II Samuel – Chapter 1

The Death of Saul: The Untold Story

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

So, David’s army had defeated Amalek and returned to Ziklag. Shaul’s army had been defeated by the Philistines, and Shaul and his sons were killed. A runner came to David from Shaul’s camp with torn clothes and dirt on his head, signs of mourning. He told David of Israel’s defeat at the hands of the Philistines, including the deaths of Shaul and Jonathan. David asked how he knew Shaul and Jonathan were dead – did he see it for himself or did he simply hear it from others? The man claimed to have come across Saul mortally wounded on his own spear. According to the messenger, Shaul asked him to finish him off, which he did. He then took Shaul’s crown and arm band as proof, which he presented to David. The people cried over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, as well as over the general defeat of the army of Israel.

You may recall that David previously refused to kill Shaul, or to allow him to be harmed by others. He was incensed that this young man, who identified himself as an Amalekite convert to Judaism, would dare put Shaul to death, even if he asked for it. (The factors mentioned in the last chapter as circumstances mitigating Shaul’s suicide would not apply to euthanasia. We are not allowed to kill others, even if they are already dying, even if they ask us to.) David used his royal authority to execute the man for killing Shaul. He then sang a dirge in memory of Shaul and Jonathan.

It is unclear whether the Amalekite convert actually killed the mortally-injured Shaul. If he did, this chapter fills in details not mentioned in the last chapter of I Samuel. But it is also possible that the man lied in order to curry favor with David. He may have figured that if he took credit for killing Shaul, David would reward him. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

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