I found this handy list of suicides in the Bible on Bible.org.
1. [Abimelech] called hastily unto the young man his armour-bearer, and said unto him, Draw thy sword, and slay me, that men say not of me, A woman slew him. And his young man thrust him through, and he died (Judges 9:54).
2. And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed with all his might; and the house fell…upon all the people that were therein (Judges 16:30).
3. Saul took a sword and fell on it (1 Sam. 31:4).
4. When [Saul’s] armour-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise upon his sword, and died (1 Sam 31:5).
5. When Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he…got him home to his house, to his city, and put his house in order, and hanged himself, and died (2 Sam. 17:23).
6. It came to pass, when Zimri saw that the city was taken, that he went into the palace of the king’s house, and burnt the king’s house over him with fire, and died (1 Kings 16:18).
7. [Judas] cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself (Matt. 27:5).
J. L. Meredith, Meredith’s Big Book of Bible Lists, (Inspirational Press, NY; 1980), pp. 143-144
My point here will be to say something about the back story circumstances that led to the suicides of the person in question.
1. This particular Abimelech sought to be king. To do so he murdered 69 of 70 half-brothers. He became warlord (king) of the City of Shechem\Israel and he ruled for about three years before a revolt broke out in Shechem. Abimelech and his army sought to put the revolt down and in the process a woman dropped a large brick on his head. Abimelech thought it fatal and so asked his armor bearer to run him through so that people would not say he died at the hands of a woman. Judges 9:55-56 indicate that God repaid Abimelech for his reckless ambition when he killed his brothers and God repaid Shechem for their evil deeds as well.
2. The story of Samson is one of the best known in all of Scripture. Samson was born to be a Nazarite (and a Judge). As long as he didn’t cut his hair he would have victory over the Philistines. Samson had a problem and that problem was the idol of pleasure in his own heart. Today Samson would be a poster child for pornography. Eventually his choices will lead him to become a blind slave of the Philistines. Samson repents and asks God for permission to die with the Philistines and God grants him the request
3. Saul was the first legitimate King of Israel. Saul was vain and today we’d say mentally unbalanced because he was given to serious fits of rage. Saul’s jealousy of David consumed him. In an epic battle with the Philistines at Mt. Gilboa Saul is mortally wounded. Rather than linger or be captured alive by his enemies Saul orders his armor-bearer to kill him with the sword.
4. Saul’s armor-bearer, perhaps desperate himself and consumed with grief then kills himself.
5. The key to understanding Ahithophel’s suicide is found here: 17:14 Then Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The advice of Hushai the Arkite sounds better than the advice of Ahithophel.” Now the Lord had decided 11 to frustrate the sound advice of Ahithophel, so that the Lord could bring disaster on Absalom. (Net Bible)
Absalom, David’s son, is in revolt against David. Husai and Ahithopel give counsel to Absalom. Absalom chooses the advice of Husai over the better counsel of Ahithophel. Ahithophel cannot handle the rejection and hangs himself probably concluding he was out of favor with Absalom. The verse clearly credits God with Absalom’s choice as well as the reason-disaster on Absalom.
6. Zimri is noted as having the shortest reign of any of Israel’s kings (northern kingdom). He ruled for just seven days. Zimri had become king after killing Elah who was king and anyone related to Elah. The General of the Army-Omri, out ranked Zimri and wanting to be king himself marched on Tirzah where Zimri was. Zimri had miscalculated and when he saw the situation hopeless he took his own life.
7. Judas Iscariot is the only suicide recorded in the New Testament. Judas regrets his betrayal of Jesus and in despair throws the blood money into the temple and hangs himself. Judas’ repentance was superficial for he never believed that Jesus was God and rather saw him as someone who could lead the zealots against Rome. His despair stemmed from the fact that Jesus was innocent of the accusations leveled against Jesus and perhaps Judas sought to atone for his sin by taking his own life. Matt. 27:3-5
All of these men mentioned in Scripture who committed suicide were celebrities of sorts. Most were kings or wanna be kings, one was a Judge, one a counselor of some repute and one was a disciple of Jesus and for a time enjoyed the popularity of that association as did the armor bearer of Saul (a high honor).
Samson appears to be the only one who was repentant and his suicide has a different tone to it as God allows him to die in one final act against the worshipers of the false god, Dagon. It is here that perhaps we get a clue as to the suicides of all the others.
With perhaps the exception of Saul’s armor-bearers all were highly ambitious and quite willing to sin to get what they wanted-power! It’s difficult to know what the armor-bearer wanted but we do know what he didn’t want-to live without his king. His sense of loyalty was to Saul and in being the armor-bearer of the king he found his sole source of identity.
Again, with the possible exception of Samson all experienced despair in their final moments. All had lost hope, all were by modern standards clinically depressed when they took their own lives. All perceived obstacles in their paths that told them their goals were now beyond their reach. They would not get whatever it was they wanted most. All had problems within the inner man, the part of every human being the Bible calls the heart.
Samson at the end turned to God and repented finally realizing that his hope did not rest in the pleasures of Philistine women but in the true God. In Samson’s final days he threw off the slavery to his personal idols and God mercifully allowed him to die and take the followers of Dagon with him.
I too was saddened by the death of Robin Williams. I thought him to be a comic genius and thought the movie Good Morning Vietnam to be his best piece of work. The media has gone between calling him heroic or calling him a coward for taking his own life. All seem to agree that the depression that drove the suicide is a disease more than a personal choice.
As someone who has struggled with lower-grade depression I can tell you that it can feel like a disease because it consumes your thoughts and you feel like you cannot control them. On the other hand, I believe that suicide is indeed a choice but one a person feels they must make because they believe they have no other choice.
Depression has more to do what a person feels than what he or she believes and that in my opinion is key to understanding depression from a spiritual point-of-view.
Whatever Robin William’s motives were for killing himself one thing is sure-Williams had lost hope. There were too many obstacles in his mind that he believed crushed his hope.
I have no idea what Mr. Williams believed about God, about Jesus or about the Bible.
I do know that the Bible gives hope to the depressed or what the Bible calls “sorrow without hope.”
The Bible asks in many ways, what do we live for? Do we live for celebrity status and what that means-affirmation, power, control, pleasure or what have you?
The Bible asks what do we ultimately love because the answer to that question determines what we ultimately worship.
The Bible asks what are our goals? What if those goals are frustrated or unobtainable? Does our happiness depend on us realizing our goals?
The Bible asks what do we fear? Understanding what we fear losing tells us something about what we treasure the most.
The Bible asks what do we crave, what do feel we have to have in order to be happy? Will we sin to get what we want?
The Bible asks who are our heroes and who are our role models? It asks where do we find refuge and comfort, pleasure or security? It asks what is success to us and how do we define it?
The answers to these questions probe the heart. To the Christian the questions speak to a divided loyalty; like Samson, who loved his pleasures more than he loved his God. To the non-believer these questions make little sense but to the believer they ought to help us determine our loyalty. Are we loyal to the idols that betray us or are we loyal to the God who saves through Jesus Christ?
Depression is suffering. There is no doubt about that and depression that leads to suicide is tragic. How can it be otherwise when a creature created in God’s image decides that life is hopeless.
I write this to my Christian brother’s and sisters. Who do you ultimately live for? Examine your heart and turn to the only one that cam give true hope-Jesus!
For a thorough treatment of depression I recommend the following resources:
Edward T Welch: Depression Looking Up From Stubborn Darkness
Charles D. Hodges, M.D.: Good Mood, Bad Mood-Help and Hope for Depression and Bipolar Disorder
David Martyn-Lloyd Jones: Spiritual Depression-It’s Causes and It’s Cure
John Piper: Desiring God-Reflections of a Christian Hedonist (This book can help answer the question of who we live for.)