Christian Living, Church history, Culture & Society, Death & Dying

Poetry from a Broken Heart

AN EXPOSITION OF 2 Samuel 1:1-27

A Time of Triumph

With the death of King Saul the way was open for David to become the next king of Israel. He had triumphed over his enemy. The narrative of 2 Samuel begins with David’s ascension to the throne and records his forty-year reign. The triumphs and troubles of David are faithfully recorded. The triumphs of David were many. David brought an orderly government back to the land of Israel. David united the twelve tribes to make a single nation. David resisted all rivals to the throne (2 Samuel 1-4). David defeated the enemies of his God and his people (2 Sam. 5, 8-10) in the form of the Jebusites and the Philistines. David brought the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem so that worship was once more a focal point of national life. David inaugurated the first half of an eighty-year span of economic prosperity known as the Golden Years of Hebrew History.

A Time of Tragedy

Despite the many accomplishments of David as soldier, king, administrator, musician, and poet, there was a dark side to his soul that cast a shadow over the glory of his righteousness. The Scriptures are careful to record the dark side of David’s heart, and the troubles he faced in life. David committed adultery with Bathsheba. David experienced tumult in his household when his son Amnon raped his sister Tamar (2 Sam. 8).David had to deal with an open revolt against his authority (2 Sam. 24). David caused many people to die through pride (2 Sam. 24). David faced economic hardships (2 Sam. 21). Like every life, there is both good and bad in David. David is neither all saint, nor all sinner. David is a soul saved, by faith alone, redeemed by the blood, chosen by God, and loved in sovereign grace. At times the passions of David spilled over, and brought much pain and sorrow to himself, and others. But for the most part, David lived with personal integrity in the will of the Lord. He was a man with blood on his hands, yet heaven was on his mind, and poetry was upon his heart.

 

The king was dead. Killed in battle while defending the land of his birth and the people he ruled, the king was dead. The nation was suddenly shocked, confused and worried. The king was dead. What would happen next? Smite the shepherd and the sheep scatter. The hope of Israel was nailed lifeless and headless to a wall in a foreign city. The king was dead.

The news traveled far and wide. Within days all of Israel had heard, the king was dead. People wanted to know the details of how it had all happened, including David, who was residing once more in Ziglag. It was on the third day that “a man came out of the camp from Saul” to report to David that the king was dead. A dramatic scene is set forth.

ACT I: Scene I

In the first scene of the One Act Play the arrival of the Messenger is announced. What a Messenger the man was as he presented himself to David in the posture of a mourner. With torn clothes, and earth upon his head, the Messenger appeared to be greatly distressed as he fell at the feet of David, a servant honoring his master. The posture was a pretense, for the Messenger was a liar and very good at being one. His capacity in the area of deceit was demonstrated in his ability to give specific details, and physical objects to support his story.

As the Messenger began his narrative of the military situation at the Battle of Armageddon, he told of the general situation. The people had fled from the battlefield, and many of the people had fallen. The Philistines had been successful in this military engagement. The soldiers of Israel had abandoned the fight. The Messenger was more specific. “And Saul and Jonathan his son are dead also.” At that news the countenance of David grew tense and anxious. “How did the Messenger know that specifically?” “Speak!’

It was this command that the Messenger had been waiting for. On his way to bring the news of the death of Saul to David some dark thoughts had entered into the mind of the messenger. Perhaps David would reward the one who brought him good news that his time of being a fugitive from injustice was over. Maybe there would even be a generous reward for the person who actually killed Saul, and freed David from his enemy. So it was the Messenger formulated a lie in order to gain a personal reward.

As the Messenger began to recount what happened, he told of how Saul was discovered weak, wounded, and afraid. “Kill me,” begged the king, the Messenger said, and so he did. As the implication of what he was confessing to took hold, the Messenger realized he had gone too far. Once more the countenance of David changed to convey shock and horror. The Messenger had expected a reaction of gratitude, but instead he witnessed a righteous anger. ‘

“What is this Messenger?” the look on David’s face seemed to be saying. “You are telling me you dared to strike at the Lord’s anointed and kill him?”

The Messenger, liar that he was, exploiter of evil that he hoped to be, was able to read the body language of David, and knew instinctively he would have to justify himself, and so the Messenger cast his actions in the role of mercy killing (2 Sam. 1:10). The Messenger did not want the wounded king to fall into the hands of the Philistines. He was certain, in his mind, that the king would not live long from his mortal wounds. Therefore, the Messenger maintained that he killed Saul in mercy and kindness. Herein is the end of Scene I

ACT I: Scene II

The second scene in the divine drama begins with a tentative reception by David of the Messenger’s story. Upon hearing the narrative, David tore his own clothing in mourning. There was an emotional duress in his soul. David did not want to hear that Saul and his beloved friend Jonathan were dead. The grief which filled David’s heart, and prompted his actions, signaled other soldiers and people nearby to express similar grief. On the third day after king Saul died there was mourning and weeping for him, and for all that were slain at the Battle of Armageddon. With tears of anguish there is the end of Scene II.

ACT I: Scene III

This scene begins with the anticipated reward of the Messenger. What should the Amalekite receive for telling David the king was dead, and beyond that, for taking part in the death of the sovereign of the land? Certainly the Messenger expected a rich reward for his services to the king, be they real or imagined. The Messenger was shocked beyond belief to hear his own death sentence pronounced by David. ”And David said unto him, How wast thou not afraid to stretch forth thine hand to destroy the LORD’s anointed?

     15 And David called one of the young men, and said, Go near, and fall upon him. And he smote him that he died.

     16 And David said unto him, Thy blood be upon thy head; for thy mouth hath testified against thee, saying, I have slain the LORD’s anointed.

     17 And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son” (2 Samuel 1:14-17).

The sentencing to death of the Amalekite by David can be justified for several reasons. First, by being a descendant of Amalek, the Messenger was already doomed to destruction, along with his nation, as a result of divine discipline (1 Sam. 15). Second, the Messenger was a liar. In time, the Messenger suffered the ultimate temporal punishment for this sin. In eternity, the ultimate penalty for liars is the Lake of Fire. “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8).In the sight of God lying is listed as one of the seven most deadly sins, according to Proverbs 6. “These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:

     17 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,

     18 An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief,

     19 A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren” (Prov. 6:16-19).

The way that Saul really died is recorded in 1 Samuel 31. Saul died the death of a suicide, one of four recorded in Scripture.

Saul                                         1 Samuel 31:4,5
Ahithophel                              2 Samuel 17:23
Zimri                                       1 Kings 16:18
Judas                                       Matthew 27:5

The Messenger deserved the penalty of death because he claimed to have killed the Lord’s anointed. Whatever faults Saul had, and there were many, he was still God’s chosen vessel. It is a very unwise policy to privately, and arbitrarily assassinate the head of a state. The church is commanded to pray for rulers, even when the ruler is a madman named Nero (1 Tim 2:1-2) by way of historical teaching, a modern day dictator, or a president of a different political party. With the surprise execution of the Messenger, a closing is brought to this third scene.

ACT I: Scene IV

Scene IV reveals the poetry of a broken heart. Like many a sensitive soul, David decided to record what he felt in order to express a lasting testimony to his constant love for the king and his son Jonathan. By the grace of God David’s poem of a broken heart has been preserved. While full justice cannot be done to the pathos of expression, an analysis of David’s poem reveals a four-fold development.

First, David showed great generosity to Saul. David never forgot that Saul was still his father-in-law, his king, and God’s chosen vessel to be the sovereign of the land. Because of the great nobility of his own heart, David was able to conceal the wretchedness of Saul’s. Blessed is the person who can cover a transgression. Commenting on this verse Matthew Henry wrote, “Let the corrupt part of the memory be buried with the corrupt part of the man—earth to earth, ashes to ashes; let the blemish be hidden and a veil drawn over the deformity.”

Second, David was grateful to Jonathan, for in him, David had found something very rare—a faithful friend. In life there are many acquaintances, but there are very few friends. True friendship will transcend the pressures of arguments, thoughtless deeds, and emotional outbursts. Jonathan was a friend. David was concerned for the welfare of the people, for he began to teach the people of Judah how to defend themselves (2 Sam. 1:18). Freedom is won through military victory. David was concerned for the honor of God. “Tell it not in Gath,” he cried, “publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph” (2 Sam. 1:20).

Chapter 1 of 2 Samuel ends after recording that the beauty of Israel was slain, the king was dead, and there was poetry from a broken heart.

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