Following God’s Direction
Sunday School Lesson for June 2, 2002
Teaching Passage: 2 Samuel 1:1-16; 2:1-7
David Learns of Saul’s Death (1:1-10)
The book of 2 Samuel commences with an encounter between David and an unnamed Amalekite man who had come into his presence at “Ziklag” (v. 1) with the news of Saul’s tragic death on “Mount Gilboa” (v. 6). The appearance of the man—“with his clothes torn and with dust on his head”—and his actions before the king—“he fell to the ground”—made it apparent that he was the bearer of disturbing news (v. 2). When David inquired about the purpose for his appearance in Ziklag, the man claimed to have first-hand knowledge of the deaths of both Saul and Jonathan (v. 4). Upon further questioning by David, the man recounted how the last few moments of Saul’s life played out (vv.6-10). His claim was that King Saul, having been mortally wounded in the battle with the Philistines, had appealed to him to end his life, apparently to prevent being tortured and abused by the fast approaching enemies (vv. 6, 9). The physical evidence provided to David supported the claims of the messenger. Note the mention of “the crown that was on his head and the band on his arm” (v. 10). Robert Bergen concludes that the presence of such “personal tokens of royalty in the hands of a foreigner removed all doubt concerning Saul’s death and provided compelling evidence of a personal encounter between the messenger and Saul” (1, 2 Samuel. The New American Commentary, 288).
As the startling claims of the Amalekite messenger are evaluated, some degree of disagreement persists regarding the truthfulness of his account of Saul’s last moments. Old Testament scholars remain divided over the issue. Some, observing the differences in the two accounts of Saul’s death (cf. 1 Sam. 31:4-6), stand by the conclusion that the Amalekite man was lying to David. In this scenario, his exorbitant claims were intended to procure the favor of the man who had summarily destroyed the Amalekite armies (1 Sam. 30:1ff). On the other hand, some scholars find the man’s words to be a factual rendering of the death of the King. Perhaps Saul’s attempt to end his own life failed and the Amalekite essentially finished the job. For our purposes here, however, we will work from the assumption that the messenger’s words were meant to deceive David. It is quite unlikely that “so isolated in the thick of battle, with no armor-bearer or royal contingent at his side, that [Saul] had to depend upon an Amalekite who accidentally came by to administer the coup de grace” (Dale R. Davis, 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity, 14).
David’s Response to the Messenger’s Claims (1:11-16)
When David had become convinced that Saul was indeed dead, he and “all the men with him” went into a period of mourning and grief (v.11) that included the tearing of their garments, weeping, and fasting (v.12). This reaction from David is even more remarkable in light of the fact that Saul had repeatedly proven to be his worst enemy. Yet, David’s love for him and especially for Jonathan was much greater than any desire he might have had for vengeance (this fact is clearly displayed in 1:19-27).
Next, David dealt with the Amalekite messenger initially by confirming his identity as “the son of an alien, an Amalekite” (v. 13). Then he posed a most penetrating question: “Why were you not afraid to lift your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?” (v.14). Once again we see the deep respect David had for the office of king. Dale argues that the “sanctity of Yahweh’s king had the status of dogma for David” and was “the principle that controlled [him] in 1 Samuel 24 and 26 and kept him from regarding temptation as opportunity” (17). Having confronted the Amalekite with the gravity his transgression, David ordered his officers to “Go, strike him down” (v.15). With this command, the Amalekite was immediately slain for the crime of taking the life of the “Lord’s anointed” (v.16).
As harsh as David’s actions might seem to us upon initial inspection, we must keep in mind that the Law expressly ordered the destruction of all Amalekites (see Ex. 17:15-16; Deut. 25:17-19). David, therefore, simply kept the Word of Yahweh and put to death the man who had proudly claimed personal responsibility for bringing the King’s life to an end. David’s actions, then, were perfectly justified. Taking the life of God’s anointed man “was tantamount to rejecting the Lord, since it represented the ultimate rejection of his designated leader” (Bergen, 289).
In addition, we must keep in mind that the motive for the Amalekite’s claim to have mercifully ended Saul’s life was clearly greed and the selfish desire for favor and power. David, being a wise and discerning man, immediately recognized that the Amalekite had no genuine interest in Israel’s King or her God. What the man got, therefore, was justice. Ironically, he was “punished for what he said he did even though he didn’t do it! He received what he should have received even though it was not based on fact” (Davis, 14).
David Anointed as King of Judah (2:1-7)
Following David’s painful and poetic lament of the loss of King Saul and Jonathan, he soon began to seek the Lord’s guidance for his own future. The text tells us that in “the course of time, David inquired of the Lord” regarding his return to “Judah” (v.1). This inquiry most likely took the form of an encounter with Abiathar the priest and the usage of the sacred ephod. The Lord’s direction for David was quite clear. He was ordered to go to “Hebron,” the burial site of the patriarchs and “the most distinguished of Judah’s cities” (Joyce Baldwin. 1&2 Samuel. TOTC, 183). Bergen notes that as a city of refuge, Hebron would have been an appropriate place for David to begin his official reign as King since “there were no doubt those in Israel who believed [he] played a role in Saul’s death (297).
As the Lord had ordered, David journeyed to Hebron accompanied by a sizeable group of individuals and families that may well have numbered over a thousand in all (See Bergen, 297). Upon their arrival, David was quickly anointed “king over the house of Judah” by “the men of Judah” (v. 4). This momentous event brought into fulfillment God’s plan for David that had been foreshadowed earlier by means of Samuel’s private anointing. Here, however, “in a public ceremony, the divine intention was beginning to be fulfilled” (Baldwin, 183). As we will soon discover in our journey though this book, David is the central figure of 2 Samuel (the first nine chapters detail his ascent to power. Chapters ten through twenty depict his tragic descent into sin against God. The final section of 2 Samuel, chapters twenty-one through twenty-four, present the spiritual lessons learned from David’s rise and fall).
The lesson passage ends with David’s commendation of the men of “Jabesh Gilead” who recovered the body of Saul from the Philistines and gave him a proper burial (1 Sam. 31:8-13). Upon hearing of their “kindness” and courage he pronounced a blessing upon them as well as a personal promise to show them the “same favor” (vv.5-6).
One: What can be learned from the Amalekite who approached David with the tragic news of Saul’s death?
Two: What may we learn from David’s response to this information about Saul’s death?
· David possessed enormous respect for God’s appointed leaders, even those who disobeyed God.