In The Beginning
That morning the young man recited the ancient Shema prayer with only the sheep to hear him, before the sun rose above the hills and baked the dew from what grass was able to grow on the rocky hillside above his father’s home. Each morning he met God afresh, often in the chill mountain air where it was quiet and crisp. The time before dawn seemed cleaner and holier than any other time of day.
He looked up and saw the neighbor boy running up the hill. The boy ran through the flock, pushing the sheep out of his path. “Your father wants you, right away!” gasped the boy.
“How can I go to my father? I have no one to watch the sheep” the young man said playfully.
“I will watch the sheep” said the boy.
“You are too young, Ephraim” said the young man.
“You became a shepherd for your father when you were my age. I am not too young. You do not trust me” said the boy.
“I trust you. I also trust the lion and the bear are hungry for these fat sheep. What will you do if they come? No, I will have to take the herd back to my father’s home.”
The boy stood straight and said seriously in his high boy’s voice “I am not too young. And you must go to your father quickly. I will kill any animal that attacks the sheep.” He took his sling from his belt, put a stone in it and whipped the stone out of the sling and out of sight.
“That stone won’t stop a lion but it will turn his attention from the sheep to the shepherd” said the young man. He sighed and shook his head. “I suppose you’ll do.” He handed his shepherd’s staff to the boy, tucked his robe into his belt and ran down the hillside.
The sun was above the hills but still low in the sky when the young man returned and sat down next to the boy. The young man used his robe to wipe sweat and oil from his face. “The youngest son of the merchant Jesse of Bethlehem took his father’s sheep to pasture yesterday afternoon, and tomorrow the anointed king of Israel will return them” said the young man. Ephraim stared. “Yes” said the young man, “I have just been anointed the shepherd-king of Israel. Look upon and wonder!”
“Why have you come down?” sneered the young man’s eldest brother, Eliab, “and with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle, carrying gifts from our father as though they were your own.” Eliab grabbed a cheese from David’s hand and spat into the dust at the young man’s feet. “Even the real king cannot defeat this giant of the Philistines.” He bit into the cheese. “No one can” he said.
* * * * *
The king leaned back against the cushions and remembered the look of hatred and envy in his oldest brother’s eyes. “They were just afraid,” he said to his amanuensis “and disappointed. I cannot judge them for that.” The amanuensis understood the king’s reveries often seemed unrelated to what he dictated. A lifetime of memories and the great hurt of his son’s betrayal and murder had broken the seal on this part of the old king’s heart. The amanuensis gave the king kindness in the only way he could; he sat quietly and said nothing through the long silence.
“O Absalom, my son, my son!” the king cried. “I would have given you a kingdom if you had asked for it. Instead you tried to take mine, and you were murdered by men who pretended to serve their king. Your death is no victory for me.
“Why, dear God, after so many betrayals do I still take the right hand of friendship when it is offered? Why? Because I am foolish? Is there no one upon whom I can place the mantle of trust? No, there is no one.”
The king motioned to his amanuensis that he was ready to continue. He dictated most of the words and stopped again. He had pushed the writing past the place in his heart that gave the words and if they were pushed onto the page before they were ready they would not be the right words.
At The End of the Day
Then King David began to sing the song he used to sing to the sheep at night on the lonely pastures under Israel’s sky. As a young shepherd, the king had walked among the flock while he sang because the sheep could not see their shepherd in the darkness and ran at even the slightest unfamiliar night sound. In the morning he searched for those who ran until he found them and carried them back to the flock. His father’s sheep were innocent and foolish and scared easily, and the king loved them.
The king stopped singing and motioned for the amanuensis to continue writing until all the words were given.
“I am finished” said the king.
This is what King David’s amanuensis wrote.
A Psalm of David.
Blessed be the LORD my Rock,
Who trains my hands for war,
And my fingers for battle—
My lovingkindness and my fortress,
My high tower and my deliverer,
My shield and the One in whom I take refuge,
Who subdues my people under me.
LORD, what is man, that You take knowledge of him?
Or the son of man, that You are mindful of him?
Man is like a breath;
His days are like a passing shadow.
Bow down Your heavens, O LORD, and come down;
Touch the mountains, and they shall smoke.
Flash forth lightning and scatter them;
Shoot out Your arrows and destroy them.
Stretch out Your hand from above;
Rescue me and deliver me out of great waters,
From the hand of foreigners,
Whose mouth speaks lying words,
And whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood.
I will sing a new song to You, O God;
On a harp of ten strings I will sing praises to You,
The One who gives salvation to kings,
Who delivers David His servant
From the deadly sword.
Rescue me and deliver me from the hand of foreigners,
Whose mouth speaks lying words,
And whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood—
That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth;
That our daughters may be as pillars,
Sculptured in palace style;
That our barns may be full,
Supplying all kinds of produce;
That our sheep may bring forth thousands
And ten thousands in our fields;
That our oxen may be well laden;
That there be no breaking in or going out;
That there be no outcry in our streets.
Happy are the people who are in such a state;
Happy are the people whose God is the LORD!”