Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 28

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-2

The War with the Philistines (27:1-31:13)

David at Gath (27:1-28:2)

David now openly joined himself with the Philistines. We have suggested that 1 Samuel 21:10-15 was probably a later version of the story to which we now turn our attention.

Achish of Gath, aware of the trouble between Saul and David, welcomed the latter as an ally and allowed him and his band to dwell at Ziklag. An outlaw from his own land, David was yet loyal to his own people and was careful not to raid Judah. He seems to have played a double game by raiding the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites. The first two groups are difficult to identify, but the Amalekites were inveterate enemies of Judah. By this means, David actually placated the Judahites. At the same time, he pretended to the Philistines that he was attacking various groups of the tribe of Judah such as the Jerahmeelites or the Kenites or other inhabitants of the Negeb, the steppeland bordering the desert in the south of Judah. Thereby he pleased Achish. To carry the last subterfuge through, David exterminated totally the groups he attacked, so that none should survive to tell the story. So successful was David that Achish really believed that the Israelite hero was now abhorred by his own people. In consequence, the king of Gath sought to make him his bodyguard for life, and David appears guardedly to have accepted. He was soon to be tested, for the Philistines decided on a major attack on Israel.

Verses 3-25

The Witch of Endor (28:3-25)

The Philistines gathered at Shunem, and Saul gathered his opposing army at Gilboa. Now fears began to overtake the Israelite king. Since his priesthood had been eliminated at Nob and Samuel was dead, he had no legitimate means of consulting the divine will. So desperate was he that any device of foreseeing the future was better than none. There remained the ways of necromancy, but Saul had earlier driven all wizards and mediums out of the land. One medium, a witch at Endor, had survived; Saul decided to consult her, and to do so in disguise. Afraid of practicing her art because of what had happened to the others, the woman consented only on the assurance of the disguised king that no harm would befall her. Told to bring up Samuel, the woman recognized Saul (probably "Samuel" should be read "Saul" in verse 12), but when reassured she went on with the seance. The primitive Hebrew viewed the afterlife as a shadowy existence in "Sheol," the subterranean cavern where the dead slept their long sleep, irrespective of the social and moral distinctions of this life. This realm of shades included a weak and meaningless existence. In the popular mind, it was conceived as a place of shades and darkness where life became emptied out. Samuel’s shade was to be brought up from this subterranean realm. The medium accomplished her task and ostensibly put Saul in contact with the dead prophet. Samuel’s message was, if anything, more devastating than any utterance of his lifetime.

God had forsaken Saul and taken from him his kingdom; disaster awaited him and his army at the hands of the Philistines; and David would receive the kingdom. We note that only the medium saw Samuel; Saul’s reactions came after her description. The general form and setting tally with modern spiritualistic practice. Probably Samuel’s voice was simulated by ventriloquism, and the speech represented as his gave the witch an opportunity to avenge herself on Saul for his treatment of her and her fellow magicians.

Saul, overcome by the devastating message, fell to the ground. It was with great difficulty that he was persuaded to take food, and he returned to his camp a stricken man. There is a moral to the story. Spiritualism is often the last and damning resort of those who have rejected the legitimate means of approaching God and the divinely ordained channels of revelation.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Samuel 28". "Layman's Bible Commentary".