When Death is Good News

Can you imagine a hatred for someone or some thing that runs so deep within you that its death is not satisfying to you? Think about it, shouldn’t the death of our enemy be sufficiently satisfying to us?

1 Samuel ends with the death of Saul, the one anointed by God to be the first king of Israel. The Philistines are Israel’s enemy throughout Saul’s reign as Israel’s king, and the book culminates with a final battle. In this battle, Saul and his three sons are overtaken by the Philistines, and all four of them die on the same day. Saul, though, knows that death is imminent, and believes that the most dignified thing he can do is take his on life. After being wounded by archers, Saul commands his armor-bearer to kill him, but fearfully, he will not. Seeing no other option, Saul draws his own sword and falls upon it.

Understandably, Saul is fearful of what the enemy soldiers might do to him should they take him alive, but his choice does not justify suicide. It certainly does not provide a biblical argument for what is known today as, “death with dignity” acts or laws, or perhaps better known as euthanasia, or doctor-assisted suicide. Saul may not have seen any other options at the moment, but you and I can clearly see other options that he did not consider. Saul could have prayed to God. Saul could have repented of living for himself and he could have chosen to glorify the Lord with the life God had given him. Yes, Saul had options. There is always the option to trust the Lord at the end of life.

However, the point we are making here is not relevant to Saul’s suicide. Notice that the Philistines, Saul’s enemy, are not satisfied with his death. You would imagine that after the archers had wounded Saul, and after reaching him and his armor-bearer and finding both of them dead, that the Philistines would be delightfully satisfied; but you would be wrong. Death does not immediately bring an end to this feud.

Keep reading in 1 Samuel 31 and you will discover that the soldiers behead the dead king of Israel, strip him of his armor, and pierce his body to the wall of Beth-shan. Death was not satisfying. They desired more. They desired public shame and ridicule. Don’t be so quick to judge the Philistines for this. Think about all the text messages and memes you send every time your favorite team beats their rival. Victory never seems to satisfying until shame of the opponent is achieved.

Going Deeper

The text then uses a very interesting phrase that should grab the believer’s attention:

“So they cut off his head and stripped off his armor and sent messengersthroughout the land of the Philistines, to carry the good newsto the house of their idols and to the people (1 Sam. 31:9).

Do you see the connection to the New Testament? Messengers were sent to carry the good news. Saul’s death, nor his public shame, was satisfying. A final step was necessary. Don’t miss this: the people of the land needed to know the good news of their enemy’s death. Ladies and gentleman; this is called evangelism. “Carry the good news” is only one word in the Hebrew language, bāśar, the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek word, euangelizō. Look carefully at the English transliteration of this Greek word, and you will quickly see our English word, evangelism.See it?

So what is evangelism? Many Christians might define evangelism simply as “telling people about Jesus.” While this is somewhat accurate, it is incomplete. So what is it?

In the Hebrew text, as we see here in 1 Samuel 31:9, it was often used to describe one army proclaiming the good news of the victory over their enemy. One dictionary says “to evangelize” is to proclaim the good news of the victory of God’s salvation.[1]The good news of the victory of God’s salvation is the good news of the victory over our enemy.

Evangelism is carrying the good news. But as Christians, we must define “the good news.” So often we say, “the good news of Jesus” but that is simply too vague. A lost person must know what is so good about Jesus. Let me provoke you a bit further. Even saying, “The good news of Jesus’s salvation,” or “Jesus saves,” might be too vague. Before you stone me, think about it. A lost person, who often does not know they are lost, does not believe they need to be saved. So simply saying that it is good news that Jesus saves may not mean much to the lost. So how can we better define the “good news?” We can be more accurate, and we can learn how to be more accurate by looking back to 1 Samuel 31:9. The key component that our contemporary definitions are often lacking is the piece about the enemy. The good news of Jesus is that he defeated our enemy. Or, perhaps you could say, Jesus saved us from our enemy.

Please note that we have now brought a negative component into a positive statement. It’s positive because of words like goodand saves, but now enters the word enemy, a negative word. It is precisely these complementary words that bring completion to the idea of evangelism. Good news is not good unless there is bad news. If there is no bad news, then good news is simply “news.” If a person does not understand that they are lost, or that the wages of sin is death, then “Jesus saves” is simply news; it’s not good. If Saul had not been an enemy to the Philistines, the news of his death would have only been news. It would have been neutral, neither good news nor bad news, just news. Think about chemotherapy. If you have a friend that is a doctor, and he randomly tells you over coffee that chemotherapy is very effective, and then smiles really big, you would be terribly confused. You would probably come up with an awkward smile and a very hesitant “okay” would slip across your vocal chords. However, if your doctor came into your exam room and showed you x-rays revealing a massive tumor, and gave you a max number of days left on your life, and then he said, “Don’t worry, chemotherapy is very effective,” and then he smiled really big; you would likely breathe a sigh of relief and offer a more comfortable smile in return. You see, knowing and understanding the bad news first, makes the good news good.

New Testament evangelism is carrying (or proclaiming) the good news that Jesus has defeated our enemy and thus, saved us from defeat. We have an enemy. The Bible is clear from Genesis 3 through the rest of the sixty-six books, that Satan is God’s enemy, and thus, he is the enemy of God’s creation, including mankind. In Genesis 3, Satan deceived God’s pinnacle of creation, mankind. Satan led Adam and Eve to disobey God. In Exodus, he tried to thwart God’s plans to use Moses. In Samuel, he used Saul to try and kill David multiple times. In Mark 3:27, we see that Satan is a strong man. But there is good news. Jesus is the stronger man that can enter the strong man’s house, bind the strong man, and plunder his goods! Do you see how this works? Because you know the bad news, you then celebrate the good news!

The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). This is bad news! This news become very personal though when I read that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom.3:23).” When we connect personally to Romans 3:23, and then connect to 6:23, we have a very clear understanding of bad news. But, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 6:23). That’s good news! Consider Ephesians 2, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked [bad news]… But God, being rich in mercy…made us alive together with Christ [good news].”

Finally, consider why Good Friday is good. A man deserved to die that day. Yes, you read that correctly. There was a man before Pilate that day, and he deserved to die. He was a sinner and his sin had merited death. He had a death sentence and it was bad news for him. There was another man on trial that day, and three times Pilate declared him innocent (Lk. 23). Three times it would be said that the innocent man did not deserve to die. Yet, the innocent man would be substituted for the guilty man. The innocent man would receive the wages the guilty man had earned. The innocent man is named Jesus. The guilty man was named Barabbas. The guilty man is you. Jesus took the punishment Barabbas earned, that we earned. Jesus surrenderedto our enemy, death, on that Friday, and it is good for you and me. But then, on the third day, Jesus defeatedour enemy! Death could not hold him (Ac. 2:24). Death is swallowed up in victory (1 Cor. 15:54).

Yes, believer, you have good news! Go, and tell it. The Philistinians sent messengers throughout all the land carrying the good news that their enemy had been defeated. God has sent messengers throughout all the nations, to the ends of the earth, carrying the good news that His enemy, and man’s enemy, has been defeated. You, believer, are the messenger; and you have good news! Please, go and tell someone! Tell everyone!

“Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!"

– Psalm 96:3

Watch the sermon A Tale of Two Kings, based on 1 Samuel 30-31 here. The sermon begins at the 32:12 minute mark.


[1]Larkin, W. J., Jr. (1996). Evangelize, Evangelism. In Evangelical dictionary of biblical theology(electronic ed., p. 216). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

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