Updated: Feb 4
The first verse is 2 Samuel 1:1.
After the death of Saul, when David had returned from defeating the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag.
David intoned this lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan. (He ordered that The Song of the Bow be taught to the people of Judah; it is written in the Book of Jashar.) He said:
Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places! How the mighty have fallen!
Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon;
or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice, the daughters of the uncircumcised will exult.
You mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew or rain upon you, nor bounteous fields!
For there the shield of the mighty was defiled, the shield of Saul, anointed with oil no more.
From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty,
the bow of Jonathan did not turn back, nor the sword of Saul return empty.
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.
O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you with crimson, in luxury, who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.
How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle!
Jonathan lies slain upon your high places. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.
How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished!
This is an optional Old Testament selection from the Episcopal Lectionary for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B 2018. In the numbering system that lists each Sunday in an ordinal fashion, this Sunday is referred to as Proper 8. If chosen, this will next be read aloud in church by a reader on Sunday, July 1, 2018. It is important because it tells how it does not matter how great one is or how great the strength of a nation is, the mighty who are without God will fall.
This is a song written by David after he has learned of the deaths of Saul and his three sons, including his beloved “brother” Jonathan. When this is read in the vacuum, without the story that leads up to this song realized, it can become misleading as to why David would write such a memorial.
It must be realized that Saul had unsuccessfully tried to kill David, letting him flee in hopes that Israel’s enemies would kill him. Rather than that happen, the promise made by Goliath in his challenge that was eventually taken up by young David, “Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects,” (1 Samuel 17:8-9) was kept by Achish king of Gath, who feared David. David (in verse 1 here) was returning to Ziklag (a Philistine city given to him by Achish son of King Maok of Gath), but while away the Amalekites (the equivalent of modern day Bedouin Arabians) had burned the city down and taken all the wives as their spoil. Two of David’s wives were in the number of those taken, so David found them, and then defeated the Amalekites with his 600 soldiers that had followed him from Israel.
In this map, one can see how far apart David was from Saul when that happened. Saul was killed, along with his sons, in the battle of Mount Gilboa. The Philistines, including warriors from Gath, had surrounded Saul’s army; and Saul sought out a medium, who put him in touch with the recently deceased Samuel. The ghost of Samuel said Saul would be with him soon. Thus, after Saul received word that all of his sons had fallen in battle, he committed suicide.
Supposedly, suicide would prevent the Philistines from desecrating his body, but the bodies of Saul and his three sons were beheaded and mutilated, then hung on the wall of a holy building in Beth Shan. Citizens of Jabesh Gilead, who were long supporters of Saul, heard of this desecration and traveled to remove the bodies so they could be burned and their bones given a proper burial.
News of this event reached David while he was in Ziklag, a Philistine town. Twice prior David had been sent by God to rescue Saul from battles, and Saul had given his word that he would not try to kill David. Still, David acted under the orders of the Philistine King of Gath, where David lived in exile for 16 months. The news of Saul and Jonathan’s deaths came via an escaped Amalekite who came upon Saul, after he had “fallen on his sword,” but had lived. Saul was then leaning on his spear, knowing he would die, so he asked the Amalekite to kill him, which he did. The Amalekite then took Saul’s crown and a band from his arm to give to David in Ziklag. Because the Amalekite admitted killing Saul, David ordered him be put to death.
This history is important to realize, as it plays a role in understanding this song. By naming it Song of the Bow, the bow was the weapon of the archer, thus it was a weapon of war. Jonathan was known for his abilities with a bow, so the song must be seen as an ode to the man David loved, who had been lost in war. The song was to be taught to the people of Judah as a way of teaching the children, those who would grow into soldiers. The lesson of the song was for them not to ever become overconfident in their own personal strengths and talents, as war has a way of humbling even the greatest warriors.
The repeated refrain is “How the mighty have fallen!” That translation omits the Hebrew word “ḥā·lāl,” which says, “is killed” of “is slain,” and removes any question as if “fallen” can mean a simple fall that can be recovered from. The mighty have been slain, thus they have fallen.
This message would be one sung by new army recruits as they exercised their muscles, as a reminder that war should always be a last resort and always with God on one’s side. If one then falls in battle, one’s soul will be better treated.
We also read that this poem of David was written into the Book of Jasher, where “jasher” means “upright,” while also having translations as “conscientious” and “proposal of peace.” In a way that is not intended, but applies to the meaning of “upright” as “being in a vertical position,” the dead are horizontal, while the living are “upright.” In this regard, the Book of Jasher would be a collection of songs and writings of memorable events in the history of war that told of the joys of victory and the agonies of defeat, written by those who were left standing after the battles were over.
The book then acts as a way to teach the lesson that history repeats, telling the stories of the ups and downs of life. It tells the lesson of just and unjust war. As such, it echoed what Jesus spoke to Peter, after he cut an arresting guard’s ear off: “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)
This song takes the memory of Saul, who was no longer loved by the Israelite people, and paints him as strong and courageous, which was the truth in part. Still, even the strongest kings stand trembling in the face of a giant that is obviously undefeatable or insurmountable. Only those who know God has sent them to war have the confidence to overcome great odds.
The desecration of Saul’s body in defeat was erased from the record of David’s psalm. Jonathan was also seen in the glory of his past victories, not the desecration of his and his brothers’ bodies and the humiliation of their public display. David erased that image from the minds of all who would sing this song as a reminder that some wars must be fought. Those call upon the soldiers who are “swifter than eagles,” and “stronger than lions.” However, that alone is not enough.
When David sang to the Israelites, telling them to weep, and saying to remember how Saul had “clothed you with crimson, in luxury,” and had “put ornaments of gold on your apparel,” his death meant all that glory was lost. His greatness alone had brought the spoils of victory, but his defeat meant other victors would reap that reward. Therefore, “How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle!” meant Israel was then without a king and the spoils of the victor … the enemy left upright … would be based on the results of that battle lost.
Scholars say that the Book of Jasher only appears here and in the Book of Joshua. It is not a verifiable Hebrew document, as it has no record that has survived. Its mention here comes when David was in Philistine Ziklag, as an ally to the Philistines. This leads me to see the purpose of such a book was to be one read by the enemies of Israel. The Israelites had their own record of God’s achievements through great men.
This would mean the Book of Upright Men was a document of Canaanite origin, so the non-Israelite people could remember there were more mighty warriors that had fallen against the Israelite LORD, than there were victories against those whose leaders (like Saul) has forsaken their LORD and depended on their personal might. This makes the Book of Jasher a book of praise and mourning for all who have gone to battle without the LORD on their side. Victories would only come when the Israelites had turned their backs of Yahweh elohim – the LORD of lords.
David then sang, “Jonathan lies slain upon your high places. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.” This is a tribute to Jonathan by David, where he expressed in words the soul connection the two young men felt between each other. In today’s perverse world, some would see this love between David and Jonathan as evidence of their sharing their bodies with one another in homosexual activity. This must not be read into this.
David was the youngest of Jesse’s sons, and his older brothers probably never spent quality time with David. They loved each other as family, but David might have been given responsibilities that kept him away from social contacts with other boys that were his age. When David first met Jonathan, he had just killed Goliath and was not yet a man. Jonathan and David connected as brothers who cared deeply for one another in normal, natural, and typical ways. Their friendship was purely platonic and the epitome of “best friends forever.” Each had wives who met their sexual needs.
Another comparison is to blood brothers, those not related by swear an oath with the exchange of blood.
In this regard, one has to realize that David is pure in his actions to all people and totally led by God within. David was chosen by God and anointed by Samuel to be the replacement for Saul. That made David God’s chosen child, with God knowing the heart and mind of all His servants. Because Moses commanded laws be memorized and obeyed, the law that says a priest of the LORD cannot be homosexual eliminates that possibility from David. The law states, “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” (Leviticus 20:13)
Let me address this law, in terms of accepting that there is, has always been, and will always be homosexual human beings on earth. It is no different than any other sin that eliminates one from serving God. To serve God, one must show one’s devotion by abstaining from all sins, including all of a sexual nature. Therefore, homosexuality falls into the category that includes all sins forbidden by law: murder, stealing, coveting, and anything else that sets a priest of the LORD apart from the common riffraff of the world.
God chose the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as His children who would become His priests, because they had a religion that prepared them for fulfilling that holy purpose. The Egyptians were not chosen, for example. That was not a condemnation of Egyptians, but a statement that they were not prepared to serve only the One God.
In effect, by not choosing the Egyptians, God allowed them to be like everyone else in the world and do whatever they deemed good. The Laws of Moses are not for a government to order upon their citizens. The Israelites were chosen because they rejected the laws allowed under Egyptian rule, because those laws were against the laws of a priest to the One God. One can only voluntarily become a priest to the LORD, but that requires a marriage commitment – till death do you part.
Homosexuality might be deemed good by some cultures (even some subcultures in this culture we live in today), but that disqualifies one from being a priest of the LORD. One cannot serve God when one has been put to death by the sin of male homosexuality, having the blood of that death upon the ego that would not bend to meet the needs of the LORD. In effect, sin is a state of selfishness and homosexuality is pure selfish desires.
Many are sent, but only one is granted entry.
As a potential reading for the sixth Sunday after Pentecost, when one’s personal ministry should be underway the call is to not to think that oneself is almighty and thy will must be done. As David’s wish is to forever remember those who have fallen from the heights of rulership, this song is named “the bow” or “the bowman, archer.” The lesson to be learned is how not to shoot arrows in defense of a nation that has become wayward, because without God’s blessing then the arrows sent flying will come back upon one.
The story behind this song of lament needs to be known so it can become a comparison to today. Israel had asked Samuel to arrange a king of their choice to lead them. Saul became the Israelite’s surrogate god. He became a mighty man and his sons became princes. The same national setting surrounds every nation in the world today. God is leading no one, because everyone stands and salutes a mighty man that is only as mighty as his body allows him to avoid the bullets and swords of his enemies. To be an Israelite who is devoted to the One God (Yahweh), one has to see how the government of our nation is trying to kill the religious, just as Saul tried to kill David.
Oklahoma here, Alabama and others led the way.
To be in ministry today, in this setting of turmoil, where one nation is a house divided against itself, one needs to find safety by understanding the enemy. David found safety in Gath, one of the five Philistine cities, living among those who warred with Israel (just as the Palestinians do today in Gaza). The enemy is not the issue, as we are told:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)
The issue is those who say they believe in Jesus Christ and say they love God, but then they become so high and mighty that they cannot live up to those words of promise. They shoot out Biblical arrows that condemn the world, but then fall on their own swords in fear of what the enemy will do to them, once the battle is lost and there are no more quotes to be thrown. America and Western Europe have set themselves up for defeat by kneeling before technology and the weaponry that makes a minimal size militaries seem adequate enough to appease their lesser gods. Borders are slack or non-existent, to the point that foreigners of all kinds regularly stream into the nations of the West. Meanwhile, the enemy has dressed themselves as Christian lambs that quote Jesus, turning his focus on love so it seems to the weak-minded that Jesus meant trusting evil ways in one’s midst can be good. Thus, the Western world is poised on Mount Gilboa for another surprising defeat.
“How the mighty have fallen!”
Ministry understands the messages of Jesus Christ and tells others the truth, which most do not want to hear. Jesus never said to live amongst your enemies. He never said to surrender the philosophy of the One God for the equal rights of all gods, good and bad. One loves an enemy by accepting that the world is full of enemies. One loves an enemy by not getting in an enemy’s face and calling the enemy evil. One loves an enemy by not living amongst one’s enemies, so the enemy has the freedom to hate you in abstentia.
As the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind,” one loves an enemy by not focusing on hating an enemy, which is the natural emotion held between enemies. America has fallen in love with its Saul (the Constitution), to a degree that it thinks one must prove it loves its enemy by letting its enemy inside the walls of the nation, even letting the enemy govern the land. A nation cannot serve two masters – Christianity, Capitalism, Socialism, Atheism, Science, Military Technology, et al (choose two?). the reason is, paraphrasing as Jesus stated, “for either the nation will hate the one master, and love the other; or else the nation will hold to the one master, and despise the other. America cannot serve God and all the wealth from which it has risen to great heights.
Who can pick only one to bow before?
“O daughters of Christianity, weep over the Constitution, whose words clothed you with crimson, in luxury, whose promises put ornaments of gold on your apparel.” The illusion of freedom brought low-wage slaves to your shores, willing to live in squalor for the American Dream, while fighting its wars against all who would oppose that independence. America has been a nation of immigrants willing to kill or be killed in the name of good versus evil. God has rewarded Americans with the spoils of war. Now, we have seen the enemy and he is us.
Ministry today sees the hatred that permeates this nation. The enemy has been allowed to be among us and that presence causes hatred to spew out. If only we had a safe place to not be faced with our enemies, but there is none. Our neighbors have become our enemies, making it difficult to walk down a street without glares and whispers of contempt being made.
The nebulosity of the Law, which are akin to those brought in by Jezebel, now chokes the life out of the West’s love of God. We trusted in human leaders and elected official to guide us the right way; but they failed us as we failed ourselves. Our governors are incapable of straightening out the mess they have made.
Ministry does not add fuel to the fire, but it does not ignore the fire that is already burning. People sense a grave danger ahead and they are seeking knowledge and reason to proceed. The answer can be seen in this song of lament. There is only one master one can serve, and few have chosen the One God.
Ministry should be teaching the children this song of the bow, so they can prepare for the deaths that come to hero worship; but the lesson is long lost. It seems too lost for anyone to turn and face God at this late juncture, sacrificing all the things that freedom and equality bring.
The cry has gone out: “Make America great again!”
The enemies cry back: “Death to America!”
If it cannot be us, then to hell with unity!
“How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle!”
“How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished!”
And the ministers in pulpits sing their political songs of self-righteousness and the people all gladly sing along. “Everyone we hate is our enemy!” they sing. “If you do not think like us, then you are one of them!”
“Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war.” The bowmen have quivers filled with barbs of condemnation, poisoned-dipped with lines of Scripture, to be aimed at friend or foe alike. The lesson is it has happened before. We are to know it will happen again, unless we remember this Song of the Bow.