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The Philistines gathering together, to fight with Israel, Saul trembled at it, not being able to get any answer from the Lord about it in any way whatever, ( 1 Samuel 28:1-6); upon which he applies to a woman that had a familiar spirit to bring him up Samuel, which she did, ( 1 Samuel 28:7-14); and what passed between Saul and Samuel, or at least the apparition in his form, is recorded, ( 1 Samuel 28:15-19); which so struck him, as to make him strengthless, and so melancholy, that he refused to eat until persuaded, or rather compelled, by the woman and his servants, ( 1 Samuel 28:20-25).
Ver. 1 . And it came to pass in those days , etc.] That David was in the country of the Philistines: that the Philistines gathered their armies together : out of their five principalities or lordships: for warfare to fight with Israel ; with whom they were continually at war, and though sometimes there was a cessation of arms, yet never any settled peace; and the Philistines took every opportunity and advantage against them, as they now did; when David was among them, and so had nothing to fear from him, but rather expected his assistance; and Samuel was dead, and Saul in a frenzy: and Achish said unto David : who seems to have been at the head of the combined armies of the Philistines: know thou assuredly that thou shall go with me to battle, thou and thy men ; against Israel; which was a trying thing to David, and whereby he was like to be drawn into a dilemma; either to fight against his country, which he could not do conscientiously; or be guilty of ingratitude to Achish, and incur his displeasure, and be liable to be turned out of his country, or treated in a worse manner, even he and his men, to be seized on and cut to pieces by the forces of the Philistines, should he refuse.
Ver. 2 . And David said to Achish, surely thou shalt know what thy servant can do , etc.] By which he would have Achish understand, and so he did, that he would exert himself in favour of the Philistines, and against Israel, and do great and brave things, of which Achish would be, made sensible, through his heroic courage and valour; though he meant rather what he could and should do for Israel against the Philistines, if he had an opportunity: but it seems best of all to consider David as quite undetermined, and at a loss what to do, hoping that God in his providence would extricate him out of this difficulty, and direct him what he should do, which then Achish would know; and accordingly he was delivered out of it: and Achish said to David : putting confidence in him on account of his answer, and believing he was hearty in engaging in the war with the Philistines against Israel: therefore will I make thee keeper of mine head for ever ; the captain of his bodyguard, which post he should hold for life; or he proposed to put him into this post, that he might be with him, near his person, and under his eye, that he might observe how he behaved himself; which may show some suspicion of him.
Ver. 3 . Now Samuel was dead , etc.] Had been so for some time; which is mentioned before, ( 1 Samuel 25:1); and here repeated, partly to observe the reason of the Philistines renewing the war, and partly to account for the conduct of Saul, in seeking to a witch to raise Samuel, and for the sake of that story: and all Israel lamented him ; as they had great reason to do; (see Gill on “ 1 Samuel 25:1”); and buried him in Ramah, even his own city; there being two Ramahs, as Kimchi observes, it is added, “in his own city”, to show that he was buried in that Ramah which was his native place, and where his constant residence was; though, as he says, it may mean that he was buried within the city, and not without it; but the Targum gives a different sense, “and they buried him in Ramah, and mourned for him every man in his city:” and Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards , out of the land : out of the land of Israel; had by an edict banished them, or had given orders that neither witches nor wizards should abide in the land; but should be taken up, and prosecuted according to the law of God; which he had done either at the instigation of Samuel; or, as some think, from a conceit that the evil spirit he had been troubled with was owing to them; or to make some appearance of a zeal for religion, and the honour and glory of God: this is observed to show the inconstancy of Saul, and his folly in applying after this to a person of such a character, and to account for the fears of the woman when applied to, and afterwards when she was engaged, when she found it was by Saul; (see 1 Samuel 28:7-12).
Ver. 4 . And the Philistines gathered themselves together , etc.] From different parts, and formed a considerable army: and came and pitched in Shunem ; a city, in the borders of the tribe of Issachar, of which (see Gill on “ Joshua 19:18”); and Saul gathered all Israel together, and they pitched in Gilboa ; a range of mountains, near Jezreel, and which Jerom calls the mountains of the Philistines, six miles from Scythopolis, where there is a large village called Gelbus.
Ver. 5 . And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines , etc.] From the mountains of Gilboa, where he had pitched his camp: he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled ; on sight of the numbers of them, and thinking perhaps of the death of Samuel, and of the loss of David; who was now among the Philistines, and might possibly fight against him, and for the Philistines, of which he might be informed; however, he was not with him, and his conscience might accuse him of various sins he had been guilty of, for which he might fear the Lord would now reckon with him.
Ver. 6 . And when Saul inquired of the Lord , etc.] And this being not done truly and heartily, nor continued in, it was as if he had not inquired, and especially after he had inquired of one that had a familiar spirit, as Kimchi observes; for so it is said, ( 1 Chronicles 10:14); the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams ; which he dreamed himself, from whence he could not conclude anything relating to the will of God; so the Targum, “the Lord did not receive his prayer even by dreams;” or by dreamers, diviners, who pretended to give answers by dreams: nor by Urim ; there being no priest to consult in this way, Abiathar having fled with the ephod, in which were the Urim and Thummim, to David, ( 1 Samuel 23:9); though some think that he sent to Abiathar, who was with David, to inquire for him; and others that he made another ephod with Urim, and appointed another priest to consult by them; neither of which are probable: nor by prophets ; of which there was a school not far from him, even at Naioth in Ramah, of which Samuel in his lifetime was president; but neither by the one nor the other could Saul get an answer from God, who for his sins had departed from him.
Ver. 7 . Then said Saul unto his servants , etc.] That waited upon him, to some of them, to such as he could place most confidence in to keep a secret; perhaps only the two after mentioned: seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and inquire of her ; that was mistress of the bottle, a ventriloquist, that spoke out of her belly, or seemed to do; who had the spirit of Python or divination, conversed with the devil, and by his assistance pretended to bring up a dead person, and thereby foretell things to come; (see Gill on “ Deuteronomy 18:11”); a woman is pitched upon, because such were most addicted to those wicked arts, and being of the weaker sex, were more easily imposed upon by Satan; and Saul showed himself to be as weak, to seek after such persons; but being left of God, he acted the part of a mad man, as well as of a bad man: and his servants said to him, behold, [there is] a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor ; a city in the tribe of Manasseh, of which (see Joshua 17:11); it was not far from Gilboa. Mr. Maundrell speaks of it as near Nain, at the foot of Mount Hermon; and turning, a little southward, he says, you have in view the high mountains of Gilboa. It is a tradition of the Jews that this woman was the mother of Abner, the wife of Zephaniah; some say her name was Zephaniah; but, as Abarbinel observes, if so she would have known Saul, and also Saul would have known her, and what she was, if, as they say, she was spared because of her relation to him; nor needed he to have inquired of his servants for such a woman.
Ver. 8 . And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment , etc.] Stripped himself of his royal robes, or military apparel, as supreme commander, and clothed himself in the habit of a peasant or a common soldier; and this not only that he might not be known by the woman, but that he might pass from his army incognito, and it might not be known that he was gone, and especially whither he was gone: and he went, and two men with him : these, according to the tradition of the Jews f540 , were Abner and Amasa; but it is not probable that Saul should leave his army destitute of their general at such a time as this: and they came to the woman by night ; not only that they might not be seen, but because it was a work of darkness they were going about, and it was only in the night season that such persons exercised their black art; though the Jews say it was day, only because of their distress it was like tonight with them; but the literal sense is best: and he said, I pray thee divine unto me by the familiar spirit ; exercise her art of divination, by the assistance of the familiar spirit she conversed with: and bring me up whom I shall name unto thee : that is, from the dead; for necromancy was the kind of divination she professed; and such persons pretended to have a power to bring up a deceased person, and consult with him about secret and future things.
Ver. 9 . And the woman said unto him , etc.] Not knowing who he was: behold, thou knowest what Saul hath done ; for by his speech and habit she perceived he was an Israelite, and so must be acquainted with what had passed in the nation, especially of a public nature, and which made a great noise, as doubtless this, lid: how he both cut off those that have familiar spirits, and the wizards , out of the land ; as many of them as he had knowledge of, or information about; and by this it appears that he did not merely expel them his dominions, but he put them to death, according to the law of God, ( Exodus 22:18 Leviticus 20:27); so the putting them out of the land, ( 1 Samuel 28:3), was putting them to death, and the woman’s after reasoning confirms this: one should think for Saul to be told this to his face must fill him with shame and confusion, and his conscience must accuse him of sin and folly to make this attempt; and he must stand self-convicted and selfcondemned; and it was enough to have deterred him from pursuing his scheme, had not his heart been strangely hardened: wherefore then layest thou a snare for my life, to cause me to die ? she suspected that Saul and his men were persons that came to entrap her; that when they had prevailed upon her to exercise her art, would turn informers against her, to the taking away of her life, it being death to practise it.
Ver. 10 . And Saul sware to her by the Lord , etc.] By the Word of the Lord, as the Targum: it is much that Saul, being about such a work of darkness and wickedness, could take the name of the Lord into his mouth, and swear by him in such a solemn manner; which must surely put him in mind of his omniscience, from whom this wicked action could not be hid: saying, [as] the Lord liveth, there shall no punishment happen to thee for this thing ; the tenor of the oath was, and so the woman understood it, that he would never make any discovery of what she did, and so she would be sat from punishment; though as he was the supreme governor, and a very arbitrary prince, had it been discovered, he could have screened her from justice, though contrary to the law of God; however, he could not secure her from eternal punishment.
Ver. 11 . Then said the woman, whom shall I bring up unto thee ? etc.] For such persons, according to their profession, pretended they were able to bring up any of the dead, that he who inquired of them should name: and he said, bring me up Samuel ; the prophet Samuel he meant, and no doubt the woman so understood him, whose name was well known; he had been an old acquaintance and friend of Saul’s, his counsellor and adviser in many things and though he greatly neglected him in the latter part of his life, was very desirous of an interview with him now dead, that he might be advised by him how to get out of the straits and difficulties in which he was involved; but it argued extreme folly and madness in him to imagine, that the spirit of this great and good man was at the beck of a witch, and he to be called out of the state of the dead by her enchantments; or that God would permit him to appear to him, and by him give an answer, when he would not answer him by living prophets, nor any other way.
Ver. 12 . And when the woman saw Samuel , etc.] The appearance of him whom she took for Samuel; no mention is made of the methods she used to raise him, to check the curiosity of such as might be desirous to know them, and to prevent the imitation of them; though some think that Samuel, or the apparition, was seen before she made use of any, which surprised her; but this seems not so probable, and is only observed for the sake of an hypothesis; though it must be owned the word “when” is not in the text: she cried with a loud voice ; not so much frightened at what she saw, and the manner of his appearing, and as thinking the resurrection of the dead was come, as say the Jews f542 , as what she feared would be the consequence to her, even death by the hand of Saul; for though he had sworn no punishment should come upon her, she might begin to fear she was not safe, perceiving who he was: and the woman spake to Saul, saying, why hast thou deceived me? for thou [art] Saul : how she knew this is a question; it could not be by the appearance of Samuel, for it was Samuel she was to bring up; unless with Ben Gersom it can be thought that she understood him of another man, whose name was Samuel, and not Samuel the prophet; and so when she saw him, concluded he was Saul, because of the intimacy between them in his lifetime; but this is not probable, nor does it appear that she as yet knew who it was, but rather she was told by her familiar spirit, or by the apparition, so Josephus f543 , that it was Saul that inquired of her; or she guessed at it by some gesture of the apparition to Saul, by way of homage and honour; and so Abarbinel thinks that the clause in ( 1 Samuel 28:14) respects not Saul’s bowing to Samuel, but Samuel bowing to Saul; and so by this means the woman knew who he was.
Ver. 13 . And the king said unto her, be not afraid , etc.] Meaning not of the apparition, but of him; since he had sworn no punishment should come upon her, and he should inviolably observe his oath: for what sawest thou? for as yet Saul himself saw not anything, the woman being between him and the apparition; or she might be in another room with her familiar spirit performing the operations when Samuel appeared: and the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth ; a great personage, one of a majestic form, like the gods, or judges and civil magistrates, sometimes so called, as Kimchi and R. Isaiah rightly interpret it; and so the Targum, “I saw an angel of the Lord;” a person that looked like one; for not many came up with him, and particularly Moses, as say some Jewish writers f544 .
Ver. 14 . And he said unto her, what form [is] he of ? etc.] Of what stature is he? or rather of what age does he seem to be? and what clothes has he on? as appears from the answer: and she said, an old man cometh up, and he is covered with a mantle ; such as either priests or judges wore, and Samuel did in his lifetime: and Saul perceived that it [was] Samuel ; by the description she gave of him, by his age and apparel; for as yet it is not certain that he himself saw him, though it should seem as if he did by what follows: it is in the original, “that it was Samuel himself”; which seems to make for those who think the real Samuel appeared, and no doubt Saul thought it was really he himself: and he stooped with [his] face to the ground, and bowed himself : either in reverence to Samuel, and from whom he hoped relief, and therefore was all obeisance; or he put himself in this posture, that he might listen and hear what should be said; it being a general notion that such spirits gave their responses whispering and muttering, ( Isaiah 8:19); though Abarbinel, as before observed, is of opinion, that this is to be understood of Samuel, that he bowed to Saul in reverence of him as a king; which does not so well agree with the connection of the words. Some have thought that it was the true Samuel, or the soul of Samuel, that appeared; so Josephus f545 , and many other writers; but to this may be objected, that that would not have ascended out of the earth, but come down from heaven; and that it cannot reasonably be supposed that it was in the power of the witch, by the assistance of the devil, to fetch it from heaven; nor be thought that God would send it from thence on such an errand, to give Saul an answer, when he would not answer him by any prophet on earth, nor in any other way; and especially it seems quite incredible that he should send it at the motion of a witch, and through her enchantments, who, according to a law of his, ought not to live; whereas nothing could have given greater countenance to such a wicked profession than this: nor would the true Samuel have admitted such worship and homage to be paid him, as is expressed in this last clause, which angelic spirits have refused, ( Revelation 19:10 22:9,10); though perhaps no more than civil respect is intended: but rather this was a diabolical spectre, or apparition, or the devil, that appeared in the form and shape of Samuel, and mimicked him; and was one of those deceiving spirits Porphyry speaks of, that appear in various shapes and forms, and pretend to be gods or demons, or the souls of the deceased.
Some think all this was the cunning and imposture of the woman alone, or that she was assisted with a confederate, who acted the part of Samuel; but this is not probable.
Ver. 15 . And Samuel said to Saul, why hast thou disquieted me to bring me up ? etc.] This makes it a clear case that this was not the true Samuel; his soul was at rest in Abraham’s bosom, in the state of bliss and happiness in heaven, and it was not in the power of men and devils to disquiet it; nor would he have talked of his being brought up, but rather of his coming down, had it been really he; much less would he have acknowledged that he was brought up by Saul, by means of a witch, and through the help of the devil: and Saul answered, I am sore distressed ; in mind, being in great straits and difficulties, pressed hard upon by men, and forsaken of God, as follows: for the Philistines make war against me ; so they had many times, and he had been victorious, and had no reason to be so much distressed, if that was all: but he adds, and God is departed from me : and therefore he feared he should be left to fall into their hands; and that he had forsaken him he concluded from hence, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams : (see Gill on “ 1 Samuel 28:6”); he makes no mention of Urim, either because they were not with him to inquire by, being carried away by Abiathar when he fled to David, ( 1 Samuel 23:9); or, as the Jews say f548 , through shame, he said nothing of the Urim before Samuel, as he took this appearance to be, because he had slain the priests at Nob, and because of this shame, they say, his sin was forgiven him: therefore have I called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do ; which was downright madness and folly to imagine, that since God had forsaken him, and would give him no answer, that a prophet of his should take his part; or when he could get no answer from a prophet of God on earth, that he could expect an agreeable one from one fetched down from heaven: one would be tempted to think that he himself believed it was the devil he was talking to, and whom he had called for under the name of Samuel, and expected to see; for from whom else could he expect advice, when he was forsaken of God, and his prophets?
Ver. 16 . Then said Samuel, wherefore then dost thou, ask of me , etc.] Whom thou knowest to have been a prophet of the Lord, and therefore can say nothing more or less than what comes from him, and is according to his will, if anything at all; the “devil” representing Samuel, whom Saul had called for, and reasons in such language as might be thought to be his own, though sometimes he betrays himself: seeing the Lord is departed from thee ; as Saul himself owned: to which he adds, and is become thine enemy ; to make his case appear still more desperate; for his whole view is to lead him to despair, which shows what sort of spirit he was: though some understand this as spoken of David, and read the words, and “he is with thine enemy” f549 ; is on his side, and favours his cause; so the Targum, “and he is for the help of a man, whose enmity thou sharest in;” or who is at enmity with thee, meaning David; but now the true Samuel would never have said this, or suggested it, that David was an enemy to Saul, for he was not.
Ver. 17 . And the Lord hath done to him , etc.] To David, Saul’s enemy, as he insinuated he was: as he spake by me ; pretending to be the true Samuel, and wearing the guise of him, he speaks his very words, which he was well acquainted with, and could deliver exactly as he did: for the Lord hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbour ; which words are expressed by Samuel, ( 1 Samuel 15:28); [even] unto David ; which is added by the apparition, by way of explanation, interpreting the words of David; which he might safely venture to do, seeing such a train of circumstances had occurred since the delivery of these words, which plainly made it appear he was intended.
Ver. 18 . Because thou obeyedst not the voice of the Lord , etc.] At Gilgal, as Abarbinel thinks; which is the first thing for which the kingdom was threatened to be taken from him, ( 1 Samuel 13:13,14); nor executedst his fierce wrath upon Amalek : in sparing Agag, and the best of the cattle, ( 1 Samuel 15:9,28); therefore hath the Lord done this thing unto thee this day ; forsaken him, rent his kingdom from him, and would deliver him into the hands of the Philistines, as follows: had he been the true Samuel, he would have told him of some other sins of his, provoking to the Lord; as his slaughter of the priests at Nob, his cruel persecution of David, and especially of his asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit at this time, of which not a word is said, and yet was the very transgression for which Saul died, ( Chronicles 10:13,14).
Ver. 19 . Moreover, the Lord will also deliver Israel with thee into the hands of the Philistines , etc.] Not a word of comfort does he speak unto him, it being the business of this foul spirit to drive him to despair by the permission of God; had he been the true Samuel, he would have directed him to have altered his course of life, and especially his behaviour toward David, and advised him in those difficulties to send for him, who might have been of singular use unto him; he would have exhorted him to repentance for his sins, and humiliation before God on account of them, and given him hope on this that God would appear for him, and work deliverance, as he had done; but instead of this tells him, that he and his army would be delivered into the hands of the Philistines, which he might make a shrewd guess at, and venture to say from the circumstances of things, and the situation Saul and his people were in; the armies of the Philistines were very numerous, and those of Israel comparatively weak; Saul was quite dispirited, and God had forsaken him: and tomorrow [shalt] thou and thy sons be with me ; which if understood in what sense it may, seems to be a lie of the devil, and at best an ambiguous expression, such as he has been wont to give in the Heathen oracles; if he meant this of himself as an evil spirit, it could not be true of Saul and all his sons, that they should be with him in hell, especially of Jonathan who appears throughout the whole of his life to have been a good man; if he would have it understood of him as representing Samuel, and of their being with him in heaven, it must be a great stretch of charity to believe it true of Saul, so wicked a man, and who died in the act of suicide; though the Jews f550 , some of them, understand it in this sense, that his sins were pardoned, and he was saved; and if it is taken in the sense of being in the state of the dead, and in the earth, from whence he is said to ascend, and where the body of Samuel was, which seems to be the best sense that is put upon the phrase, “with me”; yet this was not true, if he meant it of all the sons of Saul, as the expression seems to suggest; for there were Ishbosheth, and his two sons by Rizpah, which survived him; nor was it true of Saul and his sons that they were cut off, and that they died the next day; for the battle was not fought till several days after this, (see 1 Samuel 28:23 <092901> Samuel 29:1,10,11 30:1,17 31:8,9); if it should be said, that “tomorrow” signifies some future time, and not strictly the next day, this shows the ambiguity of the expression used, and the insignificance of it to the present purpose; for who knew not that Saul and his sons would die some time or another? the Lord also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines ; which is only a repetition of what is said in the first clause.
Ver. 20 . Then Saul fell straightway all along on the earth , etc.] Fell at his full length at once, as if he had been thunderstruck, or pierced through with a dart or sword: and was sore afraid, because of the words of Samuel ; as he supposed they were, whose words never failed: and there was no strength in him : to rise up again, he was quite dispirited and strengthless: for he had eaten no bread all the day, nor all the night ; which contributed the more to his weakness; not only his fears, but not eating any food, occasioned his weakness, and that through want of an appetite, by reason of the great concern of his mind in his present troubles.
Ver. 21 . And the woman came unto Saul , etc.] Having left him and the apparition in a room by themselves to converse together, and perhaps on hearing him fall to the ground came in: and saw that he was sore troubled : by his lying on the ground, and the agonies he seemed to be in, and the uneasiness that sat upon his countenance: and said unto him, behold, thine handmaid hath obeyed thy voice ; in divining by her familiar spirit for him, and in bringing up Samuel to him, as he desired: and I have put my life in my hand ; exposed it to the utmost danger, since a person of her profession, and token in the exercise of it, was punishable with death; and especially she was in the greater danger, as it was Saul himself, who had by an edict expelled all such persons from his dominions, who now employed her, as she perceived: and have hearkened unto thy words which thou spakest unto me : to the oath he had taken, that no hurt should come to her, which she confided in, and relied upon, and to what he bid her do, according to her art of divination.
Ver. 22 . Now therefore, I pray thee, hearken thou also unto the voice of thine handmaid , etc.] She argues, that as she had hearkened unto him to the endangering of her life, it was but reasonable, and might be expected, that he would hearken to her in a case that would be to the preservation of his life: and let me set a morsel of bread before thee, and eat, that thou mayest have strength, when thou goest on thy way ; which she might urge, not merely out of respect to the king, but for her own sake, lest should he die in her house, she might be taken up, not only for a witch, but as being accessory to the death of the king; and therefore she moves, that he would take some food for refreshment of nature, that he might be able to depart her house, and go on his way to his army.
Ver. 23 . But he refused, and said, I will not eat , etc.] Choosing rather to die with famine than by the sword of the Philistines; though perhaps his meaning is, he could not eat, his stomach loathed it, being overwhelmed with grief and trouble: but his servants, together with the woman, compelled him ; not by force, but by arguments; they reasoned with him, and prevailed upon him to try to eat: and he hearkened unto their voice ; and agreed to eat, if he could; so he arose from the earth ; on which he lay at his full length: and sat upon the bed ; or couch, it being now the custom to recline on couches at caring; though some deny that this custom obtained so early.
Ver. 24 . And the woman had a fat calf in the house , etc.] This was reckoned a very dainty dish in those countries, and fit for any guests, (see Genesis 18:7); Josephus says f551 , she vouchsafed to feed and take care of it in her house, and it was very familiar with her; and he highly commends the liberality of the woman, and as worthy of imitation: and she hasted and killed it ; and dressed it in some way or another, and which in those times was done speedily: and took flour and kneaded [it], and did bake unleavened bread therewith ; which was soonest made, she not having time to leaven it.
Ver. 25 . And she brought [it] before Saul, and before his servants, and they did eat , etc.] Of the fatted calf, and unleavened bread, which she set upon a table before them, in the best manner she could: then they rose up, and went away that night ; that it might not be seen in what house they had been, and that they might get to the camp without being discovered by the Philistines, or known by the Israelites that they had been out.