Now the Philistines fought against Israel: and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa.
Verses 1, 2. - The Philistines fought. Literally it is a participle present, "the Philistines are warring," as if it were a mere resumption of 1 Samuel 28:1. In the battle fought on the day following Saul's visit to the witch the Israelites were defeated, and fell in large numbers slain in Mount Gilboa, either because the Philistines had attacked them there, or because, after fighting in the valley of Jezreel, they had made on its steep ridges their last defence. Among those thus slain were the three sons of Saul mentioned in 1 Samuel 14:49, where see note.
And the Philistines followed hard upon Saul and upon his sons; and the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Malchishua, Saul's sons.
And the battle went sore against Saul, and the archers hit him; and he was sore wounded of the archers.
Verses 3, 4. - The archers. Literally, as in the margin, "shooters, men with bows." As the first word would equally apply to men who threw javelins, the explanation is added to make the meaning clear. Hit him. Literally, "found him, i.e. found out his position, and came up to where he was. He was sore wounded. Rather, "he was sore distressed." In Deuteronomy 2:25 the verb is rendered "be in anguish." The meaning is that Saul, finding himself surrounded by these archers, and that he could neither escape nor come to close quarters with them, and die fighting, ordered his armour bearer to kill him, that he might be spared the degradation of being slain by "uncircumcised" heathen. Abuse me. This verb is translated mock in Jeremiah 38:19. "Maltreat" would be a better rendering in both places, and also in Judges 19:25, where, too, the word occurs. Its exact meaning is to practise upon another all that passion, lust, anger, or malice dictate. Probably Saul thought that they would treat him as they had previously treated Samson (Judges 16:21-25).
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.
And when his armourbearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise upon his sword, and died with him.
Verses 5, 6. - His armour bearer. The Jewish tradition says that he was Doeg the Edomite, and that the sword on which Saul fell was that with which he had massacred the priests. This is not very probable; but whoever he was, his horror on being asked to slay his master, and his devotion to him, are deserving of admiration. All his men. In 1 Chronicles 10:6" all his house." But Ishbosheth and Abner survived, and the meaning probably is not that his whole army, but that his personal attendants, all those posted round him, fell to a man, fighting bravely for their king, as the Scots fought round King James V. at Flodden Field. As suicide was very rare among the Israelites, the death of Saul is made more intensely tragic by the anguish which drove him thus to die by his own hand. POLITICAL RESULT OF THE BATTLE (ver. 7).
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.
Verse 7. - The men of Israel. The term is here applied to non-combatants, while in ver. 1 it meant those following Saul in arms. On the other side of the valley. I.e. of Jezreel, and so all the Israelites inhabiting the tribes of Issachar, Zabulon, and Naphthali, and the region generally to the north. In 1 Chronicles 10:7 this flight is confined to the inhabitants of the valley, one of the most fertile districts of Palestine; but probably the statement made here, that a very large extent of country was the prize of victory, is the more correct. On the other side Jordan. This phrase constantly means the eastern side of the Jordan, nor need we doubt but that the people living near it abandoned their homes and fled; for the river would form but a slight protection for them in this northerly part of its course. Still the conquests on the eastern bank of the Jordan must have been confined to a small district near the lake of Tiberias, as Abner was able to place Ishbosheth as king at Mahanaim, a town about twenty miles to the east of the river, and not far from Jabez-Gilead. South of Jezreel the Philistines made no conquests, and thus Ephraim, Benjamin, and Judah remained free, and of course Gilead, and the most part of the region beyond Jordan (see 2 Samuel 2:8-11). MALTREATMENT OF THE BODIES OF SAUL AND HIS SONS (vers. 8-10).
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.
Verse 8. - It came to pass on the morrow. The previous verse gave us the results of the victory as they were in course of time developed. We now return to the narrative of the battle and its immediate consequences. As the spoiling was deferred till the morrow, the struggle must have been obstinately contested, and decided only just before nightfall.
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.
Verses 9, 10. - They cut off his head. This was probably done not simply in retaliation for what had happened to their champion Goliath, but in accordance with the customs of ancient warfare. The fierce joy of the Philistines over the fallen Saul proves how great had been their fear of him, and how successful he had been in breaking their yoke off Israel's neck. Had he still had David with him the victory would assuredly have remained on his side. They put his armour in the house of Ashtaroth. Hebrew, "of the Ashtaroth." Whether it was divided among the various shrines of Astarte, or whether it was all placed in her famous temple at Askelon, described by Herodotus (1:105) as the most ancient of the fanes of the Syrian Venus, is uncertain. The former view agrees best with the Hebrew text and with what is said in 1 Chronicles 10:10, where we have the additional information that they suspended Saul's head in the temple of Dagon. They fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan, as also the bodies of his sons (ver. 12). Beth-shan or Scythopolis lies about four miles from the Jordan on the west, and twelve miles south of the lake of Tiberias. It is almost in a straight line to the west of Mahanaim, and must have been at once occupied by the Philistines, and as they hung the bodies of the fallen king and his sons on its wall, they evidently intended to retain it. RECOVERY OF THE BODIES OF SAUL AND HIS SONS (vers. 11-13).
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;
Verse 11. - Jabesh-Gilead. Eusebius describes this place as situated on the road from Pella to Gerasa, and therefore it would be much nearer the Jordan than Mahanaim, and probably was not more than twelve or fourteen miles distant from Beth-shan. The people there had not forgotten how bravely Saul had saved them, and now showed their gratitude by rescuing his remains from disgrace.
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.
Verses 12, 13. - They burnt them. Cremation, though highly honourable among classical nations, is here mentioned for the first time in Holy Scripture, and was probably resorted to on this occasion to insure the bodies of Saul and his sons against further maltreatment, as, if buried, the Philistines might have made the attempt to get them again into their power. Some suppose that the burning of the dead was afterwards practised by the Jews, and quote in its favour 2 Chronicles 16:14; Isaiah 33:12; Jeremiah 31:40; Jeremiah 34:5; Amos 6:10, but these passages bear a different interpretation. After the exile, interment was the sole method of disposing of the dead among the Jews, and in the Talmud cremation is condemned as a heathen practice. The burial of the bones of Saul and his sons proves that their bodies here were really burnt. Under a tree. Hebrew, "under the tamarisk," the famous tree of that species at Jabesh. It was under one tamarisk that Saul commanded the massacre of the priests (1 Samuel 22:6), and now his bones are placed in rest beneath another. Perhaps the people remembered the king's fondness for trees. For the final fate of these relics see 2 Samuel 21:12-14. They fasted seven days (see Genesis 1:10). The time of mourning was thirty days for Aaron (Numbers 20:29) and for Moses (Deuteronomy 34:8). The Talmudic rule is strict mourning for seven days, less strict for the next twenty-three, in all thirty; and for a father or mother mourning was continued for a year. The fasting was mourning of the strictest kind, and proves that the people of Jabesh-Gilead honored to the utmost their deliverer.
And they took their bones, and buried them under a tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.