Samuel reported David’s weeping at the death of Saul and his son Jonathan. David has the Amalekite, who claimed to have been the one to put Saul out of his misery. Saul was God’s anointed, and David never lost respect for that fact and refused to take decisive action against Saul, even to save his own life. He expected everyone in Israel to weep over the loss of Saul and his defeat at the hand of their common enemy. David wants the nation to have great respect for God’s anointed. In 2 Samuel 1:17-18, David wanted the people to learn a lament that was contained in a non-canonical book, the Book of Jashar. The passage says, And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and Jonathan his son, and he said it should be taught to the people of Judah; behold, it is written in the Book of Jashar.”

 We don’t know a lot about the book of Jashar. The Yale Bible Dictionary tells us that it is quoted in three Old Testament passages; Joshua 10:12-13, 2 Samuel 1:18, and possibly in 1 Kings 8:12-13.[1] Because it has been quoted as authoritative, several commentators recognize it as being of value. But it has remained extracanonical for most of its history. We have versions of the book from 1552 AD and then another from Venice, Italy, around 1625. These are the oldest manuscripts we have of the book. Or at least they were the oldest until 1947 when the little Bedouin shepherd boy threw his rock into a cave at Qum Ron, where the dead sea scrolls were discovered. There were only fragments discovered of the book, but many scholars have argued that the book of Jashar should date back as far as the other books of the Old Testament. Surely, if Samuel is quoting from the book as he says so here, it must date back to before his time. He uses the quotation as if it’s a well-known resource in his day.

The Book of Jashar appears to have been a book of songs. This seems to be clear from the way it is used in the three references to it in the Old Testament. The Joshua 10 passage refers to it as the song celebrating God holding back the night long enough for Joshua to conquer his enemies completely. Jashar says, “Sun, stand still in Gibeon! Moon, (stand still) in the valley of Aijalon! The Sun stood still. The Moon stayed until He had taken vengeance upon the nations of His enemies.” The second reference to the book of Jashar is seen in this passage, 1 Samuel 1:18. It records the depth of David’s mourning over the death of King Saul and Saul’s son, David’s friend, Jonathan. Bergen says, “This piece of oral and written literature played the valuable role of preserving the memory of a crucial event in Israelite history while reinforcing the office of kingship through its portrayal of the king as the agent through whom prosperity was brought to Israel.”[2] The Book of Jashar was a collection of Patriotic songs that celebrate the war heroes of Israel. Saul had delivered Israel from their enemy on numerous occasions, and David memorialized that in this song and taught it to Israel. It’s the battle hymn of the theocracy.

[1] Christensen, Duane L. 1992. “Jashar, Book of.” In The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, edited by David Noel Freedman, 3:646. New York: Doubleday.

[2] Bergen, Robert D. 1996. 1, 2 Samuel. Vol. 7. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.