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2 Samuel: Chapter 1

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1After the death of Saul, when David had returned from defeating the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag. 2On the third day, a man came from Saul's camp, with his clothes torn and dirt on his head. When he came to David, he fell to the ground and did obeisance. 3David said to him, “Where have you come from?” He said to him, “I have escaped from the camp of Israel.” 4David said to him, “How did things go? Tell me!” He answered, “The army fled from the battle, but also many of the army fell and died; and Saul and his son Jonathan also died.” 5Then David asked the young man who was reporting to him, “How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan died?” 6The young man reporting to him said, “I happened to be on Mount Gilboa; and there was Saul leaning on his spear, while the chariots and the horsemen drew close to him. 7When he looked behind him, he saw me, and called to me. I answered, ‘Here sir.’ 8And he said to me, ‘Who are you?’ I answered him, ‘I am an Amalekite.’ 9He said to me, ‘Come, stand over me and kill me; for convulsions have seized me, and yet my life still lingers.’ 10So I stood over him, and killed him, for I knew that he could not live after he had fallen. I took the crown that was on his head and the armlet that was on his arm, and I have brought them here to my lord.”

11Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them; and all the men who were with him did the same. 12They mourned and wept, and fasted until evening for Saul and for his son Jonathan, and for the army of the LORD and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. 13David said to the young man who had reported to him, “Where do you come from?” He answered, “I am the son of a resident alien, an Amalekite.” 14David said to him, “Were you not afraid to lift your hand to destroy the LORD's anointed?” 15Then David called one of the young men and said, “Come here and strike him down.” So he struck him down and he died. 16David said to him, “Your blood be on your head; for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, ‘I have killed the LORD's anointed.’ ”

17David intoned this lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan. 18(He ordered that The Song of the Bow a Gk Compare 1 Chr 8.33; 9.39: Heb Ish‐bosheth, “man of shame” be taught to the people of Judah; it is written in the Book of Jashar.) He said:19

Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places! How the mighty have 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.


You mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew or rain upon you, nor bounteous fields! a That is Field of Sword‐edges For there the shield of the mighty was defiled, the shield of Saul, anointed with oil no more.


From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back, nor the sword of Saul return empty.


Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely! In life and in 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 with crimson, in luxury, who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.


How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan lies slain upon your high places.

26 I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.


How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished!


a Gk Compare 1 Chr 8.33; 9.39: Heb Ish‐bosheth, “man of shame”

b That is Field of Sword‐edges

Text Commentary view alone

(2 Sam 1:1–27 ) David's Mourning for Saul and Jonathan

Before proceeding to events concerned with the succession to Saul's throne, there is an account of how his death was reported to David, and then his reaction to the loss of Saul and Jonathan. This chapter is a fitting conclusion to the narrative about Saul and David; it is more appropriate to take it with that section than to treat it as the opening chapter of the following section on David's rule in Judah.

The problem here is that vv. 1–16 give an entirely different account of Saul's death to the one read in 1 Sam 31:3–5 . The Amalekite who brought the news to David claims that he killed Saul, and as proof presents the king's crown and armlet to David. There is no suggestion that Saul committed suicide; his ‘leaning on his spear’ (v. 6 ) was no more than an attempt to support himself. Moreover, Saul was overtaken by ‘chariots and horsemen’ (v. 6 ), not ‘archers’ as in 31:3 ; there is no mention of an armour-bearer in this account, and it mentions only Jonathan of the three sons killed. Of the various solutions offered the most likely explanation of the discrepancy is that the Amalekite was lying in order to gain favour with David. This is preferable to the suggestion that this chapter continues the narrative in 1 Sam 31 , but is the result of the combination of literary strands (Grønbaek 1971 ), and also to the view that it is an alternative account emphasizing that Saul's death was the result of divine judgement (Ackroyd 1977 ). If it is accepted that the Amalekite was lying, several features of the narrative fall into place. The Amalekites, as old enemies of Israel, were not trusted; once the messenger is identified as an Amalekite (v. 8 ), only treachery can be expected. He came showing signs of grief, his ‘clothes torn and dirt on his head’, but they may well have been contrived in an attempt to give authenticity to his account. Although he claims to have killed Saul, it is more probable that he went to Mount Gilboa in search of plunder and chanced on Saul's body; he immediately stripped him of his crown and armlet, and then realized that these insignia of kingship would be valuable to David. He saw in this an opportunity to curry the favour of the king-elect (McCarter 1984 ). The messenger describes himself as ‘a resident alien’ (gēr); an Amalekite who was resident was bound by the laws of his adopted community (Lev 24:22 ), and therefore his disregard for the sanctity of ‘the LORD's anointed’ could not go unpunished and he was sentenced to death. Not only does this narrative confirm once again David's respect for YHWH's anointed, but may also have been intended to exonerate David entirely of the events that led to his succession. It also has an apologetic aim, for it explains how David came quite innocently to be in possession of Saul's crown and armlet (McCarter 1984 ).

David's lament in vv. 17–20 , with its very personal expression of his grief over the loss of Jonathan, can be attributed to David himself (cf. Hertzberg 1964; McCarter 1984 ). The introduction in v. 17 contains a difficult phrase, ‘and he said to teach the sons of Judah a bow’, which the NRSV has taken to refer to the lament's title, ‘The Song of the Bow’. Another possibility, having some support in the LXX, is to omit ‘bow’ as an intrusion. The poem was preserved in an anthology known as the Book of Jashar (cf. Josh 10:12–13; 1 Kings 8:12–13 ), and although it is called a lament it does not adhere strictly to the qînâ metre. A kind of refrain, ‘How the mighty have fallen’, occurs in three places (vv. 19, 25, 27 ). After stating that Israel's ‘glory’ has fallen (a reference to Saul, according to McCarter 1984 , to its ‘young men’ according to Hertzberg 1964 ), the poet expresses his wish that the news be kept from the cities of the Philistines to prevent their exultation over Judah (v. 20 ). He then curses Mt. Gilboa (v. 21 ), the scene of defeat, and condemns it to barrenness; it is the place where Saul's shield is left to rust. In turning to Saul and Jonathan (vv. 22–4 ), David extols them as heroes who, although now slain, persevered in battle and had slain the enemy (v. 22 ), for they were strong and swift in battle (v. 23 ). Father and son were joined in death (v. 23 ). Then the women of Israel are called upon to mourn Saul, who had brought them prosperity and luxury (v. 24 ). Before the final refrain in v. 27 , David gives vent to his personal grief for Jonathan (vv. 25b–26 ), and the word ‘love’ echoes once again the covenant of friendship between the two.

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