Avraham ben Yaakov


Due to the suspicions of the Philistines that David was a fifth-columnist, Achish king of Gath had sent him away while Achish himself marched northwards together with the rest of the Philistine armies to Jezreel for the coming onslaught against Saul and his forces (chapter 29 v 11).

Our present chapter thus narrates how David returned to the Negev to Tziklag, the city Achish had given him (which was between Gaza and Be'er Sheva in the region of present day Netivot, north of Ofakim) only to find that the city had been sacked by the ever-opportunistic national enemy of the Israelites, the Amalekites, who took advantage of Israel's present disarray to kidnap all the women and children that David and his men had left behind. It was only through God's mercy on David that the women and children were not killed despite the fact that David himself had left no survivors on his undercover missions against the Amalekites and the other tribes of the southern wilderness regions (ch 27 v 9, see RaDaK on ch 30 v 1).

As yet, however, David and his men had no information about the fate of their kidnapped women and children and could only fear the worst. This was a critical moment for David because the people wanted to lynch him out of grief and anger at David's "antics" in going off with Achish in the first place, which had left the unguarded women and children exposed to the kidnapping. The people's readiness to stone David is reminiscent of the people's readiness to stone Moses when they found no water in the wilderness at Rephidim, which was also one of the locations where Amalek attacked (Exodus 17:4).

"And David was in very sore straits. but David strengthened himself in HaShem his God" (v 6). This was typical of the noble David, who immediately called for the High Priest to bring the Urim VeThumim to ask if he should pursue the Amalekites (v 7-8).

It was through divine providence that David and his men found the starving Egyptian slave of an Amalekite who because of weakness had been left by his master to die in the wilderness - typical of hard-hearted Amalekite mercilessness. David found the Amalekites feasting and drinking in celebration of their predations (cf. the celebrating bands trying to get up the mountain in Rabbi Nachman's story of the Spider and the Fly). David was able to restore all those who had been kidnapped and take all the Amalekite booty and kill all the Amalekites except for 400 young men who rode off on camels and escaped (v 17).

The Midrash comments that these four hundred survived in reward for the fact that the four hundred men that Esau brought with him against Jacob (Genesis 32:6) all slipped away and are not mentioned again in that narrative. They went off because they had the good sense not to want to get scorched by the burning coal of Jacob (Bereishis Raba 75). This Midrash seems to imply that the four hundred who escaped in David's time were incarnations of the four hundred who slipped away in the time of Jacob - indicating that history constantly revolves in interrelated cycles.

Thus Saul's career as king had begun with his unsuccessful search for his father's ATHONOS ("donkeys") which according to ARI allude to the husks of Amalek (see commentary on I Samuel ch 9), while David initiated his career as king with the restoration of all that was lost to the Amalekites - because David's constant trust in God earned him His aid.


The Amalekites had been looting the Philistines as well as the Israelites (v 16), leaving an enormous booty to be divided up among David's victorious forces.

"And every evil and worthless (BELIYA'AL) man spoke up from among the men who had gone with David and said, 'We shall not give any of the spoil to those who did not go with us'" (v 22). These "evil and worthless" men exhibited exactly the same kind of mean-eyed selfishness as Naval, who is described with exactly the same epithet of BELIYA'AL (ch 25 v 25): in not wanting to share any of the booty with those who were too weak to go out to war, they violated the fundamental Torah value of collective social welfare, which saves us from the cruel inequality that comes when the strongest take all.

"And it was from that day AND ABOVE that he made it as a statute and a judgment for Israel ." (ch 30 v 25). The unusual phrase "from that day AND ABOVE (VO-MAALAH)" where we would have expected "from that day ONWARDS" alludes to the fact that sharing the spoil equally between those who fought and those who stayed at home was not instituted by David himself but revived from the ancient practice of Abraham, who after his victory in the war of the four kings against the five (Genesis ch 14) insisted that those who had stayed guarding the equipment should take a share in the booty just like those who had gone out to fight the enemy (ibid. v 24; see Rashi on I Samuel 30:25). In everything David did, he followed the Torah.

"And David came to Tziklag and he sent from the booty to the elders of Judah ." (v 26). Thus David consolidated his leadership over his own tribe of Judah as he prepared to become the new king of Israel .


The ascent of the Messianic David to the kingship came at a moment of cataclysmic national crisis. First the Philistine forces killed Saul's three sons, and their archers then cornered Saul. Seeing that the end was at hand Saul was deeply fearful of the Philistines, and knowing the vengeful cruelty they were sure to display against him, he preferred to end his own life first.

RaDaK (on verse 5) points out that Saul did not sin in killing himself despite the fact that the Torah writes, "But I will require your blood for your souls" (Genesis 9:5), which means "I will require your blood if you kill yourselves". Nevertheless, Saul did not sin because he had already been told by Samuel that he was going to die in the battle and moreover, once he saw that he was surrounded by the Philistine archers and would be unable to escape, it was better that he should kill himself than allow himself to be abused by the uncircumcised Philistines (cf. Yalkut Shimoni on Genesis ch 8 Remez 61).


The death of Saul and his three sons on Mt Gilboa and the routing of the Israelite forces left the nation in total disarray. The Israelites in the Jezreel valley region and on the east bank of the Jordan felt so threatened by the Philistines that they simply abandoned their cities and fled, leaving the enemy to occupy strategic areas of the Land.

Manifesting a blood-thirsty vengefulness that also typifies the Palestinians who have adopted their name in modern times, the Philistines gleefully mutilated the bodies of Saul and his sons, taking his skull to the temple of their god Dagon (I Chronicles 10:10) and hanging his body on the fortified wall of Beit She'an.

The Israelite inhabitants of Yavesh Gil'ad (who were from the half tribe of Menashe that took their portion east of the river Jordan ) had a special motive for their daring exploit in rescuing Saul's body and those of his sons from where the Philistines were exhibiting them on the wall of Beit She'an. This was because Saul's very first act as king had been to come to the rescue of the inhabitants of Yavesh Gil'ad when they had been presented with an impossibly cruel ultimatum by Nachash king of Ammon (I Samuel ch 11 vv 1-11).

Because of the kindness of the men of Yavesh Gil'ad (CHESSED SHEL EMES - TRUE kindness), God said, "You have dealt kindly with Saul and his children, so shall I give your reward to your children. In time to come, when the Holy One blessed be He is destined to gather in Israel, the very first He will gather in will be the half tribe of Menasheh, as it is written, 'Mine is Gil'ad and Mine is Menasheh'" (Pirkey d'Rabbi Eliezer 17). [A little over a week before the writing of this commentary, it was reported in the Israeli media that about 250 members of Bney Menashe flew from the remote areas of eastern India near the border with Bangladesh where they have been living for thousands of years and made Aliyah to Israel ! This is surely a sign that the ingathering of the Ten Tribes is happening before our very eyes!]

With the respectful burial of Saul's bones, the First Book of Samuel ends on the theme of the honor that must be shown to the king even after his death - for this book has traced the steady transition from a state in which "each man did what was right in his own eyes" to one in which Israel had a kingship.

"And Samuel was dead" (ch 28 v 3). The rabbis asked how this squares with the tradition that Samuel wrote the book called by his name. They answer that the Book of Samuel (including what we call II Samuel, which tells the story of the kingship of David, whom Samuel had anointed) was completed by Gad the Seer and Nathan the Prophet (Bava Basra 15a).



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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