1 - 10 Message About Saul and Jonathan
1 Now it came about after the death of Saul, when David had returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites, that David remained two days in Ziklag. 2 On the third day, behold, a man came out of the camp from Saul, with his clothes torn and dust on his head. And it came about when he came to David that he fell to the ground and prostrated himself. 3 Then David said to him, “From where do you come?” And he said to him, “I have escaped from the camp of Israel.” 4 David said to him, “How did things go? Please tell me.” And he said, “The people have fled from the battle, and also many of the people have fallen and are dead; and Saul and Jonathan his son are dead also.” 5 So David said to the young man who told him, “How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?” 6 The young man who told him said, “By chance I happened to be on Mount Gilboa, and behold, Saul was leaning on his spear. And behold, the chariots and the horsemen pursued him closely. 7 When he looked behind him, he saw me and called to me. And I said, ‘Here I am.’ 8 He said to me, ‘Who are you?’ And I answered him, ‘I am an Amalekite.’ 9 Then he said to me, ‘Please stand beside me and kill me, for agony has seized me because my life still lingers in me.’ 10 So I stood beside him and killed him, because I knew that he could not live after he had fallen. And I took the crown which [was] on his head and the bracelet which [was] on his arm, and I have brought them here to my lord.”
David here is still in the area where the Philistines are in power. He is back in Ziklag two days, after he was sent away by the Philistine princes, except by Achis, as a danger for the battle against Israel. God has used it to free him from his false position. He must have been tense about the outcome of the fight in which he was not allowed to participate. Saul could not wait patiently, David could. He knows that everything is in the hand of the LORD. If God works, He can be quiet. He also does not send a spy to find out how the battle is going.
On the third day of his stay in Ziklag there is a report of the battle. An Amalekite brings him the tidings that Saul and Jonathan died. The man really comes from the fight. He does not pretend. David submits the bearer of the tidings to an interrogation about the facts. He wants certainty. Here David doesn’t know yet that the man who brings him this message is an Amalekite. He seems not to have been in the service of Israel or the Philistines, but an independently operating robber.
David asks several questions. In this way he discovers the true character of the man and he is kept from accepting the kingship prematurely and from the wrong hands.
The Lord Jesus is our Master in everything, even in asking questions. He did not need to ask the people who came to Him questions to find out what his motives were, “for He knew what was in man” (Jn 2:25). The questions He asked were meant to discover man to himself and to bring him to conversion on that level. He also silenced His questioners by His questions.
When David asks about Saul’s death, the Amalekite says that he killed Saul at his request. To justify his deed, he speaks about Saul’s death. In 1 Samuel 31 we read how it really went (1Sam 31:4-5). This Amalekite thinks he pleases David by telling him that his big enemy is dead and that he personally took care of it. But he does not know the heart of David. He has acted completely differently than David has always done.
The man presents it as if he has done a service to Saul by killing him, and at the same time he has done a service to David. As proof that his story is true, he took some jewelry with him. Tragically, Saul has lost the kingdom by saving the king of the Amalekites. Now he has his royal dignity taken away by an Amalekite. The Amalekite offers those to David. It is as if this man offers David the kingdom.
If David had accepted this, he would have accepted his kingship from the hand of an Amalekite. Amalek is a picture of the flesh, used by Satan to fight against God. Accepting the diadem means accepting the kingship. David, however, wants to accept the kingship only from the hand of the LORD his God.
11 - 16 David’s Response to the Message
11 Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them, and [so] also [did] all the men who [were] with him. 12 They mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and his son Jonathan and for the people of the LORD and the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. 13 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.” 14 Then David said to him, “How is it you were not afraid to stretch out your hand to destroy the LORD’s anointed?” 15 And David called one of the young men and said, “Go, cut him down.” So he struck him and he died. 16 David said to him, “Your blood is on your head, for your mouth has testified against you, saying, ‘I have killed the LORD’s anointed.’”
The man who can wait is the man who is careful. The crown is within the reach of the hands, but its bringer is not sent by God. The eagerness with which he offers the crown is not in accordance with the spirit of David. Even before his son Solomon wrote it down in Proverbs, David shows the truth of the proverb: “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles” (Pro 24:17). God-fearing people are saddened when sinners suffer misfortune, no matter how much the judgment that strikes sinners may be deserved.
The spirit of grace in David is also the spirit of discernment. David sees in the approach of the Amalekite the approach of the devil, the enemy of souls. He will not be deceived by the dust on the man’s head and his torn clothes and the tribute he receives.
David is here an example of the Lord Jesus. The devil came to the Lord with the offer to give Him all the kingdoms of the earth. All the Lord must do is kneel down before the devil and worship him. Then, without suffering, He will acquire all the kingdoms. The Lord, however, allows Himself to be guided in everything only by the will of His God. He reminds the devil with a word from the Scriptures: “It is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY”‘ (Mt 4:8-10). He wants to accept the kingship only from the hand of His God and in the way He has indicated: through the cross. He waits for the moment when God says to him: “Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, And the [very] ends of the earth as Your possession” (Psa 2:8).
David does not rejoice about the death of Saul. On the contrary, he is mourning about his death. Also “all the men” who are with David react just like him. They have taken over his character, they are formed by him. David and his men weep not only about Saul and Jonathan, but also about the people of the LORD and the house of Israel.
Saul was and is – for even now David still speaks so about him – for David always “the LORD’s anointed”. David himself has never dared and wanted to kill Saul because he always saw Saul as the anointed of the LORD. There is respect for Saul with him. That respect is not there with this man. What this man has done is against the will of the LORD. Instead of taking the kingdom out of the hand of the Amalekite, David kills this enemy. He wants to take the kingdom only from the hand of the LORD.
For this deed the man receives the only ‘reward’ that applies: death. He did not know David’s heart by thinking that he would make him happy with such a message and deed. Maybe we are sometimes so busy that we think we are making the Lord happy, while we have assaulted someone appointed by Him, even if that person deviates so much. In that case, we need to see assaulted in a figurative sense. We can assault someone by always putting him in a bad light. That doesn’t speak well for the deviation, but there are cases where we have to leave such a person to the Lord.
17 - 18 Lament of David as a Teaching Song
17 Then David chanted with this lament over Saul and Jonathan his son, 18 and he told [them] to teach the sons of Judah [the song of] the bow; behold, it is written in the book of Jashar.
David expresses his grief over the death of Saul and Jonathan in a lamentation. Saul has been his most bitter enemy and Jonathan his most dear friend, but in this song of sadness he links them together. By expressing his grief in a song it will also arouse feelings of grief among those who hear it. The fall of the heroes is brought much closer by a song than when it is mentioned as a fact.
The emotion can be expressed better in a song than in a narrative and will therefore have a more powerful effect on the listener. The fact that the song is written down in a book also makes the effect more sustainable. The next generations, “the sons of Judah”, can share in the feelings of the past.
The sons of Judah are the children of his tribe. David has them in the first place in mind. We not only need to know things, we also need to be able to sing about them. Not only happy songs, but also songs that have the character of lamentations. Both kinds of songs can be found in the psalms David wrote.
It is a song about the bow. The Judeans have to learn this song. Moses also taught the people a song (Deu 31:19; 31:22,30). There is teaching in a song: “Teaching and admonishing one another with psalms [and] hymns [and] spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16). This song “is written in the book of Jashar” or “the book of the upright”. In that book it is also written that Joshua did the sun and the moon stand still (Jos 10:13). This links the lamentation of David and the victory of Joshua.
However, there is a distinction. What Joshua did seems greater. Yet the demonstration of grace is greater than the demonstration of power. In the sorrow of David we see more of God’s Being than in the stopping of the sun and the moon. In the sorrow of David we see God’s heart; in the standing still of the sun and the moon we see God’s power.
The fact that the song is written in a book means in the first place that the song must be saved for the next generations who have to learn it over and over again. A book has lasting value. To call this book “the book of upright” presupposes that it is in accordance with the righteousness of God. It is a book that belongs to ‘the Upright’, that is God. It can also mean that it is a book in which only true stories are included. Those stories will have had a great moral value. Isn’t the Bible pre-eminently “the Book of Upright”? That is why this song is given a place in the Bible.
The song is called “[the song of] the bow”. Saul had become afraid of the archers (1Sam 31:3). David takes up this thought and teaches the use of the bow to the descendants of Judah – Judah means “praise” – so that they will not be afraid of it. Joseph, too, is besieged by archers, “But his bow remained firm, And his arms were agile, From the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob” (Gen 49:23-24).
The song of the bow teaches us how to guard ourselves against the arrows of the archers and how to handle the bow ourselves. When it is about the bow in the hands of the enemy, we may know that the bow may be in the hands of the enemy, but that the arrow is controlled by our God.
In the time David is in Ziklag, there are men “who helped [him] in war. They were equipped with bows, … [to shoot] arrows from the bow” (1Chr 12:1-2a). These men, who can handle the bow well, have fled to David and have chosen his side. Whoever becomes prey of the bow must lose. Whoever loses the bow must lose. Saul no longer had a bow, but Joseph’s bow remained fixed, even when he was attacked by it. Who can handle the bow has the strength to fight.
19 - 27 The Lamentation
19 “Your beauty, O Israel, is slain on your high places!
How have the mighty fallen!
20 “Tell [it] not in Gath,
Proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon,
Or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice,
The daughters of the uncircumcised will exult.
21 “O mountains of Gilboa,
Let not dew or rain be on you, nor fields of offerings;
For there the shield of the mighty was defiled,
The shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.
22 “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.
23 “Saul and Jonathan, beloved and pleasant in their life,
And in their death they were not parted;
They were swifter than eagles,
They were stronger than lions.
24 “O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
Who clothed you luxuriously in scarlet,
Who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.
25 “How have 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 more wonderful
Than the love of women.
27 “How have the mighty fallen,
And the weapons of war perished!”
The song can be divided into three parts or verses. Each part starts with the words “how have the mighty fallen” (verses 19,25,27). The three parts decrease in strength and size. The first part consists of verses 19-24, the second part of verses 25-26 and the third part of verse 27. The first part is about everything that can be said to the praise of the fallen mighty. We hear the deep grief about their death, the price for their braveness, their inseparable love and the qualities of Saul’s government that are to be appreciated. The second part sings of David’s friendship with Jonathan. The third part contains only one last sigh, with which the lamentation silences.
David sings of what Saul was, not what he was not. Saul has been a beauty for Israel (verse 19). David does not adore him, but commemorates the good he has done (1Sam 14:48), ignoring the evil Saul has done.
David does not want the sad news of their death to be known to the enemies of Israel so that they will not rejoice (verse 20). Such joy would increase the grief over the loss that Israel has suffered. Two Philistine cities are mentioned: nearby Gath and far away at the sea Ashkelon. That it is about the joy of the Philistine women is because of the custom that the women celebrate the victory of their people by singing and dancing (cf. 1Sam 18:7). That should not happen with the enemy over the fall of Saul.
We can learn from this that we must be careful how we speak about our brothers who have fallen into the hands of ‘the Philistines’, which are for us the nominal Christians. If we speak ill of such brothers, it will increase the joy of the Philistines. An example of their joy can be seen in the history of Samson, who fell alive into the hands of the Philistines (Jdg 16:23).
David even calls upon nature to mourn along in this for Israel so sad occurrence (verse 21). He wants God to withhold His blessing from the mountains on which the mighty fell, so that they may be a permanent reminder of what has happened here. What a deep respect this shows for the LORD’s anointed. There is no room for bitterness and resentment.
When Saul and Jonathan went to war, it was always with result (verse 22). Both weapons are poetically divided so that Jonathan has the bow and Saul the sword. Jonathan gave his bow to David after David’s victory over Goliath (1Sam 18:4). We don’t know if Jonathan got the bow back from David or if he used another bow in battle, but David will undoubtedly have remembered that special event. Perhaps that is the reason why the descendants of Judah, the tribe of David, have to learn the bow. It means learning to love Him Who is more than David and dedicate everything to Him.
The bow shows the hitting of a goal from a distance, either in an offensive, or in a defensive battle. In any case, a bow presupposes struggle and danger. In the surrender of his bow by Jonathan to David we see the effect of David’s struggle against and victory over Goliath. There is no struggle and no distance, but connectedness in love.
Saul and Jonathan loved each other. Jonathan has always been beloved and pleasant; Saul has been so for as long as he went with Jonathan (verse 23). Jonathan stayed with Saul in his life and so it is in his death. David gives them both a great compliment by attributing to them characteristics that we also find with the throne of God. There we find with the first living being that it is “like a lion” and with the fourth living being that it is “like a flying eagle” (Rev 4:7). The power of the lion and the speed and movability of the eagle (Lam 4:19a) are the main characteristics of the mighty of antiquity.
As in life, so in death the two mighty are not separated. In braveness and courage they were equal to each other. Despite the difference in character and the different basic mindset towards David, Jonathan did not let his father down. The two qualifications “beloved and pleasant” apply above all to Jonathan. Yet they also apply to Saul when we think of his first years of government. In his sadness about Saul’s death, David thinks only of the praiseworthy aspects of his character.
What David brings forward in this song speaks of the value Saul and Jonathan had for Israel (verse 24). They worked for Israel and gave it security and prosperity. He is not talking about all the suffering he personally suffered from Saul, but about the loss that their death means to Israel. As one of Saul’s merits David mentions his contribution to the prosperity of Israel’s daughters. Saul divided the spoils and made his people rich and distinguished. He is therefore a real son of Benjamin (Gen 49:27).
David concludes his lamentation with a personal word about Jonathan (verses 25-26). The distress of which David speaks here is the distress and anxiety of his heart trough sorrow and grief. He feels so much connected with Jonathan that he experiences his great friend’s loss as a distress. These are feelings that we can only understand if we know such a friendship and it comes to an end because our friend dies.
David expresses a great personal grief because of the loss of someone who was more dear to him than anyone else on earth. The comparison with women’s love is to express the deepest connection in their love as friends. It bears witness to a corrupt spirit to think of homosexual love here. It is about a natural love that is different from the love for a woman. It is about the surrender of love and self-denial that were present with Jonathan. It’s about sharing things a woman doesn’t have. It is a unique connection.
The fact that Jonathan stayed with Saul is something David ignores. He thinks only of the good. This also indicates that God wants us to teach to be sad about the loss of men who have been of great significance to His people. The loss of Jonathan is sung in a special and touching way by David. Even with people who do not follow the way of the rejected David – as a picture of the rejected Christ – a special bond is possible. This is possible if there is the deep love for the Lord Jesus.
The final words of the lament (verse 27) are an echo of what he expressed in the preceding verses. It is a final sigh, after which the silence of death remains. It is also a silence to let the song sink in and come to rest inwardly. For us, the silence of death is broken by Him Who conquered death by rising from the dead. He appears among His brethren to celebrate the victory over death.