2 Samuel begins the story of David’s reign over Israel. This chapter contains the story of how David became aware of Saul’s death and then how he reacted to this sad news.
While Saul has been leading his army against the Philistines, David has been leading his army against the Amalekites. The Philistines defeat Saul and Israel killing Saul and most of his sons. David and his army are victorious and return to their home in Philistine territory where they receive the news. Ironically, an Amalekite brings the news and not an Israelite.
It is clear from the text that the Amalekite knows who David is. However, it is also clear that he does not know David because he makes a fatal miscalculation. Saul had been chasing David and attempting to kill him for years. Given the typical relationships between rival kings during this time it would have been reasonable to assume that David would regard the death of Saul as good news. This was a fatal assumption.
When the Amalekite arrives, he bows down to David and delivers the news that Saul and Jonathan are dead. David asks him how he knows this, and the man proudly announces that he was the one who killed Saul. This was a lie, since Saul killed himself, and the result is that David sentenced the man to immediate death as punishment for killing God’s anointed, the King of Israel.
A Psalm of Lament
David’s first response is to have the bearer of bad news executed. As his next response David sings a song of lament and has it written down so that it can be taught to the people of Israel. The lament celebrates the strength and military prowess of Saul and Jonathan. Saul has been a mighty warrior king and his reign has brought material prosperity to Israel. His death is a loss.
Jonathan’s death gets special attention at the end of the lament. David’s affection for Jonathan is obvious. 1 Samuel mentions several times the deep friendship between these two. Jonathan’s strong affection for David often generates very strong condemnation from Saul. 2 Samuel 1:26 is often used by some scholars to make the case that David was a homosexual. It is sad to me that we no longer understand or appreciate a loving relationship that is not sexual.
I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.2 Samuel 1:26 NIV
I have several reasons for doubting the case made for David’s homosexuality.
David sinned often. David was also identified as a man after God’s own heart. His major sins are not hidden as they are confessed and repented of. Since homosexuality was clearly identified as a sin in the law. I find it hard to believe that a homosexual relationship with Jonathan was hidden and only revealed after Jonathan’s death.
David’s marriages were not about romantic love, they were primarily for the production of heirs and or political alliances. David’s relationships with his wives were probably primarily sexual and certainly unequal in terms of power. It is hard to develop any kind of intimacy in that kind of situation. The fact that David had many wives and concubines adds to the difficulty of developing an intimate friendship with any of his wives.
When the scholars in Babylon translated the Hebrew scriptures into Greek, they chose to use the Greek word for sacrificial love to translate the word love in Hebrew. They could have chosen eros, the Greek word for physical love, but they did not.
Jonathan’s love for David foreshadows Christ’s love for us. Jonathan surrenders his future kingship to David and saves David’s life at least once. David’s love for Jonathan models an appropriate response to that kind of love.
What About Us?
There are several things we can learn from this chapter. The first is that it is dangerous to assume a person in power will respond the same way everyone else does. The Amalekite thought David would rejoice at Saul’s death and give him a great reward. His mistaken assumption cost him his life. When we treat someone poorly assuming they are an enemy of someone we desire to impress we should not be surprised when we are corrected in public for our bad behavior.
David could have destroyed Saul’s reputation after he died, but he didn’t. In his own day David could have written a song of celebration praising himself and condemning Saul. In today’s world he would have written a tell all biography detailing Saul’s sins and celebrating his downfall. Saul’s sins are recorded, but there is no indication that David was the author of First or Second Samuel. Celebrating the fall of another simply reveals our own pride and weakness. A final act of forgiveness is lamenting the downfall or death of someone who has harmed us.