2 Samuel 1:1, 17 - 27

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Old Testament: 2 Samuel 1:1, 17 - 27

Background to the Book of 2 Samuel (What is happening in Judah at this time?)

The story contained in the books of Samuel tells of the extraordinary change in the way Israel is governed. Up to this time, there had been various tribes who on occasions had come together to combat a threat from other nations. In each instance in the book of Judges, we are told how a person was raised by God to lead the tribes on this particular occasion. The Spirit of God settles on the person and even when this is not overtly mentioned in the story we are clear by the way the story progresses that we know God's hand is directly involved in the successful consequences.

1 and 11 Samuel tell us about the immense political and new government structures, which take place around the end of the 10th century BCE. The centre of government during the time of the judges was at Shiloh and by the time we get to the end of 11 Samuel, the centre of what is now an empire, has moved to Jerusalem.

The voices for setting up a monarchy became stronger and it fell to Samuel, the last of the judges, to be instrumental in the forthcoming tussle between those who wanted a monarch and those who believed that God would continue to raise up leaders as required.

The amount of material, which focuses on Samuel, Saul and David compared with the space given to the remainder of the Kings of Israel, is quite disproportionate. A total of fifty-five chapters are given to these three people and forty-seven chapters to all the remaining kings of both the northern and southern kingdoms.

We read in the books of Joshua and Judges about the gradual settlement of the Israelite tribes into Palestine, some encroaching from the south, others from the east and the north. It was clear there was fighting with other tribes and we become familiar with the names of the Edomites and the Moabites. However, the greatest threat became the Philistines who were settled in the west of Palestine along part of the coast. Because they had achieved the art of iron casting, they were able to make wheels and other tools which gave them a superiority in war. The settlement process took at least two hundred years from the time the tribes started to enter into Palestine

One of the ancient traditions tells of the conquest of Canaan by slow stages, with each tribe fighting alone or, at best, in coalition with other tribes. Another tradition tells about the invasion, which attacked first the southern hill country, where Judah and Simeon defeated Adonibezek, took Hebron, Debir, and Hormah, but could not gain control of the coastal plain. The house of Joseph invaded the central highlands and captured Bethel. To the north, the tribes of Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali settled among the Canaanites, and, as they grew stronger, gradually forced them into slave labour. To the west, the tribe of Dan was hemmed in against the highlands and could not conquer the plains.

The books of Samuel tell us how first Saul became king and was commissioned to defeat the Philistines that were a very real threat to the survival of Israel. Second, we follow the narrative as it tells of the gradual disintegration of Saul's mental and physical health and the rise of David after his defeat of Goliath. David is portrayed positively as he saves Saul's life and negatively as he betrays his own people and fights for the enemy, although never against Israel itself. The Philistines thought he was doing this, but David was fighting other tribes and killing everyone so there was no one alive to tell the Philistine commander what David was doing. Some of the negative qualities of David's actions and character are omitted in a later telling of his story (Books of Chronicles). It is well that we remember he was a person of mixed motives, great faith, courage, love, greed, need for power, who killed those in opposition to his desires, he was cruel and had fits of anger. His grief at the death of Saul and Jonathon is beautifully portrayed in the lament of 2 Sam 1:19ff.
In the second book of Samuel we read of the rise and fall of David's reign.

Dates of the first 3 Kings of the United Kingdom


c.1020-1004 BC


1004 - 965



Context of 2 Samuel 1:1, 17 - 27 (What's happening in the literature around 2 Samuel 1: 1,17 - 27; the bigger picture)

We are not so surprised at the depth of David's grief expressed in the lament when we read about his relationship with Jonathon in 1 Sam 18-31 in which they covenant with each other three times. Further more, Jonathon saves David's life three times by giving him warning of Saul's intention to kill him. Jonathon stands up for David against his father many times in these chapters leading up to the death of Saul and Jonathon in 2 Samuel 1 There appears to no jealousy by Jonathon that David will be the next King and not he. In fact when Jonathon saves David's life a third time at Horesh he talks about being second in command to David when David is king.

During the whole of this time when David is fleeing and hiding from Saul we do not hear of any attempt by David to ridicule or hurt Saul. Even when he had the chance to kill him, he didn't do it on either occasion (1 Sam 24, 26). This is a very positive attribute of David. Another aspect to David's grief could be the promise he made to Saul never to wipe out Saul's family (1 Sam 24:22) and this was broken with the death of Jonathon. David had a very high view of kingship because he says repeatedly that the Lord's anointed should ever be killed b human hands.

David had no hesitation in dealing out retribution if he was thwarted as in the case of Nabal who refused to give his men food and drink even although David's men had protected the property of Nabal in an earlier encounter. It was only the advent of Abigail with provisions that prevented the intended bloodshed. After Nabal of natural courses David took Abigail as his wife, and in the same verse another wife from Jezreel while Michal Saul gives his first wife to another.

David's excuse for joining the Philistines that it was only if this occurred that Saul would stop trying to pursue him and kill him. David was prevented from fighting alongside the Philistines against Israel and Saul in the final battle because the other Philistine commanders around Achish did not trust David and wanted him sent away back to Ziklag. He protested but of course it suited him very well. When he arrived back he found the town burned and women, children and stock taken away by then Amalekite raiders. After consulting the Lord he followed and retrieved everyone plus extra stock and supplies.

1 Sam 31 tells of the death of Jonathon, two of his brothers and their father Saul at the hands of the Philistines. The Philistines cut of their heads and hung their bodies from the walls of a town nearby. This is a particularly abhorrent practice to the Israelites and some valiant men from a nearby town took the bodies down burned them and buried the remains under a Tamarisk tree at Jabesh.

It is worth noting what happens in vv.1b-17. David returns to his own town Ziklag and on the 3rd day an Amalekite reported the deaths of Saul and Jonathon with a different version of their deaths to the one we read about in the previous chapter in which Saul and 3 of his sons, including Jonathon, were killed by the Philistines. Whether the Amalekite thought to get a reward for telling David and because it was at Saul's request that he, the Amalekite, killed Saul, that he would not be punished. However, the very high theology David has of the anointed king means that he believes it is treason for anyone to lift a hand against an anointed person. He lived out this theology quite consistently himself when he refused on two occasions to kill Saul. So David commands one of his young men to kill the Amalekite because he had the blood of Saul on his hands.

Insights/Message of 2 Samuel 1:1, 17 - 27 (What insights can we gain from the text and literary structure?)

Verse 1a sets the context for the lament in vv.17-27. We do not know anything about the Book of Jashar except it is referred to Josh 10:12-13 and maybe 1 Kings 8:12-13 Again there is uncertainty about the reference to the Song of the Bow and people have made various suggestions in which it is a title that refers to Jonathon because the bow was his favourite weapon. Equally it could refer to Saul, either way, we appear to have superscription with a reference to another literary source and a title.

The particular Hebrew word used here (hnyq - qeenah) means that it is a funerary dirge or lament and is not the word used for a lament in the Psalms. This word makes it explicit that this will not be a general lament about a situation in life, but concerned solely with a person who has died.

The literary construction focuses our attention on the persons for whom the lament is intended, four times the names of Saul and Jonathon are mentioned in the vv.17-27. Verses 19-25a focus on the deeds of Saul and Jonathon whilst vv. 25b-27 focus on Jonathon and the deep personal loss that David is feeling at his death.

The repetition in the poetry emphases the point made in the first line. Saul and Jonathon are given high praise for their deeds and their role they played in the life of Israel. The refrain "How the mighty have fallen" is repeated in vv.19 and 25 which acts as an enclosure around praise for Saul and Jonathon. None of the negativity about Saul which has been part of the story is repeated here and this is consistent with the voice of David. It is the voice of the narrator that has been feeding us negative views about Saul both in actual words and the way he constructs the narrative.

We note that David addresses Jonathon directly in v.26. This is one of the most poignant pieces of poetry expressing the loss of someone who is dearly loved.

Message/theology in 2 Samuel 1a, 17-27

The lament is an extraordinary piece of literature and it would be marvellous if we could create such a beautiful piece of poetry help people grieve in our funeral services. It is very powerful to address the person directly and for this to happen in prose is equally powerful. David has been true to his beliefs about Saul and Kingship all the way through the story and appears genuinely distressed about the death of Saul even when Saul tried consistently to kill him. Unlike the narrator of the story who has told us that Saul is disobedient, lost his courage and is mentally unstable, David still affirms the greatness of his deeds and believes he did a lot of good for Israel. While I believe we need to be realistic about the person in an eulogy, in light of the opposing message about Saul it is nice to be reminded that Saul had a period of glory and in fact was no more disobedient that David. The positive view that David and Saul are together (v.23) implies some belief in an afterlife, but this is a teaching which is not explicit in the Old Testament until the Persian period.

We have been told about the covenant between Jonathon and David three times. In 1 Sam 18 the soul of Jonathon is bound to the soul of David and he loves David as his own soul. The Hebrew word for soul is often translated as life. The love of Jonathon has for David is clearly reciprocated by the words in v.26 where Jonathon's love surpassed that of a woman. It is likely to be a metaphor trying to explain the immensity of the love by using this metaphor which represents one of the highest forms of love. This metaphor of husband /wife love is used of the God /human relationship. We are invited into the grief of David in a very personal way.

A lament could be modelled if there has been a significant loss of a person within the congregation (you would need to check out with those close to the person that this was about to happen). It is an opportunity to talk about the need to express out grief at loss and how poor the church has done this in the past. The Old Testament allows a much healthier understanding of grief than some passages in the NT scriptures. God is big enough in the Old Testament to listen to a whole range of feelings, whether anger, joy, sorrow, blame, revenge, asking the question why - all of these areas are acceptable to express to God.

We in the church can model the capacity to grieve and speak of people honestly when
we are in those situations. Furthermore, we can give permission to people to share their feelings and show many situations in the Scriptures, especially in the Old Testament, in which people are able to express all aspects of their grief to God.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament: Mark 5:21-43 - there are no direct links to any OT text, however it would bring back memories to Jewish listeners of the miracles performed by Elijah in raising the widow's son from the dead (1 Kgs 17). 2 Cor 8:7-15 (Exod 16:18) Paul uses the middle part of this verse which in the OT is part of the story of the manna in the wilderness. the manna has been provided by God because the people grumbled that there wasn't enough to eat and Exod 16:18 is part of the instruction on how they are to use it. Paul wants to convince the Corinthians that they need to support the needy in Jerusalem and so uses this text to give authority that everything provided by God has to be shared. God provides for all.

Resources/Worship for 2 Samuel 1:1, 17 - 27

Worship and the Old Testament message; are there new ways to present the reading?

The lament probably needs to be read by a person with excellent reading skills

Psalm 130 has some elements of a lament structure and could be used as a model for the whole service. Tell the congregation and share with them how you have structured the service on this psalm.

Psalm 130 Worship Service
Call on God: v.1 Call to worship, hymn
Petition: v.2 Prayers, Children's talk, song
Lament: v.3 Reading, sermon
Affirmation of Trust: vv.5-6 A modern affirmation, hymn,
Address to Israel & trust in God: vv.7-8 Prayers intercession that God is present in
world, hymn, blessing.


The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the books of Samuel, eg. if you want to know more about the Philistines there are details given of several articles/chapters in books which can help with this topic.

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the 1990's is more up to date than some earlier works.

Anderson, A.A. 2 Samuel. WBC. Dallas: Word Books, 1989
Birch, B. The First and second Samuel. NIB. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998.
Brueggemann,W. First and Second Samuel. Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990
Anderson, A.A. 2 Samuel. WBC. Dallas: Word Books, 1989
Birch, B. The First and Second Samuel. NIB. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998.
Gordon, R.P. 1 & 2 Samuel. OTG. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1984
Gunn, D.M. The Story of King David. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1978
Hertzberg, H.W. 1 & 11 Samuel. OTL. London: SCM Press, 1964.
xxxxMauchline, J. 1 and 2 Samuel. NCB. London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1971.
The Dramatised Bible: ed.Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: