1 Samuel 31


‘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 armour-bearer and all his men died together that same day. When the Israelites along the valley and those across the Jordan saw that the Israelite army had fled and that Saul and his sons had died, they abandoned their towns and fled. And the Philistines came and occupied them.’ 1 Samuel 31:1-7

Saul Takes His Life

The Philistine’s fight against Israel was a bloody mess, many of the Israelites fled and many died, 1 Chronicles 10:1-12. When Achish had previously requested that David not go with the Philistines in this battle against Israel, 1 Samuel 29:6-11, he actually did David a huge favour.

It was during this series of battles that David’s dear friend Jonathan was killed by the Philistines. It’s clear this was all a part of God’s plan, now it was time to end the rulership and kingship of Saul and his son Johnathon.

Saul now being seriously injured calls his armour-bearer to kill him, this was because he didn’t want to be tortured by the Philistines. However, his armour-bearer refused to do so, because he knew that Saul was God’s anointed king.

As a result of his armour-bearer refusing to kill him, Saul takes his own life, as does his armour-bearer. There are five suicides recorded in the Scriptures, we have Saul and his armour-bearer and three others which are found in 2 Samuel 17:23 / 1 Kings 16:18 / Matthew 27:5.

Saul’s three sons died too and although Johnathon deeply loved David, he remained true to his father, even when his own father condemned him to death, 1 Samuel 14:36-43, and threw a spear at him to kill him because he refused to listen to him when he spoke about David, 1 Samuel 20:33.

Because of this event, the Israelites were terrified and abandoned their cities and fled into the wilderness as fugitives. In a sense, they had reaped what they sowed, Galatians 6:7-8, the very people who made David and his men fugitives were now fugitives themselves.

‘The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the dead, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. They cut off his head and stripped off his armour, and they sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to proclaim the news in the temple of their idols and among their people. They put his armour in the temple of the Ashtoreths and fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shan. When the people of Jabesh Gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all their valiant men marched through the night to Beth Shan. They took down the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall of Beth Shan and went to Jabesh, where they burned them. Then they took their bones and buried them under a tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and they fasted seven days.’ 1 Samuel 30:8-13

Make no mistake about what we read here, the men of Jabesh Gilead were extremely brave and courageous in their actions here, especially when we remember that at the beginning of Saul’s reign, he had delivered the Jabesh Gileadites from the insulting intention of the Ammonites to make slaves of all of them and also to put out their right eyes, 1 Samuel 11:1-11.

Notice after cutting off Saul’s head and stripping off his armour, they fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shan, 1 Chronicles 10:10 / 1 Samuel 5:1-5 / Judges 16:27 / Judges 16:30, this was done as a warning to all of their enemies, especially the Philistines that they would have the same fate if they came against them.

They also placed his armour in the temple of Ashtaroth, this was probably the temple of Venus in Ashkelon, 2 Samuel 1:20, the idea behind it was that it put on display as a trophy, just like David did with the head of Goliath, 1 Samuel 17:54 / 2 Samuel 31:12-14.

When the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead whom Saul had initially saved in his early years, 1 Samuel 11:1-5, heard of the desecration of Saul and his sons, they secretly came at night and burned the bodies at Jabesh.

Cremation was very unusual, if not actually forbidden, among the Jews. God pronounced a severe judgment against Moab because he burned to lime the bones of the king of Edom, Amos 2:1.

The difference here is that the bones of Saul and his sons weren’t burned. Perhaps they burned the bodies to prevent any further display of them by the Philistines, or perhaps because their natural decomposition of them had reached a state that made it necessary so to do.

They buried the bones of Saul and his sons under the tamarisk tree, this isn’t the same tree that Saul ordered the slaughter of the priests of Nob, 1 Samuel 22:6. It was the same kind of tree but in two different locations. It was later when the bones of Saul and his sons were buried in a family tomb in Zelah, 2 Samuel 21:12-14.

As a result of Saul’s obsession with trying to kill David and ignoring God’s will, and going to mediums, this was now the end of Saul and his kingship, paving the way for David to become king of Israel.