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(Saul returned to his son Jonathan in great anger) "For as long as (David) the son of Jesse is alive, you and your kingdom will not be established. And now, send him and bring to me, for he is condemned to death!" (Samuel I 20:31)
By Way of Introduction
The Books of Samuel, set in the Holy Land during the mid-eleventh and the early tenth century BCE, record the transition in Israel from the period of the Judges to the era of the united monarchy. The change in Israel's national life revolved around three central figures.
Firstly, Samuel - the last of the Judges. He was the first personality since Joshua to be a national, rather than a local figure. Unlike his predecessors - Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jehpthah, and Samson - his influence did not just cover a district or region, but the entire Holy Land (3:20). Indeed, he made a point of regularly traveling around the country to dispense justice in person (7:15-17). In addition, the period of Samuel saw positive religious stability, to which he richly contributed. From Joshua to Samuel, the Israelites repeatedly followed the local idolatrous cults, but the days of Samuel himself heralded a period where 'all the House of Israel followed G-d' (7:2). From that time, the Israelites kept on the Torah path until the division of the kingdom after the death of Solomon.
Secondly, Saul - the first King of Israel. His initially reluctant rise to power took place because of the popular demand for a monarchy. Despite his openly being declared king in Mitzpa, his initial support appears to have been of a more local nature, and opposed to by some 'evil people' (10:27-7). Soon afterwards, he defeated the common enemy - the people of Ammon - with the full participation of soldiers from all twelve tribes (11:7-8). Having achieved a stunning victory over a common enemy, Saul was accepted as king by all of Israel.
The fact that Saul as king never challenged Samuel as a prophet and as a judge stood to his credit. However he erred on two occasions in not giving sufficient weight to Samuel's words. For Samuel - the prophet - had the most direct link with G-d. The most decisive incident was his not following the word of G-d to wipe out the Amalekites completely. Instead, he spared their king, Agag, and the best of their animals: the latter, for an offering to G-d. In not carrying out Samuel's words to the letter he - on his spiritual level - had set himself above the Word of G-d. And it was indeed Samuel's final communication of the Word of G-d to Saul that put the House of Saul firmly on the downward path. "Does G-d desire burnt offerings and peace offerings as much as the obeying of His voice? …Because you rejected the word of G-d, He has rejected you from being a king... G-d has torn His kingdom from you and given it to your fellow who is better than you." (15:22-23,28). That someone was none other than David himself.
David is the third key personality of the Book of Samuel. His early stages in rising to power, including being constantly on the run from King Saul, (part of which forms the subject of this Haftara) are interwoven with the accounts of Samuel and Saul. His initial reign was over what was later the southern kingdom of Judah - based in Hebron. Although some seven years later, he became king over all Israel, it may be argued that the monarchy was not fully united under King David - but rather that the Holy Land had a northern and a southern kingdom, each of whom would make their own arrangements with him. The united monarchy lasted for a brief period only, namely though the reign of King Solomon.
The topic of the Haftara is the remarkable friendship between Jonathan and David. It is extraordinary because they ought to have been deadly enemies as rivals for succession to the throne. Jonathan was the son of the reigning King Saul, and in normal circumstances would have become king after Saul's death. The text, however, includes contrary inside information: G-d rejected Saul as king and ordered Samuel to anoint David in secret (16:13). In any case, David soon came to Saul's attention, becoming his son-in-law through his marriage to his daughter Michal, the crown princess. He might well have gained the monarchy in his own right by playing his cards to his own advantage.
Saul's obsession with David arose out of his becoming a popular hero and star because he killed Goliath (17:50). He became the subject of a popular chant sung by the women: including the fatal lines: 'Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands.' (18:7,8) That made Saul intensely jealous of David, leading to several attempts to hunt him down and kill him. By that time he had already tried to lure him into a fatal trap among the Philistines. After that failed, and under the influence of 'an evil spirit from G-d' (19:9), he attempted to stab him to death with his spear. Thus by the time of the events of the Haftara, David not only had widespread public support (18:30), but he was seen as close enough to the throne to become a serious rival to Jonathan, and for that matter, to the House of Saul.
The Haftara recounts an incident in the friendship between David and Jonathan, which happened on the day before Rosh Chodesh, the New Moon. The two young men had just included a pact of friendship, and David found himself in a dangerous predicament. Court procedure demanded that he would attend the two days of the Rosh Chodesh celebration at Saul's table as a member of the royal household. However, Saul's previous murderous actions made attendance too risky. The friends decided that David himself would not attend the feast. Jonathan would gauge his father's attitude to him, to see if he could come out of hiding. He would communicate by sending a signal to him through prearranged code: to indicate whether Saul had cooled down in the meantime, or was as dangerous as ever. That signal was one of shooting three arrows to land in from or beyond a certain target (20:20). If they fell short, David was to safe to come to the table; if they landed beyond, he had to flee for his life at once. It had to be a signal because it would have been too dangerous for Jonathan to have been seen speaking directly to David. Saul was not fooled: he said nothing on the first day, but he openly demonstrated his intense wrath and unmistakable homicidal intentions on the second, convincing Jonathan beyond any doubt that David's life was in immediate danger.
Despite the obvious danger of any further communication, Jonathan not only shot the arrows beyond the target, but he actually spoke to David despite the risk of being observed by Saul's men, renewing the pact of friendship 'for ever' (20:42).
The circumstances of the story show Jonathan to be extremely honorable, and a personality of the highest integrity. He is forced to be disloyal to his father, who was by then out of his mind with his obsession to hunt down David. Jonathan's sincerity and humanity sets an example to those wishing to do what is right and just, even at the cost of career progress and personal advancement.
Saul asked his son Jonathan why David had not arrived and taken his place at the royal Rosh Chodesh feast. He knew that his son's reply was a mere cover up, so he flew into a rage, exclaiming: "For as long as (David) the son of Jesse is alive, you and your kingdom will not be established. And now, send him and bring to me, for he is condemned to death!"
Why did Saul on this, and many other occasions, relentlessly pursue David? As David himself said when he trapped Saul at Ein Gedi: 'Whom are you, the king of Israel, pursuing? A dead dog? A single flea?' (24:15) For Samuel made it abundantly clear that G-d had 'torn His kingdom from you and given it to… (the) fellow who is better than you.' Why did Saul refuse to accept his lot and resign the succession to someone outside his family?
The text stresses on several occasions that an 'evil spirit of G-d descended on him'. Yet that does not show that Saul had completely lost the power of self-control. For in two places the text shows Saul's sincere regret for having hunted him with murderous intentions. When David spared Saul's life the first time, after he trapped him at Ein Gedi, Saul confided: "You are more righteous than I am, for you repaid me with good, and I repaid you with evil." (24:18) Later on he penetrated Saul's camp and again spared his life. Saul did not excuse himself with 'G-d incited me against you' - though David did give him that option (26:19). Instead he took full responsibility for his actions: "I have sinned! Return, my son David, for I shall harm you no more! … Behold, I have played the fool over and over again!" (26:21)
Thus Saul's relentless pursuit of David had ultimately been his own decision. Why did he appear to fight G-d's decision, and not gracefully accept that the monarchy would go to an outsider?
Looking at basic human behavior suggests the following insight. Saul's real anger at that stage was not because his family would lose the succession per se, but that it would go to David, of all people. This is elaborated below.
It is not clear from the text when David first came to Saul's attention. It may have been when he was depressed, and David 'would play the harp and revive his life-force… causing the evil spirit to depart from him.' (16:23) Or it was during his preparations (17:31), and spectacular killing of Goliath. In either case, David owed the great change in his life to Saul's positive response to him. Thanks to Saul, he rose from the anonymity of a shepherd (16:11) to a general in the army - placed there by King Saul himself (18:5).
That was what deeply wounded Saul. The future humiliation and demise of his household would not come through a mere faceless outsider from another tribe, but from someone whom he had helped, advanced, and made his prot?g?. Like a well would feel when blocked up by stones from the hand of someone whose thirst it once quenched.
Only later on, when David tore his coat at Ein Gedi - using the same symbolic act as Samuel did in showing that G-d torn His kingdom from him, did he perceive that David was indeed G-d's choice - not just some successful rising star turned traitor. For Samuel's act had been secret, and David could have hardly been seen what was going on when he was some unknown youngster watching over the sheep...
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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