Saul's defeat and death. (1-7) Saul's body rescued by the men of Jabesh-gilead. (8-13)
Verses 1-7 We cannot judge of the spiritual or eternal state of any by the manner of their death; for in that, there is one event to the righteous and to the wicked. Saul, when sorely wounded, and unable to resist or to flee, expressed no concern about his never-dying soul; but only desired that the Philistines might not insult over him, or put him to pain, and he became his own murderer. As it is the grand deceit of the devil, to persuade sinners, under great difficulties, to fly to this last act of desperation, it is well to fortify the mind against it, by a serious consideration of its sinfulness before God, and its miserable consequences in society. But our security is not in ourselves. Let us seek protection from Him who keepeth Israel. Let us watch and pray; and take unto us the whole armour of God, that we may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Verses 8-13 The Scripture makes no mention what became of the souls of Saul and his sons, after they were dead; but of their bodies only: secret things belong not to us. It is of little consequence by what means we die, or what is done with our dead bodies. If our souls are saved, our bodies will be raised incorruptible and glorious; but not to fear His wrath, who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell, is the extreme of folly and wickedness. How useless is the respect of fellow-creatures to those who are suffering the wrath of God! While pompous funerals, grand monuments, and he praises of men, honour the memory of the deceased, the soul may be suffering in the regions of darkness and despair! Let us seek that honour which cometh from God only.
1 Samuel 31:1-7 . SAUL HAVING LOST HIS ARMY AT GILBOA, AND HIS SONS BEING SLAIN, HE AND HIS ARMOR-BEARER KILL THEMSELVES.
1. Now the Philistines fought against Israel--In a regular engagement, in which the two armies met ( 1 Samuel 28:1-4 ), the Israelites were forced to give way, being annoyed by the arrows of the enemy, which, destroying them at a distance before they came to close combat, threw them into panic and disorder. Taking advantage of the heights of Mount Gilboa, [the Israelites] attempted to rally, but in vain. Saul and his sons fought like heroes; but the onset of the Philistines being at length mainly directed against the quarter where they were, Jonathan and two brothers, Abinadab or Ishui ( 1 Samuel 14:49 ) and Melchishua, overpowered by numbers, were killed on the spot.
3-5. the battle went sore against Saul, &c.--He seems to have bravely maintained his ground for some time longer; but exhausted with fatigue and loss of blood, and dreading that if he fell alive into the enemy's hands, they would insolently maltreat him ( Joshua 8:29 , 10:24 , Judges 8:21 ), he requested his armor bearer to despatch him. However, that officer refused to do so. Saul then falling on the point of his sword killed himself; and the armor bearer, who, according to Jewish writers, was Doeg, following the example of his master, put an end to his life also. They died by one and the same sword--the very weapon with which they had massacred the Lord's servants at Nob.
6. So Saul
and his three sons--The influence of a directing Providence is evidently to be traced in permitting the death of Saul's three eldest and most energetic sons, particularly that of Jonathan, for whom, had he survived his father, a strong party would undoubtedly have risen and thus obstructed the path of David to the throne.
and all his men, that same day together--his servants or bodyguard ( 1 Chronicles 10:6 ).
7. the men of Israel that were on the other side of the valley--probably the valley of Jezreel--the largest and southernmost of the valleys that run between Little Hermon and the ridges of the Gilboa range direct into the Jordan valley. It was very natural for the people in the towns and villages there to take fright and flee, for had they waited the arrival of the victors, they must, according to the war usages of the time, have been deprived either of their liberty or their lives.
1 Samuel 31:8-10 . THE PHILISTINES TRIUMPH OVER THEIR DEAD BODIES.
8, 9. on the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen--On discovering the corpses of the slaughtered princes on the battlefield, the enemy reserved them for special indignities. They consecrated the armor of the king and his sons to the temple of Ashtaroth fastened their bodies on the temple of Shen, while they fixed the royal heads ignominiously in the temple of Dagon ( 1 Chronicles 10:10 ); thus dividing the glory among their several deities.
10. to the wall--( 2 Samuel 21:12 )--"the street" of Beth-shan. The street was called from the temple which stood in it. And they had to go along it to the wall of the city (see Joshua 17:11 ).
1 Samuel 31:11-13 . THE MEN OF JABESH-GILEAD RECOVER THE BODIES AND BURY THEM AT JABESH.
11-13. the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard of that which the Philistines had done--Mindful of the important and timely services Saul had rendered them, they gratefully and heroically resolved not to suffer such indignities to be inflicted on the remains of the royal family.
12. valiant men arose, and went all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons--Considering that Beth-shan is an hour and a half's distance, and by a narrow upland passage, to the west of the Jordan (the whole being a journey from Jabesh-gilead of about ten miles), they must have made all haste to travel thither to carry off the headless bodies and return to their own side of the Jordan in the course of a single night.
burnt them--This was not a Hebrew custom. It was probably resorted to on this occasion to prevent all risk of the Beth-shanites coming to disinter the royal remains for further insult.