"Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights. How the mighty have fallen!
I. A DECLARATION OF THE CAUSE OF MOURNING.
"O pride of Israel, on thy high places slain!
1. Men of rich endowments are the ornament, beauty, and glory of a people.
2. Such men are sometimes stricken down suddenly and under unexpected circumstances. "Not on the level plains where defeat from the chariots and horses of the enemy might have been expected and had been before encountered, but on the high places where victory seemed the rightful prize of the mountain chiefs and the indomitable infantry of the Israelitish hosts" - there the towering form of Saul was "hit by the archers" (1 Samuel 31:3), the heroic heart of Jonathan thrust through, the splendour of Israel eclipsed. "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field," etc. (Isaiah 40:6, 7; Jeremiah 9:23, 24).
3. Their loss is a great calamity, and a source of bitter grief to those who form a proper estimate of their worth, and possess a genuine concern for the public good (ver. 12).
II. A DEPRECATION OF THE TRIUMPH OF THE ENEMY.
"Tell it not in Garth,
1. The fall of men of eminence among the people of God causes exultation among their adversaries.
3. Whatever contributes to this result should be earnestly deprecated by all who have a sincere regard for the reputation of the great, the welfare of the good, and the honour of God. That which makes the ungodly rejoice should often make the faithful weep.
III. AN IMPRECATION ON THE SCENE OF DISASTER.
"O mountains in Gilboa, nor dew nor rain (be) upon you,
1. It is the tendency of grief to dwell upon the objects that are associated with its cause, and by the contemplation of them it becomes intensified.
2. Under the influence of strong emotion the mind seeks sympathy with itself even in material and inanimate objects, and is apt to indulge in wishes that are incapable of literal fulfilment.
3. The aspects of nature correspond in greater or less degree with the mental mood in which they are regarded. Sorrow projects its shadow over the external world, and clothes the fairest scenes with gloom.
4. The language of poetic inspiration must not be interpreted in its literal, prosaic sense, but in the light of the feeling and imagination of the poet. David's imprecation was no more intended to have an actual effect on the fields of Gilboa than Job's (Job 3:1) on the day of his birth.
IV. A CELEBRATION OF THE VIRTUES OF THE FALLEN.
"From blood of slain,
1. Imposes a becoming silence concerning their imperfections, is forgetful of personal injuries, and puts out of sight everything that is contrary to itself (vers. 11, 12). De mortuis nil nisi bonum.
2. Delights to dwell upon the special aspects of their character which are worthy of admiration.
3. Sees in their extraordinary virtues a measure of the loss that has been experienced. "The nobility of Jonathan's character cannot easily be overestimated. The rival claims of friendship and of nature, of David and Saul, were adjusted with admirable delicacy. He strengthened his friend's hands (1 Samuel 22:16) and saved his life; but he clung to his father. The shadows were falling on Saul, yet he did not join David's party, though he knew that he would succeed to the throne. With a gallant loyalty and a true-hearted despair, he followed his doomed sire to Gilboa" (B. Kent).
V. AN ENUMERATION OF THE GIFTS OF A BENEFACTOR.
"O daughters of Israel, wail for Saul!
1. The benefits conferred by an able and successful ruler upon his people are great, and deserve a grateful recognition.
2. The value of those benefits is seldom fully appreciated until they can be no longer bestowed.
3. Public mourning is as appropriate in its season as public rejoicing (1 Samuel 13:7). It expresses and deepens the general sorrow, and is a testimony to departed worth. The chorus is here repeated. "This recurrence of the same idea is perfectly congenial to the nature of elegy, since grief is fond of dwelling upon the particular objects of the passion, and frequently repeating them" (Lowth).
VI. A COMMEMORATION OF THE LOVE OF A FRIEND.
"O Jonathan, on thy high places slain!
2. It is exalted and glorified in our view by means of death.
3. The memory of those in whom it dwells in an eminent degree is worthy of being perpetuated to all ages. (For translations and paraphrases of this lament see Lowth; Horsley, 'Bibl. Crit.;' Geo. Sandys: 1636; J. Oldham: 1677.) - D.
The beauty of Israel is slain.
The Study.We have here an illustration of the degenerating influences of sin upon the character of Christians, and the lamentable effects in the eyes of the world.
I. THE BEAUTY OF ISRAEL. Christianity imparts a distinguishing character to the believer; the moral counterpart of Israel's separation from the heathen inhabitants that surrounded them, and the evil practices from which they were called.
II. THE BEAUTY OF ISRAEL SLAIN. The history of souls proves this possibility.
III. THE BEAUTY OF ISRAEL SLAIN IN THE HIGH PLACES. Many Christians who flourished in the Church while they occupied a lowly position, have had their beauty "slain by an ecclesiastical or secular elevation. God's gems shine best in the shade. But few trees of His growth can challenge the stormy winds of "high places."
IV. THE LAMENTATION. "How are the mighty fallen," etc.
V. THE CHURCH'S PROCLAMATION. "Tell it not," etc.
How are the mighty fallen!1. How is the mighty fallen! — fallen under the superior power of death! — Death, the king of terrors, the conqueror of conquerors; whom riches cannot bribe, nor power resist; whom goodness cannot soften, nor dignity and loyalty deter, or awe to a reverential distance. Death intrudes into palaces as well as cottages; and arrests the monarch as well as the slave. How astonishing and lamentable is the stupidity of mankind! Can the natural or the moral world exhibit another phenomenon so shocking and unaccountable? Death sweeps off thousands of our fellow-subjects every year. Our neighbours, like leaves in autumn, drop into the grave, in a thick succession; and our attendance upon funerals is almost as frequent and formal as our visits of friendship or complaisance. Yet how few realise the thought that they must die! Pilgrims and strangers imagine themselves everlasting residents; and make this transitory life their all, as if earth was to be their eternal home; as if eternity was but a fairy land, and heaven and hell but majestic chimeras.
2. Since the mighty is fallen, how vain are all things beneath the sun! Vanity of vanities; all is vanity! How unworthy the hopes, how inferior to the desires, how unequal to the duration of human nature! "Who then art thou, who settest thine affections on things below? Dost thou value thyself on thy birth? Dost thou value thyself on thy riches? Dost thou value thyself on thy power? Dost thou glory in thy constancy, humanity, affection to thy friend; justice, veracity, popularity, universal love?" If even kings cannot extract perfect happiness from things below; if the gross, unsubstantial, and fleeting enjoyments of life are in their own nature incapable of affording pure, solid, and lasting felicity, must we not all despair of it? Yet such a happiness we desire; such we need; nay, such we must have; or our very existence will become our curse, and all our powers of enjoyment but capacities of pain. And where shall we seek for it? where, but in the supreme Good? But though crowns, and thrones, and kings, though stars, and suns, and worlds, sink into promiscuous ruin, there is one gift of Heaven to mankind which shall survive; which shall flourish and reign for ever; a gift little esteemed or solicited, and which makes no brilliant figure in mortal eyes; I mean religion. Religion! Thou brightest ornament of human natural Thou fairest image of the Divine! Thou sacred spark of celestial fire, which now glimmers with but a feeble lustre; but will shine bright in the night of affliction; will irradiate the thick gloom of death, and blaze out into immortality in its native element! This will be an unfailing source of happiness, through the revolutions of eternal ages. These majestic trifles are not the tests of real worth, nor the badges of Heaven's favourites: it is religion that marks out the happy man; that distinguishes the heir of an unfading crown; who, when the dubious conflict of life is over, shall inherit all things, and sit in triumph for ever with the King of kings, and Lord of lords.
(S. Davies, A. M.)
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