Lecture #246: The History of the Divine Service at Altars (LVI) – The Prohibition of Bamot (XXXIII)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy


In this shiur we will continue to examine the cultic reality outside the great bama at Nov and at Giv'on.

The Bama at Giv'at Ha-ELohim

In the framework of the signs that Shemuel gives to Shaul, mention is made of "the hill of God," Giv'at Ha-Elohim:

After that you shall come to the hill of God, where the garrisons of the Pelishtim are, and it shall come to pass, when you are come there to the city, that you shall meet a band of prophets coming down from the high place with a lute, and a timbrel, and a pipe, and a lyre, before them; and they shall prophesy; and the spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you shall prophesy with them, and shall be turned into another man. And let it be, when these signs are come to you, that you do as occasion serve you; for God is with you. (I Shemuel 10:5-7)

Where is this "hill of God," and why is it called by that name?

1. Yonatan ben Uziel translates the phrase as: "the hill where the ark of the Lord is." He apparently refers to Giv'at Kiryat Ye'arim, where the ark of the Lord stood for twenty years (I Shemuel 7:2); the place is called by that name because of the ark that was located there.

2. In the academic world, the place is conventionally identified with Giv'at (Yehoshua 18:28), Giv'at Binyamin (I Shemuel 13:15) and Giv'at Shaul (I Shemuel 11:4), after Shaul turned it into his capital city. The site has been identified with Tel-al-Pul, near the water pool west of Pisgat Ze'ev.

It is called "the hill of God" because in it stood an important bama (because of the city's location, controlling the main road linking Jerusalem to Bet-El, Shilo and Shechem), because of the band of prophets who lived there at the time, or because of what happened there at the end when the spirit of God rested on Shaul (I Shemuel 10:10).

The opinions disagree on the question whether the signs indicate that Shaul should go to the place where the ark of the Lord stood. Also in terms of the route there is no definite answer - whether Shaul was to veer from the road that crossed the central mountain massif (from north to south through Shilo).

The prayers and sacrifices were probably not intended exclusively as acts of supplication before God, but also as an expression of the recognition that it is God who fights the wars of Israel, which enhances the significance of appealing to God before the war.

Offering a Sacrifice at Gilgal

In the Words of Shemuel

During the process of Shaul's being anointed as king, Shemuel asks of him as follows: "And let it be, when these signs are come to you, that you do as occasion serve you; for God is with you. And you shall go down before me to Gilgal; and, behold, I will come down to you, to offer burnt-offerings, and to make sacrifices of peace-offerings: seven days shall you tarry, till I come to you, and show you what you shall do." (I Shemuel 10:7-10).

Shemuel aspires to assemble the people at Gilgal in order to fight the Pelishtim. Even though the Mishkan was in Nov, Shemuel gathers the people to Gilgal, the site of the Mishkan for 14 years (according to Chazal), when the people of Israel first entered the land.

Shemuel also wishes to offer sacrifices before going out to battle, as he did at the second battle at Even-ha-Ezer (I Shemuel 7:9): "And Shemuel took a sucking lamb, and offered it for a burnt-offering wholly to the Lord: and Shemuel cried to the Lord for Israel; and the Lord heard him."[1]

The third point is Shemuel's request of Shaul that he wait seven days. The Radak (ad loc.) explains this as a test of Shaul:

Because now when he spoke to him about the kingship, he hinted to him with this whether or not his monarchy would endure, as this was the first mitzva that he commanded him, and if he passes, the kingdom will endure, and if not, it will not. Therefore, he said: "And I will show you what you shall do," that is, then I will show you, what will come of your kingdom.

The Actual Sacrifice Offered by Shaul and Not by Shemuel

After seven days, the sacrifice is offered by Shaul:

And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Shemuel had appointed: but Shemuel came not to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him. And Shaul said, Bring me here the burnt-offering and the peace-offerings. And he offered the burnt-offering. And it came to pass, that as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt-offering, behold, Shemuel came; and Shaul went out to meet him, that he might greet him. And Shemuel said, What have you done? And Shaul said, Because I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you came not within the days appointed, and that the Pelishtim gathered themselves together at Mikhmash; therefore said I, the Pelishtim will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the Lord: I forced myself therefore, and offered the burnt-offering. (I Shemuel 13:8-12)

Since Shaul failed the test when he did not wait for Shemuel, Shemuel informs him: "But now your kingdom shall not endure: the Lord has sought Him a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be a prince over His people, because you have not kept that which the Lord commanded you" (ibid. v. 14).

It should be emphasized that Shaul waits seven days, as he had been commanded, and on the seventh day, he worries about the people scattering, and therefore he offers the sacrifice himself. But even beyond this, Shemuel is not only concerned that the people will disperse; he is also interested in offering the sacrifice; he cannot imagine going out to battle without first making supplications to God, by way of prayers and sacrifice: "Therefore, said I, The Pelishtim will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the Lord: I forced myself therefore, and offered the burnt-offering."

The Radak (ad loc.) explains that Shaul's sin was that he did not wait until the evening, and not the problematic offering of the sacrifice: "… But with his offering of the sacrifice, even though he was a non-priest, he did not sin, because bamot were permitted then, and a non-priest may offer sacrifices at a private bama."

Rav Yoel Bin-Nun[2] explains the matter differently:

Shaul's sin was not that he went out to battle without waiting, based on the assessment of the situation according to which he could no longer wait, but rather that he offered the sacrifice in place of Shemuel. In his distress Shaul should have risen up and fought, but he was apparently afraid of this and did not know how.

In any case, offering the sacrifice was Shemuel's job, and a king may not serve as a priest even when he is in distress, in the same way that he cannot be a judge in our day. The sin was constitutional. The proof for this is of course Shaul's last great sin – the killing of the priests of Nov, i.e., the monarchy's absolute seizing of control of the priesthood, as part of the quarrel with David over the rule.

According to Rav Bin-Nun, Shaul receives from Shemuel a total mandate to act as he sees fit, as God is with him: "That you do as occasion serve you; for God is with you" (I Shemuel 10:7). Should Shaul not know what to do, then "you shall go down before me to Gilgal," as indeed Shaul did after Yonatan killed the Pelishti garrison in Geva and the Pelishtim declared war. He was promised a period of seven days until the prophet will arrive. Shaul's turning to Shemuel indicates a state of distress, and therefore it was Shemuel who should have offered the sacrifice to God.

The second point mentioned by Rav Bin-Nun is Shaul's perception of the monarchy – that the monarchy is above the priesthood, as is implied by his actions when he destroyed Nov the city of the priests. Though, as argued by the Radak, it was a private bama during a period when bamot were permitted,[3] the nature of the sacrifice being offered was certainly that of a communal sacrifice, and therefore Shemuel asked that it should be him, as a prophet, who should offer it, and not the king. Shaul exceeds his authority and takes over the functions of the prophet.[4]

The Fulfillment of the Signs and the Crowning of Shaul in Mitzpe

After Shemuel gives Shaul the signs, he assembles the people of Israel in Mitzpe in order to crown Shaul as king, but Shemuel is interested in doing this by way of God's selection. He says:

And you have this day rejected your God, who Himself saved you from all your calamities and tribulations; and you have said to him, Only set a king over us. Now, therefore, present yourselves before the Lord by your tribes, and by your thousands. (I Shemuel 10:19)

The Radak explains:

Because if Shemuel would have said to them: Shaul will reign over you, the rest of the tribes would have been jealous if he were not chosen by the Urim ve-Tumim. This is "before the Lord," as there were there a priest and the Urim ve-Tumim, and they inquired with them, in the way that we explained regarding the concubine at Giv'a (Shoftim 20:28), and they may have brought the ark there.

The phrase "before the Lord" refers to inquiring with a priest by way of the Urim ve-Tumim or using the ark of the Lord, which was at that time in Kiryat Ye'arim (so also explains the Ralbag).

As for inquiring of God, the matter is stated explicitly later in the chapter (v. 20): "And Shemuel caused all the tribes of Israel to come near, and the tribe of Binyamin was picked (by lot)." Yehuda Kil explains in his Da'at Mikra commentary:

"And Shemuel caused all the tribes of Israel to come near" – that is, to cast a lot, and the words "before the Lord" are like the proverb of the wise man (Mishlei 16:33): "The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole of its decision is from the Lord." And similarly by Yehoshua: "And you shall come near by your tribes" (Yehoshua 7:14-18).

According to this explanation, it seems that we are dealing with both the Urim ve-Tumim and with the casting of lots, in order to remove all doubt from the hearts of the people. Every possible means was used so that the people themselves should see the selection process.

Indeed, Scripture continues (I Shemuel 10:21-23):

Then he caused the tribe of Binyamin to come near by its families, and the family of Matri was picked, and Shaul the son of Kish was picked: and when they sought him, he could not be found. Therefore they inquired again of the Lord, Did the man come here? And the Lord answered, Behold, he is hidden among the baggage. And they ran and fetched him from there; and when he stood among the people, he was taller than any of the people from his shoulders upwards.

Chazal explain Shaul's running away and hiding among the baggage as follows:

"And He called to Moshe." This is what the verse says: "A man's pride shall bring him low: but the humble in spirit shall attain honor" (Mishlei 29:23). Whoever runs away from authority, authority runs after him.

Shaul ran away from authority when he came to rule as king, as it is stated: "Therefore they inquired again of the Lord, Did the man come here? And the Lord answered, Behold, he is hidden among the baggage" (I Shemuel 10:22). What is this?

When they came and told him about the matter of the monarchy, he said to them: I am not fit for kingship. Rather, inquire by way of the Urim ve-Tumim, whether I am fit, and if not, leave me be. Immediately, "they inquired again of the Lord." He immediately hid himself until they inquired by way of the Urim ve-Tumim. "And the Lord answered, Behold, he is hidden among the baggage (lit., the vessels)." Thus taught our Rabbis: "The vessels" – these are the Urim ve-Tumim.

This one ran away from authority and it ran after him, as it is stated: "Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen, that there is none like him among all the people?" (v. 24). (Midrash Tanchuma, Vayikra 4)

After the people wholly accepted this:

And Shemuel said to all the people, Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen, that there is none like him among all the people? And all the people shouted, and said, Long live the king. Then Shemuel told the people the rules of the kingdom, and wrote it in a book and laid it up before the Lord. And Shemuel sent all the people away, every man to his house. (vv. 24-25)

We will now try to clarify the meaning of the last verse, especially the words, "And laid it up before the Lord."

The Rules of the Kingdom

The Radak explains that "the rules of the kingdom" refer to the law of the king that Shemuel mentioned when the people asked him for a king.

The Ralbag explains the phrase: "That is to say, the power that the king has over his people, and the fitting punishment for anyone who disobeys his commands."

The Malbim understands that "the rules of the kingdom" are the rules that the king will impose by force upon his people. He apparently assumes that "the rules of the king – the king is permitted to impose."

Laying up the Rules of the Kingdom Before the Lord

The verse states that the rules of the kingdom were laid up before the Lord. This apparently means: before the ark, like other items that were placed there, e.g., the jar of manna (Shemot 16:33), and Aharon's staff after it bloomed (Bemidbar 17:25).

Yehoshua acted in similar fashion after making the covenant in Shekhem:

So Yehoshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shekhem. And Yehoshua wrote these words in the book of the Torah of God, and took a great stone, and set it up there under the oak, that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. (Yehoshua 24:25-26)

Shemuel's action is similar to that of Yehoshua. There is a covenant, a statute and an ordinance, which the leader of the generation sees as a critical component. It is therefore necessary to lay a written text before the ark of the covenant. This expresses the validity of what is written and its eternity.

At this stage the ark was in Kiryat Ye'arim. Was the ark brought from Kiryat Ye'arim to Mitzpe in honor of the occasion, or did Shemuel go to Kiryat Ye'arim? If we understand that the ark was brought for the occasion, this enhances the Divine significance of the event, as these rules of the kingdom will guide the people for centuries to come.

Another possibility proposed by Yehuda Kil in his Da'at Mikra commentary is that Shemuel merely laid "the rules of the kingdom" alongside the altar of God in Mitzpe, but did not bring them to Kiryat Ye'arim.

The Renewal of the Kingdom in Gilgal

Certain base individuals did not accept Shaul's coronation:

But some base fellows said, How shall this man save us? And they despised him, and brought him no presents. But he held his peace. (I Shemuel 10:27)

Only after Shaul's victory over Nachash the Amonite is he fully crowned as king (I Shemuel 11:14-15):

Then said Shemuel to the people, Come, and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingdom there. And all the people went to Gilgal; and there they made sacrifices of peace-offerings before the Lord; and there Shaul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.

Here, too, we find the words, "before the Lord." The Radak explains:

To renew the kingdom in Gilgal in honor of the ark and the Tent of Meeting that were there at first when they entered the land. Therefore they honored that place, even though it was not there now, but rather in Nov.

Here too there is room to ask whether the ark was brought there from Kiryat Ye'arim, or perhaps as argued by the Ralbag, they merely "built an altar there and offered sacrifices upon it." According to the Ralbag, the phrase "before the Lord" is connected to the building of an altar and the offering of sacrifices in Gilgal.


(Translated by David Strauss)


[1] An allusion to the offering of a sacrifice to God before going out to war might be found in Tehilim 20. In this psalm, the people bless the king in a time of trouble: "May the Lord hear you in the day of trouble; may the name of the God of Yaakov defend you." The reference may be to a time of going out to battle.

Later in the psalm it says: "May He send you help from the sanctuary, and strengthen you out of Zion! May He remember all your offerings,and accept with favor your burnt-offering! Sela." Here the reference is to assistance that the king receives from the site of the Temple – where prayers ascend to heaven and sacrifices are offered on behalf of the people.

[2] In his article, "Masa Agag Chet Shaul be-Amalek, Megadim 7 (p. 51, note 5).

[3] In a previous shiur, I cited the opinion of R. Yitzchak Isaak Halevi that there was a certain interval during which the Mishkan, after the destruction of Shilo, returned first to Gilgal, and only afterwards did it move to Nov.

[4] We will not discuss in this framework Shaul's overall position regarding the priesthood.