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Deeper Commentary

1Sa 28:1 In those days the Philistines gathered their armies together to fight against Israel. Achish said to David, You must certainly go out with me in the army, you and your men-
To go and fight God's people, specifically with Saul, Yahweh's anointed, was exactly against David's previous principles. But because he had lied about fighting and killing Israelites, he was now told to go and do it. He was being taught that boasting about things you haven't done is still counted as if you have done them. And he was now being forced to a position where he has to quit his sinful situation.

1Sa 28:2 David said to Achish, Then you will know what your servant can do-
David uses language in a vague way, all part of the great deceit he was showing to Achish as detailed at the end of 1 Sam. 27. That deceit couldn't go on for long; and it was God's grace which brought it to an end.

Achish said to David, Therefore I will make you my bodyguard for life-
David had earlier been Saul's bodyguard, now he was for Achish the Philistine. And again, the situation at the court must have been very politically fraught. For David had done so much evil to the Philistines, and it seems David's acceptance depended solely upon Achish having some personal enthusiasm for him. However this could mean that David was offered this position if he went out and fought against his people. However it seems from 1 Sam. 29:2 that David was already the bodyguard of Achish, and it was accepting this office which was used by God to save him as it meant he was at the rear of the army. It was the wrong decision- for he should have honestly stated he wouldn't fight God's people. But despite his failure, God used it by grace to save him from his hopelessly compromised position.

1Sa 28:3 Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in Ramah, his own city-
We note too how Israel loved Samuel and respected him, although they did the very opposite of what he had taught them. We can have an emotional, sentimental attachment to the things of our religion, whilst having hearts far from God's word in practice.

Saul had put away out of the land those who had familiar spirits and the wizards-
Saul apparently had not used a witch before. He clamped down upon something which didn't directly affect him, in an attempt to show zeal for God's law. And this kind of thing goes on in all generations. We recall how the Jews were so zealous for some Mosaic rituals at the very time they crucified the Lord.

1Sa 28:4 The Philistines gathered together and encamped in Shunem, and Saul gathered all Israel and they encamped in Gilboa-
The mutual gathering together of the two armies on opposite sides of a valley recalls the conflict with Goliath. But now David is on the other side, and Samuel is dead. Finer geographical details are given in 1 Sam. 29:1, where "the spring in Jezreel" is now thought to be the fountain at Ain Jalut, "Goliath's fountain", regarded as the scene of the defeat of Goliath. This would have heightened the connections with that battle, and highlighted the absence of David and Samuel.

1Sa 28:5 When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid and his heart trembled greatly-
This had happened before with Goliath, and David had urged the Israelites to not let their hearts be troubled. But now David was on the other side, or so Saul understood. He had a premonition of inevitable judgment to come. Instead of repenting, he just wanted to know in advance whether this was "it" or not. And that desire to know God's word was stronger than his desire to repent. And there is a warning in that to those whose passion for technical "knowledge" of God's word seems greater than their personal spirituality. See on :8.

1Sa 28:6 When Saul inquired of Yahweh, Yahweh didn’t answer him, neither by dreams nor by Urim nor by prophets-
The urim and thummim were two stones associated with the ephod of the high priest, which flashed out binary yes / no answers. But they were apparently with David and Abiathar, not Saul (1 Sam. 22:20; 23:6; 30:7). He may have tried to get other stones to replace them, but they failed to give answers, and he realized again that God's presence was with David and not himself.

 "Saul inquired of Yahweh" but had no answer, and therefore he went to a witch. But in God's final analysis of Saul, Yahweh says that He smote Saul because Saul sinned against God's word by not enquiring of God, but of a witch (1 Chron. 10:13,14). But Saul did enquire of God (see 1 Sam. 14:37 s.w. 28:6), but God didn't answer him (note how often in the records it is stated by contrast that David enquired successfully of Yahweh). The point is that although Saul prayed to God and enquired of His word on the surface, in his heart, he did nothing of the sort; and therefore his prayer and enquiry was reckoned never to have happened. And we must ask how much of our prayer and Bible study is seen by God as being only spoken and read on a surface level. This was exactly the problem of natural Israel. "They have not cried unto me with their heart, when they howled (in prayer) upon their beds" (Hos. 7:14). "Though they called them to the Most High, none at all would exalt him" (Hos. 11:7).

In 1 Sam. 14:38 Saul thinks that God's lack of answer by Urim and Thummim is because someone amongst the people has sinned. But Saul's awful hypocrisy was rebuked now at the end of his life. God refused to give Saul an answer from Urim and Thummim because of his sin in not sincerely enquiring of the Lord.

1Sa 28:7 Then Saul said to his servants, Find me a woman who has a familiar spirit so that I can go to inquire of her. His servants said to him, There is a woman who has a familiar spirit at Endor-
"A familiar spirit" is misleading, and many of the modern versions give something like "witch" or [ESV, GNB] "a medium". LXX has "a divining spirit". It doesn't mean she did actually have any such spirit; but that she was considered as having this. Such people were thought to be able to be possessed by the spirit of dead people, and to therefore speak in their name. But the Bible clearly teaches that the "spirit returns to God" (Ps. 146:4; Ecc. 12:7), and that death is unconsciousness. The spirit of dead persons don't enter other people. I would go so far as to say that the record of the witch at Endor, who supposedly had a "familiar spirit", is deconstructing this belief. For Samuel himself appears, and speaks directly to Saul, and not through the "medium". The woman therefore screamed in shock when Samuel actually appeared. He was resurrected, briefly, in order to give God's final message to Saul. The people claiming to have "familiar spirits" lay on the ground and mumbled hard to understand words in a voice seeking to imitate the dead person (Is. 29:4) but Samuel appeared in person and spoke clearly to Saul, directly. We also note that Samuel appeared to Saul standing upright, because Saul bowed before him: "Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and showed respect" (1 Sam. 28:14). This was quite different to how the mediums lay on the ground and mumbled words into the dust.

1Sa 28:8 Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothing, and went with two men to the woman by night. He said, Please consult a familiar spirit for me and bring me up the one I name-
Endor was the opposite side of Shunem (:4). Saul would have had to cross enemy lines to get there. Hence his disguise and journey by night. As he was so tall, he was taking a huge risk. But he did so because he was so desperate to hear God's word, but as noted on :5, instead of repenting, he just wanted to know in advance whether this was "it" or not. And that desire to know God's word was stronger than his desire to repent. And there is a warning in that to those whose passion for technical "knowledge" of God's word seems greater than their personal spirituality. 

1Sa 28:9 The woman said to him, Look, you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off those who have familiar spirits and the wizards out of the land. Why then have you set a trap for me, to cause me to die?-
Wizards were really amateur psychologists, who weighed up their clients and were very perceptive of their background and needs. She surely knew this was Saul; he was famed as the tallest man in Israel, and had been apparently reigning 40 years (Acts 13:21). Cutting off "out of the land" would mean they had been forced into exile. She had not, perhaps because she repented, or was retained for her services to the house of Saul. She implies she knows who Saul is- because she says he has set a trap for her.

1Sa 28:10 Saul swore to her by Yahweh, As Yahweh lives, you will not be punished for this-
Saul appears to take Yahweh's Name in vain rather too often, for he had likewise sworn to Jonathan that he would not try to kill David. But Saul really tacitly admits that he is Saul, for only he had the power to ensure the woman wouldn't be punished for practicing witchcraft. Although by saying this, he was really playing God. For it was according to God's law that witches were to be punished. And yet he here abrogates God's law, in the name of God.

1Sa 28:11 Then the woman said, Whom shall I bring up to you? He said, Bring Samuel up for me-
The Bible doesn't teach any idea of an immortal soul. Death is unconsciousness. Only at the last day judgment will there be the gift of eternal life and eternal death to those responsible to God. We note that both the witch and Saul believed Samuel to be "down" in the grave and not "up" in heaven. The common idea that the souls of the righteous dead go to heaven on death is not supported in the Bible. 

1Sa 28:12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice, and said to Saul, Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!-
God resurrected Samuel, and the woman screamed in genuine fear when she saw him. God answers a fool according to his folly (Prov. 26:5). Thus God resurrected Samuel when Saul asked the witch to bring him to life (1 Sam. 28). Of course witches have no power to contact the dead; yet God confirmed Saul in his stupidity. If men choose to follow the vain philosophy of the flesh, God will confirm them in their delusions (2 Thess. 2:11). In accord with this, God punishes men with a recompense which is appropriate for the kind of sin they commit (Rom. 1:27). But the woman composes herself and then tells Saul she knows who he is; but I suggest that she knew this anyway, because Saul was the tallest man in Israel and had been reigning for 40 years at this time, probably all her adult life. He was well known.

"Why have you deceived me?" is word for word what Saul had shouted at his daughter Michal for not letting him murder David in her home (1 Sam. 19:17). And now his words return to him, placed in the mouth of another woman. For by our words we are judged.

1Sa 28:13 The king said to her, Don’t be afraid-
This assurance could only come from Saul as king, waiving his own campaign of condemnation of witches.

What do you see? The woman said to Saul, I see a god coming up out of the earth-
She speaks in vague terms. She means that a body is ascending out of the earth, in resurrection; the same word for "coming up" is used of this in :15. She uses the term elohim, showing that this term doesn't only refer to God Himself. Perhaps she saw a vision of Angels ascending with Samuel; elohim ascending is the term used of the vision of Angels ascending upon Jacob in Gen. 28:12. But she speaks of elohim as "an old man" (:14) in the singular. This shows that elohim doesn't have to refer to a plurality. This demonstration of grammatical usage surrounding elohim is useful in correcting those who mistakenly think that elohim in the Old Testament refers to God and Jesus. The Bible doesn't teach the person preexistence of the Lord Jesus. Elohim 'ascending' is the term used for the end of a theophany (Gen. 17:22; 35:13; Ps. 47:5; Ez. 9:3; 11:24). Perhaps she saw a kind of theophany, which then gave way to the resurrection of Samuel, who then spoke directly with Saul.

1Sa 28:14 He said to her, What does he look like? She said, An old man is coming up-
LXX "An upright man". The elohim who "ascended" (s.w. 'come up') was Samuel. He was a manifestation of God to Saul.

He is wearing a mantle. Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and showed respect-
Wearing the prophetic mantle was typical attire for a prophet. It was that mantle which Saul had torn in 1 Sam. 15, and Samuel had interpreted this as meaning that the kingdom was to be torn away from Saul. As he saw the mantle, he would have remembered this. See on :17, where Samuel uses the word "torn".

1Sa 28:15 Samuel said to Saul, Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?-
This was really a rhetorical question. Saul had done so because he was more interested in knowing his immediate fate, than repenting. For he didn't need to see a resurrected Samuel to make him repent. We note that the conversation is directly between Samuel and Saul. The woman didn't act as a medium or intermediary between them, and so this incident is no evidence that witches or mediums have any real power. See on :21.

Saul answered, I am very distressed, for the Philistines make war against me and God has departed from me, and answers me no more, neither by prophets nor by dreams. Therefore I have called you so that you can tell me what I should do-
Saul knew what he should do, and what Samuel would essentially answer- "Repent!". But his fascination with knowing his immediate future stopped him from seeing this. And so Samuel gives him the answer, explaining what would happen if he still didn't repent.  The fact God departed from him was a sad reflection of how initially God had been with Saul (1 Sam. 10:7). God can both give and take away His Spirit. In Saul's case it was given by the pure grace of how God calls otherwise unspiritual people. But in response to their rejection of spiritual things, it can be withdrawn from them.

1Sa 28:16 Samuel said, Why do you ask me, since Yahweh has departed from you and has become your adversary?-
LXX "and taken part with thy neighbour?". The reference was to David (:17). Yahweh can be a satan / adversary to people. But here the idea is that David, the one with whom God was, was now on the opposing side, with the Philistines. As Saul knew. He must have imagined that God was going to slay him at the hand of David, through David being with the Philistines. But that may indeed have been a possibility within the Divine program, but it didn't work out like that.  Saul sees Samuel as somehow separate from God; whereas Samuel says there was no point in resurrecting him, since Yahweh had departed from Saul. He could work no special deal for Saul; Saul had to work it out with God directly. That was the unspoken, implicit message.

1Sa 28:17 Yahweh has done to you as He spoke by me. Yahweh has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbour, to David-
The language of "torn" was appropriate to the mantle which Saul had earlier torn, and which Samuel was now wearing, presumably intact now, representing how the kingdom would be given intact to David. The kingdom was only "given" potentially to David, for it took him some years to establish it under his rulership. David is perhaps called Saul's neighbour to remind him that the essence of the covenant was to love one's neighbour as themselves; and Saul had cruelly broken this through his hatred of David.

1Sa 28:18 Because you didn’t obey Yahweh-
Israel did not obey / hearken to the voice of Yahweh, and He did not hearken to their voice in prayer (Dt. 1:45; 9:23; 28:15; Josh. 5:6; Jud. 2:20; 6:10 cp. Dt. 8:20 s.w.). 2 Kings 18:12 states this specifically. God hearkened to Joshua's voice in prayer (Josh. 10:14) because Joshua hearkened to His voice. It was to be the same with Saul. He didn't hearken to God's voice (1 Sam. 15:19) and God didn't hearken to Saul's voice in prayer in his final desperation at the end of his life (1 Sam. 28:18, although he hearkened to the voice of the witch, 1 Sam. 28:23). If God's word abides in us, then our prayer is powerful, we have whatever we ask, because we are asking for things according to His will expressed in His word (Jn. 15:7). 

And didn’t execute His fierce wrath on Amalek, therefore Yahweh has done this to you today-
Saul had twice been rejected by God; regarding not waiting for Samuel and being disobedient in 1 Sam. 13:13 ("You have not kept the commandment of Yahweh your God which He commanded you"), and then about Amalek. Perhaps "Because you didn't obey Yahweh" refers to the 1 Sam. 13 situation, and then the Amalek disobedience of 1 Sam. 15 is referenced. Or perhaps "You didn't obey Yahweh" also refers to the 1 Sam. 15 situation; because Saul's disobedience of 1 Sam. 13:13 was forgiven, and he was given another chance, which he then wasted by not obeying the commandments about Amalek. Such was God's desire to save him, and to change His rejection of him.

1Sa 28:19 Yahweh will deliver Israel and you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. Yahweh will also deliver the army of Israel into the hand of the Philistines-
LXX "Israel with thee... thy sons with thee", emphasizing how Saul's disobedience was to lead many others to destruction with him. This is the characteristic of sin- that it harms others. That they would "be with me" reinforces the teaching that all men, good and bad, go to the same place at death- the unconsciousness of the grave. The differentiation between them, as taught in the Lord's parable of the sheep and goats, is only finally made at the judgment of the last day. Far from supporting any idea of an immortal soul, this passage actually is designed to deconstruct those wrong ideas.

1Sa 28:20 Then Saul fell immediately his full length on the earth and was terrified because of the words of Samuel. There was no strength in him, for he had eaten no food all that day and all that night-
Saul had earlier prostrated himself before Samuel in reverence. Now he again falls to the earth as he ought to have done before. He was passing through a figurative death, as did Daniel of whom the same words are used when he falls before the Angel, terrified and with no strength (Dan. 10:8,16,17). Saul now has the chance to realize that the wages of sin is death- and arise in repentance. Even at this late stage. But he refuses.

1Sa 28:21 The woman came to Saul-
LXX "went in". Again the point is made that the conversation was directly between Samuel and Saul; the woman was not acting as a medium between them. See on :15.

And seeing that he was very troubled she said to him, Look, your handmaid has obeyed you and I have put my life in my hands and have done what you told me-
She may intentionally refer to how David put his life in his hands for Saul's sake (1 Sam. 19:5). Perhaps she had repented of her witchcraft and was in fact on David's side.

1Sa 28:22 Now please listen to your handmaid and let me give you some food so that you may eat and have the strength to go on your way-
The contrast is with how Abigail had said these words to David, again in a context of food, and he had had the humility to hear the words of a woman. But Saul was proud to the last.

1Sa 28:23 But he refused and said, I will not eat. But his servants, together with the woman, urged him, so he listened to them. He got up from the earth and sat on the bed-
Literally, he was obedient to her voice. Whereas he had not been obedient to the voice of Yahweh; see on :18. LXX "sat upon a bench", recalling Eli sitting upon a bench the day when he and his sons died during another Philistine invasion. And they too had been told their ministry would be removed and passed to another (1 Sam. 4:13). From these similarities we see how God's judgments work over the generations according to a similar hallmark; and we are therefore to learn from them.

1Sa 28:24 The woman had a fattened calf in the house. She hurried and killed it, and she took flour, kneaded it and baked unleavened bread with it-
Hurrying to dress the fatted calf is exactly the language the Lord uses about the celebrations at the repentance of the prodigal son. Perhaps He perceived that even at this very late stage, repentance was potentially possible for Saul, and the woman [perhaps also repentant] wanted him to repent. It was a kind of potential celebration. But the only thing to possibly celebrate was his repentance. But he still refused. We marvel at God's grace, and the hopefulness of His Son.

1Sa 28:25 She brought it before Saul and his servants and they ate. Then they got up, and went away that night-
They departed into the night (LXX), the language of condemnation. We naturally are invited to imagine Saul's feelings as he walked back that night; for he is the picture of all condemned by God after refusing every effort for their repentance.