In the last essay we studied 1 Sam., chapter 25, in which we found the story of David, Nabal and Abigail. Today we are taking up chapters 26-28, which contain three separate narratives. The first is an account of a second occasion when David spared the life of Saul. The second is a story of a second attempt by David to take refuge with the Philistine king Achish. And the third is Saul’s visit to a witch at Endor.
If you read 26:1-12, you can see there are some similarities between this account and the one recorded in chapter 24. For that reason some scholars have asserted that this story is a different version of the same event. But the differences in the two stories are much more significant than the similarities. Therefore this narrative is telling about a different event.
When David learned that Saul was pursuing him once again, he went to spy out Saul’s camp. Saul was sleeping in the center with his army camped around him (vv. 1-5). Then David decided to do a bold thing. It would have been a foolish thing had the Lord not supernaturally caused a deep sleep to come upon Saul and his men (v. 12). David and Abishai walked right into Saul’s camp. Abishai wanted to kill Saul with his own spear; but as in the cave at En Gedi previously, David refused to harm the Lord’s anointed (vv. 8-11). Instead David simply took Saul’s spear and a water jar so he could prove that he had been there (v. 12).
. In 26:13-25, again in a way similar to the occasion at the cave, David called out to prove that he had spared Saul’s life (vv. 13-16). Once again David challenged Saul’s determination to kill him by demonstrating that he was no threat to Saul (vv. 17-20).
And once again Saul said the right things. He admitted he had done wrong, and promised not to harm David. But notice that David paid no attention to that. Indeed Saul apparently was so eager to capture David that David decided, as he had done once before, to seek refuge from the Philistine king Achish of Gath.
Verse one of chapter 27 shows that David genuinely feared Saul, which was the reason he went to Gath. It is not possible so many centuries after the fact for us to know how local conditions at Gath might have changed after David’s last visit to Achish, recorded in chapter 21. At that time, David had to pretend he was crazy in order to save himself (vv. 10-15). But conditions evidently had changed, because now Achish gave David and his entire band refuge in Gath.
However David felt uncomfortable in Gath. So he asked Achish to provide space for himself and his people away from Gath in a country town. No substantive reason for the request is given, though based on what happened later in the narrative, I suspect it was because David wanted more freedom to use his troops without Achish seeing everything he was doing.
At any rate, Achish gave the town of Ziklag to David. Ziklag was located south of Gath near the southern border of Judah. This was ideal. On the one hand, it was far enough from Gath for David to pursue his own policies without interference from Achish. And on the other hand, it was a place where he was safe from Saul.
In 27:8-12 we see David take advantage of his situation in Ziklag by raiding various people groups in the area, groups that were not related to either the Philistines or Israel. Three groups are mentioned: the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites (vv. 8-9).
The Geshurites, mentioned in Josh. 13:2, were a Canaanite people who lived between Egypt and Philistia. There was another, different tribe of Geshurites that lived in northeast Gilead (Josh. 12:5; 13:11,13; Deut. 3:14). But they would not be involved in this situation.
The Girzites are mentioned only here, and thus are unknown. The Amalekites, on the other hand were the remnants of a traditional Canaanite enemy of Israel. You will recall that Saul defeated their army, as recorded in 1 Sam. 15. But the remnants of the group had gathered back together and were living in this same general area of Ziklag.
David evidently believed he could not rely on his relationship with Achish. So he kept his activities secret by taking no prisoners. When he made his raids against the three mentioned tribes, he not only took their animals and clothing and the like, but he also killed every man and woman, leaving no witnesses to carry the story of the raid to Achish.
Then when David reported to Achish, he lied about whom he had raided. He told Achish that he had raided towns of Israel, or Israel’s allies (the Jerahmeelites and Kenites both were tribes allied with Israel) rather than the common enemies of Philistia and Israel that he actually had raided (vv. 10-11). Apparently David thought Achish wanted to hear that. And it worked. Achish was pleased, thinking that he now had David under his thumb forever, because he assumed that David never could return to Israel (v. 12).
This development set up an interesting situation for David and his men. We see in 28:1-2 that the Philistines decided to go to war with Israel once more. And Achish told David that he expected David to join the Philistine effort against Saul. Notice the ambiguity of David’s reply. He didn’t actually commit himself to fight Saul, but Achish took David’s ambiguous answer to mean that he had made that commitment. As we shall see in chapter 29, the Lord delivered David and his men from the situation. But in the meantime, beginning in verse three, the author shifts his attention away from David back to Saul.
In verses 3-7 we see how much Saul had deteriorated mentally and spiritually. Samuel was dead. Saul had killed most of the priests. And he had alienated the prophets. In other words he had isolated himself spiritually. Now he was faced with a huge threat from the Philistines, and he was afraid.
Saul was positioned on Mt. Gilboa, an imposing mountain that rises to 1250 feet from a flat plain. From that vantage point Saul could see the Philistines coming. He needed guidance from the Lord, but he couldn’t get any. God gave him no dream, nor guidance by means of the Urim or the prophets. We can safely assume that the Lord did indeed give no guidance, because of Saul’s wickedness. So Saul was desperate.
He decided to consult a medium, a witch. Of course this was against the Mosaic Law (Lev. 19:31; 20:6; Deut. 18:10-11) and Saul’s own earlier commands (v. 9). But Saul was too desperate to worry about that. His servants knew of a medium at Endor, which was only about ten miles from Mt. Gilboa.
In verses 8-14 we see that Saul consulted the witch. What Saul requested is called necromancy. It is the attempt to call back the spirits of people who have died physically. The woman was suspicious. She had to be, because Saul himself had ordered such people as herself out of the land (vv. 8-9). Of course at that point she didn’t know it was Saul himself before her. Saul reassured her and told her what he wanted, namely, the spirit of Samuel brought back. So she began the session (vv. 10-11).
Notice that when Samuel’s spirit actually appeared the woman screamed. She also recognized Saul at that point, perhaps because of some unrecorded conversation (v. 12). The implication is that the woman did not expect Samuel actually to appear.
Over the years scholars have debated the role of the woman in this scene. Some have taken the position that it wasn’t really the spirit of Samuel that appeared, but an apparition produced by the woman. Others have argued that the woman actually had the demonic power to bring Samuel’s spirit forth. And her fear was due to the fact that she never before had experienced anything quite like what actually happened.
Still others have argued that it was Samuel’s spirit with whom they spoke, but it was the miraculous power of God that brought Samuel forth. And the woman’s fear was a result of her knowledge that she had nothing to do with it. The argument against this view is the question as to why the Lord would give Saul a revelation through a medium when he had chosen not to do it in the usual ways. But that doesn’t seem to me to be a decisive reason to reject this view, because the visit to the medium expressed even to Saul himself that he had hit bottom. And that was necessary.
At any rate, Samuel’s spirit appeared. Strangely it seems that Saul did not see it. Rather he depended on the witch’s description of Samuel to decide that the spirit actually was Samuel’s. When he was convinced, Saul bowed before the spirit (vv. 13-14).
In verses 15-19 Samuel proceeded to give Saul the bad news. God was now his enemy, because Saul had been disobedient as far back as the war with the Amalekites (ch. 15). The kingdom was to be taken from him and given to another. And he and his sons all would die in the coming battle.
The story plays out in verses 20-25. Saul had knelt in verse 14. But now he prostrated himself, completely depleted of strength. The woman and Saul’s attendants encouraged him to eat, which eventually he did. Then he went back to Gilboa.
Turning now to application, it seems to me that the great lesson here is Saul’s spiritual deterioration. His disobedience to God had caused God’s anointing to leave him. As we noted earlier, Samuel had died, and Saul had cut himself off from good spiritual advice by killing most of the priests and alienating the prophets. He was spiritually isolated, and desperate, so much so that he was willing to consult a witch for spiritual direction. The same thing kind of spiritual deterioration can happen in our lives if we willfully refuse to obey God and isolate ourselves from those who can help us stay on he right spiritual path. Final discussion?