Good morning! Today’s passage concludes the book of First Samuel with chapters 27-31. Here we see David finding shelter once more with the wary Philistines, then the battle with the Philistines that leads to the deaths of Saul and his sons. Saul’s erratic journey concludes, but not before the narrator humanizes him further and gives him an honorable end.
Remember that Saul has repeatedly chased David throughout the southern part of Judah. When our passage opens in chapter 27, David figures the only way to get beyond Saul’s reach is to shelter with the Philistines. King Achish of the Philistines gives him the town of Ziklag to call home, and according to this report it’s been part of Judah ever since. David attacks enemies common to both the Philistines and Israel, demonstrating his continued battlefield prowess (and ruthlessness even against “civilians”, if the reports are to be trusted). King Achish believes that David is warring on Israel and so comes to rely on David’s loyalty.
Chapter 28 cuts from David to Saul, who has broken another righteous decree and secretly asked a medium to summon the ghost of dead Samuel. Saul fears that God will give him into the hands of the enemy Philistines amassed against him, and the spirit of Samuel confirms that Saul’s worst fears are true. The enemy will overtake Israel’s army the next day, while the king and his sons will perish. Saul, stricken and famished, can barely be persuaded to eat enough to face tomorrow. Note the remarkable hospitality of this unnamed woman medium—she has risked her life to do what was forbidden in order to serve her king, and now she urges him to have a meal at the expense of her own calf and flour. Because of her kindness, Saul has the strength to lead the battle that he knows he will lose.
We cut back to David for 1 Samuel 29-30. David’s presence with the Philistine army troubles other leaders in that camp, and they force Achish to dismiss David from the battlefield before dawn. This conveniently keeps David from having to either betray his people or his Philistine protector Achish. He is off the scene for the coming battle, which is just as well for what’s to come. David returns to his adopted home city of Ziklag, only to find that the opportunistic Amalekites have raided the town when all the warriors were gone. The town is burned and all its residents taken captive, including David’s two wives. Though blamed by the city residents, David chases after the captors. A rescued Egyptian servant, shown mercy (characteristic of the younger David), leads the rescue party to where Amalekites were feasting with all their stolen loot. David defeats the marauders and frees all those taken captive, returning back toward Ziklag. When some soldiers protest against sharing the recovered spoil with those who were not well enough to be part of the battle, David insists that everyone receive an equal allotment. Success for the battle is not due to the warriors’ prowess—it has been God’s doing alone. David also shares his part of the spoil with those in Judah who have provided for and sheltered him against Saul. This both demonstrates his gratitude and encourages their continued loyalty when he returns to Israel.
We end today’s passage with Saul in chapter 31. The Philistines rout the army of Israel as Samuel predicted. Saul’s three sons (including Jonathan) die in the fight and Saul himself is wounded. The narrative grants Saul a final “noble” ending. Rather than being captured alive and tortured, the Hebrew king falls on his sword and dies on the field of battle. Philistines take Saul’s head and armor, but his own people rescue his body and those of his sons, giving them an honorable burial. The reign of Saul ends here, though not without evident compassion from the storyteller. He is a tragic figure whose impatient decisions and insufficient regard for holiness lead to his downfall, but Saul was still anointed by God and Israel’s first king. Tomorrow we turn the page to a new king and a new reign, with hopes for a better outcome. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is 2 Samuel 1-2. Thanks for reading!