David Learns of the Deaths of Saul and Jonathan, 1-16
1:1 After the death of Saul, when David had returned from defeating the Amalekites, he stayed at Ziklag for two days. 1:2 On the third day a man arrived from the camp of Saul with his clothes torn and dirt on his head. When he approached David, the man threw himself to the ground.
Clothes torn and dirt on his head – are signed of mourning (Baldwin).
1:3 David asked him, “Where are you coming from?” He replied, “I have escaped from the camp of Israel.” 1:4 David inquired, “How were things going? Tell me!” He replied, “The people fled from the battle and many of them fell dead. Even Saul and his son Jonathan are dead!” 1:5 David said to the young man who was telling him this, “How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?” 1:6 The young man who was telling him this said, “I just happened to be on Mount Gilboa and came across Saul leaning on his spear for support. The chariots and leaders of the horsemen were in hot pursuit of him. 1:7 When he turned around and saw me, he called out to me. I answered, ‘Here I am!’ 1:8 He asked me, ‘Who are you?’ I told him, ‘I’m an Amalekite.’ 1:9 He said to me, ‘Stand over me and finish me off! I’m very dizzy, even though I’m still alive.’ 1:10 So I stood over him and put him to death, since I knew that he couldn’t live in such a condition. Then I took the crown which was on his head and the bracelet which was on his arm. I have brought them here to my lord.”
“I stood over him and put him to death” – ‘Saul had lost his kingship because he had failed to kill an Amalekite king (cf. 1 Sam 15:9, 26); now an Amalekite that Saul had failed to eliminate would kill this Israelite king. Saul had been ordered to kill the Amalekites—now he ordered an Amalekite to kill him.’ (Bergen)
This account of Saul’s death is at variance with 1 Sam 34:1-14, which records that Saul asked his armor-bearer to kill him, but the armor-bearer refused, and so Saul fell on his own sword and committed suicide.
Some, such as Ackroyd, think that the two accounts represent two incompatible ‘traditions’ concerning Saul’s death.
Others, such as Brueggemann, are unwilling to adjudicate on the relative historicity of the two accounts.
This leaves two main approaches:
1. It may be that the young man is telling the truth. Saul did indeed fall on his sword, but he did not die instantaneously. The young man ‘finished him off’ – as this passage says.
Baldwin cites Mauchline (without agreement), ‘who thinks that the Amalekite’s narrative rings true, and regards David as blameworthy for disregarding the man’s “honourable motives and humanitarian considerations”.’
This is also the view of Bergen, who adds that this account, among other things
‘clears David of any suspicions that may have been aroused by his possession of Saul’s royal jewelry. David acquired them not by participating in the battle against Saul but by executing Saul’s killer.’
2. It may be that the young man is lying. Rather than ‘just happening’ to find himself in the middle of a battle (v6), he was robbing corpses on the battlefield. Coming across Saul’s dead body, he took the crown and bracelet. He thought to find favour with David by claiming to have killed Saul.
Evans (UBCS) notes the discrepancies in the young Amalekite’s story:
‘Any person associated with the Israelite army who had been standing next to Saul with the chariots and riders almost upon him would not have avoided death. Nor does the Amalekite’s story explain how he could have been sure of the death of Jonathan. The writers probably are well aware of this deception and include the discrepancies to make the Amalekite’s lie clear to the reader.’
1:11 David then grabbed his own clothes and tore them, as did all the men who were with him. 1:12 They lamented and wept and fasted until evening because Saul, his son Jonathan, the LORD’s people, and the house of Israel had fallen by the sword.
The young man has evidently badly misjudged David’s expected reaction. He had come with a ‘You will be pleased to hear that Saul is dead. I finished him off myself.’ But David’s response is one of mourning and lament.
1:13 David said to the young man who told this to him, “Where are you from?” He replied, “I am an Amalekite, the son of a resident foreigner.” 1:14 David replied to him, “How is it that you were not afraid to reach out your hand to destroy the LORD’s anointed?” 1:15 Then David called one of the soldiers and said, “Come here and strike him down!” So he struck him down, and he died. 1:16 David said to him, “Your blood be on your own head! Your own mouth has testified against you, saying ‘I have put the LORD’s anointed to death.’ ”
David M. Gunn (Harper’s Bible Commentary) summarises David’s attitude towards Saul, leading up to this episode:
‘With Saul at his mercy (cf. 1 Sam. 24; 26), David explains his restraint in terms of not putting forth his hand against Yhwh’s anointed. Whether that restraint is an exercise in piety or in political shrewdness is not told to readers directly. Perhaps it contains a measure of both. Although Samuel never tells him so, David seems aware that Saul has been rejected as king by God (1 Sam. 15) and that his own anointing (1 Sam. 16) has been an anointing for kingship. Yet he does not presume to seize immediately what may still lie in God’s gift for the future. Rather he bides his time, building his power base (his small army and his circle of well-treated “friends” [1 Sam. 30:26]) and waiting for others to see to Saul’s demise. Dramatically now (2 Sam. 1:14–16) he proclaims his innocence of Saul’s blood by publicly mourning for him, by naming him once more (for the last time) as “Yhwh’s anointed” and by having the Amalekite put to death.’
Payne (NBC) comments of David’s action here:
‘The Amalekite, as a resident of Israel, was under obligation to obey Israel’s law-code, yet he had killed Israel’s king. In executing him as a murderer, David was already acting as if he were king and judge.’
Hubbard et al (WBC) comments:
‘Obviously, David had to take the Amalekite’s version at its face value, and act accordingly because this report was the first intimation of Saul’s death and, in the circumstances, there was no reason to question it.’
David’s Tribute to Saul and Jonathan, 17-27
1:17 Then David chanted this lament over Saul and his son Jonathan. 1:18 (He gave instructions that the people of Judah should be taught “The Bow.” Indeed, it is written down in the Book of Yashar.)
1:19 The beauty of Israel lies slain on your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!
1:20 Don’t report it in Gath,
don’t spread the news in the streets of Ashkelon,
or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice,
the daughters of the uncircumcised will celebrate!
1:21 O mountains of Gilboa,
may there be no dew or rain on you, nor fields of grain offerings!
For it was there that the shield of warriors was defiled;
the shield of Saul lies neglected without oil.
1:22 From the blood of the slain, from the fat of warriors,
the bow of Jonathan was not turned away.
The sword of Saul never returned empty.
1:23 Saul and Jonathan were greatly loved during their lives,
and not even in their deaths were they separated.
They were swifter than eagles, stronger than lions.
1:24 O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
who clothed you in scarlet as well as jewelry,
who put gold jewelry on your clothes.
1:25 How the warriors have fallen
in the midst of battle!
Jonathan lies slain on your high places!
1:26 I grieve over you, my brother Jonathan!
You were very dear to me.
Your love was more special to me than the love of women.
1:27 How the warriors have fallen!
The weapons of war are destroyed!
Your love was more special to me than the love of women –
2 Sam 1:27 “How the mighty have fallen!
The weapons of war have perished!”