Why Do We Say, ‘Oh How the Mighty Have Fallen’?

We can understand that “How the mighty have fallen!” seems to be a sort of eulogy to two mighty men in Israel’s history, and David uses it not as a celebration but with utter sadness for not only his best friend but his enemy as well.

Christianity.com Contributing Writer
Oct 29, 2021
Why Do We Say, ‘Oh How the Mighty Have Fallen’?

“Oh How the Mighty Have Fallen” is a common phrase we hear from our brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet, it is a phrase whose origins are rooted in the Old Testament and its context gives us lessons about faith, loyalty, and forgiveness. Let’s tackle this further so that we may know why we say this phrase.

What Is the Origin of 'How the Mighty Have Fallen'?

The phrase “Oh How the Mighty Have Fallen” comes from the story of David, during Saul, Jonathan, and Israel’s battle against the Philistines.

The death of Saul and Jonathan ends the battle of Israel and the Philistines. After hearing the news, David laments and sings, “How the mighty have fallen.”

The lines can be read in 2 Samuel 1:19,27. However, it is important to note that this act of David is something that can teach us about forgiveness and faith in God's choices.

See, David and Saul had a tainted relationship as outlined in the rest of the song of David. Samuel was chosen by God to anoint Saul as Israel's first king (1 Samuel 10:24). When Saul disobeyed God and was rejected by God as king, his administration was still young (1 Samuel 15:22–23).

Yet, David, the anointed king, was unwilling to raise his own hand against the Lord's anointed (1 Samuel 24:6), even though he was chosen by God to replace Saul (1 Samuel 16:12).

Even though Saul attempted to assassinate David because of David's popularity, it seemed as though David cared for Saul.

Another thing is that David loved Saul's son Jonathan. The relationship between David and Jonathan was close (1 Samuel 18:1), and Jonathan made a covenant with David despite his lineage as the heir to Saul's throne (1 Samuel 18:3). Jonathan loved David as well.

When David quickly ascended in popularity and was given command over Saul's men of war (1 Samuel 18:5), Saul was displeased by this.

Both Saul and Jonathan had great exploits and victories in battle themselves and yet David became the talk of the town and somewhat considered a hero in society. This led to the growth of Saul's suspicion of David (1 Samuel 18:9).

Despite Saul’s suspicion and attempt to take David’s life, still, David wouldn't threaten Saul's rule since David respected Saul and God. Perhaps, this is also the reason why David lamented upon Saul and Jonathan’s death and sang his song.

What Does 'How the Mighty Have Fallen' Mean for Us Today?

David said, “Oh How the Mighty Have Fallen” three times while singing his memorial lament for Saul and Jonathan (Samuel 1:19, 25,27). In his song, Israel's beauty was described as the king and prince (2 Samuel 1:19) and in 2 Samuel 1:20, David states that Saul and Jonathan's deaths were not to be celebrated by the Philistines.

It seems that he cursed even the mountains of Gilboa where they had died (2 Samuel 1:21) because they were valiant and successful in battle (2 Samuel 1:22). 2 Samuel 1:23 states that David described them as swifter than eagles and stronger than lions, and as pleasing to the eye (2 Samuel 1:23).

It was when he invoked the blessing of Saul on the people that he added as a pitiful refrain “How the mighty have fallen! fallen! fallen!” (Hebrews 2:15).

When David expressed his love for Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:25–26), he repeated the refrain, “How the mighty have fallen!” (2 Samuel 1:27). He begins his song by exclaiming, "How the mighty have fallen!" (2 Samuel 1:19), then reiterates the refrain after acknowledging Saul, and then again after mentioning Jonathan.

As we read this passage, we can understand that “How the mighty have fallen!” seems to be a sort of eulogy to two mighty men in Israel’s history, and David uses it not as a celebration but with utter sadness.

Three things can learn so much from how David said these words and perhaps these three things are the reasons why we should utter, “Oh How the Mighty Have Fallen” as well.

1. Respect Our Enemies

It is still right and beautiful to treat someone with respect even if they try to harm us. Saul harmed David on so many levels. He tried to assassinate David because he was growing popular, and Saul was threatened.

Come to think of it, Saul was a frustrating part of David’s life and someone he should have never respected and loved.

Yet, David respected him still and even made a song of lament. David’s actions speak a lot about how we should respect our enemies even if they put us in harm's way.

Respect does not mean we should not watch our backs; it only means we should not give them the satisfaction of making them feel that we hate them.

Giving respect instead of revenge towards our enemies is the greatest retort we can do. It also tells a lot about our character as to how it told us about David’s character.

2. Love Our Enemies

David exemplified his respect and love. Rather than view Saul through the hurt of being hated and even harmed, David always saw him through the eyes of God.

We are reminded of a similar passage that Jesus told us in the New Testament. In Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus told us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

Loving our enemies seems like a common concept both in the Old and New Testaments. It also reminds us to pray for our enemies that they may be enlightened about their deeds and return to the good ways.

This seems like a very difficult thing to do because we have always been accustomed to hating our enemies as much as they hate us.

But let us be reminded of David and how he lamented when Saul and Jonathan died saying, “Oh How the Mighty Have Fallen.” David still considered Saul mighty and still loved him.

3. See the Other Side of the Coin

Lastly, we should not rejoice in the downfall of our enemies but lament for they have also paved a part of others’ lives. They may have given us bad memories but maybe they have touched other lives as well.

Seeing two sides of a person, including our enemies is important. See, Saul may have hated David, but he was a leader who fought many battles for the survival of their nation. He touched the lives of his men in one way or another.

Our enemies may have hurt us, but they have other lives, too. They have families and friends who they don’t hate and who they love. We should see this part of the lives of our enemies and acknowledge this so that we may be able to love and respect them.

“Oh How the Mighty Have Fallen” is a reminder for all of us about David’s respect and love and forgiveness for his enemy, Saul, and his love for Jonathan. It is a reminder that we should always trust God and his path for us even if we are faced with enemies in our midst.

For further reading:

What Makes Pride a Sin?

Does Pride Really Go Before the Fall? (Proverbs 16:18)

What Does the Bible Say about Self-Righteousness?

Why Should Nothing Be Done Out of Selfish Ambition?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/kostsov

Glory Dy has been a content creator for more than 10 years. She lives in a quiet suburb with her family and four cats.

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