David's Lamentation Over Saul and Jonathan
2 Samuel 1:19-27
The beauty of Israel is slain on your high places: how are the mighty fallen!…

In this lamentation there is -


"O pride of Israel, on thy high places slain!
Alas! fallen are the heroes."

(Ver. 19.) This is the keynote. It contains "the theme of the entire ode."

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).


"Tell it not in Garth,
Publish not the tidings in the streets of Askelon;
Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,
Lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult."

(Ver. 20.) In imagination the poet sees the swift-footed messengers bearing the tidings to the nearest cities of the Philistines - to Gath and Askelon; hears their songs of victory; and, in sympathy with his people, he utters the wish, "Oh that it might not have been!"

1. The fall of men of eminence among the people of God causes exultation among their adversaries.

2. The triumph of the wicked (the "uncircumcised") increases the suffering and shame of the godly in their misfortunes (Psalm 44:9-26; Psalm 123:4).

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.


"O mountains in Gilboa, nor dew nor rain (be) upon you,
Nor fields of sacred offerings!
For there lies rusting the shield of heroes,
The shield of Saul unanointed with oil."

(Ver. 21.) Over against the exultant joy of victory of Israel's enemies, which he would be gladly spared, David sets the attitude of mourning, in which he would behold the mountains of Gilboa, the scene of the heroes' death struggle (Erdmann). As that scene presents itself to his imagination, its beauty and fertility appear incongruous with the degradation of the slain, the misery of Israel, and his own absorbing grief. Has it no sympathy with them in their woe? He impatiently resents its indifference to his sorrow, and says in effect, "Oh that it might no more enjoy the favour of Heaven, nor produce the oblations by which its wrath is propitiated, but be a perpetual memorial of the mournful event!" (Ezekiel 31:15).

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.


"From blood of slain,
From fat of heroes
The bow of Jonathan turned not backward,
And the sword of Saul returned not unsatisfied.
Saul and Jonathan! the beloved and lovely!
In their lives and in their death they were not parted;
Than eagles fleeter, Than lions stronger."

(Vers. 22, 23.) The poet turns away from the melancholy scene to contemplate the heroes as he had known them, and describes their warlike prowess, their amiable dispositions, their mutual affection and faithful companionship, their agility and strength. Sincere sorrow over the dead:

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).


"O daughters of Israel, wail for Saul!
He clothed you in scarlet with loveliness;
He put jewels of gold upon your apparel.
Alas! fallen aye the heroes
In the midst of the battle."

(Vers. 24, 25.) The stream of sorrow, which down to this point has been united, here divides. David calls upon the daughters of Israel to wail, while the daughters of the Philistines triumph; and reminds them of the beneficence of Saul in distributing among them the spoils of war gained in his former victories.

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).


"O Jonathan, on thy high places slain!
Woe is me for thee, my brother Jonathan!
Lovely wast thou to me exceedingly,
Marvellous (was) thy love to me beyond the love of woman.
Alas! fallen are the heroes,
And perished the instruments of battle."

(Vers. 26, 27.) At this culmination of grief the lament again sounds the keynote of the whole, and returns in conclusion to its chief object, the sorrow for the hero glory of Israel destroyed in Saul and Jonathan. David's expression of sorrow manifests his deep love to his friend; still more, commemorates the "wonderful" love of his friend to him. "And in that love which he had borne towards him, there was something 'separate from all beside,' 'miraculous,' like a special work of God (this is the force of the word), more singular, undivided, and devoted than the love of women - even of Michal, of Ahinoam, of Abigail" (Stanley).

1. Pure, fervent, self-denying love is the chief excellence of human character. It is the greatest of all great things (1 Corinthians 13:13; Colossians 3:14; James 2:8; 1 Peter 1:22).

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.

Parallel Verses
KJV: The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen!

WEB: "Your glory, Israel, is slain on your high places! How the mighty have fallen!

How are the Mighty Fallen!
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