How Are the Mighty Fallen! (2 Samuel 1:17-2)


17 And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and Jonathan his son, 18 and he said it should be taught to the people of Judah; behold, it is written in the Book of Jashar. He said: 19 “Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places! How the mighty have fallen! 20 Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult. 21 “You mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew or rain upon you, nor fields of offerings! For there the shield of the mighty was defiled, the shield of Saul, not anointed with oil. 22 “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. 23 “Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely! In life and in death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles; they were stronger than lions. 24 “You daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you luxuriously in scarlet, who put ornaments of gold on your apparel. 25 “How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle! (2 Samuel 1:17-25)

The life of King Saul provides a study of the consequences of a person who becomes self-willed, believes that partial obedience is not disobedience, and convinces himself that in an emergency a good motive excuses wrongdoing. Self-will leads to self-deception, and self-deception ultimately leads to spiritual destruction.

Scripture clearly warns, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Cor. 10:12), and “He that trusts in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walks wisely, he shall be delivered” (Proverbs 28:26). Please picture in your mind’s eye two large portraits, one on your left and one on your right.

In the one on your left is King Saul in his early days. In this picture you see a handsome young man. Indeed, there was not a more handsome person among the sons of Israel; and from his shoulders up he was taller than any of the people (1 Sam. 9:2). He came from a small but wealthy Benjamite family. In a day when most people were fortunate if they had a few sheep or goats, Saul’s father had servants and raised donkeys (1 Sam. 9:1,3). In spite of his family’s wealth and his outstanding physical gifts, Saul was a humble young man. He was little in his own eyes (1 Sam. 9:15-21).

As you gaze upon the picture on your left, you realize you are looking at the man whom God hand-picked to become Israel’s first king. Saul was a spiritual young man. Shortly after his first encounter with the prophet Samuel and his private anointing to become Israel’s king (1 Sam.10:1), the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and Saul became a different person (1 Sam. 10:6). God gave him another heart (1 Sam. 10:9).

It is important to note that the term “heart” is never used in Scripture to refer to human abilities. The heart is the control center of the person, and when Scripture says Saul received another heart, it is speaking of Saul’s spiritual conversion. God, through the Holy Spirit, brought Saul into a regenerate relationship with Himself.

As you look at the portrait on your left, you can see multifaceted strength of character. Saul was a fearless leader, for early in his reign he rescued the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead from the cruel clutches of the Ammonites (1 Sam. 11:6, 11). He could also demonstrate wisdom and mercy. We see this in his refusal to hold a grudge against his opponents who mocked his coronation (1 Sam. 10:20-27; 11:12-15). And he was blessed with a wise counselor too, for the prophet Samuel had anointed him, advised him and prayed for him (1 Sam. 12:23-25).

Everything we see in the portrait on our left is good and noble. Saul began his kingship with God’s blessings. He was a young man with great expectations. Now I want you to look at the portrait on your right. The shades of night are falling. You are looking at a blood-stained battlefield on the grassy slopes of Mt. Gilboa. In the center of the picture lies the body of King Saul. He is face down with a self-inflicted sword piercing his body. Scattered dead around him are the choicest of Israel’s soldiers.

How did God’s hand-picked King end up like this? If this tragic figure could speak with insight, I believe he would say, “I got here through rationalization and self will that led to self-deception and ultimately to my shameful death.”

Let’s trace some of the steps that took the young king of sterling character pictured on the left, a man of such great potential, to the picture on the right that shows the same man ending his life in tragic defeat and death.


“I forced myself” (1 Sam. 13:12)

The first step away from God is self-assertion. You know what God’s Word says about an issue in your life, but you feel that because of the mitigating circumstances, God will understand if you don’t do exactly what He says. You say, “God knows my heart and knows I want to please Him, but there is a higher good at stake!”


Early in his reign, King Saul found himself in a dangerous military situation. The Philistines had gathered for war against Israel at Michmash in the mount of Bethel. The Philistines outnumbered the Israelites twelve to one (36,000 Philistines; 3,000 Israelites). God commanded Saul to wait until Samuel came to offer the burnt offering before going out to battle. Saul waited expectantly for seven days. Every night multitudes of Saul’s fearful troops deserted. On the seventh

Saul waited expectantly for seven days. Every night multitudes of Saul’s fearful troops deserted. On the seventh day he had only six hundred soldiers left. The odds were now sixty to one. What should he do? What if Samuel didn’t show up?


Under great pressure, Saul decided he had to take matters into his own hands or no one would be left to fight. So he “forced himself” and offered the burnt offering (1 Sam. 13:1-13), a responsibility reserved for priests. In his decision, we see the beginning of a lack of trust in God, and a concomitant dependence on his own strength and abilities.

We don’t see the confidence that God can deliver by many or by few, but a fearful looking at circumstances. Looking at the big picture we can see the mistake Saul made, but in the circumstances of our own lives, don’t we frequently find ourselves questioning whether or not God is able and willing to meet our needs?

Don’t we frequently feel that if we don’t take charge, nothing will be done? Saul probably reasoned “Isn’t having a few soldiers left to fight against the Philistines a higher good than continuing to wait for a prophet to arrive who is already late?” When Samuel did arrive and charged him with his error, Saul did not acknowledge his presumption in taking on the priestly role.

Instead, he justified his actions and blamed Samuel for his tardiness. When will we learn that it is never right to do wrong? When we think there is a right reason for doing a wrong thing, we are missing some important Biblical principles. Disobedience to God’s commands, no matter what the circumstances, is sin. God requires us to be faithful unto death, not to be “successful” or to preserve our lives through disobedience.

God requires us to be faithful unto death, not to be “successful” or to preserve our lives through disobedience.

Saul committed sin by disobeying God. But we have every reason to believe God would have forgiven him had he truly repented. Sadly, we see here in Saul the first evidence of a tragic flaw, for we find no attitude of repentance. There is no record of his confession of wrongdoing. Saul essentially placed the blame for his action on Samuel.

How typical this is. You frequently hear people say, “If they hadn’t done such and such, I wouldn’t have done what I did.” The first step away from God and toward self-deception is self-assertion, which leads to disobedience and all too often to self-justification instead of repentance.


“I have performed the commandment of God.” (1 Sam. 15:13)

The next step away from God is self-deception. We begin to believe that partial obedience is still considered obedience, rather than what it really is, disobedience.


God had promised to destroy the Amalekites for their unprovoked attack on the Israelites while they were in the wilderness at Rephidim (Exod. 17:8-16, esp. v.14). Years later, God commissioned Saul to be His instrument of destruction. The command was clear: utterly destroy all the people and spare nothing, including the animals (1 Sam. 15:3).


Saul took his army, attacked the Amalekites, and destroyed all people and animals except Agag, the Amalekite King, whom he took captive, and the best of the sheep, oxen, and lambs. (1 Sam. 15:4-9). His stated motive for bringing back some of the animals was to offer them in sacrifice to God.

When Saul and his army returned victorious, he triumphantly stated to Samuel, “I have performed the command of the LORD” (1 Sam. 15:13). Saul thought 98% obedience was acceptable to God. Samuel’s response is a rebuke to Saul’s self-deception. He said to him, “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22).

Saul failed to see that any disobedience, no matter how little, is rebel lion in the eyes of God, and rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft. It is the front door that leads to the occult and opens one up to demonic power (1 Sam. 15:23).

Disobedience to what God tells you, no matter how big or small the issue may be, even when you are encouraged by the opinions and advice of people you respect, is rebellion in the eyes of God.


“I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel.” (1 Sam. 15:30)

When we convince ourselves that because some truths in God’s Word are more “weighty” than other truths and that we need not scrupulously obey the less weighty truths, we err and forget that Jesus said the less weighty truths ought to be obeyed also (Mat. 23:23). Sad to say, when King Saul was confronted with his disobedience, He admitted to sinning but demonstrated no contrition. We look in vain for a broken spirit or a contrite heart. There was no cry for mercy and forgiveness.

Saul admitted to sinning but demonstrated no contrition. We look in vain for a broken spirit or a contrite heart.

Saul was more concerned about public opinion than God’s opinion of him. He entreats Samuel, “Please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel” (1 Sam. 15:30). We learn from this tragic event that there is no such thing as a “little sin” in God’s eyes. There is no such thing as a “non-essential” command of God. God requires obedience in every area of our lives. Whatever we do, we are to do all for the glory of God and with the approval of Jesus (1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17).

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall (Prov. 16:18). Because Saul did not sincerely repent of his sin, God rejected him from being King (would not allow Saul’s lineage to continue as Israel’s king) and withdrew His Holy Spirit from his life, allowing Saul to be troubled by an evil spirit (1 Sam. 15:23, 26, 28; 16:14).

How tragic when a man of God backslides! David, who at this time served as a minister of music for Saul, as well as a soldier in his army, saw the tragic spirit of darkness that came into Saul’s life when God withdrew His Spirit from him. It left such an indelible mark on David that years later when David fell into sin, he begged God not to take His Holy Spirit away from him (Psa. 51:11).


“I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly.” (1 Sam. 26:21)

Self-assertion, followed by self-deception, followed by self-exaltation, will ultimately lead to self-destruction. In his later years, King Saul found himself doing things he never dreamed that he would have done. For example, early in his reign he had all mediums and fortune-tellers removed from the land in accordance with God’s will (1 Sam. 28:3).

In his declining years because of his failure to repent of his sin, the Holy Spirit left Saul and God would not answer his inquiries about future events through prophets or dreams. Samuel was now dead. In order to discover the future, King Saul searched out a medium and asked her to conjure up Samuel, so he could learn the future (1 Sam. 28:7-19).

In his fear and desperation, Saul was willing to violate Biblical principles he once believed with all his heart. The end result was that God allowed Samuel to give Saul a message: Saul and his sons would soon be dead and God would allow the Philistines to defeat Israel! The next day saw the fulfillment of those prophetic words.

Saul was mortally wounded and attempted to end his life by falling on his sword (1 Sam. 31:4). His son Jonathan lay dead also. When the Philistines came upon his dead body, they took him, decapitated him, and hung his naked body on the walls of Bethshan (1 Sam. 31:8-10). What a tragic end for a man who began his career with such great possibilities of being a spiritual blessing to Israel.

A Life Closed in Darkness

Just as King Saul’s life opened with brightness, great expectations, and promise for service, so each of us have plans, dreams, hopes, and great expectations. But beware of self-will that leads to self-deception. Don’t be like King Saul. His life closed in darkness, lost opportunities, and spiritual tragedy.

Be sure to walk in all the light God sheds on your pathway. If you know you are not doing the will of God in some area of your life, remember that God says disobedience is rebellion, and rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft. Repent of your self-assertion. Repent of your self-justification. Allow God to mold you and make you what He wants you to be.



Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.

Allan Brown
Allan Brown
Dr. Allan Brown is Professor and Chair of the Division of Ministerial Education at God's Bible School & College. He holds his PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of several books and articles.