We have come to the end of שמואל א. We have spoken about the fact that the book ends with Israel in much the same position that it started, under the rule of the Philistines, divided, without a king. How are we to look at Saul’s reign? Our two sources, ספר שמואל and דברי הימים have very different endings that give very different impressions of Saul. שמואל ends on a positive note, with the honor of Saul at his burial:
While דברי הימים emphasizes everything Saul did wrong:
So was Saul a success or a failure?
We’ve seen everything he did wrong, ending with his ignominious defeat and death. But there is a lot of emphasis on the respect he is owed, simply by being Israel’s first king.
He is called (שמואל ב כא:ו) שאול בחיר ה׳. And David treats him with the greatest respect:
Rabbi Shalom Carmy wrote an essay about a similar leader who was in a similar position:
Saul did what the people expected of him: he won wars and created peace:
But ה׳ expected more of him, more than he could handle. It certainly seems unfair. But that is the nature of being a king. As Rabbi Shulman has said, we talk about (ראש השנה כה,ב) יפתח בדורו כשמואל בדורו. This means not only that we have to respect the leaders that we have, but we also get the leaders that we deserve (no contemporary politics, please!). The leader of a nation in fact has less free will than the individual:
Erel Segal-Halevi points out that the tells us that Saul changed in this way, in his לב:
Rabbi Joshua Cypess points out that the people asked for a king inappropriately, and Saul’s appointment was a divine מדה כנגד מדה:
So what do we expect from a Jewish king?
להיות בשמחה תמיד
What does ישמח מלך mean?
שמחה is different from צחוק. צחוק, laughter, is the response to things that are incongruous, that don’t fit together. We find humor in puns, pratfalls and the unexpected blessing, and to these we laugh. Sometimes the distance between what we want and what reality presents us with is so great, we say “if I don’t laugh, I’ll cry.” שמחה, joy, is different. שמחה is the feeling that things are as they should be, that everything has worked out, the feeling of נחת רוח.
David describes the ideal king as one who feels that confidence in the עז and ישועה of ה׳, in contrast to Saul who could not wait for Samuel, who needed to go to the בעלת אוב. Such a king will victorious as ה׳ fulfils his (the king’s) desires, and even anticipates them (תקדמנו ברכות טוב).
The introduction ends (at סלה) with the reward: ה׳ will fulfill ארשת שפתיו.
המלך בטח בה׳
The two verses of the introduction are expanded in the remainder of the פרק:
The ideal king is not interested in his own aggrandizement; he sees his glory in ה׳'s salvation: גדול כבודו בישועתך.
Part one ends with the summary, כי המלך בטח בה׳.
The perek then describes the battle with the wicked; again, it is all ה׳'s work.
שכם is a hard word to translate. Hirsch translates it with its usual meaning, shoulder, as somehow G-d setting His shoulder to pull the bow, במיתריך תכונן. Most commentators translate it in the sense of
(בראשית מח:כב) ואני נתתי לך שכם אחד על אחיך, a portion. The verse is read as “ה׳ set them (the king’s enemies) apart, so they can be shot down”.
And David, who is this ideal king (at least the David of תהילים is), ends with נשירה ונזמרה גבורתך.