The Death of Saul

The circumstances of the death of Saul are described in 1Sa 31 and 1Ch 10.

(1Sa 31:1)KJV Now the Philistines fought against Israel: and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa.
(1Sa 31:2) And the Philistines followed hard upon Saul and upon his sons; and the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Malchishua, Saul's sons.
(1Sa 31:3) And the battle went sore against Saul, and the archers hit him; and he was sore wounded of the archers.
(1Sa 31:4) 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.

(1Sa 31:5) And when his armourbearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise upon his sword, and died with him.
(1Sa 31:6) So Saul died, and his three sons, and his armourbearer, and all his men, that same day together.

Moreover, as we read in 1Ch 10:6, "all his house died together". This statement must refer to the men representing his house, not to children or to women. Furthermore, the Hebrew word translated "all" does not mean "absolutely everyone". For example, note that a statement beginning with this word in Lev 11:20 is followed by exceptions in Lev 11:21-22. Thus, since the word for "all" does not mean "absolutely everyone", it is not surprising to find that Ish-bosheth, one of the sons of Saul, did not die at that time. Ish-bosheth succeeded his father on the throne of Israel. He was a grown up man, for we read that "Ishbosheth Saul's son was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel" (2Sa 2:10).

When Saul died, the following day the Philistines "found Saul and his three sons fallen in mount Gilboa" (1Sa 31:8). They "cut off his head, and stripped off his armour" (1Sa 31:9). "And they put his armour in the house of Ashtaroth: and they fastened his body to the wall of Bethshan" (1Sa 31:10). The bodies of his sons were also fastened to the wall of Bethshan (1Sa 31:12). The Philistines also "fastened his head in the temple of Dagon" (1Ch 10:10).

Following immediately after the account of the death of Saul in 1Sa 31, the passage in 2Sa 1:2-10 speaks about the first person to inform David about it. This man was an Amalekite (2Sa 1:8, 13). Given that David did not make known his exploits against the Amalekites (1Sa 27:8-12) and that Saul was a common enemy of the Amalekites and of David, this man probably felt good about introducing himself as an Amalekite. His report provides one more detail about Saul's death: Saul did not die immediately after he tried to take his life but asked the Amalekite, when he saw him, to kill him. The Amalekite must have thought that David would be pleased to know that he was the one who had killed Saul. However, David executed him and said, "Thy blood be upon thy head; for thy mouth hath testified against thee, saying, I have slain the LORD'S anointed" (2Sa 1:16). Years later, as David looked back to this incident, he said, "when one told me, saying, Behold, Saul is dead, thinking to have brought good tidings, I took hold of him, and slew him in Ziklag, which was the reward I gave him for his tidings" (2Sa 4:10)ASV. Literally, the last part of 2Sa 4:10 has, "which was for giving me tidings for himself," that is, for giving a report in hope of a reward; had he not come to David to tell him the news, he would have lived. At the time of 2Sa 4:10, David was answering two men who had assassinated Ish-bosheth, the king of Israel. Just like Saul, Ish-bosheth was an enemy of David. Just like the Amalekite who had killed Saul, the men who had killed Ish-bosheth were hoping that David would reward them. So David made the point that since he had put to death the Amalekite who had killed Saul when he was fatally wounded, so much more he would execute the assassins of Ish-bosheth.

(1Ch 10:13)KJV So Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the LORD, even against the word of the LORD, which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to enquire of it;
(1Ch 10:14) And enquired not of the LORD: therefore he slew him, and turned the kingdom unto David the son of Jesse.

In 1Ch 10:13 we read that Saul disobeyed the Lord also by "asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit". By doing this, Saul transgressed the law (Lev 19:31). The account can be found in 1Sa 28.

(1Sa 28:4)KJV And the Philistines gathered themselves together, and came and pitched in Shunem: and Saul gathered all Israel together, and they pitched in Gilboa.
(1Sa 28:5) And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled.
(1Sa 28:6) And when Saul enquired of the LORD, the LORD answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.
(1Sa 28:7) Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and enquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor.

Though Saul began to seek the Lord (1Sa 28:6), he did not persevere. Instead, he turned to a medium. This shows that he did not seek the Lord to the point of repentance. The Lord does answer when one seeks him with his whole heart. In the context of people turning back to God, the law mentions that "thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul" (De 4:29). Obviously, Saul did not seek the Lord with all his heart. When he saw that the Lord did not answer, Saul did not persevere but tried something else. This is not unlike what Saul did at the beginning of his reign, when he did not wait long enough for Samuel, though he was supposed to wait (1Sa 13:8-14). We could conclude that Saul was not too serious in his attempts to obey the Lord, lacking perseverance. He tended to disobey when obedience seemed inconvenient.

The attention that the Scripture gives to the death of Saul and to the related events invites the reader to consider the purpose for which all these were recorded. Since all Scripture is "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2Ti 3:16), it is right to consider the applications that could be made from these passages. The manner in which Saul died emphasizes that the Lord was not with him. His superficial obedience to the Lord is reflected by the fact that he was killed by an Amalekite. Indeed, he did not take very seriously the command he received from the Lord against Amalek. When he obeyed the Lord, it was convenient to do so. When obedience was inconvenient, he disobeyed, such as when he went to seek advice from a medium (1Sa 28). Obviously, Saul was deceived into thinking that he could walk the way that he did. It is also remarkable that the passages about the death of Saul do not say anything about Saul seeking the Lord. Though it is relatively common for people in distress to seek the Lord, it is apparent that Saul did not do it. This may be because he believed a medium who implied that it was pointless for Saul to seek the Lord. Note that 1Sa 28 illustrates how plausible a lie may seem to a deceived person: Saul received as true the words of a medium claiming to bring Samuel from the dead and to speak his words (see the article Saul Turns to Darkness for Counsel.) The man who was not too excited about the messages that the Holy Spirit would speak through Samuel, was then in awe at the message that the spirit of the medium spoke as coming from Samuel! Believers too can accept lies. Thus, believers are urged to examine all things carefully and to see whether they are truly consistent with the Bible. The Scripture includes statements such as "Prove all things" (1Th 5:21), "Ponder the path of thy feet" (Pr 4:26), and "This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night" (Jos 1:8). The Scripture contains such statements because it is easy to accept a lie when the Bible is not carefully examined.

The events related to the death of Saul present David as a positive example. Though David also failed in various ways, he was not like other men, for he was a man after God's heart (Ac 13:22). Though Saul sought to kill him, David did not rejoice when he heard the news about his death. Instead, "David took hold on his clothes, and rent them; and likewise all the men that were with him" (2Sa 1:11). Moreover, he executed the Amalekite who killed Saul (2Sa 1:14-16). Furthermore, "David lamented ... over Saul and over Jonathan his son" (2Sa 1:17), and this could be seen in 2Sa 1:19-27. The words of David do not reveal any hatred towards Saul, who had been his powerful enemy, the one seeking to kill him. David said:

(2Sa 1:23)KJV Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided: they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.
(2Sa 1:24) Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights, who put on ornaments of gold upon your apparel.

Finally, "David sent messengers unto the men of Jabeshgilead, and said unto them, Blessed be ye of the LORD, that ye have shewed this kindness unto your lord, even unto Saul, and have buried him" (2Sa 2:5). What David did in these circumstances is consistent with the command that one should love his enemies.

(Mt 5:44)KJV ... Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
(Mt 5:45) That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.