Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Armour-Bearer

Duby, this one's for you.


Who was Saul's original armour-bearer?
David, of course.

כא וַיָּבֹא דָוִד אֶל-שָׁאוּל, וַיַּעֲמֹד לְפָנָיו; וַיֶּאֱהָבֵהוּ מְאֹד, וַיְהִי-לוֹ נֹשֵׂא כֵלִים. 21 And David came to Saul, and stood before him; and he loved him greatly; and he became his armour-bearer.

~Samuel I 16: 21

Now, in Saul's last battle, there is a lot of interaction between him and a mysterious armour bearer. This person could potentially be synonymous with the one identified later as being an Amalekite boy who comes to David to deliver the news. However, those verses don't entirely support the point (the Amalekite boy 'happened by chance upon Mount Gilboa' and was certainly not Saul's armor bearer). This leads people to state there were two occurrences, one with Saul's armour bearer and one with the lad. But look at the actual verses regarding this armour bearer.

ד וַיֹּאמֶר שָׁאוּל לְנֹשֵׂא כֵלָיו שְׁלֹף חַרְבְּךָ וְדָקְרֵנִי בָהּ, פֶּן-יָבוֹאוּ הָעֲרֵלִים הָאֵלֶּה וּדְקָרֻנִי וְהִתְעַלְּלוּ-בִי, וְלֹא אָבָה נֹשֵׂא כֵלָיו, כִּי יָרֵא מְאֹד; וַיִּקַּח שָׁאוּל אֶת-הַחֶרֶב, וַיִּפֹּל עָלֶיהָ. 4 Then said Saul to his armour-bearer: 'Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and make a mock of me.' But his armour-bearer would not; for he was sore afraid. Therefore Saul took his sword, and fell upon it.

ה וַיַּרְא נֹשֵׂא-כֵלָיו, כִּי מֵת שָׁאוּל; וַיִּפֹּל גַּם-הוּא עַל-חַרְבּוֹ, וַיָּמָת עִמּוֹ. 5 And when his armour-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he likewise fell upon his sword, and died with him.

ו וַיָּמָת שָׁאוּל וּשְׁלֹשֶׁת בָּנָיו וְנֹשֵׂא כֵלָיו גַּם כָּל-אֲנָשָׁיו, בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא--יַחְדָּו. 6 So Saul died, and his three sons, and his armour-bearer, and all his men, that same day together.

~Samuel I, 31: 4-6


Now, I think there is a double meaning in these verses. I think there really was an armour-bearer at that battle to whom Saul spoke and who refrained from killing Saul, etc. But on a deeper level, I believe the armour-bearer in those verses refers to David, the original armour-bearer. There is a sense of dramatic irony in Saul requesting this armour-bearer (and the term is meant to hint back to David; when language in Tanakh is similar we are supposed to hear the echoes) to kill him, seeing how many times David has refrained from doing just that! And look at the language- the armour-bearer refuses to kill Saul because he is afraid.

That exactly points to David who refrains from killing Saul many times before because of his fear of touching God's annointed.

ט וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד אֶל-אֲבִישַׁי, אַל-תַּשְׁחִיתֵהוּ: כִּי מִי שָׁלַח יָדוֹ, בִּמְשִׁיחַ יְהוָה--וְנִקָּה. {פ} 9 And David said to Abishai: 'Destroy him not; for who can put forth his hand against the LORD'S anointed, and be guiltless?' {P}

י וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד חַי-יְהוָה, כִּי אִם-יְהוָה יִגֳּפֶנּוּ; אוֹ-יוֹמוֹ יָבוֹא וָמֵת, אוֹ בַמִּלְחָמָה יֵרֵד וְנִסְפָּה. 10 And David said: 'As the LORD liveth, nay, but the LORD shall smite him; or his day shall come to die; or he shall go down into battle, and be swept away.

~Samuel I 26: 9-10

Indeed, the question David asks the Amalekite lad who comes to tell him of Saul's death is:

יד וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, דָּוִד: אֵיךְ, לֹא יָרֵאתָ, לִשְׁלֹחַ יָדְךָ, לְשַׁחֵת אֶת-מְשִׁיחַ יְהוָה. 14 And David said unto him: 'How wast thou not afraid to put forth thy hand to destroy the LORD'S anointed?'

~Samuel II 1:14

Thus the armour-bearer does not kill Saul because he is afraid to do so. And once Saul has fallen upon his sword, his armour-bearer also falls upon his sword. The verse states that 'Saul and his three sons and the armour-bearer' and all the other men died upon that day.

I think this is meant to hint to the fact that a part of David died that day. When Saul and Jonathan died, a part of David died as well. That is why this armour-bearer is mentioned specifically in the pasuk. Otherwise, why is that man worthy of particular mention? Why not simply include him in the statement 'all the other men died that day?' On the deeper level, these words refer to the original armour-bearer, who died, in an emotional if not physical sense, that day. Thus David's long, keening lament in honor of Saul and Jonathan; he is not only mourning them but himself, who loved and was forged by them.

As we already know, David loved Saul and wished him no harm. There were many times that he could have killed him but refrained from doing so. He loved Jonathan as well, and he believed Jonathan's words. If there must be a future in which David would rule, he wished that it would be in this way:

יז וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אַל-תִּירָא, כִּי לֹא תִמְצָאֲךָ יַד שָׁאוּל אָבִי, וְאַתָּה תִּמְלֹךְ עַל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָנֹכִי אֶהְיֶה-לְּךָ לְמִשְׁנֶה; וְגַם-שָׁאוּל אָבִי, יֹדֵעַ כֵּן. 17 And he [Jonathan] said unto him [David]: 'Fear not; for the hand of Saul my father shall not find thee; and thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee; and that also Saul my father knoweth.'

~Samuel I 23: 17

One cannot escape God. If God desired David's rule, David believed that it would take place in this way, where Jonathan would be second-in-command, David's advisor. This was something Jonathan and even Saul knew to be the case. And now this had completely changed...for Jonathan was dead.

Thus, for Saul and especially Jonathan to die was for a part of David to die. He was the armour-bearer who could not kill Saul, the one who metaphorically 'fell upon his sword' when he saw the King had died. A part of him died with Saul and his sons; this part of himself would never be recalled. Why was it necessary to know that David was Saul's armour-bearer? Why was it necessary to list the armour-bearer amidst the list of royalty who died, instead of including him in the statement 'and all the other men?' It is because that armour-bearer was, in the emotional and metaphorical sense, no other than David.


P.S. If you want to get really crazy, you can argue that there was no armour bearer. Saul was talking to a figment within his mind which presented itself as his armour bearer, David. He told David to kill him but he refused, as was his wont. That's why, when the Philistines come in Samuel I 31: 8, they find Saul and his three sons but there is no mention of this armour bearer. The conversation with the Amalekite lad happened afterwards, when Saul realized that his imaginary David would not acquiesce to his request. Despairing and realizing that in the end 'one of those uncircumcised ones' would run him through, Saul found a certain poetic justice in having an Amalekite lad (the reason for his downfall and the loss of his kingdom- because he did not kill out all the Amalekites) kill him, rather than a Philistine. But this idea is more my conjecture and would be much harder to prove.


duby said...


i generally enjoy p'shat/textual insights as they are tight and are (or should be at least. . .) analytically indisputable, in contrast to homiletics etc. but this one is just beautiful!

nu, so when are u giving you're first class? :-)

Chana said...

If people want me to give a class, I'd be happy to. You can be in charge of finding people... ;-)

Anonymous said...

I think you'd get more ppl than you'd expect.

Anonymous said...

You forgot Andrew Jackson’s Big Block of Cheese with nary a macaroni in sight.