An unusual amount of time has passed since I last added to this blog. The topic of this chapter challenges me at several levels. Many years ago, my brother committed suicide, so the topic is personal. Then, the text tells us what happened but provides no clarity on the eternal impact of suicide. Probably because this topic is so personal to me, I have my own unanswered questions and can raise more questions than I can provide answers. In spite of all this there is a positive example in this passage that I had not noticed until discussing this chapter with a friend.
The Philistines attack Israel and the army under Saul and his sons is on the run. It would be standard practice in a battle at this time to pursue the leaders of the army. The reasonable assumption was that the death of the leaders would result in defeat for the army. The Philistines are successful in their pursuit and kill Saul’s sons. They critically wound Saul and the king has a dilemma. He knows how kings are treated by the enemy immediately before and after death. He cannot control what happens to his body after death, but he can prevent being tortured and abused before death. All Saul has to do in his own mind is to die and quickly.
At this point Saul asks his armor-bearer to kill him. Saul was already critically wounded, so it would not take much effort to complete the process. I do not know if Saul had any qualms at this point about killing himself. The armor-bearer refuses and Saul’s desperation drives him to fall on his sword and kills himself. The armor-bearer follows his king’s example and falls on his own sword.
With Saul dead the Israelites flee, and the Philistines are able to capture Saul’s body and put it on display to declare their victory. The men of Jabesh-Gilead come in the night and recover Saul’s body to give it a proper burial. This is an example of great courage in defeat, and I think they did this because they owed Saul a debt of thanks for his rescue of their city. (See 1 Samuel 11)
What about us?
I have never struggled so much in trying to decide what to write regarding the application of a passage. Most of us are not dying on a battlefield, but each of us has a unique set of circumstances to live with and many of these circumstances bring some form of pain to life.
I have been diagnosed with early-stage Parkinson’s disease. My symptoms are mild, but still frustrating. It is far too easy to focus on what is getting harder and harder to do. Instead, as I write this, I am reminded again that I can choose to celebrate and use what I am still able to do to bless others. I also struggle with depression, and this means that some days it is very difficult to make positive choices. I think this is why relationships are so important. We need each other to remind ourselves that while life is hard God is bigger than our struggles.
We need to encourage one another to fight when the circumstances call for fighting. I do think that God expects us to fight for our life and the lives of others. We fight not because we question our eternal destiny, but to encourage others we love who may not be as certain.
We need to remind each other to be grateful always. My 95-year-old mother-in-law has cancer and is just beginning to go through tests that will likely lead to many visits to medical facilities. There is no doubt she is ready to go home to be with Jesus. There is also no doubt that her joyful and grateful spirit will be an encouragement to everyone she encounters in this process whether patient or caregiver.
Finally, knowing that we are each dealing with some kind of struggle we need to continually pray for one another. Prayer for others helps to take my mind off myself and my own struggles. Prayer also reminds me that there are constantly reasons to rejoice as I watch God at work in the lives of others. Saul found himself alone and helpless. If you think you are in a similar situation, please reach out to someone. I am confident that God has people waiting and willing to help.