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Bible Commentaries

Coffman Commentaries on the Bible

2 Samuel 1

Verse 1

SECOND SAMUEL

THE FALSE REPORT OF SAUL'S DEATH AND DAVID'S LAMENT FOR SAUL AND JONATHAN

There is no need for an introduction here, because the introduction for both First Samuel and Second Samuel was included in my commentary on First Samuel. The books were originally one volume, but due to the cumbersome size of the ancient rolls upon which books were inscribed, Samuel was divided into two rolls.

THE FALSE REPORT OF SAUL'S DEATH

"After the death of Saul, when David had returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag; and on the third day, behold, a man came from Saul's camp, with his clothes and earth upon his head. And when he came to David he fell down and did obeisance. David said to him, "Where do you come from"? And he said to him, "I have escaped from the camp of Israel." And David said to him, "How did it go? Tell me." And he answered, "The people have fled from the battle, and many of the people also are fallen and are dead; and Saul and his son Jonathan are also dead." Then said David to the young man who told him, "How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead"? And the young man who told him said, "By chance I happened to be on Mount Gilboa; and there was Saul leaning upon his spear; and lo, the chariots and the horsemen were close upon him. And when he looked behind him, he saw me, and called to me. And I answered `Here I am.' And he said to me, `Who are you'? I answered him, `I am an Amalekite.' And he said to me, `Stand by me and slay me; for anguish has seized me, and yet my life still lingers.' So I stood beside him, and slew him, because I was sure that he could not live after he had fallen; and I took the crown which was on his head and the armlet which was on his arm, and I have brought them here to my lord."

Critics who seem to be searching for things which they can call "contradictions" in the Bible have complained that this report of Saul's death "is impossible to reconcile with the account in First Samuel."[1] This is no problem whatever, because, as Willis stated, "The Amalekite's report was a deliberate lie. What actually happened is recorded in 1 Samuel 31, and this paragraph reports what the Amalekite told David."[2] A similar so-called "contradiction" is in Genesis, where God said, "Ye shall surely die" (Genesis 2:17) and Satan said, "Ye shall NOT surely die" (Genesis 3:4). A lie always contradicts the truth.

The Amalekite's possession of Saul's crown and the armlet did not "prove" the truth of his falsehood. "The man probably had found Saul after he had died and before the Philistines returned to strip the slain."[3] "Every army is followed by vagabonds, intent on gain, purchasing booty, looting or plundering wherever possible and carrying on a lucrative, illicit trade."[4] It was F. C. Cook's opinion that this Amalekite was actually one of those who came to strip the slain on the day AFTER the battle and that he had the luck to find Saul still with his crown and armlet."[5] To this writer, this opinion seems to be the most likely true answer as to the identity of that Amalekite.

There are only four examples of suicide in the entire Bible: (1) that of Saul; (2) that of Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23); (3) that of Zimri (1 Kings 16:18); and (4) that of Judas Iscariot (Matthew 27:5).[6]

One item in the Amalekite's story is clearly a fact. He did take the crown from Saul's head and the armlet from his arm. What an irony there is in this, "That an Amalekite took the crown from Saul's head that he had forfeited by his disobedience of God's commandment to slay King Agag the Amalekite![7]

"And there was Saul leaning upon his spear" (2 Samuel 1:6). Due to the great length of a spear as compared with that of a sword, this statement alone is sufficient to prove that the Amalekite was a liar. Leaning on a spear would hardly be attempted by anyone trying to kill himself, especially if he also had a sword. Keil properly identified this statement in 2 Samuel 1:6 as evidently, "an improbability, an untruth."[8]

Verse 11

DAVID'S EXECUTION OF THE LYING AMALEKITE

"Then David took hold of his clothes, and rent them; and so did all the men who were with him; and they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son and for the people of the Lord and for Israel. And David said to the young man who told him, `Where do you come from'? And he answered, `I am the son of a sojourner, an Amalekite.' David said to him, `How is it you were not afraid to put forth your hand to destroy the Lords anointed?' Then David called one of the young men and said, `Go fall upon him.' And he smote him so that he died. And David said to him, "Your blood be upon your head; for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, `I have slain the Lord's anointed ...'"

"And David said, `Go fall upon him'" (2 Samuel 1:15). As Willis noted, "Some scholars see a contradiction between what is said here and 2 Samuel 4:10, where it is implied that David slew the Amalekite."[9] But, as Dr. DeHoff said, "Some commentaries on the Bible could well be entitled, `How to keep from believing what the Lord has said.'"[10] It seems nearly incredible that any scholar should be ignorant of the truth that whatever a man commands a servant to do, when done, may also be said to have been done by the one who commanded it. This principle is clearly spelled out in the New Testament. "Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples" (John 4:1-2).

There were very good reasons behind David's execution of the Amalekite.

(1) His tale of having killed Saul was a lie on the face of it. No man could fall on a spear that was eight feet long!

(2) The Amalekite's claim of being "the son of a sojourner," had it been the truth would have meant that he knew it was a great sin to kill the "Lord's anointed." The fact that he did not know this indicated emphatically the falsehood of his claim.

(3) And then there is the fact pointed out by Young that, "This just punishment of the Amalekite once and for all precluded any untrue accusations of David's enemies that he might have had a part, directly or indirectly, in the death of Saul."[11]

We should not overlook the possibility that during that long day of David's mourning, the passage of that much time might have brought David an accurate report of Saul's death from a more dependable source. For whatever reason, David had no doubt of the Amalekite's guilt.

Verse 17

DAVID'S LAMENTATION FOR SAUL AND JONATHAN

"And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and Jonathan his son, and he said it should be taught to the people of Judah; behold, it is written in the Book of Jasher. He said:

"Thy glory, O Israel, is slain upon thy high places! How are the mighty fallen!

"Tell it not in Gath; publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult.

"Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no rain upon you, nor upsurging of the deep! for there was the shield of the mighty defiled, the shield of Saul not anointed with oil.

"From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan turned not back, and the sword of Saul returned not empty.

"Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely! In life and death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.

"Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you daintily in scarlet, who put ornaments of gold upon your apparel.

"How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan lies slain upon thy high places.

"I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.

"How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished"."

"Lamented ... lamentation" (2 Samuel 1:17). "These words must be understood in the technical sense of a funeral dirge or a mournful elegy."[12]

It is of interest that David's eulogy of Saul made no reference to his faults and sins. As Matthew Henry said, "This was proper, because, although there was no preventing such things from appearing in Saul's history, yet they were very properly left out of his eulogy."[13]

"The Book of Jasher" (2 Samuel 1:18). This book has not come down to us, but it once existed; and, "It was evidently one of the sources used by the author of the Books of Samuel"[14]

"How are the mighty fallen!" (2 Samuel 1:19). This expression has been repeated countless times at the funerals of great men. Here it begins and closes this remarkable dirge.

"Tell it not in Gath" (2 Samuel 1:20). The great pity of such a defeat as Israel had suffered would be, of course, the cause of great exultation and rejoicing in the cities of the Philistines; and here, "David deprecates the spread of such news."[15] "In course of time, this expression became a proverb (Micah 1:10)."[16]

"Ye mountains of Gilboa" (2 Samuel 1:21). Here a curse is pronounced upon the mountains which were the scene of Saul's death. "This curse still seems to lie upon the mountains of Gilboa, for they are still naked and sterile."[17]

"The bow of Jonathan turned not back" (2 Samuel 1:22). In this and the following verse, David praises the fallen warriors. With their weapons they took a great toll of the enemy; they were swifter than eagles, stronger than lions.

"Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul" (2 Samuel 1:24). Here the women of Israel are commanded to grieve over the loss of him who had adorned them in scarlet and placed ornaments of gold upon their apparel. "This shows that great advances in prosperity and culture had come to Israel during the years of Saul's monarchy."[18]

"I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan" (2 Samuel 1:26). In the latter part of the lamentation, David speaks lovingly of his friend Jonathan.

Many scholars have praised the beauty of this lamentation. Porter has this: "It is a passage of great literary beauty even in translation; its haunting cadences in the King James Version give it an imperishable place in English literature."[19]

"And the weapons of war (are) perished" (2 Samuel 1:27). This is not a reference to such things as swords, bows, and arrows. "The parallelism suggests that the weapons of war are Saul and Jonathan themselves."[20]

Copyright Statement
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 1". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-samuel-1.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.