1 Sam 31.1-13 will tell us about the death of Saul and his sons about twenty years after Saul first heard the judgment against him from Samuel. It will also be a picture of the first Adam and his fall, taking his “sons” with him. The Philistines (“wallowers”) were fighting Israel in the Valley of Jezreel (“God sows”) and had moved deep into Israelite territory. They were attempting to cut the nation in half. Israel was losing the battle and fled to Mount Gilboa (“swollen heaps”), and the Philistines overtook Saul and his sons. It was the mercy of the Lord that did not allow David to participate in this.
Jonathan (“God has given”) was killed, along with Saul’s two other sons, Abinadab (“my father is noble”) and Malchi-shua (“king’s help”). Because of their father, these sons lost their lives. But all of this was part of God’s plan. We know that Jonathan would have yielded his right to the throne to David, but if he had lived there may have been serious divisions with other people saying that Jonathan was the rightful ruler and that David took it from Jonathan. In addition, the other sons may have had other ideas and try to take the throne for themselves. As it turned out, David would have to deal with the only remaining son of Saul named Ish-boshet before he was the undisputed king of Israel (2 Sam 2.8 to 4.12). But now, with these three dead, David’s way to the throne is now clearer.
The battle went against Saul and he was mortally wounded, and it was the same with Adam. He was mortally wounded because of his sin. Saul wanted his armor bearer to kill him before the Philistines got to him, but he would not touch the anointed of the Lord because he was greatly afraid (v 4). So Saul took his sword and fell on it, but he lingered for awhile, but then died (1 Sam 31.6). This was not suicide because Saul knew he could not survive his wounds and was already mortally wounded, and falling on his sword only accelerated the process. The men of Israel saw what happened on the other side of the valley and they abandoned their cities and the Philistines came and lived in them. When the shepherd is struck, the sheep will be scattered (Mark 14.27)
The Philistines came and began to strip the bodies of the fallen and they came upon Saul and his three sons on Mount Gilboa. They took Saul’s body and cut off his head and stripped him of his weapons. Messengers were sent to the Philistine cities to carry the good news (“Basar” where the word “gospel” comes from) to the house of their gods and to their people. His armor was put into the house of Ashtaroth (“star”) and they fastened his body to the walls of Bethshan (“house of ease”) and fastened his head at the temple of Dagon (1 Chr 10.10).
When the men of Jabesh-gilead (“dry, rocky”) heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men rose and walked all night and took his body, and the bodies of his sons, from the wall. Notice that it was not the sons of Benjamin, his tribe, that did this. This town was east of the Jordan and they did this in gratitude to Saul for what he did for them in 1 Sam 11.1-11 when he delivered them from Nachash (“serpent”) the Ammonite. They were repaying the kindness God showed them through Saul, and David will thank them for this in 2 Sam 2.4-7.
They took the bodies to Jabesh and burned them. Then they took the bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh. They then fasted till evening for seven days. They did this to keep the bodies from being taken again. David did not rejoice when he heard about what happened to Saul and his sons, as we shall see. David was not bitter because he trusted God and his authority. In other words, David “let it go.” Also, David knew that he had sinned and the evidence was all around him in Ziklag. It was a burned out ruin and the result of David’s sin. David knew that God had forgiven him so how could he harbor resentment, anger and bitterness towards Saul, and we will see this illustrated in 2 Sam 1.19-27.
Eschatologically, Saul is a picture of the first king over the Kingdom of God named Adam. Adam rebelled agains the Word of the Lord and fell, taking and all of his sons with him. His sin affected more than himself, just like Saul’s sin affected more than just himself and immediate family. The whole nation was vulnerable now, just like all mankind was affected by Adam’s sin. The Kingdom of God on earth had fallen and the kingdom of Satan had a victory, but it will be short-lived. Just as the path to the throne for David was now clear, the path to the throne for the son of David was now clear, and Yeshua will come and defeat the enemy and restore the Kingdom of God. As we move into 2 Samuel, we will see David as a type of the Messiah who will set the captives free, restore the Kingdom of the Lord, and prepare to build the Temple.