Read 1 Samuel 31
Saul Takes His Life
1 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.
In today’s reading, not only do we see the final chapter of the Book of 1 Samuel, but we also see the final chapter of Saul’s plagued kingship. What was it exactly that plagued Saul’s reign? We see throughout 1 Samuel that Saul had a bad habit of taking matters into his own hands instead of letting God be God. This pride is how Saul lost his kingship. This pride is how Saul lost his mind. This pride is, ultimately, how Saul lost his life.
As the battle intensified in our reading today, all of Saul’s sons were killed. To make it even worse, more than likely, they all died right before his eyes. The Scriptures say nothing of Saul’s reaction to their deaths, only that he was wounded shortly after. Upon this wounding, Saul again shifted the focus to himself, begging his sword-bearer to kill him before the Philistines could torture him. When the sword-bearer understandably froze in terror, Saul did what had characterized his kingship: he took matters into his own hands and killed himself. Not knowing what else to do, the sword-bearer heartbreakingly followed suit.
This is a tragic note to end this book on, but there is still something to learn for us as we look closely. The bodies of Saul and his sons were collected by the Philistines and displayed in their pagan temples, but word travels fast in ancient Israel. The men of Jabesh-Gilead heard what had happened, and they set out to make it right. The question is, who are these people? If we look back at 1 Samuel 11, to arguably the last time Saul was truly aligned with the heart and will of God, we see that Saul led an army into Jabesh-Gilead to free them from the Ammonites. Now it was their time to return the favor. They went into Philistine territory, collected the bodies of Saul and his sons, and buried them properly back in Jabesh-Gilead.
In this final chapter of Saul’s life, we see the stark contrast between allowing God to be in control and assuming control ourselves. Saul took even his own death into his own hands; but God was in control of his burial. While Saul unnecessarily died in disgrace, the Lord had the final say, as He always does. It might seem like a minor condolence to us, but Saul, a king who deserved what he got, was given a proper burial because of the love, grace, and faithfulness of God. Now that we’ve seen through Saul’s life what happens when we try to control every aspect of our lives, let’s do the opposite. Let’s surrender control and allow God to be God of our entire lives.
- What is an area of your life where you haven’t let God take control? What would it look like to release your grip on it?
- Reflect on that area. What is holding you back from letting God be God?
- Who is someone you trust who you can talk this over with? Don’t forget, we have community for a reason.
Lord, I am me, You are You, it is so, so it will do. Remind us of this truth, daily, hourly, even by the breath if we so need. Help us to unclench our fists and our hearts, allowing Your loving reign to cover every part of our lives. Every. Single. Part. Thank You for Your love for us, shown in Jesus Christ, that is never selfish, but unceasingly selfless. Help us to imitate You as Your dearly loved children. Amen.
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