How Are the Mighty Fallen! A Study of 2 Samuel 1:17-27 -- By: David L. Zapf

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 05:1 (Spring 1984)
Article: How Are the Mighty Fallen! A Study of 2 Samuel 1:17-27
Author: David L. Zapf

How Are the Mighty Fallen!
A Study of 2 Samuel 1:17-27

David L. Zapf

2 Sam 1:17–27 introduces and records Davids lament over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. Examination of the textual tradition upholds the integrity of the MT as represented in BHS. Significant lexical problems are considered and suggestions made toward their solution. Consideration of the structure of the lament proper (vv 19–27 ) reveals Davids skill as a poet, while analysis of the content shows Davids grief over the deaths of two men with whom he had very different relationships—Saul as a warrior of Israel, yet Davids persecutor, and Jonathan as an intimate friend. On a broader level in the Samuel narrative, the lament is a fitting tribute to the tragic hero Saul while also contributing to the story of Davids accession to the throne of Israel.

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David’s lament over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan in 2 Sam 1:17–27 is a superb example of Hebrew poetry. William L. Holladay notes that “Critics have affirmed with one voice the literary quality of this poem.”1 Keil and Delitzsch say, “It is one of the finest odes of the Old Testament; full of lofty sentiment, and springing from deep and sanctified emotion.”2 Stanley Gevirtz praises it as “a genuine expression of deep sorrow and a masterpiece of early Hebrew poetry.”3 Peter R. Ackroyd wrote, “The poem is a superb work of art, its structure skilfully developed.”4 Hans Wilhelm Hertzberg states

that this lament “has been called the most beautiful heroic lament of all time.”5

The beauty of this piece of literature, however, does not readily yield itself to the modern reader. Several difficulties confront the interpreter. First, one encounters several textual problems. As a result, whole articles have been devoted to “reconstructing” a readable text for 2 Sam 1:17–27.6 There are also several lexical possibilities for certain words, forcing the interpreter to make a decision. Further, the structure of this poem is highly complex, employing a wide variety of literary devices known in Hebrew poetry.7 These...

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