1 Samuel 31:1-6
Now the Philistines fought against Israel: and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount 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.
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 -
I. RETRIBUTION SURELY OVERTAKES THE IMPENITENT TRANSGRESSOR.
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.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now the Philistines fought against Israel: and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa.