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1Sa 31:1 Now the Philistines fought against Israel, and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines and fell down slain on Mount Gilboa-
It is really stressed that Saul and Jonathan "fell" on Gilboa (1 Sam. 31:1,8; 2 Sam. 1:10,12,19,25,27), using a Hebrew word which is often associated with spiritual falling. The fact that "the Philistines followed hard upon Saul and upon his sons" (1 Sam. 31:2) gives the impression of them fleeing from the Philistine soldiers. This sends the mind back to the Law's warning that an apostate Israel would flee before their enemies (Dt. 28:25). Saul and Jonathan are described in terms representative of apostate Israel; see Am. 2:14,15; Micah 1 and 2 and expositions there. But the fall of Israel was due to the fall of Saul (see on 1 Sam. 28:19); instead of being the king who led to victory as Israel had hoped and as God had enabled, he led to shame and defeat.

Earlier the Philistines had 'fallen down slain' after David's victory over Goliath (same words in 1 Sam. 17:52). That victory had now been reversed; for Saul was the antithesis of David. And yet we have noted that David was spiritually weak at this time. All this was by grace alone, God's grace towards David, because He recognized that beneath all David's weakness there was a heart after His own. Fleeing before enemies and falling down before them is the language of Israel's punishment for breaking the covenant. But David deeply laments the falling down slain of Saul and Israel (2 Sam. 1:19,25 "the beauty of Israel is slain... how are the mighty fallen... how are the mighty fallen... O Jonathan, you were slain on your high places"). We enquire whether Jonathan had slipped away from the covenant, seeing he too fell down slain; he is strongly identified with Saul in 1 Chron. 10:6: "So Saul died, and his three sons; and all his family died together". The curious expression 'on your high places' suggests of course the idolatrous high places, as if Jonathan had been as it were sacrificed on the altar of his own preferred 'high place'. Ez. 6:4 sounds so similar, using the same words for 'falling down' and 'slain': "I will cast down [make to fall down] your slain men before your idols". We see here the danger of the Jonathan choice- to reject coming out for David / Jesus, and instead to choose to remain 'in the world' and appear as of the world, whilst speaking up for David / Jesus at times. It could sadly be that like many who have made the Jonathan choice, he was caught up in that world and suffered their judgment. Or it could be that we have here an example of how good men can suffer the results of others' breaking of covenant. Although surely it is far from God to slay the righteous with the wicked, as Abraham argued regarding Lot in Sodom. Whatever, David's lament for those judged for breaking covenant makes him even more a man after God's own heart- for the condemnation of the wicked grieves God deeply, and is never done with any smug self satisfaction or lashing out in punishment. 

1Sa 31:2 The Philistines followed hard after Saul and his sons, and they killed Jonathan, Abinadab and Malchishua, the sons of Saul-
"Followed hard after" suggests the Philistines chased Saul. Just as he had chased David. We could see this as him reaping some poetic justice. Yet it could be that even in these last hours of his life, God was appealing to Saul to understand what he had done to David, and repent. Saul had chased David up a conical hill- and then the arrival of the Philistines had saved David. Now Saul was chased by the Philistines up a conical hill- to death. Saul was being reminded of this, but not as poetic justice for the sake of it, but as a nudge to repentance. For God doesn't give up with man until his last breath, and it's only over when it's over. Likewise we ponder why Saul's sons were slain first, and then he was hit by an arrow (:3). That isolating him alone, having lost his sons [he would have perceived, although wrongly, that all his sons were slain] and therefore all hope of his kingly dynasty continuing, was perhaps also a desperate appeal for his repentance and acceptance that his "kingdom", his dynasty", was not to continue. Or again, we ponder the word used for "archer" in :3. It is the word 'to point out', and is the word more commonly used for a "teacher". Samuel says in 1 Sam. 12:23 that he will not cease to "teach [s.w. "archer"] you the good and right way". Perhaps again there is a hint that even at that final stage, God was appealing for Saul to be teachable. So likewise we ponder how after Saul's sons are killed, he appears to be isolated alone with his armourbearer. And the only other mention of Saul's armourbearer is when we read that this was David's role earlier (1 Sam. 16:21). Was not this also a nudge towards thinking of David, and repenting of how he had abused David his armourbearer? We have no insight into the final psychological moments of those who die after falling away from God, but very likely His efforts with them likewise continue to the end of life. These are only hints, because God makes His appeals subtly and not in a way which would railroad man into repentance. For man is free, created free by God, and He ever respects that human freedom He has granted to man. To railroad to repentance is not His style nor His way in this world.

1 Sam. 31:2; 1 Chron. 10:2 read "Jonathan, Abinadab and Malchishua", whereas 1 Sam. 14:49 has "Jonathan, Ishvi and Malchishua". "Ishvi" may be another name for Abinadab; or we may note that the word means "and the second...", which would make sense in 1 Sam. 14:49. The genealogies of 1 Chron. 8:33; 9:39 also mention Esh-Baal or Ishbosheth; perhaps his name mentioning the "Baal" compound was the reason for its exclusion. Having such a name reflects upon Saul's lack of total devotion to Yahweh.

1Sa 31:3 The battle went badly against Saul, the archers overtook him and wounded him badly-
This was all such a reversal of fortunes. When the Philistines stopped the Israelites from having metal weapons, they honed their skills as slingers and archers. But now it was Philistine archers who wounded Saul. Tragically, David would use archers to slay Uriah. His words of Ps. 64:7 were being fulfilled: "God shall shoot at them [David's enemies] with an arrow; suddenly shall they be wounded". But when this happened, David weeps and laments over Saul.  The Hebrew for "wounded" may also be rendered “and he was sore afraid" [s.w. "be in anguish", Dt. 2:25] . This is the final end of the rejected. Fear. Alone with none to help.

1Sa 31:4 Then Saul said to his armour bearer, Draw your sword and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through and abuse me!-
We see again the record present the demise of Saul and the rise of David. For David had earlier cut off the foreskins of 200 Philistines whom he has slain; “For
Saul devised to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines” (1 Sam. 18:25). But Saul now faces abuse [of his circumcision?] by the uncircumcised and will himself fall by their hand.

"Lest they mock / abuse me" were to be the very words of Zedekiah (Jer. 38:19). The message for the exiles was that their leadership had indeed acted and been judged as Saul, but there was hope for restoration in a revived David figure.

But his armour bearer would not, for he was respectful. Therefore Saul took his sword and fell on it-
This man, although close to Saul, had been influenced by the spirit of David who would not lift up his hand against Yahweh's anointed. He may well have been near Saul on the two occasions David had come close to him and had chosen not to slay him. We learn from this that there may be people who think rightly in positions we would not imagine. "Respectful" is literally "he feared", and David uses the word in 2 Sam. 1:10 in asking why the Amalekite did not "fear" to slay Saul as Saul requested. David appears aware of the faithfulness of Saul's armour bearer. 

1Sa 31:5 When his armour bearer saw that Saul was dead, he likewise fell on his sword and died with him-
Fair attention is given to this man. As noted on :4, he was like Jonathan and many, in that his loyalties were divided. He was personally loyal to Saul, feeling that Saul's death was his death; and yet also loyal to the spirit of David, in that he would not slay Yahweh's anointed, and respected him as that right up to Saul's hopeless end. We may well meet him in God's Kingdom.

1Sa 31:6 So Saul died, and his three sons and his armour bearer and all his men, that same day together-
To all die on the same day was tragic; and recalls the deaths of Eli and his sons at the hands of the Philistines. They died in fulfilment of prophecies that they must be replaced by a faithful priest, of whom Samuel was a potential fulfilment. The situation with the deaths of Saul and his sons was so similar. We see the same Divine hand at work.  

"Many of the people" (2 Sam. 1:4) is no contradiction with 1 Sam. 31:6, where “all his men” refers to Saul’s immediate body-guard..

1Sa 31:7 When the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley, and those who were beyond the Jordan, saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they forsook their cities and fled, and the Philistines came and lived in them-
The valley of Jezreel is in view; it was the most fertile part of Israel. The translation may be better "on the side of the valley". The forsaken cities appear to apply only to that valley in 1 Chron. 10:7. "Beyond the Jordan" may mean 'on the river banks'. There is little archaeological evidence that the Philistines possessed the territory east of Jordan for very long. Soon after this, Abner proclaimed Ishbosheth as king at Mahanaim, about twenty miles east of the Jordan (2 Sam. 2:8). So these gains of the Philistines were short-lived, and they lacked the numbers of population to really settle all this territory. But the impression is given of a total Philistine victory in the north of Israel.

'Forsaken cities' is a term often used in the prophets of how Jerusalem and the cities of Judah were forsaken during the Babylonian invasion. The 1 Samuel record was surely written or edited as comfort to the exiles- that under David their prince, a glorious restoration was possible.

1Sa 31:8 The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa-
The fact this was done the next day suggests the battle continued into the late evening, with Saul fighting literally to the end.

1Sa 31:9 They cut off his head, stripped off his armour and sent into the land of the Philistines all around to carry the news to the house of their idols and to the people-
This may well have been to allude to what David had done to Goliath many years before, placing his armour in the tabernacle; the sting of which remained with them. But the record mocks how they had to take the news to their idols; unlike Yahweh who sees and knows all things, and even before they happen.

We note they stripped his armour. His crown and bracelet was taken by the Amalekite looter whom we learn of in 2 Sam. 1. The man came to spoil the slain bodies, and finding the crown and bracelet, took them to David, hoping for a reward.

If Saul was stripped, it means his royal robe was stripped off him. He had done this before when he was in the cave, and when he went to the medium. He should have stripped off those robes and given them to David, accepting God's word to him that this must happen. But he refused, and so it was done to him in his final condemnation. We either accept our condemnation now, or we will experience it at judgment day.

The death of Saul was 'published' (AV) by the Philistines. But David uses the word in saying "Publish it not" (2 Sam. 1:20). Perhaps he means that Israel were not to speak of this tragedy; hence he kills the Amalekite who 'published' the news to him (2 Sam. 4:10 s.w.).

1Sa 31:10 They put his armour in the house of Ashtaroth and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shan-
1 Chron. 10:10 says that they fastened the head of Saul in Dagon's temple. 1 Chron. 10:12 adds the detail that the bodies of his sons were likewise fastened to the wall. Herodotus writes of a great temple to Venus in Ashkelon.

1Sa 31:11 When the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul-
They had been saved by Saul in 1 Sam. 11, maybe 40 years before (Acts 13:21). They had total loyalty to Saul even now at the end, when surely it was clear that David was the king of God's choice and Saul had sinned and failed. Perhaps they set a good example of appreciating the good a man once did or taught, even if in later life he turned away from God. As explained on 1 Sam. 30:23, this was how David treated Saul.

1Sa 31:12 all the valiant men arose and travelled all night and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth Shan, and they went to Jabesh and burnt them there-
Cremation was not common amongst the Jews, but perhaps they did this lest his body be abused further, seeing that they were under Philistine domination. But the bones were buried (:13) so only the rest of the bodies were burnt. Or we can read "Burnt for them there", the burning referring to incense rather than the bodies.

1Sa 31:13 They took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh, and fasted seven days
We recall how it was beneath a tamarisk tree that Saul had ordered the massacre of the priests of Nob (1 Sam. 22:6). Now it is his bones which are beneath such a tree.