1 Samuel 31:1
Now the Philistines fought against Israel: and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa.
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(1) Now the Philistines fought against Israel.—The narrator here is very abrupt. No doubt a devoted patriot, it was very bitter for him to write the story of the fatal day of Gilboa. Yet there were certain things belonging to that fated day which were necessary for every child of Israel to know. It was right that the punishment of the rejected king should be known; right too that the people should be assured that the remains of the great first king lay in no unknown and unhonoured sepulchre. It was well too that coming generations should honour the devoted loyalty of the grateful men of Jabesh-Gilead. But the narrator hurries over his unwelcome task; very curtly he picks up the dropped threads of 1Samuel 28:1-5; 1Samuel 29:2. The march of the Philistines northward into the valley of Jezreel has been told, and their gallant array—as under the many banners of their lords they passed on by hundreds and by thousands—has been glanced at. The assembling of the armies of Israel at Shunem, overlooking the Jezreel vale, has been narrated; and there the historian dwelt on the terror of King Saul, which led to the visit to the witch of En-dor. David’s fortunes at this juncture then occupied the writer or compiler of the Book; but now he returns, with evident reluctance, to the battle which rapidly followed the En-dor visit of Saul.

He simply relates that the hosts joined battle. The locality of the fight is not mentioned, but it was most likely somewhere in that long vale which was spread out at the foot of the hills occupied by the hostile camps Israel was defeated, and fled upwards, towards their old position on the slope of Gilboa.

1 Samuel


1 Samuel 31:1 - 1 Samuel 31:13

The story of Saul’s tragic last days is broken in two by the account, in 1 Samuel 29:1 - 1 Samuel 29:11 and 1 Samuel 30:1 - 1 Samuel 30:31, of David’s fortunate dismissal from the invading army, and his exploits against Amalek. The contrast between the two lives, so closely intertwined and powerful for good and evil on each other, reaches its climax at the end of Saul’s. While the one sets in dark thunderclouds, the other is bright with victory. While the fall of Saul lays all northern Israel bleeding at the feet of the enemy, David is sending the spoils of his conquest to the elders of Judah. Saul’s headless and dishonoured body hangs rotting in the sun on the walk of Bethshan, while David sits a conqueror in Ziklag. The introduction of the brightness of the two preceding chapters is intended to heighten the darkness that broods over this one, and to deepen the stern teaching of that terrible death. Defeat, desolation, despair, attend to his self-dug grave the unhappy king, whose end teaches us all what comes of self-willed resistance to the law and the Spirit of God. Everything else is subordinated in the narrative to the account of his death. Next to nothing is said about the battle, the very site of which is left obscure. We cannot tell whether it was fought down in the plain by the fountain at Jezreel, where Israel was encamped, according to 1 Samuel 29:1, or whether both sides manoeuvred and changed their ground, and the decisive struggle was on the slope of Gilboa. In any case, the site was almost identical with that of Gideon’s victory, but there was no Gideon in command on that dark day. The language 1 Samuel 31:1 seems to imply that the battle was over and the rout begun before the Israelites reached Gilboa. If so, we have to conceive of a short, hopeless struggle on the plain, and then a rush to the hills for safety, in which Saul and his sons and bodyguard were borne along, but held together, closely followed by the ‘red pursuing spear’ of the conquerors, fierce with ancestral hate and the memories of defeat. There, on the hillside, stands the towering form of Saul with a little ring of his children and retainers round him, the words he had heard last night in the sorceress’ tent unnerving his arm, and many a past crime rising before him, and whispering in his ear,

‘In the battle think on me,

And fall thy edgeless sword; despair and die.’

There seems to have been a close encounter with some of the pursuers, and a hand-to-hand fight, in which Jonathan and his two brothers fell, and the rest of the bodyguard were slain or scattered. The prophecy of that mantle-swathed shape last night was in part fulfilled-’To-morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me.’ They lay stark at his feet, and he knew that he would soon join them. The last heart that loved him had ceased to beat in Jonathan’s noble breast, and his own crimes had slain his sons. Who can paint the storm of contending passions in that lonely black soul? or were they all frozen into the numbness of despair?

But whatever else was in his soul, repentance was not there. He may have been seared by remorse, but he was not softened by penitence, and was fierce and proud in despair as he had been in prosperity. The Revised Version substitutes ‘overtook’ for ‘hit’ in 1 Samuel 31:3; but Saul’s fear ‘lest these uncircumcised come’ is against that rendering, and the fact that the enemy did not know of his death till next day {1 Samuel 31:8} is a difficulty in the way of accepting it. The word is literally ‘found’ and possibly means that the archers recognised him, and were making for him, though, as would appear, from some cause they missed him in the confusion. The other change in the Revised Version, that of ‘greatly distressed’ for ‘sore wounded’ fits the context; and if it be adopted, we have the picture of the unwounded but desperate man, once brave, but now stricken with a panic which opens his lips for his only word. In grim silence he had met the loss of battle, sons, and kingdom; but the proud sense of personal dignity is strong to the end, and he fiercely issues his last command, and embraces death to escape insult. The haughty spirit was unchanged, crushed but the same, unsoftened, and therefore roused to madder defiance of God and man. What an awful last saying for ‘the anointed of Jehovah,’ and how the overweening self-will and vehemence and passionate pride of his whole life are gathered up in it!

His last command is disobeyed by the trembling armour-bearer, whose very awe makes him disobedient, Did Saul, at that last moment, send a thought to an armour-bearer whom he had had in happier days, and who was to inherit his lost kingdom? The enemy are coming nearer. No time is to be lost if he would escape the savage mutilations and torments which ancient warfare made the portion of captive kings. Not another word passes his lips, but, in the same grim silence, he fixes his sword upright in the ground, and flings himself on its point, and dies. All through his reign no hand had injured him but his own; and, as he lived, so he died, his own undoer and his own murderer. Suicide, the refuge of defeated monarchs and praised by heathen moralists as heroic, was rare in Israel. Saul, Ahithophel, and Judas are the instances of it. The most rudimentary recognition of the truths taught by the Old Testament would prevent it. If Saul had had any faith in God, any submission, any repentance, he could not have finished a life of rebellion by a self-inflicted death, which was itself the very desperation of rebellion. We have not to pronounce on his fate, but his act was a sin of the darkest dye.

Yet note how the narrative abstains from all comment. It neither condemns nor pities, though a profound sense of the tragic eclipse is audible in that summing up in 1 Samuel 31:6 : ‘So Saul died, and his three sons, and his armour-bearer, and all his men {that is, immediate followers or escort}, that same day together.’ And there they all lay, bloody corpses in the fellowship of death, on the slopes of Gilboa. Where Scripture Is silent, it is not our part to speak; but we can scarcely turn from that mighty form, prone by his own rash act, without seeking to learn the lesson of his life and fate. Saul had many noble and lovable qualities, such as bravery, promptitude, in his earlier days modesty and generosity. All these he had by nature, but there is no sign that he ever sought to cultivate his moral character, or to win any grace that did not come naturally to him; nor is there any reason to suppose that religion had ever any strong hold on him. His whole character may be summed up in Samuel’s words in announcing his rejection: ‘Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as idolatry.’ Rebellion persisted in, in spite of all remonstrances and checks, till it becomes master of the whole man, is the keynote of his later years. Before that baleful influence, as before some hot poison wind, all the flowers of good dispositions were burned up, and the bad stimulated to growth. His early virtues disappeared, and passed into their opposites. Modesty became arrogance, and a long course of indulgence in self-will developed cruelty, gloomy suspicion, and passionate anger, and left him the victim and slave of his own causeless hate. He who rebels against God mars his own character. The miserable later years of Saul, haunted and hunted as by a demon by his own indulged and swollen rebellion and unsleeping suspicion, are an example of the sorrows that ever dog sin; and, as he lies there on Gilboa, the terrible saying recurs to our memory: ‘He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.’

The remainder of the chapter is occupied with three points, bearing on the solemn tragedy just recorded. First, we have the disastrous effects of it in the complete loss of the northern territories. ‘The men . . . that were on the other side of the valley’ are the tribes to the north of the great plain; and ‘they that were on the other side Jordan’ are probably those on the east bank. So thorough was the defeat, especially as Saul and the royal house were slain, that they abandoned their homes, and the Philistines took possession. ‘One sinner destroyeth much good.’ When Israel’s king was madly rebellious, Israel was smitten, and its inheritance diminished.

Next we have the insults to the headless corpses. The Philistines did not know till the following day how complete was their victory. The account in 1 Chronicles 10:10 adds that Saul’s head was sent to the temple of Dagon, probably as a kind of effacing of the shame wrought there by the presence of the ark. The false gods had triumphed, as their worshippers thought, and Saul’s death was Jehovah’s defeat. That apparent victory of the idols and the mocking exultation over the bloody trophy and dinted armour are, to the historian, not the least bitter consequences of the battle.

The last point is the brave midnight march of the men of Jabesh from their home on the eastern uplands beyond Jordan, across the river and up to Bethshan, perched on its lofty cliff, and overlooking the valley of the Jordan. It was a requital of Saul’s deed in his early bright days, when, with his hastily raised levies, he scattered the Ammonites. It is one gleam of light amid the stormy sunset. There were men ready to hazard their lives even then, because of the noblest of Saul’s acts, which no tyrannical arbitrariness or fierceness of later days had blotted out. So the little band of grateful heroes carried back their ghastly load to Jabesh, and burned the mutilated bodies there, employing an unfamiliar mode, as we may suppose, by reason of their mutilation and decomposition, and then reverently gathering the white bones from the pyre, and laying them below the well-known tamarisk. Saul’s one good deed as king sowed seeds of gratitude which flourished again, when the opportunity came. His many evil ones sowed evil seed which bore fatal fruit; and both were seen in his end.

1 Samuel 31:1. Now the Philistines fought against Israel — That is, gave them battle. As they began the quarrel, (1 Samuel 29:1,) so they seem to have begun the fight. It must be observed that the foregoing chapter is a digression, to relate what happened to David at this time. The sacred writer now resumes the thread of the narrative in regard to Saul, relating what befell him upon his return from Endor. And it seems he was scarce returned before the Philistines attacked his camp, and, after some resistance, broke into it. Delaney thinks that they were encouraged to this attempt by some secret information of Saul’s having stolen out of the camp the evening before, with his general, Abner, (who is supposed to have been one of his attendants,) and another person. Certainly intelligence of that kind could not be hard to be obtained, and, if obtained, would be a strong encouragement to such an attack. And if this were the case, Saul’s applying to the enchantress was the immediate cause of his destruction. See 1 Chronicles 10:13, where one cause of his death is stated to be his applying for counsel to one who had a familiar spirit.

31:1-7 We cannot judge of the spiritual or eternal state of any by the manner of their death; for in that, there is one event to the righteous and to the wicked. Saul, when sorely wounded, and unable to resist or to flee, expressed no concern about his never-dying soul; but only desired that the Philistines might not insult over him, or put him to pain, and he became his own murderer. As it is the grand deceit of the devil, to persuade sinners, under great difficulties, to fly to this last act of desperation, it is well to fortify the mind against it, by a serious consideration of its sinfulness before God, and its miserable consequences in society. But our security is not in ourselves. Let us seek protection from Him who keepeth Israel. Let us watch and pray; and take unto us the whole armour of God, that we may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.Hebron - Now El-Khulil (see Genesis 23:2). Hebron was a city of refuge Joshua 20:7, and one of the cities of the Kohathites Joshua 21:11. It lies twenty miles south of Jerusalem. CHAPTER 31

1Sa 31:1-7. Saul Having Lost His Army at Gilboa, and His Sons Being Slain, He and His Armor-bearer Kill Themselves.

1. Now the Philistines fought against Israel—In a regular engagement, in which the two armies met (1Sa 28:1-4), the Israelites were forced to give way, being annoyed by the arrows of the enemy, which, destroying them at a distance before they came to close combat, threw them into panic and disorder. Taking advantage of the heights of Mount Gilboa, [the Israelites] attempted to rally, but in vain. Saul and his sons fought like heroes; but the onset of the Philistines being at length mainly directed against the quarter where they were, Jonathan and two brothers, Abinadab or Ishui (1Sa 14:49) and Melchishua, overpowered by numbers, were killed on the spot.The Israelites are smitten by the Philistines: Saul’s sons are slain: Saul is wounded: he falleth on his own sword; as doth his armour-bearer, 1 Samuel 31:1-6. The rest flee; and the Philistines possess their towns, and triumph over the dead carcasses, 1 Samuel 31:7-10. They of Jabesh-Gilead by might take down the bodies of Saul and of his sons, and burn them; and mournfully bury their bones, 1 Samuel 31:11-13.

The Philistines fought against Israel, whilst David was engaged against the Amalekites. So he returns to the history, which had been interrupted to give an account of David’s concerns.

Now the Philistines fought against Israel,.... Being come to Jezreel where Israel pitched, 1 Samuel 29:1; they fell upon them, began the battle:

and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines; at the first onset, as it should seem:

and fell down slain in Mount Gilboa; which was near, and whither fleeing they were pursued and slain, at least great numbers of them.

Now the Philistines fought against Israel: and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa.
Ch. 1 Samuel 31:1-7. The death of Saul on Mount Gilboa

1. The narrative of this chapter has been inserted by the compiler of Chronicles in his work (1 Chronicles 10:1-12) with only a few verbal variations.

Now the Philistines] The notices of the Philistine muster in 1 Samuel 28:4, 1 Samuel 29:1; 1 Samuel 29:11 have prepared the way for the account of the battle.

Four battles memorable in the history of Israel were fought in or near the plain of Esdraelon “the great battlefield of Palestine.”

(1) The battle of Kishon, in which Deborah and Barak defeated the host of Sisera (Jdg 4:15; Jdg 5:21).

(2) The battle of Jezreel, in which Gideon’s three hundred routed the vast horde of Midianites (Judges 7).

(3) The disastrous battle of Mount Gilboa recorded here.

(4) The battle of Megiddo, where Josiah lost his life fighting against Pharaoh Necho.

(5) A fifth may be added, the battle of Hattîn, on the fifth of July, 1187, “the last struggle of the Crusaders, in which all was staked in the presence of the holiest scenes of Christianity, and all miserably lost.” See Stanley’s Sin. and Pal. p. 335 ff., 369.

the men of Israel fled] Probably the battle took place in the plain of Jezreel; the men of Israel were driven back on their camp, and finally fled in confusion up the heights of Gilboa, pursued by the Philistines.

Verses 1, 2. - The Philistines fought. Literally it is a participle present, "the Philistines are warring," as if it were a mere resumption of 1 Samuel 28:1. In the battle fought on the day following Saul's visit to the witch the Israelites were defeated, and fell in large numbers slain in Mount Gilboa, either because the Philistines had attacked them there, or because, after fighting in the valley of Jezreel, they had made on its steep ridges their last defence. Among those thus slain were the three sons of Saul mentioned in 1 Samuel 14:49, where see note. 1 Samuel 31:1The account of the war between the Philistines and Israel, the commencement of which has already been mentioned in 1 Samuel 28:1, 1 Samuel 28:4., and 1 Samuel 29:1, is resumed in 1 Samuel 31:1 in a circumstantial clause; and to this there is attached a description of the progress and result of the battle, more especially with reference to Saul. Consequently, in 1 Chronicles 10:1, where there had been no previous allusion to the war, the participle נלחמים is changed into the perfect. The following is the way in which we should express the circumstantial clause: "Now when the Philistines were fighting against Israel, the men of Israel fled before the Philistines, and slain men fell in the mountains of Gilboa" (vid., 1 Samuel 28:4). The principal engagement took place in the plain of Jezreel. But when the Israelites were obliged to yield, they fled up the mountains of Gilboa, and were pursued and slain there.
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