2 Samuel 1
Benson Commentary
Now it came to pass after the death of Saul, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites, and David had abode two days in Ziklag;
2 Samuel 1:1-2. David had abode two days in Ziklag — Which, it appears from this, the Amalekites had not so burned down that David and his men could not lodge in it. On the third day — From David’s return to Ziklag. With his clothes rent — As the manner of deep mourners was.

It came even to pass on the third day, that, behold, a man came out of the camp from Saul with his clothes rent, and earth upon his head: and so it was, when he came to David, that he fell to the earth, and did obeisance.
And David said unto him, From whence comest thou? And he said unto him, Out of the camp of Israel am I escaped.
And David said unto him, How went the matter? I pray thee, tell me. And he answered, That the people are fled from the battle, and many of the people also are fallen and dead; and Saul and Jonathan his son are dead also.
And David said unto the young man that told him, How knowest thou that Saul and Jonathan his son be dead?
And the young man that told him said, As I happened by chance upon mount Gilboa, behold, Saul leaned upon his spear; and, lo, the chariots and horsemen followed hard after him.
2 Samuel 1:6. Behold, Saul leaned upon his spear — Endeavouring to run it through his body. It is plain, that what this Amalekite told David was a made story; for it is expressly said, in the foregoing chapter, that Saul fell upon his sword. Who this Amalekite was does not appear; but, as Delaney observes, there are always a great number of strollers that follow camps, and this lad probably was one of them. Their business is pillage and stripping the dead. This youth, it seems, knew his business, and got the start of the Philistines in the pillage of Saul. Having met with his body, he robbed it of its royal ornaments, and made the best of his way to David with them, in order to ingratiate himself with him, as he was likely to succeed to the throne: and he made up a story of such circumstances as he imagined would appear plausible, and gain David’s favour.

And when he looked behind him, he saw me, and called unto me. And I answered, Here am I.
And he said unto me, Who art thou? And I answered him, I am an Amalekite.
He said unto me again, Stand, I pray thee, upon me, and slay me: for anguish is come upon me, because my life is yet whole in me.
2 Samuel 1:9. For anguish is come upon me — The Hebrew word שׁבצ shabats, here rendered anguish, seems to be wrongly translated in this place. It is rendered ocellata chlamys, by Buxtorf, a wrought, embroidered, or speckled coat of mail: a translation which is countenanced by Exodus 28:4, and Psalm 14:14, where words of the same derivation are rendered broidered coat and raiment of needle-work. The sense of the sentence seems to be, my coat of mail hinders the spear from entering far enough to produce instant death, though my wound is mortal. Thus it is understood by many interpreters. This Amalekite pretended therefore that Saul desired him to draw out the spear from his wound, and to run it through his body with force where the coat of mail would give it a passage.

So I stood upon him, and slew him, because I was sure that he could not live after that he was fallen: and I took the crown that was upon his head, and the bracelet that was on his arm, and have brought them hither unto my lord.
2 Samuel 1:10. So I stood upon him and slew him — Saul, according to the true history, was afraid of being slain by the uncircumcised: and how was the matter mended by desiring to die by the hand of an Amalekite? And I took the crown that was upon his head — “Possibly the serious reader,” says Delaney, “may not think it an observation altogether unworthy of his regard, that an Amalekite now took the crown from Saul’s head, which he had forfeited by his disobedience in relation to Amalek.”

Then David took hold on his clothes, and rent them; and likewise all the men that were with him:
And they mourned, and wept, and fasted until even, for Saul, and for Jonathan his son, and for the people of the LORD, and for the house of Israel; because they were fallen by the sword.
2 Samuel 1:12. They mourned and wept, and fasted — This is an evident instance of the disinterestedness and tenderness of David’s heart, in that he could not forbear bewailing this melancholy end of Saul, though he was his bitter enemy, and sought his life.

And David said unto the young man that told him, Whence art thou? And he answered, I am the son of a stranger, an Amalekite.
2 Samuel 1:13-14. The son of a stranger — This expression signifies one who resided among the Israelites, and had embraced their religion, though not admitted into their communion. David said, How wast thou not afraid to destroy the Lord’s anointed? — Who possibly might have recovered, and been carried off by some of his own men; the Philistines, by some extraordinary providence of God, being diverted from the pursuit. It was the greater presumption in this young man to do it, since none of Saul’s own servants durst venture upon such an act.

And David said unto him, How wast thou not afraid to stretch forth thine hand to destroy the LORD'S anointed?
And David called one of the young men, and said, Go near, and fall upon him. And he smote him that he died.
2 Samuel 1:15. He smote him that he died — Abarbinel thinks that, as the man was an Amalekite, David supposed that he had killed Saul out of revenge for the slaughter he had made of the Amalekites. But, if not; if the fact were as this Amalekite stated, and Saul bid him despatch him, “David rightly judged, that Saul had no power over his own life; and, consequently, should not have been obeyed in such a command: God and the state had as much right to his life when he was weary of it as when he most loved it. And, besides all this, it behooved David to vindicate his own innocence to the world, by so public an execution: he might otherwise, perhaps, have been branded with the guilt of employing that wretch to murder his persecutor. David also, doubtless, had it in view to deter others by this example. He consulted his own safety in this, as Cesar is said, by restoring the statues of Pompey, to have fixed his own. This was a wise lecture to princes, and many of them have unquestionably profited by it.” — Delaney.

And David said unto him, Thy blood be upon thy head; for thy mouth hath testified against thee, saying, I have slain the LORD'S anointed.
And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son:
2 Samuel 1:17. David lamented with this lamentation — He and his servants had lamented over Saul and Jonathan before, 2 Samuel 1:12. But now he composed a song for a public and universal lamentation, than which there is nothing more elegant and passionate to be found in all antiquity. The bursts of sorrow are so strong, so pathetic, so short, so various, so unconnected, that no grief was ever painted in such living and lasting colours. And it is one sure sign and beautiful effect of this sorrow, that David’s heart was so softened and melted by it as to lose all traces of Saul’s cruelty to him. He remembered nothing now but the brave man, the valiant leader, the magnificent prince, the king of God’s appointment, his own once indulgent master, his Michal’s and his Jonathan’s father. In the mean time there are the utmost decency and propriety in the concern which David discovers, and in the encomiums respectively passed on Saul and Jonathan; nothing but what became the character of both, and suited the situation of him who penned it. Saul he celebrates for his former victories, his swiftness, and strength, and sheds a tear over him for his defeat, and the indignities which were offered to him after his death; which humanity would draw from the eye, even over an enemy that was otherwise brave, and died fighting for his country; but without the least expression of sorrow for him on his own account; and, what deserves to be mentioned to his honour, without a single reflection upon his past injustice and cruelty toward himself. But as to Jonathan, how just and warm is the grief he manifests! I am distressed for thee, &c. — Delaney and Chandler.

(Also he bade them teach the children of Judah the use of the bow: behold, it is written in the book of Jasher.)
2 Samuel 1:18. And bade them teach the children of Judah — Among whom he now was, and over whom he first reigned; the use of the bow — While he made lamentation for the dead, he did not neglect the living: that they might be provided with better means to defend themselves, as the king designed of God to reign over them, he ordered that they should immediately learn to be skilful in the use of bows and arrows, by which principally the Philistines had gained this victory. The Israelites seem hitherto to have chiefly used slings, spears, and swords; but were now taught to shoot with bows and arrows. As, however, the words, the use of, are not in the original, but literally translated it is, He bade them teach the children of Judah the bow; many learned men are of opinion that it was not the use of the bow, which they were to learn, but this song of David, termed The Bow. There does not appear, however, to be any proof that this song bore any such title, nor is any sufficient reason given why it should bear any such. It seems much more probable, for the reason just named, that our translators have given us the true interpretation of the passage. Behold it is written in the book of Jasher — That David enjoined the use of the bow to be taught. It is more largely and particularly described there. Or, if The Bow meant this song, the sense is, that the song was recorded in that book, which some think to have been a book of odes and hymns, in which were recited the successes or misfortunes of the Israelites in battle.

The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen!
2 Samuel 1:19. The beauty of Israel — Hebrew, הצבי, hatsebi; the honour, glory, flower, or ornament, meaning Saul and Jonathan, and their army. Delaney understands the expression only of Jonathan, and observes, as Jonathan’s death touched him nearest, it was natural he should be the first object of his lamentation; and, to put it out of all doubt that Jonathan is meant, he varies the expression in a subsequent verse — Jonathan slain in thy high places! The word rendered slain, חלל, chalal, properly means stabbed, and does not appear anywhere to bear the sense that Dr. Kennicott would put upon it, who would understand it as a noun, and not as a participle, and translate it a warrior. How moving a circumstance is this here noticed! Jonathan’s falling on his own high places! those in which he might naturally have expected safety; those in which he delighted; those in which he had long enjoyed peace and pleasure. Or thine, O land of Israel. How are the mighty fallen — How untimely and lamentably Jonathan! How sadly and shamefully Saul by his own hand! How strangely! how unexpectedly! how universally the army! This solemn, noble, and pathetic exclamation of sorrow was probably repeated at the close of every verse of this mournful song.

Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.
2 Samuel 1:20. Tell it not in Gath, &c. — Such a lamentable misfortune and disgrace, David would, if possible, have concealed from all the enemies of Israel. And he finely insinuates in these words what matter of triumph it would be to the Philistines, and seems scarce able to bear the thought of it, especially as it would be greatly to the dishonour both of God and his people. Lest the daughters, &c. — He mentions these, because it was the custom of women in those times and places to celebrate with triumphal songs and dances those victories which their men obtained.

Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew, neither let there be rain, upon you, nor fields of offerings: for there the shield of the mighty is vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, as though he had not been anointed with oil.
2 Samuel 1:21. Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew, &c. — This is not an imprecation, but a passionate expression of the sorrow and horror which he felt at this public disgrace and loss, which were such as if he thought every person or thing which contributed to it ought to bear tokens of the divine displeasure, such as the earth does when it is deprived of the influence of dew and rain. Nor fields of offerings — That is, fertile fields, which may produce fair and goodly fruits fit to be offered to God. For there the shield of the mighty is vilely (that is, dishonourably) cast away — “Throwing away the shield was a matter of the highest reproach in all the accounts of antiquity. And this in the practice of so brave a prince as Saul was an example of terrible consequence, and therefore must not go unreproved, especially in a song which soldiers were to learn. David could not censure Saul; he was his prince and his enemy; the infamy, however, must fall somewhere; let the place in which it happened be accursed. Poetry justifies this, and we need not scruple to say, it is the most masterly stroke the science will admit. And with what inimitable address has he conducted this reproach! For at the same time that the mountains are cursed for it, he hath contrived to turn it into praise upon Saul: There the shield of the mighty was cast away; no hint by whom.”

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.
2 Samuel 1:22. The bow of Jonathan returned not back — Without effect. The arrows shot from his bow did not miss their mark, but pierced deep into the fat and flesh, the heart and bowels, and shed the blood of the mighty. The sword of Saul returned not empty — Always did great execution (as we now speak) upon those with whom he fought.

Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided: they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.
2 Samuel 1:23. Saul and Jonathan were lovely — Hebrew, הנאהבים, hanneehabim, were loved, namely, by each other, and by the people. And pleasant in their lives — Amiable and obliging in their carriage and conversation, both toward one another and toward others: for, as for Saul’s fierce behaviour toward Jonathan, it was only a sudden passion, by which his ordinary temper was not to be measured; and as for his carriage toward David, it proceeded from that jealousy, and those reasons of state, which too often engage even well-natured princes in similar hostilities. And in their death they were not divided — They were united in life and death; in life by the same common affection; in death by the same common fate. This is just what David intends to express. He does not, by any means, appear to design a commendation of their lives in any other respect. Nor does he speak, a word of Saul’s piety; he only commends him for those qualities which he really possessed; a fit pattern for all preachers in their funeral commendations. Dr. Lowth has beautifully expressed David’s meaning: —

“Nobile par, quos junxit, amor, quos gloria junxit, Una nunc fato jungit acerba dies.”

We will not attempt to give our readers a translation of this elegant couplet, but we will present them below with a paraphrase not inferior, perhaps, in elegance or spirit, on this and two or three of the other stanzas of this elegy, from a poetical version of it by Thomas Roberts, Esq., late of Bristol, with which he has kindly favoured us, and in which both the beauty and force of the original seem to be well imitated. We wish the narrow limits of our work would admit of our inserting the whole.

They were swifter than eagles — In pursuing their enemies, and executing their designs: which is a great commendation in a prince, and a requisite quality in a warrior. They were stronger than lions — Or, rather, more courageous than lions. According to Agur’s observation, Proverbs 30:30, the lion never betakes himself to flight, but faces his foe to the last. Courage then seems the most remarkable property of the lion. And since David uses the same word here in speaking of Saul and Jonathan which Agur uses in speaking of this property of the lion, he evidently means to celebrate the courage of his heroes rather than their strength; and to say that, in facing the enemy and braving of danger, they were undaunted as lions.

Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights, who put on ornaments of gold upon your apparel.
2 Samuel 1:24. Ye daughters of Jerusalem, weep over Saul — “Nothing,” says Dr. Dodd, “can be more elegant than this verse: while the warriors of Israel lamented their chiefs, the divine poet calls upon the women of the land to shed their tears over the ashes of princes, whose warlike exploits had so often procured them those ornaments which are most pleasing to the sex, and had enriched them with the spoils of their enemies.” Who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights — The word other seems to be unnecessarily supplied here by our translators, there being nothing for it in the Hebrew, which, literally rendered, is, Who clothed you in scarlet with delights; that is, in scarlet, wherewith you are so much delighted. For this seems to have been the colour in which the Israelitish women delighted.

How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! O Jonathan, thou wast slain in thine high places.
2 Samuel 1:25-27. O Jonathan, slain in thy high places — He says thy, for they were in Jonathan’s country; and, had not his father disinherited him by his sins, in his dominions. Thus David’s grief, which began with Jonathan, naturally ends with him. It is well known that we lament ourselves in the loss of our friends; and David was no way solicitous to conceal this circumstance. I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan — In the former part of this lamentation David celebrates Jonathan as a brave man, in the latter he laments him as a friend. And in this respect he had certainly as great obligations to him as ever man had to another. For, as he here observes, Jonathan’s love to him was indeed wonderful, passing the love of women. And the weapons of war perished — All military glory gone from Israel! “It may be the work of fancy in me,” says Dr. Delaney, “but to me, I own, this last stanza is the strongest picture of grief I ever perused. To my ear every line in it is either swelled with sighs, or broken with sobs. The judicious reader will find a break in the first line of it, very probably so left in the original, the writer not being able to find an epithet for Jonathan answering to the idea of his distress.” Our translators have supplied the interjection O! O Jonathan, stabbed in thy high places! “To conclude: Few have ever perused this lamentation with so little attention as not to perceive it evidently animated with a spirit truly martial and magnanimous! It is the lamentation of a brave man over brave men. It is, in one word, a lamentation equally pathetic and heroic. To this may be added, it is not less generous. For in the most noble spirit David passes over in entire silence all the ill-treatment which he, and his friend Jonathan on his account, had received from Saul; he does not make the most distant allusion to it, but seems through the whole song to strive to conceal every thing that might cast any reflection upon him.” The lines we promised are as follows: —

“Mid the throng’d phalanx, where the battle press’d,

The bow of Jonathan, infuriate, burn’d;

Nor e’er, from slaughter’s sanguinary feast,

The sword of Saul unsatiated return’d!

All eyes, all hearts, admired the lovely pair,

The princely parent and the pious son;

Whom life united, not divided are

In death, whose dire catastrophe is one.

With rapid pinion through th’ aerial plain

The lightning eagle flies, but swifter they;

Strong is the monarch of the wood’s domain,

But more their might indignant o’er the prey.

Ye weeping nymphs, attune the mourning lyre

To solemn strains of sympathetic wo;

Daughters of Israel, who the brave admire,

Bid for the brave the lay funereal flow!

‘Twas Saul returning from the battle’s toils,

Triumphant chief! amidst his warriors bold,

Who crown’d your beauties with Philistia’s spoils,

Who deck’d your charms with diamonds and gold,”

For the rest, see the Arminian Magazine for June 1811.

I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.
How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished!
Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

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