How did King Saul die?


by Shawn Brasseaux

Who killed Saul? The Philistines? Or, was it suicide? Or, did an Amalekite kill him? What does the Bible say?

Unfortunately, people often approach the Bible with a fine-toothed comb, looking to find any little discrepancy so they can complain. Why are they so critical of God’s Word? Man wants to remove the Bible from the place of supreme authority. If the Scriptures can be disapproved, then they can be dethroned, and man’s opinions can be deified. There is nothing more to it than this. There is no sincere search for what is right and what is wrong, what is truth and what is error. The Bible skeptic already approaches the Bible with the assumption that it has mistakes; therefore, why should it shock us when the skeptic claims to find mistakes in the Bible? Anyways, let us approach the Bible in faith, giving it the benefit of the doubt.

The Bible says in 1 Samuel chapter 31: “[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.”

The archers of the Philistines struck King Saul with several arrows: he was badly injured but still alive (verse 3). For this reason, he asked his armor bearer to kill him. King Saul did not want to be tortured and put to death by the Philistines. The armor bearer refused (verse 4): the armor bearer knew that he was not to kill the LORD’S anointed, and was too fearful to take Saul’s life. Therefore, the Bible says Saul fell upon his own sword, and he died (verse 6). When the armor bearer saw that Saul was dead, the armor bearer committed suicide himself. The armor bearer thought Saul was dead, Saul appeared to be dead, but was Saul actually dead? The first chapter of the next Bible Book generates some confusion here.

Second Samuel chapter 1 opens: “[1] Now it came to pass after the death of Saul, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites, and David had abode two days in Ziklag; [2] It came even to pass on the third day, that, behold, a man came out of the camp from Saul with his clothes rent, and earth upon his head: and so it was, when he came to David, that he fell to the earth, and did obeisance. [3] And David said unto him, From whence comest thou? And he said unto him, Out of the camp of Israel am I escaped. [4] And David said unto him, How went the matter? I pray thee, tell me. And he answered, That the people are fled from the battle, and many of the people also are fallen and dead; and Saul and Jonathan his son are dead also.

“[5] And David said unto the young man that told him, How knowest thou that Saul and Jonathan his son be dead? [6] And the young man that told him said, As I happened by chance upon mount Gilboa, behold, Saul leaned upon his spear; and, lo, the chariots and horsemen followed hard after him. [7] And when he looked behind him, he saw me, and called unto me. And I answered, Here am I. [8] And he said unto me, Who art thou? And I answered him, I am an Amalekite. [9] He said unto me again, Stand, I pray thee, upon me, and slay me: for anguish is come upon me, because my life is yet whole in me. [10] So I stood upon him, and slew him, because I was sure that he could not live after that he was fallen: and I took the crown that was upon his head, and the bracelet that was on his arm, and have brought them hither unto my lord.

“[11] Then David took hold on his clothes, and rent them; and likewise all the men that were with him: [12] And they mourned, and wept, and fasted until even, for Saul, and for Jonathan his son, and for the people of the LORD, and for the house of Israel; because they were fallen by the sword. [13] And David said unto the young man that told him, Whence art thou? And he answered, I am the son of a stranger, an Amalekite. [14] And David said unto him, How wast thou not afraid to stretch forth thine hand to destroy the LORD’S anointed? [15] And David called one of the young men, and said, Go near, and fall upon him. And he smote him that he died. [16] And David said unto him, Thy blood be upon thy head; for thy mouth hath testified against thee, saying, I have slain the LORD’S anointed.”

In chapter 1 of Second Samuel, a man approaches King David. He is an Amalekite (verse 8). The Amalekite informs David that Saul and his son Jonathan (David’s close friend) are dead (verse 4). He tells David that he found Saul wounded on the battlefield and killed him because Saul told him he wanted to die (verses 9-10). (Considering the fact that Saul unjustly harassed David in the previous Book, this Amalekite is hoping to gain David’s favor by telling him he took Saul’s life.) David reacts in a way that the Amalekite does not expect. David demands the Amalekite be put to death because he has killed the LORD’S anointed, the king chosen by God Himself (verses 14-16). Even David knew it was wrong to kill the king.

So, what really happened to Saul? The Philistines mortally wounded him, but he lived for some time. He finally stabbed himself with a sword, which ultimately hastened his death. The easiest answer is that Saul took his own life. What about the Amalekite’s account? We cannot be sure if what he said was true, since he could have embellished the story just to impress David. If we cannot be sure if the Amalekite’s account was true, then why did King David take his life? What if the Amalekite was actually innocent? The Amalekite’s execution was just because he had deep hatred toward the LORD’S anointed. Furthermore, David did not want to taint his monarchy by letting a professed murderer, the alleged killer of his predecessor, go off scot-free.

Also see:
» “From his shoulders and upward he was higher?”
» Why did God give Israel King Saul if Saul turned out to be evil?
» Why does the Bible give two accounts of Judas’ death?