Book of Shmuel
40: Chapter 20 (Part II)
STORY OF THE ARROWS
Your Way; for the Lord Has Sent You Away"
the previous lecture, we discussed the complexity of the relationship between
Yonatan and David as it expressed itself in the question regarding how far
Yonatan was capable of going in his love for David and in his standing up to his
father Shaul. This complexity also underlies the verses in the continuation of
the chapter, which will be discussed in this lecture. It should be remembered
that in his answer to David's question, "Who shall tell me if perchance your
father answer you roughly?" (v. 10), Yonatan swears that even if Shaul is
planning to do evil, Yonatan will inform David of the
"The Lord do so to Yonatan, and more also, should it please my father to do you
evil, if I disclose it not unto you, and send you away, that you may go
In the wake of this, Yonatan swears again to David and makes a covenant
with him, as we saw in the previous lecture. After these ornate words, however,
Yonatan proposes an altogether different plan:
And Yonatan said unto him, "Tomorrow is the new moon; and you will be missed,
your seat will be empty. (19) And in the third day
you shall hide yourself well, and come to the place where you hid yourself in
the day of work,
and shall remain by the stone Ezel.
(20) And I will shoot three arrows
to the sideward, as though I shot at a mark. (21) And, behold, I will send the
lad: 'Go, find the arrows.' If I say unto the lad: 'Behold, the arrows are on
this side of you; take them, and come;' for there is peace to you and no hurt,
as the Lord lives. (22) But if I say thus unto the boy: 'Behold, the arrows are
beyond you,' go your way; for the Lord has sent you away. (23) And
regarding the matter which I and you have spoken of, behold, the Lord is between
me and you for ever."
It is evident from these verses that Yonatan has retreated from his
previous oath. His earlier words clearly implied that he had obligated himself
to inform David of the results of the test performed on Shaul in a direct
manner, and that he would send David away. Now Yonatan tells David that he
will not meet with him directly, but rather he will inform him of the results in
a secret manner. It seems that Yonatan was concerned about the implications of a
direct meeting with David should Shaul's negative attitude toward David prove to
be absolute, and he therefore preferred that it not be he who sends David away.
Rather, "Go your way; for the Lord has sent you away."
two declarations – "I will send you away" versus "the Lord has sent you away" –
appear to contradict each other – but in fact they express the inner tension
between the two poles in Yonatan's personality. There is no question that either
way Yonatan is faithful and dedicated to David, but the scope and force of this
fidelity gives rise to an inner conflict that never finds
plan is executed:
So David hid himself in the field; and when the new moon was come, the king sat
him down to the meal to eat. (25) And the king sat upon his seat, as at other
times, even upon the seat by the wall;
and Yonatan stood up, and Avner sat by Shaul's side; but David's place was
(26) Nevertheless, Shaul spoke not any thing that day; for he thought,
"Something has befallen him, he is unclean; surely he is not clean."
At this stage, Shaul gives David the benefit of the doubt, and does not
attach significance to his absence. The next day, however, the confrontation
between Shaul and Yonatan reaches its climax:
And it came to pass on the morrow after the new moon, which was the second
that David's place was empty; and Shaul said unto Yonatan his son, "Wherefore
comes not the son of Yishai
to the meal, neither yesterday, nor today?" (28) And Yonatan answered Shaul,
"David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem. (29) And he said: 'Let me
go, I pray you; for our family has a sacrifice in the city; and my brother,
he has commanded me; and now, if I have found favor in your eyes, let me get
away, I pray you, and see my brethren.' Therefore, he is not come unto the
king's table." (30) Then Shaul's anger was kindled against Yonatan, and he said
unto him, "You son of perverse rebellion,
do not I know that you have chosen the son of Yishai to your own shame, and unto
the shame of your mother's nakedness? (31) For as long as the son of Yishai
lives upon the earth, you shall not be established, nor your kingdom. Wherefore
now send and fetch him unto me, for he deserves to die." (32) And Yonatan
answered Shaul his father, and said unto him, "Why should he be put to death?
What has he done?" (33) And Shaul cast his spear at him to smite him; whereby
Yonatan knew that it was determined of his father to put David to
Shaul's crude language, his clear declaration that David deserves to die,
and finally his casting his spear at Yonatan in order to smite him, leave
Yonatan with no room for doubt regarding his father's intentions. In the wake of
So Yonatan arose from the table in fierce anger, and did eat no food the second
day of the month; for he was grieved for David, and because his father
had put him to shame.
These words close the circle that had begun at the beginning of the
chapter. There, Yonatan had disputed David's claim that Shaul was trying to kill
him but was concealing his intentions from Yonatan "lest he be grieved."
Now, it becomes clear that David had been right, and indeed, Yonatan is
Now Yonatan is supposed to report the results to David by way of the
arrows. Once again, however, the drama undergoes an unexpected
Were the Arrows Necessary?
account of the shooting of the arrows raises a question. Indeed, Yonatan takes a
"little lad" with him (v. 35),
shoots the arrows, makes a pronouncement that expresses the negative message,
and even adds the words, "Make speed, hasten, stay not," (v. 38), in order to
urge David on and warn him about the concrete danger that awaits him. Yonatan
then sends the lad back to the city; at that point, the story should have ended.
But the chapter concludes in a surprising manner:
And as soon as the lad was gone, David arose out of a place toward the south,
and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed down three times;
and they kissed one another, and wept one with the other, until David exceeded.
(42) And Yonatan said to David, "Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of
us in the name of the Lord, saying, 'The Lord shall be between me and you, and
between my seed and your seed, for ever.'"
If, in the end, David met with Yonatan, what was the purpose of the whole
exercise with the arrows?
It seems that here, too, the answer is connected to the complexity of the
relationship between Yonatan and David. When Yonatan initiated the arrow
maneuver, he reversed, as noted before, his original idea that he himself would
report back to David directly. At the moment of truth, however, when Yonatan is
about to part from David and send him off in peace, his love for David is once
again aroused. His feelings overcome the rational considerations that had
previously guided him, and he wishes to take leave of David in a personal way.
In hindsight, the exercise with the arrows was superfluous, but it is precisely
this account that expresses more than anything else Yonatan's internal
The final word, however, bring us back to the problematic dimension of
he arose and departed; and Yonatan went into the city. (21:1)
This verse sharpens the fact that, in the end, Yonatan did not go with
David, but rather returned to the city. It is possible that he had no
alternative, and it would be unreasonable to say that Yonatan should have gone
off with David and cut himself off from his father. The bottom line, however, is
that in this verse Yonatan seals his own fate. Since he tied his fate to that of
his father rather than to that of David, it was decreed that he would die with
his father on Mount Gilboa and not take part in the future kingdom of David.
This was the most tragic moment in Yonatan's life, and it is possible that this
is what David refers to in his lament: "Shaul and Yehonatan were loved and dear
in their lives, and in their death they were not divided" (II Shmuel
1:23). Yonatan's decision during his lifetime to remain with his father
brought about the fact that even in their death, they were not
Chazal appear to have been aware of the tension found in this
verse, and this is the source of their statement:
Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: Had Yonatan lent David two loaves of bread,
Nov the city of the priests would not have been put to death, Doeg the Edomite
would not have been banished [from the world-to-come], and Shaul and his three
sons would not have been killed. (Sanhedrin 104a)
Chazal tie our verse to the story of Nov, the city of priests, and
also to the death of Shaul and his three sons. They find fault in Yonatan's
taking leave from David, and express this by saying that he did not give David
bread. It seems that they also wish to imply that Yonatan did not act here as
might have been expected in light of his great love for David, and this is what
later brought to his death.
by David Strauss)