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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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1 SAMUEL 28

SAUL SOUGHT GUIDANCE FROM THE WITCH OF ENDOR; DAVID WAS CALLED TO GO TO WAR AGAINST ISRAEL


 
Verses 1, 2
And it came to pass in those days, that the Philistines gathered their hosts together for warfare, to fight with Israel. And Achish said unto David, Know thou assuredly, that thou shalt go out with me in the host, thou and thy men. And David said to Achish, Therefore thou shalt know what thy servant will do. And Achish said to David, Therefore will I make thee keeper of my head for ever.

Philistines gathered their forces. to fight against Israel
(1 Samuel 28:1). This was far more than an ordinary mobilization for war, because, On this occasion they sent to all their confederates that they would go along with them to the war.F1

Understand that you and your men are to go out with me in the army
(1 Samuel 28:1). This order from the king of Gath was addressed to David, whose duplicity and deception finally caught up with him; and he found himself in the position of being ordered to go to war against Israel. It was the providential help of God himself, and that only, which got David out of the dilemma that confronted him.

We cannot presume to justify David's actions during those years he was with Achish; but, "He was living in highly perilous circumstances; the Bible gives the record but pronounces no judgment."F2

Very well, you shall know what your servant can do
(1 Samuel 28:2). This was David's reply to the king's order; but, This reply was ambiguous. There was no promise that David would assist in the war against Israel. Judging from his previous actions, it would have been against his conscience to fight against his own people.F3 It was a special providence that caused Achish to accept David's words here as a pledge of loyalty to the Philistine king. The second special providence was in the fact that the contemporaries of Achish overruled his order for David to accompany them (1 Samuel 29:3-5).

SAUL'S DECISION TO CONSULT THE WITCH OF ENDOR


 
Verses 3-7
Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had lamented him, and buried him in Ramah, even in his own city. And Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land. And the Philistines gathered themselves together, and came and encamped in Shunem: and Saul gathered all Israel together, and they encamped in Gilboa. And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. And when Saul inquired of Jehovah, Jehovah answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets. Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and inquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at En-dor.

Samuel had died. Saul had put the mediums and wizards out of the land
(1 Samuel 28:3). This information was prerequisite to the understanding of what is next related. Saul's putting the wizards and mediums out of the land had evidently occurred in the early years of his reign when he was sincerely trying to do the will of God.

Wizards and mediums
(1 Samuel 28:3). From Isa. 8:19; 19:3, it may be inferred that the oracles procured from such sources were uttered in a squealing voice, by means of ventriloquism.F4 The Hebrew word for `mediums' here is [~'oboth], which is the plural of [~'ob], meaning `leather bottles.' It is generally taken to refer to the distended belly of the conjurer, into which the summoned spirit of the dead was supposed to enter, and thence speak.F5

It is impossible to imagine anything any more fraudulent, any more evil, or any more founded absolutely upon falsehood than the profession of such followers of the devil as the mediums and wizards; one of the best known of those persons was the notorious Witch of Endor who is featured in this chapter.

Note the following from Deuteronomy: "There shall not be found among you any one who practices divination, a soothsayer, an augur, a sorcerer, a charmer, a medium, a wizard, or a necromancer ... Whoever does such things is an abomination to the Lord." (Deuteronomy 18:10-12).

When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid
(1 Samuel 28:5). Saul's crisis of fear was aggravated by the new strategy of the Philistines, who, instead of fighting Israel in the hill country, on this occasion marched into the plain of Jezreel where their chariots of iron would give them an advantage. This maneuver threatened to cut off Saul from the support of the northern tribesF6

The Philistines at Shunem.Israel at Gilboa
(1 Samuel 28:4). It was at Gilboa that Saul greatly trembled. This was the spring by which Gideon and his men camped. It was called the `Spring of Trembling' (Judg. 7:1, KJV). Saul here camped beside the same spring, and `trembled greatly.'F7 The two armies here confronted each other near the eastern end of the plain of Esdraelon.F8

The Lord did not answer him. by dreams ... by Urim ... or by prophets…
How strange that the man who hated and persecuted the prophets Samuel and David expected to be answered by prophets, and that he who had slain eighty-five priests with all of their wives and children, including even the High Priest, expected to be answered by the Urim, and that he who had sinned away the Spirit of God expected to be answered by heavenly dreams! God is not mocked!F9

Behold, there is a medium at Endor
(1 Samuel 28:7). Endor is the modern Khirbet es-Safsafe about four miles south of Mount Tabor. Ps. 83:10 indicates that Barak and Deborah defeated Jabin and Sisera in this area.F10 The fact that Saul had said to his servants, Find me a woman who is a medium indicates that the great majority of such persons were indeed women, even as it is today with fortune-tellers, palm-readers, crystal-ball gazers, etc.

SAUL VISITED THE WITCH OF ENDOR


 
Verses 8-14
And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment, and went, he and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night: and he said, Divine unto me, I pray thee, by the familiar spirit, and bring me up whomsoever I shall name unto thee. And the woman said unto him, Behold, thou knowest what Saul hath done, how he hath cut off those that have familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land: wherefore then layest thou a snare for my life, to cause me to die? And Saul sware to her by Jehovah, saying, As Jehovah liveth, there shall no punishment happen to thee for this thing. Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel. And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice; and the woman spake to Saul, saying, Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul. And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what seest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I see a god coming up out of the earth. And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man cometh up; and he is covered with a robe. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground, and did obeisance.

They went. and came to the woman by night
(1 Samuel 28:8). This was a perilous journey of some seven or eight miles from Saul's camp at Gilboa to Endor, and it involved skirting the Philistine encampment.F11

"There is something unutterably pathetic in this yearning of the disanointed king to exchange words with the friend and counselor of his youth, perhaps thinking that if he was destined to hear the words of his doom, he would prefer to hear them from no other except Samuel."F12

When the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice. Why have you deceived me? ... You are Saul
(1 Samuel 28:12). Did the witch of Endor actually see Samuel? If she could see Samuel, why could not Saul also have seen him? Had she indeed failed to recognize Saul, the tallest man in all Israel? What was the reason for that cry with a loud voice? Had the prophet Samuel actually appeared, much to her surprise, thus causing her to scream out in terror? What is the sense in supposing that her allegedly seeing Samuel had revealed to her the identity of Saul? These are only a few of the very difficult questions that rise as one contemplates what is here said. Is there any way that the possible meaning of the clause, When the woman saw Samuel might actually be, When the woman pretended to see Samuel? Note also that the ancient versions render the words of 1 Sam. 28:13 with the plural for gods, I saw gods ascending out of the earth. What, if anything, did she actually see?

If she actually saw him, was Samuel brought back from the dead by God Himself?. Or, is it possible to suppose that a wicked persons such as the witch, called in Deut. 10:12 "an abomination to the Lord," could indeed have had the power to bring back from the dead one of the righteous prophets of God. The discovery of the truth about what is written here depends upon the manner in which a number of these questions are answered.

Before attempting to give an answer to what this writer considers one of the most difficult problems in the entire Bible, we shall consult some of the things that able men of other generations have said about it.

As for the witch's pretending not to recognize Saul, R. P. Smith noted that, "When she saw the tallest man in all Israel and heard him request that she bring up Samuel, she must have been dull indeed not to know who her visitor was."F13

Keil has this: "It was not at the call of the idolatrous king, nor at the command of the abominable witch, nor was it merely by divine permission. No! It was by the special command of God that Samuel left his grave."F14

Fred Young pointed out that: "The view of the ancient rabbis was that the spirit of Samuel actually appeared, a view supported by the Septuagint (LXX) rendition of 1 Chr. 10:13b, "And Samuel the prophet made answer to him." and by Ecclesiasticus 46:20. The same view was held by Augustine, Origin and Justin Martyr."F15 However, these last named scholars were wrong about many things, especially Justin Martyr in his views regarding the millennium; and, although Martyr did write that, "The soul of Samuel was called up by the witch as Saul demanded,"F16 he was not addressing the questions which we raise here but was making an argument that men have a soul that survives after the death of the body.

Methodius, another of the Ante-Nicene Fathers also wrote that, "When Samuel appeared, it is clear that, being seen, he was clothed with a body."F17 He also was using the passage as light upon the question of the type of body that will be raised from the dead.

Others of the Ante-Nicene Fathers did not hesitate to label this alleged appearance of Samuel as a cleverly contrived fraud. For example, Tertullian discussed the episode as follows:

"In the extravagant pretensions of their art, the ancient ventriloquistic spirits even claimed to represent the soul of Samuel, when Saul consulted the dead after losing the living God. They can do so under cover of a lying wonder (2 Thessalonians 2:9). God forbid, however, that we should suppose that any saint, much less the soul 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 Corinthians 11:14) -- much more into a man of light -- and that at last he (Satan) will show himself to be even God (2 Thessalonians 2:4) On the aforementioned occasion, Satan affirmed himself to be a prophet of God, and especially to Saul, in whom he was then actually dwelling.

"You must not believe that he who produced the phantom was one, and that he who consulted it was another. No! It was one and the same spirit both in the sorceress and the apostate king which easily pretended an apparition of that which it (the spirit of Satan) had already prepared them to believe as real.

"Furthermore, Our Lord himself has established in the person of his representative Abraham (Luke 16:26) the fact that Hades is not in any case opened for the escape of souls therein. Because of this fact, it must never be supposed that there could be any relaxation of that rule to honor the arrogant pretensions of a sorceress."F18

Hippolytus also took the same view of this event as did Tertullian. He wrote:

"The question is raised, whether Samuel rose by the hand of the sorceress or not. And if, indeed, we should allow that he did rise, we should be propounding what is false. How could a demon call back the soul of anyone whomsoever? The woman said she saw Samuel, but she also said she saw gods ascending out of the earth! Extraordinary vision!"F19

In spite of all this, some raise the question that, "If this episode was the work of the devil, how could there have been a prophecy that Saul would die on the morrow, which came true exactly as foretold"? Hippolytus noted in regard to this that, "The prophecy of the demon regarding Saul's death was in error, affirming that it would be `on the morrow,' when, as a matter of fact, it occurred a day later than the prophecy indicated"!F20 From this, it appears that the widespread opinion among present-day commentators that this chapter is misplaced because it belongs just prior to 1 Sam. 31 is erroneous. This chapter occurs exactly where it belongs in the Book of First Samuel. The International Critical Commentary makes that clear enough. "It is unfortunate that (some) would displace this section, ranging it between 1 Sam. 30 and 1 Sam. 31 ... We have no evidence that, as a part of the Books of Samuel, it ever occupied any but its Masoretic position."F21 Thus, it must be accepted as a fact that the "alleged prophecy" of Saul's death, "tomorrow" was an error, because it did not happen on the morrow. Therefore, it was not Samuel who uttered that "prophecy" it was an emissary of Satan.

The view that Samuel did indeed appear at the direct commandment of God, as alleged by Keil and many other able scholars has been widely supported for ages by many scholars and theologians; and we respect that view, confessing at the same time that it might indeed be correct. Willis, for example, noted that, "Possibly the witch did not expect any spirit to appear, but when the Lord caused Samuel to appear, she became frightened, because nothing like that had ever happened before."F22 The most important factor supporting this interpretation was cited by Payne, "The narrative strongly suggests that it really was Samuel who appeared, and not a mere apparition or hallucination. The foreknowledge of statements attributed to him also stamp him as genuinely Samuel."F23 (However, it should be remembered, as noted above, that the `foreknowledge' mentioned here by Payne was false.)

Nevertheless, this writer is unable to reconcile that understanding of the passage with the fact of the consummate wickedness of both the witch and Saul. Where is there anything in the Bible that supports the notion that God would have raised a prophet from the dead to speak to such people, especially since they had never manifested the slightest regard for the word of God through his prophets? While confessing that there are ample objections to any view of the passage that may be advocated, the conviction that prevails with this writer favors the view that sees the whole episode as one loaded with fraud and deception.

SAMUEL'S MESSAGE TO KING SAUL


 
Verses 15-19
And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do. And Samuel said, Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing Jehovah is departed from thee, and is become thine adversary? And Jehovah hath done unto thee, as he spake by me: and Jehovah hath rent the kingdom out of thy hand, and given it to thy neighbor, even to David. Because thou obeyedst not the voice of Jehovah, and didst not execute his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath Jehovah done this thing unto thee this day. Moreover Jehovah will deliver Israel also with thee into the hand of the Philistines; and to-morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: Jehovah will deliver the host of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines.

Samuel said, Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?
(1 Samuel 28:15). Note that the alleged Samuel here does not credit the Lord with having brought him up, but charges Saul with having done it. Such a lie was of Satan, not of God. Saul never, in a million years, had the power through some abominable witch to raise the dead!

The bitter words to Saul found throughout most of this paragraph could not therefore be the true words of the prophet Samuel. R. P. Smith identified them as the words of the abominable witch. "The woman gladly took a bitter revenge on the man who had cruelly put to death nearly all of her contemporary professional mediums. She had recognized Saul as her hated enemy as soon as he entered her place, but professed not to know him till his name was revealed to her by the pretended apparition, in the name of which she reproached him for his crimes and announced to him what everybody in Israel already knew, that God would take away his kingdom and give it to David. In view of Deut. 18:10, we cannot believe that the Bible would set before us an instance of witchcraft employed with Divine sanction for holy purposes."F24

SAUL'S VISIT TO THE WITCH OF ENDOR WAS CONCLUDED


 
Verses 20-25
Then Saul fell straightway his full length upon the earth, and was sore afraid, because of the words of Samuel: and there was no strength in him; for he had eaten no bread all the day, nor all the night. And the woman came unto Saul, and saw that he was sore troubled, and said unto him, Behold, thy handmaid hath hearkened unto thy voice, and I have put my life in my hand, and have hearkened unto thy words which thou spakest unto me. Now therefore, I pray thee, hearken thou also unto the voice of thy handmaid, and let me set a morsel of bread before thee; and eat, that thou mayest have strength, when thou goest on thy way. But he refused, and said, I will not eat. But his servants, together with the woman, constrained him; and he hearkened unto their voice. So he arose from the earth, and sat upon the bed. And the woman had a fatted calf in the house; and she hasted, and killed it; and she took flour, and kneaded it, and did bake unleavened bread thereof: and she brought it before Saul, and before his servants; and they did eat. Then they rose up, and went away that night.

So he arose from the earth and sat upon the bed
(1 Samuel 28:23). The bed in the ancient houses of that era was a wide bench against the wall, used as a sitting place in the daytime and for sleeping at night.

She had a fatted calf in the house
(1 Samuel 28:24). This is merely the archaic way of saying that she had such an animal readily available.

The solicitude of the witch for Saul's welfare was understandable. No normal human being could look upon the terrified and distressed king with any other than emotions of pity and compassion. Her hospitality was also a matter of insurance on her part against the possibility that, if Saul survived, he might put her to death as he had done to most of her contemporary practitioners of necromancy.


Footnotes for 1 Samuel 28
1: Flavius Josephus, Antiquities, p. 200.
2: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 402.
3: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 2b, p. 259.
4: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, Samuel, p. 291.
5: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 4b, p. 621.
6: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 301.
7: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, op. cit., p. 291.
8: George DeHoff's Commentary, Vol. 2, p. 175.
9: Matthew Henry's Commentary, Vol. 2, p. 430.
10: John T. Willis, p. 261.
11: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, op. cit., p. 291.
12: Albert Barnes, Samuel, p. 66.
13: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 523.
14: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 2b, p. 267.
15: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, op. cit., p. 292.
16: Anti-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 252.
17: Ibid., Vol. 6, p. 377.
18: Ibid., Vol. 3, p. 234.
19: Ibid., Vol. 5, p. 169.
20: Ibid., Vol. 5, p. 170.
21: International Critical Commentary, Samuel, p. 238.
22: John T. Willis, p. 261.
23: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 301.
24: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 523.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 28". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=1sa&chapter=028>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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