1 Samuel 31

1 Samuel 31

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The Death of Saul

31 Now the Philistines were fighting against Israel, and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines and fell slain on Mount Gilboa. And the Philistines overtook Saul and his sons, and the Philistines struck down Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchi-shua, the sons of Saul. The battle pressed hard against Saul, and the archers found him, and he was badly wounded by the archers. Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and mistreat me.” But his armor-bearer would not, for he feared greatly. Therefore Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. And when his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died with him. Thus Saul died, and his three sons, and his armor-bearer, and all his men, on the same day together. And when 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 abandoned their cities and fled. And the Philistines came and lived in them.

The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. So they cut off his head and stripped off his armor and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines, to carry the good news to the house of their idols and to the people. They put his armor in the temple of Ashtaroth, and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan. But when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, 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 Beth-shan, and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. And they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh and fasted seven days.


1 Samuel 31 Commentary

by Hank Workman

In a grisly end, Saul’s death comes as predicted within 24 hours. In the heat of the battle, the Philistines overtake Saul, killing his 3 sons. He is mortally wounded by an arrow. Desiring to die before the enemy could get to him physically, he falls on his sword taking his life.

If that is not horrific enough, what they do with Saul’s dead body is barbaric but pull back customs from ancient times. During times of war, the victorious would take their enemy’s bodies and hang them on the wall of the city. It was a trophy of sorts that spoke 2 things. First, they had won the battle and conquered.

Second, it was a warning to others not to come against them. During ancient times, usually, the enemy bodies were decapitated as well. It was the final sign that they had killed a person. Think of even David cutting off Goliath’s head. Historians state that the beheading of their enemies was how they counted exactly how many were killed in battle as transporting a dead body would have been heavier.

But in particular, when dealing with specific enemies of the state, some heads were then impaled lining the street leading into the city walls itself. It was a move of victory but also held warning to those who would even remotely consider challenging the king’s authority.

Saul’s body was hung on a wall and his head was put on display. It was a horrific and barbaric end to this man’s life.

What is most sad to consider is there appears to be an absence of any kind of repentance from Saul. Just 24 hours prior he had been told he would die, yet from the Scriptures, it seems to be missing any form of sorrow. Historians state from the moment he had heard the judgment against his family due to his sinful behavior and the kingdom being passed to another, 20 years had passed. Those years, without any repentance, led to the hardening of his heart.

The hardening of our hearts is a slow process. I believe this to be true. We feel the conviction of something yet bury it. We choose willfully to do what we want, shutting out the remorse or repentance required to make ourselves right. And this isn’t on just the ‘big’ things. Someone who refuses to admit their fault in something, someone who won’t admit they’re wrong, those who can’t seem to say even the words, “I’m sorry” doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s the slow process of hardening one’s heart toward genuine humility. It becomes a foothold, a stronghold and destroys.

“It’s a very solemn thought. No career could begin so fairer, brighter prospects than Saul had, and none could close in more absolute midnight of despair. Yet such a fate may befall us, unless we watch, and pray and walk humbly with our God.”

-F.B. Meyer

1 Samuel 31 Commentary

by Brad Boyles

Let’s do a quick recap. In desperation, Saul traveled to see a witch who brought back Samuel from the dead and predicted Saul’s death the next day. Today is the next day. Also in desperation, David joined forces with the Philistines and lived on their land so that Saul would not harm him. The Philistine commanders didn’t trust David, so they sent him home. The desperation of both men drove them to make rash decisions, however, Saul’s would cost him his life. 

The story is sad. But I think the most disappointing part of this story resides in the fact that God showed mercy on Saul by allowing him to know the future. God allowed Samuel to speak to Saul even through the dark powers of witchcraft, and yet, what did Saul do with that information? We see no indication he tried to right the wrongs of his past. We see no record of repentance. This is the final, depressing act of Saul’s life.

Saul didn’t even trust God enough to believe he would die the next day.

Think about that. God didn’t have to communicate that truth to Saul. In fact, it is surprising to me that He did. I don’t fully understand if it was actually Samuel who was summoned or just a being that resembled him, but the prophecy was correct. We read that after Saul receives that information, he fell down terrified. Had he forgotten about the stories of old when the nation would turn from their sin and God would show mercy?

Let us never forget that the grace of God extends to the darkest of sins. Even if Saul would still have died the next day, he did nothing to reconcile with God and with David. He didn’t even try. That is the most depressing part of this story.

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