1 Samuel 31
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Now the Philistines fought against Israel: and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa.
Ch. 1 Samuel 31:1-7. The death of Saul on Mount Gilboa

1. The narrative of this chapter has been inserted by the compiler of Chronicles in his work (1 Chronicles 10:1-12) with only a few verbal variations.

Now the Philistines] The notices of the Philistine muster in 1 Samuel 28:4, 1 Samuel 29:1; 1 Samuel 29:11 have prepared the way for the account of the battle.

Four battles memorable in the history of Israel were fought in or near the plain of Esdraelon “the great battlefield of Palestine.”

(1) The battle of Kishon, in which Deborah and Barak defeated the host of Sisera (Jdg 4:15; Jdg 5:21).

(2) The battle of Jezreel, in which Gideon’s three hundred routed the vast horde of Midianites (Judges 7).

(3) The disastrous battle of Mount Gilboa recorded here.

(4) The battle of Megiddo, where Josiah lost his life fighting against Pharaoh Necho.

(5) A fifth may be added, the battle of Hattîn, on the fifth of July, 1187, “the last struggle of the Crusaders, in which all was staked in the presence of the holiest scenes of Christianity, and all miserably lost.” See Stanley’s Sin. and Pal. p. 335 ff., 369.

the men of Israel fled] Probably the battle took place in the plain of Jezreel; the men of Israel were driven back on their camp, and finally fled in confusion up the heights of Gilboa, pursued by the Philistines.

And the Philistines followed hard upon Saul and upon his sons; and the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Malchishua, Saul's sons.
2. Saul’s sons] See 1 Samuel 14:49. There is a tragic pathos in the simplicity of the account. Cp. 1 Samuel 31:6.

And the battle went sore against Saul, and the archers hit him; and he was sore wounded of the archers.
3. the battle went sore against Saul] Cp. 1 Kings 22:31 ff. The Vulg. has a striking paraphrase: “the whole weight of the battle was directed against Saul,” (totumque pondus praelii versum est in Saul).

he was sore wounded] So the Sept. and Vulg. But the Heb. may also be rendered, “and he was sore afraid.” Despair and the fear of insult paralysed his courage. For “of the archers” the Sept. reads “in the abdomen,” but the Heb. text is preferable.

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.
4. Then said Saul, &c.] Cp. Jdg 9:54.

these uncircumcised] No indignity could be more intolerable than for the sacred person of Jehovah’s Anointed to be the butt of the heathen who had no part in His covenant. Cp. 1 Samuel 14:6.

abuse me] Maltreat me for their own amusement.

a sword] His sword.

fell upon it] This account of Saul’s death is obviously inconsistent with that given by the Amalekite (2 Samuel 1:9 ff.). His story was a fabrication. He found the king’s corpse on the field, stripped it, and brought the spoil to David in the hope of a reward.

And when his armourbearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise upon his sword, and died with him.
5. and died with him] Being answerable for the king’s life he feared punishment: or from a nobler motive of true fidelity, refused to survive his master.

So Saul died, and his three sons, and his armourbearer, and all his men, that same day together.
6. and all his men] The Sept. (B) omits these words. 1 Chronicles 10:6 reads “all his house.” Probably the soldiers of the royal body guard are meant, who fell fighting round him like Harold’s hus-carls at the battle of Hastings. If so, there is no difficulty in the escape of Ishbosheth, who probably was not on the field, and of Abner, who as general would not be in attendance on the king’s person.

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.
7. on the other side of the valley] On the side of the valley (êmek, see on 1 Samuel 6:13) or plain of Jezreel opposite to the battle-field. The district to the north is meant, in which the tribes of Issachar, Zebulun and Naphtali dwelt. 1 Chronicles 10:7 however reads simply “in the valley,” and perhaps the phrase only means “on the side of the valley.” See next note.

on the other side Jordan] This is the usual sense of the Hebrew words. The panic spread even to the eastern side of the Jordan. But possibly the phrase here means “on the side of the Jordan,” i.e. in the district between the battle-field and the river; which agrees better with the account of the exploit of the Jabeshites, and the establishment of Ishbosheth’s kingdom at Mahanaim. The greater part of the north of Canaan was thus occupied by the Philistines. Note that this clause is omitted in 1 Chronicles 10:7.

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.
8–13. The burial of Saul and his Sons

9. they cut off his head] The Anointed of Jehovah fares no better than the uncircumcised Goliath, now that God has forsaken him.

to publish it] To publish the good news. Sept. εὐαγγελίζοντες. Cp. 2 Samuel 1:20.

in the house of their idols] In the temples of their idols, which were regarded as the givers of the victory. Cp. ch. 1 Samuel 5:2. Chron. reads “to carry tidings to their idols.”

And they put his armour in the house of Ashtaroth: and they fastened his body to the wall of Bethshan.
10. the house of Ashtaroth] See on 1 Samuel 7:3. “This was doubtless the famous temple of Venus in Askelon mentioned by Herodotus (I. 105) as the most ancient of all her temples. Hence the special mention of Askelon in 2 Samuel 1:20.” Speaker’s Comm.

they fastened his body to the wall] Together with the bodies of his sons (1 Samuel 31:12). They were hung on the wall in the “open place” (2 Samuel 21:12, E. V. street) by the gate, that all the passers by might join in exulting over the defeat and disgrace of Israel.

Beth-shan] Now Beisân, situated in the Wady Jâlûd four miles west of the Jordan, “on the brow just where the plain of Jezreel drops down by a rather steep descent some three hundred feet to the level of the Ghôr,” or Jordan valley. After the Return from the Captivity it was known as Scythopolis (2Ma 12:29; cp. the Sept. of Jdg 1:27).

In 1 Chronicles 10:10 this statement about Saul’s body is omitted, and in its place we read that “they fastened his head in the temple of Dagon.”

And when the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead heard of that which the Philistines had done to Saul;
11. the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead] Mindful of the debt of gratitude they owed to Saul for rescuing them from Nahash (ch. 11). The isolated round-topped hill on the south side of the Wady Yâbis, which has been conjecturally fixed upon as the site of Jabesh, is in full view of Beth-shan (Tristram, Land of Israel, p. 556). The distance over the hills, down into the Jordan valley, and up the Wady Jâlûd is not much under twenty miles.

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.
12. burnt them] Cremation was not a Hebrew practice, but in the present case was probably adopted to avoid the possibility of further insult to the bodies, if the Philistines should take Jabesh. The condensed account in Chronicles omits the mention of the burning.

And they took their bones, and buried them under a tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.
13. under a tree] Under the tamarisk, some well-known tree at Jabesh. Chron. reads “under the terebinth,” (êlah). David removed the bones to the family sepulchre at Zelah (2 Samuel 21:12-14).

fasted seven days] A sign of general mourning. Cp. 2 Samuel 1:12; 2 Samuel 3:35, &c.

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