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This is a melancholy Chapter, which relates to us the sequel of Saul's history; the sad termination of a sinful life. The battle between the Philistines, and Israel, in mount Gilboa, in which the Philistines are conquerors, and Saul, Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchishua, his sons, are slain. - Israel possessed by the Philistines; the camp of Saul plundered, his dead body, and those of his sons, carried away to Beth-shan: but afterwards rescued by the men of Jabesh-gilead. These are the principal contents rehearsed in this Chapter, which ends the Book.
(1) ¶ Now the Philistines fought against Israel: and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa. (2) And the Philistines followed hard upon Saul and upon his sons; and the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Malchishua, Saul's sons.
David had prophesied, (1 Samuel 26:10 ) that either the Lord should smite Saul; or, his day should come to die; or, he should descend into battle, and perish; and now the day was arrived. The preludes to his death were most distressing. He beholds his army routed, his faithful soldiers slain, and his three sons killed by his side. - Even Jonathan, the lovely, and beloved Jonathan, is slain also. Perhaps the Reader may be inclined to wish that this affectionate friend of David, had been spared. But not so. God's thoughts are not our thoughts; nor our ways the Lord's ways. Yet Reader! do not forget, that though in this solemn visitation, that is common to all men, there is one event in this scene, to the righteous, and to the wicked; yet the righteous hath hope in his death: merciful men are taken away from the evil to come, and enter into peace. See Proverbs 14:32 ; Isaiah 57:1-2 .
(3) And the battle went sore against Saul, and the archers hit him; and he was sore wounded of the archers.
Saul's death, and the approach of it, were tremblingly awful. He is sore wounded; perhaps deadly wounded by the archers; more darts than one, it should seem.
(4) Then said Saul unto his armourbearer, Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and abuse me. But his armourbearer would not; for he was sore afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword, and fell upon it.
But though death would have soon come from the hands of the Philistines, yet impatient of misery, like a man desperate to plunge into everlasting woe before the time, he becomes his own executioner. Poor wretched, awful character! He is anxious that his body should not be abused by the Philistines; but feels no anxiety for his soul! But even that, after all his caution, as appears by the sequel of the history, is denied him. Reader! think, if it be possible, what a state of mind must he have been in , when, to avoid the racking torments in his own breast, he dares to make experiment of the more immediate torments of the miserable in eternity!
(5) And when his armourbearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise upon his sword, and died with him.
There is a tradition, that this armour-bearer was Doeg, the Edomite: and that Saul advanced him to this honour, for his killing the priests of the Lord. But this is not certain. The Reader would do well to recollect, what David prophesied concerning this man in Psalms 52:0 .
(6) So Saul died, and his three sons, and his armourbearer, and all his men, that same day together. (7) And when the men of Israel that were on the other side of the valley, and they that were on the other side Jordan, saw that the men of Israel fled, and that Saul and his sons were dead, they forsook the cities, and fled; and the Philistines came and dwelt in them.
See the folly, sin, and ingratitude of Israel, in the rejection of the Lord for their king, as Samuel had pointed out. See 1 Samuel 12:0 . And doth not the Lord, by his servant the prophet, refer to this in the after ages, when he said; I gave thee a king in mine anger, and took him away in my wrath. Hosea 13:11 .
(8) ¶ And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen in mount Gilboa. (9) And they cut off his head, and stripped off his armour, and sent into the land of the Philistines round about, to publish it in the house of their idols, and among the people. (10) And they put his armour in the house of Ashtaroth: and they fastened his body to the wall of Bethshan.
No doubt, so complete a victory, and so great a triumph inflamed the minds of the Philistines exceedingly. But had they seen the hand of the Lord in it, they would not have been tempted to ascribe the victory to their idols.
(11) And when the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead heard of that which the Philistines had done to Saul; (12) All the valiant men arose, and went all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Bethshan, and came to Jabesh, and burnt them there. (13) And they took their bones, and buried them under a tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.
The Holy Ghost hath been pleased to record the bravery of the men of Jabesh-gilead, not, perhaps, out of regard to Saul's memory, but to testify the proper conduct of those men. Saul had been blessed of God, as an instrument in rescuing Jabesh-gilead from Nahash, the king of the Ammorites, and therefore, gratitude made them alive to rescue their deliverer's body, and those of his sons, from such an ignominious exposure. And this the men of Jabesh could very easily accomplish, because Beth-shan was only separated by a branch of Jordan from Jabesh-gilead. And thus the history of Saul terminates in the finishing of the first Book, as it is called, of Samuel, containing a period of about eighty years. Alas! what is the sum and substance of everything short of Jesus, but vanity and vexation of spirit. At the dose of every relation, and of every man's history, we may write this down, and exclaim with the prophet: Your fathers, where are they? and the prophets, do they live forever? But, blessed Jesus, amidst all the scenes of departing men; amidst the dying, and the dead, Oh! what a relief is that sweet thought to the soul of thy people; Thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail. Zechariah 1:5 ; Hebrews 1:12 .
PAUSE, Reader! once more over the sad view of Saul's history, and as thou hast been called upon to mark his progress in sin, and the ripening of his mind in iniquity; here behold, in self-murder, the awful close of a life so evil. Oh! how dreadful to die out of Christ, uninterested in him; void of all covenant promises; unregenerated in heart, unwashed in the blood of the Lamb, and without the clothing of the Redeemer's righteousness. Better to die in a ditch, than to die out of Christ. The manner of death is nothing: to die anyhow, anywhere, by any means; only to die in Jesus. Lord! give to him that reads, and him that writes, the blessed hope in our death, that living or dying, we are the Lord's. Oh! for a part in the first resurrection, and then the second death hath no power.
Dearest Jesus! thou art the resurrection, and the life. Thou blessed Jesus, by thy death, hast overcome death, so that death now, by thee, is among the inventory of the believer's treasure. To die in time is gain. Lord, give grace, both to writer and reader, that we may so live, as to add death to our sure account of profit; that whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all may be ours; for we are Christ's, and Christ is God's.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 31". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany