1 Samuel 31 (NRSV)
The Death of Saul and His Sons
For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings:
How some have been deposed; some slain in war;
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison’d by their wives; some sleeping kill’d;
All murder’d: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear’d and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life
Were brass impregnable, and humour’d thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!
Richard II, Act Three
HERE is “Dead March,” a funeral anthem for Saul and his son Jonathan, from Handel’s oratorio Saul. Arranged by Leopold Stokowski.
Now the Philistines fought against Israel; and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines, and many fell on Mount Gilboa.
Let’s review. The Philistines are well inside the land of Israel. Saul and the Israelite army are on Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 28:4), and Saul is afraid; “terror filled his heart” (1 Samuel 28:5). Then he sneaked out to a witch to call up the prophet Samuel from the dead. Samuel told him that he and his sons would die in battle the next day. Meanwhile, David was all set to go with the Philistines against Saul (1 Samuel 29:2, 8). He was prevented by the Philistine commanders’ objection to a Hebrew (could he be trusted?) fighting with them; this was, of course, the Lord’s safe-keeping of David. This story could be quite the movie!
2The Philistines overtook Saul and his sons; and the Philistines killed Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchishua, the sons of Saul.
The old king and his heirs are now out of the way and will not trouble David as he takes the kingship.
3The battle pressed hard upon Saul; the archers found him, and he was badly wounded by them.
4Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and thrust me through with it, so that these uncircumcised may not come and thrust me through, and make sport of me.”
But his armor-bearer was unwilling; for he was terrified. So Saul took his own sword and fell upon it.
5When his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died with him. 6So Saul and his three sons and his armor-bearer and all his men died together on the same day.
7When the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley and those beyond the Jordan saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they forsook their towns and fled; and the Philistines came and occupied them.
How much of the Promised Land is now given up by the Israelites!
8The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the dead, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. 9They cut off his head, stripped off his armor, and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to carry the good news to the houses of their idols and to the people. 10They put his armor in the temple of Astarte; and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan.
Saul’s tragic death gave opportunity for the enemies of the Lord to disgrace His name. Saul’s death was used to glorify pagan gods and to mock the living God.
The city of Beth Shan is now under a tel, and the Roman ruins of the Decapolis city of Scythopolis are now exposed at the base.
11But when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, 12all the valiant men set out, traveled all night long, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan. They came to Jabesh and burned them there. 13Then they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh, and fasted seven days.
Jabesh-gilead — does that name sound familiar? In chapter 11, Saul rescued that very city from the Ammonites. Now they repay Saul by rescuing his body and those of his sons from the disgrace the Philistines had inflicted on them.
The End of 1 Samuel
HERE! Let’s take a quick (7 minute), fun look back over the book of 1 Samuel!
I’d love to hear your thoughts now at the end of this book:
1) How does DWELLING benefit you and your understanding of Scripture?
2) What have you learned as you have been reading 1 Samuel?
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.