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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

2 Samuel 1

Verse 9

2 Samuel 1:9. For anguish is come upon me The word שׁבצ shabatz, signifies an inclosing, or inclosure; and the meaning seems to be, "kill me, because an inclosure, or inclosing part of the enemy, has seized me." See the 6th verse, and Parkhurst on the word. Houbigant renders it, with the Vulgate, tenent me anguistiae: for I am in straits, Because, &c. should, I think, be rendered, though my life is yet whole in me. As this story of the Amalekite is a falsehood, there is less reason to be solicitous, as some of the critics are, to render it consistent; for falsehood is rarely so. The design of the young man was evidently to ingratiate himself with David. There are always numerous strollers who follow camps, and this lad probably was one of them. Their business is pillage and the stripping of the dead: our young Amalekite, it seems, knew his business, and got the start of the Philistines in the pillage of Saul. The serious reader, perhaps, may not think it an observation unworthy of his regard, that an Amalekite now took from Saul's head that crown which he had forfeited by his disobedience in relation to Amalek.

Verse 10

2 Samuel 1:10. I took the crown—and the bracelet This crown, probably, was one of the diadems worn by the eastern monarchs, made of a bandage of white linen, and which might easily be concealed under the helmet of Saul. It is not impossible, that the bracelet might be no part of the regalia of the kingdom of Israel; but merely a thing of value which Saul had about him, and which the stranger thought fit to present with his crown to David; but it seems rather to be mentioned as a royal ornament; and it is as certain, that it has been since used in the east as a badge of power; for when the Calif Caiem Bienrillah granted the investiture of certain dominions to an eastern prince, which his predecessors had possessed, and among the rest, of the city of Bagdat itself, it is said, this ceremony of investiture was performed by the Calif's sending him letters patent, a crown, a chain, and bracelets. See D'Herbelot, p. 541. I do not, however, find, that any of the commentators have considered Saul's bracelet in this light. All the observation which Grotius makes upon it is, that it was an ornament used by men, as well as women of those nations; upon which he cites Numbers 31:50. The ornament, probably, was not so common as we may have been ready to suppose; for, though the word bracelet is frequently to be met with in our translation, the original word in this text occurs at most but in two other places; and as the children of Israel found one or more of these bracelets among the spoils of the Midianites, so they killed at the same time five of their kings. Numbers 31:8. The other place indeed (Isaiah 3:18.) speaks of female ornaments; but, if the word is the same, might not the women of that age wear an ornament, which, from its likeness to one of the ensigns of royalty, might be called by the same name; as in some countries of late, brides have worn an ornament, which has been called a crown, though the word, indisputably long before that time, marked out the chief badge of royal dignity. See Olearius's Travels, p. 238 and Observations, p. 297.

Verse 15

2 Samuel 1:15. And he smote him, that he died Though it be a maxim of the Jewish law, that no man should be condemned out of the mouth of one witness, and that no man's confession should be taken solely against himself; yet Maimonides asserts, that it was the royal prerogative to condemn a man upon the evidence of a single person, or upon the strength of his own confession; and he produces this fact as an instance. See Bishop Patrick. This self-convicted wretch intended to make a merit of his falsehood: but he knew not David; he knew not that a crown would be unwelcome to him, at the price of treason; and that the throne would not tempt him, if to be purchased by parricide. He who himself thrice spared Saul when he had him absolutely in his power, could he forbear punishing the man that boasted of having murdered him?—no: he justly ordered his immediate execution for having slain the Lord's anointed. It is true, he died for a crime which he had not committed; yet well deserved to die, for taking the guilt of it upon him; thus doubly devoted to destruction. David rightly judged, that Saul had no power over his own life, and, consequently, should not have been obeyed in such a command. God and the state had as much right to his life when he was weary of it, as when he most loved it; and further, it behoved David to vindicate his innocence to the world by so public an execution: he might otherwise, perhaps, have been branded with the guilt of employing that wretch to murder his persecutor. Besides this, David had it in view to deter others by this example. He consulted his own safety in this, as Caesar is said, by restoring the statues of Pompey, to have fixed his own. This was a wise lecture to princes, and many of them unquestionably have profited by it. Mr. Saurin, in the second dissertation of his 5th volume, has justified this conduct of David towards the Amalekite, by shewing at large, 1. That the Amalekite deserved death: 2. That David had a right to inflict the punishment of which he had made himself worthy: 3. That no want of formality rendered this rigour unlawful: and, 4. That if the conduct of David towards this murderer be just in itself, it had nothing exceptionable in the motives which led him to it.

REFLECTIONS.—Very different from what the Amalekite expected, was David's reception of his tidings.

1. In the agony of sorrow, he rent his clothes; and all that were with him followed his example; the day is spent in bitter mourning, and they observe a solemn fast until evening. He mourned for Jonathan his friend, but there was hope in his death; he mourned for Saul his enemy, where no hope appeared; and especially over the desolations of Israel, fallen by the sword of the Philistines. Note; (1.) His country's sufferings are a grief to the true patriot's heart. (2.) As a good man loves his enemy whilst alive, he is so far from rejoicing at his fall, that he can weep over his grave.

2. He commands immediate execution on the messenger, who hoped to have received high preferment, but suffers the just reward of his deeds. Thus did David express his own detestation of regicide, and testify the sincerity of his grief.

Verse 17

2 Samuel 1:17. David lamented with this lamentation Let any one but read over this admirable ode, than which there is nothing more elegant and passionate in all antiquity; and he will find the utmost decency and propriety in the concern which David discovers, and the encomiums respectively passed on Saul and Jonathan; nothing but what became the characters of both, and suited the situation of him who penned it. Saul he celebrates for his former victories, his swiftness and strength; and sheds a tear over him for his defeat, and the indignities which were offered to him after his death; which humanity would draw from the eye, even over an enemy, that was otherwise brave, and died fighting for his country; and, what deserves to be mentioned to his honour, without a single reflection upon his past injustice and cruelty towards himself. But as to Jonathan, how just and warm is the grief he manifests! I am distressed for thee, &c.

Verse 18

2 Samuel 1:18. Also he bade them teach the children of Judah the use of the bow Read, says Mr. Locke, the bow; the words, the use of, not being in the original; for that which the sons of Judah were commanded to learn, was not the use of the bow, but the BOW, as it is originally set down; i.e. a song of David's so called; or this song of lamentation over Saul and Jonathan, as says the learned Gregory. Houbigant, Saurin, Dr. Lowth, Dr. Waterland, and many others, are of the same opinion. Houbigant renders the verse thus: Which also he commanded that the children of Judah should learn: this is the song, which is inscribed the bow, in the book of Jasher, or the righteous; a poetical book, long since lost, which had its name, like many other of the Hebrew books, from the first word in it. It is well known too, that the Hebrews gave titles to their sacred hymns, or compositions, alluding to the subject; of which we have sufficient examples in the book of Psalms. Probably this lamentation was called, the bow, either in memory of the slaughter received from the archers of the enemy, 1 Samuel 31:3 or from the bow of Jonathan, of which particular mention is made in the 22nd verse. See Dr. Hunt's note, p. 306 of Lowth's Prelections, 8vo. edit., where a pleasing critique upon this fine poem will be found; which is not only most excellent, but the first piece of the kind that remains among the monuments of antiquity. Scaliger thinks, that the custom of funeral songs passed from the ancient Hebrews to the heathens. Herodotus speaks of those of the Egyptians; and Homer has preserved to us the elegy which Achilles made in honour of Patroclus, and that of Hecuba and Andromache upon Hector. The bursts of sorrow in the poem are so strong, so sudden, so pathetic, so short, so various, so unconnected; no grief was ever painted in such living and lasting colours; and it is one sure sign and beautiful effect of it, that David's heart was so softened and melted by it, as to lose all traces of Saul's cruelty to him. He remembered nothing in him now, but the brave man, the valiant leader, the magnificent prince; the king of God's appointment; his own once-indulgent master; his Michal's and his Jonathan's father.

Verse 19

2 Samuel 1:19. The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places As Jonathan's death touched David the nearest, it was natural that he should be the first object of his lamentation. Beauty or glory of Israel, slain upon thy high places! And to put it out of all doubt that Jonathan is here meant, he varies it in a subsequent verse. Jonathan, slain in thine high places! How are the mighty fallen! "How untimely and lamentably Jonathan; how sadly and shamefully Saul, by his own hand." This death, as it was matter of just reproach upon Saul, he knew would be matter of more triumph with the enemy. He could not bear the thought of this infamy to his country and his king; and therefore he breaks out into that beautiful apostrophe; tell it not in Gath, &c. for of all things grief is most impatient of reproach and mockery. See Lamentations 1:21. Kennicott would render this verse thus: O beauty of Israel! a warrior on thine high places. And he asks, "Can any thing be more worthily conceived, or more happily expressed, than this applause given by David to his dear friend Jonathan,—the ornament and defence?" But how are the mighty fallen! since Saul and Jonathan also are slain in battle. Whoever recollects the preceding history of David, will see the truest nature in his thus breaking forth in the praise of Jonathan only, and that without naming him here at first; and then in his decently lamenting the king and the prince together. And that the first break was thus expressive of Jonathan's praise only, is evident from 2Sa 1:25 where the same words are repeated, and Jonathan's name is expressly mentioned. But how languid and mean are the several translations of this first exclamation at present! The English translation above is, the beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: but whose high places? And then the lamentation couched in the next words, how are the mighty fallen, or slain! is entirely anticipated by the term slain, which is read in the words before them. It seems, therefore, but reasonable, that we should render the word חלל chalal, not as a verb, but as a noun, signifying a warrior; which will give beauty not only to this verse, but to another in this celebrated dirge.

Verse 21

2 Samuel 1:21. Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew, &c.— Dr. Delaney renders this verse thus: Mountains of Gilboa, nor dew nor rain upon you, nor fields of waved offerings; for there the shield of the brave was cast away; the shield of Saul, the weapons of the anointed with oil: and Houbigant thus: Mountains of Gilboa, let no dew descend upon you, nor rain upon you, O ye fertile fields: [such as afford in abundance first-fruits to be offered to God:] For there the shield of the brave was thrown away, the shield of Saul: nor is the anointed of the Lord any more upon thee. Throwing away the shield, was matter of the highest reproach in all the accounts of antiquity; and this, in the practice of so brave a prince as Saul, was an example of terrible consequence, and therefore must not go unreproved, especially in a song which soldiers were to learn. David could not censure Saul. He was his prince and his enemy; the infamy, however, must fall somewhere. Be then the place it happened in, accursed. Poetry justifies this; and I do not scruple to say, that it is the most masterly stroke the art will admit. Here I cannot but observe, with what inimitable address David has conducted this reproach; for at the same time that the mountains are cursed for it, he has contrived to turn it into praise upon Saul: there the shield of the mighty was cast away: no hint by whom. Dr. Delaney, instead of בלי beli, which we render by the periphrasis as though he had not been, reads כלי keli, weapons, as in the last verse; which appears a very ingenious and excellent criticism.

Verse 22

2 Samuel 1:22. From the blood of the slain, &c.— The Hebrew is חללים מדם middam chalalim, which words, as מ mem is allowed by Noldius to signify without, may be thus rendered; without the blood of the warriors, without the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan returned not back. Upon this construction, we see, the warriors and the mighty are strongly connected; or rather, the fat of the mighty, is a beautiful gradation upon the blood of the warriors; just as in Pro 7:26 which should have been rendered, she hath cast down many warriors, and many strong men have been slain by her: for the word חללים chalalim, should not be translated slain, but warriors in both these places. Kennicott.

Verse 23

2 Samuel 1:23. Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives David means in this verse to express the union of Saul and Jonathan by friendship in life, and by the same common fate in death; and he does not by any means appear to design a commendation of the loveliness or excellency of their lives in any other respect. Dr. Lowth, in his poetical paraphrase, has finely expressed the meaning;

Nobile par, quos junxit amor, quos gloria junxit, Unaque nunc fato jungit acerba dies.
Houbigant renders it, Saul and Jonathan, while they lived, were in mutual friendship and love; and even in death they were not separated. The elegant opposition which this version forms, evidently gives it the preference; and we should remark upon this song, as upon the other sacred pieces of Hebrew poetry, that the clauses in it alternately correspond each to the other. Though Jonathan thought differently from Saul in what concerned David, he appears always to have maintained a great friendship with his father, and never to have been wanting in filial duty; and Saul also appears in the general to have lived in great friendship with Jonathan. David proceeds to bestow on them the highest eulogium that can be given to warriors, saying, that they united in their combats the rapidity of the eagle, and the invincible courage of the lion; and as courage is the peculiar property of the lion, the last clause would be better rendered, they are more courageous than lions. See Pro 30:30 and Green's Notes.

Verse 24

2 Samuel 1:24. Ye daughters, of Israel, weep Nothing can be more elegant than this verse: while the warriors of Israel lamented their chiefs, the divine poet calls upon the women of the land to shed their tears over the ashes of princes, whose warlike exploits had so often procured them those ornaments which are perhaps too pleasing to the sex, and had enriched them with the spoils of their enemies. There is nothing for other in the Hebrew, which literally runs thus: Weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with, or in, delights; that is to say, in scarlet, wherewith you are so much delighted. Houbigant renders it, who clothed you in garments shining with purple: and Green, who clothed you in pleasing scarlet. He observes, that the prophet Jeremiah seems to have had his eye on this passage, when he addresses Jerusalem as a beautiful woman, chap. 4: 2 Samuel 1:1.

Verse 25

2 Samuel 1:25. How are the mighty fallen, &c.!— David's grief, as it began with Jonathan, naturally ends with him. It is well known, that we lament ourselves in the loss of our friends, and David was no way solicitous to conceal this circumstance. "It may be the work of fancy; but to me, I own," says Dr. Delaney, "this conclusion of the ode is the strongest picture of grief that I ever perused; to my ear, every line in it is either swelled with sighs, or broken with sobs."—"In the former part of this lamentation," says Mr.

Green, "David celebrates Jonathan as a brave man; in the latter, he laments him as his friend. And in this he does but discharge the obligation to him when dead, which he owed him while living: for the sacred historian acquaints us (1Sa 18:1-5) that Jonathan's friendship for David, however it was cemented afterwards, was first founded on his military merit; that having seen his intrepid behaviour in slaying Goliath, he immediately conceived an affection for him, and solicited his friendship; and from that moment his soul was knit with, or as the word is translated, Gen 44:30 bound up in the soul of David; that Saul no sooner took David home to his court, but Jonathan made a covenant of mutual friendship with him, that they would each love the other as their own souls; and that, upon the ratification of it, Jonathan made him the military present of his robe and his armour."

"Concerning the measure of this ode,—whoever considers, will find it divided into six distinct parts of complaint and lamentation. These parts I take to be so many stanzas, like the strophe; antistrophe, and epode of Pindar; and if so, then the beginnings of six of the verses are plainly pointed out to us. The first stanza contains 2 Samuel 1:19-10.1.20.; the second, 2 Samuel 1:21.; the third, 2 Samuel 1:22.; the fourth, 2 Samuel 1:23.; the fifth, 2Sa 1:24 and half the 25th; and the sixth stanza half the 25th, and the 26th, and 27th verses. Every sentence I take to be a verse, because real grief is short and sententious; and to me, many of these verses plainly demonstrate their own beginnings and endings, without the aid either of unnatural elisions, or those mutilations and divisions of words, with which some critics have defaced some of the best odes of Pindar. That noble exclamation, How are the mighty fallen! with which three stanzas are marked, I take to be the simple dictate of sorrow upon every topic of lamentation. It is therefore, I think, to be considered as a kind of burden to the song"

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 1". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/2-samuel-1.html. 1801-1803.