I like this part of the Bible, these stories of David as he rises to power and tries to keep one step ahead of the varied and vociferous and villainous band of relatives who make up his court. There's all the bits we were told in Sunday School, of course, such as Jonathan firing his coded arrows and the clear eyed shepherd boy squaring off against the armoured behemoth, but now, late in life its the other bits I notice. Such as Joab and Abner, ruthless, amoral and intemperate, locked in a years long duel to the death from the shadows of their respective kings. Such as the ephemeral villains, each with his wonderful name: Doeg, Shimei, Natash. I notice the seams where the narrative has been stitched together from its various sources. I notice the women, the very few of them who make it into the story, and try to guess at the alternative history which is occasionally breaking the surface.
I try to slide past the ferocity, the wanton unconcern for human life, the savagery.
It is all so raw and unpolished. It's easy to see the genesis of this text: the aging companions of David, sitting around a table drinking far too much wine and roaring with laughter as they remember and retell and relive, while all the time a young scribe sits soberly by and makes notes. The Books of Samuel tell how the fearless and beautiful young man, attractive to both men and women, moves through middle age to become an emperor before sliding into ineffectuality as the debaucheries and miscalculations of youth catch up on him. It's the story of how twelve separate cultures are welded into a nation and held together by the personal force of one man, before fragmenting again under the leadership of his lesser descendants. It's the story of the human race as it perches on the edge of so many monumental changes: the shift into cities and the use of iron, and the invention of writing. It is the story of God.
For sounding through all these often told or wilfully ignored stories is another voice, faintly heard at first, but rising more clearly, and seen only when this long text is read as a whole. It is the call to depth; to reflection; to justice; to righteousness. It is the realisation that buried in this very human story is an eternal one. It is a voice that David himself, despite himself, seems sometimes to have heard clearly. It is a voice that sounds most fully in that one of his descendants who said you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.
It is that voice which I have spent all these years trying to hear. it is that voice which I have tried so hard, and with such limited success, to make heard.