The second book of Samuel begins with the report of Saul’s death being brought to David. This is followed by David’s lament over both Saul and Jonathan. He mourns their death at the hands of Israel’s enemies, utilizing the words of exile to highlight the pain and the shame involved, even though Saul’s death means the end of his own exile and the beginning of David’s exodus into the kingship for which he had been anointed. Speaking of Saul and Jonathan, David sorrowfully exclaims, “How the mighty have fallen!” (1:19b). With full knowledge that the news of the deaths of Saul and Jonathan would serve as victorious rallying cries for the Philistines, and that they would most likely attempt to take advantage of the situation in order to further oppress God’s people, having already occupied Israelite cities (1 Samuel 31:7), David adds, “Don’t report it in Gath, don’t spread the news in the streets of Ashkelon, or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice, the daughters of the uncircumcised will celebrate!” (1:20) Of course, David’s men would have been just as likely as the Philistines to celebrate Saul’s death, as they had long suffered the pain and oppression of exile right along with David.
David, however, saw no reason for rejoicing. Employing those previously mentioned words of exile, to illustrate the poignancy of the death of the Lord’s appointed deliverer at the hands of Israel’s enemies---which was a new thing in Israel---David says “O mountains of Gilboa, may there be no dew or rain on you, nor fields of grain offerings!” (1:21a) Gilboa, of course, is where Saul and Jonathan fell slain, and owing to that, David pronounces something of a curse on the mountain, indicating a desire that its fields be stricken. Speaking to this, David says, “For it was there that the shield of warriors was defiled; the shield of Saul lies neglected without oil” (1:21b).
In that day, pronouncing a curse related to agricultural production would have been a common practice, but when we hear such words used, in the context of the long-running narrative of the Scriptures, it is impossible to give them meaning that is separate from that overall theme. For Israel, Gilboa (because it was the place of Saul and Jonathan’s death), has become a place that is representative of oppression, as the death of an anointed one, regardless of how far he had fallen, is not to be celebrated, but rather, deeply lamented. That death, and the resulting defeat of Israel, has brought a measure of foreign subjugation, as the victorious Philistines are occupying towns of Israel. By extension then, the curse that David speaks forth can be safely rooted in the covenant-related curses of Deuteronomy, which speak to a withholding of rain and a cursing of the produce of the soil, especially in light of the foreign domination that is being experienced again within Israel.
David continues on to say, “O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet as well as jewelry, who put gold jewelry on your clothes” (1:24). David insists that Saul, as the anointed king of Israel, and as the one chosen by God to rule over His people and to deliver them from their enemies, despites his failings and mis-steps and David’s very obvious personal conflicts with him, was a blessing to the people of Israel, which is what one should expect from Israel’s anointed king. David conjures up images of God’s blessings upon His people, and of His faithfulness to His covenant promises, recalling the rescue from foreign subjugation that was wrought at Saul (and Jonathan’s) hands through battles of deliverance against the enemies of God’s people, by stating “How the warriors have fallen in the midst of battle!... How the warriors have fallen!” (1:25a,27a)
Now, it is incumbent upon David to take up the role to which he has been charged, which is to lead and to shepherd and to wisely and justly rule over God’s people. As he ends his exile from that for which he had been anointed, and now experiences his own exodus into the fulfillment of God’s purpose for him, he does so by entering into a situation in which God’s people are now experiencing some of the curses of exile, with a foreign power attempting to consolidate its rule over the people and the land. So David comes to the kingship with the charge of doing battle so as to continue Israel’s exodus. Like Moses, David embarks upon his leadership at a time of a defeated people. Like Moses, David will deal with internal struggles for power and position, as the exodus that he is set to provide takes root. Like Israel under Moses, Israel under David will experience a time of wandering, unsure of its direction, as David does not immediately take a place of kingship over all the people, but instead, goes up to Hebron, becoming king first over Judah for seven and a half year, while having to deal with the kingly aspirations and claims of Saul’s surviving sons, along with the natural allegiance to them that have been engendered throughout Saul’s long and generally prosperous reign.
Saul had been a popular king. As we learn from David, he had been acclaimed as a warrior. There would be a natural inclination on behalf of the people to continue his rule through his sons. Indeed, though David had been instrumental in bringing deliverance from the Philistines, credit for such things, despite the songs that the people might sing, ultimately goes to the king, so why make a wholesale change of dynasties? This is not the first time that Israel has been in this position. In all reality, the desire to continue with things as they were, which was partly responsible for David not becoming king over all of Israel until more than seven years after the death of Saul, even though he had long been the Lord’s anointed and appointed king, it not at all dissimilar to what we see with Israel following the Egyptian exodus. When faced with difficulties, Israel was ready to forsake Moses and return to Egypt. So likewise, when faced with the current situation, and the difficulties presented therein by the resurgence of Philistine power, on the whole, Israel was comfortable with forsaking the one anointed as deliverer, so as to continue to dwell in and with the house of Saul.