A view towards Bishopsteignton in mist. As the mist clears, everything becomes clearer

1 Samuel 28:1-25, 29:1-11, 30:1-31

Philistines attack, Saul terrified.
Witch of Endor: Samuel.
David beats Amalekites.

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David was living in Philistine territory with his rebel army, carrying out raids into unsuspecting towns – where he left no survivors, and telling the Philistine king Achish that he had raided Israelite settlements. Achish believed that David had truly rebelled against Saul and therefore would be happy to join him when he next attacked Israel.

Read 1 Samuel 28:1-2

1 In those days the Philistines gathered their forces to fight against Israel. Achish said to David, ‘You must understand that you and your men will accompany me in the army.’

2 David said, ‘Then you will see for yourself what your servant can do.’

Achish replied, ‘Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.’

Lies often get us into trouble! David must now ‘put his money where his mouth is’ and join the Philistines fighting against Israel.

Read 1 Samuel 28:3

3 Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in his own town of Ramah. Saul had expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land.

Saul had an ambivalent attitude to religion. Outwardly he knew the right things to do, but it seems he had no personal faith; rather he would rely on those who seemed to have a connection with God. Now Samuel was dead, Saul felt very vulnerable.

Read 1 Samuel 28:4-7

4 The Philistines assembled and came and set up camp at Shunem, while Saul gathered all Israel and set up camp at Gilboa. 5 When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart. 6 He enquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets. 7 Saul then said to his attendants, ‘Find me a woman who is a medium, so that I may go and enquire of her.’

‘There is one in Endor,’ they said.

‘Terror’ is a powerful word (v5) and it gives a good insight into Saul’s condition.

He faced certain defeat and now desperately he tried to enlist the Lord’s help – but to no avail. So he turned to a medium – a practice banned in the law of God: read Deuteronomy 18:9-13

9 When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. 10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practises divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. 13 You must be blameless before the Lord your God.

Read 1 Samuel 28:8-10

8 So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. ‘Consult a spirit for me,’ he said, ‘and bring up for me the one I name.’

9 But the woman said to him, ‘Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?’

10 Saul swore to her by the Lord, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, you will not be punished for this.’

What do you make of verse 10? (Compare with Jeremiah 5:2)

‘As God is my witness.’ ‘For God’s sake.’ When people swear using the name of God, they attempt to add weight to their utterances, but there can be no value in the words if God himself is unknown to the person swearing.

Saul had had experience of God, but effectively they had turned their backs on each other. How could he now hope to invoke the name of God just when he is attempting to sin against him?

Read 1 Samuel 28:11-14

11 Then the woman asked, ‘Whom shall I bring up for you?’

‘Bring up Samuel,’ he said.

12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, ‘Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!’

13 The king said to her, ‘Don’t be afraid. What do you see?’

The woman said, ‘I see a ghostly figure coming up out of the earth.’

14 ‘What does he look like?’ he asked.

‘An old man wearing a robe is coming up,’ she said.

Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.

Just as the Lord can empower people with his Spirit, so too does Satan use spiritists and mediums. That is why we are instructed to have nothing to do with them; Satan’s power is real and must never be underestimated.

But what happened here was a shock to the medium – this was something she wasn’t expecting. I believe God actually permitted Samuel’s soul to return from heaven only to confirm to Saul the prophecies he had spoken while he was on earth.

Read 1 Samuel 28:15-20

15 Samuel said to Saul, ‘Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?’

‘I am in great distress,’ Saul said. ‘The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has departed from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do.’

16 Samuel said, ‘Why do you consult me, now that the Lord has departed from you and become your enemy? 17 The Lord has done what he predicted through me. The Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbours – to David. 18 Because you did not obey the Lord or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the Lord has done this to you today. 19 The Lord will deliver both Israel and you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.’

20 Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, filled with fear because of Samuel’s words. His strength was gone, for he had eaten nothing all that day and all that night.

Saul had sinned and now nothing or nobody could prevent the inevitable happening. Tomorrow he and his sons would be killed, and Israel defeated.

‘Saul fell full length on the ground, filled with fear’.

Read 1 Samuel 28:21-25

21 When the woman came to Saul and saw that he was greatly shaken, she said, ‘Look, your servant has obeyed you. I took my life in my hands and did what you told me to do. 22 Now please listen to your servant and let me give you some food so that you may eat and have the strength to go on your way.’

23 He refused and said, ‘I will not eat.’

But his men joined the woman in urging him, and he listened to them. He got up from the ground and sat on the couch.

24 The woman had a fattened calf at the house, which she slaughtered at once. She took some flour, kneaded it and baked bread without yeast. 25 Then she set it before Saul and his men, and they ate. That same night they got up and left.

Saul was terrified; but we see no confession of sin, no repentance, no offering of sacrifice. There was no turning back to God – he would face the coming day in his own strength – and fail.

Meanwhile, we left David in a dilemma – how could he fight with the Philistines against his own people? The Lord could easily deal with that!

Read 1 Samuel 29:1-5

1 The Philistines gathered all their forces at Aphek, and Israel camped by the spring in Jezreel. 2 As the Philistine rulers marched with their units of hundreds and thousands, David and his men were marching at the rear with Achish. 3 The commanders of the Philistines asked, ‘What about these Hebrews?’

Achish replied, ‘Is this not David, who was an officer of Saul king of Israel? He has already been with me for over a year, and from the day he left Saul until now, I have found no fault in him.’

4 But the Philistine commanders were angry with Achish and said, ‘Send the man back, that he may return to the place you assigned him. He must not go with us into battle, or he will turn against us during the fighting. How better could he regain his master’s favour than by taking the heads of our own men? 5 Isn’t this the David they sang about in their dances:

‘“Saul has slain his thousands,

and David his tens of thousands”?’

Although Achish had been referred to as king, he was only king of Gath. There were obviously more powerful leaders who ignored Achish’s protestations, rejecting any idea that a turncoat rebel could be relied on in battle. David had to go.

Read 1 Samuel 29:6-11

6 So Achish called David and said to him, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, you have been reliable, and I would be pleased for you to serve with me in the army. From the day you came to me until today, I have found no fault in you, but the rulers don’t approve of you. 7 Now turn back and go in peace; do nothing to displease the Philistine rulers.’

8 ‘But what have I done?’ asked David. ‘What have you found against your servant from the day I came to you until now? Why can’t I go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?’

9 Achish answered, ‘I know that you have been as pleasing in my eyes as an angel of God; nevertheless, the Philistine commanders have said, “He must not go up with us into battle.” 10 Now get up early, along with your master’s servants who have come with you, and leave in the morning as soon as it is light.’

11 So David and his men got up early in the morning to go back to the land of the Philistines, and the Philistines went up to Jezreel.

I’d love to know what happened next between the Philistine army and Saul, but before that, the author of 1 Samuel needed to record what happened to David.

By now he was some way to the north-east – it took him and his men three days to return home to Ziklag.

Read 1 Samuel 30:1-2

1 David and his men reached Ziklag on the third day. Now the Amalekites had raided the Negev and Ziklag. They had attacked Ziklag and burned it, 2 and had taken captive the women and everyone else in it, both young and old. They killed none of them, but carried them off as they went on their way.

Just as David had raided towns and villages to the south in Amalekite territory (and lied to Achish that he had raided in the Negev), so too the Amalekites raided to the north – actually in the Negev, but also into Philistine territory – including David’s adopted town.

Read 1 Samuel 30:3-6

3 When David and his men reached Ziklag, they found it destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. 4 So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep. 5 David’s two wives had been captured – Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail, the widow of Nabal of Carmel. 6 David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the Lord his God.

What a difference between Saul and David. David turned to the Lord and immediately was strengthened. But what to do?

David map

Read 1 Samuel 30:7-10

7 Then David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelek, ‘Bring me the ephod.’ Abiathar brought it to him, 8 and David enquired of the Lord, ‘Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?’

‘Pursue them,’ he answered. ‘You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue.’

9 David and the six hundred men with him came to the Besor Valley, where some stayed behind. 10 Two hundred of them were too exhausted to cross the valley, but David and the other four hundred continued the pursuit.

David and his men had been on the march now for a week. Three days with the Philistines, three days to return, and now a day’s forced march to find the Amalekites. No wonder many of his men were exhausted.

Read 1 Samuel 30:11-15

11 They found an Egyptian in a field and brought him to David. They gave him water to drink and food to eat – 12 part of a cake of pressed figs and two cakes of raisins. He ate and was revived, for he had not eaten any food or drunk any water for three days and three nights.

13 David asked him, ‘Who do you belong to? Where do you come from?’

He said, ‘I am an Egyptian, the slave of an Amalekite. My master abandoned me when I became ill three days ago. 14 We raided the Negev of the Kerethites, some territory belonging to Judah and the Negev of Caleb. And we burned Ziklag.’

15 David asked him, ‘Can you lead me down to this raiding party?’

He answered, ‘Swear to me before God that you will not kill me or hand me over to my master, and I will take you down to them.’

As a slave, the Egyptian had no status and little value; when he became too ill to march he was simply abandoned. He owed no allegiance to either side – he just wanted to avoid the inevitable punishment.

Read 1 Samuel 30:16

16 He led David down, and there they were, scattered over the countryside, eating, drinking and revelling because of the great amount of plunder they had taken from the land of the Philistines and from Judah.

Picture the scene, an army gorging itself on the plunder from a successful series of raids. It was evening, and without a care in the world they were looking forward to a night of excess.

Read 1 Samuel 30:17-25

17 David fought them from dusk until the evening of the next day, and none of them got away, except four hundred young men who rode off on camels and fled. 18 David recovered everything the Amalekites had taken, including his two wives. 19 Nothing was missing: young or old, boy or girl, plunder or anything else they had taken. David brought everything back. 20 He took all the flocks and herds, and his men drove them ahead of the other livestock, saying, ‘This is David’s plunder.’

21 Then David came to the two hundred men who had been too exhausted to follow him and who were left behind at the Besor Valley. They came out to meet David and the men with him. As David and his men approached, he asked them how they were. 22 But all the evil men and troublemakers among David’s followers said, ‘Because they did not go out with us, we will not share with them the plunder we recovered. However, each man may take his wife and children and go.’

23 David replied, ‘No, my brothers, you must not do that with what the Lord has given us. He has protected us and delivered into our hands the raiding party that came against us. 24 Who will listen to what you say? The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle. All shall share alike.’ 25 David made this a statute and ordinance for Israel from that day to this.

It had been over a week now – what had happened to Saul and the Philistines?

Did David have any idea? We don’t know, but he may have had an inkling. What he did next was a very shrewd political move.

Read 1 Samuel 30:26-31

26 When David reached Ziklag, he sent some of the plunder to the elders of Judah, who were his friends, saying, ‘Here is a gift for you from the plunder of the Lord’s enemies.’

27 David sent it to those who were in Bethel, Ramoth Negev and Jattir; 28 to those in Aroer, Siphmoth, Eshtemoa 29 and Rakal; to those in the towns of the Jerahmeelites and the Kenites; 30 to those in Hormah, Bor Ashan, Athak 31 and Hebron; and to those in all the other places where he and his men had roamed.

Wherever David had been forced to flee from Saul, people had obviously been aware of him, and some had contributed supplies to him and his men (v26: ‘who were his friends’). It was no secret that Saul had simply pursued him out of jealousy so they were obviously sympathetic to David’s cause.

David now repaid their generosity and further cemented relationships.

1 Samuel 16 1 Samuel 18 NIV Copyright