So Saul, his three sons, his armorbearer, and all his men died together that same day. (1 Samuel 31:6)
We have heard this: “You won’t die before your time.” From heaven’s side, that is true in that God is sovereign. He is the Lord of life, death, and eternity. God sets the boundaries of our existence and decrees the day of our end. He is all-knowing and cannot be mistaken. Yet, from the human side, we can lengthen or shorten our days according to our willingness to walk in God’s will. There is no fatalism, where we say, “Whatever will be, will be.” Should I take unneeded risk, I can abbreviate my days. If I engage in unhealthy activity, I can shorten my lifespan. By disobedience, I can commit the sin unto death (see 1 John 5:16-17). Likewise, there have been those who have lived beyond what appeared to be the end. King Hezekiah experienced an extension of life—insofar as he knew—though certainly not a surprise to God what He would do in response to the monarch’s prayer (read 2 Kings 20:1-11). Fifteen years were “added” to his life.
Saul and his sons died too soon. Their life on earth was cut short in judgment. The king had given himself to disobedience of God’s law, yielded himself to demonism in seeking a witch, and descended into death at the end of that downward spiral. He dragged his family—particularly his faithful son, Jonathan—into that blackness with him. Jonathan was too young to die, with too much potential squandered. Many a brave soldier died on the battlefield that day because of the folly of their leader. No man is an island. We do not live—and sin—in isolation. There is a ripple effect when we fall. Like a stone plunges into the water, and the ripples begin to extend in ever-widening circles outward, we do not understand how far-reaching the effects of our decisions—for good or bad—may be.
Such was the decision of General George Armstrong Custer, when the acclaimed Civil War hero, led his troops to Little Big Horn. In his vanity, the golden-haired soldier, would fall along with his men at the hands of Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho, under the direction of Crazy Horse and others. Several of the soldiers killed were Custer’s kin, including two brothers and a nephew. Their bodies were mutilated.
Thousands of years before, King Saul has his “Little Big Horn.” The Israeli forces were routed, Saul was mortally wounded, and lest he be tortured by the Philistines, he falls on his own sword and dies. It is a shameful end to a squandered existence.
There is a sober warning for us all. You can start strong and finish in shame. The late President of Moody Bible Institute, William Culbertson, was known to pray, “Lord, help us to end well.” The great British preacher of yesteryear, F.B. Meyer, stated, “I don’t want my life to end in a swamp.” The Apostle Paul disciplined himself lest he be disqualified and come to an untimely demise (1 Cor.9:27). That way he was able to testify at the close of his life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Tim.4:7-8) Let us make that our goal!