Did All of Saul’s House Die Together?
According to 1 Chronicles 10:1,6, when “the Philistines fought against Israel…. Saul and his three sons died, and all his house died together.” Second Samuel 2:8-10, however, indicates that Saul’s son Ishbosheth was still alive after Saul’s death, and, in fact, reigned over Israel for the two years following the death of his father. How are these accounts not contradictory?
The reason that some contend these passages are incompatible (e.g., Wells, 2014) is because they assume that the phrase “all his house” (Hebrew kaal beeytow) must include every one of Saul’s sons. However, such an assumption cannot be proven anymore than it can be proven that “all his house” included Saul’s daughters, Michal and Merab. (Most people understand that his daughters would not have been fighting the Philistines on the battlefield and would not have been included in “all” of Saul’s house.)
The parallel passage to 1 Chronicles 10:6 is 1 Samuel 31:6, which states: “So Saul, his three sons, his armorbearer, and all his men died together that same day” (emp. added). Saul actually had four sons (including Ishbosheth—2 Samuel 2:8), but the phrase “his three sons” is stated to specify the ones who were actually in the battle with their father against the Philistines. (We are not informed why Ishbosheth was not there.) Similarly, the phrase “all his men” obviously did not mean every servant of Saul’s in the Kingdom of Israel, but all of those servants who were with him in the battle at that time and place.
As is used “all the time” in 21st-century America, the Bible writers often used hyperbole. For example, Luke wrote that prior to the birth of Christ “a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered…. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city” (Luke 2:1,3, emp. added). It should be obvious that Luke did not literally mean that every single person in every country on Earth was expected to be registered, but that most people in the Roman Empire (with surely at least some exceptions) were registered.
If I told someone that “all” of the Apologetics Press employees and their families came to a fish fry this past summer, would anyone accuse me of lying if the “all” did not include one of our employees who works from an office three hours away from Montgomery? Most likely, “everyone” would understand and accept the truthfulness and sincere intention of such a statement. One wonders, then, why 2 Chronicles 10:6 is so difficult for some to accept as a truthful declaration.
Finally, even if it could be proven that the chronicler literally meant that every single person who lived in Saul’s physical house died on the same day Saul perished, such an interpretation still could not be proven to contradict the fact that Ishbosheth remained alive. Why? Because it could very well be that Ishbosheth, who was 40 years old at the time (2 Samuel 2:10), no longer lived in Saul’s “house.” If David’s sons Amnon and Absalom had their own “houses” during David’s reign as king (2 Samuel 13:7-8,20), could Ishbosheth not have had his own house during his father’s reign? To ask is to answer.
Once again, an alleged Bible contradiction is demonstrated to be merely an unproven, unfair accusation. Why not be as fair with what the Bible writers penned as we are with what people write and communicate in the 21st century? One cannot legitimately charge the Bible with error when there are perfectly reasonable explanations for the alleged contradictions.
Wells, Steve (2014), “Did All of Saul’s Family Die with Him?” The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/saul_fam.html.