1 Samuel 31
In the foregoing chapter we had David conquering, yea, more than a
conqueror. In this chapter we have Saul conquered and worse than a
captive. Providence ordered it that both these things should be doing
just at the same time. The very same day; perhaps, that David was
triumphing over the Amalekites, were the Philistines triumphing over
Saul. One is set over against the other, that men may see what comes of
trusting in God and what comes of forsaking him. We left Saul ready to
engage the Philistines, with a shaking hand and an aching heart, having
had his doom read him from hell, which he would not regard when it was
read him from heaven. Let us now see what becomes of him. Here is,
I. His army routed,
1 Samuel 31:1.
II. His three sons slain,
1 Samuel 31:2.
III. Himself wounded
(1 Samuel 31:3),
and slain by his own hand,
1 Samuel 31:4.
The death of his armour-bearer
(1 Samuel 31:5)
and all his men,
1 Samuel 31:6.
IV. His country possessed by the Philistines,
1 Samuel 31:7.
His camp plundered, and his dead body deserted,
1 Samuel 31:8.
His fall triumphed in,
1 Samuel 31:9.
His body publicly exposed
(1 Samuel 31:10)
and with difficulty rescued by the men of Jabesh-Gilead,
1 Samuel 31:11-13.
Thus fell the man that was rejected of God.
|The Death of Saul.
||B. C. 1055.|
1 Now the Philistines fought against Israel: and the men of
Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in
2 And the Philistines followed hard upon Saul and upon his
sons; and the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and
Melchi-shua, Saul's sons.
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 armourbearer, Draw thy sword, and
thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and
thrust me through, and abuse me. But his armourbearer would not;
for he was sore afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword, and fell
5 And when his armourbearer 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 armourbearer, and
all his men, that same day together.
7 And when the men of Israel that were on the other side of
the valley, and they that were on the other side Jordan, saw
that the men of Israel fled, and that Saul and his sons were
dead, they forsook the cities, and fled; and the Philistines came
and dwelt in them.
The day of recompence has now come, in which Saul must account for the
blood of the Amalekites which he had sinfully spared, and that of the
priests which he had more sinfully spilt; that of David too, which he
would have spilt, must come into the account. Now his day has come to
fall, as David foresaw, when he should descend into battle and perish,
1 Samuel 26:10.
Come and see the righteous judgments of God.
I. He sees his soldiers fall about him,
1 Samuel 31:1.
Whether the Philistines were more numerous, better posted, and better
led on, or what other advantages they had, we are not told; but it
seems they were more vigorous, for they made the onset; they fought
against Israel, and the Israelites fled and fell. The best of the
troops were put into disorder, and multitudes slain, probably those
whom Saul had employed in pursuing David. Thus those who had followed
him and served him in his sin went before him in his fall and shared
with him in his plagues.
II. He sees his sons fall before him. The victorious Philistines
pressed most forcibly upon the king of Israel and those about him. His
three sons were next him, it is probable, and they were all three slain
before his face, to his great grief (for they were the hopes of his
family) and to his great terror, for they were now the guard of his
person, and he could conclude no other than that his own turn would
come next. His sons are named
(1 Samuel 31:2),
and it grieves us to find Jonathan among them: that wise, valiant, good
man, who was as much David's friend as Saul was his enemy, yet falls
with the rest. Duty to his father would not permit him to stay at home,
or to retire when the armies engaged; and Providence so orders it that
he falls in the common fate of his family, though he never involved
himself in the guilt of it; so that the observation of Eliphaz does not
Who ever perished being innocent? For here was one. What shall
we say to it?
1. God would hereby complete the vexation of Saul in his dying moments,
and the judgment that was to be executed upon his house. If the family
must fall, Jonathan, that is one of it, must fall with it.
2. He would hereby make David's way to the crown the more clear and
open. For, though Jonathan himself would have cheerfully resigned all
his title and interest to him (we have no reason to suspect any other),
yet it is very probable that many of the people would have made use of
his name for the support of the house of Saul, or at least would have
come in but slowly to David. If Ish-bosheth (who was now left at home as
one unfit for action, and so escaped) had so many friends, what would
Jonathan have had, who had been the darling of the people and had never
forfeited their favour? Those that were so anxious to have a king like
the nations would be zealous for the right line, especially if that
threw the crown upon such a head as Jonathan's. This would have
embarrassed David; and, if Jonathan could have prevailed to bring in
all his interest to David, then it would have been said that Jonathan
had made him king, whereas God was to have all the glory. This is
the Lord's doing. So that though the death of Jonathan would be a
great affliction to David, yet, by making him mindful of his own
frailty, as well as by facilitating his accession to the throne, it
would be an advantage to him.
3. God would hereby show us that the difference between good and bad is
to be made in the other world, not in this. All things come alike to
all. We cannot judge of the spiritual or eternal state of any by
the manner of their death; for in that there is one event to the
righteous and to the wicked.
III. He himself is sorely wounded by the Philistines and then slain by
his own hand. The archers hit him
(1 Samuel 31:3),
so that he could neither fight nor fly, and therefore must inevitably
fall into their hands. Thus, to make him the more miserable,
destruction comes gradually upon him, and he dies so as to feel himself
die. To such an extremity was he now reduced that,
1. He was desirous to die by the hand of his own servant rather than by
the hand of the Philistines, lest they should abuse him as they had
abused Samson. Miserable man! He finds himself dying, and all his care
is to keep his body out of the hands of the Philistines, instead of
being solicitous to resign his soul into the hands of God who gave it,
As he lived, so he died, proud and jealous, and a terror to himself and
all about him. Those who rightly understand the matter think it of
small account, in comparison, how it is with them in death, so it may
but be well with them after death. Those are in a deplorable condition
indeed who, being bitter in soul, long for death, but it cometh
especially those who, despairing of the mercy of god, like Judas, leap
into a hell before them, to escape a hell within them.
2. When he could not obtain that favour he became his own executioner,
thinking hereby to avoid shame, but running upon a heinous sin, and
with it entailing upon his own name a mark of perpetual infamy, as
felo de se--a self-murderer. Jonathan, who received his
death-wound from the hand of the Philistines and bravely yielded to the
fate of war, died on the bed of honour; but Saul died as a fool dieth,
as a coward dieth--a proud fool, a sneaking coward; he died as a man
that had neither the fear of God nor hope in God, neither the reason of
a man nor the religion of an Israelite, much less the dignity of a
prince or the resolution of a soldier. Let us all pray, Lord, lead
us not into temptation, this temptation. His armour-bearer would
not run him through, and he did well to refuse it; for no man's servant
ought to be a slave to his master's lusts or passions of any kind. The
reason given is that he was sorely afraid, not of death, for he
himself ran wilfully upon that immediately; but, having a profound
reverence for the king his master, he could not conquer that so far as
to do him any hurt; or perhaps he feared lest his trembling hand should
give him but half a blow, and so put him to the greater misery.
IV. His armour-bearer who refused to kill him refused not to die with
him, but fell likewise upon his sword,
1 Samuel 31:5.
This was an aggravating circumstance of the death of Saul, that, by the
example of his wickedness in murdering himself, he drew in his servant
to be guilty of the same wickedness, and perished not alone in his
iniquity. The Jews say that Saul's armour-bearer was Doeg, whom he
preferred to that dignity for killing the priests, and, if so, justly
does his violent dealing return on his own head. David had
foretold concerning him that God would destroy him for ever,
V. The country was put into such confusion by the rout of Saul's army
that the inhabitants of the neighbouring cities (on that side
Jordan, as it might be read) quitted them, and the Philistines, for
a time, had possession of them, till things were settled in Israel
(1 Samuel 31:7),
to such a sad pass had Saul by his wickedness brought his country,
which might have remained in the hands of the uncircumcised if David
had not been raised up to repair the breaches of it. See what a king he
proved for whom they rejected God and Samuel. They had still done
wickedly (it is to be feared) as well as he, and therefore were
consumed both they and their king, as the prophet had foretold
1 Samuel 12:25.
And to this reference is had long after.
"Where are thy saviours in all thy cities, of whom thou saidst, Give
me a king and princes? I gave thee a king in my anger, and took him
away in my wrath; that is, he was a plague to thee living and
dying; thou couldst expect no other."
|The Disposal of Saul's Body.
||B. C. 1055.|
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.
9 And they cut off his head, and stripped off his armour, 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 armour in the house of Ashtaroth: and they
fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan.
11 And when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard of that which
the Philistines had done to Saul;
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
Beth-shan, 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.
The scripture makes no mention of the souls of Saul and his sons, what
became of them after they were dead (secret things belong not to us),
but of their bodies only.
I. How they were basely abused by the Philistines. The day after the
battle, when they had recovered their fatigue, they came to strip the
slain, and, among the rest, found the bodies of Saul and his three
1 Samuel 31:8.
Saul's armour-bearer perhaps intended to honour his master by following
the example of his self-murder, and to show thereby how well he loved
him; but, if he had consulted his reason more than his passions, he
would have spared that foolish compliment, not only in justice to his
own life, but in kindness to his master, to whom, by the opportunity of
survivorship, he might have done all the service that could be done him
by any man after he was dead; for he might, in the night, have conveyed
away his body, and those of his sons, and buried them decently. But
such false and foolish notions these vain men have (though they would
be wise) of giving and receiving honour. Nay, it should seem, Saul
might have saved himself the fatal thrust and have made his escape: for
the pursuers (in fear of whom he slew himself) came not to the place
where he was till the next day. But whom God will destroy he infatuates
and utterly consumes with his terrors. See
&c. Finding Saul's body (which now that it lay extended on
the bloody turf was distinguishable from the rest by its length, as it
was, while erect, by its height, when he proudly overlooked the
surrounding crowd), they will, in that, triumph over Israel's crown,
and meanly gratify a barbarous and brutish revenge by insulting the
deserted corpse, which, when alive, they had stood in awe of.
1. They cut off his head. Had they designed in this to revenge the
cutting off of Goliath's head they would rather have cut off the head
of David, who did that execution, when he was in their country. They
intended it, in general, for a reproach to Israel, who promised
themselves that a crowned and an anointed head would save them from the
Philistines, and a particular reproach to Saul, who was taller by the
head than other men (which perhaps he was wont to boast of), but was
now shorter by the head.
2. They stripped him of his armour
(1 Samuel 31:9),
and sent that to be set up as a trophy of their victory, in the house
of Ashtaroth their goddess
(1 Samuel 31:10);
and we are told,
1 Chronicles 10:10
(though it is omitted here), that they fastened his head in the temple
of Dagon. Thus did they ascribe the honour of their victory, not as
they ought to have done to the real justice of the true God, but to the
imaginary power of their false gods, and by this respect paid to
pretended deities shame those who give not the praise of their
achievements to the living God. Ashtaroth, the idol that Israel had
many a time gone a whoring after, now triumphs over them.
3. They sent expresses throughout their country, and ordered public
notice to be given in the houses of their gods of the victory they had
(1 Samuel 31:9),
that public rejoicings might be made and thanks given to their gods.
This David regretted sorely,
2 Samuel 1:20.
Tell it not in Gath.
4. They fastened his body and the bodies of his sons (as appears,
1 Samuel 31:12)
to the wall of Beth-shan, a city that lay not far from Gilboa and
very near to the river Jordan. Hither the dead bodies were dragged and
here hung up in chains, to be devoured by the birds of prey. Saul slew
himself to avoid being abused by the Philistines, and never was royal
corpse so abused as his was, perhaps the more if they understood that
he slew himself for that reason. He that thinks to save his honour by
sin will certainly lose it. See to what a height of insolence the
Philistines had arrived just before David was raised up, who perfectly
subdued them. Now that they had slain Saul and his sons they thought
the land of Israel was their own for ever, but they soon found
themselves deceived. When God has accomplished his whole work by them
he will accomplish it upon them. See
II. How they were bravely rescued by the men of Jabesh-Gilead. Little
more than the river Jordan lay between Beth-shan and Jabesh-Gilead, and
Jordan was in that place passable by its fords; a bold adventure was
therefore made by the valiant men of that city, who in the night passed
the river, took down the dead bodies, and gave them decent burial,
1 Samuel 31:11,13.
This they did,
1. Out of a common concern for the honour of Israel, or the land of
Israel, which ought not to be defiled by the exposing of any dead
bodies, and especially of the crown of Israel, which was thus profaned
by the uncircumcised.
2. Out of a particular sense of gratitude to Saul, for his zeal and
forwardness to rescue them from the Ammonites when he first came to the
1 Samuel 11:1-27
It is an evidence of a generous spirit and an encouragement to
beneficence when the remembrance of kindnesses is thus retained, and
they are thus returned in an extremity. The men of Jabesh-Gilead would
have done Saul better service if they had sent their valiant men to him
sooner, to strengthen him against the Philistines. But his day had come
to fall, and now this is all the service they can do him, in honour to
his memory. We find not that any general mourning was made for the
death of Saul, as was for the death of Samuel
(1 Samuel 25:1),
only those Gileadites of Jabesh did him honour at his death; for,
(1.) They made a burning for the bodies, to perfume them. So some
understand the burning of them. They burnt spices over them,
1 Samuel 31:12.
And that it was usual thus to do honour to their deceased friends, at
least their princes, appears by the account of Asa's funeral
(2 Chronicles 16:14),
that they made a very great burning for him. Or (as some think)
they burnt the flesh, because it began to putrefy.
(2.) They buried the bodies, when, by burning over them, they had
sweetened them (or, if they burnt them, they buried the bones and
ashes), under a tree, which served for a grave-stone and monument. And,
(3.) They fasted seven days, that is, each day of the seven they
fasted till the evening; thus they lamented the death of Saul and the
present distracted state of Israel, and perhaps joined prayers with
their fasting for the re-establishment of their shattered state.
Though, when the wicked perish there is shouting (that is, it is
to be hoped a better state of things will ensue, which will be matter
of joy), yet humanity obliges us to show a decent respect to dead
bodies, especially those of princes.
This book began with the birth of Samuel, but now it ends with the
burial of Saul, the comparing of which two together will teach us to
prefer the honour that comes from God before any of the honours which
this world pretends to have the disposal of.