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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

1 Kings (1 Samuel) Chapter 28

1 Kings (1 Samuel)

sa1 28:0

David in the Army of the Philistines. Attack upon Israel. Saul and the Witch of Endor - 1 Samuel 28

The danger into which David had plunged through his flight into the land of the Philistines, and still more through the artifice with which he had deceived the king Achish as to his real feelings, was to be very soon made apparent to him. For example, when the Philistines went to war again with Israel, Achish summoned him to go with his men in the army of the Philistines to the war against his own people and land, and David could not disregard the summons. But even if he had not brought himself into this danger without some fault of his own, he had at any rate only taken refuge with the Philistines in the greatest extremity; and what further he had done, was only done to save his own life. The faithful covenant God helped him therefore out of this trouble, and very soon afterwards put an end to his persecution by the fact that Saul lost his life in the war.

1 Kings (1 Samuel) 28:1

sa1 28:1

"In those days," i.e., whilst David was living in the land of the Philistines, it came to pass that the Philistines gathered their armies together for a campaign against Israel. And Achish sent word to David that he was to go with him in his army along with his men; and David answered (Sa1 28:2), "Thereby (on this occasion) thou shalt learn what thy servant will do." This reply was ambiguous. The words "what thy servant will do" contained no distinct promise of faithful assistance in the war with the Israelites, as the expression "thy servant" is only the ordinary periphrasis for "I" in conversation with a superior. And there is just as little ground for inferring from Sa1 29:8 that David was disposed to help the Philistines against Saul and the Israelites; for, as Calovius has observed, even there he gives no such promise, but "merely asks for information, that he may discover the king's intentions and feelings concerning him: he simply protests that he has done nothing to prevent his placing confidence in him, or to cause him to shut him out of the battle." Judging from his previous acts, it would necessarily have been against his conscience to fight against his own people. Nevertheless, in the situation in which he was placed he did not venture to give a distinct refusal to the summons of the king. He therefore gave an ambiguous answer, in the hope that God would show him a way out of this conflict between his inmost conviction and his duty to obey the Philistian king. He had no doubt prayed earnestly for this in his heart. And the faithful God helped His servant: first of all by the fact that Achish accepted his indefinite declaration as a promise of unconditional fidelity, as his answer "so (לכן, itaque, i.e., that being the case, if thy conduct answers to thy promise) "I will make thee the keeper of my head" (i.e., of my person) implies; and still more fully by the fact that the princes of the Philistines overturned the decision of their king (Sa1 29:3.).

1 Kings (1 Samuel) 28:3

sa1 28:3

Saul with the witch at Endor. - The invasion of Israel by the Philistines, which brought David into so difficult a situation, drove king Saul to despair, so that in utter helplessness he had recourse to ungodly means of inquiring into the future, which he himself had formerly prohibited, and to his horror had to hear the sentence of his own death. This account is introduced with the remark in Sa1 28:3 that Samuel was dead and had been buried at Ramah (cf. Sa1 25:1; וּבעירו, with an explanatory vav, and indeed in his own city), and that Saul had expelled "those that had familiar spirits and the wizards out of the land" (on the terms employed, oboth and yiddonim, see at Lev 19:31). He had done this in accordance with the law in Lev 19:31; Lev 20:27, and Deu 18:10.

Sa1 28:4-5

When the Philistines advanced and encamped at Shunem, Saul brought all Israel together and encamped at Gilboa, i.e., upon the mountain of that name on the north-eastern edge of the plain of Jezreel, which slopes off from a height of about 1250 feet into the valley of the Jordan, and is not far from Beisan. On the north of the western extremity of this mountain was Shunem, the present Sulem or Solam (see at Jos 19:18); it was hardly two hours distant, so that the camp of the Philistines might be seen from Gilboa. When Saul saw this, he was thrown into such alarm that his heart greatly trembled. As Saul had been more than once victorious in his conflicts with the Philistines, his great fear at the sight of the Philistian army can hardly be attributed to any other cause than the feeling that God had forsaken him, by which he was suddenly overwhelmed.

Sa1 28:6

In his anxiety he inquired of the Lord; but the Lord neither answered him by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets, that is to say, not by any of the three media by which He was accustomed to make known His will to Israel. בּיהוה שׁאל is the term usually employed to signify inquiring the will and counsel of God through the Urim and Thummim of the high priest (see at Jdg 1:1); and this is the case here, with the simple difference that here the other means of inquiring the counsel of God are also included. On dreams, see at Num 12:6. According to Num 27:21, Urim denotes divine revelation through the high priest by means of the ephod. But the high priest Abiathar had been with the ephod in David's camp ever since the murder of the priests at Nob (Sa1 22:20., Sa1 23:6; Sa1 30:7). How then could Saul inquire of God through the Urim? This question, which was very copiously discussed by the earlier commentators, and handled in different ways, may be decided very simply on the supposition, that after the death of Ahimelech and the flight of his son, another high priest had been appointed at the tabernacle, and another ephod made for him, with the choshen or breastplate, and the Urim and Thummim. It is no proof to the contrary that there is nothing said about this. We have no continuous history of the worship at the tabernacle, but only occasional notices. And from these it is perfectly clear that the public worship at the tabernacle was not suspended on the murder of the priests, but was continued still. For in the first years of David's reign we find the tabernacle at Gibeon, and Zadok the son of Ahitub, of the line of Eleazar, officiating there as high priest (Ch1 16:39, compared with Ch1 6:8 and Ch1 6:53); from which it follows with certainty, that after the destruction of Nob by Saul the tabernacle was removed to Gibeon, and the worship of the congregation continued there. From this we may also explain in a very simple manner the repeated allusions to two high priests in David's time (Sa2 18:17; Sa2 15:24, Sa2 15:29, Sa2 15:35; Ch1 15:11; Ch1 18:16). The reason why the Lord did not answer Saul is to be sought for in the wickedness of Saul, which rendered him utterly unworthy to find favour with God.

Sa1 28:7-14

Instead of recognising this, however, and searching his own heart, Saul attempted to obtain a revelation of the future in ungodly ways. He commanded his servants (Sa1 28:7) to seek for a woman that had a familiar spirit. Baalath-ob: the mistress (or possessor) of a conjuring spirit, i.e., of a spirit with which the dead were conjured up, for the purpose of making inquiry concerning the future (see at Lev 19:31). There was a woman of this kind at Endor, which still exists as a village under the old name upon the northern shoulder of the Duhy or Little Hermon (see at Jos 17:11), and therefore only two German (ten English) miles from the Israelitish camp at Gilboa.

Sa1 28:8

Saul went to this person by night and in disguise, that he might not be recognised, accompanied by two men; and said to her, "Divine to me through necromancy, and bring me up whomsoever I tell thee." The words "bring me up," etc., are an explanation or more precise definition of "divine unto me," etc. Prophesying by the Ob was probably performed by calling up a departed spirit from Sheol, and obtaining prophecies, i.e., disclosures concerning one's own fate, through the medium of such a spirit. On the form קסומי (Chethibh), see at Jdg 9:8.

Sa1 28:9

Such a demand placed the woman in difficulty. As Saul had driven the necromantists out of the land, she was afraid that the unknown visitor (for it is evident from Sa1 28:12 that she did not recognise Saul at first) might be laying a snare for her soul with his request, to put her to death, i.e., might have come to her merely for the purpose of spying her out as a conjurer of the dead, and then inflicting capital punishment upon her according to the law (Lev 20:27).

Sa1 28:10-11

But when Saul swore to her that no punishment should fall upon her on that account (יקּרך אם, "shall assuredly not fall upon thee"), an oath which showed how utterly hardened Saul was, she asked him, "Whom shall I bring up to thee?" and Saul replied, "Bring me up Samuel," sc., from the region of the dead, or Sheol, which was thought to be under the ground. This idea arose from the fact that the dead were buried in the earth, and was connected with the thought of heaven as being above the earth. Just as heaven, regarded as the abode of God and the holy angels and blessed spirits, is above the earth; so, on the other hand, the region of death and the dead is beneath the ground. And with our modes of thought, which are so bound up with time and space, it is impossible to represent to ourselves in any other way the difference and contrast between blessedness with God and the shade-life in death.

Sa1 28:12

The woman then commenced her conjuring arts. This must be supplied from the context, as Sa1 28:12 merely states what immediately ensued. "When the woman saw Samuel, she cried aloud," sc., at the form which appeared to her so unexpectedly. These words imply most unquestionably that the woman saw an apparition which she did not anticipate, and therefore that she was not really able to conjure up departed spirits or persons who had died, but that she either merely pretended to do so, or if her witchcraft was not mere trickery and delusion, but had a certain demoniacal background, that the appearance of Samuel differed essentially from everything she had experienced and effected before, and therefore filled her with alarm and horror. The very fact, whoever, that she recognised Saul as soon as Samuel appeared, precludes us from declaring her art to have been nothing more than jugglery and deception; for she said to him, "Why hast thou cheated me, as thou art certainly Saul?" i.e., why hast thou deceived me as to thy person? why didst thou not tell me that thou wast king Saul? Her recognition of Saul when Samuel appeared may be easily explained, if we assume that the woman had fallen into a state of clairvoyance, in which she recognised persons who, like Saul in his disguise, were unknown to her by face.

Sa1 28:13

The king quieted her fear, and then asked her what she had seen; whereupon she gave him a fuller description of the apparition: "I saw a celestial being come up from the earth." Elohim does not signify gods here, nor yet God; still less an angel or a ghost, or even a person of superior rank, but a celestial (super-terrestrial), heavenly, or spiritual being.

Sa1 28:14

Upon Saul's further inquiry as to his form, she replied, "An old man is ascending, and he is wrapped in a mantle." Mel is the prophet's mantle, such as Samuel was accustomed to wear when he was alive (see Sa1 15:27). Saul recognised from this that the person who had been called up was Samuel, and he fell upon his face to the ground, to give expression to his reverence. Saul does not appear to have seen the apparition itself. But it does not follow from this that there was no such apparition at all, and the whole was an invention on the part of the witch. It needs an opened eye, such as all do not possess, to see a departed spirit or celestial being. The eyes of the body are not enough for this.

Sa1 28:15-17

Then Samuel said, "Why hast thou disturbed me (sc., from my rest in Hades; cf. Isa 14:9), to bring me up?" It follows, no doubt, from this that Samuel had been disturbed from his rest by Saul; but whether this had been effected by the conjuring arts of the witch, or by a miracle of God himself, is left undecided. Saul replied, "I am sore oppressed, for the Philistines fight against me, and God has departed from me, and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams; then I had thee called (on the intensified form ואקראה, vid., Ewald, 228, c.), to make known to me what I am to do." The omission of any reference to the Urim is probably to be interpreted very simply from the brevity of the account, and not from the fact that Saul shrank from speaking about the oracle of the high priest, on account of the massacre of the priests which had taken place by his command. There is a contradiction, however, in Saul's reply: for if God had forsaken him, he could not expect any answer from Him; and if God did not reply to his inquiry through the regularly appointed media of His revelation, how could he hope to obtain any divine revelation through the help of a witch? "When living prophets gave no answer, he thought that a dead one might be called up, as if a dead one were less dependent upon God than the living, or that, even in opposition to the will of God, he might reply through the arts of a conjuring woman. Truly, if he perceived that God was hostile to him, he ought to have been all the more afraid, lest His enmity should be increased by his breach of His laws. But fear and superstition never reason" (Clericus). Samuel points out this contradiction (Sa1 28:16): "Why dost thou ask me, since Jehovah hath departed from thee, and is become thine enemy?" The meaning is: How canst thou expect an answer under these circumstances from me, the prophet of Jehovah? ערך, from ער, signifies an enemy here (from עיר, fervour); and this meaning is confirmed by Psa 139:20 and Dan 4:16 (Chald.). There is all the less ground for any critical objection to the reading, as the Chaldee and Vulgate give a periphrastic rendering of "enemy," whilst the lxx, Syr., and Arab. have merely paraphrased according to conjectures. Samuel then announced his fate (Sa1 28:17-19): "Jehovah hath performed for himself, as He spake by me (לו, for himself, which the lxx and Vulg. have arbitrarily altered into לך, σοί, tibi (to thee), is correctly explained by Seb. Schmidt, 'according to His grace, or to fulfil and prove His truth'); and Jehovah hath rent the kingdom out of thy hand, and given it to thy neighbour David." The perfects express the purpose of God, which had already been formed, and was now about to be fulfilled.

Sa1 28:18-19

The reason for Saul's rejection is then given, as in Sa1 15:23 : "Because (כּאשׁר, according as) thou ... hast not executed the fierceness of His anger upon Amalek, therefore hath Jehovah done this thing to thee this day." "This thing" is the distress of which Saul had complained, with its consequences. ויתּן, that Jehovah may give (= for He will give) Israel also with thee into the hand of the Philistines. "To-morrow wilt thou and thy sons be with me (i.e. in Sheol, with the dead); also the camp of Israel will Jehovah give into the hand of the Philistines," i.e., give up to them to plunder. The overthrow of the people was to heighten Saul's misery, when he saw the people plunged with him into ruin through his sin (O. v. Gerlach). Thus was the last hope taken from Saul. His day of grace was gone, and judgment was now to burst upon him without delay.

Sa1 28:20

These words so alarmed him, that he fell his whole length upon the ground; for he had been kneeling hitherto (Sa1 28:14). He "fell straightway (lit. he hastened and fell) upon the ground. For he was greatly terrified at the words of Samuel: there was also no strength in him, because he had eaten no food the whole day and the whole night," sc., from mental perturbation or inward excitement. Terror and bodily exhaustion caused him to fall powerless to the ground.

Sa1 28:21-22

The woman then came to him and persuaded him to strengthen himself with food for the journey which he had to take. It by no means follows from the expression "came unto Saul," that the woman was in an adjoining room during the presence of the apparition, and whilst Samuel was speaking, but only that she was standing at some distance off, and came up to him to speak to him when he had fallen fainting to the ground. As she had fulfilled his wish at the risk of her own life, she entreated him now to gratify her wish, and let her set a morsel of bread before him and eat. "That strength may be in thee when thou goest thy way" (i.e., when thou returnest).

This narrative, when read without prejudice, makes at once and throughout the impression conveyed by the Septuagint at Ch1 10:13 : ἐπηρώτησε Σαοὺλ ἐν τῷ ἐγγαστριμύθῳ τοῦ ζητῆσαι, καὶ ἀπεκρίνατο αὐτῷ Σαμουὴλ ὁ προφήτης; and still more clearly at Ecclus. 46:20, where it is said of Samuel: "And after his death he prophesied, and showed the king his end, and lifted up his voice from the earth in prophecy, to blot out the wickedness of the people." Nevertheless the fathers, reformers, and earlier Christian theologians, with very few exceptions, assumed that there was not a real appearance of Samuel, but only an imaginary one. According to the explanation given by Ephraem Syrus, an apparent image of Samuel was presented to the eye of Saul through demoniacal arts. Luther and Calvin adopted the same view, and the earlier Protestant theologians followed them in regarding the apparition as nothing but a diabolical spectre, a phantasm, or diabolical spectre in the form of Samuel, and Samuel's announcement as nothing but a diabolical revelation made by divine permission, in which truth is mixed with falsehood.

(Note: Thus Luther says (in his work upon the abuses of the Mass, 1522): "The raising of Samuel by a soothsayer or witch, in Sa1 28:11-12, was certainly merely a spectre of the devil; not only because the Scriptures state that it was effected by a woman who was full of devils (for who could believe that the souls of believers, who are in the hand of God, Ecclus. 3:1, and in the bosom of Abraham, Luk 16:31, were under the power of the devil, and of simple men?), but also because it was evidently in opposition to the command of God that Saul and the woman inquired of the dead. The Holy Ghost cannot do anything against this himself, nor can He help those who act in opposition to it." Calvin also regards the apparition as only a spectre (Hom. 100 in 1 Samuel.): "It is certain," he says, "that it was not really Samuel, for God would never have allowed His prophets to be subjected to such diabolical conjuring. For here is a sorceress calling up the dead from the grave. Does any one imagine that God wished His prophet to be exposed to such ignominy; as if the devil had power over the bodies and souls of the saints which are in His keeping? The souls of the saints are said to rest and live in God, waiting for their happy resurrection. Besides, are we to believe that Samuel took his cloak with him into the grave? For all these reasons, it appears evident that the apparition was nothing more than a spectre, and that the senses of the woman herself were so deceived, that she thought she saw Samuel, whereas it really was not he." The earlier orthodox theologians also disputed the reality of the appearance of the departed Samuel on just the same grounds; e.g., Seb. Schmidt (Comm.); Aug. Pfeiffer; Sal. Deyling; and Buddeus, Hist. Eccl. V. t. ii. p. 243, and many more.)

It was not till the seventeenth century that the opinion was expressed, that the apparition of Samuel was merely a delusion produced by the witch, without any real background at all. After Reginald Scotus and Balth. Becker had given expression to this opinion, it was more fully elaborated by Ant. van Dale, in his dissert. de divinationibus idololatricis sub V. T.; and in the so-called age of enlightenment this was the prevailing opinion, so that Thenius still regards it as an established fact, not only that the woman was an impostor, but that the historian himself regarded the whole thing as an imposture. There is no necessity to refute this opinion at the present day. Even Fr. Boettcher (de inferis, pp. 111ff.), who looks upon the thing as an imposture, admits that the first recorder of the occurrence "believed that Samuel appeared and prophesied, contrary to the expectation of the witch;" and that the author of the books of Samuel was convinced that the prophet was raised up and prophesied, so that after his death he was proved to be the true prophet of Jehovah, although through the intervention of ungodly arts (cf. Eze 14:7, Eze 14:9). But the view held by the early church does not do justice to the scriptural narrative; and hence the more modern orthodox commentators are unanimous in the opinion that the departed prophet did really appear and announce the destruction of Saul, not, however, in consequence of the magical arts of the witch, but through a miracle wrought by the omnipotence of God.

This is most decidedly favoured by the fact, that the prophetic historian speaks throughout of the appearance, not of a ghost, but of Samuel himself. He does this not only in Sa1 28:12, "When the woman saw Samuel she cried aloud," but also in Sa1 28:14, Sa1 28:15, Sa1 28:16, and Sa1 28:20. It is also sustained by the circumstance, that not only do the words of Samuel to Saul, in Sa1 28:16-19, create the impression that it is Samuel himself who is speaking; but his announcement contains so distinct a prophecy of the death of Saul and his sons, that it is impossible to imagine that it can have proceeded from the mouth of an impostor, or have been an inspiration of Satan. On the other hand, the remark of Calvin, to the effect that "God sometimes give to devils the power of revealing secrets to us, which they have learned from the Lord," could only be regarded as a valid objection, provided that the narrative gave us some intimation that the apparition and the speaking were nothing but a diabolical delusion. But it does nothing of the kind. It is true, the opinion that the witch conjured up the prophet Samuel was very properly disputed by the early theologians, and rejected by Theodoret as "unholy, and even impious;" and the text of Scripture indicates clearly enough that the very opposite was the case, by the remark that the witch herself was terrified at the appearance of Samuel (Sa1 28:12). Shbel is therefore quite correct in saying: "It was not at the call of the idolatrous king, nor at the command of the witch, - neither of whom had the power to bring him up, or even to make him hear their voice in his rest in the grave, - that Samuel came; nor was it merely by divine 'permission,' which is much too little to say. No, rather it was by the special command of God that he left his grave (?), like a faithful servant whom his master arouses at midnight, to let in an inmate of the house who has wilfully stopped out late, and has been knocking at the door. 'Why do you disturb me out of my sleep?' would always be the question put to the unwelcome comer, although it was not by his noise, but really by his master's command, that he had been aroused. Samuel asked the same question." The prohibition of witchcraft and necromancy (Deu 18:11; Isa 8:19), which the earlier writers quote against this, does not preclude the possibility of God having, for His own special reasons, caused Samuel to appear. On the contrary, the appearance itself was of such a character, that it could not fail to show to the witch and the king, that God does not allow His prohibitions to be infringed with impunity. The very same thing occurred here, which God threatened to idolaters through the medium of Ezekiel (Eze 14:4, Eze 14:7,Eze 14:8): "If they come to the prophet, I will answer them in my own way." Still less is there any force in the appeal to Luk 16:27., where Abraham refuses the request of the rich man in Hades, that he would send Lazarus to his father's house to preach repentance to his brethren who were still living, saying, "They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them. If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead." For this does not affirm that the appearance of a dead man is a thing impossible in itself, but only describes it as useless and ineffectual, so far as the conversion of the ungodly is concerned.

The reality of the appearance of Samuel from the kingdom of the dead cannot therefore be called in question, especially as it has an analogon in the appearance of Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration of Christ (Mat 17:3; Luk 9:30-31); except that this difference must not be overlooked, namely, that Moses and Elijah appeared "in glory," i.e., in a glorified form, whereas Samuel appeared in earthly corporeality with the prophet's mantle which he had worn on earth. Just as the transfiguration of Christ was a phenomenal anticipation of His future heavenly glory, into which He was to enter after His resurrection and ascension, so may we think of the appearance of Moses and Elijah "in glory" upon the mount of transfiguration as an anticipation of their heavenly transfiguration in eternal life with God. It was different with Samuel, whom God brought up from Hades through an act of His omnipotence. This appearance is not to be regarded as the appearance of one who had risen in a glorified body; but though somewhat spirit-like in its external manifestation, so that it was only to the witch that it was visible, and not to Saul, it was merely an appearance of the soul of Samuel, that had been at rest in Hades, in the clothing of the earthly corporeality and dress of the prophet, which were assumed for the purpose of rendering it visible. In this respect the appearance of Samuel rather resembled the appearances of incorporeal angels in human form and dress, such as the three angels who came to Abraham in the grove at Mamre (Gen 18), and the angel who appeared to Manoah (Judg 13); with this exception, however, that these angels manifested themselves in a human form, which was visible to the ordinary bodily eye, whereas Samuel appeared in the spirit-like form of the inhabitants of Hades. In all these cases the bodily form and clothing were only a dress assumed for the soul or spirit, and intended to facilitate perception, so that such appearances furnish no proof that the souls of departed men possess an immaterial corporeality.

(Note: Delitzsch (bibl Psychol. pp. 427ff.) has very properly rejected, not only the opinion that Samuel and Moses were raised up from the dead for the purpose of a transient appearance, and then died again, but also the idea that they appeared in their material bodies, a notion upon which Calvin rests his argument against the reality of the appearance of Samuel. But when he gives it as his opinion, that the angels who appeared in human form assumed this form by virtue of their own power, inasmuch as they can make themselves visible to whomsoever they please, and infers till further from this, "that the outward form in which Samuel and Moses appeared (which corresponded to their form when on this side the grave) was the immaterial production of their spiritual and psychical nature," he overlooks the fact, that not only Samuel, but the angels also, in the cases referred to, appeared in men's clothing, which cannot possibly be regarded as a production of their spiritual and psychical nature. The earthly dress is not indispensable to a man's existence. Adam and Eve had no clothing before the Fall, and there will be no material clothing in the kingdom of glory; for the "fine linen, pure and white," with which the bride adorns herself for the marriage supper of the Lamb, is "the righteousness of saints" (Rev 19:8).

Sa1 28:23-24

On Saul's refusing to take food, his servants (i.e., his two attendants) also pressed him, so that he yielded, rose up from the ground, and sat down upon the bed (Mittah: i.e., a bench by the wall of the room provided with pillows); whereupon the woman quickly sacrificed (served up) a stalled calf, baked unleavened cakes, and set the food she had prepared before the king and his servants. The woman did all this from natural sympathy for the unhappy king, and not, as Thenius supposes, to remove all suspicion of deception from Saul's mind; for she had not deceived the king at all.

Sa1 28:25

When Saul and his servants had eaten, they started upon their way, and went back that night to Gilboa, which was about ten miles distant, where the battle occurred the next day, and Saul and his sons fell. "Saul was too hardened in his sin to express any grief or pain, either on his own account or because of the fate of his sons and his people. In stolid desperation he went to meet his fate. This was the terrible end of a man whom the Spirit of God had once taken possession of and turned into another man, and whom he had endowed with gifts to be the leader of the people of God" (O. v. Gerlach).

Next: 1 Kings (1 Samuel) Chapter 29