I want to know how Saul died. In I Samuel 31:4 the Scripture says that Saul fell upon his own sword and in verse 6 it says Saul, his three sons, and his armorbearer died that same day. Then in II Samuel 1:10. the Scripture says an Amalekite stood upon him and killed him. I am confused because there are two different accounts of how Saul died. Can you clear this up?
"The battle became fierce against Saul. The archers hit him, and he was severely wounded by the archers. Then Saul said to his armorbearer, "Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised men come and thrust me through and abuse me." But his armorbearer would not, for he was greatly afraid. 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. So Saul, his three sons, his armorbearer, and all his men died together that same day" (I Samuel 31:3-6).
The account given here is the historical account of what happened to Saul. If you notice it contains details that would not have been possible to know unless a person was actually there -- or recorded by the inspiration of God.
"Now it came to pass after the death of Saul, when David had returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites, and David had stayed two days in Ziklag, on the third day, behold, it happened that a man came from Saul's camp with his clothes torn and dust on his head. So it was, when he came to David, that he fell to the ground and prostrated himself. And David said to him, "Where have you come from?" So he said to him, "I have escaped from the camp of Israel." Then David said to him, "How did the matter go? Please tell me." And he answered, "The people have fled from the battle, many of the people are fallen and dead, and Saul and Jonathan his son are dead also." So David said to the young man who told him, "How do you know that Saul and Jonathan his son are dead?" 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. "Now when he looked behind him, he saw me and called to me. And I answered, 'Here I am.' "And he said to me, 'Who are you?' So I answered him, 'I am an Amalekite.' "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.' "So I stood over him and killed him, because I was sure that he could not live after he had fallen. 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"" (II Samuel 1:1-10).
The source for this second story was a young Amalekite. Notice that nowhere is it stated that this is what actually happened. This is what the young Amalekite claimed to have happened.
Israel at this time was at war on two fronts. While Saul was battling the Philistines, David was in another region battling the Amalekites. "Now it happened, when David and his men came to Ziklag, on the third day, that the Amalekites had invaded the South and Ziklag, attacked Ziklag and burned it with fire" (I Samuel 30:1). David chased the raiding party down with 600 men and attacked them. "Then David attacked them from twilight until the evening of the next day. Not a man of them escaped, except four hundred young men who rode on camels and fled" (I Samuel 30:17).
Now a young Amalekite man appears before David claiming to have come upon Saul, dying of a spear wound. He claimed that Saul asked him to kill him and that he did so only because he was sure Saul wouldn't survive his wounds. He then took Saul's crown and bracelets and brought them to David.
It was well-known that Saul had sought David's life on several occasions. It is easy to imagine that this young man thought that he would be rewarded by David if he claimed to have killed David's "enemy" and brought him both the evidence and the props for his kingship. If he had been apart of that raiding party David destroyed, he might have hoped to get his people on the good side of the new king in Israel.
The probability is that the young Amalekite lied. He definitely had the motivation to lie and there are some holes in his story. For instance, why would Saul, dying from a Philistine spear ask an Amalekite, another enemy of Israel, to end his life? More likely the young man sneaked in while the Philistines were busy chasing down the last of the Israelites and were collecting spoils from the battle when he happened to run across Saul's body. I Samuel 31:8 mentions that the Philistines didn't start stripping the slain until the next day, so there was a window of opportunity. He made up the story hoping for a greater reward from David, not counting on David's justice.
"And they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son, for the people of the LORD and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. Then David said to the young man who told him, "Where are you from?" And he answered, "I am the son of an alien, an Amalekite." So David said to him, "How was it you were not afraid to put forth your hand to destroy the LORD'S anointed?" Then David called one of the young men and said, "Go near, and execute him!" And he struck him so that he died. 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'"" (II Samuel 1:12-16).
The man was executed for claiming to have killed Israel's king. David didn't state whether he accepted the man's story as truth. It really didn't matter. The claim was sufficient to earn him the death penalty.
How do we know what accounts are historical accounts that are true? Who was there to give this actual account that we must believe it over the account of the Amalekite? David must have believed him, or he would have called him a liar, but instead, he believed him enough to take his life.
If we are to try to figure who is lying and who is not when the proof is not to be had, where does that leave us?
I expected a better answer than that, we can give that kind of answer to all the questions of the Bible.
If what you are saying true, Saul committed suicide, where does that leave Saul? We can say he was going to die anyway. What about a cancer patient that has been given just a few weeks to live? Can they fall on a sword also? Will that be OK with God?
"For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10).
A Christian has no problems with understanding what happened. He knows, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (II Timothy 3:16). Everything recorded in the Bible is the truth. All Scriptures come from the mouth or breath of God, and God cannot lie (Titus 1:2).
The difficulty you are creating for yourself is because you are being arbitrary in what you accept as truth. You accepted as fact that a young Amalekite came to David claiming to have killed Saul, but you question the recorded just prior to it that states how Saul died. If the record of the death of Saul was false, then how do I even know there was a young Amalekite who approached David?
Another thing that should be important to know is that the books of I Samuel, II Samuel, I Kings, and II Kings are actually all one book. They were divided because it was too big to carry on one scroll. What is in II Samuel 1 is just a continuation of what was recorded in I Samuel 31. Reading the context of I Samuel 31, we have God's record of what happened during the battle. It is not presented as someone's memory or recounting of the events. II Samuel 1 has a man giving a different story. Who is right? "Let God be true but every man a liar" (Romans 3:4). In addition, we noted that the man had the motivation to lie and that there were flaws in his story. I have no trouble understanding the truth in the matter.
In regards to Saul, he is called a wicked king by God. That is why he lost his kingship for his sons. Yes, he committed suicide. What will happen to him? That is for God to judge, but we know that murderers end up in hell according to God (Revelation 21:8), suicide is a form of murder, so it is likely that is where Saul will be, but I don't know everything so I don't know if there are other things God will be considering or not in regards to Saul's destiny.
Saul's death would definitely not be evidence that suicide is acceptable. As already noted, he is not called a good man.
In regards to the young man. He claimed to have killed the king. Murder is wrong and requires the death penalty (Genesis 9:6). His own story ruled out self-defense or accidental murder which could have altered the sentence to life in a city of refuge (Numbers 35). So David's judgment was just based on the man's own testimony. If David had thought the man lied, lying in a court (which is what is going on when a person gives testimony before a king) also can carry a death penalty (Deuteronomy 19:16-20). Putting yourself in David's shoes, whichever way he understood the matter, the penalty was still death. It appears, though, that David had accepted the man's account. It is from God's account of the events that we know the young man lied.