Chapter 31 ends the first book of Samuel on a solemn but necessary note. It is prophesied in chapter 28, as reiterated by Samuel, that Saul and his house will fall. His house is representative of the old order of Israel – encasing both the likes of Saul and Jonathan – and yet the head of this house must be replaced by Jesus Christ as typefied by David. Immediately, in the second verse of this chapter the first person who dies is not Saul who relied on a false mediator to raise up Samuel. Rather, it is Jonathan. From here on, we see a shadow of the Assyrian and Babylonian captivity: why is Jonathan removed? And the same question applies for all the Josiahs; all the Solomons; all the Davids; all the judges – and their eventual demise, to be replaced by those who are not part of the elect nation Israel.
Yet, this is the final picture of 1 Samuel 31 – the removal of old Israel in favour of the election of David, the servant of Gath; David, the youngest son of Jesse; David, the shepherd boy who plays on the harp (1 Samuel 18:10) in contrast to the warrior-king Saul; David, the prince of mixed Moabite-Israelite blood. In this short chapter, we see Israel taken captive temporarily under the apparent headship and victory of the Philistinians. What we see therefore is, in Barth’s words, a ‘dark proto-type of Judas Iscariot’ found in Saul. This is the Saul, a type of Judas, who persecuted the true LORD revealed as a shadow in David – the destruction of this head leading to the death of his armour-bearer. Yet, is not David the armour-bearer of Saul? (1 Samuel 16:21) Without David standing by his side, fighting on his behalf, we see the rejection of Israel in tandem with the election of David. Without David the armor-bearer, Saul’s suicidal act is not positively prevented but merely passively rejected. V.6 is the summary of the prophecy fulfilled: “thus Saul died, and his three sons, and his armor-bearer, and all his men, on the same day together”. The Philistines are to fully take over this promised land – that all the men of Israel must flee upon witnessing the death of Saul and his heirs. That the men of Israel must scatter upon the cutting of the head of Saul, in anticipation of the usurpation of Israel by the Philistines who came and lived in them (v.7).
However, this chapter is not merely one of punishment. It is a chapter displaying God’s wrath on the rejected Israel; it is a chapter displaying God’s wrath on Jesus Christ who bore our sins on the cross. In Jesus, we find both the Elect Man and the Rejected Man. In Jesus, we find the true meaning and dichotomy between purified supralapsarian election, and that of reprobation who do not stand “in Christ”. Yet, the Yahweh of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the Yahweh of Israel – means that Israel as a nation exists because of its national election as a son of God (Isaiah 49:15; Jeremiah 31:9). God’s faithfulness to Israel, in itself being a shadow of the Father’s faithfulness to the Son, means that this temporary rejection of Israel is to depict the temporary rejection of Jesus for three days and three nights. This is why this chapter is a portrayal of necessary evil, that the fall must occur so that we may become new creation beings under the banner of Christ no longer made of perishable dust (1 Corinthians 15). Instead of the head of Saul, his armor, and the bodies of him and his sons remaining fastened in the temple of idol Ashtaroth and the wall of Beth-shan (ironically entitled the house of ease), it is the valiant inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead (dry rocky region) who took away the fallen men’s bones to bury them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh (v.13). These actions are not indicative of the eternal rejection or removal of Saul; rather, Saul’s bones, along with the bones of his sons, are recovered and planted safely in the promised land. And this is the faithfulness of God to Israel – that the rejection is but temporary, for even Saul’s household will find return and comfort under David the new king. This rejection, just like the Babylonian and Assyrian captivity, will eventually culminate in the return of Israel, the election of Israel being fully revealed in the invisible church, the spiritual Israelites. Just as David’s inevitable leadership is consistently revealed throughout 1 Samuel (especially highlighted in his mediation in chapter 17 against Goliath), the fulfilment of his election as king of Israel has yet to take place. It has yet to be fulfilled – and the revelation of Christ as King of the world is not a ‘hidden secret’. It is in Christ that we find all these secrets and mysteries of election fully revealed; and so it is in understanding the anointing of David do we find the reason for the rejection of Israel which did not stand under the mediation of David, and the eventual blessings of Israel to the neighbouring nations under the two-fold leadership of David and Solomon.