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1 Samuel 31:4 – Saul’s Suicide

Summary

Saul falls on his own sword to avoid being taken captive by the Philistines.

Analysis

Saul's suicide has been praised as the courageous action of a tragic hero. There is some justification in this. He was a mighty warrior who inspired great loyalty among his troops. This is seen, above all, in the reaction of the warriors of Jabesh-gilead, whose city Saul had delivered at the beginning of his reign (1 Samuel 11), who march all night long in order to recover Saul's mutilated body and give it a decent burial. It is true that the Bible does not condemn suicide, explicitly. Other biblical suicides, however, are all people who have led tragic lives: Samson (Judges 16:28-30); Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23); Zimri (1 Kings 16:18); and Judas (Matthew 27:3-5). Saul's story in 1 Samuel is equally tragic and suggests that his suicide, while entirely understandable, is an act of hopelessness, if not cowardice, for fear of being taken captive.

1 Samuel 31:4

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.

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10 February 2011

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