The story of 1 Samuel begins with a barren woman, a woman named Hannah. She has no children, and she is miserable. But she prays to God, pleading with him for a child, only to rejoice when God answers her prayer. Hannah conceives Samuel, and when Samuel is born, Hannah prays again. Her prayer is a great prayer of reversal, one that actually anticipates the themes of all of 1-2 Samuel. Hannah prays: The LORD kills and brings to life…The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts (1 Sam 2:6a, 7). And then she adds: He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail (1 Sam 2:9).
A few short chapters later, the narrator introduces us to Saul. Saul is mighty. He is powerful. He is tall and handsome and rich…exactly the kind of man you think of when you think about a king. Saul’s tenure as king starts off on the right foot, but things go south pretty fast. He disobeys the Lord, and the Lord rejects him.
Then the narrator introduces us to David. David is not the kind of man you think about when you think about a king. Samuel tells us that he is the least of the sons of Jesse, his father. He’s the youngest. The shortest. The runt of the litter. But David is (mostly) faithful. Thus we get a sense, from the very beginning, that Saul’s kingdom isn’t going to work out, but that David’s might.
And, of course, that’s exactly what happens. The last few chapters of the 1 Samuel make this so clear, as the writer switches back and forth between Saul and David. Comparing Saul’s leadership to David’s leadership; Saul’s character to David’s character; Saul’s devotion to himself to David’s devotion to the Lord; Saul’s fear of man to David’s fear of the Lord. All the while, he is illustrating one thing: the kingship of Saul – mighty Saul – is on the decline, while the kingship of David – humble, lowly David – is on the rise. All this invites us to consider: Which king should we follow?
Then, 2 Samuel 1 develops this one step further. After the death of Saul, David prays a great prayer of lament. Three times, he prays the same phrase: Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places! How the mighty have fallen! (2 Sam 1:19). Again: How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle! (2 Sam 1:25). Finally: How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished! (2 Sam 1:27). So, in the beginning of the book, Hannah prayed – not by might shall man prevail! And now, after Saul’s death, David prays – how the mighty have fallen! Again, the narrator is tempting us to consider: What kind of king do you seek? Do you seek a proud, mighty warrior? Or do you seek the humble, lowly shepherd?
Of course, our answer to those questions is profoundly relevant today. Today, just as in the time of 1 Samuel, there are two kingdoms – the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of the world. It does often look to us like the kingdom of Christ is on the downward trajectory. As the world around us becomes increasingly secular, as public discourse and basic morality decline, and as human life and dignity are trampled underfoot by many, it does seem like it is the kingdom of the world that is rising and the kingdom of Christ that is falling.
But 1 Samuel teaches us about the kind of kingdom, and the kind of king, that will triumph in the end. It is not by might that man, or kings, or kingdoms shall prevail. How the mighty will fall! But the humble shepherd king, the one who disrobed himself of power and glory to come in weakness and humility to serve his people…The one who gave up status and privilege in love to live among and die for his people…The one who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for me…He will be exalted in the end. And those who follow him shall be raised to new life in him!
At the end of history, the kingdom of Christ will triumph. King Jesus will be exalted. The choirs of heaven will sing the words of Revelation 11: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Rev 11:15). Which king will you follow? Which kingdom will you serve?
This article is adapted from the message How the Mighty Have Fallen, preached at Capitol City Christian Church on 8/25/2019. To hear the whole message, click here.