“The splendor of Israel lies slain on your heights. How the mighty have fallen!” (2 Sam 1:19 HCSB).
David sang this verse in sorrow, having heard of King Saul’s death. Being a man after God’s own heart, he did not celebrate the death of his oppressor (Saul had tried to kill him for years), but rather mourned the death of God’s anointed King (this alone indicates David’s impeccable character!). Instead of rejoicing, David realized the passing of an era. Israel’s King, her self-appointed leader, had been defeated and Saul’s household was left desolate.
For David, he knew that this was not simply the death of one man, not even simply the death of a household (both Saul and his sons were cursed by God and killed in battle, 1 Sam 31:1-2), but the death of Israel herself. For Israel was left without a head. And because Saul had been slain, Israel herself, being under the leadership of Saul, was left naked, shamed, mocked, and defeated–Israel was as good as dead.
And because of this, David recognized that Israel’s splendor had been slain. She was in the grave, having lost her leader.
But it is not as if God had left Israel desolate. He knew Saul would be slain. In fact, Saul was slain because God had rejected his kingship. Saul’s disobedience, lack of leadership, fleshliness and selfishness (1 Sam 13-15) had caused God to choose another king to be head and leader over Israel, and to give her renewed strength and power. In fact, God said to Saul, “the Lord has torn the kingship of Israel away from you today and has given it to your neighbor who is better than you” (1 Sam 15:29 HSCB).
Though under Saul’s leadership, Israel was left desolate, God ensured a better man to bring life back to his chosen nation–this very man was David. God himself promised to David, “My faithful love will never leave [you] as I removed it from Saul…Your house and kingdom will endure before Me forever, and your throne will be established forever” (2 Sam 7:15-16 HSCB).
In this we see a pattern of death and resurrection. Of death in one man, and life in another. Through Saul, a man who was fleshly, selfish, self-focused, and power-hungry, death resulted under his leadership. But through David, God has given unconditional blessing and flourishing life. God has removed one head from Israel and replaced it with another. And in David, Israel finds everlasting blessing and faithfulness.
If you read 1 and 2 Samuel, you find this pattern all over the place. In Saul, Israel dies, withers, is lifeless. But in David, Israel finds life and covenant faithfulness. In David, Israel finds herself under a place of blessedness with God.
This is incredibly integral not only to the story of 1 and 2 Samuel, but to the story of Christ and the cross. The parallels are (seemingly) endless. First, David is a type of the greater King to come, Jesus. In Jesus we find overwhelming faithfulness, acceptance, love, and blessing with God. In our own strength (our inner Saul, one might say–especially since Saul was made king only by the sinful desires of the people of Israel to be “like the nations”), we find only death. Under Christ’s reign we find life, resurrection, and joy. In our flesh, we find decay, sadness, and hopelessness.
The story of Israel’s King is a story of the gospel, because we learn about our need for a good leader, a good king in whom we can find blessing and flourish. While there is death through Saul, there is resurrection and life in David. And, similarly, while there is death in our own power and in the flesh, there in life in King Jesus.
As Luke 1:32-33 says of King Jesus, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end” (HSCB)