Then David took up this lament for Saul and his son Jonathan,
2 Samuel 1:17, 18. - (ZIKLAG.)
I. THE OCCASION of this lament, threnody, elegy, or funeral dirge, was the arrival of fatal tidings from Gilboa. "There were only two in that great slaughter concerning whose fate David was eager to know the truth - his enemy and his friend. 'How knowest thou that Saul and Jonathan his son be dead?' (ver. 5). When the news was fully established, he immediately went through all the signs of Eastern grief. He and his six hundred heroes sat with their clothes rent, uttering the loud Oriental wail, observing the rigid Eastern fast until the sunset of the fatal day released them. Then David roused himself to action. The first vent to his grief was in the stern exaction of the life of the unhappy messenger, according to the hard temper of those fierce times. The second vent was in the touching dirge, which, according to the tender spirit of the sweet psalmist of Israel, he poured forth over the two departed chiefs" ('The Songs of Israel,' Good Words, 1863). It was probably accompanied by his harp, that had long been silent, but was now taken up afresh and struck to a song of sorrow which for tenderness and intensity has never been surpassed. "The genius and origin of the elegy among the Hebrews may be clearly traced to their manner of celebrating their funeral rites" (Lowth). "If you attend to David's harp, you shall hear as many hearse-like airs as carols" (Bacon).
II. THE TITLE of "The Bow" (Kesheth), which it appears to have received, may have been derived from the mention of the bow in ver. 22, as the favourite weapon of Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:4; 1 Samuel 20:20), as it was of his tribesmen (1 Chronicles 12:2); or "because it was a martial ode" (Keil). It is improbable that David introduced "the use of the bow" (Authorized Version) into the tribe of Judah, either as a tribute to the memory of his friend, or as a means of repairing the recent disaster; for that had been long familiar. But he "bade them teach the children of Judah" the song of "the bow" (possibly that his youthful warriors might sing it in their military practice with the bow) - a title given to it in the Book of Jashar (Joshua 10:13), or collection of national songs, in which it was preserved. "When the writer of 2 Samuel transferred the dirge to his own pages, he transferred it, as we might do any of the psalms, with its title, which was as follows: 'For the children of Israel to learn by heart. Kasheth from the Book of Jasher'" ('Speaker's Commentary').
III. ITS FORM is that of a lyrical composition, the oldest as well as the most common species of Hebrew poetry; and (like the rest) it is distinguished by parallelism or rhythm, "the measured rise and fall of feeling and utterance, in which the poet's effort to become fully master of his poetic inspiration finds harmonious expression, and the external rhythm of sound is properly subordinated to the rhythmic pulsation of thought" (British Quarterly Review, January, 1877). It contains a refrain or chorus, twice repeated; and falls into three strophic divisions marked by its recurrence, either at their commencement (Keil)or their close (Kitto, 'Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature'); or, according to more common arrangement, into five or six stanzas. "The putting of lamentations into poems made them the more moving and affecting, and the more lasting" (Matthew Henry).
IV. IN SUBSTANCE and general character it is an outburst of natural grief (as the song of Hannah was of spiritual gladness) over the fallen heroes, and a celebration of their worth. "We can hardly call it religious poetry. It is not a psalm or hymn. The name of God never occurs in it. It is a war song which sums up the national feelings of every age over the graves of its departed heroes" (Stanley). Yet it is instinct with most generous and devout feeling. "As in view of the remains of a friend all the pain which he caused us while living is forgotten in the remembrance of his excellences and the kindness which he showed us, so David no longer has a memory for the period of persecution now past. He is a man, and not the judge of the dead. Therefore Saul stands before him only in his virtues, and he celebrates not only Jonathan, but also Saul, as loved ones who can never be forgotten. We see in this case that anger belongs only to the accidental utterances of noble souls, whose constant motive is love" (Delitzsch, 'Old Test. Hist. of Redemption'). "Though God often reproved his ancient people for paying religious homage to the idols of the heathen, yet we never find that he reproved them for paying funeral honours to departed men of superior merit among their own nation. Their example in this respect, therefore, seems to have a Divine sanction, and plainly teaches us the propriety of lamenting the death and commemorating the virtues of those who have been eminently useful in life" (N. Emmons). - D.
And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son.1. The Bible has been called "the record of human sorrows," and so it is. There are, however, parts of the sacred Scriptures where the shadows lay thickest, and the notes are ever in the minor key: I refer to the lamentations. What strains in music are more pathetic and moving than those of the "Marcia Funebre"! and when did ever Handel, or Beethoven, or Chopin exercise their genius with greater effect than in those compositions which unveil in sound the secret agony of bereavement! So in Holy Scripture, when the plectrum of the Spirit sweeps across the chords of the human soul in the dark hour of grief, there is something unspeakably touching in the inspired cadences.
2. Such outpourings of grief as are found in the dirge in this lesson, composed by David, may be "highly poetical," and betray the tense condition of the emotions; yet they are not devoid of moral teaching, and vividly depict the affectionate character of him who was a type of "the Man of sorrows."
I. DAVID'S LAMENT OVER SAUL.
1. I see in this the spirit of forgiveness. There was enough in Saul's dealings with David to have dulled the poignancy of grief, and even to have called up resentment. David's conduct seems an anticipation of the Christian precept, not only to forgive, but to love your enemies. Forgiveness of injuries, "the flower of charity," was ripened by the rays of the Sun of Righteousness, for there was little enough of it in the world before Christ came. I am not forgetting that Solomon said, "It is the glory of a man to pass by a transgression" (Proverbs 19:11). On the other hand, there is a tone of vindictiveness in parts of the Old Testament — in the Psalter, for instance — which reveals a low standard of morality in some respects. The "eye for eye" and "tooth for tooth" principle required nothing short of the Life and Death of Christ to dislodge it. Even David, on another occasion, betrayed something very much like the spirit of revenge (1 Kings 2:9). However, before us we have a beautiful instance of forgiveness, when the maxim, "De mortuis nil nisi bonum," was certainly not in the ascendant.
2. Moreover, David not only gave vent to his grief in the utterances of this elegy; but he taught it to the people. This arose from his generous desire that Israel should remember the greatness of Saul.
3. The object of teaching this dirge to the people was that they might remember it and repeat it. In the same way, the "Lamentations" of Jeremiah are repeated by the Jews at the "Wailing Place" with weeping, and thus the recollection of their sins and miseries is perpetuated. David willed that the memory of his predecessor should live in the hearts of the people.
4. David weeping over Saul is a type of Christ weeping over Jerusalem which rejected Him.
II. DAVID'S LAMENT OVER JONATHAN.
1. This was the climax of his grief, the bitterest element in the cup of sorrow.
2. David's sorrow arose from the friendship which existed between him and Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:1). Similarly, Jacob's love for Benjamin is described (Genesis 44:30). But this was outside all family ties. Strangers found in each other what they could not find in the domestic circle. This romantic form of love played a conspicuous part in the ancient world. Poets, artists, and philosophers made it their subject. Christianity has been taunted with its disregard of friendship. Yet the wider circles of love did not obliterate, in the heart of Christ, that. "love of mutual benevolence" which could delight in certain souls through an "affinity of natural qualities and feelings." Thus Lazarus was a friend of Christ, and St. John "the disciple whom Jesus loved."
3. But it may be admitted — although there are Christian friendships recorded in the history of the Church, and to be found amongst Christians, which are beautiful and separate from all that is essential or merely sentimental — that friendship has not the same conspicuous place which it had when Aristotle took two books of his "Ethics" to treat the theme; and there are reasons for this which need not now be discussed. It is sufficient to observe that its rightful value as a form of love is preserved. "What it seems to lose in importance, it gains in inward, worth by the consecration it receives from the Christian spirit" (Luthardt).
4. The description of Jonathan's love for David has ever been interpreted as a type of the love of the Christian for Christ, David's Son and Lord; and the covenant which he made with him, and the way he stripped himself of his robes and weapons (1 Samuel 18:3, 4), to be an image of the covenant with Christ, and the willingness to be stripped of all for His sake. The strong language which depicts the fervour of natural affection is a vehicle to describe the intensity and transforming character of Christian love.Lessons:
1. To try to learn the lesson — hard for flesh and blood, but possible through the grace of the Holy Spirit, not only to forgive, but to love those who have injured us. Though Saul had sought David's life, David wept over Saul's death.
2. To learn from the friendship between Jonathan and David, and the value which has been set upon friendship, how important is the choice of friends. How the influence may be powerful either for good or evil which comes from companionship: "With the holy thou shalt be holy, and with a perfect man thou shalt be perfect;" so the opposite, "With the froward thou shalt learn forwardness" (Psalm 18:25, 26).
3. All human friendship must be subordinate to the love of that Friend who laid down His life for us, and who is faithful when all others desert us.
(W. H. Hutchings, M. A.)
Monday Club Sermons.I. A GOOD CHANCE WILL NOT ENSURE A SUCCESSFUL CAREER. Be thankful for an open path to success. But be cautious. Education, fortune, and friends will not make a man. That, his own energy and faithfulness must do. The world's competition makes short work of external advantages, and a good chance makes more conspicuous poor achievement. Indeed, the kindest choice may be the adversity which puts men on their mettle, calling out that earnestness and thoroughness which the world loves to honour. A thousand times it has been proved that he who will succeed, can; a thousand times, that the fairest opportunity may be thrown away by reckless or impotent or unwise favourites of fortune.
II. DIVINE HELP WILL NOT SECURE SUCCESS. What more could Heaven have done for this king with a ruined life? And are there none in these days for whom God seems to have done everything? Their very birth was into blessings. How sacred influences have sung over their cradles, and rocked them to sleep in a fond mother's arms. How friends have taken them by the hand, wise to counsel, patient to bear, helpful to instruct. And God has come very near. It is almost impossible for a youth to grow up in a Christian land without feeling strongly and persuasively the claim of God upon him. Companions, older friends, become Christians. He joins them and catches the inspiration. He knows God has come to him, and thinks he has come to God. Is it genuine? Will it last? Each of us knows some Saul who has fought against Heaven's kindness to accomplish his own ruin. Divine love cannot save an unwilling heart.
III. ENTIRE CONSECRATION TO GOD IS THE ONLY ASSURANCE OF A SUCCESSFUL CAREER. Saul's ruin sprang from his disobedience. Absolute surrender to God, unquestioning and unswerving obedience, would have fixed his will and enthroned the good in his nature. Though God gives opportunity, man must use it. Special Divine favours heap up condemnation, if not met with a consecrated will. The Divine purpose may use a bad man against his will and without his profit. There is no sadder sight than the gradual breaking down of a lofty soul under the influence of unresisted temptation. Religious impressions are not religious principles. Good and evil dwell together in every soul; character is determined, not by our sensitiveness to their influence, but by our choice. How do I know but that now some of you may be hesitating before great temptations — to use for yourselves that which is not yours; to break over the pure and sacred laws which control the relations of man and woman? That way lies death. The laws of God cannot be overcome. Though you lived a king, shame would defile you, gloom and fear gather about your last hours. But to the wise, God increaseth knowledge; to the obedient He addeth strength. On this earth they have peace and honour; among the angels, before the face of God, eternal blessedness.
(Monday Club Sermons.)
2. The Song of the Bow is, therefore, a song of war. In the old Hebrew fashion, this is full of the grief of life. Nature is called, as it were, to put on mourning for the illustrious dead; "Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be on you no dew," no refreshing shower, no bubbling desert spring. It is as if the plants and the woods were called to join in the melancholy wail, and the very flowers to sigh forth their grief; and it is so that in a great and sorrowful deprivation, trees and herbs, flowers and forests are called to sympathise with human sorrow; the rose to blush mournfully, and the anemone and the hyacinth to speak forth in their floral leaves the .tokens of grief, what conquers, what overcomes this. The Song of the Bow is not only the song of battle, discipline, and trial, but a song of victory and triumph. In Christ we adore the God of resurrections. We see Him, indeed, whose bow was made quite naked in the sight of all the tribes; "there brake He the arrows of the bow, the spear, the shield in the battle;" there "He brake the bow, and snapped the spear in sunder." Verily, when I think of the death of Christ and His resurrection, I feel that we may teach the children the Song of the Bow. Life is, indeed, full of resurrections. In many a floral and insect world she seems to exhibit something of the gospel of the resurrection, and hangs over the grave "resurrection lights." From repulsive shells which look forbidding to the eye and the touch, emerge creatures delicate and beautiful, bursting their harsh black prison, and on gossamer wings soaring and sailing through light and air. Out of the body of crawling worms comes forth the winged splendour of the butterfly; it spun its shroud, its coffin, its grave, and so prepared for its resurrection; then, instead of creeping on the earth, and feeding on the dust, it indulges its variable flight and sucks the pollen from the fragrant flowers.
(E. Paxton Hood.)
It is written in the book of Jasher.
I. THE COMBINATION OF THE POETICAL AND THE PRACTICAL IN ONE PERSON. Where will you find a truer, sweeter, deeper, more gifted poet than David? Where will you find a more natural and soul-moving lyrical outburst of grief than this over Jonathan? Tennyson's tender and touching, delicate and profound, and, to bereaved hearts, unspeakably precious "In Memoriam" is poor compared with this Davidic ode. Yet the poet, in his sorrow and his dirge, is wise, forecasting, politic, practical. With the bow and arrow Saul and Jonathan had been slain, so David would have the children of Judah well trained in "the use of the bow."
1. When the poetic is unpractical, merely dreamy, unsubstantial, vain, it loses all true worth — ceases, indeed, to be poetry; for the poet, as the name indicates, is a maker, a creator.
2. When the practical is dissociated from the poetic, it becomes dreary, unexalting, ignoble. When men aim at the merely utilitarian, they miss even their own low mark. We need the ideal, the poetic, in combination with the practical and utilitarian, to attain to completeness and symmetry. "The use of the bow" and the use of the lyre must go together, if we would have a symmetrical order of things — a cosmos.
II. THE DISORDER OF HUMAN NATURE. Saul and Jonathan are slain. The earth has not yet absorbed their blood. A deep, genuine, sacred sorrow is wailing in sad minor key through the soul of David. Surely it is a most pathetic, reverent time with the poet king! Yet he must give instructions as to "the use of the bow." Sorrowing for the absent ones removed by skilful archers, yet he deems it prudent to have the children of Judah made skilful archers, that they in their turn may make wives widows, happy children orphans, and take other Jonathans away from other Davids. There must be some "cursed obliquity" in human nature; the normal must have given place to the abnormal, ere this could have come to pass. The Biblical narrative of human apostasy is, we believe, the key to the enigma.
III. THE IMPERMANENCE OF HUMAN WORKS. Where is "the book of Jasher?" Who knows it? What did it contain? Was it in prose or poetry? Was it dialectical or didactic? We know something of the theories concerning it; but with any theory we must feel how impermanent are human doings. Suppose it means:
1. A book by some one named Jasher. Well, who was he? What was his character? What was his book about? Where now is all the treasure of his heart and brain, which he poured forth in his book? Alas! Jasher, we condole with thee.
2. A book for the regulation of equity between man and man. How sad that any attempt, even the feeblest, to rectify the disordered state of human affairs, should fail! Surely, in any normal state, any effort to promote equity should succeed and be remembered. But even such a book is not permanent.
3. A book in which the heroic deeds of righteous men were recorded. That must live !A righteous man — how grand! But what adjective is adequate to set forth "the heroic deeds of a righteous man"? A righteous man and heroic worker — surely the book that speaks of such must live! Alas, no! This book of the heroic deeds of the upright has gone.
IV. THE PERMANENCE OF LIFE, AS CONTRASTED WITH ITS TEMPORARY HUMAN RECORDS. "The book of Jasher" is no more; but the men and their deeds of whom it contained records, they are not no more; the men live, the influence of the deeds lives. Books pass away, men endure; records of deeds are soon lost, the influence of deeds lives on. Do not write a poem; live a poem. Trouble not about the record of the life; but be careful of the life. "The book of Jasher" may be unimportant; but the life of Jasher is of incalculable importance, perhaps to many, certainly to Jasher.
(William Jones.)Joshua 10:13. Here are some of the opinions concerning it which seem to us more or less probable:
1. That it was a book of upright or authentic records or chronicles, probably those of the high priest, and from which much of the Old Testament history was compiled.
2. That Yashar "is better taken as a collective term for Israelites, like y'sharim in Numbers 23:10; Psalm 111:1; and so translated Book of the Israelites, i.e. national book" (Fuerst). The same theory is put thus by Mr. Aldis Wright: "The book of Jasher... so called because it contained the relation of the deeds of the people of Israel, who are elsewhere spoken of under the symbolical name Jeshurun.
3. That it was a collection of state poems, written by some one named Jasher, and probably a continuation of "the book of the wars of Jehovah" (Numbers 21:14).
4. Others assert that it was a collection of national songs, and in proof of this allege that Yashar is equivalent to Hashshir, the song or poem.
5. That the book of Jasher contained the deeds of national heroes of all ages "celebrated in verse, and included Joshua's victory over the five kings of the Amorites (Joshua 10.), and David's lament over Saul and Jonathan.
6. That it was a choice collection of ancient songs, and was called "the book of the just or upright," because it celebrated the praise of upright men. We may fairly conclude that it was written in verse "from the only specimens extant, which exhibit unmistakable signs of metrical rhythm"; but with regard to the contents nothing can be confidently affirmed. We ought also, perhaps, to call attention to the difference of opinion as to the meaning of "the bow." Instead of supplying the use of, as the translators of the A.V. have done, some would read "the song of the bow." "He bade them teach the children of Judah the bow," i.e. the "following threnody, which was so called either because Saul was shot by an archer, or because the bow of Jonathan is here celebrated (ver. 22). Others regard "the bow" as the name of some musical instrument.
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