1 Samuel 31:8-13
8 The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the dead, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. 9 They cut off his head and stripped off his armor, and they sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to proclaim the news in the temple of their idols and among their people. 10 They put his armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths and fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shan.
11 When the people of Jabesh Gilead heard of what the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all their valiant men journeyed through the night to Beth Shan. They took down the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall of Beth Shan and went to Jabesh, where they burned them. 13 Then they took their bones and buried them under a tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and they fasted seven days.
Saul had spent most of his life running from God. As first King of Israel (before David), Saul had been driven by abject fear and jealousy for most of his reign, choosing to hide from the Philistines rather than face them, choosing to punish God’s next anointed king, David, and chase him around trying to kill him, rather than bowing out gracefully. In short? Saul acted very human.
Just before this point in the Scripture, Saul had realized his cause was lost in the midst of the fight with the Philistines; he was wounded badly, and so he chose to take his own life rather than to be discovered by the Philistines and be carted off to a worse fate. His sons and his armor-bearer also take their lives and die with him, and as verses 8 through 10 describe, their bodies are defiled and disrespected in death. What a sorrowful end for the first king of Israel–even though he made a lot of mistakes, it seems ill-fitting that he should be afforded such treatment in death.
And indeed, others consider it ill-fitting treatment, too. The people of Jabesh Gilead (a town east of the Jordan River) remembered Saul as a good man who came and successfully saved their town when the neighboring Ammonites threatened them. When they hear of what the Philistines have done with the former Israelite king and his sons, they immediately go to set things right. They ritually burn the defiled bodies, religiously purifying them and preventing any more mischief to be done with them, then bury the bones in a sacred place. They then mourn the deaths for seven days through fasting.
Saul, who had not been well-liked as king and who had not really done much besides chase David around and close his ears to God, is thus honored as a human being should be in death. He wasn’t perfect–far from it–but his deeds did not warrant such dishonorable treatment, and God moved in the hearts of those who lived in Jabesh Gilead to set that to rights.
How This Proves God’s Justice
This story in the Bible shows us that God will always set things to rights, even if it takes a long time, even if it comes by unexpected channels, and even if we aren’t around physically to see it. Saul was given a decent burial, given justice in death despite the choices he had made in life; even though he was a wayward child of God, God still loved him. God never stops loving us–not even when we refuse to listen to Him, not even when we curse Him or say we don’t believe He exists. And because He loves us, He is always acting for our best interests and for justice. Justice may not always come when we want it, but it will arrive perfectly on God’s time.