2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
Saul and David have been in conflict ever since David killed Goliath and the people shouted, “Saul has slain his thousands, David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7). Saul, in his jealousy, tried to kill David (1 Samuel 18:10-16). Throughout the rest of the book of First Samuel, Saul has viewed David as a threat and has plotted against him.
The situation is quite different with Jonathan, Saul’s son, and Michal, Saul’s daughter. Early on, “the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:1). Michal also loved David, and Saul gave her to David in marriage (1 Samuel 18:17-29). Jonathan interceded for David (1 Samuel 19:1-17) and the two became close friends. They even worked out a secret code by which Jonathan could signal David when Saul was in one of his murderous moods (1 Samuel 20).
David had opportunity to kill Saul, but spared his life twice (1 Samuel 24, 26). But the Lord, because of Saul’s disobedience, decided to take the throne from Saul and give it to David (1 Samuel 28:16-19).
In a climactic battle with the Philistines, Saul’s sons were killed and Saul was badly wounded. Saul committed suicide by falling on his sword to prevent the Philistines making sport of him (1 Samuel 31:1-7)—although that account fails to mention the Amalekite who will claim credit for finishing the job (2 Samuel 1:2-10).
While Saul and his sons were being defeated by the Philistines, David was defeating the Amalekites. When he returned from that battle, he was met by an Amalekite who related news of the battle in which Saul and his sons were killed. He told David that Saul had tried to commit suicide, but had failed. According to this Amalekite, Saul asked him to kill him, which the Amalekite did. The Amalekite reported this to David, presumably in the expectation of a reward for killing Saul and paving the way to the throne for David. However, he failed to understand David’s heart, which grieved at the news of Saul’s death. David had the Amalekite executed because the Amalekite had “slain Yahweh’s anointed” (2 Samuel 1:1-16).
2 SAMUEL 1:1. AFTER THE DEATH OF SAUL, DAVID STAYED IN ZIKLAG
1 It happened after the death of Saul, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites, and David had stayed two days in Ziklag;
While Saul was fighting the Philistines in the north, David was fighting the Amalekites in the south. The distance from Ziklag to Mount Gilboa is over 100 miles (160 km). With this note, the narrator makes it clear that David was far removed from the site of Saul’s death and had nothing to do with his death.
2 SAMUEL 1:17-18. DAVID LAMENTED THIS LAMENTATION
17David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son 18(and he commanded them to teach the children of Judah the song of the bow (Hebrew: qa·set—the bow): behold, it is written in the book of Jashar):
“David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son“ (v. 17). Verses 17-18 are an introduction to the lament proper, which is found in verses 19-27. The first part of David’s lament (verses 19-24) is for both Saul and Jonathan. The second part (verses 25-27) is for Jonathan alone.
“and he commanded them to teach the children of Judah the song of the bow“ (v. 18a). In the original Hebrew, there is no “song of”—just qa·set—the bow. The bow would be the weapon used to launch arrows —the weapon for which Jonathan is known (v. 22b).
David is lamenting the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, and is also leading the nation in mourning. He writes this lamentation, and requires the people of Judah to learn it—rather like a modern-day president ordering all flags to be flown at half-mast—a sign of national mourning.
“behold, it is written in the book of Jashar“ (v. 18b). The Book of Jashar is also mentioned in Joshua 10:13, which speaks of Israel’s victory over the Amorites being recorded in the Book of Jashar. We assume that the Book of Jashar was an account of Israel’s great deeds. We have no other information about it.
2 SAMUEL 1:19-21.YOUR GLORY, O ISRAEL, IS SLAIN
19“Your glory (Hebrew: has·sebi, Israel,
is slain on your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!
20Don’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.
21You mountains of Gilboa,
let there be no dew nor rain on you, neither fields of offerings;
For there the shield of the mighty was vilely cast away,
The shield of Saul was not anointed with oil.
“Your glory (has·sebi), Israel” (v. 19a). has·sebi can be translated “glory” or “beauty” or “splendor” or “gazelle,” and scholars, while agreeing that it refers to Saul and Jonathan, debate its meaning here. It could mean that Saul and Jonathan were the Lord’s glory, which is how the NRSV translates it. But Bergen would translate it gazelle. He says, “The image of a majestic buck, master of the rugged hills of Israel, lying dead in a place of prominence and seeming protection, vividly reflects the tragic reality of Saul’s death” (Bergen, 290).
“is slain on your high places“ (v. 19a). The phrase “high places” is often used in the Old Testament to refer to places of pagan worship (Leviticus 26:30; Numbers 33:52; 1 Kings 3:2-5; 11:4-8; 14:23; 15:14; 22:43; Isaiah 16:12; Jeremiah 48:35). However, here it seems to refer only to Mount Gilboa, the 1700 foot (520 meter) mountain where Saul and Jonathan died. .
“How the mighty have fallen” (v. 19c). Many Israelites died on Mount Gilboa, but David has Saul and Jonathan in mind here. He is lamenting their deaths in particular.
This phrase will be repeated two more times in this lament (vv. 25, 27).
“Don’t tell it in Gath. Don’t publish it in the streets of Ashkelon” (v. 20a). The literary form here is called a bicolon—a common form in Hebrew poetry where a thought (“Don’t tell it in Gath”) is repeated in different words (“don’t publish it in the streets of Ashkelon”). This bicolon form (sometimes tricolon—three parts), rather than the rhyme and meter of English poetry, is characteristic of Hebrew poetry.
Gath and Ashkelon are two of the five major Philistine cities. They are located west and a bit south of Jerusalem. Gath was Goliath’s home (1 Samuel 17:4).
David is asking that news of the deaths of Saul and Jonathan not be announced in Gath or Ashkelon. This is a hopeless cry of grief, however, because the Philistines have already identified the bodies of Saul and his sons. They have “cut off his (Saul’s) head, and stripped off his armor, and sent into the land of the Philistines all around, to carry the news to the house of their idols, and to the people” (1 Samuel 31:8-9).
“lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph” (v. 20b). Another bicolon. This is the reason that David would keep news of the deaths of Saul and Jonathan from the Philistines. He doesn’t want them to rejoice at these deaths.
“You mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew nor rain on you, neither fields of offerings” (v. 21a). David pronounces a curse on Mount Gilboa, where Saul and Jonathan died. He asks that no dew or rain might fall there. He wants the mountain devoid of all life as its punishment for hosting the deaths of Saul and Jonathan.
“For there the shield of the mighty was vilely cast away” (v. 21b). How was Saul’s shield defiled? It might have been Saul’s blood that defiled it—or the touch of a Philistine hand—a royal shield would be a prized piece of booty.
“The shield of Saul was not anointed with oil” (v. 21c). The shield was probably made of leather, which would need to be oiled periodically to prevent drying. Now, with Saul dead, the shield needs no more anointing with oil.
The use of the word “anointed” here reminds us that Saul was the Lord’s anointed, which means that he was set apart for his role as king by the Lord. But he was disobedient, so “Yahweh has torn the kingdom out of your (Saul’s) hand, and given it to your neighbor, even to David” (1 Samuel 28:17). Now the anointing has passed to David, whose actual anointing took place long ago (1 Samuel 16:13).
2 SAMUEL 1:22-24. SAUL AND JONATHAN WERE LOVELY AND PLEASANT
22From 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.
23Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives.
In their death, they were not divided.
They were swifter than eagles.
They were stronger than lions.
24You daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
who clothed you in scarlet delicately,
who put ornaments of gold on your clothing.
“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” (v. 22). Jonathan and Saul did not hesitate to shed the blood or to pierce the fat of the mighty. “Since blood and fat are often paired in sacrificial terminology, David may have imagined the heroes’ valiant feats as an offering to God” (Cartledge, 357).
“Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives. In their death, they were not divided”(v. 23a). This glosses over Saul’s temperament and the lack of complete unity between Saul and Jonathan.
• Saul was, indeed, a big, handsome man, but he was also jealous, petty, full of murderous rages, and a bit mad.
• While loyal to his father, Jonathan also tried to save David from Saul’s anger. He tried to intercede with Saul in David’s behalf (1 Samuel 19:1-17), and sent signals to David to warn him of Saul’s rages (1 Samuel 20).
But Jonathan also did what he could to support his father, and they were together when they died.
“They were swifter than eagles. They were stronger than lions” (v. 23b). The swiftness of eagles is proverbial, as is the strength of lions. An eagle soars high above the water looking for a fish just beneath the surface. Its flight seems slow—lazy—until it spots a fish. Then it dives suddenly and with amazing speed to grab its prey. Lions are also quite swift, albeit for short distances. They grab large prey by the throat in their powerful jaws to kill them by asphyxiation. With smaller prey, one swat of their powerful claw is all that is required.
To say that Saul and Jonathan were swifter than eagles and stronger than lions involves a certain amount of poetic license—appropriate in a funeral lament.
“You daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet delicately, who put ornaments of gold on your clothing” (v. 24). David wanted to insure that the daughters of the Philistines would not rejoice at the deaths of Saul and Jonathan (v. 20). Now he asks the daughters of Israel mourn their deaths.
Saul would not have clothed many Israelite women with crimson and gold. However, his military success paved the way for general economic prosperity that made life better for everyone.
2 SAMUEL 1:25-27. JONATHAN IS SLAIN ON YOUR HIGH PLACES
25How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle!
Jonathan is slain on your high places.
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.
27How are the mighty fallen,
and the weapons of war perished!
“How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle“ (v. 25a). This is the second time we have heard “How are the mighty fallen!” (v. 19c). This time David expands it to include the context of battle.
“Jonathan is slain on your high places” (v. 25b). Verses 19-24 expressed grief for both Saul and Jonathan. Now David narrows the focus to his friend Jonathan. In this context, “high places” refers to Mount Gilboa, where Saul and Jonathan died.
“I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan“ (v. 26a). We read earlier about the friendship of David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 18-20). Their friendship was remarkable in that Jonathan, as Saul’s firstborn, was the presumptive heir to the throne. However, Jonathan recognized that the Lord had chosen David as Saul’s successor, and affirmed his support of David, even offering to become David’s right-hand man (1 Samuel 23:16-18).
Jonathan and David were drawn together to protect David from Saul’s rages. They made a covenant of friendship (1 Samuel 18:1-4), and Jonathan, on more than one occasion, helped David escape death at Saul’s hands (1 Samuel 19:1-7; 20:1-34, 41-42).
“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” (v. 26). As noted above, David and Jonathan were great friends, and David feels Jonathan’s loss terribly.
Some interpreters have suggested that David and Jonathan enjoyed a homosexual relationship, but that constitutes “eisegesis” (reading into the text something that is not found there) instead of “exegesis” (drawing out of the text what is found there). To understand the love between David and Jonathan, one need only read of the deep friendships that exist between men who have shared intense combat for an extended period of time. Stephen Ambrose captured that sentiment exactly in the title of his book, Band of Brothers. David and Jonathan became good friends before Saul turned murderous toward David, but the danger and intrigue that they shared later served to intensify their friendship.
“passing the love of women” (v. 26c). This “may also include mother’s love for her children and that of a wife for her husband” (Anderson).
“How are the mighty fallen“ (v. 27a). This is the third time we have heard, “How are the mighty fallen” (vv. 20, 25). This time David expands it to include, “and the weapons of war perished.”
Jonathan was indeed a mighty warrior. He led a band of a thousand Israelites into the Philistine garrison at Geba and defeated the Philistines there (1 Samuel 13:3). Later, accompanied only by his armor-bearer, he slipped into the Philistine camp at Michmash. They made their presence known to the Philistines, and then proceeded to kill twenty of them, precipitating a great panic. Saul, who had not been aware of Jonathan’s incursion into Philistine territory, saw the Philistine’s panic, joined the battle, and claimed a great victory (1 Samuel 14:1-23).
“and the weapons of war perished” (v. 27b). David is not speaking of swords and spears, but of David and Jonathan.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Baldwin, Joyce G., Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries:1 & 2 Samuel, Vol. 8 (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988)
Bergin, Robert D., The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Samuel, Vol. 7 (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996)
Birch, Bruce C., The New Interpreter’s Bible: Numbers- Samuel, Vol. II (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998)
Brueggemann, Walter, Interpretation Commentary: I and II Samuel (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1973)
Cartledge, Tony W., Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: 1 & 2 Samuel (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys, 2001)
Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993)
Dutcher-Walls, Patricia, in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text. The First Readings: The Old Testament and Acts (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)
Evans, Mary J., New International Biblical Commentary: 1 and 2 Samuel (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2000)
Gehrke, Ralph David, Concordia Commentary: 1 and 2 Samuel (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1968)
Newsome, James D., in Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV—Year B (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993)
Peterson, Eugene H., Westminster Bible Companion: First and Second Samuel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999)
Tsumura, David Toshio, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The First Book of Samuel (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007)
Copyright 2008, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan