2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
1 After the death of Saul, David returned from defeating the Amalekites and stayed in Ziklag two days.
17 David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan, 18 and ordered that the men of Judah be taught this lament of the bow (it is written in the Book of Jashar): 19 “Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights. How the mighty have fallen! 20 “Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice. 21 “O mountains of Gilboa, may you have neither dew nor rain, nor fields that yield offerings of grain. For there the shield of the mighty was defiled, the shield of Saul—no longer rubbed with oil. 22 From the blood of the slain, from the flesh of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back, the sword of Saul did not return unsatisfied. 23 “Saul and Jonathan—in life they were loved and gracious, and in death they were not parted. They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. 24 “O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul, who clothed you in scarlet and finery, who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold. 25 “How the mighty have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies slain on your heights. 26 I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women. 27 “How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of war have perished!”
David’s Lament over Saul by Chris Appleby (with some slight editing – excellent thoughts on this passage)
2 Samuel 1:1-1:27
Saul was anointed King of Israel by popular acclaim, though at God’s direction. He was taller than all his peers, an apt warrior king. Just the sort of man Israel needed to oppose the Philistines. Except that he was also a flawed king. He forgot where his power as King came from. As a result God decided to turn the kingship over to David.
David wasn’t without fault but of all the kings of Israel, David stands out as the one King who throughout his life remained steadfast in his faith in the God of Israel. David is the model King, the one after whom Jesus Christ himself will be named, as the Son of David.
What’s so remarkable about David is that he maintains his faith in God throughout his life. David was chosen by God to bring his people to security and prosperity in the land God had promised to Abraham. This is the beginning of a dynasty that will start well and then fade away until God sends his own Son to bring his promises to completion.
In 2 Sam 1 David has been anointed some time before, but has had to wait 15 or 20 years for Saul to die before receiving the kingdom. As 1 Samuel finishes, Saul is defeated by the Philistines and dies on his own sword.
But there’s no sense of triumphalism in this story. This is a sad day in the history of Israel. Her first king is dead.
David and his men were sent back by the Philistines from the battle with Saul and ended up in a battle of their own, attacking an Amalekite raiding party who had kidnapped their wives and children. Now they’ve returned, unaware of the outcome of the battle to the north. Then a man comes into their camp with news of the battle. He comes to tell David of Saul’s death.
We know what’s happened, but David doesn’t. We know that this man is a liar and con man. He’s torn his clothes and covered himself with dust to make his appearance seem authentic. He elaborates his story with all sort of details: where they were; the chariots and riders bearing down on them; Saul leaning on his spear on his last legs; his heroic action in dealing Saul the death blow and then taking the crown and arm band to bring to David. And it’s all made up! Clearly this Amalekite expects to receive a substantial reward from David.
No sooner has he told his story than he realizes his mistake. David doesn’t respond with the joy he expects. Instead he responds with grief. He takes his clothes and tears them as a sign of mourning. So do the soldiers standing around him. They begin weeping and mourning and it goes on until evening. The Amalekite is thoroughly confused.
What he’s failed to realize is that these men hold God’s choice as precious. This death that he’s reported is part of a great defeat for the people of Israel. And not only has Saul died but so has Jonathan, David’s great friend and companion.
Also, Saul is God’s anointed one. David is rightly described as a man after God’s own heart. For him, personal ambition was secondary. What mattered most was God’s right to choose, God’s right to dispose of his people as he saw fit. And when God anointed someone as King, only God had the right to take away that position.
So as the mourning subsides, he asks the man where he’s from. The man tells him that he’s the son of a resident alien, an Amalekite. The fact that he’s an Amalekite isn’t the issue here, despite the fact that David’s just come back from fighting an Amalekite raiding party. It’s that he’s a resident of Israel. That means that he would have been aware of the significance to the Israelites of Saul as God’s anointed king. He should have understood David’s attitude to Saul as God’s anointed one.
But he isn’t a theologian, he’s an opportunist. He’s thinking on a secular political level. He thinks he can manipulate David to his own advantage.
In the OT history of Israel there are 2 other Amalekites who come to prominence. One is Agag found in 1 Samuel 15 and who in the end was put to death by Samuel. The other is Haman, who appears in the book of Esther. There he manipulates events to first become powerful in the court of King Xerxes of Persia and then he uses his power to arrange for the slaughter of all the Jews living there. In the end his opportunism is overcome and he suffers a similar fate to his other 2 countrymen.
Unfortunately for this man, he hasn’t given a thought to the theological reality in which he lives. But he soon realizes it as David rebukes him, then, as the new King of Israel, passes judgment on him. “Were you not afraid to lift your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?” “Your blood be on your head; for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, ’I have killed the Lord’s anointed.’”
The sense of relief at Saul’s death that this man expected never happens. Instead the one who claims to have killed the Lord’s anointed is executed. Instead of the great victory celebration that he expected, we find David composing this great lament over Saul and Jonathan.
“How the mighty have fallen! The glory of Israel lies slain upon the mountain tops. Don’t speak of it, lest you give the Philistines cause to rejoice. Treat the news with the reverence it deserves.” You can imagine him today, saying ’turn off the cameras. Don’t put this on CNN. It’s too serious, too tragic to make a spectacle of.’
He enjoins nature to join him in his mourning, to withhold it’s bounty: dew, rain and harvest. Mt Gilboa, where Saul died was synonymous with fertility. But now it’s been defiled by the blood of Saul and Jonathan. So he calls on nature to honor the dead, to fast and mourn out of respect for those who have died.
He celebrates the valor of these two leaders of Israel. Here we see the dual images of war, of horror and of honor. Both must be remembered. In battle, there is heroism, devotion to duty, and love of country that leads to the sacrifice of so many. But the stark reality and horror of war is there also.
That’s what we find here. There’s the blood of the slain, the fat of the mighty, but there’s the expertly wielded bow, kept steady in the face of overwhelming odds, the courageous sword that keeps swinging until the end.
And there’s the camaraderie, the partnership of father and son, joined as inseparable allies in their battle for God’s people. Certainly Saul was David’s enemy at times, while Jonathan was his unswerving friend. But when they appeared together on the field of battle they were seen to be partners, working together, equal in their strength and battle skill. Combined they were a force to be reckoned with.
But now they’re gone. Israel has lost a king and so David calls for the community to mourn. Mourning is something that needs to be done with our community. That’s why we join together for funerals. We need a community around us when we mourn the loss of a loved. The person who’s died needs a community to express the loss that their death has brought on the world and to acknowledge their contribution to the lives of others. And so David calls on the community to mourn together.
Finally David gives a heartfelt cry of lament over his closest friend. He says “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.”
Don’t let anyone tell you this is referring to homosexual love between David and Jonathan. The whole point of what he says here is that this isn’t the sort of sexual love that he might have with a woman and David had a few wives in his time, so he knew what he was talking about!
No, this is the sort of close intimate friendship between 2 men that you don’t her about much these days. Only I’m not sure our friendship are often at this level any more. More often they’re more of the nature of acquaintances or teammates or associates. C.S. Lewis wrote in his book, the Four Loves, “This love, [i.e. friendship love,] free from instinct, free from all duties but those which love has freely assumed, almost wholly free from jealousy, and free without qualification from the need to be needed, is eminently spiritual. It is the sort of love one can imagine between angels” (p91) David and Jonathan shared a bond of friendship so close it couldn’t be broken, except by death.
And so he repeats this refrain. “How the mighty have fallen!” It’s a refrain that sums up the sense of loss and waste, coupled with the recognition of their achievements as warriors. It begins and ends the lament. It’s repeated as Jonathan is remembered. “How the mighty have fallen!” It’s a lament in fact of the human condition. All fall in the end, no matter how great they are.
Before we leave this lament for Saul, notice the significance of this form of public mourning. First notice what a beautiful thing it is. There’s something about the human mind, the human spirit, that needs beauty even in the depths of sadness. The beauty of the poetic form that we find here, takes the sadness we’re feeling and transforms it from something ugly to something that we can begin to deal with. It’s an essentially personal form of expression, a way of entering into our experiences, not just watching them happen to us.
But Lament isn’t just a personal expression. It’s a communal, public expression. There’s no doubt that this expresses David’s personal pain, but it’s also intended as a public expression of the loss of the community. That’s why he instructs that this “Song of the Bow” be taught to the people of Judah. He wants the whole nation to be able to express their sadness. He wants the people to acknowledge what’s been lost in this battle. It isn’t just a strategic loss of territory. It’s more personal, more spiritual, than that. They’ve lost the one that God anointed as their King.
As David is about to begin his reign, it’s significant that he sees with theological eyes the deeper principle at play here. The Lord’s anointed is dead. This is the cause of great sadness forIsrael. David’s reign can’t begin until the loss of Saul is acknowledged. And as he begins his reign he knows it’s not because of his own ability or wisdom or strategic skill. It’s because he too is the Lord’s anointed. The success he gains in establishing the kingdom will be the result of God’s intervention, God’s empowering. This is a lesson David had already learnt and it’s a lesson he taught to his people. Listen to the words of Ps 127, reputedly written by David’s son, Solomon: “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain.” David’s success will come from his devotion to and his reliance on the Lord, shown so clearly here in his response to the death of Saul. David is a King after God’s own heart, because he looks to God for success in all he does.