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February 10, 2019


Sermon II Samuel 1:17-18 . . . “Bible songs:  David’s lament”

“Bible songs:  David’s lament”

II Samuel 1:17-18

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Almost fifty years ago, back in 1973, Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote a song called, “Candle in the Wind.”  And in that song, they told the story of model and actress Norma Jeane Mortenson, (we know her as Marilyn Monroe), and her celebrated, yet rather short and tragic life.

The chorus went like this:  “It seems to me you lived your life like a candle in the wind, never knowing who to cling to when the rain set in.  And I would have liked to have known you, but I was just a kid.  Your candle burned out long before your legend ever did.”

Almost twenty years later, another group called R.E.M., (that’s short for “Rapid Eye Movement,”) also wrote a song called, “Man on the Moon.”  And that song was a tribute to an actor named Andy Kaufman.  

They wrote:  “Now, Andy, did you hear about this one?  Tell me, are you locked in the punch?  Andy, are you goofing on Elvis?  Hey, baby, are we losing touch?”  (In case you’re wondering, no, I don’t get it either!)

And back in 1971, 26-year-old Don McLean wrote a song called, “Vincent,” a song that tells the story of artist Vincent Van Gogh, his painting called, “The Starry Night,” and, what McLean calls his “misunderstood genius.”

He wrote:  “Starry, starry night.  Paint your palette blue and grey.  Look out on a summer’s day, with eyes that know the darkness in my soul.  Shadows on the hills, sketch the trees and the daffodils, catch the breeze and the winter chills, in colors on the snowy linen land.”  And he wrote:  “Now I understand what you tried to say to me, and how you suffered for your sanity, how you tried to set them free.  They would not listen, they did not know how.  Perhaps they’ll listen now.”

So what do these three songs have in common?  They’re all laments, songs artists wrote about someone who died--Elton John for Marilyn Monroe, R.E.M. for Andy Kaufman, and Don McClean for Vincent Van Gogh.

The Bible has its own share of “Songs of Lament.”  And while all of the Bible is a record of many tragedies and triumphs, there are also times when, as one author wrote, “the shadows lay thickest, and the notes are ever in the minor key.”

Think of Psalm 86, for example.  It’s where David wrote:  “Insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seeks my life.”  And the Sons of Korah wrote in Psalm 44:  “For Your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

It was about these very psalms that Luther wrote:  “What is the greatest thing in the Psalter but this earnest speaking amid the stormy winds of every kind?  Where do you find deeper, more sorrowful, more pitiful words of sadness than in the psalms of lamentation?  There again you look into the hearts of the saints, as into death, yes, as into hell itself.”

So it was in the words of II Samuel.  It’s where we find another song of lament, in fact, the very first song of lament recorded in the Bible, and one of the saddest and most tragic of all.  It’s what one author called, “a masterpiece of early Hebrew poetry,” and what another called, “one of the finest pieces of literature of all time.”

Please turn in your Bible to page 324, as I read the words of our text.  I’ll start where it says:  “David’s Lament for Saul and Jonathan.”  II Samuel chapter 1, verse 17:  “And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and Jonathan his son, and he said it should be taught to the people of Judah; behold, it is written in the book of Jashar.  He said:  ‘Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places!  How the mighty have fallen!  Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult.”

So what’s going on?

The story began just a few chapters before, back in the book of I Samuel, where the people of Israel were at war, not only with the Philistines, but with the Amalekites.

But while David managed to defeat the Amalekites, the Philistines cornered, then killed King Saul and his son, Jonathan.  As it says in I Samuel chapter 31:  “Saul died, and his three sons, and his armor-bearer, and all his men, on the same day together.”  Even worse, the Bible says that when all the men of Israel saw that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their cities and fled.

Then, just a few days later, a man, an Amalekite, came to tell David what happened.  And just as soon as David heard the news, he tore his clothes, and so did all the men who were with him.  Then they cried, and mourned, and fasted for all who had fallen by the sword.

Then he wrote a song, this song recorded in II Samuel chapter 1.  And, as it says in verse 18, “he said it should be taught to the people of Judah.”

Now, if you don’t mind me saying, all this is just a little strange.  Now I can understand why David would mourn the loss of Jonathan.  They were, after all, the very best and dearest friends.

But Saul--not so much.  Remember what he tried to do to him?  Three times he threw a spear at him and, thankfully, missed him.  And when he missed him, he still promised, with his three thousand men, to kill him.

And who was king, now that Saul was dead?  David was!  And now that Saul was gone and David was king, it should have been a cause for national joy and celebration.

Instead, he wrote a song, a song of lament, and said that all the people of Judah should not only learn it, but sing it.

And this is what he sang.  Verse 19:  “Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places!  How the mighty have fallen!  Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult.”

“Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places!” he wrote.  Who was their “glory”?  Their king, the one God once anointed to rule His people, His chosen instrument, King Saul!  He was a flawed man, and a very complicated and tormented man.  Still he was their king, their glory.

And so was Jonathan, his son--a warrior, a prince, a beloved man of God.  He was their glory too!

But as it says in verse 20, don’t tell it in Gath or in the streets of Ashkelon.  Those were Philistine cities.  No one there should ever know that the king and his son were dead.

Even more, this is such a sad song, David even calls on nature to join him in his mourning.  Verse 21:  “You mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew or rain upon you, nor fields of offerings!  For there the shield of the mighty was defiled, the shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.”

That place that was once a symbol of God’s grace and blessing, Mt. Gilboa, was defiled by the blood of the king and his son.  Fast and mourn, out of respect for the dead.

Verse 23:  “Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!  In life and in death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles; they were stronger than lions.”

Then three times, he sings that sad, somber refrain.  Verse 19:  “How the mighty have fallen!”  Verse 25:  “How the mighty have fallen!”  And verse 27:  “How the mighty have fallen!”

So why did God choose to include, here in the words of II Samuel chapter 1, this song of lament?  Wouldn’t it have been better for David and for his nation just to get over it and move on?

Apparently not.  Apparently God thinks that lamenting is a good idea, for He knows how it can heal our broken hearts and our broken world.

What grieves you?  What breaks your heart?  To put it another way, if you were to write a song of lament, what would you say?

It’s been said that, for all of us, loss is the norm, not the exception.  Think of it--abuse, death, divorce, trauma, betrayal, the loss of a dream--these are the oceans in our lives.  And beyond all those oceans, there are also puddles, and as a Russian proverb says, it’s usually the puddles that drown us.

You look in the mirror and realize you’re growing a little older every day.  Friendships fade.  A romance ends in heartache.  Children move away.  Then, when the puddles start to overflow, and run together, suddenly you’re overwhelmed.

So how do we deal with it?  We can deny it.  We’re good at that.  Just hide it away.  Try not to think about it.  Maybe we’ll never have to see it or deal with it again.

Or we can stay busy, distract ourselves.  Maybe that’ll help make the pain go away.  

But that’s not what David did.  Instead, he wrote this song.

In an article entitled, How to Grieve Like a Christian, author Tim Challies, writes:  “This life is full of loss and full of grief.  Though there are times when we experience swells of joy, we also experience deep depths of sorrow.  And no sorrow is deeper than the sorrow of loss.”  Yet, he says, “It’s a privilege to grieve in a distinctly Christian way--to grieve in one way instead of being left to grieve in another way.”

So how do you grieve like a Christian?  First, he says to go ahead and grieve, and do it genuinely and unapologetically.  Death is tragic and sorrowful.  But notice that, when Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he didn’t say, “Do not grieve.”  Instead, he said:  “Do not grieve as others do who have no hope.”

And he said, grieve hopefully and without despair.  Sorrow without defeat.  Sadness without hopelessness.  

And he said, grieve temporarily, because we know that someday, our grief will come to an end.  For as Paul also wrote to the Thessalonians:  “For since we believe Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep...And so we will always be with the Lord.”

And know that, in the midst of our grief, what we need most is God Himself.  He will warm our hearts, lift our burdens, and draw us into the fellowship of His Spirit.

And all this is possible because of the One, God’s Son, who was slain on a high place called Calvary.  As Simeon once called Him, He was “the light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.”

And that good news is news that should be published not only in the streets of Gath and Ashkelon, but in Shell Lake and Spooner and to the ends of the earth.

And best of all, He who once died and rose again, is now seated at the highest place of all--at the right hand of God.

As Paul also once wrote to the Thessalonians:  “Therefore, encourage one another with these words.”

 

We thank You, Father, for the strength You give, especially in our darkest and most difficult times of all.  By Your grace, be our light and our salvation, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen

II Samuel 1:17-18

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Almost fifty years ago, back in 1973, Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote a song called, “Candle in the Wind.”  And in that song, they told the story of model and actress Norma Jeane Mortenson, (we know her as Marilyn Monroe), and her celebrated, yet rather short and tragic life.

The chorus went like this:  “It seems to me you lived your life like a candle in the wind, never knowing who to cling to when the rain set in.  And I would have liked to have known you, but I was just a kid.  Your candle burned out long before your legend ever did.”

Almost twenty years later, another group called R.E.M., (that’s short for “Rapid Eye Movement,”) also wrote a song called, “Man on the Moon.”  And that song was a tribute to an actor named Andy Kaufman.  

They wrote:  “Now, Andy, did you hear about this one?  Tell me, are you locked in the punch?  Andy, are you goofing on Elvis?  Hey, baby, are we losing touch?”  (In case you’re wondering, no, I don’t get it either!)

And back in 1971, 26-year-old Don McLean wrote a song called, “Vincent,” a song that tells the story of artist Vincent Van Gogh, his painting called, “The Starry Night,” and, what McLean calls his “misunderstood genius.”

He wrote:  “Starry, starry night.  Paint your palette blue and grey.  Look out on a summer’s day, with eyes that know the darkness in my soul.  Shadows on the hills, sketch the trees and the daffodils, catch the breeze and the winter chills, in colors on the snowy linen land.”  And he wrote:  “Now I understand what you tried to say to me, and how you suffered for your sanity, how you tried to set them free.  They would not listen, they did not know how.  Perhaps they’ll listen now.”

So what do these three songs have in common?  They’re all laments, songs artists wrote about someone who died--Elton John for Marilyn Monroe, R.E.M. for Andy Kaufman, and Don McClean for Vincent Van Gogh.

The Bible has its own share of “Songs of Lament.”  And while all of the Bible is a record of many tragedies and triumphs, there are also times when, as one author wrote, “the shadows lay thickest, and the notes are ever in the minor key.”

Think of Psalm 86, for example.  It’s where David wrote:  “Insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seeks my life.”  And the Sons of Korah wrote in Psalm 44:  “For Your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

It was about these very psalms that Luther wrote:  “What is the greatest thing in the Psalter but this earnest speaking amid the stormy winds of every kind?  Where do you find deeper, more sorrowful, more pitiful words of sadness than in the psalms of lamentation?  There again you look into the hearts of the saints, as into death, yes, as into hell itself.”

So it was in the words of II Samuel.  It’s where we find another song of lament, in fact, the very first song of lament recorded in the Bible, and one of the saddest and most tragic of all.  It’s what one author called, “a masterpiece of early Hebrew poetry,” and what another called, “one of the finest pieces of literature of all time.”

Please turn in your Bible to page 324, as I read the words of our text.  I’ll start where it says:  “David’s Lament for Saul and Jonathan.”  II Samuel chapter 1, verse 17:  “And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and Jonathan his son, and he said it should be taught to the people of Judah; behold, it is written in the book of Jashar.  He said:  ‘Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places!  How the mighty have fallen!  Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult.”

So what’s going on?

The story began just a few chapters before, back in the book of I Samuel, where the people of Israel were at war, not only with the Philistines, but with the Amalekites.

But while David managed to defeat the Amalekites, the Philistines cornered, then killed King Saul and his son, Jonathan.  As it says in I Samuel chapter 31:  “Saul died, and his three sons, and his armor-bearer, and all his men, on the same day together.”  Even worse, the Bible says that when all the men of Israel saw that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their cities and fled.

Then, just a few days later, a man, an Amalekite, came to tell David what happened.  And just as soon as David heard the news, he tore his clothes, and so did all the men who were with him.  Then they cried, and mourned, and fasted for all who had fallen by the sword.

Then he wrote a song, this song recorded in II Samuel chapter 1.  And, as it says in verse 18, “he said it should be taught to the people of Judah.”

Now, if you don’t mind me saying, all this is just a little strange.  Now I can understand why David would mourn the loss of Jonathan.  They were, after all, the very best and dearest friends.

But Saul--not so much.  Remember what he tried to do to him?  Three times he threw a spear at him and, thankfully, missed him.  And when he missed him, he still promised, with his three thousand men, to kill him.

And who was king, now that Saul was dead?  David was!  And now that Saul was gone and David was king, it should have been a cause for national joy and celebration.

Instead, he wrote a song, a song of lament, and said that all the people of Judah should not only learn it, but sing it.

And this is what he sang.  Verse 19:  “Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places!  How the mighty have fallen!  Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult.”

“Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places!” he wrote.  Who was their “glory”?  Their king, the one God once anointed to rule His people, His chosen instrument, King Saul!  He was a flawed man, and a very complicated and tormented man.  Still he was their king, their glory.

And so was Jonathan, his son--a warrior, a prince, a beloved man of God.  He was their glory too!

But as it says in verse 20, don’t tell it in Gath or in the streets of Ashkelon.  Those were Philistine cities.  No one there should ever know that the king and his son were dead.

Even more, this is such a sad song, David even calls on nature to join him in his mourning.  Verse 21:  “You mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew or rain upon you, nor fields of offerings!  For there the shield of the mighty was defiled, the shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.”

That place that was once a symbol of God’s grace and blessing, Mt. Gilboa, was defiled by the blood of the king and his son.  Fast and mourn, out of respect for the dead.

Verse 23:  “Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!  In life and in death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles; they were stronger than lions.”

Then three times, he sings that sad, somber refrain.  Verse 19:  “How the mighty have fallen!”  Verse 25:  “How the mighty have fallen!”  And verse 27:  “How the mighty have fallen!”

So why did God choose to include, here in the words of II Samuel chapter 1, this song of lament?  Wouldn’t it have been better for David and for his nation just to get over it and move on?

Apparently not.  Apparently God thinks that lamenting is a good idea, for He knows how it can heal our broken hearts and our broken world.

What grieves you?  What breaks your heart?  To put it another way, if you were to write a song of lament, what would you say?

It’s been said that, for all of us, loss is the norm, not the exception.  Think of it--abuse, death, divorce, trauma, betrayal, the loss of a dream--these are the oceans in our lives.  And beyond all those oceans, there are also puddles, and as a Russian proverb says, it’s usually the puddles that drown us.

You look in the mirror and realize you’re growing a little older every day.  Friendships fade.  A romance ends in heartache.  Children move away.  Then, when the puddles start to overflow, and run together, suddenly you’re overwhelmed.

So how do we deal with it?  We can deny it.  We’re good at that.  Just hide it away.  Try not to think about it.  Maybe we’ll never have to see it or deal with it again.

Or we can stay busy, distract ourselves.  Maybe that’ll help make the pain go away.  

But that’s not what David did.  Instead, he wrote this song.

In an article entitled, How to Grieve Like a Christian, author Tim Challies, writes:  “This life is full of loss and full of grief.  Though there are times when we experience swells of joy, we also experience deep depths of sorrow.  And no sorrow is deeper than the sorrow of loss.”  Yet, he says, “It’s a privilege to grieve in a distinctly Christian way--to grieve in one way instead of being left to grieve in another way.”

So how do you grieve like a Christian?  First, he says to go ahead and grieve, and do it genuinely and unapologetically.  Death is tragic and sorrowful.  But notice that, when Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he didn’t say, “Do not grieve.”  Instead, he said:  “Do not grieve as others do who have no hope.”

And he said, grieve hopefully and without despair.  Sorrow without defeat.  Sadness without hopelessness.  

And he said, grieve temporarily, because we know that someday, our grief will come to an end.  For as Paul also wrote to the Thessalonians:  “For since we believe Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep...And so we will always be with the Lord.”

And know that, in the midst of our grief, what we need most is God Himself.  He will warm our hearts, lift our burdens, and draw us into the fellowship of His Spirit.

And all this is possible because of the One, God’s Son, who was slain on a high place called Calvary.  As Simeon once called Him, He was “the light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.”

And that good news is news that should be published not only in the streets of Gath and Ashkelon, but in Shell Lake and Spooner and to the ends of the earth.

And best of all, He who once died and rose again, is now seated at the highest place of all--at the right hand of God.

As Paul also once wrote to the Thessalonians:  “Therefore, encourage one another with these words.”

 

We thank You, Father, for the strength You give, especially in our darkest and most difficult times of all.  By Your grace, be our light and our salvation, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen

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