Dear Friends, after some tiome off during the holidays, we are ready to begin a new study. In our last essay, before the holidays, we finished a study of 1 Samuel. Now we are ready to take up 2 Samuel.
1 Samuel gave us an account of Samuel, the last judge in Israel, and of Saul the first king. 2 Samuel contains the history of David’s reign. The material is paralleled in 1 Chronicles, chapters 11-28; and I will attempt to integrate any additional information from that source into our discussions as we go along.
In 1:1 it appears that Saul’s death took place at about the same time that David defeated the Amalekites. David learned of the death of Saul and Jonathan the third day after he returned to Ziklag following his victory over the Amalekites. The information came, ironically, from an Amalekite (v. 13) who claimed to personally have killed Saul.
Of course this man’s report differs from what the author reported in 1 Sam. 31. Thus the Amalekite undoubtedly was lying. The main evidence is the simple fact that, according to the man’s story, Saul was on the battlefield alone when the Amalekite came by. That would never have happened. A king never would be left alone on a battlefield. The man evidently came upon the bodies of Saul and his armor-bearer soon after their suicides. Then he removed the crown and armlet from Saul’s body and invented the rest of the story, thinking that David would reward him. Being a member of Saul’s army, the man naturally would think David hated Saul as much as Saul hated David. Unfortunately for him, that was not the case.
Whether or not David believed the man’s story about killing Saul can be debated, but he certainly believed that Saul and Jonathan were dead. We see in verses 11-16 that David’s first reaction was to mourn. He tore his clothing as a classic symbol of personal grief and pain. Then he fasted and wept until evening.
After his mourning for Saul and Jonathan, David turned his attention to the Amalekite. If the man was expecting a reward, he was sadly mistaken. David reproached him for his willingness to kill the Lord’s anointed, and ordered the Amalekite killed for having said he killed Saul. I don’t think it mattered to David whether the man had actually done it or not.
In verses 17-27 we see that David felt so strongly about the loss of Saul and Jonathan that he wrote a lamentation in their honor. He entitled it “The song of the Bow.” In addition he decreed that the people of Judah learn the song. At the time 1 and 2 Samuel were written the poem could be found in the book of Jashar (v. 18). Jashar means “righteous.” This book also is mentioned in Joshua 10:13. It apparently contained a collection of early poetry that commemorated significant events.
The poem has three stanzas. Each verse contains the phrase, “How the mighty have fallen,” with the last two beginning with that phrase. The poem begins with a declaration that the “glory” of Israel lay slain. Of course that is a reference to Saul and Jonathan. And then comes the refrain, “How the mighty have fallen” (v. 19).
Next, David laments the idea of the Philistines rejoicing in Saul’s death (v. 20). Following that he places a symbolic curse on Mt. Gilboa as the place where the shield of Saul was defiled by his own blood (v. 21). Then David remembers the victories of Saul and Jonathan (v. 22). The bow of Jonathan and the sword of Saul “did not return empty.” That is, they consistently were victorious. The reference to the bow of Jonathan presumably inspired the title of the poem, “The Song of the Bow.” Next, David declares the unity of Saul and Jonathan in life and death (v. 23). They both were brave, with the courageous characteristics of eagles and lions. In addition they were loyal to each other in spite of their disagreement over David, though that isn’t mentioned in the poem. Then in verse 24, the last in the opening stanza, David calls on the women of Israel to mourn, because Saul had brought them wealth.
In verses 25 and 26 we find the second stanza. This stanza specifically laments the loss of Jonathan, who had been a loyal friend to David. Notice that verse 25 is similar to verse 19.
The third stanza is verse 27. The refrain is repeated, and then David ends with a final lament, “and the weapons of war perished.” By the weapons of war, he meant not the sword and bow, but Saul and Jonathan.
After David mourned Saul and Jonathan, we see in 2:1-7 that he inquired of the Lord about what he should do next (2:1). The Urim indicated he should go to Hebron in Judah, which he did. Hebron is located in the middle of Judah south of Jerusalem and directly west of the Dead Sea. Once there the tribe of Judah made David their king. Notice that he still would do nothing without the permission of the Lord.
The first act of David as king over Judah was to send messengers to Jabesh-gilead to commend them for burying the bodies of Saul and his sons (4b-7). Jabesh-gilead is located in Gilead on the eastern side of the Jordan. Notice in verse seven, with the announcement that Judah had accepted David as their king, there is an implied invitation that the Jabesh-gileadites do the same.
In 2:8-11 we see that those loyal to Saul, led by his general Abner, were determined to keep the throne in Saul’s family. Saul had a fourth son named Ish-bosheth, or Ishbaal. The NRSV follows the LXX reading, “Ishbaal.” Your translation may have Ish-bosheth, which is the name in the Hebrew.
The town of Mahanaim is located in Gilead on the east side of the Jordan, somewhat south of Jabesh-gilead. There Abner made Ishbaal king over the northern tribes. It appears that Abner was the key figure in all of this. There is no indication that the people elected Ishbaal. This declaration that Ishbaal was king over the northern tribes was quite limited in territory, since the Philistines were occupying the Meggido and Jezreel valleys.
Verses 10 and 11 give the length of reign of both Ishbaal and David before he became king over all Israel. However, there is a problem, because verse 10 informs us that Ishbaal ruled for only two years, whereas verse 11 says that David ruled in Hebron for seven and one-half years. But when we read the succeeding chapters, Ishbaal seems to have ruled until his death, which was just before David became king over all Israel. There could be a copyist error in verse 10. If not, then Ishbaal was not actually made king over the northern tribes until the land taken by the Philistines had been recovered, and that may have taken five years.
Turning to application, I would suggest three things. First, there is a lesson to be learned from the Amalekite in chapter one. He thought lying and deceit would gain him favor with David. Sometimes that works for a while; but in the end, it leads to death. In his case it was physical death. In our cases, it would be spiritual death. Comments?
Second, David’s great respect for the Lord’s anointed is seen once again in his lamentation for Saul and Jonathan. And that is an example for us in that we always should have respect for God and God’s anointed servants.
Finally, third, I want to mention David’s refusal to make a move to Judea without the Lord’s approval (2:1). We much too frequently decide what we want to do, and then we ask God to bless our decision. But David sought the Lord’s will in order to make the correct decision.