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At the moment when this book opens, the events narrated in 1 Samuel 31:0 were not known to David. At the time of the fatal battle between Saul and the Philistines, David had been engaged in his successful attack upon the Amalekites who had spoiled Ziklag (1 Samuel 30:0) and it was not until two days after his return (2 Samuel 1:2) that the news reached him.
(1) After the death of Saul.—These words are immediately connected with 1 Samuel 31:0, and the following words, “when David was returned,” refer to 1 Samuel 30:0. The two books really form one continuous narrative.
Two days in Ziklag.—The site of Ziklag has not been exactly identified, but it is mentioned in Joshua 19:5 as one of the cities in the extreme south, at first assigned to Judah, but afterwards given to Simeon. It is also spoken of in connection with Beersheba and other places of the south as re-occupied by the Jews on their return from Babylon (Nehemiah 11:28). Its most probable locality is some ten or twelve miles south of beersheba, and nearly equidistant from the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea. It was thus quite four days’ journey from Mount Gilboa. and the messenger who brought the news of the battle must have left the field before David’s return to Ziklag.
(2) On the third day—viz., after David’s return, not the third day after Saul’s death.
Did obeisance.—The following verses show that this was not merely an act of Oriental respect, but was intended as a recognition of David’s rank as having now become king. The messenger, although an Amalekite (2 Samuel 1:8; 2 Samuel 1:13), had earth upon his head and his clothes rent as marks of sorrow for the defeat of David’s people, and the death of their king.
(3) Out of the camp of Israel.—It has been questioned whether this Amalekite had actually been in the army of Israel, and the expression in 2 Samuel 1:6, “As I happened by chance upon Mount Gilboa,” has been cited to show that his presence there was merely accidental, but no one who is not concerned in the matter is likely to stray into the midst of a battle, and the expression “by chance” is better referred to his coming upon Saul when he was wounded. He certainly here claims to have been a part of the “camp of Israel.” He tells David the general facts of the defeat, and the death of Saul and Jonathan, as they really occurred.
(6) Upon mount Gilboa.—The battle appears to have been joined in the plain of Jezreel, but when the Israelites were routed they naturally fled up the mountain range of Gilboa, though apparently much scattered. It was in this straggling flight that the Amalekite happened upon that part of the mountain where Saul was. The true account of the death of Saul is given in 1 Samuel 31:3-6. (See Note on 2 Samuel 1:10.) It is uncertain whether the man saw Saul at all before his death, and it is extremely unlikely that he found him without warriors or armour-bearer, wounded and alone.
(8) An Amalekite.—The Amalekites were hereditary foes of Israel, having attacked them on their first coming out of Egypt (Exodus 17:8-13), and at different times afterwards in the wilderness (Numbers 14:45; Deuteronomy 25:18). During the period of the judges they had also repeatedly joined the foes of Israel (Judges 3:13; Judges 6:3), but some years before this they had been terribly defeated by Saul (1 Samuel 15:4-9). and it is possible that the present messenger may either have attached himself to the army of the conqueror, or have been compelled, according to ancient custom, to serve in its ranks. One of their bands had also just received a severe blow at the hands of David, but of this last attack the Amalekite could not have known.
(9) Anguish is come upon me.—The word for “anguish” occurs only here, and probably does not have either of the meanings given to it in the text and margin of our version. The Rabbis explain it of cramp, others of giddiness, and the ancient versions differ as to its sense. It indicates probably some effect of his wound which incapacitated him for further combat.
(10) Slew him.—This story is inconsistent with that given in 1 Samuel 31:4-5, and was evidently invented by the Amalekite to gain favour with David. At the same time, he is careful not to carry the story too far, and asserts that Saul was only put to death at his own request, and after being mortally wounded. However, he must have been one of the first to find the body of Saul after his death, since he brought his crown and bracelet to David—a primâ facie evidence of the truth of his whole story. The offering of these emblems of royalty shows that the Amalekite recognised David as the future king, a recognition which most of the tribes of Israel were unwilling to make for a long time.
(12) They mourned.—On hearing the tidings of the Amalekite, David and all his people showed the usual Oriental signs of sorrow by rending their clothes, weeping, and fasting. Although David thus heard of the death of his persistent and mortal enemy, and of his own consequent accession to the throne, yet there is not the slightest reason to doubt the reality and earnestness of his mourning. The whole narrative shows that David not only, as a patriotic Israelite, lamented the death of the king, but also felt a personal attachment to Saul, notwithstanding his long and unreasonable hostility. But Saul did not die alone; Jonathan, David’s most cherished friend, fell with him. At the same time, the whole nation over which David was hereafter to reign received a crushing defeat from their foes, and large numbers of his countrymen were slain. It has been well remarked that the only deep mourning for Saul, with the exception of the men of Jabesh-gilead, came from the man whom he had hated and persecuted as long as he lived.
The people of the Lord.—Besides his personal grief, David had both a religious and a patriotic ground for sorrow. The men who had fallen were parts of that Church of God which he so earnestly loved and served, and were also members of the commonwealth of Israel, on whose behalf he ever laboured with patriotic devotion. The LXX., overlooking this distinction, has very unnecessarily changed “people of the Lord” into “people of Judah.”
(14) How wast thou not afraid?—David now turns to the Amalekite. It does not matter whether he fully believed his story or not, the man must be judged by his own account of himself. (See 2 Samuel 1:16.) Regicide was not in David’s eyes merely a political crime; he had showed on more than one occasion of great temptation (1 Samuel 24:6; 1 Samuel 26:9; 1 Samuel 26:11; 1 Samuel 26:16) that he considered taking the life of “the Lord’s anointed” as a religious offence of the greatest magnitude. It was an especially grievous thing for a foreigner and an Amalekite thus to smite him whom God had appointed as the monarch of Israel.
(15) Fall upon him.—All question of David’s authority to pronounce a capital sentence is here quite out of place. The Amalekite had just recognised him as king, and therefore acknowledged his authority. But, besides this, David and his band of 600 outlaws were accustomed to live by the sword, and to defend themselves against Philistines, Amalekites, and other foes as best they could; and here stood before them one, by his own confession, guilty of high treason.
(17) Lamented with this lamentation.—This is the technical expression for a funeral dirge or elegy, such as David also composed on the death of Abner (2 Samuel 3:33-34), and Jeremiah on the death of Josiah (2 Chronicles 35:25). It is the only instance preserved to us (except the few lines on the death of Abner) of David’s secular poetry. “It is one of the finest odes of the Old Testament, full of lofty sentiment, and springing from deep and sanctified emotion, in which, without the slightest allusion to his own relation to the fallen king, David celebrates without envy the bravery and virtues of Saul and his son Jonathan, and bitterly laments their loss.” (Keil.)
(18) The use of the bow.—The words in italics, the use of, are not in the original, and should be omitted. David “bade them teach the children of Judah the bow”: i.e., the following dirge called “the bow,” not merely from the allusion to Jonathan’s bow in 2 Samuel 1:22, but because it is a martial ode, and the bow was one of the chief weapons of the time with which the Benjamites were particularly skilful (1 Chronicles 12:2; 2 Chronicles 14:8; 2 Chronicles 17:17). The word is omitted in the Vatican LXX. He taught this song to “the children of Judah” rather than to all Israel, because for the following seven and a half years, while the memory of Saul was fresh, he reigned only over Judah and Benjamin.
In the book of Jasher.—This book is also referred to in Joshua 10:13, and nothing more is really known about it, although it has been the subject of endless discussion and speculation. It is supposed to have been a collection of songs relating to memorable events and men in the early history of Israel, and it appears that this elegy was included among them.
The song is in two parts, the first relating to both Saul and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:19-24), the second to Jonathan, alone (2 Samuel 1:25-26), each having at the beginning the lament, “How are the mighty fallen !” and the whole closing with the same refrain (2 Samuel 1:27).
(19) The beauty of Israel, in the sense of the glory or ornament of Israel, referring to Saul and Jonathan. The rendering of the Syriac and some commentators, “the gazelle,” as a poetic name for Jonathan, is uncalled for, both because the words are spoken of Saul and Jonathan together, and because there is no evidence elsewhere that Jonathan was so called, nor is there any allusion to him under this figure in the song.
Upon thy high places.—Comp. 2 Samuel 1:21; 2 Samuel 1:25. This line may be considered as the superscription of the whole song.
(20) In Gath . . . in the streets of Askelon.—Two chief cities of the Philistines, poetically put for the whole. In the former David had himself resided (1 Samuel 21:10; 1 Samuel 27:3-4), and in the latter was a famous temple of Venus, which was doubtless “the house of Ashtaroth” (1 Samuel 31:10), where the Philistines put the armour of Saul. “Tell it not in Gath” appears to have become a proverb. (See Micah 1:10.)
Lest the daughters of the Philistines.—It was customary for women to celebrate national deliverances and victories (Exodus 15:21; 1 Samuel 18:6). The word uncircumcised might be applied to the heathen generally, but it so happens that, with the exception of Genesis 34:14, it is used in the historical books only of the Philistines (Judges 14:3; Judges 15:18; 1 Samuel 14:6; 1 Samuel 17:26; 1 Samuel 17:36; 1 Samuel 31:4; 1 Chronicles 10:4).
(21) Nor fields of offerings.—This somewhat obscure expression seems to mean, “Let there not be upon you those fruitful fields from which may be gathered the offerings of first-fruits.” Of course, this malediction upon the mountains of Gilboa is to be understood as it was meant, only in a poetical sense.
Vilely cast away.—Another sense of this word is defiled. The ancient versions, as well as modern commentators, adopt some one, and some the other meaning, either of which is appropriate.
As though he had not been anointed.—This translation follows the Vulg., and makes a good sense = as though Saul had not been a king; but it is more than doubtful if the original can bear this construction. There is no pronoun in the Hebrew, and the word “anointed” refers to the shield, “the shield of Saul not anointed with oil.” It was customary to oil metal shields, as well as those of wood and leather, for their preservation, and the idea here is that Saul’s shield was thrown away uncared for.
(23) Lovely and pleasant.—This applies peculiarly to Jonathan, but also in a good degree to Saul in his earlier years and his better moments, which David chose at this moment to recall. It also applies truthfully to them both in their relations to each other.
(24) Clothed you in scarlet.—This refers to Saul’s division among the people of the spoil of his conquered foes, and to the prosperity resulting from his many successful campaigns. Notwithstanding that his light at last went out under the cloud of a crushing defeat, he had been on the whole a successful warrior. The Philistines, the Ammonites, the Amalekites, and others, had felt the power of his arm, and the relations of Israel to the surrounding nations had been wonderfully changed for the better during his reign.
(26) Passing the love of women.—By this strong expression, comparing Jonathan’s love for David to that of the faithful wife for her husband, David shows his appreciation of that wonderful affection which had existed between Jonathan and himself under the most untoward circumstances. It was such an affection as could only exist between noble natures and those united in the fear of God. In these last verses of the elegy which relate to Jonathan alone, David has given expression to his own personal sorrow.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28