2 Samuel begins with the words, ‘After the death of Saul’. This is not the only Old Testament book to begin in this way, because the book of Joshua opens with the words, ‘After the death of Moses’; and the book of Judges begins with the words, ‘After the death of Joshua’.
For many years, Moses was the leader of God’s people. He had led them out of Egypt where they were slaves and he led them through the Red Sea and across the wilderness towards the Promised Land. But before the people entered the Promised Land, Moses died. However, though their leader was dead, the Lord was still with his people and he had a new leader for them, because Joshua was appointed to succeed Moses. And for many years, Joshua was their leader. And under his leadership, the people entered the Promised Land and began to take possession of it and to settle in it. But then the time came for Joshua to die. But again, though their leader was dead, the Lord was still with his people and he sent them one judge after another to lead them. And Samuel, of course, was the final judge. But when he was getting old, the people asked for a king to lead them. And so, the Lord appointed Saul to be the next leader of his people and the first king of Israel. And we’ve been reading about the things he did during his reign. And last week we read about his death. But, of course, though their king was dead, the Lord was still with his people and the Lord had already chosen someone to replace Saul, because the Lord had already made clear that David would succeed Saul and he would rule over Israel as God’s Anointed King.
And so, after Moses, there was Joshua. And Joshua, there were the judges. After the judges, there was Saul. And after Saul, there was David. And, of course, after David, there was a succession of other kings — some were good and some were bad — but there was a succession of kings who ruled over God’s people, until finally an angel appeared to Mary to announce to her that her son would receive the throne of David. But unlike every other king who came before him, Mary’s son — the Lord Jesus — will reign forever, because even though he died, he was raised from the dead to live forever and he was exalted to heaven to rule over all things forever and forever.
And so, though every other leader and ruler and king we read about in the Bible was replaced with someone new, there’s no-one to replace the Lord Jesus Christ, because he’s the True and Final King, and he’s the one we should all love and serve. We’re not to wait for another king to come, but we’re to serve him only, because he’s the King of kings and Lord of lords and there is no greater king than King Jesus. And though many do not believe in him and many refuse to yield their lives to him, one day he will come again in glory and with power; and when he comes every knee will bow before him and every tongue will confess that he is Lord. And those who did not believe in him in this life and who refused to yield their lives to him will be sent away to be punished, whereas all those who believed in him and who lived for him will be brought into his presence to be with him forever and forever in glory. And so, we’re to believe in him. And we’re to love and serve him.
And those words — ‘After the death of Saul’ — remind us that what we’re going to read in 2 Samuel is another part of God’s great salvation plan to send his Son into the world to be the True and Final King who would save his people from our sin and misery and give them everlasting life in his everlasting kingdom.
Today’s passage can be divided into two main parts. In verses 1 to 16, we read how David learned of the death of Saul and Jonathan. And in verses 17 to 27, we have David’s funeral song which he composed to honour Saul and Jonathan who had died.
Verses 1 to 16
So, after the death of Saul, David returned from defeating the Amalekites and he stayed in Ziklag for two days. Do you remember? David had been living among the Philistines. And the Philistine king of Gath had given David and his men the city of Ziklag to live in, because the Philistine king of Gath thought that David was on his side. In fact, the king of Gath had wanted David and his men to accompany the Philistines into battle against Saul and the Israelites. But the commanders of the Philistine army did not trust David and they sent David and his men home. But when they got home, they discovered that the Amalekites had raided the city and taken away their wives and children and all their possessions. David and his men pursued the Amalekites and defeated them in battle and rescued their families and possessions. And while all of that was going on, many miles away, the Philistines were fighting Saul and the Israelites. And the Philistines beat the Israelites and Saul and his sons were killed.
And so, Saul was dead. And David and his men were back in Ziklag. And presumably, because Ziklag was far away from the battlefield, David and his men knew nothing about what had happened. So, two days after David had returned, David and his men were still unaware that the king had died. But then, on the third day, this man appeared, who had come from Saul’s camp. And according to verse 2, his clothes were torn and he had dust on his head. That’s not a good sign — is it? — because torn clothes and dust on the head was a sign of mourning. Even before the man had said a word, David and his men would know from his appearance that the news was not good.
And David begins to question the man. ‘Where have you come from?’ I’ve escaped from the Israelites camp. ‘What happened? The men fled from the battle. Many of them fell and died. And Saul is dead. And Jonathan is dead. ‘How do you know that Saul and Jonathan are dead?’ And the man begins to tell David how he knows. However, if you recall what we read last week, you’ll realise that what the man says to David does not match what we read last week in 1 Samuel 31. You see, the man is lying. He tells this story of how he happened to be on the battlefield and he saw Saul, leaning on his spear, surrounded by the Philistine chariots and riders. And the man tells David that Saul turned to him and asked the man to kill him before the Philistines could get to him. And the man told David that he did what Saul asked and killed Saul. And then he took Saul’s crown and the band on his arm and he brought them to my lord, David.
He’s made it all up. Presumably he came across Saul’s dead body before the Philistines found it and he took the crown and arm band. And now he has brought them to David, presumably because he was hoping for some kind of reward. After all, Saul had wanted to kill David and had pursued David for years and years. And so perhaps David would be willing to reward the man who had killed Saul.
But he couldn’t be more wrong, could he? We’ll jump over verses 11 and 12 for a moment, because the questioning continues in verse 13. ‘Where are you from?’ I’m the son of an alien, an Amalekite. He means he was a resident alien. These were foreigners who lived among the Israelites. Though they didn’t belong to the people of Israel, they had bound themselves to the Israelites. It meant they enjoyed certain rights and privileges in Israel. But it also meant they were familiar with the laws and customs of Israel. And therefore, this man, being the son of a resident alien in the land of Israel, knew you mustn’t kill the Lord’s anointed king. Think about it: even when David had the chance to do so, David had refused to kill the Lord’s anointed king. And we read last week that Saul’s armour-bearer refused to kill the Lord’s anointed king. So, this man, being a resident alien, knew you mustn’t kill the Lord’s anointed king. But he did it anyway. And so, here comes David’s final question: ‘Why were you not afraid to lift your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?’ And David not wait for an answer, but he called one of his men to strike the man down. His own mouth had testified against him, because with his own mouth he had confessed to killing Saul.
And look now at verses 11 and 12, which form the heart of this part of the passage. They tell us how David and his men took hold of their clothes and tore them in grief and sorrow because of what had happened to Saul and Jonathan and the Israelite army, who had fallen by the sword. And they mourned and they wept and they fasted.
Verses 17 to 27
And so we read in verse 17 that David took up this lament concerning Saul and Jonathan. Now the book of psalms contains lots of laments. But this lament is not like those laments. The laments in the psalms are psalms in which the psalmist calls on the Lord for help because of the trouble he’s in. And this lament is not like that, because David is not calling on the Lord for help. This is really a funeral song and it expresses David’s grief and sorrow over Saul and Jonathan. And according to verse 18, he ordered that the men of Judah should be taught this lament, which was written down in the Book of Jashar, which now no longer exists. He wanted people to read this song and to sing it in memory of Saul and Jonathan. Even though Saul had pursued David and had wanted to kill David, David remained loyal to Saul and Jonathan and he wanted to remember what was good in Saul and Jonathan and to sing about it in this song.
And it begins with the words, ‘Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights.’ The Hebrew word translated ‘glory’ can also mean ‘gazelle’: you know, a kind of antelope. And it’s possible that David used this word to refer to Jonathan. And the reason I say he’s perhaps referring to Jonathan is because he repeats this line in verse 25. But in verse 25 he replaces the word for gazelle with Jonathan’s name. So, ‘Jonathan lies slain on your heights.’ And do you remember back to chapter 14 when Jonathan and his armour-bearer climbed up the side of a cliff like a gazelle to attack the Philistines? And so, it’s possible that the opening line of this song is about Jonathan, who was like a gazelle, climbing up cliffs, but who was also the glory of Israel, because he had proven to be a mighty warrior. But now, he lies slain on the heights of Mount Gilboa.
‘How the mighty have fallen’, David says. And he’s now referring to more than one person. So, he’s thinking of Jonathan and Saul, who were both mighty men within Israel, but who have now fallen in battle. Like mighty oak trees, they have been toppled; and those who were once mighty, are mighty no more.
And in verse 20 he saying: No! Don’t let the news be announced in Gath and Ashkelon, where the Philistines lived, lest the daughters of the Philistines should hear and rejoice over this terrible news. For the Philistines, the news of Saul’s death and the defeat of the Israelites was good news to be proclaimed far and wide. But David could not bear the thought that people will be rejoicing at the news of their death.
And in verse 21 he calls down a curse on Mount Gilboa. Let there be no dew or rain on that mountain and don’t let any nearby fields produce grain, because Mount Gilboa was the place where David and Saul died.
And he refers to the shield of Saul, which would have been rubbed with oil to condition it. And since it was rubbed with oil, it stands for Saul, who was anointed with oil when he became king. And just as his shield was fallen in the dirt and defiled, so Saul has fallen to the ground.
In verses 22 and 23, he praises Saul and Jonathan. First, he praises them because they were mighty warriors, who used their bow and their sword to shed the blood of their enemies. Second, he praises them for being loved and gracious and for their loyalty to one another. Now Saul may have hated David, yet it seems David continued to love and admire Saul. And whereas Saul had sometimes been disloyal to his son, Jonathan remained loyal to his father and fought by his side right to the end. David is doing what we do when we’re called to pay tribute to someone who has died, because when we’re paying tribute to someone we remember the good things they did and we do not mention the bad things. That’s what David is doing. And so, they were swifter than eagles, he says. They were stronger than lions.
And having paid tribute to Saul and Jonathan together, he then singles out Saul for praise in verse 24. He calls on the daughters of Israel to weep for Saul, because under his reign they have prospered, being clothed in scarlet and finery and garments and ornaments of gold.
And then, having singled out Saul for praise, he singles out Jonathan. ‘Jonathan lies slain on your heights’, he says. ‘And I grieve for you, Jonathan, my brother.’ They were not really brothers, but they were as close as brothers, because hadn’t they bound them together with an oath to love one another and to show kindness to one another always? ‘You were very dear to me’, he says. ‘Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful even than that of a woman.’ Think of how close a husband and wife are, because when they’re married they bind themselves together for the rest of their lives. Well, that’s how close David and Jonathan were: they bound themselves to one another for the rest of their lives. But now Jonathan is dead and David is mourning for him and grieving for him and weeping for him and for Saul. How the mighty have fallen, he repeats. The weapons of war — and he’s referring to Saul and Jonathan — have perished.
If anyone in Israel thought for a moment that David was pleased because Saul had died, then this funeral song will have demonstrated how wrong they were, because the news of Saul’s death and Jonathan’s death has broken David’s heart and made him weep. The daughters of the Philistines must not rejoice at this news; and the daughters of the Israelites must weep at this news.
David, who would become king, wept and mourned for Saul and for Jonathan. And as I said at the beginning, what we read in this book is part of God’s great salvation plan to send his Son into the world to be the True and Final King and to save his people from our sin and misery and to give us everlasting life in his everlasting kingdom. And it’s part of God’s great salvation plan because David foreshadows the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the True and Final King. And when he was on the earth, the Lord Jesus wept for his friend, Lazarus, who died, just as David wept for Saul and for Jonathan.
Do you remember the story in John 11? The Lord had heard that Lazarus was unwell, but by the time he arrived, Lazarus had died and had been buried in a tomb. And when the Lord went to the tomb, we’re told that he wept. And the people said about the Lord Jesus what the people might have said about David: See how he loved him! See how David loved Saul and Jonathan and see how the Lord Jesus loved Lazarus.
But, in fact, John also tells us in John 11 that when the Lord Jesus saw Mary, weeping for her brother Lazarus, and when he saw the people with her weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. Now, that’s not the most accurate translation of what John wrote. A more accurate translation is to say that the Lord Jesus was angry. He was deeply moved to feel anger. But what was he angry about? Well, as I sometimes explain when I’m conducting a funeral, you know how you feel when you hear about a crime that has happened. Someone has broken into the home of an elderly couple; the burglar has beaten the man, and tied up his wife, and ransacked the home. And when we hear about it, our blood boils and we wonder who would dare do such a dreadful thing?
The Lord is angry in the same sort of way. He’s angry because of all the pain and sorrow that death causes. In John 11, Mary was weeping. Her sister, Martha, was weeping. There were lots of other mourners who were weeping. They were devastated and upset because Lazarus had died. And there would be many more days of weeping afterwards, because death had taken away someone they loved. And you see, death cares for no one. It enters our life and causes such heartache and sorrow. But what we learn from John 11 is that not only did the Lord Jesus love Lazarus so that he wept for him, but the Lord Jesus was angry about death. He was angry because of all the sorrow death causes to us.
But here’s the thing which makes the Lord Jesus stand out as so much greater than David. Not only did the Lord Jesus weep because of death, and not only was he angry because of the sorrow death causes us, but the Lord Jesus has conquered death for us. Do you remember that great chapter in 1 Corinthians about the resurrection and how the Lord Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and how he was buried, and how he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures and how he appeared to various people who became eye-witnesses to the resurrection? And Paul went on to explain that the Lord Jesus Christ was raised from the dead as the firstfruits of those who have died, because he was the first to be raised from the dead and he will not be the last. He will not be the last, because when he comes again, all who belong to him will be raised from the dead to live with him forever and forever in body and in soul. Our bodies will be transformed so that they will be perfectly suited for everlasting life in the presence of God. And so, though we die and our remains are laid in the ground, the day is coming when death will have to give up all of its victims and we will live with Christ forever.
And right at the end of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul refers to the law and to sin, because the law of God says that the penalty for sin is death and that everyone who sins must die. But since the Lord Jesus Christ gave up his life to pay the penalty for our sins in our place, then death’s right to hold us in its grip is destroyed. And that means Paul can taunt death. He can mock it. ‘Where, O death, is your victory?’ ‘Where, O death, is your sting?’ He’s mocking death, because it has lost its power over us; and it has lost its power to sting us and to hurt us and to harm us. It has been conquered so that even though we die, we know that one day Christ will raise us from the dead to live with him forever.
David wept for Saul and Jonathan. Likewise, the Lord Jesus wept for Lazarus. But the Lord Jesus is so much greater than David, because not only did he weep because of death, and not only was he angry because of death, but he has conquered death and he promises eternal life to all who trust in him as the only Saviour of the world.
And right at the end of the Bible, we have John’s vision of the new heavens and earth where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the former things of this life will have passed away, and instead we’ll enjoy perfect peace and rest and life forever and forever, because of Christ our King.
And so, you should trust in him and keep trusting in him. And you should give thanks to God the Father for sending Christ the King to save you from your sin and from your misery and to give you fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore which God has prepared for his people.