When a leader dies, people commonly maneuver to try to attain some benefit from his passing. Whether the person was the leader of an organization or a head of state, individuals who are left behind will jockey for position or otherwise seek to exploit the leader’s death for their advantage. In today’s passage, we read about one man who attempted to advance himself after the death of Saul.
As readers of 1 Samuel 31, we know that Saul committed suicide after being mortally wounded in battle with the Amalekites. David, however, did not know the circumstances of Saul’s death, and we see in 2 Samuel 1:1–10 that an Amalekite came to David, claiming to have finished off Saul at the king’s request and bringing with him the king’s crown and armlet. Clearly this Amalekite was seeking a reward from David, for the distance from Mount Gilboa to Ziklag was some eighty miles and would have taken several days to travel. No doubt the Amalekite knew that David was the logical successor to Saul and believed that David would rejoice in the death of his enemy.
There is much irony in the scene. After all, David had just returned from striking down the Amalekites who had kidnapped the women and children of Ziklag (v. 1; see 1 Sam. 30). So, he would hardly be disposed to look kindly on the Amalekite bearing the news. Also, we have to understand that David probably would have seen through the Amalekite’s story. It would be highly unlikely for Saul to be so isolated in battle that his armor bearer or another Israelite would not be present to end Saul’s life if the king requested it.
The Amalekite gravely misunderstood David’s feelings toward Saul. David, after all, had not held any animosity toward Israel’s first king; the hatred came entirely from Saul. David knew that it was not up to him or any other man to remove Saul from the throne; that was God’s prerogative alone (1 Sam. 24:1–7; 26:1–11). Had the Amalekite actually killed Saul, he would have overstepped his authority, and to lie about it revealed a heart darkened by sin. So, David executed him based on his own testimony of regicide.
Matthew Henry writes that among other things, this episode proves that “to give assistance to any in murdering themselves, directly or indirectly, if done wittingly, incurs the guilt of blood.” David exacted justice in making the Amalekite pay for his professed crime.