1 Samuel 31:1
Now the Philistines fought against Israel, and the men of Israel fled before them, and many fell slain on Mount Gilboa.
The Death of SaulB. Dale 1 Samuel 31:1-6
Saul of Gibeah, and Saul of TarsusB. Dale 1 Samuel 31:1-13

1 Samuel 31:1-6. (GILBOA.)
So Saul died (ver. 6; 2 Samuel 1:1-16; 1 Chronicles 10.). While the events mentioned in the preceding chapter were taking place in the south, and even before their occurrence, "the great drama so closely connected with them was being played out" in the north. On the morrow of Saul's consultation of "the witch of Endor" the Philistines marched across the plain, with their archers, chariots, and horsemen (2 Samuel 1:6), and attacked the army of Israel. The issue appears to have been soon decided. "The men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in Gilboa," up the slopes of which they had been pursued. "And the Philistines followed hard upon Saul and his sons," who fell fighting around him. Hard pressed and found by the archers, he trembled ("was sore wounded," A.V.) before them, seeing no way to escape falling into their hands; and (as the night set in), with the reckless courage of despair with which he had fought, his armour bearer having refused to slay him, he "took the sword and fell upon it." His armour bearer followed his example. "At that moment a wild Amalekite, lured probably to the field by the hope of spoil, came up and finished the work which the arrows of the Philistines and the sword of Saul him self had all but accomplished" (Stanley). "A remarkable dispensation. As the curse on Amalek was accomplished by Saul, so that on Saul was accomplished by Amalek" (Hengstenberg). Or, perhaps, the story of the Amalekite was false, and told to ingratiate himself with David and obtain a reward for the diadem and bracelet of which he had stripped the fallen king. In either case, self-willed to the last, scorning "these uncircumcised," and more concerned about his own honour than the honour of God, he rushed upon his own destruction.

"O Saul!
How ghastly didst thou look, on thine own sword
Expiring in Gilboa, from that hour
Ne'er visited with rain from heaven nor dew"

(Dante, 'Purg.' 12.) Observe that -


1. The full desert Of sin might be justly inflicted immediately on its commission. But in a state of probation space is allowed for repentance and motives afforded to induce it. Yet, if sin be persisted in, guilt increases and judgment becomes more inevitable and severe. "He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy" (Proverbs 29:1). "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). "The wages may be deferred or may not be consciously received, but they are paid without stint sooner or later; the fatal consequences may not always equally appear, but they never fail in some form or other."

2. Although inflicted by the free act of man, it is not less the result of the operation of retributive justice. "Saul took the sword and fell upon it;" but he "died for his transgression which he committed against the Lord; therefore the Lord slew him, and turned the kingdom unto David, the son of Jesse" (1 Chronicles 10:14).

3. The operation of the law of retribution, so manifest in history and to observation, shows the evil of sin in the sight of God, and is a solemn warning against its indulgence. Even repentance may come too late to avert its consequences in this life.

"Look to thyself then, deal with sin no more,
Lest he that saves, against thee shuts the door"


II. SELF-WILL NATURALLY CULMINATES IN SELF-DESTRUCTION. All self-will, in opposition to the will of God, is a self-injury (Proverbs 8:36); and not less so because the sinner seeks what he falsely imagines to be for his good. Its tendency is ever towards destruction, and, unless checked in its course, it infallibly conducts to that end. It is a special and aggravated form of it when, in order to escape the misery and shame which are experienced or expected, he directly and voluntarily takes away his own life. Suicide is -

1. Contrary to the natural instinct of self-preservation and a properly enlightened and regulated self-love.

2. An act of unfaithfulness to the trust that is committed to man by God in the bestowment of life, and of refusal to fulfil the duties that he has ordained in life, which cannot be rightly surrendered or left without his consent nor until the time he has appointed. "Pythagoras forbids us to abandon the station or post of life without the orders of our commander, that is, of God" (Cicero). "'Why do I tarry on earth, and not hasten hence to come to you?' 'Not so, my son,' he replied; 'unless that God, whose temple is all this which you behold, shall liberate you from the imprisonment of the body, you can have no admission to this place'" ('Scipio's Dream').

3. An act of cowardice in the presence of real or imaginary evils, whatever reckless bravery it may exhibit with respect to death and that which lies beyond. "To die and thus avoid poverty, or love, or anything painful is not the part of a brave man, but rather of a coward; for it is cowardice to avoid trouble; and the suicide does not undergo death because it is honourable, but in order to avoid evil" (Aristotle, 'Ethics,' book 7. ch. 7). In Saul it was "the act of completed despair."

4. Expressly prohibited by the Divine command: "Thou shalt not kill. In accordance with this Paul said to the Philippian gaoler, when "he would have killed himself," "Do thyself no harm" (Acts 16:28).

5. Virtually forbidden by all the exhortations of the New Testament to endure affliction with patience and submission to the will of God. "Suicide is the result of impatience" (see Paley, 'Mor. Philippians,' book 4. ch. 3).

6. Injurious to others in many ways: inflicting much distress, teaching pernicious lessons, setting a bad example. It is "as unfavourable to human talents and resources as it is to human virtues. We should never have dreamt of the latent power and energy of our nature but for the struggle of great minds with great afflictions, nor known the limits of ourselves nor man's dominion over fortune. What would the world now have been if it had always been said, Because the archers smite me sore, and the battle goeth against me, I will die?" (Sydney Smith).

7. Condemned by the example of good men, who have borne the heaviest calamities with holy courage, and sanctioned only by evil men, like Ahithophel and Judas. How far, indeed, Saul was in full possession of his faculties and responsible for his act, or what was his final destiny, is not stated. "It is evident that more arguments may be gathered of his condemnation than of his salvation; yet because nothing is expressly set down touching his state before God, it is better to leave it" (Willet).

"O mortal men! be wary how ye judge:
For we, who see our Maker, know not yet
The number of the chosen"

(Par.' 20.) There appears to be but one efficient means by which the mind can be armed against the temptations to suicide, because there is but one that can support it against every evil of life - practical religion, belief in the providence of God, confidence in his wisdom, hope in his goodness (Dymond, 'Essays').

"Nor love thy life, nor bate; but what thou liv'st
Live well, how long or short, permit to Heaven"

(Par. Lost,' bk. 10.)

III. THE EVIL EXAMPLE OF MEN IN HIGH STATION IS ONLY TOO FAITHFULLY IMITATED. "And when his armour bearer," etc. (ver. 5). He had faithfully fought by his side to the last, and feared to take away his life (of which he was appointed guardian); perhaps out of reverence for his sacred person; doubtless, also, he dreaded to fall alive into the hands of the Philistines and to be put to a shameful death by them; and now, incited by his example, "dares to do that to himself which to his king he durst not." Example is proverbially powerful. No one, especially if he occupy a position of power and influence, can do wrong without thereby inducing others to follow, who thus share his guilt and may not have equal excuse for their transgression. According to Jewish tradition the armour bearer was Doeg the Edomite (1 Samuel 22:18, 19), "a partner before of his master's crimes, and now of his punishment." "That Saul and his armour bearer died by the same sword is, I think, sufficiently evident. 'Draw thy sword,' says he to him, 'and thrust me through;' which when he refused, 'Saul took the sword and fell upon it.' What sword? (Not his own, for then the text would have said so.) Why, in the plain, natural, grammatical construction, the sword before mentioned must be the sword now referred to, that is, the armour bearer's. Saul and his executioner both fell by that very weapon with which they had before massacred the priests of God" (Delany).

IV. THE INNOCENT OFTEN SUFFER ALONG WITH THE GUILTY. "And the Philistines slew Jonathan," etc. (vers. 2-6). It is impossible not to lament the untimely fate of the friend of David and of God. The sins of the father were visited upon the son. But let it be considered that -

1. God is the supreme Proprietor of every human life, and has a right to dispose of it as it pleases him. Moreover, "death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" (Romans 5:12).

2. He has united men to each other in relations more or less intimate, whereby they necessarily affect each other for good as well as for evil.

3. The sufferings of the godly, in consequence of their connection with the wicked, serve many beneficent purposes. The death of Jonathan would deepen the impression of the severity of the Divine judgment on the house of Saul for disobedience, and be a perpetual warning. It also made David's accession to the throne clearer and more indisputable.

4. The godly cannot experi ence the Worst sufferings of the wicked - remorse, fearfulness, despair; and if some are called to an early death in the path of duty, they are only called a little earlier than others to their inheritance in "a better country, that is, a heavenly," an eternal kingdom.

"Joy past compare.; gladness unutterable;
Imperishable life of peace and love;
Exhaustless riches and unmeasured bliss." = -D.

David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.

1. David was greatly distressed, for he had been acting without consulting his God. Perhaps some of you are in distress in the same way: you have chosen your own path, and now you are caught in the tangled bushes which tear your flesh. You have carved for yourselves, and you have cut your own fingers; you have obtained your heart's desire, and while the meat is yet in your mouth a curse has come with it. You say you "did it for the best;" ay, but it has turned out to be for the worst.

2. Worse than this, if worse can be, David had also followed policy instead of truth. The Oriental mind was, and probably still is, given to lying. Easterns do not think it wrong to tell an untruth; many do it habitually. Just as an upright merchant in this country would not be suspected of a falsehood, so you would not in the olden time have suspected the average Oriental of ever speaking the truth if he could help it, because he felt that everybody else would deceive him, and so he must practise great cunning. The golden rule in David's day was, "Do others, for others will certainly do you."

3. Yet was his distress the more severe on another account, for David had sided with the enemies of the Lord's people.

4. Picture the position of David, in the centre of his band. He has been driven away by the Philistine lords with words of contempt; his men have been sneered at — "What do these Hebrews here? Is not this David? What do these Hebrews here?" is the sarcastic question of the world. "How comes a professing Christian to be acting as we do?"

5. At the back of this came bereavement. His wives were gone.

II. DAVID'S ENCOURAGEMENT: "And David encouraged himself." That is well, Davids He did not at first attempt to encourage anybody else; but he encouraged himself. Some of the best talks in the world are those which a man has with himself. He who speaks to everybody except himself is a great fool. I think I hear David say, "Why art thou cast down, O my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God; for I will yet praise him." David encouraged himself. But he encouraged himself "in the Lord his God," namely, in Jehovah. That is the surest way of encouraging yourself. David might have drawn, if he had pleased, a measure of encouragement from those valiant men who joined him just about this particular time; for it happened, according to 1 Chronicles 12:19-20, that many united with his band at that hour. If you are in trouble, and your trouble is mixed with sin, if you have afflicted yourselves by your backslidings and perversities, nevertheless I pray you look nowhere else for help but to the God whom you have offended. When He lilts his arm, as it were, to execute vengeance, lay hold upon it and He will spare you. Does he not, Himself say, "Let him lay hold on My strength?" I remember old Master Quarles has a strange picture of one trying to strike another with a flail, and how does the other escape? Why, he runs in and keeps close, and so he is not struck. It is the very thing to do. Close in with God. Cling to Him by faith: hold fast by Him in hope. Say, "Though He slay me, yet will I terror in Him." Resolve, "I will not let Thee go." Let us try to conceive of the way in which David would encourage Himself in the Lord his God.

1. Standing amidst those ruins he would say, "Yet the Lord does love me, and I love Him."

2. Then he went further, and argued, "Hath not the Lord chosen me? Has He not ordained me to be king in Israel? Do you need an interpretation of this parable? Can you not see its application to yourselves?

3. Then he would go over all the past deliverances which he had experienced.


1. Observe, that David takes it for granted that his God is going to help him. He only wants to know how it is to he done. "Shall I pursue? shall I overtake?"

2. It is to be remarked, however, that David does not expect that God is going to help him without his doing his best. He enquires, "Shall I pursue? shall I overtake?"

3. David also distrusted his own strength, though quite ready to use what he had; for he said, "Shall I overtake?" Can my men march fast enough to overtake these robbers?"

IV. DAVID'S ANSWER OF PEACE. The Lord heard his supplication. He says, "In my distress I cried unto the Lord and He heard me." Trust in the Lord your God. Believe also in his Son Jesus. Get rid of sham faith, and really believe. Get rid of a professional faith, and trust in the Lord at all times, about everything.

( C. H. Spurgeon.)

I. He "encouraged himself in THE LORD HIS GOD" — THAT IS WHAT HE IS SAID TO HAVE DONE.

1. "In the Lord," observe. The first step towards real comfort in real sorrow is to feel it must come from God, and the next is to raise up our minds to God; to get them above the things which are distressing us.

2. "The Lord," observe again — Jehovah, as the capital letters in our Bibles indicate; the self-existent, everlasting, unchangeable, unlimited, all-sufficient God.

3. But a material point to be noticed here is David's connection with this high Being. It was "the Lord his God," in whom he encouraged himself. It implies clearly an acquaintance with God, some previous intercourse with him, and a connection formed between him and the soul.(1) What he did is opposed to two things — first, to despondency in trouble, to a giving of ourselves up in it to inaction and despair.(2) And this conduct of David is opposed also to a torpid waiting in affliction for comfort. He did not stand still, observe, for God to encourage him, he set about encouraging himself in God.

II. NOW LET US LOOK AT THE DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES UNDER WHICH DAVID DID WHAT IS HERE ASCRIBED TO HIM. The text itself draws our attention to these. "But David encouraged himself in the Lord his God;" he did so notwithstanding the circumstances in which he was placed.

1. Notwithstanding his great sorrow and distress. We sometimes think that soldiers have not hearts, but we cannot read this chapter and think so. The men on their return to their desolated homes were overwhelmed with grief. The loss of their wives and children completely unmanned them.

2. David encouraged himself in the Lord notwithstanding his sinfulness. We are not told so, but there must have been a voice there which said, "All this is my own doing. It is all the fruit of my own folly and sin. Had I but trusted my God and remained in Judah, or even had I stayed here in Ziklag, this would not have come to pass." He did not simply make an effort to encourage himself, he actually encouraged himself, found encouragement for himself, in the Lord his God. It must have been in some such moment as this that he first felt, if not said, "I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are right, and that Their in faithfulness has afflicted me."

(C. Bradley, M. A.)

Now the first thing I notice is

I. THE GRAND ASSURANCE WHICH THIS MAN GRIPPED FAST. It is not by accident, nor if it a mere piece of tautology, that we read "the Lord his God." For, if you will remember, the very keynote of the psalms which are ascribed to David is just that expression, "My God," "My God." So far as the very fragmentary records of Jewish literature go, it would appear as if David was the very first of all the ancient singers to grapple that thought that he stood in a personal, individual relation to God, and God to him. And so it was his God that he laid hold of at that dark hour. Now I am not putting too much into a little word when I insist upon it that the very essence and nerve of what strengthened the king, at that supreme moment of desolation, was the, conviction that welled up in his heart that, in spite of it all, he had a grip of God a hand as his very own, and God had hold of him, I would not go to the length of saying that the living realisation, in heart and mind, of this personal possession of God is the difference between a traditional sad vague profession of religion and a vital possession of religion, but if it is not the difference, it goes a long way towards explaining the difference. The man who contents himself with the generality of a Gospel for the world, and who can say no more than that Jesus Christ died for all, has yet to learn the most intimate sweetness, and the most quickening and transforming power, of that Gospel, and he only learns it when he says, "Who loved me, and gave himself for me."

II. THE SUFFICIENCY OF THIS ONE CONVICTION AND ASSURANCE. Here is one of the many eloquent "buts" of the Bible. On the one hand is piled up a black heap of calamities, loss, treachery, and peril; and opposed to them is only that one clause: "But David encouraged himself in the Lord his God." God is enough: whatever else may go. The Lord his God was the sufficient portion for this man when he stood a homeless pauper. So for poverty, loss, the blasting of earthly hopes, the crushing of earthly affections, the extremity of danger, and the utmost threatening of death, here is the sufficient remedy — that one mighty assurance: "The Lord is my God." For if He is the strength of my heart he will be my portion forever. He is not poor who has God for his, nor does he wander with a hungry heart who can rest his heart on God's; nor need he fear death who possesses God, and in Him eternal life. You never know the good of the breakwater until the storm is rolling the waves against its outer side. Put a little candle in a room, and you will not see the lightning when it flashes outside, however stormy the sky, and seamed with the fiery darts. If we have God in our hearts, we have enough for courage and for strength.

III. THE EFFORT BY WHICH THIS ASSURANCE IS ATTAINED AND SUSTAINED. The words of the original convey even more forcibly than those of our translation the thought of David's own action in securing him the hold of God as his. He "strengthened himself in the Lord his God." The Hebrew conveys the notion of effort, persistent and continuous; and it tells us this, that when things are as black as they were round David at that hour — it is not a matter of course, even for a good man, that there shall well up in his heart this tranquillising and victorious conviction; but he has to set himself to reach and to keep it. God will give it, but he will not give it unless the man strains after it. He "strengthened himself in the Lord," and if he had not set doggedly about resisting the pressure of circumstances, and flinging himself as it were, by am effort, into the arms of God, circumstances would have been too many for him, and despair would have shrouded his soul. In the darkest moment it is possible for a man to surround himself with God's light, but even in the brightest it is not possible to do so unless he makes a serious effete. That effort may consist mainly in two things. One is that we shall honestly try to occupy our minds, as well as our hearts, with the truth which certifies to us that God is, in very deed, ours. If we never think, or think languidly and rarely, about what God has revealed to us by the Word and life and death and intercession of Jesus Christ, concerning Himself, His heart of love towards us, and His relations to us, then we shall not have, either in the time of disaster or of joy, the blessed sense that He is indeed ours. if a man will not think about Christian truth he will not have the blessedness of Christian possession of God. There is no mystery about the road to the sweetness and holiness and power that may belong to a Christian. The only way to get them is to be occupied, far more than most of us are, with the plain truths of God's revelation in Jesus Christ. If you can never think about them they cannot affect you, and they will not make you sure that God is yours. There is another thing which we have to make an effort to do, if we would have the blessedness of this conviction filling and flooding oar hearts. For the possession is reciprocal; we say, "My God," and He says, "My people." Unless we yield ourselves to Him and say, "I am Thine," we shall never be able to say, "Thou art mine." We must recognise His possession of us; we must yield ourselves; we must obey; we must elect Him as our chief good, we must feel that we are not our own, but bought with a price. And then when we look up into the heavens thus submissive, thus obedient, thus owning His authority, and His rights, as well as claiming His love and His tenderness, and cry; "My Father," He will bend down and whisper into our hearts: "Thou art My beloved son." Then we shall be strong, and of a good courage, however weak and timid, and we shall be rich, though, like David, we have lost all things.

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

I. THE REALITY OF DAVID'S FAITH. It proved its reality by its power to enhearten him. It inspired him with courage; it rallied the scattered, prostrated powers of his soul; it opened a pathway of hope for him; it braced him for the necessities of the occasion.

II. This leads us to remark upon THE SUFFICIENCY OF DAVID'S FAITH. You may have a strong impression that in certain you shall be helped, delivered, but the impression may be all a delusion, "the baseless fabric of a vision," a hallucination of the mind. David's faith was real subjectively, because it was sufficiently well-grounded objectively. He "encouraged himself in the Lord his God." Faith separated from an adequate object is powerless; inspired by such an object — there is but One — it is mighty, puts heart into the weak, puts enthusiasm into the hopeless, laying hem upon God it is omnipotent.

III. ANOTHER FEATURE OF DAVID'S FAITH IS ITS ACTIVITY, ITS ENERGY. David bestirred himself to appropriate the strength which the Object of his faith, and his faith in that Object, were calculated to inspire. "He encouraged himself in the Lord his God." What a blessed art this of self-encouragement in God. There is an attitude of faith which is passive. The language of its triumph then is the meek, "Thy will be done." But faith is active, lively. This is its characteristic feature.

IV. LET US NOT FORGET THE PRACTICAL CHARACTER OF DAVID'S FAITH (from v. 7). It was no time to lie upon the earth; there was something to be done, and done at once. David's faith gave shape and force to his action. He calls for the ephod, enquires of the Lord, obtains a favourable response, pursues the Amalekites, rescues the captives, inflicts a crushing blow upon the captors. Application: — "Nil desperandum!" We may encourage ourselves and one another in the Lord our God. He is ours if we will but accept Him. In Jesus Christ He is our Lord and our God. And if we are thus to encourage ourselves, we should maintain a spirit of calm equanimity.

(Joseph Morris.)

Abinadab, Israelites, Jabesh, Jonathan, Malchishua, Melchishua, Saul
Beth-shan, Jabesh-gilead, Jordan River, Mount Gilboa
Face, Fall, Falling, Fell, Fighting, Fled, Flee, Flight, Fought, Gilboa, Gilbo'a, Israelites, Mount, Philistines, Slain, Wounded
1. Saul, having lost his army, and his sons slain,
4. he and his armor bearer kill themselves.
7. The Philistines possess the forsaken towns of the Israelites
8. They triumph over the dead bodies
11. They of Jabesh Gilead recovering the dead bodies by night,
12. burn them at Jabesh,
13. and mournfully bury their bodies.

Dictionary of Bible Themes
1 Samuel 31:1

     4207   land, divine gift
     5208   armies
     5814   confrontation
     8728   enemies, of Israel and Judah

1 Samuel 31:1-3

     5206   archers

1 Samuel 31:1-4

     5366   king

1 Samuel 31:1-10

     7236   Israel, united kingdom

1 Samuel 31:1-13

     4254   mountains

Scythopolis. Beth-Shean, the Beginning of Galilee.
The bonds of Galilee were, "on the south, Samaris and Scythopolis, unto the flood of Jordan." Scythopolis is the same with Beth-shean, of which is no seldom mention in the Holy Scriptures, Joshua 17:11; Judges 1:27; 1 Samuel 31:10. "Bethsaine (saith Josephus), called by the Greeks Scythopolis." It was distant but a little way from Jordan, seated in the entrance to a great valley: for so the same author writes, "Having passed Jordan, they came to a great plain, where lies before you the city Bethsane,"
John Lightfoot—From the Talmud and Hebraica

Jews and Gentiles in "The Land"
Coming down from Syria, it would have been difficult to fix the exact spot where, in the view of the Rabbis, "the land" itself began. The boundary lines, though mentioned in four different documents, are not marked in anything like geographical order, but as ritual questions connected with them came up for theological discussion. For, to the Rabbis the precise limits of Palestine were chiefly interesting so far as they affected the religious obligations or privileges of a district. And in this respect
Alfred Edersheim—Sketches of Jewish Social Life

Alike from the literary and the historical point of view, the book[1] of Samuel stands midway between the book of Judges and the book of Kings. As we have already seen, the Deuteronomic book of Judges in all probability ran into Samuel and ended in ch. xii.; while the story of David, begun in Samuel, embraces the first two chapters of the first book of Kings. The book of Samuel is not very happily named, as much of it is devoted to Saul and the greater part to David; yet it is not altogether inappropriate,
John Edgar McFadyen—Introduction to the Old Testament

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