In David’s song of grief, he opens and closes with the refrain, How the mighty have fallen! (2 Samuel 1:19, 27; cf. 1:25. David warned against telling of the tragedy in Philistia lest the Philistine maidens rejoice (2 Samuel 1:20) just as the Israelite maidens had sung of the triumphs of Saul and David years before (1 Samuel 18:7).
David then cursed the mountains of Gilboa for having been the stage of Saul and Jonathan’s heroic but fruitless defense against the enemy (2 Samuel 1:21–22). The undying loyalty of Jonathan comes in for special praise as David viewed father and son knit together in life … and in death (2 Samuel 1: 23). Even though Saul had oppressed the people at times, he had also, David said, “clothed you in scarlet, with luxurious things, who decked your garments with gold ornaments.” (2 Samuel 1:24). But it was Jonathan whom David celebrated with special pathos. All the years of their unbroken friendship are captured in his stirring tribute.
David’s decision to recite this poem had the effect of bringing it into the canon of literature that defined ancient Israelite society. This piece of oral and written literature played the valuable roles of preserving the memory of a crucial event in Israelite history while reinforcing the office of kingship through its portrayal of the king as the agent through whom prosperity was brought to Israel.