DEFEAT AND DEATH OF SAUL
SAUL AND HIS SONS SLAIN
1 “Now the
Philistines fought against
from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa.
2 And the Philistines followed hard upon Saul and upon his sons;
and the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Melchishua,
Saul’s sons.” The Philistines fought. Literally it is a participle present,
“the Philistines are warring,” as if it were a mere resumption of ch. 28:1.
In the battle fought on the day following Saul’s visit to the
witch the Israelites were defeated, and fell in large numbers slain in
Mount Gilboa, either because the Philistines had attacked them there, or
because, after fighting in the
ridges their last defense. Among those thus slain were the three sons of
Saul mentioned in ch. 14:49, where see note.
3 “And the battle went sore against Saul, and the archers hit him; and
he was sore wounded of the archers. 4 Then said Saul unto his armor
bearer, Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these
uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and abuse me. But his armor
bearer would not; for he was sore afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword,
and fell upon it. The archers. Literally, as in the margin, “shooters, men
with bows.” As the first word would equally apply to men who threw
javelins, the explanation is added to make the meaning clear. Hit him.
Literally, “found him, i.e. found out his position, and came up to where he
was. He was sore wounded. Rather, “he was sore distressed.” In
Deuteronomy 2:25 the verb is rendered “be in anguish.” The meaning is
that Saul, finding himself surrounded by these archers, and that he could
neither escape nor come to close quarters with them, and die fighting,
ordered his armor bearer to kill him, that he might be spared the
degradation of being slain by “uncircumcised” heathen. Abuse me. This
verb is translated mock in Jeremiah 38:19. “Maltreat” would be a better
rendering in both places, and also in Judges 19:25, where, too, the
word occurs. Its exact meaning is to practice upon another all that passion,
lust, anger, or malice dictate. Probably Saul thought that they would treat
him as they had previously treated Samson (Judges 16:21-25).
5 “And when his armor bearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise
upon his sword, and died with him. 6 So Saul died, and his three sons, and
his armor bearer, and all his men, that same day together.” His armour
bearer. The Jewish tradition says that he was Doeg the Edomite, and that the
sword on which Saul fell was that with which he had massacred the priests.
This is not very probable; but whoever he was, his horror on being asked to
slay his master, and his devotion to him, are deserving of admiration. All his men.
In I Chronicles 10:6 “all his house.” But Ishbosheth and Abner survived, and the
meaning probably is not that his whole army, but that his personal attendants,
all those posted round him, fell to a man, fighting bravely for their king, as the
Scots fought round King James V. at Flodden Field. As suicide was very rare
among the Israelites, the death of Saul is made more intensely tragic by the
anguish which drove him thus to die by his own hand.
The Death of Saul (vs. 1-6)
“So Saul died” (v. 6; II Samuel 1:1-16; I Chronicles 10.). While the
events mentioned in the preceding chapter were taking place in the south,
and even before their occurrence, “the great drama so closely connected
with them was being played out” in the north. On the morrow of Saul’s
consultation of “the witch of Endor” the Philistines marched across the
plain, with their archers, chariots, and horsemen (II Samuel 1:6), and
attacked the army of
“The men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in
Gilboa,” up the slopes of which they had been pursued. “And the
Philistines followed hard upon Saul and his sons,” who fell fighting around
him. Hard pressed and found by the archers, he trembled (“was sore wounded,”
Authorized Version) before them, seeing no way to escape falling into their
hands; and (as the night set in), with the reckless courage of despair with
which he had fought, his armor bearer having refused to slay him, he
“took the sword and fell upon it.” His armor bearer followed his example.
“At that moment a wild Amalekite, lured probably to the field by the hope
of spoil, came up and finished the work which the arrows of the Philistines
the sword of Saul him self had all but accomplished” (
remarkable dispensation. As the curse on Amalek was accomplished by
Saul, so that on Saul was accomplished by Amalek” (Hengstenberg). Or,
perhaps, the story of the Amalekite was false, and told to ingratiate himself
with David and obtain a reward for the diadem and bracelet of which he
had stripped the fallen king. In either case, self-willed to the last, scorning
“these uncircumcised,” and more concerned about his own honor than the
honor of God, he rushed upon his own destruction.
How ghastly didst thou look, on thine own sword
Expiring in Gilboa, from that hour
Ne’er visited with rain from heaven nor dew”
(Dante, ‘Purg.’ 12.).
Ø The full desert of sin might be justly inflicted immediately on its
commission. But in a state of probation space is allowed for repentance
and motives afforded to induce it. (Revelation 2:21) Yet, if sin be persisted
in, guilt increases and judgment becomes more inevitable and severe. “He,
that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed,
and that without remedy” (Proverbs 29:1). “The wages of sin is death”
(Romans 6:23). “The wages may be deferred or may not be consciously
received, but they are paid without stint sooner or later; the fatal
consequences may not always equally appear, but they never fail in some
form or other.”
Ø Although inflicted by the free act of man, it is not less the result of the
operation of retributive justice. “Saul took the sword and fell upon it;” but
he “died for his transgression which he committed against the Lord;
therefore the Lord slew him, and turned the kingdom unto David, the son
of Jesse” (I Chronicles 10:14).
Ø The operation of the law of retribution, so manifest in history and to
observation, shows the evil of sin in the sight of God, and is a solemn
warning against its indulgence. Even repentance may come too late to
avert its consequences in this life.
“Look to thyself then, deal with sin no more,
Lest he that saves, against thee shuts the door”
All self-will, in opposition to the will of God, is a self-injury
(Proverbs 8:36); and not less so because the sinner seeks what he
falsely imagines to be for his good. Its tendency is ever towards
destruction, and, unless checked in its course, it infallibly conducts to that
end. It is a special and aggravated form of it when, in order to escape the
misery and shame which are experienced or expected, he directly and
voluntarily takes away his own life. Suicide is:
Ø Contrary to the natural instinct of self-preservation and a properly
enlightened and regulated self-love. (Many people have low self-
esteem [our schools try to use secular and human means to deal with
this] because the enthusiasm of/from God dwells not in their heart! -
CY - 2016)
Ø An act of unfaithfulness to the trust that is committed to man by God in
the bestowment of life, and of refusal to fulfill the duties that He has
ordained in life, which cannot be rightly surrendered or left without His
consent nor until the time He has appointed. “Pythagoras forbids us to
abandon the station or post of life without the orders of our commander,
of God” (
to come to you?’ ‘Not so, my son,’ he replied; ‘unless that God, whose
temple is all this which you behold, shall liberate you from the
imprisonment of the body, you can have no admission to this place’”
Ø An act of cowardice in the presence of real or imaginary evils, whatever
reckless bravery it may exhibit with respect to death and that which lies
beyond. “To die and thus avoid poverty, or love, or anything painful is not
the part of a brave man, but rather of a coward; for it is cowardice to avoid
trouble; and the suicide does not undergo death because it is honorable,
but in order to avoid evil” (Aristotle, ‘Ethics,’ book 7. ch. 7). In Saul it
was “the act of completed despair.”
Ø Expressly prohibited by the Divine command: “Thou shalt not kill."
(Exodus 20;13) In accordance with this Paul said to the Philippian jailer,
when “he would have killed himself,” “Do thyself no harm” (Acts 16:27-28).
Ø Virtually forbidden by all the exhortations of the New Testament to
endure affliction with patience and submission to the will of God. “Suicide
is the result of impatience” (see Paley, ‘Mor. Philippians,’ book 4. ch. 3).
Ø Injurious to others in many ways:
o inflicting much distress,
o teaching pernicious lessons, and
o setting a bad example.
It is “as unfavourable to human talents and resources as it is to human virtues.
We should never have dreamt of the latent power and energy of our nature
but for the struggle of great minds with great afflictions, nor known the
limits of ourselves nor man’s dominion over fortune. What would the world
now have been if it had always been said, Because the archers smite me
sore, and the battle goeth against me, I will die?” (Sydney Smith).
Ø Condemned by the example of good men, who have borne the heaviest
calamities with holy courage, and sanctioned only by evil men, like
Ahithophel and Judas. How far, indeed, Saul was in full possession of his
faculties and responsible for his act, or what was his final destiny, is not
stated. “It is evident that more arguments may be gathered of his
condemnation than of his salvation; yet because nothing is expressly set
down touching his state before God, it is better to leave it” (Willet).
“O mortal men! be wary how ye judge:
For we, who see our Maker, know not yet
The number of the chosen” (‘Par.’ 20.).
“There appears to be but one efficient means by which the mind can be
armed against the temptations to suicide, because there is but one that can
support it against every evil of life — practical religion, belief in the
providence of God, confidence in his wisdom, hope in His goodness”
“Nor love thy life, nor bate; but what thou liv’st
Live well, how long or short, permit to Heaven”
(‘Par. Lost,’ bk. 10.).
TOO FAITHFULLY IMITATED. “And when his armor bearer,” etc.
(v. 5). He had faithfully fought by his side to the last, and feared to take
away his life (of which he was appointed guardian); perhaps out of
reverence for his sacred person; doubtless, also, he dreaded to fall alive
into the hands of the Philistines and to be put to a shameful death by them;
and now, incited by his example, “dares to do that to himself which to his
king he durst not.” Example is proverbially powerful. No one, especially if
he occupy a position of power and influence, can do wrong without
thereby inducing others to follow, who thus share his guilt and may not
have equal excuse for their transgression. According to Jewish tradition the
armor bearer was Doeg the Edomite (ch. 22:18-19), “a partner
before of his master’s crimes, and now of his punishment.” “That Saul and
his armour bearer died by the same sword is, I think, sufficiently evident.
‘Draw thy sword,’ says he to him, ‘and thrust me through;’ which when he
refused, ‘Saul took the sword and fell upon it.’ (v. 4) What sword? (Not his
own, for then the text would have said so.) Why, in the plain, natural,
grammatical construction, the sword before mentioned must be the sword
now referred to, that is, the armor bearer’s. Saul and his executioner both
fell by that very weapon with which they had before massacred the priests
of God” (Delany).
“And the Philistines slew Jonathan,” etc. (vs. 2-6). It is impossible not to
lament the untimely fate of the friend of David and of God. The sins of the
father were visited upon the son. But let it be considered that:
Ø God is the supreme Proprietor of every human life, and has a right to
dispose of it as it pleases Him. Moreover, “death passed upon all men,
for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12).
Ø He has united men to each other in relations more or less intimate,
whereby they necessarily affect each other for good as well as for evil.
Ø The sufferings of the godly, in consequence of their connection with the
wicked, serve many beneficent purposes. The death of Jonathan would
deepen the impression of the severity of the Divine judgment on the house
of Saul for disobedience, and be a perpetual warning. It also made
David’s accession to the throne clearer and more indisputable.
Ø The godly cannot experience the worst sufferings of the wicked:
and if some are called to an early death in the path of duty, they are only
called a little earlier than others to their inheritance in “a better country,
that is, a heavenly” (Hebrews 11:16), an eternal kingdom.
“Joy past compare.; gladness unutterable;
Imperishable life of peace and love;
Exhaustless riches and unmeasured bliss.”
(Of this state the Apostle Paul said when called up into the third heaven,
"I….heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful to utter."
II Corinthians 12:2-4 - CY - 2016) (Compare "The righteous
perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken
away, none considering that the righteous is taken way from the evil
to come!" - Isaiah 57:1 - CY -2016)
Judgment at Last (vs. 1-6)
The facts are :
1. In the battle at Gilboa the men of Israel suffer a defeat from the Philistines.
2. His sons being slain, the conflict presses hard on Saul.
3. Dreading to fall by the hand of a Philistine, and failing to find death
through the hand of his armor bearer, Saul falls on his own sword, his
example being followed by his armor bearer.
Here we have the closing scene in the tragedy of Saul’s life, verifying the
prediction of Samuel. Our heart mourns over an end so sad, and as we read
the narrative we are sensible of a strange pity for this once promising but
now ruined man. Notice:
JUDGMENT. Connecting this defeat and death of Saul with the early
prediction of Samuel (ch. 15:23, 28-29) and the recent solemn
declaration in the cave at Endor (ch. 28:16-20), we see how, as by an
unseen hand, Saul was urged on to his doom. For instead of making
terms with the enemy, or fleeing from the scene of conflict, he, knowing
his doom, drew up his men, pressed on to the thickest battle, became a
conspicuous mark for archers, and drew around himself and heirs to the
throne the fiercest of the assault. We cannot but observe how the Philistine
force was unrestrained by the power which checked Pharaoh s army at the
(Exodus 17:11-13), inspired terror in the army opposed to Jonathan
(ch. 14:15-23), and generally put fear in the hearts of Israel’s foes.
Samuel’s words make clear to us that Providence was leaving Saul to
the impulses which led him to death, and withholding from the Philistines
all that would otherwise have impeded their way to victory. It is a fearful
thing thus to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:31) The
truth brought out here is, that though judgment is often for unrevealed reasons
long deferred, yet events are so disposed as to concentrate irresistibly on the
enforcement of the penalty of sin. Men pursue a crooked and unholy course
for years, during which time justice seems to linger; but the time comes on
when, as by infatuation, they go straight into the concurrences of events
Rome, and other nations, made drunk with the wine of the wrath of God
(Isaiah 63:6). So likewise,
under the pressure of
sea give up its dead, and all that are in their graves come forth, to receive
according to the deeds done in the body (John 5:28-29; II Corinthians 5:10;
feel deep sympathy with Jonathan that he, the brightest and
manhood, should perish in the calamity brought on by his father’s
persistent impenitence. Brave, gallant son, knowing and lamenting the
failings of his parent, and the woes his conduct was bringing on the
kingdom, with true filial piety he stands by him and the kingdom to the
end! It was better to die, if so God willed it, than to live and share in the
joys of even a David’s friendship. The fond hopes of seeing David
enthroned over a happy and prosperous people after his father’s natural
decease (ch. 20:12-17; 23:16-18) were rudely blighted. It is the
old sad story of the sin of one bringing sorrow and suffering to many
innocent. The fearful havoc made by sin! The awful responsibility of our
conduct! Millions die before their proper time, and a wail of woe rises daily
from myriads of hearts because of the transgression of parents.
COURSE. There is a singular blending of diverse thought and motive in
the last utterances and acts of Saul. He knew his doom was at hand; and
yet, partly under a sense of utter wretchedness which made him willing to
die, and partly from the patriotic feeling that his unwillingness to face his
country’s foe should not be added to his crimes, he goes forth to battle.
Then, also, when pressed in battle and in great straits, was there not a
sense of misery, a consciousness of Divine abandonment, which made the
continuance of life a burden no longer to be endured, blended with the
thought precious to the Hebrew, that he was one of the chosen race, allied
by nationality with the great Messianic purpose, and that, as such, it must
never be said that
“uncircumcised” alien? In this commingling of light and darkness, moral
quickenings and mad infatuation, we have an analogue to his conduct all
through his sad career. It is not for us to say whether there was not in
those last sad moments, as he lay on the earth, a melting of that heart
which had so long striven against God. As in many other instances, there is
no light thrown on the inner experience of the soul in its most sacred
relations to God. The case of the thief on the cross may suggest the
possibility of a cry from the heart to which the mercy that endureth forever
responds. But it is for us to stand in awe, and take to ourselves the solemn
lesson of this sad and perverted life.
Willet, in his ‘Harmonie upon the first Booke of Samuel,’ quotes
authorities pro and con on the general question and on Saul’s act; but
without entering on a wide subject, it may suffice to note that moral
cowardice is ordinarily the cause of suicide, and that it is a violation of the
prerogatives of God. As we have indicated, there may have been
considerations of a semi-religious character which influenced Saul in
desiring not to be slain by the “uncircumcised,” and to him it was certain
that death was at hand. Nevertheless, no private feeling, no relief from
dishonor, can justify a forestalling, in the matter of life and death, of the
the door for its violation is opened, the whole fabric of society is sapped at
its foundation. (I recommend II Samuel 17 - Notes on Suicide - this website -
CY - 2016)
Ø It is instructive to contrast the beginning and end of lives, and note how
by the action of a deceitful heart the fatal turn is taken toward disgrace and
Ø Although some parents ruin their sons by their sins, yet we all do them
wrong and damage in so far as sin taints our life.
Ø Although God cuts off the hopes of the good by the calamities which
come through the sins of others, yet in his mercy he raises them to a purer
and safer joy.
Ø Whatever judgments God brings should be submitted to with resignation.
The Bitter End (vs. 3-6)
The tragic element, so conspicuous in this history, is intense in the last
scene of all.
Ø His despair. When the battle went against him, and the Philistines,
keeping beyond reach of his long arm and terrible sword, hit him from a
distance with their arrows, the king’s spirit suddenly failed and died within
him. “He trembled sore because of the archers.” Always fitful in his moods,
liable to sudden elation and sudden depression, he gave up all for lost. He
would not flee, but he would fight no more. Probably the horrible
recollection of the words spoken to him by the specter at Endor increased
his despair, and he thought only how to die.
Ø His pride. Saul had never shown much regard for the sacredness of
human life, but he cherished a most exalted sense of the sacredness of his
own person as the Lord’s anointed. No descendant of a long line of so
styled Christian or Catholic sovereigns has held a loftier claim of personal
inviolability. So he resolved that no heathen should cut him down in battle.
Anything rather than this. If his armor bearer would not kill him, he would
Ø His suicide. With all his horror of being slain by a heathen, Saul died like
a heathen — dismissed himself from life after the manner of the pagan
heroes; not with any sanction from the word of God or the history of his
servants. (Illustrate from the stories of Brutus and Cassius and the younger
Cato.) The only instance of what can be called self-destruction among the
self-devotion for the destruction of his country’s enemies which ranks with
the heroism of one dying in battle rather than with cases of despairing
suicide. There is a case after the days of Saul, viz., that of Ahithophel,
who, in a fit of deep chagrin, deliberately hanged himself. To the servants
of God suicide must always appear as a form of murder, and one that
implies more cowardice than courage. English law regards it as a very
grave crime, and to mark this our old statutes, unable to punish the self-
murderer, assigned to his body ignominious burial It is, however, the
charitable custom of our times to assume that one who kills himself must
be bereft of reason, and so to hold him morally irresponsible. Apology of
this kind may be pleaded for King Saul, and pity for his disordered brain
takes away the sharpness from our censure. Still we must not overlook:
Ø The admonition which his death conveys. Saul had really prepared for
himself this wretched death. He had disregarded the prophet, and so was
without consolation. He had killed the priests, and so was without sacrifice
or intercession. He had driven away David, and so was without the help of
the best soldier in the nation, a leader of 600 men inured to service and
familiar with danger. He had lived, in his later years at least, like a
madman; and, like a madman, he threw himself on his sword and died.
Here lies admonition for us. As a man sows he reaps. As a life is shaped, so
is the death determined. We speak of the penalty on evil doers, but it is no
mere arbitrary infliction; it is the natural fruit and necessary result of the
misconduct. One leads a sensual life, and the penalty on him is that of
exhaustion, disease, and premature decay. One leads a selfish life,
hardening his heart against appeal or reproach, and his doom is to lose all
power and experience of sympathy, to pass through the world winning no
love, and pass out of the world drawing after him no regret.
Ø Its innocence. Look at the pious, generous prince, as well as the proud
and willful king, slain on that woeful day. A man who loves God and whom
God loves may be innocently involved in a cause which is bound to fail. It
may be by ties of family, or by official position which he cannot renounce;
and, unable to check the fatal course of his comrades, he is dragged down
in the common catastrophe. Jonathan died in the same battle with his
father, but not as his father died. Let us remember that men are so involved
with one another in the world, in ways quite defensible, sometimes
unavoidable, that as one may share the success of another without
deserving any part of the praise, so also may one share the downfall of
others without being at all to blame for the courses or transactions which
brought about the disastrous issue.
Ø Its timeliness. The death of Jonathan: occurring when it did, brought
more advantage to the nation than his continued life could possibly have
rendered. It opened the way for David’s succession to the throne. Had
Jonathan survived his father, be might have been willing to cede the
succession to David, but it is not at all probable that the people would have
allowed his obvious claim to be set aside, and any conflict between the
partisans of two such devoted friends would have been most painful to
both. So it was well ordered and well timed that Jonathan died as a brave
soldier in the field. He missed an earthly throne indeed, but he gained all
the sooner a heavenly home. So is it with many a death which seems to be
sad and untimely. A man of God cannot lose by dying. To die is gain.
(Philippians 1:21) But he may by dying advance the cause of God more
than he could by living. His departure may clear the ground for other
arrangements under Divine providence, for which the time is ripe, or open
the way for some one who is chosen and called to do a work for God and
man that must no longer be delayed.
POLITICAL RESULT OF THE
when the men of
valley, and they that were on the other side Jordan, saw that the
forsook the cities, and fled; and the Philistines came and dwelt in
them.” The men of
while in v. 1 it meant those following Saul in arms. On the other side of
the valley. I.e. of Jezreel, and so all the Israelites inhabiting the tribes of
Issachar, Zabulon, and Naphthali, and the region generally to the north. In
I Chronicles 10:7 this flight is confined to the inhabitants of the valley,
of the most fertile districts of
made here, that a very large extent of country was the prize of victory, is
more correct. On the other side
eastern side of the
near it abandoned their homes and fled; for the river would form but a
slight protection for them in this northerly part of its course. Still the
conquests on the eastern bank of the
small district near the
Ishbosheth as king at Mahanaim, a town about twenty miles to the east of
the river, and not far from Jabez-Gilead. South of Jezreel the Philistines
made no conquests, and thus Ephraim, Benjamin, and Judah remained free,
of course Gilead, and the most part of the region beyond
II Samuel 2:8-11).
MALTREATMENT OF THE BODIES OF SAUL AND HIS SONS
8 “And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came to
strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen in
mount Gilboa.” It came to pass on the morrow. The previous verse gave
us the results of the victory as they were in course of time developed. We
now return to the narrative of the battle and its immediate consequences.
As the spoiling was deferred till the morrow, the struggle must have been
obstinately contested, and decided only just before nightfall.
9 “And they cut off his head, and stripped off his armor, and sent into
the land of the Philistines round about, to publish it in the house of
their idols, and among the people. 10 And they put his armor in the
house of Ashtaroth: and they fastened his body to the wall of Bethshan.”
They cut off his head. This was probably done not simply
in retaliation for what had happened to their champion Goliath, but in
accordance with the customs of ancient warfare. The fierce joy of the
Philistines over the fallen Saul proves how great had been their fear of him,
how successful he had been in breaking their yoke off
Had he still had David with him the victory would assuredly have remained
on his side. They put his armor in the house of Ashtaroth. Hebrew,
“of the Ashtaroth.” Whether it was divided among the various shrines of
Astarte, or whether it was all placed in her famous temple at Askelon,
described by Herodotus (1:105) as the most ancient of the fanes of the
Syrian Venus, is uncertain. The former view agrees best with the Hebrew
text and with what is said in I Chronicles 10:10, where we have the
additional information that they suspended Saul’s head in the temple of
Dagon. They fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan, as also the
bodies of his sons (v. 12). Beth-shan or Scythopolis lies about four miles
It is almost in a straight line to the west of Mahanaim, and must have been
at once occupied by the Philistines, and as they hung the bodies of the
fallen king and his sons on its wall, they evidently intended to retain it.
The Chastisement of
The thunderstorm of which they were long ago warned (ch. 12:18, 25) had now
burst upon the people of
experienced so great a calamity, and in it the fatal results of their demand
for a king were made manifest. Although the demand was evil, it contained an
element of good, and was complied with by God in judgment mingled with mercy.
“As no people can show a visible theocracy, so no monarchy can be acused,
simply as such, of usurping the Divine prerogative. But still the transaction does
involve a moral lesson, which lies at the foundation of all sound policy,
condemning the abandonment of principle on the plea of expediency, and
pointing by the example of
seeks SAFETY and POWER IN A COURSE KNOWN TO BE WRONG!"
(P. Smith, ‘Ancient History’). They had their own way, yet the purpose of God
was not defeated, but accomplished less directly, and in such a manner as to
convince them of the folly of their devices, and exhibit His overruling wisdom
and power. Whilst they pursued their course under a king “according to the
will of man,” their Divine King was preparing “a man after His own heart to
be captain over His people” (ch. 13:14, Acts 12:22). When the end came David
stood ready to occupy the throne, and, after a brief period of conflict and
confusion, the whole nation, taught by experience, gladly received him as
its ruler. This is the theocratic “argument” of the greater portion of the
Book. In the terrible defeat of
to imagine that something else beyond what God has ordained is necessary
to their welfare:
Ø to be impatient of His time,
Ø to attach an undue value to the expedients which in their imperfect
knowledge and sinful desires they devise,
Ø to set their hearts upon earthly and visible objects, and
Ø to depend upon them rather than upon “Him who is invisible.”
This tendency finds expression in many ways, and embodies itself in many
forms. And although God may permit such idols to continue for a time, He
always overthrows them. When
into the hands of the Philistines, and when they made an idol of “a king”
(ch. 8:5) he was slain. Their hope in him was bitterly disappointed, and
inasmuch as he was (according to Divine prescience, though not by absolute
necessity nor without personal guilt) a representation and reflection of their
sin (worldliness, formalism, self-will), they were severely punished in him
and by his instrumentality. How little did they gain, how much did they lose,
by having their own way! “I gave thee a king in mine anger, and took him
away in my wrath” (Hosea 13:11). “Cease ye from man, whose breath is
in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?” (Isaiah 2:22)
by the side of the plain” (west of the central branch of the
“opposite to the place of conflict, which the writer assumed as his
standpoint” — Keil), “and by the side of the
between Gilboa and the Jordan), “saw
that the men of
engaged in the battle) “fled,” etc. “they forsook the cities; and the
Philistines came” (from that time onward) “and dwelt in them” (so that the
whole of the northern part of the land fell into their hands). Instead of
overcoming their enemies, they were overcome by them, driven from their
homes, reduced to the most abject condition, and without any prospect of
regaining by their own strength their lost possessions. “Your country is
desolate,” etc. (Isaiah
1:7 – unless there is change in these
that is where we are heading! – CY – 2016). The peaceful government of
Samuel gave them prosperity (ch. 7:13-14); but the warlike rule of Saul,
which they preferred, ended in their overthrow. “Sore distressed,” like him
(ch. 28:15), whither should they turn for help? Men are deprived of all hope
in themselves that they may “set their hope in God.” (Psalm 78:7)
morrow” (after the battle, which ended at nightfall) “when the Philistines
came,” etc. “And they cut off his head (as in the case of Goliath of Gath,
and afterwards deposited it in the
I Chronicles 10:10; I Samuel 5:1), and sent (messengers bearing his head
and armour) into the land of the Philistines round about, to proclaim the
good tidings in their idol temples (to their idols) and among the people
(II Samuel 1:20). And they put his armour in the house of Ashtaroth (in
Askelon), and they fastened his body to the wall of Bethshan” (Judges
1:27). It has been remarked of the Philistines that “so implacable was their
enmity to the Israelites, that one would be almost tempted to think that
they bad been created on purpose to be a thorn in their sides” (Russell,
‘Connection,’ History of the Philistines). Their victory was the victory of
their gods; the defeat of
sanction sin in His people, God not only suffers them to be overthrown by
their enemies, but even His own name to be for a while despised and
“blasphemed among the heathen.” But the triumph of the wicked is short
(II Samuel 5:17-25).
presence and power of their Divine and invisible King; His benevolent
and unchangeable purpose concerning them (ch. 12:22); His faithful,
praying, obedient subjects in their midst, who had been long looking to
David as His chosen “servant,” and were now rallying round him daily until
his following became “a great host like the host of God” (I Chronicles
12:22). There was an “
there was an
latter lay “the power of an endless life.” (Hebrews 7:16) Judgment might
sweep over the nation like a destroying hailstorm, and leave it like a tree
bereft of all its leaves, and even “cut it down” to the ground. But its true life
would be spared, would be tried and purified by affliction, and become a
source of renewed power and greater glory. “As a teil tree, and as an oak,
whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed
shall be the substance thereof “(Isaiah 6:13; 1:9; 65:8).
Ø That which is wrongly desired as an instrument of good becomes when
obtained an instrument of evil.
Ø Men may have their own way apparently in opposition to the way of
God, but His purpose does not change, and He knows how to carry it
into effect. (“The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of
temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment
to be punished.” – II Peter 2:9)
Ø The people who sanction the sins of their rulers justly share their
Ø When the people of God expect to prevail against their enemies by
adopting their sinful policy (ch. 8:20), they are CERTAIN to be
Ø The suffering and humiliation that follow sin are the most effectual
means of its correction.
Ø The hope of a nation in the day of trouble lies in its praying, believing,
Ø God overrules all things, including the sins and sorrows of His people,
for the establishment of His kingdom upon earth (“The adversaries of
the LORD shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven shall He thunder
upon them: the LORD shall judge the ends of the earth; and He shall
give strength unto His king, and exalt the horn of His anointed.”
RECOVERY OF THE BODIES OF SAUL AND HIS SONS
(vs. 11- 13)
11 “And when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard of that which the
Philistines had done to Saul; Jabesh-Gilead. Eusebius describes this place
situated on the road from
or fourteen miles distant from Beth-shan. The people there had not forgotten
how bravely Saul had saved them, and now showed their gratitude by rescuing
his remains from disgrace.
12 All the valiant men arose, and went all night, and took the body of
Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Bethshan, and came to
Jabesh, and burnt them there. 13 And they took their bones, and buried
them under a tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.” They burnt them.
Cremation, though highly honorable among classical nations, is here mentioned
for the first time in Holy Scripture, and was probably resorted to on this occasion
to insure the bodies of Saul and his sons against further maltreatment, as, if buried,
the Philistines might have made the attempt to get them again into their power.
Some suppose that the burning of the dead was afterwards practiced by the
Jews, and quote in its favor II Chronicles 16:14; Isaiah 33:12; Jeremiah 31:40; 34:5;
Amos 6:10, but these passages bear a different interpretation. After the exile,
interment was the sole method of disposing of the dead among the Jews, and in
the Talmud cremation is condemned as a heathen practice. The burial of the
bones of Saul and his sons proves that their bodies here were really burned.
Under a tree. Hebrew, “under the tamarisk,” the famous tree of that species at
Jabesh. It was under one tamarisk that Saul commanded the massacre of the
priests (ch. 22:6), and now his bones are placed in rest beneath another.
Perhaps the people remembered the king’s fondness for trees. For the final
fate of these relics see II Samuel 21:12-14. They fasted seven days
(see Genesis 50:10). The time of mourning was thirty days for Aaron
(Numbers 20:29) and for Moses (Deuteronomy 34:8). The
Talmudic rule is strict mourning for seven days, less strict for the next
twenty-three, in all thirty; and for a father or mother mourning was
continued for a year. The fasting was mourning of the strictest kind, and
proves that the people of Jabesh-Gilead honored to the utmost their deliverer.
The Final Issues of Life a Criterion of Worth (vs. 7-13)
The facts are:
1. The defeat of Saul
is followed by the general flight of the men of
from the neigbboring cities, and the occupation of these by the Philistines.
2. The bodies of Saul and of his sons being found, the Philistines strip the
king’s of his armor, publish the fact in the houses of idols, and dishonor
him on the wall of Beth-shan.
3. The men of Jabesh-Gilead, hearing of this, rescue the bodies and bury
them at Jabesh amidst much mourning.
The historian closes the narrative concerning Saul’s reign by a reference to the
immediate result of the defeat on the adjacent cities, and to the barbarous
treatment of Saul’s body. The people who had demanded a king, and who
were proud of his powerful bodily presence, were now to learn in saddest form
how much better it is to wait the time of God, and to trust rather to righteousness
of national life than to physical force and martial display. The people and the
king were at fault, and the judgment falls on both. We here see:
public life of Saul at one time promised well for himself and
aid which wise advice and holy influence could render had been freely
bestowed by Samuel, the man of God, and the promise of Divine help was
given on condition of obedience to the Divine voice. Although troubles
came in consequence of disobedience, and thus indicated that his life was
proving a failure, there were doubtless men so blind to the signs of the
times as to refer the troubles to accidents and unforeseen circumstances,
and to hope still that there would be a turn in the tide of affairs which
would insure a prosperous reign. But the panic which came on
Saul’s death and the occupation of cities by the detested Philistine must
have made clear to the most prejudiced that his public career was
disastrous and unrighteous. The issue of a monarch’s reign should be:
Ø the moral and material elevation of the people,
Ø the improved administration of law,
Ø the greater security of life and property,
Ø a prevalence of the blessings of internal peace and freedom from
foreign oppression, and
Ø a higher degree of national influence.
The reverse of this was the outcome of Saul’s life. By thus looking at the
result of life’s labors we may form an estimate of the worth of monarchs,
statesmen, merchants, and professed Christians. Have men blessed their
fellow creatures with permanent good? Is the great enemy, sin, more in
occupation of country, home, and the soul at the end than at the beginning?
The day is coming when every man’s work will be tried of “what sort it is”
(I Corinthians 3:13). Can we face that test? Will the end be better than the
beginning? Dare some men try to answer this question in relation to their
spiritual condition and the spiritual effect of their personal influence.
THE SADDEST CONSEQUENCES OF THE SINS OF GOD’S
PEOPLE. The triumph of the “uncircumcised” was complete when,
stripping the body of
to the house of Dagon (I Chronicles 10:10), nailed his corpse to the
wall of Beth-shan, and proclaimed their victory in honor of their gods. It
was this result following on the death of Saul and defeat of
seemed to be an occasion of so much sorrow and dread to David
II Samuel 1:20). The fond hopes cherished by the pious on the solemn
day of repentance and consecration at Mizpeh and Ebenezer (ch. 7:9- 12)
were now rudely destroyed. Heathenism gloried in its strength; while
barbarity, idolatry took a new lease of power, and Jehovah’s name was
dishonoured in the eyes of the nations. The death of a king is
comparatively a small matter, the wasting sweep of war over fair fields and
flourishing cities is a material calamity; but for irreligion to flourish,
debasing religious rites to manifest all their vileness, and the cause of
purity, truth, and righteousness to be made to suffer even apparent defeat,
this was the most fearful consequence of Saul’s unhappy reign. All actions
in public and private individuals are to be judged by their bearing on the
honor of God’s name and the extension of the
monarch’s or a statesman’s policy give greater scope for whatever is alien
to the supremacy of Christ in heart, conduct, and home? If so it is very
criminal. Does our private life give occasion for the enemies of the cross to
blaspheme? He who so lives and dies as to strengthen the hold of;
Ø and anti-Christian principles on the world
IS THE ENEMY OF HIS COUNTRY AND OF GOD! When men professedly
privileges as to give an apparent triumph to the irreligious and profane,
they, in whatever degree this is true, perpetrate an injury, the spiritual
issues OF WHICH ARE BEYOND CALCULATION.
OCCASIONAL DEEDS OF HEROISM. Various were the effects of
anguish which in some degree David sought to express in his beautiful
“song of the bow” (II Samuel 1:18-27). But there were faithful men
who could not yield to inaction while God’s name was being dishonored
Jabesh-Gilead had not forgotten the day when, in the prime of his strength,
and bidding fair to defend his country in the fear of God, Saul had come to
their rescue and had aroused the patriotism of the nation (ch. 11:4-11).
To them he was more than king; he was hero and friend, and
doubtless their children had used his name as a household word. And now
dead, forsaken, mutilated, the tall, majestic form exposed to heathen scorn
— should they suffer it? Never! “All the valiant men arose.” With set
purpose, at risk of life, they bring away the mangled remains, and
sorrowfully lay them low in the place that witnessed his early heroism.
Thus do we see how misfortune, sorrow, and death call forth the nobler
qualities of men, and bring to light hidden sympathies and secret friends.
There was some hope for
energies of the faithful few, and though they cannot at once redeem all that
others have lost, they can reassert the supremacy of love and the nobler
sentiments of life, and so pave the way for a better order of things. Men in
affection. Was there not a darker night and more complete apparent defeat
was exposed “a spectacle to angels and to men”? Then also one was found
who dared to identify his reputation and all that was dear with respect and
love for that holy body, Joseph of Arimathea was morally more heroic than
the men of Jabesh-Gilead. In similar ways the disasters of life have drawn
forth the heroism of many who could not endure to see the “uncircumcised”
triumph. Thus light shines forth in darkness, assuring us that in the long
conflict with evil the morning of an endless day full of the joy of the
ransomed will dawn on the sorrowful earth.
Ø Wicked men find encouragement to believe in their false principles when
men professing opposite principles are untrue to them.
Ø It will be blessed for us and our survivors if friends are able to commit
our body to the grave with affection and gratitude unalloyed with painful
Gratitude (vs. 11-13)
The first victory of Saul (ch. 11.) is connected with his death by the noble
exploit of the men of Jabesh. It was due partly to loyalty and patriotism;
chiefly to gratitude for benefits formerly conferred upon them. It is seldom
that any one closes his earthly course without some token of grateful
remembrance. Of one of the worst tyrants that ever held the reins of power
amidst general execration fresh flowers were found strewn by an unknown
hand upon his grave. Saul had done many generous deeds, and they were
not forgotten. The gratitude of the men of Jabesh was marked by many
admirable features. It was:
1. Unexpected. Who would have thought that the city which was so
faithless and cowardly as to say to Nahash, “Make a covenant with us, and
we will serve thee,” could have furnished such an instance of devotion?
The noblest qualities sometimes appear in association with the meanest,
and where men expect to find no good thing. Let us not despise our nature,
nor think that at its worst it is wholly incapable of generous acts.
2. Long cherished. It was many years previously that Jabesh had been
saved by Saul; but its grateful feeling had not (as is sometimes the case)
grown cold with the lapse of time. When a philosopher was asked, “what
doth soonest grow cold?” he replied, “Thanks.”
3. Spontaneous. No special appeal was made to them; but perceiving that
they could do something to testify their gratitude to their benefactor by
rescuing his remains from the indignity to which they were subjected, “all
the valiant men arose” of their own accord, “and went all night” (a distance
ten miles, across the
proper character and ceases to be gratitude when it requires to be solicited
4. Disinterested. Saul and his sons were dead, and no reward for their
daring effort might be expected. It was performed in somewhat of the same
spirit as that with which Saul himself formerly acted; what was best in his life
was remembered and admired by them (as it was by David, II Samuel 1:23), and
it served to stir them to similar excellence. Disinterested conduct begets its like.
“Good deeds immortal are — they cannot die;
Unscathed by envious blight or withering frost,
They live, and bud, and bloom; and men partake
Still of their freshness, and are strong thereby”
5. Heroic and self-sacrificing; exhibited practically and at the risk of life,
and displaying great energy and valor. “The pillars of fire of genuine
human heroism are the noble lights of history, which make us feel at ease
while sojourning among spectres, and horrors, and graves” (Lange).
6. Complete. It did not stop short of doing its best. “They took their bones,
and buried them under the tamarisk at Jabesh, and fasted seven days”
(v. 13; II Samuel 21:14). They could do no more; and what they did was
done tenderly, mournfully, reverently, and in fulfillment of a sacred custom
and religious duty.
with gratitude, and leave behind the recollection of good deeds which may
incite others to the like.
upon you in the best way you can; be thankful, especially to God, for all His
benefits towards you. “Nothing more detestable, does the earth produce
than an ungrateful man” (Ausonius).
from God. “This Book began with Samuel’s birth, and now ends with
Saul’s burial, the comparing of which together will teach us to prefer the
honor which comes from God before any honors of which this world
pretends to dispose” (Matthew Henry).
Saul of Gibeah, and Saul of
It is instructive to compare the characters of different men with each other.
This is done by Plutarch in his Lives of celebrated Greeks and Romans; and
it may be done with advantage in the case of some of the characters
described in the Scriptures. There was an interval of a thousand years
between Saul of Gibeah and Saul of Tarsus) “who also is called Paul”
(Acts 13:9). But if we look at them attentively, “and examine the
several parts of their lives distinctly, as we do a poem or a picture”
(Plutarch), we shall find in these two illustrious Hebrews, the one under the
Old Covenant, the other under the New:
Ø Ancestral relation, religious privileges, and outward circumstances.
Both belonged to “the tribe of Benjamin” (Acts 13:21; Philippians 3:5),
received the name of Saul when “circumcised the eighth day,” were
brought up “under the law,” after early years of obscure diligence held
public positions, — the one as first king of
“chosen vessel” unto the Lord, to bear His name “before the Gentiles, and
kings, and the people of
sixty years), and died a sudden and violent death.
Ø Natural qualities: passionate, impulsive, warlike, zealous, daring even to
rashness, resolute, persistent; inherited from their common ancestor, of
whom it was said, “Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf,” etc. (Genesis
49:27); and characteristic of their tribe, as appears in Ehud (Judges
3:15). The Apostle of the Gentiles, “in the prompt audacities of his
apostolic career, does not allow us to forget of what tribe he was.”
Ø Sudden conversion: the one on the way to Gibeah, on beholding “a
company of the prophets” (ch. 10.); the
other on the way to
overcome by the glorious revelation of the Lord (Acts 9.), whose followers
he was persecuting; a startling surprise to all, and the commencement of a
different course of life. “Is Saul also among the prophets? They were all
afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.”
Ø Energetic enterprises, to which they were called by the Divine Spirit, on
the sword, in the other with the word (ch. 11.; Acts 12:25; 13:1-3).
opposite of each other; as in physical appearance and mental culture, so
also in their:
Ø Extraordinary change, which in the one was partial, superficial, and
temporary; in the other complete, deep, and enduring.
Ø Real character. The one lived unto himself, and did not freely and fully
surrender himself to the Divine will; the other lived unto the Lord, not
being disobedient to the heavenly vision (Acts 26:19; Galatians
1:16; Philippians 1:21).
Ø Gradual progress: in the one case, after brilliant promise, downward, in
“pride, caprice, jealousy, cruelty, excusive avenging of himself, and at last
open contempt and defiance of God;” in the other upward, in heavenly
mindedness, spiritual power, and higher usefulness.
Ø Fierce persecution. “The second Saul for a while followed only too
faithfully in the footsteps of the first. If the one persecuted David, the
other, with an energy of hate that did not fall short of his, David’s greater
Son. Presently, however, their lives divide, and one is the Saul of
reprobation, the other of election” (Trench). The latter began where the
former ended (Galatians 1:23), and became himself an object of the
persecution in which he once shared.
Ø Representative relation. The one represented, embodied, and promoted
what was worst in his tribe and nation, the other what was best.
Ø Tragical end: the one in despair by his own hand, the other in glorious
hope as a martyr of Christ (II Timothy 4:6-8).
Ø Lasting memorial: the one is a warning, the other is a pattern
(I Timothy 1:16; Philippians 3:17). The second Saul was “the likeness in
the Christian Church” not so much of what the first was as of “what he
might have been — the true David, restorer and enlarger of the true
Ø Religious advantages and eminent positions are of no real benefit unless
they be rightly used.
Ø The natural qualities which make one man a power for evil, make
another, when sanctified, a power for good.
Ø The heart must be right with God in order to a proper use of His gifts
and a worthy course of life. “If the heart be not upright, whatever
favorable beginnings there may be, there cannot be a uniform
perseverance in goodness or any happy conclusion” (Robinson).
Ø Divine grace when persistently resisted is withdrawn, leaving the soul a
prey to the “evil spirit;” when humbly and faithfully received, is followed
by more grace.
Ø In proportion as a man lives to himself or to God he becomes weak,
sinful, and miserable, or strong, holy, and happy.
Ø There is no standing still in moral life; if men do not become better they
infallibly become worse.
Ø As a man lives so he dies. “Think of the end of Saul of Gibeah, and learn
in time to be wise.” Think of the end of Saul of Tarsus, and “be faithful
unto death” as Jesus has promised “a crown of life!” (Revelation 2:10)
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