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Through Michal's Two Windows

Stories
Contents
“Through Michal’s Two Windows” by David O. Bales
“When There Are No Doors” by David O. Bales
“One of God’s Children” by Peter Andrew Smith


Through Michal’s Two Windows
by David O. Bales
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

Michal leaned half out the second story window. She gazed over Jerusalem’s packed-mud roofs then stepped distractedly back into the room. She rubbed her hands on her forearms that she’d rasped on the rough-rocked windowsill. “I once helped him escape out a window like this.” She’d been speaking to Beruriah her maid. Now it was difficult to tell who she spoke to. Her voice trailed off. “I risked my life. By that time Father was befuddled enough, he could’ve had me killed. He killed even priests he thought helped David.”

Again, she stretched out the window toward the hazy dust rising beyond the city’s wall and turned her ear to the sound. The ark’s procession had continued after the three-month interval. The distant celebration approaching Jerusalem was barely audible, like a sleeping child’s softest whimper.

Her maid Beruriah stood three paces behind her. For two days, Beruriah had brought her food only to watch Michal shake her head and shove it away. Michal turned quickly to Beruriah as though she’d been speaking to her all along, “David laid down a hundred bloody Philistine foreskins for me, like counting out a hundred pieces of silver. Almost like being won in a bet. Father had bet that David would be killed trying. Even at that,” she sighed, “I was second choice. My older sister was first promised to David. That’s how a king exercises power. Gets to do what he wants. Father handed me to David without any concern for me. Next, he gave me to another man who really loved me and later David ripped me away from him. That’s what kings do. Yet, … yet, I loved him.” She spoke angrily, “Oh how I loved him!” She slapped her hand over her mouth.

She quieted abruptly. Her voice sounded hollow as she spoke cheerfully to Beruriah, “Don’t let that happen to you. Never love a man. Understand?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Beruriah said, but Michal seemed wary. Beruriah wondered if Michal considered her David’s spy.

Michal seemed to scan the room looking for something. Then back to Beruriah, “Have I told you that before?”

Beruriah, slightly embarrassed, answered, “Yes, Ma’am. You’ve told me that before.”

Michal’s face—still pretty but aging—showed confusion. She returned to the window, “I guess I have.”

The parade was drawing nearer. Everyone in Jerusalem recognized the sound. They’d anticipated David’s newest victory: the old ark recommissioned. They’d waited three months after the first parade’s tragedy. David had been anxious, distracted. He’d seldom seen Michal. He had other wives. With the recent news that the ark had brought pregnancy to Obed-edom’s wife and flock, David mustered his elite troops and set out again with all the musicians and musical instruments in the city. Now the populous poured out the gate to meet the procession and to raise their noise for Yahweh’s ark. Michal did not. She’d remained in her rooms in David’s palace, often wandering with a vacant stare.

She tipped her ear out the window, “David introduced music to my tormented father. Not like the blaring that approaches over the hill. Gentle, soothing.” She looked to Beruriah to see if she understood. “Father could flop from one mood to another like a fish pulled from the net. You didn’t have to be around him long to realize that. Our family grew up with it and searched for ways to tug him or to tease him back to his right mind.”

She shook her head sadly, “But he got worse. The servants prowled everywhere for a solution. That’s when David and his lyre entered the household. What a relief. If for no other reason than his effect upon Father, we loved him. Jonathan especially, since he led troops. He needed Father sensible. If our army joined battle with the Philistines and one of Father’s evil spirits attacked him, he could give an order that would be catastrophic.”

Michal’s eyes were wide, and her expression made Beruriah fear that Michal would fall victim to Saul’s demons.

“They’re coming through the gate,” Beruriah said and pointed, trying to distract Michal. “No sentinels needed on the walls today.”

Michal and Beruriah crowded the window together as the parade’s clamor increased like a door opened to a storm. “There,” Michal said. At the head of the throng King David pranced back and forth, swinging his arms as though wielding a sword and kicking like a stallion, movement enhanced by the short gown he wore, the ceremonial ephod.

Michal slumped against the side of the window and went pale. Beruriah reached to support her. “This,” Michal almost spit the word, “This is what he’s come to: exposing himself to anyone who wants to glimpse his legs. I should’ve realized it earlier. He’ll do anything, fight for you, fight against you, pretend to be the most faithful of all Yahweh’s servants. But he’s driven for power. He always wants more. Did you know he’s chatting about building a temple? The servants tell me. Just slips it in his conversations. ‘How about a temple too?’ Any questioning and he quickly says, ‘Just thinking. Just thinking.’ But you know it would be David’s temple. Like this is David’s City.

“He’s king. He gets to use the royal power. Say it’s wrong with Father, then do it himself. Abuse others, kill whomever he wishes, and make sure that everyone remembers his leading the ark instead of the ark itself. See,” she pointed to everyone looking at David, “He even uses God.”

The noisy crowd passed outside the palace. David didn’t seem to notice Michal in the window, just continued bounding along the street.

“When everyone goes home today,” she said, “you know what they’ll remember? Won’t be the dusty, rotting ark. They’ll tell their grandchildren they saw King David leaping and dancing, and that he stretched a tent for the ark, and that he—not the priests—offered sacrifices, and that he sent them home with tonight’s dinner.” She shook her head as she patted the windowsill pensively and watched the crowd pass by. “Maybe I shouldn’t have helped him out that window years ago.”

Preaching point: A complicated view of the ark’s arrival in Jerusalem.

* * *

When There Are No Doors
by David O. Bales
Psalm 24

He knew he shouldn’t have left the caravan of exiles. Pelatiah had tugged on his sleeve the evening before, recalling him to his duty to protect the mile-long group of helpless women and children. “We’re all excited,” Pelatiah said. “You can wait. We all can wait.” But Zerah couldn’t restrain himself. One more day was too long to wait to arrive in Jerusalem. Late in the night he’d crept out alone for Jerusalem. At least he’d left the guard’s sword for others. He held only a large stick he’d picked up that fit his hand well.

Zerah had waited a lifetime. His father had endured even more years before he’d died. Once, when his father was ten, he’d accompanied his parents to Jerusalem. Once his father had visited the temple. Once he’d seen those giant doors and heard the priests chant, “Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the king of glory may come in.”

Once, two lifetimes ago, his father had been to Jerusalem’s temple; yet soon Babylonian armies had picked off Judah’s cities one by one like a hawk swooping down to snatch field mice. Finally, Jerusalem was besieged, its walls breached, its temple, houses and walls destroyed, and the city gutted by fire. Despite that, his father constantly recalled his one view of Yahweh’s temple when he’d gaped in awe before its gates. “They were so huge, and we heard them open, creaking with their great weight on the pivots. Father held me up to see better. It was like heaven opening before us.”

That one time in Jerusalem at the temple’s doors had sustained his father’s faith even to death. Nightly in exile in Babylon, he’d told of Yahweh’s temple and worship there. Zerah heard about, he could almost see, the glory of Yahweh’s temple.

In Babylon, however, not every exile yearned to return to Jerusalem to worship in its temple. At the beginning of the exile Judeans gathered every sabbath. In groups around the internment camps, they recalled their faith. They chanted: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.”

Yet the number of Judah’s faithful dwindled. Babylon loosened restraints upon the exiles and Babylon’s temples and the Ziggurat dwarfed Judah’s one temple, and the ceremonial boulevard for the processions of idols was grander than anything in Jerusalem. Their gods were stronger than Yahweh. The defeated Yahweh, they said almost courteously, had his tiny realm miles away. Here in Babylon another of heaven’s glut of gods held sway. Besides, Judah’s exiles were allowed to build their own houses and plant gardens in a land more fertile than any they remembered, and the memory of many faded fast.

Zerah rejoiced when Babylon itself had been defeated. Were their gods really so strong? The Persians had marched into Babylon without nocking an arrow. The Persians released the hostages from around Babylon’s defeated empire to return to their homelands, even to take back the idols and religious articles that had been dragged along with the exiled peoples.

Now Zerah’s group had walked months back to their ancestral home of Judah that had become Persia’s province of Yehud. Near dawn he encountered the first evidence of structures on Jerusalem’s outskirts—ruins like broken teeth against the pink of dawn. His excitement was diminished by his guilt for having left the rest of the returning exiles. But he couldn’t wait. All his life. All his father’s life. His years in Babylon were now a blur. His future in Jerusalem was certain: A home, faithful neighbors, worship on the temple mount.

A growling charged him from between ruins. Zerah turned swiftly with his stick to fend off a snarling dog—all teeth and ribs. The dog circled, snapping and snarling. Zerah swung his stick and shouted. The dog continued to circle, even resisting a glancing swat, moving ever closer. When Zerah almost fell he managed to grab a rock and throw it side-armed into the dog’s head. It yipped but stopped, retreating slowly as Zerah skimmed rocks in the dust. Zerah stood panting as fear caught up with him. At least it was better than dealing with the packs of wolves that had stalked the caravan more than once.

When the sun tipped over the horizon, he met a spattering of rebuilt houses, walls slapped together with mismatched stones, a few still blackened from when the Babylonian army burned them two generations ago. He stopped to peer at a sleek rat poking its head from a vacant doorway. It retreated quickly with a swing of his stick. Then he spotted it: in the wall beside the path a stone with a carved pomegranate. Pomegranates had been carved on the temple.

Zerah swallowed a gasp. A fragment of the holy temple carted away to jam into the wall of a common house! Nothing he could do about it, but he stood straighter as if to brace for what further shock he might meet. He crested the last rise. A field of debris sloped across a ravine and then up again. Roofless houses, crumbled walls, a few rebuilt structures, maybe one in ten, dotted what had been Jerusalem. He saw no indication of a temple, but he knew where it had been: directly west of the Kidron. He scrambled up through a patch of prickly brush and spotted an open, level space. Grass grew between its paving stones. A jumble of weather-checked lumber next to a pile of squared stones was the only evidence that reconstruction was planned.

His father had stood here. He closed his eyes to imagine what his father described. He was startled to hear, “Do you come with clean hands and pure heart?” He turned to see an ancient man approaching him. “Do you not lift up your soul to what is false or swear deceitfully?” His voice didn’t sound like a reproach, but it was serious.

As the man approached, Zerah identified himself formally, “I come from among Judah’s exiles released by our Persian overlords.”

The old man stopped before him and stretched out his arms, “This was Yahweh’s temple.”

“You are a priest?”

“Yes. I am of the company of those who seek the face of the God of Jacob. We station ourselves to meet returning exiles.”

Zerah was stunned to silence. He gazed around at the empty temple mount. He was finally able to say, “The doors. Father told me about the doors.” Tears coursed his cheeks.

The old man gestured for him to follow. In the stone-paved surface he pointed to one hole and then to another. “The pivot holes. This is where priests commanded the lintel to rise a few cubits so the king of glory could enter. The doors were here.” He waved his arms back and forth. Then the old man asked, “You have remained faithful to Yahweh in Babylon without a temple?”

“Yes,” he said, his faith and his disappointment in the one word.

The old man stepped near. “You can walk across our once holy land north to south in one long day and east to west in the same duration. That’s what’s left to us. However, the earth is Yahweh’s and all that is in it. No matter when our land is revived and the temple rebuilt,” he stepped closer to Zerah, “Yahweh proclaims to you, ‘With or without a temple, with hope fulfilled or crushed, come to me with clean hands and a pure heart. Do not lift up your soul to what is false and do not swear deceitfully. Lift up the gates of your heart, and I will come into you.’”

Preaching point: From external to internal worship.

* * *

One of God’s Children
by Peter Andrew Smith
Ephesians 1:3-14

Mark glanced at the cooler of cold drinks. “There’s only diet cola left. Is that okay?”

“Not my favorite but...” John tapped his stomach. “It probably couldn’t hurt, could it?”

Mark tossed him a can and the two men watched the kids playing behind the church.

“I’m really glad you started to come with Sarah to church,” Mark said. “You’re a great addition to the flock.”

“I’m glad I’m coming too. At first, I wasn’t so sure but you know the pastor’s message is pretty interesting, the music is great, and given what has been going on the last year I needed to be in the church.” John took a sip of his soda. “The Sunday services have given me hope and strength through all the chaos. This is my calm in the middle of the storm.”

“I hear you, friend.” Mark tapped his can against John’s. “Here’s to the next few months bringing some more normal back into our lives.”

“Amen to that.”

The kids raced past shrieking and darting around the two men.

“Joey and Tim sure love it here at church,” Mark commented.

“They love church,” John said. “The people here are like a second family to them and they feel right at home.”

“That’s the way it should be.”

John sighed. “I guess it is.”

Mark tilted his head. “Something on your mind?”

“Hmm?” John took another drink. “No, nothing in particular.”

“Okay. You just sounded like the kids don’t belong here.” Mark pointed at the cluster of children playing. “I know my two can’t wait to see them on Sunday morning. It’s like they have known each other forever and I can’t imagine a better way to grow up than here at this church.”

“Yeah, this is a great place for them.” John paused for a moment. “I didn’t mean they don’t belong they certainly do, and they know it completely.”

Mark frowned. “Then who doesn’t feel like they belong?”

“Honestly?” John turned to look at Mark. “Me. There are times when I feel like I don’t belong.”

“Really? I thought you like it here.”

“I do.”

“Sarah is thrilled you are coming to church with her, isn’t she?”

“She sure is and before you ask, the kids love us all coming to church together,” John said. “The truth is though I wasn’t raised in the church. I spent a number of years living selfishly and even destructively.”

Mark took a sip of his cola. “And?”

“So, I guess sometimes I feel like a fraud because of the way everyone has welcomed me and made me part of the family of faith.”

“Do you have any doubts that God accepts you?”

“None whatsoever. I know Jesus died for my sins on the cross and that through his resurrection the grace of God is part of my life.” John thought for a moment. “I guess the problem is me.”

Mark rubbed his chin. “You remember the epistle lesson from this morning’s service from Ephesians?”

“Kind of.”

“Well in it, Paul explains that from the beginning of the world God intended all of us to experience the grace and new life of Christ.”

John smiled. “Yeah, I liked that part of the reading even though the pastor didn’t talk about it for that long.”

“Do you remember hearing the section about adoption as children of God?”

“Yeah, I heard that part, too. Since Joey is adopted that has special meaning to me.” John paused. “So, you are saying that God planned to bring people like me into the church and the promise of salvation all along?”

“Absolutely.” Mark looked at the children playing together. “But I think there is more to the passage too.”

“Like what?”

“Do you and Sarah love Joey any less than Tim?”

John shook his head. “No, absolutely not. Joey may be adopted but the fact is he is our son, part of our family, Tim’s brother, and we love him as much as we do Tim.”

“I didn’t think or expect you to say anything different. I know that you do.”

John raised an eyebrow. “Then what is your point?”

“Why do you feel less worthy to be part of the church just because you are adopted?”

John opened his mouth and then closed it for a moment. “I guess I never thought of it that way.”

Mark smiled. “I didn’t either until someone explained it to me.”

“You mean you didn’t grow up in the church?”

Mark shook his head. “No, I didn’t but I can’t imagine being any other place now.”

“Neither can I.” John smiled. “Neither can I.”

*****************************************

StoryShare, June 11, 2021 issue.

Copyright 2021 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to the StoryShare service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons, in worship and classroom settings, in brief devotions, in radio spots, and as newsletter fillers. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to permissions@csspub.com or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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