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In Samuel 2 chapter 1, the Amalekite lad tells David the news that King Saul is dead and that Saul had asked him to take his life. David sentences the youth to death. The pesukim suggest that the reason for the punishment was because he killed the "anointed one" and he had no right to do so.

Q1- The amalekite was simply obeying the King's command. Which law did he breach to warrant the death penalty? Cannot be Chayav Mita-Murder since there were no witnesses...

Q2 - Being an Amalekite shouldn't he have been put to death for that status alone regardless of his actions?

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  • Was the Amalekite even telling the truth or was he trying to get famous? After all, Shmuel I 31:4 says Sha'ul asked his armor-bearer to kill him, but the armor-bearer refused, and so he killed himself. – ezra Aug 9 '17 at 21:05
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    Those are two very different questions. I vote that the second one be split off into its own question - you can bring a similar question from Mordechai and Haman - why didn't he just go ahead and kill Haman when he had the chance, before Haman rose to power? – DonielF Aug 10 '17 at 2:34
  • I think that there is a general rule that one is not allowed to kill someone else even when that person requests it, and even if it is the king who requests it. The prohibition against murder applies to B'nei Noach as well. In either case, the ruling of no witnesses, I think, applies to Jews, not to a non-Jew and in this case, not to an Amalekite. – DanF Aug 10 '17 at 16:52
  • @ezra judaism.stackexchange.com/q/17033 – msh210 Aug 13 '17 at 7:17
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Prof. Yehudah Elitzur wrote an essay on the subject. In his view, the Amalekite wasn't the son of a convert or even a ger toshav, but an actual 100% Amalekite. What was he doing there? He was a spy. The Amalekites would send off Amalekite youths to collect information in preparation for the many raids the Amalekites did (consider how they first met Yisrael - raiding the people that lagged behind, raids in the time of Gidon, etc). After Plishtim defeated Shaul and Shaul killed himself, the Amalekite joined the Plishtim in pillaging the bodies. It seems he was the first to come upon Shaul's body and took from him his crown and band, and then decided to go to David, hoping for a reward and a chance to collect more info. According to Prof. Elitzur, David quickly discerned all of this. This understanding is based on the fact that first he attempted to present himself as an escapee from the battle:

"On the third day, a man came from Saul’s camp, with his clothes rent and earth on his head; and as he approached David, he flung himself to the ground and bowed low. David said to him, “Where are you coming from?” He answered, “I have just escaped from the camp of Israel.” “What happened?” asked David. “Tell me!” And he told him how the troops had fled the battlefield, and that, moreover, many of the troops had fallen and died; also that Saul and his son Jonathan were dead."

At this point, David already knew that the Amalekite was not one of the Israeli soldiers, because he then asked him:

"“How do you know,” David asked the young man who brought him the news, “that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?”

This question should have been redundant, because if the Amalekite had looked like a soldier, David should have figured that he had been near the king when he fell (David had no idea at this point exactly how the king had died). However, it seems that the Amalekite's poor disguise (torn clothes and dirt on his head) was not enough; David recognized his clothes as being inherently/culturally Amalekite, so he pressed him to explain what he, a non-Israeli, was doing on the battlefield. And the Amalekite chose to admit that he indeed wasn't a soldier, nor even any sort of Israelite, by saying:

"The young man who brought him the news answered, “I happened to be at Mount Gilboa, and I saw Saul leaning on his spear, and the chariots and horsemen closing in on him...he asked me, ‘Who are you?’ And I told him that I was an Amalekite."

Later on, possibly for fear of what David might do to him, now that David figured out most of his story, he changed it again:

"David said to the young man who had brought him the news, “Where are you from?” He replied, “I am the son of a resident alien, an Amalekite.”"

According to Prof. Elitzur, David killed him because he was a spy who would potentially endanger Israel. However, he doesn't properly discuss why David would announce that he's killing him because "“How did you dare,” David said to him, “to lift your hand and kill the LORD’s anointed?”"

Therefore, it seems to me that perhaps the term "אֵיךְ לֹא יָרֵאתָ לִשְׁלֹחַ יָדְךָ לְשַׁחֵת אֶת מְשִׁיחַ ה'" has a different meaning than what is usually understood by it. "לשחת" means "to desecrate, spoil, pervert". I think David had two points folded into one:

a. That the Amalekite dared to desecrate one of Hashem's chosen - Shaul - by pillaging his body, which is major disrespect to any dead body, but is also a big disrespect to both Hashem and the Nation of Israel when it's done to the King of Israel.1

b. That the Amalekite dared to come to David - another of Hashem's chosen - with the intent of wreaking havoc upon David, his men and all of Israel by passing off misinformation and at the same time, gathering key information and passing it on to the Amalekites.

For these reasons - being that he both desecrated an important symbol of Israel - the king - and that he posed a real geopolitical threat to Israel (din rodef at the very least), he was killed.


1 I should note that at this point, David had likely also figured out that the Amalekite hadn't really killed Shaul, because the Amalekites had brought upon the start of his downfall. Shaul would have never begged an Amalekite of all people to end his life. This also explains the end of the story, in which David says: "And David said to him, “Your blood be on your own head! Your own mouth testified against you when you said, ‘I put the LORD’s anointed to death.’”" - his story was so full of holes that that is what brought his death.

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How did he warrant the death penalty? Because he rebelled against the anointed king.

"Anyone who rebels against a king of Israel may be executed by the king."

(Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, Melachim uMilchamot Chapter 3, Section 8)

Shouldn't he have been put to death merely for being an Amalekite? No, we are only told kill Amalekites in war after they have refused an offer of peace.

"War, whether obligatory or merely permitted, should not be waged against anyone until they are offered the opportunity of peace as Deuteronomy 20:10 states: 'When you approach a city to wage war against it, you should propose a peaceful settlement.'... If they do not agree to a peaceful settlement... all males past majority should be killed... but neither women or children should be killed... The above applies to a permitted war fought with other nations. However, if either the seven nations or Amalek (upon whom war is obligatory) refuse to accept a peaceful settlement, not one soul of them may be left alive."

(Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, Melachim uMilchamot Chapter 6, Sections 1-4)

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  • Note that this answer does not accord with the first answer provided by the Radak here, as Sha’ul asked the youth to kill him. It is possible to fit this into his second explanation, though, as according to the Amaleki’s lie he would have rebelled against the king and thus been liable to the death penalty. One thing that would improve this answer, however, would be a source that one king can put down a rebellion against another king - perhaps a king can only kill a moreid b’malchus if he himself was the target of the rebellion. – DonielF Aug 17 '17 at 21:40
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Ralbag in his commentary addresses all of your points:

The amalekite was simply obeying the King's command. Which law did he breach to warrant the death penalty?

יש לתמוה מדוע צוה דוד להורגו והנה עשה זה ברצון שאול ולבקשתו אלא שהתשובה בזה איננה ממה שיקשה וזה שהאומר לחבירו חבול בי וחבל בו חייב כמו שהתבאר בגמרא כל שכן בענין המיתה וכל שכן בהמתת המלך ואין מצות המלך ממה שתפורהו בזה כי דברי הרב ודברי תלמיד דברי מי שומעין והנה הזהירה התורה על דבר ההמתה כל שכן על המתת המלכים

One could wonder why David commanded to kill him [the Amalekite] — he [the Amalekite] did this [killed Saul] with Saul’s will and at his request. But the answer is not difficult. And it is that one who says to his fellow “injure me” and he injures him, he [the injurer] is liable as is explained in the Talmud, and certainly with regard to killing, and certainly with the killing of the king. And the command of the king is not something that can exempt him in this, since [when faced with] the words of the master and the words of the student whose words do you listen to? And the Torah warned about the matter of killing, certainly the killing of kings.

Cannot be Chayav Mita-Murder since there were no witnesses...

ואעפ"י שלא היו שם עדים והיה מרשיע את עצמו והיה מפני זה פטור בדין הנה עשה דוד זה להוראת שעה שלא יקלו האנשים לשלוח ידם במלכות ולזאת הסבה בעינה נזהר משלוח יד בשאול כשהיה במערה ואעפ"י שהיה רודפו והיה מותר להרגו

And even though there were no witnesses there and this [Amalekite] indicted himself and he would therefore have been acquitted in court, David did this as a temporary ruling so that people would not take lightly attacking the kingship. And for this very reason David was careful not to attack Saul when he was in the cave, even though Saul was chasing him and it was [therefore] permissible to kill him [Saul].

Being an Amalekite shouldn't he have been put to death for that status alone regardless of his actions?

וידמה שזה הנער המבשר לא היה גר צדק ואף על פי שאמר בן איש גר עמלקי כבר אמר זה להורות שאינו עמלקי באמת אבל אביו התגורר בארץ עמלק וסאת היתה תשובתו לדוד כי כבר ידע דוד מפיו כי עמלקי הוא אבל שאל לו על המקום שהיה חונה בו והוא השיב כי בעבור המקום נקרא עמלקי לא שהיה ממשפחת עמלק

And it would seem that this youth who brought the tidings was not a righteous convert. And although he said “the son of an Amalekite convert”, he already said this to show that he was not truly an Amalekite, but his father had lived in the land of Amalek. And this was his response to David, for David already knew from his mouth that he was an Amalekite. But David asked him about the place where he was living, and he answered that on account of the place he was called an Amalekite, not that he was from the family of Amalek.

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  • +1 Nice! I like the in particular the answer to the second question. – Harel13 May 19 at 19:28
  • @Harel13 I stole that from this answer ;) – Alex May 19 at 20:04

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