1 Chronicles 10:1-14 (Part 3) – One of Those Tough Passages (Why Does It Say That God Killed Saul?)

Posted: February 18, 2020 in 13-1 Chronicles

1 Chronicles 10:1-14 (Part 3 of 3)

The Death of Saul

Sometimes, Scripture is difficult. Sometimes, it says things that we don’t want to deal with. Sometimes, it says things that are counter-cultural. Sometimes, it says things that that seem like contradictions with other parts of the Bible. Sometimes, it says that make us think about a subject on a deeper level than which we are accustomed. That’s what we have here in 1 Chronicles 10:1-14. It does all those things to us and for us.

The first difficulty we find with our 21st century mentality is that of a loving God and it is juxtaposed here against the Bible saying God killed Saul. In 1 Chronicles, it provides this additional material about God’s judgment on Saul that earlier (the books of Samuel) versions of his death do not include. That’s difficult to understand as well. It also makes us think about a very deep theological conflict that the people of God have struggled with through history – free will vs. God who has foreknowledge of all actions that have taken place, are taking place, and will take place. That’s a difficult concept that is right here in this passage, specifically in v.14.

So, what do we do? Let’s look at each of these points.

First, We are reminded that the Bible is the whole counsel of God. Sometimes, the whole counsel of God is difficult. That’s why there’s academicians who study it day and night as a profession. They are so deep into it that they are not preachers but biblical researchers. Just as with professional biblical researchers, we as Christ followers must understand the entirety of the counsel of God, the Bible. We must deal with the difficult parts of it so as to deepen our walk and to enhance our ability to defend the faith. We must do that here where it says, God killed Saul. We must think on it, wrestle with it and understand it in a way that is consistent with the rest of the whole counsel of God – in the Bible. So, here, we wrestle with this seemingly foreign concept of God killing someone just as we must wrestle with difficult subjects elsewhere in the Bible.

Second, there is that 21st century idea that God is love and that is true, but it is only partially true. Love is only one of the attributes of God. He is also just. He is holy. He is creator. He is self-sufficient. He is life-giver. He is omnipresent. He has all knowledge. He is all powerful. He is perfect. He is wise. He is truth. And these are just a few of the attributes of God. Part of God is His justice and His holiness. He allows those who do not obey Him and fail to repent of their disobedience toward Him to suffer the consequences of their disobedience. In this sense, Saul was unrepentant up to the last moment of his life. He failed to obey God. He refused to follow any course of action other than what he wanted to do. God allowed those circumstances to swallow Saul because he never reached out to God unless it was to support what Saul wanted to do anyway.  So, God is love, yes, if Saul had only repented. But, God is justice too and he will allow us to suffer the consequences of our sin. When we repent of our sins, He is quick to forgive us (but He does allow even then the circumstances of our sins to play themselves out, even after repentance). So, God is not only a God of love. He is also a God of justice.

Third, there is the apparent contradiction with earlier versions of this story in the Bible that do not include this judgment comment. The reason for that is that 1 Chronicles was written for a very different purpose and a very different time in Israel and Judah history. In earlier accounts, the nation was still free and ascending to its apex as a nation and at that time was still seeking after God. However, here in Chronicles, it is written to a defeated and exiled people. Therefore, there has been considerable time passed that has allowed the writers and the people of Israel to see what God was doing in their past history. The death of Saul can after history has passed along the timeline can then be better seen as just judgment of God against an unrepentantly sinful king.

Finally, this final verse makes us consider the difficult concept of free will vs. the idea of God have knowledge of past, present and future. This is a mystery that has been a difficult one for God’s people throughout history. Here is says God killed Saul but we know from the text that he took his own life after been wounded beyond the point that he could fight anymore. Does God kill Saul or does Saul kill Saul. Did God cause it or did Saul do it himself. The answer is yes and yes. To me, free will allows us to make our own decisions in life including committing sin, and including our willingness to repent of those sins and we do in fact play a role in whether we accept Christ or not. Do I think in this text that God killed Saul literally. Although I fully believe that God is capable of doing so because of the previously mentioned attributes of God, He did not take the spear and kill Saul. By saying God killed Saul, I think the passage indicates that God allowed judgment to come to Saul by all of his unrepentantly sinful actions for which he refused to repent and turn away form his sins and toward God. In that view, free will plays out and God’s judgment for unrepentant sinners plays out simultaneously in a mystery that is difficult to understand.

That’s what came to mind this morning is how to wrestle with difficult concepts of the Bible so as to come to an understanding of why it says what it says in this passage. With that in mind, let’s read this passage, 1 Chronicles 10:1-14, together for the second of three blogs on this passage:

10 Now the Philistines attacked Israel, and the men of Israel fled before them. Many were slaughtered on the slopes of Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines closed in on Saul and his sons, and they killed three of his sons—Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malkishua. 3 The fighting grew very fierce around Saul, and the Philistine archers caught up with him and wounded him.

4 Saul groaned to his armor bearer, “Take your sword and kill me before these pagan Philistines come to taunt and torture me.”

But his armor bearer was afraid and would not do it. So Saul took his own sword and fell on it. 5 When his armor bearer realized that Saul was dead, he fell on his own sword and died. 6 So Saul and his three sons died there together, bringing his dynasty to an end.

7 When all the Israelites in the Jezreel Valley saw that their army had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their towns and fled. So the Philistines moved in and occupied their towns.

8 The next day, when the Philistines went out to strip the dead, they found the bodies of Saul and his sons on Mount Gilboa. 9 So they stripped off Saul’s armor and cut off his head. Then they proclaimed the good news of Saul’s death before their idols and to the people throughout the land of Philistia. 10 They placed his armor in the temple of their gods, and they fastened his head to the temple of Dagon.

11 But when everyone in Jabesh-gilead heard about everything the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all their mighty warriors brought the bodies of Saul and his sons back to Jabesh. Then they buried their bones beneath the great tree at Jabesh, and they fasted for seven days.

13 So Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord. He failed to obey the Lord’s command, and he even consulted a medium 14 instead of asking the Lord for guidance. So the Lord killed him and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.

In this passage, when you combine the concepts of God being just. God holding all knowledge. God inspiring writers to focus on different things in different books of the Bible and then finally the concept of free will vs. God’s foreknowledge, this is what I think is going on in this passage, as a judgment of Saul’s rebellion, Yahweh had withdrawn his protection of Saul, thus allowing spirits to torment him. He also had allowed Saul to sink deeper and deeper into his self-chosen sin as he consulted a medium at Endor (1 Sam 28; cf., Deut 18:9-14) and foolishly headed into battle without Yahweh’s instruction to do so and without his protection. Yet, while Yahweh was not responsible for Saul’s sinful decisions or for the self-destructive consequences of these decisions that resulted in his suicide, Yahweh nevertheless assumed responsibility for them by allowing himself to be depicted as doing what he merely allowed. Here, God has inspired the writer to allow us to see that Saul’s unrepentant to the end behavior resulted in God’s judgment on Saul through the circumstances of the end of his life. In that way, God was responsible for the judgement but Saul’s unrepentant free will was the responsible cause for the judgment.

It is a judgment that comes to us all in the absence of repentance of all our sins before God and seeking his forgiveness and grace. And the only way that we remove the stain of sinful past and present is to put on the robe of righteous of Jesus Christ to cover us in the sight of God. As Jesus has already paid for the judgment for our sins. He covers us in that payment so that we do not meet the ultimate just judgment before a perfect God for our sins.

Amen and Amen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s