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Bible Commentaries

Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary

1 Samuel 31

Verses 1-6

Destruction of Saul and His Army -

1 Samuel 31:1-6; ALSO SEE 1 Chronicles 10:1-6

With this lesson comes the first parallel section of Samuel and Chronicles. Hereafter, the parallel sections of these books will be considered at the same place in this commentary. Many times the facts will not only be of the same event, but will record it in very near the same words, as in the present case. By having the two accounts side by side the reader can readily compare the two.

While David and his men were returning to Ziklag, finding it desolate and burned, and pursuing after and avenging themselves on the marauding Amalekites the battle between Israel and the Philistines was occurring. Very few of the details of the battle are given, the main purpose being to show the defeat of Israel and the death of the family of Saul.

It has been seen that Saul was very distraught about the things he had heard in his visit to the witch of En-dor. Therefore he must have ventured into battle with a definite dread and defeatist pessimism. Perhaps Hebrews 10:27 would fit the situation,"... a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries." Saul had long been the adversary of the Lord in his opposition to David. When he had known that the Lord had appointed David to succeed him he still refused to abdicate; now his judgment has arrived, and there is no escape.

The battle occurred on mount Gilboa, and the Philistines pressed upon the royal family persistently. The three warrior sons of Saul, Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchishua all were killed. It is sad that brave Jonathan, who had befriended David and saved his life often, who acknowledged and accepted the anointing of David instead of his father, though himself slated to succeed to the kingship, should die so tragically. However, Jonathan had remained basically loyal to his father, staying by a lost cause to the end. For this he died.

The Philistines archers struck King Saul with their arrows and wounded him severely. In his weakness Saul realized that it was only a matter of a short time until the enemy soldiers caught him. He did not wish to become sport for them before they killed him and therefore begged his armorbearer to draw his sword and thrust him through, or stab him in the heart. The armorbearer was, however, very much afraid and would not slay the king. Consequently Saul set his sword and fell upon it, dying a suicide.

When the armorbearer saw that Saul was dead he also committed suicide by falling on his own sword. Many of the men of Israel were also slaughtered in the battle. It was a sad and disastrous day for Israel, who that day paid a dear sacrifice for their king "like all the nations;" to "go out before us, and fight our battles" (1 Samuel 8:20).

Verses 7-13

Abuse of Bodies and Rescue by Jabeshites

When the news of the Israelite disaster spread across the valley of Jezreel, and eventually across to the east side of Jordan, the people were filled with great fear and fled from the Philistines. It appears that the Philistines were cruel and ruthless enemies, and as the survivors of the battle drifted into the towns and cities of the area the people forsook their homes. At mount Gilboa the enemy had penetrated far into the interior and might easily have extended themselves across the Jordan.

Apparently the Philistines did not know Saul and his sons were killed until they came the next day to the battleground to strip the bodies of the slain. Then they found the king and the three princes. It was a great day and time of rejoicing for the Philistines. They took the armor of Saul and cut off his head, sending them into the cities of Philistia for public display. Announcement of their victory was made in idol temples. Saul’s armor was put on display in the temple of Ashtaroth, and his head was fastened in the temple of Dagon. The goddess Ashtaroth, the same as Astarte, was goddess of sex and war.

Dagon was the false god who was praised for Samson’s priestly sacrifice (1 Samuel 13:8 ff), and by not totally exterminating the Amalekites as the Lord directed him to do (1 Samuel 15 th chapter). Saul had further gained ill repute with the people in the incident wherein he would have slain Jonathan, his son, because of a foolish oath he had made (1 Samuel 14 th chapter).

Saul’s culminating error was his seeking counsel from Satan’s forces. The king knew evil of the cultist practices and had even carried on a campaign to rid the land of them. But when his life had become such that the Lord would not hear him any more he turned to the cultists, never repenting and turning to God. Saul had complained that the Lord would not hear his calls (1 Samuel 28:15), but Saul had not truly called on Him. He remained full of his own ways and would not inquire of the Lord. So the Lord "slew him, and turned the kingdom unto David the son of Jesse."

Apply these lessons: 1) Destiny finally brings judgment to the reprobate sinner; 2) many other people often suffer judgment through the influence of bad leaders; 3) those who befriend one should never be forgotten when opportunity is afforded to return a favor.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 31". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/1-samuel-31.html. 1985.