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David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and Jonathan his son, and he said it should be taught to the people of Judah. (2 Sam. 1:17-18)

We come today to the last message in our series on Saul and David. I feel that I am saying goodbye to a dear friend. These chapters in 1 Samuel have spoken powerfully into my life, and many of you have spoken of how you have felt the same.

The tale of two kings is the story of two men who chose very different paths. 1 Samuel ends with the death of Saul. He died on the field of battle, along with three of his sons: Abinadab, Malchi-Shua, and the son we know best, Jonathan.

This was a day of defeat for the people of God as they were routed at Mount Gilboa at the hands of the Philistines. It was a tragic ending to the downward spiral of King Saul.

We know David was 30 years old when he became king (2 Sam. 5:4), and David was most likely a teenager when he felled Goliath. So we can reasonably assume that throughout his 20’s David was living on the edge as Saul pursued the single goal of destroying him.

If you want to know what David was thinking and feeling through these years, you can find out in the Psalms. The titles of Psalm 52, 54, 56, 57, and 59 show they all come from this period.

These were days of desperate difficulty. Read these psalms and you find David asking God, “What are you doing?” looking to God for help and holding on in faith. And this went on for 10 years!

David’s Response to the Death of Saul

Today, in this last message, I want to focus on the response of David to the death of Saul. Think about how this speaks to us today.


The ending of a difficult relationship

All of us can think of relationships that we wish could have been better. That may have been your experience in a marriage, with a colleague at work, or with a partner in ministry.

A friendship that at one time seemed to hold so much promise, but it ended up being a source of great pain. Someone dies or moves out of your life, and all the pain that you felt, and all the sorrow of what might have been, comes to the surface.

The beginning of a new era

The death of Saul meant a whole new life for David—no more hiding in caves and forests, no more running from the tyrant. The day of opportunity was dawning for David at last.

David would become the best king God’s people ever had in the Old Testament. Israel under David was better by far than it was under Saul or under anyone else. When Saul died, it was a new day.

Two Temptations for David

Try to put yourself in David’s shoes. What would you have felt when you heard that Saul was dead? The man who has set himself against you has finally come to an end himself. This was a huge transition, and in it were two temptations for David.

Self-Pity: Venting his pain

After all that we have learned in this story, it would have been very easy for David to vent his pain: “You don’t know the half of what Saul has done to me, how difficult my life has been. Let me tell you what I have endured at the hands of Saul!”

We live in the world of the expose. People feel the need to tell the full story of everything bad that has happened to them. Once Saul was gone it would have been safe for David to do that. He could have drawn people to himself with a candid telling of all the hurt he had endured. The other temptation for David in a time of transition was…

Self-Promotion: Vaunting his triumph

“Well folks, we have all been through tough times. This country is a mess. But now I’m here. With me, you’re going to see something different. Let me give you my 5-point plan for national restoration.”

The temptation to self-pity or to self-promotion in times of transition is huge. What is so striking, so astonishing in David’s response to the death of Saul is that there is not a hint of self-pity, not a trace of self-promotion. There is no venting and no vaunting. This was David’s finest hour. Here we see what love does at the ending of a difficult relationship. It’s not self-pity. It’s not self-promotion.

Love Grieves

David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and Jonathan his son. (2 Sam. 1:17)

David was a sinner saved by grace just like us. But he was a man after God’s own heart, a man with a new heart, which is the distinguishing mark of all who belong to Christ. It’s quite clear from the Scripture that David really did love his enemy.

Jonathan was David’s friend, so it is not surprising to read that David grieved over the death of Jonathan. But Saul had hunted David and tried everything in his power to destroy him. Here we find David grieving over Saul: “David lamented with this lamentation over Saul!”

That’s what love does. A lesser man hearing of the death of Saul would have said, “Yes, at last! Thank you, Lord. He’s gone. What a relief! My life will be so much easier now.” But David is a man after God’s own heart. He loves his enemy, and when Saul dies, he grieves.

David was always loyal to Saul. He was the commander of Saul’s army. How different the story might have been if Saul had kept David by his side. What good could have come for the kingdom if Saul had overcome his foolish jealousy and walked with God. When Saul dies, David grieves that loss. What might have been…

I’ve had the privilege of visiting Israel, as some of you have done. At many of the places Jesus went during his earthly ministry, there is a place of worship built to mark the event. Halfway down the Mount of Olives, as you walk towards Jerusalem, there is a building in the shape of a tear drop. It was built to mark the place where Jesus wept over Jerusalem.

Friend, if you have ever had in your mind some kind of idea that God rejoices in lost, wasted lives, come in your mind to the tear drop church. Look at God in the flesh, weeping over the lost: “When he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace’” (Luke 19:41-42)!

As you become more like Jesus, you may find yourself weeping over wasted lives; wasted opportunities; and friendships; relationships in family, work, and ministry that might have been, but were not. Love grieves. It does not gloat. It does not gripe. Love grieves.

Love Covers

Scripture says something that is very hard for us to hear in a culture where there is a vast audience for anyone who wants to tell a story that might bring someone else down: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

That’s what happens here. David’s love for Saul, who did him so much harm, covered over a multitude of sins. So when Saul died, instead of drip feeding every lurid detail of Saul’s many failures, he speaks only about the good that could be said of him.

Notice why he doesn’t vent about Saul: “Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice” (2 Sam. 1:20).

The people of God have enemies. Gath and Ashkelon were Philistine cities. These people would just love to hear how wretched Israel’s first king had been. Think what they could do with copy like that! David says, “I will not have the enemies of God rejoice.” Love covers over a multitude of sins. That’s what love does! It does not pitch on evil. It is not resentful.

Brother, sister in Christ, as you prepare to come to the Lord’s Table today, think about how God has loved you: “He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19).

God says, “Your sins and your iniquities I will remember no more!” Understand this, Christian believer, you will enter heaven, not because you are without sin, but because God does not charge your sins against you.

God has a case that he could bring against me and against you at any time, if he chose to do so. Why doesn’t he do it? Because we are in Christ. Because he loves us. Because our sins are covered: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32.1).

Guess who wrote that? David! David knew the extent to which God had covered his sin. What David received from the Lord, he reflected to Saul, who sinned against him.

Love Commends

Finally, brothers… whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Phil. 4:8)

At the end of a difficult relationship, David chooses what to bring to mind. His love for Saul, who treated him so badly, covers over a multitude of sins. But David goes further. He might have said, “My lips are sealed,” and that would have spoken volumes! But he writes this song and teaches it to the people. He says, “Let me tell you what was good about Saul.”

There’s no faking, no pretending, nothing in here about Saul’s loving God or obeying God. Saul didn’t do these things, and David doesn’t pretend he did. David draws attention to what was commendable in Saul: His military achievements (2 Sam. 1:22), his partnership with Jonathan (1:23), and the prosperity that came from the spoils of war (1:24).

How does God do this with us? Jesus told a story about a master who trusted talents to his servants, to be used on his behalf. When the master returned, two of the servants heard him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant… enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21).

Every Christian wants to hear that from God, but how is it possible? If you are like me, you will sometimes find yourself looking at your best efforts and wondering, “Will God see any value in them?” How would it be possible for God to look at the work done by flawed believers like us and find them commendable? Answer: Because he views our works in Christ.

After Christmas this year, I started a new project. Like most of you, I love music, and it is marvelous to me that I can get hundreds of songs on my phone and listen to them in the car or on a plane.

Why bother with a box of CDs when you can carry it all in your phone? For those of you who are younger, before CDs, there were cassettes. I have boxes of those too. And before cassettes there was vinyl—records on a turntable. Most of them I haven’t played for years, and so I decided that it would be fun to get them on my phone.

I got the turntable connected to the computer and made the first recording. It was horrible: Snap, crackle, and pop! It was completely hopeless. Then I found a piece of software that is absolutely marvelous. It’s called “the De-Popper!” It takes out the snap, crackle, and pop!

How is it possible that a recording scarred with scratches and crackling can become a beautifully clean sound? That’s a picture of what happens in the presence of God to your works, your ministry, your service, when you are in Jesus Christ. What is very far from perfect becomes beautiful in the eyes and ears of God.

This is what happens every time you pray: All that distorts and distracts, all that is unworthy gets taken out for those who are in Christ Jesus, so that your prayers are heard and answered before the throne of God! How else would it be possible for God to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” to people like us?

Love Heals

David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and Jonathan his son, and he said it should be taught to the people of Judah. (2 Sam. 1:17-18)

Not only was David kind in the way that he handled the ending of this difficult relationship, he was also wise.

It won’t surprise you to know that when Saul died there were some people who rallied behind David, but others found one of Saul’s remaining sons (Ish-bosheth) and got behind him. David inherited a divided kingdom. The challenge for David was how to unite where Saul had divided.

David was anointed king in Judah, his home base in the south. Ish-bosheth was made king over Israel at Mahanaim. He was over the Ashurites and Ephraim, that’s all in the north (2 Sam. 2:8-9). This led to a long war between north and south (2 Sam. 3:1).

I want you to notice the significance of what David does here as he grieves the death of Saul: “David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and Jonathan his son, and he said it should be taught to the people of Judah” (2 Sam. 1:17-18).

David grieves over Saul, and he tells the people in his own camp, “I want you to do the same. No gloating!” The people of Judah (1:17) are to join with the daughters of Israel (1:24) in the love that grieves, covers, and commends. It’s a marvelous example of how to be a successor who unites.

Now we come to the Lord’s Table where Christ draws us together, bringing healing in this divided world through his own body and blood.

What do you know of this love that grieves and covers and commends and heals? Is this love in you? “We love because [God] first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Let’s drink deep of that love today, so we can reflect it to others.


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