How the Mighty Have Fallen (2 Samuel 1)
How the Mighty Have Fallen
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
On November 22, 1963, gunfire was heard from a book depository in Dallas, TX while the President of the United States was touring in a convertible. President JFK slumped over into his wife’s lap and died shortly thereafter. The gunman? Lee Harvey Oswald. Oswald was a Marine who defected to Communist Russia in 1959. In 1964, a special group set up by Congress called the Warren Commission investigated and decided that Oswald acted alone. These findings were consistent with findings from the FBI, the Secret Service and the Dallas Police Department.
Jacky Ruby owned a nightclub in Dallas. On November 24th, Ruby went into town to wire some money through Western Union and went down into the basement of the police station where Oswald was being transferred. Ruby took out a Colt .38 Cobra and fatally shot Lee Harvey Oswald in the abdomen. Ruby would die in prison of lung cancer four years later.
The Warren Commission also found that Jack Ruby acted alone. Ruby took vengeance out on Lee Harvey Oswald. He did not personally know Oswald but he decided that he would not allow justice to run its course; he would take care of justice himself.
As you are turning to 1 Samuel, I want to emphasize that we do not do things because David did them nor do we refrain from doing things because David did not do them. David is not our standard. But to the extent that David lived as God wanted him to live, to the extent that David lived out Christian principles in his life, to that extent we can learn from David’s example…
“David” is mentioned over a thousand times in the Bible (1,077). He is first mentioned in Ruth 4:17, 22 relative to Ruth being David’s ancestor, which shows us that Ruth was written after David was king; at least it was edited after David was made king. The story of David first picks up in 1 Samuel 16. 1 Samuel 16:13 is when the prophet Samuel anoints David to be the next king of Israel after Saul who was the contemporary king.
King Saul was a man who was susceptible to negative feelings, perhaps melancholy or even depression and David was sent to play music on his harp for the sake of King Saul (1 Sam. 16:21 - King Saul loved David greatly.)
1 Samuel 17 is the fantastic story of young David killing the Philistine giant, Goliath, with only a sling, a rock, and a tremendous trust in Jehovah God. David is the hero of 1 Samuel 17 and 1 Samuel 17 begins the downward spiral of the relationship between David and King Saul.
The Philistines are the primary enemy of Israel during the days of King Saul. Abraham was a friend of the Philistines but there was a tense relationship between Isaac and the Philistines. The Philistines lived in the land of Israel which God had promised Abraham to give to Israel. Well, the Philistines did not take kindly to losing their villages to Israel so from the days of Joshua forward, the Philistines and Israel were enemies with some periods of time, like the reign of King Saul, when the enmity was especially brutal.
THE BACKGROUND TO DAVID & SAUL / JONATHAN:
It was immediately after the battle with Goliath and David’s victory over Goliath that King Saul’s son, Jonathan, developed a deep respect, admiration, love for David. 1 Samuel 18:1 says that Jonathan’s soul was “knit” to the soul of David and Jonathan loved David as himself. In that context, Jonathan gave David his own robe, the royal robe, and his sword, his bow, and his belt. Jonathan and David grow to be very close friends. things go well with them in the presence of King Saul, for a short time. In 1 Samuel 18:5, King Saul sets David over his fighting men so he puts David in charge of his military.
But then it happens… in 1 Samuel 18:6-7, the women of Israel come out and start singing a song to praise David for his victories: “Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands” (18:7).
Saul becomes angry that David gets more praise than King Saul does and he asks the question: “what more can David have but the kingdom?”(18:8) So King Saul anticipates, whether he realizes it or not, that David is going to be the next king of Israel and not only is Saul jealous for David but he is now also scared because with that type of popularity, David could take the throne from King Saul, killing him in the process. So, that motivates Saul to want to kill David first…
1 Samuel 18:9, “Saul looked at David with suspicion from that day on.” And Saul sought for an opportunity to kill David. In 1 Samuel 18:10-11, Saul throws his spear at David and David escapes twice from Saul’s attempts. King Saul easily concludes that God is with David (1 Sam. 18:12) and that intensifies Saul’s fear of David.
Because David was faithful to God, God made him prosper (1 Sam. 18:14). That made Saul “dread” David (18:15). “But all Israel and Judah loved David” (18:16). Among the people who love David is King Saul’s daughter named Michal. So, King Saul comes up with this scheme to get David killed at the hand of the Philistines. He challenges David to bring him 100 foreskins of the Philistines.
I do not know if David loved Michal in return (I have my doubts), but he does respect Saul as God’s chosen king over Israel and maybe being the king’s son-in-law will make their relationship better. So, David kills 200 of the Philistines and presents their foreskins to King Saul (18:27), making King Saul’s plans blow up in his face.
Saul knew that God was with David (18:28) and Michal, his daughter loved David. Saul was even more afraid of David (18:29) and made himself David’s enemy continually.
As time goes on (and we don’t know how much time elapses), David shows himself to be both courageous in battle and skilled at killing the enemy and all of that draws the love and respect of everybody around him, especially Jonathan, but not King Saul.
In chapter 19, Saul tells Jonathan to take advantage of his friendship with David and kill him but Jonathan “greatly delights” in David (19:1). On this specific occasion, Jonathan was able to turn his dad’s heart toward David once again (19:7) but this affection was only temporary. When the Israelites fought the Philistines again, David fought well, distinguished himself in battle, and once again created a wedge between him and King Saul. Saul tries to kill David yet again (19:10). Saul even sent messengers to David’s house to kill him in his sleep but Michal helped David escape (19:11).
Jonathan tried to speak to his dad in a positive way about David and get his dad to change his mind about David but then King Saul tries to kill Jonathan, his son (20:33)! 1 Samuel 20:17 says that Jonathan made David vow again because of his love for him, because he loved him as he loved his own life.
As King Saul tries to track David down to kill him, King Saul slaughters many innocent priests in the village of Nob (chapters 21-22). David flees from Saul and pretends to be AWOL from Saul’s army and seeks safety among the Philistines in the village of Gath (21:10). David has to run from place to place; one time he even went to Moab, the home country of his grandmother Ruth. But when David hears of the Philistines attacking villages of the Israelites, David goes out and fights against the Philistines and save King Saul’s people from slaughter.
There were two occasions as King Saul was hunting down David to kill him that David actually had the opportunity to kill King Saul but he did not take the opportunity. Those two occasions are found in 1 Samuel 24 & 26. The reason why David would not kill King Saul is found in 24:6 - it was because Saul, as king over God’s people, was the “Lord’s anointed” — the “Lord’s messiah.” So David would not kill the man who wanted to kill David. This phrase is found 15 times in the OT; most of the time in 1 Samuel. To David, King Saul was the “Lord’s anointed” and, therefore, untouchable. If anyone would take King Saul’s life, it would be the Lord Himself.
In 1 Samuel 27, David again seeks protection among the Philistines themselves but, he uses this relationship as a cloak to kill other marauding Philistines in other places. In that way, David can help provide safety for his people and stay out of reach of King Saul.
1 Samuel 28 is when Saul sought guidance and advice from the witch of Endor. 1 Samuel 29 is about David living among the Philistines and eventually being kicked out of the Philistine camp because the Philistines don’t trust David. In 1 Samuel 30, David fights against another nation, the Amalekites. And that brings us to 1 Samuel 31 and…
THE CONTEXT OF 2 SAMUEL 1:
1 Samuel 31 records the fateful battle between Israel and the Philistines on Mount Gilboa. In verse 2, Jonathan and his brothers are killed and the battle was going badly for all of Israel. In verse 3, King Saul was badly wounded by an arrow. Saul asked his armor bearer to kill him so he would not be abused by the Philistines but his armor bearer could not kill his king so King Saul fell on his own sword, effectively committing suicide and then his armor bearer did the same thing (31:4-6).
When Israel learned that King Saul was dead, they abandoned their cities and fled and allowed the Philistines to inhabit Israelite cities. On the next day, when the Philistines surveyed the bloody battlefield of Mount Gilboa, they found King Saul lying there dead and decapitated him and sent his head and his weapons throughout the Philistine cities as a message that their enemy, King Saul was dead and defeated (31:8-9). Saul’s corpse was nailed to the wall of the village of Bath-shan and his weapons were stored in the temple of their god Ashtaroth as a sign that their god was stronger than the God of King Saul.
A couple of days after this infamous battle (we’re in 2 Samuel 1 now), David is in the village of Ziklag and a man comes to him with the news that Saul and Jonathan are dead. David asks him, “How do you know that Saul and Jonathan are dead?” The man claims that Saul was leaning on his spear when the man came up to the battlefield and Saul asked this man to kill him, so the man killed him because he saw that King Saul would not live any longer. Apparently all this message was a lie but David believes it is true and immediately kills this man because he killed King Saul.
Notice verses 11-12 and how David mourns for the death of King Saul and Jonathan. Why does David mourn the death of King Saul? Because we see, again, in verses 14-15 that Saul was the one anointed by Jehovah God to be the king of Israel.
All of that discussion sets up the stage for us to understand this song, this poem, this funeral dirge David writes and sings about the death of King Saul and the prince, Jonathan, his very dear friend.
Let’s examine this poem and then ask ourselves what we can learn from this whole event…
DAVID’S POEM LAMENTING THE DEATH OF HIS ENEMY - 1:17-27:
This poem is divided into three stanzas (the larger divisions) and seven strophes (the smaller divisions).
The poem / song begins with a strophe, lamenting the death of Israel’s “beauty” or “glory” or even the “gazelle.” Then David uses a cliche phrase that he repeats again in verses 25 & 27: “How have the mighty fallen!”
The first stanza has two strophes, being in our Bibles verses 20-21. In verse 20, David addresses two of the cities of the Philistines, the nation that killed Saul and Jonathan. David tells his people not to tell the Philistines that Saul and Jonathan are dead. David does not want the Philistines to be happy over the death of King Saul; perhaps also, David does not want the Philistines to take advantage of Israel not having a king.
Mount Gilboa (vs 21), of course, is the mountain where Saul and Jonathan were killed. David’s emotional distress is so strong that verse 21 does not have a verb! Listen to David in this verse, reading it without the verbs… David would like for Gilboa to receive the anger of God if possible, in the sense that he doesn’t want it to rain on Gilboa. Soldiers would rub oil on their shields which would help deflect blows from swords and fists. It is, also, a subtle allusion to the fact that Saul had been the Lord’s anointed, anointed with oil.
The second stanza (beginning with verse 22) stands out in the poem as it is statements of praise rather than outbursts of anger and sadness. Jonathan’s bow did not turn back from the blood of the slain and the fat of the mighty. In other words, Jonathan was courageous and fought hard. The sword of King Saul did not return to him empty; it shed the blood of his enemies.
The same word of praise about Saul and Jonathan are found in verse 23, strophe 5. Saul and Jonathan were “beloved” and pleasant in their physical life. David acknowledges that father and son died together in battle and praises their quick skills and strength as warriors.
In the third stanza, strophe #6 (vs 24), David directs his attention to the women in Israel and speaks of King Saul. He calls on them to weep over King Saul. Why? Because Saul provided for them. David says King Saul was a good king, as far as his relationship with his people are concerned. King Saul gave them scarlet clothing, ornaments of gold.
Then the seventh strophe (vs 25), David again calls out “How have the mighty fallen in the midst of battle! Jonathan,” David’s dear friend, “Jonathan is slain on their high places.” I want to point out something to you… verse 19, the beginning of the poem says, “Your beauty, O Israel, is slain on your high places!” Now compare that with verse 25b: “Jonathan is slain on your high places.” Who did David consider to be the “beauty” of Israel? Jonathan! That’s how highly David thought of Jonathan.
Notice how personal verses 26-27 are as David focuses his attention on Jonathan as his dear friend. Circle the “I’s” and “my” or “me’s” in verse 26. David says he is distressed over the death of Jonathan. He is crushed in his spirit; he is shocked at the loss of his dear, dear friend. And the poem ends with David combining the previously mentioned bow, sword, and shield in the phrase “weapons of war” and says they have “perished.” He is referring to Saul and Jonathan but using their weapons as metaphors for the king and the prince. They have perished.
David is not our standard. We need to understand that fundamental point. We do not do anything because David did it or we do not refuse to do something because David did not do it. David is not our standard of morality. Jesus Christ is.
But, to the extent that David illustrates principles taught by Jesus Christ, to that extent we can learn from the life of David. So, with David’s example in the background, but the teachings of Jesus Christ in the foreground, what do we learn from this event?
Primarily, we learn that we ought not to rejoice when our enemy falls. On the way to the teachings of Jesus Christ, let’s stop off at Proverbs 24:17-18 and listen to the wisdom of King Solomon.
Gloating over the downfall of our enemy just is not a godly attitude; it is not a Christ-like virtue. Therefore, it is not a Christian behavior. Now, I’m not talking about the Osama ben Laden’s of the world. I’m getting closer to home. I’m talking about our co-worker who is really not likeable and then something bad happens to him or her. David’s example and Christ’s teachings would say that we should not be happy when bad things happen to someone we do not like.
Turn to the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 5:43-48. Not only did Jesus teach that we should pray for our enemies and not gloat over their downfall but Jesus practiced what He preached. Not only did He weep over the destruction of Jerusalem, a destruction brought about by their own sin (Matt 23:37-39), but Jesus also prayed for their salvation (Luke 23:34). David mourned the death of King Saul, his enemy. Jesus mourned the destruction of His enemies and prayed for them. Let us mature so that we can do the same.
The second lesson we see illustrated in this poem, this song, is that David allowed God to rule the world. Specifically, David did not take vengeance into his own hands. Saul was put into place by Jehovah God and David would allow God to take King Saul off the throne. God has always required His people to leave vengeance in His hands, from Leviticus 19:18 to Hebrews 10:30. That is not easy to do. We all feel a sense of justice; that desire for justice has been placed in our hearts by Jehovah God. That’s what motivates our police force and our military and our criminal justice laws - a sense of justice.
But there are times and occasions when we want personal vengeance; we want to get back at someone who has done us wrong. Those are the occasions when the Lord’s words should rink in our ears (Rom. 12:19). That’s how David lived. That’s how Jesus tells us to live.
Take home message: We live in a world dominated so often by evil. When it hits us personally, David’s example and Jesus’ teachings tell us to do good to our enemies and leave revenge in the hands of God.