“Now it came to pass after the death of Saul, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites, and David had abode two days in Ziklag; It came even to pass on the third day, that, behold, a man came out of the camp from Saul with his clothes rent, and earth upon his head: and so it was, when he came to David, that he fell to the earth, and did obeisance. And David said unto him, From whence comest thou? And he said unto him, Out of the camp of Israel am I escaped. And David said unto him, How went the matter? I pray thee, tell me. And he answered, That the people are fled from the battle, and many of the people also are fallen and dead; and Saul and Jonathan his son are dead also. And David said unto the young man that told him, How knowest thou that Saul and Jonathan his son be dead? And the young man that told him said, As I happened by chance upon mount Gilboa, behold, Saul leaned upon his spear; and, lo, the chariots and horsemen followed hard after him. And when he looked behind him, he saw me, and called unto me. And I answered, Here am I. And he said unto me, Who art thou? And I answered him, I am an Amalekite. He said unto me again, Stand, I pray thee, upon me, and slay me: for anguish is come upon me, because my life is yet whole in me. So I stood upon him, and slew him, because I was sure that he could not live after that he was fallen: and I took the crown that was upon his head, and the bracelet that was on his arm, and have brought them hither unto my lord. Then David took hold on his clothes, and rent them; and likewise all the men that were with him: And they mourned, and wept, and fasted until even, for Saul, and for Jonathan his son, and for the people of the LORD, and for the house of Israel; because they were fallen by the sword. And David said unto the young man that told him, Whence art thou? And he answered, I am the son of a stranger, an Amalekite. And David said unto him, How wast thou not afraid to stretch forth thine hand to destroy the LORD’S anointed? And David called one of the young men, and said, Go near, and fall upon him. And he smote him that he died. And David said unto him, Thy blood be upon thy head; for thy mouth hath testified against thee, saying, I have slain the LORD’S anointed” (2 Samuel 1:1-16).
David’s joy after recovering all that the Amalekites had stolen was short lived. He was soon devastated by the news of the battle between the Philistines and Israel. He would not have known that Saul already knew the outcome of the battle when he visited the witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28). The one-day conflict ended with the death of Saul and Jonathan. The death of Saul would change David’s life forever.
The young Amalekite man claimed that he had killed Saul. It was an intriguing story but utterly false. The fact is that Saul was fatally wounded by an arrow, “And the battle went sore against Saul, and the archers hit him; and he was sore wounded of the archers” (1 Samuel 31:3, 1 Chronicles 10:3). He asked his armour-bearer to finish him off, but “he was sore afraid”, so Saul committed suicide by falling upon his own sword (1 Samuel 31:4, 1 Chronicles 10:4). Therefore the account given by the Amalekite was a figment of his own imagination, but why did he lie? He was hoping to endear himself to David and receive a reward. “When one told me, saying, Behold, Saul is dead, thinking to have brought good tidings, I took hold of him, and slew him in Ziklag, who thought that I would have given him a reward for his tidings” (2 Samuel 4:10).
The fact that he was an Amalekite reveals that he is not going to be a trustworthy witness and had a hidden agenda. His “race was utterly hostile to all order and quietness; it lived by the plunder of others. The Amalekite was thus every man’s enemy, and the object of universal dislike” (R. P. Smith). Deuteronomy 25:17-19 describes them as a cursed race. The irony is that it was an Amalekite that reported Saul’s death, which probably would not have happened if he had destroyed them as commanded by the Lord (see 1 Samuel 15).
The young man wanted to make himself a hero in David’s eyes, so he invented a bold and shameless story, and even pretended to be sorrowful about the death of Saul. He attempted to flatter David by falling at his feet and presenting the king’s crown and armlets, but we should remember that he would have liked to see him dead too. It is doubtful that he was a part of Saul’s army, but instead he might have been of a band of plunderers that followed battles. “Every army is followed by a vast number of vagabonds, intent upon gain. Plundering wherever they have the chance, and carrying on a lucrative but illicit trade” (R. P. Smith). The Amalekite probably thought he had won the lottery as he came across Saul’s dead body and went about stripping him of his regalia. He believed that David would reward him handsomely if he brought the crown to him.
David, after he learned that the man was an Amalekite, put him to death. Was he executed for just telling lies? At this point David did not know that the story was a pack of lies, but slew him because he had claimed to the murderer of “the LORD’s anointed.” He may have believed that he was only assisting in Saul’s suicide, but that is still murder in God’s eyes.
David did not act hastily here, for he mourned for Saul until the evening before questioning the Amalekite. Note: We see the heart of David here, for he did not rejoice over the death of Saul. The young man had all day to decide to tell the truth instead of fabricating lies. He could have had compassion and changed his story after watching David in distress over the death of Saul and Jonathan.
We may have thought that Saul’s death would be a blessed relief to David, but this would underestimate his character. He lived out what the Lord Jesus Christ taught His disciples, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45). The Amalekite was condemned by the words of his own mouth, since “David had said to him, that he had become his own accuser” (Josephus). David reveals something of how he would reign in the coming years, for he acted prudently and justly with regards to the Amalekite, and served to “discouraged all others from thinking by doing the like to ingratiate themselves with him” (Matthew Henry).