1 Samuel Chapter 28
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Go to Bible: 1 Samuel 28
“Now it came about in those days.” So this event is happening in the north-central part of Israel while David is making raids in the Negev in the south of Israel.
“the Philistines gathered their armies together into an armed force to fight with Israel.” This gathering occurred in Aphek (1 Sam. 29:1). From here, David was sent back to Ziklag (1 Sam. 29:10-11) and the Philistines marched north to Shunem in the Jezreel Valley (1 Sam. 29:4).
“know, yes, know.” The Hebrew text of 1 Samuel 28:1 uses the figure of speech polyptoton for emphasis.
[See commentary on Genesis 2:16.](top)
“Then you will come to know what your servant can do.” David’s answer is purposely vague. If David went to war along with Achish and the Philistines, they would indeed learn what David could do, not because he would fight along with them, but rather because he would fight against them. This shows David’s bravery and his willingness to put his life on the line for Israel. To be among the Philistines and then begin fighting against them would almost certainly mean he and his men would be surrounded as soon as they began to fight. In those circumstances David could easily be killed, a risk he was willing to take to save Israel.
“I will make you my bodyguard from now on.” The Hebrew is more literally, “for all the days [to come].” Achish felt that if David went with him to war and fought against his own people, Israel, that he could be trusted to be the king’s bodyguard.(top)
“Now Samuel was dead.” Samuel’s death and the lamenting and morning that occurred are covered in 1 Sam. 25:1.
“Samuel was dead…and Saul had removed from the land those who inquired of spirits or had familiar spirits.” This sentence sets the stage for what Saul does in the following verses. When Samuel was alive, Saul could ask him what the will of God was, but now Samuel was dead and Saul was so ungodly that God would not answer his questions or respond to his inquiries. So Saul turned to the medium at En-dor to get an answer to his question. The Bible says that Saul had removed from the land mediums and people like the woman at En-dor who asked demons questions they could not otherwise get answers to, and biblically he was supposed to do that (cp. Lev. 20:27; Deut. 18:9-14; Lev. 19:31; Exod. 22:18). The godly King Josiah did (2 Kings 23:24). Nevertheless, the fact that there was a woman who lived at En-dor who was a medium and who was known to Saul’s servants reveals a couple of things: one is that Saul did not do a thorough job of removing mediums from the land, which, given his ungodly character and that fact that Saul himself had an evil spirit is not surprising. Also, however, it confirms what has been throughout the ages, that many people use mediums and “fortune tellers” of all kinds to get information, and will hide them from authorities and protect them. The land of Canaan had lots of people who dealt with demons before the Israelites started conquering Canaan (Deut. 18:9, 14), and some of them and their practices remained after Israel was in power.
[For more information on people with “familiar spirits,” see commentary on Deuteronomy 18:11.](top)
“and came and encamped at Shunem.” Shunem was a city in the Jezreel Valley (for the chronology, see commentary on 1 Sam. 29:1).
“and they encamped at Mount Gilboa.” This battle took place in the same basic area as when Gideon fought the Midianites. The fact that the Philistines were in the Jezreel Valley was a “do or die” situation for King Saul because if the Philistines could control that area they would cut off northern Israel from Southern Israel and control the major grain-producing area in Israel.(top)
|1Sm 28:5||- (top)|
“Yahweh did not answer him; not by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.” This sentence is a huge key in understanding 1 Samuel 28 and the appearance of the demon who impersonated Samuel (more about that in the commentary entries on the next verses). Many people think that the prophet Samuel actually appeared to Saul, but that is not what happened. Saul was so ungodly that, as 1 Samuel 28:6 says, God would not answer his questions. If God’s prophets who were alive would not give Saul an answer, then there is no way that Samuel the prophet would have answered him. When all true prophets prophesy, the “answer” they give is from God, and God was not talking to Saul. Yet many people think that Samuel would somehow answer Saul even though to do so was an abominable thing (Deut. 18:12), and Samuel’s working via a medium meant that she should have been put to death for acting the part of the medium (Lev. 20:27). The “Samuel” that appeared was a demon, and demons have no problem defying and disobeying God. Demons are very good at impersonating people, which is why people see “ghosts” that seem to be dead people.
[For more on dead people being dead, see Appendix 4, “The Dead are Dead.”]
“Urim.” A stone in the breastplate of the High Priest by which judgment was given.
[For more on the Urim and Thummim, see commentary on Exod. 28:30.](top)
“familiar spirit.” The phrase “familiar spirits” is from the Hebrew word yiddoniy (#03049 יִדְּעֹנִי), from the root yada (#3045), “to know,” and thus refers to “a knower,” or one who has a “familiar spirit.” The idea is that mediums and spiritists usually have some particular spirits or “spirit guides” (demons!) who “know” things and are familiar with people and situations and with whom they are regularly in touch and who serve them (see commentary on Deut. 18:11).
“inquire.” The Hebrew is stronger than “ask” in 1 Samuel 28:6. So Saul asked more emphatically of the woman with a familiar spirit than he asked of God.
“En-dor.” En-dor is on the north side of the Hill of Moreh, so Saul had to do some travel, almost surely down to the east toward the Jordan Valley, then north, then back west to get around the Philistines and get to the woman at En-dor.
“and put on different clothing.” That is, different from his usual royal robes.
“and bring up for me the one that I say to you.” Saul asked this female medium to bring up Samuel, as if she had the power to do it. Mediums will tell you that they cannot summon the dead at will, but the dead person must want to come to the meeting. In this case, the demons were more than happy to fulfill Saul’s request and be able to afflict Israel through his disobedience. Note the bad and fatalistic advice the demon gave Saul (1 Sam. 28:16-19).
People use 1 Samuel 28:8 as evidence that people do live on after they die, but the verse says no such thing. What the verse does establish is that many people believe that the “soul” or the “spirit” lives on after the body dies, and that it has some kind of “spirit form” and intellect. That belief has existed for millennia in many cultures around the world, and it existed in Israel and sadly, it exists among Christians today; many of them try to contact the dead against God’s very clear commands (Deut. 18:9-14).
[For more on why people think dead people are alive, see Appendix 4, “The Dead are Dead.”](top)
“how he has removed from the land those who inquire of spirits or have familiar spirits.” Mediums were supposed to be executed (Lev. 20:27), but Saul did a poor job of it.
“familiar spirits.” See commentary on Deuteronomy 18:11.(top)
“As Yahweh lives, no punishment will happen to you for this thing.” Technically, the only person in the kingdom who could promise that the woman would not be punished for disobeying the king was the king himself. However, the woman, who did not know she was speaking to King Saul, does not seem to have thought about that. Interestingly, as soon as the demon “Samuel” appeared, she realized she was dealing with King Saul himself (1 Sam. 28:12). This could well be a case where the demons gave the medium revelation about the situation because she suddenly knew things that she did not know before. A major reason that mediums and fortune tellers have been around for millennia is that the demons know things and communicate some of what they know to the medium. If what mediums said was all just guesswork, the profession would have died out ages ago. Demons are real and they do communicate with people.(top)
|1Sm 28:11||- (top)|
|1Sm 28:12||- (top)|
“gods.” The noun elohim (God, god, gods) is plural (elohim is always plural, it is a plural noun), but the verb “coming up” is plural also. The woman likely saw many “gods”—actually, they were demons—coming up out of the earth, but one of them had a form that was mistaken for Samuel, whom she then describes to Saul. There are occasions when the Hebrew word elohim refers to people who act under the authority of God (cp. Exod. 21:6; John 10:34), so the woman may have seen some powerful-looking “men” coming up from the earth and called them “gods,” but even so, what she saw was demons. Demons are very good at appearing as people or even impersonating people (they usually do this as some form of “ghost”) and thus convince the gullible and/or unlearned that dead people are actually alive somewhere. It is a major part of the deception of the Devil to convince people that dead people are not really dead.
[For more on dead people being dead in every way, see Appendix 4, “The Dead are Dead.”](top)
“And Saul knew that it was Samuel.” Saul was deceived. Here in 1 Samuel 28:14, what Saul saw was not Samuel, but a demon impersonating Samuel. It is well known that ghosts and apparitions impersonate the dead, and that is the situation here.
The text says that Saul “knew” it was Samuel, but in this case, the Bible is telling us Saul’s state of mind, what was true for him even though it was not actually true. We see the same kind of thing in Genesis 3. Just before Eve sinned and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the text says, “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food….” But it was not “good for food!” What she “saw” was not real and it resulted in her and Adam’s death and the death of all humans after her. When the Bible says that Eve “saw” that the tree was good for food, it is giving us her point of view, not the truth, and that is what is happening in 1 Samuel 28:14.
There are many lines of evidence to support that Saul was deceived and that what he saw was a demon impersonating Samuel.
It has sometimes been objected that a demon could not have predicted the future the way that “Samuel” did when he appeared to Saul. But actually, demons have a lot of power and influence over future events, which is why people have gone to mediums and diviners for many thousands of years. If the mediums were mostly wrong, their profession would have died out long ago, but mediums and diviners are thriving today. Some events are hard to foresee, but if Saul went to war against the Philistines, his death, and the death of the royal family, was pretty much inevitable. But because the Devil is the “god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4) and has considerable sway on earth (1 John 5:19), and because Saul had sinned so badly he and his troops were not being protected by God (Lev. 20:6), and because the Philistines had a larger, better-equipped army, it was not hard for the demon to predict that Saul and his sons, who would as a matter of custom be in the heat of the fight, would die in the battle the next day.
The prophecy given by the demon “Samuel” is in line with how demons communicate. They give enough truth to convince a person that they really know the situation and the future, but they mix it with lies and probability (see commentary on 1 Samuel 28:15).
Many centuries ago, the Church Father Tertullian (c. 155-220 AD) realized that the “Samuel” who spoke to Saul was a demon, and he wrote: “God forbid, however, that we should suppose that the soul of any saint, much less of a prophet, can be dragged out of (its resting-place in Hades) by a demon. We know that “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14)—much more into a man of light—and that at last he will “show himself to be even God” (2 Thess. 2:4), and will exhibit “great signs and wonders, insomuch that, if it were possible, he shall deceive the very elect” (Matt. 24:24). He hardly hesitated on the before-mentioned occasion to affirm himself to be a prophet of God, and especially to Saul, in whom he was then actually dwelling. You must not imagine that he who produced the phantom was one, and he who consulted it was another; but that it was one and the same spirit, both in the sorceress and in the apostate (king), which easily pretended an apparition of that which it has already prepared them to believe as real—(even the spirit) through whose evil influence Saul’s heart was fixed where his treasure was, and where certainly God was not. Therefore it came about, that he saw him through whose aid he believed that he was going to see, because he believed him through whose help he saw. But we are met with the objection, that in visions of the night dead persons are not infrequently seen….”a
Tertullian is correct. Saul saw a demon. The demon in the medium at En-dor did not have the power to raise the dead, but it, or other demons in the area, did have the power to impersonate the dead, which is what happened.
So in summary, we see that King Saul asked God about the future in several different ways and God would not answer him. So Saul went to a medium who dealt with familiar spirits. Saul was deceived and sinning in what he did, and God did not give in to his desperation; in fact, He could not since Samuel was dead. However, a demon gladly fulfilled Saul’s desire and appeared as Samuel the prophet and gave a prediction that Saul would die, which came to pass.
[For more information on the dead being genuinely dead and not alive in any form, see Appendix 4, “The Dead are Dead.” For more on the soul not living on after a person dies, see Appendix 7, “Usages of ‘Soul.’” For more information on the abomination of witchcraft, necromancy, using mediums, and other similar “black arts,” see Deut. 18:9-14 and the commentary on those verses. For more information on this record of Saul and the medium at En-dor, see the commentary entries on the verses in the chapter.]
“kneeled and bowed down.” This kneeling preceded bowing down to the ground. The two actions, kneeling and then bowing to the ground blended into one act of homage or worship. The common biblical way of bowing down before people or God was to fall to one’s knees and bow the upper body and face to the earth. Also, instead of “kneeled and bowed down,” the text could be translated, “bowed down and worshiped,” with “kneeling” being understood as part of the process of bowing down, and “bowing down” was the act of worship. The same Hebrew verb, shachah (#07812 שָׁחָה), is translated as both “bow down” and “worship;” traditionally “worship” if God is involved and “bow down” if people are involved, but the verb and action are the same, the act of bowing down is the worship.
[For more on bowing down, see commentary on 1 Chron. 29:20.]
A. Roberts and J. Donaldson, “A Treatise on the Soul” (Tertullian), Ante-Nicene Fathers, chap. 57, 3:234.
“Why have you disturbed me.” At this point, the demon begins to talk with Saul. The text does not tell us how this occurred and there are several ways that it could happen. One is that the demon could speak through the medium herself by using the woman’s body and vocal cords, but in many of those cases, the tone of voice itself is the demon’s, not the woman’s normal voice. It would also be possible, however, that the demon manifested itself more corporeally and actually spoke to Saul, demons have the ability to do that.
Typical of what demons say, what this demon said is a mixture of truth, error, and misleading information. The very first thing the demon does is put Saul on the defensive as if Saul is causing trouble. The demon asks, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Saul wants an answer from Samuel, so he does not want to cause trouble, but that is the very first thing the demon accuses Saul of, “disturbing” Samuel. But that whole communication is a lie. The demon was not “disturbed,” and it did not “come up.” The demon knew Saul was in a very delicate and tenuous mental state, and he wanted to bully Saul so he would be defeated and compliant.
Then, in 1 Samuel 28:16, the demon went on to say, “why do you ask of me,” when the demon knew exactly why Saul was asking. Again, this is misleading and meant to make Saul think of himself as a troublemaker. By the way, if this was really Samuel the prophet, he would have known why Saul was asking. Then the demon went on and said, “Yahweh has turned away from you and has become your foe.” This is a perfect blend of truth and error. It was true that because Saul was so ungodly that God had turned away from him, but it is not true that God had actively become Saul’s foe. Given that Saul was on the eve of war with the Philistines, that was a deflating and fatalistic statement that presented only a future of doom.
In 1 Samuel 28:17, the demon again speaks the truth. It was historic truth and widely known, but it reinforced Saul’s fear. However, in 1 Samuel 28:18, we again see a blend of truth and misinformation. Saul did not obey God when it came to the Amalek situation, but the demon then says, “therefore Yahweh has done this thing to you this day.” The demon does not clarify what “this thing” is, which leaves Saul to imagine the worst thing possible. Ostensibly, “this thing” could refer to the distress Saul is in and the predicament about the Philistines, but even so, God is a merciful God and if Saul would repent even a little bit, God might be able to help him, after all, He helped wicked Ahab (cp. 1 Kings 21:20-29). The point is that the demon was not suggesting any way out to Saul, only defeat.
In 1 Samuel 28:19, the demon gives Saul the final fatalistic prophecy, that he and his family and the army of Israel would be killed. Of course, this is predictable if Saul actually went to war, which he did. So here again we see the ultimate desire of the Devil, which was to see Israel defeated and devastated. If Saul was thinking logically, he would have told his army to retreat and saved them and his sons and himself from death and at least lived to see another day. At that point, he could have gone to God and/or his advisors and asked what to do to save his family, army, and country. Also, if this apparition really was Samuel the prophet, he would have fought to have Saul do something that would save Israel, not just tell Saul that he and the army of Israel would be killed. But this apparition was not Samuel the prophet, it was a demon.
In summary, Saul disobeyed God and got himself into a very difficult situation, and then tried to figure out how to get out of the situation by disobeying God even more and consulting a medium. The demon who spoke via the medium offered no help at all, and in fact worked to kill off Saul and the army of Israel, which is what happened.
[For more information on communication from the Devil and his demons being a blend of truth, error, and misinformation, see commentary on Gen. 3:5.]
“by bringing me up?” The record here in 1 Samuel 28 is consistent in saying that Samuel is being brought “up.” Samuel was not in heaven, he was dead, sleeping in the earth, and a demon impersonated him. But the fact is that Saul, the medium who conjured the demon, and the demon itself all agreed that Samuel came “up.” Since the people of the time thought the dead were somewhere in the earth, not in heaven, that the demon came “up” from the earth was part of the impersonation of Samuel that made the experience realistic to the medium, Saul, and others who were there. At the resurrection, when God raises the dead, at that time the people will indeed come up out of the earth (cp. Isa. 26:19; Ezek. 37:12-14; Dan. 12:2; John 5:28-29).
The Bible says that when a person dies they are dead in every way and not alive in any form or place, and they are awaiting the resurrection when God will again bring them to life.
[For more information on what happens when a person dies, see Appendix 4, “The Dead are Dead.” For more on the soul not living on after a person dies, see Appendix 7, “Usages of ‘Soul.’”](top)
“foe.” A rare Hebrew word, only occurring here and in Psalm 139:20.(top)
“Yahweh has done to you as he spoke by my hand. Yahweh has torn the kingdom out of your hand.” This was first spoken by Samuel in 1 Samuel 15:26-28.(top)
“you did not obey the voice of Yahweh and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek.” This is recorded in 1 Samuel 15:9-19.
“this thing.” The demon does not clarify what “this thing” is in the text. Ostensibly it refers to the whole situation that Saul was in; all the fear, the impending battle, and the fact that God did not answer him. However, given the fact that the demon did not define what “this thing” was, that left it to Saul to imagine what it was, and given his mental state, he no doubt imagined the worst. Note that the demon is not giving Saul any hope at all, but was just leading him to defeat and death.(top)
“And Yahweh will give Israel.” For more on this prophecy, see commentary on 1 Samuel 28:14.(top)
“fell full length on the ground.” In the culture, there were various ways that one person would show reverence for another or reverence for God. The most common way was to fall to one’s knees and place one’s chest on the ground. However, it also occurred that a person would fall full length—fall prostrate—on the ground in front of the person or God. This was an act of utmost respect or reverence, and that is what Saul did when he thought he was in the presence of Samuel.(top)
|1Sm 28:21||- (top)|
|1Sm 28:22||- (top)|
“sat on the bed.” The reader must remember that in the ancient near-eastern world, a “bed” was like a thick blanket on the ground. It was usually rolled up during the day and stored against the wall of the house, and like that it was a comfortable place to sit. Saul would sit on the rolled-up bed and lean back on the wall.(top)
“in the house.” It was customary for people who just had a few animals like a donkey, cow, goat, or sheep, to keep them in the house at night. There was no police force in those days to keep valuable things from being stolen, so bringing valuable animals into the house was common. Also, especially on chilly nights, the presence of animals in the house helped keep the house warmer. It was common to have a manger in the house so the animals could eat and be calm, and the manger that Jesus was laid in was in the house (Luke 2:7).(top)
|1Sm 28:25||- (top)|