Summary: The "sanctity of life" often describes our stance on the beginning and the end of life--but what about the time in between?
For the last few weeks we’ve been following the accounts of the period of time between the Judges and the early Kings of Israel. These accounts are found in the books of First and Second Samuel—and primarily detail the life of Samuel, the rise and fall of King Saul, and the choice of his replacement, King David.
You may recall that King Saul was rejected by God as the King because he failed to obey God in regards to completely destroying the Amelikites. Instead of destroying everything as he was commanded, Saul and his armies kept the best of the flocks and herds. On that day, Saul received word from Samuel that God had rejected him as king of Israel, and that another would be chosen.
We know that the shepherd boy David was chosen, not because of his height, his strength, or his good looks—but because he was a man after God’s own heart. Last week we learned about how David defeated Goliath—not through swords, spears, or javelins, but through the Name of the Lord.
During the time after Goliath’s defeat, chapters 18-31 of First Samuel tells us more about David’s rise to popularity, as well as Saul’s steady decline. We learn of Saul’s increased jealousy and his obsession with pursuing David through the wilderness so he could kill him.
While David is running for his life, he manages to protect the Israelites, go to battle against the Philistines, and destroy the Amalekites. Twice during his wilderness campaigns, he is given opportunity to kill Saul, but refuses to do so. Once, he cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe as evidence that he could have killed him. The second time he takes a spear from the King while he is sleeping. Both times, his men and advisors encourage him to kill Saul while he has the chance, but he reminds them that Saul is the Lord’s anointed. In First Samuel chapter 26, verse 10, David says to his men, “As surely as the Lord lives, the Lord himself will strike him; either his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed.”
In First Samuel 31, we read the account of the end of Saul’s life. As it became apparent that the Philistines were going to win the battle against the Israelites, Saul instructed his armor-bearer to kill him before the Philistines would have the chance to torture him. The unnamed armor-bearer was unwilling to do this, so Saul attempted to take his own life. Once the armor-bearer saw this, he then killed himself as well.
So reads the account of First Samuel 31. When the Israelites learned of this, they recovered the bodies of Saul and his sons and gave them a proper burial and fasted for seven days.
It would appear that, while Saul and his men were fighting the Philistines and being soundly defeated, David was with his armies fighting the Amalekites, whom he destroyed—except for four-hundred Amalekites who escaped on camel. It’s not until after David returns from his battle that he hears about the outcome of Saul’s battle against the Philistines. We find that account in Second Samuel chapter 1:
[Read 2 Samuel 1:1-27]
If you take time to carefully read First Samuel 30 and 31, and Second Samuel chapter 1, you may find yourself unsure of what actually took place there on the top of Mount Gilboa. What makes it particularly difficult is that we don’t know much about this Amalekite in chapter 1. Can we trust him? Is he telling the truth? Where did he come from? And does he have any motives? According to First Samuel 31, Saul kills himself by falling on his own sword. But according to the Amalekite, he happens across Saul, not quite dead—but certainly not fully alive. The Amalekite presents himself in what he believes to be the best possible light—showing mercy to King Saul by finishing his suicide attempt—and at the same time recovering the crown and bracelet for David—who (by the way) had just destroyed all of the nation of Amalek save four hundred young men.
Should the two accounts be reconciled? Some scholars think so—they envision a scene where Saul tries to kill himself, his armor-bearer believes he succeeded and promptly follows suit. The Amalekite comes upon them and Saul cries out to him, asking him to complete the job. If this is true, then we take the Amalekite at face-value, the son of a legal alien within the camp of Israel, possibly living with Saul and his armies, and fighting alongside them.
Others believe that the accounts are primarily reconciled by declaring the Amalekite to be a lying scoundrel. They picture him wandering through the battlefield, scavenging for weapons, armor, or other treasures, and he happens to come across King Saul and his armor-bearer before the Philistines find them. Maybe this Amalekite was one of the four-hundred who escaped David’s attack. He finds the dead king, takes his crown and bracelet, and concocts a story that paints him as the hero—both by showing mercy to Saul, and handing the throne to the new king. Maybe he’s trying to earn favor with King David—perhaps he wants to secure safety for his three-hundred and ninety-nine friends who escaped with him. Maybe King David will give him a place of honor in the kingdom of Israel.