Looking at history, humanity seems to be pulled back and forth between two impulses: creation and destruction. At times we achieve dazzling, phenomenal feats of ingenuity and at others spectacularly horrible acts of depravity. Sometimes at the same time - often orchestrated by the same people.
We destroy human lives, the natural world, and precious works of art - in an instant, and yet we also painstakingly rebuild them. In the face of adversity, calamity and disaster we continue to make homes and beauty and pockets of tenderness. We are resourceful both in our tyranny and our generosity. Our capacity for destruction only just outmatched by our ability to create. The human spirit may be prone to violence, rivalry and pettiness but also to sacrifice, innovation and love.
The reading for today is an elegy, a song for one order that has ended at the start of the next one. The king is dead…long live the king! Death and destruction have ruled the day, “How the mighty have fallen!” as it says in verse 19. In the face of tragedy and loss David turns to song.
David was a complex man torn between destructive and creative urges himself - capable of incredible poetry and all too real moral failing. The sensitivity and vulnerability David demonstrates here might not have been enough to overcome the weaknesses in his own personal conduct - his own tendency for violence - but it also demonstrates a characteristic refusal to give in fully to those urges. David was never an unfeeling tyrant. Out of the mess of conflict, and the rubble of his own fractured self - torn in many directions - David was able to find the music to hold it together, and begin to piece things back into shape.
As a society we must continually learn and relearn how to respond to disaster with creativity and not just more destruction.
How the mighty have fallen
and continue to fall.
in the wake of their fall,
recalculating our route
on the journey back home.
1 After the death of Saul, when David had returned from defeating the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag.
17 David intoned this lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan. 18 (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:
19 Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!
20 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.
21 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.
22 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.
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 O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
who clothed you with crimson, in luxury,
who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.
25 How the mighty have fallen
in the midst of the battle!
Jonathan lies slain upon your high places.
26 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.
27 How the mighty have fallen,
and the weapons of war perished!