Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 31

The Church Pulpit CommentaryChurch Pulpit Commentary

Verse 8


‘Saul … fallen in mount Gilboa.’

1 Samuel 31:8

In Saul’s ignominious end we see the righteous judgment of God upon his wilful hardness of heart. Still his memory was not to be left in utter disgrace, and it was vindicated by those whom he had delivered before he rejected God, who rightly and bravely protested against the unjustifiable and barbarous revenge of his enemies. What are some of the most obvious lessons from the terrible ending of a life so full of promise and of possibility as was Saul’s?

I. Learn to estimate justly the value of natural virtues.—Saul’s good qualities must not be ignored. He was brave, affectionate, and open-hearted, so that David in his elegy lamented over both him and Jonathan, as being ‘lovely and pleasant in their lives.’ But Saul would not recognise the claims of God—he refused to acknowledge that he was viceroy, and that Jehovah was King; he would make no sacrifice of his own self-will; and our Lesson shows what came of it. Are there none such in our classes? popular, lovable, and genial, who refuse to acknowledge God as their Lord, neither hearkening to His word nor praying for His mercy and help?

II. Learn the insufficiency of circumstances to restrain from sin.—God gave Saul a Samuel to teach him; a Jonathan to encourage him in right; a David to remind him of God by harp and song. Yet all these silken cords which might have held him to better things were snapped. Some young people now are restrained by school authority, by love of reputation, by Christian friends; but if they rely on these instead of relying on God, the spiritual downfall is sure to come.

III. Learn to use rightly the recurring crises of life.—Saul had a fair trial.—He was often warned. He had several distinct opportunities given him to turn to God. Yet he let all these opportunities slip—and at last it was too late. The voices were silent which once pleaded with him. God’s Spirit had ceased to strive. ‘To-day if ye will hear His voice, harden not your heart.’

IV. Learn that though threatened retribution is delayed it comes certainly at last.—Years passed away after Samuel told Saul that he had forfeited the kingdom. He may have begun to doubt it, but the threat was fulfilled. Not only in this world but in the world to come God’s hand can reach us, and unpardoned, unrepented sin will receive its just recompense of reward.


(1) ‘There is no such test of the realities of life as noting what makes people remember a man gratefully after he is gone. Once Saul had been proud of his giant stature, but now no one said, “What a pity that such a handsome, kingly fellow should have such indignities heaped upon him.” His office, his victories, his wealth were all forgotten; but the one thing that left a fragrant memory was his unselfish succour of the men of Jabesh-Gilead from the Ammonites, at the very beginning of his reign. The real possessions of our lives are the helpful, kind, brave deeds in behalf of others that cost us something.’

(2) ‘The lesson, alike of Saul’s melancholy end and of this one bright incident, is the same. “Curses, like chickens,” the old proverb says, “come home to roost.” An ill-sowing must have an ill-reaping. But so also do good deeds work out the peaceable fruits of righteousness. Nothing is lost. Here is the law under which we are now living. “God will render to every man according to his deeds.” Saul did only one conspicuously generous thing. It was the one flower that was planted on his grave.’

(3) ‘How terrible it is that sin must be visited on others. There is not in the whole Bible a more impressive verse than this, “So Saul died and his three sons, and his armourbearer, and all his men, the same day together.” For weighty compactness this verse stands almost alone. It is a law in moral government that is heard in three successive “ands.” No man sins to himself. Jonathan must die for Saul. The same thing is happening all about us now. The innocent are suffering for the guilty. Israel also illustrated the law at this time. These men who fell on Gilboa were few of them personally responsible for the choice of a king. Yet the defeat of this day, and the death of the monarch that their fathers would have, both recalled the word of God to Samuel, “They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.” Where is that mountain pass in which the stones lie poised so delicately on the sides of the hills that even a clattering warrior or a clarion blast will sometimes suffice to bring them thundering down? Let us tread carefully the path of life, or consequences may be started which shall fall with fatal force upon those who follow us.’

(4) ‘Saul was one of the kings chosen because they are higher than their fellows in inches, not because they are greater than their fellows in soul. To the last he was consistent to this low ideal of religion and of character. “Draw thy sword,” he said to his armourbearer, “and thrust me through therewith, lest these uncircumcised come and abuse me.” But what if his body had been at the mercy of a brutal foe? His heart, his life, his soul, these were of the first moment. Many of the martyrs were insulted after their death; what did it matter? True religion cares little what becomes of the body so long as the immortal nature is safe in the keeping of God. So Saul, fallen on Gilboa, reaped what he had sown. He sowed to the flesh; he reaped corruption. The wages of sin is always death.’

(5) ‘So closed the sad career of Saul, one of the most pitiful stories in all history. Few men have been more finely gifted than was this first king of ancient Israel. He was beautiful and strong, very brave, full of resource; he had genius for leadership—he ruled and yet was loved; was a man of a simple nature, who lived the simple life, and at the outset at least was greatly humble. But there were baser elements in his nature—the makings of a moody, jealous, and suspicious temper—and these (not crushed by trust in God and prayer) grew slowly into an awful dominance, until at last they put forth the deadly blossom of rebellion against the sweet constraints of heaven. It was that attitude which sealed the fate of Saul. It was that which blotted the blue out of the sky. With God, he would have been a king indeed. Without God, for all his gifts, he failed. Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, and call ye upon Him while He is near.’

Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 31". The Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.