Lord, help me to remember that a life of disobedience toward God will end tragically.
Read 1 Samuel 31:1–13
Now the Philistines fought against Israel; the Israelites fled before them, and many fell dead on Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines were in hot pursuit of Saul and his sons, and they killed his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua. 3 The fighting grew fierce around Saul, and when the archers overtook him, they wounded him critically.
4 Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me.”
But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. 5 When the armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died with him. 6 So Saul and his three sons and his armor-bearer and all his men died together that same day.
7 When the Israelites along the valley and those across the Jordan saw that the Israelite army had fled and that Saul and his sons had died, they abandoned their towns and fled. And the Philistines came and occupied them.
8 The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the dead, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. 9 They cut off his head and stripped off his armor, and they sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to proclaim the news in the temple of their idols and among their people. 10 They put his armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths and fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shan.
11 When the people of Jabesh Gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all their valiant men marched through the night to Beth Shan. They took down the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall of Beth Shan and went to Jabesh, where they burned them. 13 Then they took their bones and buried them under a tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and they fasted seven days.
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
“Through all the changing scenes of life, in trouble and in joy, / The praises of my God shall still my heart and tongue employ” (Nahum Tate, 1652–1715, and Nicholas Brady, 1659–1726).
This week’s readings have led to the poignant moment of Saul’s death, to which Samuel’s prophecy pointed (1 Sam 28:17,19; cf. 13:14; 15:28). Saul’s sons are killed, and he is severely wounded by the Philistines on the battlefield (2,3). Instead of falling prey to his enemies, Saul asks his armor-bearer to kill him—but he wisely refuses. Saul then takes his own life by falling on his sword (4). After all the ups and downs in his life, Saul’s self-centeredness remains unchanged to the bitter end. During his final, critical moment, he does not turn his life over to God. Sadly, it reveals to us that he is concerned more about his image before his enemies or of what they would do to him than about his relationship with God (cf. 1 Sam. 15:12).
Unexpectedly though, a candle is lit at the end of this tragic scene, warming the reader’s heart. Saul had long ago intervened to liberate Jabesh Gilead from the Ammonites (1 Sam. 11). Remembering Saul’s fidelity to them, the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead risk their lives by crossing the Jordan at night, finally reaching Beth Shan, and removing the corpses of Saul and his sons from the wall. They then carry them to Jabesh, where a decent burial is afforded them (11–13). (In due time, David will reward them for this; 2 Sam. 2:5–7). Peter Miscall aptly comments, “Saul’s end is ignominious, yet the book of 1 Samuel closes by putting aside allusions to Saul’s dark and clouded days. It closes with an act that is not a power play, a calculated show of restraint, a deception, or an attempt to buy someone’s loyalty; rather, it closes with pathos, with a memory of Saul’s finest hour” (1 Samuel: A Literary Reading, 182).
This final episode sheds some light on how we should live. Saul follows his own choices until the end of his life. If Saul’s liberation of Jabesh is well-remembered, how much more of his life would have been worthy of imitation if he had chosen to obey God?
Learning from Saul’s failure, let’s choose life—hold fast to the source of life: God. Choosing life means living out covenantal love towards God and our neighbors. How can we choose life and hold fast to God today?
Lord, help Your people to see the vanity of a self-centered life. Impress upon us how empty it is and how it can end very badly.