I’ve read the passage a dozen times before, but after going through 1 Samuel at a slower pace this time around, I must admit the tragedy of this chapter hit me a lot harder than it ever has before. There was a genuine sense of sadness when I finished it.
Read it for yourself. Put yourself in the shoes of Saul, of Jonathan, of David. No matter the perspective, it’s a heartbreaking story:
Now the Philistines fought against Israel; and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell slain on Mount Gilboa. Then the Philistines followed hard after Saul and his sons. And the Philistines killed Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchishua, Saul’s sons. The battle became fierce against Saul. The archers hit him, and he was severely wounded by the archers.
Then Saul said to his armorbearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised men come and thrust me through and abuse me.”
But his armorbearer would not, for he was greatly afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword and fell on it. And when his armorbearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell on his sword, and died with him. So Saul, his three sons, his armorbearer, and all his men died together that same day.
And when the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley, and those who were on the other side of the Jordan, saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they forsook the cities and fled; and the Philistines came and dwelt in them. So it happened the next day when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. And they cut off his head and stripped off his armor, and sent word throughout the land of the Philistines, to proclaim it in the temple of their idols and among the people. Then they put his armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths, and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shan [ in Manasseh].
Now when the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men arose and traveled all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth Shan; and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. Then they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.
(1 Samuel 31:1-13, NKJV)
Despair. Fear. Grief. Humiliation. Abuse. Indignation. Bravery. So much packed in these 13 verses.
Originally 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, and 2 Kings were all one book, but somewhere down the line they were divided into the four parts we know today. The sad thing is, the original book didn’t end much better. By the time we reach the end of 2 Kings, the kingdom has been split in two, and both kingdoms have been devastated by war – their people murdered, captured, and displaced, and their kings abused and killed. And why?
For the same reason that Saul and his sons faced the fate that they did. For disobedience against God. Sin is a serious thing – never take it lightly.
More towards the beginning of 1 Samuel, the people demanded a king who would go before them and lead them to victory in battle. Now here they are at the end, once more without a king, and discovering that a human king cannot guarantee victory. The words of Samuel perhaps came ringing in their ears: “Only fear the LORD, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king” (12:24-25).
Swept away. That’s what we see here, and what we see on an even greater scale by the end of 2 Kings.
But there is hope.
Because 1 Samuel 31 isn’t the end of the story. In 2 Samuel we see a new king – David – receive the crown. He does fear the LORD and serve Him in truth, considering what great things He has done. And God promises that, unlike Saul’s, David’s kingdom will last forever – as long as his sons obey.
And even when they don’t obey, there is still hope. Even after the kingdom is torn apart and scattered among the nations and 2 Kings comes to an end – there is still hope. We have books like Ezra and Nehemiah and Esther, where we see God still loving His people, fighting for them, restoring them, working to bring them back to Himself.
And He promises a new kingdom that will rise from the ashes of David’s line – a kingdom that will truly reign and last forever and ever. It’s a kingdom in which God Himself reigns over a people who have willingly submitted themselves under His rule – the way it always was supposed to be.
And for those of us who are citizens of this kingdom, we eagerly await the day when the kingdom is finally and completely established, when God Himself will dwell among us, when every tear will be wiped away, when death will be swallowed up in victory, and all things will be made new.
For those who fear God and serve Him in truth will all their hearts – tragedy is not the end of the story.
Thank you for journeying through 1 Samuel with me. I know that it has been an incredible journey in my own personal life, as I have been convicted, encouraged, and taught in all sorts of ways. I would love to hear which parts have been the most impactful in your own life, and I hope, too, that you have been inspired to dig deeper in your own study of the Word so that you can uncover the truths that God wants to speak into your own heart.
For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17