An ordinary guy goes to the pub and, opening his battered Bible, reads and reflects and wonders everything you’ve ever wondered. Hard-hitting, challenging and very honest, Dave Hopwood’s sharp observance of human nature and divine love makes an entertaining, exciting and often poignant read.
An extract from the book
2 Samuel 11 and 12
The night is warm and dark; the man is distracted by thoughts of war. A million stars look down from above, like a myriad of stab wounds in a night sky jabbed to pieces.
The man stares ahead of him, through the open window, across the rooftops to the open country beyond. Territory thick with mantraps and mercenaries. Should he be out there with them? The other kings are away with their men. Plotting his downfall, preparing to split his dynasty and slaughter his men.
His men. Those hard-bitten dogs of war. Men who have followed him through thick and thin, through blood and bone, sweat and spit. They’d go anywhere for him. And now he’s here, and they’re out there. Dying so he can fatten his gut with good wine and rich food.
He loosens his belt, throws a glance at the stars and recalls the last kill of the last battle. Three Philistines caught with their pants down. Literally. Attempting to rape a farmer’s wife. The God of heaven had made his sword swift that afternoon. He’d made no mistake there. Cruel men required cruel justice.
He had first spotted them splintering the front door with an axe and two spears. Right, keep going lads and you’ll end up with more than a good time and sore groins. Flecks of white wood sprayed through the air like bits of skin as the men gouged their way inside. And then they stood gloating for a moment, wiping sweat and spit away before they drunkenly loosened their tunics and bore down on their prey.
He can feel the joints in his fist tighten as he remembers coming at them, like a beast from the apocalypse. Boy, how he hated bullies, men who took what wasn’t theirs, and tore it up so it would never be anyone else’s. He recalls the smash of his fist on the first man’s face, blood spurting from split nostrils as the startled head cracked back and struck stone. He savours again the sound of the jabbing of his sword into the second man’s gut, the twist and the cry of pain that followed, and at the same time the crunch as his sandal ground into the last guy’s groin. You’ll never do that again, big boy. Never. You should have stayed at home and left other men’s wives in peace.
A sound outside his window brings him back to reality. Torches burn across the rooftops and he catches his first glimpse. She’s there again. Uriah’s wife. He can never recall her name but he won’t forget her beauty. There are plenty of women in his life – but none like this one. He can’t tear his eyes away. The robe slides over her smooth pale skin and she lights up the night like a goddess. She turns her head towards him; does she see him? He steps back into the shadows, ashamed of his secret interest in her.
He turns away and pours himself another goblet of wine. His head swims a little – perhaps he did well not to go to war with the others. He feels out of shape, he has no stomach for the fight tonight. Those three Philistines would have finished him on a day like this. He’d have been dead meat.
She reminds him of the farmer’s wife. Vulnerable, young, innocent. He’s been studying her for a good few minutes before he realises he’s back at the window and wanting her again. Why do the women in his life not look like this? How can she be so perfect? She stands in the water and lets the soap glide off her. It’s as if she’s lonely too, offering herself, wanting his comfort, wanting his touch. Wanting to lie beside him in the king’s bed. At least, that’s what he tells himself.
He drains the cup and looks away, rubs his tired face with his tired hands. What’s he to do? His body’s on fire but he has no desire for the women he knows. He’s too acquainted with them. He knows their every move. There’s no excitement there, no romance, no mystery. OK, enough temptation now. He’ll be strong, do the right thing. He’ll finish up here, take a fresh cup of wine and go and write up his journal. Spew out his frustration across the page. He moves to the door. Pauses. Glances back. He’s left his empty cup by the window. If she’s still there it’ll be a bonus. If she’s gone, he’ll know it was never meant to be.
They make love all night.
Even for him that’s pretty good.
With each time the thrill fades a fraction and the stale emptiness creeps upon him a little more. Like slowly pulling a clammy blanket of regret over his damp body, a little higher, a little closer to his heart.
And each time her beauty fades a little too, and she looks more like the other women in his life.
He makes attempts to caress her cheek as she dresses and goes but he knows, they both know, sin isn’t just crouching at the door. It’s moved in, brought the family and taken up residence.
This is the start of something big.
Cutter’s is the kind of place you go when the weather’s grim and the inside of your head is grimmer. I often go there with my frustrations, my fears and a frazzled leather-bound book. The one with the edges stained and torn by some machine in a factory. A bloke’s Bible.
Today is that kind of day.
I slip into the dimly lit room, order a pint of local ale and pull up an armchair. The fire’s bright and spitting orange flame at me. That’s the good thing about Cutter’s, on the gloomy days there’s always a fierce blaze in the grate.
The crumpled landlord behind the bar has been there for decades. He doesn’t wear smart black waistcoats and serve up chicken wings with barbecue sauce.
He pours ale and he pours it well. His fingers are gnarled and grizzled from years of smoking woodbines and scratching at the engine under the bonnet of his ailing Jag.
He’s not chatty and just nods when the need arises. He knows me and asks no questions about my dog-eared Bible. I wouldn’t know what to say if he asked. I’m not that chatty either.
His daughter slips through the bar as I crumple in the chair and I’m reminded why I came. She’s eighteen and dresses sparingly. I bury my nose in my pint and suck a third of it. Then I turn to my Bible. I know where I’m going – 2 Samuel 11 and 12.
David’s in trouble – like most blokes I know. He’s married and got other women on his mind. What is it they say about men and women? Blokes strike up like a match, women brew like a kettle. Well, she lit his torch all right.
So what’s new? A cocky leader at the height of his powers comes crashing down. I think I’ve heard that one before. Power corrupts; absolute power – absolutely.
He has everything going for him – yet still he’s insecure, still he needs to check if he can pull the birds. Still he needs to know he’s got it. Maybe it was because he hadn’t gone to war, like the other real men. Maybe he was just bored. Maybe he watched her night after night, like his favourite website, promising himself that each time would be the last.
That’s the problem with sex, isn’t it? They say it’s like other addictions – but it’s not. You have to buy alcohol, you have to brew coffee, you have to shop for chocolate and clothes. Your body parts are right there for you – open all hours, 24/7. Accessible day or night. Combine that with the pornographic world in your head and the shop’s never shut.
Even as I sit here supping my pint I can think high and mighty one second, down and dirty the next. I can ache to heal the world one moment, undress a woman the next. What am I to do? What do I find in these disused pages that gives me hope?
The king plays the knave and has his way. Lucky him, he has everything, doesn’t he? money, sex, power, and now even more sex. He has it all… Or does he? Maybe he just has that washed up, wrung out, I’m rubbishcrap feeling I always get from sensual sin.
Sure, heHe sure as hell feels worried. Worried that the world will know what he’s done. For a while he buries his guilt, then a note appears on a silver platter lying beside his green figs. You’re gonna be a dad. Let the cover up begin.
Got to hide it, got to blow up enough smoke to confuse the enemy.
So get the husband back, get him drunk and in the mood horny and send him back to the missus to deal with the problem. What a relief. How good must David have felt when he saw Uriah swaggering back home to his wife, half-cut and ready for action.
And how bad did he feel the next morning when he found out Uriah had slept badly... not because of his wife.
I know the story. As I flip the pages I know what’s coming. David admires Uriah, he’s a good warrior, he’s an upright man and an honest citizen. He may even have been a good mate. But if he won’t bed his wife he’s no use to the king. Bury him. Put him in battle where his bravery is sure to get him killed. Then David can comfort the beautiful widow. Maybe his loins even warmed to the thought of that. Men can be like that. Good men can be like that. Even men who spend their lives chasing God’s heart.
The king of hearts can be the jack of lads.
He knows we are dust… As I pull on the last third of my pint the phrase rolls into my head like a lost marble. Coolly I flip to the book of Psalms expecting my eyes to instantly alight on the line. But they don’t. They uncover some phrases about kneecapping my enemies so I move on and rustle paper until I finally find what I’m looking for in Psalm 103. Maybe David even wrote this after he’d been named and shamed by Nathan the prophet.
‘He does not punish us… he removes our sins from us… he knows how weak we are… he knows we are dust.’ David may well have penned these words after the whole Uriah chapter.
He certainly penned Psalm 51. And God did create in him a clean heart… But his family was scarred for life. One of his sons later tried a similar trick on his half-sister. Bedding her violently and then hating himself and her for his corrupting lust.
Men can be so stupid. A night of passion. Five minutes of fire. Either way we sacrifice health and dignity on the altar of our loins. And then we’re trapped – locked in the glittering cage, where desire breeds frustration, frustration breeds misdemeanour, and misdemeanour gives birth to self-loathing and bitter contempt.
Of course the obvious thing here is – I’m not alone. If Godly Dave can trip over his regal loins, then no one’s safe.
As I glance up and round this pub from the cosy confines of my comfy chair it’s all too plain. We look like regular guys on the outside. The yuppie throwback who stumbled on this place while looking for Wetherspoons, the two builders propping up the bar, the bank clerk by the window, the unemployed dad skulking in the shadows, even the clean-cut genial guy attempting conversation with the stoical landlord. We look like blokes who know what’s what, been round the block a few times, dabbled in girlie mags and secret sex when we were kids but matured out of that now.
Truth is, we never do grow up, do we? We’ll always be teenagers in the trouser department. Always Jack the lad in king’s clothing. Those matches still strike so quick and easy. I don’t know much about kettles, but one glance’ll light this firestick; one look can be enough. One sliver of stray skin is all it takes.
To a man we glance up when the landlord’s daughter glides past again. We each do it in our own inimitable fashion, but we all cop a look and for a moment the conversations turn stupid as our minds wander.
Men think about sex every six seconds, you know.
This is just another six-second moment.
I glance over my shoulder, expecting a latter-day Nathan to catch me out and tell me about stealing other men’s privileges. But he’s nowhere to be seen. Maybe it’s because I’m not a king, or maybe it has something to do with the writings of an old, gnarled saint called Paul.
As I stand and steel myself for a trip down the high street, braving the onslaught of a hundred provocative hoardings and a million men’s magazine covers, his words rattle round the inside of my skull.
‘… I don’t do what I should, always do what I shouldn’t… can’t escape that. Who’s there to rescue me? Thank goodness – someone’s taken the rap, stepped in front of me and put his body in the line of fire. I may fall and fall again, but thanks be to the God of heaven. His Son has sorted it.’ (See Rom. 7:14–2514-25)