1 Samuel 31 and 2 Samuel 1 both describe the death of Saul and his sons in the battle with the Philistines. The author of the book has been showing us parallel action for some time, switching between Saul and his increasing fear and sense of doom, and David. We last saw Saul with the medium at Endor, listening to Samuel’s stark declaration that defeat was staring Saul in the face; in the meantime, the narrative has switched to David’s rejection by the Philistine commanders, the Amalekite raid of Ziklag and David’s successful recovery of all he lost there by God’s help. Now, we are back in the thick of battle: a battle which sees not only Saul die, but Jonathan too and most of Saul’s other sons.

The two chapters give slightly differing accounts of Saul’s death, but the fact remains that he is no more successful in suicide than he was in killing David or his own son through his spear-throwing antics. We are reminded forcibly that life – and death – should be left in the hands of God. So-called ‘mercy killings’ (‘assisted suicide’) are very much in the news at present, but these chapters remind us that only God has the right to take life. The Amalekite who does finally kill Saul finds himself killed by David, who firmly believed that no one had the right to take the life of the Lord’s anointed. It’s surprising to find the sanctity of life so clearly taught in the midst of war (though perhaps it is there that we learn to appreciate life all the more keenly.)

We might wonder if David will feel relief at the death of Saul; after all, he has been on the run, living as a fugitive (and pretending to be a madman at times) for years now. He has been exiled from Israel, unable to see his family; he has been forced to be bodyguard for a Philistine for a time in order to survive! But David shows no joy or relief at the death of his king. Instead, he grieves for both Saul and Jonathan and for his country. He is a far cry from the scheming politician or manipulative leader we are so used to seeing. Instead, we see someone who can genuinely mourn the loss of even his enemy, and as such, we see one who is now ready to be king himself.