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
It’s worth noting that the stories of Samuel were edited into their present form roughly 400 years after the reign of King David by yet another generation of Israelites who had experienced death.
In fact, from the Assyrian exile in the 8th century BCE and continuing through the Babylonian exile into the Persian, Greek, and Roman Empires, the Israelites experienced centuries of their political dynasties and military monarchies being wiped out.
These people—these descendant Israelites—they, too, were connected to the stories of Moses and Joshua and Saul. They, too, had faced an ending and were now confronted by the questions that come “After the death.” Shared language, shared death, and shared questions invited them into these stories as they sought to move the specific events of their lives into the larger contexts of love and life and loss.
It’s as if there’s something more to these stories than just a recording of historical events—as if they carry experiences with which we can all identify—experiences of facing an ending—of coming through a death.
These stories do contain the particular, the specific, the historical. Yet, they also seem to contain the universal. They also seem to hold a space for those who are lost, hurting, and confused—those who are concerned for their future—painfully searching for solid ground on which to stand.
So, which is it?
Are these stories specific or are they something more?
Is this about history or universality?
Let's put a pin in that for now.
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