1 Sam. 31-2 Sam. 1:   “Saul And His Sons Are Slain In Battle And David Laments Them


Jim Bomkamp

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1.     INTRO:


1.1.1.  In our last study, we looked at chapters 29-30:


1.1.2.  In chapter 29, we saw that David and his men were found in a very compromising position.  Because David and his men had gone over and lived among the Philistines and served the king of the Philistines, the king of the Philistines next commanded David and his men to come with the Philistines in battle as he planned a campaign to attack Israel.  David was in the dilemma of his life:  If he were to disobey the Philistine king’s command to go to the battle against Israel, he could be killed by the king.  However, David could not go up and fight against Israel either for they are God’s people and he had been told by the Lord that he will be the next king over Israel.  David had taken his men and gone to live among the Philistines because he was tired of the Lord placing him in difficult circumstances, especially regarding King Saul who was always chasing him down and hunting him to kill him.  This decision of David’s to take his men and go and live in Philistia was done because David had lost his faith in the Lord and lost his perspective of life based upon the promises of God made to him.  The Lord delivered David from having to fight against God’s people when the Philistine commanders became concerned about having David and his men in battle with them against the Israelites, thinking they would turn and begin to fight against the Philistines. 


1.1.3.  In chapter 30, we saw that when David and his men returned from the battle to their home city of Ziklag, they discovered that it had been burned down and that all of their women and children were missing.  We saw then that the Lord used this circumstance at Ziklag to bring David to the end of himself, to truly repent of going his own way apart from the Lord.  David had lost everything and his men were even threatening to stone him because they were holding him responsible for what has happened.  After repenting of his sin and encouraging his heart in the Lord.  David inquired of the Lord about whether he and his men should pursue the Amalekites (he hadn’t inquired of the Lord in many months).  He was told by the Lord to go and given assurance that he would recover all safely.  We see then that David and his men pursued the Amalekites and surprised them in battle.  The Amalekites were soundly defeated by David and his men and everything taken by the Amalekites was recovered just as David had been told by the Lord.


1.2.     In our study today, we will look at chapter 31 of 1 Samuel as well as chapter 1 of 2 Samuel.


1.2.1.  We will see how that Saul and three of his sons, including Jonathan David’s best friend, are killed by the Philistines in the battle that David and his men almost fought in with the Philistines against Israel.


1.2.2.  We will look at how David sincerely mourned for Jonathan his friend as well as king Saul.  David’s lamentation for these men we will look at in chapter 1 of 2 Samuel.


1.2.3.  In this study, we are going to take a review of King Saul’s life as we consider these events of his death in battle and those who remembered and mourned for him afterwards:  In the scriptures there are both good examples as well as bad ones from whom we are supposed to learn.  In this study we will remember the lessons that we have learned from Saul, a man who was made Israel’s first king yet was a big failure for the Lord.  The book of 1 Samuel is a book that is primarily about “Man’s King.”  It was the Lord’s plan that He was to be the king over His people, but the people’s desire was for a different king.  Long ago in Israel’s history the Lord had inferred that He would raise up a king to rule over His people, however until that time the Lord was to be their king.  We saw early in the book of 1 Samuel that the people began to insist that the prophet Samuel appoint a king to rule over them, a king like that of all of the other nations.  Samuel was reluctant to do this however the Lord told him to go and to appoint a king over Israel.  We saw then that the Lord directed Samuel to Saul to anoint to be the king over Israel however Saul was the king that the people in their rebellion against the Lord desired, for Saul had all of the characteristics that people admired in their leaders:  tall, good looking, commanding, could make decisions unless it came to doing what was really right. Things really haven’t changed much for even in our world today the same characteristics that Saul possessed are what are valued in those who would be our leaders.  But this is not at all what the Lord values in people.  On the external, Saul was truly an impressive specimen however the one whom the Lord desired to rule over His people was David because though David lacked all of these characteristics of Saul, David was a man after God’s own heart. The internal things of a person’s character and heart are what really should matter in leaders, as those things are the things that matter to the Lord.  But, Saul had been anointed by Samuel as king over Israel and the Holy Spirit had even come upon him causing him to prophesy, and then Saul began to reign over Israel.  The Lord gave Saul the chance to be blessed by Him and to be God’s man before God’s people.  All Saul had to do was to be obedient and walk by faith in the Lord and the Lord would bless him and even raise up his sons after him to be king, in other words a kingly dynasty through his sons.  Saul’s story is a tragic one though.  It is a story of unfulfilled potential, of wasted opportunities, of looking to the resources for help from this world instead of the Lord, and of the sad consequences of kicking the Lord off from ruling your life opting instead to call the shots yourself.  After just a matter of days since being anointed as king over Israel Saul had already disobeyed the Lord.  When the Philistines had come up against Israel in battle, Saul was to wait for Samuel to come to him and pray for the nation and make a sacrifice to the Lord.  However, when Samuel hadn’t come after 7 days ( the length of time Samuel told Saul he would take to come) then Saul disobeyed the Lord by offering up the sacrifice himself, something designated only for the priests of Israel.  Because of this disobedience, Saul was told by the Lord through Samuel that Saul’s dynasty through his sons would be removed.  Saul could have learned from his experience of having disobeyed the Lord and as a result having his dynasty taken away.  However, in the very next battle he is in Saul was told by the Lord through Samuel to not allow any of the Amalekites to live and to destroy all of their possessions.  However, after defeating the Amalekites Saul allowed his men to spare the life of the king of the Amalekites as well as some of the best of all of their livestock and possessions.  Because of this disobedience, Saul was told by the Lord through Samuel that his very kingship was now going to be taken away and given to a man more worthy, a man after God’s own heart ( this will be David). In chapter 31 of 1 Samuel we see the fruition of this judgment of the Lord against Saul as he is killed in battle against the Philistines.  In chapter 28, we previously saw that when the Philistines had come up against Israel in battle in Jezreel ( where our story picks up today ) that Saul had an ominous sense about the battle.  He knew that the Lord’s hand was against him and that judgment awaited him for he knew that he was now the Lord’s enemy.  He desperately wanted the Lord to speak to him now, however the Lord refused to speak to him through any channel.  In desperation, Saul then disregarded God’s word which told the people not to look to avenues of the occult for answers nor to mediums, and he searched and found a medium in the land who agreed to call up Samuel so that Saul could find out what he should do.  Though a medium cannot call up people from the dead, the Lord chose at that time to bring back Samuel from the dead and to deliver a word to Saul, however this word was a word of judgment:  Saul and his sons would be killed in battle on the next day and Israel defeated.  Today’s study details the events of that battle.  The book of 2 Samuel is a book that is primarily about “God’s king.”  It is the story of the reign of King David.  We will see in the next study after today’s how that David is finally accepted as king over Israel and begins to reign upon the throne for which he had been anointed by Samuel those many years before.  All of the trials and difficulties David had gone through now had molded David’s character to the point that he could be the man that the Lord desired to rule over and represent Him to His people. 


2.       1 Sam. 31:1-3  - 1 Now the Philistines were fighting against Israel, and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines and fell slain on Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines overtook Saul and his sons; and the Philistines killed Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchi-shua the sons of Saul. 3 The battle went heavily against Saul, and the archers hit him; and he was badly wounded by the archers. -  The Philistines begin to defeat Saul’s army in battle on Mount Gilboa, then Jonathan and two other sons of Saul are killed by them and King Saul is mortally wounded by an archer


2.1.     Saul’s army is grossly outnumbered and outmatched by the Philistines.  The Philistines had many chariots and thus preferred to fight Israel on the plains.  The only hope for Saul and his army was to draw the Philistines up on the higher ground of the slopes of Mount Gilboa.  However, on Mount Gilboa on this day the battle went in the favor of the Philistines.


2.2.     In the battle on Mount Gilboa, some of Saul’s army fled the battle and many of them were killed in the battle.


2.3.     It is tragic to see this man Jonathan, who was David’s best friend and a godly and righteous man before the Lord, killed in battle with his father.  Jonathan had made a covenant with David that when David was brought to the throne that he would be second in command to David and assist him in the kingdom, however this dream would never be fulfilled. 


2.3.1.  Sadly, Jonathan died because of the sin of his disobedient and rebellious father.  How that reality ought to challenge all of us as parents in our submission to and walk with the Lord.


2.4.     Archers were a formidable foe in battle in this day as they could attack from long range, and here we see that the archers had hit Saul and that he knew that he was not going to be able to survive.


3.       1 Sam. 31:4-6  - 4 Then Saul said to his armor bearer, “Draw your sword and pierce me through with it, otherwise these uncircumcised will come and pierce me through and make sport of me.” But his armor bearer would not, for he was greatly afraid. So Saul took his sword and fell on it. 5 When his armor bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell on his sword and died with him. 6 Thus Saul died with his three sons, his armor bearer, and all his men on that day together. -  Saul tries to get his armor bearer to kill him then when he refuses Saul falls on his own sword and dies


3.1.     Saul knew that it was the habit of the Philistines to torture those who were wounded in battle and that since he was the king that they would be merciless to him.  Therefore, when his armor bearer refused to kill him he chose to take action into his own hands and commit suicide falling upon his own sword.


3.2.     Saul’s armor bearer was so distraught after Saul fell upon his sword and was dead that he fell upon his own sword and died with him.


3.3.     Saul, three of his sons, and his whole personal body guard died together on Mount Gilboa on this day.  We will see that Saul’s fourth son, Ishbosheth, was not at this battle on this day and thus survived.  After David is made king an insurrection will arise to make Ishbosheth king instead of David, but this will be squashed.


3.4.     It is ironic that while David could not take the life of God’s anointed, although he had several opportunities to do so, Saul did this himself.


3.5.     How tragic and sad it is to see Saul here, a man who had so much potential and whose life could have been so different, resorting to suicide to end his own life.


3.6.     Suicide, though a horrible and tragic sin for a person to commit, is not a sin that will send a person to hell.  The only sin that will send a person to hell is the sin of rejecting Jesus Christ as one’s personal Lord and Savior.


3.7.     There are three instances of people committing suicide in the scriptures and in every instance they killed themselves after committing a horrible act and then knew that as a result that they faced a horrible judgment:


3.7.1.  Ahithophel after his failed insurrection against David when David’s son Absalom tried to take the kingdom from his father (2 Sam. 17:23).


3.7.2.  Zimri after he had inspired a coup and to become king over the northern kingdom of Israel had killed King Elah, but then in response all Israel appointed Omri to be their king and they came and besieged the city where Zimri was hiding (1 Kings 16:18).


3.7.3.  Judas Iscariot after he had betrayed the Lord Jesus to Pontius Pilate and the ruling Pharisees to be crucified (Matt. 27:5).


4.       1 Sam. 31:7  - 7 When the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley, with those who were beyond the Jordan, saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned the cities and fled; then the Philistines came and lived in them. -  The Philistines came and lived in the cites abandoned by Israel


4.1.     Here we see many Israelites, those on both sides of the valley of Jezreel where this battle with the Philistines was fought, as well as those on the wilderness side of the Jordan River, in fear abandoned their cities after Saul’s army was defeated by the Philistines.  The Philistines then came and inhabited those cities.


5.       1 Sam. 31:8-13  - 8 It came about on the next day when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. 9 They cut off his head and stripped off his weapons, and sent them throughout the land of the Philistines, to carry the good news to the house of their idols and to the people. 10 They put his weapons in the temple of Ashtaroth, and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan. 11 Now when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all the valiant men rose and walked 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. 13 They took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days. -  The Philistines came upon the battlefield the next day and took the spoil and dishonored the bodies of Saul and his sons who had been killed in battle


5.1.     In this day, when a nation would win a conflict in battle, they would then be able to make full use of the spoils of the battle.  Sharing in the spoils of battle was actually one of the perks of serving in an army. 


5.2.     The Philistines also liked to dishonor the bodies of those whom they killed in battle, especially the leaders and kings of those nations.  Here we see that the Philistines had a great time dishonoring the corpses of King Saul and his sons: 


5.2.1.  They cut off Saul’s head and stripped off his weapons and sent them throughout the land of the Philistines (1 Chron. 10:9) to show off how their god Dagon had given them such great victory.   They eventually displayed these in their temples.  The armor ended up in the temple to Ashtareth and the head in the temple of Dagon (1 Chron. 10:10).


5.2.2.  They put Saul’s weapons in the temple of Astaroth and they fastened the corpses of Saul and his dead sons to a wall in Beth-shan.


5.3.     The men of Jabesh-Gilead however owed a great debt to King Saul for he had delivered their city from the Philistines.  Therefore, through great risk to their own lives they performed a covert operation and recovered the bodies of King Saul and his sons and brought them back to their land.  Since the bodies had been so disfigured by the Philistines and were badly decomposed, they burned them ( the Israelites normally never performed cremation ).  Then, they buried the bones that were left after the burning. 


6.       2 Sam. 1:1-11  - 1 Now it came about after the death of Saul, when David had returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites, that David remained two days in Ziklag. 2 On the third day, behold, a man came out of the camp from Saul, with his clothes torn and dust on his head. And it came about when he came to David that he fell to the ground and prostrated himself. 3 Then David said to him, “From where do you come?” And he said to him, “I have escaped from the camp of Israel.” 4 David said to him, “How did things go? Please tell me.” And he said, “The people have fled from the battle, and also many of the people have fallen and are dead; and Saul and Jonathan his son are dead also.” 5 So David said to the young man who told him, “How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?” 6 The young man who told him said, “By chance I happened to be on Mount Gilboa, and behold, Saul was leaning on his spear. And behold, the chariots and the horsemen pursued him closely. 7 “When he looked behind him, he saw me and called to me. And I said, ‘Here I am.’ 8 “He said to me, ‘Who are you?’ And I answered him, ‘I am an Amalekite.’ 9 “Then he said to me, ‘Please stand beside me and kill me, for agony has seized me because my life still lingers in me.’ 10 “So I stood beside him and killed him, because I knew that he could not live after he had fallen. And I took the crown which was on his head and the bracelet which was on his arm, and I have brought them here to my lord.”  11 Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them, and so also did all the men who were with him. 12 They mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and his son Jonathan and for the people of the Lord and the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. -  David finds out that Saul and three of his sons have been killed in battle and he grieves for King Saul and Jonathan


6.1.     David and his men had been preoccupied.  David and his men had been kicked out of going to the battle in the valley of Jezreel against Israel because the Philistine lords were nervous about having him in battle with them against Israel, David’s own people.  Then, after David’s 3-day journey back home he had discovered that his city, Ziklag, had been burned and the women, children, and livestock captured.  Then, after getting his heart right with the Lord and gaining the Lord’s favor and help, David and his men had undertaken a rescue operation and chased down the Amalekites and conquered them, recovering all of their women and children and possessions.  Next, they had returned to Ziklag and begun giving some of the recovered spoils to special friends and leaders in the tribe of Judah. 


6.2.     Now, two days after David had returned to Ziklag, after defeating the Amalekites and returning with the women, children, and livestock, he finds out that the battle hadn’t gone well for Israel and that they had been defeated by the Philistines and King Saul and his sons had been killed.


6.3.     The informant to David here is a man who claims to be an Amalekite.  Were not sure why he was with Israel, but he claims to have killed King Saul who had been mortally wounded and he has with him King Saul’s crown and bracelet.  This man is most likely just a mercenary soldier who lived off of the plunder of battle.


6.4.     There is disagreement about whether or not this Amalekite man was telling the truth about his killing of King Saul:


6.4.1.  Some believe that the Amalekite actually did kill King Saul.  The problem with this belief is that in verses 5 and 6 of the chapter 31 of 1 Samuel it states specifically that Saul died by taking his own life.  Those who take this position believe that though Saul’s falling on his sword would eventually have caused him to die (and thus it is written in 1 Sam. 31 that Saul died) that he lingered on and that the Amalekite then finished him off.  It would make sense if this were true for then David would have done the right thing having the Amalekite man killed for taking the life of King Saul, God’s Anointed.  Interestingly, if the Amalekite did in fact kill King Saul then it is only just that he should have done this, for if King Saul had been obedient and killed off all of the Amalekites in battle as he was told to do many years earlier then this man would not have been around to do this to him.


6.4.2.  Others believe that the Amalekite made up the story about killing King Saul.  It appears that the Amalekite was trying to get on David’s good side and that he thought that by telling this story and bringing to David Saul’s crown and bracelet that David would be pleased with him and reward him greatly, after all King Saul for years had been hunting David like an animal to kill him.  This is probably the better interpretation, however if this be the case why then did David have the Amalekite man killed for having taken the life of King Saul, God’s Anointed?


6.5.     Whichever of the two positions you take concerning whether the Amalekite man truly killed King Saul, it appears that David did believe the man’s story.  For the man’s admission for having killed the Amalekite David had the Amalekite man killed.  We saw earlier when King Saul was told to completely exterminate the Amalekites in battle (yet he disobeyed) that the Amalekites were determined by the Lord because of their exceeding wickedness to be destroyed ( Deut. 25:17-19 ), so this was a just sentence by David none-the-less.


6.6.     We can imagine how this Amalekite’s confession of having killed King Saul (whether true or not) must have caused him to sweat when instead of David rejoicing at the news begins to grieve and lament the death of King Saul.  We will see that this Amalekite man’s confession turned out to also be his death sentence.


6.7.     One of the things that we must be perfectly clear on here is the fact that David was not feigning grief at hearing of the death of King Saul.  David had refused to let his heart get bitter against King Saul ( even though for years King Saul had continually been hunting David like an animal trying to kill him ), and plus David still had respect for Saul because of his office as king, even if Saul as a man didn’t deserve that respect.


6.7.1.  We saw previously that it was because of David’s private life in his seeking and worshipping the Lord that he did not get bitter against Saul in spite of all of the things that Saul had done to him.  Our private life in seeking and worshipping the Lord daily in our quiet times with the Lord and His word help us to deal with all of the various pressures and difficult people that we have to deal with in our lives from time to time.


7.       2 Sam. 1:12-16  - 13 David said to the young man who told him, “Where are you from?” And he answered, “I am the son of an alien, an Amalekite.” 14 Then David said to him, “How is it you were not afraid to stretch out your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?” 15 And David called one of the young men and said, “Go, cut him down.” So he struck him and he died. 16 David said to him, “Your blood is on your head, for your mouth has testified against you, saying, ‘I have killed the Lord’s anointed.’ ” -  David has the Amalekite man killed for his having confessed to murdering King Saul


7.1.     As we have studied 1 Samuel we have been very impressed with David because though on two different occasions he had the opportunity to kill King Saul he would not do so. 


7.1.1.  David and his men had been in a cave when King Saul had stopped from his hunting of David to have a bowel movement, yet David would not touch King Saul because he was the Lord’s Anointed.


7.1.2.  David and one of his men had gone right into the midst of King Saul’s camp and stood next to King Saul as he slept and yet he would not take the king’s life because though he did not respect Saul as a man, still he was the king that the Lord had anointed to reign.


7.2.     In these verses, we see that David really carries out the first judgment of a king, he pronounces a capital judgment against the Amalekite man for having confessed that he killed King Saul, The Lord’s Anointed.


8.       2 Sam. 1:17-27  - 17 Then David chanted with this lament over Saul and Jonathan his son, 18 and he told them to teach the sons of Judah the song of the bow; behold, it is written in the book of Jashar. 19 “Your beauty, O Israel, is slain on your high places! How have the mighty fallen! 20 “Tell it not in Gath, Proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon, Or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice, The daughters of the uncircumcised will exult. 21 “O mountains of Gilboa, Let not dew or rain be on you, nor fields of offerings; For there the shield of the mighty was defiled, The shield of Saul, not anointed with oil. 22 “From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, The bow of Jonathan did not turn back, And the sword of Saul did not return empty. 23 “Saul and Jonathan, beloved and pleasant in their life, And in their death they were not parted; They were swifter than eagles, They were stronger than lions. 24 “O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, Who clothed you luxuriously in scarlet, Who put ornaments of gold on your apparel. 25 “How have the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan is slain on your high places. 26 “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; You have been very pleasant to me. Your love to me was more wonderful Than the love of women. 27 “How have the mighty fallen, And the weapons of war perished!” -  David chants a lament over Saul and Jonathan


8.1.     David the musician that he was creates a song that he chants in lamenting the deaths of King Saul and Jonathan.  Then, he teaches the song to his fighting men.


8.2.     The great depth of David’s grief is expressed in verse 19 by his saying:


8.2.1.  That the beauty of Israel is slain on her high places.


8.2.2.  How have the mighty fallen.’


8.2.3.  To the mountains of Gilboa, ‘let not dew or rain be on you nor fields of offering.’


8.3.     The blood of Saul defiled his shield, whereas it was normally anointed with oil.


8.4.     David remembers both Saul and Jonathan as being brave and valiant in battle, not cowards, saying ‘The bow of Jonathan did not turn back, And the sword of Saul did not return empty.’


8.5.     David did not harbor bitter feelings towards Saul and chose to remember the best about him saying, ‘Saul and Jonathan, beloved and pleasant in their life.’


8.6.     David remembers that both Saul and Jonathan were mighty physical specimens among men saying, ‘They were swifter than eagles, They were stronger than lions.


8.7.     David tells the women in Israel to remember how that Saul had been a blessing to them in many ways, saying, ‘O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, Who clothed you luxuriously in scarlet, Who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.’


8.8.     We have seen throughout this book of 1 Samuel how David and Jonathan as brothers in the Lord had such a depth of love and commitment to each other, and David remembers this about Jonathan, saying, ‘I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; You have been very pleasant to me. Your love to me was more wonderful Than the love of women.’




9.1.     In our study we have reviewed the life of King Saul and have seen that his life has been a life of unfulfilled potential, of wasted opportunities, of looking to the resources of help from this world instead of the Lord, and of the sad consequences of kicking the Lord off from ruling your life opting instead to call the shots yourself.


9.2.     The man who had been anointed by the Lord to be king over His people and who could have enjoyed the Lord’s blessings in every area of his life and even had a kingly dynasty through his sons ended up with the Lord being his enemy and placing him in a battle he could not win, and his response was to commit suicide.


9.3.     There are many Saul’s in our world today are there not?  The Lord will redeem all who call upon Him and give them eternal life.  The Lord offers sonship and blessings beyond calculation to all who will simply believe upon Jesus Christ and surrender their hearts and wills to Him.  Yet, for whatever reason many refuse that offer and choose instead to die in their sins.  But the Lord reaches out His loving arms to all to come to salvation through His Son whom He sent to the cross of Calvary for their purchase, having paid the full debt of their sins.  Oh, if you haven’t done so I challenge you to come to Jesus, and by faith ask Him into your life, as you surrender your life to Him, and you will receive life.


9.3.1.  In John 7:37-39 the following is written about Jesus, “37 Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “ If anyone is thirsty , let him come to Me and drink . 38 “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said , ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water .’ ” 39 But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.


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