The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit
The Book of Shmuel
Yeshivat Har Etzion
Shiur #14: CHAPTER 9 (PART
FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH SHAUL
"THAT HIS HEART NOT BE LIFTED ABOVE HIS
Our chapter turns sharply away from the course of events described thus
far in the book of Shmuel.
Were we not familiar with the story, we would be amazed by what we
were reading. How is the story of a
young man who goes out in search of his donkeys connected to the great drama
described in the previous chapter? Even after the first-time reader figures out
that the young man in the story is destined to rule as king over Israel, cause
for astonishment still remains: Why does Scripture describe at such great length
what happens to Shaul before he comes to Shmuel?
It seems that this lengthy description comes to teach us about Shaul and
how appropriate he is to serve as king of Israel.
As we saw in previous lessons, the demands that are made of the chosen king are
recorded in Devarim 17:14-20.
The account in our chapter comes to show that Shaul meets all the
requirements of an ideal king.
first requirement is that he be: "One from among your brethren shall you set as
king over you; you may not set a stranger over you, who is not your brother"
(Devarim 17:15). Indeed, the
chapter opens with a description of Shaul's
there was a man of Binyamin, whose name was Kish, the son of Aviel,
the son of Tzeror, the son of Becorat, the son of Afi'ach, the son of a
first prohibition in the Torah with respect to a king is: "But he shall not
multiply horses to himself" (Devarim 17:16).
In numerous places, Scripture censures the phenomenon of trust in the power of
horses, which stands in opposition to trust in God. For example, Yishayahu says: "Woe to
them that go down to Egypt for help; and depend on horses, and trust in
chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong:
but they look not to the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the Lord" (31:1).
For this reason, God commands Yehoshua before he goes out to war against the
northern kings (Yehoshua 11:6) to lame the horses that they capture, and
David acted on his own in the same manner (II Shmuel
seems to be emphasizing in our chapter that Shaul is not a man of horses, and
that it is precisely for donkeys that he is out searching. Donkeys do not provide their riders with
a sense of power, and therefore the leaders of Israel often appear riding on a
In particular, there is a well-known tradition according to which the Messiah
will arrive riding on a donkey, based on the prophecy of Zekharya: "Rejoice
greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, your king
comes to you; He is just, and victorious; humble, and riding upon an
donkey, and upon a colt, the foal of an donkey. And I will cut off the chariot from
Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem" (9:9-10).
Riding on a donkey is presented as the antithesis of riding on a horse, and it
testifies to the rider's humility.
In our context, the search for the donkeys gives expression to Shaul's
modesty, as opposed to excessive assertiveness and
next requirement set by the Torah is: "Neither shall he multiply wives to
himself, that his heart turn not away" (Devarim 17:17). The destructive influence of the
phenomenon of multiple wives is from time to time mentioned in Scripture,
and it was especially prominent in the case of Shelomo.
To counter this concern Scripture brings the charming conversation between Shaul
and his lad and the young maidens drawing water. Shaul and his lad ask the simplest
question – "Is the seer here?" – but they receive a most complicated
they answered them, and said, He is; behold, he is before you; make haste now,
for he is come today into the city; for the people have a sacrifice today in the
What lies behind this long and convoluted answer? Chazal
(Berakhot 48b) go off in several directions, including: "Why did they
make such a long story of it? Because women are fond of talking. Shmuel said: It was so that they might
feast their eyes on Shaul's good looks, since it is written: 'From his shoulders
and upward he was higher than any of the people' (I Shmuel 9:2)."
It stands to reason that Chazal were aware of the romantic potential in
this meeting. Against this
background, Shaul's ignoring the chatty maidens and his concentration on his
mission is striking. Shaul gives us
every indication that he is not a womanizer.
Torah adds another requirement: "Neither shall he greatly multiply to himself
gold and silver" (Devarim 17:17).
This requirement is also very understandable in light of the negative
influence of excessive wealth on decision-making in general, and that of the
king in particular: "Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is
there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is
there any end of their chariots: their land also is full of idols; they worship
the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made: and the
mean man is bowed down, and the great man is brought low; forgive them not"
(Yishayahu 2:7-9). Regarding
this point as well, Shaul stands out as one for whom money does not play a major
role in his life:
said Shaul to his servant, But, behold, if we go, what shall we bring the man?
for the bread is spent in our vessels, and there is not a present to bring to
the man of God; what have we? And the servant answered Shaul again, and said,
Behold, I have in my hand the fourth part of a shekel of silver, that will I
give to the man of God, to tell us our way. (7-8)
The lad has more money in his pocket than does
Torah makes another demand of the king: "That his heart not be lifted up above
his brethren" (Devarim 17:20). This quality finds special expression in
Shaul's attitude toward his lad.
All through the journey, Shaul consults with the lad as his equal,
listens to his advice, and never speaks to him with condescension. Particularly moving is Shaul's
statement: "Come and let us return; lest my father leave caring for the donkeys,
and become anxious concerning us" (v. 5).
LET US RETURN…"
All of these expressions demonstrate how appropriate Shaul is to serve as
king of Israel. In the wake of this
positive description, however, a question arises: If things were so good at the
beginning, why did everything go wrong later? Why weren't the high hopes that
had been placed in Shaul materialized? It can, of course, be argued that every
person has free will, and that while Shaul appears to be an ideal figure, he
nevertheless disobeys God, and therefore loses his kingdom. The picture, however, seems to be more
complex. Together with the positive
elements in Shaul's personality, a certain trait of his emerges that will cause
him to stumble:
they were come to the land of Tzuf, Shaul said to his servant that was with him,
Come and let us return; lest my father leave caring for the donkeys, and become
anxious concerning us. And he said
unto him, Behold now, there is in this city a man of God, and he is a man that
is held in honor; all that he says comes surely to pass; now let us go there;
perhaps he can tell us concerning our journey whereon we go. Then said Shaul to his servant, But,
behold, if we go, what shall we bring the man? for the bread is spent in our
vessels, and there is not a present to bring to the man of God; what have we?
And the servant answered Shaul again, and said, Behold, I have in my hand the
fourth part of a shekel of silver, that will I give to the man of God, to tell
us our way. Beforetime in Israel,
when a man went to inquire of God, thus he said, Come and let us go to the seer;
for he that is now called a prophet was beforetime called a seer. Then said Shaul to his servant, Well
said; come, let us go. So they went
unto the city where the man of God was.
This description presents Shaul as one who cannot stick to his goal, and
as subordinating himself to the dominant personality of the lad. Alongside the modesty that characterizes
Shaul in this account, his hesitancy and attempt to avoid fulfilling the mission
that had been cast upon him and upon his lad are evident. It is precisely his lad who demonstrates
persistence and creativity, and refuses to reconcile himself with Shaul's
readiness to return home empty handed.
It is precisely this quality of Shaul that will cause him to stumble as
he tries to fulfill the function that had been cast upon him. Shaul will fail on a number of
occasions, and in all of them the qualities of hesitancy, failure to stick to a
mission, and lack of confidence may be seen as essential components that explain
those failures. Thus, for example,
he will bow to the pressure of the people and offer sacrifices without waiting
for Shmuel (chap. 13), and he will not control the people with respect to eating
meat with the blood (chap. 14) or with respect to taking spoils from
Amalek (chap. 15).
This being the case, already in our first meeting with Shaul we see the
complexity of his personality. The
quality of modesty is an essential condition for the success of the idea of the
monarchy, but it must be found in a person who can lead, who despite his skills,
recognizes the smallness of man in relationship to God, and conducts himself
with the appropriate humility.
Modesty that stems from a lack of self-confidence and indecisiveness is
not a quality befitting a king. At
this stage the nature of Shaul's modesty is still not entirely clear. The full picture will become clear
little by little.
I shall conclude this lesson by examining a relatively trivial point with
respect to the story, but essential regarding the redaction of the book of
Shmuel. The narrative is
interrupted by the following comment:
in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, thus he said, Come and let us go
to the seer; for he that is now called a prophet was beforetime called a
From a literary perspective, this comment undoubtedly comes to clarify
what will be stated later, when Shaul and his land meet the maidens and ask
them: "Is the seer here?" In order that we should understand the question,
Scripture clarifies in advance that what we call "today" a "prophet" used to be
From the perspective of the book's redaction, however, this statement
presents a certain problem, for it implies that the book was written a long time
after the events related therein.
The narrator relates to the events as having occurred in ancient times,
"beforetime in Israel," to the point that he must explain the expression, which
had changed over the course of the generations from "seer" to "prophet." This
seems to contradict the tradition of Chazal that "Shmuel wrote his book"
(Bava Batra 15a)
– which implies that the book was written soon after the events described
Radak struggles with this question and proposes that the expression,
"beforetime in Israel," does not come to explain what was common only at that
time, but rather what was common in ancient times and also during the
period under discussion; the only difference is that at the time of the writing
of the book the word "prophet" had also entered into circulation, and the
editor notes that in his period as well, both words were common. This explanation, however, appears a bit
We are left with two possible approaches. The more radical approach emerges from
the commentary of Rabbi Yosef Kra, disciple of Rashi, on this
this generation calls a "prophet," earlier generations used to call a "seer."
What follows is that when this book was written, they had already started
calling a seer "prophet," which implies that this book was not written during
the period of Shmuel… Our Rabbis of blessed memory said that Shmuel wrote his
book. May He who illuminates the
world make darkness light and crooked things straight.
It seems, however, that it is unnecessary to go this far, and argue that
the book was written at a much later time than the events described
therein. It suffices to say that
notes were inserted into the book, and that they alone were written at a later
stage, but the basic narrative was written shortly after the events took
place. This is suggested by R. Yitzchak
verse indicates that it was not written by Shmuel, but rather by Yirmiyahu or
some other prophet who arose much later… Or that the verse was added by Ezra.
If we accept this assumption, that the verse was written at some later
point, we can also answer another question: It would seem that this note should
have appeared one verse later, immediately preceding verse 11, which records the
question raised by Shaul and his lad regarding the "seer." The late date of the
note might explain why it is not found in the more natural place, where it would
most certainly have been found had it been inserted by the chapter's author
by David Strauss)