1 Samuel 31 Study Notes


31:1 The account now shifts to the Jezreel Valley. Israel’s men fled from them; that is, Israel lost the battle (4:17). On Mount Gilboa, see note at 28:4.

31:2 Kings and princes normally shielded themselves from the risks associated with the battlefield (2Sm 18:2-4; 21:15-17), but in this battle, the Philistines singled out and pursued Saul and his sons.

31:3 Archers provided the advantage of inflicting potentially fatal injuries from a distance; raining arrows on Saul’s position proved effective.

31:4-6 Saul feared the Philistines would capture him alive and perhaps treat him as they had treated Samson in the judges period (Jdg 16:21). Saul’s armor-bearer, however, was paralyzed with fear and could not bring himself to obey the king’s request (run me through). So Saul took his own sword and fell on it. On the discrepancy between these words and 2Sm 1:6-10, see note at 2Sm 1:4-10.

31:7 News of the Philistine victory spread quickly throughout the region. Israelites living on the other side of the valley . . . abandoned the cities, as did those directly down the Harod Valley (also called the Beth-shan Valley) and beyond the Jordan River. The Philistine settlements in this region marked the enemy’s deepest penetration into Israel’s heartland, but after David became king, he subdued them and restricted them to the Judean coastal region.

31:8 Part of plundering the enemy involved returning to strip the slain of their valuables. The Philistine victory had been so complete that no Israelites had dared try to rescue the bodies of Saul and his three sons.

31:9 First Ch 10:10 notes that Saul’s head was placed in the temple of Dagon, perhaps at Ashdod (1Sm 5:1-2), symbolizing Dagon’s victory over Israel’s king.

31:10 Ashtoreths designated images of the Canaanite goddess Ashtoreth, consort of Baal (7:3-4; 12:10). Beth-shan was an Israelite city at the mouth of the valley near the Jordan River, probably abandoned by the Israelites in the wake of the Philistine victory (v. 7).

31:11 Jabesh-gilead was a city east of the Jordan River whose citizens Saul rescued from Nahash, king of Ammon (11:1-11).

31:12 Retrieving the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons would have been risky since the Philistines occupied the valley, but Jabesh-gilead’s brave men did so—probably under cover of darkness. At Jabesh, they burned the bodies, not to ashes, but on a funeral pyre to remove the flesh, probably to protect them from further abuse by wild animals. The men had not been able to repay the king for saving them during his life, but they would do what they could now to honor his memory.

31:13 Fasting was a sign of mourning out of deep respect for Saul and his sons.