1 Samuel 31:1-13 It Does Not Matter How One begins, But How He Finishes

1 Samuel 31:1-13

1 Now the Philistines attacked Israel, and the men of Israel fled before them. Many were slaughtered on the slopes of Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines closed in on Saul and his sons, and they killed three of his sons—Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malkishua. 3 The fighting grew very fierce around Saul, and the Philistine archers caught up with him and wounded him severely.

4 Saul groaned to his armor bearer, “Take your sword and kill me before these pagan Philistines come to run me through and taunt and torture me.” But his armor bearer was afraid and would not do it. So Saul took his own sword and fell on it. 5 When his armor bearer realized that Saul was dead, he fell on his own sword and died beside the king. 6 So Saul, his three sons, his armor bearer, and his troops all died together that same day.

7 When the Israelites on the other side of the Jezreel Valley and beyond the Jordan saw that the Israelite army had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their towns and fled. So the Philistines moved in and occupied their towns.

8 The next day, when the Philistines went out to strip the dead, they found the bodies of Saul and his three sons on Mount Gilboa. 9 So they cut off Saul’s head and stripped off his armor. Then they proclaimed the good news of Saul’s death in their pagan temple and to the people throughout the land of Philistia. 10 They placed his armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths, and they fastened his body to the wall of the city of Beth- shan.

11 But when the people of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all their mighty warriors traveled through the night to Beth-shan and took the bodies of Saul and his sons down from the wall. They brought them to Jabesh, where they burned the bodies. 13 Then they took their bones and buried them beneath the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and they fasted for seven days.

Background

Surprisingly scanty details are given to the final moments of Saul’s death. Saul died by his own hand though not honorably, but still the lesser of the two evils considering cruel torture in the hands of the Philistines. Israel’s defeat in this fateful battle has ceded back to the enemy much land that Saul has gained during his tenure as king. No matter how strong or wise a man may appear, he will lose whatever gains he had if his heart is not after God. This passage also teaches us, that it does not matter where one begins, but how he perseveres and finishes.

Observation

Take your sword and kill me before these pagan Philistines come to run me through and taunt and torture me – Israel sustained huge losses in the battle and is probably the worst eversince Saul was crowned king. When Israel begins to lose ground, they flee to the hills and many of them are slaughtered on the slopes of Mount Gilboa. Saul’s three sons died in action, while Saul is severely wounded. Not wanting to die in shame and disgrace, Saul ordered his armor bearer to kill him, an order that his attendant refused. Saul committed suicide followed by his armor bearer. His death by his own hand is retributive to a life which had been led in independence of God.

they abandoned their towns and fled. So the Philistines moved in and occupied their towns – The death of the king and his three sons has taken out what glimmer of hope that remained for Israel. The news causes a spontaneous abandonment of the cities on the other side of the Jezreel Valley and beyond the Jordan. The Philistines have by defeating Saul made deep and substantial inroads in Israel. The land that Saul has taken from the Philistines during his tenure although substantial but did not endure; they are ceded back to the enemy as a testimony of man’s insistence of his own independence of God.

Then they took their bones and buried them beneath the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and they fasted for seven days – This last act of respect rightly befitting the first king of Israel comes from the people of Jabesh-gilead. They are grateful to Saul for rescuing them from the Ammonites 40 years before (1 Samuel 11:1-11). Nevertheless, the courageous and honorable act of the people of Jabesh Gilead will not go unnoticed when David is eventually crowned (2 Samuel 2:4-7). Later on, David had Saul’s and Jonathan’s bones exhumed and reburied in Benjamin (2 Samuel 21:11-14).

Truth

  1. No matter how strong a man may appear, he will lose what he has gained if his heart is not after God. Saul is chosen because he befits the features and attributes of a man favored by rebellious Israel. Saul is stately in appearance but not in character; he rules by fear and will readily sacrifice his own men to fight on his behalf. Although Saul started well and gained Samuel’s confidence, and his exploits has shown promising results. But not long after his coronation, he disregarded God’s commandments in favor of his own desires. Consequently, God rejected Saul as king and whatever territories he has captured is given back to the enemy. Similarly, many believers started well, but as they grow in wealth and power, their heart begin to lust after earthly passions and become proud. The definite end of one who goes astray in his heart is an utter fall from grace and lose all they possess. If they only knew never to let power and wealth get to their head.
  2. It does not matter where you start, but how you persevere and finish. People often lament how their lowly heritage have become a perpetual handicap for them. Yet many have a head start in life, being born into an upper class family but end up living mediocre lives. However, experience tells us that it is usually not where you start that determines your chances of success, but your values system and perseverance that seals your fate. Records show in many countries that there are more millionaires coming out of immigrants than natives. Saul had a head start in life when he was chosen as king. But he did not obey God’s instructions and consequently God rejected him as king. In his final battle, he ended his own life not for his country’s honor, but in order to escape the shame of being tortured by the enemy. On the other hand, David rose to prominence despite his obscure beginnings. Therefore, one’s beginnings has no relevance to one’s future success. No matter where we commence our journey, we rejoice in expectation of success because God has so chosen us and given us a calling. Paul says,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. Ephesians 1:3-4

God has ordained our days for greatness and our glory like that of Jesus: we would be holy and blameless before Him. He has given us a calling to establish His kingdom on earth. And for this calling, God has equipped us with His Spiritual gifts and blessings that will not be revoked: who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. In view of this glorious commission, let us motivate ourselves towards it; not lacking in diligence of acquiring the character and the power of the Spirit. Let us continue to persevere for we will one day succeed.

Application

  1. Considering that you have grown in stature and have gathered wealth and influence. Do you find yourself less generous in giving towards charity and church work? Perhaps, you may have started to love the material world more than the eternal things of God?
  2. Does it ever cross your mind that if only you are born into a certain kind of family or place, the future could have been far brighter?

Dear Lord, I confess that my heart has grown colder in some ways as I advance in my career. Restore to me a pure heart that is after you and infuse into me your passion for the kingdom. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.


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