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The day has come for Saul to descend into battle and die. The Philistines fight against Israel and find no resistance. We know that Saul was totally demoralized and could only expect that his armies would share the same hopeless fear. Israel fled before the enemy and the Philistines were able to slaughter them indiscriminately. In pursuing Israel (v.2) they killed three of Saul's sons (ch.14:49), as Samuel had foretold (ch.28:19). Ishbosheth was a son not mentioned before. Likely he was a younger son, but he had no energy nor capacity to be king, though Abner tried to install him in this place later (2 Samuel 2:8).
Saul was badly wounded by an arrow. There was no compassionate stretcher bearer to carry him away, and his armour bearer was unable to do anything to help him. Therefore he urged his armour bearer to put him to death, for he feared the mockery of the Philistines when they found him. How pathetic is his utter absence of faith in the God of Israel! He would choose a death of dark hopelessness rather than to endure mockery from his enemies. But his armour bearer had more respect for the throne of Israel than to kill the king: he was rightly afraid of doing such a thing. Saul then deliberately committed suicide by falling on a sword.
This whole picture is most solemn to consider. Saul was orthodox, correct in a formal way, requiring legal outward obedience to God, -- though compromising this when his own interests were involved. To him the things of God were formal, not vital. No wonder then that he is destroyed by Philistines, the very type of formality in religion, but also by his own hand, indicating that our disobedience to God is really what destroys us. But in Jonathan's case, he MIXED his reality with formal conformity to Saul, and perished with is father! -- but not by his own hand.
Saul's armour bearer, however, was so devoted to Saul that Saul's example moved him to commit suicide also. All Saul's men (perhaps referring to those close to him) were killed also (v.6). The Philistines must have marched a long distance to attack Israel in the area of Jezreel, for we can well understand that Saul would not want to initiate the battle. Mount Gilboa is in the far north and east of Jerusalem. The Philistines pursued Israel through Israel's own land, almost to the Jordan valley. in verse 7 it may be another valley mentioned, when Israelites on the other side of the valley forsook their own cities, for it is also said that those on the other side of Jordan did the same. This was a great victory for the Philistines, who took possession of these cities by having their own people come to live in them.
The battle being over, the Philistines return the next day, not to bury the bodies of the dead, but to strip them. Finding the bodies of Saul and his sons, they cut off Saul's head and take his armour. To them this was an occasion of great rejoicing, and thy published the news in their idol houses and throughout the land of the Philistines (v.9). Saul's armour was taken to the temple of the idol in Beth-Shan, not far distant from Mt.Gilboa. The bodies of his sons were hung there too. (v.12).
Such gloating over the defeat of enemies is disgusting. God will take this into serious account. If He allows the king of Israel to suffer a humiliating death because of his refusing God's word, He will not ignore the heartless wickedness of men who gloat over his death. (Proverbs 24:17-18). When we see judgment fall on anyone, our attitude should be that of sorrow for the person and of honest judgment of ourselves, remembering that only the grace of God preserves us from the judgment we deserve.
The inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead (across the Jordan), having heard of the indignity done to the body of Saul, took immediate action to counteract this. The valiant men of the city journeyed all night to Beth-Shan, removed the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall and brought them to Jabesh. There they burned their bodies and buried the remaining bones. Though cremation is not God's way of disposing of a body, it may have been that these men were apprehensive that the Philistines would go to the length of exhuming the bodies in order to show further indignities to them. At least they showed honorable respect for God-ordained authority.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 31". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany