1 Samuel 28

Saul and the Witch

With all that was happening in Israel—the death of Samuel, the defection of David to the Philistines, the distractions of Saul with David—the Philistines felt it was time for a major offensive into Israel. Saul had been, since Goliath, pushing back, defeating, and conquering the Philistines. All that had eroded, the spiritual reformation under Samuel had been waning, and David's departure and split from Saul had created a level of weakening in the army. Add in Saul's preoccupation and distraction with conquering David, and Israel had really been letting its defenses down. The Philistines could sense it was time to pounce.

David Agrees to Fight with Achish (1-2)

The Philistines staged their army for war. Achish ordered David to fight under his banner and with his army (1). David agreed to fight with Achish, saying Achish would see what he could do when fighting for someone with loyalty. Achish made David his bodyguard for life.

Later, when David defeated the Philistines, Achish was mysteriously not listed among the leaders who were conquered. David seems to have remembered Achish's kindness toward him (2).


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Saul's Prognosticators Gone (3)

Here in the book, Samuel's death sets up the sad tale about to be told. Samuel was passed, and Saul had outlawed the necromancers and mediums. There were none to bring up the dead or to divine the will of the gods by magic. There was nowhere Saul could go for prognostication with Samuel dead, witches executed, and the rest having fled the country (3).

Philistines Stage Their Army for Battle (4-5)

The Philistines staged their army seven miles east of Megiddo in the Valley of Jezreel. The Israelites were camped on the slopes of Gilboa (4). When Saul looked across the valley and saw the Philistines, his heart melted with fear (5). Saul then sought to inquire of Yahweh, but Yahweh did not answer him.

Saul had half-heartedly tried by three means to get direction from Yahweh: through a dream he or any other may have had, through the Urim or rock drawn from a pouch by the priest, and through a prophetic word by one of the prophets, but all failed him.

We discover later in Scripture that Saul only went through the motions of inquiring of Yahweh, but his heart was not really in it. Saul was condemned (1 Chronicles 10:13-14) for having never attempted to seek the guidance of Yahweh (6).

In Search of a Witch (7)

With fear as his guide, Saul then did the unthinkable. He sent his servant to secretly seek out a female medium for her to conjure up a dead spirit for him. The servant found one in En-dor. In Jewish tradition, the woman is identified as the mother of Abner, Saul's general (7).

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Saul Goes to the Witch (8-15)

Saul disguised himself by putting on common clothes, and then he and two others navigated their way around the Philistine staging area in the stealth of night to Endor. Saul asked the woman to bring up the dead spirit of the person he would name for her (8).

Fearful of entrapment, the woman announced that all the spiritists and mediums had been ejected from Israel. She then asked why the man would ask such a question knowing it would lead to the death of anyone who practiced or dabbled in those arts (8). The woman reminded the man seeking the spirit of a dead man what Saul had done to all those who practiced magic and contacted dead spirits. Saul had executed an order that they all be killed, so all who could fled Israel, while the few who remained did so at their own peril. The woman then asked the man why he was laying a trap to bring about her execution (9).

Saul swore by Yahweh that she would not be punished for her act. This may have been the last time Saul used Yahweh's name (10).

The medium asked whose spirit the man wanted awakened from the dead. Saul was searching for Samuel, assuming that if he could get in contact with the man who had once been father to him, he could get some favorable guidance (11).

Then something happened that the woman did not expect and that had never happened before. When Saul asked her to bring up Samuel and apart from any of the woman's pretentious conjuring mechanisms, an apparition of Samuel appeared. Taken by surprise, the woman yelled as Samuel appeared. She then turned to Saul and unmasked his deceit. The spirit of Samuel had in some way revealed the person of Saul to the medium (12). Saul encouraged the terrorized woman to fear not but to continue on. The woman returned to the apparition and described it as though she was seeing a god coming up from the earth (13).

Saul wanted to confirm who it was and asked for the witch to describe his appearance. She described him as an old man wrapped in a robe. Maybe she described the old man's flowing white hair and the robe he wore when Saul had torn it. Whatever detail the witch gave Saul, he recognized that what the woman was seeing was Samuel. Saul bowed to the ground in the presence of Samuel's spirit and gave him homage (14).

It has been debated for centuries what happened there on that day in En-dor. Was the apparition a figment of imagination, was it a demonic impersonation, or was it Samuel? What happened next leaves little doubt that it was the spirit of Samuel that Yahweh had allowed the witch to contact.

Samuel's Prophecy (15-20)

Samuel then spoke directly to Saul and rebuked him for disturbing the dead, who were at peace resting in Sheol awaiting Yahweh to come (Isaiah 14:9). The text does not tell us if the witch was privy to the conversation.

Saul answered and told Samuel he was in great distress, for the Philistines were preparing to war against him and Israel; most importantly, God had turned away from him, not answering by any of the former means he had once used to speak to Him. Saul then told Samuel he had no choice but to summon Samuel to know for sure what he should do (15). Samuel asked Saul why he would reach out to him since he had been rejected by Yahweh, for he should have known Yahweh had now become Saul's enemy (16). Samuel confirmed Yahweh was doing what He had promised, stripping the kingdom from Saul and giving it to someone not of his family but instead a neighbor to his family, David (17).

Because Saul had not obeyed Yahweh in relationship to the Amalekites, what was to happen the next day on the battlefield was the final consequence of Saul's disobedience when he did not slay all the Amalekites. When Saul disobeyed Yahweh's voice and did not exterminate the Amalekites, he became a rebel to Yahweh, so Yahweh was and had been rebelling against Saul (18).

Not only was Saul going to experience loss in battle, but all of Israel would be given into the hand of the Philistines for slaughter, along with Saul and his sons. On the morrow, the whole lot of them would be joined with Samuel among the dead in Sheol (19).

At those words from the prophet Samuel, Saul passed out, suffocating in fear and without any strength, for he had not eaten in the past twenty-four hours (20).

The Witch's Compassion (21-25)

The witch had compassion on Saul's terrified condition. She told Saul that she had listened to and obeyed and trusted Saul with her life; she then urged Saul to trust himself to her. She set before him a small piece of bread and urged him to eat with no fear that the bread would be tainted. In compassion, she wanted Saul to regain his strength for travel and battle (21-22).

Saul refused to eat, maybe being so full of fear that he had no hunger or maybe in some sense of religious activity seeking Yahweh's favor. Whatever his reasoning, his servants, along with the woman, pleaded with him to rise from the floor and eat. Saul took the morsel of bread at the edge of the witch's bed, surrounded by his servants and a compassionate witch (23).

As Saul ate the morsel of bread, the woman killed a calf she was fattening for a feast, and with it she took some flour and made some crackers (24). She put the meat and bread in front of Saul and he ate, and then he and the men returned to camp in the dead of night (25).