A. David learns of Saul and Jonathan’s deaths.
1. (1-4) David hears the news in Ziklag.
Now it came to pass after the death of Saul, when David had returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites, and David had stayed two days in Ziklag, on the third day, behold, it happened that a man came from Saul’s camp with his clothes torn and dust on his head. So it was, when he came to David, that he fell to the ground and prostrated himself. And David said to him, “Where have you come from?” So he said to him, “I have escaped from the camp of Israel.” Then David said to him, “How did the matter go? Please tell me.” And he answered, “The people have fled from the battle, many of the people are fallen and dead, and Saul and Jonathan his son are dead also.”
a. After the death of Saul: King Saul and his three sons were killed in battle against the Philistines, dying on the slopes of Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 31:1-8). It was the sad ending of a tragic life, concluding the story of a man who came to the throne humble but left it hardened, bitter against both God and man.
b. When David returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites: Towards the end of 1 Samuel, in despair David left the people of God and allied himself with the Philistines. God prevented a complete alliance and brought David back through heartbreaking circumstances (the Amalekites stole the families and possessions of David and his men). Strengthening himself in God (1 Samuel 30:6), David defeated the Amalekites and brought back everyone and everything.
i. Though David still lived among the Philistines, he was a changed man since his heartbreaking circumstances and since strengthening himself in the LORD.
ii. When David came back triumphantly to Ziklag, he knew a battle between the Philistines and the Israelites had just ended. He certainly was concerned about the outcome of that battle.
c. A man came from Saul’s camp with his clothes torn and dust on his head: David knew this was bad news because the messenger had the traditional expressions of mourning for the dead – clothes torn and dust on his head. Therefore, he immediately reacted with humble mourning.
2. (5-10) The Amalekite’s story.
So David said to the young man who told him, “How do you know that Saul and Jonathan his son are dead?” Then the young man who told him said, “As I happened by chance to be on Mount Gilboa, there was Saul, leaning on his spear; and indeed the chariots and horsemen followed hard after him. Now 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?’ So I answered him, ‘I am an Amalekite.’ He said to me again, ‘Please stand over me and kill me, for anguish has come upon me, but my life still remains in me.’ So I stood over him and killed him, because I was sure that he could not live after he had 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.”
a. As I happened by chance to be on Mount Gilboa: Some commentators wonder if this Amalekite told the truth. He said he “mercifully” ended Saul’s life after the king mortally wounded himself (1 Samuel 31:4). It may be that he merely was the first to come upon Saul’s dead body and he took the royal crown and bracelet to receive a reward from David.
i. “The whole account which this young man gives is a fabrication: in many of the particulars it is grossly self-contradictory. There is no fact in the case but the bringing of the crown, or diadem, and bracelets of Saul; which, as he appears to have been a plunderer of the slain, he found on the field of battle; and he brought them to David, and told the lie of having dispatched Saul merely to ingratiate himself with David.” (Clarke)
ii. We can gather that this was a lie because 1 Samuel 31:5 says that Saul’s armor bearer saw that he was dead.
b. I am an Amalekite: If we do take the Amalekite’s story as true, this is a chilling statement. In a unique war of judgment, God commanded Saul to completely destroy the people of Amalek (1 Samuel 15:2-3). Saul failed to do this – and an Amalekite brought a bitter end to his tragic life.
i. Though the Bible does not specifically say it, Amalek is commonly regarded as an illustration of our fleshly, carnal nature. Consider these ways in which Amalek is similar to our fleshly nature:
· Amalek focused its attack on the tired and weak (Deuteronomy 25:17-18).
· Amalek does not fear God (Deuteronomy 25:17-18).
· God commanded a permanent state of war against Amalek (Exodus 17:16).
· The battle against Amalek is only won in the context of prayer and seeking God (Exodus 17:11).
· God promises to one day completely blot out the remembrance of Amalek (Exodus 17:14).
· Amalek is defeated by God’s servant, Joshua (Exodus 17:13).
· Amalek was once first but will one day be last (Numbers 24:20).
· Amalek allies itself with other enemies in battle against God’s people (Judges 3:13).
ii. Using this picture, we see that Saul’s failure to deal with Amalek when God told him to resulted in ruin, with an Amalekite delivering the death-blow. In the same way, when we fail to deal with the flesh as God prompts us, we can expect that area of the flesh to come back and deliver some deadly strikes.
c. 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: We can easily imagine the Amalekite smiling as he said this, assuming David was delighted that his enemy and rival was dead. Now David could take the royal crown and bracelet and wear them himself.
3. (11-12) David’s reaction: mourning for Saul.
Therefore David took hold of his own clothes and tore them, and so did all the men who were with him. And they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son, for the people of the LORD and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.
a. David took hold of his own clothes and tore them: When David heard of Saul’s death, he mourned. We might have expected celebration at the death of this great enemy and rival, but David mourned.
i. Out of pure jealousy, hatred, spite, and ungodliness, Saul took away David’s family, home, career, security, and the best years of David’s life – and Saul was utterly unrepentant to the end. Yet David mourned and wept and fasted when he learned of Saul’s death.
ii. This contrast powerfully demonstrates that our hatred, bitterness, and unforgiveness are chosen, not imposed on us. As much as Saul did against David, David chose to become better instead of bitter.
b. And so did all the men who were with him: These men had their own reasons to hate Saul, but they followed the example of their leader, David, and answered Saul’s hatred and venom with love.
c. For Saul and for Jonathan… for the people of the LORD and for the house of Israel: David’s sorrow was first for Saul, but it was also for his great and close friend Jonathan. More than that, it was for the people of God as a whole, who were in a dangerous and desperate place in light of the death of the king and the defeat by the Philistines.
i. David heard this life-changing news – the throne of Israel was now vacant, and it seemed that the royal anointing he received some 20 years before might now be fulfilled with the crown set on his head. Nevertheless, David expressed little thought of himself. “His generous soul, oblivious to itself, poured out a flood of the noblest tears man ever shed for Saul, and for Jonathan his son, and for the people of the Lord, and for the house of Israel, because they were fallen by the sword.” (Meyer)
4. (13-16) David executes the Amalekite.
Then David said to the young man who told him, “Where are you from?” And he answered, “I am the son of an alien, an Amalekite.” So David said to him, “How was it you were not afraid to put forth your hand to destroy the LORD’s anointed?” Then David called one of the young men and said, “Go near, and execute him!” And he struck him so that he died. So David said to him, “Your blood is on your own head, for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, ‘I have killed the LORD’s anointed.’”
a. Where are you from? The young Amalekite probably believed that David was preparing to reward him.
b. How was it you were not afraid to put forth your hand to destroy the LORD’s anointed? Despite many opportunities to legitimately defend himself, David refused to reach out and destroy Saul. David knew that since God put Saul on the throne, it was God’s job to end his reign – and woe to the one who puts forth his hand to destroy a God-appointed leader.
c. Go near, and execute him: This shows that David’s grief over Saul was real. He didn’t put on a false display of grief and then secretly honor the man who killed Saul.
d. Your blood is on your own head, for your own mouth has testified against you: There were many factors that might excuse what the Amalekite did and said.
· Saul was in rebellion and hardened against God.
· Saul repeatedly and constantly tried to kill David.
· Saul was already near death.
· Saul asked the Amalekite to kill him.
· It might have been that the Amalekite merely discovered Saul’s dead body.
i. Yet none of these excuses mattered. Except for justified killing in war, self-defense, or lawful criminal execution, it is God’s job to end a life – not ours. This is true of every human life, but it is even truer of the life and ministry of the LORD’s anointed – God is fully able to deal with His servants, even those who only claim to be His servants.
B. David’s lament for Saul and Jonathan.
1. (17-18) Introduction to the Song of the Bow.
Then David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son, and he told them to teach the children of Judah the Song of the Bow; indeed it is written in the Book of Jasher:
a. David lamented with this lamentation: David’s sorrow was sincere and deeply felt. He crafted a song to express the depth of his feeling.
b. The book of Jashar: This book is also mentioned in Joshua 10:13; it evidently contained a collection of early Hebrew poetry.
i. We shouldn’t think that this is a “missing” book of the Bible. It is a completely unjustified leap over logic to say that if the Bible mentions an ancient writing, and if that ancient writing has any material in common with biblical books, that writing is genuinely Scripture and is a “lost” book of the Bible. Our Bibles are complete and completely inspired.
2. (19-27) The Song of the Bow.
“The beauty of Israel is slain on your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!
Tell it not in Gath,
Proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon;
Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,
Lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.
O mountains of Gilboa,
Let there be no dew nor rain upon you,
Nor fields of offerings.
For the shield of the mighty is cast away there!
The shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.
From the blood of the slain,
From the fat of the mighty,
The bow of Jonathan did not turn back,
And the sword of Saul did not return empty.
Saul and Jonathan were beloved and pleasant in their lives,
And in their death they were not divided;
They were swifter than eagles,
They were stronger than lions.
O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
Who clothed you in scarlet, with luxury;
Who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.
How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle!
Jonathan was slain in your high places.
I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
You have been very pleasant to me;
Your love to me was wonderful,
Surpassing the love of women.
How the mighty have fallen,
And the weapons of war perished!”
a. The beauty of Israel is slain: In this song, David showed the great love and generosity in his heart towards Saul. It showed that David didn’t kill Saul with a sword or in his heart.
· He saw beauty in Saul.
· He wanted no one to rejoice over the death of Saul.
· He wanted everyone to mourn, even the mountains and fields.
· He praised Saul as a mighty warrior.
· He complimented the personality and loyalty of Saul (beloved and pleasant…not divided).
· He called the daughters Israel to mourning and praised the good Saul did for Israel.
i. All this is a powerful testimony of how David kept his heart free from bitterness, even when he was greatly wronged and sinned against. David fulfilled 1 Corinthians 13:5: love thinks no evil. David knew the principle of 1 Peter 4:8: And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”
ii. David could do this because of his great trust in God and God’s power. He knew that God was in charge of his life, and that even if Saul meant it for evil, God could use it for good.
iii. “Such a magnanimous attitude on the part of one who had suffered so much at Saul’s hand is incomprehensible apart from a deep commitment to the Lord.” (Baldwin)
b. How the mighty have fallen: David doesn’t say it, but we understand that Saul fell long before this. He fell when he hardened his heart against God, against the word of God through the prophet, and against the man after God’s own heart. Saul’s death on Gilboa was the sad conclusion to his prior fall.
c. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan: David’s mourning for Jonathan makes more sense to us. Jonathan was David’s deep friend and partner in serving God.
i. Your love to me was wonderful, surpassing the love of women: Had David followed God’s plan for marriage – to one woman, faithful for a lifetime – he might have found more fulfillment in his marriage relationship. We remember that David’s own experience of love with women was not according to God’s will. His multiple marriages kept him from God’s ideal: one man and one woman in a one-flesh relationship.
ii. There is not the slightest hint that David and Jonathan expressed their love in a sexual way. They had a deep, godly love for each other – but not a sexual love. Our modern age often finds it difficult to believe that love can be deep and real without it having a sexual aspect.
© 2022 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – email@example.com