The Song of the Bow
Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PRCS in Walker, MI
As II Samuel opens, we find Israel in distress. The Philistines have defeated Israel in Mount Gilboa, which is an indication of how far Israel had fallen. We would not expect a battle between Israel and the Philistines to occur there as Mount Gilboa, located in the inheritance of Issachar, is nearly sixty miles from the northeast boundary of Philistia. The Philistines had advanced deep inside Israel’s territory, and they had killed Saul and his sons, most notably David’s dear friend, Jonathan.
David has just returned to Ziklag, a city well to the south in Israel and about one hundred miles from Mount Gilboa. David and his men, after defeating the Amalekites, had been in Ziklag for three days when a man with “his clothes rent and earth upon his head” came to David. The man told David of Israel’s defeat, and the deaths of Saul and Jonathan.
David wants to be certain about the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, so he asked the young man how he knew this. The man lies. He claims to have happened upon a seriously wounded Saul who asks him to “Stand, I pray thee, upon me, and slay me: for anguish is come upon me, because my life is yet whole in me.” The man claims he was sure Saul could not survive his wounds, so he killed Saul and took Saul’s crown and bracelet. Presenting these tokens to David, he unexpectedly sees David and his men begin to mourn by rending their clothes and fasting.
The young man was a man of ambition and, perhaps, assumed the same of David. Little did he understand how David waited patiently for the Lord to clear the way to Israel’s throne for him or how David honoured the Lord’s anointed. The man had hoped to make Israel’s new king beholden to him, having killed David’s adversary. He expected honour and a reward for what he falsely claimed to have done. How surprised he must have been when David pronounced his judgment of the man’s actions and ordered his execution!
The rest of II Samuel 1 records David’s lament for Saul and Jonathan. This lamentation is known as “The Song of the Bow.”
One understands that David would have good things to say about Jonathan, so we start with him. David was distressed for Jonathan, referring to him as a brother. David also speaks of the greatness of his love for Jonathan, which, unfortunately in our day and age, is used by some who prefer to twist Scripture to defend one aspect of the terrible immorality of our time.
Remember who Jonathan was. Saul planned to pass the kingdom to him when his reign finished. However, Jonathan had told David he was willing to serve him when David was king. Jonathan knew of God’s promise to David and he would have been content as David’s most trusted subject. When one considers the blood which has been shed over the years in claiming and defending thrones, Jonathan’s willingness to set aside his claim to Israel’s throne is all the more remarkable. Jonathan must have shared with David a deep love for God and His promise to David. This caused Jonathan to be willing to step aside for David, the man God chose to rule Israel. Jonathan’s death was truly lamentable.
It is harder to understand why David could have good things to say about Saul.
Saul knew God had rejected him as Israel’s king and had chosen David. Saul should have turned the kingdom over to David and pledged his loyalty. He didn’t. Though he knew the will of God, he repeatedly tried to kill David and continued to pursue him. All this despite the fact that, when David had opportunity to kill Saul and was enthusiastically encouraged to do so by his men, David would not lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed. Despite such terrible treatment at Saul’s hand, David still lamented him.
The Old Testament contains many pictures of Christ. We recognize David as one of those pictures. In contrast to David, I have wondered if Saul pictures Satan. Saul knew David would reign yet Saul opposed him. Saul knew his cause was doomed yet he continued to fight. Since the time the crucified and risen Christ ascended to the right hand of His Father, one would think Satan would know Christ will have dominion over the new heavens and the new earth. Satan still rages against Christ. Although God has promised He will always have His people and, therefore a church, on earth to the end of time, Satan still strives against the church as though he will be able to eliminate God’s children. Saul, and Satan, never submit to the expressed will of God though both know their end.
Why, then, lament Saul? David knew what he was!
To see why David would lament Saul, let us remember Israel’s condition when Saul’s reign began. There was a time when Israel went out to battle that swords were found only with Saul and Jonathan. All the rest of Israel were armed with modified farm implements. That changed during Saul’s reign. Israel had been very poor. Israel’s neighbours allowed the Israelites to work their fields and raise their animals, but, when it was time to benefit from all their labour, the enemy would come and take what Israel had. Israel was materially better off at the end of Saul’s rule. David could lament Saul’s death. In a similar way, we pray for those over us and for the peace of the nation where we have our earthly citizenship so that life can go well for us.
We can appreciate that. As Christians, we do not often vote for our earthly rulers with whole-hearted support. However, when the policies of those in authority allow us to go about our work, and even have a level of prosperity, we thank God we can support our families and the causes of God’s kingdom. David, then, is an example of how to view those over us, even when we cannot approve of how they conduct themselves or treat us. We must honour them and realize God has set these people in authority for the good of the church.