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Pinning Down Butterflies, Pt. 2

After Saul and Jonathan were killed in battle with the Philistines, David returned from defeating the Amalekites, and for two days he rested in Ziklag.

Three days later a man showed up unannounced from Saul’s army camp. Disheveled, he fell to his knees in respect before David. David asked, “What brings you here?”

He said, “The Israelites have fled the battlefield, leaving a lot of their dead comrades behind. And Saul and his son Jonathan are dead. I happened to be on Mount Gilboa; and there was Saul leaning on his spear, while the chariots and the horsemen drew close to him. He said to me, ‘Come, stand over me and kill me; for convulsions have seized me, and yet my life still lingers.’ So, I stood over him and killed him, for I knew that he could not live after he had fallen. I took the crown that was on his head and the armlet that was on his arm, and I have brought them here to my lord.”

David said to him, “Were you not afraid to lift your hand to destroy God’s anointed?”

Then David called one of the young men and said, “Come here and strike him down.” So, he struck him down and he died. David said to him, “Your blood be on your head; for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, ‘I have killed the Lord’s anointed.’”

In lament, David ripped his clothes to ribbons. All the men with him did the same. They wept and fasted the rest of the day, grieving the death of Saul and his son Jonathan. Then David sang this lament over Saul and his son Jonathan, which he ordered taught to the people of Judah and recorded in The Book of Jashar.

O Gazelles of Israel, struck down on your hills, the mighty warriors—fallen, fallen!

Don’t announce it in the city of Gath, don’t post the news in the streets of Ashkelon.

Don’t give those coarse Philistine girls one more excuse for a drunken party!

No more dew or rain for you, hills of Gilboa, and not a drop from springs and wells,

For there the warriors’ shields were dragged through the mud, Saul’s shield left there to rot.

Jonathan’s bow was bold—the bigger they were, the harder they fell.

Saul’s sword was fearless—once out of the scabbard, nothing could stop it.

Saul and Jonathan—beloved, beautiful! Together in life, together in death.

Swifter than plummeting eagles, stronger than proud lions.

Women of Israel, weep for Saul. He dressed you in finest cottons and silks, spared no expense in making you elegant. The mighty warriors—fallen, fallen in the middle of the fight!

Jonathan—struck down on your hills! O my dear brother Jonathan, I’m crushed by your death. Your friendship was a miracle-wonder, love far exceeding anything I’ve known—or ever hope to know. The mighty warriors—fallen, fallen and the arms of war broken to bits.

2 Samuel 1:1-27


Professor Victor Hamilton points to something else that is unique about this story in 2 Samuel. This story about Saul’s death and David’s lament begins with the words ‘ahar māvet—which is Hebrew for “After the death.” Hamilton notes that there are three books in the Hebrew Bible that begin with the words “After the death.”

  • The book of Joshua begins with the words ‘ahar māvet Mōšê—“After the death of Moses.”

  • The book of Judges begins with the words ‘ahar māvet Yehôšûa—“After the death of Joshua.”

  • And here, the second book of Samuel begins ‘ahar māvet Šāûl— “After the death of Saul.”

Friends, this is not a coincidence. We are meant to connect these stories. Our Jewish brothers and sisters call this a remez—when the words used in one story point to another story or stories. “After the death…” is a signpost pointing to a larger, connected story. As Victor Hamilton indicates, these identical introductions symbolically tie three periods of Israel’s history together.

  1. Moses—as a symbol of the liberation from slavery in Egypt,

  2. Joshua—as a symbol of the deliverance into the promised land,

  3. and Saul—as a symbol of the establishment of the Israelite monarchy.

“After the death” of Moses—whose name means “drawn out” or “taken out”—who leads the Israelites as they are drawn out of Egypt—taken out of slavery and into the wilderness. “After the death” of Joshua—whose name means “God saves” or “God delivers”—who leads the Israelites—as they are saved through the wilderness and delivered into the promised land. And “After the death” of Saul—whose name means “prayed for” or “asked for”—who leads the Israelites as king after they repeatedly pray and ask for a king—despite divine warnings that it will not work out the way they hope. These stories are connected. They are interwoven in Israel’s transformation—tracing their development from slavery to wilderness to promised land to monarchy. But that’s not the only connection. They’re also all stories that have ended. Moses is dead. Joshua is dead. Saul is dead. These stories are also connected because they’ve all come to an end. There has been a death and the seeming finality of death holds questions. These stories, these scriptures, these Israelites are all connected by the questions their endings contain. “After the death of Moses…” When being “drawn out” of slavery comes to an end, is that the finish line? Or does our journey continue? “After the death of Joshua…” When our wandering in the wilderness ceases and we are at long last “delivered,” is that it? Or is there something more? “After the death of Saul…” When the monarchy we “asked for” doesn’t work out, is our story over? Or does it somehow go on? These interwoven stories have something to say about death. Their connection and continuation necessarily pose the question, “Is this really the end?” Is this death we are facing an ending or is it a beginning?

Let's put a pin in that for now.


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