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Verse 1 shows us that David's slaughter of the Amalekites took place at about the same time as the Philistine defeat of Israel. David had been two days at Ziklag when a man came from the scene of this defeat with outward signs of mourning, his clothes torn and earth on his head. Coming to David, he fell down, ostensibly giving David a place of honor (v.2). David evidently sensed there was something about the man that was not genuine. He was trying to make an impression and the only impression he made was that he was trying to make an impression.
In answer to David's question, he said that he had escaped out of the camp of Israel. David was of course deeply interested and asked what had taken place in the battle. He replied that the people (Israel) had fled from the battle, many being killed, including Saul and Jonathan.
David wanted clear evidence especially as to the death of Saul and Jonathan (v.5), and the young man told him that he had happened by chance to be on Mt. Gilboa and found Saul leaning on his spear, while horses and chariots were pursuing. He claimed that Saul had called him, asking who he was (v.8). Then he revealed the fact that he was an Amalekite, apparently not actually engaged in the battle at all, but happening to be in the vicinity. He further said that Saul entreated him to kill him because he was in great pain; and he had done so because he was sure that Saul could not live, also taking Saul's crown and bracelet to bring to David. It seems strange that Saul had worn his crown in battle.
Since we have been told in1 Samuel 31:4-5; 1 Samuel 31:4-5 that Saul had fallen on his own sword, and his armour bearer saw that Saul was dead, then it appears that the Amalekite was lying. Saul had first been wounded, and after falling on his sword, if he was not actually dead, as the armour bearer thought, he would hardly be standing, leaning on his spear. Likely the Amalekite thought that David would reward him for this reported "mercy-killing," specially since it would clear the way for David to reign. The man was an opportunist. One wonders if he had gone to the scene of battle looking for a possibility of this kind, and therefore was ready to take advantage of it. If he had found Saul dead and told the truth about it, his end might have been different, but his lie incriminated him.
However, before we read of David's taking action against him it is good to see the way David and his men were affected by the death of Saul and Jonathan. Tearing their clothes, they mourned and wept, not eating for the rest of the day. Though it would be a relief to David to know that Saul would not pursue him again, yet his sorrow for Saul's death was very real. Of course also they mourned for the large number of people who died in battle, and for Israel because of her crushing defeat. This sorrow of David and his men stands in refreshing contrast to the heartless rejoicing of the Philistines over the slaughter of Saul and his sons.
David now confirms from the messenger who brought news of Saul and Jonathan's death the fact that he was an Amalekite, the son of a stranger, and asked him, "How is it you were not afraid to stretch out your hand to destroy the Lord's anointed?" David would by no means agree to a so-called "mercy killing." This was not actual mercy, but a manifest lack of faith in God who is the Giver and Sustainer of life. David therefore instructs one of his young soldiers to kill the Amalekite, which he does (v.15). David well knew that a friend of this kind would be no friend at all: he could just as easily betray David if a case arose whereby he could profit by it. Whether the man had lied or not as to his killing Saul, yet by the words of his own mouth he was condemned (v.16.)
David was not so anxious to attempt to take the throne of Israel as to neglect the chastening of his own soul before God in view of the sadness of the death of Saul and Jonathan. He genuinely lamented over them with a lamentation recorded from verse 19 to 27. But verse 18 first mentions that David gave orders that Israel's warriors should be taught the use of the bow. It was through archery that Saul was wounded, and this was possibly the deciding factor in the victory of the Philistines (from a human point of view). Israel now must learn this long-range warfare.
"The beauty of Israel is slain on you high places: how the mighty have fallen" (v.19). From a natural point of view Saul and Jonathan presented an attractive appearance. In this Israel was certainly not behind any other nation. Yet the "high places" were those in which they fell. The desire of Saul for a place of high honor was increased by his having the throne, but his fall was that much greater.
Though David expressed the desire that the sad news should not be told in the chief cities of the Philistines (Gath and Askelon), we have heard already that it was published in the land of the Philistines (1 Samuel 31:9): the daughters of the uncircumcised were already rejoicing in triumph. As to verse 21, we do not know if David's words were fulfilled, though they may have been for a time at least. He felt that the mountains of Gilboa should be deprived of dew or rain, because Saul had fallen there as though he had not been anointed by God as king.
In verse 22 David credits Jonathan first with success in battle, but Saul also in his measure. Genuine love always desires to give every commendation it possibly can honorably, though in this case David cannot commend as much in Saul as he might desire to do. Still, he speaks of these as "lovely and pleasant in their lives," and in their death as not being divided. He does not mention that they had been divided as regards their attitude toward David, for David did not retain any selfish resentment over this. Their being "swifter than eagles and stronger than lions" of course refers to their prowess in war.
David even calls upon the daughters of Israel to weep over Saul (v.24), for his government evidently had some beneficial effects in providing a good standard of living for the nation.
"How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle," David laments, and adds, "0 Jonathan, thou wast slain in thine high places." David felt this, that Jonathan had not taken the place of lowly rejection with David, but in choosing the place of exaltation briefly with Saul, he was humbled from it in a way he had not anticipated (1 Samuel 23:17-18).
But David has more to say approvingly of Jonathan than he could of Saul. He was specially distressed at Jonathan's death, for Jonathan had been true, devoted friend in spite of his father's opposition. David speaks here as directly to Jonathan himself (v.26), appreciating Jonathan's love toward him that passed the love of women.
He completes his lamentation with the painful words, "How are the mighty fallen and the weapons of war perished!" This is the expression of the sad end of the best that man in the flesh can offer. His greatness is brought down to nothing and his ability for conquest totally destroyed. Only Christ will remain: He alone will have the honor of subduing all things under Him.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 1". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany