July 25, 2014

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Old Testament: The death of Saul, Israel’s first king

John F. Fink(Twenty-ninth in a series of columns)

At the end of Chapter 26 of the First Book of Samuel, King Saul promised not to try to harm David again. David, however, didn’t trust Saul, so he did something we wouldn’t expect: He and his 600 men joined forces with the hated Philistines! Specifically, with King Achish of Gath.

He and his men lived in Ziklag for 16 months. They made raids on the Geshurites, Girzites and Amalekites, but David told Achish that they were raiding the Israelites. They didn’t leave a man or woman alive who could tell Achish what they really did. So Achish trusted David, thinking to himself that David’s people must really detest him.

Then the Philistines mustered to fight against Saul, and David and his men went with Achish, seemingly intending to fight against the Israelites.

The story then shifts to Saul, who was dismayed by the force against him. He consulted a witch, asking her to conjure up the ghost of Samuel, who had died. She did so, and Samuel told Saul that he and his sons would be killed in the coming battle and his kingdom would be given to David.

What about this conjuring up a ghost? The footnote here says that God may permit a departed soul to appear to the living and disclose things unknown to them. But the apparition would have been due, not to the summons of the witch, but to God’s will.

The story again shifts back to David. As he and his men tried to join the Philistines, their lords asked Achish who those Hebrews were. Achish vouched for them, but the Philistine chiefs weren’t convinced and demanded that Achish send them back. He did.

When they got back to Ziklag, though, they discovered that Amalekites had overrun the city, set it on fire, and taken their wives and children captive, including David’s wives, Ahinoam and Abigail. David and his men chased the Amalekites, killed them all and rescued their wives and children. David brought back all the booty the Amalekites had taken and sent gifts to the elders of Judah.

Back to Saul. The battle against the Philistines ended as Samuel told Saul it would. Saul’s sons were killed, and Saul was wounded. He asked his armor-bearer to finish him off, but he refused to do so. Therefore, Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. When the Philistines found his body, they cut off his head.

Three days after Saul’s death, David was at Ziklag when a runner appeared from Saul’s camp. He said that he was an Amalekite who had been in the battle. He said that he came across Saul, badly wounded, and Saul asked him to finish him off. Therefore, he said, he did so, and he brought Saul’s crown and armlet to David.

If the Amalekite expected to be rewarded, he was badly mistaken. David had him killed because he had dared to desecrate the Lord’s anointed. David then recited a heroic elegy for Israel’s first king and his son, Jonathan. †

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