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1 Samuel 31:1-13


Intro: So far, our journey with David has covered about ten years of his life.  For about seven of those years, David has been on the run from King Saul.  Saul had been a good, godly man in the beginning of his reign; but his rejection of God’s plan for his life, and his refusal to walk with the Lord, had brought about his own rejection by God, 1 Sam. 16:1.  From that tragic moment, Saul began a downward spiral into insanity.

      Saul’s insanity manifested itself in jealousy and murderous hatred toward young David.  The Bible record is clear; Saul hated David and wanted him dead.  But, God in His sovereign plan protected David from the murderous intentions of the mad king.

      David survived and even thrived during those hard years when he was on the run from Saul.  He grew stronger while his enemy Saul grew weaker and weaker.  What a testimony to the grace of God!

      This text records the awful, tragic death of King Saul and his three sons.  I want to examine these verses because I believe they contain an important message for each person here.

      By way of introduction, allow me to call your attention to 2 Sam. 1:17-27.  In those verses, David is lamenting the death of Saul and Jonathan.  As he sings his psalm of mourning, he makes a statement three times in that passage.  Three times David says, “How are the mighty fallen!”  I would like to take that cry of pity and lamentation and use it as my title.  I want to make three observations today from the death of King Saul.


  I.                         THE TRAGEDY OF SAUL’S DEATH

A.  His Death Was A Sad Death – Ill. The scene on the battlefield that day.  The armies of Israel are put to shame before their enemies and badly defeated.  The bodies of the wounded and the dead litter the landscape.  King Saul, the powerful, handsome king is struck by the arrows of his enemies.  Near the king lie the dead bodies of his three sons.  He knows that he cannot escape and that he cannot live.  Saul seeks the help of his armor-bearer in ending his life; the man will not help the king so Saul ends his own life by falling on his own sword.  A reign that had begun so well ends in suicide after a tragic military defeat.  What a tragedy!

B.  His Death Was A Shameful Death – While the death of Saul was sad; it was also shameful.  There are two reasons why I say this.

      1.  It was shameful because of what happened – After his death, the body of Saul was desecrated by the enemies of Israel.  He was beheaded and his head was sent from city to city as a grotesque symbol of the Philistine victory.  His body, along with the bodies of his three sons, were taken to Bethshan and nailed to the city walls.  The great king of Israel became a symbol of mockery to the enemies of God. 

      2.  It was shameful because it did not have to happen – Saul’s life did not start out like it finished.  Forty years earlier Saul had been a handsome young man.  He had been humble, brave and obedient when he was first inaugurated as king.  But, little by little he had allowed compromise into his life and he had descended into weakness and wickedness.  When Saul died, he was only a short distance from Ramah where he had been crowned king forty years earlier. Spiritually, however, he might as well have been on another planet.


(Note: The tragedy of Saul’s death is that it did not have to happen like it did.  God had a far better plan for his life; but he failed to live his life within the plan of God and he paid a terrible price as a result. 

      Sadly, we see the same thing happening to people all around us. God desires to save, bless and use people for His glory.  Men, however, refuse to go God’s way and they live lives of defeat and ultimately they die tragic deaths.  It does not have to be that way.  God has a better plan. 

      Jesus said this: “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly,” John 10:10.  It appears from that verse that we can either have the ministry of the thief or the ministry of the Good Shepherd in our lives. So, if you are out of step with God’s plan, let me encourage you to line up today so that you and your family might avoid the same tragic ending that befell Saul and his family.)


 II.                        THE TESTIMONY OF SAUL’S DEATH

(While Saul’s death is a terrible tragedy; it also shares a powerful testimony with those whose hearts can hear it.)

A.  There Is A Reminder In Saul’s Death – Saul’s death serves as a clear reminder that death is coming for all of us.  Think about it, on that battlefield that day, the poor man and the rich man; the king and the slave; the godly man and the sinner; the Israelite and the Philistine; the weak and the powerful; all entered death together.

            This pitiful scene is a tragic, but clear reminder that death plays no favorites.  Unless the Lord returns in our lifetimes in the Rapture, none of us are getting out of this world alive.  That is the clear teaching of Scripture:

Ψ      Heb. 9:27, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:”

Ψ      2 Sam. 14:14, “For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again; neither doth God respect any person:”

Ψ      Job 14:5, “Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass;”

Ψ      Job 30:23, “For I know that thou wilt bring me to death, and to the house appointed for all living.”

Ψ      Psalm 89:48, “What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave? Selah.”

Ψ      Rom. 5:12, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:”

Ψ      Eccl. 12:5, “…because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:”

            We may not like to think about it; and we may live like it will not happen, but death is coming for us all.  That is the testimony of Saul’s death; that is the testimony of every graveyard, every funeral home and every hospital in the world.  Death is coming and you and I had better be ready when it does!


      (Ill. An old legend tells of a merchant in Baghdad who one day sent his servant to the market. Before very long the servant came back, white and trembling, and in great agitation said to his master: "Down in the market place I was jostled by a woman in the crowd, and when I turned around I saw that it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture. Master, please lend me your horse, for I must hasten away to avoid her. I will ride to Samarra and there I will hide, and Death will not find me."

            The merchant lent him his horse and the servant galloped away in great haste.

            Later the merchant went down to the market place and saw Death standing in the crowd. He went over to her and asked, "Why did you frighten my servant this morning? Why did you make a threatening gesture?"

            "That was not a threatening gesture," Death said. "It was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra."

            Each of us has an appointment in Samarra. But that is cause for rejoicing—not for fear, provided we have put our trust in Him who alone holds the keys of life and death.[1])


B.  There Is A Reality In Saul’s Death – The reality is this: we can either die badly like Saul, or we can die well.  When a life has been lived like the life of Saul; death is always a tragedy.  When there was no repentance, but only the anguish of wasted years that is a terrible and tragic event.  We have all known people who lived such lives and died such deaths.  When they passed, we just shook our heads and said, “My, what a wasted life!”  It is never pleasant when death comes for one who has not properly prepared for it.  Even God does not desire the death of the sinner.  “Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” Eze. 33:11.

            On the other hand, when a saint of God has lived the right kind of life and death comes; it is not a tragedy, it is a victory!  Listen to what the Bible says about the death of a child of God:

      1. Psalm 116:15, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.”

      2.  Rev. 14:13, “And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.”

      3.  Phil. 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

      4.  2 Timothy 4:6-8, “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:  Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”

      When the precious saints of God breathe their last on this shore, they merely go home to be with the Lord Jesus in His presence, John 14:1-3; 2 Cor. 5:1; 5:8.  What a contrast between the death of the sinner and the death of the saint! 

      Have you given any thought to how you want to die?  I want to leave here faithfully serving Jesus Christ.  I want to leave here with my spiritual boots on, doing His work, accomplishing His will, and preaching His saving grace.  If I do, then roll me down the aisle, put me in the corner and go to meeting.  Shout it out for the glory of God!  But, if I fall by the wayside, and drop out on God, just take me to the graveyard, plant my body in the cold ground and spare the saints of God the tragedy of burying a fallen preacher!

      Saul left a tragic testimony in his death.  What kind of testimony will you leave behind?


III.                      THE TEACHING FROM SAUL’S DEATH

(Ill. Before we leave this passage, there is one more aspect of the death of Saul that I would like to examine.  You might not believe it, but there are some common elements between the death of King Saul and the death of King Jesus.  I would like to point out a few of those today.)

A.  The Appearances Of Saul’s Death – There were two things that appeared to be true when Saul died.  These same two things appeared to be true when Jesus died.

1.  It Appeared That The End Had Come – When their king was slain, Israel fled away in fear, v. 7.  Many saw Saul as the hope of Israel and when he died, they thought all hope was gone. 

            Ill. How must the disciples and followers of Jesus have felt when they saw Him hanging dead on that cross?  Surely they thought that all hope was gone.  I can imagine their fear, their sense of loss and their hopelessness when Jesus died that day.

2.  It Appeared That The Enemy Had Won – v. 7-10 tell us that the Philistines occupied the Israelite cities; they mutilated the corpses of Saul and his sons; they sent Saul’s head from city to city as a testimony to the power of their gods; and they rejoiced in their victory over Israel.  It looked like the enemies of the people of God had been victorious!

            Ill. It must have looked like Satan and his minions had won the battle against God the day Jesus died on Calvary.  I can picture the demonic hordes as they rejoiced in the death of the Messiah.  It looked, from all appearances, that the enemy had won; that life had been defeated by death; that righteousness had been destroyed by sin; and that hope had been vanquished by hopelessness.


(Note: I am glad that appearances can be deceiving!  In Israel, Saul might have been dead and the Philistines might have been claiming new territory; but God still had His man!  David would step up in a few days and set things right.  The enemy had won nothing but a little more time.  The day was coming when the King of Israel would destroy them forever.

      Thus it was also when Jesus died on the cross.  Hell rejoiced; earth mourned and Heaven waited with bated breath.  From all appearances hope was gone and evil had triumphed; but God still had His Man!  Three days after Israel crucified their King on the cross; He arose from the dead; defeated His foes and claimed an eternal victory for Himself and all those who follow Him!  Hallelujah! Christ arose!  Matt. 28:1-6; Rev. 1:18; Rom. 5:10.)


B.  The Accomplishments Of Saul’s Death – God used the death of Saul to accomplish some important matters in Israel.  God used the death of Jesus to accomplish some important matters in the spiritual realm.)

1.  It Allowed The Introduction Of A New Plan – When Saul and his sons died, the way was opened for David to be the next king.  This fulfilled the prophecies made to Judah, Gen. 49:10; and to Samuel, 1 Sam. 16:1; 12-13.  God used this event to change the royal line of Israel to prepare for the advent of the Messiah.  So when Jesus was born, He was the rightful heir to the throne of ISrael; Matt. 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38.

            Ill. The death of Jesus signaled the end of the Old Testament system of sacrifice and worship.  This was graphically pictured when the veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom, Matt. 27:51.  God would no longer be approached through the blood of animals and a Jewish priest.  He would now be approached through the shed blood of Jesus and through the Person of His Son, Heb. 9:22; 1 Tim. 2:5.  (Ill. He is the Daysman that Job longed for – Job 9:33.)

2.  It Allowed The Introduction Of A New People – David was not in the human line to ascend to the throne.  The way was opened for him by the death of another.

            Ill. The death of Jesus on the cross opened the way of salvation for people who had no hope otherwise.  The poor Gentile had no hope or chance of salvation; but Jesus opened the way for us to come to Him by faith when He died, Heb. 4:15-16! 

            When Jesus died on the cross, His death provided a way so that “whosoever will” could come and be saved by grace.  His blood pays our sin debt and allows us access to God by grace, 1 John 2:2.  That is why the Bible tells us that Jesus alone is the path to salvation, John 14:6; Acts 4:12.  Now, because He died, the way to God has been opened and all who will can come to Him and be saved, Rev. 22:17; John 3:16.

3.  It Allowed The Introduction Of A New Promise – The reign of Saul had been a time of failure and terrible dissatisfaction among the people of Israel, 1 Sam. 22:1-2.  When he died, a new era was ushered in.  When David came to the throne, he brought a season of prosperity and hope to Israel like they had never known.

            Ill. When Jesus died on the cross, His death signaled the end of an era of guilt and law and brought in an era of grace!  Now men can be delivered from their guilt, their past, and their sins by simple faith in a risen Savior, 1 Pet. 1:8; Col. 1:12-14.

C.  The Absurdity Of Saul’s Death – In his death, Saul displayed for all to see the foolishness of man.  He literally “played the fool,” 1 Sam. 26:21.  He had lived like a fool and now he had died like a fool as well.

            Ill. When Jesus died on the cross, many must have thought that He and God had played fools as well.  No one expected the Messiah to be crucified; it would have been foolish to plan anything like that, at least from a human perspective!  But that which appeared to be foolishness to man was actually the power of God in action, 1 Cor. 1:18-25.  Through the death of Jesus, the Kingdom of God was established forever; lost, Hell-bound sinners were redeemed forever and God was glorified forever. 

            It may have seemed foolish to others, but the death of Christ on the cross was the culmination of four thousand years of patient activity on the part of God.  When Jesus died on that cross, the way of salvation was opened for God’s people.  The world still sees the preaching of the cross as foolishness; but it is still the power of God to those who believe it and receive it!


Conc: How are the mighty fallen?  Saul died like a fool.  Jesus died as a Victor, John 19:30.  How will you die?  What will be said about you when you leave this world?  Will it be said that you lived and died like a fool?  Or, will it be said that you lived for Jesus while you were here and died enjoying the victory of Christ in your soul?

      There is a cemetery in an old Methodist church in Burke Country, North Carolina.  There are graves there that date back to the 1,700’s.  On a few of those graves there are tombstones that have hands carved in them with the index finger of that hand pointing up toward heaven.  That is a testimony to their in life and their hope in death. 

      However, there are at least two tombstones there that have hands carved into them that have chains wrapped around the wrists and the index fingers of those hands are pointing down.  These tombstones are testifying to a foolish life that ended in eternal tragedy.

      If we were to carve your headstone today, what would best fit the kind of life you have lived?  If there are problems in your living or your dying, now would be a great time to get that fixed up.  The fact is, we will be leaving this world one day, would to God that we would all leave it ready to meet Jesus, saved by His grace, believing in His death and resurrection.

[1] Charles Swindoll, David: A Man Of Passion and Destiny, (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 1997), 127.

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