Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire
Why does David run to the Philistines? Why would he assume he would be safer there than in the land of Saul? We know that in one of the תהילים that he composed about this incident (תהילים לד), he calls the king of גת, אבימלך. The obvious explanation is that all the Philistine kings were called אבימלך, like “Pharaoh” in Egypt. רש״י brings a Midrashic explanation that this is a reference to the original אבימלך in תנ״ך:
The משבצות זהב mentions that David had faith in the honesty of the Philistines, and that they would honor the oath taken by the original אבימלך (even though these people were not the same Philistines):
The irony is that Saul had also taken an oath, one that he has repeatedly violated:
David feels that the Philistines are more trustworthy than the Israelites; or at least אכיש is. We will see the nature of that trust and its implications next time.
For right now, note that David’s fame has spread even to the enemies of Israel:
And the rumors of his anointing as the future king have become so widespread that they can make sarcastic jokes about it.
From His Heart’s Deep Core
David wrote two תהילים about this experience: the more well-known one we mentioned before describes his feelings after his escape. תהילים נו describes his feelings when he falls into the hands of the Philistines:
This perek has three stanzas with a chorus of באלקים אהלל…באלקים בטחתי. מלבי״ם explains the first stanza (that starts with the singular אנוש and לחם, as referring to Saul. Faced with his enemies, David will still praise אלקים (the מדה of דין); no matter what He decides, אלקים בטחתי, I will have faith that no mere flesh and blood can hurt me.
The second stanza that is all in the plural and refers to עמים, is speaking about his Philistine enemies. They surround him, watch his every step; they are suspicious of him, since he came to them. The the tone changes from confidence to a prayer: destroy them for their sins. Then the tone changes again to something we haven’t really seen before in תהילים: it’s almost a complaint. David says ה׳ has recorded all his wandering and preserved his tears. This is the first time David has had tears. This goes with what we discussed last time about David’s resolve weakening, only a little bit, but there are cracks appearing in his בתחון. But he pulls himself together to say אז ישובו אויבי; ידעתי כי אלקים לי.
The next chorus is subtly different. In addition to באלקים אהלל, he adds בה׳ אהלל. As רש״י says, על מדת הדין ועל מדת הרחמים אהלל. The מדת הרחמים that is manifest here is the fact that אכיש doesn’t kill him outright, but David realizes that this is still באלקים; he is not safe yet and the apparent kindness hides a much deeper danger.
The last stanza is basically an abridgment of a perek from הלל:
The collection of תהילים that we call הלל is interesting. We will have to study it in detail at some point, but for now, I would note that חז״ל held that it was of ancient origin:
I don’t know if all these sources said exactly the same words, and where David’s authorship fits in. I think that ספר תהילים was written or collected by David, with some editing by later generations, as we’ve discussed. But a lot of the phrases and concepts are clearly older (compare תהילים קיג with שירת חנה in שמואל א ב). That’s what David is doing here. He is anticipating being able to sing הלל, especially the perek that mentions חלצת…את עיני מן דמעה and כל האדם כזב. He is אלם and can’t find the words to speak, but he can still say תהילים just as we do today.