New European Commentary

 

About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan


Deeper Commentary

2 Samuel  1:1

It happened after the death of Saul, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites-
Saul was empowered to smite or slaughter the Amalakites (1 Sam. 15:3,7 s.w.), but he didn't completely do this. As often happens, God then passed on the job to another, in this case David. We can see His hand working in similar ways today. This seems to be the idea of Esther 4:14. If she had not saved her people, then God would have pursued another plan to the same end. 

 

And David had stayed two days in Ziklag-
Ziklag was about 90 miles from Gilboa where Saul had been slain (cp. 1 Sam. 27:6). A fast messenger would have taken two or three days to cover that distance with the news. The record has every 'ring of truth' to it in the details. It is this internal, circumstantial evidence which is to me the greatest proof that the Bible is indeed God's inspired word. 

2 Samuel  1:2

it happened on the third day, that behold, a man came out of the camp from Saul-
LXX "From the people of Saul". We wonder whether the man was in fact as he claimed, an Amalekite who had been with Saul. For David had just been fighting the Amalekites (:1), and was near their territory. I wonder if in fact he was a local man who had heard or even guessed the news and had come with his own agendas. The record of Saul's death in 1 Sam. 31 contradicts the story of the Amalekite. But the Biblical record at times describes things as they appear to be. The NT language of demons is another example. However the fact the man had Saul's crown and bracelets (:10) would suggest that he was one of the wandering types who hung around battlefields eager for the spoil.

The three days journey from Gilboa to Ziklag has been noted on :1, but we note that David had travelled with the Philistines almost to Gilboa (1 Sam. 29:1), and had then been sent back to Ziklag, and it had taken them three days to get there (1 Sam. 30:1). The record has every circumstantial evidence of being true.

With his clothes torn and dust upon his head: and so it was, when he came to David, that he fell to the earth, and showed respect-
Literally, he made obeisance, the word being used specifically for worshipping God. He was showing that he accepted David as the new king. We note that all arguments that "Jesus received worship, therefore Jesus is God" are flawed in that the words for Divine worship are also sometimes used about the worship of men; and this is a parade example.

The language here is that of 1 Sam. 4:12, where a Benjamite has the same tokens of mourning when bringing the news of the disastrous defeat of Aphek. I noted above that the man came "from the people of Saul" (LXX). Perhaps he was an Amalekite associated with Saul. See on :4.


2 Samuel  1:3

David said to him, Where do you come from? He said to him, I have escaped out of the camp of Israel-
This suggests the Amalekite was on Israel's side, and I have suggested on :2,4 that he was effectively a Benjamite from Saul's tribe and close to Saul.


2 Samuel  1:4

David said to him, How did it go? Please tell me. He answered, The people have fled from the battle, and many of the people also have fallen and are dead; and Saul and Jonathan his son are dead also-
"Many of the people" (2 Sam. 1:4) is no contradiction with 1 Sam. 31:6, where “all his men” refers to Saul’s immediate body-guard. The report of the bad news here is exactly that of 1 Sam. 4:16, where a Benjamite reports a defeat in the same order: "The rout, the slaughter among the people, the death of the leaders, are mentioned in an ascending climax". This corroborates the suggestion on :2 that this Amalekite was in league with Saul quite closely.


2 Samuel  1:5

David said to the young man who told him, How do you know that Saul and Jonathan his son are dead?-
David is sceptical of the man from the start, but accepts what he says at face value and judges him accordingly.


2 Samuel  1:6

The young man who told him said, As I happened by chance on Mount Gilboa, behold, Saul was leaning on his spear; and behold, the chariots and the horsemen followed hard after him-
'Happening by chance' contradicts his story that he had escaped out of the camp or army of Israel (:3). But David doesn't challenge this obvious contradiction, but rather judges the man according to his own words and claimed positions. Leaning upon his spear meant suicide; the contradiction was that Saul was utterly alone, and hadn't managed to kill himself by leaning upon his spear.


2 Samuel  1:7

When he looked behind him, he saw me, and called to me. I answered, ‘Here I am’-
This contradicts the account of Saul's death in 1 Sam. 31, and is a typical example of how a liar will fabricate details to try to make their story look first hand and credible.

2 Samuel  1:8

He said to me, ‘Who are you?’. I answered him, ‘I am an Amalekite’-
Here we have another internal contradiction within the man's story. If Saul wished to die not at the hands of the uncircumcised, why then would he agree to being slain by an uncircumcised Amalekite.

2 Samuel  1:9

He said to me, ‘Please stand beside me, and kill me; for anguish has taken hold of me, because my life is yet whole in me’-
The man was perhaps aware of how David had spared Saul's life because he believed it was wrong to slay Yahweh's anointed. And so the man creates the story that Saul had all but killed himself by leaning on his own spear (:6), and the Amalekite had just helped him by putting him out of the agony of a bungled suicide. The story lacks credibility.


2 Samuel  1:10

So I stood beside him and killed him, because I was sure that he could not live after that he had fallen. 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-
As noted on :9, the man is trying to say that Saul was going to die anyway after having fallen upon his own spear in suicide (:6). In this case, there was no need to kill him, because Saul was going to die anyway in due course. The man's story is self contradictory. But David doesn't raise any of the obvious contradictions; like the Lord Jesus dealing with untruths told Him, he takes the words at face value and reasons with the man according to his own words. And this is a pattern for us, not to be so obsessed with "truth" that we demonstrate the contradictions in the words of others, but rather taking them at face value and drawing the conclusions from those words. In this case, despite all the contradictions, the man was saying that he had slain Yahweh's anointed, and that was the grounds of condemnation in David's eyes.


2 Samuel  1:11

Then David took hold on his clothes, and tore them; and likewise all the men who were with him-
David accepted that the man's story was true insofar as Saul was dead, with the crown and bracelets being evidence of that.

2 Samuel  1:12

They mourned, wept and fasted until evening, for Saul and for Jonathan his son, and for the people of Yahweh, and for the house of Israel; because they were fallen by the sword-
We enquire why David weeps so sincerely for Saul. I don't believe it was mere theatricism, nor purely politically motivated by a desire to get the house of Saul onside with him in his new kingdom. There was something evidently genuine about his grief.

Ps. 35:14 is David's comment about his grief for Saul both during Saul's life and also at his death: "I behaved myself as though it had been my friend or my brother. I bowed down mourning, as one who mourns his mother". This is one verse which to me is a cameo of the extent of the victory which David won against the mind of the flesh, against our massive tendency to repay sin with sin, bitterness with bitterness, anger with anger. If we take nothing else away from this, please focus your mind on this, and keep the memory: Here David protests his love for the one who was persecuting him (Ps. 35:12) and is reflecting upon his attitude to Saul's death. "As one who mourns for his mother". This is surely one of the most powerful figures that could be employed. Picture a young man of say 24, in a dark blue suit, kneeling down at the graveside of his mother, surrounded by friends and relatives, bowing down heavily in his grief. Or picture a man of 34, 44, 54, hair greying and receding now, bowing himself down heavily. Or even 64, 74, alone in his grief, bowing down heavily to the green turf, muttering words about mum. Perhaps some of us haven't yet experienced this; many have. If you haven't, just imagine it. Surely it brings a lump to your throat. Now it was with this intensity of grief that David mourned the death or sickness of his persecutor. This is a wondrous reflection of his devotion, his true love, his triumph over bitterness and anger, over all the human actions that had been directed against him. The heavy bowing down of the Lord Jesus as he wept over Jerusalem, the city that hated and rejected him, whose leaders slew him, whose people screamed for his blood. David wept for Saul as if he was his friend or brother. Who was David's friend and brother? Surely Jonathan his brother-in-law. But he wept for Saul, David says, as he wept for Jonathan. This is testified to historically by David's lament of 2 Sam. 1. And still David sought out the house of Saul, “that I may shew the kindness of God” unto them (2 Sam. 9:3). It was the experience of Divine kindness that motivated David. As he hoped for fellowship at the King’s table in the future, so David delighted in inviting his former enemies to partake of his table, now he was king (2 Sam. 9:7,11,13). And if we hope to share the Lord’s table in the Kingdom, we must share it with our weaker brethren now. I see in all this such a triumph for David, that a man should reflect the love of God to such an extent, to love in the face of such hatred, to not just love those who loved him.

The choice of a man mourning his mother, rather than a man his son, his father or his sister, was intentional. A man mourns for his mother because of the deep bond he feels now severed, and from feelings of guilt over ingratitude to her, lack of appreciation for her. And this was how David genuinely felt for Saul, despite all Saul's evil against him.

The deep sorrow of the Lord Jesus for Judas and all those who turn away is surely typified here. Right at the bitter end, the Lord still referred to him as His friend (Mt. 26:50), even though a few hours before He had been speaking of how the faithful few were His friends, and how He would give His life for His friends (Jn. 15:13-15). Throughout His ministry, the Lord had spoken of the faithful as His friends (Lk. 14:20; 11:8; 12:4). This was the spirit of the Lord Jesus in His time of dying, this is what enabled Him to  go through the mock trial, the intense degradation, the bitter pain of rejection, without bitterness and the sin of unholy anger. To be like David to Saul, like Paul to Corinth, like Christ to the Jews, like God to us, really is possible. If that's how we can live, we will truly be in the new life.

We must however compare this great love of David for Saul with the many bitter words of imprecation he says about him in his Psalms. See on :23. Perhaps one reason for David's sadness was that he realized that his overhasty prayers had in a way been answered. We really must be careful what we pray for, in case we receive it. Many human relationships include an element of love and hate [hence women remain in physically abusive relationships with men who protest "love" for them], and here David's love finally triumphs over the hate. 


2 Samuel  1:13

David said to the young man who told him, Where are you from? He answered, I am the son of a foreigner, an Amalekite-
LXX "The son of an Amalekite sojourner". The man has already stated he is an Amalekite (:8), so the intention of David's question was not in order to elicit this information. Rather is David implying that it was even more wrong for an uncircumcised Gentile to slay Yahweh's anointed king of Israel.

2 Samuel  1:14

David said to him, How were you not afraid to put forth your hand to destroy Yahweh’s anointed?-
We tend to be particularly judgmental in cases where we ourselves overcame a temptation. David could have used his hand to slay Saul and his own men urged him to do so, and would've done so; but David resisted (the same term for putting forth a hand upon the anointed is used in 1 Sam. 24:6,10; 26:9,11,23). And now he condemns to death a man who had done what he very nearly did, and what his own men wanted to do. And so the strongest condemnation for smokers comes from ex-smokers, and so forth. We need to be aware of this feature of human nature.


2 Samuel  1:15

David called one of the young men and said, Go near, and fall on him. He struck him, so that he died-
David had just slain the Amalekites with extreme brutality, slaying even their children so that none would be left alive to tell others that David's men had slaughtered them. David perhaps felt justified in this by Ex. 17:16, but I consider this was not David at his best. David still had that blood lust in him at this time. His slaying of this Amalekite could have been to demonstrate that he really was in lamentation for Saul's death and was truly sad, and believed that any who slew Yahweh's anointed must die the death. But his motives were surely mixed. He wanted to make a political statement to the house of Saul; and he also had blood lust in him from the recent fight with the Amalekites (:1). Not for nothing was he precluded from building the temple because God considered he had shed too much blood. 

It seems to me that this was an over the top reaction, and yet again betrays a lack of value and meaning attached to the human person. There was no attempt to convert the frightened young man to grace, to the God of Israel. The summary slaying of Rechab and Baanah has some similarities (2 Sam. 4:12). We get the impression this was another example of his wrong attitude to the shedding of blood (1 Chron. 22:8).


2 Samuel  1:16

David said to him, Your blood be on your head; for your mouth has testified against you saying, ‘I have slain Yahweh’s anointed’-
As noted above, the man's story had various points of obvious internal contradiction within it. But David doesn't dwell upon these, although he may imply he considers the man is lying about the details, but rather judges the man according to his words and intentions. This looks forward to how the Lord Jesus will judge according to our words (Lk. 19:22 alludes here), by which men shall be condemned (Mt. 12:37). The need to respect Yahweh's anointed however continues to our day, for we too are anointed, in that we are "in Christ", the anointed one, and anointed (2 Cor. 1:21). This deep respect for all others "in Christ" should impart to relationships "in Christ" an altogether unique quality, a love so unusual that it is enough to convert the world (Jn. 17).

2 Samuel  1:17

David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son-
David is careful to united Saul and Jonathan together; as noted on :12, he mourned "as though it [Saul] had been my friend or my brother" [Jonathan]. 


2 Samuel  1:18

(and he commanded them to teach the children of Judah the song of the bow-
Saul was slain by a bow, and this was to be memorialized in the title. Similarly Ex. 3:1-22 is called "The Bush" in Mk. 12:26. Or the reference may be to Jonathan's fondness for archery (1 Sam. 20:20), and his gift of his own bow to David (1 Sam. 18:4). David and Saul had a highly complex relationship, pointing forward to the complexity of relationship between Christ and Israel. Consider the  way that Jewry initially accepted John's Gospel of Messiah, how soon after the resurrection thousands of the priests who had rejected Christ then accepted him, and how even a few hours before the crucifixion the people shouted out for Jesus of Nazareth to be their Messiah-king. These are some of many hints that there was a complex acceptance-rejection relationship between Israel and Christ. Saul and David likewise had a mutual love and respect for each other. After all Saul had done to David, David's grief at his death in 2 Sam. 1 is deep indeed. David taught all Israel to regularly sing that song of grief for Saul, and his zeal to demonstrate his forgiveness to the house of Saul is outstanding. Saul's sons and family were also involved in the anti-David campaign.  

Behold, it is written in the book of Jashar)-
Literally "the upright", showing how David imputed righteousness to Saul as an upright one. But this book has significantly not been preserved and was not Divinely inspired; because Saul is not ultimately in the book of God's upright ones.


2 Samuel  1:19

Your glory, Israel, is slain on your high places! How the mighty have fallen!-
LXX "Set up a pillar, O Israel, for the slain that died upon thy high places". Or the Hebrew for "glory" is that for "gazelle" and may refer to the swiftness of Jonathan. If the LXX is followed, we see David unafraid to break the spirit of the Mosaic law in Lev. 26:1; just as David at times acted as a Levitical priest when he wasn't one. The reference to "high places" suggests idolatry, and there is the implication in the Psalms written against Saul that he was finally an idolater. The place of his death was therefore appropriate.   


2 Samuel  1:20

Don’t tell it in Gath. Don’t publish it in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph-
But all these things did of course happen (1 Sam. 31:9). We must read this as David's bitter regret that it happened.


2 Samuel  1:21

You mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew nor rain on you, neither fields of offerings-
LXX "Fields of firstfruits".

For there the shield of the mighty was shamefully cast away, The shield of Saul was not anointed with oil-
Shields were anointed with oil before going into battle (Is. 21:5). The idea may be that Saul's shield didn't save him, he perished as if he had not anointed it with oil; but the implication is that his anointing as king of Israel hadn't saved him. He had been rejected, in favour of David. 


2 Samuel  1:22

From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, Jonathan’s bow didn’t turn back. Saul’s sword didn’t return empty-
Jonathan and Saul's " bow... and sword" were used by them in the fateful battle on Gilboa. Does this mean that Jonathan was trusting in his human strength again? Psalm 44, which sounds very much like David's meditation on Israel's defeat on Gilboa, includes the comment: "I (David) will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword  save me" (Ps. 44:6). Or does it mean that although Jonathan gave David / Jesus his human strength, his bow (1 Sam. 18:4), but David gave it back to him, for him to use on his own initiative?

It is possible to Biblically reconstruct the battle of Gilboa, and thus to enter into the pathos of the whole scene yet more fully. Saul and Jonathan did not retreat / turn back, when the rest of Israel did (1 Sam. 31:1). Saul and his sons held their ground, slaying many Philistines. But then Jonathan was wounded by an arrow (the Hebrew word translated "slain" in 2 Sam. 1:19,22,25 means to pierce to death; crucifixion language), as was Saul. Yet they kept on fighting, until they were surrounded on all sides; they died "in the midst  of the battle" (2 Sam. 1:25); they "perished" (2 Sam. 1:27), a Hebrew word also translated 'to have no way to flee'. They tried to flee, eventually throwing down their shields so that they could run faster (2 Sam. 1:21). Eventually Jonathan and his brothers, the cream of Israel, lay slain on Gilboa, and Saul then fell on his sword. 

2 Samuel  1:23

Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives-
LXX "Saul and Jonathan, the beloved and the beautiful". Or, "loving and kindly". Saul had been anything but this, but it is part of love to impute righteousness to a person, to see them positively after their death; and this is why God's love leads to His imputation of righteousness to us, as Rom. 1-8 explains. The sense of this verse in the Hebrew is that "Neither in their lives nor in their death were they divided". But they were deeply divided in their lives. We see here David wishing by all means to impute righteousness to both Saul and Jonathan, even though he had suffered to terribly from Saul. We see here the measure of David. Despite his Psalms of imprecation against Saul, when Saul dies, he shows that in his heart he truly loved Saul and  forgave him to the point of imputing righteousness to him. We must remember that when a man rails against another. The words are indeed sinful, for we shall be judged according to our words. But human nature is so contradictory that within there may also be a core love for the person being abused in hot blood. Thankfully God judges righteously, factoring in all the invisible things of the heart which man cannot; we cannot ultimately judge, and this inability is the reason why we must not judge. 

In their death they were not divided. They were swifter than eagles. They were stronger than lions-
David's lament over Saul and Jonathan is extremely positive, after the spirit of the way in which Christ looks upon his dead saints (cp. God's positive comments on many of the kings after their death). Yet we know that Saul's death was in recompense for his dire apostasy. In that punishment, David observed, he and Jonathan "were not divided". This may suggest that in some sense Jonathan was too closely linked with his father, and was therefore implicated in his punishment. It can be shown that not all Saul's sons died on Gilboa; therefore there was special point to the fact that Jonathan died with his father in that way. David's command that there should be no dew or rain upon the mountains (2 Sam. 1:21) was to be picked up years later by Elijah, when he made the same imprecation against an apostate Israel (1 Kings 17:1). 

Consider the following:
- The description of Jonathan as the son of Saul occurs a massive 23 times; the connection between them is certainly highlighted.
- Jonathan had Gideon as his personal hero. Yet there is ample evidence that Saul too saw Gideon in this light. Does this suggest that in his more spiritual days, Saul successfully imparted his spiritual enthusiasm for Gideon to his son in Sunday school lessons?
- Mephibosheth is called Saul's son (2 Sam. 9:7,10; 19:24), although he was actually Jonathan's son. This suggests that the son was brought up in Saul's house. This certainly does not give the impression that Jonathan separated himself from his father's house.
- Jonathan was commander of the army (1 Sam. 13:2). When he gave "the robe that was upon him" to David (1 Sam. 18:4), he was effectively making David the commander (cp. 2 Chron. 18:9,29). Thus when "Saul set (David) over the men of war" (1 Sam. 18:5), he was tacitly going along with Jonathan's wish, even though by this time he had already heard the women praising David more than himself, and his bitter jealousy against David had already begun (1 Sam. 18:6). This little point simply shows the external unity of action between Saul and Jonathan. 


This closeness in Jonathan's relationship with Saul shows the emotional tangle which Jonathan was in on account of his relationship with David. If we truly love the Lord Jesus Christ, and if we are honest enough to come to terms with the pull of our own natures, we will be going through exactly the same. Our Lord seems to have seen in Jonathan a type of ourselves. In the context of warning us that loyalty to Him would mean confessing him before men and conflict between fathers and sons, he encourages us that not a hair of our head will perish (Mt. 10:30 cp. Lk. 21:18). This is picking up the application of this phrase to Jonathan in 1 Sam. 14:45.

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-
It was those daughters of Israel who had praised David more than they had Saul, and this had been the trigger for Saul's jealousy complex against David. Samuel had warned that Saul would make the daughters of Israel suffer, making them his slavegirls. But here again, David imputes righteousness to Saul, a sign of love. And that is the same outcome of the love of God for us in Christ.

2 Samuel  1:25

How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan is slain on your high places-
See on :22 for a reconstruction of the battle. I suggested on :23 that Jonathan died not at his spiritually best. The reference to his high places could imply that he died at the high places where he performed idolatry. We note the elements of idolatry in the names of his children.


2 Samuel  1:26

I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan. You have been very pleasant to me. Your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women-
"The love of Christ, that passeth knowledge" (Eph. 3:19) is clearly prefigured in David's feelings for Jonathan and the love of David for Jonathan. Despite many passionate relationships with women, experiencing the depth of human closeness more than many, David could sob: Your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women". The Hebrew for " wonderful" has a root meaning 'separate'. This love of Jonathan was separate from all other love David had known.  In this we see perhaps the first Old Testament foretaste of agape  love, love beyond the phileo and eros. Emotionally and spiritually, Jonathan and David went way ahead of their time. David speaks of Jonathan's love in terms of male: female love. He describes him as "the beauty of Israel", "very pleasant hast thou been unto me"; and grammatically, "your love to me..." (2 Sam. 1:26) implies that the lover was female. These two brethren had a spiritual love for each other which totally transcended the gender division. In like manner, our Lord said that male believers could be His sister and mother. We are dealing with high things here. Yet the heights of the David: Jonathan relationship are set down here to challenge us to at least try to touch the sky, however briefly. And when David later wrote of how good and “pleasant” it is for brethren to dwell together in unity (Ps. 133), he surely had the pleasantness of his relationship with Jonathan in mind, and wished it to be shared by all his brethren.

2 Samuel  1:27

How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished!-
"The mighty"- see on 1 Sam. 14:45. David had refused those same "weapons of war" in his victory over Goliath, and he may imply that now Israel were to learn the lesson- and trust in Yahweh rather than weapons. Indeed "the mighty" is the term used for Goliath in 1 Sam. 17:51. It's as if David sees this defeat as a reversal of his victory over Goliath.