By Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz
My little boy came running into the house, tears streaming down his cheeks.
“We were playing hide and seek,” he sobbed. “And after he was found Samuel yelled out to everyone where I was hiding.”
It was my son’s first taste of betrayal. In an uncharacteristic burst of Biblical inspiration, I sat him down and read Psalm 54, which was written after King David was betrayed by the Ziphites.
How does King David react to betrayal?
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David had a difficult life. But perhaps the most painful aspect was being betrayed, first by Saul and then by his own tribe.
I Samuel 23:14-28 describes how David, a fugitive fleeing from King Saul who was pursuing him, had taken refuge in the wilderness of Ziph, a town in the territory of the tribe of Judah.
When the Ziphites learned that David was hiding in their territory, they went to King Saul and informed him of David’s whereabouts. Saul was grateful for this information and sent his army to capture David. David learned of the Ziphites’ treachery and fled to the wilderness of Maon where he was almost caught by Saul.
The gravity of this betrayal is hinted at in Psalms 54:5.
For strangers have risen against me, and ruthless men seek my life; they are unmindful of Hashem. Selah
David describes the Ziphites as being “ruthless” and deceitful. They are not mindful of God and they behave like “strangers” though they are from his own tribe. He laments that they “seek my life”. In response, David does not simply ask to be saved but he also asks for judgment:
O Hashem, deliver me by Your name; by Your power vindicate me. Psalm 54:3
God heard David’s prayer and saved him from the Ziphites. Miraculously, just as Saul was ready to strike, a messenger appeared, informing him that the Philistines were attacking and that he was needed elsewhere in the kingdom. David was able to flee, and later acknowledged God’s graciousness and salvation in this psalm.
In the Book of Samuel, we learn that David was aided by Jonathan, Saul’s son. This was the antithesis of the betrayal by the Ziphites. Jonathan truly loved David as a brother and stood by him through thick and thin. Despite his awareness that the consequence of David becoming king meant that he would not succeed his father on the throne, Jonathan recognized that God had designated his beloved friend David as the next king of Israel. Displaying great admiration for his friend and sacrifice for the sake of the nation as well as for David, Jonathan expressed his desire to serve under David. Jonathan is a powerful and inspiring model, not only of an elevated level of friendship, but also of an individual willing to make any sacrifice necessary to advance the will of God and the wellbeing of Israel.
Though David was hurt by the Ziphites and asked God to save him and persecute his enemies, his response to betrayal is not to lash out in anger. Instead, David sought to reconnect. At the end of the Psalm, David pledges to bring a free-will sacrifice, also known as a peace offering, expressing gratitude for God’s salvation and praising Him for His goodness.
But the betrayal was not forgotten. After King Saul left and David’s security was assured, the site of the unresolved conflict was renamed the “Rock of Separation” (I Samuel 23:28).
In this painful episode, David teaches a powerful lesson about coping with betrayal. He neither forgives nor forgets. But instead of seeking revenge or erupting in anger, the betrayal by his co-tribesman teaches him to value true connections, like his friendship with Jonathan and his relationship with God.