Topical Studies

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What the Bible says about King Saul's State of Mind
(From Forerunner Commentary)

1 Samuel 28:4-8

The Philistines encamp at Shunem, a town that sits at the southern foot of the hill of Moreh at the eastern end of the Jezreel Valley. At this location, not only has the Philistine army effectively cut the northern tribes of Israel off from the southern ones, but if it could defeat Saul's forces, it would also have easy access to the Israelite highlands to the south along the Ridge Route. For this reason, Saul places his troops on the northern slopes of Mount Gilboa, directly opposite the Philistine forces. He probably hopes that the rocky hillside will limit the famed chariots of his enemies and stop the Philistine campaign in its tracks.

The two armies stare at each other across the valley. “When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly” (I Samuel 28:5). The king fears so much because the Philistine army seems invincible. No count of soldiers who took part in the battle is recorded, but it seems plausible that the Israelite forces were greatly outnumbered, bore inferior weapons (see I Samuel 13:18-22), and lacked horses and chariots to counter those of the Philistines.

Adding to Saul's ill-concealed terror is the fact that God has refused to answer any of his supplications (I Samuel 28:6). In earlier days, he had been able to inquire of Him through Samuel, but since the prophet had been dead for five years, all communication had stopped. Saul has had no inspired dreams to guide him, and he had gone to the Tabernacle to beseech the high priest to use the Urim and Thummin but to no avail. All other prophets in the land had proven themselves useless, giving him not one word from God.

So, Saul reasons absurdly, if God had spoken to him only through Samuel, he would seek the prophet, dead or not. He would try to find a medium, if one were nearby, so she could put him in touch with the dead prophet and receive an answer. Saul seems not to have realized that, if God would not speak to him in the approved ways, He would surely not answer him through one of the forbidden ways! His dementia and fear are such that he can no longer reason. He would act contrary to God's and his own law to get an answer to a question that his heart already knows the answer to.

He asks his servants to find him a nearby medium (verse 7), and they have what seems to be an immediate answer: “One is not too far away, just in En Dor!” How convenient! How do his servants know about this nearby medium-in-hiding? Did they expect to be asked such a question? Were they in the habit of consulting mediums? Could this be the reason such practitioners had not all been expelled from Israel, that they had high-level protection at court?

Whatever the case, En Dor is not as convenient as it appeared. The village, about ten miles away, lies north and a little east of Shunem on the other side of the hill of Moreh—that is, the Philistine army's lines stretch between Saul on Mount Gilboa and the medium's house. Going through the Philistine lines, even disguised (verse 8), is out of the question, and so, either walking or riding in the dark of night, Saul and his two guards are forced to take a circuitous route around to the east, probably doubling the distance over the hilly terrain.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
What Happened at En Dor?

1 Samuel 28:15

We must consider King Saul's state of mind. Early in his reign, under the tutelage of Samuel, Saul had been the great champion of Israel, pushing its enemies back and making good progress in forging a nation out of the twelve tribes. Yet, just about the time David came on the scene, he began to display severe emotional problems, exacerbated by “the Spirit of the LORD depart[ing] from Saul” and “a distressing spirit from the LORD troubl[ing] him” (I Samuel 16:14). Evidently, God allowed a demon to cause Saul distress—perhaps severe melancholy and fits of sullenness and anger—and only David's playing of his harp drove the demon away (verse 23).

Once David had slain Goliath and begun to receive acclaim from the people, Saul became murderously jealous of his young servant. Saul's distress soon warped into real anger (I Samuel 18:8) and suspicion (verse 9), and the next time David came to play his harp for Saul, the king cast a spear at him, shouting, “I will pin David to the wall!” (verses 10-11). The younger man escaped, only to have the scene repeated sometime later (I Samuel 19:9-10). Not long thereafter, David had to flee and hide in the wilderness.

We see, then, that Saul was highly susceptible to demonic influence and emotionally unstable. The distressing spirit that God allowed to torment him had played with his emotions for years, and it is likely that as he aged, as David eluded capture, and as the Philistines grew in strength, Saul only became more depressed and fearful. By the time he was camped on the slopes of Mount Gilboa, brooding over the advance of the Philistine army into camp on the opposite hillside, he was in a state of severe misery and near-terror, knowing that no happy ending awaited him the next day.

These three factors provide the background for the story in I Samuel 28: God is always against those who practice sorcery; Satan and his demons can appear as ministers of righteousness; and Saul himself, emotionally unbalanced, was predisposed to the sway of a demon. Knowing these things makes all the difference in how we understand the events at En Dor.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
What Happened at En Dor?


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