Shmuel I Twenty-Eight: Back from the Dead

So David is living in exile. But back in Israel, we’re told once again that Samuel has died. I’m not sure if this is just meant to be a reminder, or if the timeline of the narrative is out of sync, but the people are back to mourning. In the same verse, we hear that Saul has banished necromancers and seers from the land. Are these things linked because Samuel was a prophet? Nothing further is said, at least not right now.

At the same time, the Philistines are massing on the border, and Saul is afraid. “And Saul inquired of the Lord, and the Lord did not answer; neither by dreams, nor by the Urim, nor by the prophets (Samuel I 28:6).” Saul is desperate for some divine guidance, so in spite of his own decree, he goes in search of a necromanceress. Sidenote: that’s a weird word to type. But moving on.

Saul’s servants find a sorceress in En-dor. So Saul goes to her, in disguise, so that she won’t know that he’s the king. Of course, if she supposedly has these magical powers, I’d assume she’s not easily fooled, but he tries. He asks her to conjure up Samuel, who is now dead, for him. She succeeds, and realizes that she’s working for the king himself. He reassures her that it’s okay, and Samuel comes to them from beyond the grave.

“And Samuel said to Saul, ‘Why have you roused me, to bring me up?’ And Saul said, ‘I am greatly distressed, and the Philistines are battling against me, and God has turned away from me, and has not answered me anymore, neither through the prophets, nor through dreams. And I have called you to let me know what I shall do (Samuel I 28:15).”

Samuel isn’t particularly sympathetic. He reminds Saul that God has deserted him and gone to David, because Saul failed to follow instructions in the battle with the Amalekites. As a result, God is going to let the Philistines win this war. Saul collapses at the news. The woman tries to feed and comfort him, but Saul is inconsolable. Eventually, he eats something, and then goes on his way. He must be terrified, knowing the disaster that’s to come, and being powerless to prevent it. In this instance, knowledge isn’t really power. It only increases dread of the inevitable.

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