The Song of the Bow is the title of David’s composition in the first chapter
of 2 Samuel. It is written as a lament upon the occasion of his hearing of King
Saul’s death. What is so surprising is the extent to which David goes to give
praise and honourable recognition to this first king of Israel. He speaks of Saul being the pride and joy of Israel, and along with his sons who died in battle with him, as “mighty heroes” (New Living Translation).
He goes on to say that Saul and Jonathan killed their strongest foes and did
not return from battle empty-handed. “How beloved and gracious were Saul and Jonathan. They were together in life and death. They were swifter than eagles; they were stronger than lions” (2 Sam 1:23).
The obvious question to even the most casual reader of this section of
Scripture is how David could render this exuberant description of a person who had been his enemy for so much of his life. Wasn’t Saul the one who, because of jealousy for David, had made numerous attempts to kill him, pursuing him around the country like some flea? Didn’t David have to spend much of his life as a fugitive, living in the wilderness and in Philistine territory in order to save his own life? And hadn’t it been clear that Saul had forfeited his right to the throne years earlier when he overtly disobeyed God’s strict command to destroy a people. Wouldn’t David have been justified in celebrating Saul’s death rather than paying such lofty tribute to him?
David’s Song of the Bow speaks powerfully to us of the character of David
that he recognized this as an opportunity to bless the one who had persecuted him. It was because of his proper sense of fear for the Lord and regard for the special history of his people under God that he honoured Saul with these words on this occasion. And we know his words in this poem are genuine because he hadn’t killed Saul when he had the opportunity on other occasions. It is also commendable in this poem that David didn’t highlight the shameful way in which Saul had come to his own end.
All of this makes me realize how important it is for us to pay attention to
God’s plans and purposes in allowing certain persons to lead or occupy
positions of authority even though their lives may, at times, reflect
undesirable elements. I know it’s true for me that too often I have been prone to make personal judgments about people in leadership who act inappropriately. Unlike David, it’s easy to harbour resentment toward those in authority who seem to have been unkind in their administration in some way. And those who step into the leadership roles left by others should learn to pay proper respect to those who have gone before even if there were glaring deficits in their administration.
The Song of the Bow teaches us that we need to recognize the value of people
and pay tribute to them even when we know there have been weaknesses in their character or acts of unrighteousness. (After all, who of us is immune to faults of many kinds?) Out of respect for God, for the value of a person’s life from God’s perspective, and in recognition of one’s genuine contributions to what is good, we need to set aside our own interests and give honour to whom honour is due.