1 Samuel 31


A battle in Mount Gilboa between Israel and the Philistines; in

which the former are defeated, and Saul's three sons slain,

1, 2.

Saul, being mortally wounded, and afraid to fall alive into the

hands of the Philistines, desires his armour-bearer to despatch

him; which he refusing, Saul falls on his sword, and his

armour-bearer does the same, 3, 6.

The Israelites on the other side of the valley forsake their

cities, and the Philistines come and dwell in them, 7.

The Philistines, finding Saul and his three sons among the

slain, strip them of their armour, which they put in the house

of Ashtaroth, cut of their heads, send the news to all the

houses of their idols, and fasten the bodies of Saul and his

three sons to the walls of Beth-shan, 8-10.

Valiant men of Jabesh-gilead go by night, and take away the

bodies; burn them at Jabesh; bury their bones under a tree;

and fast seven days, 11-13.


Verse 1. Now the Philistines fought] This is the continuation of

the account given in 1Sa 29:1-11.

The men of Israel fled] It seems as if they were thrown into

confusion at the first onset, and turned their backs upon their


Verse 2. Followed hard upon Saul and upon his sons] They, seeing

the discomfiture of their troops, were determined to sell their

lives as dear as possible, and therefore maintained the battle

till the three brothers were slain.

Verse 3. He was sore wounded of the archers.] It is likely that

Saul's sons were slain by the archers, and that Saul was now

mortally wounded by the same. Houbigant translates, The archers

rushed upon him, from whom he received a grievous wound. He

farther remarks that had not Saul been grievously wounded, and

beyond hope of recovery, he would not have wished his

armour-bearer to despatch him; as he might have continued still to

fight, or have made his escape from this most disastrous battle.

Some of the versions render it, He FEARED the archers greatly; but

this is by no means likely.

Verse 4. Draw thy sword, and thrust me through] Dr. Delaney has

some good observations on this part of the subject: "Saul and his

armour-bearer died by the same sword. That his armour-bearer died

by his own sword is out of all doubt; the text expressly tells us

so; and that Saul perished by the same sword is sufficiently

evident. Draw THY sword, says he to him, and thrust me through;

which, when he refused, Saul, says the text, took THE sword,

( eth hachereb, the very sword,) and fell upon it. What

sword? Not his own, for then the text would have said so; but, in

the plain natural grammatical construction, the sword before

mentioned must be the sword now referred to, that is, his

armour-bearer's, 1Ch 10:4, 5. Now it is the established tradition

of all the Jewish nation that this armour-bearer was Doeg, and I

see no reason why it should be discredited; and if so, then Saul

and his executioner both fell by that weapon with which they had

before massacred the priests of God. So Brutus and Cassius killed

themselves with the same swords with which they stabbed Caesar;

and Calippus was stabbed with the same sword with which he stabbed


Verse 6. And all his men] Probably meaning those of his troops

which were his life or body guards: as to the bulk of the army, it

fled at the commencement of the battle, 1Sa 31:1.

Verse 7. The men of Israel that were on the other side of the

valley] They appear to have been panic-struck, and therefore fled

as far as they could out of the reach of the Philistines. As the

Philistines possessed Beth-shan, situated near to Jordan, the

people on the other side of that river, fearing for their safety,

fled also.

Verse 8. On the morrow] It is very likely that the battle and

pursuit continued till the night, so that there was no time till

the next day to strip and plunder the slain.

Verse 9. And they cut off his head] It is possible that they cut

off the heads of his three sons likewise; for although only his

head is said to be cut off, and his body only to be fastened to

the walls of Beth-shan, yet we find that the men of Jabesh-gilead

found both his body and the bodies of his three sons, fastened

to the walls, 1Sa 31:12.

Perhaps they only took off Saul's head, which they sent about to

their temples as a trophy of their victory, when they sent the

news of the defeat of the Israelites through all their coasts, and

at last placed it in the temple of Dagon, 1Ch 10:10.

Verse 10. They put his armour in the house of Ashtaroth] As

David had done in placing the sword of Goliath in the tabernacle.

We have already seen that it was common for the conquerors to

consecrate armour and spoils taken in war, to those who were the

objects of religious worship.

They fastened his body to the wall] Probably by means of iron

hooks; but it is said, 2Sa 21:12, that these bodies

were fastened in the STREET of Beth-shan. This may mean that the

place where they were fastened to the wall was the main street or

entrance into the city.

Verse 11. When the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard] This act

of the men of Jabesh-gilead was an act of gratitude due to Saul,

who, at the very commencement of his reign, rescued them from

Nahash, king of the Ammonites, (see 1Sa 11:1, &c.,) and by his

timely succours saved them from the deepest degradation and the

most oppressive tyranny. This heroic act, with the seven days'

fast, showed that they retained a due sense of their obligation

to this unfortunate monarch.

Verse 12. And burnt them there.] It has been denied that the

Hebrews burnt the bodies of the dead, but that they buried them in

the earth, or embalmed them, and often burnt spices around them,

&c. These no doubt were the common forms of sepulture, but neither

of these could be conveniently practiced in the present case. They

could not have buried them about Beth-shan without being

discovered; and as to embalming, that was most likely out of all

question, as doubtless the bodies were now too putrid to bear it.

They therefore burnt them, because there was no other way of

disposing of them at that time so as to do them honour; and the

bones and ashes they collected, and buried under a tree or in a

grove at Jabesh.

Verse 13. And fasted seven days.] To testify their sincere

regret for his unfortunate death, and the public calamity that had

fallen upon the land.

THUS ends the troublesome, and I had almost said the useless,

reign of Saul. A king was chosen in opposition to the will of the

Most High; and the government of God in effect rejected, to make

way for this king.

Saul was at first a very humble young man, and conducted himself

with great propriety; but his elevation made him proud, and he

soon became tyrannical in his private conduct and in his political

measures. His natural temper was not good; he was peevish,

fretful, and often outrageous; and these bad dispositions,

unchecked by proper application to the grace of God, became every

day more headstrong and dangerous. Through their violence he seems

at times to have been wholly carried away and deranged; and this

derangement appears to have been occasionally greatly exacerbated

by diabolical influences. This led him to take his friends for his

foes; so that in his paroxysms he strove to imbrue his hands in

their blood, and more than once attempted to assassinate his own

son; and most causelessly and inhumanly ordered the innocent

priests of the Lord at Nob to be murdered. This was the worst act

in his whole life.

Saul was but ill qualified for a proper discharge of the regal

functions. The reader will remember that he was chosen rather as a

general of the armies than as civil governor. The administration

of the affairs of the state was left chiefly to Samuel, and Saul

led forth the armies to battle.

As a general he gave proof of considerable capacity; he was

courageous, prompt, decisive, and persevering; and, except in the

last unfortunate battle in which he lost his life, generally led

his troops to victory.

Saul was a weak man, and very capricious; this is amply proved

by his unreasonable jealousy against David, and his continual

suspicion that all were leagued against him. It is also evident,

in his foolish adjuration relative to the matter of the honey (see

1Sa 14:24-30, 38-44) in which, to save his rash and nonsensical

oath, he would have sacrificed Jonathan his son!

The question, "Was Saul a good king?" has already in effect been

answered. He was on the whole a good man, as far as we know, in

private life; but he was a bad king; for he endeavoured to reign

independently of the Jewish constitution; he in effect assumed the

sacerdotal office and functions, and thus even changed what was

essential to that constitution. He not only offered sacrifices

which belonged to the priests alone; but in the most positive

manner went opposite to the orders of that God whose vicegerent he


Of his conduct in visiting the woman at En-dor I have already

given my opinion, and to this I must refer. His desperate

circumstances imposed on the weakness of his mind; and he did in

that instance an act which, in his jurisprudential capacity, he

had disapproved by the edict which banished all witches, &c., from

Israel. Yet in this act he only wished to avail himself of the

counsel and advice of his friend Samuel.

To the question, "Was not Saul a self-murderer?" I scruple not

to answer, "No." He was to all appearance mortally wounded, when

he begged his armour-bearer to extinguish the remaining spark of

life; and he was afraid that the Philistines might abuse his body,

if they found him alive; and we can scarcely say how much of

indignity is implied in this word; and his falling on his sword

was a fit of desperation, which doubtless was the issue of a mind

greatly agitated, and full of distraction. A few minutes longer,

and his life would in all probability have ebbed out; but though

this wound accelerated his death, yet it could not be properly the

cause of it, as he was mortally wounded before, and did it on the

conviction that he could not survive.

Taking Saul's state and circumstances together, I believe there

is not a coroner's inquest in this nation that would not have

brought in a verdict of derangement; while the pious and the

humane would everywhere have consoled themselves with the hope that

God had extended mercy to his soul.

MILLBROOK, June 11, 1818.

Ended this examination August 13, 1827.-A.C.

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