Saul and His Sons Die
1Meanwhile, the Philistines were fighting Israel at Mount Gilboa. Israel's soldiers ran from the Philistines, and many of them were killed. 2The Philistines closed in on Saul and his sons, and they killed his sons Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchishua. 3The fighting was fierce around Saul, and he was badly wounded by enemy arrows.
4Saul told the soldier who carried his weapons, “Kill me with your sword! I don't want these worthless Philistines to torture and make fun of me.” But the soldier was afraid to kill him.
Saul then took out his own sword; he stuck the blade into his stomach, and fell on it. 5When the soldier knew that Saul was dead, he killed himself in the same way.
6Saul was dead, his three sons were dead, and the soldier who carried his weapons was dead. They and all his soldiers died on that same day. 7The Israelites on the other side of Jezreel Valley and the other side of the Jordan learned that Saul and his sons were dead. They saw that the Israelite army had run away. So they ran away too, and the Philistines moved into the towns the Israelites had left behind.
8The day after the battle, when the Philistines returned to the battlefield to take the weapons of the dead Israelite soldiers, they found Saul and his three sons lying dead on Mount Gilboa. 9-10The Philistines cut off Saul's head and pulled off his armor. Then they put his armor in the temple of the goddess Astarte, and they nailed his body to the city wall of Beth-Shan. They also sent messengers everywhere in Philistia to spread the good news in the temples of their idols and among their people.
11The people who lived in Jabesh in Gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul's body. 12So one night, some brave men from Jabesh went to Beth-Shan. They took down the bodies of Saul and his sons, then brought them back to Jabesh and burned them. 13They buried the bones under a small tree in Jabesh, and for seven days, they went without eating to show their sorrow.
I recently had the honour of conducting a memorial service for a family member who had committed suicide. He left behind a wife and 2 month old daughter, his parents, a brother and a long list of relatives and friends. Leading the memorial gathering was a tough assignment!
The questions in the minds of the mourners were obvious. Why did he resort to such drastic action? What was going on in his personal life that was profound enough for him to make that life-halting decision? Many of us speculated but ultimately our speculations would be guesses at best.
However, one thing was true – his interpretation of life seemed to be based upon what he could see and not on what he could not.
In this final bit of text describing the culmination of Saul’s lost favour with God we read of his limited vision – a vision that could only see what was immediately in front of him. He could see the defeat of his sons and his personal armed forces. He could see the ravages of his enemy. He could see the inevitability of his demise.
And his limited vision was so contagious that his armour bearer also made a suicidal decision based upon the hopeless situation his vision was limited to seeing.
The God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament. What Saul – and his armour bearer – failed to see was that although his disobedience enacted consequences, God was still a God of grace and mercy. Had Saul’s vision allowed him to see that, it could have been enough to keep him from falling on his sword.
Oh God, when signs of hope do not immediately appear in my vision and I am tempted to consider a fate like that chosen by Saul, help me to trust in the source of hope that my vision often misses – one that is always available in your grace and mercy.