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Bible Commentaries

Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary

2 Samuel 1

Verses 1-10

Second Samuel - Chapter 1

Battle News Reaches David, vs. 1-10

There is no natural break between the events of First Samuel, chapter 31 and Second Samuel, chapter 1. They were originally one book. The events, Saul’s death, Israel’s defeat, and David’s abode in Ziklag continue to be the subject at hand. The opening words of this passage show that about five days had passed since David was dismissed by Achish and sent back to Ziklag (compare 1 Samuel 30:1). It was the third day after the return from slaughter of the Amalekites that a messenger came running to David with news of the battle on mount Gilboa.

The man arrived in David’s presence with the marks of grief upon him; dirt on his head, his clothes torn. He fell down and did obeisance to David, acknowledging already David’s succession to the kingship. He answered David’s inquiry that he had escaped out of the battle, and David asked him for news of what had happened. So he broke the disastrous news to David. The men of war have fled from the field, many of them have lost their lives, Saul and Jonathan are among the dead.

This doubtless saddened David, but he wanted more positive evidence that the king and prince were lost. Upon inquiring of the young messenger an interesting story was told. He said that he had come upon Saul on mount Gilboa by chance and found him leaning on his spear, unable to flee further. However, the Philistine chariots and horsemen were coming rapidly upon him.

The young newsbearer told how Saul had seen him and beckoned him, inquiring of his identity. He answered that he was an Amalekite. Then Saul asked him to stand on his body and to slay him, for he was filled with anguish that he could not get relief from his suffering by dying. So the Amalekite stood on Saul and slew him because he realized that the king could not live any way. He had taken the king’s crown from his head and the bracelet from his arm and brought them to David as the rightful recipient of them.

Verses 11-16

Messenger Executed, vs. 11-16

The news of Saul’s and Jonathan’s death saddened David deeply, and to indicate it, he tore his clothes and wept. All his men, too, were upset, for they still loved their country and may have had friends and relatives in the battle. There was mourning, weeping, and fasting for Saul and Jonathan and for the many of Israel who had fallen in the battle. The sadness of the day reached into the land of Philistia, where most everyone rejoiced, but in Ziklag it was different.

After a while David turned from his grief to the messenger, again inquiring of his identity and learning that he was an Amalekite. David was in no mood for sympathy for the young Amalekite. Although he claimed to be a stranger (or alien) living in Israel he was of the ages ­long enemy of Israel. His nation was to have been destroyed by Saul (I Samuel, ch.. 15), failure to do which was one of the things which led to his rejection by the Lord. Furthermore David had just had a bad experience with the Amalekites, who had burned Ziklag and made away with David’s people. He had just returned from an exhausting rescue of them. It was not a good day for Amalekites.

David now charged this bearer of bad news with murder of the Lord’s anointed according to his own testimony. Without further ado David commanded one of his men to fall on the Amalekite and execute him for the deed. The death blow was dealt, and as he lay bleeding to death David charged him with having brought about his own death through his killing of Saul.

The story of the Amalekite, however, was fabricated by him to secure the favor of David. The actual particulars of Saul’s death are recorded by inspiration in First Samuel, chapter 31. Most likely the young Amalekite found the body of Saul lying on the battlefield after his suicide, took the crown and bracelet from it, and brought them to David expecting to receive a rich reward from the new king. His falsehood and greed brought his death.

Verses 17-27

David’s Elegiac Tribute, vs. 17-27

David sorrowed deeply over the death of Saul and Jonathan. Even though Saul had sought to kill him, David had respected him and appreciated the time when Saul had brought him into his court and given him a wider opportunity to advance. Jonathan had been like an older brother to David, and they had been closer than brothers. This is the first poetic expression of David in the Bible, and it was popular enough to find its place in the book of Jasher, an often-mentioned book no longer extant. Verse 18 probably contains the name of the lament, "The Bow," which David commanded be taught to the children of Judah. A probable mistranslation has obscured the name.

The lament itself begins in verse 19. The beauty, or youth of Israel, have perished on the hills of Gilboa, and the mighty king and princes have fallen there in battle. It is sad news, and David does not want it to be told in the cities of victorious Philistia, Gath and Askelon, lest they rejoice at Israel’s downfall. A curse is uttered on mount Gilboa that there be no dew nor rain on it and that it produce no grain for the meat offerings because of the awful thing which has occurred there. Modern Jews in Israel have a saying that there was no rain on mount Gilboa from David (the king) to David (Ben Gurion), referring to the reforestation program of Prime Minister David Ben Gurion whereby the mount was reforested. To them this is a restoration of God’s blessing on the land.

The prowess and bravery of Saul and Jonathan are next lauded. These men of great courage did not turn away from the battle, and their swords were always used to advantage against the enemy. Jonathan’s loyalty to his father is praised in verse 23, he remaining by his father’s side even when he knew he was wrong and to his eventual death. The young ladies of Israel should praise them, for the good Saul accomplished for Israel has enabled them to acquire the finery they loved.

The refrain is noted in verses 25 and 27, "How are the mighty fallen!" In the closing lines David gives special praise to Jonathan, who had so often befriended him and even saved his life, and with whom he had made a covenant of peace regarding his children. Theirs was a strong bond of comradeship, and not effeminate love, like that of women. The older man Jonathan and the younger man David had great respect for each other.

Some lessons to emphasize: 1) Eventually bad news can be expected of those who defy and rebel against God; 2) death is a time to remember the good things of the deceased and be thankful for them; 3) a lie will never gain anything of lasting value for the liar, and to persist in it will bring judgment on the perpetrator; 4) sorrow may be turned to song when one remembers the blessings of the Lord, even amid trials and troublous times.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 1". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/2-samuel-1.html. 1985.