Samuel continues with his condemning report to Saul, going on to tell him that “The Lord will hand you over to the Philistines!” (1 Samuel 28:19a) For good measure, this is reiterated and expanded upon just a few words later, with Samuel declaring, “The Lord will hand the army of Israel over to the Philistines!” (28:19c) The intermediate interjection is “Tomorrow both you and your sons will be with me” (28:19b). Samuel makes it clear that Saul understands that the full measure of God’s curse is going to come upon him, in that he will be handed over to foreign subjugation, and that this will be without rescue, as Saul is going to die along with his sons. Secondly, Samuel reminds us of the nature of Israel’s kingship, in that the king of Israel represents the people as a whole, and informs Saul that this subjugation will extend beyond him and his sons, affecting the whole of the people.
With all of these words from the mouth of Samuel, nothing new is being introduced. Samuel is simply pointing to the covenant faithfulness of Israel’s God, to perform according to His promises, and to bring the justice of His righteousness (God’s justice fulfilling His covenant faithfulness). Owing to Saul’s failure to carry out what he had been instructed to do against Amalek, and with the culmination of that event on display here at the residence of the witch of Endor, Samuel is informing Saul that “The Lord will allow you to be struck down before your enemies” (Deuteronomy 28:25a). These words take on an even greater significance when it comes to the death of Saul, in that he was not actually struck down by the Philistines.
In the midst of the battle with the Philistines, “the archers spotted him and wounded him severely” (31:3b). Following this wounding, “Saul said to his armor bearer, ‘Draw your sword and stab me with it! Otherwise these uncircumcised people will come, stab me, and torture me’.” (31:4a) Here, we take note of Saul’s mention of “uncircumcised people,” in that in his death, prophesied by Samuel, and done so in accordance with covenant violations, Saul makes mention of that which represented God’s original covenant with Abraham, which was circumcision. It appears that Saul realizes that his death, proximately at the hands of those that were not in covenant, was very much a movement of Israel’s faithful God, and stood in accordance with the Deuteronomic curses. Saul’s death, however, was not brought about by his armor bearers, nor by the Philistines, but rather, “Saul took his sword and fell on it” (31:4c). Indeed, Saul was struck down before his enemies, and this by his own hand.
Returning to Deuteronomy, and continuing with the previously referenced verse, we read, “you will attack them from one direction but flee from them in seven directions” (28:25b). We find this well represented before the record of Saul’s suicidal death, as we read “Now the Philistines were fighting against Israel. The men of Israel fled from the Philistines and many of them fell dead upon Mount Gilboa. The Philistines stayed right on the heels of Saul and his sons. They struck down Saul’s sons Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malki-shua” (31:1-2). While noticing the commensurate usage of “struck down in both Deuteronomy and Samuel, we insist that this would not have been unexpected, because this was Samuel’s prophecy---with the prophecy delivered as Samuel, even after his death, was the representative spokesperson of Israel’s covenant God.
The final part of the verse from Deuteronomy speaks to what occurred following the death of Saul and his sons. Following the assertion of Israel fleeing from their enemies in every possible direction, we read that Israel “will become an object of terror to all the kingdoms of the earth” (28:25c). How is this reflected in Saul’s death narrative? We read that “The next day, when the Philistines came to strip loot from the corpses, they discovered Saul and his three sons lying dead on Mount Gilboa” (31:8). What comes next is key in making the connection: “They cut off Saul’s head and stripped him of his armor. They sent messengers to announce the news in the temple of their idols and among their people throughout the surrounding land of the Philistines” (31:9). It sounds as if the Philistines were using Saul’s head and armor to send a warning to their other enemies, hoping that what had become of him would terrify the kingdoms surrounding them.
Beyond that, Deuteronomy speaks of the Lord forcing Israel and its king “to go away to a people whom your ancestors have not known, and… serve other gods of wood and stone there” (28:36). Most certainly, in the ignominious treatment that he was receiving at the hands of his Philistine enemies, though he and his sons were now dead, the Philistine announcement of victory in the “temple of their idols” (31:9), and the placement of “Saul’s armor in the temple of the Ashtoreth’s” (31:10a), seems to have Saul, in a manner of speaking, serving other gods of wood and stone. Finally, as Saul’s defeat and death relates to the whole of the people over whom he had been appointed to serve as king and deliverer, what do we find happening to them? Predictably, we learn that “When the men of Israel who were in the valley across the Jordan saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned the cities and fled. The Philistines came and occupied them” (31:7). What happened was an exile, wrought by the faithlessness of their king.
Israel was again subjugated to a foreign power, ultimately because of the idolatry (self-idolatry and Samuel-idolatry) of their king, which was, in the end, merely a reflection of the people’s rejection of their God and their own self-exaltation manifested in their desire to have a king. Such was the end of the ill-conceived desire to have a ruler in their own image, rather than being the people ruled by the One in Whose image they had been made.