Some of the strangeness of this passage as the beginning of a biblical book is obviated by the fact that 1 and 2 Samuel were originally a single literary work. Nevertheless, the violence with which Second king of Israel, David united the northern and southern kingdoms. More treats the Amalekite messenger who reported the death of The first king of Israel More has troubled readers for centuries. The narrative section of 2 Samuel 1 (vv. 1-16) serves to display the depth of David’s emotion; the beautiful poetic section (vv. 17-27) has a similar point to make.
The elegy/dirge/lament (qinah in Hebrew) displays a characteristic meter in which the poetic line has three beats followed by two beats. The shortened second half of each poetic line lends a plaintive or melancholy feeling to the poetry. David’s lament falls into two unequal sections marked by the refrain, “How the mighty have fallen!” (vv. 19, 25, 27):
- Part one: a prayer that the rejoicing of the “daughters of the Philistines” might be prevented (v. 20) and a request that the “daughters of Israel” weep for their fallen heroes (v. 24) frame a poetic description of Saul and Jonathan’s bravery and weapons, a curse upon Mount Gilboa as the site of their demise (vv. 21-23).
- Part two: praise of Son of King Saul and friend of David More for the love, loyalty, and friendship that Saul’s son gave to David (v. 26).
It is appropriate that David (and most would agree that this elegy is from David himself) avoids mention of the difficulties both he and Jonathan endured at the hand of Saul. Less obviously, it also avoids mention of God or anything religious and is solely a tribute to the fallen.
As elsewhere in these books, regarding similar phrases, the phrase “your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women” (v. 26b), has been interpreted as evidence of a same-gender romantic and/or sexual relationship between David and Jonathan. Whether this is true or whether the closeness of their relationship, apart from sexual innuendo, is all that is meant is impossible to discern, though the romantic interpretation seems unlikely to most scholars.