King James Bible
with Catholic Commentary by George Leo Haydock

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1 Samuel 31

Saul’s defeat and death. (1-7) Saul’s body rescued by the men of Jabesh-gilead. (8-13)

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Saul’s defeat and death

1 Now the Philistines fought against Israel: and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa.

2 And the Philistines followed hard upon Saul and upon his sons; and the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Melchishua, Saul’s sons.

3 And the battle went sore against Saul, and the archers hit him; and he was sore wounded of the archers.

4 Then said Saul unto his armourbearer, Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and abuse me. But his armourbearer would not; for he was sore afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword, and fell upon it.

5 And when his armourbearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise upon his sword, and died with him.

6 So Saul died, and his three sons, and his armourbearer, and all his men, that same day together.

7 And when the men of Israel that were on the other side of the valley, and they that were on the other side Jordan, saw that the men of Israel fled, and that Saul and his sons were dead, they forsook the cities, and fled; and the Philistines came and dwelt in them.

Saul’s body rescued by the men of Jabesh-gilead

8 And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen in mount Gilboa.

9 And they cut off his head, and stripped off his armour, and sent into the land of the Philistines round about, to publish it in the house of their idols, and among the people.

10 And they put his armour in the house of Ashtaroth: and they fastened his body to the wall of Bethshan.

11 And when the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead heard of that which the Philistines had done to Saul;

12 All the valiant men arose, and went all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Bethshan, and came to Jabesh, and burnt them there.

13 And they took their bones, and buried them under a tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.

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G Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Ver. 1. Fled. They make but a feeble resistance, as God was not with them. H. — The first onset was made by the archers, and Saul’s three sons fell, while the king himself was dangerously wounded. C. — The death of his sons would increase his anguish. M. — He seems not to have told them of the divine decree, as he might deem it irrevocable and unavoidable, so that flight would have been of no service to them. H.

Ver. 2. Jonathan. Ven. Bede, &c. doubt not of his salvation. Salien.

Ver. 3. Overtook. Heb. “attacked, found, or hit him.” He was running away. H. — Wounded. Some translate Heb. “terrified,” as they believe the words of the Amalecite, “my whole life is in me.” But that wretch deserves no credit; and Saul would probably not take the desperate resolution of killing himself, till he saw there was no possibility of escaping. Sept. “the archers find him, and they wounded him in the lower belly.” Theodotion, “in the part near the liver.”

Ver. 4. Bearer. The Rabbins say he was Doeg. They were not yet come to a close engagement. — Mock at me, as was then customary. See Jos. viii. 29. Judg. i. 7. He might recollect the treatment of Samson. C. — Fear. “To spill the royal blood’s a direful thing.” Homer.

Ver. 5. With him. Thus to avoid a little shame and temporal punishment, they rushed into those which are inconceivably geat and eternal. H. — The Jews in vain attempt to excuse Saul, as they deem suicide in such cases lawful, though in others they deprive those of burial, who have been guilty of it. Joseph. Ant. vi. 14. — This author applauds the behaviour of Saul; and indeed, his courage called forth the praises of David. But even the pagans have deemed those no better than cowards, who have killed themselves to avoid misery.

Rebus in adversis facile est contemnere mortem:

Fortiter ille facit, qui miser esse potest. Martial.

The civil laws deny suicides the rites of burial, as they are also guilty of a crime against the state, which they deprive of their labours. They unjustly abandon what God has only committed to their care. Saul seems to have been afraid of receiving any insult himself, rather than to have been desirous of preventing the blasphemies of the infidels against God, as the Jews pretend. He gave no signs of repentance, and the spirit of God pronounces his condemnation. So Saul died for his iniquities, because he transgressed; (C. Heb. and Sept. in his iniquities, by which he prevaricated. T.)…and moreover consulted also a witch, and trusted not in the Lord: therefore he slew him. 1 Par. x. 13, 14. Saul prefigured those, who having yielded to temptations, persist and die in their evil ways. S. Greg. W.

Ver. 6. His men. Paral. his house fell together. The hopes of his family were at an end, (H.) though Isboseth, Abner, and some few survived him, (M.) who had fled, (C.) or had not been in the engagement. H.

Ver. 7. Beyond, or about “the passage” or fords of the Jordan, as the Heb. means. M. — The Philistines did not pursue after them, as God set bounds to their ambition. It might otherwise have proved very fatal to his people, who were now so much divided and terrified. In the parallel passage, in Chronicles, it is only said, When the men…that dwelt in the plains (of Jezrahel) saw this, they fled. 1 Par. x. 7. The Philistines seized the abandoned cities, particularly Bethsan, (v. 10. H.) which had been retained by the Chanaanites in the days of the judges, and which David took back. Judg. i. 27. 3 K. iv. 12.

Ver. 9. Head, as David had treated that of Goliath. C. xvii. 54.

Ver. 10. Astaroth. The like custom was observed by the Hebrew, (C. xxi. 9,) and by the Greeks and Romans, (C.) to acknowledge that victory was granted by God. The Philistines insulted Saul’s body, and blasphemed the true God, as much as if they had taken the king alive. He only avoided the mortification of hearing them while he was forced to attend to the furies below. — Body, with those of his three sons, v. 12. H. — Saul’s head was hung up in the temple of Dagon, at Azotus; (1 Par. x. 10,) his body was suspended on the wall or street of Bethsan; (2 K. xxi. 12,) or in the most public place, near the gate of the city.

Ver. 11. Jabes, in gratitude for the deliverance which he had procured for them. C. xi. 11. C. — They are also deserving of praise for shewing mercy to the dead, as well as for their bravery. W.

Ver. 12. Burnt them, or the flesh, reserving the ashes and bones to be buried, as was customary among the Greeks (Homer, ps.) and Romans:

Sed cænam funeris hœres

Negliget iratus quod rem curtaveris; urnæ

Ossa inodora dabit. Persius. vi.

See Amos vi. 10. Jonathan insinuates, that they burnt over the bodies aromatic spices.

Ver. 13. Wood. Par. under the oak.Days, at their own option. David fasted one day, (C.) as he did for Abner. Salien. — There was no obligation of mourning for the kings, though it is probable that those near the royal city, would shew this mark of attention to the deceased monarch. See Jer. xxxiv. 5. 2 Par. xxxv. 25. The usual term of mourning was seven days. Eccli. xxii. 13. C. — It is very difficult to ascertain the length of Saul’s reign. Sanctius and Tirin allow him only 2 years; Petau 12; Calvisius 15; Salien 18; Bucholeer, and probably Josephus, 20, though most copies of the latter have 38; S. Aug. Serarius, Usher, &c. 40, which is the term mentioned Acts xiii. 20. But most chronologers suppose that the time of Samuel’s administration is there also included. H. — Sulpitius thinks that Saul only “reigned a very short time,” as “the ark was brought to Cariathiarim before the appeared on the throne, and was removed by David, after it had been there twenty years.”