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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

2 Samuel 1

Verses 1-16

DAVID AS KING

2 Samuel 1:1 to 2 Samuel 24:25

David at Hebron (1:1-4:12)

The Report of Saul’s Death (1:1-16)

The setting of this story is the arrival of an Amalekite, against whose tribe David had just conducted a successful expedition (1 Samuel 30). The man reported the raid of the Israelite army, and gave a version of the death of Saul which differs from that in 1 Samuel 31. According to his story, Saul, so exhausted that he leaned upon his spear, could not escape his enemies. He pleaded with the passing Amalekite (instead of with his armorbearer) to slay him. This the Amalekite did, and thus Saul did not perish by his own hand. Because the Amalekite had lifted his hand against the Lord’s anointed king, David ordered that he be executed by his young men.

Some interpreters find here a second version of the story of Saul’s death, but intrinsically there is nothing against the view that both 1 Samuel 31 and 2 Samuel 1 belong to the early tradition. One additional complication arises in 2 Samuel 4, where David declares that he slew the Amalekite with his own hand (2 Samuel 4:10). It is probable that in 2 Samuel 1 we have a fabrication by the Amalekite, who sought to curry favor with David through his report, even bringing Saul’s royal insignia, the "crown" and the "armlet," and thus flatteringly suggesting that David is now rightful king. The statement in 2 Samuel 4:10 can then be understood as carelessness about detail on David’s part or as due to the tendency to take the responsibility for actions ordered of his followers.

We note that the Amalekite described himself as a kind of "resident alien," a "sojourner." This term covered those living in Israel’s land and under Hebrew protection. Such people had not the same rights as the Hebrews, but the various law codes offered them certain benefits and privileges (Exodus 22:21-22; Exodus 23:9; Deuteronomy 14:28-29; Deuteronomy 24:14-15; Deuteronomy 24:19-22). If this was the status of the Amalekite, he was not in the raiding group and may even have been resident in Israel because of some blood feud with his own people. This would explain still more his desire to curry favor with David.

Verses 17-27

David’s Lament (1:17-27)

David composed a death dirge over Saul and Jonathan. This is generally acknowledged, like the Song of Deborah (Judges 5), to be an early example of Hebrew poetry, and there is no reason not to attribute it to David. This would confirm the later tradition which regarded him as the psalmist par excellence. The poem under consideration is said to have been preserved in the "Book of Jashar" (vs. 18), which appears to have been a collection of early Hebrew poetry (see also Joshua 10:12-13). This shows that the Deuteronomic historians and editors had earlier written material on which to draw.

In the poem the victory over Israel is not to be announced in Philistia, lest the Philistine women come out in jubilant procession. Nature is bidden to withhold its blessings; even the deep, which underlies the flat disclike earth and provides its springs, is to stay its bounty, for Saul is dead and his shield lies rusting on the field of battle. David sings of the valor of Saul and Jonathan. They were father and son together in death as in life, their swords and arrows feeding on the fat and blood of those whom they slew. If the Philistine women lead in rejoicing, the Israelite women are summoned to lead in mourning. The poem finishes with special mourning for Jonathan, David’s covenant-brother.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 2 Samuel 1". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/2-samuel-1.html.