The Book of Voices

Biblical Microfictions by Joseph Zitt


(Context: 2 Samuel 15:25)

I am shivering with the cold from the wind, with the chill in my heart, standing alongside the ark on this hill at the city walls. The sun is lowering toward the horizon, toward twilight. As I look to the west, I can see hundreds, perhaps thousands of people streaming past me, out of my city, out of the gates of Jerusalem, out toward the valleys and caves where some will disperse and some will hide in the dark. All of them have covered their heads and bared their feet. All wear muted colors, forming a vague dim tapestry of the shades of their skin, of the shades of the earth. All try to look the same, in unity, in anonymity. Each wants to be counted, to be reckoned with the group, yet to be hidden, to avoid being singled out as a person with a face, with a name within the crowd.

But in this blur of people, one traveler still stands out, as if he is glowing with a different light. David, our king, is leaving his city, our city, on a path whose tracks are drawn by his tears and ours.

And I have been left behind — I, the king’s most loyal follower and comrade, the keeper of the sacred place. Of all the people around him, he trusts me to safeguard the ark, so he has ordered me to stay behind, to be his ears within the city, to send him word of those who whisper of his fate. All the people of Jerusalem who have followed him are leaving, save my fellow chief priest, our sons, the ten concubines who care for his house, and me. I watch him go and feel sadness, feel loss, and (I must admit) feel a tinge of anger, of frustration that he has chosen not to keep me by his side.

This king has been even more of a father to me than he had been to his sons. And as the father has been to his sons, so the sons have been to the father. All have strayed from the word that he purported to teach, and have done as he has done. Word has drifted from his palace, perhaps changed in the telling, perhaps making the stories gentler than the truth, probably making them worse.

The charming Tamar is gone, off to study, we are told (though rumor links her teachers to the concubines of the palace, who suddenly arrived as a group). But there are whispers of a darker story, involving Amnon, her brother, who was to be king and who suddenly died. And deeper whispers say that Absalom grew quiet and furious when David did nothing to Amnon, that he was the one who killed their brother, and that this caused him to consider his father unworthy of kingship and to declare himself king.

This cold wind from the north braces my skin, blows up sand and dead foliage that hisses and crackles, that strokes and strikes my face, threaten to cut into me. I step to the south, around the ark, taking refuge in its solidity as I have so often taken refuge in my faith in its god, in our god. Huddled against its outer wall, I hear the absence of the wind as the loudest of silences, my ears adjusting slowly now to twilight’s sounds.

I sit in silence, in this silence, close my eyes, and pray for wisdom, for answers. I bring forth my senses of David and of Absalom and hold them both, together, in my heart. I know that each knows that things have gone wrong, that neither wants war between their people. There can be peace, if only after time apart. Neither wants the other dead. But they have spies and counselors and ministers, and each will maneuver to have the ear of either king. And these people may want war, and they may fight among themselves, and perhaps this kingdom will not hold, will split into its separate tribes again.

In this silence, in this dim light just short of darkness, I feel my presence drifting. The daylight world fades, and I find myself on the cusp of sleep, in the place where souls meet and trade their visions. Here, the ark is glowing. The wall on which I lean turns to sand, to dust, to mist, and I am drawn inside.

The cherubim carved on the innermost shrine have awakened, are alive, are singing to me. They step down from the carvings and embrace me in their arms, their wings. They are as unashamed of their nakedness as I am unconcerned by it. I look upward as they look down. Each kisses me on my forehead, and they draw my gaze deep into their eyes, now golden, now clear water, now a reflection of what is yet to be.

And I see the people of our kingdom fighting, the men of Judah against the men of Israel, there in the shade of the oaks, in the tangles of the terebinths, the turpentine trees, within the forest of Ephraim. Then the surviving soldiers fade away, and the forest is littered with the dead, perhaps ten thousand, perhaps twenty, their blood seeping into the ground, dripping over rocks, forming into streams, all flowing together as a single river that cries out in its confusion, in its pain.

The call of the blood of the joined people resonates in the blood of their kings, in the heart of David, in the soul of Absalom. And each knows suddenly that this war must end, that they must reach out to one another, and find a way to settle their battle as a matter, at last, between father and son.

I see Absalom, rising from his bed in the palace, late at night, going to his finest horses, then turning, finding a simple mule. He rides out of the palace, of the city, quietly, anonymously, down toward Mahanaim, down to find his father’s camp. In the night, in the moonlight, in the darkness before dawn, tears stream from his eyes as he admits to himself and to our god that he has done wrong, that events have gone wrong, that it is time to make things right.

And I see him as the sun rises, the breezes rising from the valley blowing his fine long hair outward, upward, as if it is a curtain, a canopy, a cape that flows behind and above him, its strands dark and brilliant against the green branches of the terebinth that he passes beyond and below —

Then the vision stops, and the physical world abruptly returns, with a pain that I think at first is metaphor but then recognize as real. Small stones are hitting me, hitting the ark, thrown from below. Shimei, the madman, the idiot, is throwing them, cursing and laughing as he lets them fly.

I turn and bellow with my strongest voice, “Stop! This is the ark of the Lord. Whatever you wish to fight is not here.”

Shimei throws a last handful, howls with something like laughter, and runs back down the hill, to where the people are marching out of the city. I trust that they will keep him from doing further harm.

Now, in the last bit of daylight, I can still see the marchers streaming out of the city, over the hills. Even David is lost in the crowd for now, one of the multitude, crying and walking with the common people.

The wind has died down, the chill of its gusts replaced by the more steady chill of evening. I will wait for the full moon to rise enough to light our way, then call on my fellow chief priest and our sons to help me raise the ark again, so that we may carry it back to the city, to Jerusalem, to our home.

(Next: Haggai.)


September 8, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. Dear Joe,

    We have been reading the second book of Kings as part of the daily lectionary. We just recently read the story you have re-told so ably. Thank you.


    Comment by Lary Pearce | September 12, 2007 | Reply

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