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Death of King Saul

Death of King Saul

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The Philistines Attack Again

Once again the Philistines under Achish resolved upon attacking the land of Israel. So complete was the trust of Achish in David, that he claimed the latter's help, and appointed him the chief of his bodyguard. The Philistine army marched out at once and pitched its camp at Shunem, in the very heart of the hostile country, in the district of Issachar, between the mountains of Tabor and Gilboa.

Saul and the Witch of Endor

The new Philistine invasion greatly alarmed Saul. Though his heart bode him ill, he quickly led forth his army and encamped at Gilboa. Anxiously, King Saul turned to G-d for help and counsel; but neither by dream, nor by vision, nor by prophets, did he obtain the wished-for advice. Goaded to despair, he bethought himself at last of the witches who were believed to be able to raise the dead and to cause them to communicate with the living. To a woman of Endor, Saul determined to resort for help. Disguising himself, he went to her house at nightfall with two companions.

At first the woman was afraid, for witchcraft was forbidden in Israel on penalty of death. Saul, however, swore that nothing should happen to her and bade her call up the spirit of Samuel. The woman obeyed and proceeded to practice her strange art.

Presently the spirit of Samuel appeared and informed Saul that the battle with the Philistines would be lost and that Saul and his sons would die. Saul fell prostrate to the ground, fainting. For a long time he refused to rise and to refresh himself; at last the entreaties of his companions and the woman prevailed upon him to sit down to the meal she had prepared, for he had tasted no food all the preceding day and night.

David Returns to Ziklag

Meanwhile, all the chiefs of the Philistines had united their forces into one vast army. David and his six hundred followers were in the rear of Achish. When the Philistine leaders saw them, they would not allow David, their most dangerous enemy, who had humbled them repeatedly, to remain in their midst during the battle, and they pressed upon Achish to dismiss him and his band.

David had to return to Ziklag with his followers. But mournful and desolate was the sight which met him upon his return. The Amalekites, taking advantage of the defenseless state of the country, had among other deeds of violence, sacked and burnt Ziklag, led away its flocks and herds, its women and children, and seized their property. David's own two wives were among the captives. A loud wail of horror and despair burst from the bereaved Israelites who, in their anger, threatened the life of David, to whom they imputed their misfortunes. But David soothed the rage of his men, and at once announced his intention of pursuing the audacious invaders. He led his soldiers in breathless haste southward; but only four hundred of them could endure this exhausting march, the rest remained behind, wearied and fainting before they crossed the brook Bezor. On his march, David found an Egyptian in the fields, apparently dead. He carefully tended and refreshed him, and thus saved his life. Asked who he was, this man related that he had been ill and had, therefore, been left behind by his Amalekite master when the army returned from burning Ziklag, and that he had lain in the fields for three days and three nights without food. The Egyptian, on receiving the solemn pledge that he would not be delivered up to his former master, was ready to lead David and his soldiers to the camp of the enemy.

The Amalekites were feasting and reveling in the camp, surrounded by their recently acquired spoil, when they were surprised by David and his handful of followers and completely routed. Four hundred young men alone of the vast host of the heathen escaped upon their swift camels. All the captive women and children of the Israelites were rescued; not one of them was missing; all their property was recovered, and, in addition to it, immense booty was taken from the invaders. The conquerors returned joyful and happy to their brethren at Bezor, with whom they divided the spoil.

Death of Saul and Jonathan

While David was fighting the Amalekites, a furious battle was raging between the Philistines and the Jews.

The tide of battle swiftly turned against the Jews, as Samuel had predicted, and Saul's army was utterly routed. The king's own sons Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malkishua were among the slain. Many fled for their lives. Saul was severely wounded by the Philistine archers. Then, giving up all hope and dreading the thought of falling into the hands of his heathen enemies, he called upon his armor-bearer to slay him. But the man was afraid and durst not obey. Saul, therefore, fell upon his sword to kill himself. However, the wound not proving immediately mortal, he entreated an Amalekite who had by chance come near the place, to pierce him with his sword, and the stranger, seeing that the king could not possibly recover, did as he was requested. Saul's armor-bearer, now unwilling to live, died also by his own hand. The Philistines then occupied without a struggle many of the Hebrew towns, deserted by their inhabitants who had fled in despair. On the next day, the Philistines came to the battle-field to strip the slain. When they recognized the bodies of the king and of his three sons, they set up a wild shout of rejoicing, cut off Saul's head, and took his arms, which they sent to their own country to be kept in a chief temple of Ashtarte; but the bodies of Saul and of his sons they fixed on the wall of Beth-Shan, a town not far from the Jordan opposite to the territory of Gilead. They were rescued, however, by the brave men of Jabesh, who brought them into their town and buried them under a tamarisk-tree. All the people kept a fast for seven days.

David Mourns for Saul and Jonathan

David was in Ziklag, confident that the great heroes of Israel, Saul and Jonathan, would once again, with G-d's help, prevail over the enemy. But soon he was stunned with grief. There came running into the city a messenger with his blood-stained clothes rent, and with earth upon his head. He bore in his hand the royal crown and bracelet, which he laid before David with all signs of homage. He then related the defeat of the Israelites and the death of Saul and his sons. Grief and mourning prevailed among the Jews of Ziklag. All tore their garments and abstained from food that day.

David sincerely mourned the death of Saul and Jonathan and the defeat of Israel. In a lament he composed over the fallen princes, David proved his deep affection for Saul and Jonathan, and his sincere grief at the terrible catastrophe that had befallen Israel;

"The pride of Israel is slain upon thy heights.

"How are the heroes fallen!

"Tell it not in Gath,

"Proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon,

"Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,

"Lest the daughters of the heathen triumph!

"Ye mountains of Gilboa!

"Let there be no dew and no rain upon you,

"Nor fields for first-fruit offerings;

"For there the shields of the heroes were tarnished,

"And the shield of Saul as though he had not been anointed with oil.

"From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the heroes,

"The bow of Jonathan never shrank back,

"And the sword of Saul returned not empty.

"Saul and Jonathan, beloved and graceful in their lives,

"Were not parted in their death.

"They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.

"Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul!

"Who clothed you in scarlet and precious garments;

"Who put golden ornaments upon your apparel.

"How are the heroes fallen in battle!

"O, Jonathan, thou wast slain upon thy heights!

"I am grieved for thee, my brother Jonathan!

"Thou wast very dear to me!

"How are the heroes fallen!"

Saul, the first crowned Jewish monarch, was survived only one son Ishbosheth, aged forty. Jonathan too left a son Mephibosheth, at that time five years old. When the sad tidings arrived from the battle-field of Gilboa, his nurse, in her alarm, tried to flee with the child; he fell, and was lamed for life.

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Discussion (3)
December 14, 2013
Re: reappearing Amalekites
It is possible that Saul only destroyed Amalek in one area, but that there were others elsewhere, perhaps not within what was considered territory of Israel. The area occupied by Amalek was south of the Dead Sea, while the Amalekites whom David raided were in the southwest of Israel, somewhere in what is now Sinai, from "Shur to Egypt" [Sam. I, 27:8]. If David's people were not harmed by the Amalekites who had captured them, it was not due to compassion, as they would have enslaved them at the very least; but it was Divine intervention that kept them alive. It is inconceivable that G-d would instruct us to act immorally; rather, we are told not to compromise with evil, which Amalek represented. G-d has us mete out His justice in some cases. How G-d decides who will suffer is beyond us. We cannot judge today the physical or spiritual threat which Amalek presented at the time. See here for why Amalek is singled out for destruction: Rape is never allowed.
Rabbi Shmary Brownstein
Chabad.org
October 6, 2013
The magical re-appearing Amalekites
How come the Amalekites--who were slaughtered to the last tiny, helpless infant--keep coming back to life?

How come God tells the Jews to slaughter and destroy EVERYTHING (including tiny, helpless infants), yet the "evil" Amalekites spare them and only take them captive?

How come it is OK to slaughter and rape and destroy if GOD tells you to, but if anyone else does it, THEY are the "barbarians"? Weird, huh?
Drake Iverson
August 18, 2011
David
How could David still regard Saul with respect, let alone devotion as he undoubtably did? This says so much about David's character. The other individual who was shouting abuse at David from the other side of the river was like a toy dog barking at a Doberman. But David was so centred in God he took all this abuse with tremendous grace, asking if it was maybe God teaching him something. Thank you for your straight-forward narrative, I'll be making the most of it for my Religious Education classes (teaching biblical classes in government primary schools).
Karin Berryman
Melbourne, Australia