Nowhere is the tragedy of unfulfilled promise more glaringly illustrated than in the life of Israel's inaugural king. Saul stood head and shoulders above his compatriots not only in stature but also in intellect, heart, and will. However, his unyielding self-will and disobedience incurred the disapproval of Jehovah, setting him on a path of perpetual moral decline. Despite his remarkable opportunities and abundant resources, he squandered them all. His life spiraled from bad to worse, culminating in a sin he once would have abhorred and had previously punished in others.
As he prepared for battle in the plains of Esdraelon, where the fate of Palestine had often been decided, he found himself abandoned. He lamented, "The Philistines are warring against me, and God has departed from me, answering me neither through prophets nor dreams." In his desperation, he turned to necromancy, a predictable plunge into superstition for those who abandon true religion. Remarkably, the Lord used the sorcery of the woman of Endor in this instance, not to guide or console the anguished king, but to foretell his imminent doom. Overwhelmed with dread, Saul collapsed in fear, unable to summon any strength. Eventually, he managed to return to his camp.
The following day, the Philistines launched a fierce assault, driving the Israelite army up the heights of Gilboa. A great multitude perished, including Saul's three eldest sons. Under a hail of Philistine archers or pursued relentlessly by their charioteers, Saul sustained severe wounds. Fearing capture by his enemies, he implored his armor-bearer to end his life immediately. When the armor-bearer refused, Saul took his own life, falling upon his sword. His servant followed suit. The artist depicts the tragic scene as it unfolded, portraying these victims of despair and madness, their lives ended by their own weapons, while the Philistine forces surge over the hill.
Saul met his demise burdened by his sins, with his final act being one of transgression. Nevertheless, his generous rival, David, commemorated this tragic event in a poignant ode that has earned admiration across generations. Even today, when a great individual is laid to rest, the most fitting musical accompaniment for the occasion can be found in the exquisite composition known as "The Dead March in Saul," which seeks to convey, through sound, David's lament.