Lament for fallen heroes (2 Samuel 1

Three scenarios

  1. Earlier this year we got the news that Mike Ovey, the principal at Oak Hill had died suddenly. Someone we owed a lot to, someone who had been a great champion of the Gospel. There was a massive sense of grief and loss -an untimely death.
  2. Roy Clements -a prominent Christian preacher left his wife for a same-sex affair in the 1990s.  It was huge. Someone who had a big impact on the lives and testimonies of many. Similarly earlier this year one of the leaders in the Christian summer-camps movement was exposed as having physically abused boys who attended the camps.  This had an outside impact too. The media ran stories. Many seemed to delight in it. Actually, some of those who seemed to take greatest joy in it were those who claimed to be Christians if from other traditions.
  3. Another death earlier this year.  A prominent Scottish church leader among the “Wee Frees.” At first it seemed like a tragic suicide but then stories emerged of marital unfaithfulness.

How do we respond to those situations? In a sense, all three describe “Fallen heroes.”

Here we are at the start of 2 Samuel and there’s a story arc here from season 1!  1 Samuel finishes with two battles. Saul the King of Israel who had fallen away from his calling, failing to observe God’s instructions when fighting the Amalekites has gone into battle at Gilboah and been defeated. He had his son Jonathan are dead and the Israelites have fled the scene of the battle. Meanwhile at the same time, David who has been chosen and anointed as his successor but who is on the run, a fugitive has been raiding against the Amalekites.

David returns from his battle to be met by a messenger from Saul’s battle.

 

  1. What happens?

An unwelcome visitor with unwelcome news

-An Amalekite -what was he doing involved in the battle?

– What is the significance of the Amalekites

– The Amalekites opposed and attacked Israel at their weakest point during the Exodus when hungry and thirsty (Deut 15:18)

-Saul was to completely destroy them but didn’t (see 1 Samuel 15)

So, The Amalekites should be no-where near to the King because they are enemies of God and his people. They are not trustworthy.  Although he identifies as a sojourner in the land. This suggests his family have become part of Israelite life and so are under the law of Israel (2 Samuel 1:13), hence David will take out blood justice on him).[1]

Actually, it looks like he is lying – he wasn’t the one who killed Saul, the King committed suicide (see 1 Samuel 31:4-5) but David does not know this yet.[2] David takes the killing of the Lord’s anointed very seriously (even a failed and fallen leader). He himself was not prepared to “touch the Lord’s anointed” when the opportunity presented.  Even less so should someone who did not belong to God’s covenant people.

David has the man killed (v15-16), this is no mere revenge killing but a judicial execution for murder.

A sad song for a tragic ending

David sings a lament, a song that mourns Saul and Jonathan (v 18). If our music and art  is only about

Note a few lessons from the lament.

  1. A desire to teach the people of Israel to join in the song. Saul and Jonathan were to be remembered -this was not private grief but public. Death – literal suffering as well as the sense of spiritual failure and tragedy are not private matters because they touch on all lives and because we share in them (v18-19)
  2. A deep concern that the enemy are not give the chance to gloat and rejoice in their victory (v 20-24)
  3. A Sense of the tragedy curse and failure of the place where the battle was fought. A vivid and strong emotional connection between place, events and people (v21)
  4. Remembering the great achievements and successes they were mighty men of valour (v 22-25)
  5. Expression of deep love and affection. A reminder of the importance of deep friendship and affection in a world that has narrowed love down to romantic/sexual relationships. Note a genuine love for Saul -at times an adopted father but the affection, love and sense of loss in Jonathan’s case is far greater(v 23, v 26).[3]

What can we learn from this?

  1. The Amalekites were a constant thorn in the side of Israel who should have been dealt with. David knew this and at the end of 1 Samuel we see him relentlessly pursuing them.  This reminds us of what our attitude to sin should be.“Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work?

“Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”[4]

2. Treatment of other Christians?  -very practically. Do we side with unbelievers who take delight in the flaws and failings of believers?  Do we even take pleasure in attacking and finding fault?  David is not like that. See there is great love and sorrow both for Saul and for Jonathan

3. Saul was flawed and a failure but the title “The Lord’s anointed” points to the Messiah or Christ.  If this was David’s respect for Saul then how much more. How great is our concern for Christ’s honour? When people react him and the Gospel flat out, when they use his name as a swearword and treat him as a joke what is our heart’s response.  We should have a great love for God’s people but a greater love still for the Lord.

Conclusion

Returning to our examples at the start. There’s an odd one out isn’t there.  So, there are two types of grief. There’s the sadness at the failure of some of them.  It’s tragic.

With Mike however, there was the sense of genuine grief at the loss of a great friend and a valiant soldier of the Gospel – just as David grieved Jonathan far differently to his grief for Saul. But it was grief tinged with joy and hope for one called home.

These examples help us to think about how to face similar situations. First, some of us have with sadness said our goodbyes to friends this year who have been called home. We grieve but not without hope.

It is also a challenge -how will I be remembered/mourned when I’m gone?

Some of us have been discouraged and disappointed by the failings and flaws in those we looked up to. This is a cause for real sadness but it is not unexpected because it is part of the reality of life as we wait patiently for Christ’s return.

Most importantly the greatest protection is not to idolise men but to see in Christ the one who is the Lord’s anointed our true King and perfect high priest. It is trust in him that will keep us faithful and keep us secure through all the ups and downs of life.

 

 

[1] See Firth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 123.

[2] Although nb some commentators have made the case for harmonising the texts along the lines that Saul had failed even to completely take his own life and so is dependent upon the Amalekite to put him out of his misery. See 1 Samuel- 2 Kings Expositors Bible Commentary, 297-298.

[3] Firth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 326.

[4] John Owen.

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