1 Samuel 28
Pulpit Commentary
And it came to pass in those days, that the Philistines gathered their armies together for warfare, to fight with Israel. And Achish said unto David, Know thou assuredly, that thou shalt go out with me to battle, thou and thy men.
Verse 1. - In those days. I.e. while David was dwelling at Ziklag. The Philistines gathered their armies together. This was, as Josephus has observed, a war upon a much larger scale than any that had been carried on since the defeat of the Philistines in the valley of Elah; for we find that the invasion was made from the north, and the decisive battle fought not in the usual field of operations, but in the territory of the tribe of Issachar, in the neighbourhood of Jezreel. We are not indeed to suppose from this that the Philistines had conquered all the central districts of the land, and, driving Saul before them, at last brought him to bay, and slew him in the north; for though Ishbosheth was compelled to withdraw to Mahanaim, a city on the eastern side of the Jordan, yet Abner is said to have made him king there not only over the trans-Jordanic tribes, but also "over Jezreel, and over Ephraim, and over Benjamin" (2 Samuel 2:9). It may be said, however, that these were but titular claims; but the philistine conquests, as described in 1 Samuel 31:7, if not confined to the valley of Esdraelon, as in 1 Chronicles 10:7, were nevertheless all of them to the north of Mount Gilboa, thus leaving Ephraim, Benjamin, and Judah untouched. Nor do we find the Philistines encamped between David at Hebron and Ishbosheth at Mahanaim, or interfering in their contests; and it is only when David was made king over the whole of Israel that they again assembled their forces to dispute the empire with him, and twice suffered defeat (2 Samuel 5:20, 25). More probably, therefore, they marched northward through their own territory, raising the whole of the military population as they went, and then, turning eastward, broke into the Israelite territory by the valley of Jezreel. It was probably the rapid decline of Saul's power which encouraged the Philistines to attempt once again to place their yoke upon the neck of Israel; and Saul, conscious that God's blessing had departed from him, in pitiable agony sought for unholy aid, but finally, with his sons, made a last brave defence, and died a soldier's death. Achish said unto David. As a vassal David was bound to accompany his lord to the acid; and Achish, supposing that David had of his own accord made war upon Judah, probably assumed that the invitation was one which he himself desired. To battle. Hebrew, "in the army."
And David said to Achish, Surely thou shalt know what thy servant can do. And Achish said to David, Therefore will I make thee keeper of mine head for ever.
Verse 2. - Surely thou shalt know. Hebrew, "Therefore thou shalt know," i.e. if the case be so, thou shalt know, etc. The rendering of the A.V. makes David repeat the words of Achish, which literally are, "knowing thou shalt know," the Hebrew way of making a strong affirmation. David's reply is really ambiguous, but is understood by Achish as a boastful assent, and he thereupon promises, Therefore will I make thee keeper of mine head, i.e. captain of my bodyguard, forever. Therefore is exactly the same word as that used by David, and has just the same meaning, namely, "If the case be so, if thou provest thy valour, then I, etc. SAUL AND THE WITCH OF ENDOR (vers. 3-25).
Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had lamented him, and buried him in Ramah, even in his own city. And Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land.
Verse 3. - Samuel was dead. A repetition of 1 Samuel 25:1, inserted to explain Saul's conduct, as is the other fact, that Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits, etc. We are not told when Saul did this; but at the commencement of his reign, when he brought the ark to Nob, he was probably earnest generally in his observance of the precepts of the Mosaic law. Familiar spirits. Hebrew, oboth, the plural of ob, a leathern bottle. It is generally taken to refer to the distended belly of the conjurer, into which the summoned spirit of the dead was supposed to enter, and thence speak; for which reason the Septuagint renders the word" ventriloquist," and is followed by most modern commentators. Wizards. Hebrew, "knowing ones," from the verb to know; just as wizard comes from the old verb to wiss. With ignorant people unusual knowledge is always looked upon with suspicion; but these supposed magicians professed a knowledge to which they bad no claim.
And the Philistines gathered themselves together, and came and pitched in Shunem: and Saul gathered all Israel together, and they pitched in Gilboa.
Verse 4. - The Philistines... pitched in Shunem. Having collected their forces, the Philistines entered Palestine as we have seen, by the valley of Jezreel, also called Esdraelon, and, marching eastward, encamped at Shunem. This was a village in the tribe of Issachar (Joshua 19:18), rendered famous as the abode of the woman who made a little chamber for Elisha (2 Kings 4:8); and from thence also came Abishag (1 Kings 1:8). Conder describes it as being at present only a mud hamlet, with cactus hedges and a spring, but the view extends, he says, as far as to Mount Carmel, fifteen miles away ('Tent-Work,' 1:123). It is now called Sulem, a name given to it also by Eusebius, and lies upon the slopes of the little Hermon, opposite Mount Gilboa, from which it is separated by the valley of Jezreel. This broad plain "is bounded on the east by the range of Gilboa, rising 1500 feet above the sea, and consisting of white chalk; while on the west a long spur runs out at about the same average elevation with Gilboa, and wends northwest to the ridge of Carmel (Conder, 'Handbook,' p. 209). As the valley is about 250 feet above the sea level, Saul, from an elevation of 1200 feet, would easily see the camp of the Philistines pitched upon the slopes of the opposite range at a distance of about four miles.
And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled.
Verses 5, 6. - When Saul saw, etc. It is plain from this that the Philistines had not forced their way up through the Israelite territory; for this was evidently Saul's first sight of their forces, and his alarm was caused by finding them so much larger than he had expected. He therefore in his anxiety enquired of Jehovah, but received no answer, neither by dreams. He had expected these to be vouchsafed, possibly to himself, but more probably to some class of prophets (see Jeremiah 23:25, where false prophets claim to have dreamed, in imitation no doubt of true prophets); but though dreams were thus recognised as a means for communicating God's will to man, yet, as Erdmann well remarks, "a subordinate position is certainly assigned in the Old Testament to the dream as the medium of the Divine influence on the inner life, which in sleep sinks into a state of passiveness." Nor by Urim. Though Abiathar after the massacre of his family had fled to David with the ephod, it is quite possible that Saul may have had another ephod made, and have set up a fresh sanctuary, perhaps at Gibeon, with Zadok, of the family of Eleazar, as high priest. This would account for Zadok being joined with Ahimelech, the son of Abiathar, as one of two high priests early in David's reign (2 Samuel 8:17). It is remarkable, however, that Saul does not mention the Urim himself in ver. 15, and very probably it is named here not because the ephod was actually used, but as enumerating all the various ways by which men inquired of Jehovah. Nor by prophets. In his dee spair Saul may have turned to some reputed soothsayer present with the host, but his wilful life had alienated both priest and prophet from him. And this is the meaning of the passage in 1 Chronicles 10:14: "Saul enquired not of Jehovah; therefore he slew him." He may have gone through the form of inquiring, and certainly now would have been glad of an answer, but his whole mind was determinately set upon carrying out his own purposes, and he would never permit, after the first year or two of his reign, the royal prerogative to bend to the will of God.
And when Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.
Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and inquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor.
Verses 7, 8. - Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit. Hebrew, "owner of an ob" (see on ver. 3). This determination of Saul proves how obstinate was his self-will. He wanted an answer simply that he might know what was about to happen, not that he might receive guidance and counsel from God. From his bidding them seek him out "a woman mistress of an ob," we gather that women were the usual claimants to these occult powers, just as now they are the most successful clairvoyantes, Endor - "the spring of the round," i.e. perhaps of the dwelling, houses being originally circular in shape, like tents - lay a little to the northeast of Shunem, and it was therefore a hazardous matter for Saul to visit it. Condor ('Tent-Work,' 1:122) says, "East of Nain is a village of mud huts, with hedges of prickly pear. This is Endor, famous in connection with the tragic history of the death of Saul. The adventurous character of Saul's night journey is very striking when we consider that the Philistines pitched in Shunem on the southern slopes of the mountain, and that Saul's army was at Jezreel; thus, to arrive at Endor he had to pass the hostile camp, and would probably creep round the eastern shoulder of the hill, hidden by the undulations of the plain, as an Arab will often now advance unseen close by you in a fold of the ground." He proceeds to speculate upon the cave in which the sorceress may have lived, dismissing those in the town as too modern, but suggesting one on the hillside. But there is nothing in the narrative to suggest that she lived in a cave, but rather the contrary, and the idea may be dismissed as due to the imagination of painters. As the journey was very dangerous, Saul disguised himself, and went by night, accompanied only by two men; and nothing could more plainly set before us his mental anguish, and also his intense desire to pry into the secrets of futurity, than this strange journey. All faith and hope are gone, and a feverish excitement, ready to catch at any aid, however lawless and untrustworthy, had taken their place. In this state of mind he arrives at the woman's dwelling, and says, Divine unto me by the ob. Though divination was strictly forbidden (Deuteronomy 18:10, 14), yet we find the diviner (A.V. prudent) in high popular estimation in Isaiah 3:2; and it was probably a lucrative profession, or this woman would not have been willing to incur so great a danger as was involved in its practice. Bring me him up, etc. The fancy that we can see the spirits of the dead is a most natural and enduring superstition, and it seems generally assumed that they must have some knowledge not accessible to the living. It must be said for Saul that he did not become the victim of this folly until after his reason was disturbed, and as a punishment for heinous sins.
And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment, and he went, and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night: and he said, I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee.
And the woman said unto him, Behold, thou knowest what Saul hath done, how he hath cut off those that have familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land: wherefore then layest thou a snare for my life, to cause me to die?
Verses 9, 10. - Thou knowest what Saul hath done. Not only had Saul in the earlier part of his reign been earnest in his zeal for the Mosaic law, but even now it seems as if a witch was in danger of death; for he has to take an oath before she will acknowledge that she practises any illicit art,
And Saul sware to her by the LORD, saying, As the LORD liveth, there shall no punishment happen to thee for this thing.
Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel.
Verse 11. - Whom shall I bring up to thee? Assured by Saul's oath, the woman now asserts her ability to call up the spirits of the dead, and asks, just as would happen now with those who claim similar powers, who it is to be. We need not suppose that she possessed either greater or less powers than those claimed or even exercised now; for many of the phenomena of clairvoyance, though undoubtedly natural, still belong to an unscientific, and therefore vague and illusory, region. Perhaps on this very account these arts have always had an extraordinary fascination for men, and been practised in all ages and among all people with considerable skill. Bring me up Samuel. Samuel had been Saul's friend in his youth, and his guide and counsellor in those happy days when the young king walked uprightly, and all went well with him. But gradually the light yoke of respect for one who loved him became too heavy for a despotic temperament, which would brook no will but its own. Now that self-will is broken; it had brought the warrior king to a hopeless despair, and in his distress his mind once again returns to its old channels Intense as was the degradation for one so haughty, in disguise by night, at the risk of his life, to seek help from a sorceress, he bears it all that he may at least for a few minutes see the spirit of the true though stern monitor, whose memory once again filled his whole heart.
And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice: and the woman spake to Saul, saying, Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul.
Verse 12. - When the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice. Evidently the last thing that she had expected was that anything else should happen than the usual illusion by which she imposed upon her victims; nor is it certain that anything else did happen. Her assertion that she saw Samuel was probably false; and it was in feigned excitement that she cried out, Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul. She could not but have noticed the tall stature, the dignified manner, and also the intense excitement of her strange visitor; and when he bade her call up the spirit of Samuel, she must have been dull indeed not to know who the stranger was.
And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth.
Verse 13. - What sawest thou? Thus far Saul had seen nothing; and as the words literally are What seest thou? it is plain that she had not gone into another room, as some have supposed. The vision was entirely unsubstantial, and Saul, hearing her cry, and observing her excitement, and her steady gaze upon some object, asked what that object was. Probably she was at some distance from him, as was no doubt her custom when performing her incantations, in order that what she did might not be too closely observed; probably, too, she burnt odours, and surrounded herself with the smoke of incense. In answer to Saul she says, "I see Elohim ascending out of the earth." As the participle is plural, she does not mean God; nor, as it was a single appearance, is the rendering gods correct. What she means is that she saw some grand supernatural appearance rising out of the ground, which she calls a god in a general way, without attaching any very exact meaning to the term.
And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself.
Verse 14. - What form is he of? Rather, "What is his aspect?" i.e. his look. As the term a god conveyed no other idea than that she had seen something majestic, Saul asks for a more exact description. She answers that it was an old man clad in a robe, meil (see on 1 Samuel 2:19). Samuel seems never to have worn the prophetic mantle (see on 1 Samuel 15:27), but always the meil. There was nothing, therefore, distinctive in the dress; but as she says that she has seen an old man, Saul concludes that he for whom he had asked had appeared to him. Instead of Saul perceived, the Hebrew has "Saul knew." There is nothing to prove that Saul really saw anything; all that is said is that by the woman's description "Saul recognised that what she had seen was Samuel, and he bowed himself to the ground, and made obeisance."
And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do.
Verses 15, 16. - Why hast thou disquieted me? I.e. Why hast thou caused me to be disturbed by the incantations of this woman? Neither by prophets nor by dreams. It is suggested in the Talmud (Berach 12:2) that Saul omitted all mention of the Urim from shame at having murdered the priests. Is become thine enemy. By a slight difference of reading the Septuagint have, "is on the side of thy neighbour."
Then said Samuel, Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the LORD is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy?
And the LORD hath done to him, as he spake by me: for the LORD hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbour, even to David:
Verses 17-19. - Jehovah hath done to him. Rather, "hath wrought for himself;" but the LXX., Vulgate, and some MSS. read "hath done to thee," as in ver. 18. As he spake by me. See 1 Samuel 15:28. Saul's rebellion is there said, in ver. 23, to be a crime as great as the witchcraft which he was at that time so zealously punishing; here, where the sentence is being carried into execution, Saul has himself become guilty of what in his better hours he so abominated. Jehovah will also deliver Israel with thee. Rather, "will deliver Israel also with thee," i.e. the nation is to share thy punishment. Tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me. I.e. shall be dead. Whence this voice came it is difficult to say. St. Augustine thought that the woman really conjured up a demon, who took the form of Samuel. Maimonides treats the whole as the effect of Saul's diseased imagination; while many modern commentators regard it as a well played piece of jugglery on the part of the woman, who recognised Saul at once on his entrance, but professed not to know him till his name was revealed to her by the pretended apparition, in whose name she reproached him for his crimes, announced to him, what now all were convinced of, that David was to be his successor, and foretold his defeat and death. In the face of such a passage as Deuteronomy 18:10-12 we cannot believe that the Bible would set before us an instance of witchcraft employed with the Divine sanction for holy purposes; but we can easily believe that the woman would gladly take a bitter revenge on the man who had cruelly put to death all persons reputed to have such powers as those to which she laid claim. The object of the narrative is plainly to set before us the completeness of Saul's moral downfall and debasement. Here is the man endowed with so many and so great gifts of genius, and who in so many things started so well and behaved so nobly, the victim of a despairing melancholy; his conscience is blackened with the wholesale massacre of the priesthood, his imagination is ever brooding over the sick fancy of treason plotted by his son-in-law, whom now he supposes to be in the Philistine camp; his enemies have invaded his territory in extraordinary numbers and upon new ground; to him it seems as if they have come to dethrone him and place his crown on David's head. In this dire extremity his one wish is to pry into futurity and learn his fate. There is no submission to God, no sorrow for disobedience, no sign of even a wish for amendment; it is to unholy arts that he looks, simply that he may know what a few more hours will make known to all. Neglecting his duties as a general and king, instead of making wise preparation for the coming fight, he disguises himself, takes a dangerous and wearisome journey round the enemies' camp, arrives at his destination by night, and, exhausted with hunger and mental agitation, seeks there for the knowledge unattainable in any upright manner from a reputed witch. He has rejected God, lost all the strength and comfort of true religion, and is become the victim of abject superstition. Whether he were the victim also of the woman's arts, or of his own sick fantasy, is not a matter of much consequence; the interest of the narrative lies in the revelation it makes to us of Saul's mental and moral state; and scarcely is there in the whole of Scripture anything more tragic than this narrative, or any more intense picture of the depth of degradation to which a noble but perverse intellect is capable of falling.
Because thou obeyedst not the voice of the LORD, nor executedst his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath the LORD done this thing unto thee this day.
Moreover the LORD will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines: and to morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: the LORD also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.
Then Saul fell straightway all along on the earth, and was sore afraid, because of the words of Samuel: and there was no strength in him; for he had eaten no bread all the day, nor all the night.
Verses 20-25. - Saul fell straightway all along, i.e. at full length, on the earth. He fainted, partly from mental distress, partly from bodily exhaustion, as he had gone all the day and all the night without food. It was this long continued violent emotion of feeling which had driven Saul to this rash enterprise; but fasting and agony of mind were the worst possible preparation for a visit to one used to cajole her victims by pretended magical arts, and gifted, as people of her class usually are, with great shrewdness. But practised as she was in deceit, yet even in her triumph over her enemy she felt, when she saw him swoon away, a natural sympathy for his misery and weakness, and urged him to take food. Perhaps she saw that without it he could never have got back to the Israelite camp. At first he refused, but the necessity of it was so plain, that when the two men with him also urged it, he at last consented. So he arose from the earth, and sat upon the bed. During this colloquy he had remained prostrate upon the ground, but now he seated himself, not on a bed, but upon the raised bank, or divan, which runs along the wall of an Oriental house, and is furnished with carpets and cushions for men to sit or lie upon. There he rested, a prey, we may well believe, to bitter thoughts, while the woman hastily prepared a meal, killing a calf and baking unleavened cakes, as there was no time to leaven the dough. And so "they ate, and rose up, and departed that night."

And the woman came unto Saul, and saw that he was sore troubled, and said unto him, Behold, thine handmaid hath obeyed thy voice, and I have put my life in my hand, and have hearkened unto thy words which thou spakest unto me.
Now therefore, I pray thee, hearken thou also unto the voice of thine handmaid, and let me set a morsel of bread before thee; and eat, that thou mayest have strength, when thou goest on thy way.
But he refused, and said, I will not eat. But his servants, together with the woman, compelled him; and he hearkened unto their voice. So he arose from the earth, and sat upon the bed.
And the woman had a fat calf in the house; and she hasted, and killed it, and took flour, and kneaded it, and did bake unleavened bread thereof:
And she brought it before Saul, and before his servants; and they did eat. Then they rose up, and went away that night.
Pulpit Commentary


1 Samuel 27
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