And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and Jonathan his son, and he said it should be taught to the people of Judah; behold, it is written in the Book of Jashar. He said:
“Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!
Tell it not in Gath,
publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon,
lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,
lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult.
“You mountains of Gilboa,
let there be no dew or rain upon you,
nor fields of offerings!
For there the shield of the mighty was defiled,
the shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.
“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.
“Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!
In life and in death they were not divided;
they were swifter than eagles;
they were stronger than lions.
“You daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
who clothed you luxuriously in scarlet,
who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.
“How the mighty have fallen
in the midst of the battle!
“Jonathan lies slain on your high places.
I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
very pleasant have you been to me;
your love to me was extraordinary,
surpassing the love of women.
“How the mighty have fallen,
and the weapons of war perished!” – 2 Samuel 1:17-27 ESV
What is the normal reaction someone has to the failure or fall of an enemy? It probably isn’t to compose a beautiful poem or song lauding their accomplishments. Most people wouldn’t go out of their way to praise the one who had stood against them and caused them pain and suffering. No, the most likely response would be a sense of relief mixed with a somewhat veiled form of glee. Any outward expressions of sorrow and regret would be the result of good etiquette. For most, their true response would remain hidden from view. Inside, they would be celebrating what could only be seen as the wicked getting their just desserts.
But it is amazing to see how David reacted to the death of Saul. Here was a man who had made it his sole mission in life to kill David, hunting him down relentlessly and making his life a living hell. Two different times David had spared the life of Saul, receiving Saul’s word that he would no longer pursue him. But those words proved empty and Saul’s promises, unreliable. He continued to treat David with contempt and took every opportunity to bring about his death.
But when David heard that Saul was dead, he did not rejoice. There were no expressions of relief or prayers of thanksgiving to God for having delivered him from his enemy. No, David mourned. Now, it would be easy to say that most of David’s sorrow was directed at his friend Jonathan, the son of Saul, who was also killed on the field of battle that day. But this lament won’t allow us to draw that conclusion. David goes out of his way to express his sorrow over the death of Saul, the very one who had, on two different occasions, tried to kill David by his own hands. He even praises the life of the one who had sought his death.
For there the shield of the mighty heroes was defiled;
the shield of Saul will no longer be anointed with oil. – 2 Samuel 1:21 NLT
The bow of Jonathan was powerful,
and the sword of Saul did its mighty work.
They shed the blood of their enemies
and pierced the bodies of mighty heroes. – 2 Samuel 1:22 NLT
How beloved and gracious were Saul and Jonathan! – 2 Samuel 1:23 NLT
O women of Israel, weep for Saul… – 2 Samuel 1:24 NLT
This lament reveals a great deal about David. It was not that David was above seeking vengeance or wishing ill-will on those who proved to be his enemies. We can see in Psalm 28 that David had the capacity for calling down the wrath of God on his enemies.
Do not drag me away with the wicked—
with those who do evil—
those who speak friendly words to their neighbors
while planning evil in their hearts.
Give them the punishment they so richly deserve!
Measure it out in proportion to their wickedness.
Pay them back for all their evil deeds!
Give them a taste of what they have done to others.
They care nothing for what the Lord has done
or for what his hands have made.
So he will tear them down,
and they will never be rebuilt! – Psalm 28:3-5 NLT
But throughout his ongoing conflict with Saul, David viewed him as the Lord’s anointed. He was the king of Israel, appointed by God, and therefore, worthy of honor and respect. To attack Saul would have been to attack God. To dishonor the king would be to show disrespect to the One who had placed him on the throne in the first place. But there is more here than just a respect for a position. David legitimately loved Saul. He saw him as a father figure. When David had the first opportunity to take Saul’s life, he referred to him as “father,” assuring him, “May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you” (1 Samuel 24:12 ESV). Later on, in chapter 26, David had a second chance to take Saul’s life, but declined, referring to himself as Saul’s servant and telling him, “Behold, as your life was precious this day in my sight, so may my life be precious in the sight of the Lord, and may he deliver me out of all tribulation” (1 Samuel 26:24 ESV). David had served in Saul’s court. He had been Saul’s armor bearer. He had been at Saul’s side in battle and even in the throne room when Saul did battle with an evil spirit. David would play his lyre to calm Saul’s troubled mind. As a result, Saul had treated David like a son. He had even allowed David to marry his daughter. And David experienced no joy at Saul’s death. His heart was broken.
The king was dead. His best friend was gone. The armies of Israel had been defeated. The kingdom was demoralized. And the pagan Philistines were celebrating their victory over the God of Israel. David had no cause for joy. He had no reason to gloat or celebrate demise of his former pursuer. He had learned to see things from God’s perspective and there was no joy in heaven. God was not celebrating the death of Saul and the fall of Israel to the Philistines. God finds no joy in the fall or failure of His people. So why should we? In fact, the Scriptures make it clear that God doesn’t even rejoice in the death of the wicked.
“Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign LORD. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live.” – Ezekiel 18:23 NLT
“For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.” – Ezekiel 18:32 ESV
“As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?” – Ezekiel 33:11 NLT
David was a man after God’s own heart. If that phrase means anything, it means that David shared God’s compassion and concern for His people. David may not have like what Saul had done to him. He may not have enjoyed the suffering he had to endure at the hands of Saul. But he still viewed Saul as the king of Israel and as a son of God. Saul’s death brought David no pleasure, because he knew it brought no pleasure to God. So he mourned. He wept. He lamented. And he celebrated. Not his victory over Saul, but the life and legacy of Saul. He honored the man who had dishonored him. David offered praise for the life of the man who had offered rewards to anyone who would take the life of David. Not exactly a normal response. But it is a godly response.
Jesus Himself provided us with the godly response to wickedness in our lives. And even now, it goes against the grain. It pushes against our normal predisposition. But it provides us with the godly reaction to ungodliness and the righteous response to unrighteousness.
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” – Matthew 5:42-48 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
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