Falling on your sword

fell on swordEver heard the expression ‘he fell on his sword’? Ever wondered where it came from?

Well, it came from 1 Samuel 31. It seems that Saul was the first man to fall on his sword.

So to everyone who thinks the Bible is boring and irrelevant, then think again – so much of what we say and do has its roots in the Bible without us even realising it!

The official meaning of this phrase is to commit suicide, but the phrase is used more widely to mean to offer your resignation (as we don’t tend to carry actual swords any more).

The expression was used widely following the resignation of Lord Peter Carrington, who resigned from his post as Foreign Secretary for the Thatcher government in 1982, following Argentina’s invasion of the Falkland Islands. He was the last high-profile politician in the UK to take personal responsibility in such circumstances.

hari kiriBack in Ancient Rome, committing suicide by falling on one’s sword became an actual thing. This practice is the anglicised equivalent of hara-kiri – the Japanese samurai custom of committing suicide by disembowelment with a sword rather than face the dishonour of surrender. Which is exactly what happened to Saul –

Now the Philistines fought against Israel; the Israelites fled before them, and many fell dead on Mount Gilboa. The Philistines were in hot pursuit of Saul and his sons, and they killed his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua. The fighting grew fierce around Saul, and when the archers overtook him, they wounded him critically.

Saul said to his armour-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me.”

But his armour-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. When the armour-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died with him. So Saul and his three sons and his armor-bearer and all his men died together that same day.  1 Samuel 31:1-6

Sounds like a scene from a Shakespearean tragedy, doesn’t it?

When the Israelites heard that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their towns and fled.

When the Philistines heard that Saul and his sons were dead, they cut off Saul’s head and stripped him and fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shan.

When the people of Jabesh Gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul and his sons, they rescued the bodies and buried them and grieved for them.

And that is the point at which the first book of Samuel ends.

Samuel is dead (so what will 2 Samuel be about then?).

Saul is dead (so is it now finally David’s time?).

fall on swordSo think of Saul next time you hear of one of these situations (an even broader interpretation of the saying…..)

When you withdraw from a friendship before your friend has a chance to exclude you.

When you step down from a role before you are asked to.

When your resign before you are fired.

When you dump someone before they can dump you.

When you retire from sport, before you are not selected for the team.

When you drop a subject at school before you fail the exam.

When you give up a hobby before someone tells you you’re no good at it.

Get the picture?

Is this always the right way?

Is this ever the right way?

take risksTo me, falling on your sword in these situations seems a cowardly response. It is fuelled by the desire to avoid humiliation and hurt. Fuelled by fear basically.

If we always give up before we risk failing, then we are missing out on a whole load of potential good stuff.

Protecting yourself from potential rejection could rob you of something wonderful.

‘Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’ and all that.

If you stop pushing the boundaries out of fear, then your world will always remain pretty small.

I don’t want to live like that.

I want to live life to the full, even that means risking failure and humiliation.

How about you?

And now I am off to America for a week to push the boundaries and leap outside my comfort zone and definitely risk humiliation!

And I intend to leave my sword at home.

take risks 2

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