By Henry O. Arnold
A singer’s voice inspires a troubled nation…
A shepherd’s courage vanquishes a giant
The last official act of the prophet of Yahweh was to secretly anoint a replacement for the king of Israel who has been brought low by an unbalanced mind. The great prophet of Israel lives in fear of the wrath of the king. Then out of the hills of Bethlehem emerges the last-born son of a family of shepherds to become the unforeseen hero of Israel.
When David sings of the glory of Yahweh, this shepherd wins the hearts of the royal family and restores King Saul’s troubled mind. But when the singer/shepherd defeats the champion of the Philistines in single combat, David becomes forever known as “the giant-slayer.” Saul quickly sees that David is now a threat to his kingdom and secretly plots to have him killed.
David may be the champion of the people of Israel, but he must live under the constant threat of Saul’s wrath until he is finally forced to flee for his life.
The Singer of Israel is a tale of triumph and tribulation, deepest love and burning rivalries; the new epoch is given a voice…and it is The Song of Prophets and Kings.
Nathan drove the open carriage into the center of the compound as the sun set over the western hills. It had been a long day: up before dawn—his master, Samuel, insisting they be on the road at first light—drive over the hills between Ramah and Kiriath Jearim to the home of Abinadab where the Ark of the Covenant was in residence, sit before Yahweh, and then return to Ramah by nightfall.
His master had pressed upon Nathan the urgency of this trip as he climbed into the carriage. “Drive with haste.”
“Be mindful the horse is doing all the work,” the master’s wife countered, tucking a thick fleece blanket around her husband’s lumpy body to keep his thinning blood warm against the early morning chill of the open-air ride. “He must bring you home in the heat of the day.”
“I will buy a fresh horse,” his master had said, giving the front guardrail an annoyed smack with his fist. “I want to be off.”
Nathan waited for the master’s wife to drop the basket of food in the back of the carriage before snapping the reins. He knew the master’s moods—this current disposition was one of fuming impatience. The prophet did not want to waste a moment, not even for his wife’s good-bye kiss. Once Nathan snapped the leather reins upon its hide, the horse bolted out of the courtyard onto the road.
They made one stop on their journey to the village of Kiriath Jearim to rest and water the horse and for the two men to eat the dried beef strips, olives, figs, and honey cakes Shira had prepared for them. Even Samuel had to admit that taking this brief moment was a nice break from the constant jostling over a rough highway.
By late morning, Nathan pulled the carriage in front of the home of Abinadab. This humble Levite had housed the Ark since its return from Philistine captivity, and Samuel had consecrated Eleazar, the son of Abinadab, to be the guardian of the Ark. Eleazar had sent the urgent message to the prophet’s home in Ramah that King Saul had requested the Ark be brought to the battlefront at the Valley of Elah, and Eleazar needed Samuel’s counsel on how to proceed.
The prophet gave a cracked-lip kiss on the bearded cheeks of father and son after he climbed out of the carriage, but he said nothing to them before charging straight inside the house.
“The master’s mind is on the Presence awaiting him between the winged cherubim upon the Ark,” Nathan said to Abinadab and Eleazar as he climbed down from the carriage. Part of Nathan’s job was to explain to others his master’s baffling behavior. He had become quite the diplomat over the years. “Have the guards prepare a barrier.”
Once word spread that the prophet of Yahweh was alone with the Ark in the common room of the guardian’s dwelling, the yard became overcrowded with people pressing against the human barriers of armed Levites Eleazar had stationed around the perimeter of the house to protect the Ark. The crowd spoke in hushed tones, ears straining for any audible communication between the prophet and the Almighty.
Nathan spent the time swapping their exhausted horse for a fresh one and harnessing it to the carriage. He wanted to be ready to depart the moment Samuel came into view. The master would be as anxious to return to Ramah as he had been to get to Kiriath Jearim that morning.
When Samuel emerged from the house by early afternoon, grim-faced and no more eager to converse than when he arrived, Nathan led his master through the people forcing them to part as they marched toward the carriage with Eleazar and Abinadab close to their heels. Nathan hopped into the driver’s seat and took up the leather reins of the horse.
Before helping him into the carriage, Samuel laid his hands upon the shoulders of the guardian of the Ark and whispered into his ear. When he was finished, Samuel settled into the carriage and gave the front rail another aggravated whack. The master had not addressed the crowd gathered for a fleeting look at a rare sight of the prophet. He did not acknowledge them as they scattered like chickens when Nathan turned the carriage around and pulled out of the yard. He did not seem to care that Eleazar and Abinadab were left stunned and speechless.
Nathan glanced over his shoulder as he drove the carriage down the hill away from the house of Abinadab. Nathan had often witnessed a sullen expression on the prophet’s face in times when Samuel might be quietly listening for the voice of Yahweh, a voice he had never heard, or studying the words of Moses, or copying the stories of the chosen people. This was different. This was an expression of consternation and alarm. What had the prophet witnessed in his time before the Ark that had left him so dismayed? Nathan knew not to speak, and he knew from the pinched expression and squinted eyes that his master would be silent the entire trip home.
The Singer of Israel$4.99 – $16.99
Shira concentrated as she wrote on the parchment with her slow steady hand. She was experimenting with a new dye. Bowls with different colored inks were lined across the table in the common room. But the moment she heard the carriage rumbling into the middle of the courtyard, she stopped what she was doing and rose from her chair.
When she opened the door, she was not quick enough to catch her husband before he scrambled out of the back seat, defying his age and natural hardening of bones and muscles from traveling such a long distance. He advanced toward a group of students so engrossed in stretching wet animal skins inside large wooden frames to dry in the cool air that they failed to notice the approaching human tempest. Shira recognized that her husband’s mood had not improved since he and Nathan departed that morning, perhaps had darkened even, and to call out to him as he marched into the assembly of young prophets and disrupted their production of stretching the skinswould have been wasted breath.
Shira’s apron was covered with a residue of powders from dry roots and crushed flowers, pastes of egg whites, flour, goat milk, and extracts from beetles. Her hands and wrists were stained and streaked with hues of crimson and sepia dyes from a concoction of natural plants, bullock’s blood, wasp larvae, and charcoal. Her husband needed just the right pigment to write his words, and her experimental alchemy had yet to produce the perfect colorant to satisfy him.
She paused beside Nathan who was unhitching the wearied horse from the carriage.
“I see we have a new horse,” Shira said.
“It was either that or be stranded on the road with a dead one.” Nathan ran his hand over the horse’s back, causing a wave of sweat to flow down the animal’s left flank.
“The trip did not go well, I take it.” Shira wiped her fingers onto her apron while observing her husband’s agitated gestures and the cowering response from his students.
“He spent a considerable time alone before the Ark inside the house of Abinadab and did not say a word all the way home. He seems to be making up for the silence now.” Nathan nodded toward the master upbraiding his young student prophets.
Shira could hear the gruff pitch of her husband’s voice but was not able to make out exactly what he was saying.
“Perhaps I should rescue the young men,” Shira said, and moved toward the jittery, wild scene.
“How long has this been soaking?” Samuel shouted as he reached into the wooden trough and yanked a calfskin out of the grimy, red water. No one answered, and Samuel shouted the question again, waving the skin in the air, water dripping and soaking into the sleeve of his robe with streaks of red.
“Since morning, my lord.” The voice spoke from the clump of flinching students.
“Calfskin needs a full day and night,” Samuel barked. “If not soaked through, it splits when you stretch it on the frame. We need the gevil, the full skin, to write on, not just the outer layer after the hair is removed, or the inner layer of flesh, but a full skin. It is what the great prophet Moses used to write the sacred texts. Those inspired words are still with us because he wrote on the gevil. I have told you a thousand times.”
Samuel slung the calfskin back into the tub then gripped the metal edge, upending the tub off the stand and knocking it to the ground. The students jumped out of the way to avoid a drenching from the spillage of bloody water. When Samuel spun around, he looked right into the face of his wife.
“How about a carriage ride to the top of the hill to watch the sunset?” Shira’s cheery-pitched voice could not counter the discord in Samuel’s spirit.
Samuel blinked as if he had trouble recognizing her. Her unexpected appearance had immobilized him. He held his breath. The students held their breath. All that could be heard was the sizzle and pop of the water soaking into the worn grass.
“I have been riding all day,” Samuel grumbled. “A carriage ride is the last thing I want to do.”
Samuel stumbled around Shira like a man suffering from vertigo and wobbled toward the house, his arms held aloft to stabilize his blundering gait.
Shira looked at the hapless student prophets and smiled. If they were to be prophets for the Almighty, they should be prepared for the unpredictable scuffles between human and divine natures. They had just witnessed a perfect demonstration.
Shira ran and caught up with her husband. She gripped his arm and helped him regain his balance. They paused before the door into the house.
“It is good to be home,” Samuel said with a wearied sigh.
“I shall clear the table and we can eat our supper.” Shira swept her hand over Samuel’s face. His tense expression relaxed at the gentle touch of Shira’s fingers.
She went inside ahead of him and began to clear the table. The common room had become a laboratory for Shira and a writing sanctum for Samuel. Samuel claimed a corner for his chair and table, surrounded by baskets and tall clay jars filled with scrolls. Shira had set up tables throughout the rest of the common area, covering the tops with bowls of natural specimens of water-soluble products: extracts of berries and plants, crushed insects and animal blood, and dishes of pasty experiments mixed together to coat the scrolls so the dyes and colors Samuel needed would adhere to the gevil skin. A pot full of gallnuts simmered in hot water next to the fire. It would produce a fine ink that would react well with the other concoctions, leaving its permanent literary impression.
The time Samuel devoted to writing the histories of Israel was precious, and Shira did all she could to minimize the distractions and interruptions from the outside world. She and Samuel were the only ones allowed into the house that doubled as an alchemy lab and library. Shira could always sense the supernatural power that had taken possession of this room, an infusion of vocabulary and products of nature confirming the deity of Yahweh—His creativity, His authority made alive by written communication. This holy word recorded by her husband with her dyes would calm the turbulent world, invoke worship, and give all people guidance and hope. The activity inside this small common room was no less than the work of the Creator scooping watery dark matter into His hands and speaking creation into existence.
Shira remained silent as she set out their plates of vegetables and mugs of wine. She chose not to inquire as to the details of her husband’s day. Samuel gave himself a sponge bath and changed into a comfortable evening robe while Shira prepared their supper all without verbal exchange.
When Samuel sat down he leaned against the arm of his chair, a hand propping up his head. He ran his index finger along the rim of his clay plate and tapped the steaming vegetables, testing its heat. At last, he picked up a chunk of bread and daubed his lentils with one end, allowing the juices to soak into the dough before he brought it to his mouth.
Shira chose to take a few sips of wine from her mug before stating the obvious. “Your day has not gone well.”
“The king has requested the Ark be brought to him in the Valley of Elah,” Samuel said while slowly chewing. “He wants to use it against the Philistines like some artifact with magical powers to ensure him another victory.”
Samuel dropped the half-eaten bread back onto his plate and began to massage the left side of his head with his fingers. He stared into the crackling flames in the fireplace.
“Eleazar is in distress. He would have to accompany the Ark to the battlefront. He wisely remembers the last time the Ark was removed from its holy place in the Tabernacle in Shiloh by Eli’s incorrigible sons, whose names shall not be spoken. The guardian of the Ark does not want a similar fate for himself or the Ark of the Covenant.”
Samuel snorted with disdain. A boil of disgust puffed from his mouth.
Shira heard the pain of memory in her husband’s voice. He had suffered much from their abuse when he was a young priest serving in the Tabernacle in Shiloh. She rested her stained hand on top of his and began to stroke her fingers over the skin. The non-mention of the names of the wicked sons of Eli, the High Priest, who had treated their role as priests of Yahweh as a way to gain personal wealth and power, was a stark reminder to her of their own sons, whose names also were never mentioned by her or Samuel.
“I traveled today thinking I might…that I might arrange to bring the Ark home. I halfway expected to arrange its transport here. I just needed to know.”
Samuel was unresponsive to her gentle touch, but Shira continued her caresses.
“I sat there. I do not know how long. I waited. I prayed. I sang a psalm. I prayed more. I spoke the Ten Sayings. I prayed again. I listened. There was nothing: no sound, no ambient light radiating from the Ark, no voice, nothing…nothing but silence.”
Samuel took a sudden breath and held it as if his chest had received the blade of a knife.
“I was frightened by the silence,” he said, finally releasing his breath. His voice sounded like a whispery reed in the breeze. “So close to the Presence, yet a universe between us.”
Shira gave her husband’s trembling hand a tender squeeze and placed the tip of her finger beneath his wrist. She felt the rapid beat of his pulse. His candor had brought an increase in his heart rate and this frankness concerned her.
“The Ark of the Covenant needs a proper place to reside, not a family domicile. Like the Tabernacle in Shiloh had been; the Holy of Holies, a place of glory.”
“Someday perhaps.” Shira tried to placate her husband and calm his heart. “In time, Yahweh will make a place for Himself to dwell.”
“Why not here?” Samuel sat up in his seat, his countenance brightening at this sudden inspiration. “We could build a new Tabernacle here on the property. Tear down the barns in the south pasture.”
“Do you hear yourself? What are you saying?” Shira suddenly lost her wits; the shock wave of so preposterous a suggestion was too much for her.
“We could do it, Shira. It would be my life’s work, my greatest accomplishment. This would be the gathering place for all of Israel.”
“This is foolish,” Shira blurted. Angry tears gathered in her throat. “It is too close. Too close to my hearth, to my way of life. I have shared my husband with Yahweh since the beginning, endured long absences, grieved our own sons who were no less corrupt than Eli’s, watched as your mind disappeared before my eyes when the Spirit of Yahweh took possession and caused you to speak and act in ways beyond my comprehension.”
Shira paused to swallow and master her resolve. She could not believe she was speaking this way, that these words were spilling from her lips, but some unknown place within her had been jolted, and her impulsive reaction was honest and true. She raised her dye-stained hands before she continued. “Whatever time I have left on this earth, I will live it as I have always done as your faithful wife, resolved to encourage and support in all ways. But I do not want the Ark of the Covenant at my doorstep or the hordes of Yahweh’s chosen people who would follow.”
Shira held her eyes steady, absorbing her husband’s wounded expression, yet she felt no remorse for the words she had spoken. Being the wife of Yahweh’s prophet had exacted a price, which had never been expressed with such vehemence until now. She could not keep from expressing the emotional toil of her feelings, but she knew there was wisdom in her words. When Samuel quietly nodded, Shira knew it was a sign of his consent.
“Perhaps Ahimelech, the High Priest, would consider building a Tabernacle in the city of Nob and house the Ark,” Samuel suggested. “His Levitical school is located there. That might be possible.”
“A preferable choice,” Shira said.
“I told Eleazar under no circumstances was he to transport the Ark to the king in the Valley of Elah. It is folly to risk the Philistines capturing the Ark a second time.”
Shira turned her hands over and laid them on the tabletop and wiggled her fingers, signaling for Samuel to place his hands inside her open palms, which he did immediately. She was ready to change the subject.
“I finished Deborah’s song while you were gone. I believe it is quite good.”
Samuel entwined his fingers within Shira’s stained hands.
“Finished what song?” He furrowed his brow as if in an effort to remember.
“Deborah’s song of her victory over Jabin, the Canaanite king. The one you asked me to transcribe into poetry.”
Shira rose from the table to retrieve the scroll stretched out near the fireplace. Its uneven four corners were held down by small stones. “I used different colored inks to test which ones might work the best.”
Shira returned to the table, and Samuel pushed their plates and mugs to one side so the scroll could be laid in front of him.
“Did you know Deborah was the first woman judge in Israel?”
“Of course.” Samuel huffed, pretending to be insulted by such a question.
“Did you know she was the first prophetess since Miriam, Moses’s sister, herself a poet and dancer?”
“Yes,” he said with a little less surety.
“You would remember it given time; I am sure. Deborah was a poet-warrior. She led an army and wrote a song about her victory.”
“You want to take over teaching my students now?”
“Do you know the next prophet-judge Yahweh appointed after Deborah?”
“You are about to tell me.”
“After almost two hundred years, Yahweh called my husband to be Israel’s prophet, judge, and warrior.”
Samuel was silent, his gaze dropping upon the parchment. He delicately rubbed the tips of his fingers over the multi-colored lettering of Deborah’s poem.
“You left out poet and dancer,” he said with a pensive chuckle.
“That is why Yahweh gave me to you.” Shira tucked her fingers beneath her husband’s chin forcing him to stop caressing the scroll and look at her. She could see the gloom of the day start to clear from his eyes.
Shira unpinned her hair. Her long, gray and brown locks flowed down her shoulders. She held her hands aloft, the color of Yahweh’s emerging letters and words stained deep into the pores of her skin. Her body swayed from side to side until it flowed into an improvised dance. Shira sang as she moved around the table. In the murky light of this small room, she would rethread the soul of her husband into her heart.
“When the princes of Israel let down their hair,
When the people offer themselves willingly,
Yahweh will hear praise. Bless You, O Yahweh.
Hear this, you kings! Give ear, you princes!
Unto the Lord will I sing.
Unto the Lord will I sing.
I will make music to the Lord, the God of Israel.”
The Singer of Israel$4.99 – $16.99