1 Samuel 29; 31: Saul's Last Battle
David had been fleeing and hiding from Saul in the wilderness. Then he went again to the Philistine country, and Achish, king of Gath, gave him the town of Ziklag in the southern edge of the country. Now the Philistines were gathering for a battle, and the battle was with Saul and his army, who were in Mount Gilboa. Does anyone remember Gideon and the spring to which he took his men to drink? It was the same Mount Gilboa and the same spring where Saul and his army now are. Should David go with the Philistines to the battle? He started to go, and Achish wished him to go, but other leaders of the Philistines feared him. They feared that in the battle he might turn against them. So David was sent back to Ziklag and waited to learn the result of the battle.
And how was the battle? It went hard with Saul, and the Philistines chased Saul and his men in Mount Gilboa. Jonathan and two other sons of Saul were killed, and Saul killed himself rather than be taken by the enemy. They found Saul dead and took his armor and sent it to the temple of one of their idols. The bodies of Saul and his sons were hung upon the walls of Beth-shan, a city between the place of the battle and the Jordan. Then came some brave men from Jabesh-gilead beyond Jordan, going all night, and took the bodies of Saul and his sons to their country and burnt and buried them. It was an act of kindness because Saul had been kind to them.
A man now came to David at Ziklag and said that he had killed King Saul. He thought that David would be glad and would reward him. But David was not glad. He had not hurt Saul himself when he might have done so, and he was not glad that Saul and Jonathan were dead. Then David sang a song of love and lament for Jonathan and Saul. "Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided. . . . How are the mighty fallen!"
Where was this last battle between Saul and the Philistines? Read 1 Sam. 28:4; 29:1, and if you can, show me the places on the map—Mount Gilboa, the spring at Jezreel, Shunem. You see that we are at the place of Gideon's victory. But this story is different in many ways from the story of Gideon; that was a great victory; this was a defeat. One difference we notice before the battle. You remember how Gideon was strengthened by the Lord, and was encouraged by hearing the dream which foretold his victory. How was it with Saul? The spirit of the Lord was not with him; he had no answer by dreams nor by Urim (flashing light in the stones of the priests' breastplate), nor by prophets. And when he sought help in the forbidden way from the woman of Endor (can you find the place?) who had communication with spirits, he was told of his coming defeat and death. (1 Sam. 28)
The story of the battle, the defeat and the death of Saul and his sons you read in 1 Sam. 31. In thinking of the battle, notice that Mount Gilboa is a group of mountains with many slopes and valleys. In David's lament it is called, "Ye mountains of Gilboa." (2 Sam. 1:21) Ashtaroth (verse 10) is the plural of Ashtoreth, and means images of the goddess. Compare "Baalim" and "Ashtaroth," both plurals, in 1 Sam. 7:4. There was a great temple of Ashtoreth in Askelon. Can you find Beth-shan (verse 10) not far from the scene of the battle, and Jabesh-gilead farther away in the same direction? Can you think why the people of Jabesh-gilead were grateful to Saul and were ready to show this kindness to him? (1 Sam. 11)
Meantime, where was David? You can learn from 1 Sam. 27:5, 6, and 29; 30. You see how near he came to being present in the battle, but why he was not there but at Ziklag in the southern part of the Philistine country when news of the battle came to him. The first chapter of 2 Sam. tells how the news was brought to David. Was it true, as the man told David, that he had himself killed Saul? Why did he tell David this? (2 Sam. 4:10) How did David receive the news of the defeat and of the death of Saul and Jonathan? Read the song of lament. (2 Sam. 1:17-27)
In our translation we read that David bade them teach the children of Judah "the use of the bow." But they had long used bows and arrows. (Gen. 27:3) It means rather that David taught the people "the song of the bow." It is usually supposed that this song of the bow was his own lament for Saul and Jonathan, in which Jonathan's bow is several times mentioned. It may possibly have been this song, but perhaps an older song, for the book of Jasher in which it was written was a book of the Ancient Word, for the most part at least, much older than the time of David. Find the book of Jasher mentioned also in Joshua 10:13. Have you seen something already of the love between David and Jonathan of which David speaks so tenderly in his song?
1. With whom was Saul's last battle?
2. Where was it fought? With what result?
3. How was word brought to David? How was it received?
Why was it wrong for Saul and why is it wrong for people today to seek guidance from spirits? We ought to seek guidance from the Lord. The orderly way for us to receive instruction from the Lord is by enlightenment through His Word. It is not right to wish to speak with those of the other world, and those who try to do so are in danger of coming into the power of evil spirits. The Lord said in a parable: "They have Moses and the prophets. . . . If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead." (Luke 16:29, 31; P. 171; H. 249)
The Philistines were a people of culture, in constant contact with the people of Israel, sometimes friendly, but more often dangerous neighbors, as in the days of Samson, of Saul and David. They were enemies of Saul throughout his reign. He never really subdued them, and he died in battle with them. The Philistines represent a natural intellectual power which may give helpful confirmation to a spiritual understanding (A. 2720, 2723); but it is apt to be proud and self-confident and to care little for good life. Such intellectual pride was represented by Goliath, the Philistine giant. Saul represents a first youthful effort to rule the life according to the Lord's truth. It is an effort that is not very humble or very wise. Something of self-confidence and of pride in intellectual strength easily creeps in. The danger is great of being satisfied with mere knowledge of heavenly things, without patiently putting this knowledge to good use. We need the more spiritual and loving grasp of truth represented by David to subdue this pride and the spirit of faith alone. (A.4763, 9468)
We saw pictured in Saul's help to Jabesh-gilead in the country beyond Jordan (1 Sam. 11) the success of the youthful grasp of truth represented by Saul, in correcting abuses and bringing order in outward conduct. Saul's burial in that country and the asylum given there to Saul's family after his death further suggest the relation of the youthful grasp of truth represented by Saul with the external life represented by the country beyond Jordan. (A. 10540)
But what can the death of Saul represent when we think of him as a type of the Lord? His death cannot then mean failure. It represents the recognition of the Philistine tendency and weakness in the inherited nature and the humble laying down of self-confidence and intellectual pride. This is especially suggested by Saul's taking his own life. We remember how the Lord said of Himself and of us, that there is a life to lay down that we may live again.
David's song of lament for Saul and Jonathan is spiritually in praise of truth from the Lord which Saul and Jonathan represent. Its power to lift up and bear one on toward heaven is suggested by the comparison of Saul and Jonathan to swift eagles and to lions. The effect of the Lord's truth in making life beautiful, even when the truth is understood only in a simple natural way, is suggested by the saying that Saul clothed the daughters of Israel with scarlet and other delights and put ornaments of gold on their apparel. Especially tender things are said of Jonathan, for he represents a natural understanding which is near to the spiritual, those parts of the Lord's Word which in their literal meaning are in perfect accord with the deeper meaning. The song is "the song of the bow." The association of the bow with Jonathan in 1 Sam. 20, and with Saul and Jonathan in the lament occurs because the bow represents a doctrine of truth protecting from evil and guiding in right ways. Note the use of arrows as weapons and to point the way. (E. 278, 281, 357; A. 2686)
The book of Jasher, we are told, was a book of the Ancient Word, which was given before our present Bible. A reference to the book of Jasher like this in our chapter today seems to show that the Ancient Word was still in use in the days of David. If "the song of the bow" was David's own lament, it would seem to show further that the Ancient Word was still receiving additions at that time. (S. 103)