Shemuel Alef Chapter 19

The Reading

The Summary

Shemuel Alef Chapter 19

This chapter contains two episodes in which the children of Shaul must balance their sense of loyalty to David with their commitment to the honor of their father. Yonatan, concerned about the increasingly hostile attitude of Shaul toward David, warns David that the king is intent on killing him. David has difficulty believing this. Yonatan instructs David to hide out in a field where Yonatan will go for a stroll with Shaul and discuss the situation.

In the course of their conversation it becomes clear that Shaul does, indeed, harbor profound animosity toward David and wishes to have him executed; Yonatan reasons with his father, questioning the rashness of his plans and emphasizing that the service of David to the kingdom has been trustworthy and beneficial. Shaul swears by the name of Hashem that he will not kill David. As we have learned in the past, however, Shaul’s oaths are of little value in the long run.
Yet another clash with the Phillistines erupts, and David emerges victorious in battle, once again plunging Shaul into despair and anger. While David plays music for him, Shaul attempts to cast a spear at him and murder him; David dodges the attack and escapes from the palace. Shaul stations guards outside of David’s house who wait to ambush him; aware of their plans, his wife Mikhal secretly lowers him out of the window of their home and he leaves undetected.

Mikhal tells the messengers of Shaul that David is sick and arranges a decoy of “teraphim” (statues) and goat hair to make it appear as if David is in bed under the covers. Shaul commands his officers to simply bring David in his bed to be killed; they then realize that they have been fooled and that David is nowhere to be found. Shaul confronts his daughter, criticizing her for choosing David over her own family; rather than argue with her father’s judgment, Mikhal claims that David threatened her life if she did not aid him in his escape.

David flees to Ramah where he encounters Shemuel and shares with him all that has transpired. Shaul sends guards to arrest David; the first three contingents fail to complete their mission because they are seized by the spirit of prophecy. Finally, Shaul himself arrives to apprehend David, but he too is overcome with prophetic rapture and falls to the ground naked, where he remains for a full day and night. This event gave a new meaning to the previously coined phrase “Is Shaul also among the prophets?”

There are undoubtedly echoes of the story of Rachel, Yaaqov and Lavan in the tale of Mikhal, David and Shaul. In both cases, there is a conflict between a son-in-law and a father-in-law, an escape is involved, and the daughter chooses to side with her husband. In both cases, when confronted, the daughter invents a lie to protect herself (Rachel claimed she could not stand up for her father because she was in the midst of her monthly cycle; Mikhal claimed her life was in jeopardy and therefore could not protect her father’s interests). Mikhal and Rachel both experience difficulties regarding childbirth, as we will see in future chapters. Most fascinatingly, both stories involve “teraphim” – Rachel stole her father’s teraphim before running off with Yaaqov, and Mikhal utilizes teraphim in her ruse to delay the discovery of David’s escape.

Mikhal also has similarities to Rahav, who saved Yehoshua’s spies from being apprehended by the King of Yeriho by lowering them down from her window to facilitate their getaway as well as misrepresenting the facts when challenged by the authorities.

What is the reason for these textual and thematic parallels? I believe that one of the key prophetic messages here is that David is a Yaaqov-like figure. David is destined to establish the monarchy of Israel just as Yaaqov established the nation of Israel. Like Yaaqov, he has humble beginnings – he is a mere shepherd who does not seem especially illustrious or impressive at first, but who rises to great prominence and enjoys incredible success in the employ of his own father-in-law. This inadvertently causes him to become the object of his father-in-law’s jealousy, animosity and resentment, and places his wife in a very difficult position.

Rachel and Mikhal, torn between the roles of wife and daughter, choose to heed the calling of the Divine will – whether it be the Divinely mandated creation of the nation of Israel in Rachel’s case or the Divinely mandated establishment of the Davidic dynasty in Mikhal’s – and both women seem to experience some difficulty with the process of leaving their familial commitments and loyalties behind.

We can understand the connection to Rahav along similar lines. With Yehoshua’s conquest of the land imminent, Rahav is forced to choose between her patriotic or familial loyalty to Yeriho and her recognition of Hashem’s providential plan. She opts to do the right thing and to become an instrument of the Divine purpose. It is noteworthy that, according to the Midrash, Rahav, who abdicated her commitment to Yeriho in order to support the Jews, became Yehoshua’s wife. This would be yet another linkage between the stories of Rahav and Mikhal; in both cases, the wife of the rebel is willing to abandon her natural loyalties for the sake of the holy mission being led by her husband.

It is noteworthy that David finds refuge with the prophet Shemuel while the spirit of prophecy is what repels Shaul and his men. This is in stark contrast to the beginning of Shaul’s reign at which time he was inspired with an experience of prophecy because he was devoted to fulfilling the word of Hashem and aligning himself and his kingdom with the Divine plan. At this stage of his career, however, he has been overpowered by the momentum of his own agenda that runs contrary to Hashem’s design. Therefore, he is no longer able to remain upright and prophesy in the presence of the prophets – the word of Hashem, rather than uplifting and strengthening him, casts him to the ground, naked and humiliated. Only David, the chosen successor of Shaul and the true servant of God, can stand with dignity by their side.