The Word Made Fresh
1The Philistines were at war with Israel, and routed the Israelites, killing many of them on Mt. Gilboa. 2They overtook Saul and killed his sons Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchishua. 3The fighting closed in around Saul, and Philistine archers wounded him. 4Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and kill me so these uncircumcised Philistines can’t boast about putting me to death.” But the young man was terrified and couldn’t budge, so Saul fell on his own sword and took his own life. 5When his armor bearer saw it, he also fell on his sword and died with Saul.
6So it was that Saul, his three sons, and his armor bearer died on the same day.
7When the Israelites on the other side of the valley and across the Jordan saw that Saul’s soldiers were in retreat and Saul and his sons were dead, they evacuated their towns and fled, and the Philistines came and occupied them.
8The next day when the Philistines came to rob the dead, they found Saul and his sons on Mt. Gilboa. 9They decapitated Saul, took his armor and sent runners throughout Philistia to carry the news of their victory to their gods and to their people. 10They deposited Saul’s armor in the temple of their gods and tied his body to the wall of Beth-Shan.
11When the people of Jabesh-Gilead heard about it, 12their brave men traveled all night long, took Saul’s body and the bodies of his sons, returned to Jabesh, and cremated them there. 13They buried the remains under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh and observed a seven day fast.
1-7: The prediction of the witch of Endor is accurate. Saul is so frightened after his audience with her that he cannot have been an effective leader during the battle. Three of his sons are killed, including David’s best friend Jonathan. Saul is seriously wounded, and decides it is time to die. No surprise there. His armor bearer (who used to be David!) refuses to do the deed, so Saul commits suicide. His armor bearer, feeling responsible for his master’s death, promptly takes his own life. Poor fellow. The Philistines rout the Israelites and take over a considerable part of the countryside.
8-13: The Philistines find Saul’s body and those of his sons. They decapitate Saul but apparently leave his sons’ bodies intact. The men of Jabesh-Gilead steal into Philistine territory at night and take the bodies down from the wall on which they are being displayed, and bring them back to Jabesh where they are cremated and buried with honor. Thus Saul’s story comes full circle. His first military victory had been to rescue Jabesh-Gilead out of Philistine hands (chapter 11), and they never forgot it. Now they have repaid him the debt. May he rest in peace.
We can’t help but feel sorry for Saul. He saw to it that he was not killed by his enemies, unless you consider him to be his own worst enemy. The stage has now been set for David to become king of Israel. In 2 Samuel we will learn how he goes about solidifying his position, carefully avoiding offending Saul’s supporters, and even undergoing another anointing from the people.