The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit
The Book of Shmuel
Yeshivat Har Etzion
29: Chapter 15
WAR AGAINST AMALEK (PART III)
Shmuel's pronouncement of the decree that was issued against Shaul is
followed by the following epilogue:
And as Shmuel turned about to go away, he laid hold upon the skirt of his robe,
and it rent. (28) And Shmuel said unto him, "The Lord has rent the kingdom of
Israel from you this day, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better
than you. (29) And also the Glory of Israel will not lie nor repent; for He is
not a man that He should repent."
This well-known passage gave rise to an equally well-known question: Who
rent whose robe? The Amoraim disagreed on the
skirt of whose robe? Rav and Levi [disagreed]. One said: The skirt of Shaul's
robe. And the other said: The skirt of Shmuel's robe. It stands to reason in
accordance with the one who said the skirt of Shmuel's robe, for it is the way
of the righteous to be distressed when their plantings do not turn out well.
(Midrash Shmuel 18)
The midrash sides with the position that it was Shmuel's robe that
was rent, and this was also the understanding of all the biblical commentators:
"According to the plain sense, when Shmuel turned to go away from Shaul, Shaul
grabbed on to the skirt of Shmuel's [robe], because Shaul wanted him to return
with him until after he worshipped [God]" (Rashi). The question, however,
remains: Why does Scripture leave room for speculation, rather than state this
explicitly? Would it not have been possible for the verse to have been
formulated more clearly, e.g.: "And
Shaul laid hold upon the skirt of Shmuel's robe, and it rent"?
It seems, therefore, that the verse was intentionally formulated in an
ambiguous manner that allows for two interpretations. Even though, from a
practical perspective, it is more reasonable to assume that Shmuel's robe was
rent, symbolically it makes more sense to say that Shaul's robe was torn, as
Shmuel states explicitly: "The Lord has rent the kingdom of Israel from you this
day." The linguistic ambiguity comes to express this idea.
even if according to the plain sense of the verse, it was Shmuel's robe that was
rent on this occasion, in the future, Shaul's robe would also become rent. When
he goes to relieve himself in the cave in which David and his men had hid
themselves, we read that, "Then
David arose, and cut off the skirt of Saul's robe privily" (24:4).
That action will close the circle that begins in our chapter: Two rent robes,
that of Shmuel and that of Shaul, allude to the same conclusion – rending the
kingdom from Shaul and giving it to David.
is precisely this episode that leads to a certain change. After having heard in
absolute terms that his kingdom would be rent from him, Shaul manages to rise
above the news and confess his sin without casting blame on
Then he said, "I have sinned; yet honor me now, I pray you, before the elders of
my people, and before Israel, and return with me, that I may worship the Lord
Here, too, however, Shaul's repentance is incomplete; together with his
confession of guilt, Shaul puts forward an interesting request, which raises
doubts as to whether his confession was genuine, or if merely intended to
appease Shmuel and persuade him to return with him before the elders and before
the people. Shaul did, however, confess his sin, and, therefore, Shmuel acceded
to his request:
So Shmuel returned after Shaul; and Shaul worshipped the
Shmuel was then free to complete God's command:
Then said Shmuel, "Bring you hither to me Agag, the king of the Amalekites." And
Agag came unto him in chains.
And Agag said, "Surely the bitterness of death is at hand."
(33) And Shmuel said, "As your sword has made women childless, so shall your
mother be childless among women." And Shmuel hewed Agag in pieces before the
Lord in Gilgal.
In previous lectures, it was noted that it was not humanistic motivations
that brought Shaul to spare Agag. Here we see the flip side: Shmuel does not act
out of cruelty, but in fulfillment of the Divine command, which for him
constitutes absolute truth. Agag was not only a scion of the Amalekites, but
also followed in their ways, continuing to kill young men and make their mothers
VII. THE REDUNDANCY IN THE
ACCOUNT OF SHAUL'S LOSS OF HIS KINGDOM
Now that we have completed our discussion of this chapter, there is room
to inquire about the relationship between this chapter and the previous two
chapters. The main question that stands before us is why Shaul lost his kingdom: Was it because
of his failure during the war against the Pelishtim in chapter 13, or was it on
account of his failure in chapter 15 regarding the blotting out of Amalek? The
question becomes sharpened in light of the difference between Shmuel's reactions
in the two cases. In chapter 13, we read:
And it came to pass that, as soon as he had made an end of offering the
burnt-offering, behold, Shmuel came; and Shaul went out to meet him, that he
might salute him. (11) And Shmuel said, "What have you done?" And Shaul said,
"Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you came not
within the days appointed, and that the Pelishtim assembled themselves together
against Michmas; (12) therefore said I: Now will the Pelishtim come down upon me
to Gilgal, and I have not entreated the favor of the Lord; I forced myself,
therefore, and offered the burnt-offering." (14) And Shmuel said to Shaul, "You
have done foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God,
which He commanded you; for now would the Lord have established your kingdom
upon Israel for ever. (14) But now your kingdom shall not continue; the Lord has
sought him a man after His own heart, and the Lord has appointed him to be
prince over His people, because you have not kept that which the Lord commanded
This account suggests that it was on his own initiative that Shmuel told
Shaul that he lost his kingdom – even before God spoke to him about the matter.
Shmuel informs Shaul that in the future God will appoint another person in his
place as prince over His nation, and it seems that he absolutely identifies with
the harsh words that he casts against Shaul.
In our chapter, Shmuel reacts in an entirely different
Then came the word of the Lord unto Shmuel, saying, (11) "I repent that I have
set up Shaul to be king; for he is turned back from following Me, and has not
performed My commandments." And it grieved Shmuel; and he cried unto the Lord
This passage is puzzling. First of all, surely Shaul already lost his
kingdom; why then is it necessary for him to lose it again in our chapter?
Second, why does Shmuel cry unto God, when he himself already informed Shaul
that the kingdom would be taken away from him?
Another difficulty arises already at the beginning of the chapter. If
Shaul already lost his kingdom in the previous chapters, why is that fact
totally ignored in the beginning of our chapter?
The Radak proposes two solutions to the redundancy connected to the loss
of the kingdom:
1) It is
possible that that the [first] sin would have been pardoned through repentance
and good deeds, but since he sinned again, he was told: "The kingdom is rent
from you this day."
2) It may
further be suggested that at the first sin, he was told: Your
kingdom shall not continue. That is to say, it will not continue for him and his
sons after him. But it was possible that his kingdom would last a long time. Now
he was told that he, too, would not remain for a long time as king.
the level of the plain sense of Scripture, however, these
answers appear far-fetched. It seems then that to resolve these serious
difficulties, we must go back to the method of reconciling contradictions that
we have used in the book of Shmuel beginning in chapter
previous chapters, we noted that Scripture describes the establishment of the
monarchy in Israel from two perspectives: One describes the process from a
negative perspective, as we saw in God's words to Shmuel in chapter 8; the other
presents a positive picture of the monarchy, as we saw beginning in chapter 9.
We argued that this method resolves all the contradictions, for this is
Scripture's way of expressing the complexity of the monarchy in Israel:
presenting two parallel accounts, which do not constitute a single continuum.
This is the way we outlined chapters 8-12 in light of these two perspectives:
– The people ask for a king, a request that is understood as a rejection
– God informs Shmuel of His appointment of Shaul as king, so that he might
deliver Israel from the Pelishtim.
– The signs and the resting of God's spirit upon
– The appointment of Shaul as king by way of the lottery, and Shaul's
appearance before the people.
account that does not appear – the victory over Amon as part of the
objective of appointing a king on Israel's
– The victory over Amon and Shaul's appearance before the
– The consequences of the war against Amon: the acceptance of Shaul as
king over all of Israel.
– Shaul's second appointment as king.
If this approach is correct, it is only natural to expect that the
failure of Shaul's kingdom would be described from these two perspectives.
Indeed, the difference between chapters 13-14 and our chapter well reflects the
difference between the two perspectives as described thus far, and this
redundancy fits in perfectly with the entire process. As we shall immediately
see, chapters 13-14 are a continuation of the perspective which views the
kingdom in a positive light (that is: a continuation of chapter 11), whereas
chapter 15 continues the perspective which views it negatively. Since the two
accounts do not form a single continuum, but rather each one continues a
different perspective, all the objections fall away.
What we must still prove, then, is the connection between the two
accounts and the two perspectives. The connection between chapters 13-14 and the
positive perspective is clearly evident:
The simplest proof is from what it says in 13:8: "And
he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Shmuel had appointed; but
Shmuel came not to Gilgal…." This verse directly relates to Shmuel's command in
10:8, which is found in the realm of the positive perspective: "And you shall go
down before me to Gilgal… seven days shall you tarry, till I come unto you, and
tell you what you shall do."
In chapters 13-14, Israel fights against the Pelishtim. As stated,
Israel's primary enemy according to the positive perspective on the monarchy is
the Pelishtim, and the whole purpose of the king is to deliver Israel from their
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).
As we have seen, according to the positive perspective,
Shaul was appointed as "prince" (nagid: 9:16; 10:1), and not as "king."
In chapters 13-14, the root m-l-kh does not appear at all,
but we do find the word "nagid" (13:14).
similar fashion, it is possible to prove that chapter 15 continues the negative
perspective on the kingdom:
opposed to chapters 13-14, in chapter 15 Shaul is referred to as "king" several
times (vv. 1, 11, 17, 23, 26).
root, "ma'os," which fills an important role in the negative perspective
– and especially in the verse, "for
they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I
should not be king over them" (8:7; and see 10:19) – repeats itself in chapter
15 four times in two verses, both of which make double use of the root: "Because
you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected you
from being king" (v. 23); "For you have rejected the word of the Lord,
and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel" (v.
chapter 12, in Shmuel's parting speech, Shmuel warns the people about the
importance of hearkening to the voice of God on the part of the king and
you will fear the Lord, and serve Him, and hearken unto His voice, and
not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and both you and also the king
that reigns over you be followers of the Lord your God; but if you will not
hearken unto the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of
the Lord, then shall the hand of the Lord be against you, and against your
It is only natural that Shaul's failure from this perspective would be
described as failure to hearken to the voice of the Lord. Indeed, this
motif repeats itself over and over again in chapter 15:
Shmuel said unto Shaul, "The Lord sent me to anoint you to be king over His
people, over Israel; now therefore hearken you unto the voice of the
words of the Lord… (19) Wherefore then did you not hearken to the voice
of the Lord, but did fly upon the spoil, and did that which was evil in the
sight of the Lord?" (20) And Shaul said unto Shmuel, "Yea, I have hearkened
to the voice of the Lord…" (22) And Shmuel said, "Has the Lord as great
delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in hearkening to the voice
of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than
the fat of rams…" (24) And Shaul said unto Shmuel, "I have sinned; for I have
transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and your words; because I feared the
people, and hearkened to their voice."
As it may be recalled, Shaul's failure is further highlighted when he
admits that he had hearkened to the voice of the people and as a result he
failed to hearken to the voice of God.
From all that was stated above, it becomes clear that Shaul stumbled
twice – once according to each perspective: From the positive perspective on the
monarchy, Shaul failed in that he did not obey the prophet's command; from the
negative perspective, he failed in that he did not hearken to the voice of
This is the last lecture to be delivered in the framework of this year's
lecture series on the book of Shmuel. I wish to thank all the readers,
and especially those who actively participated by submitting comments and
questions, orally and in writing. I will, of course, be happy to relate to all
such comments and questions in the future as well.
by David Strauss)