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1 Samuel 31:1-13 – The Death of Saul

Summary

First Samuel comes to a close with the death of Israel's first king during a losing battle with the Philistines.

Analysis

First Samuel ends on a tragic note. Saul, who had been anointed by Samuel to defend Israel from the Philistine incursion (9:16), now dies by his own hand at the end of a Philistine victory that will annex most of Saul's kingdom. Throughout 1 Samuel, David's successes have been contrasted with Saul's defeats. This pervasive theme climaxes in the parallel between chapter 30, where David's dramatic victory over the Amalekites apart from Saul and his armies starkly contrasts with Saul's miserable defeat in chapter 31 at the same time. Adding to the tragedy is the realization that this has come about in fulfillment of Samuel's announcement, when Saul consulted the dead prophet through the medium at Endor, that God would deliver Israel into the hands of the Philistines (28:19). Another parallel is found in the decapitation of Saul by the Philistines (31:9) and David's decapitation of Goliath, the Philistine giant (17:51). Even Saul's suicide, often taken as a courageous act to preserve the honor of Israel, arises out of fear of being abused by the Philistines, as Samson had been (Judges 16:21, 25, 28-30).

1 Samuel 31:1-13

The Death of Saul and His Sons

31Now the Philistines fought against Israel; and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines, and many fell* on Mount Gilboa. 2The Philistines overtook Saul and his sons; and the Philistines killed Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchishua, the sons of Saul. 3The battle pressed hard upon Saul; the archers found him, and he was badly wounded by them. 4Then Saul said to his armour-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 armour-bearer was unwilling; for he was terrified. So Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. 5When his armour-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died with him. 6So Saul and his three sons and his armour-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.

8 The 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 armour, 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 armour in the temple of Astarte;* and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan. 11But when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, 12all the valiant men set out, travelled 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 for seven days.

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10 February 2011

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