Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 28

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-25

Saul’s Downfall in War with the Philistines

1 Samuel 28-31

I. David in the Philistine Expedition against Israel. Saul’s Visit to the Witch of Endor

1 Samuel 28:1-25

1And it came to pass in those days that the Philistines gathered their armies1 together for warfare,2 to fight with Israel. And Achish said unto David, Know thou assuredly that thou shalt go out with me to battle [in the army],1 thou and 2thy men. And David said to Achish, Surely [Therefore] thou3 shalt know what thy servant can [will] do. And Achish said to David, Therefore will I make thee keeper of mine head4 for ever.

3Now [And] Samuel was dead, and all Israel had lamented him and buried him in Ramah, even5 in his own city. And Saul had put away those that had familiar 4spirits6 and the wizards7 out of the land. And the Philistines gathered themselves together, and came and pitched in Shunem; and Saul gathered all Israel together, 5and they pitched in Gilboa. And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, Hebrews 6:0 was afraid and his heart greatly trembled. And when [om. when] Saul inquired of the Lord [Jehovah], [ins. and] the Lord [Jehovah] answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim8 nor by prophets.

7Then said Saul [And Saul said] unto his servants, Seek me a woman9 that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her and inquire of her. And his servants said 8unto him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor. And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment, and he [om. 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,10 and bring me him [him] up whom I shall 9name 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. 10And Saul sware to her by the Lord [Jehovah], saying, As the Lord [Jehovah] 11liveth, there shall no punishment11 happen12 to thee for this thing. Then said the woman [And the woman said], Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel.

12And when [om. when] the woman saw Samuel, [ins. and] she cried with a loud voice, and the woman spake [said] to Saul, saying, Why hast thou deceived me? 13for13 thou art Saul. And the king said unto her, Be not afraid; for [om. for]14 what [ins. then] sawest [seest] thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods 14[see a god]15 ascending out of the earth. And he said unto her, What form is he of [is his form]? And she said, An old16 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.

15And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered [said], 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 [and] I have called17 thee that thou mayest make known 16unto me what I shall do. Then said Samuel [And Samuel said], Wherefore, then, dost thou ask of me, seeing the Lord [Jehovah] is departed from thee, and is become 17thine enemy?18 And the Lord [Jehovah] hath done to him19 [for himself] as he spake by me, for [and] the Lord [Jehovah] hath rent the kingdom out of 18thine hand and given it to thy neighbor, even to David. Because thou obeyedst not the voice of the Lord [Jehovah], nor executedst his fierce wrath upon Amalek, 19therefore hath the Lord [Jehovah] done this thing unto thee this day. Moreover [And] the Lord [Jehovah] will also [om. also] deliver Israel [ins. also]20 with thee into the hand of the Philistines, and to-morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me; the Lord [Jehovah] also [om. also] shall [will] deliver the host [camp]1 of Israel 20[ins. also] into the hand of the Philistines. Then [And] Saul fell straightway21 all along [his full length] 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 21day nor all the 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 22spakest unto me. Now therefore [And now], 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 [And] he refused, 23and said, I will not eat. But [And] his servants, together with the woman, compelled22 him [his servants compelled him, and the woman also], and he hearkened unto their voice; so [and] he arose from the earth and sat upon23 the bed 24[bench]. And the woman had a fat [fatted]24 calf in the house; and she hasted and killed it, and took flour, and kneaded it, and did bake unleavened bread 25thereof; And she brought it before Saul and before his servants, and they did eat. Then [And] they rose up, and went away that night.


1 Samuel 28:1-2. A new war of the Philistines against the Israelites. David is required by Achish to join the Philistine army with his band and take part in this war against his own people.—His indefinite and evasive answer.—In those days, namely, during David’s stay in Philistia; giving the chronological connection with the preceding, in order to continue the narrative of chap. 27.—The Philistines gathered their army, a general summons throughout Philistia to the extreme north, where a battle was afterwards fought in the region of Jezreel,—“a general war of all the Philistine princes against Israel, in which David, as Philistine vassal-prince, was obliged to take part” (Ewald). “In the army” (בַּמַּחֲנֶה), not “into the camp” (S. Schmid, de W.), [Eng. A. V. freely “to battle”]. In David’s answer the “thou shalt know” answers to Achish’s formal “know thou” [same word in Heb.]. Thus is explained the [emphatic] “thou” (אַתָּה), for which there is no need to read with Sept. and Vulg. “now” (עַתָּה, Then.). לָכֵן is not profecto (Cler.), [so Eng. A. V. “surely”], but = “accordingly, therefore,” “cum ita sit s. ita videbis” (Maur.). David gives not a definite, but an evasive answer, comp. 1 Samuel 29:8. By Achish’s demand, made in good faith, that he should go to battle against his people, David must have been thrown into a struggle of conscience, of which Achish had no suspicion. The latter therefore takes David’s ambiguous answer, which seemed to promise the action which he required, as a definite declaration, and accordingly names him confidingly “keeper of his head,” captain of his body-guard (Ew.). Here, as above, לָכֵן =“under such circumstances, therefore.” The rendering “I would name thee” (Cler., Dathe) is untenable by reason of the context, especially the “for ever.” That David actually went out with the Philistine army appears from 1 Samuel 29:2 sq. The narrative in 1 Samuel 29:1 sq. is the continuation of 1 Samuel 28:2. All between from 1 Samuel 28:3 is an episode, which (as appears especially from a comparison of 1 Samuel 28:4 with 1 Samuel 29:1) is an insertion from a separate source, and therefore is an independent narrative, which is not in necessary connection with the preceding and succeeding context.

1 Samuel 28:3. Introductory statement 1) of Samuel’s death, not from a second source, but here inserted by the redactor from 1 Samuel 25:1 to introduce what follows. The verbs are pluperfect in sense. And they had buried him at Ramah, namely or, that is, in his city. The ו [= and, namely] is explicative, as in 2 Samuel 13:20; Amos 3:11; Amos 4:10 (Ges. § 155, 1 a). Its omission in Sept., Vulg., Syr., is explained by the difficulty that it occasioned the translators. 2) Of Saul’s expulsion of the witches and soothsayers (long before this). Saul had put away, expelled the necromancers (הָאוֹבוֹת) and the wise men (הַיִּדְּענִֹים) [wizards], the soothsayers. On the various meanings of the word Ob [Eng. A. V. familiar spirit] see Böttcher, de inferis, I., pp. 101–108. Most moderns connect it with ob (אוֹנ), “leather bag,” which is found in the Plural in Job 32:19. We cannot, however, thence render the word with the Sept. “ventriloquist” (ἐγγαστρίμυθος), because, as Diestel (Herz., XVII., 482) remarks, the representation of soothsaying or sorcery as ventriloquism would destroy the appearance of the supernatural, and it cannot be shown that ventriloquists as such were accounted sorcerers. As the word in Isaiah 8:19; Isaiah 29:4 expresses a dull, hollow, groaning sound, “it is best to suppose a stem אוּב, the softened form of the Arab. [גּוּף] = “to be hollow,” and Ob is then the “hollow thing” (bag), and so “one who speaks hollow” (Diestel ubi sup.). In conjurations of the dead it is the dull, hollow, mysterious tone of the voice, which was personified and represented as a mysterious being, whether as the spirit of the departed speaking from the depth of the earth (Isaiah 29:9), or as the spirit dwelling in the conjuror, man or woman (Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:6; Leviticus 20:27), and, finally, the necromancers or speaking soothsayers themselves were so called, as here and 2 Kings 23:24. The “wise people” [wizards] (יִדְּענִֹים), always connected with the Oboth or necromancers, are those that deal in necromancy through sorcery and soothsaying; the simple expression in our [German] popular language, “wise woman” [so Eng. wizard—Tr.] rests on the same idea of a knowledge of what is concealed and future by mysterious means. In his passionate zeal for the Law, urged on by an unquiet conscience, Saul had driven the necromancers and soothsayers out of the land (Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:27, comp. Deuteronomy 18:10 sq.), that he might thus show himself a zealous theocratic king and win God’s favor. This statement is appended to that of Samuel’s death as a superscription, as it were, to bring out the sharp contrast of the following narrative of Saul’s conduct.

1 Samuel 28:4-25. Saul and the witch of Endor.

1 Samuel 28:4. The camp of the Philistines was in Shunem, Joshua 19:18, which signifies, according to Ges., “two resting-places” (= שׁוּנַיִם); according to Eusebius it was also called Shulem, which is confirmed by the present name, for it is the same place that is now called Solam or Sulem (Rob., III., 402 [Am. ed., ii., 324]), on the western declivity of little Hermon25 [Jebel Duhy], the home of Abishag (1 Kings 1:3), and of the woman that often entertained Elisha, whose son he restored to life (2 Kings 4:8-37; 2 Kings 8:1; 2 Kings 8:6). [Bib.-Com.: The Philistines either advanced along the seacoast, and then entered the valley of Jezreel from the west—the same route, only in the opposite direction, as that taken by the Midianites, who, coming to the valley of Jezreel from the Jordan, penetrated as far as Gaza (Judges 6:4; Judges 6:33)—or else they came by the present road right through Samaria, starting from Aphek.—Tr.] Only about four miles thence Saul had gathered the host of Israel, which was encamped on Gilboa, that is, the mountain range in the territory of Issachar, which traverses the south-eastern part of the plain of Jezreel from Zerin to the Jordan-valley, into which it sinks precipitously at Bethsan. There is now there a village called Jelbon (Rob. III. 404 [Am. ed., 2:316]). The two armies were therefore encamped on the two groups of mountains that enclosed the broad plain of Jezreel toward the east, or, more precisely, the south-east, between which stretched a valley-plain. From an elevation of about twelve hundred feet Saul could see the Philistine camp, which was only four miles distant.26

1 Samuel 28:5. The sight fills him with fear and great dread, because he had a bad conscience towards the Lord, and therefore could not be sure of His help, not merely because he saw that the Philistine army was so unexpectedly numerous (Cler.).

1 Samuel 28:6. Yet in his anxiety he had recourse to “inquiring of the Lord;” he wished thereby to learn what he was to do, and also the fate of himself and his army. But the Lord answered him not, the reason for which see in 1 Samuel 15:26, comp. 1 Samuel 14:37.—The threefold גַּם [also] puts in one line the three means of inquiry of the Lord (on the repetition of גַּם to connect things related or similar, “both … and” in pos. sentences, “neither … nor” in neg., see Ew., § 359): Dreams, Urim (and Thummim) and Prophets.27 The phrase “inquire in” (שָׁאַל בַּיֹ׳) is commonly used of inquiry by Urim and Thummim, with which the two other modes are here connected. The “dreams,” the first means of the revelation of the divine will, are not dreams by incubations at a holy place (Ew.), “to which nothing here or elsewhere points” (Then.), nor the dreams of those that receive the revelation, but the dreams of mediating persons, through whom the Lord was inquired of; these might be and were sometimes prophets, comp. Numbers 12:6 with Jeremiah 23:25; Jeremiah 23:32, and Deuteronomy 13:2 sq., where the false prophets with their lying dreams are opposed to the true—but might also be unprophetic persons, as in Joel 3:1. Here in our passage the persons who have revelations in dreams are distinguished from the “prophets.” In the order of arrangements of these three vehicles of revelation there is a progression from the less to the greater, since in the Old Testament a subordinate position is certainly assigned to the dream as the medium of divine influence on the inner life, which in sleep loses the power of self-manifestation and sinks into a state of the extremest passivity.—Urim is the abbreviation of Urim and Thummim (Exodus 28:30; Numbers 27:21), which, as the high-priestly medium of inquiring the divine will, stands between the revealing-dreams and the prophetic testimony. But since the murder of the priests in Nob the external apparatus, the Ephod with the Urim and Thummim had been in David’s camp, 1 Samuel 22:20 sq., 1 Samuel 23:6, 1 Samuel 30:7; and nothing is anywhere said of another high-priest than Abiathar, who had fled to David. Thenius thence concludes that this section contradicts the narrative of chap. 23, since Saul could have gotten no answer at all through Urim and Thummim, because these could have been only in one place. But this is not certain; after the catastrophe at Nob Saul may well have had a new Ephod with Choshen [Breastplate] and Urim and Thummim prepared (Keil), and this is the more natural from Saul’s independent mode of procedure in matters of religious service, and the probability that in his heated theocratic zeal he did not suffer the public service at the tabernacle to cease after the murder of the priests. (It is possible also that a copy of the Ephod with the Urim and Thummim had been left behind when Abiathar fled.) As to the high-priest, apart from the possibility of inquiring by Urim and Thummim without him (it is done apparently without a priest by Saul, 1 Samuel 14:37, and David, 1 Samuel 23:9-12), it is to be observed that in the first years of David’s government the tabernacle is at Gibeon with Zadok, son of Ahitub of the line of Eleazar, as high-priest, which can be explained only by supposing that Saul had removed the tabernacle and the national worship thither from Nob, and that there were two high-priests, who, indeed, are frequently mentioned, 2 Samuel 8:17; 2Sa 15:24; 2 Samuel 15:29; 2 Samuel 15:35; 1Ch 15:11; 1 Chronicles 18:16. We may thence conclude that Saul chose a high-priest from the high-priestly race of the line of Eleazar. It is further to be remarked that in Saul’s own words, 1 Samuel 28:15, this inquiry by Urim is not mentioned. In 1 Chronicles 10:14 it is said that he was slain by the Lord because he did not inquire of the Lord. The contradiction is only apparent; he gave over the true, right inquiry, in that, his first questioning, which was not with upright, humble heart, having been unanswered, he betook himself to a necromancer, instead of penitently applying to God.—By the prophets. Intercourse between Saul and the prophets had doubtless been broken off since the beginning of Saul’s persecution of David (19), while it had continued between David and the prophets, as far as circumstances permitted (1 Samuel 22:5 sq.). But in his anxiety and despair Saul had now again turned to them for aid. Proof that application was made to prophets not only in great theocratical matters, but also in personal affairs, is found in 1 Samuel 9:6 sq.; 1 Kings 14:1 sq.; 2 Kings 1:3.—Saul received from God no answer more, except for judgment.

1 Samuel 28:7. Instead of humbling himself before God, he turns with hardened heart and bad conscience to the superstitious means, that the law of God had forbidden (Leviticus 19:31). Making accomplices of his servants, he gets information through them of a necromancer. (אֵשֶׁת, appositional construct. without Genitive relation, Ges. § 116, 5, see Jos 37:22; Jeremiah 14:17.) “A woman mistress of Ob,” = “a woman who is in possession of an Ob,” that is, of a spirit (comp. Leviticus 20:27) by which the dead are conjured up, in order that they may disclose the present and the future. They inform him of such a one who dwells at Endor. Endor was on the northern declivity of Little Hermon, four and three-fourths Eng. miles south of Tabor, nine and a half miles south-east of Nazareth, about twelve miles north of Gilboa, so that Little Hermon lay between; there is still a place of the same name on the declivity of the mountain, Jebel Duhy. Rob. III. 1, 486 [Am. ed. ii. 360].—[Endor, = “fountain of the dwelling,” is still marked by a spring and numerous caves fit for the abode of witches (Thomson). For descriptions of the circumstances of this incident see Stanley’s Hist. of the Jewish Church, II. 30 sq., Sinai and Pal. p. 328–334 (Eng. ed.). Porter in Murray’s Handbook for Syria and Pal. ii. 355 sq., Thomson’s “Land and Book,” 2:161.—Tr.]

1 Samuel 28:8. Saul disguised himself, namely, by putting on other clothes so as not to be recognized by his royal dress and insignia, especially as he was treading a path forbidden by himself. At night he went thither, in order to escape the notice of his own people and of the enemy’s posts, which were not far off; he was accompanied by two men to show him the way and act as guard. A dreadful journey, a terrible night, both symbols of Saul’s condition, lost on the way of inner self-hardening and thorough self-darkening.—Saul’s request: Divine for me by necromancy [properly: “by the Ob, the spirit,” as in Eng. A. V.—Tr.]. The word “divine” (קָסַם) commonly occurs in a bad sense of the predictions of false prophets, comp. Deuteronomy 18:10; Deuteronomy 18:14; 2 Kings 7:17; 1 Samuel 6:2 (in a good sense in Isaiah 3:2; Isaiah 28:0 Proverbs 16:10 [the subst.]). On its meaning see Hengst., Bileam, p. 9 sq. Anm.29

1 Samuel 28:9. The woman does not recognize Saul, as is plain from 1 Samuel 28:12. Her words show that Saul’s order for the extirpation of this superstition had been vigorously carried out. (Thenius: הַיִדְּענִי may be Sing. Col. (Böttch.), but all the VSS. and twenty-three MSS. supply the Plu. יִם, which may easily have fallen out through the following מִן.)—Necromancy was forbidden on pain of death (Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:27; Deuteronomy 18:10-11). The woman supposes that the stranger is putting her to the test, in order to kill her according to the king’s law and command; and this indicates that it was in this way that the law of extermination of witches was carried out. In the earliest period of the monarchy, as fruit of Samuel’s labors, we see a worship purified from all idolatry, and an energetic zeal against everything connected with idolatry, including this sort of superstition.—[This statement is too broad; idolatry probably existed all along in Israel. Comp. Judges 18:30-31; 1 Samuel 19:13.—Tr.] So much the more despicable is Saul’s present action.

1 Samuel 28:10 sq. Saul swears to her that no harm shall thereby come to her: “by the Lord;” “an oath which shows how completely hardened Saul was” (Keil). Not till he has given this oath does the woman ask: Whom shall I bring up to thee? which is in two respects significant: 1) in that the witch thereby claims to have sovereignty, as it were, over the whole realm of the dead, and 2) in that these words indicate the business-like routine of the witch in her soothsaying and conjuration, and have precisely the tone of the modern small dealer: “what do you wish? and how can I serve you?”—Thenius supposes that the woman thus obtained from Saul the promise that she should not be punished for what he (already recognized by her as the king) should hear from her; but this view rests on the unfounded assumption that the woman had certainly known beforehand from the servants (who had directed Saul to her) of this visit, and must have recognized the visitor, if not by his attendants, yet by his extraordinary bodily size. From the narrator’s account we cannot doubt that his view was that Saul came as an unknown person to the woman. And the woman’s whole conduct, 1 Samuel 28:12, permits no other opinion. His height need not have betrayed him to her; it was night, and he was disguised; his anxiety, his age and his disguise all permit us to suppose that he was somewhat bowed and bent.—Saul’s demand: Bring me up Samuel (and go the woman’s question) supposes (the word “up” involves it) that the dead dwelt not in the grave, in the pit, but (as buried) dwelt under the earth in Sheol, that is, a large, broad space which received and claimed (from שָׁאַל, comp. Proverbs 27:20; Psalms 6:6 [5]) all the dead without distinction, godly and ungodly—dwelt in a realm of the dead. The contrast to this realm of the dead beneath the earth is heaven above the earth, where dwells the Lord with the host of angels. The superstition in question consisted in the fact that it was believed that by conjuration the dead were compelled to rise from the depth of Sheol to the surface of the earth, and answer questions put to them. It seems from Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 20:27, that women often practiced this necromancy, to which fact Winer conjectures the Fem. Plu. form Oboth to refer (W.-B. II. 626, A. 4). The usual operations or formulas of conjuration, which the woman no doubt employed after the above business-conversation, are not specially mentioned by the narrator, being irrelevant and of purely technical significance, but belong between 1 Samuel 28:11-12. Böttcher conjectures, but unnecessarily and without ground, that a verse has here fallen out, which mentioned the necromantic apparatus, and stated that the woman went out into a court or garden. Such a supplement is not at all needed for the understanding of the affair. In support of this view Böttcher adduces the words: “and the woman came” of 1 Samuel 28:21, and the necessity of a large space for the exhibition of a gigantic figure; to which Thenius rightly replies that we need not regard the figure indicated by the “Elohim” [God, 1 Samuel 28:13] as a gigantic one, and that nothing is said in the account of exhibiting it.

1 Samuel 28:12. “She saw” (וַתֵּרֶא), not: “she acted as if she saw” (Then.). Render: When the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice.—According to this the cause of her outcry was the sight of the apparition of Samuel. The following words: And the woman said to Saul, Why hast thou deceived me, for thou art Saul? indicate that the woman at the same time recognized Saul in the Unknown; this discovery naturally reminded her of her danger as violator of the king’s prohibition. She thinks herself deceived, tricked and given over to death. There is hardly any doubt, therefore, that this sudden perception of her danger, together with Samuel’s apparition, was the cause of the terror which was expressed in her outcry. How she came to recognize the king in the Unknown, is not indicated in the words. Thenius, assuming that she already knew with whom she was dealing, supposes that, as she simulated fear at the alleged apparition, she now pretended that her sudden recognition of Saul came through supernatural influence, through Samuel indeed. But the text gives no support to the assumption on which this explanation rests. Ewald supposes that she burst out into a loud cry on seeing Samuel’s shade, because it ascended with such frightfully threatening gestures as it could have used only against its deadly enemy, that is, Saul, and she thence saw that the questioner must be Saul. But the words give no reason at all to suppose that this was the view of the narrator. Keil holds that the woman had fallen into a state of clairvoyance, in which she could recognize persons who, like Saul, were unknown to her by face. Is there not, however, a simpler explanation, partly psychological, partly suggested by the context, both of her seeing Samuel’s form and recognizing Saul? As to the former, so much is clear from the connection, that only the woman, not Saul, saw Samuel; this appears from Saul’s question, 1 Samuel 28:13-14 : “What seest thou? what is his form?” She then describes the apparition, in order to leave to Saul its identification with Samuel (1 Samuel 28:14 b). That the woman went out of the room in which she was at first with Saul, into another, is not said, and is not to be inferred from the words: “she came to Saul.” Therefore in the same room she sees Samuel’s apparition, and Saul does not see it. This can be explained psychologically only as by an inner vision, the occasion for which was given by Saul’s request to bring up Samuel, and the psychological foundation of which was her inward excitement, in connection with her lively recollection of Samuel’s form, which was well known to her from his earthly life, and stood before her mind in vividest distinctness. So Tanchum explains it: “She saw Samuel not with the eyes, but with the aid of the imagination, inwardly, in his well-known form.” And her recognition of Saul just at this moment would be psychologically explained as the product of her inward perception of Samuel (occasioned by Saul’s request), and of her recollection of the relation in which she knew Saul had stood to Samuel and of the prophetic sentence of punishment which Samuel had pronounced against Saul. When now, at this moment, so full of danger for all Israel, she saw before her the mysterious Unknown, who was come through her to question Samuel concerning the impending battle, and who on a nearer view, despite his disguise, made on her by the mysterious character of his personality, the impression of an extraordinary person, she could, by her intensified power of perception, straightway recognize him as Saul, and must needs then be seized with the terror of which the account tells.

1 Samuel 28:13. Saul calms her deadly fear.—Fear not, that is, concerning thy life.—The question: What seest thou? supposes 1) that he did not see what she saw; 2) that she was with him in the same room in which the foregoing conversation had occurred, and 3) that on account of the manipulations usual in such conjurations, she was yet necessarily at some distance from him. She answers: I see Elohim ascending out of the earth.—The word “Elohim” signifies here not a plurality of appearances (Gods, Sept., Vulg., Syr., Arab.—or spiritual beings, ghosts, Tremell.—or several devils, one of whom took the form of Samuel, S. Schmid—or angels, Chald., Theod.), but, despite the [Heb.] Plu. predicate (עֹלִים, “ascending,” by attraction from the Plu. subst.), a single appearance, as is evident from the Sing. pronoun, “his form,” a spiritual appearance belonging to the region of the super-terrestrial, the superhuman, a fear- and terror-producing spiritual appearance. The word is here employed in a sense “for which the idea of divinity is too restricted, the general, vague idea of the not-earthly not-human” (Hengst., Beit. II. 255). But Thenius also rightly connects with it the idea of the terror-inspiring from the fact that the simple Heb. sounds alah (אָלַהּ), from which the word is made, are the involuntary sounds of astonishment and fear, referring to Genesis 31:42, where the “fear of Isaac” stands along with the “God of Abraham.”30

1 Samuel 28:14. Saul’s second question : What is his appearance, his form? The woman’s answer gives an exacter description of the spiritual appearance which she saw in her visionary state: An old man cometh up, and he is covered with a mantle.—The meil (מְעִיל) is the talar-shaped garment [reaching to the ankles.—Tr.], the prophet’s mantle, which Samuel wore in his life-time (1 Samuel 15:27), and in which the woman and Saul would necessarily remember him. Still we have no hint that Saul saw the appearance that was visible to the woman. It is said of him only that “from this description he recognized the form seen by the woman to be Samuel, and to do him reverence bowed down to the ground.”

1 Samuel 28:15-20. Conversation of Samuel and Saul. 1 Samuel 28:15. And Samuel said, that is, the woman (Tanchum) spoke from the place where she was standing in hollow, dull tones, which Saul supposed to be Samuel’s, perhaps in the manner of ventriloquists, the natural result of her excited visionary state, in which she identified herself with Samuel.—Why dost thou disquiet me, disturb me (comp. Isaiah 14:9), to bring me up? These words prove that the narrator assumes the previous employment of arts of conjuration, and exclude the supposition (left undecided by Keil, adopted by other expositors) that Samuel’s ascent is represented as produced by miraculous power of God. They also refute the opinion of these expositors, that Samuel’s apparition rose before the woman had employed her art, and that therefore there is no employment of magic means between 1 Samuel 28:11-12. Rather the view that there was such magic art in this place (between 1 Samuel 28:11-12) is confirmed by these words of Samuel: “why dost thou disquiet me ?” namely, by the woman’s conjurations. Saul’s answer gives his reason for this disturbance of the dead as follows: 1) I am in great straits from the Philistines, who are warring against me; 2) God has left me, and answers me no more; 3) I wish to know what to do, I am at a loss and uncertain about the future. So I have had thee called31 to tell me what I shall do.—According to the preceding words: “God has left me and answers me no more,” Saul cannot regard the answer which he asks from Samuel as God’s revelation and declaration; in fact there is in his words a contrasting, or at least a distinction between the divine revelation no longer granted him and the supernatural magic-gotten answer which he expects from Samuel. And yet Samuel was the prophet of the Lord and His organ. This is the contradiction to which Samuel’s answer, 1 Samuel 28:16, refers. The contradiction is not that Saul asks from Samuel a divine announcement, while he yet says there is no longer any such answer for him (Keil).

1 Samuel 28:16. Samuel’s answer: Why dost thou ask me, since the Lord has left thee and become thy enemy?32 That is: if the Lord has left thee, why dost thou apply to me, the Lord’s instrument?

1 Samuel 28:17-19 contain the confirmation of Saul’s previous sentence of rejection and the announcement of his impending fate. 1 Samuel 28:17. The declaration of the fact that the Lord, according to His counsel and determination (עָשָׁה לוֹ, “hath done for Himself” [Eng. A. V.: wrongly “to him”]), has taken the kingdom from him and given it to David. The Lord hath done for himself.—Pleonastic Dative, not unmeaning = has done according to His will, or to carry out His purpose, “to show His truth” (Berl. Bib.). The reading “to thee” (לְךָ) in Sept., Vulg. and some MSS. cited by Thenius (Cod. Kenn. 155, 246; De Rossi 305, 679, 716 [orig.]) is suspicious from its allusion to 1 Samuel 15:26; 1 Samuel 15:28, and because it seems to be an attempt to interpret and smoothen the text, though an original ך [thee] might easily be copied as ו [him], and the latter so come into the traditional text. As he spake by me.—Comp. 1 Samuel 15:23. It is remarkable that while in that passage Saul’s obstinate rebellion, through which he loses the kingdom, is equalled with the gross sin of sorcery, here in the act of committing this superstitious sin (against which he had shown such bloody zeal), the judgment of inward self-hardening being then finished, he again hears the sentence, and learns with terror that the complete realization and definite fulfilment of the divine decree of rejection is now at hand. The whole declaration of 1 Samuel 28:17 is the factual explanation and confirmation of the words of 1 Samuel 28:16 : “The Lord is departed from thee and is become thy enemy, thy oppressor.”

1 Samuel 28:18. The reason is stated, namely, Saul’s disobedience (as in 1 Samuel 15:23). “This thing” is this strait or distress. Comp. “I am sore distressed,” 1 Samuel 28:15. The Perf. עָשָׂה [hath done] is to be understood, like the preceding Perfects, of what has happened, and is settled. This Philistine distress, with its immediate results, is God’s act in complete fulfilment of the judgment against him.

1 Samuel 28:19. Announcement of impending misfortune for himself, his house and his people in battle with the Philistines. And the Lord will deliver Israel also with thee, etc.—“Will deliver” (יִתֵּן) again indicates the act of God in accord with His holy and righteous will, and is to be taken (with Keil) as voluntative; with the king, on whom the judgment falls by the Philistine, the judgment will reach the people also, on account of the ethical and theocratical solidarity [organic oneness] which exists between him and them; the Lord will subject them to the Philistines. And to-morrow wilt thou and thy sons be with me—dead, with me the dead, in the Underworld; “with me” in the kingdom of the dead, in Sheol. Hence it appears that besides self-consciousness (which indeed was conceived of as sunken into a sleep or dream-like state), that is, besides the continued existence of the personality after death, a union after death in Sheol was believed in; at the same time it hence appears that in the realm of the dead the good and evil were not thought to be separated. Thenius would read with the Sept. “thou and thy sons with thee shall fall,” on the ground that the Heb. text strangely first speaks of the Israelites, then descends to the Underworld, then returns to the camp of the Israelites, while the Sept. text presents a perfectly good order: first the general, the defeat; then the particular, the death of Saul and his sons; and finally the result, the plundering of the camp. But the arrangement is excellent in our text, which says nothing else than what the Sept. periphrastically expresses: “to-morrow thou and thy sons will be dead,” and then the Underworld is by no means put in the same line with the Israelites and their camp, but Israel’s renewed defeat, the death of Saul and his sons, and the complete destruction of the camp of Israel, are mentioned as the three decisive blows in the judgment which should fall on Saul.

1 Samuel 28:20. Up to this point Saul had remained in his reverential posture as stated in 1 Samuel 28:14; now under the powerful impression of these words he falls suddenly to the ground, and lies his full length on the earth. The cause is stated to be: 1) his terror at Samuel’s words, and 2) his weakness, resulting from the fact (of course from inward excitement), that he had taken no food the whole (preceding) day and the whole night.

1 Samuel 28:21-25. Saul’s entertainment by the woman. The words “and the woman came” do not in themselves justify the opinion (Then., Diestel in Herz. XVII. 482, et al.) that the woman had been in another room, nor is there any hint of this elsewhere in the narrative. The words of the woman (1 Samuel 28:21-22) show a talkativeness characteristic of this class of women, and a certain humor, particularly in the contrasting of her obedience to his command and the obedience which she now requires from him for his good, in the introductory words, “and now hearken thou also.” That thou mayest have strength when thou goest on thy way.—These words express neither apprehension, nor the fear that he would die on her hands, and it would then go hard with her, and her prediction would not be fulfilled (Then.); they exhibit merely her natural sympathy with her guest, worn out by excitement and abstinence from food, which prompts her to offer him her hospitality.

1 Samuel 28:23 sq. The further minute description of the proceedings of Saul and his servant and the woman is so domestically and psychologically true to life, that the historical trustworthiness of the narrative is put beyond all doubt. Saul refuses to take food because he is full of fear and terror. The servants and the woman force him—he suffers himself to be persuaded. Till now he has lain on the ground; now he gets up and seats himself on the divan (מִטָּה [Eng. A. V. not so well: “bed”—Tr.], “the cushioned bench, which extends along the wall of the room, still found in the East” (Then.). She kills a fatted calf and bakes unleavened cakes. “She kneaded” where we need not supply “it,” since the words describe the operation of kneading. She baked it as unleavened loaves or cakes, because she was obliged to hurry.


1. The theocratic and biblical-theological significance of the history of Saul’s visit to the Witch of Endor is to be judged and determined, first in respect to the representation of the condition of departed souls after death, then as to the religious-moral facts which come under consideration from the Old Testament standpoint of revelation and from the theocratic point of view, and finally as regards Saul’s state of heart in respect to God and the people. In respect to the state of departed souls after death we have the representation not merely of their continuance in personal identity, but also of a self-conscious existence, which is conceived of as a condition of slumber-like rest, from which there may be a rousing and raising; yet such a disturbance is regarded as a disquieting. The abode of the departed, in contrast with heaven as the throne of God and the dwelling of the heavenly powers, is thought to be a wide space deep under the earth (comp. Deuteronomy 32:22; Psalms 86:13; Psalms 63:10 (9); Ezekiel 26:20), not the narrow grave; for Samuel’s grave was at Ramah. The differencing of the realm of the dead from the grave, in which the body is laid, attests the continuance of the soul when separated from the body. Sheol, the Underworld, the Realm of the Dead, receives all the dead without distinction; there is no separation there between Righteous and Unrighteous (1 Samuel 28:19); the divine law of requital does not reach the Beyond. Comp. Oehler: Vet. test, de rebus post mortem fut. 1846, and the same writer: Die Lehre des Alt-Test, von der Unsterblichkeit (Herz. 21:413 sq.): Böttcher: de inferis rebusque post mortem futuris, 1846. H. A. Hahn: de spe immortalitatis sub V. T. gradatim excultœ, 1846. H. Schultz: Alttestamentliche Thcologie I. 396 sq. [See also Oehler: Theologie des Alt. Test., 1873, I., § 77 sq. (and Eng. Transl.). Delitzsch: Bibl. Psychologie (and Eng. Transl.). Himpel: Unsterblichkeits lehre des Alten Test., 1857. Hodge’s Theology III. 716 sq. Smith’s Bib. Dict. Arts. “Dead, Hell, Pit.” Fairbairn’s Bib. Dict. “Hades.” Ewald: Lehre der Bibel von Gott, 1873, III., § 345.—Tr.]

But while now the condition of departed souls is, as a rule, so conceived and represented, that there is no intercourse between them and the Upperworld, and no return from Sheol (Job 7:9), this narrative of Samuel’s appearance would be the only passage in the Old Testament that teaches the contrary [if it did teach it]. And in fact the narrative means to declare that Samuel really appeared (1 Samuel 28:16; 1 Samuel 28:20); as Vilmer remarks (“Vom Aberglauben und Zauberei,” in the Pastoral-theolog. Blättern, 1862, p. 201), “unless violence is done to the text, it can be only understood as affirming that the real Samuel ascended from Sheol.” That is the view of the Septuagint also in the addition to 1 Chronicles 10:13 : “Saul inquired of the ventriloquist [witch], and Samuel the prophet answered him,” and of the Son of Sir 46:20 (23); “and after he fell asleep he prophesied and showed the king his end, and out of the ground lifted up his voice in prophecy.” In contradiction with this correct opinion is the view of the church-theologians of the 16th and 17th centuries, derived from the patristic writers,33 namely, that by divine ordering Saul saw under the form of Samuel a ghost, an illusion produced by demonic, devilish powers. Tertullian (de anima, cap. 57) regards it as a “rivalry of truth by an unclean spirit;” “it was permitted,” says he, “the pythonic spirit to represent the soul of Samuel, when Saul (after he dad inquired of God) inquired of the dead. Far be it from us to believe that the soul of any saint, much less a prophet, can be drawn forth by a demon. We are taught that Satan transfigures himself into an angel of light, but not into a man of light.” So Ephrem Syrus.34 In agreement with this Luther says that it was “the devil’s ghost,” and Calvin that “it was not the real Samuel, but a spectre.” So Grotius: “It is more credible that it was a deceptive spirit, and so the woman herself seems plainly to indicate when she says that gods were ascending out of the earth, thus terming those spirits, one of whom had assumed Samuel’s form.” Comp. S. Schmid (Comm.); A. Pfeiffer, dubia vex. Cent. II. loc. 77; Sal. Deyling, observ. ss. II. obs. 18; Buddæus, hist. eccles., V. I. II. 243 sq.; J. Gerhard, spectrum Endoreum, Jen. 1663 [Bp. Patrick, Comm. in loco]. But the narrative gives not the slightest support to such a view. Neither the original narrator nor the redactor [editor] had in mind (judging from the narrative itself), an illusion produced by demonic or diabolical power. Theodoret, rejecting the view (suggested by the words of the narrative and frequent with the Talmudists) that Samuel’s spirit was really evoked by the conjurations of the woman—held that, before the woman employed her arts, the appearance of Samuel was produced by God’s power, and that God’s voice itself was heard in those words against Saul. He says: “It is thence clear that the very God of all beings, having fashioned Samuel’s form as He wished, uttered the judgment, the witch not having been able to do this, but God gave the decree even through enemies” [Quœst. in Lib. Reg. ad 1 Samuel 28:0.]. Appealing, for proof that God speaks through enemies, to the example of Balaam and to Ezekiel 14:4; Ezekiel 14:7 sq. (where it is said of idolators “when they come to the prophet, I will answer them after my manner”), he explicitly affirms that the words ascribed to Samuel were a divine utterance spoken through the mouth of the woman who was acting against God’s command. But against this view (which is held also by Justin, Origen, Ambrose, Augustine, and by some Rabbis, as R. Saadias) it is rightly remarked by D. Kimchi, that we can then see no reason why God should not have answered Saul before by Urim and Thummim, by dreams or by prophets. In fact it is fatal to this view that according to it God is here the answerer, while it is expressly said in 1 Samuel 28:6 that God answered Saul no more, and 1 Samuel 28:7 clearly means that for this reason Saul turned from God to a sorceress. An immediate divine miracle is assumed, which is to be brought into union with the anti-godly attempt of the sorceress and an open act of godlessness or God-forgetfulness on the part of Saul. Support would thus be given to the superstitious opinion that departed spirits may be summoned, while the fundamental view of the Old Testament every where is that a return of the dead to the land of the living is not possible, comp. 2 Samuel 12:23; Job 7:9. The necromantic superstition, on which Saul (who, unworthy of a divine answer, is guilty of disobeying the divine command, for which he had displayed so much zeal) and the woman (who practices this superstition as a trade) are united would, according to the narrative, have been the occasion or the medium of a miraculous divine act. Now it may be said indeed that God is accustomed in the wisdom of His providential government so to use man’s evil purpose as to compel it to minister immediately to the revelation of His power and glory, as is shown in the history of Balaam and in the declaration of Ezekiel 14:4; Ezekiel 14:7 sq. But in such cases express reference is made also to the divine control, comp. Genesis 15:20; Exodus 10:27. But here there is not the slightest allusion to an immediate interference of God. On the contrary, we plainly read between the lines of this narrative that here a sin is committed; there is no trace of divine action. We cannot therefore accept this view, which is wholly without support, from a religious-ethical as well as from a theocratic-historical standpoint, however thorough and earnest a defence it may have found, as from Dachsel, Bibl. hebr. accentuata, Lips, 1729, p. 430 sq.; Berl. Bib.; O. v. Gerlach; Delitzsch, Bibl. Psychol., 2 ed., p. 428sq.; Ströbel, Luth. Zeitschr., 1867, p. 781 sq.: V. Rudoff, Die Lehre vom Menschen, 2 ed., 1863, II. 365; Hengstenberg, Abhandl. zu den Psalm. IV., p. 324 sq.; Zeitschrift für Protest. u. Kirche, 1851, p. 138 sq., Abhandl. “Die Geschichte der Zauberin zu Endor.” Comp. Oehler in Herzog XXI. 414 sq.; Dächsel, Bibelwerk; Keil, Komm. The last named remarks: “This apparition was externally indeed spiritual, since Samuel was visible only to the woman, not to Saul, but still only an apparition of Samuel’s soul in Hades in the investiture of the earthly body and clothing of the prophet in order to become visible.” Keil himself remarks that this apparition of Samuel divinely summoned from Hades is a different thing from the appearances of Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration of Christ (Matthew 17:0; Luke 9:0), because the latter appeared in heavenly refulgence and glory; this phenomenon, therefore, so often cited in support of this view falls away as unanalogous and irrelevant. Still less can we appeal to the angelic appearances in human form in Genesis 18:0 and Judges 13:0, because these arc superhuman beings. The contradictions in Keil’s view are insoluble, namely, that Samuel appeared “in the spiritual form of the dwellers in Hades,” and yet at the same time “in the investiture of earthly corporeality and clothing,” that Samuel’s appearance in spiritual Hades-form is set over against the announcement of these angels “in human form which was visible to the ordinary bodily eye,” as if Samuel’s apparition was not visible, though it is said that the sorceress saw it and was terrified. According to this view this would be the only passage in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments in which a departed sinful man is called by divine power from the kingdom of the dead to the Upperworld. But this would stand in contradiction with Luke 16:17 sq., where Abraham refuses the rich man’s request to send Lazarus to his father’s house to preach to his living brethren. If it be urged that the prohibition of sorcery and necromancy (Deuteronomy 18:1; Isaiah 8:19) does not exclude the possibility of God’s permitting Samuel for special reasons to appear, we reply that neither from the connection of the related procedure nor from the words of the relator are there special grounds for supposing such a miracle, which would be sole of its kind. Apart from the fact that Saul had already vainly used all ordained means for learning God’s will, and might thence conclude that his obstinate impenitence had rendered him unworthy of answer, the appearance and word of Samuel under present circumstances (if God had really been willing to permit it) could no longer have any religious-ethical or theocratic end; no religious-ethical end, because the means for rousing Saul to repentance were exhausted, for this recourse to a necromancer showed a mind thoroughly alienated from God and seeking help elsewhere, a disposition in respect to which even such a miraculous appearance of the prophet would be without effect, as in fact in Samuel’s words there is no exhortation to repentance, and there is no trace afterwards of any change for the better in Saul;—no theocratic end, because Saul’s rejection as king had already been repeatedly announced, and the sending of Samuel would have been superfluous for the announcement of Saul’s impending fall, which, without a miracle, might have reached Saul’s ear and made his heart tremble. We must therefore reject both the ancient church-view of an illusory appearance of Samuel produced by the woman’s magic art, as the medium of a divine revelation, and also that of an appearance produced immediately by divine power without the woman’s aid. Over against these views stands that which regards the whole procedure as a mere deception. Balthasar Becker, te betoverde Wereld [The Magic World] III. 6. Anton van Dale, dissert. de divinationibus idololatricis sub V. T. in the Treatise de origine et prog. Idololatriœ, p. 620 sq. Schmersahl, Natürl. Erklärung der Gesch. Sauls mit d. Betrügerei zu Endor, Hann., 1751. Köcher, Versuch einer Erklärung der Gesch. Sauls und d. Betrügerin zu Endor, Gera, 1780. Hensler, Erläuter. des 1 B. Sam., p. 88 sq., Exeget. Handbuch IV. 251 sq. Comp. Böttcher, de inferis, I. Ill sq., Winer II. 627, Thenius, Diestel in Herz. XVII. 482 sq., Rütschi, ibid. s. v. Endor, A. Kuhle, Bibl. Eschatologie, 1870. 1 Abth., p. 65 sq. and others [Clericus in loco]. Thenius’ remark that “the deception is everywhere clear in the account” must be admitted except as to the “everywhere,” though his reason drawn from 1 Samuel 28:21 [namely, that the woman had been in another room] is not tenable. The woman’s conduct and words at Saul’s arrival, and at the alleged appearance of Samuel, show that she made necromancy a trade and practiced the deceits usual with such people. The speech of Samuel, a long one under the circumstances, his appearance in the characteristic prophetic dress, and the fact that only she (not Saul) sees the apparition, leave no doubt that technical illusion and magical deception was here employed. But this does not prove that there was absolutely nothing but a refined, conscious deception, proceeding from special motives, as Thenius, for example, supposes that she was impelled by desire of revenge, having perhaps been ill-treated during the expelling of the sorcerers. Against such a merely conjectural pragmatic view, we must distinguish and combine an objective and a subjective element in the explanation of the event; the former a religious-historical, the latter a psychological. The former, which is presupposed in the whole account, consists in the fact that necromancy, according to the passage of the Law in which it is forbidden (Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:5-6; Leviticus 20:26-27; Deuteronomy 18:9-14), was regarded not as a mere deception, but 1) as a heathen superstition, that is, as a wicked dealing with evil powers, which pertain to the domain of heathendom, out of which the Lord has chosen His people to be sanctified to Him; and 2) as an apostasy from the living God and a negation of the covenant-relation between Him and His people as a heathen abomination. That Saul and the woman undertake a wicked ungodly, illegal thing, is the obvious judgment of the narrative; but there also appears here (as in the passage of the Law) the assumption, which was founded on universal belief, that in this magic art, as in the others borrowed from heathendom, there was not a mere deception with magic formulas, but a real contact and co-operation with mysterious ungodly powers, and with a secret, specifically heathenish mode of action—though the opinion of the older orthodox theologians as to the operation of wicked spirits or devils here is excluded by the narrative. Gradually came the perception that, as the idols of the heathen are “naught,” so all heathen existence connected with idolatry is empty and vain. (Comp. Schultz, Alttest. Theol. I. 158 sq.) The second element in our explanation is the psychological in the woman’s state of mind and soul. Proceeding on the supposition of a connection with mysterious powers, and perhaps under the excitation of narcotics, the women especially (as in heathen magic) who made necromancy a trade, might, through a fit psychical-somatical character, fall into an ecstatic, visionary state (as modern science supposes in somnambulic and magnetic phenomena), in which with superstitious self-deception they had inward perception of the things or persons inquired for (the inquirers of course seeing nothing), and uttered their recollections or anticipations in dull, suppressed tones, so that it seemed as if the utterance came from other voices, particularly as if the professedly summoned person spoke. See Tholuck: Die Proph. und ihre Weissagung, § 1, “Die Mantik und die dort angeführten Thatsachen nebst literarischen Nachweisungen.” The seeing and speaking of the woman of Endor must be though of in accordance with the nature and characteristic phenomena of ancient and modern mantic (magic), and like the visional-somnambulic states of which there are so many examples in our time, especially among women. What the woman in this condition (in which she identified herself with Samuel) said of Saul in the name of Samuel was partly nothing but what Samuel had repeatedly said, partly nothing beyond the reach of natural conjecture and inference; for after the universally known divine rejection of Saul, after the sad line of experiences which showed that God had forsaken him (he having forsaken God), and especially after the fact, which the woman learned from Saul herself [v. 15], that in the presence of the Philistine army he had inquired of the Lord in vain, the fatal issue of this war could not be doubtful. Calvin has touched the correct view of the woman’s condition when he says that “her senses were deceived, so that she wrongly supposed that she saw Samuel,” though he errs in ascribing this effect to devilish powers. Along with the deceit which was necessarily connected with this necromantic trade, we must suppose a psychological fact (attested by the history of mantic [magic] and by modern science), which raises that part of the procedure that relates to Samuel’s apparition and words out of the sphere of conscious deception and illusive magic. It is only in this way that we can explain the fact that the narrator, according to whom the essential point is that only the woman, not Saul, sees the apparition of Samuel, represents it as if Samuel really appeared and spoke.

The significance of this event for Saul is to be seen not merely from the announcement of his fall in battle, as the completion of the divine judgment, but also from the attitude towards the living God into which he has brought himself by his impenitence and self-hardening. Winer (s. v. Saul) takes a simple and correct view of the case when he says: “It is a shame that the king, who had expelled all sorcerers, etc. (1 Samuel 28:3; 1 Samuel 28:9), must himself at last fall into the hands of a sorceress.” Saul’s rejection as king was not his definite banishment from the presence of God. Even if the theocratic kingship to which he had been called had become impossible for him and his house in consequence of his disobedience against God, the king of his people, yet he individually might be saved. But he persisted in his self-blinding, and the sentence was complete in his personal rejection. A tool of heathenish superstition, which he as king ought to have punished, must serve as a means of announcing to him his sentence of death as the conclusion of the divine judicial process, the Lord having preserved silence, and thus already passed sentence on him. The heathen Philistine nation, the hereditary enemy of God’s people, constant war against whom was to be a holy state-affair for the theocratic king, becomes the executor of the divine decree, and carries out against him and his house the sentence of death announced by the necromantic impostor. Calvin: “Saul called not on God with humility, prostrate mind and penitent, believing heart, and therefore God rightly rejected him, and the divine threatening was verified in him (Ye shall call on me, but shall not be heard). He himself shows plainly that he approached God as one in despair, because he had no root of true faith in his heart.” In his life-course up to this time Saul had descended step by step deeper into the abyss of unbelief; he stands now on the last step, about to plunge irretrievably into the depths of endless destruction.

2. There is a silence of God that is the dumb reply to perverse invocation of His name, wherein man seeks to make the divine will subservient to his own, instead of humbly bowing under the will of God. Such a persistent silence on God’s part is the result of persistent opposition of the heart to Him, and of the thence resulting hardening. When man makes his own sinful will his god that he worships and his lord that he serves, he shows the religious perversity of his soul when, like Saul, he nevertheless calls on God and inquires His will, in order to make this will subservient to his selfish desire. Thus from unbelief follows necessarily superstition [Germ.: aus unglauben folgt aberglaube.—Tr.]

[Of the three schemes of explanation of this difficult passage now held—namely, that which regards the affair as a mere deception (Chandler, Thenius), that which supposes a sort of mesmeric clairvoyance in the woman (Keil, Erdmann), and that which sees here a real appearance of Samuel by divine power, the last has found most favor among English orthodox expositors. In many cases the exegesis is determined by dogmatic considerations, as that such a real appearance of a dead person is impossible, or not in keeping with Scripture, or that the summoning of Samuel by a witch is contrary to the holiness of God. Such considerations must, however, be put aside when our object is to discover simply what the narrator affirms. It is clear that the writer says that Samuel appeared and spoke (so Ewald, Erdmann). How are we to accept this? The writer, says one class of critics, shared the superstitions of his day, and believed that the conjurations of the witch really had power over the dead. Erdmann, however, is not satisfied with this explanation, and accounts for the narrator’s affirmation that Samuel really appeared on the ground that besides the element of trickery in the woman’s procedure, there was a real psychological identifying of herself with the deceased prophet, so that the narrator might represent her personation of him as his personal appearance. But certainly this explanation is hardly satisfactory, and it is not easy to see how we can avoid finding in the narration a distinct declaration that Samuel actually appeared and spoke. The only thing in the account itself that opposes this view is the fact that the woman only and not Saul saw the apparition. But it is quite possible that the apparition may have been in a different room from that in which Saul found himself—though this is not mentioned. Such seems to be the plain statement of the text. The dogmatic and other difficulties are discussed by Erdmann. Chandler, in his Life of David, gives a full and forcible presentation of the grounds for supposing the whole affair to be an imposture by the woman.—Tr.]


Starke: 1 Samuel 28:1. Pious men are walls and pillars of cities and lands, Ezekiel 22:30; therefore if such men have to start away, all misfortune starts forth too. (Genesis 7:7 sq.). 1 Samuel 28:2. Virtue and bravery deserve to be rewarded; but the world is wont to promise believers reward, in order to draw them off from the right way (Matthew 4:9).—[1 Samuel 28:3 : Scott: Hypocrites are frequently very zealous against those crimes to which they are not tempted at the time, or from which they may suffer detriment; and apostates frequently commit those sins, which they once were most earnest in opposing.—Tr.].

1 Samuel 28:4-5. J. Lange: So it goes with the ungodly, that here already they feel in themselves a hell, when their evil conscience awakes in them.—Schlier: Saul fears before men, because he no longer feared God; if we see things rightly, all fear has no other ground than lack of the fear of God.—The fear of man has its ground in unbelief; true fear of God makes one strong and courageous.

1 Samuel 28:6. Starke: To go to God when in distress is good and necessary; but it must be done without hypocrisy, with true repentance and from the heart (Isaiah 26:16).—If we do not hear God’s voice when it goes well with us, God can and will refuse to hear our voice also, when it goes ill with us (Proverbs 1:24 sq.). S. Schmid: Ungodly men and hypocrites care little for God and His service in good days: but when misfortune comes, then they wish to become pious also, and seek God’s counsel and help in every way.—Schlier: The Lord gave Saul no answer. To turn to the Lord Saul has not wished; had he wished that, he would also have found the Lord’s grace. But Saul had no concern about that; he wished to use the Lord for his own ends, he needed a disclosure about his situation, and such a disclosure he wished to force for himself without returning to the Lord.—Calvin: By this example we should learn to draw near to God with all humility when we wish to ask His counsel in prayer, far from all obstinate self-will and passion; for His arm is not shortened that He cannot help those who take refuge in Him. Whence comes it that so often our prayers are in vain, and our hopes deceive us? Our sins shut off the grace of God from us, and our unrighteousness separates us from our God, and fixes an immeasurable gulf between us and God.

1 Samuel 28:7. S. Schmid: Happy is he who so receives God’s punitive silence or other signs of His wrath, as to be led thereby to true repentance; but hardened hearts take refuge, when God is silent, in wicked men and Satan.—Schlier: An example of the fact that the unbelief which has lost the living God is always full of superstition instead, and thereby is turned over not merely to empty delusion and vain deception, but also to the powers of darkness.—The human heart needs something to cling to, something to which it may hold fast, a prop which its tendrils may firmly clasp; therefore when it leaves Him for whom it was made, when it sinks into unbelief, then it clings to the power of superstition and of darkness. Nothing frees from superstition but true faith.—[1 Samuel 28:7. Taylor: Here is the great difference between Saul in his sins, and David in his backslidings. From each of his falls you hear David come sobbing out a sorrowful confession and appeal like that in the fifty-first Psalm; in each of Saul’s wickednesses you see him assuming the attitude of sterner defiance toward the Almighty; or if there be any sorrow in his heart at all, it is for the loss he has himself sustained, or the suffering he has himself endured, and not for the dishonor which he has done to God.—Tr.].

1 Samuel 28:8. Hedinger: So great is the power of conscience that even those who desire evil are ashamed to have it known.—Cramer: The ungodly love darkness and shrink from the light (John 3:19), but God knows their works (Proverbs 17:16).

1 Samuel 28:11-12. Hedinger [from Hall]: It is no rare thing to lose even our wit and judgment together with graces; how justly are they given to sottishness, that have given themselves over to sin!

1 Samuel 28:15. Schlier: We see here quite clearly that the souls of the righteous rest in God’s hand, and no torment touches them. He who dies in faith enters into rest in the Lord his God; and since, though the whole world come and use all its arts of sorcery, it brings no such soul back to the earth any more, it follows that we men have no power over departed spirits.—[Scott: Many who despise the servants of God while they live, are so far convinced of their wisdom and fidelity, that they vainly wish for their counsel and instruction, in distressing circumstances, after their death. But in that blessed world to which they are removed, they have done with fear, favor and affection, and are become far more determined than ever in the service and cause of God; and were they to appear they would denounce the doom of impenitent sinners with more awful decision than before.

1 Samuel 28:15. Taylor: “I am sore distressed.” Oh! the wild wail of this dark misery! There is a deep pathos and a weird awesomeness in this despairing cry; but there is no confession of sin, no beseeching for mercy; nothing but the great, over-mastering ambition to preserve himself.—Tr.].

1 Samuel 28:16. S. Schmid: He is highly unfortunate and foolish who, when God forsakes him, prefers to seek help and counsel from creatures, rather than by true repentance to make himself again a reconciled friend to God.—Schlier: Wilt thou have light for all the riddles and dark questions of this life, betake thyself to God’s Word; there enough is revealed, there is what is necessary to find everything, and what goes beyond that, comes of evil.

1 Samuel 28:18. Schlier: God’s wrath is so dreadful, that when all has been in vain He utterly gives up the sinner to His judgments, and unsparingly causes him to learn that sin is ruin to a people.—The judgment of hardening comes only when the crime of hardening has first entered. When we shut ourselves against the voice of God, then on the part of God also must hardening follow, as surely as God is a holy and righteous God, who does not allow Himself to be trifled with.

1 Samuel 28:20. Cramer: The ungodly do not grow better after God’s wrath is made known, but always worse (Acts 7:54). [Taylor: Alas for Saul! how changed is he now from that day when Samuel communed with him concerning the kingdom, or when, in the first noble assertion of his royal right, he delivered the men of Jabesh-Gilead from their threatened destruction! Did ever promise of so fair a life ripen into such bitter fruit?—Tr.]

[1 Samuel 28:1-2. One of two things David must now do, and either will be grossly wrong, disgraceful, and hurtful both to himself and to others. To this miserable alternative he had brought himself, by distrusting God and relying on deception. It is one of the severest earthly penalties of wrong-doing, that it often leads to the apparent necessity of doing other and greater wrong.

[1 Samuel 28:4-20. Contrast between Saul and David at this crisis of their history: 1) Both are in great distress. We see David in the camp of the Philistines, seemingly compelled to fight against Israel and against the anointed of Jehovah (comp. 1 Samuel 26:11); and presently we see Saul journeying in fasting and fatigue, in peril and gloomy desperation across the mountain, and entering in disguise the witch’s abode. Both are entirely unable to decide what to do or what to hope for. 2) Each is suffering the consequences of past sin. 3) But one has utterly forsaken God, and feels that “God is departed” from him, and now the sad story of his disobedience comes back (1 Samuel 28:17-18), and his worst fears are confirmed (1 Samuel 28:19), till at last, behold his mighty frame prone on the earth in an agony of despair. The other has yielded to distrust and fallen into sin, but has not at heart abandoned the Lord; it may have been in no such lively exercise then as to give him any comfort, but sinning, sorrowing David had still in his heart the fear of Jehovah. 4) And as a result, the fallen king, ruinously defeated and despairing, dies next day by his own hand (31); while the merciful over-ruling of God’s Providence extricates David from his position (29), and prepares for him a new chastening, which brings him to repentance and trust (1 Samuel 30:4; 1 Samuel 30:6-8). Behold the difference between a sinning man impenitent, unbelieving, proud, and a sinning man ready to repent, clinging to faith and really humble before God. (Comp. below on chap. 30., “Hist, and Theol.”).—Tr.]

[1 Samuel 28:21-25. Even in a sorceress, with all her deceptions and delusions, her wild and dreadful life, the true woman comes out at the mute appeal of misery. How kindly persuasive her words; how prompt her hospitable labors. We take leave of her, as she took leave of the ruined king, with a pitying heart.—Tr.]


[1][1 Samuel 28:1. Literally “camps” (מַחֲנֶה). The same word in the last clause of this verse is rendered “battle [army],” and in 1 Samuel 28:19, “host [camp].”—Tr.]

[2][1 Samuel 28:1. Syr. adds: “to the ravine” (נחל), perhaps a repeated misreading of לִהלָּחֵם. Sept. has ἐξελθεῖν, apparently taking צכא as Inf. in its original meaning “go forth.”—Tr.]

[3][1 Samuel 28:2. Sept. “now” (עַתָּה inst. of אִַתָּה), which is better.—Tr.]

[4][1 Samuel 28:2. Sept.: “chief of the body-guard.”—Tr.]

[5][1 Samuel 28:3. The ו is omitted in some MSS. and in Sept., Syr., Vulg.; it may be explained as appositional or epexegetical; but the omission is easier.—Tr.]

[6][1 Samuel 28:3. Usually now rendered “necromancers.” So the Chald. (בִדִּין); Syr., Vulg. and Aq. have “magicians.”—Tr.]

[7][1 Samuel 28:3. This is a literal rendering of the Heb., which means: “those who know” (Eng. wizard—from the verb wit, “to know”), Erdmann “die klugen leute,” so the Greek. Other VSS. render “sorcerers,” which is the proper sense.—Tr.]

[8][1 Samuel 28:6. The VSS. are troubled by this word. Sept. ἐν τοῖς δήλοις, Aq. ἐν φωτιομοῖς, Sym. διὰ τῶν δήλων, Syr. “by fire,” Vulg. per sacerdotes. See the Exposition.—Tr.]

[9][1 Samuel 28:7. אֵשֶׁת is the ordinary form of the construct. of אִשָׁה. Here the relation expressed (lit. woman of a possessor of Ob) would be simply the appositional. The word may possibly be an absolute form, comp. Deuteronomy 21:11. Erdmann: “a woman that hath a necromantic spirit.”—Tr.]

[10][1 Samuel 28:8. De Wette, Philippson, Erdmann render “by necromancy” (todtenbeschwörung); but Ob is the spirit, not the art; Cahen: par (l’esprit d’) Ob.—Tr.]

[11][1 Samuel 28:10. Properly “iniquity” (עָוֹן), then its result, “blame” (Erdm., schuld), “punishment.”—Tr.]

[12][1 Samuel 28:10. The Dagh. in the ק, which is merely euphonic, is omitted in very many MSS.—Tr.]

[13][1 Samuel 28:12. Lit.: “and thou art Saul,” ו explanatory =“for.” But we may render: why hast thou deceived me, and thou art Saul? Erdmann: du bist ja Saul.—Tr.]

[14][1 Samuel 28:13. The כּי, which is here strange, may be=“but” in rapid excited talk. Sept. “say what thou sawest,” where “say” is an obvious insertion. Other VSS. omit the כּי (Vulg., Syr.).—Tr.]

[15][1 Samuel 28:13. So De Wette, Cahen, Philippson. Sept., Syr., Arab., Vulg. have Plu., as Eng. A. V. Chald.: “the angel of Jehovah.” Erdmann has geist. See Exposition.—Tr.]

[16][1 Samuel 28:14. Sept.: ὄρθιον, “upright;” they probably read וָקֵף for וָקֵן(Schleusner).—Tr.]

[17][1 Samuel 28:15. The short (Waw consec.) form of the verb is found in 2 MSS.—Tr.]

[18][1 Samuel 28:16. On the text-reading see the Exposition. Aq., Theod.: κατά σου, Sym. ἀντίζηλός σου.—Tr.]

[19][1 Samuel 28:17. Vulg.: faciet enim tibi Deus. So Sept. and some MSS.: “to thee.” The other VSS. are as the Heb., which is better maintained as the harder reading.—Tr.]

[20][1 Samuel 28:19. The נַּם here is difficult, unless we render: “both Israel and thee.” Otherwise the נַּם is without explanation, and would seem to be repeated from the third clause. Wellhausen thinks the first and third clauses identical, and omits the first because of the unintelligible נַּם. Yet the “camp” in the third clause seems to difference it from the first, and the conjunction may be explained as above or dropped. The Heb. text is supported by the VSS.—Tr.]

[21][1 Samuel 28:20. Lit.: “hasted and fell,” according to a common Heb. idiom, Ges. Gr. § 142. Sym.:ταχύ, Sept.: και ἔσπευσε. In 1 Samuel 28:21 the Sept. renders by this same word the Heb. נִבְהַל, “troubled,” whence Wellh. would read the latter word, but unnecessarily, for the present text gives a good sense, and Sept. might be right here, and wrong in 1 Samuel 28:21.—Tr.]

[22][1 Samuel 28:23. Instead of ויפרצו, some MSS. and EDD. have ויפצרו. The former=“violently pressed on,” the latter=“besought.” The text, as the stronger and more vigorous, must be maintained.—Tr.]

[23][1 Samuel 28:23. Many MSS. and EDD. read עַל inst. of אֵל, and so the ancient VSS. seem to have read. אֵל is difficult here.—Tr.]

[24][1 Samuel 28:24. Sept. νομάς: Sym.: πεφιλοτροφημένη, Others: γαλαθηνόν.

[25][This incorrect name comes from a misunderstanding of Psalms 89:12 (13).—Tr.]

[26][According to Stanley (Sin. and Pal., IX., 1 Samuel 2:3) Saul was stationed nearly on the site of Gideon's camp. See Art. “Gilboa” in Smith’s Bib-Dict., and Hackett’s note, Amer. Ed.—Tr.]

[27][Bp. Patrick notes that the same three classes are mentioned in Iliad 1:62.—Tr.]

[28][Not necessarily here in the good sense, more probably it and “prophet” are intended to describe all classes of predictions.—Tr.]

[29] קְםמִי, Kethib, קָםֳמִי, Qeri, comp. Ew. § 40 b: the O-sound is sometimes so pressed by new endings that it recedes to a foregoing vowelless consonant, and is sometimes repeated with two adjacent consonants, as כָּתָבְךָ In such cases we find the half-vowel echo Oo in the same syllable (commonly found only with gutturals), generally with ק, and in a loosely connected syllable as here. Comp. Judges 9:8.

[30][Whatever may be the original meaning of the stem (אלהּ), the reasoning of Thenius, endorsed by Erdmann, is very unsafe. We know too little of primeval onomatopoeia to base etymologies on it. The example of Genesis 30:42 cannot be decisive for the original meaning of Elohim, and, if it were, the actual historical meaning is a question of use, not of etymology. Now “Elohim” is elsewhere in the Old Testament used only of “god” and “judges or kings.”—Tr.]

[31]On the -ֶה parag. instead of -ָה, for strengthening, see Ew. § 228 c, A. 1.

[32] ערִ = “enemy,” occurs elsewhere only in Psalms 139:20, a Psalm which undoubtedly contains some Aramaic words and forms, and in Daniel 4:16 as a Chaldee word—not in Psalms 9:7 and Isaiah 14:21, where the form is to be otherwise explained. We might take the word as Aramaic form of צָר, the interchange of Heb. צ and Aram. ע being not infrequent, like γ and ξ in Greek (examples in Ges. under letter ע n. 3); and though there is no other Aramaic form in this section, and the word צָר (for עָר) appears with this signification mostly in poetry (Job 36:16; Lamentations 1:5; Lamentations 1:7; Lamentations 1:10), yet the prophetical style (as here) is not far removed from the poetical, and צר might be used here as well as in Numbers 10:9, which is not properly poetical; the Aramaic change of צ into ע might easily come by error in copying. The use of צָר might be explained as a designed reference to צַר־לִי in 1 Samuel 28:15. But the absence of לְ before עָרֶ‍ֽךָ makes a difficulty, הָיָה never occurring in such a construction without it; though, while unexampled, it, would not be ungrammatical (Maur.). We should expect לְעָרֶךָ. Does not this then cast suspicion on the whole expression, especially as עָרֶךָ in Psalms 139:20 is not assured? It is certainly surprising and noteworthy that Sept.: καὶ γέγονε μετὰ τοῦ πλησίον σου, and Vulg.: transierit ad œmulum tuum [in Psalms 139:0. Sept. πόλεις, Vulg. adversarii—Tr.], render (comp. Syr., Ar.) as if they read וי׳ עִם רֵעֲךָ = “and is with thy neighbor,” which Then. thence adopts as the true reading. These translations may indeed be mere conjectural paraphrases (Keil), or may have had in mind the לְרֵעֲךָ of the following verse and the parallel passage, 1 Samuel 15:28 (Maur.). It is hard to decide, the pros and cons being so nearly balanced.

[33][But Justin Martyr (Dial. cum Trypho) holds that it was really Samuel.—Tr.]

[34][And Cyril of Alexandria and Jerome.—Tr.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 28". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". 1857-84.