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The Final Days of King Saul

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: 1 Samuel 29–31; 1 Chronicles 10

David recognized his unwise and desperate acts and turned again to the Lord. Saul did neither. The last chapters of 1 Samuel record the sad end of Saul’s reign, and the continuing preparation of David to succeed him as king. Their experiences provide important lessons for us.


As Saul is facing the day of his death, promised back in chapter 28, David is now hemmed in by his own plans. In our last study, David had gone over to the Philistines and convinced the king of Gath of his allegiance to them.

The problem is, the king of Gath now joins his fellow Philistines as they prepare to attack Saul and his army. David has already indicated he will fight with the Philistines, so what in the world is he going to do to get out of it? 

If he fights with them against Israel, he will lose his credibility by killing fellow Israelites; but if he refuses to join the Philistines, they will realize he’s been lying to them all along, and he will lose his life.

Satan must be wringing his hands in delight. This will end God’s plan for His anointed, David, to sit on Israel’s throne.

How did David get stuck in the middle of this? Well, he made some wrong decisions instead of trusting the Lord. But let me tell you, his failure did not cripple God’s plans. And that’s good news for us too, for PQ - even when we are unfaithful to our Lord, He is faithful to us. 

Fortunately, the other Philistine military leaders do not trust David, and here in the opening verses of chapter 29, they refuse to allow David to come along. And with that, the Lord allows David to escape from this terrible dilemma.

David and his men are forced to return home to Ziklag. David pretends to be disappointed and even offended by this rejection (verse 8). He earns another Oscar for acting.

But things are about to get worse for them when they return to Ziklag. Chapter 30 describes the scene:

Now when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, the Amalekites had made a raid against . . . Ziklag and burned it with fire and taken captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great. They killed no one but carried them off and went their way. And when David and his men came to the city, they found it burned with fire, and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. (verses 1-3)

Imagine this scene. These battle-hardened soldiers all burst into tears. Verse 4 says they “wept until they had no more strength to weep.”

Once they stop crying, though, they start accusing David. In verse 6, they even start talking about stoning David to death. But in the last part of the verse, we read, “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” For the first time in many months, David talks to God. 

His clever plans have collapsed. He’s been telling himself that he can handle King Achish, that he knows what he’s doing. He’s told his men that it will all work out; it won’t be long before the nation is at peace, and he will be on the throne of Israel. But now look: their families are gone, and these loyal followers have turned against him.

So, David calls the priest to lead him in seeking the wisdom of God: 

And David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I pursue after this band? Shall I overtake them?” He answered him, “Pursue, for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue.” (verse 8)

Now David’s natural instincts must be screaming, “Chase after those Amalekites, and rescue your families. That’s the only way you will get your credibility back. Go!”

But David is no longer listening to his instincts. Those have caused him enough trouble already. He now wants to hear from God. And when he does hear from the Lord, he sets out with godly confidence and wisdom.

In their pursuit of the Amalekites, they come across a young Egyptian slave who had gotten sick and was left behind on the trail. With his help, David is able to surprise the Amalekites and defeat them, plunder their camp, and rescue all their families.

Verse 26 informs us that “David . . . sent part of the spoil to his friends, the elders of Judah, saying, ‘Here is a present for you from the spoil of the enemies of the Lord.’” He’s demonstrating his loyalty to his own tribe in southern Israel.

There are a couple of lessons here for us. First, we need to be slow to listen to our own hearts. No matter how clever our plans might seem, we need to remember that we can talk our hearts into doing just about anything. Our instincts and decisions need to be guided and guarded by God’s Word and godly desires.

Second, we need to be quick to thank the Lord for His forgiveness. The Lord remained silent with King Saul, because Saul was not repentant and sought help from a witch. But David sought wisdom from a priest, and God responded by providing guidance. Let me tell you, - God is forever gracious to respond to a repentant, humbled child of His and to give more victories to enjoy.

First Samuel chapter 31 returns to the battlefield as the Philistines begin to fight the Israelites. Verse 1 says, “The men of Israel fled before the Philistines and fell slain on Mount Gilboa.” Israel suffers a crushing defeat. Jonathan and two other sons of Saul are killed in battle.

And as for Saul, verse 3 says he is struck by an arrow and “badly wounded.” Fearing what the Philistines might do to him if they find him alive, Saul orders his armor bearer to kill him. When he refuses to do that, Saul falls on his sword, taking his own life. 

The next day, the Philistines find the bodies of Saul and his sons on the battlefield. The details here in chapter 31 of 1 Samuel are repeated in 1 Chronicles chapter 10; and whenever we have repeated narratives like these, I will be combining them.

In 1 Chronicles 10:8-10, the tragic news is recorded:

The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, they found Saul and his sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. And they stripped him and took his head and his armor and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to carry the good news to their idols and to the people. And they put his armor in the temple of their gods and fastened his head in the temple of Dagon. 

The Philistines believe their victory is proof that their gods are more powerful than Israel’s God. 

Saul began well but ended in tragic defeat. And the issue wasn’t military, and it wasn’t political; it was spiritual. His defeat came from within. His death had been foretold just the day before, but Saul went ahead to the very end, not obeying the word and the will of God. 

But let me tell you, behind all this bad news, God is still at work. He is not finished with Israel. In fact, He is just beginning.

You see, when Saul died, many people must have thought that was the end of Israel. But the death of King Saul ushers in David’s kingly line, which will lead to the birth of the Messiah.  

So, with the death of King Saul, the book of 1 Samuel ends. But a second book—2 Samuel—is about to begin, and it will introduce the reign of King David.


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