Like all historians, the biblical authors do not write bare accounts of facts. Instead, they write with specific purposes in mind. This is not a bad thing, for one can write the truth and still have certain goals behind the writing. But there is no disinterested party in the telling of history.
Besides recording the basic facts regarding the death of Saul, the author of 1 and 2 Samuel wants to make it clear that David is the rightful heir of Saul’s throne. That is one of the reasons why the author calls attention to the fact that David was not out to get Saul, was not involved in Saul’s death, and mourned the loss of the king. Even though Saul was not a good king, there were still people in Israel who were loyal to Saul and his family and were apt to view David with some suspicion upon his becoming king. By stressing David’s love for Saul, the author of 1 and 2 Samuel shows that David rightly inherited the throne and that all Israel should follow him.
We have seen David’s love and respect for Saul in his refusal to kill Saul when he had the chance and in his anger at the Amalekite who lied about his role in Saul’s death (1 Sam. 24:1–7; 26:1–11; 2 Sam. 1:1–16). Today’s passage shows us this love once more in its record of David’s lament for Saul and Jonathan. This poem reveals the heart-wrenching sadness that David experienced when he learned of the death of the king of Israel and his son.
Lament is a common biblical genre, and its presence in Scripture indicates the appropriate role of sadness in the believer’s life. Death is not something we approach stoically; it is not in God’s original intent for creation, and it is something that should be mourned deeply. In fact, even the natural world itself looks forward to the day when death will be no more (Rom. 8:18–25). The loss of family and friends is understandably painful and, as Matthew Henry comments, “the more we love the more we grieve.”
David’s lament mourns Saul’s death in part because it caused the Philistines to gloat over the fall of Israel, a proof in their eyes of the superiority of their god, Dagon, over the God of Israel (2 Sam. 1:19–20). David’s lament also praises the steadfastness of Jonathan. It praises the loyalty of Jonathan to his father and his covenant friendship with David (vv. 23–26). Jonathan’s covenant love for David—his persistent loyalty and refusal to break their covenant bond—is exalted. In every travail, David knew he could count on Jonathan.