A Sad End of a Perverse Life
2 Samuel 1:6-10
And the young man that told him said, As I happened by chance on mount Gilboa, behold, Saul leaned on his spear; and, see…

We have here an Amalekite's account of the death of Saul. Whether it presents the truth, and can therefore be harmonized with the account in 1 Samuel 31., is doubtful. Possibly Saul did not die at once when he fell upon his sword, and being in anguish, and fearing to fall into the hands of the Philistines, begged the Amalekite to despatch him. But it is more probable that the account was false. In either case Saul committed suicide. It was a tragic end of a tragic life - a life full of the interest which arises from remarkable events, contrasted characters, the working of powerful passions, etc. But we have to view it in the aspects which tend to our moral and spiritual profit.


1. His personal qualities. Those of body - tall and commanding, fitting him in such times to be a leader of men. Those of moral nature. Character is the most powerful factor in a life; and if we see a youth of good character we hope well of him. Saul comes before us as a modest, humble, unassuming youth, diligently discharging his duty as a son, and affectionately concerned not to give pain to his father (1 Samuel 9:5, where "take thought" means "fear," "be anxious"). Still even then, judging from the silence of the narrative he was without decided piety.

2. Divine calls and gifts. Chosen of God to be king, he was anointed by Samuel, and received unmistakable signs that the prophet was the representative of God in the matter. Chosen also by lot, although some were disaffected, he was soon able to secure general acceptance by his prowess and able leadership in war; and was solemnly set apart as sovereign. Moreover, a change passed over himself which fitted him for his post. "God gave him another heart" (1 Samuel 10:9). He became also a partaker of the spirit of prophecy. (1 Samuel 10:10.)

3. Great opportunities. The career opened to Saul was one of peculiar dignity and honour. Called to be the first king of God's nation, he might have been also the father of a race of such kings, and have thus occupied no mean place in the development of God's plans for the redemption of mankind. And his immediate work, that of leading the people to victory over their heathen oppressors and clearing the land of them, and then of drawing the tribes of Israel more closely into unity and framing them into a "kingdom of God," was worthy of the highest powers and the strenuous labours of a long life.

4. Early achievements. Those, for instance, recorded in 1 Samuel 11., in which he manifested both courage and capacity, and which obtained for him the general consent of the people to his appointment.

II. IT WAS THE END OF A LIFE WHICH HAD BEEN A CONSPICUOUS FAILURE. He lost his opportunity, forfeited his throne, and deprived his family of the honour of succeeding him. He was tried, found wanting, and rejected. He had shown that he possessed some kingly qualities. Did he possess the most essential quality for the king of such a people - a king under God as supreme Monarch - that of faith in God, showing itself by ready and hearty obedience even under difficulties? It was peculiarly important that the first king should not fail in such qualities. Twice especially he was put to the proof and failed; in the first instance (1 Samuel 13.) by doing what he ought not to have done, and in the second (1 Samuel 15.) by leaving undone what he ought to have done. Twice his doom was pronounced by Samuel, who then sorrowfully retired, and left him to his own self-will and certain fate. But though he thus failed in securing the great prize set before him, he had space and opportunity for repentance and its fruits. He became after a time aware who was to secure the honour which he had forfeited, and had he been humbled in spirit and penitent, he might have shown by his conduct to David that he acquiesced in the Divine will, and was prepared to be a coworker with God in its accomplishment. He might have cherished the spirit of John the Baptist, and said with resignation, if not joy, "He must increase, but I must decrease." Instead of this he cherished envy, which ripened into hatred, and would have culminated in murder but for the special providence which guarded David's life. Baffled in his repeated attempts on his life, he sought to kill his own son, because he pleaded for David; and actually slew eighty-five priests, their wives, children, and cattle, because one of them had shown kindness to David, in ignorance of the real state of affairs. Meanwhile David acted towards him with the utmost forbearance, sparing him when once and again he could easily have taken his life; the subsequent knowledge of which softened the king, but only for a little while. Yet he was not without some zeal for the Law of God, and, besides his sacrificial offerings, "had put away those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land" (1 Samuel 28:3). In the extremity, however, of his distress and perplexity, he sought the help of a woman that had a familiar spirit, but only to have his doom once more pronounced.


1. By the sentences of rejection pronounced upon Saul by Samuel. (1 Samuel 13:14; 1 Samuel 15:23.)

2. By the sorrowful abandonment of him by Samuel. (1 Samuel 15:35.)

3. By the departure of the Spirit of the Lord from him, and the entrance into him of "an evil spirit from the Lord." The Spirit which had fitted him for the discharge of his duties forsook him, and an evil spirit troubled him - an habitual melancholy, most likely, and depression. He felt he was not the same man. He was continually haunted with the sense of his being condemned and rejected, of the inevitableness of his fate, the certainty that, however long he might continue sovereign, he could not transmit the dignity to his son. And this gloom sometimes passed over into frenzy. He was, as we should say, subject to fits of insanity. This, doubtless, furnishes some excuse for the madness of his conduct.

4. By the refusal of God to answer his prayers in the depth of his distress. (1 Samuel 28:6.) That had come upon him which is described in Proverbs 1:24-31.

5. By his miserable end. Nothing, surely, can be more affecting than the circumstances of his death, as recorded in 1 Samuel 31:3-6, supplemented by our text.


1. Every man has a Divine mission. Not only kings and great men. God has assigned us our pest, and expects us to fill it as under him. In doing so he gives the opportunity of great distinction and honour, even the attainment of an everlasting crown of glory.

2. Habitual regard to the Divine will is essential to the fulfilment of our mission. And how shall we ascertain it? We have no inspired Samuel by our side. But we have a greater than he, even the Lord Jesus Christ - the Word he has given us, the Spirit he bestows, the principles of godliness, holiness, and love which he implants. We need not seriously err.

3. Disobedience will be surely followed by punishment.

4. One serious failure in obedience to God may blight and ruin the whole life.

5. Persistent rebellion issues in utter rejection of God. And the final doom may be foreshadowed by the withdrawment of God's Spirit, and entire abandonment to the spirit of evil.

6. Let not the young trust to their good moral qualities. Let them seek at once through Christ that change of heart which will turn their virtues into holiness, render them loving and loyal to God, and ensure for them his favour now and evermore. - G.W.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And the young man that told him said, As I happened by chance upon mount Gilboa, behold, Saul leaned upon his spear; and, lo, the chariots and horsemen followed hard after him.

WEB: The young man who told him said, "As I happened by chance on Mount Gilboa, behold, Saul was leaning on his spear; and behold, the chariots and the horsemen followed hard after him.

Tidings from Gilboa
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