Friday, November 18, 2011

Women of the Bible Encouragement Series: Michal ~ Words Without Wisdom

     The nursemaid showed me to a chaise in a parlor of sorts, so I sat, hands clasped tight in my lap. What would Michal say? What should I ask her? I looked around. The room was beautifully decorated with exotic palms, rich tapestries and animal furs. Michal had very rich taste.
     The nursemaid turned. “I will warn you, miss. The lady of the house has not been herself for many years. When her memory returns to her, she becomes so distressed… It is better to let her think and speak as she wills.”
     She left the room, sandaled feet casting echoes off the walls.  


     I jerked toward the door.

     A brightly robed Michal with silver-streaked hair came tearing toward me and squeezed me in a vise-like hug. “Oh, Merab! I’ve longed to see you so. Why did you wait so long to come to me?”

     I stood there, limp and speechless. Then it came to me. Merab. Michal thought I was her sister. But Merab died when Michal was much younger. The poor woman. Alzheimer's disease wouldn't have been discovered in 950 B. C. much less treated. She would probably stay shut up here, misunderstood.

     She pulled back and settled her gaze on me—happy, but empty. “Your sons are well. I just put the youngest to bed.” Her absent stare turned wistful. “They are growing so fast. I wish they would stay young forever.”

     I couldn’t help the cold chills that raced up my arms as I realized how completely her mind was gone. The five sons she raised for her sister were all hanged not over eleven years ago in 966 B. C. They had been offered to the Gibeonites to appease Saul’s violation of Joshua’s ancient covenant. Having never born children of her own, the grief must have been impossible for Michal to absorb, so now she chose to remember only the happy, if short-lived, times of her life.

     “Come.” She tugged at my arm. “Let us play in the gardens as we did when we were girls.”

     I stayed seated, a bit afraid of her. “Actually, I’d hoped we could sit and talk some.”

     Disappointment washed over her features, but she nodded and rested her head and forearms on my knees as she settled into a pile at my feet. She raised her face, olive skin grayish and faded, like it hadn’t seen the sun in a long, long time.

     “I wanted to ask you something.” I studied her, half dreading her reaction. The nursemaid’s caution came to mind, but, determined to have my interview, I barged ahead. “Could you tell me a little about the time you helped David escape the palace? You remember,” I coaxed. “You hid a statue in the bed and claimed it was David and that he was sick so your father wouldn’t kill him?”

     She slowly drew back. “Why do you ask me this?” She rose and moved toward the far wall. “I do not want to speak of David. He was always so… I don’t know. He never cared what others would think of him, only wanted to please that God of his—even if it meant disgracing himself in front of the people. He never put priority on what was important. Always running here and there.”
     She turned to face me and her brows came together, then smoothed into a mask of shock. “You’re not Merab.” Her face turned even paler, if that was possible, and she held a hand to the wall for support. “Merab’s dead.” She spat the words like they were burning her tongue. She shifted her attention to something in the middle distance. “My boys,” she whispered and slid down the wall to the floor. “My precious boys. He killed them--let the cursed men of Gibeon hang them for something my conceited, foolish father did to those blood-greedy heathens.” She seemed to crumble into herself. “Why?” she moaned. “Was he not content in denying me sons of my own?” She tangled her fingers in her graying hair and rocked forward and back, deep sobs quaking her body.

     I stood, not sure I could help her if I tried. 
     The nursemaid returned, rushing in to hold Michal, and glared at me. “What have you done?”
     “I’m sorry,” I said hoarsely and turned to leave, the hot breath of Michal’s grief and hatred following me out of the house.

     Okay. If your not familiar with the Biblical account of Michal’s tragic story, you can read it in I Samuel 18:17-20 ;19:11-17; 25:44, & II Samuel 3:14-16; 6:15-23.
     In brief summary, Michal was David’s first wife, married to him in place of her older sister Merab, who was promised to him, but given to another. Her father was jealous of David and plotted to kill him, but she helped him escape out a window, put a statue in the bed, and told her father it was David, sick. When her father, Saul, found out she had lied and asked her why she helped his enemy escape, she lied again and told him David had threatened her life (I Sam. 19:16).
     While David was gone, Michal’s father gave her to a man named Phalti. After Saul’s death, David returned and set in order his kingdom, sending for Michal as part of an alliance with a leader of Saul’s house. When Michal was taken back, her husband Phalti (also called Phaltiel) ran along behind, weeping.
     Much later, when the ark of God was returned to Jerusalem and David danced and whirled in the streets, wearing a linen ephod, before the Lord and the people, a jealous Michal despised David in her heart, then mocked and scolded him for his actions. Because of this, she had no children. She raised up her sisters 5 boys. But due to Saul’s breaking an ancient treaty, the Gibeonites required 7 of Saul’s descendants to be turned over in restitution. David gave the Gibeonites Merab’s 5 sons, and the 2 sons of Rizpah, Saul's concubine, since Saul’s sons had earlier died at the hands of the Philistines. As I understand, the only grandson of Saul to be spared was Mephibosheth, because David had made a covenant with his father, Jonathan.
     Another interesting fact: one of the two sons of Rizpah, who were hanged, was called Mephibosheth in II Sam. 21:8. Must have been a popular name at the time.
     Also, the Bible says nothing about her going mad. That was purely fictional on my part. 
     Well, here we come to the end and I can’t bear to leave you with such depressing thoughts, so let's think of how her life might have been different had she learned to control her tongue. I believe Michal’s tongue and lack of discretion caused most of her heartache. What if she had not lied and told her father that David threatened her life? Saul might not have given her to another man in David’s absence. What if she held her tongue after David danced and asked God to change her heart toward her husband? According to the Bible, her childlessness was linked to her outburst toward him. What if she’d had her own children? Being his first wife, she might have born the child that would inherited the throne. Had she maintained a right relationship with him, maybe we wouldn’t even read the name Bathsheba in the story of David’s life. Proverbs 14:1 says, “Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.” Michal's house, pulled around her with wrong and ill-timed words, became her own self-made prison. 
     I think the lesson to Christian writers here is: Words are powerful. What we say/write may change our lives, or the lives of others, forever. We must be sure to honor the Lord with our words. Proverbs 11:22 “As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion.” Beauty is wasted when there is no discretion. I believe this is so with writing as well. The most beautiful descriptions will be worth nothing if the words are not used wisely.

     On Friday, December 2nd, our guest will be Rebekah, suggested by Ashlen. Thank you for reading!!! 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Women of the Bible Encouragement Series: Tamar ~ Empathy

1028 B.C.

     I step into the courtyard and recognize Tamar instantly. Clothed in silver-gray silks, hair a mass of blue-black waves, she floats from plant to plant, touching a leaf here, pruning a bloom there, not at all the despairing woman I pictured.

     She looks up and smiles. Much younger than I expected, too. “You must be Natalie.”

     “Yes. May we talk here?”

     She sets aside her armful of flowers and perches primly next to me on a large stone bench. “Certainly. I hope the guards weren’t too much trouble.”

     The guards? My knees go weak. The two tall, good-looking (howbeit stern), gentlemen who met me at the door with swords drawn? “No trouble.” They’d only frightened me out of a couple good years of my life. "Thank you for agreeing to meet with me, Tamar. Your story is sadly familiar for many young women today. Can you tell me some of what happened?”

     She clasped her arms to herself and stared into the foliage before us. “I grew up a princess. A daughter of king David. And though my life was secluded, I was happy. Carefree. The palace was mine to roam and occasionally I ventured into one of the villages, though not without companions.
     “One day, after my fifteenth birthday, the king summoned me and told me my half-brother, Amnon, was sick and I was to go cook for him.
     “I learned later that Amnon and his cousin, Jonadab, had conspired this as a way to bring me alone into his house. You see, Amnon claimed he loved me. He had despaired of ever…being with me because of my chaste, guarded lifestyle and this vexation made him sick and thin.
     “When I entered the house he was lying still in his chamber, a sickly pallor on his face, so I didn’t disturb him. I went about kneading flour and making cakes for him to eat, but when I poured them out before him he would not touch them. He commanded that all the men leave and I became curious as to what he was about.
     “He bade me bring the cakes into his chamber, then caught hold of me and said, ‘Come lie with me, my sister,’ lust fervent in his eyes. My stomach weakened and I begged him not to do this folly. It would defame him and I… I would be eaten up with shame. Desperate, I urged him to ask the king for my hand, but he wouldn’t listen.
     “I tried to fight him. I thought an ill and gaunt young man would surely be no match for me. But, weak and malnourished as he looked, he proved too strong. He overpowered me and...f-forced himself on me.” Tamar briefly presses a hand to her mouth and her voice breaks along with my heart. She shivers and a tear runs down to drip from her whispering lips. “I still run from that memory, still have nightmares of his cruel hands and his stale breath…
     “When it was over, my heart felt lifeless, like dry-rotted quark. He looked upon me with such black, murderous hatred. Fear left me spent and trembling, betrayed to my very core. ‘Arise, be gone,’ he said. My mind's barrier of numbness finally caved to those words. I thought I might go mad--wanted to go mad, and forget this ever happened. That he would use me and send me away to bear the burden alone… I had not believed he could be so despicable.
     “He had his ministering servant throw me into the street and bolt the door after me. My bright virgin’s robe brushed my feet and mocked me. Unable to bear up under grief, I tore the multi-colored garment in symbolic anguish and heaped ashes on my head.”

     She closes her eyes and seems to shake the memory away as I stare at her profile. No word in my head seems fitting to say in the presence of such a deep sorrow.

     She shifts her attention to me. “I thought my life ended that day. No man would want me. To remain single and desolate would be degrading, but I believed I did not deserve any happiness or normalcy--that I had brought this upon myself, drawing Amnon’s attention in some ignorant way. Only the inner circle of the palace knew what had happened. Still, my family spared no sympathy. I’ve lived here with my full brother, Absalom, since that day, and even he has told me not to think too much of it or let it consume me.”

     “What about now? Do you still blame yourself?”

     “I know now that, no matter what I could have done, Jonadab and Amnon would still have found a way to…bring their plans to pass. Wicked men do wicked things and no one can make their decisions for them.”

     “Do you think you will ever marry? Maybe if there were someone gentle and kind…”

     Her small, hesitant smile piques my interest.

     “Is there someone?”

     Her lashes lower, pink tinting her cheeks. “Azar`el. He is a widowed silversmith who lives just outside of the palace. His daughters are among the girls I visit when I pass through the village. Sometimes I go to them, other times Azar`el brings them to me. I’ve found that helping motherless girls gives me a purpose I thought I’d lost."

     “So you believe there is hope after tragedy.”

     “If there weren’t, I would have died that first night.” Her dark eyes filled with certainty. “I tried to end my misery, but one of the servants found me in time. I knew after that there was a reason I lived—something God wanted me to do. I didn’t rest until I found what that was.
     “I’ve discovered that we all experience grief of some kind and my tragedy has been used to show many young girls that they are not alone. Had I grown up a pampered princess, never having to endure hardship, my foolish pride wouldn't have allowed me this ministry.” The door sounds behind us and Tamar’s eyes flit over my shoulder. Her face glows like a pink lightning bug. I turn to see a tall, lean man enter. His face is kind and each hand rests on the shoulder of a miniature, dark-eyed beauty. One of the adorable girls smile to reveal a snaggletooth grin.

     “I’d better be going, Tamar. Before I do, though, can you tell me what advice you would have for a Christian writer?”

     She drags her attention back to me and a thoughtful tilt of her head replaces the distracted smile from before. “Take what the Lord has given you—emotions, experiences—whether good or bad, and use them to minister to others. Write from where your heart has been. God does not waste our sorrows. More than likely someone else has felt the same at some point and yours can be the empathetic encouragement that points them to God. Also, don’t despise days of obscurity. Those may be the times God is growing you most and strengthening your bond to him.”

     I thank Tamar sincerely for taking the time to share her heart and head toward the door. The man with kind, dark eyes, hardly acknowledges me as I pass, eyes only for Tamar. The little girls giggle and I give them a wink. I make the short, dusty journey back to my hidden, newly serviced and upgraded time machine with a smile floating across my face.

     Okay, I’m back from 1028 B.C. and here’s the deal. The Bible doesn’t tell us how old Tamar was when her half-brother raped her.
     Also, it doesn’t say ANYTHING about her falling in love later. That was solely a product of my imagination’s ruthless pursuit of a happy ending. To me, that’s half the purpose of fiction. So, meaning no disrespect, I couldn’t write a semi-fictional blog post and leave you in 2 Samuel 13:20 where the Bible last mentions Tamar. I felt terrible for her and I simply couldn’t leave her that way.
     One more thing: I toned the setting down a bit. In 1028 B.C. Absalom would probably still be hiding out after killing Amnon--partly to avenge Tamar and partly, I believe, to secure his path to inheriting the throne.
     Anyway, Joab, David’s chief captain later convinced the king to bring Absalom home again safely, but then a feud broke out between Joab and Absalom. So, all things considered, Absalom’s house probably wouldn't have been the safest, or most peaceful of locations for an interview at the time I chose. To check out the whole story for yourself, go to 2 Samuel 13 & 14. Our next guest will be another princess of Israel--King David's first wife, Michal. This guest was suggested by Nancy Kimball. Thank you Nancy! The post will go up on the 14th.