I go out to the royal gardens, where a cold wind whips the slender palm tree, bending its solitary shoot till its crown of leaves shakes, rattling violently as if it were about to slip down. There I hunker down, listen to the wild beat of my heart, and wait. I wait for the night to end, hoping that by sunrise I may find some relief, some deliverance.
The storm sings, yet I am silent. But after a while, listening to its rhythm, I match it with words, I intone, “My heart is in anguish within me. The terrors of death have fallen on me. Fear and trembling have beset me, horror has overwhelmed me. I said, ‘Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.’”
In the moonlight, silvery dust swirls around me. Blow by blow it rises before my eyes. Through its veil, the view of the mountains around Jerusalem is truly magical. It makes me ache to find my way back to the caves and crevices where I used to dwell. Perhaps because of my folly— the folly of a man who has known success and tired of it—I yearn for way things were, long before I became king.
These were times of danger, as Saul put his dogs on my scent. Life was thrilling. I thrived on risk.
Not so now.
I am beside myself with fear, which I cannot even explain to myself. Forget the palace. Forget the crown. It’s no good, being me, being where I am.
As if listening to a stranger I hear my voice, chanting, “I would flee far away, and stay in the desert. I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.”
David in The Edge of Revolt
Many times I quote the beautiful lines from Psalms in The David Chronicles, because it suggests, in such a beautifully poetic way, not only the way David questions himself but the anguish and doubts of each one of us when we reach a crossroad.
This winter I have fallen into the habit of wandering out to the roof, even if Bathsheba is not with me. Reclining on the cold tile floor I lean against the wooden lattice, right there at the edge, and lose myself in thought. Sometimes I take the crown off my tired head, and roll it across the dusty surface, glad that no one is watching me. I wonder then, why did I put so much effort, back in my youth, to grasp for it?
Perhaps I take it for granted these days. Like a bad coin, the thing always rolls back into my hand.
David in The Edge of Revolt
Artists throughout the ages have depicted David in his old age. I love the painting by Frederic Leighton, which inspired the passage above. You see the crown discarded at the edge of the painting, having been tossed away by David, as if he thought of it as a curse. And he gazes into the storm clouds in the distance, and the dramatic light breaking through from behind them, contemplating the meaning of his life.
The second painting is by James Tissot, depicting David as a fatherly figure, caring for the young woman, Abishag, who has been brought to the palace to keep him warm.
David by Frederic Leighton, 1st Baron Leighton
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Volume I: Rise to Power
Volume II: A Peek at Bathsheba
Volume III: The Edge of Revolt
The complete trilogy:
The David Chronicles (Boxed Set)