They put [Saul’s] armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths and fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shan. 1 Samuel 31:10 (NIV)
The ruined walls of the old city of Beth Shan sit high on a bluff overlooking the ruins of the more modern Roman city that emerged there. I had a chance to visit the ruins of Beth Shan while on a trip to Israel ten years ago. In the picture above you can see the Roman city ruins immediately behind me, the old ruins atop the bluff behind me, and the Sea of Galilee in the distance behind. On the very full itinerary of our trip there were many sites that would make most people’s top 10 list of places to see in the Holy Land. Beth Shan was not one of them. It is an asterisk on the list. It appeared in my travels that few people visit, and fewer still are likely know the reason of its’ footnote in history.
We have spent much of the past 31 chapters learning Saul’s story. It started out so promising. The first king of Israel. The tall, good looking warrior of whom the women sang of his victories. The end of the story, however, ends in stark contrast. Saul the troubled soul, the crazymaker with an unhealthy fixation on hunting down David, takes his own life in humiliating defeat. His body is decapitated an nailed to the walls of a backwater Philistine town most people today whiz by on their way between the Sea of Galilee and Jerusalem without giving it or Saul a passing thought.
Today I’m contemplating Saul and am reminded of the adage: “it is not how you start but how you finish.” Will my love and impact on others’ lives become an important theme in the journal of their own respective life journies, or will our death simply become a forgotten footnote at the bottom of a page? Saul’s death stands as a sad reminder of the tragic ends of a self-centered and envious existence.