“How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of war have perished!”
(2 Samuel 1:27 NIV)
The Story So Far
God’s chosen people, Israel, have endured another cycle of disobedience and defeat in the last days of Eli the priest. As his time comes to a tragic end, his successor emerges not from his seed, but from the miracle birth of a formerly barren woman called Hannah. Samuel hears from God from an early age and soon establishes himself as a wise and godly judge and prophet over Israel leading them to repentance and a season of right standing with God.
As he approaches the end of his time, however, the people of Israel reject the direct rulership of God and ask for a king so they can be like their neighbours. Despite this act of rebellion, God gives them what they ask for and so emerges Israel’s first human King – Saul. Initially his rule is one inspired by God, but he makes serious errors of judgement going away from God’s instructions in an effort to please and appease the people he leads. As a result, God rejects him as King and selects David the Shepherd from Bethlehem to be anointed as the next King.
Subsequently, David’s rise to prominence is meteoric. From providing music to soothe the troubled Saul, David impresses himself on the national scene when he overcomes the giant Goliath and becomes a highly valued mainstay in the army. This is recognised and revered by Saul’s son, Jonathan who forms a lifelong, deep covenant bond of love with David. David’s rise, however, provokes the increasingly troubled Saul who initiates a manhunt against David in fear of the knowledge that David has been evidently chosen to replace him. David goes from Israel’s favourite to a man on the run and despite two attempts to get Saul to stop his pursuit, they fall on deaf ears and David flees to his enemies, the Philistines, for refuge.
Meanwhile Saul has been called back to military action against the Philistines, but this time a dread overwhelms him to such an extent he ever looks for a word from the dead prophet, Samuel through a witch who was supposed to be outlawed by the decree of Saul himself. This consultation, however, only establishes the end of Saul which is duly enacted in the final battle of Saul and his sons. David, in the meantime, has just finished rescuing his family and those of his followers after they were taken by the Amalekites – a people Saul had failed to completely wipe out as instructed by God.
The Epic Continues: A Time of Mourning
As David and his band of followers recover from their victorious return, the time of rejoicing and a degree of rest is shattered by the news that reaches them. Not for the first or last time, someone approached David thinking that anything bad to happen to Saul would be good for David. The fact that it was a lying Amalekite of all people, to deliver the news rubs in the sense of irony.
David’s reaction to the news and that of those around him reaffirmed more than ever that before anything else they regarded themselves as Israelites and the defeat of the army and the people was keenly felt by them as anyone. The lament recorded in this chapter goes to show the high honour and regard with which Saul and Jonathan were held. To be etched in the national psyche, David looked to mark their downfall one of great mourning at great loss.
The sadness for Jonathan is powerful and evocative as well as understandable. The sorrow for Saul, though is all the more remarkable considering he spent a considerable part of the last part of his reign looking to kill David. Yet David refused to tarnish the memory of the king. The lament marked a memory of the king as a mighty warrior for Israel.
David’s approach to the loss of Saul challenges us on how we choose to remember those called by God. Especially when their fall happens before their end as it did with Saul. How will we choose to remember those whose end was worse than their beginning? How will we choose to commemorate those that have gone on before us, but whose legacy could arguably be said to be mixed?
David’s honour for Saul would be the prelude to another astonishing step in his journey to fulfil the call of God on his life.
For His Name’s Sake
C. L. J. Dryden