Read the text here: II Samuel 1:1, 17-27
Reflections on “David Mourns…” – II Samuel 1:1, 17-27
You might have noticed by looking at the Scripture citation above that we have jumped over lot of material between last Sunday and this weekend. Last week we heard the story of David & Goliath in I Samuel 17 and this week we are at the death of Saul in II Samuel 1. In the process we have skipped over chapters 18 through 32 in I Samuel. From the standpoint of the lectionary I can understand this, but for the purposes of the story we are missing a lot that would help us to understand this rather odd text for today. So in as few words as I can muster allow me to fill in the blanks a bit. From the high point in the relationship between David and Saul when David kills Goliath things go from bad to worse. David is brought into the home of the King where he soothes Saul, who seems to be suffering from depression and paranoia, by singing and playing the harp. Eventually Saul drives David out of his household, against the wishes of his own children, the crown prince, Jonathan who has become David’s closest and best friend and his daughter Michel who has fallen in love with David. David first takes up residence in the hills and gathers a band of thugs and becomes a highway robber where he swoops down on unsuspecting caravans, plunders them and kills anyone who is there. Eventually he moves into the territory of the Philistines, makes peace with the Philistine authorities and actually becomes a kind of mercenary for them against Israel and others. In short, David becomes a bandit and a traitor. During this time he has two opportunities to kill Saul, who had unwittingly wandered into David’s clutches. On both occasions David chooses not to kill Saul.
Finally Israel and Philistia are at war again. David is not participating (actually the Philistines didn’t want him to, they don’t completely trust him). Saul’s paranoia and depression has turned to terror, and in an effort to find peace Saul consults a fortune teller (called the witch of Endor) who conducts a séance and brings the spirit of Samuel up from the dead. Samuel is not pleased and tells Saul that he will die in the battle the next day. And true to the prediction Saul, Jonathan and Saul’s other sons are all killed in the battle. It must be said, though, that according to the text, Saul and his sons die fighting bravely for their country. An Amalekite messenger brings this news to David, expecting David to be pleased and, I suppose, expecting some kind of reward. The messenger fabricates a story that makes him a part of the death of Saul. This only angers David, who has the messenger executed. David then enters into a time of mourning for Saul and Jonathan. He composes a song – The Song of the Bow – and orders it to be sung throughout Israel by all of the tribes.
The fact is that David is not cheered by the death of the only real obstacle to his becoming King of Israel. He mourns, and his mourning appears to be sincere. Now, I doubt that David liked Saul very much, but it appears that he respected him. Even as they engaged in the cat/mouse games of Saul pursuing and trying to kill David, nevertheless David continues to hold Saul in respect, if for no other reason, than the fact this Saul is the King, the Lord’s anointed. What does this say to us about how we relate to those others who we feel are our adversaries or whose positions we feel are detrimental to us personally or to our nation? Think about the political figures that you dislike and want to see defeated in the upcoming elections. Despite your disagreement and antipathy, can you still respect the person as a fellow human being, who has a position of authority bestowed upon him/her by the people? The ugliness and hate that is displayed in the context of politics is really extreme and is ultimately damaging to us as a nation and to us spiritually as individuals. And we are all guilty of this, to some degree – myself included. This story calls for us to take a step back from this. Disagreement is fine and good and expected – but hate is out of line.
So, David writes a song and sends it out to be sung. The Song of the Bow is certainly an odd song in many ways. It gives voice to intense national grief. But there are several things that it seems to be lacking. 1st, there is no call to revenge. This song lays out and accepts the grief of the loss of the King, the Crown Prince and the others and provides a cathartic vehicle for the expression of grief, but it does not call on people to seek revenge. This is important, for often in certain circumstances, grief can too often give way to seeking revenge, and revenge never, never satisfies. “Turn the other cheek,” said Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Gandhi once said “and eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Shakespeare’s famous story of two young lovers “Romeo and Juliet” is ultimately not a story about young love, but it is a story about revenge and how destructive revenge is, for in this story the young lovers, many of their friends and others are destroyed by the hate between these two families. David does not call for revenge – but rather, David calls for mourning.
The song is also missing any mention of God and it seems to also lack a sense of hope. This song gives vent to grief. And this, in and of itself, is a gift, for we do need to find ways to express our grief at the losses we suffer. We all suffer loss of many kinds: the death of loved ones, divorce, break-up of relationships, loss of friends, even children growing up and moving on is a loss. I think we are not always so good at expressing our grief. We push it aside, shrug it off and pretend it is no big deal. But it doesn’t leave us, it will become a part of us and it will change us. David’s song reminds us of our need to find ways of venting and dealing with our grief – both personal and collective – in an open and honest way.
As Christians we read this song through the lens of the Gospel and because of that we can recognize and hold on to the hope that comes in the resurrection of Christ. In the Gospel for today two people take the risk of reaching out to Jesus – the leader of the synagogue and the woman with the flow of blood. They reach out to Jesus in fear and loss, but with a sense of hope that Jesus can heal and bring life into the midst of their darkness of illness and the social ostracism that comes with it. In both cases Jesus brings healing. And God can bring healing to us as well. We will always have our losses and griefs with us, and they will shape us to some degree, but we do not need to be stuck in our grief. God offers us healing and grace. God calls on us all to reach out to God through Jesus and give our grief to God. Hear these words from the book of Revelation: “And God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain with be no more, for the first things have passed away. And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new’” (Revelation 21:3-4). Amen.
Thanks to Peace Lutheran Church is Sioux Falls, South Dakota for these wonderful graphics and permission to use them.