The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit
The Book of Shmuel
Lecture 20: Chapter 11
THE WAR AGAINST
the previous lesson, we noted the main points in the account of the war against
Ammon. Let us now turn our attention to the problems arising in this and the
previous chapters regarding the continuity of the narrative. Reading chapter 11
as a direct continuation of the previous chapter raises serious
First of all, why did the people of Yavesh-Gilad seek help in "all the
borders of Israel" (v. 3), rather than turn directly to Shaul, as might have
been expected? The question is sharpened in light of the fact that in chapter 12
Shmuel states that Israel's request for a king arose entirely out of the threat
from Ammon: "And when you saw that Nachash the king of the children of Ammon
came against you, you said to me, No; but a king shall reign over us" (12:12).
Thus, we might have expected that after Shaul had been appointed king over all
of Israel, the people would immediately turn to him. Nevertheless, messengers
are sent to all the borders of Israel, and it is only in the framework of these
rounds that they come to Givat-Shaul.
Even when the messengers arrive in Givat-Shaul, they do not go directly
to Shaul, but rather they speak to the people: "Then came the messengers to
Givat-Shaul, and spoke these words in the ears of the people; and all the people
lifted up their voice, and wept." None of this takes place in Shaul's
Shaul's conduct in itself raises eyebrows: "And, behold, Shaul came after
the herd out of the field; and Shaul said, What ails the people that they weep?
And they told him the tidings of the men of Yavesh." First, it is surprising
that Shaul, after having been chosen to serve as king over Israel, should
continue to work in the field, as if he did not have a country to run,
especially at this critical point in time.
What happens afterwards is also strange. In order to cause the people to
follow him out to the battlefield, Shaul employs a drastic measure: "And he took
a yoke of oxen, and cut them in pieces, and sent them throughout all the borders
of Israel by the hand of messengers, saying, Whosoever comes not forth after
Shaul and after Shmuel, so shall it be done unto his oxen. And the dread of the
Lord fell on the people, and they came out as one man" (v. 7). Again, if Shaul's
whole appointment was to deliver the people from the hand of Nachash the
Ammonite, why was it necessary for Shaul to use such a sharp threat in order to
muster the nation to follow him? The people should have eagerly volunteered to
go out to war!
commentators noted these difficulties and suggested one answer to resolve all of
them. At the end of chapter 10, it says: "And Shaul also went home to Giva."
Radak comments: "This teaches that he [Shaul] went home just as before. When he
saw that he had not been accepted and approved of by all of Israel, he went home
and did not yet conduct himself as king" (Metzudat David offers a similar
explanation in our chapter). This answers all the questions raised above: The
people did not yet view Shaul as king, and in practice he continued to conduct
himself as an ordinary person.
my humble opinion, however, this explanation is difficult, for Scripture does
not leave us with the impression that Shaul did not begin to function as king.
On the contrary, it was only a few worthless men who did not relate to him in
serious manner, but the rest of the people, who cried out, "Long live the king,"
saw him as worthy of the throne.
Thus, it seems that that we
should continue with the approach adopted in previous chapters, according to
which these chapters offer two parallel accounts of the early days of the
monarchy in Israel. One account views Israel's request for a king in a negative
light, whereas a second account views the request from a positive perspective.
Thus far we have seen that the negative account begins in chapter 8. There the
request for a king comes on Israel's initiative and is therefore viewed as a
rebellion against God. The only reason that it is answered in the affirmative is
that "the Torah spoke in view of man's evil inclination." It continues in the
second half of chapter 10, where Shmuel assembles the nation, and a lottery
chooses Shaul as king over Israel. In contrast, the positive perspective on the
idea of the monarchy starts in chapter 9, where God Himself initiates Shaul's
arrival before Shmuel, as one who will deliver Israel from the hand of the
Pelishtim. This continues in the first half of chapter 10, where Shaul receives
the signs and the spirit of God rests upon him.
wish to argue now that most of chapter 11 constitutes a continuation of the
positive perspective regarding the monarchy, which we last saw in 10:16.
According to that account, Shaul had not yet been openly appointed king over
Israel. This answers the questions raised above: At this point the people did
not yet know of Shaul, and thus the messengers went out to all the borders of
Israel, and even when they came to Givat-Shaul, they did not turn directly to
Shaul. It is for this reason that Shaul had to employ drastic measures in order
to muster troops to go out to war with an unknown leader, and that he mentions
the name of Shmuel together with his own name.
From a conceptual perspective
as well, this account is a continuation of the first half of chapter 10, where
Shmuel says to Shaul: "And let it be, when these signs are come to you, that you
do as occasion serve you; for God is with you" (10:7). Our chapter describes the
realization of this promise and the expectation that Shaul will act as he
pleases. Later in chapter 10 it says: "And when they came there to the hill,
behold, a company of prophets met him; and the spirit of God came upon him" (v.
10); and the very same expression is used in our chapter: "And the spirit of God
came upon Shaul when he heard those tidings" (v. 6). These expressions
characterize Shaul from the positive perspective regarding the monarchy.
MISSING SECTION IN THE NEGATIVE ACCOUNT
Thus far the
division into separate accounts has helped us resolve several serious
difficulties in the structure of the narratives, and we shall still use this
division to resolve certain difficult contradictions that await us in the coming
chapters. Here, however, there is a certain difficulty with the solution that
has just been presented. At the end of chapter 11, following the victory in
battle, it says:
the people said unto Shmuel, Who is he that said, Shall Shaul reign over us?
bring the men, that we may put them to death. And Shaul said, There shall not a
man be put to death this day; for to-day the Lord has wrought deliverance in
Then said Shmuel to the people, Come and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the
kingdom there. And all the people went to Gilgal; and there they made Shaul king
before the Lord in Gilgal; and there they sacrificed sacrifices of
peace-offerings before the Lord; and there Shaul and all the men of Israel
rejoiced greatly. (12-15)
It cannot be said about these verses that they are part of the positive
perspective on the monarchy, for the people's words relate to those worthless
men who had said, "How shall this man save us?" (10, 27), at the end of chapter
the framework of the negative perspective on the monarchy. Shmuel's words in the
continuation about the need to renew the monarchy also seem to belong to that
perspective, for only from that perspective was there already one crowning of
the king, and now a need to renew his kingship. Does this not contradict the
explanation proposed above?
It seems that the matter should be understood as follows. As opposed to
what we have seen thus far, a two-fold account and parallel description of the
same points from each of the two perspectives (the initiative to establish a
monarchy, the selection of Shaul, the physical description of Shaul, and more) -
the war against Ammon, though relevant to both perspectives, is described
primarily from the positive perspective. Presumably, it was omitted from the
negative account of the monarchy because of the desire to downplay Shaul's
success and minimize his achievements. But even from this perspective, the war
against Ammon had significance that could not be ignored: Shaul's kingship was
now accepted by the entire nation, and not just by a part thereof as before the
war. Therefore, all that is left of the negative account of the monarchy is the
story of the conclusion of the war, in the context of the need to renew the
monarchy, as indeed occurs in chapter 12.
While this resolution is a bit complicated, its correctness seems to
follow from another contradiction regarding the war against Ammon. As we saw at
length in the previous lesson, our chapter describes the war against Ammon as a
local battle between Nachash the Ammonite and the residents of Yavesh-Gilad, the
rest of Israel not rushing to their aid (for the reasons which I expanded upon
at length there). In contrast, in chapter 12, in the description of the "renewal of the
monarchy," which continues the negative perspective regarding the monarchy,
Shmuel says to the people: "And when you saw that Nachash the king of the
children of Ammon came against you, you said unto me, Nay, but a king shall
reign over us" (12:12). As stated earlier, this suggests that the entire idea of
the monarchy arose only on account of Nachash the Ammonite. But this does not
accord with what is stated in our chapter, which presents the war as a local
We see then that we can relate to the war against Ammon from two
different perspectives, which depend on the two perspectives regarding the
monarchy in general. According to the positive perspective on the monarchy, the
enemy which gave rise to the need for a king were the Pelishtim: "Tomorrow about
this time I will send you a man out of the land of Binyamin, and you shall
anoint him to be prince over My people Israel, and he shall save My people out
of the hand of the Pelishtim; for I have looked upon My people, because their
cry is come unto Me" (9:16). From this perspective, the war against Ammon was
indeed a local episode, its primary significance being the way in which Shaul
revealed himself to the people. In contrast, from the negative perspective
regarding the monarchy, the request for a king arose as a result of the threat
from Nachash the Ammonite, which is described as a threat to the entire people
of Israel. As explained above, the description of the war from this perspective
is missing. All that is left of it is the epilogue, that is relevant to the
issue of the monarchy, namely, that Shaul was now accepted as king by all of
Israel, after his kingship had been accepted at first by only part of
Let us summarize the two accounts thus far:
8 – the people request a
king, a request that is understood as a rejection of God.
God informs Shmuel about
Shaul's appointment as king, in order to deliver Israel from the
10:1-16 – the signs and the
resting of the spirit of God upon Shaul.
10:17-26 – choosing Shaul
as king by way of a lottery, and Shaul's appearance before the
[the missing piece – the
victory over Ammon as part of the appointment of a king on Israel's
11:1-11 – the victory over
Ammon and Shaul's appearance to the people.
11:12-15 – the result of
the war against Ammon: acceptance of Shaul as king by all of
12 – renewal of Shaul's
As stated, it
is possible and necessary to read each column separately, as a single continuum
(except for the account of the war against Ammon from the negative perspective,
which was intentionally omitted), thereby resolving the various problems that
arise in the flow of the narrative.
At this point
we can leave for several lectures the issue of the two perspectives regarding
the crowning of Shaul as king. We will return to it at the end of chapter 13,
when we will deal with the contradiction between that chapter and chapters 13-14
on the question of the reason that Shaul lost the royal throne.
III. YEHUDA AND
Before concluding my analysis
of chapter 11, I wish to note another point that is unconnected to the previous
he numbered them in Bezek;
and the children of Israel were three hundred thousand, and the men of Yehuda
thirty thousand. (8)
This division between Israel and Yehuda is a bit surprising: We are now
at the beginning of the united kingdom, in the days of Shaul and David; why do
we find such a division?
It seems that already in these chapters Scripture wishes to emphasize
that the division between Yehuda and Israel was present from the very beginning,
and that one of the major tests of the king was to overcome this division. Over
the course of the book, Scripture from time to time weaves this division into
the story, as if by the way. Thus, for example, toward the end of the story of
the battle between David and Golyat, we read: "And the men of Israel and of
Yehuda arose, and shouted, and pursued the Pelishtim" (17:52). And afterwards,
when David becomes a more central figure, this point is emphasized once again:
"But all Israel and Yehuda loved David; for he went out and came in before
At a certain point in the book, the monarchy does in fact split for a
period of years. Following the death of Shaul, the people of Yehuda set David as
king over them, whereas Israel raise as king for a short time Ish-Boshet the son
of Shaul (see II Shmuel 2:1-11). Toward the end of the book as well,
following Avshalom's rebellion, a "minor" rebellion breaks out under Sheva ben
Bikhri, who represents the tribes of Israel rebelling against David and Yehuda
(II Shmuel 20).
In this way we are told that even the early kings of Israel failed to
unite the ranks of the people, and that the division of the monarchy following
the death of Shelomo (I Melakhim 12) was only a question of time. The
roots of the schism were present from the very beginning of the establishment of
the monarchy, and none of the kings of Israel were able to uproot them before
they led to a full-fledged split between the two kingdoms. The reasons for this
split will be discussed in the coming lessons.
(Translated by David Strauss)