Saul Turns to Darkness for Counsel
(1Sa 28:3) 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.
The events of 1Sa 28 take place before a battle in which the Philistines defeated Israel (1Sa 31:1). By that time Samuel had been dead for a while (1Sa 25:1). The death of Samuel is mentioned first in 1Sa 25:1. Two reasons 1Sa 28:3 mentions again his death could be as follows. First, Saul could not consult Samuel about God's will. Second, the fact that Samuel was dead helps explain the defeat of Saul, for "the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel" (1Sa 7:13). We can imagine that Samuel was praying for his people and thus the Philistines could not prevail during his lifetime.
(1Sa 28:4) And the Philistines gathered themselves together, and came and pitched in Shunem: and Saul gathered all Israel together, and they pitched in Gilboa.
(1Sa 28:5) And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled.
(1Sa 28:6) And when Saul enquired of the LORD, the LORD answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.
Clearly, Saul did not seek the Lord earnestly, for "ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart" (Jer 29:13). The Hebrew word translated "enquired" in 1Sa 28:6 is a form of a verb meaning "to ask". Literally, 1Sa 28:6 says that "... Saul asked the LORD and the LORD did not answer him ...". A verb meaning "to seek, search" has also been translated "enquired" in 1Ch 10:14. There we read that Saul "enquired not of the LORD". Literally, 1Ch 10:14 says that Saul "did not seek in the LORD". Thus, in view of 1Sa 28:6 and 1Ch 10:14 we can conclude that Saul asked the Lord without really seeking him. Note also that "enquired" in 1Chr 10:14 and "search for" in Jer 29:13 correspond the same Hebrew verb.
(1Sa 28:7) Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and enquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor.
The law forbids consulting mediums (Lev 19:31). These were not to be found among the people (De 18:10-11, Lev 20:27). Thus, 1Sa 28:1 mentions that "Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land". However, Saul did not do this with all his heart. His request "Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit" indicates that he believed that some of them could still be found in the land.
Now, a more literal translation of the Hebrew for "woman that hath a familiar spirit" is "woman of a familiar-spirit mistress", where the word for "mistress" is the feminine version of a word meaning "lord" or "Baal" (a pagan god). Likely, "mistress" in this verse denotes some pagan deity.
(1Sa 28:8) And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment, and he went, and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night: and he said, I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee.
(1Sa 28:9) 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?
(1Sa 28:10) And Saul sware to her by the LORD, saying, As the LORD liveth, there shall no punishment happen to thee for this thing.
(1Sa 28:11) Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel.
(1Sa 28:12) 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.
(1Sa 28:13) And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth.
(1Sa 28:14) And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself.
Verse 12 mentions that the woman saw Samuel. On the other hand, verse 14 indicates that Saul did not see him. We can infer that the woman was having a vision. The fact that the man in the vision is called "Samuel" indicates that he did appear to be Samuel. However, this does not mean that he really was Samuel. For instance, one who dreams that he talks with a person is not really talking with that person. It is just a dream. In the same way, unless the vision was from God, what the woman saw was not really Samuel. It was just a vision. Now, subsequent verses indicate that the vision was not entirely truthful. This implies that the vision was not from God. Then, the woman was not having a vision from the Holy Spirit but rather from some other spirit (cf. Ac 16:16-18). It was under the influence of that spirit that the woman recognized Saul (verse 12). The text does not say exactly how she recognized him. Literally, verse 12 says "And the woman saw Samuel, and she cried with a loud voice, and the woman said unto Saul ...". Likely, the woman did not cry because she saw Samuel but because she recognized Saul and was afraid for her life. Recognizing Saul was not that difficult, for he was taller "than any of the people from his shoulders and upward" (1Sa 10:23). Now, from the viewpoint of the spirit influencing the woman, it must have been important that Saul be recognized in order to give some mark of authenticity to the subsequent message.
As indicated in verse 14, Saul did not see Samuel. Most likely, he did not hear him either. Rather, the woman transmitted to Saul what Samuel was saying in the vision.
(1Sa 28:15) 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.
In the vision, Samuel was speaking from the viewpoint of the woman. She claimed that she could take the dead from Sheol and bring them up (1Sa 28:11). One accepting her viewpoint could have assumed that the dead would be disquieted if they were brought up. So Samuel said "Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up?". If the vision were from God, Samuel would have counted it a privilege, not a disturbance, to carry out God's will and speak to Saul.
(1Sa 28:16) Then said Samuel, Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the LORD is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy?
(1Sa 28:17) And the LORD hath done to him, as he spake by me: for the LORD hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbour, even to David:
(1Sa 28:18) Because thou obeyedst not the voice of the LORD, nor executedst his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath the LORD done this thing unto thee this day.
(1Sa 28:19) Moreover the LORD will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines: and to morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: the LORD also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.
(1Sa 28:20) Then Saul fell straightway all along on 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.
In verse 17 a better translation than "hath done to him" is "hath done for himself". The message of 1Sa 28:16-19 contains elements from prophecies delivered by Samuel during his ministry. Verse 17 references 1Sa 13:14, in which Samuel said that the Lord had sought for himself a man after his own heart. Verse 17 references also the words of Samuel in 1Sa 15:28: "The LORD hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou". Moreover, verse 18 makes a reference to 1Sa 15:19. However, unlike to verse 18, the prophecies of Samuel do not indicate that the trouble with the Philistines was a direct consequence of the fact that Saul did not obey the command of the Lord concerning Amalek.
The message of the woman was not truthful. There were important elements of truth that were missing and there was also a serious distortion of the truth. One element of truth missing from this message is how wrong it was for Saul to consult a medium. Speaking of a person that would consult a medium, the Lord had warned that "I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people" (Lev 20:6). 1Ch 10:13 states explicitly that this was one of the reasons Saul died prematurely, that he consulted a medium. If Saul would have repented and returned to the Lord, he would have been forgiven (Is 55:7; compare 2Ch 33:6 with 2Ch 33:12-13; see also Ac 19:18-19). Note that Lev 20:6 does not say that the Lord would cut off the offending soul regardless of whether the soul would repent or not. It is an error to believe that after a person has committed a number of serious sins, the Lord can no longer pardon. However, this was an error perpetrated by the message of the woman. The message said "Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the LORD is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy?" (1Sa 28:16). The claim was that the Lord was the enemy of Saul. Furthermore, the words "Wherefore then dost thou ask for me ..." suggested a hopeless situation in which nothing could help. According to this message, it was not that Saul was an enemy of God, but that God was an enemy of Saul! This was a serious distortion of the truth. Consider for instance the parable of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32). If the prodigal son would have turned to a medium in order to get advice from some deceased holy person, he might have heard this "And why do you turn to me seeing that your own father has become your enemy? For you left him and spent his money on your scandalous lifestyle." Though somewhat plausible, such a message would have been very far from the truth. God was no more of an enemy to Saul than the father was to his prodigal son. However, it seems that the message of the woman was meant to harden Saul in his ways, for it did not encourage Saul to repent. Rather, by describing God as an enemy, the message made repentance appear pointless. Indeed, Saul had heard that God does not change his mind (1Sa 15:29). Thus, if God was an enemy, he would have not paid attention to repentance. So why repent? A truthful message would have told Saul that God was not answering him because he was not seeking God with his whole heart. One who seeks God wholeheartedly repents from sin. Saul was not doing that. A truthful message would have mentioned that the Lord longs to show mercy and favor to those who would repent (Is 30:18, Lk 13:34).
Note that the message of the woman did not predict accurately the future. It was not very hard to imagine that Saul and his men will not escape, for the fears of Saul testified to the strength of the Philistines. However, it was hard to guess right the time of their death. Thus, the predicted time of their death was inaccurate. There is evidence that Saul did not die the following day, as the woman predicted in 1Sa 28:19. Rather, it appears that Saul died at least one week later. The time of his death could be estimated as follows. David was told by a young Amalekite about the death of Saul in 2Sa 1:1-10. Likely, the Amalekite was hoping for a reward, so he must have hurried to be the first to tell David what had happened (cf. 2Sa 18:19-23). Thus, the Amalekite must have traveled no more than three days, for this is how much it took David and his men to go from the camp of the Philistines to Ziklag (1Sa 30:1). Now, there were several events between the time of 1Sa 28 and the time the Amalekite came to David. Saul departed from the medium the same night he went there (1Sa 28:25). Then, the Philistines moved to Aphek and the Israelites to a place in Jezreel (1Sa 29:1). Before this the Philistines had been in Shunem and the Israelites in Gilboa (1Sa 28:4). When the Philistine rulers noticed David and his men in their camp, they were displeased and asked that they should leave. David and his men rose early the next morning to return to the land of the Philistines (1Sa 29:11). Moreover, the Philistines went to Jezreel (1Sa 29:11). The fact that the Philistines went to Jezreel and the Israelites had moved earlier to Jezreel does not mean that the decisive battle began immediately. For instance, in 1Sa 17 the Philistine and Israelite armies faced each other for weeks before having a decisive battle (1Sa 17:3,16). Now, David arrived to Ziklag on the third day (1Sa 30:1). When he saw that the Amalekites had taken captive everyone there, he went after the Amalekites. When he found them, he fought from twilight until evening the following day (1Sa 30:17). Then, he took all the spoil of the Amalekites, which included sheep and cattle, and returned to Ziklag. Finally, the young Amalekite came to him on the third day after he returned to Ziklag (2Sa 1:1-2). By taking in account all these events, it is apparent that there was one week or more from the time of 1Sa 28 to the death of Saul. Another indication of the time of the death of Saul can be found in 1Sa 31:1. There, the form of the Hebrew verb translated "to fight" could be taken as an indication that the Israelites were fighting the Philistines at the time of the final verses of 1Sa 30. That is, while David was sending gifts to elders and friends from Judah, the Israelites and the Philistines were fighting. Thus, the death of Saul must have occurred after that time.
When facing life threatening circumstances, Saul turned to the wrong person for counsel. The fact that he did not seek the Lord but turned to a medium is given explicitly as a reason for his death (1Ch 10:13-14). Apparently, the counsel he received was meant to ensure that in his most difficult circumstances he would not repent. Thus, his decision to seek a medium helped his true enemy ensure that he would not escape hell.