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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 1

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-5

A. The Beginning of David’s Kingdom 1:1-3:5

The present section begins with Yahweh’s destruction of Saul’s line and ends with a summary of David’s fecundity. In the middle we find the record of David’s anointing as king over Judah (2 Samuel 2:1-7). In 2 Samuel 1:1 to 2 Samuel 3:5 we see the Israelites turning to David as their king. They saw David as their source of deliverance and blessing. Furthermore, David’s supporters were overcoming those of Saul.

Verses 1-16

An Amalekite’s account of Saul and Jonathan’s deaths 1:1-16

The young Amalekite must have been a mercenary soldier who had joined Saul’s army. It seems more likely that this man’s account of Saul’s death was not accurate, rather than that he had had some hand in killing Saul, in view of 1 Samuel 31:1-6 and 1 Chronicles 10. [Note: See Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: A Commentary, pp. 208-9; and Bill T. Arnold, "The Amalekite’s Report of Saul’s Death: Political Intrigue or Incompatible Sources?" Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 32:3 (1989):289-98. Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 6:14:7, believed the Amalekite was telling the truth.] He was able to take Saul’s crown and bracelet and probably returned to David with his story to ingratiate himself with him.

Mount Gilboa stood some 80 miles north of Ziklag, so it probably took the young man three or four days to make the trip. The average traveler in Bible times would normally cover about 20 miles per day walking. Ironically God had commanded Saul to annihilate the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:3), and David had just returned from slaughtering a portion of them (2 Samuel 1:1; 1 Samuel 30). Now one of them claimed to have killed the king who disobeyed God by not killing all the Amalekites.

"Since most, if not all, readers would be aware of the partially fictitious nature of the Amalekite’s story, it seems that its primary function was to counter any possible rumors or accusations leveled against David." [Note: Arnold A. Anderson, 2 Samuel, p. 10.]

One writer saw in Saul’s "leaning on his spear" (2 Samuel 1:6) ". . . a parable of his tendency to rely on human effort rather than on divine resources (cf. Isaiah 10:20; Isaiah 31:1, where ’rely’ translates the same Hebrew verb as ’leaning’ does here)." [Note: Ronald F. Youngblood, "1, 2 Samuel," in Deuteronomy-2 Samuel, vol. 3 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 806.]

The biblical writer constructed this chapter chiastically to focus the reader’s attention on the Amalekite’s story and David’s reaction to it (2 Samuel 1:6-12).

A David strikes the Amalekites 2 Samuel 1:1

B David questions an Amalekite 2 Samuel 1:2-5

C The Amalekite tells his story 2 Samuel 1:6-10

C’ David reacts to the Amalekite’s story 2 Samuel 1:11-12

B’ David questions the Amalekite again 2 Samuel 1:13-14

A’ David strikes the Amalekite 2 Samuel 1:15-16

The Amalekite soldier undoubtedly thought David would have been glad Saul had finally died, since Saul was David’s rival for the throne. Compare Doeg the Edomite’s willingness to slay God’s anointed priests at Nob to please Saul (1 Samuel 22:18). However, the news of Saul’s death saddened David instead. Saul was the Lord’s anointed. All 11 references to "the Lord’s anointed," except the one in Lamentations 4:20, appear in 1 and 2 Samuel. This phrase emphasizes the close relationship between Yahweh and the king. Furthermore David’s soul brother Jonathan had died, as had many other Israelite soldiers. David must have had the young Amalekite executed because he believed his story. "Your blood is on your own head" (2 Samuel 1:6) means the blood you have shed is the cause of your own death. [Note: See Charles Mabee, "David’s Judicial Exoneration," Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 92:1 (1980):92-107.]

"The author of Samuel established a deliberate connection between the two stories [i.e., this one and the story of the Benjamite fugitive’s report in 1 Samuel 4:12-17] in order to set up an analogy between the fates of Saul’s house and of Eli’s. . . . The comparison indicates that there is a clear rule of law which connects a leader’s conduct with his fate and the fate of his house. A degenerate leader, whether it is himself who has sinned or his sons, will ultimately be deposed . . . or come to a tragic end, just as Eli and his sons die on the same day, and so do Saul and his." [Note: Moshe Garsiel, The First Book of Samuel: A Literary Study of Comparative Structures, p. 106.]

Verses 1-27

1. David’s discovery of Saul and Jonathan’s deaths ch. 1

1 Samuel 31 and 2 Samuel 1 record the transition that took place in the royal leadership of Israel. 1 Samuel 31 contains the factual account of Saul’s death. One writer saw no reason why both accounts could not be true. [Note: See Leon Wood, Israel’s United Monarchy, p. 168]

Verses 17-27

David’s lament for Saul and Jonathan 1:17-27

Students of David’s lament over Saul and Jonathan’s deaths have called it the Song of the Bow (cf. 2 Samuel 1:22). Laments over the deaths of individuals are not uncommon in the Old Testament (cf. 1 Kings 13:30; Jeremiah 22:18; Jeremiah 34:5; Ezekiel 28:12-19; Ezekiel 32:2-15). The only other of David’s laments over an individual’s death recorded in Scripture were for Abner, Saul’s commander-in-chief (2 Samuel 3:33-34), and David’s son Absalom (2 Samuel 18:33). Many people in Judah learned and sang David’s lament over Saul and Jonathan’s deaths (2 Samuel 1:18). The Book of Jasher (2 Samuel 1:18) is no longer extant (cf. Joshua 10:13).

"How the mighty have fallen" is the key refrain in the song (2 Samuel 1:19; 2 Samuel 1:25; 2 Samuel 1:27). It forms an inclusio that brackets the entire poem as well as appearing in the middle. The strophes gradually diminish in force with the falling away of the sorrow expressed therein. [Note: C. F. Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Books of Samuel, p. 289, argued for three strophes, while William H. Shea "Chiasmus and the Structure of David’s Lament," Journal of Biblical Literature 105:1 (1986):13-25, saw five, and Youngblood, p. 810, seven.] The lament lauds the fallen heroes, mourns their deaths, and praises their bravery, inseparable love, and Saul’s virtues (2 Samuel 1:19-24). It then expounds David and Jonathan’s friendship (2 Samuel 1:25-26) and concludes with a final sigh of grief (2 Samuel 1:27).

Jonathan had remained loyal to Saul as his father and as the Lord’s anointed even though Saul had many faults. The reference to "your beauty" or "your glory" (2 Samuel 1:19) may be a reference to Jonathan (cf. 1 Samuel 14:4-5; 1 Samuel 14:10; 1 Samuel 14:12-13). One writer believed that the Hebrew word hassebi, translated "your glory" or "your beauty," should be "the gazelle," and that this was a nickname for Jonathan. [Note: David Noel Freedman, "The Refrain in David’s Lament Over Saul and Jonathan," in Ex Orbe Religionum: Studia Geo Widengren Oblata, part 1, p. 120.] Gath and Ashkelon (2 Samuel 1:20) were the easternmost and westernmost cities in Philistia respectively and therefore probably represent the totality of that nation. [Note: David L. Zapf, "How Are the Mighty Fallen! A Study of 2 Samuel 1:17-27," Grace Theological Journal 5:1 (1984):113.] The Hebrew words translated "beloved" or "loved," and "pleasant" or "gracious" (2 Samuel 1:23), refer to physical attractiveness and fundamental devotion respectively. They occur again together in 2 Samuel 1:26 but in reverse order where we read "love" and "pleasant" or "dear."

"Taken together the two words articulate a peculiar and precious bonding with David." [Note: Walter Brueggemann, First and Second Samuel, pp. 216-17.]

Saul’s reign had been good for Israel economically. He had been a source of some blessing because he was God’s anointed even though he also caused sorrow (2 Samuel 1:24; cf. 1 Samuel 14:47).

"The separate treatment of Jonathan in a fake coda [2 Samuel 1:25] subtly shows David’s preference for him [over Saul]." [Note: Zapf, p. 121.]

David considered Jonathan’s love better than that of women (2 Samuel 1:26). The Hebrew word translated "love" here appears as "friendship" in Psalms 109:4-5 (NIV). David was not alluding to some perverted type of love that he shared with Jonathan but to covenant and political loyalty. [Note: See Youngblood, p. 816; and Robert North, "Social Dynamics From Saul to Jehu," Biblical Theology Bulletin 12:4 (1982):112. ] One writer argued that Jonathan’s love for David was tantamount to a homosexual relationship. [Note: T. Horner, Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Biblical Times.] David probably meant that he and Jonathan enjoyed a oneness that most married couples do not, because of their deep and strong commitment to Yahweh as well as to one another. The "weapons of war" that had perished (2 Samuel 1:27) may refer to the Israelite soldiers who had perished in the battle. They probably refer to Saul and Jonathan metaphorically (cf. the metaphorical reference to Jonathan in 2 Samuel 1:19). [Note: See Stanley Gevirtz, "David’s Lament Over Saul and Jonathan," in Patterns in the Early Poetry of Israel, p. 95. For additional studies of this song, see James Kennedy, "David’s Lament over Saul and Jonathan: 2 Samuel 1:19-27," American Journal of Semitic Languages 32 (1916):118-25; William L. Holladay, "Form and Word-Play in David’s Lament over Saul and Jonathan," Vetus Testamentum 20:2 (April 1970):153-89; and William H. Shea, "David’s Lament," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 221 (February 1976):141-44. Gale A. Yee argued that this passage is a parody and was the basis for Isaiah 14:4b-21 in "The Anatomy of Biblical Parody: The Dirge Form in 2 Samuel 1 and Isaiah 14," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 50:4 (October 1988):565-86.]

Even when Saul died, David acted properly toward the Lord’s anointed. This shows his regard for Yahweh’s leadership over Israel. Jonathan would have succeeded Saul on the throne customarily, but now he was dead too. Even though David saw in the deaths of these men the removal of obstacles to his coronation, he did not rejoice. David’s funerary lament over Saul’s death recalls Jesus’ lament over the death of Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37-39).

In the Saul and David narrative just completed (1 Samuel 16 -2 Samuel 1) the importance of the anointed one surfaced many times. To be right before God and to enjoy His blessing, one had to respond properly to His anointed. This always holds true, especially concerning God’s anointed, Jesus Christ. As Yahweh’s anointed David was to lead Israel in its battles. David began doing this with a shepherd’s tools rather than with those of a warrior, showing that he would be an ideal leader. He led as a shepherd. Many in Israel, even the royal family of Saul, as well as many outside the nation (among the Philistines, Amalekites, et al.), recognized that God was bringing blessing to Israel through David. Like the ark, David went into exile in Philistia, but the Philistines sent him back because he was a greater threat than a help. This shows that God had been with David as He had been with the ark.

The major conflict between Saul and David in 1 Samuel 16 through 2 Samuel 1 contains eight sub-conflicts: God’s Spirit left Saul and came upon David at his anointing (ch. 16). Goliath and Saul conflicted with David (1 Samuel 17:1 to 1 Samuel 18:5). Saul conflicted with David and Saul’s household (1 Samuel 18:6 to 1 Samuel 20:42). Saul and Doeg conflicted with David and Israel’s priests (chs. 21-22). Saul conflicted with David in the wilderness (chs. 23-26). Saul and his heirs conflicted with the Philistines (chs. 27-29). The Amalekites conflicted with David (ch. 30). Finally Saul and Jonathan conflicted with the Philistines (1 Samuel 31 -2 Samuel 1).

The basic conflict between Saul and David recalls the one between Samuel and Eli’s sons. Saul was the epitome of what Israel wanted in a king. David, on the other hand, was the youngest son in his family, a shepherd, and even a surprise to Samuel as God’s choice. David became what the ark had been earlier in 1 Samuel: the source of blessing for the godly and of trouble for the ungodly. He was largely the fulfillment of Hannah’s desire for an anointed one (1 Samuel 2:10). [Note: Martin, pp. 39-40.]

Both Samuel (1 Samuel 7) and David (1 Samuel 17:1 to 1 Samuel 18:5) defeated the Philistines who had no regard for Yahweh, though they did acknowledge His power. In contrast, Saul was never able to do so except with Jonathan’s help. Only those deeply committed to Yahweh could overcome His enemies (cf. Mark 9:14-29).

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/2-samuel-1.html. 2012.
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