About the book of 2 Samuel
David, the Great King of Israel: The book of 2 Samuel records the life of David as king. There are several accounts of events in 2 Samuel that are also in 1 Chronicles. Some of the accounts are very similar. But some of the accounts are different. The authors wrote these accounts for different reasons. The author of 1 and 2 Samuel wrote about the main events in the lives of Samuel, Saul and David. The author wrote this to record the history of the *Israelites at that time. However, the author of 1 and 2 Chronicles wanted to emphasise how God had always helped the *Israelites. In general, this author wrote only about the good things that happened. He wrote his account a long time after the events of 1 and 2 Samuel. He may have used different records. Sometimes the names of people and places are different. Some people had more than one name. Also, the names of places often changed over many years.
The books of 1 and 2 Samuel used to be one book. The writer wrote the book in the *Hebrew language. The name of the book comes from the first important person in 1 Samuel. He was Samuel the *prophet. But Samuel did not write the book. He died before the end of the book.
We do not know who wrote the book. The author lived after King Solomon had died in about 930 BC (930 years Before Christ). After Solomon died, the country of *Israel divided into two countries. These two countries were *Israel and *Judah. The country of *Judah included the *tribes of *Judah and Benjamin (see 1 Kings 12:1-24). In 1 and 2 Samuel the author often refers to *Judah as a country.
In those days, the kings and leaders employed writers to write accounts of events in their country. The *prophets also wrote accounts of events. 2 Samuel 1:18; 1 Kings 11:41; 14:19, 29; 1 Chronicles 27:24; 29:29 all refer to these writers and their books. The writer of 1 and 2 Samuel probably got most of his information from these accounts.
David hears that Saul is dead
v1 Saul was dead. David had defeated the *Amalekites. Then he returned to Ziklag and he stayed there for two days. v2 On the third day, a young man arrived from Saul’s camp. The man had torn his clothes and he had put dust on his head. This showed that he was very sad. The man came to David. The man lay down with his face on the ground in front of David. He gave David honour.
v3 David said, ‘Where have you come from?’
‘I have escaped from the *Israelite camp’, the man replied.
v4 David said, ‘What happened there? Please tell me.’
The man said, ‘The *Israelite soldiers ran away from the battle. The *Philistines killed many men. Saul and his son Jonathan are dead.’
v5 David asked him, ‘How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?’
v6 The young man replied, ‘I happened to be on the mountain of Gilboa. Saul was there too. He was leaning on his *spear. The *Philistine army, with their *chariots and horses, were getting nearer to Saul.v7 Saul looked behind him and he saw me. He called me. I said, “What can I do to help you?”
v8 Saul said, “Who are you?”
I replied, “I am an *Amalekite.”
v9 Then Saul said to me, “Come here and kill me. I am still alive but I am dying.”
v10 So I went to Saul and I killed him. The *Philistines had nearly killed him. I knew that Saul would die anyway. I took the crown off his head. And I took the royal ring off his arm. I have brought them here to you, my master.’
v11 David tore his clothes to show that he was very sad. The men with him tore their clothes too. v12 They were very sad. They cried and they did not eat until the evening. They were sad because Saul and his son Jonathan were dead. They were sad for the army of the *Lord and for the *Israelites. They were sad because so many people had died that day.
(Verses 4-12 See also 1 Chronicles 10:1-12.)
The story in this chapter continues from the end of 1 Samuel. In 1 Samuel chapter 31, you can read how Saul died. In 1 Samuel chapters 29-30, you can read about David and the *Amalekites. David and his army were happy that they had rescued their wives and children. They had defeated the *Amalekites. Then they went back to their home town of Ziklag. But the *Amalekites had burned the town. So, David and his men had to build Ziklag again.
Saul’s camp was about 130 kilometres (80 miles) north of Ziklag. The young man would have taken about three days to walk or run that distance. He had torn his clothes and he had put dust on his head. Then everyone could see that he had bad news. (Compare this with 1 Samuel 4:10-13.) The young man lay on the ground in front of David. This act showed that David was an important person. This was how the young man gave honour to David. This still happens in many countries now. (Abigail did this to David in 1 Samuel 25:23.) The man knew that Saul was dead. Perhaps he also realised that David would be the next king. The young man was an *Amalekite. David had just defeated the *Amalekites. But this man was fighting with the *Israelites, not against them. Soldiers sometimes fought with the army of another country. For example, David and his men joined the *Philistines in 1 Samuel chapter 27.
In verses 6-10, the *Amalekite lied about how Saul died. Perhaps the *Amalekite was stealing from the dead soldiers before the *Philistines returned (1 Samuel 31:8). Then he found Saul’s body. In those days, they did not have pictures of people. Most people did not know what Saul looked like. So, he wore a special royal coat to show that he was the king. He also wore a crown on his head and a ring at the top of his arm. (It was probably a gold crown and ring.) So the *Amalekite man knew that he had found King Saul. David saw the crown and royal ring. This proved that both the king and his son Jonathan were dead. If Jonathan was alive, the crown and ring would be his.
David’s men knew that Saul had tried to kill David. But nobody was happy that the first king of *Israel was dead. Jonathan had been David’s special friend. In verse 12, ‘the army of the *Lord’ means the army of *Israel. God had chosen the *Israelites as his special nation (Deuteronomy 7:6). The army of *Israel fought *Israel’s enemies and they protected God’s people. But the *Philistines had defeated the *Israelites that day. They had killed many *Israelite soldiers. The *Israelites felt very sad. They also felt ashamed.
David kills the *Amalekite
v13 David spoke to the young man who had brought him this news. David asked him, ‘Where do you come from?’
He replied, ‘I am the son of a foreigner. I am an *Amalekite.’
v14 David told him, ‘You should not have killed Saul. The *Lord *anointed him as king.’
v15 Then David said to one of his men, ‘Go and kill the *Amalekite.’ So David’s man killed the *Amalekite man. v16 David had spoken to the *Amalekite man before he died. David said, ‘You are responsible for your own death. You said, “I killed the man that the *Lord *anointed.” So you knew that you were guilty.’
The *Amalekite man probably knew that Saul had tried to kill David. So, he thought that David would be pleased that Saul was dead. The young man may have expected David to reward him. Instead, David punished him. David did not like the way that Saul had behaved. But David knew that the *Lord had chosen Saul as king. David gave respect and honour to the *Lord. David also gave great respect and honour to the king that the *Lord had *anointed.
Verse 13 shows that the *Amalekite man lived in *Israel. Therefore, he had to obey the laws of *Israel. The *Amalekite was guilty because he had killed the king of *Israel. David believed what the young man had said. So David told his men to kill the *Amalekite as his punishment. Verse 16 shows that David acted as a judge. He showed that he had the right to order the *Amalekite man’s death. This also showed the *Israelites that David was not Saul’s enemy. David always respected and protected Saul.
v17 David sang this sad song about Saul and his son Jonathan. v18 Later David said that all the people of *Judah should learn this song. The title of this song is ‘The Bow’. They wrote it down in the book of Jashar.
v19 ‘Israel, your greatest men lie dead on the hills.
Great soldiers have died in the battle.
v20 Do not announce this news in the city called Gath.
Do not declare it in the streets of the city called Ashkelon.
If you do, the *Philistine women will be happy.
The daughters of the *Philistines will have great joy.
v21 I hope that no rain or mist falls on the mountains of Gilboa.
And I hope that its fields produce no grain for *offerings.
They spoiled the *shield of the great man on that mountain.
Nobody will rub Saul’s *shield with oil now.
v22 Jonathan killed many men with his bow and arrows.
Saul killed many men with his sword.
v23 We loved dear Saul and Jonathan when they were alive.
They were together when they died.
They seemed faster than great birds.
They seemed stronger than lions.
v24 Women of *Israel, cry for Saul.
Saul gave you wonderful clothes
and gold objects to pin on them.
v25 Our great soldiers died in the battle.
Jonathan is dead on the hills.
v26 I cry for you, Jonathan, my brother.
You were very special to me.
The way that you loved me was wonderful.
It was more wonderful than the way that a woman loves.
v27 Our great soldiers died in the battle.
Their *weapons have no use now.’
David was a musician. He wrote this poem and he sang it to sad music. This was not David’s private poem. It was a national poem. *Israel’s first king was dead. This was a sad time for the whole nation of *Israel. The future *Israelites often learned about their history through songs like this. (See Deuteronomy 31:19-22; 32:1-43.) The ‘people of *Judah’ means the people from the *tribe of *Judah. Also, *Judah was the name of the southern part of the country of *Israel. The ‘book of Jashar’ is probably a record of *Israel’s national poems and songs (see Joshua 10:13). We do not know why David called this song ‘The Bow’. A soldier uses a bow to shoot arrows a long way. Some *Philistine soldiers had bows and arrows. They nearly killed Saul with their arrows (1 Samuel 21:2-3). Perhaps their arrows killed Jonathan too. So maybe this explains the poem’s title.
The *Israelites spoke and wrote in the *Hebrew language. Their poems are often in picture language. This style helped them to describe their emotions. They often wrote two similar lines of poetry to describe one fact. Sometimes it is difficult to translate Bible poetry into other languages. As you read verses 19-27, remember that it is a poem. Then try to imagine how David and the *Israelites felt.
Verse 19 ‘Your greatest men’ and ‘great soldiers’ both refer to Saul and Jonathan. These words may also refer to the whole army of *Israel. The battle had been on the mountains (hills) of Gilboa. The *Philistines had completely defeated the *Israelites and killed their king. This was a terrible time for the whole nation of *Israel.
Verse 20 Gath and Ashkelon were important *Philistine cities. But this was how David referred to the *Philistine nation in this poem. ‘*Philistine women’ and ‘daughters of the *Philistines’ refer to the *Philistine women of all ages. In those days, only the men fought in the army. The women sang and danced when the army returned from a successful battle. This happened when David defeated Goliath (1 Samuel 18:6-7). In verse 12, David refers to *Israel’s army as ‘the army of the *Lord’. This is because the *Israelites were God’s people. The *Philistines had won the battle against the *Lord’s army. They had killed the king, whom God had *anointed (verse 14). And they had killed the king’s son. Therefore, the *Philistines probably thought that they had defeated *Israel’s God. David did not want the *Philistine people to know this. He did not want *Israel’s enemy to be happy.
Verse 21 The mountains of Gilboa did not have steep slopes. So there were many fields on the mountains. Good crops grew in those fields. But Saul and Jonathan died there. So, David wanted the crops to die too. Both rain and mist watered the crops. The mountains were on the borders between *Israel and the land of the *Philistines. ‘*Offerings’ may refer to what the *Philistines gave to their *idols. They *worshipped Dagon (1 Samuel 5) and other false gods. The Philistines believed that Dagon would give them good crops.
The *Israelites made *shields from leather and wood. They rubbed oil into the leather to make it strong. Then the leather did not break or become hard. Soldiers used *shields to protect themselves from arrows, *spears and stones. The *Philistines may have broken Saul’s *shield. Or it may have had blood and mud on it from the battle. Saul’s *shield had not been able to save his life.
Verse 22 means that Saul and Jonathan were great soldiers. While they were alive, they killed many enemies. David remembers all the times when Saul and Jonathan had great success in their battles.
Verse 23 Jonathan had helped David in the past. But Jonathan remained loyal to King Saul, his father. Jonathan was near to Saul during this battle. They died as they fought together against *Israel’s enemy. David uses picture language to describe Saul and Jonathan. They were great soldiers. They were strong, clever and brave.
Verse 24 David did not want the *Philistine women to be happy about Saul. But David also wanted the *Israelite women to cry. ‘Women of *Israel’ probably refers to the wealthy women who knew Saul. Saul had become rich. He had given presents to these women.
Verse 25 is like verse 19. But in verse 25, David refers only to Jonathan.
Verse 26 shows David’s personal feelings about Jonathan. 1 Samuel 18:1-4 describes when this special friendship started. Jonathan even gave his royal coat to David. Jonathan knew that David would be king instead of him. But Jonathan was never jealous. In this verse, ‘love’ refers to the serious promise that David and Jonathan made to each other with God. (This happened in 1 Samuel 20:12-17; 20:23; 20:42.) David had married Jonathan’s sister Michal (1 Samuel 18:27; 19:9-17). But she had not been as loyal to David as Jonathan had been.
Verse 27 The poem ends with words about defeat. This was a very sad time for *Israel.