1 Chronicles 10 – The Death of Saul
“Having established Israel’s historical setting and ethnic bounds in the preceding genealogies, the Chronicler now enters on his main subject, the history of the Hebrew kingdom, with its theological conclusions.” (Payne)
A. The death of King Saul.
1. (1-2) The battle on Mount Gilboa.
Now the Philistines fought against Israel; and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell slain on Mount Gilboa. Then the Philistines followed hard after Saul and his sons. And the Philistines killed Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchishua, Saul’s sons.
a. Now the Philistines fought against Israel: The Philistines were an immigrant people from the military aristocracy of the island of Crete (Amos 9:7). Small numbers of Philistines were in the land at the time of Abraham, but they only came in force soon after Israel came to Canaan from Egypt. They were organized into five city-states. Archaeologists tell us two other things about the Philistines: they were hard drinkers, and they were the first in the region to effectively use iron, and they made the most of it.
i. The Philistines were a sea-faring people and traded with distant lands. Therefore they imported newer and better military technology from the Greeks and became a powerful enemy of the people of Israel. At that time, Israel could compete on more equal terms with Moab and Ammon, but Greek military equipment (helmets, shields, coats of mail, swords and spears) made the Philistines much more formidable opponents.
b. The men of Israel fled from before the Philistines: The Philistines had attacked deep into Israeli territory (1 Samuel 28:4), and Saul’s army assembled and prepared for battle at Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 28:4). Because of his deep rebellion against the LORD, Saul was not ready for battle: When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly (1 Samuel 28:5). It doesn’t surprise us that with such a leader the soldiers of Israel could not stand before the Philistines.
i. “Wonder not that Saul fell by the hands of the Philistines, who were armed against him by his own sin and by God’s vengeance for it.” (Poole)
c. And the Philistines killed Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchishua, Saul’s sons: Tragically, Saul’s sons were affected by the judgment of God against their father Saul. The brave and worthy Jonathan died as he had lived – loyally fighting to the very end for his God, his country, and his father the king.
2. (3-6) Saul dies in battle.
The battle became fierce against Saul. The archers hit him, and he was wounded by the archers. Then Saul said to his armorbearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised men come and abuse me.” But his armorbearer would not, for he was greatly afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword and fell on it. And when his armorbearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell on his sword and died. So Saul and his three sons died, and all his house died together.
a. The battle became fierce against Saul: Saul, struck by many arrows and wounded, knew the battle was completely lost. He pled with his armorbearer to kill him, and when he would not, Saul killed himself (Saul took a sword and fell on it).
i. “The flower of his army lay strewn around him; the chivalry of Israel was quenched in rivers of blood. Then, leaving all others, the Philistines concentrated their attack on that lordly figure which towered amid the fugitives, the royal crown on the helmet, the royal bracelet flashing on his arm.” (Meyer)
ii. In the way most people think of suicide, Saul’s death was not suicide. Clarke explains well: “He was to all appearance mortally wounded, when he begged his armourbearer to extinguish the remaining spark of life…though this wound accelerated his death, yet it could not be properly the cause of it, as he was mortally wounded before, and did it on the conviction that he could not survive.” (Clarke on 1 Samuel)
iii. Taking the Bible’s teaching on this point in its entirety, we can say that God does regard suicide as sin; it is the sin of self-murder. Yet, we are wrong if we regard it as the unforgivable sin. Anyone who does commit suicide has given in to the lies and deceptions of Satan, whose purpose is to kill and destroy (John 10:10).
iv. “Suicide is always the ultimate action of cowardice. In the case of Saul, and in many similar cases, it is perfectly natural; but let it never be glorified as heroic. It is the last resort of the man who dare not stand up to life.” (Morgan)
b. So Saul and his three sons died, and all his house died together: So was the tragic end of this first king of Israel, who started with great promise but ended his reign in disaster for himself, his sons, and his kingdom.
i. There were still some surviving members of Saul’s family, yet “Every branch of his family that had followed him to the war was cut off; his three sons are mentioned as being the chief.” (Clarke)
ii. “The Amalekite’s story of Saul’s death in 2 Samuel 1 is ignored, perhaps because its authenticity was doubted in ancient as well as in modern times.” (Selman)
B. The aftermath of King Saul’s death.
1. (7) Israel is defeated in battle.
And when all the men of Israel who were in the valley saw that they had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they forsook their cities and fled; then the Philistines came and dwelt in them.
a. Saw that [the men of Israel] had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead: When the leader (King Saul) was struck, it spread panic among God’s people. Jesus knew this same principle would be used against His own disciples: Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’” (Mark 14:27)
i. Saul’s sin, hardened rebellion, and eventual ruin affected far more than himself and even his immediate family. It literally endangered the entire nation of Israel.
b. They forsook the cities and fled; then the Philistines came and dwelt in them: The victory of the Philistines was so complete that even those on the other side of the Jordan (1 Samuel 31:7) fled in terror before the Philistines. With the Philistine army occupying territory on the other side of the Jordan they had cut Israel in half, drawing a line from west to east. The rest of the nation was ripe for total conquest by the Philistines.
2. (8-10) Saul is further disgraced after his death.
So it happened the next day, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. And they stripped him and took his head and his armor, and sent word throughout the land of the Philistines to proclaim the news in the temple of their idols and among the people. Then they put his armor in the temple of their gods, and fastened his head in the temple of Dagon.
a. To proclaim the news in the temple of their idols and among the people: Saul’s tragic death gave opportunity for the enemies of the LORD to disgrace His name. First, they gave the ultimate insult to Saul; in that culture, to have your dead body treated this way was considered a fate worse than death itself. Second, Saul’s death was used to glorify pagan gods and to mock the living God.
3. (11-12) The courage and faithfulness of the men of Jabesh Gilead.
And when all Jabesh Gilead heard all that the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men arose and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons; and they brought them to Jabesh, and buried their bones under the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.
a. And when all Jabesh Gilead: These heroic men are recognized for their gratitude. Many years before, Saul delivered their city from the Ammonites (1 Samuel 11:1-11), and they repay the kindness God showed them from the hand of Saul. Upon taking the throne, David rightly thanked these valiant men for their kindness to the memory of Saul, Jonathan, and Saul’s other sons (2 Samuel 2:4-7).
b. All the valiant men arose: In a time of disgrace, loss, and tragedy like this, God still has His valiant men to do His work. The men of Jabesh Gilead took down the bodies of Saul and his sons from their place of humiliation and gave them a proper burial.
i. God always has His valiant men. When one servant passes the scene, another arises to take his place. If Saul is gone, God raises up a David. If the army of Israel is utterly routed, God still has His valiant men. God’s work is bigger than any man, or any group of people.
4. (13-14) The spiritual reason for the tragedy of King Saul.
So Saul died for his unfaithfulness which he had committed against the LORD, because he did not keep the word of the LORD, and also because he consulted a medium for guidance. But he did not inquire of the LORD; therefore He killed him, and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse.
a. So Saul died for his unfaithfulness: The story of King Saul is one of the great tragedies of the Bible. He was humble at his beginning, yet seeming to lack any genuine spiritual connection with God, he was easily and quickly corrupted by pride and fear. Saul becomes a tragic example of wasted potential.
i. “Saul was a man than whom no other had greater opportunities, but his failure was disastrous. Of good standing in the nation, distinctly called and commissioned by God, honored with the friendship of Samuel, surrounded by a band of men whose hearts God had touched, everything was in his favor. From the beginning he failed; step by step he declined in conduct and character, until he went out.” (Morgan)
b. But he did not inquire of the LORD: Saul did not have a genuine connection with God and did not seek God for the difficulties of his life. He consulted a medium for guidance, but not the LORD God.
i. “When a human being is called of God to service, there is always given to that one the guidance of God, in direct spiritual communication. If there be disobedience, this guidance is necessarily withdrawn. Then, the forsaken man or woman, craving for supernatural aid, turns to sorcery, witchcraft, spiritism; and the issue is always destructive.” (Morgan)
ii. It does say in 1 Samuel 28:6 that Saul did inquire of the LORD. “Such an inconsiderable and trifling inquiry as Saul made, is justly accounted to be no inquiry at all; as they are said not to eat the Lord’s supper, 1 Corinthians 11:20, who did eat it in a sinful and irregular manner.” (Poole)
c. And turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse: In 1 Samuel 13:14, God promised to take the kingdom from Saul and give it to a man after His own heart. This took many years to become a fact, but at the death of Saul, David became king over Israel.
i. “Upon the whole subject of responsible service, the story of Saul throws the light of the most solemn warning.” (Morgan)