Shemuel Alef Chapter 18

The Reading

The Summary

Shemuel Alef Chapter 18
The primary focus of this chapter is on the meteoric rise of David to prominence in Israel and the variety of reactions to his newfound fame. The members of King Shaul’s court, including Yonatan, Shaul’s son, are deeply impressed with David and are pleased with his appearance on the scene. Shaul retains David as a leader of his troops and no longer permits him to return home. Yonatan forms a bond of deep and enduring friendship with David. He removes his regal apparel and weapons and gives them to David as a sign of genuine deference to him.

David is consistently successful and becomes enormously popular. The women who greet the Jewish soldiers returning from war sing a song that Shaul interprets as praising David more highly than himself, although really it is composed in a typical biblical poetic structure that carries no such implication. While everyone else in the kingdom is celebrating the military victories and accomplishments of David, Shaul’s jealousy over David’s growing popularity consumes him. On one occasion, while David is performing for him at the palace, Shaul hurls a spear at him with intent to kill; miraculously, David steps out of its path and survives.

Shaul now views David as a threat and wishes to orchestrate his downfall. At the same time, he realizes that God is with David and is enabling him to succeed and thrive to a remarkable extent. Shaul decides to attempt to bring about David’s demise at the hands of the Pelishtim rather than murdering him personally. His strategy is to wed David to his daughter, Merav, hoping that this distraction will undermine his focus and lead to his failure on the battlefield. David refuses to accept the proposal, insisting that he is unworthy of marrying the daughter of the king.

In the meantime, Merav marries someone else and another daughter of Shaul, Mikhal, falls in love with David. Again, David is adamant that he is not deserving of the honor of marrying royalty; Shaul, hoping to entice David to accept a dangerous mission that would eventuate in his death, asks his men to convince David to agree to the offer, provided he can deliver one hundred Philistine foreskins to the King as a dowry in exchange for his daughter’s hand in marriage. David embraces the challenge and delivers not one hundred but two hundred Philistine foreskins, having handily defeated two hundred Pelishti soldiers in combat without coming to any harm.

Shaul – like the members of his cabinet, his own son, and the entire Jewish people – perceives the hand of God in the achievements of David and holds him in tremendous esteem; however, his own thirst for approval, love and power cause him to completely separate himself from the divine plan. Ironically, he realizes the message Hashem is sending through the blessings David is receiving; clearly, David is Hashem’s choice to succeed Shaul. Nevertheless, Shaul is unwilling to accept the decree of the Almighty and instead declares David his arch enemy. As the love that everyone else has for David waxes stronger, the animosity of Shaul toward his rival intensifies.

The assessment we formed from the earlier episodes in Shaul’s career has proven to be correct: his tendency to place his own need for the approval of others ahead of Hashem’s will has reached new heights. No longer merely compromising or rationalizing his capitulation to popular opinion when it runs contrary to the expectations of Hashem, Shaul is now prepared to unabashedly set aside the will of the Almighty in order to protect and promote his own personal agenda.

This kind of development is precisely what Hashem and the prophets feared would occur with the advent of the monarchy – pursuit of power for its own sake rather than in the service of Torah. Shaul’s movement in this direction began long ago; his continual spiritual decline is the very reason why he is being removed from his position and replaced with David.