After the discussion of David’s kingdom and government, we have a nice little story:
We have met this נכה רגלים once before, in the context of the fall of the house of Saul:
And David wants to find him because of his oath to Jonathan:
Now מפיבשת is in hiding, which is rational given what happened to his uncle איש בושת:
And that’s how the family of kings was usually treated when a new king came to power:
So why is ציבא betraying him? It might be that David is trustworthy, but in fact ציבא is a rather unsavory character, as we see during Avshalom’s rebellion, when מפיבשת is living in Jerusalem:
After the rebellion is suppressed and Avshalom is dead, David returns to Jerusalem:
But David doesn’t know this now, and he finds מפיבשת, and (fortunately for מפיבשת) David in fact means it when he said אעשה עמו חסד:
And so the story ends. Next chapter starts the war with Amon and the saga of Bat Sheva.
Two questions come to mind: first, when does this take place? There’s no “אחר הדברים האלה”. How does it fit in the context, the מלחמות רשות and the summary of David’s kingdom of the previous perek, and the war with Amon in the next? Second, why is David looking for Saul’s survivors? הכי יש עוד אשר נותר לבית שאול sounds very omnious.
So we have a story that seems to take place regularly: היה עומד ועוסק בתורה עד שעלה עמוד השחר. What was going on that the חכמי ישראל came to ask פרנסה every morning?
We’ve quoted this before, the idea that David was so focused on building the בית המקדש that he wouldn’t use the funds that he had dedicate for it for any other purpose, even when people were starving. When was this רעב שלש שנים? It is described in שמואל ב פרק כא, but without any specific dates. This perek is an appendix, a story that happened בימי דוד:
We will look at what ה׳'s answer means later. But Rabbi Eybeschutz connects these two stories with the stories of David’s מלחמות רשות, and thus פרק ח with the beginning of פרק כא:
So if the three years famine of פרק כא was during the time of the wars of פרק ח, then the aftermath of the famine corresponds to פרק ט, our perek.
Again, the dates are not explicit, and there are different opinions in חז״ל.
They narrow the problem down to one of צדקה, and then to David himself. And the problem is אל שאול ואל בית הדמים על אשר המית את הגבענים. Who were the גבענים?
But if they were the hewers of wood and the drawers of water למזבח ה׳, then when did Saul kill them? We have no record in תנ״ך. Rashi speculates:
(We will look at Rashi’s second opinion shortly)
Malbim is bothered by this; why should all of the people suffer for Saul’s sin, and why should be punishment be in the time of David? He says the problem started under Saul, but the injustice continued:
The sin of the Givonim started in the days of Saul. Whether they were literally killed or simply impoverished, we don’t know. But the oppression of the Givonim continued through the start of David’s reign, and it reached a point that ה׳ punished Israel with a famine. Now it wasn’t just the outcasts, the strangers, who were suffering, but all the people. And still David missed the point, not opening his storehouses of gold and silver but instead encouraging more war, until he finally said, אין הדבר תלוי אלא בי. What is happening is the very antithesis of ויהי דוד עשה משפט וצדקה לכל עמו. So David tries to make amends. I will give David the benefit of the doubt and assume that he believed them when they said אין לנו איש להמית בישראל, that they would only humiliate Saul’s family. The fact that they killed them had consequences, and we will deal with that when we learn פרק כא inside. But now, the injustice reached the point that ה׳ required drastic action:
The shock of the famine and its consequence marked the turn of David’s kingdom from מלחמות רשות and conquest to משפט וצדקה.
And the Givonim? David restored their hereditary role:
So what about our perek? I would argue that the entire story, of ויאמר דוד הכי יש עוד אשר נותר לבית שאול; ואעשה עמו חסד בעבור יהונתן through ומפיבשת אכל על שלחני כאחד מבני המלך is actually contained in the one pasuk of ויחמל המלך על מפיבשת בן יהונתן בן שאול; על שבעת ה׳ אשר בינתם בין דוד ובין יהונתן בן שאול in the story of the Givonim. David is seeking out the descendants of Saul because the Givonim demanded them. Clearly David knew about the others, so it makes no sense to ask הכי יש עוד אשר נותר לבית שאול. But that pasuk should be read as in the JPS:
He knows he is betraying the House of Saul and wants to find one with whom he can fulfill his oath with Jonathan. He saves מפיבשת while sacrificing the rest of his family.
So the story of מפיבשת is on the surface a heartwarming vignette, and on a deeper look a horrifying tale of revenge, and in the end is a profound lesson to David. חז״ל say that David called מפיבשת, מפיבשת רבי, my teacher:
This is one of the few chapters of תהילים that are called תפלה, a prayer. David starts by declaring his virtue, that he is a חסיד. One opinion is that his חסידות is in his learning and תהילים; חצות לילה אקום. The second opinion is that his חסידות is in getting his hands dirty to help others, and in his willingness to learn from others. I would propose that both are true, and that David’s understanding of what is morally required changes.
That was all introduction; a piyut that ה׳ should hear his prayer. This perek is one of the few called תפלה but we haven’t seen any actual prayer yet. That comes next:
Notice that this represents the classical three parts of prayer, שבח, בקשה and הודאה:
And there are really two בקשות: כל גוים…יבואו וישתחוו לפניך and הורני ה׳ דרכך, each preceded by a line of שבח.
The hope that כל גוים…ויכבדו לשמך is really David’s hope to build the בית המקדש. That is the goal and the meaning of a בית המקדש as opposed to the local משכן:
And הורני ה׳ דרכך isn’t really a separate thing in David’s mind. It’s part of the one thing he wants:
The next psukim are further הודאה, outlining the difficulties that David faces in fulfilling his desire. He has too many enemies to fight:
The last part is a familiar quote:
It’s worth noting that the יג מידות are not some formula of theurgy that we simply say and force ה׳, as it were, to help us. David only quotes some of the terms, as does Moshe himself later in the Torah:
That’s because יעשו לפני כסדר הזה doesn’t mean “say them”; it means “do them”.
And these מידות are most relevent to governing society. David here acknowledges what it takes to create a ממלכת משפט וצדקה:
And David concludes:
And so this פרק תהילים is a fitting coda to part two of ספר שמואל. David is a חסיד because he has learned from מפיבשת; I would argue that it is that he has learned from the entire episode of שמואל ב פרקים ח-ט. He has learned that he will not build the בית המקדש, that going to war to collect money for building the בית המקדש is inappropriate, and that his role is to create the ממלכת משפט וצדקה that will allow his successor to build the בית המקדש. And when it is finally built, the very gates will declare David’s חסד.