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2 Samuel 1:1-27 – David’s Lament over Saul and Jonathan

Summary

David laments the death of Saul and Saul's son, his friend Jonathan, in this poignant elegy.

Analysis

Some of the strangeness of this passage as the beginning of a biblical book is obviated by the fact that 1 and 2 Samuel were originally a single literary work. Nevertheless, the violence with which David treats the Amalekite messenger who reported the death of Saul has troubled readers for centuries. The narrative section of 2 Samuel 1 (vv. 1-16) serves to display the depth of David's emotion; the beautiful poetic section (vv. 17-27) has a similar point to make.

The elegy/dirge/lament (qinah in Hebrew) displays a characteristic meter in which the poetic line has three beats followed by two beats. The shortened second half of each poetic line lends a plaintive or melancholy feeling to the poetry. David's lament falls into two unequal sections marked by the refrain, "How the mighty have fallen!" (vv. 19, 25, 27):
  • Part one: a prayer that the rejoicing of the "daughters of the Philistines" might be prevented (v. 20) and a request that the "daughters of Israel" weep for their fallen heroes (v. 24) frame a poetic description of Saul and Jonathan's bravery and weapons, a curse upon Mount Gilboa as the site of their demise (vv. 21-23).
  • Part two: praise of Jonathan for the love, loyalty, and friendship that Saul's son gave to David (v. 26)

It is appropriate that David (and most would agree that this elegy is from the pen of David himself) avoids mention of the difficulties both he and Jonathan endured at the hand of Saul. Less obviously, it also avoids mention of God or anything religious and is solely a tribute to the fallen.

As elsewhere in these books, regarding similar phrases, the phrase "your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women" (v. 26b), has been interpreted as evidence of a same-gender sexual relationship between David and Jonathan. Whether this is true or whether the closeness of their relationship, apart from sexual innuendo, is all that is meant is impossible to discern, though the homoerotic interpretation seems highly unlikely to most scholars.

2 Samuel 1:1-27

2 Samuel

David Mourns for Saul and Jonathan

1After the death of Saul, when David had returned from defeating the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag. 2On the third day, a man came from Saul’s camp, with his clothes torn and dirt on his head. When he came to David, he fell to the ground and did obeisance. 3David said to him, ‘Where have you come from?’ He said to him, ‘I have escaped from the camp of Israel.’ 4David said to him, ‘How did things go? Tell me!’ He answered, ‘The army fled from the battle, but also many of the army fell and died; and Saul and his son Jonathan also died.’ 5Then David asked the young man who was reporting to him, ‘How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan died?’ 6The young man reporting to him said, ‘I happened to be on Mount Gilboa; and there was Saul leaning on his spear, while the chariots and the horsemen drew close to him. 7When he looked behind him, he saw me, and called to me. I answered, “Here, sir.” 8And he said to me, “Who are you?” I answered him, “I am an Amalekite.” 9He said to me, “Come, stand over me and kill me; for convulsions have seized me, and yet my life still lingers.” 10So I stood over him, and killed him, for I knew that he could not live after he had fallen. I took the crown that was on his head and the armlet that was on his arm, and I have brought them here to my lord.’

11 Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them; and all the men who were with him did the same. 12They mourned and wept, and fasted until evening for Saul and for his son Jonathan, and for the army of the Lord and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. 13David said to the young man who had reported to him, ‘Where do you come from?’ He answered, ‘I am the son of a resident alien, an Amalekite.’ 14David said to him, ‘Were you not afraid to lift your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?’ 15Then David called one of the young men and said, ‘Come here and strike him down.’ So he struck him down and he died. 16David said to him, ‘Your blood be on your head; for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, “I have killed the Lord’s anointed.”

17 David intoned this lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan. 18(He ordered that The Song of the Bow* be taught to the people of Judah; it is written in the Book of Jashar.) He said:
19 Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places!
   How the mighty have fallen!
20 Tell it not in Gath,
   proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon;
or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice,
   the daughters of the uncircumcised will exult.


21 You mountains of Gilboa,
   let there be no dew or rain upon you,
   nor bounteous fields!*
For there the shield of the mighty was defiled,
   the shield of Saul, anointed with oil no more.


22 From the blood of the slain,
   from the fat of the mighty,
the bow of Jonathan did not turn back,
   nor the sword of Saul return empty.


23 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.


24 O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
   who clothed you with crimson, in luxury,
   who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.


25 How the mighty have fallen
   in the midst of the battle!


Jonathan lies slain upon your high places.
26   I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
greatly beloved were you to me;
   your love to me was wonderful,
   passing the love of women.


27 How the mighty have fallen,
   and the weapons of war perished!

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10 February 2011

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