An Amalekite foolishly claims to have killed King Saul!
Upon the death of Saul and his sons, his dynasty came to an end, and the ninety-year period covered by the book of I Samuel also came to an end. David and his men would still be rejoicing over the defeat of the Amalekite and the recovery of their families and possessions, but this victory would be overshadowed by concern for what was taking place in Israel. When they left Achish to return to Ziklag, the Philistines had mounted a massive fighting force to attack Israel and David knew full well how awesome this military effort was, because he and his men had marched in review at the end of the procession. From the time he parted from the Philistines, David must have been greatly concerned for Saul and his beloved friend Jonathan, not to mention the rest of his countrymen. During his pursuit of the Amalekite raiding party and the ensuing battle, David probably had little time to think about how things were going back in Israel but now, for the three days David and his men had been back in Ziklag, they would have been wondering how the war was going or, perhaps, how it had already gone.
David's first news of the defeat at Gilboa, and the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, came from a young Amalekite who showed him the dead king's crown and bracelet, probably stolen from his corpse. Some scholars1 feel this young man is merely telling David a tale that he made up although our text tells us specifically that this young man "came out of the camp from Saul" (v22). Further, the young man's description of Saul's physical condition, of the closing pursuit of the Philistines, and of his request to be put to death (not to mention the fact that he has obtained Saul's crown and bracelet), almost forces us to conclude that he was indeed there just as he said. We also note that David takes his words at face value. Does David have this young man put to death for claiming to kill Saul, or for having done so - or is there any difference in God's eyes? Is there real reason not to take this man's words at face value as David does? He claimed to be the one who had given the death thrust at the wounded king's request but the account of Saul's death in First Samuel 31, and the corresponding passage in 1 Chronicles 10, makes it quite evident that Saul died by his own hand. But it was normal in these days to be rewarded for bringing evidence of the death of a monarch and this was clearly the Amalekite's intention. David is unwilling to accept this man's report without some verification. Is the messenger absolutely certain that Saul and Jonathan have been slain? The young man goes on to explain, but perhaps he did not originally intend to tell David what he now reveals. From all the details this man provides some commentators1 believe he was indeed there with Saul, and that he does kill him in his final moments of life. We can at least surmise that this young man was on Mount Gilboa with the intention of looting Saul's post before the Philistines arrive, or at least arrived there while they were still resting after their fierce exertions. He claims to have come across Saul while he is still alive and on the ground, or as the text reads, "he had fallen" (1:102). Saul's body, riddled with Philistine arrows, was now run through by his own sword. Nevertheless, according to the Amalekite, he was not yet dead and seemed to be propping himself up by leaning upon his spear to relieve some pressure and pain from his wounds.
Commentators who accept the Amalekites' story make much of the fact that the young man is an Amalekite. They assume that Saul would take courage in this fact because he had just asked his armour bearer to kill him, but he declined. Therefore, they argue, an Amalekite would not have such scruples about killing the king of Israel. Remembering when Saul ordered his servants to kill Ahimelech and the other priests they declined, and so Saul turned to Doeg the Edomite, who willingly complied with his orders (see 1 Samuel 22:16-19), they reason that in the same way, even if an Israelite would not put Saul to death, the king felt relatively certain that an Amalekite would. Since the young man then told David, "So I stood upon him, and slew him" (verse 105) commentators put the evidence of his precise description of Saul's last few moments and death down as an eye-witness, and therefore actual, account. They seem to discount the equal possibility that the Amalekite could have been close at hand when Saul gave the instruction to his armour-bearer but then applied the final death thrust himself, for surely Saul only resorted to this degrading end when he saw how close the enemy were to him and he feared a painful, lingering and humiliating end. If the Amalekite did not witness this himself he may also have heard the story second-hand from the Philistines.3,4
When the facts from the previous chapter (1 Samuel 31) and 1 Chronicles 10 are considered we can arrive at a fairly clear picture of what happened. After a spontaneous expression of grief, when David and his henchmen tore their clothes in their sadness at this news, David then turned to the informer and delivered a reward he did not expect. "How wast thou not afraid to stretch forth thine hand to destroy the Lord's anointed, " he asked (II Sam. 1:145) and immediately had him put to death. David had refused to touch God's anointed on two occasions and he would not condone it or tolerate it at the hand of another man. I am surprised that proponents of the Amalekite "assassin" view do not suggest that, if he had not really struck down Saul at his request then, surely, when David pronounced the death sentence on him, he would have begun to deny his initial claim out of sheer terror. The fact remains that he was content in his claim to have killed Saul and merely considering the act meant he was guilty of Saul's death and we can therefore justify David's judgement for the man condemned himself from his own mouth by confessing to killing Saul, and then rationalized his actions in verse 10. He claimed that he stood over Saul and killed him because he knew that Saul would never get up again after falling and would have died, anyway, where he lay. The Amalekite also reasoned that he only did exactly what Saul had begged him to do. Saul had wanted to be put out of his misery and he had only obliged him. Wasn't this the compassionate thing to do? He thought a reward might be given for doing what Saul wanted, and what he supposed David wanted. It is interesting that the messenger is never said to have mentioned Saul's other sons, who were also killed at the same time (cf. 1 Samuel 31:2, 6). Perhaps this is because it was known to all that Jonathan was the heir apparent.
His testimony, far from ingratiating him with David, actually sealed his doom and it is ironic that Saul finally lost his kingdom because he failed to annihilate the Amalekites, and now one who said he was an Amalekite died because he claimed to have destroyed Saul.
We cannot help but be amazed and touched by David's tender expression of love and compassion and the thoroughly Christ-like attitude he displayed toward his enemy Saul (v 11-12) for this was a man who had on many occasions attempted to kill him. His formal lamentation, recorded in verses 19-27, is one of the great literary masterpieces of the Bible and a heroic poem which combines the manly virtues of honour and love. Now that King Saul and Prince Jonathan were dead, David's previous political manouevres began to work in his favour, for we remember that he had sent generous gifts throughout the Southland while working for King Achish. Following the Lord's instruction, David and his followers moved to Hebron and Chapter 2v4 informs us that the elders of his tribe met him and anointed him king over the tribe of Judah. This coronation took place in the city of Hebron and David moved there with his two wives and all of his supporters and lived together as they had previously in Ziklag.
(Continued on page 563)