And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul, and over Jonathan his son.. . The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen! . . . .
Returning from his battle with the Amalekites, David found himself exhausted and rather distraught. The anxiety which he had felt for his family and friends’ was now relieved and the damage which the Amalekites had inflicted was more than paid for by the booty that had been taken, but their city was still in ruins and the question as to whether it was worthwhile to try to rebuild themselves homes on Philistine soil was very much unanswered. Actually it was not his own circumstances which troubled David the most, it was his concern for what had happened in the battle between the Philistines and Israel. Perhaps it had even been a good thing for David that he had had the pursuit of the Amalekites to occupy his attention, for, if he had had to remain inactive in Ziklag while this major battle was in progress, the tension for him would have been almost intolerable. For him the impulse would have been almost irresistible to go out and join the battle regardless of what his orders had been. And, yet which side would he have gone to aid, the Israelites whom he loved but who had rejected him, or the Philistines who had protected him but whom his soul hated. Never had David found himself torn so between opposite extremes, and the two days of waiting after he had returned to Ziklag to hear the news of the battle was almost more than he could endure. A thousand times over again he wondered just exactly what he did want the outcome of that battle to be.
It was finally on the third day, after looking almost continuously in the direction of the battlefield so many miles away, that David saw a figure approaching. The man was evidently a runner, a messenger bringing tidings of what had happened, except that his gait did not seem to reflect determination of a man who was vitally concerned himself with the message that he bore; although, to be sure, as he drew nearer he had all of the appearance of a man who wished to announce a disaster, for his clothes were purposely torn and the dirty streaks of sweat mixed with ashes ran down out of his hair across his face. Moreover, it soon became evident that he was not concerned merely with announcing a disaster to the camp of Israelites for his eyes quickly searched out David and he said nothing at all until he had approached David and threw himself in obeisance before his feet as though he were now a king.
To David the whole action of this man was overbearing, affected and distasteful. For the moment he was not a king and had no desire to be one, and the implication of this stranger to the opposite he resented very much. Had everything been equal, he would have stopped the man where he was and punished him soundly; but at the moment there was the possibility that this man possessed knowledge which David himself wanted to have. Curtly and impatiently, he roused the man with the question, “From whence comest thou?”
This was the opportunity for which the man was waiting. He sensed the eagerness of David and carefully began to steer the conversation in a way that he could best present the matter as he desired it. His answer was designed to leave him a wide opening, “Out of the camp of Israel am I escaped.” Making himself appear as an actual participant in the battle was hardly the truth, but it did make him appear more heroic.
Ever more impatient with every delay, David nearly shouted at the man, “How went the matter? I pray thee, tell me.”
Now the man was ready and slowly he began to tell his well rehearsed story, trying as best he could to feel out David’s reaction each step of the way. With altogether too much detail he began to describe the battle until finally he came to the fact that both Saul and Jonathan, the king and the heir apparent, were dead. Just as he had expected, it was here that David became visibly aroused and counteracted with the question, “How knowest thou that Saul and Jonathan his son be dead?”
This was exactly the opening for which the man was looking so that swiftly he moved on to tell the rest of the story in the way that he had planned it. “As I happened by chance upon mount Gilboa,” he said, “Behold, Saul leaned upon his spear; and lo, the chariots and horsemen followed hard after him. 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. 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.”
Here was to be sure a very cleverly concocted story, in fact, it was nearly brilliant. Although what he said was not exactly as things had actually happened on the battlefield, they were close enough that no one would ever be able to disprove his presentation, and every diversion was carefully designed to serve what he was sure would be his own ultimate advantage. Moreover, the man beyond question understood the whole situation in Israel very well, not just in general, but even as to David’s own particular relationship to the nation was concerned. This man understood that the reason why David was where he was in the land of the Philistines was because he was hated by Saul and had been persecuted until he fled there; but at the same time he realized that David was still at heart an Israelite and loved his nation very dearly: and even more than that, he grasped full well that David was going to be the king of Israel in the end too. Thus the man’s whole story had been carefully put together so that it might appear that he was really a friend of the nation of Israel and had never at any time done anything that might be interpreted as being hostile to David’s nation. Nevertheless, even though he knew full well that Saul had ended his own life quite unassisted, he made it appear that he was the one who had finally ended the life of this greatest enemy before whom David had so long suffered. And finally, of course, he made it appear that the real reason why he did this was because he wanted to be able to take the crown of Israel and present it by his own hands to this future king of Israel before any one else would be able to get it. In the mind of this heathen Amalekite there was no room for doubt but that David would surely be eternally grateful to him for every thing that he had done. No, this was no concoction of impulsive foolery; this man knew the circumstances in which he was dealing and had been extremely careful in everything that, he said to David.
As it was, however, there was one thing this man had overlooked, or rather, that, being a heathen, this man would never have been able to understand. In the first place, this man could never have understood it that David had no real desire to be king in Israel. Although he too knew full well that the day was going to come when he would sit upon the throne, he was quite satisfied to live as an ordinary citizen in Israel until that day should come, and he felt no gratitude toward anyone who tried to hasten the day of his coronation. And then there was another thing too that was even further beyond the grasp of this heathen Amalekite, that was the feeling of utter abhorrence that was roused in the heart of David at the very thought that someone should dare to lift a finger against one who was anointed by God in Israel. Twice in his own life, David had demonstrated in the clearest terms that he would never think of harming the Lord’s anointed, and to see now a man before him who had come boasting of the fact that he had slain the king of Israel filled him with a feeling of utter revulsion.
One can only imagine the amazed shock of that Amalekite man when he found that, rather than arousing in David a warm and exuberant gratitude, his news contorted the face of this leader with shocked anguish. There was cold fury in the next demand of David, “Whence art thou?” and cringing fear in the man’s reply, “I am the son of a stranger, an Amalekite.” It was not an enthusiastic admission, for the Amalekites had never been friends of the Israelites by any means; but the man dared no longer to distort his story, and there was the faint hope that his status as a stranger might help to excuse him. But there was no excuse in the mind of David. His next remark was not a question but an accusation as he said, “How wast thou not afraid to stretch forth thine hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?” And then without further delay he turned to one of the young men standing by and said, “Go near, and fall upon him,” which the young man immediately did. Then over the dead body and with tears in his eyes, David spoke his closing words, “Thy blood be upon thy head; for thy mouth hath testified against thee, saying, I have slain the Lord’s anointed.” To David it seemed the ultimate sin.
It was a deep mourning of many days that fell upon the. camp of David as all of his men joined him in his sorrow: but from it came a most beautiful song, the Psalm of, the BOW written by David and taught eventually to all of the children of Israel: (the translation is that of Rev. G.M. Ophoff in The Standard Bearer, Vol. 25, page 63)
The glory of Israel on thy heights is slain!
How are the heroes fallen!
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.
Ye mountains of Gilboa, be neither dew nor rain on you,
Nor fields of offerings;
For there was cast away the shield of the heroes,
The shield of Saul, unanointed with oil.
From the blood of the slain,
From the fat of heroes,
The bow of Jonathan turned not back,
And the sword of Saul returned not empty.
Saul and Jonathan, the lovely, and the pleasant,
in their lives and in their death they were not divided.
They were swifter than eagles!
They were stronger than lions!
Ye daughters of Israel weep for Saul,
Who clothed you with scarlet and with delights, and
put ornaments of gold upon your apparel.
How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle!
O Jonathan, thou wast slain on thine heights,
I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan,
Very pleasant hast thou been unto me,
Thy love was wonderful, passing the love of woman.
How are the mighty fallen,
And the weapons of war perished!
It stands to the eternal credit of David that, even after all he had suffered at the hands of Saul, that which stood out in his memory was the wonder and glory which had been wrought through him as, the anointed of the Lord. To this, day, his victory over all hatred and bitterness is such as can only make us marvel and bow our heads in shame for all of our petty animosities in life.