Q: #263. How did King Saul die? There seems to be several different accounts.
A: How King Saul died is often used by Bible critics to show the Bible is full of contradictions. Because there are so many of these APPARENT “contradictions” that critics use, I determined some time ago not to address these on this site. It just takes too much time, and I have found it usually doesn’t change a critics mind even if they are explained. If you are interested in finding explanations, there are a number of good Christian apologetics websites out there dedicated to this.
This being said, I am answering this question because it was asked not by a critic, but by a lady wants to know how to explain it to her students. So let me try and explain my viewpoint. It looks like there are 3 different answers to this question.
Saul was in a battle with the Philistines, and was “badly wounded by the archers” during this battle (1 Sam 31:3). (1 Sam 31:4-5) continues saying, “Then said Saul unto his armourbearer, Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and abuse me. But his armourbearer would not; for he was sore afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword, and fell upon it. (5) And when his armourbearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise upon his sword, and died with him. (6) So Saul died, and his three sons, and his armourbearer, and all his men, that same day together.”
Then, (2 Sam 1:5-10) says, “And David said unto the young man that told him, How knowest thou that Saul and Jonathan his son be dead? (6) And the young man that told him said, As I happened by chance upon mount Gilboa, behold, Saul leaned upon his spear; and, lo, the chariots and horsemen followed hard after him. (7) And when he looked behind him, he saw me, and called unto me. And I answered, Here am I. (8) And he said unto me, Who art thou? And I answered him, I am an Amalekite. (9) He said unto me again, Stand, I pray thee, upon me, and slay me: for anguish is come upon me, because my life is yet whole in me. (10) So I stood upon him, and slew him, because I was sure that he could not live after that he was fallen: and I took the crown that was upon his head, and the bracelet that was on his arm, and have brought them hither unto my lord.”
Finally, (2 Sam 21:12) says, “And David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son from the men of Jabeshgilead, which had stolen them from the street of Bethshan, where the Philistines had hanged them, when the Philistines had slain Saul in Gilboa:”
So… it looks like Saul committed suicide, was killed by an Amalekite, and was killed by the Philistines. How do you explain this? My answer is fairly simple.
I believe that what is said in (1 Sam 31:4-5) is exactly how Saul died. He fell upon his sword and killed himself. The young Amalekite man observed this and was the first on the scene after it happened (before the Philistine army got there). He decided he was going to take advantage of this situation to gain favor with King David by saying that he had killed David’s enemy (rather than admit the truth that Saul was already dead when he got there). He took Saul’s bracelet and crown from his dead body and took them to David as evidence he had killed Saul. He expected that this lie would cause David to reward him greatly. Instead, David had him killed for “killing the Lord’s anointed” (2 Sam 1:15-16)(BAD plan!). (2 Sam 4:10 seems to confirm this theory.) As for (2 Sam 21:12), I believe this simply means that Saul committed suicide because he knew the Philistines had defeated him. His army was defeated and he was mortally wounded, therefore, his death was because of the Philistines.
There are a few other explanations that are given to explain these verses, but I see this as easily the most plausible.