Samuel had died about 2 years earlier (25:1). His funeral was a great national event. People from across the country gathered for it. Such an event would certainly have had a powerful effect on the minds of many people, including perhaps even Saul.
At some time, Saul had forced everyone who used witchcraft to leave Israel. Witchcraft is the use of magic, especially in order to contact spirits. Godís law strictly forbids any such practices (Leviticus 19:31; Deuteronomy 18:9-14).
We do not know when, or why, Saul gave that order. A possible answer is that he did it after the death of Samuel.
Although Saul would not obey God, he still wanted God to support his rule. So it mattered very much to Saul that Israel had Samuel as its national prophet (holy man). When Samuel retired, he promised to pray for Israel for the rest of his life (12:23).
At Samuelís funeral, everyone in Israel became aware of the importance of Israelís relationship with God. Now Samuel, their prophet, was not still alive to pray for them; and Saul, their king, was not obeying God. The people would have considered that to be a very dangerous situation, especially as their nation was constantly at war. Saul would have wanted to do some great act, in order to give confidence to the people and to impress God. Previously, he had given great sacrifices (gifts) to God for that purpose, but Samuel had told him not to do that (15:22).
So, in Saulís mind, it would have seemed a very good idea to force everyone who used witchcraft to leave Israel. However, Saul was still not serving God; his attitudes had not changed. The proof of that is what Saul did on the night before his death. He himself decided to use witchcraft then (28:4-20).
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© 2014, Keith Simons.