Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Now the Philistines fought against Israel; and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa.There are several variations between the text given here and the text of 1 Sam., which are noticed as they occur in the following notes.
1. in mount Gilboa] In the campaign of Gilboa the Philistines shewed new and skilful strategy. Instead of at once marching eastward up the ravines which lead into Judah and Benjamin—in which there was no room for their chariots (2 Samuel 1:6) to manœuvre—they first marched northward along the sea-coast and then turned eastward just before reaching Mount Carmel. This movement brought them into the great fertile plain watered by the Kishon, ground over which chariots could act with decisive effect. At the N.E. end of the plain rose the heights of Gilboa. When Saul and his Benjamites advanced to meet the Philistines, the latter succeeded in interposing themselves between the Israelite army and its base in Benjamin—an easy achievement for an enemy who by his chariots possessed a high degree of mobility. Saul was therefore driven to take up his position on the north side of the plain on Mount Gilboa, where he was attacked by the Philistines, probably from the S.W., on which side the slopes of the mountain are comparatively gentle. The Israelites cut off from their homes, outmarched, outgeneralled, and probably outnumbered, were speedily routed. The battle of Gilboa was won like Hastings by cavalry (chariots) and archers (1 Chronicles 10:3) against infantry, which was obliged to stand on the defensive, under pain of being cut to pieces if it ventured to attack.
And the Philistines followed hard after Saul, and after his sons; and the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Malchishua, the sons of Saul.2. Malchi-shua] This is the correct spelling, not Melchi-shua.
And the battle went sore against Saul, and the archers hit him, and he was wounded of the archers.3. the archers hit him, and he was wounded of the archers] R.V. the archers overtook him; and he was distressed by reason of the archers.
Then said Saul to his armourbearer, Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and abuse me. But his armourbearer would not; for he was sore afraid. So Saul took a sword, and fell upon it.4. to his armourbearer] Cp. Jdg 9:54 (the death of Abimelech). One function of an armourbearer was to give the “coup de grâce” to fallen enemies (1 Samuel 14:13), but sometimes the same office had to be executed for friends.
and abuse me] i.e. wreak their cruel will upon me; cp. Jdg 1:6.
a sword] R.V. his sword.
And when his armourbearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise on the sword, and died.5. fell likewise on the sword] R.V. likewise fell upon his sword.
So Saul died, and his three sons, and all his house died together.6. all his house] In Samuel “his armourbearer and all his men.” The reference is rather to Saul’s servants than to his family.
And when all the men of Israel that were in the valley saw that they fled, and that Saul and his sons were dead, then they forsook their cities, and fled: and the Philistines came and dwelt in them.7. that were in the valley] The “valley of Jezreel” (Hosea 1:5), called in later times the “plain of Esdrelon” (Esdraelon) is meant. Even those who lived east of Jordan took to flight; 1 Samuel 31:7.
forsook their cities] Among these was no doubt Beth-shan (Beisan) “the key of Western Palestine” (see G. A. Smith, Hist. Geog. p. 358 f.), where Saul’s body was exposed (1 Samuel 31:12).
and dwelt in them] Only perhaps until Abner reconquered this district for Ish-bosheth the son of Saul; cp. 2 Samuel 2:9, “[Abner] made him (Ish-bosheth) king over … Jezreel.”
And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his sons fallen in mount Gilboa.
And when they had stripped him, they took his head, and his armour, and sent into the land of the Philistines round about, to carry tidings unto their idols, and to the people.9. And when they had stripped him, they took] R.V. And they stripped him, and took.
to carry tidings unto their idols] In Samuel, “to publish it in the house (or houses) of their idols”; cp. 1 Samuel 31:10. The news was published by the exhibition of trophies of the victory in the Philistine temples. The reading in Chron. is inferior.
And they put his armour in the house of their gods, and fastened his head in the temple of Dagon.10. in the house of their gods] In Samuel (more definitely) “in the house (or houses) of Ashtaroth,” Ashtaroth being the plural of Ashtoreth, a goddess, who seems here to bear a martial character. She was apparently consort of the Phœnician Baal (Jdg 2:13; Jdg 10:6).
fastened his head in the temple of Dagon (lit. Beth-Dagon)] In Sam. fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan. The reading of Chron. is almost certainly a misreading of the text of Sam., yet the fact stated by the Chronicler is probably true. Saul’s body was fixed to the wall of Beth-shan (Sam.), but his head (lit. his skull) and his armour (Chron.; cp. 1 Samuel 31:9) were probably sent into Philistia to be distributed as trophies among the Philistine temples. Beth-shan is N.E. of Gilboa, about four miles distant from the Jordan, and about a day’s march (1 Samuel 31:12) from Jabesh (1 Chronicles 10:11), which was situated on the other side of Jordan in Gilead.
And when all Jabeshgilead heard all that the Philistines had done to Saul,11. Jabesh-Gilead] See 1 Samuel 11:1-11; 2 Samuel 2:4-7.
They arose, all the valiant men, and took away the body of Saul, and the bodies of his sons, and brought them to Jabesh, and buried their bones under the oak in Jabesh, and fasted seven days.12. took away] i.e. from the walls of Beth-shan (so Pesh.).
to Jabesh] Samuel adds “and burned them there.” The Chronicler omits this statement perhaps because the bones were not destroyed by this burning; cp. 2 Samuel 21:12-14 (the bones of Saul and Jonathan brought from Jabesh in David’s reign and re-interred in the family sepulchre). Burning was not a usual funeral rite among the Jews (cp. 2 Chronicles 16:14, note), and probably the perfunctory burning carried out by the men of Jabesh was merely a ruse to give the Philistines the impression that Saul’s remains were destroyed and that therefore it was useless to disturb his grave.
under the oak] R.V. mg., under the terebinth. Large trees, being rare in Palestine, frequently serve as landmarks; cp. Jdg 4:5; 1 Samuel 22:6 (“tamarisk tree” R.V.).
fasted seven days] Fasting involved abstinence from food during daylight. David fasted “till the evening” in mourning for Saul (2 Samuel 1:12) and for Abner (ib. 2 Samuel 3:35). The fast of Jabesh was a sevenfold fast.
13, 14 (peculiar to Chron.). The Moral of the Overthrow of the House of Saul
Such reflexions as these are characteristic of the Chronicler; cp. 2 Chronicles 12:2 (note); 1 Chronicles 22:7; 1 Chronicles 24:24; 1 Chronicles 25:27. They are not so frequent in Sam. and Kings.
So Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the LORD, even against the word of the LORD, which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to inquire of it;13. his transgression] R.V. his trespass; cp. 2 Chronicles 26:16. The reference is to Saul’s sacrifice (1 Samuel 13:13-14), and disobedience (ib. 1 Samuel 15:23).
even against the word] R.V. because of the word.
also for asking] R.V. also for that he asked.
to inquire of it] R.V. to inquire thereby; cp. 1 Samuel 28:8.
And inquired not of the LORD: therefore he slew him, and turned the kingdom unto David the son of Jesse.14. and inquired not of the Lord] Cp. 1 Chronicles 13:3. The Chronicler does not count inquiries made too late; cp. 1 Samuel 28:6 (Saul inquires of the Lord, but receives no answer).