Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
David's Conduct on Hearing of Saul's Death. His Elegy upon Saul and Jonathan - 2 Samuel 1
David received the intelligence of the defeat of Israel and the death of Saul in the war with the Philistines from an Amalekite, who boasted of having slain Saul and handed over to David the crown and armlet of the fallen king, but whom David punished with death for the supposed murder of the anointed of God (vv. 1-16). David mourned for the death of Saul and Jonathan, and poured out his grief in an elegiac ode (Sa2 1:17-27). This account is closely connected with the concluding chapters of the first book of Samuel.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 1:1
David receives the news of Saul's death. - Sa2 1:1-4. After the death of Saul, and David's return to Ziklag from his campaign against the Amalekites, there came a man to David on the third day, with his clothes torn and earth strewed upon his head (as a sign of deep mourning: see at Sa1 4:12), who informed him of the flight and overthrow of the Israelitish army, and the death of Saul and Jonathan.
Sa2 1:1 may be regarded as the protasis to Sa2 1:2, so far as the contents are concerned, although formally it is rounded off, and ויּשׁב forms the apodosis to ויהי: "It came to pass after the death of Saul, David had returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites (1 Samuel 30:1-26), that David remained at Ziklag two days. And it came to pass on the third day," etc. Both of these notices of the time refer to the day, on which David returned to Ziklag from the pursuit and defeat of the Amalekites. Whether the battle at Gilboa, in which Saul fell, occurred before or after the return of David, it is impossible to determine. All that follows from the juxtaposition of the two events in Sa2 1:1, is that they were nearly contemporaneous. The man "came from the army from with Saul," and therefore appears to have kept near to Saul during the battle.
David's inquiry, "How did the thing happen?" refers to the statement made by the messenger, that he had escaped from the army of Israel. In the answer, אשׁר serves, like כּי in other passages, merely to introduce the words that follow, like our namely (vid., Ewald, 338, b.). "The people fled from the fight; and not only have many of the people fallen, but Saul and Jonathan his son are also dead." וגם ... וגם: not only ... but also.
To David's further inquiry how he knew this, the young man replied (Sa2 1:6-10), "I happened to come (נקרא = נקרה) up to the mountains of Gilboa, and saw Saul leaning upon his spear; then the chariots (the war-chariots for the charioteers) and riders were pressing upon him, and he turned round and saw me, ... and asked me, Who art thou? and I said, An Amalekite; and he said to me, Come hither to me, and slay me, for the cramp (שׁבץ according to the Rabbins) hath seized me (sc., so that I cannot defend myself, and must fall into the hands of the Philistines); for my soul (my life) is still whole in me. Then I went to him, and slew him, because I knew that after his fall he would not live; and took the crown upon his head, and the bracelet upon his arm, and brought them to my lord" (David). "After his fall" does not mean "after he had fallen upon his sword or spear" (Clericus), for this is neither implied in נפלו nor in על־חניתו נשׁען ("supported, i.e., leaning upon his spear"), nor are we at liberty to transfer it from Sa1 31:4 into this passage; but "after his defeat," i.e., so that he would not survive this calamity. This statement is at variance with the account of the death of Saul in Sa1 31:3.; and even apart from this it has an air of improbability, or rather of untruth in it, particularly in the assertion that Saul was leaning upon his spear when the chariots and horsemen of the enemy came upon him, without having either an armour-bearer or any other Israelitish soldier by his side, so that he had to turn to an Amalekite who accidentally came by, and to ask him to inflict the fatal wound. The Amalekite invented this, in the hope of thereby obtaining the better recompense from David. The only part of his statement which is certainly true, is that he found the king lying dead upon the field of battle, and took off the crown and armlet; since he brought these to David. But it is by no means certain whether he was present when Saul expired, or merely found him after he was dead.
This information, the substance of which was placed beyond all doubt by the king's jewels that were brought, filled David with the deepest sorrow. As a sign of his pain he rent his clothes; and all the men with him did the same, and mourned with weeping and fasting until the evening "for Saul and for Jonathan his son, for the people of Jehovah, and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword" (i.e., in battle). "The people of Jehovah" and the "house or people of Israel" are distinguished from one another, according to the twofold attitude of Israel, which furnished a double ground for mourning. Those who had fallen were first of all members of the people of Jehovah, and secondly, fellow-countrymen. "They were therefore associated with them, both according to the flesh and according to the spirit, and for that reason they mourned the more" (Seb. Schmidt). "The only deep mourning for Saul, with the exception of that of the Jabeshites (Sa1 31:11), proceeded from the man whom he had hated and persecuted for so many years even to the time of his death; just as David's successor wept over the fall of Jerusalem, even when it was about to destroy Himself" (O. v. Gerlach).
David then asked the bringer of the news for further information concerning his own descent, and received the reply that he was the son of an Amalekite stranger, i.e., of an Amalekite who had emigrated to Israel.
David then reproached him for what he had done: "How wast thou not afraid to stretch forth thine hand to destroy the Lord's anointed?" and commanded one of his attendants to slay him (Sa2 1:15.), passing sentence of death in these words: "Thy blood come upon thy head (cf. Lev 20:9; Jos 2:1;(1); for thy mouth hath testified against thee, saying, I have slain the Lord's anointed."
(Note: "Thy mouth hath testified against thee, and out of it thou art judged (Luk 19:22), whether thou hast done it or not. If thou hast done it, thou receivest the just reward of thy deeds. If thou hast not done it, then throw the blame upon thine own lying testimony, and be content with the wages of a wicked flatterer; for, according to thine own confession, thou art the murderer of a king, and that is quite enough to betray thine evil heart. David could see plainly enough that the man was no murderer: he would show by his example that flatterers who boast of such sins as these should get no hearing from their superiors." - Berleb. Bible.)
David regarded the statement of the Amalekite as a sufficient ground for condemnation, without investigating the truth any further; though it was most probably untrue, as he could see through his design of securing a great reward as due to him for performing such a deed (vid., Sa2 4:10), and looked upon a man who could attribute such an act to himself from mere avarice as perfectly capable of committing it. Moreover, the king's jewels, which he had brought, furnished a practical proof that Saul had really been put to death. This punishment was by no means so severe as to render it necessary to "estimate its morality according to the times," or to defend it merely from the standpoint of political prudence, on the ground that as David was the successor of Saul, and had been pursued by him as his rival with constant suspicion and hatred, he ought not to leave the murder of the king unpunished, if only because the people, or at any rate his own opponents among the people, would accuse him of complicity in the murder of the king, if not of actually instigating the murderer. David would never have allowed such considerations as these to lead him into unjust severity. And his conduct requires no such half vindication. Even on the supposition that Saul had asked the Amalekite to give him his death-thrust, as he said he had, it was a crime deserving of punishment to fulfil this request, the more especially as nothing is said about any such mortal wounding of Saul as rendered his escape or recovery impossible, so that it could be said that it would have been cruel under such circumstances to refuse his request to be put to death. If Saul's life was still "full in him," as the Amalekite stated, his position was not so desperate as to render it inevitable that he should fall into the hands of the Philistines. Moreover, the supposition was a very natural one, that he had slain the king for the sake of a reward. But slaying the king, the anointed of the Lord, was in itself a crime that deserved to be punished with death. What David might more than once have done, but had refrained from doing from holy reverence for the sanctified person of the king, this foreigner, a man belonging to the nation of the Amalekites, Israel's greatest foes, had actually done for the sake of gain, or at any rate pretended to have done. Such a crime must be punished with death, and that by David who had been chosen by God and anointed as Saul's successor, and whom the Amalekite himself acknowledge in that capacity, since otherwise he would not have brought him the news together with the royal diadem.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 1:17
David's elegy upon Saul and Jonathan. - An eloquent testimony to the depth and sincerity of David's grief for the death of Saul is handed down to us in the elegy which he composed upon Saul and his noble son Jonathan, and which he had taught to the children of Israel. It is one of the finest odes of the Old Testament; full of lofty sentiment, and springing from deep and sanctified emotion, in which, without the slightest allusion to his own relation to the fallen king, David celebrates without envy the bravery and virtues of Saul and his son Jonathan, and bitterly laments their loss. "He said to teach," i.e., he commanded the children of Judah to practise or learn it. קשׁת, bow; i.e., a song to which the title Kesheth or bow was given, not only because the bow is referred to (Sa2 1:22), but because it is a martial ode, and the bow was one of the principal weapons used by the warriors of that age, and one in the use of which the Benjaminites, the tribe-mates of Saul, were particularly skilful: cf. Ch1 8:40; Ch1 12:2; Ch2 14:7; Ch2 17:17. Other explanations are by no means so natural; such, for example, as that it related to the melody to which the ode was sung; whilst some are founded upon false renderings, or arbitrary alterations of the text, e.g., that of Ewald (Gesch. i. p. 41), Thenius, etc. This elegy was inserted in "the book of the righteous" (see at Jos 10:13), from which the author of the books of Samuel has taken it.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 1:19
The ode is arranged in three strophes, which gradually diminish in force and sweep (viz., Sa2 1:19-24, Sa2 1:25-26, Sa2 1:27), and in which the vehemence of the sorrow so gradually modified, and finally dies away. Each strophe opens with the exclamation, "How are the mighty fallen!" The first contains all that had to be said in praise of the fallen heroes; the deepest mourning for their death; and praise of their bravery, of their inseparable love, and of the virtues of Saul as king. The second commemorates the friendship between David and Jonathan. The third simply utters the last sigh, with which the elegy becomes silent. The first strophe runs thus:
19 The ornament, O Israel, is slain upon thy heights!
Oh how are the mighty fallen!
20 Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon;
Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,
Lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph!
21 Ye mountains of Gilboa, let now dew or rain be upon you, or fields of first-fruit offerings:
For there is the shield of the mighty defiled,
The shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.
22 From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty,
The bow of Jonathan turned not back,
And the sword of Saul returned not empty.
23 Saul and Jonathan, beloved and kind, in life
And in death they are not divided.
Lighter than eagles were they; stronger than lions.
24 Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
Who clothed you in purple with delight;
Who put a golden ornament upon your apparel!
The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen! The first clause of Sa2 1:19 contains the theme of the entire ode. הצּבי does not mean the gazelle here (as the Syriac and Clericus and others render it), the only plausible support of which is the expression "upon thy heights," whereas the parallel גּבּורים shows that by הצּבי we are to understand the two heroes Saul and Jonathan, and that the word is used in the appellative sense of ornament. The king and his noble son were the ornament of Israel. They were slain upon the heights of Israel. Luther has given a correct rendering, so far as the sense is concerned (die Edelsten, the noblest), after the inclyti of the Vulgate. The pronoun "thy high places" refers to Israel. The reference is to the heights of the mountains of Gilboa (see Sa2 1:21). This event threw Israel into deep mourning, which commences in the second clause.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 1:20
The tidings of this mourning were not to be carried out among the enemies of Israel, lest they should rejoice thereat. Such rejoicing would only increase the pain of Israel at the loss it had sustained. Only two of the cities of Philistia are mentioned by name, viz., Gath, which was near, and Askelon, which was farther off by the sea. The rejoicing of the daughters of the Philistines refers to the custom of employing women to celebrate the victories of their nation by singing and dancing (cf. Sa1 18:6).
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 1:21
Even nature is to join in the mourning. May God withdraw His blessing from the mountains upon which the heroes have fallen, that they may not be moistened by the dew and rain of heaven, but, remaining in eternal barrenness, be memorials of the horrible occurrence that has taken place upon them. בגּלבּע הרי is an address to them; and the preposition בּ with the construct state is poetical: "mountains in Gilboa" (vid., Ewald, 289, b.). In עליכם ... אל the verb יהי is wanting. The following words, תרוּמות וּשׂדי, are in apposition to the foregoing: "and let not fields of first-fruit offerings be upon you," i.e., fields producing fruit, from which offerings of first-fruits were presented. This is the simplest and most appropriate explanation of the words, which have been very differently, and in some respects very marvellously rendered. The reason for this cursing of the mountains of Gilboa was, that there the shield of the heroes, particularly of Saul, had been defiled with blood, namely the blood of those whom the shield ought to defend. גּעל does not mean to throw away (Dietrich. ), but to soil or defile (as in the Chaldee), then to abhor. "Not anointed with oil," i.e., not cleansed and polished with oil, so that the marks of Saul's blood still adhered to it. בּלי poetical for לא. The interpolation of the words "as though" (quasi non esset unctus oleo, Vulgate) cannot be sustained.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 1:22
Such was the ignominy experienced upon Gilboa by those who had always fought so bravely, that their bow and sword did not turn back until it was satisfied with the blood and fat of the slain. The figure upon which the passage is founded is, that arrows drink the blood of the enemy, and a sword devours their flesh (vid., Deu 32:42; Isa 34:5-6; Jer 46:10). The two principal weapons are divided between Saul and Jonathan, so that the bow is assigned to the latter and the sword to the former.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 1:23
In death as in life, the two heroes were not divided, for they were alike in bravery and courage. Notwithstanding their difference of character, and the very opposite attitude which they assumed towards David, the noble Jonathan did not forsake his father, although his fierce hatred towards the friend whom Jonathan loved as his own soul might have undermined his attachment to his father. The two predicates, נאהב, loved and amiable, and נעים, affectionate or kind, apply chiefly to Jonathan; but they were also suitable to Saul in the earliest years of his reign, when he manifested the virtues of an able ruler, which secured for him the lasting affection and attachment of the people. In his mourning over the death of the fallen hero, David forgets all the injury that Saul has inflicted upon him, so that he only brings out and celebrates the more amiable aspects of his character. The light motion or swiftness of an eagle (cf. Hab 1:8), and the strength of a lion (vid., Sa2 17:10), were the leading characteristics of the great heroes of antiquity. - Lastly, in Sa2 1:24, David commemorates the rich booty which Saul had brought to the nation, for the purpose of celebrating his heroic greatness in this respect as well. שׁני was the scarlet purple (see at Exo 25:4). "With delights," or with lovelinesses, i.e., in a lovely manner.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 1:25
The second strophe (Sa2 1:25 and Sa2 1:26) only applies to the friendship of Jonathan:
25 Oh how are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle!
Jonathan (is) slain upon thy heights!
26 I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan:
Thou wast very kind to me:
Stranger than the love of woman was thy love to me!
Sa2 1:25 is almost a verbal repetition of Sa2 1:19. צר (Sa2 1:26) denotes the pinching or pressure of the heart consequent upon pain and mourning. נפלאתה, third pers. fem., like a verb הל with the termination lengthened (vid., Ewald, 194, b.), to be wonderful or distinguished. אהבתך, thy love to me. Comparison to the love of woman is expressive of the deepest earnestness of devoted love.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 1:27
The third strophe (Sa2 1:27) contains simply a brief aftertone of sorrow, in which the ode does away:
Oh how are the mighty fallen,
The instruments of war perished!
"The instruments of war" are not the weapons; but the expression is a figurative one, referring to the heroes by whom war was carried on (vid., Isa 13:5). Luther has adopted this rendering (die Streitbaren).