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I am enjoying my ride through 1 & 2 Samuel. I remember there being a contradiction contest/tag and here's a "contradiction" that got me thinking.

What should we make of Saul's death? In 1 Samuel 31:4-6, Saul kills himself:

Saul said to his armor-bearer, "Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me." But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. When the armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died with him. So Saul and his three sons and his armor-bearer and all his men died together that same day.

In 2 Samuel 1:1-16 an Amalekite takes credit for killing Saul (vv. 9-10)

"Then he said to me, 'Stand here by me and kill me! I'm in the throes of death, but I'm still alive.'

"So I stood beside him and killed him, because I knew that after he had fallen he could not survive. And I took the crown that was on his head and the band on his arm and have brought them here to my lord."

This story is corroborated later in 2 Samuel 4 by David, himself.

So what do we make of the circumstances surrounding Saul and how can this apparent contradiction be explained?

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    I think the downvote was because the Amalekite was clearly lying to David. But this is a perfect question for the site, if not the most difficult. But +1 from me. ;-) May 31, 2012 at 22:02
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    How do we know that the Amalekite is lying?
    – user4951
    Dec 2, 2013 at 4:06
  • @jonericson define "clearly." I don't think it's too clear.
    – swasheck
    Dec 2, 2013 at 5:17

4 Answers 4

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I Sam 31 is written in the voice of the anonymous narrator. This narrator writes with the authority of prophecy and so his version of events is the version that we should accept as correct - Saul fell on his own sword as did his armorer.

The story told by the Amaleki kid in 2 Sam 1:8 is obviously a lie - the kid claims to David that he identified himself to Saul as an Amaleki - a member of an ethnic group subject to herem and forbidden to sojourn, and that Saul asked this Amaleki to kill him. Now, that Saul should die at the hands of an Amaleki is worse than to be abused by the Philistines. The manner of the telling of the story is also not believable. The kid says that he "just happened to be on the Gilboa, and just happened to see Saul leaning on his spear". David, who has just returned from fighting the Amaleki, hears this unlikely story, deduces correctly that he is dealing with a dangerous opportunist, as well as an Amaleki, and dispatches him posthaste. At this point in the narrative, David has no other information regarding the actual circumstances of Saul's death.

In 2 Sam 4, Two battalion commanders, Rechav and Baana, brothers from the Beeri clan, who are entrusted with the royal guard protecting Ish Boshet, treacherously murder Ish Boshet thinking that they can win favor with David for killing the only remaining direct successor to the throne in the house of Saul. In verse 10 David does not corroborate the Amaleki kid's story. (It is likely that David knew the true story by then.) What David does say to Rechav and Baana is that just as he executed the person who thought he brought good news regarding Saul's death, so he will execute them. Then in verse 11 David tells them why - they have murdered a righteous (innocent) man in his bed. David also tells them obliquely in verse 9 the real message of the story - that he doesn't need any of these obsequious opportunists, because he trusts completely in God Himself for deliverance.

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  • I appreciate your clarification on the corroboration point. I clearly read way too much into it
    – swasheck
    May 30, 2012 at 17:02
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There are two plausible scenarios:

  1. It happened as the Amalekite said.

  2. The Amalekite embellished the story thinking he would be rewarded for helping David become king.

In scenario 1, though Saul's armourbearer presumed Saul was dead, Saul was 'still kickin' and revived when the Amalekite came by.

In scenario 2 the Amalekite came upon the scene and discerned what had happened, then claimed credit.

In either situation, David had resisted making himself king for many years as Saul had tried to kill him, and having had many opportunities. If the man had known David at all, he would have distanced himself from the killing itself, and merely brought the crown back to David and wept bitterly before him.

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The Amalekite was lying - he was NOT at Saul's death and did not kill Saul. Saul killed himself as recorded in 1 Sam 31:1-6.

Following the battle, the escaped Amalekite was in a precarious situation and was technically an enemy of both sides of the battle and desperately needed a friend so he obviously fabricated a story to tell David in a desperate attempt to endear himself to David. He presumably reasoned that, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend"??

Whether David saw through this lie is not completely clear (I suspect as a prophet of God he may have?); however, David was angry with the Amalekite for killing the Lord's anointed, something that David had had the opportunity to do on several occasions but his personal ethics prevented him killing the "Lord's Anointed". 1 Sam 24, 26.

Thus, the Amalekite was not killed for obeying Saul's instruction (Saul's own armour bearer refrained from doing this, 1 Sam 31:4) because he had done nothing of the kind. The Amalekite was killed for say that he killed Saul, the Lord's anointed, 2 Sam 1:14-16.

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Obviously, the Amalekite was lying. Who would be standing still leaning on a spear if people in chariots were in hot pursuit? That doesn’t seem plausible. The Amalekite took advantage of a situation, hoping to increase his stature in David’s eyes. It didn’t work out so well for him.g

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    Sep 1, 2023 at 16:52

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