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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, but 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)
“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. In the past Saul could ask Samuel what was the will of God, but now Samuel was dead and Saul was so ungodly that God would not answer his inquiries. So Saul turned to the “prophetess” (actually a medium) at En-dor, indicating that he had not done a very thorough job of getting the mediums out of Israel. The Bible says he removed from the land people like the woman at En-dor who inquired of demons, but the fact there was such a woman at En-dor who was known to Saul’s servants shows he did not do a thorough job of removing them. That makes sense given the fact that Saul himself had an evil spirit, and the spirits work together and try to support one another.
[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)
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|1Sa 28:6||- (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.(top)
“familiar spirits.” See commentary on Deuteronomy 18:11.(top)
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|1Sa 28:11||- (top)|
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“gods.” The noun elohim (God, god, gods) is plural (it is always plural), but the verb is plural also. The woman likely saw many “gods” coming up out of the earth, but one of them had a form that would have been mistaken for Samuel, whom she then describes to Saul.(top)
“And Saul knew that it was Samuel.” Saul was deceived. What Saul saw was not Samuel, but a demon impersonating Samuel. It is well documented that ghosts and apparitions impersonate the dead, and that is the situation here.
There are many lines of evidence to support this understanding of what happened. One is that Saul went to a medium, and they deal with demon spirits, not with the righteous dead, which is why dealing with them is forbidden by God (cp. Lev. 19:31; Lev. 20:6, 27; Deut. 18:11) and why, when someone dealt with them, that act was listed with the person’s sins (cp. 2 Kings 21:6), and why righteous kings removed mediums from their kingdoms (2 Kings 23:24).
Also, God forbade people to communicate with the dead (Deut. 18:11). Samuel had been faithful to God throughout his life, so would he really disobey God now and appear to Saul to answer his questions? A demon would, but Samuel would not (and in any case, Samuel was not alive but dead in every way, so he could not personally appear to Saul. See Appendix 4, “The Dead are Dead”).
Also, Saul had tried to ask God about the things he wanted to know, and God did not answer him at all: “And when Saul inquired of Yahweh, Yahweh did not answer him; not by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets” (1 Sam. 28:6). If God did not answer Saul by prophets when Saul asked living prophets, is God going to answer Saul by a dead prophet and break His own commands? No, He wouldn’t.
Many centuries ago the Church Father Tertullian 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 unfrequently seen….” (Tertullian, “A Treatise on the Soul,” chapter 57. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, ed., Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA. Vol 3, p. 234, 1994.).
Tertullian is correct. Saul saw a demon. The demon in the medium at Endor 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.
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 Saul’s death was not. 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 Israel had sinned so badly they were not being protected by God, 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.
Also, however, we should note that prophets such as Samuel do not have the inherent power to predict the future. They rely on God to give them revelation about what is going to happen, and then they communicate that message to others. But God had refused to give his living prophets answers to the questions Saul had asked (1 Sam 28:6). So are we to believe that after refusing to answer Saul through living prophets, God now changed His mind and answered Saul through a dead one, in the process breaking His own command not to communicate with the dead? No, God would not have done that.
The record is clear. 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. However, a demon gladly fulfilled Saul’s desire and appeared as Samuel and gave a prediction that Saul would die, which came to pass.
“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].(top)
“Why have you disturbed me 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.” 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)
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“this thing.” This refers to the whole situation that Saul was in; all the fear, the impending battle, and God’s not answering him.(top)
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“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.(top)
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