The Monday Rewrite: Top Dog

A bit of the Bible revisited. This week: 1 Samuel 18 vv 5-16.

Whatever Saul asked the famous giantkiller to do, David made a good fist of it. So the big king made him a top dog in his army. Everybody loved that. Footsoldiers, officers, retired colonels, the local women. They couldn’t get enough. But the day the boy wonder led the army home from victory over the Philistines something catastrophic happened.

As they appeared from the battlefields, muddied and spattered with the remains of their dead enemies, the women started pouring out of the towns and villages. They shouted and cheered, danced and sang, beating tambourines and cutting the air with waving hands. They partied for a long time, and the heady bliss was infectious. But one man was impervious. One man was not catching anything of this sudden new epidemic.

‘Saul kills thousands, David ten times that.’

The lyrics rang in the king’s ears like feedback at a Sex Pistol’s gig. The thing wouldn’t go away. It was on everyone’s lips. And to Saul it was about as entertaining as listening to paint dry. And the king knew, if this song lasted too long, it would become the new anthem, and there’d be a new king to sing it to. Saul would be history. They love this boy too much, there’ll be a revolution and an ex-king lying in a shallow grave somewhere.

Admiration, so hastily conceived in Saul’s gut, quickly coagulated into some kind of sinister jealousy. Within hours Saul was pacing the ground, crushing dirt and kicking at sand. The emotional torment rose up in his intestines like a tide of acid and there was no stopping it, the dark mood moved in and took up residence. David slipped into the king’s tent and began strumming his harp. He could see the king was disturbed by something, but David could solve the problem. A few moments of music and all would be well…

Thud! And a string of curses from Saul. David turned his head to see the spear still vibrating from the impact in the wall, only inches from his head. ‘Shut up!’ yelled the king, swearing at him. ‘Shut up!’

The last thing he wanted was help from this smug young gun. That was only making it worse. Why did he have to do everything so well? Had the God of heaven blessed every last little thing about the arrogant punk? Why couldn’t he just pick up a harp and make it sound like a bad case of vomiting? The smoother the sound the more it riled him. He lifted a second spear and hurled it before he’d even weighed the consequences.

David ducked and dived. What had he done? Did he hit a bum note? Usually the music thing worked a treat? Was he playing the wrong tune?
David ducked again and tried to take up a new position. He strummed once.
The twisted Saul was prowling closer, like one of the wolves David used to kill with a stone. He’d not thought twice about slaying Goliath and he was glad he had a harp and not a catapult right now otherwise his predator-killing instincts might well have taken over. He considered one more try with the harp but the point of a third spear was lining up for a place in his heart and even David wasn’t confident enough to think he’d outlive that. Etched across the sour king’s face was the sad truth. He was being eaten alive. By jealousy. The people loved David more than him, and the twisted king had nowhere to take his anger and his grief.

It would be centuries before another, crucified king would offer a place to leave such things behind and find a fresh start.

(Extract from Pulp Gospel by Dave Hopwood)

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