Saturday, May 07, 2011

The Leader

Fugitives don’t sing. It’s too dangerous, especially when you don’t know whether the enemy pursuing you is within hearing distance. But his enemy could not hear the song welling up inside his heart, and could not understand it, by the very nature of his enmity. All day David had had his old songs running through his mind: the Lord is my shepherd, my protector, he will fulfil his purpose for me,, rescue me from evil men ..”

They knew that Saul and his men were nearby, it is impossible for 3,000 to be completely silent, and even more so when their leader is erratic and obsessed. But the area was full of crags and caves, so they chose one of the deepest and darkest and hid well back in the gloom. And David wondered what would happen next ..

Then the cave mouth darkened with the shadow of a single figure, and Saul entered – alone. David scarcely dared to breathe, lest he interrupt the moment. And then he realised what had happened, the King had entered the cave alone in order to relieve himself. Where could a king be safer alone than in an empty cave in the middle of the wilderness?

Except that the cave wasn’t empty. Saul was in more danger at that moment than he had ever been anywhere except on a battlefield. David didn’t need to see the looks on his men’s faces to know what they were thinking. He could the pressure of their wills. One of them leaned across and whispered to him, “This is the day that the Lord spoke of when He said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’”

David could feel the conflict. What should he do? If he did nothing he would be disgraced in his followers’ eyes; if he simply did as they said he was no longer their leader, but their puppet. Besides, Saul looked so pitiful, so pathetic. This enemy who pursued him, who had driven him out to the wilderness by his desire to destroy him, what was he in the end except a tired, tormented man whose fear was bigger than he was? What a terrible thing it must be to be Saul, at one and the same time the tortured victim of an evil spirit and the anointed of the Lord, Spirit-breathed and set apart! Saul was a man at war with his own heart, who had turned away from reliance on the Lord and took his cue from the phantasms of his foolish jealousy instead. Yes, he wanted to destroy David, but his crazy fear of David was devouring him instead. The Lord had brought him into David’s hands this day, but for what purpose? To kill him? No, not only was Saul a man to be terribly pitied, he was the anointed king of Israel. To become King by murdering the previous king – was that any way for David to become the kind of ruler God was calling him to be? Wouldn’t that make him, in the end, just another Saul, broken and haunted by evil?

He could not do it. And yet, to do nothing was also a wrong response to this God-given moment. There must be a third way. That was when he saw his way: a path as simple, yet previously unknowable as the melody of a new song. He raised a hand to still his men in an unmistakable gesture, then, easing his sword into his hand, crept forward until he was within reach of the king. His sword, sharp as the sunrise on the desert rocks, sliced out and cut a corner from the king’s robe. The king had felt nothing, and, scarcely breathing, David eased himself back to safety.
He suddenly found himself trembling at the enormity of what he had done. He had raised his hand against the one whom God had set apart to be his king! Quietly he spoke of his horror to his men, and they were rebuked for lusting after Saul’s life.

And now he knew exactly what to do, and why God had set things up this way. When Saul left the cave, he would follow him at a safe distance, then hold up this portion of the royal robe to prove that he had had Saul completely in his power and had done him no harm. For a while at least, the jealous rage in the King’s heart would be stilled, and David and his men might have time for a little peace, a little respite. And in his heart he felt a new song stirring, a song of praise and thanksgiving to the One who had always provided for his children in the wilderness, and this day had performed an even greater miracle, by keeping David free from a terrible sin.

Monday, May 02, 2011

The Choice

Under cover of darkness the spies departed via a rope let down from the window, and she was finally alone to ponder the situation. How had it come to this? She knew in her very bones that life had changed forever.

Of course, the change had really happened when the rumour first reached them that the Israelites were coming. Nobody quite understood why these people, who had been many years in the wilderness, without a land to call their own, should suddenly change direction and start heading towards civilisation, but it had something to do with this mysterious God of theirs. Of course the priests of Jericho were invoking all kinds of charms and sacrifices to keep the armies of Israel at bay, but she knew they were only fooling. Long ago she had stopped believing in the gods of Jericho; she had known too many of the priests in her bed, paying her poorly to degrade and mistreat her, and she knew them for weak, venal man, serving weak, venal gods whose commands seemed to strangely match the desires of their priests. It was hard in her profession to believe in anything, it was harder still to survive believing in nothing.

Then the stories had started. Living where she did, right on the wall, she was visited by many merchants and travellers, and the stories they told her were more authentic than the versions that soon circulated in the marketplace. And those stories needed no embellishment – the cold, daylight facts were quite amazing enough on their own. Many years before, a race of slaves, known as the Hebrews, had escaped from Egypt, the mightiest country in the world. Strange events had preceded their going, plagues and miracles and death. And stranger still was what happened next: the might of the Egyptian army pursued them to the shores of the Red Sea, the sea opened up a path of dry land for the people to escape on, and then closed again on top of the soldiers, drowning the might of Pharaoh’s army. Then, for a long time, not much was heard about them.

But now they had a new leader, a man called Joshua, some spectacular victories to their credit, and they were encamped just across the River Jordan, far too close for comfort. It looked like they had Jericho in their sights, and the city was growing nervous. Rahab had been worse than nervous. She thought she had given up all belief in gods, but the God of these Israelites was different. From all she had heard, and the questions she had asked those who really knew something, He was nothing like the Canaanite gods. Instead of using worship as an excuse for every kind of debauchery, He demanded restraint and purity from His people. Sacrifices were regulated, and all human sacrifice was forbidden, even the sacrifice of children. She had once had a baby the priests had taken away and murdered; this aspect of their God impressed her deeply.

Only the day before she had looked around this city, where she had spent all her days, and, knowing it was destined to fall to the Israelites, seen it as a forlorn, hopeless and hollow place. It had become her prison, the wreck in which she was doomed to sink and drown. She had found herself crying out to the unknown God of Israel that He would rescue her, then laughed scornfully at herself – for whoever heard of a god who won battles listening to the prayer of a woman? Maybe he would take notice of a queen, but who had ever listened to the prayers of a prostitute?

And yet ... the impossible had happened! The Israelite spies had come to her door, out of all the doors in Jericho! She had hidden and protected them, and, in return, exacted a promise that she and her family would be spared when Jericho fell. They had left her a scarlet cord to hang in her window, so that the army of Israel would know which household to spare.

She ran the cord through her fingers thoughtfully, wonderingly. Her life hung by it. By the hanging of this cord she would make her choice to belong to a new god and a new people. And if this mighty God was willing to listen to the prayers of a prostitute, then maybe His people would be willing to love and accept her. Maybe (was it possible?) she could become a respectable woman, even a wife? This scarlet cord, as bright as blood, was her hope her only hope, of freedom and dignity.