Meditations in 1 Samuel 55. The End of Saul
1 Sam 31:1-3 Now the Philistines fought against Israel; the Israelites fled before them, and many fell slain on Mount Gilboa. The Philistines pressed hard after Saul and his sons, and they killed his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua. The fighting grew fierce around Saul, and when the archers overtook him, they wounded him critically.
And so we arrive at the end of 1 Samuel and the almost inevitable conclusion, the death of Saul and Jonathan. Initially Saul is hit by an arrow and he is seriously wounded. He fears he will be overcome by the enemy who make take him alive and taunt and torture him before they kill him and so, “Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me.” (v.4a) He would rather end it quickly but his armour bearer is hesitant: “But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it” (v.4b) It might be said he committed suicide if he hadn’t already been wounded ‘critically’. As far as the overall battle went, we read, “When the Israelites along the valley and those across the Jordan saw that the Israelite army had fled and that Saul and his sons had died, they abandoned their towns and fled. And the Philistines came and occupied them.” (v.7)
So that is it, the end. There are more bits to come before the chapter is finished and you can read them yourself. It is not a glorious passage of Scripture. It doesn’t surprise us because deep down we knew it had to come. He had rejected the Lord and so the Lord rejected him and this outcome was likely. We might ponder that sometimes the will of God takes time to be worked out; the Lord is patient, not only hoping for people to repent and turns to Him (and that had always been an option for Saul right up to the end) but also in bringing an end to their futile circumstances.
Now I have just overplayed it, and for a point. We might look at Saul and think how futile his reign had been and what a waste he was and so on but before we finish this set of studies I want to stretch into 2 Samuel and see David’s response to all that had happened. In chapter 1 we find a young man turns up at David’s camp who purports to have come from the Israelite camp and bring news of the death of both Saul and Jonathan. David cross examines him and he turns out to be an Amalekite and he claims to have found Saul in the battle field, mortally wounded, and that Saul had asked him to put him out of his misery and kill him, which he had done (see v.2-13). David then has him executed for having killed ‘the Lord’s anointed’. (v.14-16)
But it is what follows that I want us to observe: “David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan, and ordered that the men of Judah be taught this lament of the bow (it is written in the Book of Jashar): “Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights. How the mighty have fallen!” (v.17-19) David mourns for both Saul and Jonathan and sings of their greatness. Listen: “Saul and Jonathan– in life they were loved and gracious, and in death they were not parted. They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. “O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul, who clothed you in scarlet and finery, who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold. “How the mighty have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies slain on your heights. I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women. “How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of war have perished!” (v.23-27)
Now the cynic will say he doesn’t mean this, it’s just a public show, and anyway some of the things he says are not true – “in life they were loved ad gracious”, what was all that about? That was David remembering back to good times that he had known in the earlier days with Saul. His words about Jonathan are natural and reflect the sort of relationship these two young warriors had had, but when he comes to Saul he seeks to respect the good things of the man, the role he played in vanquishing so many enemies of Israel and for leading them so well.
Whenever I have led a funeral service in the past, and where the recent years of the deceased had possibly been difficult with illness or infirmity, I have always suggested to the congregation that they pause and think back to earlier years, the joyful years and the good years in their memory and give thanks. Sadly because it is a fallen world, the latter years of a life are often not as glorious as the former and it is easy to forget those former years. David will not let that happen, they need to be remembered. Yes, Saul did mess up, yes he was disobedient and yes, the Lord did leave him, all these things (and more) are true but we do not glory in the downfall of another, whoever they may be. We may be grateful that the reign of a tyrant is ended but the sorrow is that this person utterly failed in their life (as big and as might as they may have appeared to the world) and utterly failed to express their ‘image of God’ side in a good way. How many times I am reminded of Ezekiel 18 where the Lord says He does not rejoice over the death of a sinner but would much rather they repented and came to the good.
In David we have a man after God’s own heart and here in these tragic chapters we see the downfall and death of a man who had such potential and who had received so much help from God. Remember what we said in meditation no.20, “In SEVEN ways the Lord was there for Saul to equip him and enable him to be the king the people want.” God had done everything He could from His side but despite all that Saul got it wrong and we have just observed the tragic end outcome. It is a tragedy of a story as far as Saul is concerned and for the person after God’s own heart, it is grievous. The way is now open for David to become king. It has taken a long time but the time has come, although the path ahead is not going to be easy.
What do we take away? A warning not to be like Saul. Ponder on how much the Lord has done for you in your life. Are you allowing Him to lead you to your full potential in Him? An encouragement to remember David and remember that the will of God requires us, so often, to be persistent and to persevere while we wait for His promises to be worked out. A reminder also that He calls us to hold on to right attitudes while we are waiting for it to be worked out and in the process to be open to let Him bring the changes in us He wants to bring. These are all big issue lessons. May we hold on to them.