O how the mighty have fallen…

Have you ever heard or used the phrase, “how the mighty have fallen”? It’s generally a demeaning statement. If you aren’t familiar with its popular use, it is a jovial or mocking way of remarking that someone is doing something that he or she used to consider very demeaning [1].

This idiom is often applied to indicate a reduction in status, a moral failure, a day of reckoning. A person is particularly susceptible to this response from onlookers if he/she acts prideful in his/her elevated position. I would suggest that if someone makes an idol of something that is otherwise a good thing, a “mighty fall” is in their future.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a big fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again
. [2]

The origin of “how the mighty have fallen” has a very different meaning, however. Rather than a negative connotation, David wrote it in verse to sing the praises of his king, Saul, and his dearest friend, Saul’s son, Jonathan, when they were killed in battle.

How the mighty have fallen!
The weapons of war have perished!
” (2 Samuel 1:27)

The irony is that Saul had become envious of David and disobedient to God. His envy had led him to hunt and attempt to kill David despite the best efforts of both David and Jonathan to convince him of David’s loyalty. David’s response was one of integrity that rose above his circumstances. His use of the phrase was the polar opposite of today’s implementation.

I hope to follow in David’s footsteps. Let’s use words to honor. Let’s offer grace, not judgement. Let’s pivot and be a voice that obeys Jesus’ charge to his followers:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Rise up, mighty one! Love as you are loved.

  1. https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/How+the+mighty+have+fallen
  2. I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), ISBN 0-19-869111-4, pp. 213–5.


About Tony Schmitz

Tony Schmitz received his BS in Mechanical Engineering from Temple University in 1993, his MS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Florida in 1996, and his PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Florida in 1999. He is a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
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