Contradictory Accounts of Saul's Death?
1 Samuel 31:4-6 Then said Saul unto his armourbearer, Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and abuse me. But his armourbearer would not; for he was sore afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword, and fell upon it. And when his armourbearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise upon his sword, and died with him. So Saul died, and his three sons, and his armourbearer, and all his men, that same day together.
2 Samuel 1:8-10 And he said unto me, Who art thou? And I answered him, I am an Amalekite. [Saul] said unto me again, Stand, I pray thee, upon me, and slay me: for anguish is come upon me, because my life is yet whole in me. So I stood upon him, and slew him, because I was sure that he could not live after that he was fallen: and I took the crown that was upon his head, and the bracelet that was on his arm, and have brought them hither unto my lord.

The issue is, who killed Saul -- did he kill himself, or did the Amalekite do it?

The answer to this one is really quite obvious: The Amalekite was lying, seeking some way to earn favor and honor from David by claiming to have killed David's worst enemry. That this should be cited as a contradiction is even more odd when we realize that the two books of Samuel were originally one volume.

Objection: There's a third story of Saul's death. 2 Samuel 21:12 says, 'And David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son from the men of Jabeshgilead, which had stolen them from the street of Bethshan, where the Philistines had hanged them, when the Philistines had slain Saul in Gilboa' -- so was it the Philistines after all and not a suicide?"

This objection neglects the nature of the word used for "slain". It is nakah, an all-purpose word that can mean to strike, beat, wound, kill, and so on. It's obviously being used here is a primarily figurative sense of "defeat" in battle (as in, one football team "beat" the other one).

There's a fourth version of Saul's death, in 1 Chronicles 10:13-15: So Saul died for his unfaithfulness which he had committed against Yahweh, because he did not keep the word of Yahweh, and also because he consulted a medium for guidance. But he did not inquire of Yahweh; therefore He killed him, and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse (1 Chron. 10:13-15). So it says Saul consulted a medium for guidance but did not inquire of Yahweh; therefore, Yahweh killed him.

What's missed here is that verse divisions and punctuation didn't take place until much later -- the "therefore" applies to all that was recorded before, not just the "not inquiring" bit. But there's more.

The word sha'al is used of those who inquire of the Lord, including Saul in 1 Samuel. But Saul is condemned by the Chronicler for not darashing, which is a much stronger word meaning to follow, search, or worship. 1 Samuel also sees a difference in these words:

And when Saul inquired [sha'al] of the LORD, the LORD answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets. Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and inquire [darash] of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor.

Consider how these words are used together elsewhere:

Deut. 13:14 Then shalt thou inquire [darash], and make search, and ask [sha'al] diligently; and, behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought among you...

Note that sha'al requires the modifier "diligently" to match up with darash.

Ps. 109:10 Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg [darash] : let them seek [sha'al] their bread also out of their desolate places.

Note that vagabondage is associated with desperate inquiry of others, whereas sha'al involves passive search in a location with no persons.

The significance: Saul is condemned by the Chronicler for his lack of diligence in seeking God's counsel -- which involved not action but attitude, reflected earlier in Saul's reign by his encounter with Samuel (1 Sam. 15). For Saul, God was a utility rather than the source of life and the object of worship, and that is shown further in his willingness of consult a medium and get direction by hook or by crook.

There's another problem. 1 Chr. 10:6 says "all his house" died together. What about his son Ishbosheth? He was still alive.

Yes, but mere descent doesn't make him part of Saul's "house." Interestingly his name means, "man of shame." This could be for one of two reasons.

The first could be that Saul named his son this because of his origins.

The second could be that his name was originally something else, and "Ish-bosheth" is a purposeful reworking of his name to reflect some aspect of his personal history and image. The same thing was done with the name of Nebuchadnezzar throughout the OT, as his name was purposely spelled differently to create an insulting pun. This can be supported by the point that he is called "Ish-baal" in some Biblical textual traditions.

Either way, one suggests that the name was recorded thus way because he was the son of Saul via an outside affair. That would put him outside Saul's house by definition.

That this (or something else) put him outside Saul's house is also reflected his insecure behavior towards Abner (whose character he should have known well, had he indeed lived in Saul's care for such an extended period), and the fact that Abner so readily abandoned him. His behavior suggests someone who doesn't deserve the normal loyalty to family typical of the period, and isn't acculturated to the demands of honorable behavior. In other words, the right signs for someone who was Saul's son by an illicit affair.

However, all that said, let us remember that reference to the "house of Saul" does not necessarily mean "every single individual who might be somehow related." Several passages speak of the "house of Saul" being at war with the "house of David" (see 2 Samuel 3:1-10). The word "house" may refer to an actual building, of course, but about a quarter of the OT usages imply something different or more abstract. "Building a house" means the same thing as "raising a family." "House" is even used to refer to a spider's web (Job 8:15). A "house" can include servants, slaves, foreign guests, concubines, adopted orphans, and even sojourners.

So if we want to take "house" in that sense, is this what Chronicles is saying?

And when his armourbearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise on the sword, and died. So Saul died, and his three sons, and his daughters, son's wives, slaves, foreign guests, concubines, adopted orphans, and sojourners.

I hardly think Saul brought all those people on the battlefield with him.

So what do we take "house" to mean here? We take it in the same sense as does as this book featured on Amazon.com UK, titled The End of the House of Windsor. Obviously, this does not mean that Prince Charles, Prince Harry, and the rest are now dead. Rather, what it means is that the power of that House is ended; it has, as Williamson says [Chronicles commentary, 93] of the "house of Saul," what would be called "dynastic overtones." It means that, the house of Saul is "to all intents and purposes at an end."

In that light, we also see why Chronicles does not mention Ishbosheth. Giving them the silent treatment was a dishonorable non-mention (see here).

-JPH