After the death of Saul, when David had returned from striking down the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag. And on the third day, behold, a man came from Saul’s camp, with his clothes torn and dirt on his head. And when he came to David, he fell to the ground and paid homage. David said to him, “Where do you come from?” And he said to him, “I have escaped from the camp of Israel.” And David said to him, “How did it go? Tell me.” And he answered, “The people fled from the battle, and also many of the people have fallen and are dead, and Saul and his son Jonathan are also dead.” Then David said to the young man who told him, “How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?” And the young man who told him said, “By chance I happened to be on Mount Gilboa, and there was Saul leaning on his spear, and behold, the chariots and the horsemen were close upon him. And when he looked behind him, he saw me, and called to me. And I answered, ‘Here I am.’ And he said to me, ‘Who are you?’ I answered him, ‘I am an Amalekite.’ And he said to me, ‘Stand beside me and kill me, for anguish has seized me, and yet my life still lingers.’ So I stood beside him and killed him, because I was sure that he could not live after he had fallen. And I took the crown that was on his head and the armlet that was 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 who were with him. And they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son and for the people of the Lord and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. And David said to the young man who told him, “Where do you come from?” And he answered, “I am the son of a sojourner, an Amalekite.” David said to him, “How is it you were not afraid to put out your hand to destroy the Lord's anointed?” Then David called one of the young men and said, “Go, execute him.” And he struck him down so that he died. And David said to him, “Your blood be on your head, for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, ‘I have killed the Lord's anointed.’” – 2 Samuel 1:1-16 ESV
The Bible is full of irony, and this story is a case in point. Saul, having taken his own life by falling on his own sword, was left on the field of battle, his body unprotected and easy pickings for the Philistines soldiers to find. But according to this story, an Amalekite got to Saul before the Philistines did. He took Saul’s crown and armlet and made his way to Ziklag, having concocted a false version of the events surrounding Saul’s death, in hopes that David would reward him for having killed Saul. But the irony in all of this is that this man, who falsely took credit for Saul’s death and stole his crown and armlet, was an Amalekite. All the way back in 1 Samuel 13, Saul was commanded by God to destroy the Amalekites, completely wiping out every man, woman and child. But Saul was disobedient to God. He failed to do what God had commanded him to do. And as a result the Amalekites were alive and well. In fact, the second point of irony is that this man made his way to David, proudly proclaiming his Amalekite ethnicity, totally unaware that David had just defeated and plundered his countrymen for having raided his city and capturing its inhabitants. In other words, this young man picked a bad time to be an Amalekite and to brag about killing the king of Israel with his own hands.
The fact that the account of chapter one of 2 Samuel differs slightly from that of chapter 31 of 1 Samuel has caused some consternation over the years. But it is not a case of a discrepancy in the Bible. It is simply the facts related to the events. Chapter 31 of 1 Samuel records what actually happened as it relates to Saul’s death and the aftermath. Nowhere does it mention his crown or armlet. Only his head, decapitated body and armor were taken by the Philistines. Had they found something as significant as his crown, it would probably been mentioned. But according to the story in chapter one of 2 Samuel, the crown had been taken by an Amalekite who was plundering the bodies of the fallen. And he was not mentioned in the closing chapter of 1 Samuel, because it was a record of Saul’s death, not David’s reaction to it. The author reserved the events surrounding the Amalekite and his plundering of Saul’s crown and amulet until later.
And the Amalekite mercenary’s arrival in David’s camp and his news of Saul’s death were not received with the joy and gratitude he had imagined.
David and his men tore their clothes in sorrow when they heard the news. They mourned and wept and fasted all day for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the Lord’s army and the nation of Israel, because they had died by the sword that day. – 2 Samuel 1:11-12 NLT
This was not what the young man had expected. Instead of David reacting with joy and offering the Amalekite a reward for his claim of having killed David’s archenemy, he went into mourning, weeping over the death of the Lord’s anointed. There was no celebration, no gloating, no dance of victory over Saul’s well-deserved death. And the idea that an Amalekite had been the one to take the king’s life was too much for David to handle. Based on the young man’s bold claim, David had him executed. Not exactly the reward he had been seeking.
What is interesting to note in this story is the sovereign hand of God at work. These two chapters provide a turning point in the story of David’s life. Between them, we see a transition of power taking place between Saul and David. It is fascinating to consider that this unsuspecting Amalekite was used by God to bring the very crown of Saul and hand it to the man whom God had appointed and anointed to be the next king of Israel. It was a tangible symbol of what was taking place within the story – all part of God’s strategic plan for David’s rise to the throne of Israel.
David’s path to the throne had been a long and arduous one. From the day he had been anointed by Samuel the prophet, until the moment Saul fell on his sword, taking his own life, David had experienced a lengthy, pain-filled journey filled with ups and downs, twists and turns, and moments of doubt and despair. David’s faith had been tested. He had been oftentimes confused by the events surrounding his life. He didn’t always understand what was going on or enjoy the manner in which God had chosen to direct his life. But he kept trusting. He kept waiting. And while he had been given two different opportunities to take Saul’s life, he had refused. On both cases he had considered Saul the Lord’s anointed and was unwilling to raise his hand against him. Up until the very end, David had showed honor and respect for the Lord’s anointed, even mourning the death of the very man who had dedicated years of his life to the David’s destruction.
Saul was defeated by the Philistines. He took his own life. An Amalekite plundered the crown from his dead body and claimed responsibility for his death. He expected a reward from David. But David mourned and rewarded the Amalekite with death. Saul’s crown, the symbol of his power, had been handed over to David by an unlikely source and in an unexpected manner. Saul’s short-lived dynasty had come to an abrupt and ignominious end. And with his death, the transfer of power had begun. David was poised to become the next king of Israel. God’s hand-picked successor was poised to ascend the throne of Israel and assume the responsibility of leading the people of Israel on behalf of God. The man who had repeatedly shown honor and respect for the Lord’s anointed was about to become the Lord’s anointed. And every single event and circumstance up until this point had all been part of God’s sovereign plan for David’s life. The timing was perfect. The plan was unfolding just as God had ordained it.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.