This is the one…and those other ones, too


Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.” (1 Samuel 16:10-11, NLT)

Samuel was in Bethlehem on a secret mission to anoint the next king of Israel. All he knew was that it was one of Jesse’s sons. When Samuel asked to see them, Jesse proudly paraded his sons before the prophet.

Except he didn’t.

One son didn’t even get called in. It could’ve be funny; after all, a man with 8 sons could be forgiven for forgetting one. It could’ve been that Jesse thought David was too far away.

Or it could’ve been an indication of David’s low value to his father.

Imagine you’re David. You’re working alone in the hills when two of your brothers arrive and tell you to go to town because the prophet is asking for you, and is making everyone wait for you. It’s amazing, confusing, wonderful, terrifying. On the way to town, your brother sneers. “Father almost forgot about you.”

Was it a surprise? Or was it just one more time you’d been passed over?

And then God said, “This is the one” (1 Sam 16:12). Samuel anointed David.

David’s beginning is not so promising, but as king, he united Judah and Israel, established Jerusalem as the political and religious capital, and expanded Israel’s borders with his more organized military. But knowing how things end doesn’t negate how much it hurts to be habitually passed over.

How is the beginning of your story? Have you been passed over? Forgotten? Discounted?

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at… the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). God sees you. He does not forget you, or discount you, or pass you over because of your external packaging. God looks at you and thinks, “This is the one.”

That sounds lovely, but what about David’s brothers? God saw their hearts and rejected them, didn’t He?

Yes — for a job so difficult it was almost impossible. Whether you get a big, impressive job in the kingdom or not, God always chooses you to do what’s right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). You are always the right one to do that.

The Substitute Campaign: David and Bathsheba, Part II

Over two thousand baskets of food sent out, one to every wife of a soldier, just to provide cover for giving Bathsheba a pressed orchid. This was ridiculous. He had to stop taking next steps.

The next day, David was determined not to give anyone any reason to wonder about him, question his actions, or speculate about what might be going on in his mind, so he gathered all his advisors and finally dealt with all the people hanging around the palace looking for favors or decisions. He received messages from King Hiram of Tyre and King Nahash of Ammon and dictated measured responses in return. He made a decision on a land dispute between two villages, and eleven other disputes among village elders. They didn’t even break for the midday meal, but had food brought into the throne room and ate while they worked. He received reports on his fields, his flocks, his storeroom of taxes and gifts, and the level of water in all the pools and cisterns. By mid-afternoon, they’d managed to clear all available business.

David leaned back on his throne, his face glazed with sweat, feeling a sense of accomplishment he hadn’t in days. “Why don’t you all go home and rest. I’ll see you tomorrow, or even the day after that, if nothing comes up.”

His advisors barely had energy to smile at the idea that nothing might come up. The shuffle and scrape of their sandals on the floor was louder than their conversation, but David managed to hear one man say he was going home to pour a bucket of water over himself.

That’s all it took. David had thought about Bathsheba only two or three — or four — dozen times over the course of the morning. His mind produced a perfect image of her tipping a cup over her head, the water rolling over her skin. He gripped the armrests and tried to keep himself in the throne room, but it was futile. He somehow managed not to race to the roof.

She wasn’t there.

Of course she wasn’t there. It was the heat of the day. Only crazy people were up on their roofs where there was no shade. Disappointment knifed through him. He needed to see her again.

He scraped his fist against the stone of the parapet. He either had to stop looking for her, stop imagining her, or stop fooling himself.

Stop fooling himself, it was. He swept over to the guards at the tower and asked them to have Ahithophel and Abigail and his kitchen manager brought to him in his throne room. He waited, in a daze, in his private rooms until a servant told him everyone was assembled.

David smiled and held his arms open as he entered the room. “Thank you all for coming. Especially you,” he turned to Ahithophel. “After you left such a short while ago, I was thinking back to the good advice you gave me about the issue in Bethel. I thank the Lord for you, Ahithophel.” David had to clear his suddenly thick throat. It made him sound overcome, which his audience seemed pleased by, but he knew it wasn’t with gratitude: it was with guilt at bringing the Lord’s name into this mess. He swallowed hard and forged ahead. “You and your family have been faithful to me since before I was king of Judah.”

“My lord,” Ahithophel said. “It has always been our honor to serve Israel and her rightful king.”

“Now you have three generations involved. You at the palace and your son and the husband of your granddaughter in the Thirty. I’d like to bless you and your entire family by inviting you to dine with us at our family meal this week. Abigail, do you think we can handle a few more?”

Abigail was always ready to extend hospitality — a trait David was counting on. She smiled with genuine pleasure at him and then at Ahithophel. “Of course. So long as you understand that the king’s table at family dinner is different than it is for official business.”

David managed an easy-sounding laugh. “That’s an understatement. With all the talking and laughing and singing—”

“And bickering amongst the children,” Abigail added.

“Can’t forget that.” David winked at her. “My six wives will be there, along with around twenty of my children, so any number you bring will fit right in. How many is your family here in Jerusalem?”

“I’m overwhelmed, my lord.” Ahithophel bowed his head.

“Let’s not play the game of you refusing because your family is not ready or not worthy, and then I insist, and you refuse, and I insist, and finally you agree.” David clapped him on the shoulder, and let his hand rest there. “Let’s just get straight to the part where you tell me how many extra people to expect so my kitchen manager can plan accordingly.”

Ahithophel sighed. “With the army away, our number in Jerusalem is small. It’s just myself and my wife, Elias’s wife and three younger children, and Bathsheba, my granddaughter.”

David grinned. “We’ll expect you all here tomorrow evening.”

The next day, David flitted from one room to the next, ducking in and out of the servant’s hallways, practicing all possible routes. He took a bath, oiled his skin and hair, and changed his clothes four times, finally settling on his first royal robes, made after he became king of Judah. The red embroidery had faded, but the linen itself was so soft and smooth, it flowed like warmed olive oil over his skin. Then he warmed up his voice twice, hung about the kitchen to taste the food and had them changed three dishes, and fussed with the scented water bowls on the low table.

When the servants began filing in from their hallway with the food, he hurried back to his room. The king shouldn’t be the first one there. He waited, his back flat against the inside wall next to his door, and counted to two hundred before sauntering back to the dining room.

The room was in barely controlled chaos, which was good. He wasn’t prepared for the jolt of seeing Bathsheba this close. She was even more … everything in person. Her skin glowed and her hair was as dark as the night sky.

He didn’t know how long he’d stood there when Abigail walked up to him, put her hand on his upper arm and steered him towards his place at the middle of the table. She leaned close and whispered, “She’s beautiful.”

David frowned. “What? Who?”

Abigail gave a low chuckle. “I’ve been married to you long enough to know that look. Will we have to make more room in the family wing soon.”

The back of his neck burned as he shook his head. “She’s married.”

Abigail gave him a sharp glance. “You are an honorable man, my king.” She pinched under his bicep and squeezed until it stung. “Remember that.”

That took some of the bloom off his mood, enough that he could function like a normal host and father for most of the meal, although he couldn’t taste any of the dishes he’d been so obsessive about earlier.

Then one of the little ones put a lyre in his lap and asked him to play something pretty. He smiled at her and snuck a glance at Bathsheba, who was looking at his daughter with hunger and longing in her eyes. Hadn’t Ahithophel said something about Bathsheba complaining about wanting a child? He snorted. He knew exactly what his advisor had said about his granddaughter. His storeroom of information about her was small, so he’d gone over and over every item he had.

He strummed a few notes, but then his fingers stuttered. What could he play? He couldn’t sing his normal repertoire. They were all songs for the Lord. Seducing a married woman by singing about the Lord’s faithfulness was wrong. All he had left were silly kids’ songs and bawdy soldier numbers. His wives wouldn’t stand for the army material, so it had to be the other.

Bathsheba clapped and sang along. David played wilder and wilder songs, hoping she’d get up and dance with the children and two of his wives, but she didn’t. When two of the younger ones cracked their heads together, Abigail suggested he bring it down. He sang a song that was usually a lullaby, but all the words about letting go of your cares, about surrendering to the night, about laying down twisted in his mind and became about other things. He closed his eyes and sang for Bathsheba.

The youngest children were almost asleep when he finished and looked around. The mothers of the little ones picked them up and carried them away, ushering everyone under ten to the family wing. His guests looked like they were getting ready to go.

No. The evening couldn’t be over yet. “Now it’s tour time,” David said. He turned to Eliab’s wife. “My oldest two boys would love to lead your children on a tour of the secret passageways and we adults can have a more sedate tour of the palace. How about it?”

It turned out that they weren’t comfortable having their children running amok in the palace, so Bathsheba offered to go with them. In the end, David wasn’t sure how he’d managed to do it or whether he’d managed to do it gracefully, but he and Bathsheba were with the children, and Abigail was taking the adults away.

David let his oldest, Amnon, lead the way to the pillar closest to the table. The children grasped hands in a line and slipped into the dark behind a banner. David maneuvered so he was second last, his left hand clasped with a child and his right reaching out to Bathsheba.

She hesitated. “It’s dark in the hallway.”

“Put your trust in your king.” The children were yanking and yelling for them to come on, pulling him farther into the hallway. He gave it one more shot. “It’ll be fun. When’s the last time you did anything just for fun?”

She grabbed the ends of his fingers and let herself be dragged into the hallway. It got darker and darker as the boys snuffed out the lamps until there was nothing to see but slivers of light where the hidden entrances were. After that, it was a small matter to detach himself from the children and lag behind.

“Uh oh,” he said. “We’ve lost them.”

Her fingers tightened on his.

“Don’t worry.” He took her hand and tucked it under his forearm. “I know these passages as well as they do. It’s my palace after all.” He slowed his pace and edged her closer to his side. “You smell beautiful, like new rain.”

“Thank you, my lord.”

In the depths of the hallway, hemmed in by two walls of stone, it seemed like a different world, different enough that he could say, “Must be from all those baths you take.”

She stumbled. “My lord?”

His heart was trying to leap out of his throat. “Your roof is visible from my private rooms.”

She pulled her hand free and halted. He stepped towards her and she stumbled back, her breathing loud in the narrow hallway.

“You have nothing to fear, Bathsheba.” It was the first time he’d said her name out loud and it rolled off his tongue like a caress. “Let’s return to the others.”

“But.” He could barely hear her horrified whisper. “But I’ve bathed up there every day this week.”

“It has been the highlight of my evenings.”

“I was just doing my purifications,” she said. “I never thought—”

“Bathsheba.” David spoke gently and didn’t reach out to her, as much as he wanted to. “Do not be ashamed that the Lord made you beautiful.”

Her breathing quieted. “You won’t tell my husband?”

David lowered his voice. “It’ll be our little secret.”

She whimpered, so he acted like it was no big deal, grabbed her hand and pulled her down to the next entrance, where he made a big show of surprising the children there and making them scream. Then those children wanted to scare the other children, which David happily encouraged, as long as Bathsheba’s hand was nestled in his. Too soon, the other adults returned. The children were gathered and good-byes were made.

David glanced at her. She was giving him one of those sidelong looks with a little half smile. It set off a sandstorm inside him. He knew a welcoming look when he was on the receiving end of one.

He managed to keep his dignity, but that only lasted until he returned to his room. He summoned the guard who’d first found Bathsheba for him and told him to bring her to him at the kitchen courtyard door. It only took a moment to change into a plain dark brown tunic and travel through the servant’s hallways to wait in the shadows. He didn’t think he drew a complete breath until he saw her face in the moonlight. They didn’t speak to each other or to the guard, although David pressed some silver nuggets into his palm.

David took Bathsheba’s hand and waited as long as six steps in before he cupped the back of her head with his palm and kissed her. The wine and figs they ate earlier tasted even sweeter on her breath.

Stuck in the Palace: David and Bathsheba, Part I

[David is king of the united Israel, living in his palace in Jerusalem. His uncle Jonathan is one of his advisors.]

David stared, unseeing, straight ahead. He’d already passed through “pretending to listen” and had gone into “not listening,” but someone kept saying his name in a harsh whisper.

He blinked several times and turned his head toward the sound. It was Uncle Jonathan. “What?”

“Do you have anything to say to the messenger?”

“Oh. Yes.” David rotated his shoulders and tilted his head. No more letting his mind drift off. “Does Joab need me to send reinforcements?”

“No, my lord,” the messenger said. “This month’s rotation of tribal units is waiting a day’s travel away, and Joab hasn’t even called for them yet.”

David gouged a groove in the arm of his throne with his thumbnail. “So his message is that he has everything under control?”

The messenger glanced left at Jonathan and then right at nobody before repeating his spiel from earlier. “The siege at Rabbah is continuing. We don’t have a lot of experience with a long siege, but the commanders—”

“I was listening earlier,” David lied. “What do you think?”

“Think, my lord?”

“Yes.” David slid forward a bit. “Unless my nephew has sent a fool to run his errands, you will have an opinion, your own analysis of how the siege is going. I served in the ranks myself, at one time. I know how soldiers talk. So?”

The messenger looked to Jonathan again.

When had it gotten so David couldn’t talk with a fellow soldier?

“I asked a-” David smacked his palm on the throne, “simple question.” Even as the words came out of his mouth, he knew he was overreacting, that the messenger wasn’t the one frustrating him, but he couldn’t stop.

“My lord.” The messenger’s face turned red and he dropped onto one knee. “Forgive me.”

David addressed the linen banner hanging on the opposite wall. “All I wanted was the opinion of a man on the ground. Is that too much to ask?”

Uncle Jonathan cleared his throat. “King David has always listened to and learned from even the least of his soldiers. It’s one of the things that makes him such a great king.”

“Of course, of course.” The messenger stood. “It’s going as well as can be expected. Some of the foreign soldiers have experience with sieges so they’re always in with Joab and Benaiah.”

“And running off their mouths to the rest of you, I bet.” David quirked an eyebrow.

The messenger blinked rapidly and swallowed hard.

David somehow prevented himself from sighing. Everyone thought they had to be so dignified around him now. There was a time a soldier would’ve bust out laughing at such a dig against the mercenaries, and maybe shared a story or two. Those were good times.

“We’re learning so much.” The messenger sounded like an overeager child. “The outlying garrisons are sending us plenty of supplies. And there’s a water source a short walk away. The men feel confident. The Ammonites can’t outwait us.”

“Sounds like you don’t need me at all,” David muttered. He squeezed his temples. Of course they didn’t need him. He’d chosen each commander because of his expertise, ability to lead, and wisdom on the battlefield. Chosen them precisely because they didn’t need him. It’d be worse if they did need him. Wouldn’t it?

Jonathan stood. “Thank you for your report and your opinions. We’ll get a food bundle made up for your return trip tomorrow.” He ushered the man out of the room, but threw one questioning frown over his shoulder at David.

David wandered over to the wine table and poured himself a cup. His uncle returned and they circled each other at the table. With the rim at his lips, he said, “I should be there.”

“So that’s what this is all about.” Jonathan tugged the corner of the linen covering of the table.

“I should be in the field with my soldiers.” David drained the cup. “Not stuck in my palace, on my comfortable bed in my clean clothes, dealing with petty arguments and disputes and granting royal favors to rich people.”

“Do I need to tell you the story of–”

“No,” David said. “I know it was smart strategy to put the garrisons in the north and it shows trust in my men that I don’t have to be there for every campaign—”

“But you’re itching to go, like when you were fifteen.”

David swirled the dregs in the bottom of the cup. “Guess I haven’t changed that much.”

Jonathan humphed. “You’ve changed plenty. Why else do you think you’re here instead of there?”


It used to be that doing his duty meant being in the thick of the action. Now it meant sitting around. Uncle Jonathan was right, he was itching. In fact, his skin was crawling at the idea of spending the rest of the day in careful conversation. “Call off the jackals and the foxes for the rest of the day. I’m done.”

His uncle said some stuff about David needing to do something constructive, but he wasn’t listening. Maybe he’d visit one of his wives. That’d put him in a better mood. He clasped his hands behind his back and headed towards the private quarters.

Of course, being with one of his wives would mean being subjected to complaints about the other women, or sly requests for privileges, or pointed observations about how he didn’t see her as often as he used to. Except Abigail. But she wanted to have real conversations about how he was doing, especially when something was bothering him, and she could always tell when someone was. He didn’t need that kind of pressure today.

A nap? If he could sleep now, during the heat of the day, when he awoke in the cooler early evening, things would be better, clearer.

When he got to his room, he unwound his mantle, took off his robe, his armlets and his crown and curled up on his side on his mat. His room was stifling. He got up and threw open his shutters. No breeze. He opened his mouth top bellow for a servant to fan him while he slept, but he didn’t want even that much company. Instead, he pulled his tunic over his head and lay down, spread-eagled, on his mat in just his loincloth.

It was so quiet. The army wasn’t in town, so there was no noise of soldiers marching or training, no officers trash-talking each other and boasting about their unit’s prowess. No Joab galumphing around the palace.

The farmers and merchants had packed up after the morning’s business, so there was no haggling to be heard, no cart wheels rolling, no donkeys braying. Even the birds must’ve been resting in shady spots. There was nothing to keep him awake.

Except all that silence. It was distracting. He kept cataloguing all the things he wasn’t hearing.

He flipped over onto his stomach. In the field, he’d always been able to sleep, even on the night before a battle, when his heart would be pounding and his blood churning and his mind going over and over the battle plan. Even then he’d always been able to get rest.

The only time he hadn’t been able to sleep was when King Saul had made him play all night long because Saul couldn’t sleep. Lack of rest had to be part of what had made Saul so paranoid and volatile. That’s why David lived  as righteous a life as possible: so there was nothing to keep him awake. “Adonai, give me rest. Don’t let me wind up like Saul.”

When David was conscious of himself again, the sun was blasting through his western windows, beaming on his face and chest. He awoke covered in a film of sweat, wrinkling his nose at his own scent and at the sour taste in his mouth.

He rolled onto all fours to avoid the glare of the sun and then staggered to the bench that had a bowl of cassia water on it, soaked a cloth with the liquid, and swiped it over his exposed skin.

Air was what he needed. Maybe the early evening breeze had sprung up.

He glanced at his tunic and robe but rejected them. The idea of putting on even those thin and fine linen clothes was abhorrent. The chance of anyone looking up at the palace roof at the exact moment he was there and recognizing him was slim.

There was slight movement of air on the roof, very slight. Not enough to cool the skin, but just enough to feel like the stroke of a soft hand.

He leaned against one of the taller pillars of the parapet, holding his hair off the back of his neck, looking down over Jerusalem.

People were still not out and about in the streets, for the most part. Wisps of smoke curled up, so some women must be at their ovens. Groups of people were huddled under the broad atad trees near some of the threshing floors outside the walls. Snippets of a woman’s voice drifted up to him; it sounded more like melodic sighing than like any song that David recognized. It was entrancing.

Where was that singer? He searched the rooftops below him until he saw her. Maybe it wasn’t her, but the song was suddenly the last thing on his mind. This woman was bathing on the roof of her house, lifting her hair off the back of her neck, just like David was. Her back was turned to him. Now she was squeezing water from a cloth onto her skin. Her skin that was naked.

David stalked across the length of his roof until he was as close to her as he could get from the palace. Who was she? If he got the layout of the city right, the house was in the professional army section. So she’d be alone and lonely without her soldier.

He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. Those were not the kind of thoughts he should have.

His eyelids popped open.

She was still there, except she had turned. Now he could see her from the side.

He gripped the parapet with both hands, the stone scraping his skin. It felt like his heart was trying to leap out of his chest towards that woman, that beautiful woman. He needed the rough stone digging into his palms, needed the pain to interrupt the direction his imagination was taking him.

He pushed himself back and walked resolutely down the stairs to his private quarters. He had to put his clothes and his royal items back on. That would remind him who he was and what kind of thoughts and what kind of behaviors were expected of him. The fabric was rough against his sensitized skin, but that punishment felt right.

He headed for the door, but the south facing windows caught him. He couldn’t stop himself from looking out. Her arms were stretched to the sky. All of her was exposed to his gaze and his breath flew away.

He tore himself away from the window and walked in a daze toward the lower, public areas of the palace. Halfway down the upper hallway, he came across two of his guards with their heads half out a window. A south facing window. They were so engrossed that he snuck up behind them and clapped, startling them into cracking their heads together.

He couldn’t bring himself to yell at them, because he was just as guilty. “You were watching her, too?”

The taller one blinked hard and shook his head and denied knowing what the king was talking about, but the shorter one gave David a curious look. He was the one David took aside.

“Do you live in the army section of the city or in the barracks at the fortress?” David asked.

“In the barracks, my lord.”

David glanced at the solid wall in the direction of the woman. “Do you know who she is?”

“No, my lord.”

“Find out. She must be in the household of one of my officers. Beautiful as she may be, I don’t want anyone to bring dishonor to my forces.” How David managed to say that with a straight face, he didn’t know. His order had nothing to do with avoiding dishonor.

“Yes, my lord. Right away.”

“Shh.” David hauled him back within whispering distance. The words, “Bring her to me,” almost left his tongue, but he wasn’t a pagan king. He was the shepherd of the people of God. “Let’s keep this quiet. I don’t need every soldier begging to guard the city side of the palace.”

When the evening meal was almost over, the soldier came back to him: she was Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam and wife of Uriah.

David excused himself from the table without finishing and took an oil lamp up to the roof. He sat between two of the teeth with his feet dangling over the side, staring in the direction he saw Bathsheba in earlier. Bathsheba.

This was complicated. Eliam and Uriah were both in the Thirty. She was the daughter of one of his most elite fighters and the wife of his most loyal and skilled Hittite mercenary. The connection with Eliam meant she was also the granddaughter of Ahithophel, one of his most trusted advisors. Which added up to someone he couldn’t trifle with.

He bumped the side of his head against the stone. When had this turned from a vague fantasy to something he was actually considering? It was wrong. And now that he knew who her family was, it was all tangled up. Nothing could happen. Nothing should happen.

Joab, the War-Crazed Traditionalist

Joab is David’s nephew. As I’ve written him, he’s a couple of years older than his uncle, David, which is an example of me stealing from life: in my mother’s family, the oldest nephew is older than his youngest uncle. In high school, the nephew apparently took great pleasure in needling his uncle about this in the crowded hallways.

We first meet Joab in It Is You just after David  has killed his first lion. Most of David’s family responds with a combination of awe, irritation, and hostility, but not Joab:

“Show-off!” someone shouted from behind the family.

They turned around and David went up on his toes to see his accuser.

“Always boasting,” the voice continued.

By then, David knew: it was Joab.

A smiling Joab broke through the rest of the family. “You go off to live with the king and then come back and kill a lion with your bare hands. How are the rest of us supposed to compete with that?”

When Joab goes off with David on a mission to find running water for David to clean himself with properly (there’s a spring a few km away), we get a sense of his life’s obsession.

Joab shouldered him sideways. “Someone said that the king has been training the men of Benjamin all winter. That true?”

David nodded.

“Man. You get to hang out near the army, see their weapons, watch them train. You get all the luck.”

David shrugged.

“Details. I need details.” Joab held his bundle out in front of him. “I’ll drop your clothes right here and make you walk back naked if you don’t tell me something soon.”

“Okay, okay.” David laughed. “A hundred or so men from Benjamin live in Gibeah and train year-round. Commander Abner hopes it’ll grow when the tribes see the success of an army more like the armies we’re fighting against. We’ll never again scatter in fear because an army lines up in ranks against us.”

Joab drove his right fist into his left palm with a satisfying smack. “Oh yeah.”

In this scene, David is 14. At 17, Joab is just a few years from the age of military service (20), close enough to imagine himself as a soldier.

As they walked back to the village, they weighed the merits of various weapons and retold old battle legends until David said, “But our best weapon is the Lord. Only He can throw a whole army into confusion so they kill each other and all we have to do is stand and watch and reap the plunder.”

“See, that’s why you’d make a great king,” Joab said. “You say stuff like that and even I want to follow you into battle.”

“Did you have a fever that boiled your brain while I was gone?”

“I’m serious.”

David pointed at the half-dead fig tree ahead of them. “You’d follow that tree if it meant you could be a soldier.”

Joab sniggered. “You’ve got me there.”

In the rest of the series, I build on that basic character trait: he’s always primed to fight.

After he hears that David has left King Saul and that the Lord has told David that he’ll be king some day, he does the one non-traditional thing in his history: takes off with his two younger brothers — leaving his father with nobody to work the land with him — and joins David. I think his war craziness is behind this. It was a calculated risk to give him a chance to command his own army, just like he and David used to play when they were kids.

In the early years of being on the run in the wilderness with David, and there are less than a hundred men with them, David takes his parents to Moab to ask the king to protect them. He’s gone for at least a couple of weeks. During that time (in my version), Joab gets the men all riled up to march on Gibeah and overthrow Saul. David has to talk them down and remind Joab that the Lord hasn’t given him the go-ahead for that.

This is a continual frustration between the two men; after all, David twice refuses to kill Saul when it’d be easy to do so. It deepens when David becomes king and has to learn diplomacy. It gets really messy in the story I told this week (Parts I, II, III, and IV), because David is trying to wrestle people into a new age and Joab doesn’t recognize either the dawning of the new age or the need for one.

Saul was the first king, but he wasn’t like what we think of as a king now. There was no golden throne, no formal court, no glorious castle at the capital of the country. There was no capital until David made one in Jerusalem. Saul was more like the most powerful tribal lord. So when David tries to get Joab to see that he should put away the idea of getting revenge for the death of his brother for the greater good, Joab just doesn’t see it.

As I see them, Joab is right and David is right. Joab is correct that every custom of Israel says he has the right to kill the man who killed his brother. It’s a little dicey in that Asahel was killed during a combat situation while he was chasing the people who were retreating and who gave him every chance of stating his intention and avoid being killed. But, in Joab’s eyes, his brother was killed, therefore he can seek revenge.

But David is also right. It would be better for Joab to sacrifice that old tribal ideal in order to make a peaceful transition to a united Israel possible. Abner was going to go out and negotiate allegiances for David, so that Ishbosheth would see every tribe arrayed against him and give up without a civil war. With Abner dead, there was nobody else with as much clout with the Saulean traditionalists to present David’s side with any authority.

When David makes Joab attend Abner’s funeral, it’s a public shaming. Joab does become commander of the tribal army (but not of the elite, permanent force), but the balance of power between him and David is way on David’s side until David sends word to put Uriah at the front line and then retreat behind him to leave him alone. But that’s a story for another day….

The real commander of Israel’s army, Part III

Joab didn’t know which part of a raid he loved best: when the enemy realized all was lost, or when he and his men paraded through small villages loaded down with plunder, tossing bits and pieces to people who came out to greet them — to the women who sang his praises and twirled and played their tambourines. The women of Juttah had sung so sweetly that he’d given up several headscarves he’d planned to give his own wife.

Coming in to Hebron was up there, too, because it was home. He’d sent a messenger ahead, so their children would be waiting to be hoisted onto shoulders, their wives would be laughing and crying, and David’s servants would be readying the feast. They’d have started slaughtering the oxen and sheep by now. Tonight, no more dried rations, no more sour water.

They were within sight of the gates when a man sprinted down the road at them. It was his messenger. Probably bringing word from David. Joab’s high dipped a little.

“My lord.” The messenger was panting so hard he could barely speak. “Ab- Abner–”

Joab narrowed his eyes. “What now?”

The messenger gulped. “At the citadel. With twenty men from Benjamin, Dan and –”

That was all Joab needed to hear. He pulled his brother close under the pretense of giving Abishai his pack. “This is it. Take your twelve best men and wait for me outside the gates, by the huge atad tree. Everyone else should go in and celebrate with their families. Wait for my word.”

He barely paused long enough for the gate guards to recognize him, and sprinted all the way to David’s citadel. The royal guards let him right through without making him give up his weapons, which might come in handy, depending on what Abner came here to do.

The courtyard was still set up for the feast, so Joab skidded to a stop, flattened himself against the wall, and peered around the corner. More than twenty men sat in a circle. David, of course, Great-Uncle Jonathan, Benaiah, leaders from Hebron and other self-important looking men. No Abner.

Joab stalked over to David. “You should’ve sent a message.”

David didn’t even give him the courtesy of looking at him. He just pointed at the ground with his finger.

Joab frowned. He didn’t have time to sit. “Where is he?”

David crossed his arms and looked into the distance. He barely moved his mouth while he spoke. “They’re deciding on me. They say yes and you get the whole army.”

Great-Uncle Jonathan stood and walked past him, adding, “Do it right for once.”

Joab almost left. Someone else could tell him where Abner was. He didn’t need David for that. But he did need to stay as close to David’s good side as he could, especially if he was successful, so he gritted his teeth and jerked his head, sharp and no-nonsense, like a soldier. “My lord,” he announced for everyone’s benefit, “the Amalekites will think twice about bothering Beersheba. And they made a generous donation to the military fund.” He grinned, but it felt more like he was baring his teeth.

David stood and put his right hand on Joab’s shoulder. “Elders of Israel, this is my nephew Joab, the commander of my army, the man your fighters will serve under.”

Joab stumbled forward a few steps, thanks to a not-so-gentle shove from David.

“He’s returned from a successful campaign against the Amalekites.”

“Just a small raid.” Joab did what was expected of him and did the teeth-numbing meet-and-greet, boasted about the results of his army, listened politely as they trumpeted their tribe’s fighters and their skills, refrained from mentioning that their men weren’t such great fighters that his army hadn’t already beaten them numerous times in the last six months. Each and every moment, he knew that Abner might be slipping away from him. Again.

“My lord,” Joab said to David the moment the elders’ attention wandered. “May I have a private audience?”

“Of course.” David opened his arms to the group. “My servants should bring in the midday meal soon. Stay and enjoy.”

Once they were two turns of the hallway away from the others, Joab grabbed a fistful of David’s soft linen sleeve. “Where is he?”

“Let go of me.”

“Fine.” Joab let go as if he were throwing the material away, which flung David’s arm back.

The next thing Joab knew, David pinned him against the wall. He could barely breath thanks to the forearm pushed against his neck.

“You even think about going for your dagger and I’m shipping you back to Bethlehem in shame,” David said. “You will not manhandle me, either when we’re in public or when we’re alone. You will treat me at least with the respect due to your uncle. Better if you could at least bring it up to the level of our time in the desert.” He pushed harder against Joab’s windpipe. “Clear?”

Joab nodded, because that was all he could do.

David freed him and shook out his arms. “Abner was here. He’s gone to the northern tribes to secure their support. He’s behind me.”

Joab spat.

“You’re letting your personal feelings get in the way.”

“It’s not my feelings,” Joab said. “It’s Asahel’s blood that’s in the way.”

“It was a battle.”

Joab’s chest heaved with the effort of keeping in all the things he wanted to say and do.

“We’re operating on a different level now. Blood feuds are part of the old—”

Joab sliced his hand through the air between them. “It’s not about that. Abner is too crafty. He started this war and managed to turn it around on me and make it seem like my fault. His visit wasn’t a peace offering. He’ll twist your words and turn you into–”

“I am not a green boy,” David ground out. “I tested Abner myself and I asked the Lord to confirm Abner’s sincerity, which He did. I am satisfied.”

Joab pressed his lips together and shook his head. “I can’t believe you just let him walk away.”

“With my blessing.”

They stared each other down for several long moments. Joab broke eye contact first and left without saying another word.

Abishai and his men were waiting just where he’d told them to. Joab sent two of them to run north and bring Abner back. Abishai and two lieutenants stayed with him under the atad. The rest of his men waited behind some ancient olive trees; nearby, but not close enough to be apparent.

When Joab’s messengers came over the hill with Abner and his four guards, the sun was low, but it wasn’t dusk yet.

Joab and Abishai exchanged a look, but didn’t say anything. They didn’t need to. The plan was set.


The real commander of Israel’s army, Part I

In November, I will post a new fictionalized biblical story every two days. I will. I asked some friends for stories they’d like to hear more of, and there are some great and tough things coming up, but one friend asked for a story I’d already drafted as part of my David and Saul middle school novel series. I felt kinda guilty at the idea of posting it as if it were freshly written, so I’m going to do it as a two-part warm-up over these last days of October.

I still have story slots open, so if there’s something you’d like to see (must be from the Bible), leave the suggestion in the comments or message me. Thanks for reading!

Part I is the buildup to 2 Samuel 2:12-17. It appears nowhere in the biblical record, but it’s how I imagine Abner and Joab wind up with a select group of fighters at the Pool of Gibeon. Joab, Abishai and Asahel are the three sons of David’s sister Zeruiah. In my version, Joab is a couple of years older than David. This story takes place six years after David was made king of Judah, but before he was declared king of a united Israel. Abner is the commander of Israel’s military, and has been since the early days of Saul’s reign (as such, he was the commander when David was in the army). Now he’s based in Mahanaim, across the Jordan, trying to keep the rule of Saul’s son Ishbosheth going.


Joab punched the ground under his head, but he didn’t have to be a seer to know that the rock that jabbed into his jaw when he lay down was not what he was angry at.

It was his uncle.

He punched the roof of his tent this time.

Abishai turned over. “Some of us are trying to sleep.”

“Shove it,” Joab said.

“What is it now?” Asahel mumbled.

It was an insult to his position and a constant thorn in his side, one of those really long seerim thorns, that he had to share a tent with his brothers. He was the commander of the forces of Judah. And not just of Judah.

What Joab really was, was the commander of the army of Israel, no matter what Abner called himself. “I have thousands of men from every single tribe in Israel,” Joab blurted. “Including Benjamin, including relatives of Saul and of Abner, including Manassah, even from all the way north, from Naphtali and Asher. Who does he think he is?”

“Is this rant about Abner or about David?” Asahel asked.

“It sounds like the one about Abner,” Abishai answered.

Joab ignored them both. “We’re just as much the army of Israel as his army is. More so, unless there are thousands of defectors from Judah, which there aren’t.”

“Some day you’ll be the—”

“I don’t want some day.” Joab flipped over onto his back. “I want it now.”

“We’re doing good work,” Abishai said. “Work the king has asked us to do.”

His middle brother’s point was reasonable, but Joab didn’t want to be reasonable, he didn’t want to be measured. “And what work has our uncle the king been doing? I’ll tell you. He and his wives have been parading around in the clothes and the jewelry we earn with our sweat and our swords. Speaking of wives, how many is he up to now?”

Asahel said, “You know it’s six.”

Joab sniffed. “A new wife every year he’s been in Hebron.”

“Not really,” Abishai said. “He brought Ahinoam and Abigail with him.”

“You have to admit, it was a major coup getting the king of Geshur to give David one of his daughters,” Asahel said.

“Are you denying that you loved every moment of leading the delegation to escort King Talmai back to Geshur, right past Mahanaim? The gold-plated shoulder guards alone….,” Abishai trailed off as if he were lost in the memory.

Joab almost smiled. “I even waved at Abner.” His brothers were right, but only about that one instance. “That’s my point. We’ve been living like we’re still in the desert, conducting raids and protecting travelers for a pittance while David lives it up in Hebron, stuffing his coffers, marrying more wives, having more sons. That sounds a whole lot better than this patch of hard ground.”

“He’s got his job and we’ve got—”

“I swear, Abishai.” Joab pushed himself up on his elbows. “If you try to jolly me one more time, the next thing I punch will be you.”

“I just want to get some sleep,” Abishai said.

“I just want my respect,” Joab said. “I want what’s due to me.”

“You’ll get it, brother.” Abishai reached a hand over to make some kind of comforting gesture, but Joab grabbed it in his fist.

They pushed at each other for several long moments before Joab let go and turned over.


The next morning, two messengers came for Joab.

They bowed, but their heads barely dipped past their shoulders.

Joab narrowed his eyes at them, but they didn’t redo the gesture. “No time for warm-up nonsense. Spit it out.”

“We come with an invitation from the commander of the army of Israel,” the taller one said.

This was the wrong morning to use that phrase. Joab growled and Abishai had to step in front of him.

The messengers backed up and put a hand to the hilts of their swords.

“What is it?” Abishai said. “And as a favor to all of us, just use the name of the person who sent you.”

“Abner requests a meeting at the Pools of Gibeon.”

Joab shook off his brother and stood with his arms crossed. He was twice as wide as these skinny little runners. “Why?”

The taller one stammered. “He, he, he just told me to make the request.”

“Bull. Is this a peaceful meeting? Should I bring my whole army? Is he bringing his whole army? Has he sent word to my king?”

The messenger flicked a glance at Abishai.

Joab rolled his eyes and gestured for the man to continue.

This is a private request from my lord,” the messenger said.

“No kings?” Joab asked.

“No kings,” the man said. “What can I tell my master?”

Joab pointed a thick, scarred finger in the middle of the man’s chest. “Tell him I’ll see him there, not with the full army, but he should bring his best unit.”

“Thank you, my lord.”

Joab was already walking away when the messenger spoke again. “May I trouble your hospitality for some bread and water?”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Joab said. “You come here saying you’re representing the commander of the armies of Israel, when that’s what everyone here calls me, and you expect me to give up my hard-earned supplies to you? You’re as much an enemy to me as someone from Gath.” He spat. “Feel lucky that I don’t slice your beard off. Get outta here.”

He watched the men walk away, their outrage at this treatment obvious in their exaggerated dignity. Joab smiled. Finally, it was on.

When a Drudge Becomes a Callling

The first time I taught Sunday School, I was 17. I don’t remember much, other than my felt board and singing the occasional song that got so loud the grown ups could hear us upstairs.

The next time, it was called Children’s Worship, and I was a thirtyish mother of very young children. During that year, I saw a child truly worship — close her eyes, raise her hands, and sing to the Lord with every fiber of her first grade self. It was one of the most beautiful and pure things I’d ever seen. That was also the year I played poker with a few young gentlemen during their choice time, because it was the only way to keep them from wrestling. Neither beautiful nor pure, but fun.

When we moved to the multiracial church when my youngest was 2, I formalized the children’s worship program and lead it every Sunday for eight months. I knew only a few adults in the congregation, but I really got to know the kids. I was the only leader, so I had all the kids, ages 3-2nd grade, and, before I got tough, multiple young helpers. It was exciting and energizing and exhausting.

Then more leaders came on board and there was a schedule. And the next year, even more leaders, enough to split into two classrooms. It felt like such a luxury for me to only lead the preschoolers. There were such competent people involved that I began to daydream about handing over the responsibilities and focusing on dance and drama. I took some seminars, talked to some people, and felt like God was moving me away from children’s worship and towards new opportunities. It was exciting and energizing. And then the church imploded.

In the ensuing storm after discovering that a trusted member of the congregation had embezzled thousands of dollars from the church and the pastor, dozens of people left the church, including 6 of my 7 other children’s worship leaders. I went from thinking I’d be happily taking my shift while someone else was in charge, to being one of two people, in charge again — no separate classrooms, with the kids fully half of the time I was at church.

I gritted my teeth and did it because I believed strongly in the benefits of kids being presented with the great stories of the faith and with church at their developmental level. I like to think I didn’t take it out on the kids, but that was the year Miss Natalie would go into her office for brief timeouts when things got too frustrating. There were so many Sunday mornings I cried, exhausted, telling God that I had nothing to give anymore, so He needed to supply me with some of His energy. He always did. There were many beautiful and fun moments during those hard years when we couldn’t keep a third leader; people would sign up, do it a couple of times, and then leave the church.

I was getting bitter. I didn’t want to be “the kid person.” But after a few years everything shifted during a conversation with my other stalwart leader. We were complaining about our situation and he said something like, “I do it selfishly because of my kids, but you do it because you love it.”

He was right. I did love it, and I loved the kids, and that was why I did it. And just like that, I settled back into the role. I didn’t do it begrudgingly anymore. I didn’t need to beg God to make sure I wasn’t a bitch. I embraced the gifts God had given me. And God brought me leaders enough to split the kids into two classrooms. I wrote a new preschool curriculum with felt board-based storytelling and had a glorious year with my kids — the wild ones I had to rein in and the ones who’d tell me they weren’t going to sing but found themselves singing and doing actions when I sneakily did all their favorite songs. And then the church imploded. This time, I was one of the people who left.

Which means it has been six weeks since I’ve told a Bible story to children or sung silly-yet-spiritual songs with them, and I’m jonesing. So indulge me here. It’s a longish one, but I had so much fun telling this last fall.

As the children arrive, give them one “stone” (a soft ball from the basket that will be waiting by the door). Tell them to hold it carefully and sit in the circle. When everyone’s there, tell them that we’re going to try to defeat our enemy, the filing cabinet. First, does anyone want to try to push it over? Let everyone who wants to, give it a shot ONE AT A TIME.

Now, does anyone want to see if throwing your stone at it will hurt it? Again, ONE AT A TIME.

Segue to the story.

Well, we didn’t defeat the filing cabinet today. But let’s listen to a story about how David, when he was just a kid, a long time before he became king of Israel, defeated someone way, way, way bigger than him with God’s help.

This story takes place during a time of war: a people called the Philistines were at war with Israel. They were on either side of a valley, with a stream in the middle.


Every day, a giant came out on the Philistine side. He made fun of God and of the Israelites and challenged them to send one fighter out: if that one fighter could beat him, then the Israelites would win the whole war. If that one person lost, the Israelites would be the Philistine’s slaves.

Goliath was huge, and he had a big sword, and a javelin and a fancy helmet and even his shield was bigger than a regular-sized man.

The Israelite soldiers were terrified of the giant Goliath, and none of them went out to fight him.

David’s three older brothers, Eliab, Abinadab and Shammah were in the Israelite army. One day, David’s parents sent him with some food to give to the army.

When David got there, his brothers gave him a boost so he could see Goliath come out and taunt the Israelites.

Goliath had been doing that for 40 days, and nobody had even tried to fight him. When David heard that, he was upset that none of the soldiers trusted God enough to help them, so he went up to the king and volunteered.

Well, some people laughed and David’s big brother Eliab got angry at him. David was still just a kid, maybe 15 years old. But David insisted that God would help him and he could do it. So King Saul let him. The king tried to give David his own armor, but it was way, way too big.

David took off all that stuff and walked forward with only his shepherd’s staff and his sling.

When Goliath saw that Israel was sending a kid to fight him, at first he laughed, but then he got offended and he ran towards David with a roar.

David walked across the stream and picked up five smooth stones.

While he ran towards Goliath, he put one stone in his sling, swung it over his head once, and let go.

The stone went right for the unprotected part of Goliath’s forehead, sunk in, and stunned him. He fell face-forward on the ground.

He was still alive, so David took Goliath’s own sword and cut off his head.

David had done what all the grown-ups couldn’t do: he defeated the giant, because he trusted God to help him, so God did.

Diaries: Ordinary Teenager

What do teenagers do? Sleep in, watch a lot of movies and TV, and obsess about their appearance and social relationships. Yup.

1/3/81 Today I watched football, washed my hair and returned some overdue books. My hair finally went the way I wanted it to. Then we had a speedy dinner  with Oma and then went to Ordinary People. It’s a really neat movie. It was really good. A mature movie, excellent acting. I really enjoyed it. Bye-bye.

1/4/81 I was asleep ’till 11:00 a.m. so I missed half of the day. I saw the movie Seems Like Old Times for the 2nd time. I think it’s really funny. Then I watched skating. Two people skated separately then got marks together. There were 3 10’s given. One to Dorothy Hamel and someone else. The other two were given to Peggy Flemming & Toller Cranston. Tomorrow we go back to school. Bye-bye.

2/5/81 Teen Club tonight was a learning experience to say the least. At first, I thought my only friend was K. But then I was hiding with D. and he asked me if I hated his guts. I said no, not necessarily. Then I got the surprise of my life, he said he liked me. I wasn’t expecting that. And on the way home I found out that J. doesn’t hate me. Or he did a good job of covering it up, but I think he likes me (normally of course). Bye-bye.

Indeed, ordinary teenager stuff. I remember the February incident. D. is the boy I loved when I was 9. Even though I was all of 13 here, he still made me feel all fluttery and terrified. On this day, we were either playing Sardines, a fun variant of Hide and Go Seek (coincidentally, that my kids learned from their Canadian cousins this month), or Hide and Go Seek in the dark. In Sardines, one person hides and everyone else seeks. When a seeker finds the hider, they hide with him or her, until everyone is squeezed in like sardines and the last person finds everyone.

D. and I were hiding in a supply closet at church. I, true to form, as soon as he entered the closet, stumbled over church decorating supplies in my haste to get deeper into the closet, as far away from him as I could, something that could be mistaken for distaste, but was more like the terror of a mouse when the cat is near. I’m ridiculously overstating it even now.

What’s curious about this is the question of how to use these memories of teenage crushes in my writing of the David book. Being a teenager in 1,000 BCE was not the same as being a teenager now. They were essentially adults. If I had been born then, I probably would’ve been married off at 13, not lazing about thinking about who liked me. Boys were working in the fields since the age of 10 or so, although they didn’t marry until the end of their teenage years or later.

Still, there had to be some of the same emotional immaturity teenagers now have. In my telling of the story of how David came to marry Saul’s daughter Michal, Saul throws a dinner to officially introduce David to the rest of his family. At this point, David has served in the army with Saul and his sons who are of age, but since Saul clears the room when David plays for him, and since any smart king would keep his young daughters away from the army, David has only caught glimpses of the daughters, maybe heard them from out a window, and probably heard servants gossip about them during his years of living in the fortress. Just enough contact to know that Merab is a pill and Michal is intriguing enough that when the offer from the king turns from marrying Merab to marrying Michal, David doesn’t fight quite as hard against it. Here are some snippets in which I try to uncover some teenage romantic angst (David is 18).

Did the king order him to wear the cloak so he’d look marriageable tonight? Or was it a not-so-subtle signal that Saul would try to kill him again if he didn’t cooperate? Knowing the king, it was probably both.

The cloak made all the spots on the tunic stand out, so David wrapped it tightly enough that less than a handbreadth of the tunic was visible. He secured it with his own belt, which was actually Jonathan’s. It looked so disreputable next to the linen, it was a joke: you can dress up a goat, but you can’t invite it to dinner unless it’s dead.

He tugged at the lapel to smooth it against his chest and fingered the embroidery. The sandstorm in his stomach made small, swirling eddies that died down when he breathed deeply. He grabbed his lyre and trudged up the hill to the city proper.


Not singing words was odd, but the rest of it was fine with him. Sitting in a corner and playing his lyre was something he could do with his eyes closed, so he did. As usual, joy and peace sunk into his soul while he played. He couldn’t keep silent, so he sang sounds, his voice bending and sliding and adapting to his mood.

He opened his eyes a sliver to gauge whether they were enjoying the music. Michal was watching him through the curtain of her hair, out of the corner of her eyes. His skin went hot and prickly and his throat closed up. Now that he’d caught her looking at him, he couldn’t stop himself from checking to see whether she still was. After the fourth time, he shifted so she wasn’t in his sightline.


At breakfast the next day, David stirred his leban. The paleness of the yoghurt and wheat nestled in the warm brown bowl reminded him of Michal, her creamy cloak next to her nutty skin.

Oh, I’m so glad I’m not a teenager anymore. I have one in the house, though, so I’m going through those years again, whether I want to or not.


Humbling: Kids’ Opinions

In honor of a humbling experience this weekend (Saturday morning trip to the ER with piercing pain on breathing, diagnosis: pleurisy), I’m going to do a few posts on humbling experiences.

Number One: Asking kids for their opinions of my writing.

I’ve written the first in what I hope to be a series on novels based on the biblical story of David and Saul. I’ve tried to aim it at the middle grade audience — mostly at my son, who was 11 when I started writing it, just turned 13 now. I’ve never written for that age group before, so when I finished all the drafting and after my two mothers read it through and I’d incorporated their comments, I recruited my son and some of his friends. The deal was, if they read it and answered 9 or so questions, I’d give them a small honorarium and I’d put them in the acknowledgments if this thing was ever published.

I’ve gotten five response sheets back so far.

They were mostly good news. All the boys said it held their interest from the very beginning, they mostly understood the passage of time (it being B.C.E., years run backwards), they all enjoyed the level of poetry/psalms included, and they found the ending generally satisfying and believable (given that it’ll be a series; as a standalone, it’d be a bad ending).

After that, there was little they agreed on. I let all the comments percolate for awhile, and I hadn’t even thought about making changes until this weekend. It’s fascinating how, even among this small group of 5 guys, age range of 11 to 14, certain responses split by age. The younger two liked the battles, including killing Goliath and the lion, best and got a little bored when David played for Saul and when he was shepherding. They weren’t as into Saul’s story, which makes sense for their age group: the drama of grownups isn’t as interesting as the drama of kids. They wanted to know more about the battles.

The older three didn’t mention anything about Saul being an issue. One of the older boys got bored during a family dinner scene during which David interacts with Merab and Michal for the first time (Saul’s daughters, each of which had just been offered to him in marriage). There is plenty of tension in that scene, some of which is David fighting his sense of place and his sense of Michal’s crush on him and his growing attraction to her. I don’t think I’ll mess with that scene too much, because boys that age can have their own tension about more romantic scenes, and, on the other hand, one of the adult women who’s read it wanted to know more about the stuff between Michal and David. Although this is a book written for young people, their parents may likely read it as well. I certainly read a lot of what my kids do, including other middle grade and young adult stuff for my own enjoyment. How to balance those two interests? Should I even try?

There were a couple of points the older boys made that I am going to work on: one scene of David’s early days at Saul’s fortress was a bit slow to get going and another piece of character motivation wasn’t clear. I’ll look at the battle and army scenes to see how I might expand them a bit to show more detail.

But what to do with Saul?

I’m going to keep him and stop calling the book “middle grade” and call it “young adult.” Saul and David are perfect foils for each other. Their stories start out identically, but because of who they are and what they bring to the table, their stories diverge dramatically. All that time David spends playing for Saul and overhearing Saul’s ramblings teach David a great deal about how not to be king. The interplay between the two is where the story is meaty for me. If the older kids didn’t object, I think I’d do better to keep Saul and stop aiming it at the younger side of the age range.

Maybe that might even entice potential agents to ask for a full. At my stage in publishing, I’m querying literary agents with a descriptive letter and however much of the manuscript they like to see in order to get someone to ask for the full ms. I haven’t gotten even one request.

Humbling: Repeated rejection.

On the one hand, this isn’t surprising. Rejection is par for the course. I’ve been rejected for other projects many times without it bothering me this much. Except that I know this book is good. Not perfect, but good. Really good. We’ll see whether calling it YA will garner any more interest. If not, I’ll be doing a lot of research on self-publishing and searching for a good cover designer.

Wonderful: Holy Laughter

I don’t always appreciate puns, but I love this book title: Between Heaven and Mirth. Appropriately, given the title, it’s about Why Joy, Humor and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life. I requested this book after seeing the author on the Colbert Report. It’s wonderful: full of jokes, but also discussion of why Christians have often thought they needed to be dour, and analysis of Scripture to restore what would’ve been funny to the people at the time.

It also reminds me of one of the best prayers I’ve been part of. When we lived in New York City, we belonged to All Angel’s Episcopal Church and were part of a great small group that met once a week for talk, Bible study and prayer. This night, we’d broken up into smaller groups for prayer. I was with two friends in a little hallway by the washing machine. One friend was praising God for His sweetness, which was lovely, but when she went on, “for your sweetness, your gooeyness, your frothy goodness,” we cracked up. Our friend was trying to give up sugar and, momentarily related all goodness to desserts. We couldn’t stop giggling and ended up thanking God for laughter and calling it a night. That prayer makes me happy every time I think of it.

Several years ago, on a tough Sunday of children’s church, unstoppable laughter during prayer was exactly what I needed. It was the first Sunday for a new three-year-old. A sweet little girl who didn’t care at all about what we were doing. She just wanted to do her own thing and explore the room and talk constantly about what she was experiencing. Which would have been fine, except that I also had to deal with 9-year-olds in the same group, and try to tell the story and keep order. I also believe no teenagers were in church that Sunday, so I didn’t have a helper. By the end of the service, I was frazzled. And then, during our intercessory prayer time, that same little girl burped. It was such an adorable little noise that I laughed. And, of course, the kids laughed. It was a cleansing laugh. I thanked God for it at the time, and I still do.

More recently (and before I read Between Heaven and Mirth), I went against type in my portrayal of the prophets in the David and Saul book. The usual image of an Old Testament prophet is of an angry man yelling at people to repent. My prophets are lighthearted and quick to laugh, not out of frivolity, but out of security.

David has escaped out his back window in the middle of the night and run away from King Saul, straight to the prophet Samuel. Saul figures out where David is and sends soldiers to capture him, but things take a surprising turn:

Samuel and Caleb strode towards the well, gathering other men along the way. There were fourteen of them by the time they reached Ramah’s outskirts. As the soldiers got closer, all the prophets did was stand arm-in-arm in a circle and sing. David couldn’t tell what they were singing, but snatches of melody made their way back to him and raised the hair on his forearms.

The army commander gave the signal, and the soldiers spread out in formation and unsheathed their weapons. The bronze and iron glinted like lightning in the sunshine, but the prophets didn’t acknowledge the soldiers in any way. When Saul’s men were mere steps away, the prophets broke apart and formed a line, but it was like no defensive line David knew of. Some of them stood with their arms raised to the heavens, others fell on the ground, pounding the earth with their fists, and still others whirled in wild circles, the hems of their robes flashing above their knees.

David watched, slack-jawed, as, one by one, the soldiers dropped their weapons and joined the men of God in their worship. Tears fell unchecked as he watched these rough soldiers be overcome by the Spirit of the Lord.

And then he laughed – not because the soldiers were making fools of themselves, but out of utter security in the Lord’s protection.

Anyone got any funny church stories to share?