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1 Samuel 31:1. Now the Philistines fought against Israel— That is, as most interpreters understand it, began to fight against, or attacked, the Israelites. The word נלחמים nilchamim, as Dr. Delaney observes, might as properly have been rendered assaulted. He is of opinion, not only that the Philistines attacked Saul in his camp, but that they did so soon after his return from Endor, and that, probably, they were encouraged to this attempt by some secret information of Saul's having stolen out of the camp the evening before with his general (for Abner is supposed to have been one of his attendants) and another person: and if this was the case, then his applying to the Pythoness was the immediate cause of his destruction; now this gives light to 1Ch 10:13 and at the same time receives light from it.
1 Samuel 31:2. And the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, &c.— Ish-bosheth probably either was not in the battle, or escaped by flight. Thus the prediction of Samuel was fulfilled. But who can forbear to drop a tear over the faithful, the amiable, the excellent Jonathan. There are few characters among men more lovely, or more extraordinary: fortitude, fidelity, magnanimity; a soul susceptible of the most refined friendship, and superior to all the temptations of ambition and vanity; and all these accomplishments crowned with the most resigned submission to the will of God.
1 Samuel 31:3. And the archers hit him— Houbigant renders this verse thus, Then the battle going hard against Saul, the archers rushed upon him, from whom he received a great wound. Saul, says he, would hardly have commanded his armour-bearer to kill him, if he had not been in a desperate state. The words, lest they thrust me through and abuse me, are not to be separated. Saul was not so much afraid of being killed, as of being abused, by these insulting enemies. Commentators observe, that there is no mention of any archers in any of the Philistine armies or battles before this. The use of the bow, however, was not unknown: Jonathan is celebrated for his skill and dexterity in it, and so were some of the worthies who resorted to David; but it seems not to have been yet brought into common practice, if, as it has been collected from 2 Samuel 1:18., David after this battle had the Israelites taught the use of it. If this was so, it seems to prove that they gained in this battle great advantage by means of their archers: for, doubtless, he would have taught it them much sooner, when he commanded the armies of Saul against the Philistines, had they then gained any advantage over the Israelites by means of these weapons. Sir Isaac Newton tells us, that those mighty numbers of men who aided the Philistines against Saul in the beginning of his reign, were the shepherds expelled from Egypt by Amasis; some of whom fled into Phoenicia, and others into Arabia Petraea. Now his son Ammon conquered Arabia. Why then may we not fairly presume, that these archers, who now aided the Philistines, were either Arabs who fled thither from Ammon, or those Egyptians who fled before to Arabia, and learned archery there from the natives, who were allowed to be the best bowmen in the world: since the time and circumstances suit, the conjecture will not, I believe, be thought ill-grounded. The Cherethites, so often mentioned in the following books, were of these archers whom David employed in his armies.
1 Samuel 31:4-5. Then said Saul unto his armour-bearer— Saul and his armour-bearer died by the same sword; that his armour-bearer died by his own sword, is out of all doubt: the text expressly tells us so; and that Saul perished by the same sword is sufficiently evident. Draw thy sword, says he to him, and thrust me through; which when he refused, Saul, says the text, took THE sword, החרב את eth hachereb [the very sword], and fell upon it. What sword? not his own; for then the text would have said so: but, in the plain, natural, grammatical construction, the sword beforementioned must be the sword now referred to, that is, his armour-bearer's; 1 Chronicles 10:4-5. Now it is the established tradition of all the Jewish nation, that this armour-bearer was Doeg: I see no reason why it should be discredited; and if so, then Saul and his executioner both fell by that weapon with which they had before massacred the priests of God. So Brutus and Cassius killed themselves with the same swords with which they slew Caesar; and Calippus was stabbed with the same sword wherewith he killed Dio.
1 Samuel 31:6. So Saul died— Josephus runs out into high encomiums upon Saul, who, knowing that he was to die, thus gallantly exposed himself for his country. But, in truth, there is not the least room for panegyrick. He died, not gallantly fighting, but by his own hand. He died, not as a hero, but as a deserter. Self-murder is demonstrably the effect of cowardice, and it is as irrational and iniquitous as it is base. God, whose creatures we are, is the sole arbiter, as he is the sole author of life: our lives are his property; and he has given the world, his church, our country, our family, and our friends, a share in them: and therefore, as Plato finely observes in his Phaedo, "God is as much injured by self-murder, as I should be by having one of my slaves killed without my consent;" not to insist upon the injury done to others in a variety of relations by the same act. Much nobler than Saul's was the resolution of Darius; who, finding himself betrayed, and that he was to be either murdered by his own subjects, or delivered into the hands of Alexander, would not, however, be his own executioner: "I would rather," says he, "die by another's guilt, than by my own." Quint. Curt. lib. 5: cap. 12.
1 Samuel 31:11-12. And when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard, &c.— Beth-shan was a city in the tribe of Manasseh, not far from Jordan and the sea of Gennesareth, to which the men of Jabesh might march in a night's time, and accomplish their design. The Jabethites had great obligations to Saul. He delivered them at the beginning of his reign from the fury of Nahash, chap. 1 Samuel 11:11. They resolved, therefore, to rescue his body and those of his sons from the disgrace to which the Philistines exposed them. A band of valiant men among them marched away in the night, came to Beth-shan, and happily atchieved their design: a pleasing example of gratitude, which is by no means so common among nations as it ought to be; upon which account it is, that Aristotle says, the temples of the graces were built in the midst of the cities of Greece, to admonish all the Greeks to be grateful. The historian adds, that after the men of Jabesh had carried off the bodies, they came to Jabesh, and burnt them there; which creates some difficulty, as it was the custom of the Jews to embalm, and not to burn; and particularly as in the parallel passages there is not the least mention of their having done any other than buried their bones or bodies. See the note on 2Sa 2:4 and 1 Chronicles 10:12. The Chaldee and other versions render it, and they burnt or kindled a light or lamp over them there, as they are accustomed to burn over kings: upon which a rabbi observes, that this has reference to a custom delivered down from their ancestors, of burning the beds and other utensils of the dead upon their graves, or to the burning of spices over them. See Jeremiah 34:5. It seems by far the most probable, that something of this kind was done, and is implied in the text, as we have not anywhere the least trace of burning the bodies of the dead among the Jews. See Lamy.
REFLECTIONS.—When the Philistines return to strip the slain, to their great joy they find their enemy Saul a breathless corpse, and his sons fallen with him. Hereupon we have,
1. The insult offered to the dead body of Saul. They cut off his head, which (see 1 Chronicles 10:10.) they stuck up as a trophy of their victory in the house of their god Dagon; placed his armour in the temple of Ashtaroth; then took the trunk and the bodies of his sons, and ignominiously fastened them with nails to the wall of Beth-shan, or hung them on gibbets upon the wall. Thus the insult, that Saul wished by self-murder to avoid, overtook him.
2. They proclaimed their victory through the land, and set apart a day of solemn thanksgiving to praise their idols, to whom they ascribed their success. Note; Blind idolaters often shew more gratitude to, and dependance upon, stocks and stones, than they who pretend to worship the true God express to the living Jehovah; therefore, in the day of judgment these shall rise up to condemn them.
3. The men of Jabesh-gilead, fired with indignation at the insult shewn to the royal corpses, as well as mindful of their particular obligations to Saul, boldly adventure to cross Jordan, and by night take down, unperceived, the bodies from the wall of Beth-shan. Thus closes this First Book of Samuel, where Israel's sun sets in blood, and darkness and despair seem to cover the land: but we shall find the morning break upon us in the opening of the next book; and the bright sun of David, the glorious type of Jesus, the Sun of Righteousness, arising to cheer the desolate valleys of Judah, and shining forth in his meridian splendor, whilst all their enemies are led captive at his chariot-wheels!
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 31". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany