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First Impressions: 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27

June 23, 2009

The Lectionary continues to drive me crazy.  It has leapt over mountains of fascinating stories—David’s conflict with Saul, the budding friendship with Jonathan, David going over to fight on the side of the Philistines—and jumped right into the lament over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan.  The casual listener will not know or remember who these characters are.  In fact, this is the first time we hear of Jonathan, and he is already dead!

The preacher will have to pick and choose carefully which background information to share with the congregation.  I will probably focus on the relationship between David and Jonathan, only briefly mentioning the troubles with Saul.  Of course, I will also have to give a quick account of how father and son died.

This text is primarily about grief—personal and communal.  David had a deep and complex relationship with both Saul and Jonathan, but so did the people of Israel.  Saul was their king, and now he is no more.  There is something, however, just beneath the surface.  Saul’s death opened up the way for God’s new anointed to become king.  Even though Saul’s path had ended, David’s was still beginning.  Yet, writes Walter Brueggemann, “there is a moratorium on power for the full honoring of grief” (Walter Brueggemann, Interpretation: First and Second Samuel [Louisville: John Knox, 1990], 214.).

1:17-20 It may be helpful to remind the people of the deep enmity between the Israelites and the Philistines.  If I decide to mention the scandal of David fighting on behalf of the Philistines, I would do it here.

1:21 David curses the fateful place where Saul and the others died.  Gilboa became a place of remembrance, though it was a hurtful and despised memory (Brueggemann, 215.)  This reminds me of seeing crosses along the highway to mark the place where a loved one has died.  Is it morbid to remember the dead this way?  Or healing?

1:23-25 David here remembered Saul and Jonathan at their best.  At the end, Saul was a madman, rejected by God, but David chose only to remember Saul at his best.  This is, of course, what we do at our funerals and memorial services.  It may be a means of grace that we can do this and perhaps a reminder that this is how God sees us.

1:25, 27 These lines echo young David’s assertion that God does not save by sword and spear when he faced Goliath, as well as similar statements such as at Psalm 33:16-17.  We might feel safer with a mighty warrior on our side, but God’s providence transcends mere physical power.  Even the greatest human beings are liable to fall on the field.

I will probably focus on the theme of grief as a universal human experience.  What is God’s role in grief?  What is the theological significance?  Is it appropriate for us only to remember the good in those who have died?  Or is that dishonest?  What are your answers to these questions?

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