The Word Made Fresh
1After Saul died David returned to Ziklag from the slaughter of the Amalekites. 2On the third day after his return a man came from Saul’s army. His clothing was torn and he had put dust on his head. He fell to the ground in front of David and bowed before him. 3“Where have you come from?” David asked.
“I have escaped from the Israelite camp,” the man said.
4“Tell me what happened,” said David.
“The men ran from the battle,” he said, “and many of them were killed. Saul and his son Jonathan are both dead.”
5David asked him, “How do you know that both Saul and Jonathan were killed?”
6The young man replied, “I was on Mt. Gilboa. Saul was leaning on his spear. The enemy chariots and riders were closing in on him. 7He looked around and saw me and called out to me. I answered him, 8and he asked, ‘Who are you?’ I told him, ‘I am an Amalekite.’ 9He said, ‘Come over here and finish me off. I am all but dead. I’m barely hanging on.’ 10So I stood over him and killed him because it was obvious that he could not last must longer. I took the crown he was wearing and his arm band and have brought them here to you, my lord.”
11Then David tore his clothes and his men with him did the same. 12They wept and mourned for Saul and Jonathan, and had nothing to eat all that day, grieving for the LORD’s army and the people of Israel who had fallen in battle.
13Then David said to the young man who brought the news, “Where are you from?”
He said, “I am the son of a foreigner who lives in Israel. I am an Amalekite.”
14Then David said to him, “And you weren’t afraid to murder the LORD’s anointed one?” 15Then he summoned one of his young men. “Come here,” he said, “and strike him down!” and he did so. 16“You are responsible for your own death,” David said. “You have given testimony against yourself. You admitted that you murdered the LORD’s anointed one!”
17Then David composed a lamentation for Saul and Jonathan, 18and decreed that the people of Judah should be taught his song, “The Bow.” It is recorded in the Book of Jashar.
19“Your grandeur, O Israel, lies murdered on your hills.
Your leader, once mighty, now fallen!
20Do not let it be known in Gath,
Do not shout it in the streets of Ashkelon,
Where the daughters of the Philistines sing,
The daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice.
21May the hillsides of Gilboa have no dew,
Nor rain, nor fertile fields of grains.
On you our mighty leader fell,
The shield of Saul, anointed one, is gone.
22From the blood of the dead,
From the flesh of the strong,
Jonathan’s bow retreated not;
the sword of Saul was wielded well.
23Saul and Jonathan, beloved and hale,
Never apart in life or death,
Swifter even than eagles soar,
Stronger even than lions roar.
24O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul,
Luxurious crimson he gave you to wear,
Golden bangles of gold on your dress.
25Once mighty, now fallen, in battle overtaken.
Jonathan now lies dead on your hills.
26I mourn for you, dear Jonathan, brother,
Greatly beloved were you to me.
Your love for me was unsurpassed,
Greater even than a woman’s love.
27Once mighty, now fallen, Your weapons of war have failed.”
1-10: At Ziklag David receives word that Saul and Jonathan are dead. The messenger who brings the news claims to have killed Saul himself as an act of mercy. We know that is not what happened, but then the man produces Saul’s crown and armlet, so he must have witnessed Saul’s death and plundered the body before the Philistines found it. The messenger apparently knew that Saul and David had been enemies and thought killing Saul would result in David rewarding him. Too bad: if he had simply told what he had seen he might have lived.
11-16: David and his men all mourn for Saul and Jonathan. His men probably are mourning more for Israel’s defeat at the hands of the Philistines. Remarkably, the messenger, evidently not knowing what David has just been doing, tells David that he is an Amalekite, albeit a resident alien in Israel. David orders his execution, and once again, as so often happens, the messenger is killed.
17-27: David composes the first of his psalms to be recorded in the Bible. “The Bow,” it is called. It was recorded in “The Book of Jashar,” which is lost, but the song is reproduced here. “Once mighty, now fallen” is the recurring lament in verses 19, 25, and 27. It is intended to apply to both Jonathan and Saul. (Saul’s other two sons seem to have been completely forgotten, but Ishbaal will soon be crowned as Saul’s successor by Abner, Saul’s general.) Jonathan is especially praised and lamented.
We have noted David’s political skills before, and those skills are on display here. We might imagine that he is really grieving for Jonathan, but for public consumption his lament is focused on Saul primarily. It is a lesson we can benefit from — always find a way to give some credit to your predecessor in any position you might enter no matter how effective they were or what your relationship with them might have been. Even the worst of leaders will have some followers who thought the world of them.