Now the Philistines fought against Israel; and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa.
Verse 1. - No abruptness marks this narration in 1 Samuel 31. On the contrary, it is there the natural conclusion of the wars between the Philistines and Saul. This engagement took place (1 Samuel 28:4; 1 Samuel 29:1, 11) on the plains of Jezreel. The name Jezreel marks either the city (Joshua 19:18; 1 Kings 21:1, 11), or the celebrated valley or plain called in later times Esdraelon, the Greek form of the word. The plain in its largest proportions may be said to have been bounded by the Mediterranean (although it is called the plain of Accho, where it abuts on that sea) and the Jordan, and by the Samaria and Carmel ranges on the south and south-west, and those of Galilee on the north and northeast. While called a "plain" and "the great plain" in Judges 1:8, its name in the Old Testament is "valley." It lay like a scalene triangle, with its apex in the direction of the Mediterranean, opening into the above-mentioned plain of Accho, and its sides going from right to left, about fifteen, twelve, and eighteen miles long respectively. The allusions to it in Old Testament history are frequent. Its exceeding richness is now turned into desolation unexceeded. Megiddo (Joshua 12:21; Judges 1:27), the city, centre of a smaller valley called by the same name (1 Chronicles 7:29; Judges 5:19), was situated within it, in the direction of Carmel. (For very full and interesting account of the Jezreel with which we have here to do, and of Esdraelon, see Stanley's 'Sinai and Palestine,' pp. 336-356, edit. 1866.) Mount Gilboa identifies for us the exact battle-field of the text. It is the same with that on which Gideon triumphed (Judges 7:1, 8). It is in the lot of Issachar, flanked by the Little Hermon ridge on the north-east, and by Gilboa on the south-east, a mountain range of ten miles long, about six hundred feet high, and mentioned only in the melancholy connection of this history. The flight of the men of Israel and of Saul was from the plain back to their position on Mount Gilboa, where they were pursued, overtaken, and slain. The modern name of the town Jezreel is Zerin, the depraved aliases of which appear as Gerin and Zazzin (Robinson's 'Bibl. Res.,' 3:162-165, 3rd edit.), and Jezreel, Shunem, and Beth-shean are the three most conspicuous places in this part of the whole plain of Esdraelon.
And the Philistines followed hard after Saul, and after his sons; and the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Malchishua, the sons of Saul.
Verse 2. - Followed hard after. The Hebrew verb implies all this and rather more, viz. that they made the pursuit of Saul and his sons their one special object. Luther's "Hingen sich au Saul" expresses this forcibly. Abinadab; or Ishui (see 1 Chronicles 8:33; 1 Samuel 14:49). The sons of Saul. Omit the article, which is not present in the Hebrew text. The fourth son, not withstanding our ver. 6, survived (2 Samuel 2:8-15).
And the battle went sore against Saul, and the archers hit him, and he was wounded of the archers.
Verse 3. - The archers hit him. The literal translation would be, the shooters, men with the bow, found him. The context makes it plain that the meaning is that the arrows of the pursuers rather than the pursuers themselves "found" him, and these made him argue all the rest. To this our Authorized Version has jumped by the one word "hit" him. It is evident from ver. 8 that the Philistines did not find the body of Saul to recognize it till next day. And he was wounded of the archers. The radical meaning of the verb (חוּל) is rather "to twist" (torquere) or "be twisted," "writhe" (torqueri). And the meaning here is in harmony with it, that Saul trembled from fear or writhed with the pain already inflicted of the arrows. Hence the parallel passage couples with this same verb, the adverb מְאֹך.
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.
Verse 4. - And abuse me. The main idea of the Hithp. of the verb here used is to satisfy the thirst of lust or cruelty. Saul probably feared not the abuse of mocking only, but that of torture. In the corresponding passage this verb is preceded by the clause, and thrust me through. His armour-bearer would not. He refused the request or bidding of Saul, no doubt mainly in respect of the fact that Saul was still "the anointed." We have a full description of both the loose arms and of the armour of the body in the case of the Philistine Goliath (1 Samuel 17:4-7). It is one of the world's surprising facts that the making of arms and armour, and the acquiring of skill in the using of them, should, as in fact all history attests, date from so early a period (Genesis 31:26; Genesis 34:25). As compared with the history and the fragmentary re. mains of classical antiquity, those of Scripture are remarkably scanty on this subject. The sword is the earliest mentioned in Scripture, carried in a sheath (1 Samuel 17:51; 2 Samuel 20:8; 1 Chronicles 21:27); though the Hebrew word is here different from that used in Samuel. It was slung by a girdle (1 Samuel 25:13), rested on hips or thigh (2 Samuel 20:8; Judges 3:16; Psalm 45:3), and was sometimes "two-edged" (Judges 3:16; Psalm 149:6). Then follows the spear in several varieties, as in 1 Samuel 17:7; 1 Chronicles 11:11; 1 Chronicles 20:5; 1 Chronicles 23:9. Again as a javelin (Joshua 8:14-25; Job 29:23; 1 Samuel 17:6, where in the Authorized Version it is called target, or gorget). Again as a lancet (1 Kings 18:28; 1 Chronicles 12:8, 24; 2 Chronicles 11:12; Nehemiah 4:13; Ezekiel 39:9). In addition to these three chief varieties of spear - the spear proper, the javelin, end the lancet - there is mention of two other weapons used at all events as the dart of a light kind would be used, in 2 Chronicles 23:10, and elsewhere, and in 2 Samuel 8:14, respectively. After sword and spear rank the bow and arrow (Genesis 21:20; 1 Samuel 31:3; 1 Chronicles 8:40; 1 Chronicles 12:2; Psalm 68:9; Psalm 120:4; Job 6:4) And lastly, the sling (Judges 20:16; 1 Samuel 25:29; 2 Kings 3:25), and a very strong weapon of the same kind mentioned in 2 Chronicles 26:15. The chief articles worn as bodily armour were the breastplate (1 Samuel 17:5, 38); the somewhat obscure habergeon, mentioned only twice, in no connection then of battle (Exodus 28:32; Exodus 39:23), the original name of which, tacharah, is found on Egyptian papyri of the nineteenth dynasty, - it seems to have been a species of doublet or corselet; the helmet (1 Samuel 17:5; ch. 26:14; Ezekiel 27:10); greaves (1 Samuel 17:6); two kinds of shield (1 Samuel 17:7, 41, compared with 1 Kings 10:16; 2 Chronicles 9:15); and lastly the article mentioned in 2 Samuel 8:7; 1 Chronicles 18:7; 2 Kings 11:10; 2 Chronicles 23:9; Song of Solomon 4:4; Jeremiah 51:11; Ezekiel 27:11; and of which we can say nothing certainly bearing upon its nature or its use, except that it was made of gold. Armour-bearers, then, the first distinct mention of whom we find in Judges 9:54, may well have been a necessity for kings and for the great. Joab had ten (2 Samuel 18:15). The word is not expressed as a compound in Hebrew, but as "one carrying (כֵלַים) arms."
And when his armourbearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise on the sword, and died.
Verse 5. - And died. The parallel (1 Samuel 31:5) adds "with him."
So Saul died, and his three sons, and all his house died together.
Verse 6. - All his house. In place of these words, the parallel (1 Samuel 31:6) has, "And his armour-bearer, and all his men, that same day together." This reading avoids the ambiguity referred to already (ver. 2). In either passage the moral is plain, that the end and ruin of Saul's family as a whole had arrived, rather than literally that the whole, including every member, of that family had perished.
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.
Verse 7. - In the valley. In place of these words, the parallel (1 Samuel 31:7) has, "On the other side of the valley, and.., on the other side Jordan." We have here a clear instance of the desire of the compiler of Chronicles to compress his narrative, while the fidelity of the parallel narrative is testi-fled in the naturalness of its statements, amounting to this, that, quick as the intelligence or report could reach all those Israelites who were at all within the range of the victorious Philistines, they hastened to vacate their abodes.
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.
Verse 8. - And his sons. The parallel (1 Samuel 31:8) says explicitly, "And his three sons."
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.
Verse 9. - And when they had stripped him, they took his head, and his armour. Some comparing this with the parallel (1 Samuel 31:9), "They cut off his head, and stripped off his armour," say "our author" leaves the beheading unmentioned! It is certainly sufficiently implied. To carry tidings unto their idols. This sentence is more clearly explained, and brought into rather unexpected and perhaps unwished accord with the most modern of our ecclesiastical habits, when in the parallel as above, we find "to publish it in the house of their idols "as the form of expression.
And they put his armour in the house of their gods, and fastened his head in the temple of Dagon.
Verse 10. - The house of their gods. In place of this general designation, the parallel (1 Samuel 31:10) designates the house more exactly as "the house of Ashtaroth" (Genesis 14:5; the Phoenician female deity, as Baal was their male deity. The Greek form of the name is Astarte. See also Cic., 'De. Nat. Deo.,' 3:23). And fastened his head in the temple of Dagon. The parallel, as above, gives us, "And fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shah" (which account is corroborated in 2 Samuel 21:12-14), and does not say what further was done with the head. It is no doubt remarkable that one historian puts on record the one fact and the other the other; and it is one of the clearer indications that both took from some common sources. It is perhaps something to be remarked also that, while the historian in Samuel says nothing further about the head (though allusion to it is probably included in the "body" and the "bones," the further account of which is given in vers. 12, 13, as well as in 2 Samuel 21:12-14), the compiler of Chronicles does revert to mention of "the body of Saul," ver. 12, infra, though without any corresponding naming of Beth-shah. Bertheau finds little difficulty in the question, by simply supposing that the omission in Chronicles is another instance of the desire to compress; while others suppose corruption in our text, or, as Thenius and Ewald, the loss of a sentence to our text. After all said, the omission in Samuel of the fate of the head would seem to be fully as remarkable as the omission, so far as this verse is concerned, in Chronicles of the fate of the body. It is reasonable to suppose that the head and trunk of the body of Saul were brought together again, or it were likely some allusion to the contrary would have transpired in the following verses of this chapter or in 2 Samuel 21:12-14. With regard to the act of the Philistines in dedicating the armour of Saul, and fixing his head in the temple of Dagon, as though trophies, the custom was both ancient and not uncommon (Judges 16:21-30; 1 Samuel 5:1-5; 1 Samuel 21:9). The house of Dagon (Joshua 15:41; Joshua 19:27) here spoken of was that at Ashdod (Joshua 15:47), between Gaza and Joppa. Though belonging to Judah's lot, it was never subdued by Israel, and remained throughout their history one of their worst foes. It is the Azotus of Acts 8:40. There was another Dagon temple at Gaza (Judges 16:21-31). Dagon's representation was the figure of a man, as to head, hands, and bust, but for the rest that of a fish, which was a symbol of fruitfulness. As Ashdod was situate on the extreme west of Palestine, so Beth-shah - generally written Beth-shean, a city of Manasseh (ch. 7:29), though within the borders of Issachar (Joshua 17:11), flora which the Canaanites were not expelled (Judges 1:27) - was on the extreme east near the Jordan. It was afterwards called Scythopolis. Considering the distance these were apart, and their contrary directions, we may suppose that some suggestion was intended by the fixing the head in the one place and the body in the other.
And when all Jabeshgilead heard all that the Philistines had done to Saul,
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.
Verse 12. - Jabesh. This is the only place where "Jabesh" is used as an abbreviation for Jabesh-gilead, of which it was the chief city. Gilead comprised the lots of Reuben and Gad (Numbers 32:1-5, 25-32, 39-41) and of half Manasseh (1 Chronicles 27:21). Saul had on a celebrated occasion (1 Samuel 11:1-13) befriended the people of Jabesh-gilead, coming to their rescue against Nahath the Ammonite, of which kindness they are now mindful, show that rarest of virtues, gratitude to a fallen monarch, and are further on (2 Samuel 2:5) commended for it by David. This verse does not tell us, as the parallel (1 Samuel 31:12) does, of the first burning of the bodies, and then of the burying of the calcined bones. The silence is very remarkable. It does name the kind of tree, the "oak" or "terebinth." The word for the tree, however, in both passages is of doubtful and perhaps only generic signification. The several Hebrew words translated in various places as "oak," all share a common root, significant of the idea of strength. Dr. Thomson ('The Land and the Book,' pp. 243, 244) says that the country owns still to an abundance of oaks of very fine growth in some cases, and that these are exceedingly more plentiful and altogether a stronger tree than the "terebinth." The different names, though all connected with one root, referred to are probably owing to the large variety of oaks. With the statement of the burying of the bones under a tree, and the fasting of seven days on the part of these brave and grateful men of Jabesh-gilead, the parallel account comes to its end.
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;
Verse 13. - So Saul died for his transgression. (For this transgression and the stress laid upon it and its predicted consequences, see 1 Samuel 15:1-9, 11, 14; 1 Samuel 28:18.) For asking... of... a familiar spirit (1 Samuel 28:7-24).
And inquired not of the LORD: therefore he slew him, and turned the kingdom unto David the son of Jesse.
Verse 14. - And inquired not of the Lord. Saul seems to have, in point of fact, inquired in some sense (1 Samuel 14:37; 1 Samuel 28:5, 6, 15). But the probable meaning is that he did not inquire in the first instance (see vers. 3, 4); and when he did inquire, he did not await the reply solely and exclusively of Jehovah. Therefore he slew him (so see 1 Chronicles 2:3). David the son of Jesse. The compiler, having heretofore given so scrupulously whatever of genealogical fact he could, is now careful to use it. And he identifies the future chief hero of his history as him who had already been instanced (1 Chronicles 2:15), "son of Jesse."