Was It a Mitzvah [Good Deed] Or a Sin Not To Kill King Sha’ul {Saul}?

– Part 2


The Bible Testifies That King Sha’ul Tried To Kill David


Warning! This article is appropriate only for those who believe in Judaism.

Is it Possible To Prove That G-d had ruled that David Erred?
An Examination of the act of Yehu {Jehu}son of Yehoshafat son of Nimshi
II Kings {parts of} chapters 9 and chapter 10
1] And Elisha the prophet called one of the prophets’ disciples, and said to him: gird up your loins and take this flask of oil in your hand and go to Ramot-gilad.
2] And when you come there, see there Yehu the son of Yehoshafat the son of Nimshi, and go in and make him rise up from among his brothers and carry him in to an inner chamber.
3] Then take  this flask of oil, and pour it on his head, and say, “Thus says G-d, I have anointed you king over Israel”. Then open the door and flee and do not wait.
4] So the young man, the youthful prophet, went to Ramot-gilad.
5] And when he came, behold, the commanders of the army were sitting; and he said, I have an errand regarding you,  O commander. Then Yehu said, To which one from all of us? And he said, to you O commander.
6] Then he rose and went into the house and he poured the oil on his head and said to him, thus says, G-d the L-rd of Israel: I have anointed you king over the people of G-d, over Israel.
7] And you shall strike the  house of Ahav {Ahab} your masters; then  that I shall be avenged of the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of G-d at the hand of Izevel {Jezebel}.
8] For the whole house of Ahav will perish: and I will cut off from Ahav all that urinate upon the wall and him that is shut up and him that is left free in Israel.
9] Now I will make the house of Ahav like the house of Yarovom [Jeroboam] son of Nevat and like the house of Basha the son of Ahiyya:
10] And the dogs shall eat Izevel in the portion of Yizri’el {Jezreel}, and there shall be no one to bury; then he opened the door and fled.
11] Now Yehu came out to the servants of his master and one of them said to him, Is all well? Why did this lunatic come to you: And he said to them, you know this man, and his way of talking.
12] Then they said, it’s a lie; please tell us now. So he said, thus and thus spoke he to me, saying thus says G-d, I have anointed you king over Israel.
13] Then they hastened and took every man his garment, and put it under him on the top of the stairs, and blew with the shofar, saying, “Yehu has become king”.

Yehu carried out the prophetic command.
II Kings chapter 9
21] Now Yehoram said, “Harness!” and he harnessed his chariot. Then Yehoram the king of Israel and Ahazyahu king of Judah went out each in his own chariot and they went out against Yehu and met him in the portion of Navot {Naboth} the Yizri’elite.
22] Then it came to pass when Yehoram saw Yehu that he said, “Is it peace, Yehu”? Then he answered, “what is the peace that should extend to the lewd practices of your mother Izevel and her abundant witchcrafts”?
23] And Yehoram turned his hands and fled and said to Ahazyahu, Treachery, Ahazya.
24] Then Yehu drew a bow with his full strength and hit Yehoram between his arms and the arrow went out at his heart and he sank down in his chariot.
25] Now he said to Bidkar his captain, take him up and toss him into the portion of field of Navot the Yizri’elite, for remember  when I and you rode together after Ahav his father, so had G-d pronounced this burden upon him.
26] “Surely I have seen yesterday the blood of Navot, and the blood of his sons”, says G-d, “and I will bring retribution upon you  in this plot of ground” says G-d; so now take him and toss him into the plot of ground according to the word of G-d.
27] But when Ahazya the king of Judah saw this, he fled by the way of the garden house; then Yehu chased after him and he said, also he too, strike him upon the chariot in the ascent of Gur which is by Yivli’am. And he fled to Megiddo and died there.

II Kings chapter 9
30] Then Yehu came to Yizri’el and Izevel heard and painted her eyes and adorned her head and looked out at the window.
31] Then Yehu came to the gate and she said, Is it peace? you Zimri, who killed his master?
32] And he lifted up his face to the window and he said who is with me? Who? And there looked out at him two or three officers.
33] Then he said, throw her down, so they threw her down and some of her blood was sprinkled on the wall and on the horses and he trampled her.
34] Then he came in and ate and drank and said: go see now to this cursed woman and bury her for she is the daughter of a king.
35] Then they went to bury her and did not find her except for her skull, her legs and the palms of her hands.
36] So they came back and told him. And he said, this is the word of G-d, which he spoke by his servant Eliyahu {Elijah} the Tishbite, saying, in the portion of Yizri’el shall dogs eat the flesh of Izevel.
37] And the carcass of Izevel shall be as dung upon the open field in the portion of Yizri’el; so that they shall not be able to say, This is Izevel.

II Kings chapter 10
6] Then he wrote a letter the second tome to them saying, if you are mine, and you will obey my voice, take the heads of the men your master’s sons and come to me to Yizri’el tomorrow this time; now the king’s son, being seventy persons, were with the notable of the city , who were raising them.
7] And it came to pass when the letter came to them, that they took the king’s sons and slew seventy persons and put their heads in baskets and sent him them to Yizri’el.

II Kings chapter 10
11] So Yehu slew all that remained of the house of Ahav in Yizri’el and all his great men and his familiar friends and his priests until he left none remaining.
12] And he rose and he came and went towards Shomron, namely, he was at the shepherds’ meeting house on the way.
13] Then Yehu found the brothers of Ahazyahu King of Judah and said, “who are you”? and they told him, “we are the brothers of Ahazyahu and we are going down for the welfare of the sons of the king and the sons of the queen mother”.
14] Then he said, take them alive. And they took them alive and slew them at the pit of the meeting house, forty two men and he did not let any of them survive.

15] Then he went from there and came across Yehonadav the son Rekhav coming to meet him and he blessed him and he said to him, is your heart upright as my heart is with your heart? Then Yehonadav answered it is, indeed it is, give me your hand, so he put out his hand and he took him up to him to the chariot.
16] Then he said, come with me and see when I am zealous for G-d; so they set him up for riding in his chariot.
17] Then he came to Shomron and slew all that remained for Ahav in Shomron until he had utterly destroyed him according to the saying of G-d which he spoke to Eliyahu.

II Kings chapter 10 verse 30
30] And G-d said to Yehu, because you have done well in executing that which is right in my eyes, and have done to the house of Ahav according to all that was in my heart, your children of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.

From here perhaps there is a proof that after the prophet had anointed David as king, it became his obligation to kill Sha’ul that shed blood [the cohanim/priests of Nov] at the first opportunity, just as Yehu received praise, when he at the command of G-d shed the blood of the king from the house of Ahav at the first opportunity.
And the verse testifies that by exterminating the house of Ahav the result is “that I shall be avenged of the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of G-d at the hand of Izevel”. That is to say that the purpose of the assassination was to remove the killers that ruled the people. One should add that even though the person that was killed here was the son of Ahav and not Ahav himself [who was punished in a different manner] this son was also infected with the sin of murder. For behold in II Kings chapter 6 verses 31 and 32 it is stated:

  • 31] Then he said, the L-rd do so and more also to me, if the head of Elisha the son of Shafat remains on him today.
  • 32] But Elisha sat in his house and the elders sat with him; and the king sent a man from before him; but before the messenger came to him, he said to the elders, do you see how this son of a murderer has sent to remove my head? See to it, that when the messenger comes, shut the door and push him out with the door; is not the sound of his master’s feet behind him?

Radak explained there
32]  He sent a man – the king sent a man before him to remove the head of Elisha.
But before – …And the matter of the verse is that the king sent a man before him to Elisha and before the messenger appeared to him, he said to the elders that the king has sent a man to remove his head, for it was told to him by means of prophecy….
The son of a murderer – the son of Ahav that murdered Navot, so too does he desire to murder me.

In addition I should add that if there was a danger that even Sha’ul might kill the prophet Samuel because he anointed David [I Samuel 16,2] “Then Samuel said how can I go, for if Sha’ul hears, then he will kill me”, all the more so there was a high possibility that the king Yoram [sometimes called Yehoram] the son of Ahav would have killed the man that anointed Yehu to be king [this man according to the sages is the prophet Yona {Jonah}] if he had the ability and therefore the king had the status of a Rodef. For it is a commandment to kill the Rodef not just to save yourself but also in order to save others [Shulchan Aruch, C.M. 425:1].
But perhaps one could push away the proof that David erred.
For the son Ahav had a number of deficiencies that weren’t present in the case of Sha’ul. Therefore perhaps by Yoram, there was no room for piety above the law in order to spare him from death, while in the case of Sha’ul it was fitting to be pious above the strict letter of the law.

Deficiencies That Were Present Specifically In Yoram [Yehoram] The Son Of Ahav

Despite all of his deficiencies, Sha’ul was very religious. But it seems based on II Kings, chapter 3 verse 3 that it is applicable to Yoram the son of Ahav what the author of the Shulchan Aruch ruled in C.M. 425:5 , namely:

  •     An Apikorus from Israel, and they are idol worshippers or those that do transgressions in order to anger G-d, even if he ate an improperly slaughtered animal or wore a garment that contains a forbidden mixture of fabrics in order to anger G-d, such a person falls under the category of an Apikorus, that deny the Torah and the prophets of Israel; it being a mitzvah to kill them; if he has the power in his hand to do it openly, he kills. And if not, he should make use of trickery until he should cause their deaths. How? If he sees one of them fall into a well and there is a ladder in the pit, he comes early and says: “behold I am occupied with getting my son down from the roof and I will return it to you, and similar methods like this. But the star worshippers [ a euphemism to avoid the wrath of the censor ] when we don’t have a state of war between them and us, and the shepherds of sheep and goats in places where the fields belong to Israelites and similar people to these, we do not cause their deaths, but it forbidden to save them. In what case our we dealing with, with an Israelite who is a sinner and he continually stands in his wickedness and repeats it continually, such as, the shepherds of sheep and goats who act lawlessly regarding robbery and they go in their evil ways; however an Israelite who is a sinner but does not stand in his wickedness continually, rather he does transgressions for personal gratification, for example, he eats improperly slaughtered animals to satisfy his passion, such a person, it is a mitzvah [ a commandment ] to save him and it is forbidden to stand inactive while his blood is being shed” (see Yoreh Deah chapter 158).
  • Sha’ul didn’t prevent anyone in Israel from celebrating Passover, Shavuot, and Succot according to Jewish law. But Yoram did prevent them. And this is a translated quote of Radak on Hoshea chapter 8 verse 4: “And even though the kingdom of Yarovom [Jeroboam] was from the Almighty, may he be blessed,  like Ahiyya the Shilonite had said; {however} at the time that they appointed him king they did not ask the mouth of G-d and Ahiyya the prophet; nor did  he say to them to appoint him as king, rather he just told him the future. Furthermore, once they saw that he prevented them from ascending to Jerusalem before G-d and he [in addition] made calves [as statues for forbidden worship] they should have removed him from the monarchy for Ahiyya said that the condition for being a monarch  is he does what is right in the eyes of G-d. And similarly the other kings of Israel were not appointed by the mouth of G-d, except for Yehu the son of Nimshi”.
  • Sha’ul had a righteous son that gave him rebuke. We didn’t hear that Yoram had a righteous son.
A Proof From the Case of Bar Kamtza

In the tractate Gittin pages 55 and 56 we learn that the Caesar of Rome sent an animal to be sacrificed at the Temple and the wicked man Bar Kamtza physically damaged the animal. It was a type of  blemish that invalidates the animal for the sacrificial service by Torah standards, however, according to the standards of the Gentiles, it does not.

The sages of the Sanhedrin thought to eliminate Bar Kamtza who threatened to inform to the Emperor that the Jews were planning a revolt against Rome. The proof being that the Jews didn’t agree to sacrifice the Emperor’s animal.
    At the end they did not kill Bar Kamtza because an elder of the Sanhedrin, Rabbi Zechariah son of Avkulos claimed that one should be pious above the law and not kill Bar Kamtza [who was a Rodef] because perhaps people will wrongfully deduce that Bar Kamtza was killed because he put a blemish on an animal that was consecrated for a sacrifice and not because he was a Rodef.
Concerning the piety of Rabbi Zechariah the Talmud states: “Rabbi Yochanan said ‘Onvutanuto’ of Rabbi Zechariah son of Avkulos destroyed our Temple burnt the Heichal Building [where the Holy of Holies was located] and exiled us from our land”.
    Rashi explained there, ‘Onvutanuto’ – His tolerance that he tolerated this and did not kill him”.
And the Meiri commentary there explained: – “And you learn from this that all who have a presumption of striking the community by means of the monarchy, it is permitted to kill him and as they said, “they thought to kill him so he wouldn’t go and inform on them to the monarchy. Rabbi Zechariah said to them”, etc. Now they said about him, the tolerance that he tolerated this and did not kill him destroyed our Temple”.
From here we learn  seemingly, a proof that there is no room for piety above the law when a Rodef endangers the entire community. And just as the results testified that Rabbi Zechariah erred when he showed piety above the law, so too the results of the compassion of David for Sha’ul testify that David erred.
Notwithstanding all of what I have written, it is difficult to end with a  conclusion that King David made such a serious mistake, because:

  • For with great strain we can claim that Rabbi Zechariah son Avkulos erred in regard to what conditions  we use to apply the law of sanctification of the name of G-d [which supersedes our obligation to preserve life] and he was not simply trying to be pious above the law. Or else we can say that there is a type of piety above the letter of the law that it is worthwhile to endanger ourselves on behalf of this, while there is another type of piety, which does not justify putting the community in danger.
  • When our sages list the sins of David in Tractate Yoma page 22 and in tractate Shabbat page 56, they do not count among them his compassion for Sha’ul.
  • The Bible several times calls David by the name “Servant of G-d”, and in I Kings 15:5 the Bible seemingly testifies that David isn’t guilty of the serious sin of Rabbi son of Avkulos. Now this is a translated quote of the Bible there: “that David did what was upright in the eyes of G-d and did not depart from all that he commanded him all the days of his life, except for the matter of Uriah the Hitti”.
The Final Conclusion

Therefore by straining ourselves we are forced to conclude that even though the results of David’s compassion for Sha’ul were awful, nevertheless, if David had killed Sha’ul, the evils befalling Israel would have been greater.
If so, I will try “to patch up”  Malbim’s viewpoint in order to understand on the simple level how to explain the actions of David.
The first possibility to explain David’s decision is the following:

  • At the beginning David assumed that the most efficient method available to deal with the danger that stood before him and his soldiers was to kill Sha’ul. However after he saw Sha’ul’s chastity, he concluded that Sha’ul is still somewhat connected spiritually to G-d, and is capable of being swayed to change his ways by proper rebuke. Together with the bad feeling that David received when he cut Sha’ul’s robe [which David saw as a sign from G-d], he concluded that he didn’t size up the reality of the situation correctly. He concluded that since Sha’ul was the anointed of G-d, there would be many loyalists of Sha’ul [despite the love of Yehonatan] who would try to take revenge or to kill David [at the very least among the soldiers of Avner] if David was responsible in any way for Sha’ul’s death. Therefore he concluded that in the long run, there would be less danger to him and his soldiers, specifically by showing mercy to Sha’ul, combined with proper rebuke that would cause Sha’ul to change his ways [which did indeed occur on a temporary basis].
  • Another possibility to explain David’s actions is that, in the merit of the attribute of chastity of Sha’ul in the cave, David received Divine inspiration from G-d [in contrast to simply a bad feeling] at the time that he cut Sha’ul’s robe. Namely, he received the correct understanding, that one should not kill Sha’ul because the fit time and conditions for Sha’ul’s reign as king to end, had not yet arrived.

Now I found a number of sayings of the sages to support this viewpoint.
In Yalkut Shimoni to II Samuel chapter 19 we explicitly learn that another enemy of David, namely, Shimi the son of Geira, was saved in merit of the Divine Inspiration that David received concerning Shimi. Therefore it is not so difficult for us to assume that David also received Divine Inspiration in the matter of how to deal with Sha’ul. And here I will quote from the words of the midrash:

  •     “Shall there be any man  put to death this day?”, etc. – David saw by Divine Inspiration that in the future a man would descend from him that would perform a great act of salvation and he is called “a Jewish man” [Esther 2:5]. In his merit the Holy One Blessed Be He said to David, “you saved Shimi in order that this righteous man would be born. On your name shall I write him for it was said, ‘a Jewish man’ [Esther 2:5]”. Regarding this it was stated “the memory of the righteous for a blessing” [ Mishlei/Proverbs 10:7 ] – This is Mordechai, “and the name of the wicked shall rot” [ Mishlei/Proverbs 10:7 ] – this is Haman and his colleagues.
  • In Midrash Shocher Tov [110:5] it is written: “The words of G-d to my master sit at my right or alternately translated, sit for my Benjaminite” [Psalms 110:1] wait for Sha’ul the son of Kish, a Benjaminite [ based on I Samuel 9:1 ], for still it his time and after Sha’ul dies you will be king.
  • In the Targum translation to Psalms 110:1 thus is it written: G-d said by his words to place me master over all of Israel, however he told me sit for a while for Sha’ul who is of the tribe of Benjamin until he dies; for one monarchy does not come sooner than its time at the expense of a fellow monarchy.

Appendix: Undue Flattery to Agripas and Those Similar to Him

    It is stated in tractate Sotah at the end of chapter 7 that at the time when King Agripas was reading the verse, “You may not appoint a foreigner”, etc. [Deuteronomy 17:15] tears dripped from his eyes because he was not from the seed of Israel. They said to him, “you are our brother”. Now at the same time Israel became liable to extinction because they unduly flattered Agripas. For even though they didn’t have the ability to protest, nevertheless, they should have been silent and not  strengthen him in this way [by saying you are legitimate, you are our brother]. And this is the punishment of one who gives undue flattery in the matter of a transgression because he is afraid of the other person and is not concerned about the fear of the Holy One Blessed be He [until here is the translated quote of the Mishna Brura chapter 156].

The Vilna Gaon Predicted That The Generation In Which The Son Of David Arrives In Will Be Entirely Liable Based On A Sin Similar To The “Agripas Sin”

   Rabbi Yochanan stated, if you see a generation continually getting smaller, wait for him, for it was stated, “And the afflicted {alt translated, poor} people you shall save”, etc. [II Samuel 22:28]. Rabbi Yochanan stated, if you see a generation that many troubles come upon it [the generation] as a narrow river, wait for him, for it was stated, For he will come as a narrow river a spirit of G-d is miraculous within it [Yishayahu/Isaiah 59:19]. And in the adjacent verse, “Now a redeemer shall come to Zion”. Furthermore, Rabbi Yochanan stated, the son of David only comes in a generation that is entirely meritorious or entirely liable. In a generation that is entirely meritorious, for it is written, “And your nation, all of them are righteous forever they shall inherit the land” [Isaiah 60:21]. In a generation that is entirely liable, for it is written, “And he saw that there was no man and he was astonished for there was no intercessor” [Yishayahu 59:16]. And it is written, “For my sake I will do it” [Yishayahu 48:11]. [Rabbi Yochanan’s words are quoted from tractate Sanhedrin page 98].
The Vilna Gaon explained in his commentary to Esther 1:5 , derech haremez, over what issue will the generation be entirely liable and here are his words:
And the matter is that in the footsteps of the Messiah, audacity will be come great [end of tractate Sotah] and the youths shall strongly  embarrass the elders and the elders shall rise before the youths. Now this is their intention of what was said [tractate Hagiga, page 14] “18 curses did Yishayahu {Isaiah} curse them with, but his mind was not appeased” etc. Now this is hard to accept. For did it enter your mind that Yishayahu was a hater of Israel? Rather every hardship that befalls Israel in the exile brings closer the deliverance, as it is stated, “a payment that is entirely of hardship”. Therefore all the curses are for their benefit; but even so, his mind was not appeased until he said, “the youth shall behave with arrogance towards the elder” [Yishayahu 3:5], for then definitely the messiah comes, for in the footsteps of the messiah audacity will become great. And the matter of this audacity is that they establish a judge and a leader who is not fit. And they said [tractate Sanhedrin page 7] “All who establish a judge who is not fit, it as though they have planted a wooden Asheira idol”, etc. Furthermore in the Yerushalmi they are called gods of silver and gods of gold [see there the words of Maharsha]. Now therefore the youths embarrass the elders. However that the elders stand before the youths, who forced them to do this? Rather the audacity has become overwhelming and it is even present in the elders and in all of them, also in the great men of the generation. And they said, [tractate Sotah page 41] “At the time that they gave undue flattery to Agripas, the enemies of Israel [a euphemism to avoid saying a negative statement] became liable to extinction. And therefore Israel  became liable specifically in that generation.

by Mr. Shlomo Moshe Scheinman (the author of an article on Argaman that appeared in Techumin, Volume 26)

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