(1Sa 31:1 ESV) Now the Philistines fought against Israel, and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines and fell slain on Mount Gilboa. 2 And the Philistines overtook Saul and his sons, and the Philistines struck down Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchi-shua, the sons of Saul. 3 The battle pressed hard against Saul, and the archers found him, and he was badly wounded by the archers.
As Samuel had prophesied (from the grave), Saul’s sons would die in battle and Saul with them. The author spends little time on Jonathan, who’s been absent from the narrative since David fled from the palace.
4 Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and mistreat me.” But his armor-bearer would not, for he feared greatly.
The role of the armor bearer was to protect the king in battle, and his armor bearer had failed. He was likely hoping desperately that the king would survive.
Therefore Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. 5 And when his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died with him. 6 Thus Saul died, and his three sons, and his armor-bearer, and all his men, on the same day together.
The armor bearer likely committed suicide as a matter of honor. The king having now died, the armor bearer had failed in his task.
This tells us something of David, as he was briefly the king’s armor bearer and likely had an honor-bound obligation to kill himself should he fail — and this despite the fact David was the Lord’s anointed to replace Saul!
7 And when the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley and those beyond the Jordan saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their cities and fled. And the Philistines came and lived in them.
This was no mere skirmish. The Philistines mounted such an assault that Israelites surrendered entire cities to protect their lives. Israel was in disarray, in a losing war, and had lost both its king and the heir-apparent. Meanwhile, David was in Ziklag among the Philistines.
8 The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. 9 So they cut off his head and stripped off his armor and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines, to carry the good news to the house of their idols and to the people. 10 They put his armor in the temple of Ashtaroth, and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan.
As has been customary in time of war, even today in some places (think Somalia), the bodies of slain enemies are paraded about in celebration of a victory. It’s a gory, vile practice, but in ancient times, it’s one way to unambiguously prove that the enemy has been defeated. After all, there were no photographs.
11 But when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 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 Beth-shan, and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. 13 And they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh and fasted seven days.
The Israelites did not normally burn their dead. Normally, a king would be buried in a cave. It seems likely that they burned his body to prevent anyone else from desecrating it.
The tamarisk tree is a flowering tree common in Israel.
(2 Samuel 1:1 ESV) After the death of Saul, when David had returned from striking down the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag. 2 And on the third day, behold, a man came from Saul’s camp, with his clothes torn and dirt on his head. And when he came to David, he fell to the ground and paid homage. 3 David said to him, “Where do you come from?”
And he said to him, “I have escaped from the camp of Israel.”
4 And David said to him, “How did it go? Tell me.”
And he answered, “The people fled from the battle, and also many of the people have fallen and are dead, and Saul and his son Jonathan are also dead.”
5 Then David said to the young man who told him, “How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?”
6 And the young man who told him said, “By chance I happened to be on Mount Gilboa, and there was Saul leaning on his spear, and behold, the chariots and the horsemen were close upon him. 7 And when he looked behind him, he saw me, and called to me. And I answered, ‘Here I am.’ 8 And he said to me, ‘Who are you?’ I answered him, ‘I am an Amalekite.’ 9 And he said to me ‘Stand beside me and kill me, for anguish has seized me, and yet my life still lingers.’ 10 So I stood beside him and killed him, because I was sure that he could not live after he had fallen. And I took the crown that was on his head and the armlet that was on his arm, and I have brought them here to my lord.”
Odd that an Amalekite would have Saul’s crown and armlet. He may have stolen them from the Philistines or from the battlefield. We aren’t told.
It is clear that he was seeking some sort of reward from David for having killed his mortal enemy and brought him the crown of Israel. And we know that he was a liar.
11 Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them, and so did all the men who were with him. 12 And they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son and for the people of the LORD and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.
By now, we aren’t surprised that David mourns for Saul. But, of course, he and his men mourn not only for Saul but also for Jonathan and for the great defeat suffered by Israel.
13 And David said to the young man who told him, “Where do you come from?”
And he answered, “I am the son of a sojourner, an Amalekite.”
14 David said to him, “How is it you were not afraid to put out your hand to destroy the LORD’s anointed?” 15 Then David called one of the young men and said, “Go, execute him.” And he struck him down so that he died. 16 And David said to him, “Your blood be on your head, for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, ‘I have killed the LORD’s anointed.'”
Was David just in killing this man?
David had, of course, just rescued his and his men’s families from Amalekites. God had ordered the extermination of the Amalekites. And this man was a transparent liar — why would an Amalekite have been in a battle between Israel and Philistia?
17 And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and Jonathan his son, 18 and he said it should be taught to the people of Judah; behold, it is written in the Book of Jashar. He said:
19 “Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places! How the mighty have fallen! 20 Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult.
21 “You mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew or rain upon you, nor fields of offerings! For there the shield of the mighty was defiled, the shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.
22 “From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan turned not back, and the sword of Saul returned not empty.
23 “Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely! In life and in death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles; they were stronger than lions.
24 “You daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you luxuriously in scarlet, who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.
25 “How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle!
“Jonathan lies slain on your high places. 26 I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women.
27 “How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished!”
Immediately after ordering the Amalekite’s execution, David composes a psalm in honor of Saul and Jonathan.
Notice v. 24. David credit’s Saul with bringing prosperity to Israel. This is not obvious from the text, but it appears Saul provided enough protection for Israel to enjoy a relative prosperity during his reign.
Does v. 25 suggest a homosexual relationship? The accusation has been made, but it’s an absurd thought. Homosexuality was a capital crime in Israel, and David was clearly quite heterosexual.
What is it about modern society that interprets love between men as necessarily sexual? It is my observation that men need male friends. It’s important. And yet often men fail to make connections in today’s society.