1 Chronicles 10 (New Living Translation)
The focus of the Chronicler’s particular interest is the kings. 1 Samuel lingers for twenty-three chapters (1 Sam. 9-31) over the story of Saul—and even then it is not quite finished. Chronicles allows him only one. The tortured question as to the rightness of having a king in Israel at all (1 Sam. 8-12) is not even aired here. Nor do we read of the choice of Saul (1 Sam. 9), nor of his jealous pursuit of David, which occupied the greater part of his reign and absorbed so much of the energy which should have been directed against the Philistines.
These things are passed over because the Chronicler accepts kingship as an admitted potential for the good of God’s people. The issue is not “whether kingship,” but rather how kings discharge their duties. Through the judgments that are made on the various kings, he aims to point his own community along the path of God’s will.
–J. G. McConville
The Death of King Saul
1 Now the Philistines attacked Israel, and the men of Israel fled before them. Many were slaughtered on the slopes of Mount Gilboa.
The Philistines were a sea-faring people, and traded with distant lands. Therefore they imported newer and better military technology from the Greeks and became a powerful enemy of the people of Israel. At that time, Israel could compete on more equal terms with Moab and Ammon, but Greek military equipment (helmets, shields, coats of mail, swords and spears) made the Philistines much more formidable opponents.
2 The Philistines closed in on Saul and his sons, and they killed three of his sons—Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malkishua. 3The fighting grew very fierce around Saul, and the Philistine archers caught up with him and wounded him.
4 Saul groaned to his armor bearer, “Take your sword and kill me before these pagan Philistines come to taunt and torture me.”
But his armor bearer was afraid and would not do it. So Saul took his own sword and fell on it.
7 When all the Israelites in the Jezreel Valley saw that their army had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their towns and fled. So the Philistines moved in and occupied their towns.
8 The next day, when the Philistines went out to strip the dead, they found the bodies of Saul and his sons on Mount Gilboa. 9 So they stripped off Saul’s armor and cut off his head. Then they proclaimed the good news of Saul’s death before their idols and to the people throughout the land of Philistia. 10 They placed his armor in the temple of their gods, and they fastened his head to the temple of Dagon.
Dagon was a fertility god, the chief of the Philistine gods, and was often portrayed as a fish.
11 But when everyone in Jabesh-gilead heard about everything the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all their mighty warriors brought the bodies of Saul and his sons back to Jabesh. Then they buried their bones beneath the great tree at Jabesh, and they fasted for seven days.
13 So Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord. He failed to obey the Lord’s command, and he even consulted a medium 14 instead of asking the Lord for guidance. So the Lord killed him and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.
from Peculiar Treasures,
by Frederick Buechner
Saul, the first king of Israel, had three things going against him almost from the beginning. One of them was the prophet Samuel, another was a young man named David, and the third and worst was himself.
Samuel never thought Israel should have had a king in the first place and told him so at regular intervals. After Saul defeated the Amalekites, Samuel said the rules of the game were that he should take the whole pack of them plus their king and all their livestock and sacrifice them to Yahweh. When Saul decided to sacrifice only the sway-backs and runts of the litter, keeping the cream of the crop and the king for himself, Samuel said it was the last straw and that Yahweh was through with him for keeps. Samuel then snuck off and told a boy named David that he was to be the next king, and the sooner the better. In the meanwhile, however, they both kept the matter under their hats.
Saul was hit so hard by the news that Yahweh was through with him that his whole faith turned sour. The God he’d always loved became the God who seemed to have it in for him no matter what he did or failed to do, and he went into such a state of depression that he could hardly function. The only person who could bring him out of it was this same David. He was a good-looking young red-head with a nice voice and would come and play songs on his lyre till the king’s case of horrors was under at least temporary control. Saul lost his heart to him eventually, and when the boy knocked out the top Philistine heavyweight, Goliath, their relationship seemed permanently cinched.
It wasn’t. David could charm the birds out of the trees, and soon all Israel was half in love with him. “Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands,” the ladies would dither every time he rounded the bend in his fancy uniform (1 Samuel 18:7), and Saul began to smolder. It was one day when David was trying to chase his blues away with some new songs that he burst into flame. He heaved his spear at him and just missed by a quarter of an inch. When his own son and heir, Jonathan, fell under David’s spell, too, that did it. It was love-hate from then on.
He hated him because he needed him, and he needed him because he loved him, and when he wasn’t out to kill him every chance he got, he was hating himself for his own evil disposition. One day he went into a cave to take a leak, not knowing that David was hiding out there, and while he was taking forty winks afterwards, David snipped off a piece of his cloak. When David produced the snippet later to prove he could have tried to kill him in return but hadn’t, Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” and wept as if his heart would break (1 Samuel 24). It was exactly what, in the end, his heart did.
He was told in advance that he was going to lose the battle of Gilboa and die in the process, but in spite of knowing that, or maybe because of it, he went ahead and fought it anyway.
There are two versions of what happened to him then. One is that after being badly wounded by arrows, he persuaded a young Amalekite to put him out of his misery. The other is that he took his own sword and fell on it. In either case, it is hard to hold it against him for tendering back to the God he had once loved a life that for years he had found unbearable.
I used to tell my children, “You can learn as much from a bad example as from a good one.” Saul certainly is a bad example; he did what was wrong and did not do what was right. Instead — let us take seriously our spiritual life, and strive, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to be faithful, to obey the commands of the Lord and to seek God for guidance. “Here am I, all of me, take my life, it’s all for thee.”
HERE is Chris Tomlin and an updated “Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated.”
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.