1 Samuel 31:5
When his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his own sword and died with him.
The Death of SaulB. Dale 1 Samuel 31:1-6
Saul of Gibeah, and Saul of TarsusB. Dale 1 Samuel 31:1-13
The Bitter EndD. Fraser 1 Samuel 31:3-6

The tragic element, so conspicuous in this history, is intense in the last scene of all.


1. His despair. When the battle went against him, and the Philistines, keeping beyond reach of his long arm and terrible sword, hit him from a distance with their arrows, the king's spirit suddenly failed and died within him. "He trembled sore because of the archers." Always fitful in his moods, liable to sudden elation and sudden depression, he gave up all for lost. He would not flee, but he would fight no more. Probably the horrible recollection of the words spoken to him by the spectre at Endor increased his despair, and he thought only how to die.

2. His pride. Saul had never shown much regard for the sacredness of human life, but he cherished a most exalted sense of the sacredness of his own person as the Lord's anointed. No descendant of a long line of so styled Christian or Catholic sovereigns has held a loftier claim of personal inviolability. So he resolved that no heathen should cut him down in battle. Anything rather than this. If his armour bearer would not kill him, he would kill himself.

3. His suicide. With all his horror of being slain by a heathen, Saul died like a heathen - dismissed himself from life after the manner of the pagan heroes; not with any sanction from the word of God or the history of his servants. (Illustrate from the stories of Brutus and Cassius and the younger Cato.) The only instance of what can be called self-destruction among the men of Israel prior to the days of Saul was that of Samson, and his was a self-devotion for the destruction of his country's enemies which ranks with the heroism of one dying in battle rather than with cases of despairing suicide. There is a case after the days of Saul, viz., that of Ahithophel, who, in a fit of deep chagrin, deliberately hanged himself. To the servants of God suicide must always appear as a form of murder, and one that implies more cowardice than courage. English law regards it as a very grave crime, and to mark this our old statutes, unable to punish the self-murderer, assigned to his body ignominious burial It is, however, the charitable custom of our times to assume that one who kills himself must be bereft of reason, and so to hold him morally irresponsible. Apology of this kind may be pleaded for King Saul, and pity for his disordered brain takes away the sharpness from our censure. Still we must not overlook -

4. The admonition which his death conveys. Saul had really prepared for himself this wretched death. He had disregarded the prophet, and so was without consolation. He had killed the priests, and so was without sacrifice or intercession. He had driven away David, and so was without the help of the best soldier in the nation, a leader of 600 men inured to service and familiar with danger. He had lived, in his later years at least, like a madman; and, like a madman, he threw himself on his sword and died. Here lies admonition for us. As a man sows he reaps. As a life is shaped, so is the death determined. We speak of the penalty on evil doers, but it is no mere arbitrary infliction; it is the natural fruit and necessary result of the misconduct. One leads a sensual life, and the penalty on him is that of exhaustion, disease, and premature decay. One leads a selfish life, hardening his heart against appeal or reproach, and his doom is to lose all power and experience of sympathy, to pass through the world winning no love, and pass out of the world drawing after him no regret.


1. Its innocence. Look at the pious, generous prince, as well as the proud and wilful king, slain on that woeful day. A man who loves God and whom God loves may be innocently involved in a cause which is bound to fail. It may be by ties of family, or by official position which he cannot renounce; and, unable to check the fatal course of his comrades, he is dragged down in the common catastrophe. Jonathan died in the same battle with his father, but not as his father died. Let us remember that men are so involved with one another in the world, in ways quite defensible, sometimes unavoidable, that as one may share the success of another without deserving any part of the praise, so also may one share the downfall of others without being at all to blame for the courses or transactions which brought about the disastrous issue.

2. Its timeliness. The death of Jonathan: occurring when it did, brought more advantage to the nation than his continued life could possibly have rendered. It opened the way for David's succession to the throne. Had Jonathan survived his father, be might have been willing to cede the succession to David, but it is not at all probable that the people would have allowed his obvious claim to be set aside, and any conflict between the partisans of two such devoted friends would have been most painful to both. So it was well ordered and well timed that Jonathan died as a brave soldier in the field. He missed an earthly throne indeed, but he gained all the sooner a heavenly home. So is it with many a death which seems to be sad and untimely. A man of God cannot lose by dying. To die is gain. But he may by dying advance the cause of God more than he could by living. His departure may clear the ground for other arrangements under Divine providence, for which the time is ripe, or open the way for some one who is chosen and called to do a work for God and man that must no longer be delayed. - F.

Saul took a sword and fell upon it.
Saul's life is a tragedy, and his death is the closing scene. Circumstances close round him, and press him to his doom. These circumstances know no remorse. They never pause for pity. The last foe that Saul meets is himself. His death was neither more nor less than suicide; the death of all deaths the most loathsome and despised of men; of all deaths the only one that men call cowardly. Yet to this Saul came, as if he had not been the anointed of the Lord, as if he never had been the glory of God's people Israel. The whole of the preceding history had a sound in it portentous of change and death. And Saul himself, better than any other man, was aware that his end was near; and he went on to that end in a most pitiable plight; a hero without a hero's hope. There is a singular fitness in the chapter which closes this life of Saul. There is no sentimental dallying with the tragic facts. The battle was set, and from the first, the Philistines did the fighting. We need not dwell on the features of this tragedy. It was a great historical event, meaning much to the nation which saw its first king thus sadly fall. It was the end of Saul's kingdom: his sons and all his family, and, with them, all his hopes, died with him that night on Mount Gilboa. And it is still a conspicuous moral, as well as historical, event, on which we may well pause to look across the ages. Saul brought down thousands with him when he fell, but he had been lowering the tone of the spiritual nation almost from the time when he began his reign. The people had, indeed, got in him what they asked for — a king like unto their neighbours. And as he had been in his life in the land, so was he when he died at Gilboa. For "there was the shield of the mighty vilely cast away — the shield of Saul — as of one not anointed of the Lord." When we look at this life in its most general, human aspects, it is hard to escape the question: "Why did God bring Saul into all these circumstances of trial where he so ignobly failed and fell? Would it not have been better for Saul never to have been called from his father's plough?" There is something more serious by far than to be a king; it, is more serious to be a man. If mere safety and immunity from trial and danger are all that are to be desired by us, we must needs rank ourselves with the irrational creation. But when we are made men we are called with a high calling. We have set before us an immortal destiny, either to work that out or wreck it away. We are all on our trial. The highest issues of human life are brought out by the greatness and the strength of our trials. So was it with Saul. His trial began with his great opportunity. The highness of his calling measures the deepness of his falling. There are three points which indicate the departure of Saul from the path of peace and duty.

1. He had not long reigned until he began to separate himself from good men in the land. He was soon separated from Samuel, the best, the noblest, the representative good man of the time. he was soon separate from David, the man of the future, the man after God's own heart, and who desired to do only God's will. He was soon cruel and fierce in his wrath, slaying one by one the priests of the Lord.

2. Then we find that he was separate from God. He prayed to God, and God gave him no answer. He asked in vain for God's guidance, and then called in vain for the dead Samuel.

3. Last of all, Saul got separated from himself; from his own best nature. There was a great chasm in his nature, between his evil and his controlling, better self; and thus he was left to the wreck and ruin which his own worst nature prompted. Such is the spiritual history of him whose tragic life we have now read to its close.

(Armstrong Black.)

Our Creator, it is said, has given us a general desire to obtain good, and avoid evil; why may we not obey this impulse? We leave a kingdom, or a society, of which we do not approve; we avoid bodily pain by all the means which we can invent; why may we not cease to live, when life becomes a greater evil, than a good? Because, in avoiding pain, or in procuring pleasure, we are always to consider the good of others, as well as our own. Poverty is an evil, but we may not rob to avoid it; power is a good, but it is not justifiable to obtain it by violence or deceit; we have only a right to consult our own good within certain boundaries, and after such a manner that we do not diminish the good of others: Every evil incapable of such limited remedy, it is our duty to bear; and if the general idea that we have a right to procure voluntary death to ourselves, be pregnant with infinite mischief to the interests of religion, and morality, it is our duty to live, as much as it is our duty to do anything else for the same reason; a single instance of suicide may be of little consequence; nor is a single instance of robbery of much; but we judge of single actions, by the probability there is of their becoming frequent, and by the effects they produce, when they are frequent.

1. Suicide, 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? Alas! man has gained all his joy by his pains; misery, hunger, and nakedness, have been his teachers, and goaded him on to the glories of civilised life; take from him his unyielding spirit, and if he had lived at all, he would have lived the most suffering creature of the forest.

2. Suicide has been called magnanimity; but what is magnanimity? A patient endurance of evil, to effect a proposed good; and when considering the strange mutability of human affairs, are we to consider this endurance as useless, or when should hope terminate but with life? To linger out year after year, unbroken in spirit, unchanged in purpose, is doubtless, a less imposing destiny than public, and pompous suicide; but if to be, is more commendable, than to seem to be; if we love the virtue, better than the name, then is it true magnanimity to extract wisdom from misery, and doctrine from shame; to call day, and night upon God; to keep the mind's eye sternly riveted on its object through failure, and through suffering; through evil report, and through good report; and to make the bed of death the only grave of human hope; but at the moment when Christianity warns you that your present adversity may be a trial from God; when experience teaches that great qualities come in arduous situations; when piety stimulates you to show the hidden vigour, the inexhaustible resources, the beautiful capacities of that soul, which God has exempted from the destruction which surrounds it; at that moment, the law of self-murder gives you, for your resource, ignominious death, frightful disobedience, and never-ending torments.

3. It may be imagined that suicide is a crime of rare occurrence, but we must not so much overrate our love of life, when there is hardly a passion so weak, which cannot at times, overcome it; many fling away life from ambition, many from vanity, many from restlessness, many from fear, many from almost every motive; nature has made death terrible, but nature has made those evils terrible, from the dread of which we seek death; nature has made resentment terrible, infamy terrible, want terrible, hunger terrible; every first principle of our nature alternately conquers and is conquered; the passion that is a despot in one mind, is a slave in the other; we know nothing of their relative force.

4. It is hardly possible be conceive this crime, committed by anyone who has not confounded his common notions of right and wrong by some previous sophistry, and cheated himself into a temporary scepticism; but who would trust to the reasoning of such a moment in such a state of the passions, when the probability of error is so great, and the punishment so immeasurable? Men should determine, even upon important human actions, with coolness, and unimpeded thought; much less, then, is a rash and disturbed hour enough for eternity.

5. It has often been asked, if self-murder is forbidden by the Christian religion; but those who ask this question forget, that Christianity is not a code of laws, but a set of principles from which particular laws must frequently be inferred; it is not sufficient to say, there is no precise, and positive law, naming, and forbidding self-murder; there is no law of the gospel, which forbids the subject to destroy his ruler; but there is a law, which says, fear, and obey him; there is no law which prevents me from slaying my parent; but there is a law which says, love, and honour them; "be meek, says our Saviour;" "be long suffering; abide patiently to the last; submit to the chastening hand of God," and let us never forget, that the fifth, and greatest gospel is the life of Christ; that he acted for us, as well as taught, that in the deserts of Judea, in the hall of Pilate, on the supreme cross, his patience shows us, that evil is to be endured, and his prayers point out to us, how alone it can be mitigated.

(Sidney Smith, M. A.)

There is always something solemn in doing things which, when done, cannot be undone — in taking steps which, when taken once, can never be recalled. We sign our contracts with a trembling hand; and enter into those bonds which least of all we desire to break, with a solemnity which arises from the thought that, once entered upon, we cannot recede. The act of suicide affords the most decisive evidence of the extensive delusion which men can practise on themselves, and of the blinding power which they permit the tempter to exercise over them, when, under the idea of relief and escape, they involve themselves in a deeper calamity, and in order to effect an oblivion of present suffering, they grasp the cup of eternal woe, and put it to their lips. "From what shall I escape?" is but one-half of the question — "Into what shall I bring myself?" is the still more momentous portion of the inquiry.

1. Looking at the circumstances of Saul's death in their connection with the history of the people over whom he reigned, it is impossible not to perceive that they were fraught with instruction to the nation, with lessons valuable though humiliating. They reiterate with deeper emphasis the truth — that when men are determined to have their own way — when they will not listen to heavenly suggestions, to Divine remonstrances — and when they think that they can manage better for themselves than God can manage for them, there is but one way of convincing them of their error. They must be allowed to take the problem of their peace and happiness into their own hands, to attempt to work it out in their own fashion, and then to reap the bitter results of failure, which in such a case are inevitable. Israel worked out their own problem, and they brought it to this issue — "And the men of Israel flee from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in Mount Gilboa," etc. And thus will it ever be, where men expect to reap more from their own theories than from God's fixed laws and plans.

2. We may take, as a second suggestion from the spectacle before us, the thought — How dreadful it is for a man to be in trouble without God to sustain and support him. The waves and billows were indeed going over Saul. We see here the acting out of one of those principles which regulate the Divine dealings with men If they seek Him, He will be found of them; if they forsake Him, He will cast them off forever. Fearful as is the lesson taught us by the self-murder of Saul, it is consolatory to know that no one need be in trouble without God. Precious promises point out the way in which we may be delivered from any such fear.

3. We see, in Saul's case, that there is no surer sign that a man is on the high road to ruin than that his heart is hardened against Divine warnings. Quickly, one after another, came solemn calls to the king of Israel to humble himself at last before God. We wait; and the thought rushes into our heart, "He will break down at last; he will stand out no longer. But it did not. And then it was seen that the heart which can stand out against solemn calls, ruin will be the result." "He that being often reproved," etc. It is a grievous miscalculation, moreover, which men make, when, conscious that life is passing on in the neglect of God and of duty, they reckon within themselves upon a certain power which they imagine the approach of death will have to awaken their attention to religious duties, and to bring with it the disposition to return to God in repentance and prayer.

4. As we compare the conclusion of this history with its commencement, we cannot but discover an impressive lesson as to the influence of external circumstances upon personal character. As Saul rose in his social position, he sunk in his moral condition. It is dangerous to keep an idol for ourselves; it is not less perilous to become the idol of others. Never was there a man more frequently instructed in the lesson of entire dependence upon God.

(J. A. Miller.)

Abinadab, Israelites, Jabesh, Jonathan, Malchishua, Melchishua, Saul
Beth-shan, Jabesh-gilead, Jordan River, Mount Gilboa
Armor, Armorbearer, Armor-bearer, Armourbearer, Armour-bearer, Bearer, Dead, Death, Died, Dieth, Falleth, Fell, Likewise, Saul, Servant, Sword, United, Weapons
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 31:1-10

     7236   Israel, united kingdom

1 Samuel 31:1-13

     4254   mountains

1 Samuel 31:4-6

     5067   suicide

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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