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Bible: What Does 1 Samuel 27-31 Teach Us About Philistines and Mediums?

Updated on November 29, 2016



David in Philistia

Appearing to lose sight of his promised royal destiny, a fearful and discouraged David escapes from Saul to seek asylum in Gath, taking his men and their families with him (vv. 1-3).

Understanding that David resides in Philistia, Saul remains content to stay in Israel (v. 4).

Achish, king of Gath, honors David's request for a quiet, country home in Ziklag, where the exile then lives for eighteen months (vv. 5-7).

During his stint in Philistia, David busies himself with annihilating rival nations and confiscating their goods (vv. 8-9).

As a servant of the king, he directly reports his exploits to Achish daily (v. 10), making the Philistine believe he would remain under the latter's permanent command (vv. 11-12).

Samuel Appears to Saul


Saul at Gilboa

1 Samuel 28

Confident of David's defection, Achish makes his servant a chief guardian in a battle against Israel (vv. 1-2).

At this point, the author inserts an interlude (vv. 3-25) before Saul's fall at Gilboa.

[After completing his account of the Philistine rejection of David (chapter 29) and the episode of David's conflict with the Amalekites (chapter 30), the author resumes the narration of Saul's defeat and death on Mount Gilboa (chapter 31) which he begins here in verses one and two].

Having banned all spiritualistic resources from Israel after Samuel's death, Saul now stands terrified with his troops at Gilboa, while the Philistines glare at him from Shunem (vv. 3-5).

[By now, Saul must have realized that he was on his own.

Still, he attempts one last time to acquire God's guidance, but to no avail (v. 6)].

The Witch of Endor


The Prophecy of Samuel

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Saul and the "Witch" at Endor

Forced into a corner, the wayward king behaves like a typical, elitist official, engaging in secretly what he decries and prohibits publicly.

In Saul's case, the act is consulting a medium from En Dor (v. 7).

He pays her a nightly visit incognito, and asks her to "call up" a spirit (v. 8).

Fearing punishment if word of her transgression should come to Saul, the "witch" hesitates to grant his request (v. 9).

However, when her customer assures her with an oath that she would suffer no harm, she accedes to his wishes and summons the spirit of Samuel (vv. 10-11).

[Apparently, the medium actually saw and heard from Samuel, not some demonic impersonator.

Even though He expressly forbade such a practice, God allowed the dead prophet to respond this particular time].

She cries out in terror when an old, mantle-covered shade ascends out of the earth and appears before her, not necessarily because her seances never worked before, but because the spirit tells her that her visitor is Saul (vv. 12-14)!

Having heard Saul's reason for "disturbing" him—he is receiving no help from God regarding the Philistines—Samuel rebukes the terrified man with a simple question (vv. 15-16).

Then he explains again what Saul already knew quite well: his disobedience concerning the destruction of Amalek caused God to rip the kingdom from his hand and give it to David (vv. 17-18; cf. 15:27-28).

Samuel prophesies not only that Saul and his sons would die at the hands of the Philistines on the next day, but also that Israel would lose the battle (v. 19).

Exhausted from anxiety and lack of food, Saul nevertheless initially refuses bread from the medium (vv. 20-23a).

However, when his servants urge him to eat, Saul sits down to what may have amounted to the last meal of a condemned man.

Later that night, they leave for battle (vv. 23b-25).

The Philistines Reject David

1 Samuel 29

Day comes and the Philistines review their troops at Aphek (a site near Shunem and Jezreel where Israel camped) [vv. 1-2a; see 27:4].

Seeing David and his men at the rear, the princes angrily question Achish's judgment (which had found his prize defector faultless), and order him to send the famous Israelite back to Ziklag, fearing David's reputation as a mighty enemy of Philistia (vv. 2b-5).

Achish breaks the news to David with great sensitivity and affection (vv. 6-7), but the latter complains about the lords' decision, asking what wrong he had done to deserve their disfavor (v. 8).

The king of Gath repeats his feelings toward David, but also makes clear that he does not have the final word on the matter (v. 9).

Obeying Achish's command, David rises early the next day and returns to Philistia (vv. 10-11).



David's Rescues Captives from Amalekites

1 Samuel 30

Entering Ziklag after traveling three days, David and his men discover that Amalekites had burned down the town and taken captive all the families, including the king's two wives (vv. 1-3, 5).

Filled with grief, the husbands contemplate stoning David; nevertheless, the king finds strength and protection in God (vv. 4, 6).

After employing Abiathar's ephod to ask Yahweh's permission to pursue the kidnappers—a request which He grants and in which endeavor He promises total success—David takes two-thirds of his six hundred followers and begins the chase from the brook Besor (vv. 7-10).

Along the way, they find the Egyptian servant of an Amalekite abandoned, sick, and hungry, and they show him kindness, giving him food and water (vv. 11-13).

Once David learns that this servant participated in Ziklag's destruction, he requests his guidance (vv. 14-15a).

The young fellow agrees to lead the Israelites, provided they spare his life (v. 15b).

Finding the Amalekites partying up a storm with their booty, the Israelites decimate all but four hundred who flee on camels and escape capture (vv. 16-17).

David recovers all that he thought he had lost, and confiscates even more livestock (vv. 18-20).

Upon his return to the Brook Besor, and despite the greedy objections of some ''wicked and worthless men," the king generously and righteously rewards those who "stayed by the stuff" (the two hundred weary ones) with the same amount of spoil he gave those who pursued the Amalekites (vv. 21-25).

Recognizing that the LORD had preserved Israel (v. 23), David apportions the spoil to the elders and friends in more than thirteen cities that showed hospitality to him and his men as they traveled through the land (vv. 26-31).

The Death of Saul

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John MacArthur: Pastor/Teacher

Saul Commits Suicide on Gilboa

1 Samuel 31

Meanwhile, the Philistines rout the Israelites and kill Saul's sons on Mount Gilboa (vv. 1-2). With arrows protruding out of different body parts, Saul commands his armor-bearer to kill him with a sword, so that the enemy might not torture him (vv. 3-4a).

When his servant, out of fear, refuses to comply, Saul falls on his sword (v. 4b). After witnessing the king’s suicide, even the armor-bearer "falls on his sword," making it a clean sweep for the Philistines (vv. 5-6).

Seeing no hope for the battle, many Israelites abandon their cities to the enemy (v. 7).

On the next day Saul's enemies find his body and those of his sons; they decapitate him, put his armor in their Ashtoreth temple, and hang his body on the wall of Beth Shan (vv. 8-10).

This horrible news finds its way to Jabesh Gilead, so that soon many men depart to retrieve the dishonored bodies (vv. 11-12a).

Once they return to Jabesh, they burn the corpses, bury the bones, and fast for a week in mourning (vv. 12b-13).


1. Why did Elkanah have two wives? Did Israel not believe in monogamy? Or did he simply not obey the commandment?

2. Was Eli's reprimand of Hannah a serious result of prejudice or an honest mistake in his zeal for righteousness?

3. Discuss the theology of Hannah's prayer.

4. How much responsibility does Eli bear for the character of his sons?

5. What was Israel's sin (Chapter four)? Do Christians commit the same offense? How?

6. Why did so many die at Beth Shemesh for the apparent sins of a few?

7. What characterizes a "king . . . like all the nations"?

8. Given the occurrence in chapter ten, do you believe Saul was a saved man?

9. What character deficiency caused Saul to lose his kingship?

10. What caused Samuel's prolonged grief over Saul's rejection? Have you been grieving about something or someone for too long?

11. What ethic does David use to justify his deceptions and lies?

12. What does Saul mean by Jonathan's choosing David "to your own shame and to the shame of your mother's nakedness"? Does it relate to Leviticus 18 in any way?

13. Why does Saul continue to show remorse about his persecution when he (and everyone else) knows very well that he does not mean it?

14. What was Samuel doing, or what was his state of mind, that the seance disturbed him?

15. Why does Saul think that God and Samuel represented two separate opinions? Was he so desperate that he was not able to understand that Samuel spoke for God?

16. Why in the Law does God prohibit the eating of fat?

© 2013 glynch1


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