Last week as we began our new series through 2 Samuel I told you of the moment when I first received the news that my grandfather had died. As I was going back over the details of this event, though I didn’t intend it to do so, the sting of my grandfather’s death hit me afresh and it brought me to tears. I usually reflect on everything, and in reflecting on that moment as I began the sermon last week I believe it brought me to tears because of a truth common to us all. Sorrow isn’t limited to just a few sad moments, sorrow truly is an ongoing process. Grief remains with us. Even if we’re thinking of a believer who’s passed away, grief isn’t absent. Sure there’s much hope and gratitude we feel for all who’ve died and gone to be with Christ, but grief still lingers on this side of eternity. These things not only erupt initially upon hearing the news for the first time, they truly do abide.Now, because grief and sorrow abide with us, we as God’s people need vocabulary fit for such seasons of the soul. And thankfully God has given us this needed vocabulary in the various laments found throughout Scripture. We looked at two of them this past summer in the Psalms, Psalm 13 and Psalm 88, and learned much from them. But these laments are not only found in the Psalms, they’re scattered all throughout Scripture. Our passage is one such example of a deep and sorrowful lament outside of the Psalms.
As we come near it I’d like you to notice that before the actual lament begins David has some words of preparation for us. See these in v17-18, “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.”
It is hard to miss what’s happening as v17 begins. The word lament is used twice to show us what’s taking place. The emphasis is meant to be noticed here. This could be translated ‘Lamented, David did with his lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son.’ But perhaps you’re thinking, ‘Wait, didn’t David already lament for Saul, for Jonathan, and for the people?’ Yes he did. Back in v11-12 in the opening verses of 2 Samuel we do find David erupting in a mournful lament. But that was just that, an eruption, a grief-filled response in the moment when he first heard the news of Saul and Jonathan’s death as well as Israel’s defeat. What we find here in v17-27 is a carefully crafted expanded lament written lament from David for God’s people. It says in v18 that David intends this to be taught to the people of Judah. Which makes it not only a lament but an instructive lament. While David can erupt in the moment without worrying about his choice of words in v11-12, he cannot do so here in v17-27. If this is to be taught to the people he must choose words selectively. Not to be cold or detached from feeling deeply, not at all, but to instruct and create for God’s people a kind of structured sorrow, an authorized version of distress, or a coherent agony.On one hand this is what we’d expect from David, the sweet singer of Israel, to write a song for the people to sing in the midst of mourning. On the other hand, it’s surprisingly revealing about who David is. Remember he’s in Ziklag because Saul, his enemy, has exiled him. That David writes a song to teach the Israelites how to lament over his enemy’s death means David did love the king and hasn’t renounced Israel. And that David does this, even from his exiled location, shows powerful national leadership.
The author of 2 Samuel even tells the reader where one can find it, in the book of Jashar. While the author and audience of 2 Samuel clearly know of this book, we’ve never found it.So we don’t know much about the book of Jashar. It’s referred to one other time in Joshua 10:13 and seems to be a collection of songs suited for different seasons of life. Which is itself encouraging. That a lament is included in it reminds us that seasons of lament are a common experience for all of God’s people throughout all time.
This lament begins in v19, contains three movements to it: v20-21, v22-24, and v25-26, and concludes in v27.
The Lament Begins (v19)
v19 begins it, “Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places! How the mighty have fallen!”
Do you think David is simply doing what people often do at funerals? Speaking more highly of the deceased individual than reality would show? Most of us have been to funerals where lots of kind words are spoken and everyone present knows it’s all a sham. We know David knew firsthand of how depraved Saul was. He had attempted to kill him multiple times, chased him around the nation, and eventually drove him out of the nation. Yet here David refers to Saul as the ‘glory’ or ‘splendor’ of Israel? How could he speak of so wicked a man with such lofty language? Remember Saul was an impressive figure early on, this is why he was set forward by the people to be king. And remember God did make him king, so Saul truly was the LORD’s anointed, and as such he held a special place among God’s people. You could say that Saul, in himself, was as king the quintessential Israelite. This alone is reason enough for honoring him in death. And David does, lamenting that the king, the glory of Israel has been slain on high places, not in secret but visible to all. Then he adds a phrase that will be repeated three times in this lament, “How the mighty have fallen!” This is a short but potent description over what was (they were mighty) and what now is (they are fallen).
The lament has begun.
Movement 1: Shame (v20-21)
On one hand David is aware that shame is coming to them from outside Israel, and on the other hand David wants shame to be remembered within Israel.
Shame from the Philistines (v20)
“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.”
David begins this first movement by expressing the disgust he has toward their enemies. Which reveals to us that this lament isn’t merely concerned with the death of Saul but is concerned with the glory of God, even though God isn’t explicitly mentioned once in it. Or to say it another way, David’s lament over these things isn’t merely political in nature, it’s very religious.As with all of life, this lament has everything to do with God. No doubt the Philistines are, at this very moment, rejoicing over their victory while David and Israel are mourning over their defeat. It’s as if the image makes him sick. Perhaps you remember how the Israelite women once took to the streets and rejoiced over Saul and David singing, “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Sam. 18:7). Here David gives a contrasting image as he pictures the Philistine women doing this as a result of Israel’s defeat.Dancing in the streets of two large Philistine cities, Gath and Ashkelon, in celebration and joy, perhaps as the army comes home victorious, and all the people then go into the temple of Dagon, the Philistine false god, to worship and give thanks. To David this is utterly grievous and blasphemous, and he wishes it didn’t have to be so.
We know what this is like to a certain extent. As the World Trade Center towers fell on 9/11 a few TV channels showed images of crowded Middle Eastern streets filled with people shouting and jumping in celebration. They rejoiced, we grieved, and were appalled and angered to see such a response. That feeling in our response to this attack is why the U.S. military recruitment offices were so busy in the months that followed. This is something of what David is wanting to promote within the Israelites by including v20 in this lament. One commentator even put it like this, “David intends to fuel the fires of Israelite fury so as to gain maximum unity and effort in the battles to come.” There is a true joy among the Philistines at the moment while there is shame in Israel. David desires to see this reversed.
Shame for Gilboa (v21)
David not only expresses disgust for his enemies, he expresses disgust for Gilboa, the place of Saul’s death. v21, “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.”
As Jesus would later on curse the fig tree in Matthew 21 David curses Mt. Gilboa here in similar fashion. With no dew or rain falling on it, this hill wouldn’t be able to offer anything of value to the people, so it would be barren in its barren state an image of lingering shame for God’s people. He gives a reason for cursing it, “For there the shield of the mighty was defiled, the shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.” In their day shields were a symbol of strength and protection and kings would lather their shields in oil not only to make them shiny and bright on the battle field but to make them slippery so the weapons of the enemies would slide off more easily in battle.Rather than this happening on Mt. Gilboa, Saul’s shield once anointed with oil now lays in the dust. Which is also something of an image of Saul at the moment. He was once the anointed king, and if he had obeyed the Lord his kingdom would’ve been established forever, but now he lies in the dust. David curses Gilboa because he wants Israel to never forget this.
Movement 2: Loss (v22-24)
Movement one is all about Israel’s shame and disgrace, movement two is all about what Israel lost in losing Saul and Jonathan. What did they lose?
Fierce Fighters (v22)
“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.”
v22 gives us a picture of Saul and Jonathan that David fondly remembered. He knew both of them to be fierce in battle, in a class of their own, renowned in warfare. Never did Jonathan’s bow turn back in fear or Saul’s sword come home empty. Notice the words David uses in v22, speaking of the blood of the slain and fat of the mighty. This tells of the might of those Saul and Jonathan struck down in battle. They weren’t well-known as warriors for defeating weak enemies, no. They were known as great champions of war because they consistently brought down great enemies. But that’s not all these words reveal. David also gives us the sense of a worshipful sacrifice. Where do I see that? The words blood and fat are usually only mentioned together in the descriptions of Israel’s sacrificial system.Which leads us to a question. Why does David describe the fierceness of Saul and Jonathan in battle with sacrificial language? Because their skill in warring against the enemies of God was worship to God. Saul had been chosen to be king by the people sure, but he was made king by God. The king was to protect and defend God’s people, not just as part of his political duty but part his calling by God. Which means Saul and Jonathan’s skill in war and might in protecting and defending God’s people had everything to do with God. So David describes their warring ability with words of worship.
This then leads to David’s next thought of loss in v23-24. They had not only been fierce fighters, they were loved leaders.
Loved Leaders (v23-24)
“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.”
Beloved, lovely, unified, swift, strong, gracious and vast in their provision to the people. And while the women of the Philistines are rejoicing David instructs the women of Israel to weep, remembering how lavishly Saul provided for the kingdom. Seeing this list might make us wonder if David remembers what we remember about Saul and Jonathan? Surely he does, but as we saw in v19 we see here again. This isn’t the time to air out Saul’s dirty laundry for all to see. No, David feels himself and wants the people to feel the loss they’ve suffered. So he states what he believes the people ought to remember most about him.
Movement 3: Pain (v25-26)
This lament makes an unexpected turn at this point. It could naturally end in v25a, with the restatement of v19, “How the mighty have fallen!” But it doesn’t. Perhaps the rehearsal of their shame and what they had lost in v19-24 built up in David and he really did mean to end it in v25a but couldn’t and burst out in a personal manner about his pain over Jonathan. As he continues on he first states something distressing in v25b-26a, “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…” Then David states something pleasant in v26b, “…very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women.”
In the Samuels thus far every time Jonathan is mentioned he is mentioned in reference to his relationship to Saul, usually being called “Saul’s son.” Here something new happens. In v25b Jonathan unusually appears by himself, and then in v26a Jonathan is for the first time referred to as “my brother Jonathan…”This is clearly an intimate personal distress being expressed. And we get it, they loved one another deeply. Jonathan renounced the throne and gladly accepted David’s future reign, rejoicing that in his kingdom he’ll be beside him. Because of this Jonathan helped David, dealt kindly with David, saw David’s enemies as his enemies, and made a covenant with David, even when he knew it would cost him greatly with Saul. No wonder David called him “my brother Jonathan.” Some have, you should be aware, seen a kind of inappropriate relationship between David and Jonathan because in v26 David mentions his love to him surpassed “the love of women.”This is completely out of line. Not only would such a relationship be out of line in this culture, it would be sinful before God. Rather the point is that friends like Jonathan are rare, are far and few between. Jonathan was loyal, noble, and selfless. David’s sorrow is so great because the love between them was so deep.Time won’t allow us to explore in this the great value of true friendship, but we can say that we should not only seek such friends as this, but should seek to be such friends to others.
The Lament Ends (v27)
Now David ends in v27, “How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished!” The refrain is repeated once more while also adding to it a mention of the weapons of war perishing. This is more than likely referring to Saul and Jonathan themselves, the mighty champions of Israel who were the great weapons of Israel but have now perished.
There are many takeaways from this text, allow me to end with three of them.
First, learn here how to put grief into words. There was much David could have said about Saul but didn’t. This was not the time for David to give a full biography, but to teach the people what they should remember about their fallen king. He was the king after all, and to lose him was to truly lose the Lord’s anointed. This lament guides the people on how to deal with their shame, loss, and pain with God rather than without Him.
Second, for now we can just sit back and thank God for the king He was about to put into place. David had been chosen to replace Saul long ago. He knows it, and even here see his patience in that he teaches the people how to grieve for Saul rather than telling them he is their new king. The mighty have indeed fallen, but a mightier one was about to take his place.
Third, eventually the refrain “How the mighty have fallen!” will apply to David as well as we see him stray, repent, struggle, and die. Which means while this text looks to David as the new king, it looks beyond David as well to Christ the King who truly did fall on the cross, but did so for sins not His own. And proved His might but His resurrection displaying that He is mightier than all and will never fall! How needed is that reminder to us in our own suffering? Shame, loss, and pain are realities we all deal with in life, and whether we suffer from our own sins or others sins, King Jesus remains on the throne ruling over us and defending us from all that seeks to do us harm.
How potent is this reminder to us in the beginnings of an election year? A few debates have already occurred and it looks as messy as it always does. Lesson? 2 Samuel 1 teaches us that all human leaders and rulers will fail us. Therefore to place our hope in them is foolish. Where should our hope then be? In Christ. Placing our hope in Christ is right, wise, and beautiful. Why? Because His love is not only surpasses the love of any man or woman, His love is better than life itself.
Dale Ralph Davis, 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity, Revised edition (Fearn, Ross-Shire Scotland: Christian Focus, 2013), 21.
Richard D. Phillips, 2 Samuel (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2018), 18.
C. F. Keil-F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament (Keil-Delitzsch) 10 Volume Set, Reprint edition (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982), 289.
John Woodhouse and R. Kent Hughes, 2 Samuel: Your Kingdom Come (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2015), 56, 562–63.
Woodhouse and Hughes, 57.
A. A. Anderson, Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 11, 2 Samuel, First Edition (Waco, Tex: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1989), 20.
Robert Alter, ed., The David Story: A Translation With Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel, Stated 1st Edition (New York: W. W. Norton & Co Inc, 1999), 199.
Anderson, Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 11, 2 Samuel, 18.
Woodhouse and Hughes, 2 Samuel, 64.
Anderson, Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 11, 2 Samuel, 19.
Davis, 2 Samuel, 29.
Woodhouse and Hughes, 2 Samuel, 65–66.