In all of Scripture, is there a more heroic and yet more fallible figure than David? He was a worshiper of God and a slayer of giants; he was beloved by those who followed him, yet pursued by those who hated him with murderous intent; he would aspire to do great things for the Lord, but fail morally in notorious ways.
In 2 Samuel 1, we see the heart of David break upon learning of the fate of king Saul and Saul’s son, Jonathan, who was David’s closest and dearest friend. In the battle against the Philistines, the men of Israel fled, and the king and his sons apparently retreated with the rest of the army. However, the enemy caught up with them; Saul and his sons were slain together on Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 31).
David’s lament is recorded in 2 Samuel 1, and its sentiments only add to his greatness. For this soon-to-be king of Israel honored Saul, even though Saul, out of an almost insane and certainly demon-inspired jealousy, had tried constantly to kill the younger man. Saul had no factual basis for feeling threatened. David hadn’t rejected Saul as king; God had. Foolishly, Saul’s fevered mind apparently believed that, if he could kill David, he would foil God’s purposes.
Saul’s nearly unrelenting pursuit must have made David’s life frustrated, fearful, and bitter. The harassment never seemed to let up. Nevertheless, in his lament, David called Saul “mighty,” praising his abilities as a warrior, and exhorted, “O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul.”
David also praised his friend Jonathan, a character in Scripture that is portrayed as every bit as noble as David. His friendship with David was steadfast even though Jonathan knew of God’s decision about his father and David. Not only had Saul been rejected, but Jonathan knew that the Lord’s choice of David meant that no son of Saul – including himself – would ever sit on the throne.
This is extraordinary – but there’s even more to the character of Jonathan. He knew his father was doomed; Saul had been unfaithful to God and acted foolishly; he had acted wickedly against David, an innocent man. Yet Jonathan also stayed loyal to his father, as a dutiful and loving son. And when the enemy closed in on Saul, Jonathan, along with his brothers, stayed and fought to the last.
“Saul and Jonathan, beloved and pleasant in their life, and in their death they were not parted,” David said.
His lament also includes a verse that is both simple and sublime as a testimony to the courage of the Israelite leaders who died that day on Mount Gilboa:
From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back, and the sword of Saul did not return empty (2 Samuel 1:22).
Surely their doom had become obvious, as the Philistine army closed in about them. But Saul and Jonathan did not relent. “How the mighty have fallen!” David cried out. “They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. … How have the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! … How have the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished!”
Will we continue to fight today? Many of us are in spiritual warfare, even at this very moment. Christians are facing terrible conflicts in their personal walk with God, in their family and marriage, at work, in their community, or even in the culture war at large. Terrible and unrelenting – even demonic – storms assail the people of God from every direction.
What you’re going through might seem unfair, like Jonathan’s circumstances, which were the result of his father’s sins. Maybe it seems as if the path of your life has taken you to Mount Gilboa where surrounded, it seems as if death looms like a dark certainty.
Can you love your enemy, as David loved Saul? Can you remain loyal to the imperfect people in your life, as Jonathan did with his father? Will your bow turn back from the fight?
Until we breathe our last breath, may we be as courageous, tenacious, and faithful as Jonathan that day on Mount Gilboa.