A great start but a sad ending

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Do you ever look back upon your life and wonder whether you always made the right decisions? Would things have been different if you had put God first?

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Bible passage 1 Samuel 31:1–13

1 Samuel 31

Saul Takes His Life
 1 Now the Philistines fought against Israel; the Israelites fled before them, and many fell slain on Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines pressed hard after Saul and his sons, and they killed his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua. 3 The fighting grew fierce around Saul, and when the archers overtook him, they wounded him critically.

 4 Saul said to his armor-bearer, "Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me."
      But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. 5 When the armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died with him. 6 So Saul and his three sons and his armor-bearer and all his men died together that same day.

 7 When the Israelites along the valley and those across the Jordan saw that the Israelite army had fled and that Saul and his sons had died, they abandoned their towns and fled. And the Philistines came and occupied them.

 8 The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the dead, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. 9 They cut off his head and stripped off his armor, and they sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to proclaim the news in the temple of their idols and among their people. 10 They put his armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths and fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shan.

 11 When the people of Jabesh Gilead heard of what the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all their valiant men journeyed through the night to Beth Shan. They took down the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall of Beth Shan and went to Jabesh, where they burned them. 13 Then they took their bones and buried them under a tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and they fasted seven days.

New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Audio Bible passage

The audio version of the passage is taken from the Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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The end…
Everything had started so well for Saul (see 1 Samuel 14:47,48). Now his life ends with defeat and suicide.

The weapons that God had given for the battle were used to take his own life and then used by the enemy as signs of victory in their temple (v 10). Where and when did things go wrong? When Saul refused to carry out the Lord’s instructions (1 Samuel 15:11) and when the Spirit of the Lord departed from him (1 Samuel 16:14).

How's your battle going?
Saul was involved with both a physical and a spiritual battle. He lost the physical battle because he lost the spiritual battle. The armour he had been given he used to end his life, rather than defeat the enemy.

We have the spiritual armour we need for life’s worldly battles today (see Ephesians 6:10–20). We must not be like Demas, who started well but ‘in love with this present world’ left the fellowship and went elsewhere (see Colossians 4:14 and 2 Timothy 4:10). Even though there was a sad ending, the people of Jabesh Gilead showed great respect for the dead even though it endangered their own lives. What an example to follow.


‘Forgive me, Lord, when I’m tempted to disobey your voice and go my own way. Help me to use the armour of God to win the spiritual battles that I face each day, and live.’

Michael Cole

Deeper Bible study

‘Through all the changing scenes of life, in trouble and in joy,
The praises of my God shall still my heart and tongue employ.’ (N Tate and N Brady)

This week’s readings have led to the poignant moment of Saul’s death, to which Samuel’s prophecy pointed (1 Samuel 28:17,19; compare 13:14; 15:28). Saul’s sons are killed and he is severely wounded by the Philistines on the battlefield (vs 2,3). Instead of falling prey to his enemies, Saul asks his armour-bearer to kill him – but he refused. Saul then takes his own life by falling on his sword (v 4). After all the ups and downs in his life, Saul’s self-centredness in the end remains unchanged. During his final, critical moment, he does not turn his life over to God. Sadly, it reveals to us that he is concerned more about his image before his enemies than his relationship with God (compare 1 Samuel 15:12).

Unexpectedly, a candle is lit at the end of this horrible picture, warming the reader’s heart. Saul has long ago intervened to liberate Jabesh Gilead from the Ammonites (1 Samuel 11). Remembering Saul’s fidelity to them, the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead risk their lives all night to take down the corpses of Saul and his sons from the wall of Beth Shan and move them to Jabesh, where a burial is performed (vs 11–13). Peter Miscall aptly comments, ‘Saul’s end is ignominious, yet the book of 1 Samuel closes by putting aside allusions to Saul’s dark and clouded days. It closes with an act that is not a power play, a calculated show of restraint, a deception, or an attempt to buy someone’s loyalty; it closes with pathos, with a memory of Saul’s finest hour.’1

This final episode sheds some light on how we should live. Saul follows his own choices until the end of his life. If Saul’s liberation of Jabesh is well remembered, how much more of his life would have been praised if he had chosen to obey God?

Alison Lo


1 1 Samuel: A Literary Reading, Indiana UP, 1986, p182

A great start but a sad ending

Two instances in Saul’s life give us pause for thought: his rendezvous with the witch of Endor, and the manner of his death.


The woman whom Saul consulted is described as a medium. She falls under the prohibition of several occult practices in Deuteronomy 18:9–12. Despite this, such practices were still found in Israel, sometimes even with royal approval (2 Kings 9:22; 2 Chronicles 33:6; Isaiah 8:19). 

What’s involved? 

Common to all these activities is the desire to discover information or exercise control through invoking some spiritual power.  

• It may involve spells, incantations or sacrifice.  
• Practitioners may go into a trance.  
• They may bring some oracle for the benefit of the individual or community.  
• They may aim to bring healing or harm. 

What’s wrong with it? 

• It is about the manipulation of spiritual powers for the benefit of individuals or particular communities.   
• There is no sense of worship or submission to God.  
• There is little sense of morality.  
• It is about self-gratification, not about service.  
• It is the ancient sin of humans thinking that they know better than God.  
• It moves us away from God. 
• Much is based on deception.  
• In many cases it is not just the human practitioners who are exercising power. There is often an element of demonic activity, a real contact with spiritual forces which disrupt the lives of those concerned.  

Is it still around? Yes, although it takes many different forms. We can see a primitive form in the shamanism of animistic tribes. It is there in a more subtle form in the spiritualist séances, in the reinvention of paganism and the adoption of certain elements of eastern religion.  

And when Christians try to use their faith for their own purposes rather than the worship of God they show the same sort of attitude. 


In addition to Saul’s (1 Samuel 31:3–5), there are five other suicides recorded in the Bible:  

Judges 9:53,54 
Judges 16:29,30
2 Samuel 17:23 
1 Kings 16:18 
Matthew 27:5 

In none of these is any comment passed, although Samson appears almost as a hero. The Philippian jailer, on the other hand, is dissuaded from committing suicide and receives the gift of new life through the work of Paul and Silas. 

Some principles

So it’s hard to say exactly what the Bible’s view is. We are left to dig more deeply and look at principles, but the issues are complex. Since Augustine, many Christians have taken the view that suicide is a sin that excludes the individual from salvation. The reasoning goes that giving and taking life is the prerogative of God alone, and suicide has traditionally been seen as self-murder and disobedience to the sixth commandment, with no possibility of repentance after the act. We are to see our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19,20) to be looked after. 

Practical and pastoral issues

Most suicides take place when those concerned are disturbed or deeply distressed for some reason, and only some can be said to be the result of a carefully considered and balanced rational decision. The eternal state of those who commit suicide can safely be left to a loving God – there are no biblical grounds for asserting that people who commit suicide are condemned to an eternity without God. 

The issues for those with terminal illness or dementia have been highlighted by recent discussion. Again they are complex, but we may have to think through whether we can usurp God’s role as much by artificially preserving life as by taking it.  

Perhaps the safest conclusion is that to take positive action to end our own life, or to assist someone else in that, is wrong, but that to allow people to die with dignity rather than keeping them alive artificially at all costs may sometimes be a better way.

Michael Cole

Bible in a year

Read the Bible in a year.

Isaiah 45,46

Psalm 107

Looking back

Saul in today’s passage is a far cry from the action hero we saw in 1 Samuel 11. But despite everything going wrong for him, the people of Jabesh Gilead still saw the man who had saved them.

Consider how other people see you with this image by Andrew Gray (www.onegraydot.com).


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When I walk through suffering (Until the day)
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  • Gilvin Crisifeca | Saturday, 23 September 2017

    #ExploretheBible "He lost the physical battle because he lost the spiritual battle." Oh so true. The more we allow Holy Spirit in us to take authority, the more the wholeness of Christ will overtake every part of us. Living most consciously out of our healthiest part, Holy Spirit, through the years Holy Sprit will be gloriously contagious to our mind and even our body.

  • Angela Munday | Saturday, 23 September 2017

    We cannot leave God's protection and remain safe; there will be too many problems that will eventually overwhelm us. God asks for our loyalty in believing in and following only his way. The victorious life is ours to accept; we have a constant help at our side.....'surely goodness and mercy will follow me and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.' Amen.

  • Ken Sykes | Saturday, 23 September 2017

    What a shame we missed Chapter 30 "But David found strength in the Lord his God". May we all be like David iin the difficulties and battles of our lives. Let us today find that same strength

  • Derek Forster | Saturday, 23 September 2017

    Savior, like a shepherd lead us, Much we need Thy tender care; In Thy pleasant pastures feed us, For our use Thy folds prepare: Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, Thou hast bought us, Thine we are; Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, Thou hast bought us, Thine we are. Early let us seek Thy favor; Early let us do Thy will; Blessed Lord and only Savior, With Thy love our beings fill: Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, Thou hast loved us, love us still; Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, Thou hast loved us, love us still.

  • Jean MacKenzie | Saturday, 23 September 2017

    Thank you Michael Cole and Alison Lodge for your very helpful commentaries today, and for Michael's extra notes on sorcery and suicide. I have struggled all week with these readings, feeling conflicted about David's duplicity, but thanks to today's WordLive teaching, these chapters now seem to make sense to me as part of God's plan. Thanks also to all the WordLive community whose discussions enrich each day of Bible study.

  • Jean MacKenzie | Saturday, 23 September 2017

    Sorry, predictive text error: Alison Lo not Lodge.

  • David Chipchase | Saturday, 23 September 2017

    After 26 days in hospital, my wife Jan was discharged today. She is still a long way from good health and physical strength. Thank you all for your support.

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