Search our Archives:
» Opinion & Society
"How Art the Mighty Fallen"
Now God had chosen that within,
My small and feeble clan,
A king should be anointed and,
That I should be the man.
I stood above the others tall,
And handsome was of face,
In truth no man compared with me,
Throughout our widespread race.
I seldom lacked in courage when,
Some perilous threat arose,
Quite ready and endowed was I,
To vanquish all our foes.
And joyous then, there came the day,
When Samuel the priest,
Anointed me with oil as king,
And served a lavish feast.
"To whom," he said, "has Israel turned,
With all its heart's desire,
If not to you for all the joy,
And hopes you now inspire?"
And then, a while, a change came o'er,
My doubting soul somehow,
And thus of me 'twas said, "Is Saul,
Among the prophets now?"
So from that day this charge I took,
To lead against the foe,
To banish from our sacred land,
The pagan shield and bow.
And victory on every side,
Was ours to find and reap,
We vowed we'd serve the one true God,
And all his statutes keep.
But in my life were certain men,
And to this very day,
If of a different mind they'd been,
Another, better way,
My kingship would have taken and,
The throne would still be mine,
And here I name them and the blame,
To each that I assign.
First, Samuel, the aged priest:
He never understood,
Those minor lapses in my life,
As God's good servant should.
I waited once full seven days,
For him to come around,
The people grew quite restless but,
He nowhere could be found.
And so an offering to God,
I thus prepared and made,
And then old Samuel appeared,
And into me he laid!
I told him that the fault was his,
He waited much too long,
The Philistines were coming soon,
A huge and ruthless throng.
But Samuel was not appeased,
"Your kingdom," he then said,
"To one whose heart is more like God's,
Is given now instead."
And once when we destroyed a foe,
A few things did we keep,
The king, for one, and other things,
Like cattle and some sheep.
I greeted Samuel next day,
And told him how I had,
Fulfilled all that the Lord required,
Which made him rather mad.
He asked just why his hearing, then,
Perceived the distant sound,
Of lowing and of bleating that,
He heard from all around.
I told him that the men had kept,
Alive for sacrifice,
A few of the best animals,
But that did not suffice.
"Does God delight," he said to me,
"In offerings through fire,
Or is th'obedient heart much more,
What he does now desire?
"Because you've held in disregard,
God's word so clear and true,
And in your arrogance rebelled,
He has rejected you."
And as he turned to leave I grasped,
His robe and left it torn,
"Now God has torn from you," he said,
"The crown so briefly worn."
I often heard he mourned for me,
This man who'd been my guide,
But from that day I saw him not,
Again before he died.
Now David was a different type,
A man of words and war,
He wrote his prayers, his songs, laments,
As if creating lore.
And then he'd don a helmet and,
With sword upon his thigh,
He'd lead an army to the fray,
With banners fluttering high.
Oh yes! This man could kill and then,
In triumph marching strong,
Bring home his army jubilant,
Midst praise and maidens' song:
"Now honor be to Saul our king,
His thousands has he slain,
But David his ten thousands has,
He slaughtered in the plain."
Was this to be the prophecy,
That Samuel bespoke?
I sensed it was and deep within,
A jealousy awoke.
And in my moments of despair,
With such serenity,
Young David played his harp to soothe,
The rage that mastered me,
But even then, my deep ill will,
'Gainst God, this man and all,
Prevailed and thus I threw a spear,
To pin him to the wall.
But light of foot he sidestepped and,
Avoided any harm,
I wondered if my aim was bad,
Perchance it was my arm?
And then there was a time or two,
When following on his trail,
To rest myself I turned aside,
Some sleep thus to avail.
And stealthy, he stole in the night,
Right to my resting place,
But harmed me not preferring, then,
To show a bit of grace.
And what was I to think for this?
I sought his life so dear,
While, fleeing hard before my men,
He showed he had no fear.
In time I knew my kingdom would,
Be his from end to end,
But vowed I would, that fateful day,
With all my strength contend.
And Jonathon my first-born son,
I thought one day would rule,
Parading through our festive streets,
While on the royal mule.
But then I learned his loyalty,
Was not to me as king,
Nor did he wish to mount the throne,
Nor wear the sovereign's ring.
Instead he thought o'er Israel,
That David should have reign,
"The kingdom should be yours!" I said,
But spoke these words in vain.
And such my anger over him,
I one day sought his life,
And urged my men to end it there,
With sword or spear or knife.
"This day," they said, "Young Jonathan,
A triumph here has wrought,
And shall his life be forfeited,
Who valiantly has fought?"
Now as I led my men in war,
It seemed that victory,
Where'er we raised the sword and shield,
Was foreordained for me.
I vanquished Moab, Edom, too,
And then the Philistine,
On hilltop, plain and river bank,
Where'er the foe was seen.
And thus, believing it was God,
Whose strength upheld us so,
Just why he keeps his silence now,
Is difficult to know.
I've sought Him earnestly myself,
I've asked of others why,
"The Lord, O king, has turned away,"
Is all they can reply.
It seems his promise to defend,
Our cause he has forgot.
Or could it be that I first turned,
And thus obeyed him not?
Last night quite deep within a cave,
When darkness filled the night,
I sought a witch's counsel and,
In spite of all my fright,
I asked her to raise Samuel,
Now dead, I knew, but who,
Might have a word of counsel that,
Would tell me what to do.
For once again the Philistine,
On Mount Gilboa massed,
Prepared 'gainst Israel's humble force,
An army vile and vast.
And she, though fearful as was I,
His spirit did revive,
And then he spoke these fateful words,
As if he were alive!
"Tomorrow at this very hour,
Both you and each dear son,
Will be with me for God this day,
Your ruin has begun."
How art the mighty fallen now,
They lie upon thy slopes,
Thy glory perished, Israel,
And all thy flaunted hopes.
But tell it not in Gath nor in,
The streets of Ashkelon,
Lest daughters there rejoice this day,
And festive raiment don.
And on Gilboa's hills let not,
The rain or dew bestow,
For on thy peaks Saul's mighty shield,
Was battered and brought low.
Yet valiant did he wield the sword,
Till it was satisfied,
And found no final rest until,
The moment that he died.
from the July 2003 Edition of the Jewish Magazine