The Death of Saul

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

(1Sa 31:1) 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 presented himself as 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 an enemy of both the Amalekites and of David, this person must have felt good about introducing himself as an Amalekite. According to his story, he was the one who had killed Saul. He must have thought that this would please David, since Saul was an enemy of David. It seems that David believed his story, for when he executed him he 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). However, years later, as David looked back to this time, 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 is "which was for giving me tidings for himself", that is, for giving a fabricated report for his own benefit. At the time of 2Sa 4:10, if David knew that the Amalekite man had killed Saul, he would have said that he died for killing Saul. Instead, he said that he died because of the report that he gave. While the execution sentence in 2Sa 1:14-16 was that the man killed Saul, it is apparent that David understood later that this was not the case, and thus the true reason that man died was the report that he gave. Thus, in view of 2Sa 4:10, we can conclude that the story that the Amalekite man told David in 2Sa 1:2-10 was not truthful. He invented his story in the hope of receiving a good reward from David. The same conclusion would be reached by comparing 2Sa 1:2-10 with 1Sa 31 and 1Ch 10.

(1Ch 10:13) 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) 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 us 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. We could begin by noticing that the manner of death of Saul emphasizes that the Lord was not with him. Then, we could reason that the account of Saul serves as a warning to those who would approach God the way he did. Obviously, Saul was deceived into thinking that he could walk the way that he did. Both 1Sa 28 and 2Sa 1:2-10 illustrate how plausible a lie may seem. The words of the medium in 1Sa 28 and the words of the Amalekite man in 2Sa 1:2-10 were recorded as they were delivered, without any explicit warning that they were not truthful. However, a careful examination of related passages reveals that they were not truthful (see the linked article for a study of 1Sa 28). It may be that no explicit warning was given about their untruthfulness in order to emphasize that without a careful examination of the Bible, a lie can be accepted as truth. The Word of God does not contain an explicit warning against every conceivable lie. It is the duty of the believer to examine all things carefully and see whether they are truly consistent with the Bible. We read 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 nigh" (Jos 1:8). All these indicate how easy it is to accept a lie when the Bible is not examined carefully.

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 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 claimed that he had killed Saul (2Sa 1:14-16). Furthermore, "David lamented ... over Saul and over Jonathan his son" (2Sa 1:17). We can read about it in 2Sa 1:19-27. The words of David do not show any hatred, though Saul had mistreated him and sought to kill him. David said:

(2Sa 1:23) 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 may remind us to love our enemies.

(Mt 5:44) ... 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.