When the Mighty Fall


God declares in Scripture that He takes no joy in the death of the wicked, and neither should we.

“The beauty of Israel is slain on your high places! How the mighty have fallen!” (v. 19). - 2 Samuel 1

Toward the end of 1 Samuel, it appears David virtually loses hope that the promise of his anointing will be fulfilled. On the run from Saul for years, swinging like a pendulum between trust and despair, he finally goes to the mortal enemies of his people, the Philistines (1 Sam. 27). He, his men, and their families settle among these pagan people under false pretenses, but at least it seems they are out of Saul’s reach. In truth, however, David is no safer in Philistia than in Israel. If God should ordain David’s capture, then Saul would get him, even in Philistine territory. But as long as God ordains David’s safety, Saul will never lay hands on him, even within Israel.

Finally, however, the day comes when Saul’s time on the throne ends. The final chapter of 1 Samuel recounts a massive battle in which the men of Israel flee before the Philistines. Saul’s three sons are struck down and killed, and Saul himself is wounded. He asks his armor-bearer to kill him lest the Philistines have that “pleasure,” but the armor-bearer is too fearful to do it. So Saul allows his body to fall onto his sword. Thus ends the reign of Israel’s first monarch.

At least one man, an Amalekite, escapes from the battle and makes his way to David, where he reports Saul’s death. His account is slightly different, however—he claims to have dealt the death blow to Saul that the armor-bearer refused to give. Apparently he is hoping to curry favor as the man who finally finished off David’s pursuer. But David does not celebrate Saul’s death. Rather, he tears his clothes as a sign of anguish, then mourns, weeps, and fasts till evening. Next he has the self-proclaimed destroyer of God’s anointed king put to death. Finally he composes a lament for Saul and Jonathan, his Song of the Bow, in which he proclaims that a tragedy has befallen Israel.

David’s faith may have been at a low ebb just prior to this unexpected providence. But his reaction to Saul’s death shows that the heart qualities that prompted God to choose him for the throne are still present. David realizes that God has carried out His judgment on Saul, and he takes no joy in it. And he understands that Saul was an effective deliverer for Israel. In light of this dire event, David’s own desire for the throne is a small thing, and he sees that. The selflessness he exhibits here is a wonderful characteristic for any monarch.

Coram Deo

God declares in Scripture that He takes no joy in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 33:11), and neither should we. Like David in his mourning for Saul, we must see the deaths of unbelievers for what they are—tragedies caused by sin. Pray for your unsaved friends and warn them of the approach of the day of God’s wrath.

Passages for Further Study

  • 2 Chronicles 19:10
Ezekiel 18:23
Matthew 3:7
  • Peter 3:9
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