Now the Philistines fought against Israel: and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa.1 Samuel 31:1. Now the Philistines fought against Israel — That is, gave them battle. As they began the quarrel, (1 Samuel 29:1,) so they seem to have begun the fight. It must be observed that the foregoing chapter is a digression, to relate what happened to David at this time. The sacred writer now resumes the thread of the narrative in regard to Saul, relating what befell him upon his return from Endor. And it seems he was scarce returned before the Philistines attacked his camp, and, after some resistance, broke into it. Delaney thinks that they were encouraged to this attempt by some secret information of Saul’s having stolen out of the camp the evening before, with his general, Abner, (who is supposed to have been one of his attendants,) and another person. Certainly intelligence of that kind could not be hard to be obtained, and, if obtained, would be a strong encouragement to such an attack. And if this were the case, Saul’s applying to the enchantress was the immediate cause of his destruction. See 1 Chronicles 10:13, where one cause of his death is stated to be his applying for counsel to one who had a familiar spirit.
And the Philistines followed hard upon Saul and upon his sons; and the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Malchishua, Saul's sons.1 Samuel 31:2. The Philistines slew Jonathan — David’s dear friend; God so ordering it for the further exercise of David’s faith and patience; and that David might depend upon God alone for his crown, and receive it solely from him, and not from Jonathan; who, doubtless, had he lived, would have speedily settled the crown upon David’s head. There was also a special providence of God in taking away Jonathan, (who, of all Saul’s sons, seems to have been the fairest for the crown,) for preventing divisions, which might have happened among the people concerning the successor: David’s way to the crown being by this means made the more clear. Abinadab — Called also Ishui, 1 Samuel 14:49. Ish-bosheth was not here, being possibly at home for the management of affairs there. Thus the prediction of Samuel was fulfilled: but who can forbear dropping a tear over the faithful, the amiable, the excellent Jonathan? “There are few characters among men more lovely or more extraordinary than his: fortitude, fidelity, magnanimity! a soul susceptible of the most refined friendship, and superior to all the temptations of ambition and vanity! and all these crowned with the most resigned submission to the will of God.” — Delaney.
And the battle went sore against Saul, and the archers hit him; and he was sore wounded of the archers.1 Samuel 31:3. The archers hit him — Hebrews ימצאהו jim-stauhu, found him. Houbigant renders it, rushed upon him. It seems by this that the Philistines gained the battle, chiefly by the advantage of their archers. Probably these were some hired troops, for we meet with no mention before this of any archers in any of the Philistines’ armies or battles; and it seems to have been a way of fighting that Saul and the Israelites were not prepared for, and therefore they were soon thrown into confusion by it. “The use of the bow, however,” says Dr. Dodd, “was not unknown. Jonathan is celebrated for his skill and dexterity in it; and so were some of the worthies who resorted to David; but it seems not yet to have been brought into common practice, if, as has been collected from 2 Samuel 1:18, David, after this battle, had the Israelites taught the use of it.”
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.1 Samuel 31:4. Lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and abuse me — He was afraid they might put him to some ignominious death, or make sport with him, as they did with Samson. But his armour-bearer would not, for he was sore afraid — He dreaded to think of killing his king. Saul took a sword, and fell upon it — “A truly brave man,” says Delaney, “would have died fighting, as Jonathan did, or would, at worst, have gloried at being abused, and even tortured, for having done his duty! Saul then died, not as a hero, but a deserter. Self-murder is demonstrably the effect of cowardice: and it is as irrational and iniquitous as it is base. God, whose creatures we are, is the sole arbiter, as he is the sole author of our life: our lives are his property; and he hath given our country, our family, and our friends, a share in them. And, therefore, as Plato finely observes in his Phædo, God is as much injured by self-murder, as I should be by having one of my slaves killed without my consent. Not to insist on the injury done to others, in a variety of relations, by the same act.”
And when his armourbearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise upon his sword, and died with him.1 Samuel 31:5. He (his armour-bearer) fell likewise upon his sword — The same sword on which Saul had fallen, which was the sword of the armour- bearer. This will appear evident to any one that reads these two verses (the 4th and 5th) in the original. Now it is the established tradition of the Jewish nation, that this armour-bearer was Doeg, which is not at all unlikely; and if so, then both Saul and his executioner fell by that very weapon with which they had before massacred the priests of God!
So Saul died, and his three sons, and his armourbearer, and all his men, that same day together.
And when the men of Israel that were on the other side of the valley, and they that were on the other side Jordan, saw that the men of Israel fled, and that Saul and his sons were dead, they forsook the cities, and fled; and the Philistines came and dwelt in them.1 Samuel 31:7-10. They on the other side Jordan — Or, rather, on this side Jordan; for the Hebrew word signifies either side. And there was no occasion for those beyond Jordan to flee. Saul and his three sons — “The Scripture,” as Mr. Henry well observes, “makes no mention of the souls of Saul and his sons, what became of them after they were dead; secret things belong not to us.” They cut off his head — As the Israelites did by Goliath, and fastened it in the temple of Dagon, 1 Chronicles 10:10. In the house of their idols — To give them the glory of this victory. And by this respect shown to their pretended deities, how do they shame those who give not the honour of their achievements to the living God! They fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan — To expose it, as we do the bodies of great malefactors, to public shame and reproach. And thus, as appears by 1 Samuel 31:12, they did with the bodies of his sons.
And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen in mount Gilboa.
And they cut off his head, and stripped off his armour, and sent into the land of the Philistines round about, to publish it in the house of their idols, and among the people.
And they put his armour in the house of Ashtaroth: and they fastened his body to the wall of Bethshan.
And when the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead heard of that which the Philistines had done to Saul;1 Samuel 31:11-12. The inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead — They lived on the other side of Jordan; for the people on this side were fled. All the valiant men arose, and went all night — To avoid discovery. And took the body of Saul, &c. — They had been delivered by Saul in the beginning of his reign from the Ammonites, when they were in danger of losing their lives, chap. 11.; and therefore they now showed their gratitude toward him by not suffering his corpse to want the honour of burial. And came to Jabesh and burnt them there — It was not the custom of the Hebrews to burn their dead, but to bury them; but perhaps they burned these bodies for fear, if they buried them, the Philistines might take them up again to fasten them in the same ignominious manner to their walls.
All the valiant men arose, and went all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Bethshan, and came to Jabesh, and burnt them there.
And they took their bones, and buried them under a tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.1 Samuel 31:13. And fasted seven days — To testify their sorrow for the loss of Saul, and of the people of God; and to entreat God’s favour to prevent the utter extinction of his people. But we must not understand this word of fasting strictly, as if they ate nothing for seven whole days; but in a more large sense, as it is used both in sacred and profane writers; that they did eat but little, and that but mean food, and drank only water for that time. This book began with the birth of Samuel, and ends with the death of Saul. The comparing these together will teach us to prefer the honour that comes from God before all the honours of the world. The reader will do well to observe also that in this book we have two such examples of piety and virtue in Samuel and David as we cannot too frequently make the subject of our consideration. On the other hand, in the example of Saul we have a picture of the miserable state of that man who forgetteth God, and turneth aside from his commandments. May God, through Jesus Christ, send down his grace into our hearts, that, through our whole lives, we may be inclined to imitate the first, and may always dread to fall into the state of the latter, and, as the only way to escape it, make it our chief study and delight to please God, and do his will; for this is the whole of man: in which all his happiness, all his peace consists. For that there is no peace to the wicked, hath been pronounced by Him who knoweth the nature and frame of man; by the Lord himself, who cannot lie. “The wicked are like the troubled sea when it cannot rest. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked,” Isaiah 57:20-21.