An Amalekite brings David word of Saul and Jonathan’s death in battle. David and his army react in a way that’s different than one might expect since Saul had put it in his heart to destroy David. 2 Samuel 1:10-12 tells us what the Amalekite reported to David, “I stood beside him and killed him because I was sure he could not live after falling. And I took the crown on his head and the armlet on his arm, and I have brought them here to my lord. Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them, and so did all the men with him. And they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and Jonathan, his son and the people of the Lord and the house of Israel because they had fallen by the sword.” In 1 Samuel chapter 31, we read that archers so wounded Saul that he asked his armor-bearer to finish him off before the Philistines arrived. But the armor-bearer would not do it. Verse 4 says, “Therefore Saul took his sword and fell upon it.” Did Saul commit suicide, or did the Amalekite kill him?

Walt Kaiser has a great discussion on this question. He writes, “Although there have been attempts at harmonizing the two accounts, the effort always seems to fall short of being convincing. For example, Josephus tried to make the accounts fit as early as the first Christian century. Josephus claimed that after Saul’s armor-bearer refused to kill Saul, Saul tried to fall on his sword, but he was too weak to do so. Saul turned and saw this Amalekite, who, upon the king’s request, complied and killed him, having found the king leaning on his sword. Afterward, the Amalekite took the king’s crown and armband and fled. While everything seems to fit in this harmonization, there is one fact that is out of line: the armor-bearer. The armor-bearer was sufficiently convinced of Saul’s death to follow his example (See 1 Samuel 31). It is my conclusion that Saul did commit suicide, a violation of the law of God, and that the Amalekite was lying in order to obtain favor with the new administration.”[1]

Even though Saul acted as David’s enemy, he was still a child of God’s people, Israel. When Saul fell in battle, that meant the nation fell in battle. Mayer: There was an excellent reason for David’s sorrow for his dear friend Jonathan and the people of God, but how he could truly be sorrowful for Saul does not so easily appear. For much good came of Saul’s destruction. First, an end was put to tyranny under which the commonwealth had suffered. Second, David was rid of his deadly enemy, who always fought against his life. And third, the expected time now came of fulfilling the promise to David concerning the prophecy of taking the kingdom from Saul. Yet it is not to be thought that David feigned this great sorrow, even for Saul. Although Saul hated David, David still loved Saul just as Christ bids us love our enemies.”[2] David’s life is filled with allusions to Christ’s life. David was the “anointed one,” and through him would come the ultimate anointed one, Jesus. There are many instances in David’s life where we can see Jesus. In this story, David foreshadows Christ’s command to love our enemies. David slaying Goliath wasn’t his most extraordinary deed.

[1] Kaiser, Walter C., Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, and Manfred T. Brauch. 1996. Hard Sayings of the Bible. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity.

[2] Cooper, Derek, Martin J. Lohrmann, Timothy George, and Scott M. Manetsch, eds. 2016. 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles: Old Testament. Vol. V. Reformation Commentary on Scripture. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.