1 Samuel 31

1 SAMUEL CHAPTER 31

The Death of Saul and His Sons

      • Now the Philistines fought against Israel and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines; many of them were killed on Mount Gilboa. The Philistines overtook Saul and his sons, and they killed his sons Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malki-Shua. The fighting grew fierce around Saul and when the archers spotted him, they wounded him severely.

        • ESV Study Bible explains, “The events of this chapter directly follow those of chs. 28 and 29. The Philistines have left their camp at Shunem and are attacking the Israelite army on Mount Gilboa (cf. 28:4…)”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “While David was in the south successfully fighting the Amalekites (ch 30), Saul was in the north unsuccessfully fighting the Philistines.”

        • The same source continues, “The Israelites fled southeast from the Jezreel Valley (29:1) to higher and hillier ground. With their chariots, the Philistines had the advantage in the more level valley. Mount Gilboa is southwest of the Sea of Galilee, far from the territory of the Philistines.”

        • ESV Study Bible adds perspective, “Philistine forces advanced to Shunem from Aphek and prepared to attack the Israelites near their camp in Jezreel. Saul, fearing the great army that faced him, slipped away during the night to consult a medium at En-dor in order to seek the counsel of the deceased Samuel. When the Philistines attacked the next morning, the Israelites retreated up the slopes of Mount Gilboa…”

        • Guzik says, “Tragically, Saul’s sons were affected in the judgment of God against their father Saul. The brave and worthy Jonathan died as we might expect him to – loyally fighting for his God, his country, and his father the king unto the very end.”

      • Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and thrust me through with it. Otherwise, these uncircumcised men will come thrust me through and torture me.” But his armor-bearer was terrified and wouldn’t do it. So, Saul took his own sword and fell on it. When his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell on his own sword and died with him. So Saul, his three sons, his armor-bearer, and all of his men died together that day.

Artist: Domenico Fratta, ca. 1752–1753

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible writes, “In view of the kind of treatment ancient Near Eastern prisoners of war in general, and defeated kings in particular, could expect, Saul’s fear of being abused by the Philistines was well founded. From Assyrian inscriptions around the time of David and later, we gain an impression of unremitting cruelty to prisoners of war. One particularly gruesome relief from the reign of Sargon II shows the vanquished king of Hamath literally being flayed alive in public. Although Saul managed to end his life before falling into the hands of the Philistines, their treatment of his corpse (vv. 8-10) confirms the cruelty that Saul had feared…”

        • ESV Study Bible notes, “As Samuel’s spirit had said (cf 28:19), the Lord gave Israel into the hands of the Philistines, and Saul and his sons joined the dead. Truly, ‘Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places!’ (2 Sam 1:19).”

      • When the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley and on the other side of the Jordan saw that Israel’s men had run away and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their cities and fled. The Philistines came and settled in them.

        • Guzik writes, “The victory of the Philistines was so complete that even those on the other side of the Jordan fled in terror before the Philistines. With the Philistine army occupying territory on the other side of the Jordan, they have cut Israel in half, drawing a line from west to east. The rest of the nation was ripe for total conquest by the Philistines. This was a great defeat. When the leader (King Saul) was struck, it spread panic among God’s people. Jesus knew this same principle would be used against His own disciples: Then Jesus said to them, ‘All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: “I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”’ (Mark 14:27).”

        • Guzik continues, “Saul’s sin, hardened rebellion, and eventual ruin affected far more than himself and even his immediate family. It literally endangered the entire nation of Israel. This shows why leaders have a higher responsibility, because their fall can endanger many more people than the fall of someone who is not a leader. This is why the New Testament openly presents a higher standard for leaders, even saying they should be blameless for just cause before the world and God’s people (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:6).”

      • The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the corpses, they found Saul and his three sons dead on Mount Gilboa. They cut off Saul’s head, stripped off his armor, and sent messengers to proclaim the news in the temples of their idols and among their people throughout the lands of the Philistines. They placed his armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths and hung his corpse on the wall of Beth Shan.

        • ESV Archaeology Study Bible notes, “The remains of two temples dating to the eleventh century BC have been discovered at Beth-shan (modern Beit Shean). The excavators identified these buildings as the temples of Ashtoreth (v. 10) and Dagon (1 Chron 10:10); however, this has not been confirmed by inscriptional evidence. Their identity as temples, however, was established by the many cultic items discovered within, including numerous offering stands adorned with ceramic snakes, birds, and anthropomorphic figures.”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible reminds us, “The Ashtoreths refers to the deity Astarte, who was worshiped widely as the goddess of love and war. This deity was identified in Ebla as Ashtar and in Mesopotamia as Ishtar. Although in the Ugaritic mythological literature Anath usually functions as Baal’s consort, Astarte also appears as his spouse, which agrees with the broader ancient Near Eastern world reflected in the OT. Like ‘the Baals’ (see Judg 2:11…) the present plural form refers to the local manifestations of the deity. Together these two gods formed a powerful force in ancient Near Eastern spirituality…”

        • Guzik adds, “This was the ultimate insult against Saul. In that culture, to have your dead body treated this way was considered a fate worse than death itself. You can go to the ruins of Beth Shan today, as the foundations to the city sit high on a hill overlooking the Roman ruins destroyed in an earthquake. It was high on that hill that the Philistines hung the decapitated corpse of King Saul in the ultimate humiliation.”

      • When the residents of Jabesh Gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all their brave warriors set out, traveled all night to Beth Shan, and took the bodies of Saul and his sons down from the wall. They brought them to Jabesh and burned them there. Then they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh, and they fasted for seven days.

        • ESV Study Bible writes, “Saul had saved Jabesh-gilead at the beginning of his reign (ch. 11), a fact that the men of the city remembered. They cross the Jordan and go about 10 miles to Beth-shan. The burning of bodies was usually considered desecration, but here the purpose may have been to keep them from further dishonor…”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “This was not the final resting place of Saul’s remains (see 2 Sam 21:12-14).”

        • The same source summarizes Israel’s situation at the conclusion of the book of 1 Samuel, “The ending of 1 Samuel brings Israel’s history back to the situation at the end of Judges, when Israel ‘had no king.’ Once again, the Philistines were in control. David had God’s anointing but no crown. He had wives but no sons. His affiliation with the hated Philistines might jeopardize his standing among his own people. David’s future path would be challenging, but God was clearly with him.”