His Lamentations for Saul
1 Samuel 31 and 2 Samuel 1
The final chapter of 1 Samuel presents to us an unspeakably solemn and terrible scene, being concerned not with David, but with the termination of Saulís earthly life. In these chapters we have said little about him, but here one or two paragraphs concerning his tragic career and its terrible close seem in place. A solemn summary of this, from the divine side, is found in Hosea 13:11, when at a later date, God reminded rebellious Israel, "I gave them a king in Mine anger, and took him away in My wrath": the reference being to Saul.
The history of Saul properly begins at the eighth chapter. There we behold the revolted heart of Israel, which had departed further and further from Jehovah, desiring a human king in His stead. Though Samuel the prophet faithfully remonstrated, and space was given them to repent of their rash decision, it was in vain: they were determined to have their own way. "Nevertheless the people . . . said, Nay, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles" (8:19, 20). Accordingly, God, "in His anger," delivered them up to their own heartsí lusts and suffered them to be plagued by one who proved a disappointment and curse to them, until, by his godless incompetency, he brought the kingdom of Israel to the very verge of destruction.
From the human side of things, Saul was a man splendidly endowed, given a wonderful opportunity, and had a most promising prospect. Concerning his physique we are told, "Saul was a choice young man, and a goodly: and there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he: from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people" (9:2). Regarding his acceptability unto his subjects, we read that when Samuel set him before them, that "all the people shouted, and said, God save the king" (10:24): more, "there went with him a band of men, whose hearts God had touched" (10:26), giving the young king favor in their eyes. Not only so, but "the Spirit of the Lord came upon Saul" (11:6), equipping him for his office, and giving proof that God was ready to act if he would submit to His yoke.
Yet notwithstanding these high privileges, Saul, in his spiritual madness, played fast and loose with them, mined his life, and by disobeying and defying God, lost his soul. In the thirteenth chapter of 1 Samuel we find Saul tried and found wanting. The prophet left him for a little while, bidding him go to Gilgal and wait for him there, till he should come and offer the sacrifices. Accordingly we are told "he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed." And then we read, "but Samuel came not to Gilgal, and the people were scattered from him"óhaving lost their confidence in the king to lead them against the Philistines to victory. Petulant at the delay, Saul presumptuously invaded the prophetís prerogative and said, "Bring hither a burnt offering to me, and peace offerings, And he offered the burnt offering" (13:9). Thus did he forsake the word of the Lord and break the first command he received from Him.
In the 15th chapter we see him tested again by a command from the Lord: "Thus saith the Lord of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not: but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass" (vv. 2, 3). But again he disobeyed: "But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them" (v. 9). Then it was that the prophet announced, "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, He hath also rejected thee from being king" (vv. 22,23). From that point Saul rapidly went from bad to worse: turning against David and relentlessly seeking his life, shedding the blood of Godís priests (22:18, 19), till at last he scrupled not to seek the aid of the devil himself (28:7,8).
And now the day of recompense had come, when he who had advanced steadily from one degree of impiety to another, should miserably perish by his own hand. The divine account of this is given in 1 Samuel 31. The Philistines had joined themselves against Israel in battle. First, Saulís own army was defeated (v. 1); next, his sons, the hopes of his family, were slain before his eyes (v. 2); and then the king himself was sorely wounded by the archers (v. 3). Fearful indeed is what follows: no longer able to resist his enemies, nor yet flee from them, the God-abandoned Saul expressed no concern for his soul, but desired only that his life might be dispatched speedily, so that the Philistines might not gloat over him and torture his body.
First, he called upon his armor-bearer to put an end to his wretched life, but though his servant neither feared God nor death, he had too much respect for the person of his sovereign to lift up his hand against him (v. 4). Whereupon Saul became his own murderer: Saul took a sword and fell upon it"; and his armor-bearer, in a mad expression of fealty to his royal master, imitated his fearful example. Saul was therefore the occasion of his servant being guilty of fearful wickedness, and "perished not alone in his iniquity." As he had lived, so he died: proud and jealous, a terror to himself and all about him, having neither the fear of God nor hope in God. What a solemn warning for each of us! What need is there for both writer and reader to heed that exhortation, "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living of God" (Heb. 3:13).
The cases of Ahithophel (2 Sam. 17:23), Zimri (1 Kings 16:18) and Judas the traitor (Matt. 27:5) are the only other instances recorded in Scripture of those who murdered themselves. The awful sin of suicide seems to have occurred very rarely in Israel, and not one of the above cases is extenuated by ascribing the deed unto insanity! When the character of those men be examined, we may perceive not only the enormity of the crime by which they put an end to their wretched lives, but the unspeakably fearful consequences which must follow the fatal deed. How can it be otherwise, when men either madly presume on the mercy of God or despair of it. in order to escape temporal suffering or disgrace, despise His gift of life, and rush headlong, uncalled, unto His tribunal? By an act of direct rebellion against Godís authority (Ex. 20:13), and in daring defiance of His justice, suicides fling themselves on the bosses of Jehovahís buckler, with the guilt of unrepented sin on their hands.
"And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen in mount Gilboa. And they cut off his head, and stripped off his armour, and sent into the land of the Philistines round about, to publish it in the house of their idols, and among the people. And they put his armour in the house of Ashtaroth: and they fastened his body to the wall of Bethshan" (31 :8-10). Though Saul had escaped torture at their hands, his body was signally abusedóadumbrating, we doubt not, the awful suffering which his soul was now enduring, and would continue to endure forever. Saulís self-inflicted death points a most solemn warning for us to earnestly watch and pray that we may be preserved from both presumption and despair, and divinely enabled to bear up under the trials of life, and quietly to hope for the salvation of the Lord (Lam. 3:26), that Satan may not tempt us to the horrible sin of self-murder for which the Scriptures hold out no hope of forgiveness.
"Now it came to pass after the death of Saul, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites, and David had abode two days in Ziklag" (2 Sam. 1:1). David had returned to Ziklag, where he was engaged with dividing the spoil he had captured and in sending presents to his friends (1 Sam. 30:26-31). "It was strange he did not leave some spies about the camps to bring him early notice of the issue of the engagement (between the Philistines and the army of Saul): a sign he desired not Saulís woeful day, nor was impatient to come to the throne, but willing to wait till those tidings were brought to him, which many a one would have sent more than half way to meet. He that believeth does not make haste, takes good news when it comes, and is not weary while it is in the coming" (Matthew Henry).
"It came even to pass on the third day, that, behold, a man came out of the camp from Saul with his clothes rent and earth upon his head: and so it was, when he came to David, that he fell to the earth, and did obeisance. And David said unto him, From whence comest thou? And he said unto him, Out of the camp of Israel am I escaped. And David said unto him, How went the matter? I pray thee, tell me. And he answered, That the people are fled from the battle, and many of the people also are fallen and dead; and Saul and Jonathan his son are dead also" (2 Sam. 1:2-4). This Amalekite presented himself as a mourner for the dead king, and as a loyal subject to the one who should succeed Saul. No doubt he prided himself that he was the first to pay homage to the sovereign-elect, expecting to be rewarded for bringing such good news (4: 10); whereas he was the first to receive sentence of death from Davidís hands.
"And David said unto the young man that told him, How knowest thou that Saul and Jonathan be dead? 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. And when he looked behind him, he saw me, and called unto me. And I answered, Here am I. And he said unto me, Who art thou? And I answered him, I am an Amalekite. And he said unto me again, Stand, I pray thee, upon me, and slay me, for anguish is come upon me, because my life is yet whole in me. So I stood upon him, and slew him, because I was sure that he could not live after that he was fallen: and I took the crown that was upon his head, and the bracelet that was on his arm, and have brought them hither unto my lord" (vv. 5-10). This is one of the passages seized by atheists and infidels to show that "the Bible is full of contradictions," for the account here given of Saulís death by no means tallies with what is recorded in the previous chapter. But the seeming difficulty is easily solved: 1 Samuel 31 contains Godís description of Saulís death; 2 Samuel 1 gives manís fabrication. Holy Writ records the lies of Godís enemies (Gen. 3:4) as well as the true statements of his servants.
From 1 Samuel 31:4 it is definitely established that Saul murdered himself, and was dead before his armor-bearer committed suicide. That is the unerring record of the Holy Spirit Himself, and must not be questioned for a moment. In view of this, it is quite evident that the Amalekite who now communicated to David the tidings of Saulís death, lied in a number of details. Finding Saulís body with the insignia of royalty upon itówhich evidenced both the conceit and rashness of the infatuated king: going into battle with the crown upon his head, and thus making himself a mark for the Philistine archersóhe seized them (v. 10), and then formed his story in such a way as he hoped to ingratiate himself with David. Thus did this miserable creature seek to turn the death of Saul to his own personal advantage, and scrupled not to depart from the truth in so doing; concluding, from the wickedness of his own heart, that David would be delighted with the news he communicated.
By the death of Saul and Jonathan the way was now opened for David to the throne. "If a large proportion of Israel stood up for the rights of Ishbosheth, who was a very insignificant person (2 Sam. 2-4), doubtless far more would have been strenuous for Jonathan. And though he would readily have given place, yet his brethren and the people in general would no doubt have made much more opposition to Davidís accession to the kingdom" (Thomas Scott). Yet so far was David from falling into a transport of joy, as the poor Amalekite expected, that he mourned and wept; and so strong was his passion that all about him were similarly affected: "Then David took hold on his clothes, and rent them; and likewise all the men that were with him: And they mourned and wept, and fasted until even, for Saul, and for Jonathan his son, and for the people of the Lord, and for the house of Israel; because they were fallen by the sword" (vv. 11, 12).
"Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth; and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth" (Prov. 24:17). There are many who secretly wish for the death of those who have injured them, or who keep them from honors and estates, and who inwardly rejoice even when they pretend to mourn outwardly. But the grace of God subdues this base disposition, and forms the mind to a more liberal temper. Nor will the spiritual soul exult in the prospect of worldly advancement, for he realizes that such will increase his responsibilities, that he will be surrounded by greater temptations and called to additional duties and cares. David mourned for Saul out of good will, without constraint: out of compassion, without malice; because of the melancholy circumstances attending his death and the terrible consequences which must follow, as well as for Israelís being triumphed over by the enemies of God.
"And David said unto the young man that told him, Whence art thou? And he answered, I am the son of a stranger, an Amalekite. And David said unto him, How wast thou not afraid to stretch forth thine hand to destroy the Lordís anointed? And David called one of the young men, and said, Go near, and fall upon him. And he smote him that he died. And David said unto him, Thy blood be upon thy head; for thy mouth hath testified against thee, saying, I have slain the Lordís anointed" (vv. 13-16). As an Amalekite, he was devoted to destruction (Deut. 25: 17-19), and as the elect-king, David was now required to put the sentence into execution.
The last nine verses of our chapter record the "lamentation" or elegy which David made over Saul and Jonathan. Not only did David rend his clothes, weep, and fast over the decease of his arch-enemy, but he also composed a poem in his honour: 2 Samuel 1: 17-27. Nor was it mere sentiment which prompted him: it was also because he looked upon Saul as Israelís "king," the "anointed" of God (v. 16). This elegy was a noble tribute of respect unto Saul and of tender affection for Jonathan. First, he expressed sorrow over the fall of the mighty (v. 19). Second, he deprecated the exultations of the enemies of God in the cities of the Philistines (v. 20). Third, he celebrated Saulís valor and military renown (vv. 21,22). Fourth, he touchingly mentioned the fatal devotion of Jonathan to his father (v. 23). Fifth, he called upon the daughters of Israel, who had once sung Saulís praises, to now weep over their fallen leader (v. 24). Sixth, his faults are charitably veiled! Seventh, nothing could truthfully be said of Saulís piety, so David would not utter liesóhow this puts to shame the untruthful adulations found in many a funeral oration! Eighth, he ended by memorializing the fervent love of Jonathan for himself.