbearance and loyalty, the king was determined to make it a case of civil war. He proclaimed David to be a public enemy, and pursued him with the royal army. Curiously enough, David fled to Achish, the king of Gath, the old home of Goliath; he was immediately recognised by the people, and he simulated madness; he "scrabbled on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle fall down upon his beard." He was a good actor, and completely deceived King Achish, who exclaimed in a fashion that is not without humour. David was brought before his presence as a dangerous enemy, but his crazy behaviour was so convincing that the king said:

Lo, ye see the man is mad: wherefore then have ye brought him to me?
Have I need of mad men, that ye have brought this fellow to play the mad man in my presence? shall this fellow come into my house?

Although David was in reality no rebel, he was generally so regarded; his father and his brothers


joined him, which must have taken considerable courage; and a natural thing happened.

And everyone that was in distress, and everyone that was in debt, and everyone that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men.

He must have been disgusted with this rag, tag, and bobtail of an army, but there was no help for it; his life was in daily danger. He was the fox, and the royal pack of hounds chased him from cover to cover.

Several times he could have killed Saul; but he loved the king, and had a sacred reverence for the office. Once he cut off a piece of Saul's cloak, and at a safe distance held it up to the sight of the king, as proof of his loyalty. He also made a flattering speech, trying to prove to Saul that he was making much ado about nothing.

After whom is the king of Israel come out? after whom dost thou pursue? after a dead dog, after a flea?

This time Saul wept, and repented, saying, Is this thy voice, my son David? And for a time they were reconciled.

While still in exile, David, in a dramatic manner, obtained a new and beautiful wife. It seems that he and his followers had protected the vast property of a rich farmer named Nabal; being in need of food, David sent his young men to this plutocrat, requesting assistance. Nabal was a hard-bitten old


skinflint, and he said, Who is David? Am I going to hand over my goods to a runaway servant? When this message was brought back, the impulsive and passionate young leader flew into a tempest of rage and sallied out to destroy Nabal, his family and his entire possessions. There is no doubt that he would have done this if it had not been for Nabal's pretty wife Abigail. She secretly took an enormous heap of costly provisions, and went to meet the avenger. David was extremely susceptible to beauty, and when this "woman of good understanding and of a beautiful countenance" looked him in the eyes and spoke flatteringly and soothingly, he melted like snow in the sunshine. She was as fair in speech as in face; she said: "The soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with the Lord thy God." David blessed her for coming, and for saving him from the guilt of murder. She returned home.

That night old Nabal gave a big dinner to his cronies, and got very drunk. He was feeling bad the next morning, but so much worse when his wife told him of her doings that he had a stroke, and in ten days was dead. David exclaimed with delight when he heard of this, and immediately asked Abigail to become his wife. She accepted with alacrity.

There were two fine qualities in David that were never understood even by those closest to him; one was his reverential loyalty to King Saul, the other the strength of his family affection. Both were


greater than his concern for his personal glory or safety. Nearly all men have been glad to learn of the death of their enemies, especially when an immediate advantage rises from it. Julius Caesar and David--both humane--are the notable exceptions. David was at Ziklag one day when a messenger came from the field of battle, bearing the news that Saul was dead and saying that he, the messenger, had, at the king's request, killed him. To the astonishment of the visitor, David was struck with horror. Wast thou not afraid to stretch forth thine hand to destroy the Lord's anointed? And he had the man killed on the spot.

Then he composed an elegiac poem for Saul and Jonathan, which, in immortal phrase, sets forth the passion of loyalty and friendship:

The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen!
Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph......
Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided: they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions......
How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! O Jonathan, thou wast slain in thine high places.
I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.
How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished!


Saul's son, Ishbosheth, was crowned king of Israel, and David king of Judah. Civil war began, and nearly all the forty years of David's reign were filled with fighting against foreign and domestic foes. Two famous generals were Abner, who was a true and high-minded gentleman, and Joab, a professional fighting-hack, who understood neither pity nor remorse, and who never forgot a personal enemy. Abner was of the party of Israel, for he had been Saul's captain-in-chief; in the early days of the civil war, the three sons of Zeruiah--Joab, Abishai, and young Asahel--pursued hard after the retreating Abner. Now Asahel was the fastest runner in the country; he gained rapidly on Abner, who besought him to stop, or at any rate to take armour from one of the young men, so that there might be a fair duel. But he kept on in hot pursuit; and Abner, much against his will, was forced in self-defence to slay him, pushing his long spear backward.

After this battle, Abner pleaded with Joab to end the strife; and Joab pretended that all was well. Meanwhile the loyal Abner was insulted by the idiotic Ishbosheth, so grossly insulted that he went over to David. Then Joab treacherously invited Abner to a quiet conference, and slew him at the gate. King David wept bitterly, gave Abner a royal funeral, and mourned publicly at the grave, saying that a prince and a great man had fallen in Israel, adding, "These sons of Zeruiah be too hard for me."


King Ishbosheth was assassinated, killed in his bed, and the murderers brought his head to the horrified David, who reminded them of what he had done to the messenger who came from dead Saul, "who thought that I would have given him a reward for his tidings."

How much more, when wicked persons have slain a righteous person in his own house upon his bed?

He gave orders; the messengers were killed, their bodies mutilated, and hanged over the pool in Hebron.

David was then anointed king over Israel; he reigned seven years over Judah and thirty-three years over the united countries. Jerusalem became the seat of the monarchy and the city of David.

His power grew apace; he formed an alliance with Hiram king of Tyre, and his conquests extended so far that he was able to put a garrison in Damascus, the Syrians paying tribute. Garrisons were also placed in Edom, and the army became a highly efficient force, under the command of General Joab.

It is pleasant to remember King David's kindness to a son of Jonathan, who was a cripple. This was Mephibosheth, who was permanently injured, as so many babies have been, by the carelessness of a nurse. He was five years old, when the news of the death of his father and grandfather came; his nurse picked him up, started to run and, in her haste, dropped him. As a result, he was incurably lame in


both feet. Years later, David enquired if there was anyone left of the house of Saul, to whom he might show a kindness for Jonathan's sake; a man named Ziba appeared and told the king of Mephibosheth. The lame young man appeared in the royal presence with fear and trembling, and did obeisance; but David told him that he would always care for him for his father's sake; he should receive back the property that he would have inherited from Saul, and he should be a perpetual guest at the king's own table. Mephibosheth was overcome with embarrassed gratitude, and said: "What is thy servant, that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am?" But David commanded Ziba and his whole family to work for Mephibosheth with the same zeal and reverence as if he were King Saul himself; and as Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants, it was a large order. Ziba cheerfully obeyed the king's directions; Mephibosheth and his baby son Micha were treated with the homage due to royalty. David never appeared to better advantage; he not only saved Mephibosheth and his family from want, but he restored the poor cripple's self-respect. From being a neglected and helpless fugitive, he held a high place in the palace of the king, and it is certain that no one dared to slight him.

It turned out later that either Mephibosheth or Ziba was a liar; it is one of those innumerable cases that depend on human testimony, the least dependable thing in the whole world; the testimony is


flatly contradictory and both puzzled and disgusted David, so that he finally settled the matter with a contemptuous gesture. It seems incredible, after David's kindness, that Mephibosheth should have behaved with rank and treacherous ingratitude; but it would not be the first or the last time in history. When David was in sore distress during the rebellion of Absalom, and the opportunists were in doubt which side to support, Ziba appeared before the king with an immense store of provisions, and in response to David's question as to Mephibosheth, Ziba replied that the lame man stayed in Jerusalem, rejoicing in David's downfall, and believing that the house of Saul would regain the throne. This sounds like a huge lie; but David apparently believed it, for he told Ziba that the property of Mephibosheth should thenceforth belong to him. After Absalom's death, when King David re-entered Jerusalem, who should come to meet him but Mephibosheth, looking like a vagabond; he had neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes from the day David had fled. This looked like sincerity of mourning; and the king enquired, Why did you not go with me, Mephibosheth? and he answered that he had planned to ride to the king, but that Ziba had slandered him. In this mental morass, the king floundered a moment, and then said impatiently that the property must be divided between Ziba and Mephibosheth. The latter answered humbly that he was willing to have Ziba take all, he was so happy


at the king's successful return. All we can say is, Somebody lied.

If Mephibosheth continued to eat at the king's table, the situation must have been somewhat constrained.

It is sad that after recording the fidelity of David to the memory of his best friend, we should have also to write down one of the blackest crimes of his life. But although David is one of the heroes of Israelitish history, the honest old chronicler set down the most damaging facts, for only one reason --because they were the truth. David's adultery and murder have made a tremendous impression on the world, just as Napoleon's murder of the Duc D'Enghien has shocked people more than the hundred thousand murders he committed to satisfy his selfish ambition; what should one individual be among so many? But most readers have so little imagination that the fate of one well-known person of high social position stirs them more than thousands of nameless sufferers; just as we are more distressed at an automobile accident that happens before our eyes than we are by reading of a faraway calamity that destroys two hundred or two thousand people. David had much wholesale slaughter on his soul besides this particular crime; but here we know the names of the characters, and they are as real as acquaintances.

Toward the close of a summer day, after David had been enjoying a siesta, he rose and walked on


the roof of the royal palace; and in the dusk, he saw a woman bathing. He sent a messenger to inquire her name, and upon learning that she was married to Uriah the Hittite, he took her himself. It has often been the royal prerogative to take anything that happens at the moment to seem attractive; one reason why so many kings have no true appreciation of beauty is because admiration with them is always mingled with predatory desire; they have about as much artistic discernment of beauty as a thief has of the beauty of the plate and jewels he steals. He sent Bathsheba home again, and after a time she sent him word that she was with child. Her husband Uriah was away with the army, fighting for his country, which does not add to the attractiveness of David's conduct. The king sent word to General Joab that he wished to speak with Uriah. Accordingly, the soldier, who seems to have been a rugged, upstanding man-at-arms, came into the presence of the king. In vain did David attempt to persuade Uriah to go to his house; Uriah said that his comrades were fighting at the field, and he would be ashamed to sleep in comfort while they were in hardship and peril. Doubtless this was not the real reason; he must have suspected the truth the moment he looked into the king's face. So David sent the brave fellow back to the camp, with instructions to Joab to put him in the most dangerous position in the battle. Joab knew what was expected and why; and in the dispatch he sent home it appeared


that among the casualties was Uriah the Hittite. The greedy monarch then married Bathsheba; but although he forgot God, God did not forget him.

Nathan, the prophet of Jehovah, appeared before David and told him a pathetic story of the cupidity and cruelty of a rich man in dealing with a poor and defenceless person; the king's anger was aroused --we always despise our own wickedness when we see it in others or on the stage--and said that the rich man must die. Then Nathan pointed his finger at the king and said, Thou art the man. He prophesied three evils that would come upon David, because of his sin: the sword should never depart from his house, his own wives should be publicly dishonoured by another man, and his child by Bathsheba should die. All three came true.

The only creditable part of this melancholy story is David's behaviour to Nathan. Instead of striking him down, or rebuking him, or trying to explain his own conduct, he said frankly, "I have sinned." He confessed and he repented. In spite of the care of the royal specialists, the child died, and David said, "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me."

He kept his wife Bathsheba, for what would have been her position if he had sent her away? She always retained her influence over him, and later became the mother of King Solomon.

Little pleasure had David in his children: little pleasure in anything. As in the life of Saul, the


careless days of his youth were the only happy ones he knew. In order to retain his throne, and to save Israel from foreign domination, he could never sheathe the sword; bloodshed was chronic.

Prince Absalom inherited the manly beauty of the house of Jesse: "from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him." Especially noticeable was his magnificent hair; it was so thick and glossy that every year when he had it cut it was like taking a harvest off a field. But he had no more moral sense than Alcibiades; he was a traitor to his father and to the nation. He stole away the hearts of the people by promises as fair as his face; and finally he felt himself strong enough to organise open rebellion. The uprising was so general that David left the holy city in shame and disgrace, like a hunted man with a price on his head. But in a decisive battle, in which the king's forces were led by the two sons of Zeruiah--Joab and Abishai--Absalom's forces were routed. Before the battle, David gave public orders that no harm must come to the person of Absalom; as so often happens in tragic quarrels between fathers and sons, the father loves his child with a passionate intensity greater than in harmonious days. Anyone who has observed life must have seen this, which, if we did not know something of the strange workings of the human heart, would be indeed a mystery.

Joab was a plain fighting man; he saw in Absalom the most dangerous foe of the state, and when the


retreating prince was caught by the head in the boughs of a great oak, Joab slew him with no more compunction than one would kill a rattlesnake.

The king sat between the two gates, awaiting news from the front; he was far more interested in the welfare of Absalom than in his own kingdom. The watchman, standing aloft, saw a man running alone, followed soon by another, Ahimaaz arrived first, and shouted joyously the news of the great victory; but the king enquired, Is the young man Absalom safe? Ahimaaz did not dare tell him, but muttered something about a great tumult, the significance of which he had not waited to know. Then Cushi arrived in the same spirit of exultation; and the king asked, Is the young man Absalom safe? Cushi, with diplomatic tact, replied, May the enemies of the king all be as that young man now is. The overwhelming grief in David's heart left no room for any other emotion; his personal gain was forgotten in the loss of his selfish and cruel son. No cry of anguish that has come down from all the immeasurable woe of the past is more poignant than David's lamentation:

O my son Absalom, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!

The years of imperial pride and glory, which have made monsters out of so many men, had never hardened the nature of David; the tenderness of his heart was ever greater than his ambition.


General Joab was disgusted with David's behaviour, and told him exactly what he thought of it. David had never liked Joab or his family, and he did not forget this speech, which was like a knife in a green wound. He appointed Amasa in Joab's place; but he did not live to take it. Joab came up to Amasa affectionately, and said, "Art thou in health, my brother?" took him by the beard to kiss him, and with the other hand ran him through. Amasa wallowed in blood in the midst of the highway; a crowd gathered about his dead body, for this cold-hearted and treacherous murder shocked the whole nation.

Joab retained his position as Captain of the host, and David seems to have been afraid of him; but after a long career of fighting loyally for the king, his good sense deserted the old soldier at last, and he made the fatal mistake of supporting Prince Adonijah, who, in David's old age, rebelled against his father, and announced himself king. David was too feeble to exert himself; but Bathsheba came in, and reminded him of his promise that Solomon should be his heir. He therefore made a public proclamation to that effect, which caused such general rejoicing that the followers of Adonijah disappeared like a mist, and left him in ridiculous isolation.

On his deathbed, David sent for Solomon and said, as Joshua had said before him:


I go the way of all the earth: be thou strong therefore, and shew thyself a man:
And keep the charge of the Lord thy God, to walk in His it is written in the law of Moses.

He left two death warrants for Solomon to execute; one for Joab, and one for Shimei, a blackguard who had cursed him during the temporary success of Absalom. But those who then stood by him were to be remembered in kindness by his son.

No figure in history is more real than David; he stands before us, with his grandeur and his littleness, his virtues and his crimes. No warrior was ever more beloved by the mighty men who fought for him, and the episode where he refused to drink of the water that his captains had brought to him at the risk of their lives--for they had to fight their way to the well, and then fight their way back, spilling blood without spilling water--is perhaps the most charming in his career; for it shows not only the greatness, but the fineness of his nature.

No modern historian, whatever his personal bias, can injure David or blacken his memory, for the simple reason that we already know the worst that can be said against him; the Bible does not spare him. But in the opinion of most unprejudiced readers, David is not only an imposing but an attractive personality; we admire the great king and we love the true-hearted man.

Next: VII. Solomon in all His Glory--The Romantic Figure of Elijah