1 Samuel 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.
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(3) Now Samuel was dead.—A statement here repeated to introduce the strange, sad story which follows. The LXX., followed by the Vulg. and Syriac Versions, omitted it, not understanding the reason for its repetition.

And Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land.—This statement is also inserted explanatory of what follows. In other words, the compiler says: “Now Samuel, whom Saul was so anxious to see, was dead and buried, and the possessors of familiar spirits, whose aid Saul was about to invoke to carry out his purpose, had long since been put out, by his own order, from the land.” “Those that had familiar spirits”—those that had at their command ôboth, rendered “familiar spirits,” the plural form of ôb, a word which has never been explained with any certainty. Scholars think they can connect it with ôb, to be hollow, and ôb is then “the hollow thing,” or “bag;” and so it came to signify, “one who speaks in a hollow voice.” It hence appears to mean the distended belly of the ventriloquist, a word by which the LXX. always render ôb. It thus is used to designate the male or female ventriloquist, as in 1Samuel 27:3; 1Samuel 27:9, and Deuteronomy 18:11, &c., and also the spirit which was supposed to speak from the belly of the ventriloquist; in this sense it is so used in 1Samuel 27:8-9, and Isaiah 29:4. This is the explanation given by Erdmann in Lange, and the Bishop of Bath and Wells in the Speaker’s Commentary.

The wizards.—Literally, the wise people. These are ever connected with the ôboth, “those that had familiar spirits.” The name seems to have been given in irony to these dealers in occult and forbidden arts. The Mosaic command respecting these people was clear and decisive: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch.(or wizard) to live” (Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 20:27). Saul, in his early zeal, we read, had actively put in force these edicts of Moses, which apparently, in the lax state of things which had long prevailed in Israel, had been suffered to lie in abeyance.

1 Samuel 28:3. Now Samuel was dead, &c. — This was observed before, 1 Samuel 25:1, but is repeated here again to show that Saul was now sensible of his loss, wanting his advice in a time of great distress. Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits — According to the divine command, Leviticus 20:27, which perhaps he had executed in the beginning of his reign, when he was directed by Samuel. 28:1-6 David could not refuse Achish without danger. If he promised assistance, and then stood neuter, or went over to the Israelites, he would behave with ingratitude and treachery. If he fought against Israel, he would sin greatly. It seemed impossible that he should get out of this difficulty with a clear conscience; but his evasive answer, intended to gain time, was not consistent with the character of an Israelite indeed. Troubles are terrors to the children of disobedience. In his distress, Saul inquired of the Lord. He did not seek in faith, but with a double, unstable mind. Saul had put the law in force against those that had familiar spirits, Ex 22:18. Many seem zealous against, sin, when they are any way hurt by it, who have no concern for the glory of God, nor any dislike of sin as sin. Many seem enemies to sin in others, while they indulge it in themselves. Saul will drive the devil out of his kingdom, yet harbours him in his heart by envy and malice. How foolish to consult those whom, according to God's law, he had endeavoured to root out!It does not appear when Saul had suppressed witchcraft; it was probably in the early part of his reign.

Familiar spirits ... wizards - i. e. ventriloquists ... wise or cunning men. See Leviticus 19:31 note.

3. Now Samuel is dead, &c.—This event is here alluded to as affording an explanation of the secret and improper methods by which Saul sought information and direction in the present crisis of his affairs. Overwhelmed in perplexity and fear, he yet found the common and legitimate channels of communication with Heaven shut against him. And so, under the impulse of that dark, distempered, superstitious spirit which had overmastered him, he resolved, in desperation, to seek the aid of one of those fortune telling impostors whom, in accordance with the divine command (Le 19:31; 20:6, 27; De 18:11), he had set himself formerly to exterminate from his kingdom. Samuel was dead: this is mentioned here as the reason why Saul did not inquire of Samuel; which, if he had now been alive, he would have done.

In his own city, where he had his birth and education, and most settled habitation, 1 Samuel 19:18.

Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards; according to God’s command, Leviticus 19:31 20:6,27 Deu 18:11. This he did, either by Samuel’s instigation; or from a conceit that the evil spirit came upon him by some of their means; or that he might gain the repute of a religious prince, which was very useful to him; or that he might quiet his troubled conscience, and please God as far as his interest would give him leave. And this is here related, partly to show that a hypocrite and wicked man may obey some of God’s commands, and principally to bring in the following history.

Out of the land of Israel. Now Samuel was dead,.... 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.

Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had lamented him, and buried him in Ramah, even in his own city. And Saul had {b} put away those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land.

(b) According to the commandment of God, Ex 22:18, De 18:10,11.

3–14. Saul resorts to the witch of Endor

3. Now Samuel, &c.] From 1 Samuel 28:3 to the end of the chapter is an independent narrative. 1 Samuel 28:3 states by way of introduction certain facts as the key to the incidents about to be related: (1) the death and burial of Samuel (1 Samuel 25:1); (2) Saul’s expulsion of the soothsayers. This he probably did in the early part of his reign. An allusion to it may be traced in 1 Samuel 15:23. It was In accordance with the Law. See Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:27; Deuteronomy 18:10 ff.

those that had familiar spirits] The Hebrew word Ob signifies (1) the demon or spirit supposed to speak through the necromancer; (2) the possessor of such a spirit. It is generally rendered by the Sept. “ventriloquist” (ἐγγαστρίμυθος), probably because the spirit was supposed to speak from the necromancer’s belly, not as some suppose, because ventriloquists abused their powers for imposing upon the credulous.

the wizards] Wizard, connected with wit and wise, is an exact equivalent of the Heb. word, which means “a knowing one:” one who is supposed to possess a knowledge of the future by mysterious means.Verse 3. - Samuel was dead. A repetition of 1 Samuel 25:1, inserted to explain Saul's conduct, as is the other fact, that Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits, etc. We are not told when Saul did this; but at the commencement of his reign, when he brought the ark to Nob, he was probably earnest generally in his observance of the precepts of the Mosaic law. Familiar spirits. Hebrew, oboth, the plural of ob, a leathern bottle. It is generally taken to refer to the distended belly of the conjurer, into which the summoned spirit of the dead was supposed to enter, and thence speak; for which reason the Septuagint renders the word" ventriloquist," and is followed by most modern commentators. Wizards. Hebrew, "knowing ones," from the verb to know; just as wizard comes from the old verb to wiss. With ignorant people unusual knowledge is always looked upon with suspicion; but these supposed magicians professed a knowledge to which they bad no claim. From Ziklag David made an attack upon the Geshurites, Gerzites, and Amalekites, smote them without leaving a man alive, and returned with much booty. The occasion of this attack is not mentioned, as being a matter of indifference in relation to the chief object of the history; but it is no doubt to be sought for in plundering incursions made by these tribes into the land of Israel. For David would hardly have entered upon such a war in the situation in which he was placed at that time without some such occasion, seeing that it would be almost sure to bring him into suspicion with Achish, and endanger his safety. ויּעל, "he advanced," the verb being used, as it frequently is, to denote the advance of an army against a people or town (see at Joshua 8:1). At the same time, the tribes which he attacked may have had their seat upon the mountain plateau in the northern portion of the desert of Paran, so that David was obliged to march up to reach them. פּשׁט, to invade for the purpose of devastation and plunder. Geshuri is a tribe mentioned in Joshua 13:2 as living in the south of the territory of the Philistines, and is a different tribe from the Geshurites in the north-east of Gilead (Joshua 12:5; Joshua 13:11, Joshua 13:13; Deuteronomy 3:14). These are the only passages in which they are mentioned. The Gerzites, or Gizrites according to the Keri, are entirely unknown. Bonfrere and Clericus suppose them to be the Gerreni spoken of in 2 Macc. 13:24, who inhabited the town of Gerra, between Rhinocolura and Pelusium (Strabo, xvi. 760), or Gerron (Ptol. iv. 5). This conjecture is a possible one, but is very uncertain nevertheless, as the Gerzites certainly dwelt somewhere in the desert of Arabia. At any rate Grotius and Ewald cannot be correct in their opinion that they were the inhabitants of Gezer (Joshua 10:33). The Amalekites were the remnant of this old hereditary foe of the Israelites, who had taken to flight on Saul's war of extermination, and had now assembled again (see at 1 Samuel 15:8-9). "For they inhabit the land, where you go from of old to Shur, even to the land of Egypt." The עשׁר before מעולם may be explained from the fact that בּואך is not adverbial here, but is construed according to its form as an infinitive: literally, "where from of old thy coming is to Shur." עשׁר cannot have crept into the text through a copyist's mistake, as such a mistake would not have found its way into all the MSS. The fact that the early translators did not render the word proves nothing against its genuineness, but merely shows that the translators regarded it as superfluous. Moreover, the Alexandrian text is decidedly faulty here, and עולם is confounded with עלם, ἀπὸ Γελάμ. Shur is the desert of Jifar, which is situated in front of Egypt (as in 1 Samuel 15:7). These tribes were nomads, and had large flocks, which David took with him as booty when he had smitten the tribes themselves. After his return, David betook himself to Achish, to report to the Philistian king concerning his enterprise, and deceive him as to its true character.
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