This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news.
2 Samuel 1:1-16
New King James Version (NKJV)
The Report of Saul’s Death
1 Now it came to pass after the death of Saul, when David had returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites, and David had stayed two days in Ziklag, 2 on the third day, behold, it happened that a man came from Saul’s camp with his clothes torn and dust on his head. So it was, when he came to David, that he fell to the ground and prostrated himself.
3 And David said to him, “Where have you come from?”
So he said to him, “I have escaped from the camp of Israel.”
4 Then David said to him, “How did the matter go? Please tell me.”
And he answered, “The people have fled from the battle, many of the people are fallen and dead, and Saul and Jonathan his son are dead also.”
5 So David said to the young man who told him, “How do you know that Saul and Jonathan his son are dead?”
6 Then the young man who told him said, “As I happened by chance to be on Mount Gilboa, there was Saul, leaning on his spear; and indeed the chariots and horsemen followed hard after him. 7 Now when he looked behind him, he saw me and called to me. And I answered, ‘Here I am.’ 8 And he said to me, ‘Who are you?’ So I answered him, ‘I am an Amalekite.’ 9 He said to me again, ‘Please stand over me and kill me, for anguish has come upon me, but my life still remains in me.’ 10 So I stood over him and killed him, because I was sure that he could not live after he had fallen. And I took the crown that was on his head and the bracelet that was on his arm, and have brought them here to my lord.”
11 Therefore David took hold of his own clothes and tore them, and so did all the men who were with him. 12 And they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son, for the people of the Lord and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.
13 Then David said to the young man who told him, “Where are you from?”
And he answered, “I am the son of an alien, an Amalekite.”
14 So David said to him, “How was it you were not afraid to put forth your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?” 15 Then David called one of the young men and said, “Go near, and execute him!” And he struck him so that he died. 16 So David said to him, “Your blood is on your own head, for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, ‘I have killed the Lord’s anointed.’”
What’s going on here? We’ve already read how Saul fell on his own sword, so how can this other version be true? Perhaps, as scholars suggest, the author just gives us two versions, and we can choose the one we like. Or maybe the messenger is lying about his part in order to gain credit with David. If so, the Amelekite has made a terrible mistake. Even if David is not totally devastated by Saul’s death, he is very grieved at Jonathan’s; and in any case, if he is to become king, he must behave with absolute propriety in public. All of which means that the Amelekite is doomed. And what’s that nagging at the minds of those who’ve read the whole story? Yes, that’s it-this man is an Amalekite; and Saul was rejected by God because he had not properly carried out holy war against the Amalekites. It might therefore seem appropriate to the storyteller that Saul should be killed by an Amalekite and the score evened up by David’s summary justice.
Here as always, the author tells us what David did and said and leaves us to decide whether he is acting spontaneously as a decent man, or out of a calculation about his own best advantage. In any case he does what he can to grasp the destiny given him when he was anointed secretly by Samuel as the next King of Israel. The David brought to life in the Samuel books is a charismatic leader who arouses passionate loyalty from his men, but he is also capable of calm foresight and rational decisions in moments of crisis, as here.
The rash young Amalekite is typical of those who from some personal motive will take advantage of a disaster; he gets his reward. What about those whose immediate instinct, when faced with disaster or atrocity, is to photograph it on their smartphone, rather than helping the victims in any way? I have on my computer an image of a Tibetan monk burning himself in a Lhasa street. Not only do I wonder who took his picture as he ran in flames,but I can clearly see in the image several bystanders also taking his picture rather than trying to smother the flames. Of course there’s a whole news industry based on providing news of disaster for profit. Such reporters take it for granted that their work is virtuous. Just as well for them they aren’t reporting to David.