Summary: First Samuel 31:1-13 shows us what happens to one who is unfaithful.
First Samuel and Second Samuel were originally written as one book. Somewhere along the way, perhaps because of its length, the Book of Samuel was divided into two. First Samuel essentially deals with the life of Saul, and Second Samuel deals with the life of David. So, as First Samuel ends, it seems fitting that the last chapter of First Samuel describes the death of King Saul.
Let’s read about the death of Saul in 1 Samuel 31:1-13:
1 Now the Philistines were fighting against Israel, and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines and fell slain on Mount Gilboa. 2 And the Philistines overtook Saul and his sons, and the Philistines struck down Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchi-shua, the sons of Saul. 3 The battle pressed hard against Saul, and the archers found him, and he was badly wounded by the archers. 4 Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and mistreat me.” But his armor-bearer would not, for he feared greatly. Therefore Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. 5 And when his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died with him. 6 Thus Saul died, and his three sons, and his armor-bearer, and all his men, on the same day together. 7 And when the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley and those beyond the Jordan saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their cities and fled. And the Philistines came and lived in them.
8 The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. 9 So they cut off his head and stripped off his armor and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines, to carry the good news to the house of their idols and to the people. 10 They put his armor in the temple of Ashtaroth, and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan. 11 But when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all the valiant men arose and went all night and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. 13 And they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh and fasted seven days. (1 Samuel 31:1-13)
The Rest of the Story was a daily radio program on weekdays hosted by Paul Harvey. The program began during World War II. The Rest of the Story consisted of stories presented as little-known or forgotten facts on a variety of subjects with a key element of the story (usually the name of some well-known person) held back until the end. Paul Harvey always concluded his story with a variation on the tag line, “And now you know the rest of the story.”
The author of First Samuel could have concluded chapter 31 by saying, “And now you know the rest of the story.” The last few chapters of First Samuel are actually out of chronological order. Briefly, following John Woodhouse, here is what happened:
1. The Philistines made the decision to fight against Israel, and Achish insisted that David must come along (1 Samuel 28:1, 2).
2. In preparation for the assault, the whole Philistine fighting force assembled at Aphek, and there David was excluded (1 Samuel 29:1–10). At the same time the Israelites set up camp in the vicinity of the Jezreel Valley (1 Samuel 29:1).
4. The Philistines set up camp at Shunem on the northern side of the Jezreel Valley, and the Israelites assembled in the Gilboa hills on the south side of the valley (1 Samuel 28:4).
5. The terrified Saul secretly visited the medium at Endor by night (1 Samuel 28:5–25).
6. Meanwhile David reached Ziklag, discovered the catastrophe that had fallen at the hands of the Amalekites, and redeemed the situation (1 Samuel 30).
7. As David was dealing with the Amalekites more than a hundred miles to the south, the Philistines engaged the Israelites in battle in the valley of Jezreel (1 Samuel 31:1).
In other words, at exactly the same time that David was striking down the Amalekites and rescuing his people from “the enemies of the Lord” (1 Samuel 30), Saul was being attacked by the Philistines 100 miles to the north of David, with a very different outcome (1 Samuel 31). In fact, whereas David emerges victoriously, Saul is defeated and dies by his own hand.