15 January 2019

2 Samuel 1:17-27

David intoned this lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan. (v. 17)

Psalm: Psalm 48


When David first came to Saul’s attention it was as a harpist. He was summoned to the court in order to play soothing music to Saul when the king was in ill humour (see 1 Samuel 16:14-23). David was later to become Saul’s son-in-law and the closest friend of Jonathan, Saul’s son. It is not surprising, therefore, that in response to the news of the defeat at Mount Gilboa, David turns to song and composes a lament which is both personal and representative of a nation’s grief. The battle has been a national disaster (and we see that David cannot bear to think about how Israel’s enemies will be gloating).

The song is a dirge, which the writer tells us was taught to the people of Judah. David is asserting his authority as Saul’s successor ­– in leading Israel’s mourning in this way, David claims to be the new leader of a now leaderless nation. The Book of Jeshar is lost but there is another reference to it in the Bible (in the book of Joshua) so we can assume that it was a collection of literature (perhaps chronicles, poems and songs) that commemorated key moments in Israel’s history.

The death of Saul was clearly an event of great significance. Although the impression that we have of Saul is coloured by his treatment of David and the failures of his reign, he was regarded as a heroic figure who had united the tribes of Israel and driven back their enemies; his reign of 22 years might in many ways have been judged a success. David’s lament also reminds the people that Jonathan had been an important military commander alongside Saul during much of that time.

The more personal section of the dirge focuses on Jonathan. There is pathos in the line about Jonathan’s bow; the last time David and Jonathan saw each other before David fled from Saul was in a meeting that they arranged whilst Jonathan was purportedly practising his archery (1 Samuel 20:35-42). The lament expresses the depth of David’s love for Jonathan; in a situation where the two might have been rivals for the succession, their friendship was strong enough to overcome any ambition.


To Ponder:

  • Many countries have songs and anthems that remind them of key moments in their history or those who have been viewed as heroes and heroines. What are the patriotic songs of your country? What are the benefits and what are the dangers of remembering the national past in this way?
  • The closeness of David and Jonathan (even though they had not seen each other for several years) has been seen as a model of friendship. Give thanks for your closest friends.
  • To this day, one of the responsibilities of monarchs and political leaders is to articulate the grief of the people at times of tragedy or the death of a national figure. Can you recall a time when that has been done well? What made the words used fitting and helpful?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler

Having been a Methodist circuit minister and a theological college tutor, Jonathan is now the Assistant Secretary of the Conference.

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