Avraham ben Yaakov


In the light of the extracts from the ARI quoted in the commentary on the previous chapter, teaching that Saul's essential mission was to rectify prophecy, the weave of incidents involving prophets and prophetic locations as narrated in our present chapter becomes a little more comprehensible.

"And Samuel took the flask of oil and poured it upon his head and kissed him" (I Samuel 10:1). The oil is, of course, emblematic of the spirit flowing down from above, yet the Rabbis pointed out that this was not Moses' SHEMEN HAMISHCHAH, "anointing oil" but only aromatic APHARSAMON oil, and it was poured not from a KEREN ("horn") but from a PAKH ("flask"). The SHEMEN HAMISCHAH was reserved for the kings of Judah , and thus David and Solomon were both anointed with it from a horn - and both saw their kingship established. However Saul, and later Jehu, who were anointed only with APHARSAMON oil from a flask, did not see their kingship established (Horayos 11b; Megillah 14a).

Samuel's foretelling Saul of his coming journey (ch 10 vv 2-9) involves locations associated with Saul's illustrious ancestors Rachel, whose grave is mentioned though Saul was not actually to visit it (see Rashi on v 2) and Jacob, who dreamed his dream of the ladder at Luz - Beit El (v. 3). The "Hill of God" mentioned in v 5 is said in Targum to be the location of the Ark of the Covenant. It was from there that Saul would encounter a "band of prophets". RaDaK notes (ad loc.) that the illustrious prophets of those times included Elkanah, Gad, Nathan, Asaph, Heyman and Yeduthun. Thus Saul was being prepared for the kingship.

However, scarcely noticeable in verse 8 is Samuel's test to Saul. "And you shall go down before me to Gilgal. and you shall wait seven days until I come to you." In order to help us understand where Saul's going down to Gilgal as referred to here actually comes in the sequence of events in our unfolding narrative, the commentators on this verse point out that Samuel is here referring to a visit to Gilgal by Saul and Samuel that was to come only AFTER the renewal of the kingship at Gilgal as described in in ch 10 vv 14-15 and ch 11 v 15. The story of the second visit to Gilgal as referred to here is only told later on, in ch 13 vv 8-14 - where we see that Saul failed Samuel's test. Here in our present text, Samuel is ordering Saul to WAIT for Samuel on that second occasion and NOT to sacrifice, because Samuel was coming to do that. However, as we shall see, Saul gave in to popular pressure, and when Samuel did not arrive, offered the sacrifice himself. For this he was deposed from the kingship. Prophecy is only possible when the student prophet is absolutely obedient to his master.

As yet, however, the text contains few direct hints of the flaw that was to undermine Saul's kingship. Here in our present chapter, we learn more of the virtues for which he was chosen as king - his exceptional modesty and humility, and his flight from honor, which actually caused honor to pursue him. Already in the previous chapter (ch 9 v 5) we heard Saul tell his attendant that he wanted to return home from searching for the donkeys lest his father "be worried about US" - Saul humbly put himself on the same level as the attendant. Now we hear how Saul's own uncle asked him what Samuel had told him but Saul modestly would not tell him that he had been chosen king (v 16). The rabbis connected Saul's modesty with his illustrious ancestress Rachel, who according to Midrash collaborated with Laban and remained silent in order to make Jacob think he was marrying Leah so that she should not be humiliated. And in the merit of Rachel and Saul, they had as their descendant Queen Esther, who modestly "did not tell her lineage".

At the assembly of the nation at Mitzpah (vv 17-25) Samuel used the method of lots to show the people that Saul had been chosen by God as their king (vv 20-21). With characteristic humility Saul ran away and "was hiding by the vessels" (v 22). Rashi's simple PSHAT is that the KELIM are the clothes and Saul was hiding where the people left their cloaks before attending the assembly. However Rashi also brings the Midrash that the KELIM refer to the Urim VeThumim of the High Priest: Saul would only agree to accept the kingship if they consulted the Urim VeThumim!

"It is hard to rise to greatness, and as hard as it is to arise to it, so it is hard to descend from greatness. For so we find by Saul: when he was told to arise to the kingship, he 'hid by the vessels'. And when he was told to descend from the kingship, he went after David to try to kill him" (Pirkey d'Rabbi Nathan 10:3).

When the skeptics questioned how this Saul could save them, the king was silent and forbearing (ch 10 v 27 and ch 11 v 13). However, he was criticized for this. While he was permitted to be personally humble and forbearing, he was not allowed to compromise on the honor due to the king, as this would undermine the kingship.


The first challenge of Saul's kingship was from the Ammonites. They had been routed by Yiftach (Jephthah) but since that time the Philistines had been pressing in on the Israelites from the south and west, leaving them seriously weakened and unable to defend the Israelite settlements east of the Jordan . The Ammonites thus succeeded in extending their hegemony northwards into the Gilaad at least as far as Yavesh Gil'ad, which is about 60 km north west of present day Amman. The name of this ancient settlement survives in the Arab name of the local waddi - Yabbes, which flows into the R. Jordan. (The names of hundreds of other settlements mentioned in TaNaCh are also evident in local Arab place-names, attesting to the great antiquity of Israel 's connection with the Land.)

The town of Yavesh Gil'ad was involved in the story of the Concubine in Giv'ah (Judges ch 20) as the men of that town did not attend the National Assembly that was called to discipline the Benjaminites, and were accordingly killed. It was their 400 surviving virgin female offspring who were married to 400 of the 600 Benjaminites who survived the war of the Tribes against them, and thus although in the territories of Menasheh, the town was inhabited by Benjaminites who inherited their wives' property.

The Ammonite king Nachash (="serpent") demanded that the inhabitants of Yavesh must gouge out their own right eyes if they wanted to make peace with him. (This is very reminiscent of the demands of Israel 's present-day oppressors.) His demand was intentionally humiliating (v 2). The rabbis teach that the "eyes" he wanted the Israelites to gouge out were (1) their best slingers and archers, who are the "delight of Israel 's eyes" (2) the Sanhedrin, who are called the "eye" of Israel (3) the Sefer Torah (Yalkut Shimoni).

"And the spirit of God burst into Saul as he heard these things." (v 6). Now Saul exhibited the GEVURAH of kingship and swiftly mobilized the entire nation for war (vv 7-8). His tactics against the Ammonites, dividing his forces into three, are reminiscent of Gideon's tactics against the Midianites (Judges 7:16). His surprise attack brought about a God-given victory which showed all the people that he was truly God's chosen king. Samuel therefore called all the people to Gilgal (for the FIRST visit, not the SECOND, see above ch 10 v 8, which was to be Saul's test) in order to "renew the kingship" (ch 11 vv 14-15). Although Saul had already been chosen by the lottery and Urim VeThumim and acclaimed by the people, his kingship was not established until after his victory over the Ammonites and this is why the kingship was now "renewed" at Gilgal.



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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