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2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27

Could you do it? I don’t know that I could… Could you?

Were you David could you lament the death of Saul?

Jonathan? Sure! Jonathan was David’s best friend. Jonathan and David were covenantal brothers. Jonathan gave up his right to the throne so David could have it. David lamenting the death of Jonathan makes sense! But Saul…?

The narrative context does not match up with the literary content. We’ll give a few lines to each.

Were we to pull this passage out of context it might sound like Saul and David were pals. That Saul was giving the throne to David upon his death. It sound like Saul was almost a fatherly figure to David.

The truth is quite the opposite. Let’s not forget 1 Samuel 19 where Saul, despite the pleas of his son, seeks to take David’s life not one, but three times! Saul even swore that he wouldn’t kill David. (1 Sam 19:6)

The content of our pericope doesn’t jive with this history. Not only does David not speak ill of Saul, his lament lavishes words of praise for Saul. We see this right in the beginning of the poem, verse 19. The NRSV has David speaking of Saul’s “glory.” In Hebrew this is not the normal word for “glory.” It is sebi, which means “splendor” or “honor.” It is common while remembering kings to speak of them with heroic terms. But this isn’t the “glory” we might be familiar with.

Why would David choose to speak so highly of the man who tried to kill him?

Before turning his attention to Jonathan David all but lies about the relationship between father and son. Verse 23 says that they were not divided in life or in death. Once again, the historical context begs to differ! While Jonathan chose Saul over David, there were violent divisions between father and Son.

Is it appropriate for David to forget what separated Saul and Jonathan and only remember what brought them together?

A final exegetical note: verse 26 is often employed to question David’s sexual orientation. He states that his love for Jonathan surpasses his love for women. Knowing what we know about David, this much have been a very deep and a very serious love.

I would like to caution using this verse as Biblical justification for same sex orientation. If you’re looking for Biblical justification, I don’t know that these verses are them.

These verses speak more about the status of women than they do one’s sexual orientation. Love was not the basis for marriage. Love was not the primary emotion men would hold for women (hence Paul’s command for husbands to love their wives in Ephesians 5).

If anything, these verses should be employed as an alternative form of lament for the status of women in antiquity.

My question remains: Could you do it?

Could you speak so highly of such a tyrant? Could you lament the death of the one who tried to take your life? Could you speak so highly of the one who blew his chance; the one God wanted to replace with you‽

David, the would be king, chooses a hard path here. But it’s the wise thing to do. It would have been easy for David to remind the nation that Saul sought his life. It wold be easy to say something like, “While we may miss Saul, we know that he wasn’t the man for the job. While we may miss him, God knew we needed a new leader.” But he doesn’t.

What David knows, and what I believe we forget, is that even good and necessary changes can be difficult. What David knows, and what I believe we forget, is that saying goodbye to bad things can be hard.

My guess is that most preachers and pastors today are leading their congregations through change of some kind. Like the change from Saul to David was a paradigm shift for Israel, so are our churches undergoing paradigm shifts in a swiftly changing world.

I’m reminded that even though bad practices are dying people will need to grieve. Even though we are moving towards really really good days for the church in North America (yes, I absolutely believe this) there are many who need to lament the passing of former things.

Can we, like David, lament the needed change from idolatry to fidelity with our people?

Can we, like David, even speak highly of those with whom we vehemently disagree?