Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Now it came to pass after the death of Saul, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites, and David had abode two days in Ziklag;2 Samuel 1:18
1. The Song of the Bow.—We never come to this song of the bow without being struck afresh with its beauty, its pathos, its lofty patriotism, its wholehearted grief, its tender recollection of a dead friend, and, perhaps, best of all, its generous forgetfulness of all that is bad in a dead enemy. The news has just been brought to David that his arch-enemy Saul is dead; and David, anointed by God to be Saul's successor, has been for seven years outcast. An outlaw in daily fear of his life, surrounded by a company of men desperate as he, and yet he has never lifted his hand against his enemy because he was God's anointed, and, in his loyalty to God, David forbore to slay his enemy, even on that occasion when he had him in his hand. And now, at last, the end has come—David is free from persecution, he is free, at last, to take his long-appointed place as king. But when the truth is established he and his six hundred outlaws stand, with their clothes rent, mourning, and weeping, and fasting. Then at last David rouses himself to action, and he finds vent for his grief in two ways—first of all in the exaction of the life of the unhappy messenger, according to the fierce temper of those times; and then in that touching song of lamentation to which he gives the title 'The Song of the Bow'. You will remember, I am sure, as David must have remembered as he sang it, how Jonathan in the days gone by gave to him his bow as a present, and how it was by the use of the bow, too, that Jonathan warned David to flee from the jealous anger of Saul, and so the first command of the new king was to order that 'The Song of the Bow' should be taught to all God's people from henceforth to keep green the memory of Saul and his son.
II. The Note of the Song.—This is the beautiful note of the song. The excitement of action is over, and all suffer because their natural head is cut off, and the singer suffers because, beyond the sorrow at the death of his early benefactor and of his truly loved friend, he has only recollection now of the valour and splendour of the departed king. 'Tell it not in Gath,' etc. His heart is sorry, and he calls on nature to join him in his mourning. 'Ye mountains of Gilboa,' etc. Even the earth should feel with him, he thinks. In his passion of sorrow he calls upon the beautiful fertile country to go into mourning and never again to produce tempting harvests for sorrow that nature should feel that the arms of the dead king can no longer give battle. But, if he is dead, still there is comfort in thinking of those brave men as he knew them. Some comfort to describe their prowess, their love for one another, their faithful comradeship. As you read all this, hundreds of years afterwards, in the light of the twentieth century, you think the praise of the king unnatural and stilted. At any rate, the words in which he commemorated his dead friend are beautiful indeed. Then comes that strongly generous reminder of how greatly Saul's successful wars had benefited the nation—'Ye daughters of Israel,' eta He praises Jonathan for his bravery and skill in war, and for his fidelity to his father, and the singer gives a tender thought to his love for himself—'I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan'. You cannot but see the beauty of the song; you cannot but feel that in their defeat and death Saul and Jonathan are happy.
III. The Purpose of the Song.—Yet this song is not religious poetry, it is not a psalm, it is not a hymn. The Name of God never once occurs in it; it is simply a battle song. But God has put it in for a purpose, as He has put everything in the Bible. Nothing in this book refers only to the circumstances of the moment; all that is there is a teaching or a warning, a reproof or a blessing, for all time. And so here, underlying the sorrows of David, there are lessons for us in the twentieth century. One of them is that we must not usurp the prerogatives of God. It is God's place to judge; it is ours only to remember the good of the departed, and to leave the rest to Him. Another lesson surely is that a pure, self-denying love is the greatest of all great blessings.
2 Samuel 1:26
My love for my Brothers, from the early loss of our Parents, and even from earlier misfortunes, has grown into an affection 'passing the love of woman'. I have been ill-tempered with them—I have vexed them—but the thought of them has always stifled the impression that any woman might otherwise have made upon me.
—John Keats (letter to Benjamin Bailey, 1818).
References.—I. 26.—A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, part iii. p. 111. R. E. Hutton, The Crown of Christ, vol. ii. p. 253. R. D. B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons (3rd Series), p. 139. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxix. No. 2336. I. 27.—E. J. Hardy, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. 1899, p. 327. II. 1.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. lii. No. 2996. II. 1-11.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture— 2 Samuel, etc., p. 1. II. 17-27.—J. Mackay, Jonathan, The Friend of David, p. 193. III. 17.—J. M. Neale, Sermons for the Church Year, vol. ii. p. 101. III. 17, 18.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiii. No. 1375. III. 33.—C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 339. III. 36.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xli. No. 2420. III. 38.—J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 222. III. 39.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi. No. 334. V. 17-25.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xl. No. 2348. V. 23, 24.—J. M. Neale, Sermons for Some Feast Days in the Christian Year, p. 291. V. 24.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii. No. 147. V. 24, 25.—Ibid. vol. xl. No. 2348. VI. 1-12.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—2 Samuel, p. 14. VI. 6, 7.—A. G. Mortimer, Studies in Holy Scripture, p. 94. VI. 11.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—2 Samuel, p. 21. VI. 20-22.—J. M. Neale, Sermons for the Church Year, vol. ii. p. 127. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi. No. 321; see also vol. xxxiv. No. 2031. VII. 1, 2.—'Plain Sermons' by contributors to the Tracts for the Times, vol. ii. p. 41. VII. 1-22.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlv. No. 2641. VII. 2.—S. Martin, Bain Upon the Mown Grass, p. 56. VII. 4-16.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—2 Samuel, p. 30.
It came even to pass on the third day, that, behold, a man came out of the camp from Saul with his clothes rent, and earth upon his head: and so it was, when he came to David, that he fell to the earth, and did obeisance.
And David said unto him, From whence comest thou? And he said unto him, Out of the camp of Israel am I escaped.
And David said unto him, How went the matter? I pray thee, tell me. And he answered, That the people are fled from the battle, and many of the people also are fallen and dead; and Saul and Jonathan his son are dead also.
And David said unto the young man that told him, How knowest thou that Saul and Jonathan his son be dead?
And the young man that told him said, As I happened by chance upon mount Gilboa, 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.
Then David took hold on his clothes, and rent them; and likewise all the men that were with him:
And they mourned, and wept, and fasted until even, for Saul, and for Jonathan his son, and for the people of the LORD, and for the house of Israel; because they were fallen by the sword.
And David said unto the young man that told him, Whence art thou? And he answered, I am the son of a stranger, an Amalekite.
And David said unto him, How wast thou not afraid to stretch forth thine hand to destroy the LORD'S anointed?
And David called one of the young men, and said, Go near, and fall upon him. And he smote him that he died.
And David said unto him, Thy blood be upon thy head; for thy mouth hath testified against thee, saying, I have slain the LORD'S anointed.
And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son:
(Also he bade them teach the children of Judah the use of the bow: behold, it is written in the book of Jasher.)
The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty 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, let there be no dew, neither let there be rain, upon you, nor fields of offerings: for there the shield of the mighty is vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, as though he had not been anointed with oil.
From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan turned not back, and the sword of Saul returned not empty.
Saul and Jonathan were lovely and 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 over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights, who put on ornaments of gold upon your apparel.
How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! O Jonathan, thou wast slain in thine high places.
I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.
How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished!