While Saul has been fighting the Amalakites on Mount Gilboa, David has been fighting them south of Ziklag. Only David has been successful.
You would expect that David, worn out from the chase and the battle, facing the prospect of rebuilding his city from ruins, would be thrilled at the piece of good news (2 Samuel 1) that Saul is dead. It’s certainly what we would have expected Saul to do had the situations been reversed. But David does not. Instead, David mourns Saul’s passing with the thrice repeated phrase: “how the mighty are fallen” (2 Samuel 1:19,25,27).
Is this just hyperbole? Is David just being “nice”? After all, Saul just killed his “thousands” while David killed his “ten thousands.” How could Saul be “mighty?”
The fact is, however we judge Saul, he was a great man – and so was Jonathan. When only the two of them wielded swords, they were a mighty force and though Saul could not seem to bring consolidation and kingdom status to Israel, the nation extended its power far north of Damascus in Saul’s reign. Saul was great in that he accomplished what God had for him to accomplish – killing his thousands. The problem was, Saul could not be satisfied with his place in God’s plan. He resented anyone else having a place that was greater than his own. I like the way Bill Arnold puts it: “Saul never learned to revel in God’s grace and enjoy his favor. Why have the mighty fallen so tragically? Why has the poetry of victory been turned into the poetry of sorrow? . . . Because Saul lost sight of his mission and God’s calling on his life.
The danger is always before us, to be dissatisfied with what God accomplishes through us and longing for what He accomplishes through others, resenting them for their calling and success and ignoring the place God has given us. Solomon could have been thinking of Saul when he wrote these words: “The fear of the Lord leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble” (Proverbs 19:23).