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Wednesday, May 29th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 28

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-6

First Samuel - Chapter 28

Israelite-Philistine War Renewed, vs. 1-6

When David had been in the Philistine country for sixteen months Achish and the other four lords of the Philistines determined to renew the centuries-long conflict with Israel. They had successfully ousted Israel from the coastal areas and were continually making incursions into the hill country and mountains of Israel, trying often with success, to extort tribute.

By this time Achish was fully persuaded of the loyalty of David to him, and informed him that he and his men would surely accompany him into battle against Israel. David replied with ambiguity, that Achish would see what David could do. It might have been interesting to know just what David would have done had he been allowed to carry through with Achish’s purpose. Achish promised to make David the keeper of his head for ever, which means to make David the guardian of his life. One might speculate that David had also been the keeper of Goliath’s head, and might perhaps have eventually kept the head of Achish in like manner (see 1 Samuel 17:54).

At verse 3 the scene shifts back to Israel in premonition of the final battle of Saul and his desperation before his death. The reader is reminded that Samuel has been sometime dead and honorably buried by the mourning Israelites in his own city of Ramah. Thus he was no longer available to advise and encourage the people or king against the Philistines. Furthermore consultation of the occult was also difficult, for Saul in his false piety had put to death the mediums and wizards, so that any remaining alive had gone underground.

When therefore the Philistines invaded the land of Israel with a mighty host Saul was terribly afraid, and his heart almost failed him. It appears he had a premonition of the end. Saul tried to inquire of the Lord, but he was long since out of favor with Him. God was not on speaking terms with the disobedient and rebellious king. So Saul had no prophet, got no dream, and received no answer through the Urim of the priests, the chief of whom he had killed (1 Samuel 22:6 ff).

Verses 7-14

Saul’s Fourth Major Error, vs. 7-14

In his desperation to know the outcome of his predicament Saul determined to seek out a medium, here called a woman with a familiar spirit, or a witch. This presented a problem inasmuch as he himself had sought to destroy such. The servants knew of such a woman living at En-don. This town was not far from Gilboa, where Saul had gathered the men of Israel to oppose the Philistine invasion. Gilboa was a small mountain near the headwaters of the river Kishon and lying south of the valley of Jezreel. Shunem, where the Philistine army was gathering was slightly northwest across the valley from Gilboa, and En-dor was a very few miles north of the Philistine camp.

Saul disguised himself and took two men to go and inquire of the woman. There may have been a twofold purpose in the disguise. First, the woman had kept out of sight lest she be apprehended by Saul and put to death and would certainly not be amenable to helping him. Second, the king must pass close by the Philistine army which would exert great effort to take him if the knew he was in the area. The three men also went by night for greater safety and to further allay any suspicions the witch might have of them..

Saul asked the witch woman to divine for him, or to set a seance for him. She was very reluctant and cited the sentence of death against her by Saul. Should she consent to do this she might fall into a trap and lose her life. Consequently Saul swore to her by the Lord that it was no trap and that no harm would come to her. Thus she agreed, and inquired whom Saul wished her to call from the dead. He told her to bring Samuel to him.

It is not possible to know what the woman expected to produce by her witchcraft, but it seems apparent that what she saw was not what she was accustomed to. She cried out with a loud voice, the Scriptures say, "when she saw Samuel." Something about her vision caused her to know it was Saul with whom she was dealing, and this also upset her. She suspected him of deceit, but he reassured her that she had nothing to fear and anxiously inquired what she had seen. It is thus evident that whatever vision of the other world the witch received it was privy to her and unseen by Saul and his comrades.

The woman first told Saul she saw `gods ascending out of the earth." The Hebrew word elohim, usually translated "God" is here rendered "gods", and in some other versions is rendered "spirit", or "divine being." It is evident that the woman was not sure what she saw and surely did not think she was seeing God Himself. Saul, however, was fully expecting Samuel to appear and inquired of what form the apparition was which she said she saw. Then the witch took her cue from this and described it as having the form of an old man with a mantle covering his head.

This was what Saul was expecting her to see and immediately "perceived that it was Samuel." This means that Saul understood from her description that it was Samuel she had seen, not that he actually knew it was Samuel. Therefore he fell down on his face and bowed in his presence to hear what he might tell him.

Verses 15-25

The Message from the Seance, vs. 15-25

There is a constant debate about the reality of the appearance of Samuel to Saul. There are arguments both pro and con on the question. It is to be noted that throughout the account, whatever the subject of the appearance was, it is called Samuel. On the evidence of the language and dialogue one would have to conclude that Samuel spoke to Saul. It is certain that Saul thought he was conversing with the prophet, recalled from the dead. It is also true that the prediction was accurate and true, entirely within the will of the Lord with reference to Saul and the end of his kingdom.

Samuel inquires why Saul has disquieted him, and Saul frankly responds. He is very distressed by the Philistine war, God has refused to communicate with him in any of the common means by which He made His will known, and Saul in desperation has sought to the occult, to contact Samuel. In his final act with reference to godly relationship Saul has miserably failed again. He had never sought the Lord aright, and in the end he commits perhaps the worst error of all his career, by calling on Satanic powers. But God intervened and Saul is given a message of truth.

Samuel inquired then of Saul why he would call on Samuel, the prophet and spokesman of the Lord, when the Lord had left him and was his avowed enemy. He then proceeded to foretell what was in store for Saul and Israel. He is told that, 1) the Lord has taken the kingdom from him and given it to his neighbor, David, because of Saul’s disobedience with reference to the destruction of Amalek; 2) Israel will lose the imminent battle with the Philistines, and on the next day haul and all his sons will join Samuel in death; 3) the whole army of Israel will fall into the hand of the Philistines and the country will be subjugated to them.

Hearing this terrible news Saul fainted and fell prostrate on the ground. This was due to his awful terror and to the fact that he had been so distraught he had eaten nothing for a day and a night. The woman came to Saul imploring him to heed her advice and allow her to prepare food for him that he might be strengthened to continue on his way. Saul refused, but at the importunity of the woman and the two servants he consented at last. She then slaughtered a calf and prepared unleavened bread, and they ate and went on their way.

Probably both the woman and the servants feared the king might die and they be held accountable for it. It is not clear what they thought of the revelations of the seance. It would seem that if Saul was slated to die, by the word of the Lord, on the next day, it mattered little whether or not he ate. If the woman had perpetrated a hoax, which some seem to think she did, she would not have believed the prophecy. Yet it is hard to believe she could have made the exact predictions of the Lord by demonic powers.

Lessons from chapter twenty-eight: 1) When consorting with the world one will be eventually called on to participate in its worldly programs; 2) it is a terrible thing when one goes so far from the Lord that he cannot get back to Him; 3) to seek revelation through the devil’s ministers is to fall deeper into his clutches; 4) the devil and his followers cannot frustrate the truth of God; 5) in the end the Lord will compel the wicked to acknowledge his faithfulness; 6) the judgment of the unrepentant disbeliever is inescapable at last.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 28". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/1-samuel-28.html. 1985.
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