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The fatal Battle
I. SAMUEL, XXXI.
of Mount Gilboa.
men rcith bow8.
and Abinadab, and Melchishua, Saul's 1 Heb. shonters, circumcised come and thrust
through, and 3 abuse me. But his gainst Saul, and the larchers ? hit him;
armourbearer would not; for he was sore and he was sore wounded of the archers.
afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword, (4) Then said Saul unto his armour
and fell upon it. (5) And when his bearer, Draw thy sword, and thrust
armourbearer saw that Saul was dead, me through therewith ; lest these un- 3 Or, mock me. I he fell likewise upon his sword, and
2 Heb., found him.
The hero Jonathan and his two brave brothers, as far the two, the king and his confidential officer, had been as we can gather from the scanty details of the battle fast friends for years. Some dread of the after conseafter the army was routed in the valley of Jezreel, re. quences, too, may have weighed with the royal armourtreated (fighting all the while) to the hill of Gilboa. bearer, as he was to a certain extent responsible for the There, it seems, they made the last stand with the
What possibly he dreaded actually came fideles of the royal house of Saul (verse 6), and there, to pass in the case of the Amalekite who told David no doubt defending the king to the last, they fell. that he was the one who inflicted the fatal stroke when
(3) And the battle went sore against Saul. the king was dying ; as a guerdon for his act, David That is, after the death of Jonathan and his brothers. had him at once put to death for having put forth his The great warrior king no doubt fought like a lion, hand to destroy the Lord's anointed. but one by one his brave defenders fell in harness by A sword. It was a heavy weapon, a war sword, his side ; and the enemy seems to have directed their answering to the great epée d'armes of the Middle Ages. principal attention, at this period of the fight, to killing This he took from the reluctant hands of his faithful or capturing the famous Saul.
follower, and placing the hilt firmly on the ground, he And the archers hit him.-It would seem as threw the weight of his body on the point. though, in that deadly combat, none could strike down In 2 Sam. i. 6-10 we have another account of the that giant kingly form, so the archers—literally, as in death. There an Amalekite bearing the royal insignia the margin of our Version, shooters, men with bows, of the late king, the crown royal and the well-known skilful shots-were told off, and these, aiming at the bracelet of Saul, comes to David at Ziklag after the warrior towering above the other combatants, with the fatal fight, and recounts how, finding the king leaning crown on his head (2 Sam. i. 10), hit him.
on his spear—possibly, as Bunsen supposes, “ lying on And he was sore wounded by the archers.- the ground propping his weary head with the nervouslyThis is the usual rendering of the word, but the more
exhausted and seized with “ cramp accurate translation is, He was sore afraid (or was (this is the Rabbinical translation of the word rendered greatly alarmed at them): so Gesenius, Keil, Lange, “anguish”), at his urgent request, slew him. Most &c. All seemed against him. His army was routed, commentators for instance, Kiel, Lange, Bishop his sons were dead, his faithful captains and companions Hervey, &c.-regard the Amalekite's story as an inven. were gone, and these bow-men were shooting at him tion framed to extract a rich gift from David, who, the from a distance where his strong arm could not reach savage Arab thought, would be rejoiced to hear of his them. Gradually weakened through loss of blood- great enemy's fall. If this be so, then we must suppose perhaps with the words he had heard only a few hours that the Amalekite wandering over the field of battle before at En-dor from the dead prophet ringing in his strewn with the slain on the night which succeeded the ears, To-morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me battle, came upon the body of Saul, and, attracted by the -the great undaunted courage at last failed him, and glitter of the golden ornaments, stripped off the prehe turned to his armourbearer, who was still by cious insignia, and hastened with his lying story to his side.
David. Ewald, however, sees no reason to doubt the (4) His armourbearer.- Jewish tradition tells us trustworthiness of the Amalekite's story; in fact, the that this faithful armourbearer was Doeg, the Edomite, two accounts may well be harmonised. Stanley graphiand that the sword which Saul took apparently from cally paints the scene after he had fallen on his sword, the hand of the armourbearer was the sword with which and his faithful armourbearer had in despairing sorrow Doeg had massacred the priests at Gibeon and at Nob. killed himself also. “ His armourbearer lies dead
Lest these uncircumcised come and thrust beside him; on his head the royal crown, on his arm the me.—“Even in Saul's dying speech there is something royal bracelet; . . . the huge spear is still in his hand; of that religious formalism which marked his character he is leaning peacefully on it. He has received his after his fall from God, and which is a striking sign of death-blow either from the enemy (verse 3), or from his spiritual blindness. He censures the Philistines as own sword (verse 4). The dizziness and darkness of *uncircumcised.'"-Wordsworth.
death is upon him. At that moment a wild Amalekite, Saul had a strong consciousness of the sacredness of lured probably to the field by the hope of spoil, came up his person as the Lord's anointed; as it has been well and finished the work which the arrows of the Philistines said of him, no descendant of a long line of so-styled and the sword of Saul himself had all but accomChristian or Catholic sovereigns has held a loftier claim plished.”—Jewish Church, Lect. xxi. The words of of personal inviolability.
the next verse (5) do not contradict this possible explaAnd abuse me. He remembered how these same nation. The armourbearer, seeing the king pierced Philistines in former years had treated the hero Samson with the arrows and then falling on his own sword, may when he fell into their hands.
well have imagined his master dead, and so put an end His armourbearer would not.-Love and devo- to his own life. But Saul, though mortally wounded, tion to his master we can well imagine stayed his hand may have rallied again for a brief space ; in that brief from carrying out his fallen master's last terrible com. space the Amalekite may have come up and finished the mand. If the armourbearer-as the Jewish tradition bloody work; then, after the king was dead, he probably above referred to asserts—was indeed Doeg the Edomite, stripped the royal insignia from the lifeless corpse.
King Saul's Death,
I. SAMUEL, XXXI.
Defeat of Israel.
died with him. (6) So Saul died, and his three sons, and his armourbearer, and all his men, that same day together.
(7) And when the men of Israel that were on the other side of the valley, and they that were on the other side Jordan, saw that the men of Israel fled,
and that Saul and his sons were dead, they forsook the cities, and fled; and the Philistines came and dwelt in them.
(8) And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen in mount Gilboa.
So Saul died. This is one of the very rare in. what took place on the stricken field of Gilboa round stances of self-destruction among the chosen people. the hero king Saul :It seems to have been almost unknown among the
* No one failed him! He is keeping Israelites. Prior to Saul the only recorded example is
Royal state and semblance still, that of Samson, and his was a noble act of self-devotion
Knight and noble lie around him, --the hero sacrificed his life in order to compass the
Cold, on Flodden's fatal hill. destruction of a great crowd of men, powerful and in
“Of the brave and gallant-hearted fluential foes of his dear country. His death in the
Whom you sent with prayers away,
Not a single man departed great Dagon Temple at Gaza ranks, as it has been well
From his monarch yesterday." -AYTOUN. said, with the heroism of one dying in battle rather than with cases of despairing suicide. There is another
(7) On the other side of the valley. The instance after the days of Saul--that of the wise privy words “ on the other side of the valley” denote the councillor of King David, Ahithophel, who, in a country opposite to the battle-field in the valley of paroxysm of bitter mortification, we read, went and Jezreel, on which the writer supposes himself to be hanged himself. There is another in the Gospel story
standing, the land occupied especially by the tribes of familiar to us all. Theologians are divided in their
Issachar, Zabulon, and Napthali. The expression “on judgment on King Saul. S. Bernard, for instance,
the other side of Jordan,” is the usual phrase for the thinks that Saul was lost for ever. Corn. à Lapide, country east of the River Jordan. It is highly probable followed by Bishop Wordsworth, has no kindly thought
that the alarm caused by the great defeat of their king for the great first king. The Jewish historian Josephus, caused many of the dwellers in the smaller cities and on the contrary, writes in warm and glowing terms of villages to the east of Jordan hastily to abandon their the patriotic devotion with which Saul went to meet his houses rather than be exposed to the insolence and end. Many of the Rabbis sympathise with Josephus in
demands of the invading army. Still the Philistine his estimate of the unhappy monarch. Without in army in this direction could not have penetrated very any way justifying the fatal act which closed the dark far, as shortly after Gilboa we hear of Abner rallying tragedy of his reign, we may well plead in extenuation
the friends of the house of Saul round the Prince the awful position in which the king found hinself that Ishbosheth, whom he proclaimed king at Mahanaim, a evening after Gilboa had been fought and lost, and we town some twenty miles east of the river. The country may well remember the similar conduct of Brutus,
to the south of the plain of Jezreel does not appear to Cassius, and the younger Cato, and call to our minds
have been overrun by the victorious army. The presence what posterity has said of these noble heathens, and of David in that part no doubt insured its immunity how far they have judged them guilty of causeless self
from invasion. murder.
(8) They found Saul and his three sons Well would it be for men when they sit in judgment fallen in Mount Gilboa.-It is expressly stated on Sanl, and on other great ones who have failed, as
that the Philistines only found the royal corpses on the they think, in the discharge of their duties to God morrow of the great fight. So desperate had been the as well as to man-well would it be for once to imitate valour with which the king and his gallant sons had de. what has been rightly called “the fearless human sym- fended their last positions on the hill, that night had pathy of the Biblical writers," and to remember how fallen ere the din of battle ceased. Nor were the the " man after God's own heart," in strains never to enemy aware of the completeness of their success until be forgotten, wrote his touching lament over King the morning dawn revealed to the soldiers as they went Saul, dwelling only on the Saul, the mighty conqueror,
over the scene, the great ones who were numbered the delight of his people, the father of his beloved and among the slain. In the mean time the Amalekite had faithful friend, like him in life, united with him in found and carried off the crown and royal bracelet. death ; and how with these words-gentle as they are Only the bodies of Saul and the princes, and the lovely, inspired by the Holy Spirit—the Bible closes armourbearer, are spoken of here. The crown royal, the record of the life, and leaves the first great king,
which would have formed so splendid a trophy, was the first anointed of the Lord, in the hands of his already taken. God.
“O Saul, (6) And all his mon.
How ghastly didst thou look, on thine own sword
Expiring in Gilboa, from that hour
DANTE: Purg. xii. by “ all his house." Ishbosheth, his son, for instance, and Abner, the captain of the host, we know were not The curse of barrenness alluded to by the great Italian among the slain on that fatal day. The meaning is poet was called down on the hill where the first anointed that all his “ fideles,” his personal staff, as we should of the Lord fell, and where the body was stripped and say, with his three sons fell fighting round him. The dismembered by the triumphant foe (2 Sam. i. 21). lines of the chivalrous Scottish ballad writer who with Quickly the tidings were told, we learn, in the capital rare skill describes the devoted followers of King of Gath, and proclaimed through the streets of James V. falling round him at Flodden, well paints Askelon.
The Ven of Jabesh-Gilead
I. SAMUEL, XXXI.
Recover the Bones of Saul.
(9) And they cut off his head, and or concerning Jabesh-gilead heard of that which the stripped off his armour, and sent into
Philistines had done to Saul; (12) all the the land of the Philistines round about,
valiant men arose, and went all night, to publish it in the house of their
and took the body of Saul and the idols, and among the people. (10) And Jer. 34. 8. bodies of his sons from the wall of they put his armour in the house of
Beth-shan, and came to Jabesh, and Ashtaroth: and they fastened his body
a burnt them there. (13) And they took to the wall of Beth-shan.
their bones, and buried them under a (11) And when the inhabitants of v 2 Sam. 2. 4. tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.
The historian with extreme brevity records the savage perhaps about fourteen miles from Beth-shan (see treatment of the royal remains, which, after all, was but Judges xxi. 8, and following). Its name still survives a reprisal. The same generation had witnessed similar in the Wady Yabez, running down to the east bank of barbarous procedure in the case of Goliath, the great Jordan, near the head of which are still visible some Philistine champion!
ruins named El Deir, which Robinson has identified (9) And they cut off his head, and stripped with Jabesh-Gilead. off his armour.-Only Saul's head and armour is (12) And burnt them there. This “ burning the mentioned here, but on comparing verse 12, where the corpse” was never the custom in Israel, and was bodies of his sons are especially mentioned, it is clear restricted to criminals convicted of a crime of the that this act was not confined to the person of the king. deepest dye (Lev. xx. 14). The Jews in all cases buried The sense of the passage there is, the heads of the king their dead. The Chaldee therefore interpret the words and his three sons were cut off, and their armour relating this act of the men of Jabesh-Gilead, in the stripped from their bodies. The heads and armour case of Saul and the princes, as referring to the solemn were sent as trophies round about the different towns burning of spices, a ceremony which was afterwards and villages of Philistia, and the headless corpses were performed at the burial of some of the kings of Judah. fastened to the wall of the city of Beth-shan.
(See 2 Chron. xvi. 14, xxi. 19; Jeremiah xxxiv. 5.) But (10) The house of Ashtaroth.-Literally, of“ the the language used in these cases is different; here it is Ashtaroth.” The expression may signify that the pieces expressly stated that “ they burnt them.” The reason of armour belonging to the four men were divided for their thus acting is clear. The mutilated trunks between the different shrines of Astarte in the land, had been exposed for some days to the air, and the flesh or placed together in the famous Astarte Temple, at was no doubt in a state of putrefaction. The flesh here Askelon, which Herodotus (i. 105) describes as the most only was burned. The bones (see next verse) were ancient of the temples dedicated to the worship of the reverently and lovingly preserved, and laid to rest beSyrian Venus. The latter supposition seems the more neath the friendly shade of the great tamarisk tree of probable, as Askelon is specially mentioned by David Jabesh. in the funeral hymn of Saul and Jonathan (2 Sam.
(13) A tree in Jabesh.-A tree, that is “the well. i. 20).
known” tamarisk (@shel). For Saul's love for trees see The wall of Beth-shan.-Beth-shan was in the as an instance chap. xxii. 6. The men of Jabesh-Gilead tribe of Manasseh, some four miles west of the Jordan, well remembered this peculiar fancy of their dead king, and twelve miles south of the sea of Galilee. We are 1 and under the waving branches of their own beautiful told in Judges i. 27, that the Canaanites, the original and famous tamarisk they tenderly laid the remains of inhabitants of the city, were permitted by the conqueror
their dead hero and his princely sons. to dwell still in the city. This Canaanitish element in Evidently King David, at a subsequent period,
fetched away these royal remains, and had them was chosen for the barbarous exhibition. The Canaanites reverently interred in the family sepulchre of Kish, would probably have welcomed the miserable spectacle the father of Saul, in Zelah of Benjamin (2 Sam. xxi. which seemed to degrade their ancient enemies. The
12, 14). writer of the chronicle adds one more ghastly detail to
And fasted seven days. This was the period this account : “ They fastened the bead (skull) of Saul the sons of Israel mourned for Jacob at the threshing in the Temple of Dagon.”
Hoor of Atad beyond Jordan (Gen. 1. 10). The grateful (11) The inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead.-The men of Jabesh-Gilead thus paid the last honours to the memory of the splendid feat of arms of their young
fallen Saul. king Saul, when he gallantly rescued their city (1 Sam.
It is probable that the Talmudic rule which enjoins xi. 1-11) years before, when they were threatened with strict mourning for seven days (fasting was mourning of deadly peril by the Ammonites, was still fresh in the the strictest kind) was originally based on these two hiscity of Jabesh-Gilead, and they burned to rescue the
toric periods of mourning recorded in the case of the body of their hero from shame. It was singular how great ancestor of the tribes, Jacob, and of the first King that first deed of splendid patriotism, done in the
Saul, although the curious tradition preserved in the early fervour of his consecration, bore fruit after so Babylonian Talmud gives a special reason for the period many long years.
-seven days. Rav. Chisda said: The soul of the “Good deeds immortal are-they cannot die;
deceased mourns over him the first seven days; for it Unscathed by envious blight, or withering frost,
is said, Job xiv. 22, “and his soul shall mourn over They live, and bud and bloom, and men partake
him.” Rav. Jehudah said: If there are no mourners Still of their freshness, and are strong thereby."
to condole with, ten men sit down where the death took
place. Such a case happened in the neighbourhood of Jabesh-Gilead, a city of Manasseh, on the further Rav. Jehudah. After the seven days of mourning, the side of Jordan, on the road from Pella to Gerasa, deceased appeared to Rav. Jehudah in a dream, and
I. SAMUEL, XXXI.
said “Mayest thou be comforted as thou hast comforted me.”—Treatise Shabbath, fol. 152, col. 2.
To this day among the Jews ten men are hired to perform the usual daily prayers during the seven days of mourning at the house of the deceased.
On the reason for the number seven being fixed for the period of mourning, we read again in the Seder Moed of the Babylonian Talmud, How is it proved that mourning should be kept up seven days?". It is written, Amos viii. 10: “I will turn your feasts into mourning," and these (usually) lasted seven days.Treatise Moed Katon, fol. 20, col. 1. “Again a long draught of my soul-wine! Look forth o'er the
A grey mountain of marble heaped four-square, till built to the
skies. Let it mark where the great First King slumbers; whose fame
would ye know? Up above see the rock's naked face, where the record shall go, In great charuciers cut by the scribe. Such was Saul, so he
did; With the sages directing the work, by the populace chidFor not half, they'll affirin, is comprised there! Which fault to
amend. In the grove with his kind grows the cedar, whereon they shall
spend (See, in tablets, it is level before them) their praise, and record, With gold of the graver, Saul's story-the statesman's great
years! Thou hast done now with eyes for the actual ; begin with the Is Saul dead? In the depth of the vale make his tomb, bid
word Side by side with the poet's sweet comment. The rivers With smooth paper-reeds grazing each other when prophet
winds rave: So the pen gives unborn generations their due and their part In thy being! Then, first of the mighty, thank God that thou art!"
EXCURSUS ON NOTES TO
EXCURSUS A: ON THE SONG OF HANNAH (chap. ii.). The song of Hannah belongs to that group of Hannah was impelled by the Spirit of the Lord to inspired hymns of which examples have been preserved make a strange announcement respecting her boy in most of the earlier books. Genesis, for instance, Samuel. She had learned by Divine revelation that he contains the prophetic song of the dying Jacob, was to be God's chosen instrument in the future : Exodus the triumph hymn of Miriam, Numbers the first, as the restorer of the true life in Israel—which glorious prophet song of Balaam, Deuteronomy the was then beginning to forget its God-Friend; and dying prayer and prophecy of Moses; Judges preserves afterwards, as the founder of a new and kingly order for us the war song of Deborah.
of governors, who should unite the divided tribes, and The Book of the Psalms was a later collection of the weld into one great nation the scattered families of Israel. favourite sacred hymns and songs of the people, It is probable that these “poems,” which we find written mostly in what may be termed the golden embedded in the oldest Hebrew records, were preage of Israel, when David and Solomon had consoli. served in the nation, some as popular songs, sung, and dated the monarchy.
said among the people in their public and private Each of the greater songs embedded in the earlier gatherings as the best and noblest expression of their books seems to have marked a new departure in the life ideal national life; some as even forming part of the of the chosen people.
primitive liturgical service of those sacred gatherings This is especially noticeable in the prophetic song of of the chosen people which subsequently developed Jacob, which heralded the period of the Egyptian into the synagogue, the well-known sacred assemblies slavery, and pointed to a glorious future lying beyond of Israel. the days of bitter oppression. Miriam sung of the The various compilers or redactors of the several triumphs of the Lord; her impassioned words intro- Old Testament Books, according to this theory, duced the free desert life which succeeded the slavery gathered these poems, hymns, and songs from the lips days of Egypt. Moses' grand words were the prepara- of the people as they repeated and chanted them in tion for the settlement of the tribes in Canaan.
their sacred festal gatherings.
EXCURSUS B: ALLEGED DIFFICULTIES IN THE ASCRIPTION OF SONG
TO HANNAH (chap. ii.). The advocates of a later date for the song of Secondly, the "song" in verse 10 assumes the Hannah, with some force allege two points in the existence of an earthly king in Israel, whereas when composition, which they say forbids their ascribing Hannah sung no king but Jehovah was acknowledged the * song " to the mother of Samuel, or even to the by any of the tribes. Erdmann, in Lange's Comperiod in which she lived. It will be well briefly mentary, well observes, in explanation of this, that “at to examine these. First, the “ song,” they say, is a the period when Hannah gave birth to Samuel it was triumph song, celebrating a victory over some foreign incontestable that in the consciousness of the people, enemies. Such a theory, however, completely mis- and the noblest part of them too, the idea of a interprets the whole hymn. Nowhere is a victory monarchy had then become a power which quickened spoken of, and the song contains only one allusion more and more the hope of a realisation of the old (verse 4: "The bows of the mighty men ") which has promises that there should be a royal dominion in anything to do with war; and this solitary passage Israel, till it took shape in an express demand which contrasts the mighty bowmen with the stumbling or the people made of Samuel. The Divine promise that weak ones, and shows how, under the rule of God, the this people should be a kingdom is given as early as warrior is often confounded, and the weak unarmed the patriarchal period (Gen. xvii. 6, 16. See too one strengthened. It is, in fact, only one of several Gen. xlix. 10; Num. xxiv. 17, 19; Deut. xvii. 14 to vivid pictures painting the marvellous vicissitudes end of chapter). At the close of the period of the which, under God's providence, so often happen to judges, when Hannah lived, the need of such a kingmortals. The strong often are proved weak, and the dom was felt the more strongly because the office weak strong. The foes alluded to in the hymn of which was entrusted with the duty of forming and Hannah are not the enemies of Israel, but the un- guiding the theocratic life of the nation, namely, the righteous of the chosen people contrasted with the high priestly office, was involved in the deepest depious and devoted.