Then said Saul to his servants, Seek me a woman that has a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and inquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that has a familiar spirit at Endor.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit.—He was left alone to himself, and now the last spark of life, the religious zeal which he had once shown even to excess, then also vanished; or, rather. as must always be the case when it has thus swerved from the moral principle which alone can guide it, was turned into a wild and desperate superstition. The wizards and familiar spirits, whom in a fit of righteous indignation he had put out of the land, now became his only resource—
Flectere si nequeo supcros, Acheronte movebo.
STANLEY: Jewish Church, vol. ii., Lect. 21
Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at En-dor.—One of these women, mistress or possessor of an ôb, or familiar spirit, who apparently was well known, dwelt at or was left at Endor. “East of Nain is a village of mud-huts, with hedges of prickly pear. This is En-dor, famous in connection with the tragic history of the death of Saul. The adventurous character of Saul’s night journey is very striking, when we consider that for the king to get to En-dor he had to pass the hostile camp, and would probably creep round the eastern shoulder of the hill hidden by the undulations of the ground.”—Conder: Tent Life in Palestine. The distance from the camp of Israel on Gilboa to En-dor was about ten miles further, owing perhaps to the circuit they would have to make round the camp of the Philistines. Jewish tradition speaks of the “two men” who accompanied Saul as Abner and Amasa, and further mentions that the witch of En-dor was the mother of the great Abner. If this be true, it would account for her having escaped the general pursuit after witches mentioned above in the early days of Saul.1 Samuel 28:7. Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit — That converses with evil spirits, or hath power to call up, or make to appear, the spirits of dead persons, in order to answer questions, or give information of what may be inquired of them: see on Deuteronomy 18:10-11. Saul mentions a woman rather than a man, because the weaker sex were most addicted to these practices. In this he acted like a distracted man, who now approved what he had before condemned. He had partly cut off, and partly frighted away wizards, sorcerers, and such as had, or professed to have, these familiar spirits, and now he seeks unto them! What will not fear and folly force men to! How such a practice as this came to be used at first, and on what pretence, we cannot now say; but it appears to have been very ancient, because we find express laws against it in the books of Moses. It is probable it had its rise in Egypt, where an over-strained search after, and pretence to knowledge, made many fall into the strangest absurdities and impieties that ever entered into the human heart. And in all likelihood, not only the Israelites, but the heathen, who, we find, in general used this practice, were first infected with it from thence. In all probability, those who pretended to this power were generally impostors, who only deceived those who consulted them by delusive tricks; yet we may draw this important conclusion from it, that it has always been a prevailing notion among all people, that the soul of man still subsists in another state after the body is dead; for this practice evidently supposes, and indeed was built on this belief.1 Samuel 28:6, though nearly synonymous with it. It is more frequently applied to inquiry of a false god, as e. g. 2 Kings 1:2; Isaiah 8:19; Isaiah 19:3.
En-dor (see Joshua 11:2 note) was seven or eight miles from the slopes of Gilboa, on the north of little Hermon, where the Philistines were encamped; so that Saul must have run great risks in going there.
7, 8. Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit—From the energetic measures which he himself had taken for extirpating the dealers in magical arts (the profession having been declared a capital offense), his most attached courtiers might have had reason to doubt the possibility of gratifying their master's wish. Anxious inquiries, however, led to the discovery of a woman living very secluded in the neighborhood, who had the credit of possessing the forbidden powers. To her house he repaired by night in disguise, accompanied by two faithful servants.
En-dor—"the fountain of the circle" (that figure being constantly affected by magicians) was situated directly on the other side of the Gilboa range, opposite Tabor; so that, in this midnight adventure, Saul had to pass over the shoulder of the ridge on which the Philistines were encamped.Seek me a woman, rather than a man; for he thought that sex most likely to be given to those wicked arts, as being the weaker sex, and so aptest to be deceived, and most prone to superstition, and ofttimes most malicious and revengeful. That hath a familiar spirit; one that converseth with the devil, and dead men’s ghosts, and by them can discover future things. See Isaiah 8:19.
His servants said to him; instead of dissuading him from this wicked and destructive practice, which they should and would have done, if they had either loved God or their king, they further him in it.
En-dor; a place in the tribe of Manasseh, within Jordan, not very fir from the place where the armies were encamped.
seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and inquire of her; that was mistress of the bottle, a ventriloquist, that spoke out of her belly, or seemed to do; who had the spirit of Python or divination, conversed with the devil, and by his assistance pretended to bring up a dead person, and thereby foretell things to come; See Gill on Deuteronomy 18:11; a woman is pitched upon, because such were most addicted to those wicked arts, and being of the weaker sex, were more easily imposed upon by Satan; and Saul showed himself to be as weak, to seek after such persons; but being left of God, he acted the part of a mad man, as well as of a bad man:
and his servants said to him, behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor; a city in the tribe of Manasseh, of which see Joshua 17:11; it was not far from Gilboa. Mr. Maundrell speaks (c) of it as near Nain, at the foot of Mount Hermon; and turning, a little southward, he says, you have in view the high mountains of Gilboa. It is a tradition of the Jews (d) that this woman was the mother of Abner, the wife of Zephaniah; some say her name was Zephaniah; but, as Abarbinel observes, if so she would have known Saul, and also Saul would have known her, and what she was, if, as they say, she was spared because of her relation to him; nor needed he to have inquired of his servants for such a woman.Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and inquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)7. that hath a familiar spirit] Lit. “possessor of an Ob.” See on 1 Samuel 28:3, and cp. Acts 16:16. Cp. Virg. Aen. VII. 312:
“Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo.”
“If heaven bends not, I will stir hell beneath.”
En-dor] = fountain of the dwelling, was on the northern slope of the Little Hermon (Neby Dûhy), where the village of Endôr still marks the site. It was famous as the scene of Sisera’s defeat and death (Psalm 83:10).Verses 7, 8. - Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit. Hebrew, "owner of an ob" (see on ver. 3). This determination of Saul proves how obstinate was his self-will. He wanted an answer simply that he might know what was about to happen, not that he might receive guidance and counsel from God. From his bidding them seek him out "a woman mistress of an ob," we gather that women were the usual claimants to these occult powers, just as now they are the most successful clairvoyantes, Endor - "the spring of the round," i.e. perhaps of the dwelling, houses being originally circular in shape, like tents - lay a little to the northeast of Shunem, and it was therefore a hazardous matter for Saul to visit it. Condor ('Tent-Work,' 1:122) says, "East of Nain is a village of mud huts, with hedges of prickly pear. This is Endor, famous in connection with the tragic history of the death of Saul. The adventurous character of Saul's night journey is very striking when we consider that the Philistines pitched in Shunem on the southern slopes of the mountain, and that Saul's army was at Jezreel; thus, to arrive at Endor he had to pass the hostile camp, and would probably creep round the eastern shoulder of the hill, hidden by the undulations of the plain, as an Arab will often now advance unseen close by you in a fold of the ground." He proceeds to speculate upon the cave in which the sorceress may have lived, dismissing those in the town as too modern, but suggesting one on the hillside. But there is nothing in the narrative to suggest that she lived in a cave, but rather the contrary, and the idea may be dismissed as due to the imagination of painters. As the journey was very dangerous, Saul disguised himself, and went by night, accompanied only by two men; and nothing could more plainly set before us his mental anguish, and also his intense desire to pry into the secrets of futurity, than this strange journey. All faith and hope are gone, and a feverish excitement, ready to catch at any aid, however lawless and untrustworthy, had taken their place. In this state of mind he arrives at the woman's dwelling, and says, Divine unto me by the ob. Though divination was strictly forbidden (Deuteronomy 18:10, 14), yet we find the diviner (A.V. prudent) in high popular estimation in Isaiah 3:2; and it was probably a lucrative profession, or this woman would not have been willing to incur so great a danger as was involved in its practice. Bring me him up, etc. The fancy that we can see the spirits of the dead is a most natural and enduring superstition, and it seems generally assumed that they must have some knowledge not accessible to the living. It must be said for Saul that he did not become the victim of this folly until after his reason was disturbed, and as a punishment for heinous sins. 1 Samuel 28:2), "Thereby (on this occasion) thou shalt learn what thy servant will do." This reply was ambiguous. The words "what thy servant will do" contained no distinct promise of faithful assistance in the war with the Israelites, as the expression "thy servant" is only the ordinary periphrasis for "I" in conversation with a superior. And there is just as little ground for inferring from 1 Samuel 29:8 that David was disposed to help the Philistines against Saul and the Israelites; for, as Calovius has observed, even there he gives no such promise, but "merely asks for information, that he may discover the king's intentions and feelings concerning him: he simply protests that he has done nothing to prevent his placing confidence in him, or to cause him to shut him out of the battle." Judging from his previous acts, it would necessarily have been against his conscience to fight against his own people. Nevertheless, in the situation in which he was placed he did not venture to give a distinct refusal to the summons of the king. He therefore gave an ambiguous answer, in the hope that God would show him a way out of this conflict between his inmost conviction and his duty to obey the Philistian king. He had no doubt prayed earnestly for this in his heart. And the faithful God helped His servant: first of all by the fact that Achish accepted his indefinite declaration as a promise of unconditional fidelity, as his answer "so (לכן, itaque, i.e., that being the case, if thy conduct answers to thy promise) "I will make thee the keeper of my head" (i.e., of my person) implies; and still more fully by the fact that the princes of the Philistines overturned the decision of their king (1 Samuel 29:3.).
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