1 Samuel 31:4
Then said Saul unto his armourbearer, Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and abuse me. But his armourbearer would not; for he was sore afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword, and fell upon it.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(4) His armourbearer.—Jewish tradition tells us that this faithful armourbearer was Doeg, the Edomite, and that the sword which Saul took apparently from the hand of the armourbearer was the sword with which Doeg had massacred the priests at Gibeon and at Nob.

Lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me.—“Even in Saul’s dying speech there is something of that religious formalism which marked his character after his fall from God, and which is a striking sign of spiritual blindness. He censures the Philistines as ‘uncircumcised.’”—Wordsworth.

Saul had a strong consciousness of the sacredness of his person as the Lord’s anointed; as it has been well said of him, no descendant of a long line of so-styled Christian or Catholic sovereigns has held a loftier claim of personal inviolability.

And abuse me.—He remembered how these same Philistines in former years had treated the hero Samson when he fell into their hands.

His armourbearer would not.—Love and devotion to his master we can well imagine stayed his hand from carrying out his fallen master’s last terrible command. If the armourbearer—as the Jewish tradition above referred to asserts—was indeed Doeg the Edomite, the two, the king and his confidential officer, had been fast friends for years. Some dread of the after consequences, too, may have weighed with the royal armour-bearer, as he was to a certain extent responsible for the king’s life. What possibly he dreaded actually came to pass in the case of the Amalekite who told David that he was the one who inflicted the fatal stroke when the king was dying; as a guerdon for his act, David had him at once put to death for having put forth his hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed.

A sword.—It was a heavy weapon, a war sword, answering to the great epée d’armes of the Middle Ages. This he took from the reluctant hands of his faithful follower, and placing the hilt firmly on the ground, he threw the weight of his body on the point.

In 2Samuel 1:6-10 we have another account of the death. There an Amalekite bearing the royal insignia of the late king, the crown royal and the well-known bracelet of Saul, comes to David at Ziklag after the fatal fight, and recounts how, finding the king leaning on his spear—possibly, as Bunsen supposes, “lying on the ground propping his weary head with the nervously-clutched spear,” exhausted and seized with “cramp” (this is the Rabbinical translation of the word rendered “anguish”), at his urgent request, slew him. Most commentators—for instance, Kiel, Lange, Bishop Hervey, &c.—regard the Amalekite’s story as an invention framed to extract a rich gift from David, who, the savage Arab thought, would be rejoiced to hear of his great enemy’s fall. If this be so, then we must suppose that the Amalekite wandering over the field of battle strewn with the slain on the night which succeeded the battle, came upon the body of Saul, and, attracted by the glitter of the golden ornaments, stripped off the precious insignia, and hastened with his lying story to David. Ewald, however, sees no reason to doubt the trustworthiness of the Amalekite’s story; in fact, the two accounts may well be harmonised. Stanley graphically paints the scene after he had fallen on his sword, and his faithful armourbearer had in despairing sorrow killed himself also. “His armourbearer lies dead beside him; on his head the royal crown, on his arm the royal bracelet; . . . the huge spear is still in his hand; he is leaning peacefully on it. He has received his death-blow either from the enemy (1Samuel 31:3), or from his own sword (1Samuel 31:4). The dizziness and darkness of death is upon him. 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 himself had all but accomplished.”—Jewish Church, Lect. 21. The words of the next verse (5) do not contradict this possible explanation. The armourbearer, seeing the king pierced with the arrows and then falling on his own sword, may well have imagined his master dead, and so put an end to his own life. But Saul, though mortally wounded, may have rallied again for a brief space; in that brief space the Amalekite may have come up and finished the bloody work; then, after the king was dead, he probably stripped the royal insignia from the lifeless corpse.

So Saul died.—This is one of the very rare instances of self-destruction among the chosen people. It seems to have been almost unknown among the Israelites. Prior to Saul the only recorded example is that of Samson, and his was a noble act of self-devotion—the hero sacrificed his life in order to compass the destruction of a great crowd of men, powerful and influential foes of his dear country. His death in the great Dagon Temple at Gaza ranks, as it has been well said, with the heroism of one dying in battle rather than with cases of despairing suicide. There is another instance after the days of Saul—that of the wise privy councillor of King David, Ahithophel, who, in a paroxysm of bitter mortification, we read, went and hanged himself. There is another in the Gospel story familiar to us all. Theologians are divided in their judgment on King Saul. S. Bernard, for instance, thinks that Saul was lost for ever. Corn, à Lapide, followed by Bishop Wordsworth, has no kindly thought for the great first king. The Jewish historian Josephus, on the contrary, writes in warm and glowing terms of the patriotic devotion with which Saul went to meet his end. Many of the Rabbis sympathise with Josephus in his estimate of the unhappy monarch. Without in any way justifying the fatal act which closed the dark tragedy of his reign, we may well plead in extenuation the awful position in which the king found himself that evening after Gilboa had been fought and lost, and we may well remember the similar conduct of Brutus, Cassius, and the younger Cato, and call to our minds what posterity has said of these noble heathens, and how far they have judged them guilty of causeless self-murder.

Well would it be for men when they sit in judgment on Saul, and on other great ones who have failed, as they think, in the discharge of their duties to God as well as to man—well would it be for once to imitate what has been rightly called “the fearless human sympathy of the Biblical writers,” and to remember how the “man after God’s own heart,” in strains never to be forgotten, wrote his touching lament over King Saul, dwelling only on the Saul, the mighty conqueror, the delight of his people, the father of his beloved and faithful friend, like him in life, united with him in death; and how with these words—gentle as they are lovely, inspired by the Holy Spirit—the Bible closes the record of the life, and leaves the first great king, the first anointed of the Lord, in the hands of his God.

1 Samuel 31:4. Lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and abuse me — He was afraid they might put him to some ignominious death, or make sport with him, as they did with Samson. But his armour-bearer would not, for he was sore afraid — He dreaded to think of killing his king. Saul took a sword, and fell upon it — “A truly brave man,” says Delaney, “would have died fighting, as Jonathan did, or would, at worst, have gloried at being abused, and even tortured, for having done his duty! Saul then died, not as a hero, but a deserter. Self-murder is demonstrably the effect of cowardice: and it is as irrational and iniquitous as it is base. God, whose creatures we are, is the sole arbiter, as he is the sole author of our life: our lives are his property; and he hath given our country, our family, and our friends, a share in them. And, therefore, as Plato finely observes in his Phædo, God is as much injured by self-murder, as I should be by having one of my slaves killed without my consent. Not to insist on the injury done to others, in a variety of relations, by the same act.”

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.He was sore wounded - Better, "he was sore afraid" (compare Deuteronomy 2:25). Saul's fear is explained in 1 Samuel 31:4. 3-5. the battle went sore against Saul, &c.—He seems to have bravely maintained his ground for some time longer; but exhausted with fatigue and loss of blood, and dreading that if he fell alive into the enemy's hands, they would insolently maltreat him (Jos 8:29; 10:24; Jud 8:21), he requested his armor bearer to despatch him. However, that officer refused to do so. Saul then falling on the point of his sword killed himself; and the armor bearer, who, according to Jewish writers, was Doeg, following the example of his master, put an end to his life also. They died by one and the same sword—the very weapon with which they had massacred the Lord's servants at Nob. Thrust me through, and abuse me; lest they take me, and put me to some shameful and cruel death.

Saul took a sword, and fell upon it, and died of the wound, as it follows.

Then said Saul unto his armourbearer,.... Who, the Jews (b) say, was Doeg the Edomite, promoted to this office for slaying the priests:

draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; for if he was wounded, yet not mortally, and it is certain he did not so apprehend it. It is much the sword of the armourbearer should be sheathed in a battle; but perhaps he was preparing for flight, and so had put it up in its scabbard:

lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and abuse me; lest they should not dispatch him at once, but put him to a lingering and torturing death, and insult him, and mock at him, as they did Samson:

but his armourbearer would not, for he was sore afraid; to lay his hand on the king the Lord's anointed, to take away his life, being more scrupulous of doing that, if this was Doeg, than of slaying the priests of the Lord; or he might be afraid of doing this, since should he survive this action, he would be called to an account by the Israelites, and be put to death for killing the king:

therefore Saul took a sword, and fell upon it; or rather "the sword", the sword of his armourbearer, and so was a suicide: the Jews endeavour to excuse this fact of Saul, because he knew he should die in battle from the words of Samuel; and being pressed sore by the archers, he saw it was impossible to escape out of their hands and therefore judged it better to kill himself than to fall by the hands of the uncircumcised; but these excuses will not do. Josephus (c) denies he killed himself; that though he attempted it, his sword would not pierce through him, and that he was killed by the Amalekite, and that that was a true account he gave to David in the following chapter; though it seems rather to be a lie, to curry favour with David, and that Saul did destroy himself.

(b) Hieron. Trad. Heb. in lib. Reg. fol. 77. B. (c) Antiqu. l. 6. c. 14. sect. 7.

Then said Saul unto his armourbearer, {a} Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and abuse me. But his armourbearer would not; for he was sore afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword, and fell upon it.

(a) So we see that his cruel life has a desperate end, as is commonly seen in those who persecute the children of God.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
4. Then said Saul, &c.] Cp. Jdg 9:54.

these uncircumcised] No indignity could be more intolerable than for the sacred person of Jehovah’s Anointed to be the butt of the heathen who had no part in His covenant. Cp. 1 Samuel 14:6.

abuse me] Maltreat me for their own amusement.

a sword] His sword.

fell upon it] This account of Saul’s death is obviously inconsistent with that given by the Amalekite (2 Samuel 1:9 ff.). His story was a fabrication. He found the king’s corpse on the field, stripped it, and brought the spoil to David in the hope of a reward.

1 Samuel 31:4The Philistines followed Saul, smote (i.e., put to death) his three sons (see at 1 Samuel 14:49), and fought fiercely against Saul himself. When the archers (בּקּשׁת אנשׁים is an explanatory apposition to המּורים) hit him, i.e., overtook him, he was greatly alarmed at them (יחל, from חיל or חוּל),

(Note: The lxx have adopted the rendering καὶ ἐτραυμάτισαν εἰς τὰ ὑποχόνδρια, they wounded him in the abdomen, whilst the Vulgate rendering is vulneratus est vehementer a sagittariis. In 1 Chronicles 10:3 the Sept. rendering is καὶ ἐπόνεσεν ἀπὸ τῶν τόξων, and that of the Vulgate et vulneraverunt jaculis. The translators have therefore derived יחל from חלל equals חלה, and then given a free rendering to the other words. But this rendering is overthrown by the word מאד, very, vehemently, to say nothing of the fact that the verb חלל or חלה cannot be proved to be ever used in the sense of wounding. If Saul had been so severely wounded that he could not kill himself, and therefore asked his armour-bearer to slay him, as Thenius supposes, he would not have had the strength to pierce himself with his sword when the armour-bearer refused. The further conjecture of Thenius, that the Hebrew text should be read thus, in accordance with the lxx, המּררים אל ויּחל, "he was wounded in the region of the gall," is opposed by the circumstance that ὑποχόνδρια is not the gall or region of the gall, but what is under the χόνδρος, or breast cartilage, viz., the abdomen and bowels.)

and called upon his armour-bearer to pierce him with the sword, "lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and play with me," i.e., cool their courage upon me by maltreating me. But as the armour-bearer would not do this, because he was very much afraid, since he was supposed to be answerable for the king's life, Saul inflicted death upon himself with his sword; whereupon the armour-bearer also fell upon his sword and died with his king, so that on that day Saul and this three sons and his armour-bearer all died; also "all his men" (for which we have "all his house" in the Chronicles), i.e., not all the warriors who went out with him to battle, but all the king's servants, or all the members of his house, sc., who had taken part in the battle. Neither Abner nor his son Ishbosheth was included, for the latter was not in the battle; and although the former was Saul's cousin and commander-in-chief (see 1 Samuel 14:50-51), he did not belong to his house or servants.

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