In this week’s lesson we read about the death of Saul and his sons, a death predicted by Samuel. The Philistines have attacked the Israelites. As the battle progresses the Philistines begin to overwhelm the army of Israel. Many Israelites die and many flee the scene. Saul and his sons fight a losing battle. Eventually Saul’s three sons are killed and Saul is struck by an arrow or perhaps more than one. Fearing that the Philistines will come upon him while he is not able to defend himself, Saul requests that his armor bearer strike a fatal blow. Being afraid of killing the anointed of God, the armor bearer refuses and Saul falls on his own sword.
Saul’s death is not an honorable one. Dying at the hands of the enemy would have been an honorable death, but Saul chooses another way. It is not the way of a king or a hero.
Another version of the story is told in 2 Samuel Chapter 1. In this version a young Amalekite comes upon a wounded Saul and honors Saul’s request to kill him. The Amalekite was a “resident alien” who had perhaps hired himself out as a mercenary to the Israeli army. When the young man reports to David and say says that he has killed Saul, even though Saul requested that he do so, David has him killed. Because there were not two witnesses to the event, David’s actions do not fulfill Mosaic law. But in David’s mind the young man had killed God’s anointed.
What is it about Saul that he could not face death at the hands of the Philistines? Was it pride that he did not want to be killed by the uncircumcised? Or was he fearful that the Philistines would torture him in some way, that they would not kill him quickly?
In my mind’s eye I can see the wounded Saul. He has been shot with an arrow through the abdomen – no doubt very painful. Perhaps he is seated with his back against a rock, for the version in 2 Samuel says that the Amalekite stands over him. The young warrior is questioned by Saul, so Saul knows that the young man is not circumcised, but in this version nothing is said of this.
In speaking to Judy this afternoon, she asked me to go a little further. Seeing this about Saul, what is God saying to me? How can I see in God’s words about Saul something for myself?The first thought I had was about pride – how pride causes many to fall. In my own life my pride in a gift I received from God led me to hurt my sister with my written words. I regret having done this. Is this something that I should take to confession? Is this what the story is saying to me?
Saul has fallen from God’s grace. Once a proud young man who is gifted with the anointing of a king, Saul has failed in his duty to God. Though he united the tribes of Israel and successfully defended the country from the enemies around them, Saul has lost God’s favor. Saul failed to carry out an order from the Lord to destroy the Amalekites. In so doing, in keeping the spoils for himself, God turned away from him because Saul made himself God. How do I make myself God in the things which I do?
Judy Dargis, a member of Karen and my small group, made the following suggestion about Saul – “The one thing that struck me the most about Saul’s death was that he knew ahead of time that he was to die then, since Samuel had predicted it … unless it was said in a mysterious way or Saul didn’t believe him. But he went out to battle anyway.” I think that Saul did believe Samuel, after all, Samuel had told him other things that had turned out to be true. And he did seek the advice of Samuel, even though getting that advice would once again break God’s commandments. Being a king, fighting the nation’s battles was the task given to Saul at his anointing. To me it shows the courage of the man – there was greatness, dedication and honor in him. But at the end, having lost all, he couldn’t face certain torture and death at the hand of the Philistines.
Having read the next chapters about Abner, the leader of the Saul’s army, I have wondered why Abner survived the battle. Why didn’t he die defending Saul? It was his duty – which he had failed before – the incident in the camp where he and his men were asleep while David took Saul’s spear and water bottle.