David's Deathbed Instructions to Shelomo


Last Will and Testament

In Melakhim I 2, as David is soon to die, he imparts to Shelomo some final words of wisdom1 and leaves him several tasks to complete, exhorting him to punish both Yoav for assassinating Avner and Amasa and Shimi b. Gera for cursing David:2


(ה) וְגַם אַתָּה יָדַעְתָּ אֵת אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לִי יוֹאָב בֶּן צְרוּיָה אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לִשְׁנֵי שָׂרֵי צִבְאוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל לְאַבְנֵר בֶּן נֵר וְלַעֲמָשָׂא בֶן יֶתֶר וַיַּהַרְגֵם וַיָּשֶׂם דְּמֵי מִלְחָמָה בְּשָׁלֹם וַיִּתֵּן דְּמֵי מִלְחָמָה בַּחֲגֹרָתוֹ אֲשֶׁר בְּמׇתְנָיו וּבְנַעֲלוֹ אֲשֶׁר בְּרַגְלָיו. (ו) וְעָשִׂיתָ כְּחׇכְמָתֶךָ וְלֹא תוֹרֵד שֵׂיבָתוֹ בְּשָׁלֹם שְׁאֹל....

 (ח) וְהִנֵּה עִמְּךָ שִׁמְעִי בֶן גֵּרָא בֶן הַיְמִינִי מִבַּחֻרִים וְהוּא קִלְלַנִי קְלָלָה נִמְרֶצֶת בְּיוֹם לֶכְתִּי מַחֲנָיִם וְהוּא יָרַד לִקְרָאתִי הַיַּרְדֵּן וָאֶשָּׁבַע לוֹ בַי"י לֵאמֹר אִם אֲמִיתְךָ בֶּחָרֶב. (ט) וְעַתָּה אַל תְּנַקֵּהוּ כִּי אִישׁ חָכָם אָתָּה וְיָדַעְתָּ אֵת אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשֶׂה לּוֹ וְהוֹרַדְתָּ אֶת שֵׂיבָתוֹ בְּדָם שְׁאוֹל.

(5) Moreover thou knowest also what Joab the son of Zeruiah did unto me, even what he did to the two captains of the hosts of Israel, unto Abner the son of Ner and unto Amasa the son of Jether, whom he slew, and shed the blood of war in peace, and put the blood of war upon his girdle that was about his loins, and in his shoes that were on his feet. (6) Do therefore according to thy wisdom, and let not his hoar head go down to the grave in peace...

(8) And, behold, there is with thee Shimei the son of Gera, the Benjamite, of Bahurim, who cursed me with a grievous curse in the day when I went to Mahanaim; but he came down to meet me at the Jordan, and I swore to him by the Lord, saying: I will not put thee to death with the sword. (9) Now therefore hold him not guiltless, for thou art a wise man; and thou wilt know what thou oughtest to do unto him, and thou shalt bring his hoar head down to the grave with blood.'

These deathbed directives are somewhat surprising and may even strike the reader as inappropriate.  If David thought these opponents worthy of retribution, why had he not punished them himself?  Is it fair of him to request that his son be the one to do his dirty work? Why should Shelomo need to taint the opening of his reign with bloodshed?

The Crimes

When asking Shelomo to punish his enemies, David provides background regarding the  crimes they committed, justifying the call for retribution. Certain aspects of David's descriptions of the original events, however, are difficult to understand:

  • "אַתָּה יָדַעְתָּ אֵת אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לִי יוֹאָב" – What misdeed of Yoav is David speaking of in these words? Is he referring to a personal affront which is not specified in the verse, or to the murders of Avner and Amasa mentioned right afterwards?  If the latter, why does David view these assassinations as an action aimed at him personally ("אֵת אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לִי")?
  • "וַיָּשֶׂם דְּמֵי מִלְחָמָה בְּשָׁלֹם וַיִּתֵּן דְּמֵי מִלְחָמָה בַּחֲגֹרָתוֹ אֲשֶׁר בְּמׇתְנָיו" – What do these phrases mean?  What does placing blood on one's belt or shoe signify?  What message is David trying to relay to Shelomo through these descriptions?
  • The oath to Shimi – After telling Shelomo of Shimi's curse, David explains that he himself had not been able to kill Shimi because he had sworn not to. This explanation, though, simply adds new questions. If Shimi had been culpable of death for his words, why did David take such an oath?  And if, at the time, David had nonetheless been willing to forgive Shimi, what changed in the interim that, on his deathbed, he calls for his punishment? Finally, if David had sworn not to kill Shimi, would not asking Shelomo to do so in his stead still constitute a reneging on his oath?

Additional Questions

Several other question emerge from the unit which relate to the issues discussed above:

  • "וְאָנֹכִי נַעַר קָטֹן" – Soon after he is anointed, Shelomo describes himself as "a young lad".3  David similarly refers to him as "‎‏נַעַר וָרָךְ"‎.4 These descriptions make one further question David's requests.  If Shelomo had ascended the throne while still a young, inexperienced boy, why did David think that he could do what his powerful father could not?
  • "וְחָזַקְתָּ וְהָיִיתָ לְאִישׁ" – David opens his testament by telling Shelomo to "be strong and a man".  What does he mean by this?  Are these words related to the spiritual component of David's testament (the exhortation to follow Hashem which immediately follows these words) or to the political tasks stated later?
  • "וְעָשִׂיתָ כְּחׇכְמָתֶךָ" – Why does David tell Shelomo to act in "wisdom"? Does this suggest that David assumed that some level of cunning or deceit would need to be involved? If Yoav and Shimi were guilty, though, why should this be necessary?
  • "בְּשָׁלֹם שְׁאֹל" vs. "בְּדָם שְׁאוֹל" – Regarding Yoav, David tells Shelomo, "וְלֹא תוֹרֵד שֵׂיבָתוֹ בְּשָׁלֹם שְׁאֹל".  Regarding Shimi, in contrast, he directs, "וְהוֹרַדְתָּ אֶת שֵׂיבָתוֹ בְּדָם שְׁאוֹל".  Are the two formulations identical in meaning, or does the latter imply death while the former refers only to a harsh punishment?