Book of Shmuel
54: Chapter 28
in ein-dor (part Ii)
the previous lecture, we saw the stages through which Shaul passed leading up to
his forbidden encounter with Shmuel's spirit raised by the medium in Ein-Dor.
Now, when the meeting is taking place, Shmuel turns to Shaul with words of
And Shmuel said to Shaul, "Why have you disquieted me,
to bring me up?"
Shaul answers with an apology and explains his
Shaul answered, "I am sore distressed;
for the Pelishtim make war against me, and God is departed from me and answers
me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams; therefore I have called you,
that you may make known unto me what I shall do.
With these words, Shaul wishes to express the idea that Shmuel – alive or
dead – is the only address to which he can turn. Shaul understands that God has
departed from him, and he is no longer capable of receiving the word of God.
Underlying Shaul's approach to Shmuel is the assumption that it would be
possible to sever Shmuel from God. In Shaul's view, the absolute rupture between
him and God does not necessarily mean a rift between him and Shmuel. From
Shaul's perspective, Shmuel bears personal responsibility for Shaul's
appointment as king, and therefore it was legitimate for Shaul to turn to Shmuel
in this manner.
attention should be paid to Shaul's words to Shmuel, "Therefore I have called
you, that you may make known unto me what I shall do," wording that undoubtedly
alludes to what Shmuel said to Shaul at their first meeting: "Seven days shall
you tarry, till I come unto you, and tell you what you shall do" (10:8).
Who else but to Shmuel can Shaul turn in his distress?
Shaul Tchernikowsky captured this feeling in his famous poem, "In
did you take me from behind the flocks,
set me as this day as prince over your people?
have spent all my strength in the storms of battle,
my domestic happiness has already turned into desolation.
people of Peleshet surround me, the dread of the shadow of death
evil spirit will crush me until death.
man of God! What will God answer me?
He has departed from me – what shall I do? Answer me!
alas, did you anoint me king over your people?
did you take me from behind the flocks?
Shaul, however, is wrong. God cannot be detached from Shmuel. It is not
Shmuel who chose Shaul, but rather God; if God departed from Shaul, Shaul must
draw the necessary conclusions, without disturbing Shmuel from his
And Shmuel said, "Why then do you ask of me, seeing the Lord is departed from
you, and is become your adversary?"
Note that this is already the fourth time in the chapter that an argument
has been levelled against Shaul that opens with the word "why." Such an argument
was raised twice by the medium and twice by Shmuel:
do you lay a snare for my life, to cause me to die?
Why have you deceived me? for you are Shaul.
you disquieted me, to bring me up?
do you ask of me, seeing the Lord is departed from you, and is become your
This phenomenon is not unique to our chapter. Over the course of his
years as king, the question "why?" was raised to or about Shaul over and over
again – more than to any other Scriptural figure (except for
did you not hearken to the voice of the Lord but did fly upon the spoil, and did
that which was evil in the sight of the Lord?
will you sin against innocent blood, to slay David without a cause?
Yonatan answered Shaul his father, and said unto him, "Why should he be
put to death? What has he done?" (20:32)
you hearken to men's words, saying, "Behold, David seeks your hurt?"
my lord pursue after his servant? For what have I done? Or what evil is in my
It seems that it is not only Shmuel, David, Yonatan and the medium, who
turn to Shaul with this question. Scripture itself cries out to Shaul, "Why?"
The nine times that this word is directed toward Shaul express Scripture's
continuous frustration with the conduct of the young lad who "from
his shoulders and upward was higher than any of the people" but was unable to
stand up to the challenges set before him and ended up committing a series of
irresponsbile acts. Could you not have acted differently? Why did you fail to
realize your potential? Why did you commit such blatant mistakes? Why?
"AND TOMORROW SHALL YOU AND YOUR SONS BE WITH
his admonition of Shaul, Shmuel relates to what Shaul can expect to happen in
the war against the Pelishtim:
"And the Lord has wrought for Himself;
as He spoke by me; and the Lord has rent the kingdom out of your hand, and given
it to your neighbor, even to David. (18) Because you did not hearken to the
voice of the Lord,
and did not execute His fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore has the Lord done
this thing unto you this day. (19) Moreover, the Lord will deliver Israel also
with you into the hand of the Pelishtim; and tomorrow shall you and your sons be
with me. The Lord will deliver the host of Israel also into the hand of the
Shmuel emphasizes time and time again that it is not he who is
responsible for Shaul's fate. Shmuel mentions God's name seven times, thereby
stressing that Shaul should have understood that he cannot patch up the rift
between him and God through the artificial circumvention of inquiring after the
information by way of a medium. God's non-response clearly signified Shaul's
imminent end. Shaul, who hoped for a different outcome, hears now in full the
bitter news of his expected fall into the hands of the
Despite the harsh rebuke, a question remains: Why in fact did Shmuel
reveal himself to Shaul and provide him with the desired information? Was Shmuel
"forced" to do so by the medium?
It seems that even though Shaul failed to obey the voice of God, and even
though he turned to Shmuel in a forbidden manner, he nevertheless was given one
last chance to mend his ways, if only partially. Even though Shaul only made
things worse when he visited the medium, nevertheless, he gets credit for his
very desire to inquire of God and hear from Shmuel, despite the invalid manner
in which he did so. Shaul did not use his power to realize God's commands in his
wars against the Pelishtim and Amalek, and he tried time and time again to harm
David in order to avoid Shmuel's prophecy that God would choose a neighbor
better than him to be king. Shaul stands now before a final test, and two paths
are open to him. The first is to try again to avoid the fulfillment of the
prophecy by running away from the battle; the second is to accept the prophecy
with courage and go out to war with Israel, even though he knows that he will
die in battle.
At first, Shaul opts for the first alternative:
Then Shaul fell straightway his full length upon the earth, and was sore afraid,
because of the words of Shmuel; and there was no strength in him, for he had
eaten no bread all the day, nor all the night.
The combination of hearing Shmuel's harsh prophecy and the fact that
Shaul had not eaten in a long time, owing to the mental stress that he was
brings Shaul to a state of utter collapse. The man who had been "from his
shoulders and upward higher than any of the people" (9:2) falls apart,
At this point, however, the medium in surprising fashion comes to his
aid, and persuades him to get up and eat:
And the woman came unto Shaul, and saw that he was sore affrighted, and said
unto him, "Behold, your handmaid has hearkened unto your voice, and I have put
my life in my hand, and have hearkened unto your words which you spoke unto me.
(22) Now, therefore, I pray you, hearken you also unto the voice of your
handmaid, and let me put a morsel of bread before you; and eat, that you may
have strength, when you go on your way."
The woman utters her words in wise fashion. Corresponding to the fact
handmaid has hearkened unto your voice," she asks of Shaul, "hearken you also
unto the voice of your handmaid." And corresponding to the fact that "I have put
my life in my hand," she turns to Shaul with the words, "and let me put a morsel
of bread before you, and eat." Shaul tries to refuse, but his servants and the
woman continue to urge him to eat, until they achieve their goal:
But he refused, and said, "I will not eat." But his servants, together with the
woman, urged him; and he hearkened unto their voice. So he arose from the earth,
and sat upon the bed. (24) And the woman had a fatted calf in the house; and she
made haste, and killed it; and she took flour, and kneaded it, and did bake
unleavened bread thereof.
(25) And she brought it before Shaul and before his servants; and they did eat.
Then they rose up, and went away that night.
In the end, then, Shaul gets up from the ground, and thus he avoids
ending his career absolutely downtrodden.
It is difficult to ignore the similarity between the actions of the
medium here and the actions of Avraham at the beginning of
"Now, therefore, I pray you, hearken you also unto the voice of your
"If now I have found favor in your sight, pass not away, I pray you, from
let me put a morsel of bread before you; and eat, that you may have
strength, when you go on your way."
I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort your hearts; after that you
shall pass on…"
And the woman had a fatted calf in the house; and she made haste, and
Avraham hastened… (7) And Avraham ran to the herd, and fetched a calf
tender and good, and gave it to the young man; and he hurried to prepare
she took flour, and kneaded it…
"Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make
Then they rose up, and went away that night.
And the men rose up from there… (22) and they went toward
What is the significance of this surprising
This seems to be the way that Scripture gives expression to the
complexity of the story. Shaul eradicates the mediums and diviners, but over the
course of his reign, and especially in this chapter, he conducts himself in an
improper manner. The medium, in contrast, whom Shaul had marked for eradication,
reveals herself as a kind woman, who follows in the ways of Avraham. Of course,
this does not grant legitimacy to her acts of divination, but nonetheless, we
are presented with a slightly more complex picture of the parties
This correspondence also sharpens Scripture's position regarding the
direction initiated by the medium. Shaul is called upon here not to allow
despair to paralyze him, but rather to gird himself with strength and
courageously go out to his last battle.
This seems to be what Chazal had in mind when they expounded the
words of Shmuel, "and
tomorrow shall you and your sons be with me," as follows: "With me – in my
compartment [in Heaven]." Shmuel calls upon Shaul to go out in battle against
the Pelishtim; if he passes the test and courageously accepts his punishment –
he will merit to join Shmuel in the world-to-come.
The end of the chapter seems to give expression to a message totally
opposite from that expressed by Tchernikowsky in the aforementioned
the morning watch without bow or weapon
the swiftest horse in the camp, King Shaul returns.
face is white, but there is no fear in his heart
in his eyes shines dreadful despair.
According to what we said above, Shaul's heart was indeed filled with
fear, but it was not dreadful despair that shined from his eyes, but rather the
courage and bravery to pass the final test of his life with
APPENDIX: SCRIPTURE'S ATTITUDE TOWARD THE MEDIUM'S
should be noted that the incident involving the medium touches directly upon the
issue of the Torah's attitude toward the phenomenon of mediums and wizards. The
commentators disagree about the fundamental question of whether the Torah
forbids these activities because they are void of substance, or perhaps
precisely because they have substance, but are impure paths to revealing the
future. Regarding the verse, "You shall not apply to mediums or wizards, nor
seek to be defiled by them" (Vayikra 19:31), the Ibn Ezra writes: "The
empty-brained say that were it not that the mediums speak the truth by way of
magic, Scripture would not forbid them. But I say the very opposite, for
Scripture does not forbid the truth, but rather only falsehood. And the proof
idols and images." Despite this sharp statement, many Jewish thinkers entertain
the possibility that there might be some truth to acts of forbidden magic.
According to the Ramban (Devarim 18:9), magicians have certain powers,
and he argues indirectly with the words of Ibn Ezra: "Many feign piety and say
that there is no truth whatsoever to magic… We, however, cannot deny things that
have been made known to the eyes of witnesses." The Ramban goes on to offer a
theological explanation for the existence of magical
question, of course, shapes our understanding of the chapter, and the Radak
discusses the issue at length. He cites two opinions of the Geonim, both of
which agree that there is no truth to the acts performed by a medium, but which
give rise to two different understandings of the chapter. According to Rav
Shmuel ben Chofni Gaon, Shmuel did not actually rise by way of the medium's act,
and the whole story is an act of deception on the part of the
say that Shmuel did not speak with Shaul, and that God forbid, Shmuel did not
rise from his grave and speak. Rather, the woman did it all by way of deception.
For she immediately recognized that he was Shaul, but to show him that it was
owing to her wisdom that he recognized him and discovered the truth, she said,
you deceived me? For you are Shaul." It is the way of mediums to bring a person
who speaks in a low voice from a concealed place. When Shaul came to inquire of
her, and she saw that he was frightened, and she knew that tomorrow he was going
out to war and all of Israel were overcome by great fear, and she knew what
Shaul did when he killed God's priests, she put the words stated in the story
into the speaker's mouth. And that which it says, "And Shmuel said to Shaul" –
this is what Shaul thought, for he thought that is was Shmuel who was talking to
him. And that which it says, "and did not execute His fierce wrath upon Amalek"
– this was well-known, for from that time Shmuel had told him that God rejected
him from being king. And that which it says, "to your neighbor, even to David" –
it was well known to all of Israel that David had been anointed king. And that
which it says, "and tomorrow shall you and your sons be with me" – he said this
based on logical reasoning.
It is very difficult to reconcile this approach with the plain sense of
Scripture. Rabbi Shmuel ben Chofni was aware that his undertanding goes against
the approach adopted by Chazal, who accepted the story in its plain
sense. And here he asserts a principle, surprising in its novelty: "And he said:
Even though the plain sense of the words of the Sages in the Gemara is that the
woman truly brought Shmuel back to life, they are not to be accepted when
they are contradicted by reason!" That is to say, the words of Chazal
do not obligate us when they run contrary to logic!
The second approach cited by the Radak is that of Rabbenu Sa'adya Gaon
and Rav Hai Gaon, who agree that the acts of a medium are generally vanity, but
here we are dealing with an exception: God "resurrected Shmuel in order to tell
Shaul everything that would befall him in the future. Indeed, the woman who did
not know all this was frightened, as it says: 'she
cried with a loud voice.' And that which the woman said, 'Whom shall I bring up
unto you?' are words of sarcasm, for she was planning to do as she normally
does." According to this, the woman
herself was surprised by the incident, because the acts of a medium are
ordinarily a bluff.
The Radak rejects both of these approaches:
must ask according to these Geonim: If God resurrected Shmuel in order to inform
Shaul what would happen to him in the future, why did He tell him not by way of
dreams or the Urim or prophets, but by way of the woman who was a medium? And
furthermore, how would it have escaped Shaul, who was a sage and a king and had
wise men with him, if the medium worked with another person speaking from a
concealed place? And who would say that he would err in this matter? This cannot
be accepted by reason.
According to the plain sense of Scripture, it seems more reasonable to
assume that magicians had certain powers that allowed them to raise the dead.
Nevertheless, according to what we have said, it seems that the woman would not
have able to do this with Shmuel were it not God's clear intention to provide
Shaul, whose desire to inquire of God was indeed a good one, one final chance to
by David Strauss)