Neviim Tovim/TheHaftarah Circle Gillian Gould Lazarus

Archive for May 2009

Jonah speaks only five prophetic words throughout the book of his name and these are they:

 עוֹד אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם וְנִינְוֵה נֶהְפָּכֶת    In forty days Nineveh will be overthrown.

 Not only are the words few but apparently false as Nineveh is not overthrown in forty days.

The rest of the book of Jonah is story, without the oracles which appear in all the other books of the prophets. In this way, he resembles the earlier prophets of the book of kings, Elijah and Elisha, whose stories are characterised by miraculous incidents.

The editors of Yamim Noraim, Rabbi Jonathan Magonet and Rabbi Lionel Blue, explain the choice of the book of Jonah for Yom Kippur. It shows the power of repentance and is associated with fasting because the people of Nineveh fast and repent.

Verse 1 – 2

The prophet Jonah ben Amittai is mentioned  in  2 Kings 14,25, during the reign of Jeroboam II, who reigned in the kingdom Israel between about 825 and 790 BCE.  The Assyrian Empire was approaching the height of its power although it had not yet destroyed the Northern kingdom of Israel, which fell in  722 BCE.

In the book of Jonah, God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh – the heart of the evil empire – and proclaim against it. Usually Hebrew prophets are sent to prophesy to the people of Israel or Judah.

We know from the book of kings that Jonah was from the North, from Gath-hepher in the region of Zebulun. According to midrash, Jonah was descended from Zebulun,[3] which is particularly appropriate because of Jacob’s prophecy: Zebulun shall dwell by the seashore; he shall be a haven for ships.[4] Jonah is not called a prophet in the book of Jonah although he has a prophetic mission.

The name Jonah  means dove.  Interestingly, the monastery on the Hebridean island of Iona was founded by St Columba, which also means dove – Colum, in his native Ireland and colombe in French. The name Iona must be a tribute to the biblical Jonah, when Columba – the dove – was washed up on to its shores.

 Jonathan Magonet, quoting the Zohar, ascribes another meaning to the name  Jonah:  ‘troubled’, a participle of  י  נ ה, to oppress.[5]

Verse 3 

 Jonah heads for the port of Joppa, nowadays called Jaffa, and boards a ship heading as far as possible from Ninevah, to Tarshish, which we have seen is identified with Spain, the western extremity of the known world. A midrash in the Talmud says that Jonah was so eager to get away that he financed all the passengers on the ship.[6]

Why does Jonah refuse his commission and flee? The text does not give us an answer in so many words. Redak commented that Jonah fled from the land of Israel as he believed that, outside of Israel, the spirit of prophecy would desert him, deriving this from an early, perhaps third century midrash, the Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael:

[Did he think he] could (really) flee from the presence of the Lord? Does not Scripture already say ‘Where can I go from Your spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence?[7]

The author of the Mekhilta then relates a parable: a priest’s servant fled to a cemetery, thinking that he would be beyond his master’s reach, but the master said ‘I have other servants who can come after you.’ Similarly, Jonah fled from the Land of Israel, intending to flee from God, but God caused a great tempest to bring him back.[8]  The Mekhilta also makes the point that Jonah thought that the Ninevites were more prone to repentance than the Israelites, and that God would be angry at Israel, who were slow to repent.

The author of the midrash Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer (eighth or ninth century CE) explains that  Jonah had been sent to Jerusalem to announce its destruction but Israel repented and God did not destroy the city. Consequently Jonah  acquired  a reputation as a liar. When God sent Jonah to Ninevah, he refused, not wanting  to appear a liar again.[9] Deuteronomy 18 warns of  false prophets whose prophecies do not come to pass:

When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously.[10]

Commentators have noticed the repetition of וַיֵּרֶד, he went down; we also have the repetition of קוּם, to rise up, in verses 2 and 3. We saw in verse 3 that Jonah went down to Joppa and down into the ship; in this verse he goes down to the ship’s hold and his falling asleep, from the root ר ד ם, is a pun on  going down when the yod prefix is attached to it.

Verse 4 – 5

Note the word רוּחַ which means spirit as well as wind; later on, east of Nineveh, Jonah will again be afflicted by severe weather.

During the storm, the sailors feared for their lives, each calling to his god. Where was Jonah during this time of mortal danger? Going down to the innermost part of the ship, he fell into a deep sleep: וַיֵרָדַם. This is from the verb ר ד ם  although ישן is the more usual word for sleeping). Jonah’s tardemah can be seen as a biblical motif: a sleep which occurs at a point of significant change: for example, the deep sleeps of Adam[11] and Abram,[12] or it can be regarded as an elaboration of the narrative to emphasise something about Jonah’s state of mind: perhaps his flight from God or even his trust in God.

The version of Jonah in the LXX actually says ‘he was asleep and snoring’: εκαθευδε και ερεγχε, to convey the deep sleep.

 Verse 6

The captain is like a messenger of God because he repeats to Jonah the words of God’s call: קוּם קְרָא, ‘Arise and call.’

Verses 7- 16 

The sailors draw lots, to see who on board has brought the storm upon them and the lot falls on Jonah. They question him and Jonah himself tells them to throw him into the sea, so that the storm will abate. They are humane and  row hard to save themselves without casting Jonah overboard, but eventually they throw him into the sea and the storm ceases.The sailors are awed and they make vows, נְדָרִים, a word which has special resonance on Yom Kippur.

 The word for sailors is מַלַּחִים, ‘salts,’ perhaps.  According to BDB it is a loan word from Assyrian[14]  They draw lots – goralot – which fall on Jonah.  Goralot, probably stones, are well attested elsewhere in the bible and are used by Aaron in connection with the scapegoat, providing a seasonal connection:[15]

When the sailors question Jonah he identifies himself as a Hebrew – Ivri anochi – and a God-fearing man. The sailors are not Hebrews but they are God-fearing.  Jonah seems to have an unconscious proselytising force; the sailors are or become pious in his presence, as do the people of Nineveh.

In the LXX, which, until this point, closely matches  the Masoretic Text, Jonah does not say he is a Hebrew but δουλος Κυριου ειμι εγω ‘I am a servant of the Lord.’

The sailors ask Jonah how they can calm the sea and it is Jonah himself who tells them they must throw him overboard. Note that he has courage for this, though not for the mission to Nineveh. When the sailors fail  to save Jonah  by rowing for the shore, they call on God, using the tetragrammaton.[16]  A midrashic work called Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer, composed in the ninth century CE, tells that the mariners threw their idols overboard to lighten the load during the storm.[17]

After they have thrown Jonah overboard and the storm has abated, they sacrifice and make vows (nedarim, another seasonal word) to God. The Hebrew text tells us that they feared fear, sacrificed sacrifices and vowed vows:[18]

וַיִּירְאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים יִרְאָה גְדוֹלָה אֶת יְהֹוָה וַיִּזְבְּחוּ זֶבַח לַיהֹוָה וַיִּדְּרוּ נְדָרִים

This is the last we hear of them, but their susceptibility to Jonah’s words is something they have in common with the Ninevites.

 Chapter 2, verse 1

God has prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah, who survives three days and three nights in the belly of the fish. God prepares (מ נ ה) four things in the book of Jonah: a great fish, a gourd, a worm and an east wind.[19]

 A midrash relates that, on the fifth day of creation, God gave the fish the commandment to vomit up Jonah at the appointed time.[20]

Midrash has quite a lot to say about the fish: that its interior was a beautiful synagogue; that the fish was about to be devoured by Leviathan, but  Jonah frightened Leviathan away but revealing it was destined to become plat du jour  at the feast for the righteous in the time to come. There is also a midrash that, whereas Jonah was comfortable inside the fish, he was then swallowed by a female fish, where he was uncomfortably squashed as the female fish was pregnant. In chapter 2:1, the fish is called a dag,a male fish, but in verse 2 it is called dagah, which is feminine. In the LXX, the fish is ketos, which seems to be the generic term for a sea monster, cetacea being the zoological term for aquatic mammals.

If we look again at the creation of sea creatures on the fifth day of creation:

 God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds[21]

וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת הַתַּנִּינִם הַגְּדֹלִים

We should note that the LXX, for this verse says that God created ta kete ta megala:

Και εποιησεν ο Θεος τα κετη τα μεγαλα.

The Hebrew word taninim, sometimes dragons, sometimes sea monsters, is translated into Greek as a creature which is perhaps a whale but which, whatever it is, matches the creature which swallowed Jonah. 

The rabbis said that הַתַּנִּינִם refers to leviathan.[22]

A Babylonian godddess called Tiamat took the form of a sea monster and her name has been associated by some with the  Hebrew word תְהוֹם, the deep. Ugaritic literature has a sea beast called lotan, which is connected with leviathan, evidence for this being that the adjectives applied to the Ugaritic lotan match the adjectives used of leviathan in Isaiah:

In that day the LORD with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon (tanin)that is in the sea.[23]

The motif  of three days  will appear again, in the three days in takes to cross Nineveh. The authors of  the New Testament were very interested in Jonah’s three days in the whale:

 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.[24]

They may well have been picking up the motif of three days as a significant period, which is well attested  in the Tanakh.     

Chapter 2, verses 2-10

Jonah prays inside the whale, thanking God for saving him. Some scholars have regarded Jonah’s prayer as external to the book, in the way that Hannah’s prayer, in 1 Samuel 2, has the appearance of an addition. However, the opposite opinion is also well represented.

 For Jonah, the belly of the whale is Sheol, and not a well-appointed synagogue, as in the fanciful imagination of the midrashic author. He speaks of being cast into the depths of the seas, of despair, of remembering God and giving thanks to God who saves him. Essentially the prayer tells Jonah’s story.  It is set very nearly in the middle of the book, so to speak, in the very bowels of the book: there are 18 verses in the book of Jonah before the psalm and 21 after it. The epicentre of Jonah’s story is 2,7, a verse which encapsulates the mood of Yom Kippur :

 I went down to the bottom of the mountains; the earth with her bars closed upon me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.

לְקִצְבֵי הָרִים יָרַדְתִּי הָאָרֶץ בְּרִחֶיהָ בַעֲדִי לְעוֹלָם וַתַּעַל מִשַּׁחַת חַיַּי יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהָי

 Nineveh 

Chapter 3, verses 1 – 3

 God speaks to the fish who vomits Jonah on to dry land.  The word of  God comes to him  again, telling him to go to Nineveh and proclaim its imminent fall. Jonah is not back to square one because he has experienced strange events and suffering, and now he sets out for Nineveh.  

 Verses 4 – 6

Here Jonah speaks his five prophetic words:

 עוֹד אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם וְנִינְוֵה נֶהְפָּכֶת    In forty days Nineveh will be overthrown.

 In the LXX, Jonah says ‘In three days, Nineveh will be overthrown.’

 The book  of Jonah distinguishes between the mission of the prophet and the fulfillment of his prophecy. Ninevah is not after all overthrown, but still Jonah must speak his five  words in the appointed place and, in spite of his procrastination, no doubt at the appointed time.

 The people of Nineveh responded at once: they fasted and put on sackcloth. When the king of Nineveh heard of it, he proclaimed a fast and said ‘Let every man turn  from his evil way, and from the violence of his hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent…?’

The sins of Ninevah are not specified and the king of Nineveh is not named.

  Nineveh is an extremely large city, three days walk across. After Jonah has delivered his prophecy and emerged on the east side of the city – which we know is the far side because he  approached from the west – he has, one might infer, spent three days crossing Nineveh, just as he spent three days in the dag gadol. The proliferation of the king’s command to wear sackcloth will have taken a certain amount of time, perhaps the three days in which Jonah crosses the city.

Verse 3,7

The king includes animals in the fasting and the wearing of sackcloth, even decreeing that cattle and flock should not graze. (Al yiru) According to Herodotus, including animals in mourning was customary in the Persian empire.[34] Pagan gods and mythological creatures often had animal attributes, being, for example, part jackal, part bull, part fish or part horse. Attributing human attributes to animals may be the converse of such a perspective. More prosaically, the sackcloth on the animal may be simply a sign of the mourning of the owner. Dr A Cohen[35], in his translation of the Trei-Asar, cites the Apocryphal book of Judith, where, in response to the threat of the mighty Assyrian army, every man of Israel and their wives, children,   servants and cattle put sackcloth upon their loins.[36]

 Verse 9

    Who knows whether God will not turn and repent?

The syntax brings to mind David’s words, after he had fasted and prayed for the life of his infant son.[37]

Even closer are the words of the prophet Joel:

“Yet even now,” says the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;  and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil.  Who knows whether he will not turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind him.[38]

 Verse 10

For God repented of the evil which He said He would do…

The idea of God relenting in this way is not unusual in Tanakh; we have seen it in the case of David’s census,[40]  in an oracle of Jeremiah,[41] in the prayers of Amos on behalf of Israel,[42] as well as in Moses’ many dialogues with God.

The Mishnah tells us that God responded to the change in the behaviour of the Ninevites, rather than to the display of repentance:

Concerning the men of Nineveh, [it does not say] ‘God saw their sackcloth and their fasting,’ but And God saw their works that they turned from their evil way.[43]

The passage goes on to quote the prophet Joel: Rend your heart and not your garments.[44]

Chapter 4

Verses 1-2

God does relent towards Nineveh but Jonah is distressed, and angry. He quotes Exodus 34: A God gracious and merciful, slow to anger…[45] the words which God proclaimed to Moses on Sinai and which appear in the liturgy of all the services on Yom Kippur. Jonah knows God’s attributes of mercy and compassion and he seems to feel that his  mission was pointless from the outset; furthermore Ninevah was potentially a dangerous place for an Israelite troublemaker.

 Verse 3

Why does Jonah plead for death? Does he feel that his reputation as a prophet is damaged because Nineveh was not destroyed?

Jonah’s argument with God is the reverse of Abraham’s bargaining for Sodom and Gomorrah: Abraham wants God to save lives in Sodom but only Lot and his daughters are saved. Jonah wants to see the destruction of Ninevah, but all are saved.

Verse 4 

Previously, God spoke to Jonah in commanding mode. Now He enters into a dialogue  with him, with the question: הַהֵיטֵב הָרָה לָךְ – ‘Does your anger do good?’. Jonah does not reply, or his reply is  unrecorded.

Verse 5

Jonah has arrived from the west and walked through the city; when he leaves he is to the east, but not too far to be a spectator. He has been on the run, one way or another through most of the story, with the exception of his time in the whale. Now he makes himself a succah and sits under its shade.

Verse 6

Just as God prepared a fish, He now prepares a gourd, a קִיקָיון, to shelter Jonah and Jonah  feels great happiness: שִֹמְחָה גְדוֹלָה, perhaps because God is sheltering him.  A gourd is said to be a squash, pumpkin, marrow, melon,all of which are cucurbitaceae, of the cucumber family, but  Ibn Ezra says rightly of the קִקָיון: One need not know what species of plant this was, to understand the lesson.

As Jonah has already made himself a succah for shelter, why does the gourd make him happy? Possibly it provides additional shade, but perhaps also it is a sign of God’s protection, of which Jonah has not been sure until now, even when saved from the whale.

Verse 7-8

Jonah had gone out on the east side of the city and turned to watch events while there was still enough sunlight for him to require shade. He would have seen the sun set over the city. At dawn, the worm, prepared by God, struck the gourd which dried up. The sun rose behind Jonah, striking his head. The word struck or smote, וַתַּךְ is used of the worm which attacked the gourd and the sun which beat down on Jonah’s head.The driving wind reminds us of the great wind which prevented Jonah’s getaway from Joppa.

 Again, Jonah wishes to die.

 Verse 9

God asks again if Jonah is right, הַהֵיטֵב, to be angry about the gourd. angry, עַד־מָוֶת.

Verses 10-11

God replies to Jonah with an a fortiori argument: if Jonah, who did not labour over the plant, cares about its survival, how much more so should God care for the 120,000 persons of Nineveh, whom – it is implied rather than said – God created and and preserved.

  As  Jonathan Magonet and Lionel Blue point out in their commentary, Jonah cared for the gourd as a tool for his safety rather than as the work of his hands. The gourd actually saves him  and Jonah depends on it. The attachment which Jonah feels for this plant is therefore a very strong emotion and serves as an analogy for God’s care for Ninevah.

 120,000 is one of the biblical numbers which signifies many; it is found elsewhere in connection with men fallen on the battlefield [47] and sheep offered for sacrifice by king Solomon.

Rashi comments that the people of Nineveh resembled cattle as they were too clueless to know their right hand from their left.

There is an episode in Genesis involving an apparent confusion about the left and right hand; this is when Jacob blesses Ephraim and Manasseh. Joseph says:

Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head[50]

Jacob’s act of blessing the younger child with his right hand and the older with his left has echoes of Jacob’s own youth, when he obtained the firstborn Esau’s birthright, but Jacob does not speak of this when he replies to Joseph. Instead, he looks to the future:

I know, my son, I know; he [Manasseh] also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.[51]

The descendants of Ephraim were indeed so numerous that the name Ephraim is used by  the  prophets[52]   to represent the whole of of the Northern Kingdom. The ‘multitude of nations’ which Ephraim became were vanquished by descendants of those Ninevites who did not know their right hand from their left. In 722 BCE, about fifty years after Jonah’s lifetime – if he was contemporary with King Jeroboam II, as stated in 2 Kings 14 –  the Northern Kingdom would fall to the Assyrians. The Assyrian capital city Nineveh would be destroyed by the Babylonians in 612, fulfilling the prophecy of Nahum.[53] If Jonah had not specified forty days, he, like Nahum, would have got it right.

Lastly, the cattle. We saw that they were included in the fast and the wearing of sackcloth. Jonathan Magonet suggests that the words וּבְהֵמַה רָבָּה contribute to a  numeric balance of Jonah’s words and God’s words in this chapter.[54] He also points out that animals and nature, in the Jonah story, are proactive in the service of God.

I suggest that the ending of Jonah is particularly memorable because, uniquely among  books of the bible, it ends with a question. However, the question is not about the cattle;  it is something more pertinent to the mood of Yom Kippur:  ‘Shall I not feel pity?’  וַאֲנִי לא אָחוּס

September 2008  Ellul 5768

  

 

 

 

 


[1] Megillah 31a

[2] 2 Kings 14,23-25

[3] Genesis Rabbah 98,11

[4]

 Genesis 49,13

[5] A Study in the book of Jonah, J Magonet, Guild of Pastoral Psychology, Lecture 208

[6] Nedarim 38a

[7] Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael, Bo 1

[8]  ibid

[9] Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer 10

[10] Deuteronomy 18, 22

[11] Genesis 2,21

[12]

 Genesis 15,12

[13] NT Matthew 8,24  NB  Peter the disciple is called Bar Jonah in Matthew 16,17

[14] BDB p572

[15]

 Leviticus 16, 7-10

[16] Jonah 1,14

[17]

 PRE 10,31

[18] Jonah 1,16

[19] Jonah 2,1; 4,6; 4,7; 4,8

[20] Genesis Rabbah 5,5

[21] Genesis 1,21

[22] Bava Batra 74b

[23] Isaiah 27, 1

[24] NT Matthew 12,40,

[25] Genesis 22,4

[26] Hosea 6,2

[27] Genesis 42,18

[28] Exodus 19,16

[29] Joshua 2,16

[30] Esther 5,1

[31] Genesis Rabbah 56,1

[32] Surah Saaffat chapter 37, 145-148

[33] Jonah in Ninevah, H Clay Trumball, Journal of Biblical Literature vol 11, no 1 1892

[34]The Histories 9,24: ‘They shaved their heads and cut the manes of their horses and mules.’

[35]

 The Twelve Prophets trans Rev Dr A Cohen, Soncino Press 1957  p146

[36]

 Judith 4,9

[37] 2 Samuel 12,22

[38] Joel 2,14

[39] Exodus 32,14

[40] 2 Samuel 24,16 and 1 Chronicles 21,15

[41]

 Jeremiah 18,7-8

[42]

 Amos 7,2-6

[43] Taanit 2,1

[44] Joel 2,13

[45] Exodus 34, 6-8

[46] 1 Kings 19,4

[47] Judges 8,10; 1 Chronicles 28,6

[48] 1 Kings 8,63

[49] Matthew 6,3

[50] Genesis 48,18

[51] ibid verse19

[52] Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Obadiah, Zechariah

[53]

 Nahum 1,1ff

[54] Yamim Noraim p1016

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Haftarah for Shabbat Vayyikra

ISAIAH 43:21-44:23

Isaiah
This week we read the traditional haftarah for Vayyikra, where the prophet speaks first of Israel’s transgressions,  then prophesies against idolatry and finally speaks of Israel’s redemption.

Leviticus 1 speaks of five types of sacrifice: the burnt offering  (עֹלָה), the meal offering (מִנְחָה), the peace offering (שְׁלָמִים), the sin offering (חַטָּאת) and the guilt offering (אֲשָׁם). In the Haftarah, God addresses Israel through the prophet – Isaiah or Deutero Isaiah -, berating the Israelites for turning away from Him and for failing to worship him with sacrifices as prescribed in Leviticus. This is followed by a reminder that God forgives and blesses Israel, who is called God’s servant and chosen one. There is a satirical description of  idol worship practised, one might suppose, by the Babylonians, followed by a triumphal song of Israel’s redemption.

Chapter 43, verse 21

The people that I formed  The word ‘chosen’ is not used, but the word לִי,  for myself,  indicates that Israel belongs in some way  to God, that, as we shall read, Israel is God’s servant.

 Gunther Plaut comments:

Because they were mysteriously chosen for divine service, they have a duty to separate themselves from the idolatry that surrounds them.[1]

 Crying out to God

Verse 22

Israel has neglected God, failing to call on him and becoming weary of Him. We should note that the name of the sidra and the Hebrew name of the book of Leviticus is Vayikra, which means ‘And he called…’. The name of the book comes from the first word: וַיִּקְרָא , ‘And God called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting.

וַיִּקְרָא אֶל משֶׁה וַיְדַבֵּר יְהֹוָה אֵלָיו מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד

Calling or crying out to God is a way of relating to God, described particularly often in the Psalms and also in a notable verse in Jeremiah:

Then you will call upon me (וּקְרָאתֶם אֹתִי) and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.[2]

Jeremiah also reports God’s words to him:

‘Call to me (קְרָא אֵלַי) and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you d  not know.’[3]

The Psalmist sets an example of calling on God, for example:

 ‘I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord’:[4] כּוֹס יְשׁוּעוֹת אֶשָּׂא וּבְשֵׁם יְהֹוָה אֶקְרָא

which has been absorbed into the havdalah prayer.  For Jeremiah, the calling makes possible the interactive relationship with God and for Isaiah in this verse, it is Israel’s obligation, in which they have defaulted.

 Yagata: You wearied

The word יָגַעְתָּ means ‘you wearied’. The verse means either ‘you were weary of me’ or ‘you did not weary yourself.’ The KJV has Thou hast been weary of me but the Douay-Rheims Catholic bible has Neither hast thou laboured about me. The two translations have different emphases and the second one makes לֹא, not, refer to the verb ‘you wearied’ as well as you called [not].

 The sacrifices

Verses 23-24

Isaiah speaks of the sacrifices which the Israelites have neglected: lambs for burnt offering (olah), meal offerings (minchah), levonahand cane. Ibn Ezra pointed out that the Israelites were unable to offer sacrifices during their exile in Babylon.

The verb ‘to weary’, י ג ע, appears again here in in a hiphil/causative usage: I did not weary you (לֹא הוגַעְתִּיךָ). The word levonahis translated as frankincense, evidently being a whiteish colour. It was used in the preparation of incense[5] and is mentioned in our sidra:[6]

 לֹא יָשִׂים עָלֶיהָ שֶׁמֶן וְלֹא יִתֵּן עָלֶיהָ לְבֹנָה כִּי חַטָּאת הִוא

 The Greek word for frankincense is λιβανως, obviously the same word as in Hebrew.  Our word frankincense comes from old French franc, pure, and Latin incendere, to burn. The purity of the incense adds to the value.

 Rashi explains that cane was used also in the preparation of incense, as we see in Exodus:

 Take the following fine spices: 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much (that is, 250 shekels) of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of fragrant cane.[7]

 וְאַתָּה קַח לְךָ בְּשָׂמִים רֹאשׁ מָר דְּרוֹר חֲמֵשׁ מֵאוֹת וְקִנְּמָן בֶּשֶׂם מַחֲצִיתוֹ חֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתָיִם וּקְנֵה בֹשֶׂם חֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתָיִם:

 There is a play on words in the Hebrew:  לֹא קָנִיתָ לִּי בַכֶּסֶף קָנֶה.

For the third time we find the verb י ג ע in the phrase you have wearied Me with your iniquities. Again it takes the hiphil causative form: הוגַעְתַּנִי. In this verse and the next, we find the three terms for sin which are mentioned together in the Yom Kippur liturgy: חָטָאות, עוֹנות and פְֹּשָעות.

 Anochi Anochi

Verse 25

You may recognise this  verse from Yom Kippur. Note the emphatic use of the first person pronoun, not only in the repetition but in the form אָנֹכִי, always stronger than אֲנִי.

The Brown, Driver and Briggs suggest that the third syllable of anochi has a demonstrative function, perhaps related to כֹּה – thus. They find that אֲנִי is predominant in later books of the bible.[8]

Verse 26

‘Remind me’ comes directly after ‘I will not remember,’ anthropomorphically attributing to God  remembering and not remembering, neither of which – if taken literally – is compatible with omniscience. This is not the only instance in Isaiah where God invites the children of Israel to a dialogue.

“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.[9]

Here we have an inclusive, as it were man-to-man turn of phrase: ‘Remind me, let us judge together, you tell, in order to justify yourself.’

The first father

Verse 27

There is the question of who is meant by the first father. Redak’s opinion is that the verse refers to Adam, but Rashi says Abraham who sinned by asking God for a sign that he would inherit the land.[10]  A twentieth century commentator says:

 Undoubtedly Jacob , the eponymous hero of the nation is meant (cf Hosea 12:3ff), not Abraham (who is never spoken of in the later literature as sinful), nor the earliest ancestors collectively; still less Abraham.[11]

 Ibn Ezra writes:

הוא ירבעם שבחרו ישראל למלך לא על פי השם

This was Jeroboam, whom Israel chose as king, not according to word of God.

  Certainly, Jeroboam has form in being called a sinner, which is not the case with the Patriarchs, and to speak of Adam’s sin seems to have a Christian resonance. Gunther Plaut comments:

 There is no way to tell whom Isaiah had in mind. Some believe he had Adam in mind, but since Adam is never referred to as Israel’s forbear, that is improbable. Most likely Abraham is meant, and the sin he committed was to have doubted God’s promise, when he fled Canaan and went to Egypt.[12]

Priests and princes

Verse 28

Who are the holy princes? Ibn Ezra says the priests and  Redak says the Levites.  The phrase ‘holy princes’ refers to the priests in 1 Chronicles, where the subject of  the text is  the priestly descendants of Aaron and the allocation of their duties in the Temple.

 כִּי הָיוּ שָׂרֵי קֹדֶשׁ וְשָׂרֵי הָאֱלֹהִים מִבְּנֵי אֶלְעָזָר וּבִבְנֵי אִיתָמָר

…There were officials of the sanctuary and officials of God among the descendants of both Eleazar and Ithamar.[18]

The word קֹדֶשׁ certainly seems to imply that the princes are officials of the Sanctuary. The profanation of the princes is comparable with the verse in Lamentations:

[Hashem] has brought her kingdom and its princes down to the ground in dishonour.[19]

בִּלַּע אֲדֹנָי ְלֹא }וְלֹא{ חָמַל אֵת כָּל נְאוֹת יַעֲקֹב הָרַס בְּעֶבְרָתוֹ מִבְצְרֵי בַת יְהוּדָה הִגִּיעַ לָאָרֶץ חִלֵּל מַמְלָכָה וְשָׂרֶיהָ

God’s servant

Chapter 44, verse 1

Jacob, also called Israel here, is mentioned in an altogether different light. Jacob and Israel are named in apposition, referring to the people Israel.  Being chosen is linked with being God’s servant.

Verse 2

Ibn Ezra says that this could refer to  Jacob the patriarch or to the inception of the nation Israel.

There are fifteen biblical instances of the term ‘Jacob my servant’ but Jacob is not the only name privileged to be called servant; the instances of David being called God’s servant are even more numerous. Jacob however is synonymous with the people Israel, not the case with David. Servant is a recurring theme of Deutero Isaiah and this passage is among the ‘Servant Songs’ which include the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. The Servant Songs raise God’s servant to an elevated position.

Isaiah uses the phrase ‘my servant Jacob’ six times; Jeremiah three times and Ezekiel twice. David is called God’s servant at least twenty-eight times in Samuel, Kings, Psalms and Chronicles. It is interesting that two men with notably self-serving characteristics are designated more than any others as God’s servants. Moses is called God’s servant just seven times.

Yeshurun, believed to be from יָֹשָר, ‘upright’, is always a name of the people of Israel. BDB calls it a ‘poetic name of Israel’.[20]

There are only four biblical occurrences of Yeshurun.[21]The LXX translated Yeshurun as ηγαπημενος which means ‘beloved’. The vulgate has rectissimus, most righteous, and the Greek translations of Aquila[22]and Theodotion[23]  have ευθυς which, meaning ‘straight’ is the closest approximation to יָֹשָר. If the shinin Yeshurun is identified with the letter sin in Israel, the names share three consonants.

It should be noted that Targum Jonathan substitutes the name  Israel for the name Yeshurun. The Isaiah Scroll from Qumran has Yeshurun.

It would be interesting to know the contents of the lost Book of Yashar, referenced in Joshua 10:13 and 2 Samuel 1:18, to know if the name Yashar appears in it as cognate with ‘Israel’.

 Blessing the land and the people

Verses 3-4

This is a promise that the land will be fertile and the people will be blessed and flourish.

Verse 5

Targum Jonathan has: This one will say ‘I fear God’.

Ibn Ezra comments:

וזה יקרא בשם יעקב להתפאר לעיני הגויים שהוא מזרע קודם:

With this name they will boast to the gentiles that they are of the holy seed.

Ibn Ezra interprets the phraseוּבְשֵם יִשְרָאֵל יְכַנֶּה   – ‘adopt the name of Israel’ – as referring to proselytes.

The First and the Last

Verse 6

The word גֹאֲלו must mean Israel’s Redeemer, but it is slightly difficult to place the third person possessive suffix.  ‘I am the first and I am the last is attested elsewhere in Isaiah[24]The putative author of the NT Book of Revelations, St John, also uses this Isaianic expression[25] and adapts it for the Greek speaking world:

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.[26]

The LXX does not translate first and last as alpha and omega, but:

εγω πρωτος και εγω μετα ταυτα.

A difficult sentence

Verse 7

W Gunther Plaut says that this verse is difficult to translate.[27]The KJV offers the following:

And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people? and the things that are coming, and shall come, let them shew unto them.

עַם עולָם seems to be translated everywhere as ‘the ancient people’ but could be read as ‘the eternal people’. The Judaica Press has a fairly impenetrable sentence:

Who will call [that he is] is like Me and will tell it and arrange it for Me, since my placing the ancient people, and the signs and those that will come, let them tell for themselves.

Most  translators seem to pick up the theme that no one can be compared to God, who alone determines the future. ‘Ancient people’ could be Israel, but Rashi says ‘all creatures’: כל בריות.

Ibn Ezra says:

העם הראשון וטעם עולם בזמן שעבר   The first people, and the meaning of olam is ‘in past times’.

For אֹתִיּות, he explains: ‘the work of peace’.

Witnesses

Verse 8

You are my witnesses, says the Eternal is found in  the earlier verses of Isaiah 43:

“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me.  I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior.  I have revealed and saved and proclaimed– I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God.[28]

Plaut comments:

The idea that Israel is to be a witness to God’s reality and goodness is closely related to the task of being a light to the nations. For how was this noble goal to be achieved? Not by missionary effort, but only by Israel being true to the Covenant and becoming an example to the gentiles.[29]

Plaut refers to the following rabbinic tradition:

Rabbi Simeon bar Yochai taught [that the verse means] ‘Only when you are My witnesses am I God, but when you are not My witnesses, then (if this were possible) I would not be God.[30]I

The idol maker

Verses 9 – 20

This is a long, satirical diatribe against the making and worship of idols. ‘Idol makers’ is a literal translation of יֹצְרֵי־פֶסֶל . The idol worshippers are not identified as Babylonians,  although the passage may allude to them.

Duhm thought this passage is a late insertion into the the text, whose flow it interrupts. Isaiah 40 includes a similar passage:

 To whom, then, will you compare God? What image will you compare him to?  As for an idol, a craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it.  A man too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot. He looks for a skilled craftsman to set up an idol that will not topple.[31]

Similarly, a remark about the folly of idol worship prefaces the Servant Song in Isaiah 41:

The craftsman encourages the goldsmith, and he who smooths with the hammer spurs on him who strikes the anvil. He says of the welding, “It is good.” He nails down the idol so it will not topple.  “But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend,  I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.[32]

Claus Westermann pointed out that Isaiah’s account of pagan artisanship fits Babylonian records about idol-making. Deutero-Isaiah was acquainted with Babylonian customs, and satirizes them here and elsewhere. Perhaps the three passages in Isaih 40, 41 and 44 are variations of one original text.

Verse 21

To what does ‘Remember these’ refer? Does it refer to the idolatrous practices of other nations? Redak thought it meant  ‘Remember not to be like the idolators.’ Rashi comments on ‘Do not forget’: ‘Do not be forgetful of the fear of me’ – לא תהיה שכוח מיראתי- following the Targum: לָא תִתְנְֹשֵי דְחַלְתִּי

Ibn Ezra has a different interpretation:

שעשיתי בהיותך בארצי  Remember these things that I did when you were in my land.

This has ‘Remember these’ refer to the verses before the description of idolatry in verses 9-20.

Jacob and Israel are mentioned together as in 43:22, 43:28, 44:1, 44:5; 44:22. The use of Jacob and Israel in apposition is especially prominent  in Isaiah and in the Psalms, attested notably also in Jeremiah and Micah.

Erasing transgressions

Verse 22

This, like 43:25, is repeated in the Yom Kippur service. Note the second person singular: thy transgressions, thy sins.

The metaphor of the thick cloud is thought by Ibn Ezra to indicate the transience of the sins which are obliterated:

העוברת בצאת השמש איננה It passes – when the sun comes out, it is no longer there.

This verse has two words for a cloud: עב, a thick rain cloud and ענן, a white cloud that lets it through. Transgressions are likened to an av, and sins to an anan. עב is, according to BDB,  from a verb ע ו ב to hide or cover with cloud.[33]

 It occurs as a verb in Lamentations 2:1. The rainbow of Genesis 9:13 appears in an anan, and the pillar of cloud which the Israelites follow in the wilderness is an anan. When God appears in a cloud in the Tabernacle [34] and in the Temple,[35] the word anan is used. עב conveys cloud in the sense of severe weather, darkening the sky or hiding  the sun.

A note of triumph

Verse 23

This is a poetic verse in the category of joyful song, praising God for the erasing of  sins and the redemption of Israel. The personification of nature is reminiscent of Psalms 29[36] and 114.[37] The lowest extremities of the earth and the mountains. the forest and the trees are drawn into this metaphor of singing a rina, and the reason for joy is the redemption of Jacob, the glorification of Israel.

Ibn Ezra’s comment is:

משל כי שמחה גדולה תהי” בישראל כי בעבור ישראל שיגאלו תגלה לכל העולם תפארת השם

This is a  parable that there will be great happiness in Israel, for when Israel is redeemed God’s glory will be revealed to the whole world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1]Haftarah Commentary UAHC 1996 p239

[2] Jeremiah 29:12-13                                  

[3] Jeremiah 33:3

[4] Psalm 116:13

[5] Exodus 30:34; Leviticus 2:1;

[6]

 Leviticus 5:11

 

[7] Exodus 30:23

[8]BDB p59

[9] Isaiah 1:18

[10] Genesis 15:8                                            

[11] Isaiah XL-LXVI Rev J Skinner Cambridge UP, 1951

[12]Haftarah Commentary W Gunther Plaut UAHC Press 1996

[13] Theologico-Political TreatiseBenedict de Spinoza trans RMH Elwes, Dover 1951 pp120-121                                                

[14] Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra ed Isadore Twersky and Jay M Harris, Harvard U P, 1993 p140

[15] Seder HatfilotMRJ 2008, p184

[16] Rabbi Ben Ezra, Robert Browning 1864

[17] Seder ha Tfilot ibid p320                 

[18] 1 Chronicles 24:5

[19] Lamentations 2:2

[20]BDB p449                                               

[21] Deuteronomy 32:15; Deuteronomy 33:5; Deuteronomy 33:26; Isaiah 44:2

[22]

 Translator of Hebrew bible into Greek, circa130 CE, sometimes identified with Onkelos, author of the official Aramaic targum to the Pentateuch

[23]

 Hellenistic Jewish translator of the bible into Greek, c 200CE.

[24] Isaiah 41:4 and 48:12

[25]

 NT Revelations 1:17                           

[26] ibid 22:13

[27] Haftarah CommentaryW Gunther Plaut UAHC Press 1996

 

[28] Isaiah 43:10-12

[29] Haftarah Commentary, Plaut p8

[30]Pesikta de Rav Kahana 12:6

[31] Isaiah 40:18-20

 

[32] Isaiah 41:7-9

[33]BDB p727

[34]

 Deuteronomy 31:15

[35]

 1 Kings 8:10

 

[36] Psalm 29:6

[37]

 Psalm 114:3-7

 

Shabbat Atzmaut

Micah 4:1-7 is the haftarah for Shabbat Atzmaut, on 5 Iyar, celebrating  David ben Gurion’s declaration of independence in Tel Aviv on May 14, 1948. The hatzi-Hallel is sung in the synagogue service for Yom ha-Atzmaut. The day before is Yom ha Zikkaron, remembering the fallen of Israel’s wars. The 2008 Movement for Reform Judaism siddur includes El ha Rachamim for Yom ha Zikkaron and a variety of prayers for Yom ha-Atzmaut.[1]

Dating Micah

Micah was one of the eighth century prophets, a contemporary of Isaiah and Hosea,  in the time of King Jotham the son of King Uzziah and continuing in the reigns of Ahaz and Hezekiah. He was writing after the fall of the Northern capital Samaria to the Assyrians in  722 BCE, Micah’s ministry being  c 735 to 700  in the kingdom of Judah. His came from Moresheth-gath, southwest of Jerusalem.

Micah is referenced in Jeremiah by some elders who speak in defence of Jeremiah, famous for his unpopular warnings of catastrophe:

Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah. He told all the people of Judah, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: “‘Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.[2]

The verse quoted is Micah 3:12 from a passage where Micah prophesies the fall of Jerusalem, a vision  at odds with the glorious future which Micah promises in our reading from Chapter 4.

The integrity of the book of Micah as the work of a single author has of course been disputed. From the nineteenth century, the prevalent view of bible critics tends to attribute the first three chapters of the book to an eighth century prophet writing under the name Micah, but the tone and style of chapter four contrasts with the prophesies of doom in the first three chapters; there is also a reference to Babylon in Micah 4:10 which suggets a date later than the eighth century.

Many commentators consider that Micah 1 to 4 is a separate unit, but there is disagreement as to whether it is earlier or later than the first three chapters. There is also a view that Micah’s prediction in 3:12 of the imminent future, that the temple hill will be a mound overgrown with thickets, does not necessarily contradict Micah 4:1-4, which speaks  of the last days, when the mountain of the Lord will stand firm.

Duplication in Isaiah and Micah

The first three verses of Micah 4 are the same as Isaiah 2:2-4

Isaiah was urban, resident in Jerusalem and Micah was, as we saw, from Moreshet-Gath, outside Jerusalem.

The Latter Days

Verse 1

‘In the Days to come’ or ‘In the last days’ is used by  prophets to refer to an unspecified later time, where God accomplishes some kind of change in the world order. בְּאַחֲרִית could be translated as ‘latter days’ or ‘later’ but does not refer to the end of the world. It usually heralds a promise of fulfillment or redemption and this understanding of אַחֲרִית may be the reason why Kohelet says: The end of a matter is better than its beginning.[3]

טוֹב אַחֲרִית דָּבָר מֵרֵאשִׁיתוֹ

It resembles בַּיּום הָהוּא, which is often used prophetically to speak of God’s intervention in the world to bring about change and justice.

The LXX has eschaton ton emeron, which is more like ‘the last days’, the word eschaton  being the source of the English word eschatology.

Handel set to music Job’s words: I know that my Redeemer lives, and  that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth, which in Hebrew is

וַאֲנִי יָדַעְתִּי גֹּאֲלִי חָי וְאַחֲרוֹן עַל עָפָר יָקוּם[4]

It sounds final, but Jacob’s prophecy to his sons sounds less so when he tells them: I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days.[5]

וְאַגִּידָה לָכֶם אֵת אֲשֶׁר יִקְרָא אֶתְכֶם בְּאַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים

The Temple Mount

Philip Peter Jenson in a commentary on Micah, notes that the Temple Mount was not high – the Mount of Olives is higher – and is ‘exalted’ in the metaphorical sense of communicating the authority of God, Who dwells there.[6]

The verb ‘they will flow’, נָהֲרוּ, suggests a river – literally, they will stream. Note also, the preposition is not ‘to it’ but עָלָיו ‘up it’.

Rashi’s interpretation is:  ‘They shall gather there together like rivers flowing into the sea’.

The word order in Isaiah varies:  וְהָיָה בְּאַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים נָכוֹן יִהְיֶה הַר בֵּית יְהֹוָה בְּרֹאשׁ הֶהָרִים וְנִשָּׂא מִגְּבָעוֹת וְנָהֲרוּ אֵלָיו כָּל הַגּוֹיִם

Nachon is in different places in the verses; Micah has the pronoun hu, and Micah has alav, ‘on it’, where Isaiah has elev, ‘to it’.

וְהָיָה בְּאַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים יִהְיֶה הַר בֵּית יְהֹוָה נָכוֹן בְּרֹאשׁ הֶהָרִים וְנִשָּׂא הוּא מִגְּבָעוֹת וְנָהֲרוּ עָלָיו עַמִּים

Poetic parallelism

Verse 2

The terms ‘mountain of the Lord/house of the God of Jacob,’ ‘teach us His ways/walk in His paths,’ and ‘Torah will go forth from Zion/the word of the Lord from Jerusalem’ display the poetic parallelism which is a predominant feature of biblical poetry.[7]

There is also the parallel use of synonyms or near synonyms, in the first line  הַר יְהֹוָה  and בֵּית אֱלֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב, in the second line דְּרָכָיו and אֹרְחֹתָיו and in the third line צִּיּוֹן and ירוּשָׁלִָם

Isaiah says ‘peoples’ where Micah says nations; otherwise the verses are the same.

וְהָלְכוּ עַמִּים רַבִּים וְאָמְרוּ לְכוּ וְנַעֲלֶה אֶל הַר יְהֹוָה אֶל בֵּית אֱלֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב[8]

There is a small variation on the Great Isaiah Scroll found at Qumran, where the  words אֶל הַר יְהֹוָה, are missing. The DSS version therefore reads:

וְהָלְכוּ עַמִּים רַבִּים וְאָמְרוּ לְכוּ וְנַעֲלֶה  אֶל בֵּית אֱלֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב

A light to the nations[9]

The words of the nations, ‘Let us go up’ echo the exhortation of the Israelites to eachother, in  Jeremiah:

There will be a day when watchmen cry out on the hills of Ephraim, ‘Come, let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God’.[10]

Philip Peter Jenson points out that these pilgrims are not necessarily proselytes:

Rather, they come …to learn from the God of Israel how to live in truth and peace. This is not quite the same as becoming Jews or proselytes…No longer are assorted shrines, moralities and customs of the ancient world a source of division and war. It is one resolution of the tension between unity and diversity.[11]

The name of the Zionist movement BILU which originated in Russia after 1882 was an acronym of the words from Isaiah 2:5 :בֵּית יַעֲקֹב לְכוּ וְנֵלְכָה , House of Jacob, let us  go up – this was the rallying cry for the pioneers of Zionism and we see in this verse of Micah, actually in the mouths of the nations, לְכוּ and נֵלְכָה

The expression ‘the God of Jacob,’ found many times in the Pentateuch and in the Psalms, occurs only here in the prophetic books. It emphasises that the multitude of nations ascend the mountain to reach the very specific and national God, made known to Jacob the patriarch.

Zion and Jerusalem

The Talmud[12] tells that the calendar can be calculated only from within the Land of Israel, so dissident views from the Babylonian diaspora were silenced with the citation of For Torah will go forth out of Zion, and the word of God from Jerusalem

Rav Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the British Mandate for Palestine, commented on the use of the names Zion and Jerusalem:

 Zion and Jerusalem refer to the same city, but they indicate different aspects of the holy city. The word Zion literally means ‘marked’ or ‘distinctive.’ It refers to those inner qualities that distinguish the Jewish people – a ‘people who dwells alone’ with their own unique spiritual traits. Jerusalem, on the other hand, indicates the holy city’s function as a spiritual center, influencing the nations of the world. Jerusalem is the means by which the Godly spirit found in Israel penetrates the inner life of distant peoples.In short: ‘Zion’ looks inwards, at the city’s inner significance for the Jewish people, while ‘Jerusalem’ looks outwards, at the city’s external role as a spiritual focal point for the entire world. [13]

Swords into Ploughshares

Verse 3

God intervenes to abrogate war in Micah’s vision of disarmament.

This is a the reverse of the militancy found in Joel, traditionally [but debatably) dated in the eighth century and earlier than Micah:

Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, ‘I am a warrior.’[14]

A ploughshare (or plowshare) is a cutting component of a plough, the sharp edge of the mouldboard which is the curved plate used to turn over the soil.  Pruning hooks were used to remove leaves from vines. The iron available in that period was soft and could be hammered into a tool.

The metaphor has timeless relevance. One could speak of putting  nuclear resources to benign use; of  using the knowledge of biology  for medicine rather than warfare.The striking expression לֹא־יִלְמְדוּן עוד מִלְחָמָה suggests that war is not instinctive but rather a skill to be acquired, or, in this case, rejected.

The vine and the fig tree

Verse 4

This verse is not found in Isaiah but the pairing of the vine and the fig tree do not belong only to Micah. It is found in 1 Kings, in a description of Solomon’s reign as the apogee of peace and prosperity:

During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, each man under his own vine and fig tree.[15]

In one of his apocalypses, Zechariah speaks of a time when there will be redemption from sin and messianic fulfillment:

In that day, says the LORD of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor under his vine and under his fig tree, declares the Lord Almighty.[16]

The emissary (the Rabshakeh רַב־ֹשָקֵה- an Assyrian title) of the Assyrian king Sennacherib in the time of King Hezekiah uses the expression in an unsuccessful bid to elicit a surrender from Jerusalem:

Make your peace with me and come out to me; then every one of you will eat of his own vine, and every one of his own fig tree.[17]

Hezekiah, counselled by his prophet Isaiah, rejected this bit of Assyrian spin.

When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah,Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, “Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me.  I myself will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land; I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.’ “[18]

It is interesting that Isaiah’s version of ‘Nation shall not lift up sword against nation’ does not include the saying about the vine and the fig tree, which Isaiah would have heard, or had reported to him, as the propagandist words of the Rabshakeh.

Micah may not have had access to the king as did Isaiah, the court prophet, but he was contemporary with these events  and the words seem to be  loaded with  reference to Assyrian ambitions in Judah. However Micah makes it clear that coming from his mouth, they can be believed, as he states: For the mouth of the Lord of Hosts has spoken. .

These words also indicate the conclusion of  the pericope.

Haredi

Note that the word מַחֲרִיד ‘to make afraid’ is, literally ‘to cause to tremble. It is the causative (hiphil) form of the verb which gives us the word haredi.

A particularistic verse

Verse 5

Scholars tend to agree that this verse does not belong to the preceding unit of Micah 4:1-4, or to verse 6 and the following verses. It takes what seems to be a contrastingly dismissive view of the ‘peoples’ who worship pagan gods. God is called our God, with an emphatic אֲנַחְנוּ to distinguish between us and them The preposition כִּי is translated variously as ‘though’, ‘for’ or ‘let’, each of which gives a different emphasis to the verse. It could be interpreted as anything from judgmental to laisser-faire, but I do not think it goes so far in affirming diversity as, for example, Dave Allen, who used to say ‘May your God go with you.’

Jacob’s limp

Verse 6

Again Micah introduces this oracle with an eschatological term  בַּיּום הַהוּא and goes on to speak of the ingathering of exiles, which some scholars regard as an indication of  later, post-exilic authorship. The limping one is interpreted in Targum Jonathan and subsequently by Rashi as the Israelites in exile. The word for limping or lame is צֹלֵעַה rather than the more usual פִּסֵּחַ, and is allusive to a verse in Genesis where Jacob limps away from the angel with whom he wrestled till daybreak:

וַיִּזְרַח לוֹ הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ כַּאֲשֶׁר עָבַר אֶת פְּנוּאֵל וְהוּא צֹלֵעַ[19]

This was of course the episode where Jacob was given the name Israel.

Ne-um and amar

נְאֻם, meaning ‘He says’ is a separate verb from א מ ר, to speak and BDB defines it as a prophetic utterance.[20] It is found in most of the prophetic books and, very significantly just after the binding of Isaac in Genesis 22:

“I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son,  I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.[21]

וַיֹּאמֶר בִּי נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי נְאֻם יְהֹוָה כִּי יַעַן אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתָ אֶת הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה וְלֹא חָשַׂכְתָּ אֶת בִּנְךָ אֶת יְחִידֶךָ:

)יז( כִּי בָרֵךְ אֲבָרֶכְךָ וְהַרְבָּה אַרְבֶּה אֶת זַרְעֲךָ כְּכוֹכְבֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם וְכַחוֹל אֲשֶׁר עַל שְׂפַת הַיָּם וְיִרַשׁ זַרְעֲךָ אֵת שַׁעַר

The only other instance in the Pentateuch is in Shelach Lecha, where God is angered because the Israelites are disheartened by the report of the spies:

Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the LORD, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you.’[22]

אֱמֹר אֲלֵהֶם חַי אָנִי נְאֻם יְהֹוָה אִם לֹא כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתֶּם בְּאָזְנָי כֵּן אֶעֱשֶׂה לָכֶם

The two consonants in common with א מ ר  probably signify a common etymology.

A hapax legomenon and a return to Mount Zion

Verse 7

This  word for ‘lame’ is repeated, but the word for driven away is different. Verse 6 has נִדָּחָה while verse 7 has נַהֲלָאָה. Whereas  נ ד חoccurs fairly frequently, meaning ‘driven away’, נַהֲלָאָה is a hapax legomenon, a passive (niphal) form of a verb ה ל א, not attested elsewhere in the bible. It seems to be connected with an adverb הָלְאָה which means ‘beyond’ or ‘thenceforth’, suggesting distance.

The verse concludes  with an allusion to verse one where the Lord’s house is at the top of the mountains; here the prophecy goes further in that mount Zion is specified and Micah speaks explicity of God’s eternal reign.


[1]Seder ha T’filot, 2008 pp394-401

[2] Jeremiah 26:18

[3] Ecclesiastes 7:8

[4] Job 19:25

[5] Genesis 49:1

[6] Obadiah, Jonah, Micah  Philip Peter Jenson T&T Clark, 2008

[7] The Art of Biblical Poetry Robert Alter 1985

[8] Isaiah 2:3

[9] Isaiah 51:4

[10] Jeremiah 31:6

[11] Obadiah, Jonah, Micah Philip Peter Jenson T&T Clark 2008 p145

[12] Berakhot 63b

[13] Abraham Isaac Kook (1865–1935)

[14] Joel 3:9

[15] 1 Kings 4:25

[16] Zechariah 3:10

[17] 2 Kings 18:31

[18]  2 Kings 19:5-7

[19] Genesis 32:31

[20] BDB p610

[21] Genesis 22:16-17

[22] Numbers 14:26-28

Machar Chodesh  1 Samuel 20:18-42

The New Moon

This haftarah is read whenever, in the words of Jonathan in the opening sentence,  ‘Tomorrow is the new moon,’ and this shabbat is therefore called מָחָר חֹדֶש Our haftarah comes under the heading of ‘Special haftarot’ and, as an aspect of Rosh Chodesh,  celebrates the natural phenomenon of the lunar cycle, rather than an event of Israelite history.

According to Gunther Plaut, Rosh Chodesh was regarded as a shabbat, when all abstained from work. A verse from Amos  provides evidence for this:

Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land, saying, ‘When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?’[1]

From Talmudic times[2],  the Rosh Chodesh holiday was considered a privilege only of women,as a reward for withholding their jewelry during the episode of the Golden Calf.  In midrash Pirke DeRabbi Eliezer, we are told that in the incident of the Golden Calf, the women refused to relinquish their earrings to the men who were building the calf.[3]

Repetitions in 1 Samuel 19 and 20

1 Samuel 20, a gripping narrative about danger, friendship and escape, might give the reader a sense of déjà vu, when read in sequence after chapter 19. There we find a similarly gripping narrative about danger, friendship and escape, featuring the same characters but with a woman also in the picture. It begins:

Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan was very fond of David and warned him, “My father Saul is looking for a chance to kill you. Be on your guard tomorrow morning; go into hiding and stay there. I will go out and stand with my father in the field where you are. I’ll speak to him about you and will tell you what I find out.”[4]

There, as in chapter 20, Saul has confided his plan to Jonathan, but Jonathan’s loyalty to David is greater, either out of friendship or, as many readers would have it, out of homoerotic love. David’s military success and popularity  threatens the dynastic expectations of Saul’s sons, including Jonathan, so Saul is naturally infuriated when Jonathan defends David in the haftarah we are about to read. Chapter 19 presents Saul’s reaction differently. When Jonathan spoke well of David, reminding Saul how Israel had benefited from David’s exploits, Saul listened attentively and replied ‘As surely as the Lord lives, David will not be put to death.’[5]

Saul does not remain long  in a conciliatory state of mind. David’s military success  arouses Saul’s jealousy and he attacks David with his spear. Somehow David eludes the spear, with which Saul fails repeatedly to hit his mark. [6]

David and Michal

That night, David makes his escape, assisted by his wife, Michal, Saul’s daughter who lets David out through her bedroom window. Michal’s deception of her father in this episode is reminiscent  of an incident involving her ancestor Rachel, the mother of Benjamin.[7]  Rachel’s motivation in stealing Laban’s teraphim is not clear, but there are points of similarity in the two stories,  especially when we read:

Michal took an idol and laid it on the bed, covering it with a garment and putting some goats’ hair at the head.  When Saul sent the men to capture David, Michal said, “He is ill.”  Then Saul sent the men back to see David and told them, “Bring him up to me in his bed so that I may kill him.”  But when the men entered, there was the idol in the bed, and at the head was some goats’ hair.[8]

The words teraphim, lakach and tasem occur in the Michal narrative, as well as that of Rachel.

וְרָחֵל לָקְחָה אֶת הַתְּרָפִים וַתְּשִׂמֵם בְּכַר הַגָּמָל

וַתִּקַּח מִיכַל אֶת הַתְּרָפִים וַתָּשֶׂם אֶל הַמִּטָּה

There are echoes of Jacob and Rachel in other aspects of  David and Michal’s relationship: they argue and Michal is infertile, though, unlike Rachel, she remains so. The relationship between David and Jonathan does not echo anything except itself in the various narratives about their friendship. There are no close male relationships in the Pentateuch, other than the love between fathers and sons. Brothers in particular come off badly.

Jonathan loves David but we are not told that David loves Jonathan:

After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself. [9]

We see from later events that David loves women but, although Jonathan has a son, we do not know anything about his married life.

Consistency of characterization: Saul, Jonathan, David

It looks as if chapter 20 should be read as a variation of chapter 19, rather than a continuation of it. We know that there is often a doubling of narrative in the bible, which creates discrepancies and riddles if the duplicated passages are interpreted as being a linear representation of events. Robert Polzin  acknowledges that many scholars attribute the inconsistencies to the redaction of incompatible traditions, but makes the point that the characterizations in chapter 20 are quite consistent with those in previous chapters.[10]Jonathan’s love for David, his truthfulness and freedom from personal ambition are apparent in all the versions of his intervention between Saul and David. Saul’s jealousy of David and dangerously volatile mood swings are  depicted in a variety of episodes from chapter 18:7 onwards:

And the women sang to one another as they made merry, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him; he said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands; and what more can he have but the kingdom?”  And Saul eyed David from that day on.[11]

As for David, the different versions of his escapades and escapes  tell us little of what he is thinking. Polzin says:

Whereas the narrator’s voice often reveals to the reader Saul’s true purposes, as well as his inner thoughts and feelings, and often speaks of others’ inner thoughts and feelings, especially their love and esteem for David, it gives us almost nothing in the entire five chapters since David’s appearance (chapters 16-20) that can be described as an inner psychological view of David

.[12]

A covenant of love has existed between David and Jonathan ever since David’s slaying of Goliath brought him to prominence in royal circles.

David Alter points out that Jonathan is proactive in making the covenant and sealing it by a gift of clothing. This gift  is perhaps symbolic of Jonathan’s abdication in favour of David, especially as there are other symbolic changes of clothes in 1 Samuel: Saul tearing Samuel’s cloak,[13] Saul’s offer of armour to David,[14] David cutting Saul’s tunic[15] and Saul’s cloak of disguise when he visits the Witch of Endor.[16]

In chapter 20, David flees from Ramah where he had been hiding with Samuel, and comes to Jonathan for help. Alter points out that these are David’s first reported words to Jonathan, although Jonathan’s speech to David has been recorded in chapter 19.[17] David tells Jonathan  to explain David’s absence from Saul’s table at the feast of the New Moon and if Saul is incensed, David will take flight again. Going by Saul’s past form, David may well expect Saul to be murderously angry; Jonathan on the other hand speaks as if he has no knowledge of Saul’s previous violence towards David. He swears that he will let David know Saul’s intentions, and reaffirms his covenant of chapter 18.

The meeting of David and Jonathan in Chapter 20 is not their last. Their final meeting takes place when David is hiding from Saul in  Horesh in the Desert of Ziph.  The brief description shows that Jonathan’s characteristics of  supportiveness, piety and optimism are unchanged:

While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that Saul had come out to take his life.  And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.  ‘Don’t be afraid,’ he said. ‘My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.’ The two of them made a covenant before the Lord. Then Jonathan went home, but David remained at Horesh.[18]

Rosh Chodesh at the court of Saul

Verse 18

This shows that David has a place at Saul’s court, which he is expected to occupy on the festival of Rosh Chodesh.

Verse 19

Why does Jonathan set their secret meeting for the third day?  It seems that the Rosh Chodesh celebrations occupy two days, as a second day is referred to in verse 34. Only after the festival will Jonathan be free to slip away. Jonathan urges to David to use a previous hiding place; this could refer to 19:1, when David hid in the field where Jonathan and Saul spoke about him.

A cunning plan

Verse 20 – 22

Jonathan devises a plan for communicating with David, hidden in a place where he can hear Jonathan speak to the servant. The Etzel Stone is used as a landmark so that Jonathan knows David is within earshot. Incidentally ETZEL is an acronym by which the Irgun is known: ארגון צבאי לאומי .

The covert  information which Jonathan intends to communicate concerns Saul’s plans towards David: is he reconciled to him or does he still seek David’s life?

The plan they devise is that Jonathan will shoot the arrows and and use the coded message to his na-ar, the boy, either that the arrows are this side, meaning no danger from Saul, or the arrows are beyond you, in which case go away for the Lord has sent you away. Rashi interpreted the  words The Lord has sent you away away, as meaning that the fall of the arrows will be directed by God as a sign, rather than  by Jonathan’s aim, that the arrows can be used as a means of divination.

Arrows, spears or javelins were the main weapons in Israel at this stage of the iron age and swords were of limited availability among the Israelites. At one stage, only Saul and Jonathan had swords.[19]  The Philistines were well-equipped with long iron swords – David took Goliath’s sword and decapitated him with him.[20] The same sword was kept  by the priests of Nob, wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. When David asked for a sword or a spear, as he had no weapon with him, Ahimelech the priest  handed over the sword of Goliath, which David recognised:

[21]אֵין כָּמוֹהָ תְּנֶנָּה לִּי   There is none like it – give it to me.

Fidelity between friends

Verse 23

Jonathan concludes his rapid, urgent speech by invoking  the eternal covenant of fidelity between himself and David, which he affirms again in verse 42. It is noticeable that David’s words are unrecorded on both occasions. Jonathan will speak of this covenant again at their final meeting, when David is a fugitive in Horesh.

They do not meet after this as Jonathan will die with Saul in a battle against the Philistines on Mount Gilboa.At precisely that time, David and his followers will be in the pay of the Philistine king Achish.

Whether David remained loyal to Jonathan’s family is arguable. Once Jonathan is dead, David mourns equally for him and Saul. On the basis of David’s behaviour, a bystander would not guess that Saul had tried consistently to kill him, while Jonathan had been his loyal friend. When an Amalekite brings David news of their death:

David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them. They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the Lord and the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.[22]

David’s lament in 2 Samuel 1 is notably even-handed in extolling Saul with Jonathan, even emphasizing that they were not parted in death. When he says I grieve for you my brother Jonathan, you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, passing the love of women,[23] the words hardly do justice to Jonathan’s fidelity. The proof of the pudding lies in David’s treatment of Jonathan’s son, when David is king. He asks Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake? He seems to be unaware that Jonathan has a surviving son until a courtier comes up with the information.

The story of Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth does not  put David altogether in a good light, showing him as strangely credulous and much too quick to dispossess Mephibosheth. He appears to fulfil his oath to Jonathan, by insisting that Mephibosheth should be provided for and eat at the king’s table.  Mephibosheth is ‘crippled (literally ‘smitten’) in both feet’  so is unable to be a warrior and David chooses to be his protector.[24] We have seen from Saul’s Rosh Chodesh dinner that eating at the king’s table is no guarantee of personal safety.

Later on, David’s informant Ziba, who had been a servant in Saul’s household, deceives David into believing that Mephibosheth is disloyal:

Ziba said to him, “He is staying in Jerusalem, because he thinks, ‘Today the house of Israel will give me back my grandfather’s kingdom.'” Then the king said to Ziba, “All that belonged to Mephibosheth is now yours.” “I humbly bow,” Ziba said. “May I find favor in your eyes, my lord the king.”[25]

Ziba’s motivation of greed appears  transparent but nevertheless David chooses  to penalize Mephibosheth. His suspicion towards Saul’s remaining family is great, since they represent a rival claim to the throne, and being Saul’s grandson tilts the balance against Mephibosheth, even though he is also Jonathan’s son.When Mephibosheth makes a half-hearted attempt to vindicate himself, David rules that the property given to Ziba should now be divided between Ziba and Mephibosheth.[26]As this was originally  Mephibosheth’s patrimony, this represents a fifty per cent loss, but, like Jonathan, Mephibosheth is willing to renounce everything for David’s sake:

Mephibosheth said to the king, ‘Let him take everything, now that my lord the king has arrived home safely.’[27]

David’s reply is not recorded, as is often the case in his encounters with Jonathan. The commentary in the Talmud is:

When David said to Mephibosheth, ‘Thou and Ziba divide the land,’ a Heavenly Echo came forth and declared to him, Rehoboam and Jeroboam shall divide the kingdom.Rab Judah said in Rab’s name: Had not David paid heed to slander, the kingdom of the House of David would not have been divided, Israel had not engaged in idolatry, and we would not have been exiled from our country.[28]

However, when David appeased the Gibeonites by handing over seven of Saul’s descendants, whom the Gibeonites put to death, he chose at that time to keep faith with Jonathan by sparing Mephibosheth:

The king spared Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, because of the oath before the Lord between David and Jonathan son of Saul.[29]

In a veritable purge of Saul’s family, Mephibosheth and his son Mica survive, their names listed in the two targumim to the book of Esther as the ancestors of Mordecai and Esther.

At Saul’s table

Verse 24

 The scene is set with David hiding in the field while a Rosh Chodesh meal takes place at  the court of King Saul.

Verse 25

Why does Jonathan give his place beside Saul to Abner, Saul’s cousin and chief of staff?  Kimchi’s interpretation is that  Jonathan was afraid to be next to Saul because of his volatile temper. Alter refers to a textual reading of וְיִקְדָם, instead of the Masoretic וַיָּקָם, offering the translation Jonathan preceded him instead of Jonathan stood up.[30]

  Verse 26

Saul notes David absence, but shows his equable side and makes no comment. The reader is told Saul’s thoughts, that David’s absence is caused by ritual impurity, a common condition which could be caused, as Alter suggests, by a seminal emission.[31]

Verse 27 – 30

Son of Jesse and sonofabitch

On the second day, Saul’s mood is quite different as we see when  he refers to David by the patronymic ‘son of Jesse’. Jonathan comes up with an excuse for David, saying that family affairs have taken precedence, but this infuriates Saul, as does the fact that Jonathan is making excuses for David. Saul’s abusive language, demeaning to Jonathan’s mother, suggests that Jonathan is showing contempt for his own birth and parentage by his allegiance with the son of Jesse. The significance of being the son of Jesse is twofold: on the one hand, Jesse is merely a farmer from Bethlehem whereas Jonathan is the son of the king. On the other hand, there is Jacob’s prophecy that kingship is attached to the tribe of Judah[32] and the interesting ancestry of Jesse, the son of Obed, son of Boaz, grandson of Nachshon ben Amminadab who, according to midrash was the first Israelite to walk into the Red Sea.[33] Amminadab was the great-grandson of Perez, who was one of the twin sons of Judah and Tamar.[34]

By calling Jonathan’s mother a perverse, rebellious woman, Saul may be implying also that Jonathan is a bastard  and not Saul’s rightful heir. Jonathan’s mother was called Ahinoam, of whom nothing is known except that she was the daughter of Ahimaaz.[35] Another Ahinoam, of Jezreel, was one of David’s wives, the mother of Amnon.[36]

What has he done?

Verses 31-32

Saul spells out to Jonathan that David threatens his kingdom and declares his intent to kill David, calling him בֶּן־מָוֶת,’son of death’. Jonathan is not intimidated and expresses David’s innocence by saying: Why should he be put to death? What has he done? David himself tends to protests his innocence with the words ‘What have I done?’ – he says this to his brother Eliab,[37]to Jonathan,[38] to Saul[39] and to Achish, the Philistine king.[40] David repeatedly portrays himself as a wronged innocent with this ingenuous expression.

Missing the target

Verse 33

This is the third time that Saul aims his spear at someone at close range. These seem to be  half-hearted attempts at killing as he misses every time, so David survives the spear in Chapters 18,[41] and 19,[42] as Jonathan does here. The Hebrew does not say that Saul intended to kill Jonathan but that he meant to smite him, and some translators say ‘he raised his spear’. The verb יָטֶל is from the root ט וּ ל and means ‘hurl’ or ‘throw’.[43] It is used of the great wind that hits Jonah’s ship as it heads for Tarshish:

וַיהֹוָה הֵטִיל רוּחַ גְּדוֹלָה אֶל הַיָּם.[44]

There is also a verb נ ט ל which means to raise. If this were the intended meaning, there should be a dagesh in the letter tet, to show that the letter nun has been dropped. The Masoretes chose the meaning ‘to hurl’ by leaving out the dagesh, indicating the verb ט וּ ל but the LXX has ‘He lifted up his spear..’ και επηρε Σαουλ το δορυ επι Ιωναθαν[45]

Jonathan fasts

Verse 34

Again we are given an insight into Jonathan’s thoughts, his anger and grief at the way his father treated him. His fasting on the second day of the month reminds us of another episode when Jonathan refrained from fasting. Saul had declared a fast before battle with the Philistines, saying ‘Cursed be any man who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies’.[46] Jonathan had not heard his father’s words and ate some honey; for which misdemeanour Saul was prepared to put Jonathan to death, except that the men of Saul’s army spoke up for him, saying:

Should Jonathan die – he who has brought about this great deliverance in Israel? Never! As surely as the Lord lives, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground, for he did this today with God’s help.” So the men rescued Jonathan, and he was not put to death.[47]

Meeting by the Etzel stone

Verse 35 – 8

The scene changes to outdoors where Jonathan keeps his secret appointment with David, who is still hiding near the Etzel Stone. Jonathan shoots not three arrows but one.(Was Shakespeare thinking of David and Jonathan when he spoke of ‘slings and arrows’, their characteristic weapons of choice?) There is a sense of urgency and danger in the speed of events.Jonathan tells the boy to run for the arrows and  shoots while he is running. He calls out ‘the arrow is beyond you,’ which one may suppose is meant for David’s ears, rather than those of the servants and adds ‘Make haste, don’t stay,’ which may also be a warning  to David.

Verse 39 – 40

Why does the narrator make the point – which already seems clear – that the lad knew nothing? The conspiratorial  relationship between Jonathan and David is being emphasized and we see that Jonathan, a notably truthful character, is capable of what Robert Polzin calls ‘double-voiced language’.[48] It is Saul, as much as Jonathan’s servant, who is being kept in the dark.

Jonathan gives his weapons to the boy and sends him away with them. This echoes the episode when Jonathan gave David his robe and weapons, divesting himself of  the symbols of his royalty and martial power.

Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.[49]

Verse 41

David is nothing if not grateful, bowing three times to the ground in  acknowledment of Jonathan’s royal status and David’s debt of gratitude to him. Then they behave as close friends, kissing and weeping together. Why does David weep longer? Is it that he feels compelled to exceed Jonathan and Saul in everything, even weeping?

David is depicted often as not very tall, perhaps because of the comparison with Goliath, but Saul is a six footer[50] and one can imagine Jonathan might approximate his father’s height. The imagery of the relationship between these two young men is that Jonathan is proactive, passionate, forthright and possibly tall; David is reactive, seductive, manipulative, shorter and more lachrymose.

However, the LXX does not mention David crying longer or, as the Hebrew says,   עַד דָּוִד הִגְדִּיל. Instead, it has: ‘[they] wept for eachother, for a great while’.

Verse 42

David and Jonathan part, though not for the last time. Characteristically, it is Jonathan who has a voice, who says לֵךְ לְשָלום, and who alludes again to the eternal covenant between them, his words closing resembling those with which he took leave of David in verse 23.

It is slightly reminiscent of Laban taking farewell of Jacob with the words: May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.[51] There was no close friendship between Jacob and his father-in-law Laban, but they were bound by a common interest in their posterity, the way a divorced couple with children are bound.

As we have seen, it is debatable whether David is faithful to Jonathan’s desendants.

Hunger and fasting in 1 Samuel

The Talmudic rabbis were unusually critical of Jonathan regarding an aspect of David’s departure. David’s next meal is taken by courtesy of the priests of Nob, who gave him the consecrated show bread, as well as the sword of Goliath. After he left Nob, Saul had the priests killed, for collaborating with David.[52]

Rab Judah said in Rab’s name: Had but Jonathan given David two loaves of bread for his travels, Nob, the city of priests would not have been massacred.[53]

The subject of fasting and hunger comes up elsewhere in the David and Jonathan narrative; in Jonathan breaking the fast decreed by Saul in chapter 14 and in Jonathan’s fast on the second day of the new moon, in response to Saul’s anger. Now the plot will be driven forward by David’s hunger when he reaches Nob. He has been in hiding for three days, and it does indeed seem that it might have been wise for Jonathan to slip him a sandwich, before taking his place at Saul’s table for the feast of Rosh Chodesh.

Jonathan is a high minded young man and a prince of Israel, and does not think about catering, but the author of 1 Samuel has a realistic knowledge of meal times and their importance in history.


[1]Amos 8:4-5

[2] Megillah 22b

[3]

PRE 45

[4] 1 Samuel 19:1-3

[5] 1 Samuel 19:6-7

[6] ibid 8-10

[7] Genesis 31:19-35

[8] ibid 13-16

[9] 1 Samuel 18:1-4

[10] Samuel and the Deuteronomist Robert Polzin, Indiana UP, 1989 p188

[11] 1 Samuel 18:7-9

[12] Polzin, loc cit p190

[13] 1 Samuel 15:27-28

[14]

ibid 17:38

[15]

ibid 24:5

[16]

ibid 28:8

[17] ibid 19:2-3

[18] 1 Samuel 23:15-18

[19] 1 Samuel 13:22

[20]

ibid 17:51

[21] ibid 21, 10

[22] 2 Samuel 1:11-12

[23] 2 Samuel 1:26

[24] 2 Samuel 9:7-11

[25] ibid 16:3-4

[26] ibid 19:26-27

[27] ibid 19:30

[28] Bavli Shabbat 56b

[29] 2 Samuel 21:7

[30] The David Story Robert Alter  WW Norton 1999 p127

[31] ibid

[32] Genesis 49:10

[33]

Sotah 37a; Numbers Rabbah 13:7

[34]

1 Chronicles 2:4-12

[35] 1 Samuel 14:50

[36]

1 Chronicles 3:1

[37] 1 Samuel 17:29

[38]

ibid 20:1

[39]

ibid 26:18

[40]

ibid 29:18

[41] 1 Samuel 18:10

[42]

ibid 19:10

[43]

BDB p376

[44] Jonah 1:4

[45] 1 Kingdoms 20:33

[46] ibid 14:24

[47] ibid 14:45

[48] Samuel and the Deuteronomist, Polzin p193

[49] 1 Samuel 18:4

[50] ibid  10:23

[51] Genesis 31:49

[52] 1 Samuel 21:1-7; 1 Samuel 22:16-19

[53] Sanhedrin 104a

Torah portion Ki Tissa Exodus 34:29-35 

moses
 If you get the opportunity to go to Rome, you might visit the church of San Pietro in Vincoli where you can see Michelangelo’s famous statue of Moses. The rays of light on Moses’ head are represented by  two marble horns. That is the problem with a medium like marble. How could even Michelangelo convey the radiance of light which transfigured Moses as he came down from Mount Sinai, carrying the second set of the tablets of the Covenant?

 The Hebrew phrase   קָרַן עור פְּנֵיו – suggests that Moses had a luminous appearance and that his skin was radiant.  The verb קָרַן resembles keren, the Hebrew word for a horn, so it was not entirely unreasonable for Michelangelo to represent this incandescence as horns, although, in my opinion, a halo would have done the trick.

 When the bible was translated into Latin, early in the fifth century, קָרַן עור פְּנֵיו  was interpreted as meaning that Moses face was horned, cornuta esset facies sua, since you ask.  This launched a tradition which obviously influenced Michelangelo, although the Jewish commentators  dismissed the idea of a horned Moses as foolishness[1] or heresy.[2]

 The Hebrew word עור in this text sounds like the word אור which means ‘light’ but the spelling is different – with an ayin instead of an aleph – and it means skin. It could be connected with עֶרְוָה, nakedness, and it should be noted that Moses covers his face with a veil, to conceal from the Israelites the naked radiance which they view with consternation.

 A medieval Jewish interpretation[3] is that Moses covered his face with a veil  ‘…out of respect for the rays of majesty.’  The majestic nature of the rays, which is not explicit in the text, was inferred also by the Jewish scholars who translated the Hebrew bible into Greek in the third century BCE:  the Greek Septuagint says that Moses’ face was glorified.[4]  

There is a clue to the meaning of this word karan in the book of the  prophet Habakkuk[5]  who experienced a vision of God and said that God’s splendour was like the sunrise, with rays flashing from God’s hand:

 קַרְנַיִם מִיָּדוֹ  karnayim miyado

Karnayim, a plural form of keren,  is much more intelligible as radiance than as horns. It is the only similar use of the word in the bible, but that is enough for it to offer evidence of linguistic meaning.

Sigmund Freud wrote an essay on the subject of Michelangelo’s Moses.[6] He noted that Michelangelo represented Moses as fiercely angry, and Freud therefore associated the statue with  the narrative of the golden calf, which, as it happens, occurs earlier in this same sidra, Ki Tissa.  Moses was indeed angry when he saw the  Israelites dancing round the calf, so much so that he broke the first set of tablets.  We see from our sidra that Moses received a second set of tablets, in place of those which were broken, and his face shone when he descended with these, the second luchot ha brit.  Freud would have known this if he had gone to shul more often.

The word for a veil, מָסְוֶה, is not found elsewhere in the bible, so its exact meaning can be known only from the present context and from a small number of similar words which mean cloak, cover or curtain. The author Richard Elliott Friedman suggests that Moses’ veil has something in common with the curtain which covered the Holy Ark in the Tabernacle. The Ark had a  holiness which could be dangerous to those who came close to it, and so did  Mount Sinai, ablaze with  fire which no one but Moses could approach. God said to Moses: You cannot see my face for no one can see me  and live, and it is as if Moses’ face may not be seen, because it reflects his encounter with God. It is interesting that Moses himself was unaware of the rays which were observed at once  by Aaron and the Israelites.

 וּמשֶׁה לֹא יָדַע כִּי קָרַן עוֹר פָּנָיו

 Moses knew not that the skin of his face sent forth beams.

Moses had so little thought for his appearance in the eyes of others that it was only when he saw their reaction  that he thought to cover his face with a veil. We know from a verse in the book of Numbers:

 וְהָאִישׁ משֶׁה עָנָו מְאֹד מִכֹּל הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר עַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה

 The man Moses was very meek, above all the men that were upon the face of the earth.[7]

 This  seems an apt description for a man who had no idea that his face reflected his meeting with God, and who, learning that this was so, covered it with a veil so as not to be an object of wonderment to those waiting at the foot of the mountain.


[1]Rashbam cf N Leibowitz, Studies in Shemot vol 2 p632

[2]

Ibn Ezra ibid p643

[3]Rashi on Exodus 34:33

[4]

δεδοξασμενη

[5]Habakkuk 3:4

[6]Der Moses des Michelangelo Sigmund Freud 1914

[7]Numbers 12:3

 

[8]Genesis 28:16