April 4 Reading: I Samuel 28-31 Commentary
“Then Saul said to his armorbearer, ‘Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised men come and thrust me through and abuse me.’ But his armorbearer would not, for he was greatly afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword and fell on it. And when his armorbearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell on his sword, and died with him. So Saul, his three sons, his armorbearer, and all his men died together that same day.” (I Sam. 31:4-6)
I Samuel 28 – Saul and the Medium
The setup for this story beings in verse 3 when we are reminded that Samuel had died and was buried in his home town of Ramah (see I Sam. 25:1). Saul had also banned mediums and spiritists from the land. Additionally, the Lord was not with Saul and did not answer his prayers for advice (v. 6).
This was especially problematic because the Philistines were once again coming after Israel. Saul had no one to turn to for guidance, so he was greatly afraid (v. 5). In that moment, he took drastic action.
He told his servants to find a medium (aka a fortune teller) that he could consult about the upcoming battle. The servants knew of one in the city of En Dor. So Saul disguised himself and went to see her (vv. 7-8).
The woman was nervous about doing the seance because of the king’s command. The penalty for her line of work was death. But Saul (who she did not recognize at this point) assured her that she would not die.
Saul Speaks with Samuel
As the seance began, the medium asked Saul who he wanted to see. Saul told her he wanted to speak with Samuel. When the woman saw Samuel, she realized that it was King Saul with whom she spoke and was afraid he’d deceived her on purpose (vv. 10-11).
Saul calmed her down and told her not to fear. He wanted to know what she saw. She told him, “An old man is coming up, and he is covered with a mantle” (v. 14). At this, Saul perceived it was Samuel and bowed down to the ground.
Samuel actually spoke to Saul, asking him why he’d disturbed him. Saul explained that he was “deeply distressed” about the Philistine army. He also revealed to Samuel that God had departed from him and wasn’t answering him anymore.
None of this was a surprise to Samuel. He told Saul,
“So why do you ask me, seeing the Lord has departed from you and has become your enemy? And the Lord has done for Himself as He spoke by me. For the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David…“ (v. 16-18)
And then Saul received the worst news of all, as Samuel said: “And tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also deliver the army of Israel into the hand of the Philistines” (v. 19).
I Samuel 29 – Achish Kicks Out David
The Philistine lords were not in agreement about David. As they gathered for battle against Israel, the lords questioned King Achish as to why he’d allowed David to be in the land and be part of their army (v. 3). They still remembered the “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” song the people sang after David’s defeat of Goliath(see I Sam. 17)(v. 5). They cannot believe David will remain loyal to them and ask Achish to tell David to leave.
David has been a great actor for over a year. So it makes sense that Achish doesn’t see what the other lords see. Indeed he tells them, “to this day I have found no fault in him since he defected to me” (v. 3).
Nevertheless, Achish cannot alter their feelings about David joining the battle. So he bows to their pressure and asks David to leave saying, “…the lords do not favor you. Therefore return now, and go in peace, that you may not displease the lords of the Philistines” (v. 7).
So, continuing to play out his charade, “…David and his men rose early to depart in the morning, to return to the land of the Philistines. And the Philistines went up to Jezreel” (v. 11).
I Samuel 30 – David Defeats the Amalekites
Three days after David left the Philistine army, he arrived at his home city of Ziklag and found an unfortunate situation. The nomadic people known as the Amalekites had invaded Ziklag in David’s absence, burned it with fire and taken captive many women and children who lived there. This included David’s two wives, Abigail and Ahinoam (vv. 1-5).
David was greatly distressed, not only at the loss of his two wives, but because the people in their anger wanted to stone him (v. 6). This was one of the early great tests of David’s leadership as he dealt with his own personal pain and people who were turning against him.
David Turns to the Lord for Victory
Faced with this adversity, David did the right thing though. He strengthened himself in the Lord (v. 6). He consulted the Lord with the help of Abiathar the priest who had escaped to David when Saul killed his father Ahimelech and all the other priests at Nob (see I Sam. 21:1-9).
David’s simple question to God was “Shall I pursue this troop? Shall I overtake them?” (v. 8). God answered by saying, “Pursue, for you shall surely overtake them and without fail recover all” (v. 8).
So David did pursue with his 600 men. 200 of his men gave out due to exhaustion and were left behind to watch the supplies (vv. 9-10). The rest march forward to the Amalekite camp, being aided by an Amalekite servant whose master had left him behind after falling ill (vv. 11-16).
The battle against the Amalekites went just as God promised. David “…attacked them from twilight until the evening of the next day. Not a man of them escaped, except four hundred young men who rode on camels and fled” (v. 17). He was able to recover his two wives, all that was lost from Ziklag plus all the spoils from the Amalekite army that were left behind (vv. 17-20).
Generosity from Blessing
God blessed David with a victory. Upon return, David began distributing the spoils of battle to his men, including the 200 left behind to guard the supplies. But some of “…the wicked and worthless men of those who went with David answered and said, “Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil that we have recovered, except for every man’s wife and children, that they may lead them away and depart” (vv. 21-22).
But David doesn’t see it that way. He believed that all should share in the Lord’s blessing no matter if they stayed behind or went to battle. He said, “My brethren, you shall not do so with what the Lord has given us, who has preserved us and delivered into our hand the troop that came against us. For who will heed you in this matter? But as his part is who goes down to the battle, so shall his part be who stays by the supplies; they shall share alike” (v. 23-24). So that became a statue in Israel from that time forward (v. 25).
In addition, David was generous to others as well. He sent gifts from the spoils to the elders throughout cities in Judah and to his friends saying, “Here is a present for you from the spoil of the enemies of the Lord” (v. 26-30). Most likely this was how he reestablished positive relationships with the leaders of Judah. They may have wondered about his loyalties since he had spent so much time in Philistine territory.
I Samuel 31 – The End of King Saul
It’s been a long road for David. For years since being anointed by Samuel to be the next king, he lived under constant stress. Always on the run for his life, Saul’s pursuit took an emotional toll. David spared Saul’s life twice, lived in the wilderness and in caves, hid in enemy territory and tried to hold together and hold back a small band of followers who all wanted Saul dead.
The journey tested David’s resolve and his leadership abilities. But through it all, David sought one person only – he “strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (30:6). And now, Saul’s reign is about to come to an end. Not at the hands of David, but in battle against the Philistines.
The Philistines Kill Saul and His Sons
There are not many details about the actual battle Israel fought with the Philistines at Mount Gilboa. All we are told is that the Philistines went hard after Saul and the men of Israel fled. During the battle, Saul’s three sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malchishua all died (vv. 1-2).
Saul was mortally wounded by a random arrow sent by enemy archers (v. 3). Instead of being captured,
“Saul said to his armorbearer, ‘Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised men come and thrust me through and abuse me.’ But his armorbearer would not, for he was greatly afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword and fell on it. And when his armorbearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell on his sword, and died with him. So Saul, his three sons, his armorbearer, and all his men died together that same day.” (I Sam. 31:4-6) (vv. 4-6).
The Philistines found Saul the next day on the battlefield. They cut off his head and sent word throughout the land of what happened. Saul’s body they took and pinned to the wall of the city Beth Shan (vv. 8-10).
When the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead heard of this, some valiant men traveled all night to retrieve Saul’s body from the wall. They brought it back to Jabesh and burned it there. And his bones along with his sons bones were buried at Jabesh (vv. 11-13).
God’s Word Came True
Thus ended the turbulent reign of the first king of Israel. God did exactly what He said because of Saul’s disobedience. In his timing, he took the kingdom from Saul and gave it to David.
David had stayed true to the Lord’s plan and now it would be his turn to reign. And what a reign it would turn out to be – a time of national glory the likes of which Israel had never seen. It will have some personal ups and downs for David. But, in time, he will be given a special promise that will have implications for the entire world for the rest of time.
Questions to Consider:
Who do you turn to when you have questions? Do you seek out the right people?
What are some ways you can show generosity to those around you?
David had multiple opportunities over years to take matters into his own hands and kill King Saul. But he strengthened himself in the Lord and had the patience to let God’s plan for Saul’s demise to unfold. Finally, it did in I Sam. 31. Do you have trouble being patient with God’s plan for your life?
What other points would you want to know about in our I Samuel 28-31 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.