CLOSE CALL            1 Samuel 29

            CONTEXT:  When referencing armies, I assume the numbers 1000 and 100 refer to units of fighters.  I use the terms common in the U.S. army. Elef means 1,000, but in military terms, a battalion can be anywhere from 300 to 1,000. The lower number makes more sense for an ancient army. 
            Times New Roman font indicates liberties I have taken to expand geographical settings. However in v.10, this font signifies my translation from the Greek of the Septuagint. I follow the opinion of scholars who consider these words to reflect the original Hebrew version that somehow got lost in scribal transmission.

            1The P’lishtim gathered their camps at Afek, on the Yarkon, nine miles in from  today’s Tel Aviv. Yisrael camped at the Spring in Yizra’el. 2The nobles of the P’lishtim passed by companies and battalions. David and his men passed by at the rear, with Achish.
            3The P’lishti commanders said: “What about these Ivrim?”
            Achish said to them: “Don’t you know it’s David, servant to Sha’ul king of Yisrael, who has been with me for days and years. Since the day he fell in with me I have found in him nothing to complain about to this day.
            4The P’lishti commanders were furious with him: “Return the man to his place, where you assigned him. He shall not go down with us lest he become an adversary in battle. How else should this one appease his master but by those men’s heads? 5And isn’t this the same David of whom they chant in the dances:
‘Sha’ul scored his thousands; David his myriads!’”
            6Achish summoned David and said: “By Yahh’s life, you are straight forward. In my eyes it’s good, your going and coming with me in the camp. I have not found any bad in you from the day you came to me to this day. But in the eyes of the nobles you are not good. 7So now return. Go in peace. And you won’t do bad I the eyes of the P’lishti nobles.”
            8David: “But what have I done? And what have you found in your servant from the day I was in your presence to this day, that I would not come and fight the enemies of my lord the king?”
            9Achish replied: “I know. You are as good in my eyes as an angel of God.  But the commanders said, ‘He shall not go up with us in the battle.’ 10So now, get up early in the morning, you and your masters servants who came with you and go to the place that I assigned you. And don’t take to heart a troublesome word, for you are good with me. Just get up early in the morning and, when you have light, leave.”
            11And David got up to go early in the morning, he and the men with him, to return to the land of the P’lishtim, about 50 miles from Afek to Tziklag. The P’lishtim went on up to Yizra’el.


            CONTEXT: This episode exemplifies the priestly function of determining divine will. There is no mention of urim and tumim but Evyatar’s ephod provides Yahh’s yes/no answer.
            B’liya’al, בְּלִיַּעַל, is an interesting word that denotes “evil, troublesome, bothersome, harmful.”  It appears to be a portmanteau of b’li, “without,” and ya’al, “profit, benefit, avail, gain.”  More commonly, the word describes people, as in b’nei b’liya’al, “sons of . . .” and is translated “worthless men.”  Here we have d’var b’liya’al, “word of . . .” which would require something like “misleading” or “negative” or “unprofitable” or “depressing.”  It is such a loaded and expressive word, I have left it in Hebrew.

            1When, on the third day, David and his man arrived at Tsiklag, the Amaleki had raided the Negev and had stuck Tsiklag and burned it with fire. 2They had captured the women there, from small to great, without killing one. They had led them off and gone on their way. 3David and his men arrived at the city to find it burnt with fire and their women, sons and daughters captured. 4David and the people with him raised their voices and cried till they had no more strength to cry. David’s two women had been captured, Achinoam the Yizra’elit and Avigayil, woman of Naval the Karmeli. 6David was very stressed for the people spoke of stoning him, so bitter was the mood of the whole people, each for his sons and daughters.
David found strength in Yahh, his God. 7To Evyatar ben Achimelech, the kohen, he said: “Bring me the ephod.”
            Evyatar brought the ephod 8and David asked of Yahh: “If I pursue this band will I overtake them?”
            He said: “Pursue for you will surely overtake and rescue.”
            9So David and his six hundred men left and arrived at the B’sor ravine. 10Two hundred men were too exhausted to cross so they remained there. David and the other four hundred pursued. 11They found a Mitsri/Egyptian in the field and brought him to David. They gave him bread to eat and water to drink. 12They gave him a slice of fig cake and two bunches of raisins. He ate and his strength returned to him – he had neither eaten nor drunk for three days and three nights.
            13David asked him: “To whom do you belong and where are you from?”
            “I am a Mitsri lad, servant to an Amaleki. My master abandoned me three days ago because I was sick. 14We had raided the Karet Negev, some Y’hudah territory, and the Kalev Negev. Tsiklag we burned in fire.”
            15David said: “Will you take me down to this band?”
            The Mitsri said: “Swear to me by God that you will not kill me or shut me into my master’s hand, and I will take you down to this band.”
            16So he took them down and there they were, spread out on the ground, eating and drinking and celebrating with all the great plunder they had taken from the land of the P’lishti and from Y’hudah. 17David struck them from the breezy morning till the evening, to annihilate them. None escaped save four hundred lads who fled on the camels. 18David rescued all that the Amaleki had taken, including his two women. 19None was missing, from the small to the great, sons or daughters, or from the plunder.  Everything they had taken for themselves, David got back. 20They took the flocks and the cattle, leading all this livestock before David, saying: “This is David’s plunder.”
            21David arrived at the two hundred men who had been to exhausted to follow him and he had left them at the B’sor ravine.  They went out to meet David and the people with him.  David approached and asked their shalom. 
            22Then spoke up every bad and b’liya’al man among those who had gone with David: “Because they did not go with us we should not give them of the plunder we rescued. Just let each man lead away his woman and children.” 
            23“Don’t act that way,” said David. “After what Yahh has given us.  And kept us.  He gave into our hand the band that had come upon us. 24And who is going to listen to you on this matter? The portion of them who go down to the battle, the same shall be the portion of them who stay with the gear. Together we share.” (25And so it became law and ordinance from that day on, for Yisrael to this day.)
26David arrived at Tsiklag and sent from the plunder to the elders of Y’hudah, his friends, saying: “Here for you a greeting from the plunder of the enemies of Yahh.” 27To those: of BetEl, of Ramat Negev, of Yatir, 28of Aro’er, of Sifmot, of Eshtamoa, 29of Karmel, of the Y’rachm’eli towns, of the Qeni towns, 30of Chormah, of BorAshan, of Atach, 31and of Chevron and to all the places where David and his men were wont to walk about.
© Rabbi David L. Kline  

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