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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
2 Samuel 1

 

 

Verses 1-16

The Tidings Concerning The Death Of Saul Are Brought To David (2 Samuel 1:1-16).

The theme of the death of Saul continues with a description of how the news was brought to David. It came by means of an Amalekite sojourner who was fighting on the Israelite side and may well have been a member of Saul’s bodyguard and have seen the way in which Saul died. Certainly he appears to have come across the dead corpse of Saul on the battlefield before the Philistines got to him. Thus he was able to seize his crown and jewellery. This gave him the idea that he could concoct a story based on how Saul had died with himself taking the place of the armourbearer, and go to David and benefit by his gratitude. In his eyes David could only be delighted to hear that Saul was dead, and would undoubtedly be grateful to the one who had killed him. That was how Amalekites thought, and he may well have been in the band that had constantly hunted David.

But his tale had too many flaws in it to convince David. David knew that Saul would never have called on a mere sojourner to kill him, and would certainly never have done so because he was in anguish over the battle. That would have been a mark of cowardice, and he knew that Saul was a brave man. Note the contrast with the facts in that Saul had called on his own loyal armourbearer, who would have been a true Yahwist and personal friend, to kill him in honour, and did so because there was no hope and in order to prevent himself, as YHWH’s anointed, from being shamed by the enemy. Such an attitude to Yahwism was typical of Saul. He was a man very taken up with the externals.

The result was that David saw through the man and had him slain for treachery and deceit, and because he had demonstrated his ungodliness in claiming to have committed sacrilege by slaying YHWH’s anointed. He saw him as having sullied the name of YHWH as the Amelekites had always done from the first, and therefore as deserving the same fate.

Analysis.

a And it came about after the death of Saul, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites, and David had abode two days in Ziklag (2 Samuel 1:1).

b It came about on the third day, that, behold, a man came out of the camp from Saul, with his clothes torn, and earth on his head, and so it was, when he came to David, that he fell to the earth, and did obeisance (2 Samuel 1:2).

c And David said to him, “From where are you come?” And he said to him, “Out of the camp of Israel am I escaped” (2 Samuel 1:3).

d And David said to him, “How went the matter? I pray you, tell me.” And he answered, “The people are fled from the battle, and many of the people also are fallen and dead, and Saul and Jonathan his son are dead also (2 Samuel 1:4).

e And David said to the young man who told him, “How do you know that Saul and Jonathan his son are dead?” (2 Samuel 1:5).

f And the young man who told him said, “As I happened by chance on mount Gilboa, behold, Saul was leaning on his spear; and, lo, the chariots and the horsemen followed hard after him, and when he looked behind him, he saw me, and called to me. And I answered, “Here I am” (2 Samuel 1:6-7).

g And he said to me, Who are you?” And I answered him, “I am an Amalekite” (2 Samuel 1:8)

f And he said to me, “Stand, I beg you, beside me, and slay me, for anguish has taken hold of me, because my life is yet whole in me” (2 Samuel 1:9).

e “So I stood beside him, and slew him, because I was sure that he could not live after that he was fallen, and I took the crown that was on his head, and the bracelet that was on his arm, and have brought them here to my lord” (2 Samuel 1:10).

d Then David took hold on his clothes, and tore them, and in a similar manner 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 YHWH, and for the house of Israel, because they were fallen by the sword (2 Samuel 1:11-12).

c And David said to the young man who told him, “From where are you?” And he answered, “I am the son of a sojourner, an Amalekite” (2 Samuel 1:13).

b And David said to him, “How were you not afraid to put forth your hand to destroy YHWH’s anointed?” (2 Samuel 1:14).

a And David called one of the young men, and said, “Go near, and fall on him.” And he smote him, so that he died. And David said to him, “Your blood be on your head, for your mouth has testified against you, saying, “I have slain YHWH’s anointed” (2 Samuel 1:15-16).

Note that in ‘a’ David had returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites, and in the parallel David slays the Amalekite. In ‘b’ the Amalekite arrives dressed in mourning as an escapee from the battle, and in the parallel David chides him with having slain YHWH’s anointed (instead of staying by his side to defend him). In ‘c’ David questions who he is, and in the parallel he questions where he is from. In ‘d’ David learns of the sad news of the battle, and in the parallel he and his men mourn over it. In ‘e’ David asks him how he knows that Saul and Jonathan are dead, and in the parallel he explains (falsely) that Saul died at his hand. In ‘f’ he explains that Saul spoke to him, hard pressed and leaning on his spear, and in the parallel he explains how Saul spoke to him again and asked him to kill him because he could take no more. Centrally in ‘g’ it is brought out that he is an Amalekite.

2 Samuel 1:1

And it came about after the death of Saul, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites, and David had abode two days in Ziklag,’

In preparing for the bad news about the death of Saul and the defeat of Israel the writer first draws attention to the triumph of David over the hosts of the Amalekites, and the fact that he had entered into rest as a result. He was relaxing in Ziklag. Like the success of the men of Jabesh-gilead it was an indication that YHWH was still active and working on behalf of His people even while the heart of Israel was being torn out. While Saul had been seeking to the dead and had consequently perished because of his sin with regard to the Amalekites, David was active through the living God, and had gloriously triumphed over the Amalekites. He was walking in the will of God, and preparing for the time when he would establish Israel securely in YHWH’s inheritance.

This reference to the Amalekites can also be seen as preparation for the arrival of the Amalekite in what follows. In spite of having become a sojourner in Israel the Amalekite reveals himself as little different from his fellows, and as a result suffers the same fate. It was not enough to live among God’s people. He needed to be like God’s people. Without genuine repentance there can only be judgment.

2 Samuel 1:2

It came about on the third day, that, behold, a man came out of the camp from Saul, with his clothes torn, and earth on his head, and so it was, when he came to David, that he fell to the earth, and did obeisance.’

For two days David and his men had been able to relax and enjoy the fruits of victory, but now on the third day something disturbing happened. A man arrived from the camp of Saul over sixty miles away, with his clothes ritually torn and with earth on his head. Both these were symbols of mourning and catastrophe. He clearly brought bad news. And when he was brought before David he fell to the earth and did obeisance. He gave the appearance of a man genuinely distressed. But inwardly he was not so, for he had come hoping for reward and was simply desirous of benefiting by Saul’s death.

2 Samuel 1:3

And David said to him, “From where are you come?” And he said to him, “Out of the camp of Israel am I escaped.”

David then questioned him as to where he had come from, and the man indicated that he had escaped from the camp of Israel. That very description was sufficient to indicate that he was the bearer of bad news.

2 Samuel 1:4

And David said to him, “How went the matter? I pray you, tell me.” And he answered, “The people are fled from the battle, and many of the people also are fallen and dead, and Saul and Jonathan his son are dead also.’

David then asked how the battle had gone, and learned that the men of Israel had fled from the battle and that the king and his heir, Saul and Jonathan, were dead.

2 Samuel 1:5

And David said to the young man who told him, “How do you know that Saul and Jonathan his son are dead?” ’

David was a wise man and had often heard rumours that had finally turned out to be untrue, and so he pressed the man further. How did he know that Saul and Jonathan were dead?

2 Samuel 1:6

And the young man who told him said, “As I happened by chance on mount Gilboa, behold, Saul was leaning on his spear; and, lo, the chariots and the horsemen followed hard after him.’

So the young man, who had clearly, from his seeming knowledge of what Saul had asked of his armourbearer, been nearby when Saul died, decided to embroider the story a little. We know from 31:3 that Saul had been beset by the Philistine archers who had wounded him severely, but the young man wanted the credit for his death and said nothing about that. Instead he invented a tale about his being alone and beset by chariots and horsemen, and thus in desperate straits, leaning on his spear in exhaustion because of his wounds. It never seems to have struck him that David would be sure that in such a situation Saul’s bodyguard would be gathered around him, not leaving him deserted on the battlefield, even if they would not kill him.

2 Samuel 1:7-8

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?” And I answered him, “I am an Amalekite.” ’

He then explained how Saul had spotted him in the midst of battle and had asked who he was, to which he had replied that he was an Amalekite. He was innocently unaware by this that he was betraying his whole deceit to David who knew Saul as well as he knew himself, for David would know that the last thing that Saul would do was request death at the hands of an Amalekite. An Amalekite would, of course, never dream that it was anything but a privilege, but no Israelite would have seen it in that way. They would have considered it as being as bad if not worse than being slain by a Philistine, for to them the Amalekites were an accursed race (Exodus 17:14; Exodus 17:16; Deuteronomy 25:17-19).

2 Samuel 1:9

And he said to me, “Stand, I beg you, beside me, and slay me, for anguish has taken hold of me, because my life is yet whole in me.” ’

The young man then got himself into deeper trouble, for he claimed that Saul had asked for death because of his anguish, and because, while he was wounded, he was not yet dead. But David knew from experience Saul’s courage and grit, and that he would never have given up in this way while his men needed him. He knew that he would have fought bravely to the end. He would have seen it very differently had he been told the true story, for he would have known that the one thing that might have made Saul seek death was the desire to preserve the honour of YHWH by at the last moment avoiding death at the hand of the Philistines, but he would also know that he would have done it at the hands of a trusted Israelite, so that no ‘foreigner’ could slay the anointed of YHWH. Thus David would have seen the holes in the young man’s story.

2 Samuel 1:10

So I stood beside him, and slew him, because I was sure that he could not live after that he was fallen, and I took the crown that was on his head, and the bracelet that was on his arm, and have brought them here to my lord.”

The young man then explained that he had done what Saul had bidden him, and had slain him because he knew that he was mortally wounded, thus compounding his error and deceit. To David his whole story would not have rung true. There was no mention in it of YHWH, and David would have known how, externally at least, one of Saul’s deepest concerns would have been the honour of YHWH. Compare his concern about the eating of blood during an earlier pursuit of the Philistines, which he had treated as so serious that it had halted the chase (1 Samuel 14:33-35). And the honour of YHWH would not have been furthered by his being slain by a member of the accursed race.

The young man then produced Saul’s crown and bracelet, and informed David that he had brought them to him. His intention was clearly that David himself would take the crown and wear it. He was basically offering David the kingship of Israel. We do not know the significance of the bracelet but it was seemingly also a recognised symbol of royalty.

His intention in all this was to receive honour and reward for himself, but what he overlooked was that he was giving himself away, for while he himself thought like an Amalekite, David thought like an Israelite. The question would also immediately have arisen in David’s mind as to why the Amalekite had not at least done something to preserve the honour of the anointed of YHWH. Instead he had clearly been so keen to seize the symbols of royalty that he had given no thought either to helping Saul to escape, or to taking his body from the battlefield so that it would not be defiled by the ‘uncircumcised Philistines’. He was revealing that instead of being loyal and playing his full part in the battle, and honouring his dead king, he had thought only in terms of his own benefit and had failed in his solemn duty. That would not be something that David could easily forgive. The man was a renegade and a deserter.

2 Samuel 1:11-12

Then David took hold on his clothes, and tore them, and in a similar manner 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 YHWH, and for the house of Israel, because they were fallen by the sword.’

However the crown and bracelet were sufficient evidence that Saul was dead, for David knew that he would never have relinquished them while he was still alive. The result was that he and his men went into instant mourning. At the dreadful news that they had heard they ritually tore their clothes as an indication of deep distress, and they began to weep loudly, which was the custom in Israel on receiving news of the death of one who was ‘near and dear’, so much so that professional mourners would often be called in to swell the cries. They also fasted until the evening, a further indication of respect and mourning for the dead (see 31:13). And it was not only for Saul. It was also mourning for the whole of Israel, and especially for their dead in battle, for it was for ‘Saul, and for Jonathan his son, and for the people of YHWH, and for the house of Israel, because they were fallen by the sword.’ Jonathan is presumably mentioned as the heir apparent, as well as because he was David’s particular friend.

The Judicial Enquiry.

What follows appears to be in the form of a judicial enquiry, for in it David formally requests information that he already knows, and the Amalekite gives an equally formal looking reply. What further was asked we are not told, but the Amalekite clearly stuck to his story that it was he who had slain Saul. And although he probably did not realise it he was signing his own death warrant.

2 Samuel 1:13

And David said to the young man who told him, “From where are you?” And he answered, “I am the son of a sojourner, an Amalekite.” ’

We are not told whether this was an immediate continuation of the previous conversation, or whether it occurred after some time interval once the mourning had ceased, but it is quite probably a subsequent conversation and enquiry which took place once David had had time to think over all the facts.

The young man had already made clear that he was an Amalekite (2 Samuel 1:8) so that the only reason for asking the question again would be because it was commencing an official judicial enquiry. Having been brought again before David, he was now being called on officially to identify himself before that enquiry. He was probably quite unaware of the seriousness of his position, and no doubt was even hoping for reward. We can compare this incident to that of Agag before Samuel. He too was brought before his ‘judge’ in a similar way as an Amalekite in 1 Samuel 15:32-33. And there too it was followed by summary execution. We should not therefore see this as a description of the whole of the conversation that took place. We may assume that the young man was given a fair hearing.

“The son of a sojourner.” This indicated that he had been brought up in Israel because his father had come to sojourn (live semi-permanently as a foreigner) among them. It did, however, demonstrate that he should have been aware of the awe and reverence in which the king was held as ‘YHWH’s anointed’. He was thus further condemning himself. The fact that he did not realise it confirms that he had never become a true convert to YHWH.

2 Samuel 1:14

And David said to him, “How were you not afraid to put forth your hand to destroy YHWH’s anointed?” ’

The enquiry being concluded David now prepared to pronounce sentence. He asked him how it was that he had not been afraid to lift up his hand against YHWH’s anointed. The man was being judged on his own words. He could have no complaint.

We know already how unwilling a true worshipper of YHWH would have been to slay someone who was ‘YHWH’s anointed’ and thus wholly sanctified to YHWH. David had constantly been unwilling to do it even when he was being hounded by Saul with a view to his death (1 Samuel 24:6; 1 Samuel 24:10; 1 Samuel 26:9; 1 Samuel 26:11). The guards of Saul had equally been unwilling to do it to the anointed priests of Nob, even at the king’s command, and the king had equally acknowledged their right to do so by his response (1 Samuel 22:17). Even Saul’s own armourbearer had been unwilling to do it in the most extreme of circumstances when begged to do it by Saul himself (1 Samuel 31:4). To claim to have done such a thing was therefore seen as gross sacrilege, and while it may have been forgivable in the case of a complete foreigner, it was not so for a self-confessed long time sojourner.

David no doubt had in mind that the man was a deserter who had failed in his sacred duty and had only had his own interests in mind in the very midst of the battle, and that he had come with a lying story which he had concocted for his own ends (both of which would have been seen as deserving the death penalty in those days). He recognised therefore that he was an out and out rogue. But neither of these charges were fully provable. That did not matter, however, for legally the man was convicting himself out of his own mouth by claiming to have slain the anointed of YHWH. To the enquiry it provided sufficient evidence for the pronouncing of a just verdict. The sentence could only be death.

2 Samuel 1:15

And David called one of the young men, and said, “Go near, and fall on him.” And he smote him, so that he died.’

David then called on one of his young men to carry out the sentence, with the result that the young man smote the Amalekite so that he died. It was an official execution, similar to that of Agag by Samuel (1 Samuel 15:32-33).

2 Samuel 1:16

And David said to him, “Your blood be on your head, for your mouth has testified against you, saying, “I have slain YHWH’s anointed.” ’

David then pronounced over the dead man the official verdict which cleared the enquiry of all guilt in the matter. The man’s blood was on his own head because he had admitted to slaying YHWH’s anointed. There was a certain irony in that Saul had been found guilty by YHWH because he had refused to slay an Amalekite king who had been ‘devoted’ to YHWH under The Ban, and now an Amalekite was being found guilty because he claimed to have slain an anointed king of Israel. God took both matters very seriously indeed.


Verses 1-27

The Thorough Defeat Of Israel And The Death Of Saul (1 Samuel 31:1 -2 Samuel 1:27).

Having initially demonstrated how God’s purposes are moving forward in David, the writer now describes the humiliating defeat and death of Saul, slain by his own hand. It is the darkness before the dawn. But the dawn is clearly in mind. For the following chapters of 2 Samuel were in his eyes simply the continuation of the story. The original writer did not end on a note of anticlimax. That thought simply arises because of the historical accident of the division of the book into two.

SECTION 5. David’s First Taste Of Kingship - The Death Final Disobedience And Of Saul (1 Samuel 27:1 -2 Samuel 1:27).

A). David Rises To Petty Kingship Over Ziklag And Continually Destroys The Amalekites (YHWH’s Enemies) While Saul Proceeds On In Darkness To His Doom (27:1-30:31).

In this subsection David and his Men flee to Gath, while with Samuel dead Saul falls further into error and confides in a spiritist medium because YHWH too has deserted him. David meanwhile becomes a petty king, continually defeats the Amalekites, YHWH’s enemies, and is spared from having to fight against his own people (1 Samuel 27:1 to 1 Samuel 30:31).

Analysis of 1 Samuel 27:1 to 1 Samuel 30:31.

a David leaves his haunts in Judah and goes over Achish of Gath to escape from Saul (1 Samuel 27:1-4).

b David becomes a petty king under Achish and attacks and defeats the Amalekites, slaughtering them and obtaining great booty (1 Samuel 27:5-12).

c David swears loyalty to Achish in view of the invasion of Israel (1 Samuel 28:1-2).

d Saul seeks to consult Samuel through a necromancer and is reminded that he is rejected by YHWH (1 Samuel 28:3-20).

e Saul shares hospitality with a woman condemned by YHWH and goes out into the night (1 Samuel 28:21-25).

d David is accompanying the Philistines and is rejected by them (1 Samuel 29:1-7).

c David swears loyalty to Achish in view of the invasion of Israel and goes out into the day (1 Samuel 29:8-11).

b David finds his kingdom despoiled and attacks and defeats the Amalekites, slaughtering them and obtaining great booty (1 Samuel 30:1-25).

a David shows his gratitude to those who had assisted him among the people of Judah when he was escaping from Saul (1 Samuel 30:26-31).

Note than in ‘a’ David leaves his haunts in Judah and goes over to the Philistines in order to avoid Saul, and in the parallel he send gifts to his friends who had supported him while he was in his haunts in Judah escaping from Saul. In ‘b’ David slaughters the Amalekites, and in the parallel does the same. In ‘c’ David swears loyalty to Achish, and in the parallel does the same. In ‘d’ Saul is with a woman rejected by YHWH and is reminded that he too is rejected by YHWH, and in the parallel David is with the people rejected by YHWH (the Philistines) but is himself rejected by them. In ‘e’ Saul reaches the lowest stage in his fall from YHWH when he enjoys hospitality with a woman rejected by YHWH and goes out into the night.

In some ways the flight of David to Gath appears to conflict with all that has gone before, for up to this point YHWH had always ensured that David remained in Israel/Judah and had protected him there. Indeed when David had previously fled to Gath (1 Samuel 21:10-15), it had resulted in his being humiliated and driven back into Israel, and this fact, combined with the later words of Gad the Prophet (1 Samuel 22:5), suggests that being in Israel/Judah was God’s purpose for him at that time even though he was an outlaw. In this regard it has, indeed, been pointed out that in 1 Samuel 27:1 to 1 Samuel 28:2 there is no mention of God, with the inference being drawn that his action here was also not of God.

On the other hand it is questionable whether this latter fact can really be emphasised for we must bear in mind that we are only talking about fourteen verses, verses which are on the whole the kind where no mention of God was really required, and this is especially so as there are certainly previous passages elsewhere which have also not included the name of God, even when we might have expected it, without it there being especially significant. See for example, 1 Samuel 13:15-23; 1 Samuel 17:1-24; 1 Samuel 17:55 to 1 Samuel 18:9; and especially 1 Samuel 14:47-52. Furthermore we should note that when the account of the stay among the Philistines continues the king of Gath is himself portrayed as swearing by YHWH (1 Samuel 29:6, see also 1 Samuel 27:9), something possibly intended to illustrate the influence that David has had on him, and certainly demonstrating that he recognised YHWH as David’s God and that YHWH was with him there. Thus there is no real indication that the writer sees this as a backward move. Rather he seems to portray it as demonstrating a sensible way of escaping from Saul’s prevarications, while immediately stressing that he finally took up refuge in Ziklag which was a Philistine occupied town of Judah in the Negeb (as he emphasises). So he had not permanently left Israel after all. The only question that does possibly spring to mind in this regard is as to why David did not at this stage ‘enquire of YHWH’ through the ephod. Precedent might suggest that he did in fact do so and that the writer simply does not mention the fact.

Certainly we should note that David would see no difficulty in consulting YHWH when he was in Ziklag (1 Samuel 30:7-8), even though it was outside the current boundaries of Israel (although still in what was part of Israel’s inheritance). On the other hand we might argue that Ziklag had been appropriated from Judah/Simeon (Joshua 15:31; Joshua 19:5) by the Philistines, and could really therefore be seen as an ‘Israelite’ city. This might be seen as confirmed by the fact that the writer emphasises that from that time on Ziklag was seen as belonging to Judah (1 Samuel 27:6). Consider also the fact that many fighting men of Israel came to join up with him there at this point, including men from Benjamin, Judah, Gad and Manasseh (1 Chronicles 12:1-7; 1 Chronicles 12:20-22). They too probably saw it as a haven from Saul and a kind of little Israel where they could be freer to behave as they wished, even though it did give them responsibilities towards a Philistine king, which YHWH would overrule.

We might thus argue that having established his popularity at home in Israel/Judah (apart from with the Ziphites), his rule over a semi-independent Ziklag with its surrounding territories was now intended by God to be the next stage in his training for the kingship, for through his time there he would be able to gain experience of ruling a city and its environs before he was finally faced up with the greater task of ruling Judah, and then all Israel. It is a reminder that God educates His people as and where He will.

That God was with him there comes out quite clearly in the narrative. Firstly in that he was given this convenient semi-independent position, in a place where YHWH could be consulted, and secondly in that he was later prevented from having to fight against his own countrymen, something which would surely have hindered his later rise to kingship. So whether his first move was pleasing to YHWH or not, it is clear that YHWH did not see him as having been grossly disobedient. (And all of us know of situations in which we have to make difficult decisions which have to be based on our own judgment at the time, and which might even be ‘wrong’, with God then acting graciously towards us on the basis of what we have done in all honesty, as He continues to lead us forward).

Furthermore there are good grounds for seeing the writer as deliberately wanting us to contrast this triumphant move into Philistia, along with David being given an honoured position there, with the debacle that had taken place on his previous visit to Gath when he had had to publicly humiliate himself and flee. Then it was clearly being portrayed as a move that he should not have made. Here it can be argued that, as a move that brought him honour and prestige and an opportunity to serve God in destroying the Amalekites, it was clearly of God.

But why should Achish have given Ziklag and its surrounding territories to David? The probable reason must be that it was a part of a suzerainty treaty whereby David was given his own independent city in a spot convenient for raids over the border, on condition that he made such raids and gave to Achish a certain proportion of any booty that he and his men collected. For we must surely recognise that the whole purpose of having David and his army under his umbrella was in order that David might earn his keep by raids over the border, while at the same time being available for any major offensive that had to be made. He would not want to continually provision David and his small tribe while they were idle, and continual raiding was considered to be the sport of kings (2 Samuel 11:1). There appears little doubt that such border raids constantly took place (e.g. 1 Samuel 23:1-6, and compare David’s earlier activities against the Philistines, not all of which can have been related to major invasions - 1 Samuel 18:5; 1 Samuel 18:27; 1 Samuel 20:8) as we would in fact expect in those savage days. This certainly also serves to explain David’s subsequent activities.

SECTION 5 (Continued).

The present division of the book into two parts, simply because the Greek text (in contrast with the Hebrew text which did not contain consonants) of the Book of Samuel (the Septuagint - LXX) required two scrolls, to some extent hides the continuity of this subsection which highlights the death of Saul and Jonathan and David’s great distress and nobility with regard to them. While their deaths were to lead to the final establishment of his kingship they brought him no joy. Rather he wept over them both, and especially over that of Jonathan. We must never forget that David had known Saul extremely well personally and had clearly loved him, and had for a time had that feeling at least partly reciprocated, which was why he had undoubtedly been so puzzled by Saul’s later attitude towards him, and had indeed hoped for a time that he might be able to reverse the situation. It was only when that hope had finally gone that he moved to Philistia. Meanwhile with Jonathan he had shared that love and loyalty which can only be known by two comrades-in-arms. Thus he felt the loss of them both very deeply, especially Jonathan.

It is a sign of the deep spirituality of David that while he had known from his youth, through no choice of his own (see 1 Samuel 16), that he was destined for the kingship, and had been thrust by God, and by his own deep regard for God’s honour, into being the Champion of Israel (see 1 Samuel 17), he had made no push to hurry the situation along, even when Saul had played into his hands. Rather he had patiently waited for God’s time. He had been one of Israel’s most successful field commanders, acting only out of loyalty to both YHWH and Saul, and had later weathered all the misfortunes that had been thrust on him by a jealous and suspicious Saul, without once portraying any particular ambition to take over the kingship by force, although at the same time, in the latter stages, he undoubtedly did seek to prepare the way for that kingship, both through his marriages, and through his behaviour towards the people of Israel and the elders of Judah. But that can be seen as because everything pointed to it as being YHWH’s purpose for him. It was as someone who had had it made quite clear to him by then from every source (Samuel - 16:1, 13; Jonathan - 23:17; Saul - 24:20-21) that he was truly destined to be king.

This picture of him as unwilling to act before God’s time has been consistently drawn throughout the narrative, as was the fact that it arose from his great loyalty to YHWH as his God. That was why he would not act against the one whom God had anointed. The picture therefore of him as a clever and 1saless seeker after power is not one that is ever portrayed in the narrative, even though his undoubted later ambition is never hidden. This latter ambition was, however, consistent with the picture that we have of him as a man driven by YHWH who was aware of his call by YHWH to eventual kingship. Given that sense his subsequent restraint up to this point in time must be seen as quite remarkable.

The death of Saul and his three fighting sons, and the circumstances in which it occurred, was a tragedy for Israel. To many he had been a beloved, and often successful king, and the overwhelming defeat now to be described would leave a large part of Israel under Philistine control, and Saul’s remaining and rather inept son cowering in Mahanaim, reigning over what was left of Israel by permission of his uncle Abner, commander of the forces of Israel (such as they now were). It would, however, also open the way for David’s appointment as King of Judah, for the elders of Judah clearly recognised that with the Philistines in control of central Israel, and Eshbaal (Ishbosheth), Saul’s remaining son, being restricted to Mahanaim, only David and his small but powerful army could provide them with any kind of protection, a decision undoubtedly precipitated by David’s own arrival with his men. It had the additional advantage that his position as vassal to the king of Gath made him acceptable to the Philistines. They had no objection to him reigning as their vassal. (This is really the only explanation as to why they took no measures against him after his appointment). He was thus now vassal king over both Ziklag and Judah, Ziklag from this time on always being seen as a part of Judah.

SECTION 5B). The Death Of Saul And Jonathan (1 Samuel 31:1 -2 Samuel 1:27).

This subsection concentrates on the overwhelming victory of the Philistines over a depleted Saul, and his subsequent death, along with his three fighting sons, on Mount Gilboa, with the concentration undoubtedly on the latter fact. It commences with a very brief description of the battle, and a more detailed description of the deaths of Saul and his sons, and ends with a dirge written by David as he mourns their deaths. Yet even in the midst of the tragedy the writer focuses on two acts of nobility, the first the bravery and loyalty of the men of Jabesh Gilead in daringly rescuing the body of Saul from its ignominious situation of being displayed on the walls of Bethshan (1 Samuel 31:11-13). Even in defeat the Israelites are seen as gaining a kind of victory over the Philistines, who would have no idea where the body had gone. And the second the genuine grief of David concerning the whole event. There is no reason for doubting the genuineness of this latter. He loved Jonathan like his own soul, and his love for Israel could also have resulted in nothing but grief in the light of all that had happened, while the fact that Saul was YHWH’s anointed would in itself have been sufficient to explain his grief over Saul’s death. Thus he would undoubtedly have shared in the grief of all Israel, even though he did recognise what it meant for him. He also appears to reveal himself as having a genuine appreciation of Saul, as in his dirge he calls to mind his nobler characteristics.

Because this subsection comes where it does we tend to see it as focusing on a tragic end as a kind of summary of the book. But that is to misunderstand the situation. The writer did not see it as coming at the end of anything. He saw this final disposal of Saul as bringing about the upward move of David from being petty king of Ziklag and victor over the Amalekites, to being king of Judah, and then of all Israel, and final victor over the Philistines. It was thus a further stepping stone in the onward triumph of YHWH. And even in this defeat YHWH would emphasise that He could not be overlooked (1 Samuel 31:11-13)

Analysis Of The Section.

a The Death Of Saul And Jonathan On Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 31:1-7).

b The Tidings Concerning Saul’s Death And Defeat Are Spread Among The Philistines (1 Samuel 31:8-10).

c The Men Of Jabesh Gilead Arrange For A Decent Burial For Saul’s Body (1 Samuel 31:11-13).

b The Tidings Concerning The Death Of Saul Are Brought To David (2 Samuel 1:1-16).

a David Commemorates The Death Of Saul And Jonathan On Mount Gilboa In A Dirge (2 Samuel 1:17-27).

The centrality in the chiasmus of the deed of the men of Jabesh Gilead will be noted. It was not just added in as an afterthought. It was an indication that while Israel might be down, they were not out.


Verses 17-27

David’s Lamentation Over Saul And Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:17-27).

In this lamentation the writer crowns the life of Saul and leads on into the life of David. As far as the whole book is concerned Saul was an unfortunate but necessary interlude between the lives of two successful YHWH inspired leaders, Samuel, with whom the book began, and David, who throughout the life of Saul has been trained up and prepared for this moment. This lamentation, in which David reveals how highly he valued both Saul and Jonathan, aptly closes off the life of Saul in readiness for David’s triumph. Except to the cynically minded there is really no doubt that David truly admired Saul and saw him as a great king and war-leader in spite of his faults, an assessment which is clearly reflected in the background to the narratives, narratives which have themselves tended to focus in on Saul’s failures through unbelief.

Furthermore humanly speaking David would never have been the king he was (in spite of his failures) without Saul. It was Saul who introduced him to court life. It was Saul who made him a company commander, and at first encouraged and nurtured his military prowess. It was Saul who then constantly persecuted him and hunted him down and threw him in God. And it was those experiences, together with his time as a shepherd, and as a petty king at Ziklag, that honed him for kingship, and firmly established his faith and trust in YHWH and his consideration towards men.

Analysis (which also gives the poem in full prior to looking at the detail).

a And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son, and he bade them teach the children of Judah ‘the bow’, behold, it is written in the book of Jashar,

“Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places!

How are the mighty fallen!” (2 Samuel 1:17-19).

b

Do not tell it in Gath,

Do not publish it in the streets of Ashkelon,

Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,

Lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.” (2 Samuel 1:20).

c

“You mountains of Gilboa,

Let there be no dew nor rain upon you,

Nor fields of offerings,

For there the shield of the mighty was vilely soiled,

The shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.” (2 Samuel 1:21).

d

“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.” (2 Samuel 1:22).

c

“Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives,

And in their death they were not divided,

They were swifter than eagles,

They were stronger than lions.” (2 Samuel 1:23).

b

“You daughters of Israel,

Weep over Saul,

Who clothed you in scarlet delicately,

Who put ornaments of gold on your clothing.” (2 Samuel 1:24).

a

“How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle!

Jonathan is slain on your 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!” (2 Samuel 1:25-27)

Note how in ‘a’ the mighty have fallen, and the same occurs twice in the parallel. In ‘b’ the daughters of the Philistines are hopefully to be prevented from singing about the fall of Saul by keeping the knowledge from them, and in the parallel the daughters of Jerusalem are called on to weep over Saul because of what he had done for them. In ‘c’ there was to be mourning because the shield of the mighty had failed, and in the parallel we have the mighty jointly described both before and after their failure. Centrally in ‘d’ we have a eulogy to Saul and Jonathan.

2 Samuel 1:17

And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son,

The composing of a lamentation over a dead ‘hero’ was a regular practise of those days, for what happened at the time of death was seen as important and it ensured in a small way the ‘survival’ of those spoken of. Through the lamentation they lived on in the memory. It would thus be natural for David, ‘the sweet Psalmist of Israel’ (2 Samuel 23:1), to compose such a lamentation.

The cynical might see it as partly a political ploy in order to win over the hearts of the Israelites, but there really can be no doubt that there is a genuineness in the words that belies such a thought. It is remarkably free from any edge of bitterness, and from that point of view unnecessarily fulsome. It is indeed quite clear from the lamentation that David genuinely admired both Saul and Jonathan and saw them both as great leaders and warriors, and Saul as overall a great king. It reflects what we have seen previously that to David Saul was ‘the anointed of YHWH’ and that nothing that Saul did to him could dim that appreciation, even though to the writer of the book Saul was a fallen hero.

2 Samuel 1:18

And he bade them teach the children of Judah ‘The Bow’, behold, it is written in the book of Jashar,’

It is clear from this that the lamentation was included in the Book of Jashar (literally ‘the book of the upright one’, compare Joshua 10:13) under the title of ‘The Bow’. It would appear that this was a regularly maintained book containing tributes to famous heroes of Israel, in a similar way to that in which cities kept a special roll of those who had brought most honour to their city (compare Isaiah 4:3; Psalms 69:28; Malachi 3:16). That this particular lamentation was given the title of ‘The Bow’ was possibly partly because it was the title already given to it by David in honour of Jonathan the bowman (2 Samuel 1:22), and partly because to the Benjaminites, who were skilled bowmen, (and were the tribe from which Saul and Jonathan came), the bow represented the highest form of weaponry (1 Chronicles 12:2). It was thus a title of martial honour.

2 Samuel 1:19

“Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places!

How are the mighty fallen!

In a moving opening tribute David describes Saul and Jonathan as ‘the glory’ of Israel. They were the ones to whom the nation had looked and who had striven to maintain its glory, security and independence, and they had maintained that position honourably. But now ‘the glory of Israel’ was no more. It was slain on the heights of Israel, the mountains of Gilboa. Those who had once been mighty had fallen, and how they had fallen! It is being made clear that it was a national tragedy.

Note how the phrase ‘how are the mighty fallen’ is used as an inclusio. Compare 2 Samuel 1:27. It also occurs in 2 Samuel 1:25. It weighed heavily on the heart of David, made more poignant by the death of his beloved Jonathan.

2 Samuel 1:20

Do not tell it in Gath,

Do not publish it in the streets of Ashkelon,

Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,

Lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph. “

David was now concerned lest the streets of the Philistine cities be filled with rejoicing women (in contrast with the lamenting women of Israel in 2 Samuel 1:24), for it was then the custom for the womenfolk to unite in order to celebrate the victories of their nation by singing and dancing (compare 1 Samuel 18:6; Exodus 15:20-21). Thus he calls for a blanket on the news and the silencing of the criers in the streets of Gath and Ashkelon, the former the Philistine city with which he was most familiar, and the latter closely associated with it on the coast, possibly also as the city to which Saul’s armour had been taken, for it contained a famous Temple of Ashtoreth. The thought of ‘the daughters of the uncircumcised’ celebrating the death of the anointed of YHWH filled David with abhorrence. He saw it as an act of religious defilement. Note that although YHWH is not mentioned in the lamentation, (it is a eulogy, not a religious song), it nevertheless breathes His presence simply because of David’s love for Him.

2 Samuel 1:21-22

“You mountains of Gilboa,

Let there be no dew nor rain upon you,

Nor fields of offerings,

For there the shield of the mighty was vilely soiled,

The shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.”

He next calls on the mountains of Gilboa to bear the brunt of YHWH’s displeasure at what had happened. They had been the scene of the disaster, and had received the blood, and the cast off weapons, of the heroes. Let them therefore from henceforth not receive rain or dew from the heavens (the absence of which was a sign of God’s displeasure), and let them no longer enjoy the fruitfulness that would result in offerings to YHWH. Let them rather be places of perpetual mourning. For this was the place where the shields of Saul and Jonathan had been soiled with their blood at the height of battle, and unanointed because they were dead (it was a regular practise to oil shields after a battle, in order to remove the grime of battle and preserve the material). How then could such ‘guilty’ soil, produce anything that could be pleasing to YHWH?

“Vilely soiled.” That is, with the blood of the heroes. The verb means to cast away, to abhor, and in the niphal (as here) to defile so as to be fit only to be hated and cast away.

It need hardly be pointed out that this was poetic licence indicating David’s feelings. There was no intention that it actually happen to the literal mountains, although he may have felt like it at the time.

2 Samuel 1:22

“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.”

Centrally in the dirge David now recounts the glory of Saul and Jonathan. They had never returned from battle with their weaponry unused. Rather they would be covered with the blood of those whom they had slain, and with the flesh of the mighty warriors that they had defeated. They never turned back until it was so. They never came back ‘empty’. The description is simply intended to indicate what mighty and intrepid warriors they were.

The descriptions of bow and sword do not mean that Jonathan was essentially only a bowman, although as we know he regularly practised the art. It is simply taking the two principle sophisticated weapons of war and assigning one to each. He may, however, have been looked on as especially adept with the bow, as many Benjaminites were.

2 Samuel 1:23

“Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives,

And in their death they were not divided,

They were swifter than eagles,

They were stronger than lions.”

The thought now turns back to the deaths of the two heroes, paralleling verse 21. They had lived lovely and pleasant lives, especially towards each other (at such a time exceptions could be ignored), and as in life, so in death, they were in full accord and not separated. They, as it were, died together in full harmony. The eulogy then continues. They could be compared with advantage to the most voracious of hunters, the swift eagle and the powerful lion, for they were ‘swifter than eagles, stronger than lions’. The speed of an eagle’s strike was renowned, and the lion was seen as the most ferocious of beasts, but as hunters (of men) Saul and Jonathan outdid them both.

2 Samuel 1:24

“You daughters of Israel,

Weep over Saul,

Who clothed you in scarlet delicately,

Who put ornaments of gold on your clothing.”

In contrast with the rejoicing daughters of the Philistines in 2 Samuel 1:20 David calls on the daughters of Israel to weep over the loss of Saul, reminding them that it was due to his prowess and victories that they had been able to clothe themselves in finery, and be ornamented with gold. It was only the victors who could afford such things for all. They had much to be grateful to Saul for.

2 Samuel 1:25-27

“How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle!

Jonathan is slain on your 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!”

David then closes his dirge off with the same thought with which he had begun, the fall of the mighty (2 Samuel 1:25; 2 Samuel 1:27). He had previously singled out Saul to receive the lamentations of the daughters of Israel, now he singles out Jonathan to receive his own lamentations (an evidence of Davidic authorship). Previously it was ‘the glory of Israel’ who had been slain on the high places (2 Samuel 1:19), now it was specifically Jonathan. And David then goes on to emphasise his own personal distress over Jonathan’s death. It slightly disturbs the balance of the poem but it adequately expresses his own personal grief distress. For the death of his beloved comrade-in-arms had distressed him greatly, and he remembered what a good friend Jonathan had been to him, and especially the love that Jonathan had had for him, that noble love that exceeds that of a woman because it is pure and wholly altruistic. Jonathan had had absolutely nothing to gain by it. It had been freely given. (Again we are not to take it too literally. Some women do love like this as well).

The lamentation then closes with a repetition of the thought of the fall of the mighty already spoken of in 2 Samuel 1:25, and it is paralleled with the idea of their weapons of war being destroyed because there is no further use for them. Those who would have used them have gone. Alternately we might see ‘the weapons of war’ as indicating Saul and Jonathan. The two ideas in fact go together. The whole poem is magnificent, and exalts Saul and Jonathan, as king and crown prince, to the heights. None could now doubt their glory and splendour, and the dreadfulness of what their deaths meant for Israel (although we can add, had not YHWH raised up David to take their place).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 1:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/2-samuel-1.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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