Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
II SAMUEL CHAPTER 21
Our present chapter is highly opaque allegory which can be unraveled only partially with the help of the Midrash of the Rabbis.
"And there was famine in the days of David for three years" (v 2). As the narrative draws towards the conclusion of the history of David, it shows how he settled all outstanding accounts in his lifetime. David understood that the cause of the famine lay in some national moral flaw and sought out God to show him what it was.
According to the rabbinic interpretation of v 1 as brought by Rashi, the flaw related to Saul but had two somewhat different sides to it. On the one hand, Saul had never been properly buried and eulogized because of the national panic that followed his defeat by the Philistines. This was a flaw in the honor due to the kingship. On the other hand, Saul himself had caused a flaw through his "killing" of the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites were the Canaanite inhabitants of the town of Gibeon , who had tricked Joshua and the princes of the Tribes into making an oath to protect them even though they were forbidden to make a covenant with the Canaanites (Joshua ch 9). On discovering the trick, Joshua turned the Gibeonites into a caste of Temple wood-hewers and water-drawers, but he was unable to nullify the oath of protection because of the desecration of God's Name that would be caused by Israel 's failure to keep an oath even if extracted by trickery.
Some rabbis held that when Saul slaughtered the Cohanim (priests) of Nov for aiding David (I Samuel ch 22), this cut off the livelihood they provided to the Gibeonites, which was considered tantamount to killing them. Other rabbis held that during the massacre in Nov, Saul actually did kill two Gibeonite hewers of wood, two drawers of water, an attendant, a manager and a scribe (Rashi on v 1). Either way, this was considered a breach of Israel 's oath of protection of the Gibeonites, and now the Gibeonites demanded justice. They were in the position of GO'EL HADAM ("redeemer of the blood") of their fallen compatriots - and they were implacable. They demanded to be given seven members of Saul's household to kill in vengeance for the seven dead Gibeonites, and because of their cruel insistence, verse 2 says that "the Gibeonites were not from the Children of Israel" - implying that they lacked the three defining characteristics of Israel: compassion, bashfulness and kindness (Talmud Yevamos 79a).
David agreed to give over seven members of Saul's house in order that justice should not only be done but should also be seen to have been done. Although our text states that five of the seven were the sons of Michal, Saul's younger daughter, our rabbis taught that they were actually the sons of his older daughter Meirav, since it was she and not Michal who was married to Adri-el (v 8, see I Samuel 18:19). However, since Michal foster-mothered these children after the death of Meirav, they were accounted as Michal's children, teaching the great merit of fostering orphans (Talmud Sanhedrin 19b).
The Torah forbids leaving the bodies of hanged criminals overnight, let alone for six months (Deut. 21:23), but in this case a great KIDDUSH HASHEM ("Sanctification of God's Name") came about when gentile passers-by saw the bodies and asked why they were there. When they were told that they had been hanged to make amends for Saul's breach of the Israelite covenant with the Gibeonites, the gentiles were so impressed by the Israelite respect for their oath that 150,000 converted (1 Kings 5:29, Talmud Yevamos 79a).
Through the righteousness of Saul's concubine Ritzpah daughter of Ayah in camping out by the bodies and driving away the predatory vultures, the bodies were preserved intact for over six months from the time of the barley harvest (Nissan) until the rains came (Heshvan). The downfall of rain after three years of famine showed that the flaw had been rectified (Metzudas David on v 10), and the bones of the seven members of Saul's house were taken for burial together with the bones of Saul and Jonathan. The state funeral that was now held for the latter rectified the affront to their honor in not having been properly buried and mourned immediately after their death on the battlefield.
We may thus infer that although Saul fell because he failed to extirpate Amalek, this did not make him a "bad" king. On the contrary, Saul had been an outstanding Tzaddik, a mighty warrior and a savior of his people, and the establishment of David's kingship was only complete when the proper respect was shown to Saul and any remaining flaws were rectified. As for the Gibeonites, while Joshua had banned them from marrying into the Assembly of Israel only when the Temple stood, David added to the ban and forbade them to marry into the Assembly even when there was no Temple (RaDaK on v 1). Because of their display of cruelty, they were thus permanently excluded from the Assembly of Israel.
"And there was more war with the Philistines" (v 15). "And it was afterwards that there was more war in Gov with the Philistines" (v 18). "There is no before and afterwards in the Torah": these wars with the Philistines had taken place earlier in David's reign (Rashi on v 18) and are mentioned here in order to complete the story of the killing of the four giant sons of "Harafa" (="the giantess"), whom the rabbis identified with Orpah, daughter-in-law of Naomi and sister-in-law of David's great grandmother, Ruth (Talmud Sotah 42b; see commentary on I Samuel ch 17). These four giants allude to impure kelipos ("husks") which Mashiach has to crush.
".and David was faint. And Yishbi in Nov." (vv 15-16). Some rabbis said that the actual name of this giant was Yishbi BeNov, while others said that David had to face Yishbi BECAUSE OF NOV - i.e. because he himself had been responsible for Saul's slaughter of the priests of Nov since he had fled to the Sanctuary there, causing the priests to be accused of treason. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 95) has a lengthy and very colorful aggadah about David's mysterious encounter with Yishbi, in which he was very nearly killed. Through a kind of telepathic message, Avishai realized that David was in extreme danger and went rushing off to save. On the way he succeeded in killing Orpah, which devastated Yisbhi, and Avishai then rescued David through the invocation of God's name.
Although verse 19 attributes the killing of Goliath to "Elhanan ben Ya'arei Orgim", the Rabbis identify the latter with David himself, who was said to be "son of the forests of the weavers" because his family wove curtains for the Temple , which is called a "forest" (Rashi on v 19). Since we know from I Samuel ch 17 that it was David who killed Goliath, the use of another name for him in our present passage is an indication that cryptic verses such as this were included in the text for the sake of the midrashic teachings that derive from them.
"And David spoke the words of this song on the day God saved him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul" (v 1). David had enemies all around him throughout his life, but none of them was more formidable than Saul, because of his very saintliness. Nevertheless, God saved David from all his enemies, and at the end of his days he sang this paean of praise over his complete delivery.
Our present text is virtually identical with Psalm 18 except for a number of very minor differences in phraseology. This is the song of the soul of Mashiach, which endures the most terrible protracted danger and darkness, being subjected to the breaking waves of death itself and the terrifying floods of wickedness (v 5). Nevertheless, God is his "rock, fortress, refuge, mountain, shield, horn of salvation, high place, place of succor and savior from HAMAS" (v 3) [HAMAS=violent injustice, as in the case of present-day HAMAS.] David fortifies himself with expression after expression signifying his unshakable faith in the rock-solid saving power of God.
Out of his pain, Mashiach CRIES OUT to God, and God HEARS and RESPONDS. All of the elements of creation surge forth to protect Mashiach: the EARTH rages and foams with volcanic fury (v 8). The skies rage with smoke and FIRE (v 9). God rides and swoops on the wings of the WIND=AIR (v 11) and swathes Himself with thick clouds of WATER (v 12). All creation fights on behalf of the soul of Mashiach, for whom the very Red Sea had split (v 16, see Rashi).
David testifies that God saved him because of his great purity and righteousness. He has the attributes of the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who are alluded to in verse 26. God himself teaches David how to fight and conquer all his enemies. This is because "I hate those who hate You" (Psalms 139:21). David hated falsehood and loved God's Torah (Psalms 119:163). It is this that brings David victory until all the world will come to serve him - for to serve Mashiach is to work for the glory of God.
This song is David's, but it is said for every one of us, giving expression to the Messianic "point" contained within each one of us, which prompts us to pursue justice and righteousness for the sake of God and for the repair of the entire world.
* * * II Samuel 22:1-54 is read as the Haftara of Parshas Ha-azeenu, Deuteronomy 32:1-52, and also as the Haftara on the Seventh Day of Pesach * * *
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
© AZAMRA INSTITUTE 5767 - 2006-7 All rights reserved