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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 31

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

Now the Philistines fought against Israel: and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa.

Now the Philistines fought against Israel - in a regular engagement, in which the two armies met (1 Samuel 28:1-4). The battle probably began upon the great plain, the southeastern extremity of which is bisected by the low range of mount Gilboa; but in the course of the conflict the scene was shifted to the hill. The fortune of the day was decided by the great superiority of the Philistines in one species of military weapons, which could be used at a distance, namely, archery; because although incidental notices in the sacred history prove the Hebrews were familiar with the bow from a very early period, it does not appear to have been hitherto used as a regular part of their offensive armour in war. In this memorable contest the Israelites were forced to give way, being annoyed by the arrows of the enemy, which, destroying them at a distance, before they came to close combat, throw them into panic and disorder. Taking advantage of the heights of mount Gilboa, they attempted to rally, but in vain. Saul and his men, though hotly pursued, fought like heroes; but the onset of the Philistines being at length mainly directed against the quarter where the king and his bodyguard were maintaining the combat, Jonathan and his two brothers, Abinadad or Ishui (1 Samuel 14:49), and Melchi-shua, overpowered by numbers, were killed on the spot.

Verse 2

And the Philistines followed hard upon Saul and upon his sons; and the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Melchishua, Saul's sons.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 3

And the battle went sore against Saul, and the archers hit him; and he was sore wounded of the archers.

The battle went sore against Saul ... and he was sore wounded of the archers. [The Septuagint has eis ta hupochondria, in the bowels.] He seems to have bravely maintained his ground for some time longer, but exhausted with fatigue and loss of blood, and dreading that if he fell alive into the enemy's hands they would insolently maltreat him (Joshua 8:29; Joshua 10:24; Judges 8:21), he requested his armour-bearer to despatch him, which, however, that officer refused to do. Saul then, falling on the point of his sword, killed himself, and the armour-bearer, who, according to Jewish writers, was Doeg, following the example of his master, put end to his life also.

Verses 4-5

Then said Saul unto his armourbearer, Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and abuse me. But his armourbearer would not; for he was sore afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword, and fell upon it.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 6

So Saul died, and his three sons, and his armourbearer, and all his men, that same day together.

So Saul died, and his three sons. Thus ended the troubled reign of Saul, who was elected to be the first king of Israel by a wisdom superior to human (2 Samuel 21:6); and in the wayward exercise of his non-theocratic government he fulfilled the special purposes of his appointment (Hosea 13:11). The influence of a directing Providence is evidently to be traced in permitting the death of Saul's three oldest and most energetic sons, particularly that of Jonathan, for whom, had he survived his father, a strong party would undoubtedly have risen, and thus obstructed the path of David to the throne.

And all his men, that same day together - i:e., his servants or body-guard (1 Chronicles 10:6).

Verse 7

And when the men of Israel that were on the other side of the valley, and they that were on the other side Jordan, saw that the men of Israel fled, and that Saul and his sons were dead, they forsook the cities, and fled; and the Philistines came and dwelt in them.

The men of Israel that were on the other side of the valley - probably the valley of Jezreel, the largest and most southern of the valleys that run between little Hermon and the ridges of the Gilbea range direct into the Jordan valley. It was very natural for the people in the towns and villages there to take fright and flee; because if they had waited for the arrival of the victors, they must, according to the war usages of the time, have been deprived either of their liberty or their lives.

Verse 8

And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen in mount Gilboa.

On the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain. On discovering the corpses of the slaughtered princes on the battlefield, the enemy reserved them for special indignities. They deposited the armour of the king and his sons as votive offerings in the temple [ beeyt (H1004) `Ashtaarowt (H6252), in the house of Ashtaroth (Astarte): see the note at Genesis 14:5; Judges 2:13 ], and fastened their mutilated bodies on the wall of Beth-shan (Scythopolis). This fortified town, situated at about five or six miles' distance from the battlefield, on a truncated hill, was the principal city of the district in the possession of the Philistines, and overlooking the Jordan valley. On the wall ("street," 2 Samuel 21:12, which led to the wall) of the acropolis they suspend the royal corpses, gibbeting them as a ghastly spectacle, visible on this conspicuous eminence from a great distance on either side of the river, and a lasting memorial of Israel's ignominious defeat and subjugation. The royal heads, as we learn, 1 Chronicles 10:10, were fixed in the temple of Dagon. Thus the trophies of their great victory were divided among their several deities.

Verses 9-10

And they cut off his head, and stripped off his armour, and sent into the land of the Philistines round about, to publish it in the house of their idols, and among the people.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 11

And when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard of that which the Philistines had done to Saul;

When the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard of that which the Philistines had done. This city was situated nearly opposite Beth-shan, on the other side of Jordan; and its people, mindful of the important services which Saul had rendered them, gratefully and heroically resolved not to suffer such indignities to be inflicted on the royal family.`They deemed it,' says Josephus ('Antiquities,' b. 6:, ch. 14:, sec. 8), 'so horrid a thing to overlook this barbarity, and to suffer them to be without funeral rites, that the most courageous and hardy among them (and indeed that city had in it men that were very stout both in body and mind), formed the benevolent design of rescuing the mangled corpses of Saul and his sons from dishonourable exposure.'

Verse 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 Bethshan, and came to Jabesh, and burnt them there.

And went all night. Considering that Beth-shan is about three hours' distance, and by a narrow upland passage, to the west of the Jordan, the whole being a journey of about 12 miles, they must have made all expedition to travel there, to carry off the headless bodies, and return to their own side of the Jordan in the course of a single night. But loyal and devoted hearts prompted them to brave all danger; and having surprised the guard at Beth-shan, they succeeded in effecting their generous purpose.

Burnt them. This was not a Hebrew custom. It was probably resorted to on this occasion to prevent all risk of the Beth-shanites coming to disinter the royal remains for further insult.

Verse 13

And they took their bones, and buried them under a tree at Jabesh, and

And buried them under a tree at Jabesh. [ tachat (H8478) haa'eshel (H815), under the tamarisk: cf. 1 Chronicles 10:12, where the word used is haa'eelaah (H424), a terebinth; any strong tree. The Septuagint has: hupo teen harouran en Iabis, under the soil, ground, at Jabesh.] 'Thus do the circumstances of the Biblical narrative consist, not merely with the relative position of the places, but with the natural peculiarities of the spot' (Trail's Josephus').

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 31". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/1-samuel-31.html. 1871-8.
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