Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Now the Philistines fought against Israel; and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa.1 Chronicles 10-29—The history of King David, who made Jerusalem the political and religious centre of Israel, organised the Levitical ministry in its permanent shape, and amassed great stores of wealth and material for the Temple, which his son and successor was to build.
X. A BRIEF NARRATIVE OF THE OVERTHROW AND DEATH OF SAUL, BY WAY OF PRELUDE TO THE REIGN OF DAVID.
A BRIEF NARRATIVE OF THE OVERTHROW AND DEATH OF SAUL, BY WAY OF PRELUDE TO THE REIGN OF DAVID.
1Chronicles 10:1-12 are parallel to 1Samuel 31:1-13. The general coincidence of the two texts is so exact as to preclude the supposition of independence. We know that the chronicler has drawn much in his earlier chapters from the Pentateuch; and as he must have been acquainted with the Books of Samuel, it is à priori likely that he made a similar use of them. At the same time, a number of small variations—on an average, three at least in each verse—some of which can neither be referred to the freaks or mistakes of copyists nor to the supposed caprice of the compiler, may be taken to indicate the use of an additional source, or perhaps of a text of Samuel differing in some respects from that which we possess. (See Introduction.)
(1) Now the Philistines fought against Israel.—For a similarly abrupt beginning, comp. Isaiah 2:1. The battle was fought in the plain of Jezreel, or Esdraelon, the scene of so many of the struggles of ancient history. (Comp. Hosea 2:10 : “I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.”)
The men of Israel.—Heb., man—a collective expression, which gives a more vivid image of the rout. They fled as one man, or in a body. Samuel has the plural.
Fell down slain in mount Gilboa.—The Jebel Faku’a rises out of the plain of Jezreel to a height of one thousand seven hundred feet. The defeated army of Saul fell back upon this mountain, which had been their first position (1Samuel 28:4), but were pursued thither. “Slain” is right, as in 1Chronicles 10:8.
And the Philistines followed hard after Saul, and after his sons; and the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Malchishua, the sons of Saul.(2) The Philistines followed hard after Saul.—Literally, clave to Saul, that is, hotly pursued him. (Comp. 1 Kings 22, 31.) The destruction of the king and his sons would make their triumph complete.
The sons of Saul.—Omit the. Eshbaal, Saul’s fourth son, was not in the battle (2Samuel 2:8. Comp. 1Chronicles 8:33). Like Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, Saul may have witnessed the death of his sons (2Kings 25:7). Jonathan, at least, would not be far from him in the last struggle. “In their deaths they were not divided.”
And the battle went sore against Saul, and the archers hit him, and he was wounded of the archers.(3) The battle went sore against Saul.—Literally, was heavy upon (Samuel, “unto”) him, like a burden weighing him to the earth.
And the archers hit him.—Literally, And they that shoot with the bow came upon him; and he shuddered (Sam., “greatly”) before the shooters. “He shuddered or trembled” (Deuteronomy 2:25). The verb is properly to writhe, travail (Isaiah 23:4). Saul’s deadly terror was natural. He believed himself forsaken of God, and stood now, after a lost battle, beset by murderous foes, whom he could not reach. There was no chance of a fair hand to hand encounter. The Heb. word for “archers” is the same in both places in Sam. (môrîm); here a rarer form (yôrîm, 2Chronicles 35:23) fills the second place. The Philistines were from Egypt, and the bow was a favourite Egyptian arm. The hieroglyph for “soldier” (menfat) is a man with bow and quiver.
Then said Saul to his armourbearer, Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and abuse me. But his armourbearer would not; for he was sore afraid. So Saul took a sword, and fell upon it.(4) And Saul said.—So Abimelech (Judges 9:54).
Lest these uncircumcised come.—Sam. Adds “and thrust me through.” An inadvertent repetition there, or omission here, is possible. Or, we might say, Saul preferred death by a friendly stroke to the thrusts of insulting foemen.
Took a sword.—Literally, the sword—i.e., his sword.
And when his armourbearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise on the sword, and died.(5) He fell likewise on the sword.—Sam., “his sword,” i.e., the sword of the armour-bearer.
And died.—Samuel adds “with him,” which seems to be omitted here for brevity, which may be the reason of other similar omissions. Loyalty to his chief, and perhaps dread of the foe, were the armour-bearer’s motives.
So Saul died, and his three sons, and all his house died together.(6) And all his house died together.—Instead of this Samuel reads “and his armour-bearer; also all his men on that day together.” The LXX. adds “on that day” here, while in Samuel it omits “all his men,” thus minimising the differences of text. It is mere pedantry to press the phrases “all his men,” “all his house.” The strength of these expressions indicates the completeness of the overthrow.
The chronicler was fully aware that some of Saul’s house were not engaged in this battle (1Chronicles 9:35). And in any case, the chief warriors of his household, and immediate followers, died with the king.
And when all the men of Israel that were in the valley saw that they fled, and that Saul and his sons were dead, then they forsook their cities, and fled: and the Philistines came and dwelt in them.(7) That were in the valley.—Rather, the plain, in which the main battle was fought—that of Jezreel. Samuel has “that were on the other side of the plain, and on the other side of the Jordan.” The curt phrase “who (dwelt) in the plain,” may be compared with 1Chronicles 9:2. The people of the surrounding districts are meant; who, when they “saw that they” (viz., Saul’s army, “the men of Israel,” Samuel) “fled,” or had been routed, deserted “their (Samuel, ‘the,’ perhaps a transposition of letters) cities” which were then occupied by the Philistines.
Dwelt in them.—The pronoun here is masculine, in Samuel, feminine, which is correct.
And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his sons fallen in mount Gilboa.(8) His sons.—Samuel, “his three sons.” Otherwise the two verses are word for word the same.
And when they had stripped him, they took his head, and his armour, and sent into the land of the Philistines round about, to carry tidings unto their idols, and to the people.(9) And when they had stripped him.—Better, and they stripped him, and carried off his head, &c. Samuel, “and they cut off his head, and stripped his armour off.” With the phrase “carried off his head,” comp. Genesis 40:19, “Pharaoh will lift thy head from off thee,” where the same Hebrew verb is used (yissâ).
And sent (Saul’s head and armour) to carry tidings unto their idols.—The verb bassēr is used of good and bad tidings, especially of the former, as in 2Samuel 18:19-20.
Unto their idols.—Samuel, “house of their idols.” But the LXX. reading there is the same as here, τοῖς εἰδώλοις. The expression of Samuel looks original, though it may have been copied by mistake from 1Chronicles 10:10. Note the strictly local conception of deities implied in this act of the Philistines; as if their idols could neither see nor hear beyond their own temples. (Comp. 1Kings 20:23; 1Kings 20:28; Psalm 94:9.)
And they put his armour in the house of their gods, and fastened his head in the temple of Dagon.(10) In the house of their gods.—Or god, as LXX. Samuel, “house of Ashtaroth,” which the chronicler or his source paraphrases, perhaps from a repugnance to mentioning the idol’s name. Ashtoreth had a great temple at Ascalon, as “Heavenly Aphrodite” (Herod., Hist i. 108). The “Queen of Heaven” (Jeremiah 7:18) was worshipped by the Semitic races generally. Under the name of Ishtar, she was a chief goddess of the Assyrians, and had famous temples at Nineveh and Arbela. The Sabæans worshipped her as Athtâr; and the name Ashtâr is coupled with Chemosh on the Moabite Stone.
Fastened his head in the temple of Dagon.—Literally, and his skull (gulgôleth—comp. Golgotha, Matthew 27:33) they fastened in the house of Dagon. Instead of this, we read in Samuel, “and his corpse they fastened to the wall of Beth-shan.” It is hardly likely that the one reading is a corruption of the other. The chronicler has omitted the statement about Saul’s corpse, which is not mentioned in 1Chronicles 10:9, and supplied one respecting his head, which has been already spoken of in that verse. He found the fact in his additional source, if the clause in question has not dropt out of the text of Samuel.
The Accadians worshipped Dagon, as we learn from the cuneiform inscriptions: comp. the name Ismi-Dagan (Dagon hears).
They arose, all the valiant men, and took away the body of Saul, and the bodies of his sons, and brought them to Jabesh, and buried their bones under the oak in Jabesh, and fasted seven days.(12) All the valiant men.—Literally, every man of valour. Samuel adds, “and marched all the night.”
Took away.—Carried off. Samuel has “took,” (ceperunt).
The body.—A common Aramaic word, gûfāh, only read here in the Old Testament, for which Samuel has the pure Hebrew synonym a’wîyah. Samuel adds, “from the wall of Beth-shan.”
And brought them.—Samuel, “and came to Jabesh, and burnt them there.” To burn a corpse was a further degradation of executed criminals (Joshua 7:25; Leviticus 20:14; Leviticus 21:9), and as the Jews did not ordinarily practise cremation, it is supposed that the phrase “burnt them,” in 1 Samuel 31 means “made a burning for them” of costly spices, as was done at the funerals of kings (Jeremiah 34:5; 2Chronicles 16:14; 2Chronicles 21:19). But perhaps the bodies were burnt in this exceptional case because they had been mutilated by the enemy.
Buried their bones.—Samuel, “took and buried.” The phrase “their bones,” contrasted with their “corpses,” certainly seems to imply that the latter had been burnt.
The oak.—Heb., terebinth, or turpentine tree. Samuel, “tamarisk.” The difference points to another source used by Chronicles.
So Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the LORD, even against the word of the LORD, which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to inquire of it;(13, 14) A concluding reflection from the mind of the chronicler himself. He sums up his extract concerning the ruin of Saul by assigning the moral ground of it, viz., Saul’s “unfaithfulness whereby he showed himself unfaithful to Jehovah.” The same charge was made against the Transjordan tribes in 1Chronicles 5:25, and against the people of Judah in 1Chronicles 9:1.
(13) Even against the word of the Lord.—Saul’s unfaithfulness was twofold: (1) he did not observe the prophetic word of Jehovah (comp. 1Samuel 13:13; 1Samuel 15:11); and (2) he consulted a necromancer, to the neglect of consulting Jehovah (1 Samuel 28).
And also for asking counsel.—And also by consulting the necromancer in order to get a response. “Turn ye not to the necromancers” (Leviticus 19:31). (See also Isaiah 8:19.) Saul broke the general law of his people, as well as special commands addressed to himself. No allusion is made to his cruel slaughter of the priests (1Samuel 22:18), nor to his implacable hatred of David.
And inquired not of the LORD: therefore he slew him, and turned the kingdom unto David the son of Jesse.(14) And enquired not of the Lord.—Saul had, in fact, enquired of Jehovah before resorting to the witch of En-dor, “but the Lord answered him not, neither by the dreams, nor by the Urim, nor by the prophets” (1Samuel 28:6). We shall not be reading a meaning of our own into the text if we say that Saul’s natural impatience (1Samuel 13:13) on this occasion betrayed him again; he at once despaired of help from his God, instead of seeking it with self-humiliation and penitence. His character is consistently drawn throughout the history. The sin that ruined the first king was essentially that which led to the final ruin of the nation, viz., unfaithfulness to the covenant-God. The same word characterises both. (Comp. 1Chronicles 10:13 with 1Chronicles 5:25; 1Chronicles 9:1.)
Therefore he slew him.—God acts through the instrumentality of His creatures. In this case He employed the Philistines, and the suicidal hand of Saul himself; just as He employed the Assyrian conquerors of a later age to be the scourge of guilty peoples (Isaiah 10:5-15), and raised up Cyrus to be His servant, who should fulfil all His pleasure (Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1-13).
Turned the kingdom unto David.—By means of the warriors of Israel (1Chronicles 12:23). This sentence shows that 1 Chronicles 10 is transitional to the history of David as king.