How are the Mighty Fallen!

“And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son: (Also he bade them teach the children of Judah the use of the bow: behold, it is written in the book of Jasher.) The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen! Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph. Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew, neither let there be rain, upon you, nor fields of offerings: for there the shield of the mighty is vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, as though he had not been anointed with oil. From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan turned not back, and the sword of Saul returned not empty. Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided: they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights, who put on ornaments of gold upon your apparel. How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! O Jonathan, thou wast slain in thine high places. I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women. How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished!” (2 Samuel 1:17-27).


David’s heart was filled with sorrow over the death of Saul and Jonathan. He had lost his worst enemy and his best friend on the same day, but there is no hint of rejoicing in his poetic lament.

The lament

David’s lamentation is basically a song or psalm he composed as an elegy about Saul and Jonathan. The word literally means, “to bewail mournfully and loudly.” The words in parenthesis in verse 18 are meant to be the title of this song, that is, “The Bow”, and it was David’s intention that this song should be taught to everyone in Judah so that no one would forget either Saul or Jonathan.  Kasheth, or the bow, probably was the title of this mournful, funeral song” (Matthew Henry). A sorrowful song might not appear to be very edifying, but as David later wrote, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes” (Psalm 119:71), therefore God can teach us important truths even in times of sadness. Note: The Book of Jasher is a lost non-canonical manuscript. It is possible to find a copy of this book today, but it is widely acknowledged to be a forgery. The original was a collection of ancient national poetry.

The mighty

David cries, “How are the mighty fallen” three times in this song, and so we see that he still held King Saul in high esteem. He reveals that he believes that Israel had suffered a great loss when Saul and Jonathan died, for he calls them “the beauty of Israel” and later states that they were “lovely and pleasant.” The term “beauty of Israel” can be translated as “the gazelle” or “antelope of Israel.” The mention of “eagles” and “lions” shows that he saw Saul and Jonathan as great and mighty warriors. Though this part of the elegy sounds more like an exaggerated eulogy in relation to Saul, David was in fact honouring and respecting the position of Saul as king, for he had been a gallant soldier in his early days.

The curse

The Philistines obviously knew of the death of Saul and Jonathan, for they had removed their heads and paraded them in Bethshan, “And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen in mount Gilboa. And they cut off his head, and stripped off his armour, and sent into the land of the Philistines round about, to publish it in the house of their idols, and among the people. And they put his armour in the house of Ashtaroth: and they fastened his body to the wall of Bethshan” (1 Samuel 31:8-10). David hated the idea that the Philistines would be singing songs of victory while Israel mourned. This is not a precept, but a poetical wish; whereby he doth not so much desire, that this might not be done, which he knew to be impossible” (John Wesley). He called a curse down upon them and wants the beautiful and luscious mountains of Gilboa to become a barren wilderness and that the Philistines experience a great famine for what they did.

O Jonathan!

It should not surprise us to see that David’s deepest sorrow was for the loss of his best friend Jonathan. This final part of his song is expressed in the form of a compassionate tribute. Though he honours Saul and overlooks all he had suffered at his hand, it is for Jonathan that special mention is made. As we have stated in a previous study, some ungodly people see a homosexual relationship between David and Jonathan because they purposely misunderstand the text because of the word love, but notice that David calls Jonathan “my brother.” Just as there were “blood brothers” amongst the American Indians, so this pair were “spiritual brothers.” David’s best friend was closer to him than any other person on earth. The word “pleasant” has a slightly different meaning in verse 26 than it does in verse 23, here it means that Jonathan was of a pleasant character rather than gruff, rude and self-centred like Saul. “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another” (Romans 12:10) … “Let brotherly love continue” (Hebrews 13:1).


Though we know that Saul paved the way for this outcome through sin and disobedience, we know that God was using the circumstances to bring David to the throne. In acknowledging that God’s hand of judgement is at work, it does not mean that we cannot feel sorrow over those who are being judged. The mighty had fallen, but God was about to do mighty things through David.