DAVID AND Y’HONATAN (AND SHA’UL AND MICHAL) I SAM 18-20
DAVID AND Y’HONATAN (AND SHA’UL AND MICHAL) I SAMUEL 18-20
LOVE, SUCCESS, AND FURY 1 Samuel 18:1-9
CONTEXT: Sha’ul lived and reigned in Giv’ah (Gibeah), a small town in the territory of Benjamin. The site, now called Tel el Ful, is a hill north of the Arab village, Shuafat, and east of Pisgat Z’ev, a northern suburb of Jerusalem.
I have repeated here, for purposes of continuity, the last two verses of the preceding chapter.
GLOSSARY: “Cut” (karat) is the verb commonly used for making/sealing a covenant (brit). There may have been some act of cutting, possibly a ritual such as the animals cut into two in the “Covenant between the parts” (Gen 15:7-21), or the circumcision. In English we can say “cut a check” to describe writing out a financial transaction. I am satisfied that “cut a covenant will be equally suggestive.
“Soul,” tanslates nefesh, נפש, which in Tanach means “life essence, personhood,” and comes from a root meaning “breathe.”
17:57With David’s returning from killing the P’lishti, Avner took him and brought him–the P’lishti’s head in his hand!–before Sha’ul 58who asked him: “Lad, whose son are you?”
“I am the son of your servant Yishai, the BetLachmi.”
1It happened, as David finished talking with Sha’ul, Y’honatan’s soul became bound [to David’s soul. Y’honatan loved him as his very life.
On that day Sha’ul took him and would not allow him to return to his father’s house.
3 Y’honatan cut a covenant with David in his great love for him. 4He stripped off his robe and gave it to David and the same with his uniform, his sword, his bow, his belt.
5 And David went out on every mission on which Sha’ul sent him and succeeded. Sha’ul set him above the warriors and it was good in the eyes of the whole people as well as in the eyes of Sha’ul’s servants. 6And whenever they would return from striking P’lishtim, the women from every city of Yisrael would come out to greet King Sha’ul, singing and dancing with drums and joy and three-stringed lutes. 7And the women players’ refrain:
“Sha’ul scored his thousands; David his myriads!”
8This was bad in Sha’ul’s eyes. It infuriated him: “Me they gave thousands and him they gave myriads? Next will they give him the reign?” 9Sha’ul kept his eye on David from that day on.
COMPLICATION 1 Samuel 18:10-16
CONTEXT: The verb mitnave, מתנבא, “prophesy” means to move and speak in trance, in uncontrollable ecstasy. This is what the Delphic Oracle did. To the ancients this meant a person or persons was possessed by some external spirit. Spiritual possession, good or bad, was thought to be an act of God. Words spoken in such a state might be heard as divine. The common meaning “predict” is secondary
10The next day an evil divine spirit overcame Sha’ul and he went into oracle mode in the house. David strummed as usual. Sha’ul had a spear at hand. 11He lifted it, intending to jab David to the wall. David spun away from him twice. 12Sha’ul became afraid of David: clearly Yahh was with him and had turned away from him, from Sha’ul. 13So Sha’ul turned David away from his presence and made him a battalion commander so that he would go and come at the head of the people.
14David, Yahh being with him, succeeded at every turn. 15Sha’ul saw this great success and feared him the more: “16All Yisrael and Y’hudah love David for he is the one who goes and comes before them.”
DAVID BUYS A BRIDE 1 Samuel 18:17
CONTEXT: “Woman,” ishah, אישה, sometimes refers to “wife.” The status of married women is not clear and there is no description of a marriage ritual other than partying for a week. (There is reference to writing a “scroll of divorce,” Deut 24:1) In polygyny there seem to be different levels of wives and concubines, any of whom can be referred to as ishah. In German, “weib” denotes the same as ishah. The usage allows, I think, context to determine the denotation without limiting the connotation. Hence, in this project, attempting to preserve the nuance of the Hebrew, I translate ishah as “woman” even where it clearly means “wife.”
“Chatan” means “bridegroom” in modern Hebrew. But “choten” means “father-in-law.” (In Arabic, the same root means “circumcise.”) In this story chatan refers to an honored relationship. Simpler to leave the word in Hebrew and explain it.
17Sha’ul said to David: “Here is my older daughter, Merav. I give her to you as woman. Just be a brave man and fight the battles of Yahh.” (Sha’ul was thinking, be not my hand against him. Be it the hand of the P’lishtim.)
18David replied: “Who am I with my father’s family that I should become chatan to the king?”
19Actually, Merav bat Sha’ul, at the time of giving to David, had already been given as woman to Adriel of Macholah. 20But Michal bat Sha’ul had fallen in love with David. They told Sha’ul and the thing looked fine to him: 21“I’ll give her to him and she’ll become a trap so that the hand of the P’lishtim will get him. (“Today you can become my chatan with both?)
22Sha’ul ordered his servants: “Speak to David in private. Say, “The king is pleased with you. All his servants love you. Now is the time to become the king’s chatan.”
23When they had gotten David’s ear, he responded: “Do you see it as trivial to become chatan to the king? I am a poor man and trivial.”
24His servants reported back to Sha’ul David’s response. 25Sha’ul said: “Here’s what you are to tell David, ‘There is no pleasure for the king in a bride price -- other than a hundred P’lishti foreskins – revenge for the king against his enemies.’” (Sha’ul figured to fell David by the hand of the P’lishtim.) 26The servants passed on these words to David. He saw it as a straightforward deal to become chatan with the king.
27Loosing no time, David rose and went off with his men and killed two hundred P’lishtim He brought in their foreskins, their full number for the king, so as to become his chatan. So Sha’ul gave him Michal, his daughter, as woman.
28Sha’ul saw and understood that Yahh was with David – his own daughter Michal loved him. 29He continued fearing David, yet more, and became increasingly his enemy day by day.
30The P’lishti commanders sallied forth and every time David outdid all other servants to Sha’ul. His name rose in esteem.
TO KILL OR NOT TO KILL? 1 Samuel 19
1Sha’ul spoke to his son Y’honatan, and to all his servants, about killing David. Y‘honatan took great pleasure in David 2and told him: “Sha’ul my father seeks to kill you. Watch out in the morning. Hide out in some secret place in the field. 3I’ll go out with my father to that field and speak to him about you. When I see what’s what, I’ll tell you.”
4Y’honatan spoke well of David to Sha’ul. “The king should not sin against his servant, against David. He has not sinned against you. Indeed his deeds benefit you greatly. 5He took his life in his hands when he killed the P’lishti, with Yahh doing great salvation for all Yisrael. You saw it and rejoiced. Why sin against innocent blood, killing David for nothing?”
6Sha’ul heard Y’honatan out and swore: “By the life of Yahh, if he is to be killed!” 7Y’honatan called David and told him these words. He brought David to Sha’ul and David was back with him as the day before yesterday.
8(The war was still going on. David sallied forth and fought with the P’lishtim and struck a heavy blow. They fled from him.)
DAVID ESCAPES BY RUSE AND PROPHESY 1 Samuel 19:9
CONTEXT: T’rafim, are generally understood to be wooden idols, possibly household deities similar to the Roman Lares and Penates. In the Rachel story, the t’rafim are small enough to be hidden under a camel cushion (Genesis 31:34). In this story the statue must be the size of a person. The item is called “the t’rafim” suggesting that it is as common as a piece of furniture.
9A bad spirit from Yahh entered Sha’ul when he was sitting at home, his spear in hand. David strummed the lyre. 10Sha’ul tried with his spear to strike David to the wall but he eluded him and the spear stuck in the wall. David fled and escaped that night.
11Sha’ul sent messengers to David’s house to guard him and kill him in the morning. Michal, his woman, told him: “If you don’t escape with your life tonight, tomorrow you will be killed.” 12She let him down from the window; he ran and escaped. 13She took the t’rafim and put it into the bed, set the goat hair pillow at its head, and pulled up the blanket. 14When Sha’ul sent messengers to take David, she said: “He’s sick.” 15Sha’ul sent the messengers back to look at David, telling them: “Bring him to me in the bed to kill him.” 16They arrived to see that the t’rafim was in the bed, with the goats hair pillow at its head.
17Sha’ul said to Michal: “Why did you cheat me like this, freeing my enemy to escape?”
She replied: “He said to me: “Free me: why should I have to kill you?”
18David ran and escaped, coming to Sh’muel at Ramah. He told him all that Sha’ul had done to him. The two of them went to dwell in a shepherd tent.
19It was told to Sha’ul: “There’s David in a shepherd tent at Ramah.” 20Sha’ul sent messengers to take David and they encountered the company of prophets with Sh’muel standing at their head. And a divine spirit fell on Sha’ul’s messengers and they too prophesied.
21They told Sha’ul and he sent other messengers and they too prophesied. Sha’ul kept it up, sending a third band of messengers and they too prophesied. 22Then he himself went to Ramah, arriving at the great cistern at Sechu, and asking: “Where are Sh’muel and David?”
“There at the Ramah shepherd tents.” 23On the way there the divine spirit entered him as well and he walked along prophesying till he reached the shepherd tent at Ramah. 24He too stripped off his clothes and prophesied, even he, before Sh’muel, falling naked all that day and all that night.
That’s why they say: “Is Sha’ul too among the prophets?!”
MORE BETWEEN DAVID AND JONATHAN 1 Samuel 20
CONTEXT: Chalilah is a negative interjection that deserves to be left in Hebrew. The usual translations, “God forbid” or “far be it from me” are inadequate and unjustified by the etymology. The root is chalal, חלל, meaning “profane, desecrate” with the addition of hey, ה, at the end, indicating direction. “To the profane” would be a correct translation, approximating the English usage, “to hell with it.” In modern Hebrew the expression chas v’chalilah adds a word for “pity” for an expression that further eludes English idiom.
Using a not uncommon Hebrew idiomatic form, Jonathan in his adjuration with David says Yahh will requite from the hand of the enemies of David rather than the correct but blunt “requite from the hand of David.” This is a verbal gesture of delicacy – avoid wishing evil on one’s friend -- and may have been inserted by a copyist, as, e.g. I Sam 25:22. I chose to leave it out of the narrative.
When Saul yells in fury at his son, he uses what may be an obscure and obscene idiom, or perhaps the text is faulty. The words seem to be “son of guilty rebellion.” “Son of a bitch!” probably approximates the expression.
1From the Ramah shepherd tents David ran to speak to Y’honatan: “What have I done? What am I guilty of? For what sin against your father is he seeking my life?”
2“Chalilah! You shall not die! Listen: my father does nothing large or small without revealing it first to me. Why would he hide from me such a thing? It’s not true.”
David swore further: “Your father certainly knows you like me. So he says, ‘Let not Y’honatan know about this lest he be distressed.’ But as Yahh lives! As you live! There was only about a step between me and the death.”
4“What does your life require? I will do it for you.”
5“Look. It’s new moon tomorrow and I am due to sit with the king to eat. You must free me and I’ll hide in the field till evening. 6In case your father takes a count and notices my absence, say to him; ‘David urgently asked leave of me to run to BetLechem his city. He has a an annual sacrifice there for his whole family.’ 7If he says, ‘Good,’ then all’s well with your servant. And if he gets mad, then know: the bad has completely taken over. 8Do your servant a favor–did you not bring your servant into a covenant of Yahh with yourself? If I am guilty then you, you kill me. Why bring me up before your father?”
9“Chalilah!” said Y’honatan. “Were I to know that the bad has completely taken over my father, would I not come to tell it to you?”
10“Who will tell me if your father answers with a harsh word?”
11So Y’honatan answered: “Let’s go out to the field,” and the two of them went out to the field. 12“By Yahh, God of Yisrael, I will test my father by this time tomorrow, whether it is good for David or not. Then I shall send to you and reveal it. 13So may Yahh do to Y’honatan and more yet! If my father thinks it good to do bad to you I will reveal it to you and free you that you go in peace. And may Yahh be with you as he was with my father. 14And will you not – if I am still alive – will you not do for me the love of Yahh, that I not die? 15And not cut off from my house your love, ever? Not even when Yahh cuts off David’s enemies, every one of them, from the face of the earth?” 16Then Y’honatan cut, with the house of David, a covenant that Yahh would requite from the hand of David. 17And Y’honatan continued the oath with David. In his love for him, as he loved his life he loved him.
18Then Y’honatan said to him, “Tomorrow is new moon and you will be counted absent when your seat is checked. 19On the third day go far down to the place where you hid on the day of the deed. Stay near the cairn. 20And I, I’ll shoot the three arrows by the side: target practice. 21Then I’ll send my lad, ‘Go find the arrows.’ If I specifically say to the lad, ‘The arrows are between you and here. Get them and come,’ it will mean that all is well for you and by the life of Yahh there is no problem. 22But if I say this to the youth, ‘The arrows are beyond you,’ then go for Yahh will have sent you. 23And as for the thing we have spoken, you and I, Yahh is between us forever.”
24David hid in the field. New moon arrived and the king sat to eat the meal. 25The king sat in his usual seat, against the wall. Y’honatan sat opposite him and Avner sat at Sha’ul’s side. David’s place was noticed, 26but Sha’ul spoke nothing about it on that day, thinking: “He is impure. It happens. He must be impure.”
27The next day, the second day of new moon, David’s place was noticed. Sha’ul said to his son: “Why didn’t benYishai come to the meal yesterday or today?”
28Y’honatan replied: “David asked leave of me to go to BetLechem. 29‘Send me,’ he said. We have a family sacrifice in the city and my brother demanded me to be there. So, if I have found favor in your eyes, I’ll get away, please, and see my brother.’ That’s why he didn’t come to the king’s table.”
30Sha’ul was furious with Y’honatan: “You son of a bitch! Don’t I know that you favor benYishai! Shame! Shame on your mother! 31Every day that BenYishai lives on this earth threatens you and your royalty. Now! Send for him. Bring him to me. He’s dead!”
32When Y’honatan said, “Why must he die? What has he done?” 33Shaul raised his spear against him to strike. Y’honatan realized that his father fully intended to kill David. 34In anger he got up from the table and ate nothing of the second day feast. He was depressed for David, the way his father had disgraced him.
35In the morning Y’honatan went out to the field for the meeting with David. He brought along a small boy, 36telling him: “Run, find the arrows I’m shooting. “The boy ran and Y’honatan shot an arrow to lead him on. 37When he reached that arrow Y’honatan called out: “Hey, the arrow’s further on! 38Hurry! Quick, don’t just stand there.”
The boy grabbed the arrow and returned to his master, 39knowing nothing of what Y’honatan and David knew. 40Y’honatan handed his gear to the boy: “Go. Take this back to town.” 41The boy left.
David got up from the south, nearby and bowed face to the ground three times. Each then kissed the other and wept, David the more. 42Y’honatan said: “Go in peace, as we, both of us, have sworn by the name of Yahh: Yahh be between me and you, between my descendents and your descendants, forever.”
21:1David rose and left. Y’honatan came to the town.