The second book of Samuel, ironically titled as Samuel has long passed away (1 Samuel 25), chronicles David’s reign as king of Israel. This theme immediately takes effect as it highlights the main message of the end of the first book – the death of Saul. And so, “after the death of Saul” (v.1), and on the third day (v.2) David finds out about the death of Saul and his house (v.4). Note that the death of Saul’s household is a type of the Father’s rejection of Jesus on the cross as planned from the foundation of the earth, so that the lamb is slain for the remission of the sins of those who stand in the lamb (Revelation 13:8). Yet, note further that David though rejected not only by the Israelites but also by the Philistinian lords, was described in v.1 as having “returned from striking down the Amalekites”. The defeat of Israel in 1 Samuel 31 is juxtaposed to David’s single-handed victory over the Amalekites in 2 Samuel 1 (though also reported in 1 Samuel 30). He is the self-elected Son of God who continually fights for Israel, especially in his rejection from mankind that both worthy and unworthy alike spit on him. What we learn, however, is that these Israelites always knew that David was the true man who could defeat 10,000’s (1 Samuel 18:7) as implied in the young man’s decision to pay homage to David (v.1), though this young man is himself an Amalekite.
Secondly, this chapter opens with this lie conjured by the young Amalekite man, in face of the Amalekite-destroyer David, the type of the Elect One of Israel. We are told in chapter 31 that Saul and his armor-bearer both committed suicide by falling upon their own swords; yet, this Amalekite would dare presume to have defeated Saul and his household unwittingly to his own peril. If this Amalekite knew who David was, did he not learn that David was the newly anointed king and that Saul was himself is the anointed one of Israel? David’s query is laced with incredulity as opposed to sympathy: “How is it you were not afraid to put out your hand to destroy the LORD’s anointed?” No man dare take the title-role of ‘killing the LORD’s anointed’ except for Satan, the first deceiver (John 8:44). Even David, who had so consistently refrained from destroying Saul (1 Samuel 24:6), is because he recognises that the LORD is faithful to Israel; that He is faithful to the role of the ‘king’ – except that Saul may not be the true king. Rather, David is the true king elected by God, and yet this does not negate the anointing of Saul as evidenced by the preservation of his and his sons’ bones at the end of chapter 31. It is therefore in the death of this Amalekite man, coupled with the opening verse of chapter 1 which states that David had just returned from defeating the Amalekites, that a ray of hope shimmers in spite of the total devastating tragedy of 1 Samuel 31. Here, we see the Amalekites recounted as being destroyed by David and his men (1 Samuel 30), followed quickly by David destroying the young man who presumed himself to be the new mock-king of Israel by lying about wearing the accessories of the king, and the crown of being the head of Israel (v.10). In effect, we see David’s preliminary destruction of the new Philistinian head of Israel, symbolised by this young Amalekite man.
It is here that we find the first song of David composed to mourn the anointed one – Saul, alongside his household. For the reader, this poses an interesting question. Why, if David was the ‘elect one’ of God from 1 Samuel onwards, should David still honour Saul as the anointed man? The answer was already laid out in 1 Samuel 31:13 – “they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh and fasted seven days”. Israel is elected to be a son of God, yet this election could not possibly find meaning or identity outside of Christ, as espoused in the less Christocentric versions of Augustinian / Calvinistic interpretations of election. Rather, Israel’s election as God’s son – symbolised by the anointing of Saul as the first king – can only find true meaning in the “Elect One” Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ as the elect witnesses the Father’s election of Jesus; and our standing in the Elect One witnesses this very same truth. Without this witnessing, there is absolutely no meaning behind Saul’s anointing, which means that Israel’s election was for a defunct, non-Christocentric purpose. It is not a shadow, nor it is a sign, towards anything – if we were to hold true to the traditional Calvinistic understanding of election.
Yet, David – though firmly aware of his anointing as the true king of Israel – still understands that the house of Saul is to be redeemed by his self-election as in the times of the defeat of Goliath. This mourning is therefore not only fitting as David confidently understands that Saul is not rejected from the kingdom of Israel, though he is rejected from being the king of Israel. As such, this song is a fitting requiem to bid old Israel farewell as David comes in to step in the shoes of Saul and bring typological prosperity to God’s elect nation. However, on another layer of understanding, this poetic song from v.19 to 27 is also a two-fold lament: firstly, for the fall of those whose salvation relies on their physical might; whose salvation relies on work-salvation. Yet, the more potent and significant interpretation of this lament is the second one – that this is a lamentation over the death of Jesus Christ, over the rejection of Jesus Christ on the cross as he bore our sins there on the tree. In this lament, we find both the lament for Saul as a lament for the rejection of Israel just as Jeremiah had done in the book of Lamentations, as well as the lament for Jonathan as a lament for the death of a type of Christ. Therefore, David did not write the song for Israel as a whole – but for Saul, the anointed one, and Jonathan, the one whom initiated and maintained a covenant of love with David asking that the house of Saul may be redeemed through David’s subsequent reign as king of Israel (1 Samuel 24:20-22). Is this not the same as the redemption of Israel through Jesus Christ’s resurrection and ascension?
It is for these reasons that, in both the death of Jesus and rejection of Israel, these words of lament are entirely appropriate: “Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places! (v.19)”, the glory being that of Israel’s glory being rejected in the temporary Philistinian captivity, as well as the death of the glory found in Jonathan, typifying Jesus Christ. “…let there be no dew or rain upon you [mountains of Gilboa], nor fields of offerings [or firstfruits as according to the ESV translation footnote, for there the shield of the mighty was defiled, the shield of Saul, not anointed with oil” (v.21), indicating that reprobation was brought forth in the removal of the anointing. “You daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you luxuriously in scarlet, who put ornaments of gold on your apparel” (v.24), reminding men of the temporary victories and glories of Israel under the leadership of Saul, and similarly under the kingship of David and Solomon, as shadows of glory found in the typology of kings who represent Jesus Christ. “Jonathan lies slain on your high places… your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women” (v.26), returning to the sacrifice of the ‘glory’ of Israel made on high places (v.19) indicating once more that Jonathan is but a symbol pointing forward to Jesus Christ.
Yet, in the midst of the lamenting for the rejection of Israel; in the midst of the lamenting for the type of Christ lying slain on high places, the glory of Israel also rejected; David remembers the love that Jonathan had for David. This is the love that our Christ has for us too – and yet, only upon the death of Jonathan and the death of Israel can David rise as the king of Judah (as we unsurprisingly read about in chapter 2 of 2 Samuel), can the new type of Christ resurrect from ashes and ascend from being the ostracised son of God to being the son of God sitting at the right hand of the Father in heaven. V.27 consolidates this point firmly: “How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished!” Indeed – the weapons of war as symbolised in the period of Israel, in the entire Old Testament complete with a list of civil and inter-nation conflicts; the weapons of war as characterising the life of Saul but very different from the hymnal life of David as indicated by the books of Psalms and his skill on the harp. Under Saul, the conflict continued and the struggles were apparent; yet under David, the conflicts are mostly resolved as Israel shall begin to live according to its calling of election by being firmly rooted in the elect king.