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1 Samuel 31

Saul's Final Defeat

Mount Gilboa

And the men of Israel fled before the Philistines and fell down slain on Mount Gilboa (31:1).

The Israelites retreated to the higher ground where their initial camp had been, on Mount Gilboa. They likely thought that they could escape the Philistine grasp by fleeing up this mountain. Perhaps they attempted to find refuge in whatever forests may have existed at the time. This view from the floor of the Harod Valley give some idea of the height of the hills of Mount Gilboa.

The Valley Cities

The men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley . . . abandoned their cities and fled (31:7).

The specific towns that the Israelites abandoned are not named. They almost certainly abandoned any villages located in the Jezreel or Harod Valleys, and perhaps the upper reaches of the Jordan Valley; the verse may infer that those towns located around the perimeter were also forsaken.

Spoils of War

When the Philistines came to strip the slain, they found Saul and his three sons (31:8).

After the battle, soldiers would return to retrieve anything of value from the bodies of the slain. This relief shows a pile of goods taken as booty in war. On the far left, a figure is adding items to the pile, while to the center left two scribes are making a record of what is there. Items include furniture, vessels of various kinds, and even arms (swords, quivers, and a stack of bows). This relief comes from the palace of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh.

Philistine Gods

They sent messengers . . . to carry the good news to the house of their idols and to the people (31:9).

Archaeological evidence indicates that the main deity of the Philistines may have been a mother goddess. Several figurines (known as the “Ashdoda”) from Ashdod and Tell Qasile have been found that may be dated to the Iron Age I or early Iron Age IIA (12th–10th centuries BC). The figurine includes the body of the goddess together with a seat (which may be related to giving birth) and typical Philistine bichrome decoration. It is also of interest that a 7th century BC temple inscription from Ekron mentions a Philistine goddess named PTGYH. This artifact was photographed at the Israel Museum.

Beth-Shan

They fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan (31:10).

Beth-shan is located at the confluence of the Harod and Jordan Valleys. The ancient city was built on a tall mound with a commanding view of the junction between the valleys, and it controlled the major trade route through this area. This photo, taken in 1968 by David Bivin, illustrates the height of the ancient tell above the surrounding terrain. City walls built atop this mound would have been an imposing site for the Israelites.

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