Summary: As we look at the death of King Saul we are confronted with the reality of our own death and the need to be ready. We also are reminded of the grieving that results from all losses.
A. If you bring up the subject of death and you will get many different reactions from people.
1. Some can easily and readily talk about it, and others cannot.
B. When you ask children about death, they say some interesting things.
1. A 7 year-old boy named Alan said this, “God doesn’t tell you when you are going to die because He wants it to be a big surprise.”
2. 9 year-old Marsha said, “When you die, you don’t have to do homework in heaven, unless your teacher is there too.”
3. Aaron, age 8 said, “The hospital is the place where people go on their way to heaven.”
4. Stephanie, age 9 said, “Doctors help you so you won’t die until you pay all their bills.”
5. Finally, Kevin, age 10 said, “I’m not afraid to die because I’m a Boy Scout.”
C. As we turn to our text for today from 1 Samuel 31, we come to the very sad and tragic ending of the life of King Saul.
1. On the one hand, we might approach this chapter with a sense of relief.
2. We know Saul’s demise and death are coming; they were prophesied by Samuel long ago in chapters 13, and 15.
3. And then Saul’s impending death was confirmed explicitly when Samuel was brought back from the grave by the witch of Endore in chapter 28.
4. But now that his pitiful death is imminent, we are not quite ready for it.
5. As the Spirit of God inspires the writer who records Saul’s death, he does so in a wondrously understated fashion.
a. There is no gloating by the David party.
b. There is no rush to move to the next stage of Israel’s history.
c. There is no heavy verdict passed on Saul.
7. The action itself is permitted to have its own say.
I. The Story
A. The biblical story of Saul’s death goes like this, the Bible says, “Now the Philistines fought against Israel; the Israelites fled before them, and many fell slain on Mount Gilboa. The Philistines pressed hard after Saul and his sons, and they killed his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua. The fighting grew fierce around Saul, and when the archers overtook him, they wounded him critically.
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. When the armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died with him. So Saul and his three sons and his armor-bearer and all his men died together that same day.” (31:1-6)
1. The Philistines continue to be a present and dangerous enemy of Israel.
2. That was the case before Saul took office as king, and nothing has changed under his reign.
3. The text tells us that Israel is under massive assault, and the dead are piling up quickly.
4. One commentator noted that the Philistine forces attacked not only with armed men on foot, but also with archers riding in chariots, and that Israel was no match for these.
5. Like the reading of the obituary at a funeral service, the text names the dead of Saul’s family: “and they killed his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua.” (31:2)
6. Many more loyal comrades fell beside these sons, but they are not named.
7. After the death of his sons, it is Saul, alone, who comes into lonely focus.
8. The narrator gives us the sense that there are not even Philistines present nearby, only Saul and his death.
B. As we have seen so often, life is all about choices, and Saul often made the wrong ones.
1. Here at the time of his death he is still forced to make choices.
2. He has been critically wounded, and does not want to fall into the hands of his enemies to be exposed to further torture.
3. He does not want to kill himself, for that is not the course a brave warrior should choose.
4. So he asks his only remaining aide to kill him, but the armor-bearer will not obey.
5. The text says that he wouldn’t do it because he was afraid, but was it a fear of respect, devotion or just plain fear?
C. As an aside consider this – the armor-bearer’s refusal to obey Saul’s command to finish him off is remarkable for the contrast it provides to our present culture’s glib appeals to and apologies for mercy-killing.
1. We can hardly fault king Saul’s request – he was already dying, and his speedy death would free him from additional suffering.