THE END OF SAUL
1 Samuel 25:1 – 31:13
Samuel, the prophet and judge who had led Israel before the monarchy and who strongly opposed it, dies and is buried in his hometown.
David and his men had been acting as unofficial (and unhired) police around Nabal’s flocks and shepherds. When the festival time came, David asked for spare provisions to support himself and his men. When Nabal refuses, calling David nothing but an escaped slave and unworthy of attention, David gets so angry that he marches out to attack Nabal and kill his entire family. Nabal’s wife, Abigail, immediately sets out with spare provisions and brings them to David to appease him. Having achieved what he originally set out to do (acquire supplies), David turns back. Curiously, when Nabal finds out what happened he has a stroke and dies anyway (and David picks up Abigail as a second wife).
Saul turns back to his old game of hunting David and tracks him down to the desert of Ziph. David takes Abishai and Ahimelech (not the same man as Ahimelech the priest) and sneaks down to Saul’s camp. They steal Saul’s spear and water jug right out from under him while Saul’s soldiers are sleeping. Calling out to Saul from a safe distance, David reveals that he again had the perfect opportunity to kill Saul but has again chosen not to kill God’s chosen king. Saul gives another fake apology, but David has finally lost trust in Saul and refuses to go back with him. Instead, David moves to the kingdom of the Philistines, to the city of Gath, in the hope that there, he will be safe from Saul.
In Gath, David enlists himself and his men in the service of Achish, king of Gath. David becomes a marauder, telling Achish that he is raiding the territory that belongs to King Saul. In reality, David is attacking Israel’s enemies and leaving none alive to reveal his secret, thus gaining Achish’s trust while staying loyal to his own people.
When the Philistines go to war against Israel (again), David marches with the Philistines. The leaders of the Philistine army, however, do not trust David, and believe that he will desert them and side with the army of Israel against them. Achish, not wanting to upset his military leaders, asks David to stay behind—thus is David prevented from fighting his own people.
Meanwhile, Saul, trying to get help from God and failing, gives in to despair and panic. He seeks out one who can call up the spirits of the dead (a practice Saul had outlawed, and whose practitioners he had put to death), and asks her to bring up the ghost of Samuel. Samuel holds nothing but contempt for Saul and gives him neither help nor hope. Knowing now that God has truly abandoned him and with no hope, Saul goes out to battle. The army is lost, his sons are killed (including Jonathan), he himself is gravely wounded and he commits suicide to prevent his capture. When his body is displayed on the walls of Beth Shan, the brave soldiers from Jabesh Gilead rescue his body and the bodies of his sons. So ends the life, reign, and dynasty of Saul.
1. It seems David can do no wrong. David is kept blameless and innocent by an alarming set of coincidences: Abigail prevents him from killing Nabal himself, though Nabal’s death occurs anyway; and on the way to slaughter his own people, the distrust of the Philistine leaders forces him to turn aside and not participate in the battle. He again spares Saul’s life when the latter is trying to kill him. It’s clear that the editor of 1 Samuel views David as a hero. Why do you feel that the editor of 1 Samuel has gone to such lengths to present David in the best possible light? Who are your heroes, and why?
2. David was well on his way to fully betraying his own people. If he had made it to the battle between the Philistines and the Israelites, would he have stayed loyal to his new benefactor, or to his old king? What would you have done? What do you do when you find yourself stuck “between a rock and a hard place?”
3. In a side-story not included in the above summary David and his men return to their home camp to find it ransacked, burned, and their wives and possessions stolen. When they go out to fight the raiders and take them back, some of the men stay behind because of exhaustion. David is able to kill the raiders and bring everything back and more, but the men who went with him don’t want to share the spoils with those who stayed behind.
David decrees, “No! You shouldn’t do this, my brothers. Look at what the LORD has given us! He has protected us and delivered into our hands the raiding party that came against us. Who will listen to you in this matter? The portion of the one who went down into battle will be the same as the portion of the one who remained with the equipment! Let their portions be the same!” (1 Samuel 30:22-25). How is this fair? Why did David decide this?
4. With the death of Saul, the story of David has reached an important turning point. David will soon ascend to the throne and become a very different person. What has your impression of David been so far? What have you learned about him that you didn’t know before?
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