Today’s sermon is the first of this series taken from 2nd Samuel. The books of 1st and 2nd Samuel are obviously named after Samuel. However, not all of the material was written by Samuel, as he died during the reign of King Saul and therefore wasn’t alive to see David rule over Israel. The latter chapters of 1st Samuel and all of those in 2nd Samuel are accredited primarily to Nathan and Gad, both of whom lived and served during the reign of King David. Their combined writings document this exciting period of history (1 Chronicles 29:29).
The grueling battle between the Philistines and Israelites that we discussed last week took place in the Jezreel Valley while David and his men were chasing down the Amalekites in the Negev desert many miles away. News did not travel as quickly back then, so David did not yet know that Saul and Jonathan had been killed. It was a few days before David received word of the Philistine victory and the tragic death of Israel’s first king.
The message this morning describes David’s reaction after finding out that King Saul and his sons were dead. When one considers everything that Saul attempted in order to destroy David, it would seem reasonable for David to celebrate his demise. For many years King Saul had been one of David’s greatest adversaries, chasing him all over the countryside. While David would certainly be saddened by the loss of his dear friend Jonathan, how would he feel about King Saul’s death? The answer might surprise you…
I. THE MESSAGE (2 Samuel 1:1-10)
David and his men had just defeated the Amalekites and freed the captives they’d taken. They all returned safely to Ziklag. 3 days later an Israelite messenger arrived from the camp of King Saul. The dirty and tattered man fell on the ground before David and proceeded to tell him what had happened. He explained that he’d escaped from the battlefield, that Israel had been utterly defeated, and that King Saul and Jonathan were both dead.
David pressed the messenger to find out exactly how or from whom he had received this report. The man stated that while fleeing on Mt. Gilboa he had personally witnessed Saul leaning on his spear. When he approached the fallen king, Saul was still alive though gravely wounded. Apparently Saul’s suicide attempt was not immediately effective. The Philistines were quickly approaching. Saul agonizingly begged the messenger to kill him. Determining that there was no way for Saul to survive his injuries, the messenger put the dying king out of his misery. He then took Saul’s crown and bracelet and brought them to David. This is how he knew firsthand that Saul was dead - for he himself was directly involved.
The scene presented in these verses describes a practice known as “assisted suicide”. This is very similar to euthanasia, sometimes called “mercy killing”. The only difference is whether or not the decedent actually asked to be killed. When someone is terminal, particularly if they are in a great amount of pain, it can become tempting to end their life artificially. It is heart wrenching to watch such a person suffer. That said, Scripture is clear that God alone is both the giver and taker of human life. When anyone takes the life of another person artificially or prematurely (other than for a Biblically just cause), they are usurping God’s authority. People should be allowed to die naturally, in keeping with the sovereign purposes of God.
While I am on this subject, if killing people artificially is wrong then it stands to reason that keeping them alive artificially is also wrong. We should not unnecessarily prolong the process of natural death. This is just another way of subverting the sovereign will of God. Perhaps you could make a case for doing so if there is a reasonable hope for recovery or resuscitation in the near-term, but why would we as believers want to indefinitely delay someone from going to Heaven? Beloved, whenever I die I sure hope the doctors let me stay dead!
II. THE MESSENGER (2 Samuel 1:11-16)
When they heard that Saul and Jonathan were dead and that Israel had been defeated, David and those who were with him tore their clothes, wept, and fasted for the remainder of the day. David questioned the messenger and discovered that he was of Amalekite descent and had relocated to Israel. Furthermore, David asked why he’d been so bold as to kill King Saul. Remember that David himself had been given several opportunities to kill Saul, but had chosen not to do so out of respect for God’s anointed one.
David charged the messenger with killing King Saul. He had admitted to doing so by his own testimony. Perhaps if he’d known how David would react, the messenger might have modified his story a bit. As punishment, David instructed one of his servants to execute the man. So David’s servant struck him and he died. Though it wasn’t the main reason for David’s swift judgment, it probably didn’t help that the guy was an Amalekite…
Some Bible commentators have speculated that this entire report was an elaborate lie. They propose that this Amalekite messenger actually found Saul sometime after he’d died - perhaps even the next day, but before the Philistines arrived to strip the body. He took the king’s crown and bracelet to David thinking that he’d be pleased, and perhaps hoping to receive a reward. Proponents of this theory point out the story’s inconsistency of Saul falling on a spear rather than a sword, which would have been highly unlikely. In the end, regardless of whether his words were true or false, this messenger ended up dead...
III. THE MOURNING (2 Samuel 1:17-27)
David was a musician and poet. He composed approximately half of the Psalms. On this particular occasion, David wrote and sung a poetic lament to express his deep sorrow over the passing of Saul and Jonathan. He instructed the people of Judah to teach this song to their children from one generation to the next as a memorial to these 2 great men. David called it the song of the bow. The lyrics of this mournful poem were recorded and preserved for a time in the ancient Hebrew book of Jasher.
The main line of the song is “How the mighty have fallen!” This phrase is repeated 3 times - once at the beginning, again in the middle, and finally at the end of the lament. It expresses David’s great reverence and respect for both Saul and Jonathan. It also reveals the vast extent of his sadness and grief. Even today these words are sometimes spoken at the funerals of brave and honorable heroes who have sacrificed everything for the sake of others.
The book of Jasher is referenced twice in the Bible - here and in Joshua 10:13. While it contained some important information, it was not considered to be inspired by God and therefore was not added to the Old Testament. There are several other writings also called “The Book of Jasher”. Some of these have been claimed to be copies of the original, but have been widely discredited as forgeries. The modern Jewish manuscript sometimes referred to as the book of Jasher was written by sages and rabbis no earlier than the mid-1500’s. It is not the same text cited in the Bible. Unfortunately, the ancient Hebrew book of Jasher has never been found and may remain lost forever.
The main lesson of this passage, as I understand it, is that we should never celebrate or rejoice in the death of anyone. Saul and Jonathan had very different - practically the opposite - relationships with David, yet he grieved for them both. I suspect his sorrow for them was motivated by different reasons, but it was genuine nonetheless.
Saul had been one of David’s greatest enemies, yet David still mourned deeply for him. Perhaps this is because he was uncertain if Saul had a saving knowledge of the LORD. While it is impossible for one person to know definitively whether or not another person is saved, their are observable indications. Saul’s disobedience and open rebellion tended to suggest that he did not know God. Maybe the possibility that King Saul had been condemned to an eternity in Hell drove David to despair. It makes me wonder how troubled we are as Christians over the death of the lost…
Jonathan, on the other hand, was one of David’s best friends. When he died, David felt the excruciating pain of losing someone close to him. Over the course of their friendship, Jonathan had risked his life on several occasions in order to protect David. When someone dear to us dies, there is always the possibility that we might become bitter with God. Fortunately, this was not the case with David. While he mourned the loss of his friend, he still clung to the steadfast goodness of God.
God provides comfort to those who are sorrowful and brokenhearted. If you are struggling with grief and despair this morning, cry out to Jesus and He will bring you much needed relief and restoration. He is the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3).
Next week we will learn more about what happened following Saul’s death. Who would be named the new king over Israel? Would it be David or someone else? How would the young nation move forward after this terrible tragedy? Find out the answers to these and other questions this coming Sunday!