David Learns of the Deaths of Saul and Jonathan
1 After the death of Saul,#sn This chapter is closely linked to 1 Sam 31. It should be kept in mind that 1 and 2 Samuel were originally a single book, not separate volumes. Whereas in English Bible tradition the books of Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, and Ezra-Nehemiah are each regarded as two separate books, this was not the practice in ancient Hebrew tradition. Early canonical records, for example, counted them as single books respectively. The division into two books goes back to the Greek translation of the OT and was probably initiated because of the cumbersome length of copies due to the Greek practice (unlike that of Hebrew) of writing vowels. The present division into two books can be a little misleading in terms of perceiving the progression of the argument of the book; in some ways it is preferable to treat the books of 1-2 Samuel in a unified fashion. when David had returned from defeating the Amalekites,#sn The Amalekites were a nomadic people who inhabited Judah and the Transjordan. They are mentioned in Gen 36:15-16 as descendants of Amalek who in turn descended from Esau. In Exod 17:8-16 they are described as having acted in a hostile fashion toward Israel as the Israelites traveled to Canaan from Egypt. In David’s time the Amalekites were viewed as dangerous enemies who raided, looted, and burned Israelite cities (see 1 Sam 30). he stayed at Ziklag#sn Ziklag was a city in the Negev which had been given to David by Achish king of Gath. For more than a year David used it as a base from which he conducted military expeditions (see 1 Sam 27:5-12). According to 1 Sam 30:1-19, Ziklag was destroyed by the Amalekites while Saul fought the Philistines. for two days. 2 On the third day a man arrived from the camp of Saul with his clothes torn and dirt on his head.#sn Tearing one’s clothing and throwing dirt on one’s head were outward expressions of grief in the ancient Near East, where such demonstrable reactions were a common response to tragic news. When he approached David, the man#tn Heb “he”; the referent (the man mentioned at the beginning of v. 2) has been specified in the translation to avoid confusion as to who fell to the ground. threw himself to the ground.#tn Heb “he fell to the ground and did obeisance.”
3 David asked him, “Where are you coming from?” He replied, “I have escaped from the camp of Israel.” 4 David inquired, “How were things going?#tn Heb “What was the word?” Tell me!” He replied, “The people fled from the battle and many of them#tn Heb “from the people.” fell dead.#tn Heb “fell and died.” Even Saul and his son Jonathan are dead!” 5 David said to the young man#tn In v. 2 he is called simply a “man.” The word used here in v. 5 (so also in vv. 6, 13, 15), though usually referring to a young man or servant, may in this context designate a “fighting” man, i.e., a soldier. who was telling him this, “How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?”#tc Instead of the MT “who was recounting this to him, ‘How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?’” the Syriac Peshitta reads “declare to me how Saul and his son Jonathan died.” 6 The young man who was telling him this#tc The Syriac Peshitta and one ms of the LXX lack the words “who was telling him this” of the MT. said, “I just happened to be on Mount Gilboa and came across Saul leaning on his spear for support. The chariots and leaders of the horsemen were in hot pursuit of him. 7 When he turned around and saw me, he called out to me. I answered, ‘Here I am!’ 8 He asked me, ‘Who are you?’ I told him, ‘I’m#tc The present translation reads with the Qere and many medieval Hebrew mss “and I said,” rather than the Kethib which has “and he said.” See the LXX, Syriac Peshitta, and Vulgate, all of which have the first person. an Amalekite.’ 9 He said to me, ‘Stand over me and finish me off!#tn As P. K. McCarter (II Samuel [AB], 59) points out, the Polel of the verb מוּת (mut, “to die”) “refers to dispatching or ‘finishing off’ someone already wounded and near death.” Cf. NLT “put me out of my misery.” I’m very dizzy,#tn Heb “the dizziness has seized me.” On the meaning of the Hebrew noun translated “dizziness,” see P. K. McCarter, II Samuel (AB), 59-60. The point seems to be that he is unable to kill himself because he is weak and disoriented. even though I’m still alive.’#tn The Hebrew text here is grammatically very awkward (Heb “because all still my life in me”). Whether the broken construct phrase is due to the fact that the alleged speaker is in a confused state of mind as he is on the verge of dying, or whether the MT has sustained corruption in the transmission process, is not entirely clear. The former seems likely, although P. K. McCarter understands the MT to be the result of conflation of two shorter forms of text (P. K. McCarter, II Samuel [AB], 57, n. 9). Early translators also struggled with the verse, apparently choosing to leave part of the Hebrew text untranslated. For example, the Lucianic recension of the LXX lacks “all,” while other witnesses (namely, one medieval Hebrew ms, codices A and B of the LXX, and the Syriac Peshitta) lack “still.” 10 So I stood over him and put him to death, since I knew that he couldn’t live in such a condition.#tn Heb “after his falling”; NAB “could not survive his wound”; CEV “was too badly wounded to live much longer.” Then I took the crown which was on his head and the#tc The MT lacks the definite article, but this is likely due to textual corruption. It is preferable to read the alef (א) of אֶצְעָדָה (’ets’adah) as a ה (he) giving הַצְּעָדָה (hatsÿ’adah). There is no reason to think that the soldier confiscated from Saul’s dead body only one of two or more bracelets that he was wearing (cf. NLT “one of his bracelets”). bracelet which was on his arm. I have brought them here to my lord.”#sn The claims that the soldier is making here seem to contradict the story of Saul’s death as presented in 1 Sam 31:3-5. In that passage it appears that Saul took his own life, not that he was slain by a passerby who happened on the scene. Some scholars account for the discrepancy by supposing that conflicting accounts have been brought together in the MT. However, it is likely that the young man is here fabricating the account in a self-serving way so as to gain favor with David, or so he supposes. He probably had come across Saul’s corpse, stolen the crown and bracelet from the body, and now hopes to curry favor with David by handing over to him these emblems of Saul’s royalty. But in so doing the Amalekite greatly miscalculated David’s response to this alleged participation in Saul’s death. The consequence of his lies will instead be his own death.
11 David then grabbed his own clothes#tc The present translation follows the Qere and many medieval Hebrew mss in reading “his garments,” rather than “his garment,” the reading of the Kethib. and tore them, as did all the men who were with him. 12 They lamented and wept and fasted until evening because Saul, his son Jonathan, the Lord’s people, and the house of Israel had fallen by the sword.
13 David said to the young man who told this to him, “Where are you from?” He replied, “I am an Amalekite, the son of a resident foreigner.”#tn The Hebrew word used here refers to a foreigner whose social standing was something less than that of native residents of the land, but something more than that of a nonresident alien who was merely passing through. 14 David replied to him, “How is it that you were not afraid to reach out your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?” 15 Then David called one of the soldiers#tn Heb “young men.” and said, “Come here and strike him down!” So he struck him down, and he died. 16 David said to him, “Your blood be on your own head! Your own mouth has testified against you, saying ‘I have put the Lord’s anointed to death.’”
David’s Tribute to Saul and Jonathan
17 Then David chanted this lament over Saul and his son Jonathan. 18 (He gave instructions that the people of Judah should be taught “The Bow.”#tn Heb “be taught the bow.” The reference to “the bow” is very difficult here. Some interpreters (e.g., S. R. Driver, P. K. McCarter, Jr.) suggest deleting the word from the text (cf. NAB, TEV), but there does not seem to be sufficient evidence for doing so. Others (cf. KJV) understand the reference to be elliptical, meaning “the use of the bow.” The verse would then imply that with the deaths of Saul and Jonathan having occurred, a period of trying warfare is about to begin, requiring adequate preparation for war on the part of the younger generation. Various other views may also be found in the secondary literature. However, it seems best to understand the word here to be a reference to the name of a song (i.e., “The Bow”), most likely the poem that follows in vv. 19-27 (cf. ASV, NASB, NRSV, CEV, NLT); NIV “this lament of the bow.” To make this clear the words “the song of” are supplied in the translation. Indeed, it is written down in the Book of Yashar.)#sn The Book of Yashar is a noncanonical writing no longer in existence. It is referred to here and in Josh 10:12-13 and 1 Kgs 8:12-13. It apparently was “a collection of ancient national poetry” (so BDB 449 s.v. יָשָׁר).
19 The beauty#sn The word beauty is used figuratively here to refer to Saul and Jonathan. of Israel lies slain on your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!
20 Don’t report it in Gath,
don’t spread the news in the streets of Ashkelon,#sn The cities of Gath and Ashkelon are mentioned here by synecdoche of part for the whole. As major Philistine cities they in fact represent all of Philistia. The point is that when the sad news of fallen Israelite leadership reaches the Philistines, it will be for these enemies of Israel the occasion of great joy rather than grief.
or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice,
the daughters of the uncircumcised will celebrate!
21 O mountains of Gilboa,
may there be no dew or rain on you, nor fields of grain offerings!#tc Instead of the MT’s “fields of grain offerings” the Lucianic recension of the LXX reads “your high places are mountains of death.” Cf. the Old Latin montes mortis (“mountains of death”).
For it was there that the shield of warriors was defiled;#tn This is the only biblical occurrence of the Niphal of the verb גָּעַל (ga’al). This verb usually has the sense of “to abhor” or “loathe.” But here it seems to refer to the now dirty and unprotected condition of a previously well-maintained instrument of battle.
the shield of Saul lies neglected without oil.#tc It is preferable to read here Hebrew מָשׁוּחַ (mashuakh) with many Hebrew mss, rather than מָשִׁיחַ (mashiakh) of the MT. Although the Syriac Peshitta understands the statement to pertain to Saul, the point here is not that Saul is not anointed. Rather, it is the shield of Saul that lies discarded and is no longer anointed. In ancient Near Eastern practice a warrior’s shield that was in normal use would have to be anointed regularly in order to ensure that the leather did not become dry and brittle. Like other warriors of his day Saul would have carefully maintained his tools of trade. But now that he is dead, the once-cared-for shield of the mighty warrior lies sadly discarded and woefully neglected, a silent but eloquent commentary on how different things are now compared to the way they were during Saul’s lifetime.
22 From the blood of the slain, from the fat of warriors,
the bow of Jonathan was not turned away.
The sword of Saul never returned#tn The Hebrew imperfect verbal form is used here to indicate repeated past action. empty.
23 Saul and Jonathan were greatly loved#tn Heb “beloved and dear.” during their lives,
and not even in their deaths were they separated.
They were swifter than eagles, stronger than lions.
24 O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
who clothed you in scarlet#sn Clothing of scarlet was expensive and beyond the financial reach of most people. as well as jewelry,
who put gold jewelry on your clothes.
25 How the warriors have fallen
in the midst of battle!
Jonathan lies slain on your high places!
26 I grieve over you, my brother Jonathan!
You were very dear to me.
Your love was more special to me than the love of women.
27 How the warriors have fallen!
The weapons of war#sn The expression weapons of war may here be a figurative way of referring to Saul and Jonathan. are destroyed!