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David's Elegy

INTRODUCTION: The "Song of the Bow" is not included in the book of Psalms, but the passage in 2 Samuel records that it was also written in the book of Jashar, which is not part of the Hebrew scripture. This elegy, or poetic lament, shows the high regard David had for Saul as the Lord's anointed to be king even though Saul had tried various ways to have David killed. Saul was intensely jealous of David because he saw that David had great favor before the people to become the next king, and Samuel had told Saul he had been rejected by Jehovah and another would take his place. Jonathan and David had the closest relationship that admiration and esteem can produce. The other passages that follow the elegy in this study confirm the genuineness of the sentiments expressed by David, and therefore the depth of their significance.

NOTE: Scripture passages are from the American Standard Version.


2 Samuel 1 "1 And 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 it came 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. 3 And David said unto him, From whence comest thou? And he said unto him, Out of the camp of Israel am I escaped. 4 And David said unto him, How went the matter? I pray thee, tell me. And he answered, 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. 5 And David said unto the young man that told him, How knowest thou that Saul and Jonathan his son are dead? 6 And the young man that told him said, As I happened by chance upon mount Gilboa, behold, Saul was leaning upon his spear; and, lo, the chariots and the horsemen followed hard after him. 7 And when he looked behind him, he saw me, and called unto me. And I answered, Here am I. 8 And he said unto me, Who art thou? And I answered him, I am an Amalekite. 9 And he said unto me, Stand, I pray thee, beside me, and slay me; for anguish hath taken hold of me, because my life is yet whole in me. 10 So I stood beside 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. 11 Then David took hold on his clothes, and rent them; and likewise all the men that were with him: 12 and they mourned, and wept, and fasted until even, for Saul, and for Jonathan his son, and for the people of Jehovah, and for the house of Israel; because they were fallen by the sword. 13 And David said unto the young man that told him, Whence art thou? And he answered, I am the son of a sojourner, an Amalekite. 14 And David said unto him, How wast thou not afraid to put forth thy hand to destroy Jehovah's anointed? 15 And David called one of the young men, and said, Go near, and fall upon him. And he smote him, so that he died. 16 And David said unto him, Thy blood be upon thy head; for thy mouth hath testified against thee, saying, I have slain Jehovah's anointed."

COMMENTS: Even though David had demonstrated to Saul on two separate occasions that he would not use the opportunity he had to kill him because Saul was Jehovah's anointed, David still could not trust Saul to take him back into good graces as a loyal subject. David had been avoiding King Saul for perhaps some ten years, so his company of men could not take part in the battle with the Philistines at Gilboa. (Details of David's plight are found in 1 Samuel, chapters 22 - 30.) It is interesting that David had "returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites" and was in his camp at Ziklag when a young Amalekite arrived with the news of the death of Saul and Jonathan. Even though Saul had taken his own life by falling on a sword, this young man apparently believed he would be rewarded for giving his fabricated story that Saul had asked him to finish him off because he would die from his wounds inflicted by the Philistines. It is a little bit ironic that Saul had actually been seriously wounded and had asked his own armor bearer to do what the Amalekite had claimed. When that man was afraid to kill Saul, Saul fell on a sword and died. The armor bearer then fell on his own sword and also died. (details are found in 1 Samuel 31:1-6.)

the immediate response of David and his men to the full report of the young man was that they mourned, wept, and fasted until the evening for Saul, Jonathan, the people of Jehovah, and for the house of Israel. The young man must have been shocked when David addressed him again because he was expecting a reward, but instead was immediately killed by one of David's young men for his own testimony claiming what he had done. David had seen the crown and the bracelet and did not know the young man had fabricated part of the story. David held this young Amalekite responsible for his own testimony because it indicated even though he had been among God's people, he did not fear to kill Jehovah's anointed.


2 Samuel 1 "17 And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son 18 (and he bade them teach the children of Judah [the song of] the bow: behold, it is written in the book of Jashar): 19 Thy glory, O Israel, is slain upon thy high places! How are the mighty fallen! 20 Tell it not in Gath, Publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon; Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, Lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph. 21 Ye mountains of Gilboa, Let there be no dew nor rain upon you, neither fields of offerings: For there the shield of the mighty was vilely cast away, The shield of Saul, not anointed with oil."

COMMENTS: The "Song of the Bow" is a credit to the respect David had for his faith in the direction provided by Jehovah for the conduct of his people Israel. If the youth in Judah learned this song and the story that had inspired it, it could engender in them respect for their king and for Jehovah, their God. David saw the death of King Saul and his valiant son Jonathan in terms of the glory of Jehovah that should be displayed by the leadership of Israel. Israel had been mighty in the land among surrounding nations during the majority of the forty year reign of King Saul. David did not presume to judge Saul for even the personal wrongs Saul had committed against him, but he trusted that Jehovah would bring all things to the conclusion that had been determined from the throne of the king of all kings. When he heard of the death of Saul and Jonathan, his grief was genuine for both of them.

David did not want the death of Saul and Jonathan to become a reason for celebration that would be continued in triumph even by the daughters of the uncircumcised in the Philistine cities of Gath and Ashkelon. David wanted Jehovah to be glorified against the unconverted nations, and this was such a woeful event that David's desire was that the mountains of Gilboa in Israel would have no dew or rain upon them so they would not be fields that could produce anything for an offering. The mountains of Gilboa had been where the mighty of Israel had fallen in battle, and the shield of Saul WAS not oiled as it would have been after a victory.


2 Samuel 1 "22 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. 23 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. 24 Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, Who clothed you in scarlet delicately, Who put ornaments of gold upon your apparel. 25 How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan is slain upon thy high places. 26 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. 27 How are the mighty fallen, And the weapons of war perished!"

COMMENTS: Jonathan's bow and Saul's sword had brought many victories against very strong enemies of Israel through many engagements before they finally died in battle. It may seem a little strange that David would say of Saul, as well as of Jonathan, that these two men were well loved and pleasant in their lives despite some of the actions of Saul. It is true that they died together, and David did not make any distinction about Jonathan being more honorable as his death demonstrated his loyalty to his father. David credited both with prowess compared to the swiftness of eagles and the strength of lions. He reminded the daughters of Israel that they should weep over Saul because, as their king, he had brought the spoils of victory to them: they were clothed in scarlet delicately, and had ornaments of gold upon their apparel.

David then said it was the mighty that had fallen in the midst of the battle, and Jonathan was slain upon the high places that were part of Israel's territory. David then turned to a more personal thought as he expressed the distress he felt for the loss of his "brother" Jonathan. Jonathan had a very pleasing manner toward David especially considering that Jonathan was a Benjamite and his father wanted him to be the next king; while David was of the tribe of Judah and had been anointed by Samuel to be king after Saul. David described the love he felt from Jonathan was amazing and astonishing, that surpassed that of romance from a woman. David had to leave one wife when he fled from Saul, he had two more wives when he was in Ziklag, and he would take others at Hebron and at Jerusalem. There was none else like Jonathan who had consistently defended the loyalty and superb service of David for King Saul, even though he knew that was contrary to his father's desire to have David killed to keep him from becoming the next king. The closing thought of this "Song of the Bow" was to keep in remembrance how significant it was that the mighty had fallen and the weapons of war had perished.


2 Samuel 2 "1 And it came to pass after this, that David inquired of Jehovah, saying, Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah? And Jehovah said unto him, Go up. And David said, Whither shall I go up? And he said, Unto Hebron. 2 So David went up thither, and his two wives also, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail the wife of Nabal the Carmelite. 3 And his men that were with him did David bring up, every man with his household: and they dwelt in the cities of Hebron. 4 And the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah. And they told David, saying, The men of Jabesh-gilead were they that buried Saul. 5 And David sent messengers unto the men of Jabesh-gilead, and said unto them, Blessed be ye of Jehovah, that ye have showed this kindness unto your lord, even unto Saul, and have buried him. 6 And now Jehovah show lovingkindness and truth unto you: and I also will requite you this kindness, because ye have done this thing. 7 Now therefore let your hands be strong, and be ye valiant; for Saul your lord is dead, and also the house of Judah have anointed me king over them. 8 Now Abner the son of Ner, captain of Saul's host, had taken Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, and brought him over to Mahanaim; 9 and he made him king over Gilead, and over the Ashurites, and over Jezreel, and over Ephraim, and over Benjamin, and over all Israel. 10 Ish-bosheth, Saul's son, was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and he reigned two years. But the house of Judah followed David. 11 And the time that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months."

2 Samuel 3 "1 Now there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David: and David waxed stronger and stronger, but the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker." ... "6 And it came to pass, while there was war between the house of Saul and the house of David, that Abner made himself strong in the house of Saul."

2 Samuel 3 "17 And Abner had communication with the elders of Israel, saying, In times past ye sought for David to be king over you: 18 now then do it; for Jehovah hath spoken of David, saying, By the hand of my servant David I will save my people Israel out of the hand of the Philistines, and out of the hand of all their enemies. 19 And Abner also spake in the ears of Benjamin: and Abner went also to speak in the ears of David in Hebron all that seemed good to Israel, and to the whole house of Benjamin. 20 So Abner came to David to Hebron, and twenty men with him. And David made Abner and the men that were with him a feast. 21 And Abner said unto David, I will arise and go, and will gather all Israel unto my lord the king, that they may make a covenant with thee, and that thou mayest reign over all that thy soul desireth. And David sent Abner away; and he went in peace."

COMMENTS: After mourning the death of Saul, David asked guidance of Jehovah, which directed him and his men and their families to Hebron. The men of Judah came to him there and anointed David as king over them. There was war between Judah and Israel and Abner became the strong leader in Israel. Abner appointed Ish-bosheth, a son of Saul, to be king in Israel. But relations between Abner and King Ish-bosheth deteriorated, and all the while Judah was becoming stronger. About seven years after Saul's death, Abner went to David to make a league to help David become king over both Judah and Israel. The pact was agreed and Abner left David in peace.


2 Samuel 3 "30 So Joab and Abishai his brother slew Abner, because he had killed their brother Asahel at Gibeon in the battle. 31 And David said to Joab, and to all the people that were with him, Rend your clothes, and gird you with sackcloth, and mourn before Abner. And king David followed the bier. 32 And they buried Abner in Hebron: and the king lifted up his voice, and wept at the grave of Abner; and all the people wept. 33 And the king lamented for Abner, and said, Should Abner die as a fool dieth? 34 Thy hands were not bound, nor thy feet put into fetters: As a man falleth before the children of iniquity, so didst thou fall. And all the people wept again over him. 35 And all the people came to cause David to eat bread while it was yet day; but David sware, saying, God do so to me, and more also, if I taste bread, or aught else, till the sun be down. 36 And all the people took notice of it, and it pleased them; as whatsoever the king did pleased all the people. 37 So all the people and all Israel understood that day that it was not of the king to slay Abner the son of Ner. 38 And the king said unto his servants, Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel? 39 And I am this day weak, though anointed king; and these men the sons of Zeruiah are too hard for me: Jehovah reward the evil-doer according to his wickedness."

COMMENTS: When David found out that Abner had been murdered, he instructed Joab and all his men to put on sack cloth and mourn . David followed the stretcher carrying Abner to the burial in Hebron, and he and others wept at the tomb. As David eulogized Abner he said he should not have died in such a dishonorable manner. Abner was not bound as a prisoner might be, but rather he was killed deceitfully after he had left in peace from a meeting with David. Abner had fallen as men do at the hands of those who are evil. After the people heard David's remarks, they wept again. When David was approached by others to get him to eat, he said by an oath that God should make him to die as did Abner, or even worse, if he took anything until after the sun was down. All of the people took note of this as a very respectful way to mourn for Abner, and this pleased them, as they were pleased by many things that David did.

This made it clear to the people in Judah and all Israel that David was not responsible for the death of Abner. There had been long war between Judah and Israel, and the peace had not yet been consummated. David told his servants that a great man had fallen that day in Israel, but he did nothing to Joab and Abishai as they were well established as valiant leaders of the troops in Judah throughout the war. David was confident to trust Jehovah to reward the evil-doer according to his wickedness.


2 Samuel 4 "5 And the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, Rechab and Baanah, went, and came about the heat of the day to the house of Ish-bosheth, as he took his rest at noon. 6 And they came thither into the midst of the house, as though they would have fetched wheat; and they smote him in the body: and Rechab and Baanah his brother escaped. 7 Now when they came into the house, as he lay on his bed in his bedchamber, they smote him, and slew him, and beheaded him, and took his head, and went by the way of the Arabah all night. 8 And they brought the head of Ish-bosheth unto David to Hebron, and said to the king, Behold, the head of Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul, thine enemy, who sought thy life; and Jehovah hath avenged my lord the king this day of Saul, and of his seed. 9 And David answered Rechab and Baanah his brother, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, and said unto them, As Jehovah liveth, who hath redeemed my soul out of all adversity, 10 when one told me, saying, Behold, Saul is dead, thinking to have brought good tidings, I took hold of him, and slew him in Ziklag, which was the reward I gave him for his tidings. 11 How much more, when wicked men have slain a righteous person in his own house upon his bed, shall I not now require his blood of your hand, and take you away from the earth? 12 And David commanded his young men, and they slew them, and cut off their hands and their feet, and hanged them up beside the pool in Hebron. But they took the head of Ish-bosheth, and buried it in the grave of Abner in Hebron."

COMMENTS: The sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, Rechab and Baanah crept in and killed Ish-bosheth while he slept in the heat of the day (sleeping was customary in those circumstances.) Then they brought the head of Ish-bosheth to David at Hebron and addressed him as their lord the king. They said Jehovah had avenged David by the death of the son of Saul, his enemy who had sought David's life. David said that it was Jehovah, the living God, that had redeemed his soul out of all adversity (so he did not accept that they had acted with guidance from Jehovah). he told them that the man who had expected reward for reporting Saul's death died at Ziklag for his report. These two wicked men deserved even more to die because they had assassinated on his own bed, a man who had done no wrong. David commanded his young men and they killed the two men, cut off their hands and feet, and hung them publicly as a display of their wickedness. But they took the head of Ish-bosheth, and honorably buried it in the grave of Abner in Hebron.


2 Samuel 5 "1 Then came all the tribes of Israel to David unto Hebron, and spake, saying, Behold, we are thy bone and thy flesh. 2 In times past, when Saul was king over us, it was thou that leddest out and broughtest in Israel: and Jehovah said to thee, Thou shalt be shepherd of my people Israel, and thou shalt be prince over Israel. 3 So all the elders of Israel came to the king to Hebron; and king David made a covenant with them in Hebron before Jehovah: and they anointed David king over Israel. 4 David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. 5 In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and in Jerusalem he reigned thirty and three years over all Israel and Judah."

COMMENTS: Then all the tribes of Israel went to David at Hebron, and said they were of the same flesh and bone. When Saul was king they knew David had led Israel to many victories. They also acknowledged that Jehovah had said to David that he would be shepherd of His people Israel, and would be prince over Israel. So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them in Hebron before Jehovah. David was thirty years old when he became king of Judah in Hebron and he had reigned there seven and a half years. After the elders anointed him as king, he reigned thirty-three more years in Jerusalem over all Israel and Judah. David had endured through many years of difficulty with unwavering loyalty to Jehovah and to Saul as the anointed king of Israel. This testimony of how David continued to trust in the timing of Jehovah makes the character of the author of the "Song of the Bow" an inspirational example to Christians in the present age.

Many of the Psalms were written with a content that reflects the type of trust that David had in the LORD God more than in anything else, and some of those were authored by David. Three brief excerpts as examples are listed below.

Psalm 9 "9 Jehovah also will be a high tower for the oppressed, A high tower in times of trouble; 10 And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee; For thou, Jehovah, hast not forsaken them that seek thee."

Psalm 31 "1 [For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.] In thee, O Jehovah, do I take refuge; Let me never be put to shame: Deliver me in thy righteousness."

Psalm 118 "8 It is better to take refuge in Jehovah Than to put confidence in man. 9 It is better to take refuge in Jehovah Than to put confidence in princes."


Thank you, Jehovah, for giving David such a heart to write a poetic lamentation for Saul and Jonathan to show honor and respect to them as your instruments for leadership in Israel. Even though David had been anointed by Samuel a few years earlier to be king after Saul, he had no animosity toward him, and waited patiently through various difficult situations for you to bring Saul's reign to a conclusion. This is a great example to anyone to emulate in waiting upon you, LORD, if they desire to come even close to being like David who is called in scripture, a man after God's own heart. Give me a pure heart to recognize times when I need to think of others more highly than myself, even if I have in some way been offended. Not only did David compose a personal tribute, but he wanted it to be taught to others to remind them of all the positive blessings that had come to Israel during the reign of King Saul. David knew that the anointing of Saul to be king had been directed by you, Jehovah , and he desired that your glory would be displayed through your chosen nation of Israel. Help me, LORD, to see the very positive victories that promote your kingdom, and to look toward the time when the enemies of Jehovah will have nothing to celebrate. But also direct me to a proper attitude of mourning when your servants are slain through conflict with those who despise the name of the LORD.

Even though Saul was dead, David did not seek to promote himself to the position as the king of Israel. He praised the valor and achievements of Saul and Jonathan, in his lament, and it was his desire that the young men of Israel be very familiar with the honor the composition bestowed on both of them. He also was open about his very special relationship with Jonathan, and wrote of the personal grief he felt from that loss. Three times he expressed that the mighty had fallen, and there is not even a hint of any disparaging remarks about Saul. LORD, may I concentrate on the pure content of the elegy David composed, especially knowing some of the events recorded in scripture before and after the death of Saul. By your Spirit, may I have this approach for all circumstances in my life where these principles could apply. I praise you, LORD, for the patience and grace that actually emanates from you when it is displayed in those who call upon your name. Amen.

Published 16 December 2014