Gaining Perspective in a Culture of Death
1 Samuel 31:1-6
By Phillip G. Kayser at DCC on 6-3-2012
Back in 1960, James Rogers was executed by a firing squad in Nevada. Before the command to fire was given, he was asked if he had any last request. He said, "Why, yes. I'd like a bulletproof vest." And some people have thought, "Wouldn't it be nice if we could always be bullet proof?" "Wouldn't it be nice if we could live forever?" But after a few aches and pains and confrontations with the sin in the world (or even the realization of how sinful our own hearts can be) we think, "No, I don't really want to live forever in this old body" But our lives can be a bunch of contradictions when it comes to facing death. There are times when we are foolhardy and take unnecessary risks with death and other times when we are scared to death of dying. There are people who are on the constant search for the elixir of life – something that can enable them to live much longer. And others take the opposite approach and welcome euthanasia and suicide. And it is my prayer that by the end of this sermon, you will be better able to inform such people on the Biblical balance with respect to life and death.
This whole passage is preoccupied with death – every single verse. And death is a constant reality in our sin-cursed world. According to last year's CIA Factbook, an average of 56.2 million people have died every year for the past few years. 56.2 million people being ushered into eternity! That's 154,000 a day, almost 13,000 an hour, 214 every minute, or 3.5 dying every second. Don't believe Facebook's statistic that 3 Facebook users die every second. I think they are trying to inflate their numbers. But for God to be dealing with 3.5 deaths every second is a sobering statistic. Now, there are some encouraging statistics in the CIA Factbook. It appears that the Antarctic is one of the safest places to live. At least I didn't see any deaths recorded there recently. But let's dive into chapter 31 of 1 Samuel.
I. Facing death in a culture of death (v. 1)? ==========================================
Verse 1 gives a general overview of the first six verses – promoting death and fleeing from death. And many times it is the same people who can do both on different days. But in this case it is the Philistines who are the producers of death and the Israelites who are unsuccessfully trying to flee from death. Verse 1 says, "Now the Philistines fought against Israel; and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell slain on Mount Gilboa."
Just for context - this is taking us back four days in time. Writers do this all the time. They will tell you what has happened to one person, then they will go back in time and show you what was happening to the other person. So chapters 29-30 have been telling us a little bit about what has happened to David since he was dismissed from the Philistine army. And when the Philistines arrived, Saul went to the spiritist in Endor. That's chapter 28. That evening Samuel predicted that Saul and his sons would die in battle the next day. Well the next day is this chapter. And chapter 28:20 tells us that Saul was dreadfully afraid. He was scared of dying. He hadn't always been scared when he went into battle. We humans can vacillate between unbelievable courage and sweaty-palms-fear when it comes to death.
A. The Philistine culture was preoccupied with sex and war (v. 1a with v. 10) --------------------------------------------------------------------------
And cultures can both try to avoid death and be pursuing death all at the same time. Take a look at what they do at the culmination of this battle, in verse 10: "Then they put his armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths; and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shan." Why would they want to look at a dead body hanging on their town for several days? And why would they put Saul's armor into the temple of the goddess of love? Well, actually, she was the goddess of both love and war. And you might think that those two just don't go together – what's with that? But they actually do seem to group together if you have studied much on culture. In fact, I think those two things are at the heart of America's culture of death.
Many scholars have said that if you understand a culture's views on sex and war, you can make a pretty good stab at guessing how far down the Romans-1-slide-into-oblivion that a culture has fallen. When I was at Covenant College, Dr. James Hurley gave a series of lectures that examined many ancient and modern cultures based on those two themes, and it was fascinating. He showed how rebellion against God has always manifested in those two areas, and they are almost always linked. You could use those two things that Ashtoreth symbolizes as a gauge of a culture. And researchers have shown how Philistia was very preoccupied with "love" (they called it "love," but it was really just sex) and war – just like America has been preoccupied with sex and war. The plural in verse 10 for Ashtoreths is just a reference to the numerous statues and figurines of the naked goddess Ashtoreth. She is always pictured as naked. Why? Because she is the goddess of sex. And so we have the blending of sex and war that the Philistines worshipped.
I won't get into it in detail, but do a little research on the video games that young people play and you will see a mixture of scantily clad women involved with men in gruesome battles with decapitations and other carnage. And the kids eat it up. They eat up both aspects. It's not an accident. Satan is always trying to destroy God's order with a counterfeit. And when I say "always," I mean that this is pretty universal. You see exactly the same linkage in the goddesses of other degenerate cultures. They always seemed to be some goddess of both sex and war. Let me give you some examples. The Egyptians had Hathor (sometimes called Isis), the Sumerians had Innana, the Babylonians had Ishtar, the Syrians had Ashtart, the Greeks had Aphrodite, the Romans had Venus, the Norse had Freya. And you can look at India, China, and other places and see a similar goddess. She is always pictured as a naked woman – the humanistic attempt at presenting their own version of life, liberty, love, and happiness. But without God you are always led to a culture of death. And the video games are symptomatic of our degenerate culture's glorying in both sex and war. At least think about it.
Now verse 1 presents the Philistines as the aggressors. They were expanding their territory. And I want to give a little bit of background that might be obvious to the original readers, but not so obvious to us. The Philistines were an incredibly war-loving people who had originally come from the Island of Crete. If you want to read about them in the history books, they were the sea peoples. Apparently there was a connection to the people in Homer's Iliad, though there is debate on that. But I think Iliad gives you a bit of a picture. They had thrown off the Hittites, swept down the coast, plundering as they went, and had established a beachhead in five Philistine towns in southern Palestine. But they wanted all of Palestine. In wave after wave of sea and land assaults, they attacked Syria, Palestine, and even Egypt. Egypt was scared to death of these guys. And now this was their drive northward and eastward. And everywhere they went they plundered and killed.
Of course, it would be a mistake to think of them as uncivilized barbarians. You won't see the application if you dismiss them that way. Sometimes people use the word philistine to describe an uncultured, very uncouth individual. And several scholars have shown that this is a total misuse of the term "philistine." Those Philistines were anything but uncivilized. In fact, some people have said that they were more like modern America than Israel was. They were Mycenaean in their background and probably considered themselves to be far more cultured than Israel. And by cultured I mean sophisticated in the arts, entertainment, philosophy, administration, and the comforts of life. They were certainly much more advanced than Israel in architecture, technology, and warfare machinery. I think the recent studies on the Philistines have demonstrated that. That's why some commentaries are mystified as to why Saul would choose to fight them on the plans in front of Gilboa. With the Philistine chariots, that did not seem like a wise decision. We can only guess at Saul's reasoning, but it did not seem like a good strategy.
But I mention their culture, entertainment, philosophy, technology, etc. to point out that you don't have to be primitive to embrace a culture of death. You just need to have drifted far from the God of Scripture on the issues of life and death, or as the Philistines perhaps thought of it, on love and war. Ashtoreth's version of hyper-sexualized love led to an ongoing culture of death just as their battles for liberty led to an ongoing culture of death. And let me explain what I mean by that. Free sex is not love. It leads to death through STDs, abortion, infanticide, AIDS, declining population growth, abuse of children, short term thinking, etc. But so did their constant interventionism in other countries. Archeology doesn't tell us what excuse the Philistines used for their expansionist wars, but constant warfare in the name of liberty doesn't magically produce liberty. And here is the scary thing: America is just as war-loving as the Philistines were. Americans worship the goddess of love and war. And how many women are sterile because of it? How many abortions have happened because of it. How much carnage has happened through American wars? It is astronomical.
A. Countless people suffered under their expansionist policies (v. 1b) -------------------------------------------------------------------
Under point B, I simply state the obvious – that countless people suffered under the Philistine expansionist policies. Why were the Philistines even up there at Mount Gilboa? It was way out of their territory. Well, the reason is that Israel controlled the most lucrative trade routes for the nations, and the Philistines wanted that. It was economics that drove this war. Why has America complained about the tyranny of Iraq, but not about the tyranny that has existed for half a century in Sudan -far greater tyranny? If it were really liberty we were interested in promoting, you would think that America would have been involved in liberating Southern Sudan. But no, there is something else driving these wars. Why has America gone after the tyranny of Iran, but not after the tyranny of Saudi Arabia? Forgive me if I am skeptical that America has any interest in exporting liberty. Saudi Arabia is the second most repressive regime in the world, but they are close friends with America. Right?
We have been in a constant series of interventionist wars for all of my lifetime and all of my parents' lifetime. And it has produced the opposite of liberty and life. You just look at one of the numerous countries we have tried to "liberate" – Iraq, and you will see that we have produced anything but liberty. 4000 US soldiers lost their lives, and for what? Christians are worse off in that country now than they were under Saddam Hussein, and America is no safer for it. Over a million Iraqi civilians have died from civil unrest in the aftermath of our war, so they are hardly safer. But even before that, one University study estimated that Clinton's embargo contributed to about 250,000 children under the age of five dying of malnutrition in Iraq as a direct result of the embargo. I tend to be skeptical of University studies, but I had a Reconstructionist friend in Iraq who has seen this tragedy firsthand under the Clinton regime. And in country after country we have produced death not liberty.
But the same is true of the "love" side of the equation. The sexual revolution of the sixties (all under the name of love) has produced not only 1.25 million abortions every year, but has contributed to the death of America's Christian culture as a whole. This is Ashtoreth – the goddess of sex and war. It's not just communism that is capable of producing a culture of death. The Bible says that any country that rejects the Lordship of God seeks death by definition. It's just a matter of how much and how fast.
I. Facing death realistically – death comes to all (vv. 2-3) =========================================================
A. To good men like Jonathan (v. 2) --------------------------------
Now this is not to say that all death is wrong. God authorizes defensive wars. He authorizes self-defense. And of course, he authorizes dying in the defense of your loved ones and dying in the defense of your country. John 15:13 says, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends." God commanded Israel to be involved in love and war. So on the surface, the differences can be scoffed at. But when God's grace and God's love drive both love and war, life and liberty result.
Take a look at verse 2. Verse 2 shows the heroism of Saul's sons when it says, "Then the Philistines followed hard after Saul and his sons. And the Philistines killed Jonathan, Abindadab, and Malchishua, Saul's sons." Commentators point out that the way this is worded and the way David words his tribute to Jonathan in 2 Samuel 1, shows the heroism in these sons who formed a rearguard to protect king Saul and to try to let him escape. So Saul appears to have been on higher ground trying to escape, and his sons are down lower, valiantly laying down their lives. They are killed first, since they are closer to the enemy. David made it clear in the first chapter of the next book that Jonathan went down fighting. David said, "the bow of Jonathan did not turn back…" He was not running. He knew he was going down, but he was going to take as many Philistines with him as he could. And as such, these sons of Saul stand as a tribute to heroism, valor, and courage in war.
You don't have to agree with everything your ruler does to be able to fight righteously in American unrighteous wars. And yes, you heard me right on that. People think, "How could that be?" But think of it this way: Did John the Baptist make the Roman soldiers quit their jobs when they got converted? No. He gave them counsel on how they could be a righteous influence within that Roman culture of death. A Roman centurion came to Jesus for the healing of a servant that he loved. And Jesus not only healed that servant, but also declared the man to be a great man of faith. Did Jesus make him quit the army? No. Then you have the Roman centurion, Cornelius, who got converted under Peter. Then there was yet another Roman centurion converted under the ministry of Paul. And in early church history, you had the same thing. Sometimes those soldiers had to disobey orders and they were summarily executed. But they faithfully served God within a culture of death.
Jonathan did not agree with all of his father's actions, yet he fought and he fought hard in his dying moments. Faith can enable you to outdo yourself in battle just like Jonathan did. And though I have not agreed with all of America's wars, I can still give tribute to the heroes of battle from America's past wars. I think it was shameful the way soldiers were treated when they came back from Vietnam. I don't think we should have been in Vietnam, but that's not always a soldiers place to say. Those men gave the best of their lives, and they deserve the kind of praise and tribute that David gave to both Jonathan and Saul in the next chapter. And so God's grace enables us to be a centurion, a soldier, a Daniel, Shadrach, Meschek, or an Abednego, and to serve Him uncomfortably at times, and yet serve Him faithfully in a culture of death. And so this gives a balance to what we said in point I. God does not call us to separate, but he does call us to be different. And Jonathan was certainly different from Saul in the way he died. And so, even when you know you are going to die, you can face death realistically and die well like Jonathan did.
A. To compromised men like Saul (v. 3) -----------------------------------
But despite the valiant efforts of his sons to protect him, Saul was shot as well. Verse 3: "The battle became fierce against Saul. The archers hit him, and he was severely wounded by the archers." Though Saul showed great fear the night before the battle, he seemed to have enough faith to pull together a somewhat courageous last stand. And according to David's account in the next chapter, Saul fought quite valiantly in at least part of this battle. It says, "the sword of Saul did not return empty." I love that phrase. In other words, he went down, but he took a lot of Philistines with him before that happened.
But these two snapshots also emphasize the fact that death comes to all. It comes to the good and the bad. There is no avoiding death, so we might as well face it with faith and courage. While most of us don't stand in the way of bullets or bombs, death can happen to any of us. I have known some people who have had near death experiences, but there is a sense in which our whole life is a near death experience. Nothing but God's power keeps us from death. God can take us out at any time. A driver could lose consciousness, hop the curb, and kill you with his car on the sidewalk. A gas leak could cause an explosion at home. A heart attack, cancer, or any number of things could take us. Though we try to avoid death like the Israelites who fled in verse 1, if it is our appointed time to die, we will not be able to miss our appointment.
Of course, He won't take us until our purpose on earth is done. Until that time, we are invincible. But we should always have a perspective of being ready for death. You should be ready to die right now. In fact, Joe Morecraft recommends that you plan your funeral early in life.
I. Why we should not welcome death (vv. 4-5) =========================================
A. Is mercy killing justified? (v. 4a) -----------------------------------
But point III gives yet another balance. Though we should be prepared for death, and though we should be bold in facing death like Jonathan was, we should not welcome death. And here is where Saul made one last error of judgment in his life. He welcomed death. And I think part of the reason was that he wasn't used to being driven by Scripture. Verses 4-5 show two ways in which some people welcome death. In verse 4 Saul asked his armor bearer to kill him. He is asking for a mercy killing, much like Kevorkian performed on numerous people. "Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, ‘Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it…"
Euthanasia murder (2 Sam. 1:5-10,15-16)
What Saul was requesting was euthanasia – putting him out of his misery by killing him. Euthanasia was considered by the Bible to be both immoral and illegal. It was illegal through most of Israel's history and has been illegal throughout most of western civilization. Saul did not borrow this idea from God's law. He borrowed it from the Philistines, who had many so-called "heroic" examples of suicide and mercy killing in their Mycenaean history. And because there are so many calls for legalizing euthanasia today, and because even Christians have gotten confused on this subject, I think it deserves some comment.
a. #### Euthanasia involves the active killing of a person as an act of "mercy"
Let me first of all define euthanasia. Euthanasia is "the act or practice of killing … hopelessly sick or injured individuals … in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy." (Merriam-Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary). Let me make a distinction. It is sometimes permissible to allow a person to die naturally (in other words, to not perform heroic medical measures on a person who will at best only have his life prolonged for a short period), but the Bible does not allow the active killing of a person. That's what is forbidden in the Scripture – the active medical killing of another person.
a. #### However, every act of either suicide or euthanasia in the Bible is treated as disobedient (Judges 9:54-57; 1 Sam. 31:3-6 with 2 Sam. 1:9-16; 17:23; 1 Kings 16:15-19; Matt 27:5; Acts 1:18)
I've put into your outlines five reasons why euthanasia is unbiblical. First of all, conservative scholars have pointed out that every act of either suicide or euthanasia recorded in the Bible has been treated in the context of disobedience. And you might say, "Well, this passage is the exception." Where does it say that it was wrong here? Surely you don't the Philistines to capture Saul? In a moment we will look at a hint of how this passage all by itself shows that it is definitely not an exception. But turn with me to 2 Samuel 1, and I want to read you a more detailed account of what happened verses 4 and 5 of our chapter. The same author who wrote 1 Samuel wrote 2 Samuel, so he is amplifying on what happened here. We will start reading at verse 5:
2Samuel 1:5 "So David said to the young man who told him, "How do you know that Saul and Jonathan his son are dead?"
2Samuel 1:6 "Then the young man who told him said, "As I happened by chance to be on Mount Gilboa, there was Saul, leaning on his spear; and indeed the chariots and horsemen followed hard after him."
2Samuel 1:7 "Now when he looked behind him, he saw me and called to me. And I answered, "Here I am.'"
2Samuel 1:8 "And he said to me, "Who are you?' So I answered him, ‘I am an Amalekite.'"
2Samuel 1:9 "He said to me again, "Please stand over me and kill me, for anguish has come upon me, but my life still remains in me.'"
2Samuel 1:10 "So I stood over him and killed him, because I was sure that he could not live after he had fallen." [And by fallen, I believe he is referring to Saul having fallen on his own sword, as show in the picture in your outline. He witnessed Saul leaning on his spear as well as that fall on the sword, and when Saul asked him to, he finished Saul off. Anyway, he continues:] "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."
So what had happened was that Saul's attempted suicide was botched. He fell on his sword to try to kill himself, but it did not work. And as he was lying there with his sword in his chest, he saw this Amalekite soldier, and begged him to kill him because he didn't have the strength to finish what he started. So it is a clear-cut case of euthanasia (or at least a claim to have committed euthanasia). Notice David's response in verses 14-15:
2Samuel 1:14 "So David said to him, "How was it you were not afraid to put forth your hand to destroy the LORD'S anointed?"
2Samuel 1:15 "Then David called one of the young men and said, "Go near, and execute him!" And he struck him so that he died."
2Samuel 1:16 "So David said to him, "Your blood is on your own head, for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, ‘I have killed the LORD'S anointed.'"
David treated this euthanasia as murder – despite the fact that Saul had invited it. And every other example of euthanasia in the Bible is similarly treated as being in a context of disobedience to God. And you will have to study those references on your own.
a. #### The command against murder is a command against any taking of life not explicitly authorized by God's Word (sixth command defined by case law)
The second proof comes from the way the Ten Commandments are further defined by the case law. God forbad the taking of human life, and if that was as far as He went, we couldn't have capital punishment or self-defense. But God went on in the case law to give certain very carefully circumscribed exceptions that would not be considered murder: lawful war, lawful execution of a murderer or other criminal whom God's law declared to have deserved the death penalty, and killing a person in self-defense. But apart from those God-authorized exceptions, all killing of humans is considered murder in the Bible. Nowhere in the case law is euthanasia offered as an exception to the mandate, "Thou shalt not kill." Therefore by definition euthanasia is murder. It's just simple logic. If God doesn't authorize euthanasia as being an exception to the sixth commandment, it is logically a violation of the sixth commandment.
a. #### The command to preserve life applies equally to self as to the lives of others (Matt 22:39; Eph. 5:28)
The third argument is that God's positive command to preserve life (implied in the sixth commandment) applies equally to self as to the lives of others. For example, Matthew 22:39 says, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." You are called to love neighbor and self. And Ephesians 5:28 commands husbands to love their wives as their own bodies. So it implies that what would be inappropriate for others should be inappropriate for self, and what would be inappropriate for self should be inappropriate for others.
a. #### Suffering does not diminish the value of life (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:11-18; 6:1-10; 11:22-12:10)
The fourth argument is countering one of the main arguments given by euthanasia advocates. They say that pain and suffering diminish the quality of life and the value of life and therefore justify removing life. But Scripture clearly says otherwise. And in your outlines I have given a number of Scriptures that show that even when experiencing the greatest of pain and suffering, our lives still have value to God, and our sufferings themselves are designed by God to press us deeper into God.
a. #### Our lives are not our own (1 Cor. 6:19-20; 7:4)
The last argument is that God says that our lives are not our own. And that means that we don't have the authority to do whatever we want with our bodies. We must ask God what we should do with our bodies. We are stewards of our bodies. 1 Corinthians 6:20 says, "For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's." Another Scripture says that you are not your own.
To avoid a dishonorable death (v. 4b)
But back to our text, there are two reasons that Saul gave for requesting a mercy killing. The first reason was that he didn't want a dishonorable death: "lest these uncircumcised men come and thrust me through…" He was in effect saying, "I'd rather die by the hand of an Israelite than by the hand of an uncircumcised man." Never mind that God had told him the evening before that he would die by the hand of an uncircumcised man. For Saul, being killed by a Philistine was not acceptable unless it was in the midst of battle. He wanted to choose how he would die. Ironically, the next chapter shows him finally being willing to take an even less honorable death – death at the hands of an Amalekite, who apparently was either a mercenary fighting with the Philistines or a servant of one of the Philistines. But in any case, at this point he wanted an honorable death, and found death at the hands of the Philistines unacceptable. Other people find it unacceptable to die a slow death by cancer. Others think that a lower quality of life is unacceptable, and so they opt for euthanasia. This was the case with Baby Doe, who was starved to death because she was a Downs Syndrome baby. This was the case with Terri Shiavo, a brain damaged woman who was euthanized despite being able to respond to the love of those around her.
Most of the arguments that you see for euthanasia appeal to what we want or what we find acceptable at any given moment. But once you open the door to what is acceptable in terms of quality of life, there is no stopping a Hitlerian plan from eventually emerging. You need to ask, "Can a doctor kill a person who is in a coma?" What about a paralyzed person? What about a mentally handicapped person? What about a person under a certain IQ? What about a person who is feeling depressed today? What about an unwanted baby? The abortionists have long said, "Every child a wanted child," and have tried to turn abortion into a mercy killing issue. "You don't want that child to go through the misery of being unwanted." But why stop there? Hitler didn't. Gypsies were unwanted. Jews became unwanted. Maybe Christians at some point will become unwanted. There is no logical stopping point for euthanasia once you give up the principle that God alone can authorize the taking of life. And America is fast becoming a culture of death as the legalizing of euthanasia is gaining momentum.
To avoid torture (v. 4c)
What about euthanasia of a person in order to avoid his going through torture? Saul's second reason for requesting euthanasia was, lest they "abuse me," or as the margin says, "torture me." And of course, the Philistines were quite capable of torture. We know that. They had caught their terrorist, and could extract information from him. And of course there are other forms of torture that all of us would like to avoid – torture from pancreatic cancer or other forms of painful disease. Who wants to die a slow, painful, smelly, lingering death? I don't think you do and I know that I don't want to. But "want to" is not the Biblical basis for death. God did not give an exception. He did not say, "Don't kill anybody unless they beg you to."
Of course, active killing is quite different from allowing death to take its natural course while caring for the patient and keeping him comfortable. The Bible does allow for that. The Bible would say that you can administer pain-killing drugs, even if those drugs eventually shorten your life. But the goal of the drugs is to lessen the pain, not to kill the person. And believe it or not, this issue of torture or pain has been used over and over again in America to justify euthanasia against the will of the patient who has the pain. A friend of mine was euthanized against her will here in Omaha because she had painful arthritis and the family didn't want her to suffer. Now she herself had claimed that she had quality of life because her suffering was worth it if she should see her family converted. But they euthanized her. So quality of life, honorable death, and avoiding torture are not good reasons for euthanasia.
Why the armor bearer was afraid to kill Saul (v. 4d)
And I believe that this was the primary reason why the armor bearer refused. Verse 4 goes on to say, "But his armor bearer would not, for he was greatly afraid." What was he afraid of? He wasn't afraid of death. He quickly killed himself. He was afraid of killing Saul. Why? Because he probably knew that killing the king was against the law of God, and he knew it would have been considered murder. Perhaps he was making his own life right with God, and he didn't want to have murder on his hands. And America would do well if it had as healthy a fear of euthanasia as this man did. God told Noah, "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man" (Gen. 9:6). We already saw that though Nabal, Abigail's husband, was comatose for ten days, his wife cared for him because she reverenced God.
A. Is suicide justified (vv. 4b-5) -------------------------------
1. ### Note, not all suicide is sinful (John 15:13)
So euthanasia is clearly ruled out. What about suicide? If others can't take your life, can you take your own life? Unfortunately, neither this man nor Saul considered suicide to be wrong. The text says, "Therefore Saul took a sword and fell on it. And when his armorbearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell on his sword, and died with him." To die fighting would not be a sin, but to die for the reasons given in these verses would be a sin.
Now, let me clarify that it is not always a sin. I've already read John 15:13. Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends." That's not a selfish suicide. That is a suicide driven by grace and love. Though Jesus laid his life down, it was not a sinful suicide. It was laying his life down for his friends. Soldiers who have jumped on grenades to take the impact on their bodies and to spare the lives of their buddies are heroes, not sinners. So we've got to parse this carefully.
To avoid a dishonorable death (v. 4b,e)
But nowhere does God authorize suicide in order to have a more honorable death. That's not driven by grace. That is driven by pride.
To avoid torture (v. 4c,e)
What about to avoid torture? That's a more tricky reason, because it could indeed be laying down your life to spare your friends' lives. For example, if you were a spy or a soldier who had information that the enemy could use to destroy hundreds of lives, I believe it would be OK to swallow a cyanide pill. And since in some situations the whole purpose of torture is to extract information, I wouldn't want to say that suicide was wrong in those situations. I think it could be an honorable laying down of your life for your friends. That could be driven by grace and love. But simply to avoid the pain would not be a good reason. That would be a selfish reason. And the reason Saul gave in 2 Samuel was simply that he wanted his agony to end. It didn't look like he would live long enough for the Philistines to get any information. It was pain he was concerned about.
For any other reason (v. 5)
I like the response of one woman who was struggling with a disablingly painful disease. She was asked if she wished to live or die. She said, "I have no wish about the matter, but to leave it in the hands of God."
I'm sure I haven't answered every question that could come up with regard to this topic. There is so much material. For example, Job's wife encouraged her husband to basically commit suicide in Job 2:9, and his response to her is instructive. Job 2:10:
Job 2:10 "But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips."
Do not get your clues on euthanasia and suicide from our culture of death. Look to the Scripture. Too many Christians blindly take the advice of a doctor or lawyer and they end up violating God's law. In fact, I had a friend call me up from Lincoln a few years ago saying that he had an emergency and needed my advice. He was listed as the decision maker on harvesting organs from his cousin. She had been in a car accident that day and was declared brain dead, and because she had an organ donation card, they were very eager to get her organs immediately. So the doctors and administrators were putting a great deal of pressure on my friend. I asked a few questions to make sure that I understood the situation, and then told him unequivocally that she was not dead. The Bible defines death as cardio pulmonary – the life is in the blood and there is the breath of life that oxygenates the blood. The life is not in a beating heart. A person can have an artificial heart keeping him alive for a long time. The life is not in the brain. The life is in the blood. Anyway, he refused to allow the organ harvesting. And boy were they mad. They did everything they could to get him to change his mind and to circumvent him. But they were not successful, and a week later, his cousin was up and walking around, and as healthy as before. Believe me, she has a totally different perspective on organ donation cards now.
I have seen this too many times. Brain death is a wrong criterion for death. And yet ethicists are so desperate to get organs in this lucrative organ transplant industry that they keep pressuring the government to redefine death as social death. In other words, if you are unconscious, you are socially dead even if you have brain activity. If you are retarded, you are socially dead, even if you can kiss and hug your mama. Brothers and sisters, our culture of death is expanding, and we need the compass of Scripture to safely navigate the waters. Most organ transplants involve murdering an individual. Not all, but most. Medicine is a complex area of ethics.
I. Realizing that death is God's appointment (v. 6 with 1 Sam. 28:18-19; 2 Sam. 1:5-10) ====================================================================================
The last point says that death is God's appointment. Verse 6 says, "So Saul, his three sons, his armorbearer, and all his men died together that same day." Why do I say that this was God's appointment? Because the evening before, God had prophesied that this would happen on this day and in this way. That was chapter 28. Saul could not live one day longer or one day shorter than God had ordained. Samuel had said, "Moreover the LORD will also deliver Israel with you into the hand of the Philistines. And tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The LORD will also deliver the army of Israel into the hand of the Philistines." That was said the night before.
And despite that, Saul was trying to avoid part of that prophecy from happening when he asked for euthanasia and then when he fell on his sword. When you put this passage together with the passage we read from the next chapter, you come to the conclusion that the Philistines mortally wounded him, he then asked his armorbearer to kill him; the armorbearer refused; he fell on his own sword; his sword didn't kill him and he didn't have the strength to take it out and try again; a Philistine mercenary or servant (the Amalekite) came upon him, saw an opportunity for getting rich and getting advanced, he killed Saul, took some loot, and then high-tailed it to David to try to get promoted. But nothing could stop God's prophecy of the uncircumcised killing him from being fulfilled. It is appointed unto man once to die. And God ordains even the way we are going to die. You might think that you have your choice; you don't. How many suicides fail? A person jumps off the top of a skyscraper, lands on a car, kills the person in the car, but survives.
Conclusion – Though Jesus has conquered death, it must still be treated as an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26,50-58)
But let me conclude by showing that Christ's death and resurrection gives us perspective that can help us to think differently within our culture of death. Indeed, Christ's kingdom is the antithesis of our culture of death. His approach to sex and war produces life and liberty. Christ conquered death. But He still wants us to see death as an enemy, not a friend. We need not fear death, but neither should we embrace it.
And sometimes the world's way of thinking about death can be so subtle that it sounds spiritual. It sounds good. Let me give you an example from the life of Whitefield, a very godly Reformed evangelist in the 1700's. And I got this from Joseph Belcher's biography. Whitefield had been complaining about the hard work and the little results that were happening. He said that he was weary and he wanted to die so that he could go home to be with Jesus. He asked the other ministers at the table if they did not take great comfort in the fact that they too should soon go home to their rest. They generally agreed, but Whitefield could tell that father Tennant, an elderly gentleman sitting next to him definitely did not. Mr Tennant didn't say anything, but his silence showed his displeasure. Anyway, the biographer said,
Seeing this, Mr. Whitefield, gently tapping him on the knee, said, "Well, brother Tennent, you are the oldest man among us; do you not rejoice to think that your time is so near at hand, when you will be called home?" Mr. Tennent bluntly answered, "I have no wish about it." Mr. Whitefield pressed him again. Mr. Tennent again answered, "No, sir, it is no pleasure to me at all; and if you knew your duty, it would be none to you. I have nothing to do with death; my business is to live as long as I can, as well as I can, until He should think proper to call me home." Mr. Whitefield still urged for an explicit answer to his question, in case the time of death were left to his own choice. Mr. Tennent replied, "I have no choice about it; I am God's servant, and I have engaged to do his business as long as he is pleased to continue me therein. But now, brother, let me ask you a question. What do you think I should say, if I was to send my servant into a field, and find him lounging under a tree, and complaining, ‘Master, the sun is very hot, and the ploughing is hard; I am weary of the work you have appointed me, and am overdone with the heat and burden of the day. Do, master, let me return home, and be discharged from this hard service?" What should I say? Why, that he was a lazy fellow, and that it was his business to do the work that I had appointed him, until I should think fit to call him home." (pp. 353-354).
It was a rather blunt answer, but it showed so clearly that death is still our enemy and not to be embraced. And though Christ has conquered death, we should never welcome it as a friend. Instead, our embrace of kingdom life and our lack of fear of death should make us zealous in our service for King Jesus until our dying breath. 1 Corinthians 15 words it this way:
1Corinthians 15:26 "The last enemy that will be destroyed is death."
And in context, death won't be destroyed until the Second Coming, so it is still our enemy. Yet in verses 50 and following, Paul says this:
1Corinthians 15:50 "Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption."
1Corinthians 15:51 "Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—"
1Corinthians 15:52 "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed."
1Corinthians 15:53 "For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality."
1Corinthians 15:54 "So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory."
1Corinthians 15:55 "O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?"
1Corinthians 15:56 "The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law."
1Corinthians 15:57 "But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
1Corinthians 15:58 "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."
Christ's death and resurrection frees us up to be like Jonathan – to live life to the fullest, and when we must face death, to face it with courage and faith. Don't glory in death like some video games do. But don't fear it either.
Jack Benson was a missionary to China. He was held up by some bandits who took all his valuables and then held a gun to his head. They forced him to kneel in the road and told him that they were going to shoot him. He calmly knelt showing absolutely no fear. He was totally at peace. The bandits were mystified by his calmness. They asked, "Aren't you afraid? We're going to shoot you." Benson replied, "Afraid of what? I'm just going to meet my God." And they killed him.
Not every story ends happily ever after from an earthly perspective. Jonathan's and Saul's story seems to have such a sad ending. But for Jonathan especially, it was not. For the Christian, the story always ends happily ever after. We need not fear death – even if it is our enemy. Here's a poem a fellow missionary wrote based on Jack Benson's death in China. It's titled, "Afraid of What?"
AFRAID OF WHAT?
By E. H. Hamilton
Afraid of what?
Afraid to feel the spirit's glad release?
To pass from pain to perfect peace?
The strife & strain of life to cease?
Afraid of that?
Afraid of what?
Afraid to see the Savior's face?
To hear His welcome & to trace
The glory gleaned from wounds of grace?
Afraid of that?
Afraid of what?
Afraid to enter into heaven's rest,
and yet to serve the master blessed,
from service good to service best?
Afraid of that?
No. Brothers and sisters, there are really two perspectives on life: the Christian perspective and all else. Even though Saul was a believer, he embraced a little bit too much of the "all else." All else will ultimately produce a culture of death while living and will enter an eternal dying after life. The Christian perspective brings life to everything, including death. I urge you to embrace the Christian perspective on life and death in our culture of death. Amen.
From 2011 CIA World Factbook. ↩