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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 31

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-13

1 Samuel 31:6 . And all his men; his body guard, brave men who would not survive the fall of their master. But in 1 Chronicles 10:6 it is said, all his house died together. They knew that the Philistines would give them no quarter; and therefore they preferred being enrolled in the list of heroes, which forbids the historian from putting them in the catalogue of suicides.

1 Samuel 31:10 . The wall of Beth-shan; in the public street or principal place of the town. 2 Samuel 21:12.


We now come to the painful close of Saul’s gloomy and tragic life. He was, as many versions read at the first verse, wounded with hypochondria. Therefore, though destitute of the divine presence, and fully apprized of his defeat and final doom; yet he took no warning, but rushed on to his own destruction. Israel was also defeated when they presumed to go up against the people of Amalek, and of Canaan, after the revolt in the desert. Numbers 15:0. Peter in like manner received a dreadful wound, while warming himself at the fire, in company with the wicked, after he had promised in his own spirit to go with the Lord to prison and to death. May we ever be strengthened with the Spirit’s might in the inner man, or we cannot stand against our foes.

Jonathan, ever faithful as a son, fell with his sire. Oh what tears are due to the memory of so much worth, so much love, so much fidelity, and so much valour in arms. Safety is promised in general to the righteous, but the promise has its exceptions and limits, that all men may watch and fear. With Jonathan two of his brothers fell at the same time, leaving only Ish- bosheth, an inconsiderate son, to perpetuate the memory of Saul.

But while we contemplate this dark and mysterious cloud which overshadowed and fought against Israel on Gilboa, it opens a serene and smiling aspect on the side of David. In the death of Saul, and of his three sons, we see the mountains applained, and the vallies exalted, that the son of Jesse might ascend the throne. This awful defeat therefore of Israel was as a mighty tide, which suddenly turning, raised the country to unrivalled sovereignty and power in the east. How happy then, that David did not avenge himself of Saul in the cave. The Lord in due time undertook his cause, and did for him ten thousand times better than he could have done for himself. And this most distinguished interposition of the divine providence should lead us at all times to abstain from doing evil, and teach us to trust in David’s God.

We cannot however forbear casting a painful look on the reign and death of Saul. All his virtues, all his fine actions, were spoiled by an awful predominancy of bad and implacable passions, which often made him a terror to his servants, and hurried him into disobedience to God. And when the divine justice gave him up to the impetuosity of those passions, or troubled him occasionally by an evil spirit, he would hear no counsel, he would bear no controul. When the Lord answered him not, his high spirit had recourse to the pythoness of Endor; and scarcely had he reached his camp, after receiving his sentence, before the Philistines began the battle, and executed the divine commission. He fled; he was wounded; he invited death, but death shrunk away. He could not bear the insults offered to Samson to be repeated on his person; therefore he fell on his sword. But the fresh wound only encreasing his anguish, he prayed a man spared of Amalek to give him the finishing stroke of death. Saul had indeed cut off that nation in the greater cities, but he had left large remnants of them in corners to trouble Israel, and to finish his life for disobeying God in sparing their lives! Through haughtiness of spirit Saul committed suicide; and can a man guilty of so horrible a crime be saved? If Saul was afflicted with hypochondria, he might be saved; and the Jews speak with confidence of his salvation. But a man in his right mind, who leaves life through disgust, cannot be saved. Entering his Maker’s presence, covered with the foulest of crimes, he will be met with eyes of flame. A voice will say, friend, how camest thou in hither? Thy work was not done; thou hast cowardly deserted thy post. Thou hast invaded the rights of heaven, to make thy calamities subservient of good. Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into outer darkness.

We cannot close the chapter without noticing the gratitude and courage of the men of Jabesh-gilead. Saul had saved them promptly when besieged by Nahash, who threatened them with the loss of their right eyes, and with eternal bondage: and now they saved his body, at the risk of their lives, from ignominy and insults, and interred both his and his sons’ with all the honours due to royalty. It was an act of gratitude worthy to be recorded for the example of other men.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 31". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/1-samuel-31.html. 1835.
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