As we come to the end of Saul’s life here, I have found these observations from Edwin Good most thoughtful:
The remaining two episodes of the Saul narrative highlight the tragedy of the whole story of Saul. His recourse to Samuel’s ghost demonstrated his feeling that the people were no longer with him. But the starkly heroic act of the men of Jabesh-gilead (31:11-13), the site of Saul’s first triumph (ch. 11), shows the lasting respect, loyalty, and affection that he had in fact acquired.
The other piece of tragic irony is the moving lament uttered by David over Saul (2 Sam. 1:19-27). We cannot imagine that David wanted to fight against Saul, he escaped his command in the battle of Mt Gilboa only because the Philistine officers felt him a poor security risk. He was considered by others to be Saul’s most faithful servant (22:14). When he could easily have done so, he would not kill the King because he “loved him greatly” (16:21).
Saul’s obsession with David was the construct of his own mind, and David’s response to Saul’s death demonstrates to us how tragically needless it was. Saul’s genuine greatness–his stature before the people, and the affection in which he was held, as shown by the deed of the men of Jabesh-Gilead–could have had full, free play in the monarchy. He could have been the kind of ruler to turn the kingship’s intrinsic ambiguity to the proper ends. But he was not the man. He was “little in his own eyes,” and he found it impossible to conceive that obedience to the Lord just might override his own self-perceived shortcomings.