2 Samuel 1:20-22
Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice…
We are far from assigning She peculiar complexion of this elegy to that mere commonplace thing which goes by the name, though most wrongfully, of charity; but which should rather be characterised as perilous unfaithfulness to God, to the interests of religion, and to the safety of men's souls — a charity which is, however, very popular with a certain class of persons who are ever ready to throw its mantle over the defects of others, provided that they can manage, at the same time, to effect concealment beneath its folds for some indulged sins of their own. Nor can we perceive in this composition the utterance of a spirit of flattery, which, to answer an end, can speak good things of a bad man with cool effrontery, and with perfect consciousness of the falsehood which the lips are uttering. There was no end to be answered here which would serve as a temptation; and how little sympathy there was in David's mind with such a practice, we may gather from those repeated expressions of abhorrence in regard to it which meet us in his writings. Still less do we discover in these words of David nothing more than a tribute to the claims which death is allowed to put forth for a respectful mention of the departed. We cannot regard it as a mere exemplification of the doctrine, good enough within certain limits, that when a man is dead his failings are not to be made the subject of remark.
I. IN ACCOUNTING FOR THE PECULIAR TONE OF THIS FUNERAL-SONG, IN ITS ALLUSION TO SAUL, the history seems to justify us in regarding the elegy itself as the testimony which David desired to bear to the completeness with which he forgave Saul every injury which he had inflicted on him. We discover the traces of an unusually close imitation of the Divine character and procedure in the manner in which David here refers to Saul? Do we not see at work the heart of one who has completely "blotted out" the impression of the cruel persecution which Saul had carried on against him — who had "cast behind his back" all personal offence — who had no desire "to remember any more" one of the many occasions on which his own spirit had been riven by the ill-treatment and jealousy of him for whom he had repeatedly hazarded his own life? In regard to one aspect of moral character, and that one the manifestation of which involves a difficult encounter with, and a great victory over predominant self, David's example serves to show what measures of resemblance to God — of "bearing the image of the heavenly" — may be, by Divine grace, attained by man. It serves to show bow we may be "imitators of God;" how we may "walk worthy of the Lord, unto all pleasing."
2. The entireness with which David had forgiven Saul is testified in the absence from this death-song of any reference to the painfulness of the pest. This circumstance, on which we have been dwelling, may not of itself fully account for another feature of the elegy. There is not only the absence of condemnatory allusion, but there is the presence of a considerable amount of matter of a positively and uniformly commendatory character. It happens with descriptions of character, as it does with delineations of outward nature — they are taken from particular points of view, and must, of course, vary greatly, and differ from each other according to the standpoint selected for making the observation or forming the sketch. In order to identify with the actual scenery a representation by the pencil of some inviting landscape, or of any particular objects which give it interest, we must take the trouble to find out the precise spot at which the artist stood, and forth from which he looked abroad when he sketched the picture. Thus, too, in estimating the truthfulness of sketches of individual character, we are not at liberty to take up our position exactly where we like; the only fair way of forming a judgment of the portraiture is to find out. the standpoint at which the author of the sketch fixed himself, and, adopting it as our own, we must, from that position, make our observation. Any other course would obviously be unjust.
3. The true key to the elegy which David here pronounced is the point of view from which he looked at Saul — the position, in relation to the departed monarch, which he occupied at the moment. He simply noted down the features of the character and aspects of conduct which met his eye where he stood; and if we will go and stand side by side with him, looking as he looked, and feeling as he felt, we shall at once acknowledge the accuracy of his portraiture. There are some circumstances which are peculiarly favourable for forming a full and accurate estimate of an individual; there are others, however, which only permit us to take a limited view at best, and looking from the midst of these, the eye most generally allows itself to be engrossed with one or two characteristic features, which come very near ourselves, and which appear, for that very reason, separated in a measure from all the rest. At such a point David now stood.
4. In such manifestations of natural feeling as we discover in this and other passages of the same order, there is much that is encouraging, in a practical point of view. We find our spirits brought into contact with men "of like passions" with ourselves. In David, as he uttered this elegy, we see a man who could weep, just as we weep; who could break down with the pressure of sudden bereavement, just as we break down; who, under the influence of sorrows, looked at men and things just as, under the same influence, we look at them. He does not stand apart from us as a being of higher nature, whose superiority should awe us, and keep us at a discouraging distance; but he comes near to us, and wins our interested attention. We can feel at home with him; we can read his heart as that of a fellow-creature; we can understand him as a man. He stands on the level of a common humanity with every reader of the narrative. It is human nature which we recognise at work — a nature like our own. It is a man shedding tears as we shed them, and doing exactly the same things as, we are disposed to think, we should have done under the same circumstances: And we argue from this point, and argue hopefully. We say to the discouraged spirit, "You see that David and you are alike as regards human nature. Divine grace has the same material on which to work in your case as in his, the same views of things in general, the same emotions under particular dispensations — then why should not Divine grace do for you what it did for him? meeting you on the same level as that at which it met him, why should it not conduct you to the same point to which it elevated him? Reverting from the elegy, however, to the man over whom it was pronounced, it is important that we should bear in mind that our destiny in the next world will be decided, not by the estimate which survivors may, under any circumstances, form of our character and conduct, but by the view which the eye of Omniscience has taken of us, from the beginning to the termination of our earthly existence. It will not be the record of our life which will meet us at God's tribunal, but the pages of the book of God's remembrance will be opened then, presenting the most exact transcript of each portion of our existence, however minute. The account to which every man will be summoned will comprehend "the things done in his body" in the whole course of life. How affecting is the contrast which, alas! there is too much reason to fear would sometimes be presented between what survivors are doing and saying in reference to individuals who have left the world, and the actual condition of the souls of those individuals, if for a moment we could be admitted to make ourselves certainly acquainted with it. How many an one would be "lifting up his eyes in hell, being in torment," as having lived "without God in the world," whose manly form the artist's chisel has preserved from being forgotten, and whose earthly virtues are graven on the marble beneath. This is an awful truth; but it is one which is too much and too fatally overlooked. Our fellow-creatures may forgive us, but we may yet go into eternity unpardoned by God. And this, not because man is kinder to his fellow than God is to His creatures. No! but because of the unwillingness of sinful man to seek pardon in that way in which alone God dispenses it, and in which, while He passes by transgression, His law is honoured, His truth is maintained, and the respect due to His moral government is ensured. In the atonement effected by the Son of God, to which all sacrifice pointed, and which was made known from the earliest time with sufficient clearness to meet the case of sinful men, that way of forgiveness is discovered — God, for Christ's sake, forgives men their trespasses. To this propitiation all are invited, with the assurance that none who come in faith and repentance shall be rejected.
(J. A. Miller.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.