4 Then Saul said to his armorbearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised men come and thrust me through and abuse me.” But his armorbearer would not, for he was greatly afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword and fell on it.

(1 Samuel 31:4)

10 So I stood over him and killed him, because I was sure that he could not live after he had fallen. And I took the crown that was on his head and the bracelet that was on his arm, and have brought them here to my lord.”
(2 Samuel 1:10)

Have you ever told a story to make yourself look better than you are? Have you ever changed certain details while recounting a personal story in the hopes that you’d win favor, or approval, or applause with your hearer(s)? That appears to be exactly what the young man in 2nd Samuel was doing – a strategy which didn’t work out well for him. But nonetheless, his fabrication provides an explanation for the different accounts of Saul’s demise.

First, we see that he postured himself as serendipitously coming across Saul on Mount Gilboa – “As I happened by chance to be on Mount Gilboa” (vs.6). It was as though he was saying, ‘It was the strangest thing. I was taking a walk over by Mount Gilboa, and wouldn’t you know it, over to my left, who’s there? You guessed it – Saul!’ And immediately the reader is thinking – really? It would be hard to imagine that Saul, the king, was still alive and unattended by either his own men, Philistines, or nearby, life-threatening fighting!

Second, the young man does not mention Saul’s armor-bearer, a detail that is repeated in 1 Samuel 31:4-6. Instead, the young man’s account suggested that no one was near Saul. You get the sense that the Amalekite who perceived that there was something to gain by posing as Saul’s executioner wasn’t telling the truth.

Third, before we consider the difference between this man’s account and the one presented in 1 Samuel 31, let’s take notice of the young man’s self-identification. Up until this point we hadn’t known much more than the fact that this was a young man who looked like a mourner and could run a modern marathon with ease. But here we see his identity in his response to Saul – “I am an Amalekite” (v.8b). Let that sink in. The man who is telling a different story than the Spirit-inspired narrator of 1 Samuel 31 is an Amalekite! The same people that God said He would have war with from generation to generation (Ex. 17:16). The same people that God commanded Saul to destroy (1 Sam. 15:3). And the same people that ransacked David’s home at Ziklag (1 Sam. 30:1-2). This man, an Amalekite, was telling a different story than the inspired narrator. The inspired narrator spoke of Saul as being wounded by archers and then falling on his own sword and dying in the presence of his armor-bearer (1 Sam. 31:3-5), while the Amalekite said Saul was leaning on his spear with no one else around him and asked him to kill him (2 Sam. 1:6-10). Who are you going to believe? The inspired narrator or the Amalekite? The Bible’s verdict is clear: believe God’s Word as it is narrated in the text of 1 Samuel 31:4. As far as the young man whose story contradicted God’s revelation, here’s a bit advice – never trust an Amalekite.

So the contradiction, then, wasn’t the Bible contradicting the Bible, it was a young man’s lie that contradicted both the inspired text and the reality of what had actually transpired.[1]


[1] Additionally, seeing as 1 and 2 Samuel originally comprised one volume, are we to think that the inspired narrator didn’t realize that there were two conflicting accounts right next to one another?