1 Samuel 31 – “What will they say when I’m gone?”



1 Samuel 31.



LEGEND: Told by Peter Marshall, one time Chaplain to the US Senate. “Tells of a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to the market. Before long the servant returned, white and trembling, very agitated said to his master, ‘Down in the market I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned around I saw that it was death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture. Master, please lend me a horse that I may hasten away to avoid her. I will ride to Samarra and hide there, and death will not find me!’

          The merchant lent the horse and the servant galloped away in great haste.

Later the merchant went to the market and saw death standing in the crowd. He went and asked her, ‘Why did you frighten my servant this morning? Why did you make a threatening gesture?’

          ‘That was not a threatening gesture,’ Death said, ‘It was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra!’”

Each of us has an appointment with death – Have you faced up to the fact of death? Your own and others!

How we deal with the question of death – whether ours or others – will have a profound impact on how we live our lives.

It is also true that how we live our lives will have a profound impact on how we die – not the manner of our physical death as we have not control over that unless we plan suicide – but on our attitude towards dying!

We come to a stage in the life of David where Saul the king, David’s predecessor dies in battle along with his son Jonathan.

What do we learn from Saul’s death AND What do we learn from David’s reaction to the death of Saul, who hated and pursued David and to the death of Jonathan whom David loved very deeply!


1 Samuel 31 is an account of how King Saul dies. In the end he takes his own life – not that he would have lived much longer if he hadn’t – the Philistines archers had critically wounded Saul and soon they would be upon him and you can be sure they would have had their sport with him. In the same battle all of Saul’s sons are killed so he loses not only his own life but all his heirs – including Jonathan David’s dear friend.

It is a pathetic sight. The great King Saul — dead — and he had been at the beginning –

1 Samuel 10:1, 6-7

1 Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on Saul’s head and kissed him, saying, “Has not the LORD anointed you leader over his inheritance?    …….6 and you will be changed into a different person. 7 Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you. (NIV)

It is a pathetic sight – the once great king mortally wounded by a Philistine arrow – the grounded littered with dead bodies.

He asks his armour bearer to finish him off … 1 Samuel 31:4

4 Saul said to his armour-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me.”

Isn’t it interesting that he is more concerned about his image before the enemy – even after his death the indignity of having his body used for the sport of the Philistines – BUT he is more concerned about that than he is about his relationship with God whom he is about to meet!

It is tragic but true that often we are far more concerned about our image before others / “What will people say?” / Disobeying God … refusing to live God’s way has that effect. It dulls our spiritual senses and we lose contact with what God thinks and with what God might say.

Of course Saul’s demise did not start on that fateful day on the battlefield. This day need not have been like this. Saul’s demise had started when little by little, day by day he had compromised … not followed God’s instructions but taken things into his own hands. Not just a slip here and there but a persistent disobedience to the instructions of God.

Saul is a classic example in the Bible of one who having being bless by God and anointed for ministry, in his case as king of Israel, but then because of willful, persistent, selfish desire, not only loses the blessing of God on his life BUT disaster is inevitable. We can never disobey God with impunity, there are always consequences.

We might go for a long time thinking, like Saul that everything will be all right – Maybe we have disobey – we have willfully chosen to do our own thing – whatever that might be —

— compromise in a physical sexual  relationship

— compromise in the area of business ethics

— compromise by only telling half the truth to save face and protect image

and God doesn’t send a bolt of lightening from heaven and so we think he doesn’t really mind and we have gotten away with it and so we dull our consciences and do it again (or something else) BUT make no mistake, God is not mock.

The unbeliever who refuses to believe in Christ for salvation will suffer the judgement of God in the final analysis.

The believer who like Saul disobeys will suffer the loss of God’s blessings and rewards – you may not lose your salvation but you will lose the joy and blessing!

Saul lost his ministry of being king – he lost God’s presence and thus his ability to be a blessing to others  … in fact he became a channel of doom. Because of his disobedience his family suffered, David and his family and followers suffered, the whole nation suffered, the result was a sound defeat by the enemy … the death of Saul and his sons … the nations remained in a state of disarray for years after.

What was Saul’s epitaph? Saul himself gives us his epitaph back in  …. 1 Samuel 26:21   21 Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Come back, David my son. Because you considered my life precious today, I will not try to harm you again. Surely I have acted like a fool and have erred greatly.” (NIV)

I have acted like a fool – some translation “I have played the fool” – How aptly this described the life of Saul. Such promise, such opportunity. He was the pick of the litter. Head and shoulders above his fellow Israelites. He was anointed by God. He was handsome. He was strong. He was a natural leader. He had every advantage  BUT he played the fool.

Sidlow Baxter writes :…

A man plays the fool ….


  • when he neglects his godly friends, as Saul neglected Samuel.

Neglect of godly friends.

In the earlier part of his life Saul sought Samuel the prophet – Samuel was a godly man – Saul was determined to follow his own council and his own opinions. He was not comfortable in the presence of Samuel.

One of the first signs that things are slipping spiritually, in our lives, is when we loose the desire to spend time with God’s people in worship and fellowship.


  • when he goes on enterprises for God before God has sent him, as Saul did.

Running ahead of God.

In 1 Sam 14 – Trouble with the  Philistines – Saul asks God what to do but God doesn’t answer immediately so Saul makes a rash decision that would have Cost the life of his son Jonathan had the men not intervened. [And there were other examples!!]

We can be so impatient – we want God to guide us but he must do it now and do it our way – when our problems are not quickly solved OR our desires not satisfied we are tempted to make things happen/ to manipulate / to scheme….

The number of people I know who have be too impatient to wait for God’s timing and provision and married in haste and you know the second half of the proverb … repent at leisure!!


  • when he disobeys God in even seemingly small matters, as Saul did: for such disobedience nearly always leads on to worse defaults.

Little sins, unconfessed, grow into habitual patterns of sinful behaviour.

When Saul disobeyed in the early part of his kingship — instead of repenting and admitting his wrong he made excuses, he tried to cover up. And one by one the disobediences became a pattern of behaviour.


  • when he tries to cover up his disobedience to God by religious excuses, as Saul did. “To obey is better than sacrifice”.

A religious facade does not fool God.

Saul fights the Amalakites [1 Sam. 15] – the instructions are to destroy everything BUT Saul thinks he knows better and he keeps back some of the animals under the guise of offering them to God as sacrifices.

This is one of the most subtle temptations of all – being religious without really having a heart for God.

It can come in the form of doing good works, attending Church, saying prayers, studying the Bible … all of which are good things to do … BUT if these come from a heart that is far from God he is neither fooled nor impressed.

Remember that Jesus saved his harshest criticism for the Religious people of his day – they had all the outward trappings but  they were self-righteous hypocrites who were more interested in serving self and their own religious laws than in serving God.

Is it any wonder Jesus gave this warning …

Matthew 7:20-27 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognise them.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (NIV)

Samuel to Saul “To obey is better than sacrifice”.


  • when he allows some jealousy or hated to master and enslave and deprave him, as Saul did, toward David.

Harbouring bitterness / jealousy eats you up inside.

Sometimes we carry deep feelings of hurt and jealousy and bitterness because of what someone may have said or done in the past. If these are left to fester they will only do us harm.

I am not saying that there is an instant remedy – sometimes it takes years to work through issues and deal with hurts … BUT are we making an effort … OR enjoying wallowing in feelings of self-pity, etc


  • when he turns from God, from the God he has grieved, and seeks an alternative in spiritism …

Seeking spiritual guidance / fulfillment in something / some-one other than God.

This is one of the hallmarks of the society in which we live. There is a great interest in the paranormal, [horoscopes, psychics, New Age religions ….] , trying to find fulfillment within ourselves, or through work, or possessions …….

And Christians are not immune from these attitudes … we can have a form of Christianity yet still be living for / worshipping God plus….


THE end of all these ways of sin and folly is moral and spiritual suicide. We can only finish such a down-grade course with the pathetic groan of Saul “I have played the fool!”

When anyone takes a path away from God – no matter how successful the world may acclaim one – God’s assessment will be agree with Saul’s I have played the fool!”


That will depend on what we are and how we live now.

The question is then “Who am I really trying to please?” “Whose opinion of us matters?”

We were made to please God .. The psalmist {David}expresses it this way ….

Psalm 103:1-2

1 [Of David.]

Praise the LORD, O my soul;

all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

2 Praise the LORD, O my soul,

and forget not all his benefits — (NIV)

BUT sin often causes us to lower our sights and seek other kinds of approval rather than God’s. We are often guilty of spending enormous amounts of energy seeking the approval of substitute gods.

We want to know that there is someone who is pleased with us who values us and what we have accomplished. We need the approval of other people, that is not wrong, except when it is to the exclusion of God’s evaluation of us. This was Saul’s problem – more concerned what people thought than what God thought.

ILLUS. I remember going to the funeral of an uncle of mine – a man we called uncle – he was not a blood relation. He was a bombastic, selfish man who lived at the club with his mates leaving his wife alone at home for hours and hours. The tribute at the funeral may me wonder if I was at the right Chapel!!


Will people have to make up kind things to say at your funeral? If God was the one giving the tribute at your funeral what would he say?

What would be your epitaph? Would it be like ……

  • David – “A man after God’s own Heart”
  • Abraham – “The Friend of God”
  • Enoch – “He walked with God”
  • Caleb – “Wholeheartedly followed the Lord”
  • Stephen – “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit”
  • Jesus – “Surely this was a righteous man / the Son of god”


  • Would it be to spend more time at the office? NO – with your loved ones!
  • Would you make more of an effort to speak to that friend about Jesus?
  • How would your time set aside to prayer and study the Bible be affected?
  • Who would you go to to put right some wrong?

“When the time comes to die make sure that is all you have to do!” (Ed McCulley)

Do we want the assessment of our lives to be that of Saul’s “I HAVE PLAYED THE FOOL!”


Would we like the assessment to be that of another Saul – Saul of Tarsus who became the Apostle Paul in the NT 2 Timothy 4:7-8 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (NIV)

How we live our lives will determine how we face our death – like King Saul in the OT in fear and rebellion and out of touch with God.


Like Saul [Paul] in the NT looking forward with joy and hope to heaven because we know that as far as it depends on me , I have done all that is possible to live a life that pleases God.

Hebrews 13:15-16

15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise — the fruit of lips that confess his name.       [not just warm fuzzy feelings – but as the writer clarifies]     16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (NIV)

Like Saul, we play the fool when ….


– we neglect our godly friends.

– we run ahead of God.

– we allow little sins, unconfessed, to grow into habitual patterns of sinful behaviour.

– we hide behind a religious facade.

– we harbour bitterness / jealousy that eats us up inside.

– we seek spiritual guidance / fulfillment in something or someone other than God.





“What will they say about me when I’m  




“What will God say about me?”


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