The norm today in the political life of most nations is that after a regime-change, the new ruler does everything possible to smear and destroy the reputation of his predecessor.

Thus the Amalekite lad who came to announce to David that he had killed his greatest persecutor assumed that David would rejoice in the news. Not so: despite David's being surrounded by bloody conflicts on every side, he never lost sight of his noble aspiration for true peace and reconciliation.

The Amalekite says "I CHANCED to be on Mt Gilboa." (v 6). This is because Amalek denies the unity of God and His ubiquitous providence. Accordingly for him, everything is pure chance (cf. Deut. 25:18: Amalek "CHANCED upon you" - same Hebrew root as here). However Saul, who had already fallen on his sword and was in his death throes, realized that the presence of the Amalekite at this critical moment was no chance. The king asked the Amalekite to finish him off before the Philistines could get to him and abuse him (v 9 see Rashi) - as if Saul knew that he had to execute the divine judgment upon himself for his failure to wipe out Amalek when charged to do so by the prophet. The Amalekite stripped Saul of "the crown on his head and the ornament on his arm" (v 10) - i.e. his head and arm TEFILIN - and brought them to David expecting a rich reward.

But far from rejoicing over Saul's death, David immediately rent his garments mourning over the slain head of the nation's Sanhedrin and his son Jonathan, David's dearest friend. He publicly eulogized them, and wept and fasted until the evening, after which he swiftly meted out fitting justice upon the head of this Amalekite, who had shown no respect for God's anointed king.


It was Saul who had "lost it" in persecuting David, but despite the pain and suffering David had endured at his hands, he never wavered in the slightest from his loyalty, love and devotion for his master, God's anointed king, who had been head and shoulders above the rest of the nation in sanctity and righteousness.

David's immortal lament for Saul and Jonathan is the very height of sublime eloquence, expressing his pain at the death of two outstanding heroes who had been unflinching in their war against the uncircumcised Philistines and their idols. It was as if the "high places" of Israel had become an Altar of atonement through the slaying of these warriors: "How are the mighty fallen!" (v 19).

The phrases of verse 23 of David's lament are included in the AV HARACHAMIM prayer in memory the Jewish martyrs in all ages recited in the Synagogue on Shabbos after the conclusion of the reading of the Torah and Haftara just before ASHREI.

"Daughters of Israel , weep for Saul, who clothed you in scarlet." (v 24). "Rabbi Yehudah says these are the actual daughters of Israel , for all of whose needs Saul provided when their husbands went out to war. Rabbi Nehemiah says, The Daughters of Israel are the sages of the Sanhedrin, and they should cry because when Saul would hear the explanation of the reason for a law from the mouth of a Torah scholar, he would rise and kiss him on his mouth!" (Talmud Nedarim 31b). Thus we see the greatness of Saul, the warrior king who organized Israel 's first army so humanely and who showed constant honor, love and devotion to the Torah.


Through the Urim Ve-Thumim of the High Priest, God told David to go up to Hebron to rule over Judah . It was necessary for David to reign for seven years in Hebron (v 11): this was because David is the "fourth leg" of the Throne of Glory, the three other legs being the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Before David - the RECEIVING vessel of Malchus - could reign over all Israel , he first had to attach himself to the Patriarchs (buried in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron ) and receive from them the spiritual influence that he would bestow upon the people. David had to be in Hebron for SEVEN years, because the attribute of MALCHUS consists of SEVEN Sefirot of Building (Chessed, Gevurah, Tiferet, Netzach, Yesod, Hod and Malchut) and each had to receive the influence of the three Patriarchs.

Although as yet David reigned only over his native tribe of Judah, he still acted as king over all Israel, as illustrated in his magnanimous message to the men of Yaveish Gil'ad who had buried the bodies of Saul and his son. "And now strengthen your hands and be men of valor, for your lord Saul is dead, and the house of Judah have anointed even me as king over them" (v 7). Metzudas David (ad loc.) explains that David was guaranteeing the men of Yaveish Gil'ad that he would be help them no less than Saul if they came under attack from Israel 's enemies.


The people of Israel were teetering on the very brink of civil war. Avner ben Ner had been Saul's commander-in-chief as well as his first cousin, and Avner now saw it as obvious that Saul's successor should be his surviving son Ish-Bosheth (the Hebrew name means Man of Shame - shame in the sense of deep modesty, a virtue greatly treasured by Saul.) It is a Torah law that when a king is anointed, he gains the kingship for himself and his children for ever, because the kingship is hereditary" (Deuteronomy 17:20, Rambam, Laws of Kings 1:7). Although Avner surely knew that David had been anointed as king by Samuel, the rabbis teach that Avner darshened from God's promise to Jacob that "KINGS will go out from your loins" (Genesis 35:11) (a promise that was given when only Benjamin still remained to be born) that at least TWO kings were destined to come from the tribe of Benjamin, i.e. Saul and Ish-Bosheth (see RaDaK on v 8).

Ish-Bosheth emerges as a weak and rash-minded figurehead. Avner first took him to Machanayim, a strategic town east of the River Jordan (safe from the Philistines) on the very boundary between the territories of the tribes of Gad and Menasheh. Although the places to which subsequently Avner took his candidate for the kingship are enumerated in only a single verse - v 9 - in fact the spread of Ish-Bosheth's regime took place in successive stages over a period of several years. Gil'ad is the collective name for all of the Israelite territories east of the Jordan . The ASHURI most probably refers to the territory of the tribe of Asher in the western Galilee, while the successive spread of Ish-Bosheth's regime southwards to Jezreel, Mt Ephraim and the territories of Benjamin brought his kingship to the very heartland of Israel .

Just as Saul's commander-in-chief Avner was also his close relative, so too David's commander-in-chief, Joab son of Tzeruyah, was his own nephew: Tzeruyah was David's sister (I Chronicles 2:16). A superficial reading of our narrative may leave the impression that Avner on the one side and Joab and his brothers on the other were some kind of swash-buckling warriors, but in fact their internecine battles were not necessarily purely physical but also spiritual: embedded in our present narrative is the prehistory of the later MACHLOKES (conflict) over the general contours and details of the Halachah as conducted among the Tannaim (sages of the Mishneh) and Amoraim (sages of the Talmud).

Thus when Avner invited Joab to allow twelve representatives of each side to engage in a gladiatorial struggle to the death, "each one took hold of his fellow's HEAD" (v 16). This seems to indicate that this was on one level an intellectual battle between potential representatives of the Twelve Tribes for spiritual dominion over the nation.

"For the race is not won by the swift" (Ecclesiastes 9:11). Asa'el was reputed to be so fleet of foot that he could run over the very tips of the ears of corn in a field without breaking them. Even so, his swiftness did not help him on the day he chased after Avner (Koheles Rabbah 9). The latter offered him to make an honorable getaway, but when Asa'el refused, Avner speared him through the rib into his liver and gall bladder and killed him.

This put Asa'el's brothers Joab and Avishai into the role of GO'EL HA-DAM, "avenger of the blood" (Deut. 19:12 etc.) of their slain brother. This in itself threatened the nation with a vicious spiral of bloodshed (vv 24-25) but Avner had the good sense to make an overture for peace - "Shall the sword devour for ever?" (v 26) - and although he himself had initiated the bloody violence (v 14), Joab still agreed to call a halt for now, and the two parties returned to their respective bases.

"And the light shone to them in Hebron" (v 32): with the Messianic king now installed in Hebron, there was hope that despite the potential for a protracted bloody civil war, it would indeed be possible to forge true peace and national reconciliation.



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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