Sermon on 2 Samuel 1:17-27

This is a sermon that I gave at Aldersgate UMC on 6/28/2009:

2 Samuel 1: 17-27

17 David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan, 18 and ordered that the men of Judah be taught this lament of the bow (it is written in the Book of Jashar):

19 “Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights.

How the mighty have fallen!

20 “Tell it not in Gath,

proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon,

lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad,

lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice.

21 “O mountains of Gilboa,

may you have neither dew nor rain,

nor fields that yield offerings of grain .

For there the shield of the mighty was defiled,

the shield of Saul—no longer rubbed with oil.

22 From the blood of the slain,

from the flesh of the mighty,

the bow of Jonathan did not turn back,

the sword of Saul did not return unsatisfied.

23 “Saul and Jonathan—

in life they were loved and gracious,

and in death they were not parted.

They were swifter than eagles,

they were stronger than lions.

24 “O daughters of Israel,

weep for Saul,

who clothed you in scarlet and finery,

who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold.

25 “How the mighty have fallen in battle!

Jonathan lies slain on your heights.

26 I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;

you were very dear to me.

Your love for me was wonderful,

more wonderful than that of women.

27 “How the mighty have fallen!

The weapons of war have perished!”

This poem, written by David, does not sit well with me.

I read that David asks the daughters of Israel to weep for Saul and it makes no sense. Saul was David’s enemy. What concerns me even more is that David attributes the same wonderful qualities to his best friend Jonathan, the son of Saul, and to his nemesis. “They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.”

Throughout the Old Testament, God often speaks through his prophets. The prophet Samuel had anointed Saul ruler over Israel and often told him the commands of the Lord. Samuel told Saul to attack the Amalekites but to take no spoils from the battle. When Saul disobeyed this command they Spirit of the Lord left him.

It was at this time when the Lord commanded Samuel to anoint David. David famously kills Goliath, the champion of the Philistines

1 Samuel 18: 6-9 “As they were coming home, when David returned from killing the Philistine, the women came out of all the towns of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. And the women sand to one another as they made merry, Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands. Saul was very angry, for this saying displeased him. He said, They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have as scribed thousands; what more can he have but the Kingdom? So Saul eyed David from that day on”

This is where Saul’s hatred and torment began. He grew jealous of David, often sending him into battles where he would surely die. Yet, the Spirit of the Lord was with David, leaving him triumphant. Saul on multiple occasions attempted to personally kill David by pinning him to the wall with his spear, but David eluded him.

After David was triumphant over Goliath, 1 Samuel 18:1 tells us “the soul of Jonathan was bound to the Soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own Soul.” They were from that point on best friends. Jonathan often interceded on behalf of David, and saved David’s life more than once from his father Saul. Saul responded by telling Jonathan “For as long as the son of Jesse (David) lives upon the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established. Now send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die.”

So why does David honor Saul throughout all of Israel?

Why does he even attempt to compare the insidious Saul to Jonathan, his beloved best friend?

When I was a senior in high school I wanted nothing more than to attend James Madison University after I graduated. I had spent my summers at JMU participating in Band programs, I had toured the campus, and I knew they had a strong religion program. Well one December afternoon my friend Matt called me to share the news of his acceptance to JMU. The next day I received my denial in the mail. My frustration was enormous, I was mad at God, I was mad at Matt, and I began to bottle it all up.

After David was forced to flee the kingdom of Israel, for fear of being killed by Saul, he found himself in the wilderness of En-Gedi. Saul had chosen 3,000 Israelite and were pursuing David. In God’s uncanny way of setting up events, He delivers the tired Saul to rest in the cave where David is hiding.

David’s companions said, “Here is the day which the Lord has given your enemy into your hand!” David went out to strike Saul down but he immediately felt a pain in his heart. Instead of killing Saul, David cuts off a corner of his cloak. David knew he could not kill Saul because the Lord had forbidden that he should do such a thing to his lord, the Lord’s anointed. The Lord’s Annointed.

After Saul left the cave, David followed to yell, “This very day your eyes have seen how the Lord gave you into my hand in the cave; and some urged me to kill you, but I spared you. I said, ‘I will not raise my hand against my lord; for he is the Lord’s anointed.’”

Saul replies with a change of heart by telling David “You are more righteous than I; for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil {…} Now I know that you shall surely be King and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand.”

After I received my denial letter, I internalized all of my frustration. I felt this anger all the way through my senior year, through the summer leading up to attending a different university. During my first week I fell apart. I could not believe that God had done this to me. So I threw myself down before the Lord, and I prayed and prayed asking Him what to do. And he answered, “work, study, transfer.” So I did, and now I am at James Madison University, and it is glorious.

I know that Scot McKnight told us last week that the only time “love your neighbor as yourself” is mentioned is in Leviticus before Jesus ushers it back. Dr. McKnight is absolutely right, but, though David never says it, it is what he is doing with his poem. David is exhibiting Christ’s decree of the greatest commandment generations before Jesus said it: “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength, and the second is this, love your neighbor as yourself.” To love the Lord your God – Saul tried to end David’s life yet David’s love for the Lord’s anointed is held fast. Love your neighbor as yourself – David’s love for Saul is equal to that of Jonathan.

David wept upon hearing the news of Saul and Jonathan’s death. “HOW THE MIGHTY HAVE FALLEN!” is the refrain from the poem. This poem shows David being human, lamenting the lives lost.

Every one of us has lost someone. I have seen my fair share of funerals here at the church through being the sound operator, many for people I didn’t know, some for dear friends. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that we cannot heal unless our wounds are exposed.

The church should be the place where death can be faced, where our grief and loss can be voiced. It is only after an encounter with the cross and the death of Jesus Christ, that resurrection can speak a meaningful word of life.

I am proud to be a member of this church. A church where people are hurt, yet they know that this body of Christ will help them. As Scot McKnight said last week we are all broken, through Christ we are fixed. Christ instituted this community, and with it we can be made whole again.

David’s love of Saul and Jonathan is directly reflected in how God loves us.

At JMU the leader of the Wesley foundation loves to quote a passage from Romans with her own translation: “No matter what you do, God will never love you any more, and no matter what you do God will never love you any less.”

This is true, but I prefer the literal scripture:

Romans 8:38-39

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”