“What happened?” David asked. “Tell me.”
“The men fled from the battle,” he replied. “Many of them fell and died. And Saul and his son Jonathan are dead.”
Then David said to the young man who brought him the report, “How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?”
“I happened to be on Mount Gilboa,” the young man said, “and there was Saul, leaning on his spear, with the chariots and their drivers in hot pursuit. When he turned around and saw me, he called out to me, and I said, ‘What can I do?’
“He asked me, ‘Who are you?’
“‘An Amalekite,’ I answered.
“Then he said to me, ‘Stand here by me and kill me! I’m in the throes of death, but I’m still alive.’
“So, I stood beside him and killed him, because I knew that after he had fallen he could not survive. And I took the crown that was on his head and the band on his arm and have brought them here to my lord.”
Then David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them. They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the Lord and for the nation of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.
David said to the young man who brought him the report, “Where are you from?”
“I am the son of a foreigner, an Amalekite,” he answered.
David asked him, “Why weren’t you afraid to lift your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?”
Then David called one of his men and said, “Go, strike him down!” So, he struck him down, and he died. For David had said to him, “Your blood be on your own head. Your own mouth testified against you when you said, ‘I killed the Lord’s anointed.’”
David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan, and he ordered that the people of Judah be taught this lament of the bow (it is written in the Book of Jashar):
“A gazelle lies slain on your heights, Israel.
How the mighty have fallen!
“Tell it not in Gath,
proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon,
lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad,
lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice.
“Mountains of Gilboa,
may you have neither dew nor rain,
may no showers fall on your terraced fields.
For there the shield of the mighty was despised,
the shield of Saul—no longer rubbed with oil.
“From the blood of the slain,
from the flesh of the mighty,
the bow of Jonathan did not turn back,
the sword of Saul did not return unsatisfied.
Saul and Jonathan—
in life they were loved and admired,
and in death they were not parted.
They were swifter than eagles,
they were stronger than lions.
“Daughters of Israel,
weep for Saul,
who clothed you in scarlet and finery,
who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold.
“How the mighty have fallen in battle!
Jonathan lies slain on your heights.
I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;
you were very dear to me.
Your love for me was wonderful,
more wonderful than that of women.
“How the mighty have fallen!
The weapons of war have perished!” (New International Version)
Character is revealed by both attitude and action. It seems likely the Amalekite would have lived if he had any, at all.
But instead, the Amalekite tried to act as if he knew David. It became very apparent, he didn’t really know David, at all.
By claiming responsibility for King Saul’s death, the Amalekite sealed his own. David spent months outrunning and outwitting Saul, trying his best to stay alive, while at the same time, carefully avoiding killing Saul. In assuming Saul’s death would be good news to David, the Amalekite went full braggadocio, looking to impress, as well as get a reward.
He got a reward, alright.
David’s attitude could not be any more different than the Amalekite’s. Whereas the Amalekite had a small and selfish attitude, David had a magnanimous attitude. David had suffered much because of Saul, and yet held firm in his commitment to God and to the king.
Our attitudes and our actions truly reveal what is in our hearts.
Because David had an attitude which reflected that he knew God, he therefore genuinely grieved and lamented the deaths of both King Saul and Saul’s son, Jonathan.
Bereavement, grief, and lament are, unfortunately, scarce words in the English language. But those words were not strange or stingy with David. He shows us the good path to follow in facing significant loss and change.
David’s grief was not only personal but public. He crafted a lament and had everyone learn it and say it. Indeed, grief may be intensely personal, yet it most definitely needs a public outlet.
Tears, questions, sorrow, anger, anxiety, and sadness are all the normal and necessary expressions of working through the death of someone close to us. The only bad grief is unexpressed grief. It sits idle, deep inside one’s personhood. Over time, it becomes gangrene of the soul.
Many deaths are bittersweet. It may be an end of suffering for the deceased, but it is also the beginning of suffering for those left behind. Sometimes Christians forget that death is a result of humanity’s fall. There is nothing to rejoice over with death; it is something to mourn over.
We need to become comfortable with talking about death, bereavement, and all the emotions that come with it. Methinks this is a chief reason for so many improper attitudes, like that of the ancient Amalekite with David.
Unexpressed grief neither disappears nor goes away. It eventually comes out sideways, usually harming both ourselves and others.
David was able to respond the way he did because of his closeness to God. For even and especially God grieves over significant losses. It is the proper and right attitude.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night but find no rest….
He did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him….
To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him. Amen. (Psalm 22:1-2, 24, 29, NRSV)