How do you react when you find out that someone you have known has died? Does your reaction depend on how well you knew the person who has died? Does your reaction depend on whether the deceased was a close friend or a bitter enemy? The death of a loved one calls for prayer of honour. When someone we know passes away, we must take time to honour them in conversations with God.
In the passage we heard from 2 Samuel, David teaches us how we should react when someone dies, especially if that person is our worst enemy. What David did was customary at that time. It was the custom of Eastern people, on the death of great kings and warriors, to celebrate their qualities and deeds in funeral songs. Verses 18-27 have been referred to as the Song of the Bow. These verses are a classic funeral dirge from which many dirges or eulogies have been adapted. The lament, “How the mighty have fallen!” is the key refrain in the song and brackets the entire poem for emphasis.
David’s extreme grief at the death of the man who tried to kill him for 30 years is astonishing, but it is consistent with David’s believe that Saul was God’s anointed. Whenever there is a report of one of God’s choice servants falling by the wayside in moral or physical defeat, the response should follow David’s response-not gladness, not smug complacency or a superficial piety but sorrow for the person, sorrow for the people, and sorrow for the work of God that person committed his or her life to do.
David’s sincere grief over Saul is striking. As a fugitive from Saul, David went so far as to work for the Philistines as a mercenary. Despite Saul’s hatred, David refused to treat him as an enemy. David spared Saul’s life on many occasions. Whatever relief David might have felt at the death of his tormentor is overshadowed by the loss of Saul and Jonathan. David’s mourning might have been so intense because he was unreconciled to Saul and exiled from Jonathan when they died.
David knew that God placed Saul in office and David respected what God did. We need to learn the same thing. We might not like our current leaders or the previous ones, but we have to consider that God might have put them there.
Hearing that Philistine cities such as Gath and Ashkelon rejoiced over Saul’s death, as the women of Israel did in 1 Samuel 18:6-7, distressed David. Despite Saul’s poor leadership and repeated efforts to kill him, David eulogized Saul in glowing terms and did not mention any of Saul’s faults. These words model the way to honour someone who has died.
David never read the words Jesus said in Matthew 5:44, but he practiced those words. Matthew 5:44 reads, “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” David was able to practice this teaching without ever having read this teaching because David was a man after God’s own heart. David thought and felt as God does. David knew instinctively what God wants and how God operates.
There is nothing more natural than to grieve the death of a friend. The ability to grieve is God’s gift which allows us to process our loss in such a way that we can go on living without a sense of grief. Just like Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus, David and his men grieved when they heard of the death of the soldiers, Saul and Jonathan. David honoured Saul, but he celebrated his dear friend Jonathan. David did this because what he was at least in part was because of Jonathan. Friends play important roles in shaping our spiritual destinies.
David sorrowed over Jonathan as he would a brother. There is no hint of an inappropriate or sexual relationship between David and Jonathan as some modern translations allege. Besides grieving the closest of friends, David also honoured Jonathan for his extreme sacrifice in giving up the throne.
In God’s plan every life is long enough and every death is timely. We might wish for a longer life, but God knows better. We don’t know the final thoughts of a dying soul, but we do know that God is a good God. He wants our loved ones in heaven more than we do, and He usually gets what He wants. Do you know what else God wants? He wants us to face our sorrow. Denial and dismissal are not part of God’s grief therapy. If we have faith, we can face our sorrow head-on, especially is we ask God to give us inner peace.
All of us eventually lose our friends to death-theirs or ours. The best thing we can do is to make sure that our friends follow Christ and that we also follow Christ, because after death we will be with our friends forever. We will never be separated.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 402-403)
- Jamieson Fawcett Brown Commentary. Part of Wordsearch 12 Bible software package.
- Chafin, K.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preachers’ Commentary Series, Vol 8: 1,2 Samuel (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1989; pp. 221-2224)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010)
- Ron Moore, “A Prayer of Honour.” Retrieved from www.ronmoore.org