2 Samuel 1
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
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;


otherwise called,


Ch. 2 Samuel 1:1-16. The news of Saul’s death brought to David

1. Now it came to pass, &c.] The narrative of the closing chapters of the First Book is continued without any break. The division of the Books is purely artificial, and did not exist in the original Hebrew text. See Introd., ch. 1 § 1.

when David was returned] See 1 Samuel 30:26.

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.
2. on the third day] The exact position of Ziklag in the Negeb, or “South country,” has not been determined. But if we may place it in the neighbourhood of Beersheba (see note on 1 Samuel 27:6), the distance from the battle-field of Gilboa was about 90 or 100 miles as the crow flies, between two and three days’ journey for an active runner, so that the battle probably took place about the same time as David’s return home.

a man came out of the camp from Saul] This expression and that of 2 Samuel 1:3 seem to imply that the Amalekite represented himself as in some way attached to the Israelite army, either as a combatant, or more probably as a camp-follower. On the other hand, the words of 2 Samuel 1:6, “I happened by chance upon mount Gilboa,” seem to describe his presence on the battle-field as accidental. On the whole it is best to suppose that he was connected with the army, and to understand 2 Samuel 1:6 to mean merely that his finding Saul was accidental.

with his clothes rent, and earth upon his head] With the same tokens of mourning as the man of Benjamin who bore the news of the disastrous defeat of Aphek to Shiloh. See 1 Samuel 4:12, and note. There however the word rendered clothes is different, perhaps denoting a military dress, as in 1 Samuel 17:38 : that used here is the ordinary term.

fell to the earth, and did obeisance] Recognising David as Saul’s successor, and expecting a reward for his tidings.

did obeisance] Obeisance, derived from Lat. obedire through Fr. obéissance, was originally used in the literal sense of obedience, but in Bible-English is limited to the act of prostration, which was the outward token of obedience or reverence. The Heb. word, variously translated in the E. V. ‘bow oneself,’ ‘bow down,’ ‘fall flat,’ ‘crouch,’ ‘reverence,’ ‘do reverence,’ ‘worship,’ means literally to bow oneself down, and specially to worship God.

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.
4. How went the matter?] Lit. What was the affair? the same phrase as that used by Eli in 1 Samuel 4:16. The form of the Amalekite’s answer also closely corresponds to that of the man of Benjamin there. The rout, the slaughter among the people, the death of the leaders, are mentioned in an ascending climax.

many of the people] No contradiction to 1 Samuel 31:6, where “all his men” refers to Saul’s immediate body-guard.

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.
6. As I happened by chance] He represents himself as accidentally finding Saul, while wandering over Mount Gilboa in the confusion of the rout. See note on 2 Samuel 1:2.

mount Gilboa] See note on 1 Samuel 28:4.

Saul leaned upon his spear] This is not to be understood of attempted suicide (1 Samuel 31:4), as though he was leaning upon his spear to pierce himself through. It is a tragic picture of the last scene. The wounded and weary king leans upon his spear—the emblem of his royalty—for support. His followers are scattered or dead: his pursuers are close at hand. Death, accompanied with all the insolence and mockery of a triumphant foe, stares him in the face.

chariots] It is not necessary to regard this as a lie of the Amalekite. Parts of the elevated tract may have been accessible to the Philistine chariots. Stanley speaks of “the green strip of table-land, where probably the last struggle was fought” (Sinai and Pal. p. 345).

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.
9. Stand … upon me] Rather, Stand by me, or, Rise up against me, and similarly in 2 Samuel 1:10. Saul is represented in 2 Samuel 1:6 as still upright, not as lying prostrate on the ground.

anguish] The Heb. word occurs nowhere else, and its sense is doubtful. The Targum renders it agony; the LXX. terrible darkness; the Vulg. distress (angustiae). Probably it means giddiness or cramp, which made it impossible for him to defend himself any longer. The marg. renderings, my coat of mail, or, my embroidered coat, are improbable.

because my life is yet whole in me] A second reason for the request to slay him. He feared that he might fall alive into the hands of the Philistines. Cp. 1 Samuel 31:4.

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.
10. after that he was fallen] Not to be understood literally, of lying prostrate, but metaphorically, of defeat and disgrace. Cp.

“I am a poor fallen man, unworthy now

To be thy lord and master.”

Shakespeare, Hen. VIII. Act III. Sc. 2.

the crown] In all probability not the State-crown, but a light diadem, or fillet, worn round the helmet as the mark of royalty.

the bracelet] Armlets are still worn by Oriental sovereigns. Kings and distinguished warriors are represented on both Egyptian and Assyrian monuments as wearing highly ornamented bracelets or armlets. See Smith’s Dict. of the Bible, Art. Armlet, and Layard’s Nineveh and Babylon, II. 322.

Then David took hold on his clothes, and rent them; and likewise all the men that were with him:
11. on] “On” used as we now use “of.” Cp. 1 Samuel 27:11.

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.
12. mourned] The word literally denotes the beating of the breast, which is still a common expression of mourning in the East.

fasted until even] Fasting is mentioned as a sign of mourning in 1 Samuel 31:13; 2 Samuel 3:35; 2 Samuel 12:21-22. The day’s fast was considered to terminate at sunset, as at the present day in Mahommedan countries.

for the people of the Lord, and for the house of Israel] By “the people of Jehovah” is meant the army, gathered to fight Jehovah’s battles against the heathen. Cp. 1 Samuel 25:28; and for people = army cp. 2 Samuel 1:4 and 1 Samuel 4:3. “The house of Israel” describes the whole nation united under Saul, and now broken and scattered by his defeat and death.

The Sept. has “for the people of Judah,” a reading which involves a very slight change of letters, but is probably either an accidental corruption or an intentional emendation to get rid of the apparent tautology.

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.
13. the son of a stranger, an Amalekite] Or, the son of an Amalekite stranger, i.e. an Amalekite who had migrated into the land of Israel. The term is one regularly used in the O.T. of foreigners residing in a country not their own.

And David said unto him, How wast thou not afraid to stretch forth thine hand to destroy the LORD'S anointed?
14. the Lord’s anointed] The person of the king, consecrated to the service of Jehovah by anointing, was inviolable. Compare David’s reiterated expressions on this point in 1 Samuel 24:6; 1 Samuel 26:9; 1 Samuel 26:11; 1 Samuel 26:16; and the armourbearer’s reverence in 1 Samuel 31:4.

And David called one of the young men, and said, Go near, and fall upon him. And he smote him that he died.
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.
16. for thy mouth, &c.] For the expression cp. Job 15:6; Luke 19:22. He had accused himself of a capital crime, for which he deserved to die. Righteous indignation, and not merely political prudence, dictated his immediate execution.

This account of Saul’s death is obviously inconsistent with that given in 1 Samuel 31. It is useless to attempt to harmonize them, but it is quite unnecessary to assume that we have two different traditions of the manner of Saul’s death. The Amalekite’s story was clearly a fabrication. In wandering over the field of battle he had found the corpse of Saul and stripped it of its ornaments. With these he hastened to David, and invented his fictitious story in the hope of securing an additional reward for having with his own hand rid David of his bitterest enemy and removed the obstacle which stood between him and the throne. But he had formed a wrong estimate of the man he had to deal with. Whether David believed him or not, he summarily inflicted the penalty which the Amalekite deserved according to his own avowal, and proved to all Israel his abhorrence of such an impious act.

David’s chivalrous loyalty and generous unselfishness in mourning for the death of his unrelenting persecutor, whose removal opened the way for him to the throne, are striking evidences of the nobility of his character.

And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son:
17–27. David’s lamentation for Saul and Jonathan

17. lamented with this lamentation] The technical expression for a death-dirge or mournful elegy, such as that pronounced by David over Abner (ch. 2 Samuel 3:33-34), and by Jeremiah over Josiah (2 Chronicles 35:25).

(Also he bade them teach the children of Judah the use of the bow: behold, it is written in the book of Jasher.)
18. also he bade, &c.] And he gave commandment to teach the children of Judah the Bow. The E. V. cannot be right in inserting “the use of,” for the bow was a weapon already in common use. If the text is sound, “the Bow” must be a title given to David’s elegy from the mention of Jonathan’s bow in 2 Samuel 1:22. Somewhat similarly the section of Exodus containing the account of the burning bush is called “the Bush” in Luke 20:37, and the second chapter of the Koran is called “the Cow” from the incidental mention in it of the sacrifice of a cow.

It must be noted however that the Vatican MS. of the LXX. omits the word bow, and reads simply “And he commanded to teach [it] to the children of Judah.” Possibly therefore the word over which much discussion has been spent, has found its way into the text through some scribe’s mistake, and should be struck out.

The elegy was to be learnt by heart by the people in order to preserve the memory of Saul and Jonathan fresh among them. Compare the direction concerning the Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 31:19), and the title of Psalms 60.

behold, it is written in the book of Jasher] The elegy was included in the volume known as The Book of Jashar, or, the Upright. (LXX. βιβλίον τοῦ εὐθοῦς; Vulg. liber iustorum.) This book is mentioned only here and in Joshua 10:13. “The Upright” is explained by some to mean Israel as the covenant people of God, and connected in etymology and sense with the title Jeshurun (Deuteronomy 32:15); by others it is referred to the heroes whose praises were celebrated in the book. All that can be inferred from the references to it is that it contained a collection of ancient poems, commemorating remarkable events or great heroes of the national history: so that it formed a “book of Golden Deeds” for the instruction of posterity, a “national anthology” to which additions would be made from time to time as occasion offered.

The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen!
19. The beauty of Israel, &c.] Better, Thy beauty (lit. the beauty), O Israel, upon thine high places is slain. Saul and Jonathan are thus described as the chief ornament and honour of Israel. The word translated glory may also mean roe or gazelle, a rendering which is adopted by some commentators, who refer it to Jonathan. There is not however any satisfactory evidence to shew that Jonathan’s personal beauty and swiftness of foot in attack or retreat had gained for him among the troops the name of ‘the Gazelle,’ as Ewald supposes (Hist. of Israel, III. 30), and as the elegy celebrates both Saul and Jonathan, the opening word cannot be limited to the latter only.

thy high places] Gilboa is meant. The expression suggests the extremity of the disaster, when the mountain-strongholds of the land were forced and their defenders slain. Cp. note on ch. 2 Samuel 22:34.

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.
20. Tell it not in Gath, &c.] Gath on account of its political importance, Askelon as a great religious centre, are chosen as representative of the whole country. Gath seems to have had special prominence as the city of Achish; not impossibly the temple of Ashtaroth in which Saul’s armour was deposited was the famous temple of Venus at Askelon. See note on 1 Samuel 31:10. The phrase “Tell it not in Gath” is quoted in Micah 1:10 (E. V. declare), and perhaps passed into a proverb.

Publish it not] Additional force is gained by keeping the usual meaning of the word, publish not the good news (LXX. accurately, μὴ εὐαγγελίσησθε). Of course the words can only be understood as a poetical wish that it were possible for Israel to be spared the degradation of Philistine triumph. The news was carried at once throughout the land (1 Samuel 31:9).

the daughters of the Philistines] Victories were celebrated by the women of the country with public songs and dances. Cp. 1 Samuel 18:6; Exodus 15:20-21.

the uncircumcised] The common epithet for the Philistines, as heathen who had no share in Jehovah’s covenant with Israel. No small part of the bitterness of defeat to a pious heart consisted in the triumph of the heathen over God’s inheritance. Cp. 1 Samuel 14:6.

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.
21. let there be no dew, &c.] The language is poetical. Nature is as it were summoned to share in the mourning. The scene of such a terrible disaster should be unvisited by fertilizing dew and rain, and lie smitten with eternal barrenness. For the thought that nature can sympathize with man compare Ezekiel 31:15.

nor fields of offerings] An expansion of the preceding thought. Gilboa should no longer possess fruitful fields, to produce tithes and offerings for Jehovah. The greatest curse which can befall it is to be cut off from rendering service to Jehovah. Compare the description of extreme famine in Joel 1:9.

is vilely cast away] This rendering seems to be an attempt to combine two possible meanings of the Heb. word, (a) was cast away, (b) was defiled with blood and dust, of which the latter is probably right.

as though he had not been anointed with oil] The original, which might be rendered exactly the shield of Saul unanointed with oil, leaves it uncertain whether the epithet anointed belongs to the shield or to Saul. (a) Most commentators understand it to refer to the shield, left upon the battle-field, uncared for, uncleansed from the stains of the combat. Shields made of metal were oiled to polish them; those made of wood and leather, to preserve them, and make missiles glide off easily. Cp. Isaiah 21:5; and Verg. Aen. VII. 626:

“Pars leves clypeos et spicula lucida tergunt

Arvina pingui.”

“With unctuous lard their shields they clean,

And make their javelins bright and sheen.”

(b) On the other hand this term anointed is everywhere else applied to persons—in the books of Samuel always to the King—and not to things, and it is certainly grammatically possible to connect it with Saul, as is done by the E. V. The sense thus gained is much more forcible. ‘There the shield of mighty heroes was defiled—yea even the shield of Saul, whose consecrated person shared the common fate as though he had never been set apart as the Anointed of Jehovah.’

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.
22. From the blood, &c.] In the figurative language of poetry arrows are represented as drinking blood, the sword as eating flesh. See Deuteronomy 32:42; Isaiah 34:6; Jeremiah 46:10.

the bow of Jonathan] His favourite weapon, by the gift of which he sealed his friendship with David. See 1 Samuel 18:4; 1 Samuel 20:20. Was it a reminiscence of that gift which made David call this elegy the Bow?

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.
23. lovely and pleasant] Perhaps rather, loving and kindly. The words express the mutual affection which existed between father and son. Jonathan remained faithful to his filial duty even when his father was persecuting his closest friend, and Saul, in spite of temporary outbursts of passion, loved his son to the last. Some commentators would render “in their lives and in their death they were not divided,” but the E. V. preserves the balance of the clauses better.

swifter than eagles] Cp. Jeremiah 4:13; Habakkuk 1:8.

stronger than lions] Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 17:10; Jdg 14:18.

Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights, who put on ornaments of gold upon your apparel.
24. Ye daughters of Israel] The women who had once celebrated Saul’s triumphs, and shared the spoil of his victories, are summoned to lament his loss. This incidental mention indicates how much Saul’s successful wars, so briefly alluded to in the history of his reign (1 Samuel 14:47), had enriched the nation.

with other delights] A possible rendering: but with delights perhaps rather means delicately or richly.

How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! O Jonathan, thou wast slain in thine high places.
25. O Jonathan, thou wast slain in thine high places] O Jonathan, slain upon thine high places! The insertion of thou wast weakens the force and pathos. Cp. 2 Samuel 1:19. The hero of a hundred fights, slain at last in those mountain strong-holds of his country which he had once won and defended so successfully (1 Samuel 14).

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!
27. How are the mighty fallen] This thrice-repeated refrain sounds the keynote of the elegy. Cp. Psalm 42:5; Psalm 42:11; Psalm 43:5; Psalm 107:8; Psalm 107:15; Psalm 107:21; Psalm 107:31.

the weapons of war] Metaphorically, of Saul and Jonathan as the instruments of battle for the nation. Cp. Isaiah 13:5, Acts 9:15 (σκεῦος as in the LXX. here). To understand it literally of swords and spears would close the most pathetic of elegies with an incredible bathos.

Dean Stanley observes that “Over the portal of the sepulchral chapel of the most famous of mediaeval heroes—the tomb of the Cid near Burgos—we find inscribed the words of David “How are the mighty fallen and the weapons of war perished,” “Quomodo ceciderunt robusti, et perierunt arma bellica” (Lect. II. 31).

It is needless to dwell on the poetic beauty, the chivalrous loyalty, the tender love, which characterize this most pathetic of funeral odes.

“Saul had fallen with all his sins upon his head, fallen in the bitterness of despair, and as it might have seemed to mortal eye, under the shadow of the curse of God. But not only is there in David’s lament no revengeful feeling at the death of his persecutor.… but he dwells with unmixed love on the brighter recollections of the departed. He speaks only of the Saul of earlier times, the mighty conqueror, the delight of his people, the father of his beloved and faithful friend; like him in life, united with him in death. Such expressions … may fairly be taken as justifying the irrepressible instinct of humanity which compels us to dwell on the best qualities of those who have just departed.” Stanley, Lect. II. 30. See too a noble passage to the same effect in Maurice’s Prophets and Kings, Serm. II., p. 32.

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