On the third day a man with torn clothes and dust on his head arrived from Saul's camp. When he came to David, he fell to the ground to pay him homage.
2 Samuel 1:2-10. - (ZIKLAG.)1 Samuel 31.; and, although credited by David, it was probably a fabrication, his motive therein being the desire of reward, as David himself clearly perceived (2 Samuel 4:16). In him we have a picture of what sometimes appears in others under higher moral influences, viz.:
1. Dominant selfishness. He is supremely concerned about his own interest. Self-love is an original principle of our nature, and, when properly regulated, points in the direction of virtue and happiness. But it easily degenerates into selfishness, "the source of all the sins of omission and commission which are found in the world." And when a man comes under the dominion of the latter, he may sink into any depth of meanness.
2. Subtle scheming. Amidst the dying and the dead, after the battle, his only thought is of gain; and, having plundered the fallen king of the regalia, he coolly calculates how he may dispose thereof to the greatest advantage; and then hastens a long distance across the country to one whom he expects to find ready to welcome the prospect of his own elevation by an enemy's death, and to pay him "the wages of unrighteousness."
3. Feigned sympathy. He comes into the presence of David "with the marks of distress and dismay - dust and clay smeared over his face, and his clothes torn" - on account of the disaster which has befallen Israel (1 Samuel 4:12). But how little does his appearance correspond with the feelings of his heart! "Self-love sometimes borrows the face of honest zeal" (Hall).
4. Obsequious homage. "He fell to the earth, and did obeisance;" prostrating himself before the rising sun of the new era with abject, insincere, and wicked mind. "To those who are distinguished in the kingdom of God as specially called and favoured instruments of grace, falsehood and hypocrisy draw near most pressingly and corruptingly in the guise of humility and self-abasement" (Erdmann).
5. Plausible lying. (Vers. 6-9.) He artfully mingles falsehood with the truth he utters, for the sake of enhancing the value of his good offices. If he had been satisfied with simply telling the tidings of the death of Saul, all would have been well with him; but by his gratuitous inventions he entangles himself in a dangerous snare.
6. Unconscious self-accusation. "I stood upon him, and slew him, because I was sure that he could not live after that he was fallen" (ver. 10). He accuses himself in the excuses he makes for his conduct. Qui s'excuse s'accuse. Even the request of Saul would not have justified his act or absolved him from responsibility. And how could he be sure that the wounded king could not live? Even the most hardened villain deems it needful to endeavour to palliate his offence. And he who is solely intent upon his own interest often makes admissions that clearly reveal his guilt.
7. Fatal miscalculation. He judges of the character of another by his own, meets with a generosity, loyalty, and justice which he cannot understand, fails of his purpose, and receives a reward which he did not anticipate. "The incident gives us the opportunity of marking the immense difference in the order of mind and character which may subsist between two individuals brought together by one event, and having their attention occupied by one and the same object" (J.A. Miller, 'Saul'). "He taketh the wise in their own craftiness" (Job 5:13). "The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands" (Psalm 9:16; Proverbs 6:15; Proverbs 18:7). - D.
1. A scrutiny touching the veracity of this Amalekite's long harangue: Though I find some learned men patronising this Amalekite, and purging him from lying to David, saying his story was a real truth, for Saul had indeed fallen upon his own weapon, but his coat of mail had hindered it from piercing deep enough to be so speedily a mortal wound, but that the Philistines might come and catch him alive and abuse him; and though it be said (when his armour-bearer saw that Saul was dead) he slew himself (1 Samuel 31:5). Which yet Dr: Lightfoot senseth thus: When he saw Saul had given himself so deadly a wound, he did the like, and died indeed, but Saul's wound was not of so quick a dispatch, therefore he desired this man to kill him outright. Notwithstanding all this, yet upon a more serious inquest into particulars, this whole story seems more probably to be a pack of lies, one stitched to another for these reasons: — 'Tis altogether improbable, either that Saul, after he had given himself such a deadly wound, whereof he was ready to die, should be able to call him, and spend so many words in talking with him; or that this man should dare to stay so long in this discourse with Saul, seeing he also was fleeing (with the whole army) to save his own life, which he might have lost by making this halt, had the Philistines overtaken him in their pursuit (which Saul feared for himself) during this parley. Nor can it be probable that Saul should desire to die rather by the hands of an uncircumcised Amalekite, than of the uncircumcised Philistines which he so much feared. He could not put any such difference between them, seeing Amalek was more accursed and devoted to destruction than the Philistines. 'Tis expressly said, that Saul fell upon his own sword (1 Samuel 31:4), but this fellow saith, he fell upon his own spear (ver. 6). 'Tis as expressly said, that Saul's armour-bearer, being yet alive, saw that Saul was dead (1 Samuel 31:5), which doubtless he would thoroughly know before he did kill himself. Had the armour-bearer been yet alive when Saul called this Amalekite to dispatch him, he would certainly have hindered him from doing that which himself durst not do (1 Samuel 31:4). Nor could that be more probable, which he told David, "I took the crown that was upon his head" (ver. 10), but looked rather like a lie, for it is not likely Saul would wear his crown upon his head in battle; this would make him a fair mark to his enemies, whom they chiefly aimed at. A wise general will rather disguise himself (1 Kings 22:30) than be so fondly exposed, etc. The scripture of truth does manifestly ascribe Saul's death to be his own action (1 Samuel 31:4, 5), even to his failing upon his own sword, which must be of more credit with us, than an artificially composed speech of an accursed Amalekite, who had taught his tongue to tell lies (Jeremiah 9:5), and all to curry favour with David, from whom he promised to himself some great preferment by thus glozing with him.
A man came out of the camp.
I. THAT OUTWARD APPEARANCES ARE DECEITFUL. How often are signs of sorrow thus assumed, when the heart within is joyful! How often is a cheerful countenance worn outwardly when the spirit within is broken! Scriptural phrases may be upon the lips of the ungodly, and falsehood may have a "goodly outside." The Lord alone can see into the heart, and can discern between the hypocritical and the sincere. "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven."
II. THAT SYCOPHANTIC ADORATION OF THE FORTUNATE OUGHT NOT TO BE VALUED. The tendency of humanity is to worship the rising sun, to follow whatever fashion may be in vague, be it good or evil. If the inclinations of the leading personages of the day tend towards impiety, then the great mass of the people will be godless; if, on the other hand, the leaders of society condescend to extend their patronage to religion, then the people of the age become generally assiduous attendants on the ordinances of religion. Notwithstanding the genuflections of the Amalekite, David did not accord to him the welcome that he had expected.
III. THAT THOUGH EVIL COMMUNICATIONS CORRUPT GOOD MANNERS, ASSOCIATION WITH THE RIGHTEOUS DOES NOT MAKE RIGHTEOUS. This Amalekite came out of the camp of Israel. A worthy parent has often an unworthy child, a godly man is found in union with an ungodly friend.
IV. THAT GUILEFUL HEART MAKES CRAFTY TONGUE. There is a world of iniquity in the tongue, and we need to guard against the errors into which it leads us.
V. THAT SYCOPHANCY LEADS TO FALSEHOOD. There are three f's closely allied with each other — namely, flattery, fulsomeness, and fiction — that ought to be avoided by the Christian. There are three h's also related to each other, that he should strive to develop, namely humanity, honesty, and honour.
VI. THAT EVEN THE MOST HARDENED CRIMINAL TRIES TO PALLIATE HIS OFFENCE. We all attempt to make excuses for our faults and failings, to soften down our guilt, to palliate our offences, to lay cur' sins at the door of others. Is it fear, or a relic of man's better nature, that thus induces men to desire to exculpate themselves in some degree from their crimes? Who can tell? God alone, who "trieth the hearts."
VII. THAT THE MOST INGENIOUS EXCUSES, AFTER A STATEMENT HAS BEEN DELIBERATELY MADE, CANNOT INVALIDATE THE FORCE OF THAT STATEMENT. Noting, doubtless, that David was indignant at his treason, the Amalekite answers, when asked by David, "Whence art thou?" "I am the son of a stranger, an Amalekite." So futile will be our excuses in the Judgment Day; so vain, indeed, are they often found to be now, even in the light of conscience, not to say in the sight of God.
VIII. THAT DECEIT LEADS TO DESTRUCTION SOONER OR LATER. "How wast thou not afraid to stretch forth thine hand to destroy the Lord's anointed?" No subterfuges or cunningly devised fables can deceive the Almighty, or can prevent Him from giving to every man according to his works. "Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile." "Is not destruction to the wicked, and a strange punishment to the workers of iniquity?"
IX. THAT HE WHO HAS SOWN THE WIND MUST EXPECT TO REAP THE WHIRLWIND, Saul, contrary to the Divine command, spared a certain portion of the Amalekites, instead of destroying them utterly, as it had been determined, for their sins, that they should be thus severely punished. This very Amalekite may have been one of the captives thus spared; and lo! he comes now in triumph, as it were, in the death of the king whose mercy to the nation of the Amalekites had led to the ruin of Saul himself. "Thus, of our pleasant vices the gods make instruments to scourge us with." "He that pursueth evil, pursueth it to his own death."
X. THAT THE PATH OF HONOUR IS THE PATH OF REAL SUCCESS. In selfishness we often injure self, and with a most shortsighted policy sacrifice a glorious and eternal future for a paltry and fleeting present.
(R. Young, M. A.)
1. The incident gives us an opportunity of marking the immense difference in the order of mind and character which may subsist between two individuals brought together by one event, and having their attention occupied by one and the same object. And we observe, too, in this instance, a circumstance which is the natural attendant upon this diversity — the incapability, on the part of the possessor of the meaner and inferior order of mental and moral qualities, to enter into the feelings and principles of the possesser of superior endowments. This incapability operates to prevent its unfortunate subject from suspecting the existence, in a fellow-creature, of any other mode of thinking and acting than that which he himself adopts and employs; and it issues, therefore, in the habit of judging all around him by his own standard, and of reckoning that they will be actuated, in their conduct, by the principles which direct his own proceedings. Now, whenever such judgments are formed, and on the same principle, it must be obvious that a considerable amount of personal injustice is perpetrated; and in reference, too, to that very point upon which a well-regulated mind will be most sensitive. To an upright man — to one who exercises himself to have a conscience void of offence towards God — character is a far more momentous consideration than thousands of silver and gold could ever be; and judgments formed on the principles of which this passage reminds us, do injustice to personal character. Nor is it to be wondered at that David should have felt the injustice acutely. For assuredly where, by the Grace of God, a man has been taught the lesson of true self-respect — where he has been enabled, as the child of God, to hold that principle humbly, firmly, and for sanctified purposes — where the Spirit of God has produced moral elevation, and has stamped sin with its real character of debasement and dishonourableness — where these results have been brought about in the moral history of an individual, there is something very humiliating, something peculiarly distressing, because felt to be deeply degrading, in this very circumstance of having been so misunderstood and misjudged, as to have been supposed capable of finding gratification in acting out the principles which rule minds of another order, and of sympathising with the courses to which these principles conduct. There is scarcely a trial which is more hard to endure, or which pierces the heart with so deep a pang, than thus to find one's self standing, in the estimation of a man whose feelings and principles are low, on that same low platform which marks his own moral position, and side by side with himself. It may be said, indeed, that conscious integrity — the personal conviction of uprightness — ought to have a power to heal the pang, that it ought to be enough for a man to know that the judgment formed of him is wrong. But a more delicate perception will discover that it is this very circumstance which occasions the pang, which embitters the trial. It would be no trial but for this consciousness of personal integrity; and in employing this argument as a comfort to the child of God writhing beneath an injurious and unjust supposition, whether implied or expressed, the danger would be, that instead of mitigating the smart, you should only increase the anguish of the wound. The true solace, then, for the heart bleeding at the injustice perpetrated by a false and injurious estimate of character will be found in an intelligent view of those important ends which such a trial is peculiarly calculated to answer, and in yielding to the trial for the sake of the spiritual benefit which it is designed to promote. It may be hard to bear — it will be; yet it will be worth while to have had the spirit wounded by the injustice, and the heart depressed by the injury, if only the principles of gratitude to God, of humility, dependence, and caution, acquire power in the painful process; if only sin become more hateful — self become more completely laid in the dust — and God be more completely glorified. So long as human nature is what it is — so long as men of corrupt minds want excuses for their sins, or sanction and encouragement in the commission of them — so long we must expect that they will find it convenient to form for themselves, and, if necessary, to present to others, a low and unjust estimate of the character of those whom Divine grace has made the subjects of a better nature. But "the Lord taketh part with them that fear Him."
2. But let it not be thought by any that they can with impunity-commit, under any circumstances, the injustice which has now been described. Apart from the injury which they inflict upon religious character by so representing it to themselves or to others, as that it shall be employed as a sanction for their own sins, or as an excuse for their wrong-doing, it must not be forgotten that, supposing the real character of a professor of religion were such as they represent it — supposing that beneath a profession of purity and love, in any instance, there really did exist a cherished impurity and an indulged malignity, from which they might gain encouragement in their plans, and from which they might secretly expect sanction, yet even this would not justify them in sinning. God looks at sinners in their individual capacity, and deals with them as such. Sin is felt by God to be a personal matter in reference to Himself, and nothing can justify its commission; no, not all the suspected hypocrisy, nor all the proved unfaithfulness of professors of religion, with all the imaginary sanction which the one might give, and all the real encouragement which the other would afford. We know, indeed, that the formation of these wrong judgments of character constitutes a chosen method by which the great enemy of souls seeks to entrap men to their own destruction. He belies and misrepresents religion in their view. He suggests that the high standard of a religious profession is a thing of imagination rather than of reality. He whispers stealthily that, notwithstanding the untoward difference between the men whose lives are avowedly under a higher influence and the rest of mankind, it is not very difficult — for a consideration — to induce these very professors, either to act upon a lower, principle themselves, or to give their sanction to those who adopt an inferior standard of religion and morals. He thus removes the checks and restraints which religious example and influence would exert in discouraging the young from evil. He does more; for, by the insinuation and imputation of real sympathy with sin on the part of professors, he gives direct encouragement to evil courses. Having thus, by acting out his character of "accuser of the brethren," produced an impression of personal religion as being hollow and valueless, the enemy of souls next presents some well-adapted temptation — some well-arranged enticement — to secure present advantage by means which involve personal guilt and expose to heavy penalty. The scheme succeeds — the youth falls into the trap prepared for him — the criminal deed is done — the actual guilt is incurred — and then, the tempter's object being gained, conscience is allowed to speak, to make itself heard; and, amidst shame and misery, the discovery is made that the impressions about religion and religious professors which induced to the commission of sin, were wrong after all. Then the victim of the temptation wakes up to learn that there is such a thing as religious principle; that it does produce a stats of mind which holds sin in abhorrence; that it teaches men to press the inquiry for themselves, "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" There is a fearful peril which the Scripture exposes to view, and to which nothing will so certainly conduct men as this habit of misjudging the character of the people of God for the purpose of gaining sanction to their own sins. The transition is made from entertaining unjust and low thoughts of the people of God to forming unworthy and degrading views of God Himself; and in the same way that a transgressor finds encouragement and sanction for personal sins in attributing to his fellow-creatures the same vicious motives which rule his own heart, so may he proceed a step further, and imagine that the Creator is altogether such an one as himself. It would seem hardly credible, at first sight, that such an idea could ever find entrance in the human heart; but Omniscience records the fact as the object of its own discovery and censure — proving that there is no length to which the hardening influence of sin will not carry a man.
(J. A. Miller.)
2. A just hand of God on this Amalekite for his lying.
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