II Samuel 1
by Mark R. Hudson
Love, Loss, and Lament. I love this chapter for so many reasons. In chapter 31, Saul and his sons are killed by the Philistines on Mt. Gilboa. Well, not exactly. Saul is wounded and about to die. He did not want to suffer at the hands of the Philistines, so he took his own life in 31:4.
Now the narrator in II Samuel 1 takes us to David at Ziklag. David does not know what we know about Saul and Jonathan. A messenger comes from the battle and tells David what happened or the Amalekites version of what happened. The Amalekite shows outward signs of mourning: torn clothes and dirt on his head. His story is spun, timed, and cunningly told so he would receive exaltation, but he received execution. He told David that he escaped, and kept the “best” news for last: your enemy Saul is dead. David is shaken and asks for verification. The Amalekite let’s David know that he acted with the bravest and purest of motives. “Well, he was going to die, and the Philistines were, well you know David, what they would do to Saul. So, I dispatched of him and here: I have his crown and armlet. How do you like that! Now you are the King of Israel!”
David knew his story was probably not accurate but how could he know for sure? Notice verse 11. The narrator interrupts the story to focus on the mourning that David rushes to without delay. This was NOT good news. This is a tragedy. Everything stops and everyone around David stops to mourn. There is so much to mourn about. “And they mourned and wept . . . for Saul and for Jonathan his son and for the people of the Lord and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword” in verse 12. They were to mourn for 1. Saul 2. Jonathan 3. The people of the Lord 4. The house of Israel and 5. How they died – they had fallen by the sword. Grief is complicated.
Then the narration goes back to the probing interrogation of David. David cannot believe this Amalekite could think, let alone do, such a thing. David determines that the Amalekite knew or should have known better since he lived in Israel. Here is David being hunted down by Saul, dodging spear thrown by Saul, and David feels guilty over tearing off a part of Saul’s robe. How can a person do such a thing and then come to David expecting some reward? Reward? You deserve death.
Then David sets aside time to compose a lament. David has lost someone he loves. David had happy times with his King, his father-in-law, the father of the best friend he would ever have, and one who loved deeply. David is burying the offenses of Saul and reminding everyone that he loved Saul.
This is a major blow to Israel. David knows the Philistines are happy over the death of Saul and especially that they killed (or almost so) him. He repeats in v. 19 and 25 this refrain, “How the mighty have fallen.” He will always hate Mt. Gilboa because of their death. David extolls their bravery and courage in v. 22. He reminds people how loyal Jonathan was to his king and Father. These were two mighty men as David recounts in vs. 22 and 23.
Her reminds the people how good they had it when Saul was king in v. 24. This is especially gracious considering how difficult Saul made David’s life. You might think the author is a sycophant the way the poem sounds. Saul was actively trying to kill David and anyone – even priests – who helped David in any way. Saul was looney; David was gracious. But all David speaks about publicly is David’s love for Saul and the great loss for him personally and more importantly the nation.
But David’s deepest lament is for Jonathan. Jonathan is referred to as Saul’s son up to this point. Now David calls him, “my brother Jonathan. Jonathan is a prince. Normally, the son of the king, Jonathan, would have succeeded his father to the throne. But Jonathan was a God-fearing, God-honoring man. He gave up any right to the throne because he heard Samuel’s prophecy about David. There is no indication Jonathan ever balked at supporting David. They experienced a love that is deeper than most friends experience because Jonathan had done so much for David, had given up the throne for David, and put his life on the line for David.
As you might imagine, some see evidence of an erotic homosexual relationship. This is a stretch to put it kindly. Both were married, homosexuality in the Bible is a serious violation of God’s law so they would not have been public about it if they were homosexual, and this is poetry. David and Jonathan experience a love a soldier feels when a fellow soldier saves his life. Jacob Hoffman told our class that he sees a similarity between John the Baptist and Jesus when John exalts in Christ in 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” This is an interesting comparison. In Jonathan’s case he gave up his future claim on the throne for God’s will.
David is crushed by Jonathan’s death. David knew he would never have someone so close, someone he could trust implicitly, and someone who loved God so much. David is focused on his love, his loss, and the lament. His grief is personal but not private.
David is uniting the nation to mourn for these two. There has been enough division, now is the time to come together, focus on our grief, and slow down enough to grieve. No king will ever replace the true King. And no kingdom will ever rival the Kingdom of God. We will have many reasons to grieve in this life and we should encourage others to grieve. But there will come a time when we will only experience joy and bliss when we are in the presence of God.
Father, forgive me when I try to push people into getting past grief and hurry them along. Teach me to allow people time and space to mourn. Help me to value You more than any position I think is my due. May I seek the advancement of others over myself if that is Your will. Thank You that You are our everlasting King that provides us eternal joy. In Christ’s perfect name. Amen.