Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible
Now the Philistines fought against Israel; and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa.
The design of Ezra, in these books of the Chronicles, was to preserve the records of the house of David, which, though much sunk and lessened in a common eye by the captivity, yet grew more and more illustrious in the eyes of those that lived by faith by the nearer approach of the Son of David. And therefore he repeats, not the history of Saul’s reign, but only of his death, by which way was made for David to the throne. In this chapter we have, I. The fatal rout which the Philistines gave to Saul’s army, and the fatal stroke which he gave himself (v. 1-7). II. The Philistines’ triumph therein (v. 8–10). III. The respect which the men of Jabesh-Gilead showed the royal corpse (v. 11, 12). IV. The reason of Saul’s rejection (v. 13, 14).
This account of Saul’s death is the same with that which we had, 1 Sa. 31:1, etc. We need not repeat the exposition of it. Only let us observe, 1. Princes sin and the people suffer for it. It was a bad time with Israel when they fled before the Philistines and fell down slain (v. 1), when they quitted their cities, and the Philistines came and dwelt in them, v. 7. We do not find that they were at this time guilty of idolatry, as they had been before, in the days of the judges, and were afterwards, in the days of the kings. Samuel had reformed them, and they were reformed: and yet they are thus given to the spoil and to the robbers. No doubt there was enough in them to deserve this judgment; but that which divine Justice had chiefly an eye to was the sin of Saul. Note, Princes and great men should in a special manner take heed of provoking God’s wrath; for, if they kindle that fire, they know not how many may be consumed by it for their sakes. 2. Parents sin and the children suffer for it. When the measure of Saul’s iniquity was full, and his day came to fall (which David foresaw, 1 Sa. 26:10), he not only descended into battle and perished himself, but his sons (all but Ishbosheth) perished with him, and Jonathan among the rest, that gracious, generous man; for all things come alike to all. Thus was the iniquity of the fathers visited upon the children, and they fell as parts of the condemned father. Note, Those that love their seed must leave their sins, lest they perish not alone in their iniquity, but bring ruin on their families with themselves, or entail a curse upon them when they are gone. 3. Sinners sin and at length suffer for it themselves, though they be long reprieved; for, although sentence be not executed speedily, it will be executed. It was so upon Saul; and the manner of his fall was such as, in various particulars, answered to his sin. (1.) He had thrown a javelin more than once at David, and missed him; but the archers hit him, and he was wounded of the archers. (2.) He had commanded Doeg to slay the priests of the Lord; and now, in despair, he commands his armour-bearer to draw his sword and thrust him through. (3.) He had disobeyed the command of God in not destroying the Amalekites, and his armour-bearer disobeys him in not destroying him. (4.) He that was the murderer of the priests is justly left to himself to be his own murderer; and his family is cut off who cut off the city of the priests. See, and say, The Lord is righteous.
David is here brought to the possession.
I. Of the throne of Israel, after he had reigned seven years in Hebron, over Judah only. In consideration of his relation to them (v. 1), his former good services, and especially the divine designation (v. 2), they anointed him their king: he covenanted to protect them, and they to bear faith and true allegiance to him, v. 3. Observe, 1. God’s counsels will be fulfilled at last, whatever difficulties lie in the way. If God had said, David shall rule, it is in vain to oppose it. 2. Men that have long stood in their own light, when they have long wearied themselves with their lying vanities, it is to be hoped, will understand the things that belong to their peace and return to their own mercies. 3. Between prince and people there is an original contract, which both ought religiously to observe. If ever any prince might have claimed an absolute despotic power, David might, and might as safely as any have been entrusted with it; and yet he made a covenant with the people, took the coronation-oath, to rule by law.
II. Of the strong-hold of Zion, which was held by the Jebusites till David’s time. Whether David had a particular eye upon it as a place fit to make a royal city, or whether he had a promise of it from God, it seems that one of his first exploits was to make himself master of that fort; and, when he had it, he called it the city of David, v. 7. To this reference is had, Ps. 2:6. I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. See here what quickens and engages resolution in great undertakings. 1. Opposition. When the Jebusites set David at defiance, and said, Thou shalt not come hither. he resolved to force it, whatever it cost him. 2. Prospect of preferment. When David proposed to give the general’s place to him that would lead the attack upon the castle of Zion, Joab was fired with the proposal, and he went up first, and was chief. It has been said, "Take away honour out of the soldier’s eye and you cut off the spurs from his heels."
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.
Here, I. From the triumph of the Philistines over the body of Saul we may learn, 1. That the greater dignity men are advanced to the greater disgrace they are in danger of falling into. Saul’s dead body, because he was king, was abused more than any other of the slain. Advancement makes men a mark for malice. 2. That, if we give not to God the glory of our successes, even the Philistines will rise up in judgment against us and condemn us; for, when they had obtained a victory over Saul, they sent tidings to their idols—poor idols, that knew not what was done a few miles off till the tidings were brought to them, nor then either! They also put Saul’s armour in the house of their gods, v. 10. Shall Dagon have so honourable a share in their triumphs and the true and living God be forgotten in ours?
II. From the triumph of the men of Jabesh-Gilead in the rescue of the bodies of Saul and his sons we learn that there is a respect due to the remains of the deceased, especially of deceased princes. We are not to enquire concerning the eternal state; that must be left to God: but we must treat the dead body as those who remember it has been united to an immortal soul and must be so again.
III. From the triumphs of divine Justice in the ruin of Saul we may learn, 1. That the sin of sinners will certainly find them out, sooner or later: Saul died for his transgression. 2. That no man’s greatness can exempt him from the judgments of God. 3. Disobedience is a killing thing. Saul died for not keeping the word of the Lord, by which he was ordered to destroy the Amalekites. 4. Consulting with witches is a sin that fills the measure of iniquity as soon as any thing. Saul enquired of one that had a familiar spirit, and enquired not of the Lord, therefore he slew him, v. 13, 14. Saul slew himself, and yet it is said, God slew him. What is done by wicked hands is yet done by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. Those that abandon themselves to the devil shall be abandoned to him; so shall their doom be. It is said (1 Sa. 28:6) that Saul did enquire of the Lord and he answered him not: but here it is said, Saul did not enquire of God; for he did not till he was brought to the last extremity, and then it was too late.
In this chapter is repeated, I. The elevation of David to the throne, immediately upon the death of Saul, by common consent (v. 1-3). II. His gaining the castle of Zion out of the hands of the Jebusites (v. 4-9). III. The catalogue of the worthies and great men of his kingdom (v. 10–47).
And they put his armour in the house of their gods, and fastened his head in the temple of Dagon.
We have here an account of David’s worthies, the great men of his time that served him and were preferred by him. The first edition of this catalogue we had, 2 Sa. 23:8, etc. This is much the same, only that those named here from v. 41 to the end are added. Observe,
I. The connexion of this catalogue with that which is said concerning David, v. 9. 1. David waxed greater and greater, and these were his mighty men. Much of the strength and honour of great men is borrowed from their servants and depends upon them, which cannot but somewhat diminish pomp and power in the opinion of those that are wise. David is great because he has great men about him; take these away, and he is where he was. 2. The Lord of hosts was with him, and these were the mighty men which he had. God was with him and wrought for him, but by men and means and the use of second causes. By this it appeared that God was with him, that he inclined the hearts of those to come over to him that were able to serve his interest. As, if God be for us none can be against us, so, if God be for us, all shall be for us that we have occasion for. Yet David ascribed his success and increase, not to the hosts he had, but to the Lord of hosts, not to the mighty men that were with him, but to the mighty God whose presence with us is all in all.
II. The title of this catalogue (v. 10): These are the men who strengthened themselves with him. In strengthening him they strengthened themselves and their own interest; for his advancement was theirs. What we do in our places for the support of the kingdom of the Son of David we shall be gainers by. In strengthening it we strengthen ourselves. It may be read, They held strongly with him and with all Israel. Note, When God has work to do he will not want fit instruments to do it with. If it be work that requires mighty men, mighty men shall either be found or made to effect it, according to the word of the Lord.
III. That which made all these men honourable was the good service that they did to their king and country; they helped to make David king (v. 10)—a good work. They slew the Philistines, and other public enemies, and were instrumental to save Israel. Note, The way to be great is to do good. Nor did they gain this honour without labour and the hazard of their lives. The honours of Christ’s kingdom are prepared for those that fight the good fight of faith, that labour and suffer, and are willing to venture all, even life itself, for Christ and a good conscience. It is by a patient continuance in well-doing that we must seek for glory, and honour, and immortality; and those that are faithful to the Son of David shall find their names registered and enrolled much more to their honour than these are in the records of fame.
IV. Among all the great exploits of David’s mighty men, here is nothing great mentioned concerning David himself but his pouring out water before the Lord which he had longed for, v. 18, 19. Four very honourable dispositions of David appeared in that action, which, for aught I know, made it as great as any of the achievements of those worthies. 1. Repentance for his own weakness. It is really an honour to a man, when he is made sensible that he has said or done any thing unadvisedly, to unsay it and undo it again by repentance, as it is a shame to a man when he has said or done amiss to stand to it. 2. Denial of his own appetite. He longed for the water of the well of Bethlehem; but, when he had it, he would not drink it, because he would not so far humour himself and gratify a foolish fancy. He that has such a rule as this over his own spirit is better than the mighty. It is an honour to a man to have the command of himself; but he that will command himself must sometimes cross himself. 3. Devotion towards God. That water which he thought too good, too precious, for his own drinking, he poured out to the Lord for a drink offering. If we have any thing better than another, let God be honoured with it, who is the best, and should have the best. 4. Tenderness of his servants. It put him into the greatest confusion imaginable to think that three brave men should hazard their lives to fetch water for him. In his account it turns the water into blood. It is the honour of great men not to be prodigal of the blood of those they employ, but, in all the commands they give them, to put their own souls into their souls’ stead.
V. In the wonderful achievements of these heroes the power of God must be acknowledged. How could one slay 300 and another the same number (v. 11, 20), another two lion-like men (v. 22), and another an Egyptian giant (v. 23), if they had not had the extraordinary presence of God with them, according to that promise, Jos. 23:10, One man of you shall chase a thousand, for the Lord your God fighteth for you?
VI. One of these worthies is said to be an Ammonite (v. 39), another a Moabite (v. 46), and yet the law was that an Ammonite and a Moabite should not enter into the congregation of the Lord, Deu. 23:3. These, it is likely, had approved themselves so hearty for the interest of Israel that in their case it was thought fit to dispense with that law, and the rather because it was an indication that the Son of David would have worthies among the Gentiles: with him there is neither Greek nor Jew.