SynopsisThis passage brings to a close the tale of Saul. In a previous passage, Saul had been frightened of the upcoming battle with the Philistines, and the ghost of Samuel had predicted that Saul was going to be killed. Not surprisingly, Samuel was right.
The Israelites fight the Philistines in battle, but the Philistines defeat them; they kill many, and drive the rest away. They also kill Saul’s sons, and their archers overtake Saul himself, and critically wound him. Saul is afraid that the Philistines will come upon him and finish the job, and “abuse” him (verse 4; the ESV says he’s afraid that they will “mistreat” him), so he asks his armour bearer to run him through. His armour bearer is unwilling to do so, however, so Saul has no choice but to take his own life.
At this point, the nation of Israel is in disarray. When the Israelites near the area realize that their soldiers have fled before the Philistines, they abandon their homes and flee. The Philistines immediately occupy those towns, of course. The next day (I assume the next day after the battle where Saul dies; not necessarily the day after they occupy the Israelite towns), the Philistines come across Saul’s body, and it becomes a trophy for them. They cut off Saul’s head and strip off his armour, send people throughout their land to proclaim the good news, and put his armour into their Ashtoreth temple. They also hang his body and the bodies of his sons on the wall of one of their cities.
When the people at Jabesh Gilead hear about what has happened, they send their “valiant men” (verse 12) to rescue the bodies, and take them to Jabesh, where they give them proper funeral pyres, bury the bones, and fast for seven days.