Saturday 23 January 2010

Bible Book:
2 Samuel

Tell it not in Gath..." (v.19-20)

2 Samuel 1:1-27 Saturday 23 January 2010


This passage is the moving conclusion to the tragic story ofDavid, Saul and Jonathan.

Saul and his son Jonathan had been killed in the conclusive battleagainst the Amalekites (1Samuel 31:1-5), and the man who had killed Saul brought thenews - and Saul's crown - to David, perhaps hoping for some reward.David, still regarding Saul as "the Lord's anointed," was overcomewith grief and had Saul's killer put to death. What follows is abeautiful and poetic lamentation for Saul and Jonathan - one of themost moving in world literature.

"The Song of the Bow" was recorded, it appears, in the nowlong-lost Book of Jashar, which makes one wonder what else was lostbefore the Hebrew Bible took its present form. (It gets anothermention in Joshua 10:13.) The recurrent refrain is "Howthe mighty have fallen," a phrase that has found its way intomodern speech, even though very few who use it probably know whereit or any of the song's other memorable phrases, come from.

The effect of the song was to demonstrate David's nobility andhonour - whoever may have written it. His insistence, though, thatSaul was still "the Lord's anointed" is a little at odds with theearlier references to God withdrawing his anointing from Saul andgiving it instead to David. There is certainly evidence in 1 and 2Samuel that more than one tradition has been woven together - thefollowing chapters of 2 Samuel suggest that David had to fight hardto gain the crown, despite the suggestions in 1 Samuel that allIsrael had recognised his kingship long before. But this is one ofthe challenges of the Old Testament, and we should be careful notto try and make simple stories out of complex multiple sources.Another issue relates to the function of the story of 'Good KingDavid' in the making of Israel's identity in the face of latercenturies of defeat, exile and oppression, and in the growinglonging for a messiah (anointed one) like David, who would rescueIsrael and restore its former glory.

This longing, of course, lies behind another story about a king anda kingdom: the Palm Sunday cry of "Hosanna! Blessed is the one whocomes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of ourancestor David!" (Mark 11:9-10).

To Ponder

What, for you, is the key message of the story ofDavid, Saul and Jonathan?

We no longer have the Book of Jashar. Whatdifference would it have made if other bits of the Bible had gotlost?

It is fairly easy to see how the David storycould be used by later Jews in the centuries before Christ to helpbuild a sense of national identity. But how appropriate was it forthe first Christians to use it as a basis for their ideas aboutJesus and the kingdom of God?

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