THE WICKED MESSENGER
A sermon on 2 Samuel 1:1-27
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
June 27, 2021
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our
Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
[The messenger said], “So I stood over him and killed him, for I knew that he could not live after he had
fallen. I took the crown that was on his head and the armlet that was on his arm, and I have brought
them here to my Lord.” 2 Samuel 1:10
“Don’t kill the messenger!” That statement is a kind of proverb that I am sure that you have all
heard before. It is actually quite common to hear. The phrase means, “It is not the messenger’s fault if
he has to bring bad news. So don’t blame him…”
It is an old concept. In literature, the phrase can be traced all the way back to Ancient Greece. I t
was used by Sophocles in the 5th Century BC in his play Antigone. Shakespeare also used the phrase a
number of times in his plays. None perhaps to more dramatic effect than in his tragedy Antony and
Cleopatra in 1607. The statement occurs three times in di9fferent forms in the first act alone.
And more recently, in one of his lesser-known songs, Bob Dylan used the idea in a song which
gives this sermon its title. At the end of his song “The Wicked Messenger,” Dylan writes, “If you cannot
bring good news, then don’t bring any…”
There is a variation of the phrase that crops up from time to time. That version is “Don’t shoot
the messenger.” And there are other variants of that idea as well…
During his 1883 speaking tour of the United States, it is said that the great Irish dramatist Oscar
Wilde encountered a similar sign in a saloon in Leadville, Colorado. The sign read “Don’t shoot the piano
player. He’s doing the best he can.” It makes me wonder: was the shooting of piano players working in
saloons really a common occurrence in the Old West?…Kind of scary to think about it—especially if
you’re a musician…
In our passage today, the nation of Israel is at war with two of its traditional enemies: the
Philistines in the north and the Amalekites to the southwest. The news comes to David that Saul, Israel’s
king and David’s father-in-law, was killed as a result of the battle in the north. Upon hearing this news,
David and the men with him all grieved Saul’s passing. And the messenger who brought him the news?
Well…he did not fare so well…In some ways, this is a strange story that is not easy to interpret because it
leaves a lot of essential details left unsaid. Those details would certainly have been helpful for the
reader to better understand the meaning of the story. But even with these handicaps, I think that this
story is one that can still speak to us this morning…P a g e | 2
As you may remember, Saul had been the first king over the nation of Israel. You may also recall
that, before then, Israel had been ruled by a series of local judges that had no central authority. That is
because it was God who was considered to be the king of the nation—and no human ruler. But the
people were not happy with that arrangement. For years, they clamored to be like the surrounding
nations, all of whom had a king and a royal court. Eventually God gave into their requests and chose a
king for them. That king was Saul…
At first, Saul did well as Israel’s king. He was a skillful warrior who was able to bring a measure of
peace to the land and to defend Israel’s borders from their enemies. But the longer that he ruled, the
less that Saul depended on the Lord for guidance and strength. Eventually he even turned to witchcraft
in order to seek guidance for what he should do. He disguised himself, consulted a medium and asked
her to summon the spirit of the deceased prophet Samuel. Fearing for her life after Saul revealed
himself, she did as the king asked. When he appeared, Samuel’s ghost told Saul the very thing that he
did not want to hear—that, because he had disobeyed the Lord and not followed his commandments,
the kingdom would be taken away from him and that none of his sons would occupy the throne.1
had started well as the king of Israel…but his reign ended poorly.
In the last chapter of 1 Samuel, we have an account of Saul’s death. We are told that Saul was
leading the Israelite army against the Philistines. The Philistines overcame the Israelite army and, in the
heat of battle, Saul was mortally wounded by an arrow. With the enemy closing in on him, we are told
that Saul asked his armor-bearer to finish him off. The armor-bearer steadfastly refused the king’s order.
And so we are told that Saul took his own life rather than face the disgrace of defeat and the humiliation
that he would undoubtedly receive at the hands of the victorious Philistines…
It is at this point in the story where today’s passage begins. Three days after the disastrous
defeat of Israel at the hands of the Philistines, a survivor from the battle came into David’s camp with
news of the battle. After reporting to David that the army of Israel had been badly defeated, he adds
that Saul and Jonathan had both died in the fight. When David asked how the soldier knew about the
deaths of Saul and Jonathan, he told him that Saul had been critically wounded in the course of the
battle. As he was dying, he had asked the soldier to kill him so that he would not fall into the hands of
the enemy. And so the soldier obliged Saul’s request to kill him. He then removed two symbols of Saul’s
kingship from his dead body—his crown and his armlet. And he then presented these things to David as
proof of Saul’s death.
At first, David and his men responded with grief. They mourned for their fallen king and his son.
And they fasted until evening. Although we are not explicitly told why this was the case, it appears that
David suspected that there was something fishy in the soldier’s story. So David called him in again and
asked him a pointed question. He asked him, “Were you not afraid to lift your hand to destroy the Lord’s
anointed?” We are not told of the soldier’s response—supposing that he had time to offer one. Then
See 1 Samuel 28 for this bizarre story.P a g e | 3
David ordered one of his men to kill the soldier on the spot and proclaimed, “Your blood be on your own
So what’s going on here? Why did the soldier come to David with this story? And why did David
respond so harshly toward the soldier? The text really does not tell us. But perhaps we can read in
between the lines to get a better understanding of why things happened as they did…
Verse 1 tells us that this story takes place in the town of Ziklag. If you were to look up Ziklag on
the map in the back of your Bible, you would see that it is in the very southwest corner of Palestine. It is
near to what we now know as the “Gaza Strip.” Saul and his army had been battling the Philistines near
Mount Gilboa. Gilboa is not actually a single mountain peak, but it is a ridge that runs parallel to the
Jordan River and is not far from the southern tip of Lake Galilee. Now, the point of rehearsing all this
geography is that Gilboa and Ziklag are about 80 miles apart. That was roughly a three day’s journey
back in those days. Verse 2 tells us that the soldier arrived on the third day after the battle at Gilboa. So
he had obviously high-tailed it out of there as soon as he could. And he was the first to bring news of
Israel’s defeat and of Saul’s death to David.
Given that David did not call the soldier back until later that evening, I have a hunch that
perhaps some other survivors from the shattered Israeli army had straggled into Ziklag in the meantime.
My guess is that they told David a different story about Saul’s final moments—one that contradicted
what the first soldier had told him. David must have thought about the conflicting stories and concluded
that the first soldier’s story was a lie. Consequently, he was going to have to repay the soldier in kind for
his evil deed…
What do you think were the soldier’s motives for coming to David with the story in the first
place? Well, for starters, it was no secret that—at best—Saul had a love/hate relationship with David.
While he was grateful for the military genius that David had exhibited in fighting against Israel’s
enemies, he had grown jealous of David’s popularity among the people. The scriptures record that the
people would sing songs about how Saul had killed his thousands, but David had killed his ten
Filed with rage, Saul had tried to kill David on a number of occasions. Because of that, David
was forced to flee the country for a while to escape Saul’s wrath. Perhaps the soldier thought that David
would welcome the news of Saul’s death so that David would no longer have to be on the run from
Here is another possibility…It was known in Israel that the prophet Samuel had already anointed
David as the next king of Israel. With the news of Saul’s death, then nothing would stand in the way of
David ascending to the throne and becoming Israel’s next king. That is what he wanted, wasn’t it? He
had already proven himself worthy to become king and had gotten the blessing of God’s revered
prophet. Surely then the soldier thought that bringing news of Saul’s death would therefore be good
news to David’s ears…
1 Samuel 18:7.P a g e | 4
Or maybe this is what the soldier was thinking…After he had killed King Saul, the soldier had
removed two of the symbols of the king’s royal authority—the crown and the armlet. By removing them
after Saul had died, he had prevented them from falling into the hands of Philistines. The Philistines
would have no doubt made a spectacle of putting them on public display to exult in their defeat of Saul.
And by presenting them to David, these symbols of royal authority could now strengthen David’s claim
to be the rightful king of Israel. Surely the soldier thought that David would be very grateful to him for
rescuing these items. Surely he thought that David would handsomely reward him for his efforts…
But as the story turned out, the soldier received no reward. Instead David’s wrath was kindled
against him. And he had the soldier unceremoniously killed in his presence.
It seems to me that this story from 2 Samuel is a story about integrity. The soldier who came to
David with the news of Saul’s death apparently had no integrity. He concocted a scheme to benefit from
Israel’s loss and the death of their king. All the while that he was doing this, he was pretending to be a
loyal soldier of the army of Israel. But he was not a loyal soldier of the army of Israel. David saw right
through him. And when the soldier’s duplicity was discovered, he paid the ultimate price.
Integrity is an absolutely essential quality of the life of faith. It is said that America’s millennial
generation—people who are now in their 20’s and early 30’s—shuns the institutional church in droves
because of a perceived lack of integrity in the institution. And who can blame them? It seems like every
week brings new scandalous stories of how corrupt church leaders have deceived people with
disgraceful stories of sinful actions. Stories of pedophile priests…church leaders being forced to step
down because of their adulterous affairs…former seminary presidents siphoning off funds from the
schools they once led for their own personal gain…evangelists leading obscenely opulent lifestyles…the
sins of evangelical leaders who are caught red-handed in their morally bankrupt web of lies—these
things seem to make the national news on a regular basis in our day and age. It happens so often
nowadays that sometimes we just seem to shrug our shoulders. No one seems to be surprised anymore.
I cringe every time that I read one of these stories because, at the very least, it makes the rest of us look
bad…for better or worse, In the minds of many, ministers are all tarred with the same brush…
And the Lord only knows how many more of these same kinds of vile stories of Christians
behaving badly don’t make the national headlines. But whether they are widely known or not, they still
scar people spiritually. They negatively portray the people of God in a bad light. They still bring shame
on the church. They breed mistrust among and for God’s people. At the very least, they tarnish the
image of the church and of those who follow Jesus. They are a stain on our good Savior’s name.
Integrity is just another word for not being a hypocrite. Of being who you seem to be to others.
Of earnestly seeking to be the kind of person that God is creating you to be. Of striving to have your
actions during the week match the words that you speak in church on Sunday. P a g e | 5
Last week we talked about the “weapons of righteousness” as an important component of what
it means to be a Christian.3 Do you remember them? The apostle Paul lists them as purity, knowledge,
patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech and the power of God. Living those
values are the key to the Christian life. They define what it means to follow Jesus. And the truth of the
matter is that, when these virtues characterize our lives, then we become the most eloquent
advertisements for the gospel.
Integrity… it is an essential element of the life of the Spirit. Without integrity, the work of the
Spirit is quenched in our lives. As the sermon closes today, I want to read you some words from the
book of Proverbs concerning integrity:
Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever follows perverse ways will be found out.
The wicked are over thrown by their evildoing, but the righteous find a refuge in their integrity.
The righteous walk in integrity—happy are the children who follow them! (Proverbs 20:7)
Better to be poor and walk in integrity than to be crooked in one’s ways though rich. (Proverbs
Let us pray: O Lord, help us to live lives of integrity. Help us to be the people to reflect the truth
of the gospel message by the way we live…by the way we talk…and by the way we act.
And to God alone be the glory! Amen.
See my sermon “The Company of the Committed,” first preached at First Baptist Chu