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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 28

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

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.

The Philistines gathered their armies together for warfare, to fight with Israel. The death of Samuel, the general dissatisfaction with Saul, and the absence of David, instigated the cupidity of these restless enemies of Israel, and they prepared to invade the kingdom.

Know thou assuredly, that thou shalt go out with me to battle. This was evidently to try him. Achish, however, seems to have thought he had gained the confidence of David, and had a claim on his services.

Verse 2

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.

Surely thou shalt know what thy servant can do. This answer, while it seemed to express an apparent cheerfulness in agreeing to the proposal, contained a studied ambiguity, a wary and politic generality.

Therefore will I make thee keeper of mine head - or my life; i:e., captain of my body-guard-an office of great trust and high honour.

Verse 3

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.

Now Samuel was dead ... This event is alluded to as affording an explanation of the secret and improper methods by which Saul sought information and direction in the present crisis of his affairs. Overwhelmed in perplexity and fear, he yet found the common and legitimate channels of communication with heaven shut against him; and, under the influence of that dark, distempered, superstitious spirit which had overmastered him, resolved in desperation to seek the aid of one of the fortune-telling impostors whom, in accordance with the divine command (Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:6; Leviticus 20:27; Deuteronomy 18:11), he had set himself formerly, and with a show of pious zeal, to exterminate from his kingdom.

Verse 4

And the Philistines gathered themselves together, and came and pitched in Shunem: and Saul gathered all Israel together, and they pitched in Gilboa.

The Philistines ... pitched in Shunem. Having collected their forces for a last grand effort, they marched up from the sea coast, and encamped in the "valley of Jezreel." The spot on which their encampment was fixed was Shunem (Joshua 19:18), now Solam, a village which is situated on the slope of a range called 'little Hermon.' On the opposite side, on the rise of mount Gilboa, hard by "the spring of Jezreel," was Saul's army. The Philistines clung, as usual, to the plain, which was most suitable for those war-chariots of which their military armament principally consisted, and they took up an advantageous position for the free and effective use of that force in action. That of the Hebrews was badly selected. 'The ground slopes down gradually from Shunem to the very base of Gilboa at the fountain, while the hillside rises steeply from the plain. The Philistines had all the advantage of the gentle descent in their attack; both front and flanks of the Israelites were exposed to their onset, and the prospect of flight almost completely cut off by the steep hill behind' (Porter's 'Handbook,' p. 355).

Verse 5

And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled.

And when Saul saw ... he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled. There is in this description of Saul's emotions a paranomasia, play on the name of the place, which was called 'the well or spring of Harod,' from the fear and trembling which once at that spot seized the army of Gideon (Judges 7:3).

Verse 6

And when Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.

And when Saul inquired of the Lord. Since it was a part of the official duty of the high priest to ask counsel for rulers in all matters affecting the national interests of Israel, we find Joshua in early, as well as David at a later period, frequently employing the agency of that high dignitary for consulting God in emergencies where his own sagacity was an insufficient guide. It appears that Saul also, in the brief period of his theocratic allegiance, inquired of the Lord through the same medium (1 Samuel 14:18-19). But he had long discontinued such applications, his impulsive and wayward temper driving him to neglect them, probably from the day that God gave him no answer (1 Samuel 14:37).

The Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets. These were the three recognized modes of divine revelation (Jeremiah 23:25-28; Joel 2:28). A knowledge of God's will with reference to present duty, no less than to future events, was communicated in dreams sometimes to private persons (Genesis 20:3; Genesis 28:12; Genesis 37:5-11; Genesis 40:5-21; Genesis 41:1-32: cf. Daniel 4:5-17), at other times by means of the high priest's Urim (see the note at Exodus 28:29-30; Leviticus 8:5-9; Numbers 27:21) and by prophets (Numbers 12:6; Isaiah 29:10). The latter two modes are specified as distinct from the former. But in consequence of Saul's persistent rebellion and apostasy, these privileges were all withdrawn from him. No vision from the Lord was given him in trance or dream (1 Samuel 19:24); no announcement of the divine will could be obtained by Urim, because the high priest's family had been barbarously massacred, and Abiathar, the only survivor, who carried an ephod with him in his flight from Nob (1 Samuel 22:20; 1 Samuel 23:6), was associated with David's exiled followers; and no prophet was there to guide and support him, because Samuel, his faithful counselor, had sorrowfully left him to himself, and was now dead.

In the extremity of his distress, how intensely did Saul long for the restoration of those forfeited privileges,-to learn the will of God at the mouth of the prophet, or by the pectoral of the high priest, or to be told what he should do through some vision of the night! The saddest and most melancholy aspect of the case is, that in his agony of mind he never dreamt of asking for pardon of his sins, but only for counsel in his backsliding fortunes. His real character was now unveiled, and his resolution to consult a witch, one of these traders in unlawful arts, whom he had formerly set himself with apparent zeal to extirpate, was the re-action of his hypocrisy-a wild and desperate expedient for relieving himself from the misery which he despaired of relieving by legitimate means.

Verse 7

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.

Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, [ 'eeshet (H802) ba`ªlat (H1172) 'owb (H178)] - a woman, a mistress of 'Owb (H178); i:e., in whom is a divining spirit. 'Owb (H178) signifies properly a leather bottle, and is applied in several passages of Scripture to magicians, because, being possessed with an evil spirit, and swollen by the inhalation of some gaseous substances, which made them pant and heave, they spoke with a soft hollow voice, as out of a bottle. [The Septuagint has engastrimuthon, a ventriloquist.] They were called ventriloquists because the voice seemed to proceed out of their belly (see Goodwin, 'Moses and Aaron,' lib. 4:, p. 193). He specifies a woman, not a man. The wizards, or male practitioners, being well known, had probably been searched out and extirpated. But women were more in privacy; and as they were addicted to magical and necromantic arts, some of these might be still surviving, and in a clandestine manner pursuing their unlawful and nefarious trade.

Necromancy (the holding intercourse with spirits, which was considered a science, 'falsely so called,' and extensively relied on by the credulous votaries of superstition) was condemned dud interdicted in the law of Moses, and is classed in the New Testament among "the works of the flesh" (Galatians 5:20). From the energetic measures which he himself had taken for extirpating the dealers in magical arts, the profession having been declared a capital offence, his most attached courtiers might have had reason to doubt the possibility of gratifying their master's wish. Anxious inquiries, however, led to the discovery of a woman living very secluded in the neighbourhood, traditionally believed by the Jews to have been Abner's mother, who, probably on that account, had escaped, and who had the credit of possessing the forbidden powers; and to her house he repaired by night in disguise, accompanied by two faithful servants, who are said, in Jewish tradition, to have been Abner and Amasa. En-dor - `the fountain of Dor'-was situated directly on the other side of the Gilboa range, opposite Tabor; so that, in this midnight adventure, Saul had to pass over the shoulder of the ridge on which the Philistines were encamped, until he reached, by a circuitous route, the hut of the sorceress, perhaps in one of the caves which abound in the neighbourhood of the present village. 'He probably kept to the east of Jezreel, crossed the valley below 'Ain Jalud, and thence over the shoulder of this Jebel ed-Duhy to En-dor; but it must have been perilous in the extreme; and nothing could have induced Saul to venture there but the agony of despair' ('Land and Book,' p. 168).

Verse 8

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.

Bring me him up whom I shall name unto thee. This pythoness united to the arts of divination a clam to be considered a necromancer (Deuteronomy 18:11); and it was her supped power in calling back the dead, of which Saul was desirous to avail himself. Though she at first refused to listen to his request, she accepted his pledge that no risk would be incurred by her compliance. And it is probable that his extraordinary stature, the deference paid him by his attendants, the easy distance of his camp from En-dor, and the proposal to call up the great prophet and first magistrate in Israel-a proposal which no private individual would venture to make-had awakened her suspicions as to the true character and rank of her visitor.

Verse 9

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?

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 10

And Saul sware to her by the LORD, saying, As the LORD liveth, there shall no punishment happen to thee for this thing. Saul sware to her by the Lord. It is evident that the oath, "as the Lord liveth," had, as used by such a person as Saul, become a common and established form of swearing in Israel. Even this pledge must have convinced her of the rank and quality of her visitor; because none but the king himself could give her an absolute promise of security.

Verse 11

Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel.

Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? - i:e., evoke from Sheol, Hades, the invisible subterranean world, which, according to the popular ideas of the Hebrews, was the abode of departed spirits until they were delivered from that quiet, though imperfect and temporary, state of bliss [hence the phrases which are frequently used in the Septuagint, hupo chthonos, under the earth, and kath' Hadou, down in Hades; and the spirits existing in the state of the dead are in the New Testament termed katachthonios (G2709) (Philippians 2:10) and hupokatoo (G5270) tees (G3588) gees (G1093) (Revelation 5:3).] 'The question here is not what was expressly revealed to that people on this subject, but what appear to have been the notions commonly entertained concerning it? or what was it which the learned Dr. Lowth styles the infernum poeticum of the Hebrews? Indeed, the artifice employed by their wizards and necromancers of returning answers in a feigned voice, which appeared to those present as proceeding from under the ground (Isaiah 29:4: cf. 1 Samuel 8:10), is a demonstration of the prevalency of the sentiments I have been illustrating, in regard both to the existence and to the abode of souls departed,' (Campbell's 'Preliminary Dissertation,' vol. 6:, part 2:)

Verse 12

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.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 13

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. I saw gods ascending out of the earth, [ 'ªlohiym (H430). The Septuagint has theous heooraka anabainontas; which our translators have followed. But it is evident from the following verse that it should be rendered 'a god,' a dignitary or ruler.]

Verse 14

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.

And he said unto her, What form is he of?, [ mah (H4100) taa'ªrow (H8389)] - What is his appearance?

An old man - seen to be so from his white Nazarite locks (1 Samuel 1:11; 1 Samuel 12:2).

And he is covered with a mantle, [ mª`iyl (H4598)] - an exterior tunic, longer than the common, without sleeves, worn by persons of rank (1 Samuel 18:4; 1 Samuel 24:5; 1 Samuel 24:11), and especially by those engaged in the divine service (Exodus 28:31; Exodus 39:22; Leviticus 8:7). Josephus ('Antiquities,' b. 6:, ch. 14:, sec. 2) calls Samuel's dress 'a sacerdotal mantle' (cf. 1 Samuel 2:15; 1 Samuel 15:27).

Verses 15-16

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.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 17

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:

The Lord hath done to him as he spake by me ie to or for Himself; for the accomplishment of His The Lord hath done to him as he spake by me - i:e., to or for Himself; for the accomplishment of His counsel in the preservation of the theocratic kingdom.

Verse 18

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.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 19

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.

Tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons by with me - i:e., in the state of the dead. The expression "with me" does not imply that the condition of Saul and his sons would be the same as that of Samuel, but that they would be, like the prophet, in the receptacle of departed spirits, though each would have his own place.

Verse 20

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.

Then Saul fell straightway all along on the earth [ mªlo' (H4393) qowmaatow (H6967)] - his full stature. [The Septuagint has: kai epesen esteekoos epi teen geen, and he fell, having stood (i:e., at standing length) upon the earthen floor.]

Verse 21

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.

And the woman came unto Saul. During the performance of the necromantic scene she had occupied a place in the farthest recess of the cave, and then when it was done, drew near to Saul.

Verse 22

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.

Hearken ... unto the voice of thine handmaid, and let me set a morsel of bread before thee. Her great and hospitable attentions to the king probably arose neither from humanity nor respect alone, but from a prudential regard to her own safety, lest, if he were found dead in her house, she might be implicated in the charge of his blood.

Verse 23

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.

His servants, together with the woman, compelled him - i:e., did labour to persuade him by their importunities and entreaties, and at length succeeded.

So he arose from the earth, and sat upon the bed - i:e., upon the divan.

Verse 24

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:

The woman had a fat calf in the house. The flesh of the herd was reckoned, when young, one of the greatest delicacies. The houses in the village of In-dor are built at the entrance to the caves, and the cattle are stalled in them, along with their owners.

She hasted, and killed it. The cookery was performed with singular despatch, because the animal must have been slaughtered, and the bread baked (unleavened, of course, there being no time for the leavening process), after midnight. But this was not uncommon (see the note at Genesis 18:7-8; Judges 13:1; Luke 15:27-29), and is still practiced in the tents of the Bedouins. In less than half an hour a sheep or calf is brought and killed in presence of the guest, and then, having been thrust into a large cauldron swung over the fire, the contents are taken out and placed on an immense tray, and served up amid a mass of roasted grain (Burghul), boiled rice, and leban (curdled or sour milk). Exhausted by long abstinence, overwhelmed with mental distress, and now driven in despair, the cold sweat broke on his anxious brow, and he had sunk helpless on the ground. But the kind attentions of the woman and his servants having revived him, Saul returned to the camp refreshed in body, but with a sad depression of spirits, which was ominous of his approaching doom.-This story has led to much discussion, as involving several topics about which a difference of opinion is naturally entertained. These topics are:

(1) Whether the scene described was the device of an artful sorceress, or there was an actual apparition.

(2) Whether, there being an apparition, it was called up by the incantations of the necromancer.

(3) Whether it was produced by demoniacal agency, or was allowed by the special interposition of God.

On the one hand, the woman's profession, which was forbidden by the divine law; her pretended ignorance of her visitor (though the stature of Saul, and the deference paid to him by his two attendants, must have betrayed his real rank); the refusal of God to answer Saul; the well-known age, figure, and dress of Samuel, which she could easily represent herself or by an accomplice-the alleged figure being evidently at some distance, the head and shoulders only rising above the ground, being muffled, and not actually seen by Saul [wayidaa`, and (Saul) understood, i:e., concluded; Septuagint, egnoo, knew], whose attitude of prostrate homage, moreover, must have prevented him distinguishing the person, though he had been near; and the voice seemingly issuing out of the ground, and coming along to Saul, with the vagueness of the information, imparting nothing as to the past, but what must have been notorious throughout all Israel, regarding the alienation of Samuel from Saul, with the causes of it, and nothing as to the future but what might have been reached by natural conjecture as to the probable inane of the approaching conflict; together with the fact that all the sons of Saul did not perish in the battle-the want of the word "when" in the original (2 Samuel 2:9) text, indicating that the "loud voice" was not the effect, but a sequence merely, of her seeing Samuel, and the customary tone (triste et acutum; Horace, 'Sat.,' 8:, lib. 1:) which was employed by sorceresses; and, lastly, the woman's coolness in ministering to Saul, as if nothing unusual in her experience had occurred;-all these circumstances have led many to think that the whole scene was a deception-the imposture of a necromancer-somewhat akin to the pretensions of mesmerism, the tricks of medium clairvoyantes.

But many, perhaps, are firmly of opinion that this is a wrong view, because it appears that before the woman had begun her incantations there was the appearance of something extraordinary, which struck her with astonishment and terror; and, though they cannot suppose that God would allow the spirits of the just made perfect to be called from their rest in glory at the bidding of a witch, it must be admitted that she was either the cause or the instrument of evoking an unusual object. But what was that object? Was it Samuel, exhibited to the eye and imagination only-a deceptio visus-or the prophet in propria persona?

Some consider that Satan, in whose service this enchantress was employed, conjured up a personified likeness of Samuel, and that there was an apparition, though a fictitious one (Willet, 'Harmonie,' p. 319, followed by Poole, Henry, Brown, and other popular commentators). But undoubtedly the historian would have mentioned Satan by name, had this been the case, and not have so repeatedly spoken of Samuel, when the father of lies was meant. To adopt such an hypothesis is, as Henderson ('Inspiration,' pp. 140-145) justly remarks, 'contrary to the style of the sacred writers, and to unsettle the entire basis of the divinely-inspired narrative.' Besides, however sagacious and penetrating Satan may be, from his lengthened observation and experience, to anticipate the issue of many events, there is no reason to believe that he can predict what is to happen in the future [ maachaar (H4279), tomorrow, is taken by some in an indefinite sense here, as meaning soon. But there is no example of such a use of the term (see Gesenius, sub voce)].

Not a few eminent writers, therefore, considering that the apparition came before the witch's arts were put in practice-that it is called in the Hebrew text (1 Samuel 28:14) [ Shªmuw'eel (H8050) huw' (H1931)], Samuel himself-that the woman herself was surprised and alarmed at what she saw-that the prediction of Saul's own death, and the defeat of his forces, were confidently and truthfully made-are of opinion that the literal interpretation of this narrative is the true one, and that Samuel really appeared. If he did (and no one can deny God's power of reinvesting the soul of Samuel with some kind of corporeal covering), it is a solitary instance in which God permitted the dead to reappear to the living, for the purpose of confirming truths previously revealed, and of condemning the conduct of these consulted persons claiming to have "a familiar spirit." The rejection of Saul is ascribed, among other causes, to his consulting of the witch (1 Chronicles 10:13: cf. 2 Kings 21:11). The purposes to which the miraculous appearance of Samuel on this occasion contributed are summarized by Dr. Hales ('New Analysis of Chronology') as follows:

(1) To make Saul's crime the instrument of his punishment in the dreadful denunciation of his approaching doom.

(2) To show to the pagan world the infinite superiority of the ORACLE OF THE LORD, inspiring his prophets, over the powers of darkness, and the delusive prognostics of their wretched votaries in their false oracles.

(3) To confirm the belief in a future state by 'one who rose from the dead, even under the Mosaic dispensation.' Having submitted these different views, we leave the decision of this puzzling narrative to the judgment of the enlightened and reflecting reader.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 28". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/1-samuel-28.html. 1871-8.
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