1 Samuel 28:15
And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do.
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(15) And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up?—Erd-manu, in Lange, argues from this that the incantation of the witch of En-dor had brought about the result, viz., the calling up of the shade of Samuel, and that hence the appearance of the prophet was not due to the command of God. Keil, however, rightly concludes that these words by themselves do not decide the question as to what power called up the “spirit.” They simply assert that Samuel had been disturbed from his rest by Saul, and ask the reason why. In the Babylonian Talmud there is a remarkable comment on these words of the shade of the departed prophet. “Rabbi Elazar said, when he read this Scripture text, ‘Why hast thou disquieted me?’ If Samuel the righteous was afraid of the Judgment (to which he thought he was summoned when thus called up), how much more ought we to be afraid of the Judgment? And whence do we infer that Samuel was afraid? Because it is written, ‘And the woman said unto Saul, I saw mighty ones [or perhaps judges]—Elohim—ascending out of the earth: olim, ascending (a plural form), implies at least two, and one of them was Samuel; who, then, was the other? Samuel went and brought Moses with him, and said unto him, ‘Peradventure I am summoned to Judgment-God forbid! O stand thou by me; lo! there is not a thing which is written in thy Law that I have not fulfilled.”—Treatise Chaggigah, fol. 4, b.

I am sore distressed.—“O, the wild wail of this dark misery! There is a deep pathos and a weird awesomeness in this despairing cry, but there is no confession of sin, no beseeching for mercy—nothing but the overmastering ambition to preserve himself.”—Dr. W. M. Taylor, of New York: “David.”

For the gallant warrior Saul thus to despair was indeed strange, but his gloomy foreboding before the fatal field of Gilboa, where he was to lose his crown and life, were sadly verified by the sequel. Shakespeare thus describes Richard III. heavy and spiritless, with an unknown dread, before the fatal Bosworth field:—

“I have not that alacrity of spirit

Nor cheer of mind that I was went to have.”

King Richard III.

So Macbeth is full of a restless, shapeless terror at Dunsinane before the battle:—

“There is no flying hence, no tarrying here;

I ‘gin to be aweary of the sun.”—Macbeth.

Neither by prophets, nor by dreams.—Why does Saul omit to mention here the silence of the “Urim,” especially mentioned in 1Samuel 27:6, and which seems also in these days to have been the more usual way of enquiry after the will of the Eternal King; of Israel? The Talmud, treatise Berachoth, xii. 2, gives the probable answer. Saul knew the Urim was no longer in his kingdom. It had been worn by one whom he had foully murdered—Ahimelech, the high priest. Deep shame at the thought of the massacre of Ahimelech, and afterwards of the priests at Nob, stayed him from uttering the word “Urim” before Samuel.

Therefore I have called thee.—The Hebrew word here is a very unusual form, which apparently was used to strengthen the original idea, “I have had thee called “; in other words, “Hence this pressing urgent call to thee from thy rest.”

1 Samuel


1 Samuel 28:15

Among all the persons of Scripture who are represented as having fallen away from God and wrecked their lives, perhaps there is none so impressive as the giant form of the first king of Israel. Huge and black, seamed and scarred with lightning marks of passions, moody and suspicious, devil-ridden and lonely, doubting his truest friends, and even his son, striking blindly in his fury at the gracious, sunny poet-warrior who shows so bright, so full of resource, so nimble, so generous, by contrast with the heavy strength of the moody giant, and ever escapes the javelin that quivers harmlessly in the wall, with an inevitable destiny hanging over his head, and at last creeping to ‘wizards that peep and mutter,’ and dying a suicide, with his army in full flight and his son dead at his feet-what a course and what an end for the chosen of the Lord, on whom the Spirit of the Lord came with the anointing oil, and gave him a new heart for his kingly office.

I know not anywhere a sadder story: and I know not where human lips ever poured out a more awful wail-like a Titan in his rage of pain- than these words of our text. Bright hopes and fair promise, and much that was good and true in performance-all came to this. A few hours more and the ‘battle went sore against Saul, and the archers hit him, and he was greatly distressed by reason of the archers.’ Madness, despair, defeat, death, all were the sequel of, ‘Because thou hast rejected the commandment of the Lord, the Lord hath also rejected thee from being king.’ A true soul’s tragedy! Let us look together at its course, and gather the lessons that lie on the surface. We have neither space nor wish here to enter upon the many points of minute interest and curiosity which are in the story. We have to be contented with large outlines.

Look then

I. At the bright dawn.

The early story gives us many traits of beauty in Saul’s character. Not only physical strength but a winning personality are apparent. His modesty and humility when Samuel salutes him are made plain. And we are distinctly told that as he turned away from Samuel, ‘God gave him another heart,’ by which we are to understand not ‘regeneration’ but an inspiration, that equipped him for his office.

How many a man finds that sudden elevation ruins him! But often it evokes what is good, brings an entire change of disposition, as with ‘Harry of Mon-mouth.’ But it was not only his new responsibility which brought into action powers that had previously been dormant. New circumstances, no doubt, did something, but Saul’s ‘new’ heart was God’s gift.

The story of the beginning of his reign reveals a very noble and lovable character. We can but mention his modesty in hiding among the stuff, his disregard of the murmurs of those who would not do homage {‘made as though he had been deaf’}, his return, as it would seem, to his home-life and farm-work, his chivalrous boldness and warlike energy, which sprung at once to activity on the call of a great exigency in Jabesh-Gilead, his humane and sweet repression of the people’s desire, in their first flush of pride in their soldier king, to slay his enemies, and his devout acknowledgment that not he but God has wrought this salvation.

So for the first year of his reign all went well.

How much of divine influence a man may have and yet fling it all away! How unreliable a thing mere natural goodness is! How much apparent goodness may coexist with deep-seated evil! How bright a beginning may darken into a tempestuous day! How seeds of evil may lurk in the fairest character! How little one can be judged by part of his life! How it is not the possession, but the retention, of goodness and devout impressions that makes a man good.

II. The gathering clouds.

The acts recorded as darkening the fair dawn of Saul’s reign may seem too trivial to deserve the stern retribution that followed them, but small acts may be great sins. The first of them was his offering sacrifices without authority, an act which Samuel stigmatised as wanton, deliberate disobedience to ‘the commandment of the Lord thy God.’ Next came his rash and absurd laying of a curse on any soldier who should eat food before evening, and his consequent mad determination to kill Jonathan, for ‘taking a little honey’ on the end of his rod. Next came his flagrant disobedience to the divine command transmitted to him through Samuel, to ‘smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not,’ We shudder at such ferocious extermination, but we are to remember that Saul was moved by no pity, but by mere lust for loot, and tried to deceive God, in the person of His representative Samuel, by the lie that the people had coerced him, and that the motive for preserving the best of the cattle was to sacrifice them to the Lord. Samuel’s blaze of indignation gave the world the great word: ‘Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.’

Putting all these acts together, we have the sad picture of a character steadily deteriorating. He is growing daily more self-willed and impatient of the restraint of God’s commanding will. He is chafing at his position as a viceroy, not an absolute sovereign. He is becoming tyrannical, careless of his subjects’ lives, intolerant of opposition, remonstrance, or advice. The tragedy of his decadence is summed up in Samuel’s stern word: ‘Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, He hath also rejected thee from being king.’

Trivial acts may show great and deep-seated evil. A small swelling under the arm-pit is the sign of the plague and the precursor of swift death.

The master-sin is disobedience, self-willed departure from God. That disobedience may be as virulently active in a trifle as in a deed that men call great. Self-will is the tap root of all sin, however labyrinthine the outgrowth from it.

Disobedience honeycombs a soul. The attractive early traits in Saul’s character slowly perhaps but steadily, disappeared. The fair morning sky was heavy with thunder-clouds by midday, and they all began with a light fleecy film that none noticed at first.

III. The long eclipse.

‘An evil spirit from the Lord troubled him, and the Spirit of God departed from him.’

Modern psychologists would call Saul’s case an instance of insanity brought about by indulgence in passion and self-will. Is there any reason why the deeper, more religious explanation should not be united with the scientific one? Does not God work in the working of ‘natural’ phenomena?

What we nowadays call insanity is not very far off from a man who habitually indulges in passionate self will, and spurns God from any authority over his life. What were Saul’s characteristics now? The story tells of bursts of ungovernable fury, of unslumbering and universal suspicions, of utter misery, seeing enemies everywhere and complaining, ‘None of you hath pity upon me,’ of ferocious cruelty and gloomy despair, of paroxysms of agonising but transient remorse.

It is an awful picture, and it grimly teaches lessons that we shall be wise to write deeply on our hearts.

What a ruin a man makes of himself!

How hideous a godless soul is!

What unhappiness is certain if we dismiss God from ruling our lives!

How useless remorse is unless it leads to repentance!

IV. The stormy sunset.

The scene at Endor makes one’s flesh creep. No more tragic picture of failure and despair was ever painted. The greatest dramatists, whose creations move the terror and pity of the world, have imagined no more heart-touching figure.

It matters very little-nothing at all in fact-either for the dramatic force or for the religious impressiveness of the scene, whether the woman ‘brought up’ Samuel, or whether she was as much awed as Saul was, by the coming up of ‘an old man’ covered with the well-known ‘mantle.’ The boding prophecy of to-morrow’s defeat and death filled yet fuller the cup that had seemed to be already full of all misery. And that collapse of strength in the huddled figure, prostrate in the witch’s den, may well stand for a prophecy of what will be the upshot at the last of a self-will that boasts of its own power, and tries to shake off dependence on God.

1 Samuel 28:15. Why hast thou disquieted me? — “Houbigant observes very justly, that Samuel complains not of the woman, but of Saul, for disquieting him; from whence it follows that Samuel was not raised up by her magic arts, but by the will of God. Samuel’s disquiet plainly arose from Saul’s hardened impenitence. It was this that grieved and provoked him; and so it should be translated; Why hast thou provoked me, to make me rise up? Why dost thou ask of me, seeing the Lord is departed from thee? But is it probable, say some, that God, who had refused to answer Saul by all the accustomed methods, would, as it were, submit himself to the superstition of this prince, and, to satisfy him, raise up Samuel to apprize him of his destiny? We answer, 1st, That Saul had not consulted God either by Urim or by prophets; for the Urim was with David; and there was probably no prophet then alive to whom God communicated himself either by vision or in any other way; and that in the methods he had employed he had conducted himself hypocritically and without any right impression of religion. 2d, We answer, that Saul, in danger, and anxious about the event of it, applies to a pythoness to assist him by her incantations, and to call up the spirit of Samuel; but before she begins one word of her spells or charms the prophet interposes, frightens her, and pronounces Saul’s doom; and she herself witnesses the truth of his appearance. If the thing is singular, if the event is extraordinary, it does not follow that it is false, much less that it is impossible. God is not so tied down to his own institutions that he cannot at any time depart from them. That God should manifest himself by his prophets, to encourage or countenance what he himself had forbidden, is indeed very unlikely, or, to speak more justly, very absurd to suppose. But that he should interpose to reprove that practice, which was the case at present, is doubtless no way incredible or improbable.” — Delaney and Dodd.

Saul answered and said, I am sore distressed, &c. — Finding that God would give no answer to him, and being almost in despair, he seems to have foolishly flattered himself that he might be able to obtain some answer to his petitions by means of that holy prophet, whom he knew to have had a sincere regard for him in his life-time. But the prophet, in his answer in the next verse, gives him to know how incapable he was of doing him any service, seeing that the Lord was departed from him and become his enemy. From hence we may see the vanity and absurdity of invoking saints, &c., as their intercession can no way avail us, when by our wickedness we have made God our enemy. One would think this reply of Samuel would be sufficient to convince any Christian of the folly of any such application. Therefore I have called thee, &c. — Happy had it been for him if he had called Samuel sooner, or, rather, the God of Samuel. It was now too late; destruction was at hand, and God had determined it should not be stayed.

28:7-19 When we go from the plain path of duty, every thing draws us further aside, and increases our perplexity and temptation. Saul desires the woman to bring one from the dead, with whom he wished to speak; this was expressly forbidden, De 18:11. All real or pretended witchcraft or conjuration, is a malicious or an ignorant attempt to gain knowledge or help from some creature, when it cannot be had from the Lord in the path of duty. While Samuel was living, we never read of Saul's going to advise with him in any difficulties; it had been well for him if he had. But now he is dead, Bring me up Samuel. Many who despise and persecute God's saints and ministers when living, would be glad to have them again, when they are gone. The whole shows that it was no human fraud or trick. Though the woman could not cause Samuel's being sent, yet Saul's inquiry might be the occasion of it. The woman's surprise and terror proved that it was an unusual and unexpected appearance. Saul had despised Samuel's solemn warnings in his lifetime, yet now that he hoped, as in defiance of God, to obtain some counsel and encouragement from him, might not God permit the soul of his departed prophet to appear to Saul, to confirm his former sentence, and denounce his doom? The expression, Thou and thy sons shall be with me, means no more than that they shall be in the eternal world. There appears much solemnity in God's permitting the soul of a departed prophet to come as a witness from heaven, to confirm the word he had spoken on earth.Gods - אלהים 'ĕlohı̂ym is here used in a general sense of a supernatural appearance, either angel or spirit. Hell, or the place of the departed (compare 1 Samuel 28:19; 2 Samuel 12:23) is represented as under the earth Isaiah 14:9-10; Ezekiel 32:18. 8-14. bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee—This pythoness united to the arts of divination a claim to be a necromancer (De 18:11); and it was her supposed power in calling back the dead of which Saul was desirous to avail himself. Though she at first refused to listen to his request, she accepted his pledge that no risk would be incurred by her compliance. It is probable that his extraordinary stature, the deference paid him by his attendants, the easy distance of his camp from En-dor, and the proposal to call up the great prophet and first magistrate in Israel (a proposal which no private individual would venture to make), had awakened her suspicions as to the true character and rank of her visitor. The story has led to much discussion whether there was a real appearance of Samuel or not. On the one hand, the woman's profession, which was forbidden by the divine law, the refusal of God to answer Saul by any divinely constituted means, the well-known age, figure, and dress of Samuel, which she could easily represent herself, or by an accomplice—his apparition being evidently at some distance, being muffled, and not actually seen by Saul, whose attitude of prostrate homage, moreover, must have prevented him distinguishing the person though he had been near, and the voice seemingly issuing out of the ground, and coming along to Saul—and the vagueness of the information, imparted much which might have been reached by natural conjecture as to the probable result of the approaching conflict—the woman's representation—all of this has led many to think that this was a mere deception. On the other hand, many eminent writers (considering that the apparition came before her arts were put in practice; that she herself was surprised and alarmed; that the prediction of Saul's own death and the defeat of his forces was confidently made), are of opinion that Samuel really appeared. Samuel said to Saul; as the devil appeared in Samuel’s shape and garb, so also he speaketh in his person, that he might insnare Saul, and encourage others to seek to him in this wicked way. And God permits him to do so for Saul’s greater condemnation and punishment.

Neither by prophets, nor by dreams; he omitteth the Urim here, because he neither did nor could inquire by that, because Abiathar had carried it away to David, and so he expected no answer that way.

And Samuel said to Saul, why hast thou disquieted me to bring me up?.... This makes it a clear case that this was not the true Samuel; his soul was at rest in Abraham's bosom, in the state of bliss and happiness in heaven, and it was not in the power of men and devils to disquiet it; nor would he have talked of his being brought up, but rather of his coming down, had it been really he; much less would he have acknowledged that he was brought up by Saul, by means of a witch, and through the help of the devil:

and Saul answered, I am sore distressed; in mind, being in great straits and difficulties, pressed hard upon by men, and forsaken of God, as follows:

for the Philistines make war against me; so they had many times, and he had been victorious, and had no reason to be so much distressed, if that was all: but he adds:

and God is departed from me: and therefore he feared he should be left to fall into their hands; and that he had forsaken him he concluded from hence,

and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: See Gill on 1 Samuel 28:6; he makes no mention of Urim, either because they were not with him to inquire by, being carried away by Abiathar when he fled to David, 1 Samuel 23:9; or, as the Jews say (h), through shame, he said nothing of the Urim before Samuel, as he took this appearance to be, because he had slain the priests at Nob, and because of this shame, they say, his sin was forgiven him:

therefore have I called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do; which was downright madness and folly to imagine, that since God had forsaken him, and would give him no answer, that a prophet of his should take his part; or when he could get no answer from a prophet of God on earth, that he could expect an agreeable one from one fetched down from heaven: one would be tempted to think that he himself believed it was the devil he was talking to, and whom he had called for under the name of Samuel, and expected to see; for from whom else could he expect advice, when he was forsaken of God, and his prophets?

(h) T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 12. 2.

And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do.
15–19. Samuel pronounces Saul’s doom

15. Why hast thou disquieted me] Disturbed me from my rest in Sheôl. Samuel utters this complaint, because although he came as God’s messenger, Saul’s sin was the moving cause of so unnatural a mission.

Verses 15, 16. - Why hast thou disquieted me? I.e. Why hast thou caused me to be disturbed by the incantations of this woman? Neither by prophets nor by dreams. It is suggested in the Talmud (Berach 12:2) that Saul omitted all mention of the Urim from shame at having murdered the priests. Is become thine enemy. By a slight difference of reading the Septuagint have, "is on the side of thy neighbour." 1 Samuel 28:15Then Samuel said, "Why hast thou disturbed me (sc., from my rest in Hades; cf. Isaiah 14:9), to bring me up?" It follows, no doubt, from this that Samuel had been disturbed from his rest by Saul; but whether this had been effected by the conjuring arts of the witch, or by a miracle of God himself, is left undecided. Saul replied, "I am sore oppressed, for the Philistines fight against me, and God has departed from me, and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams; then I had thee called (on the intensified form ואקראה, vid., Ewald, 228, c.), to make known to me what I am to do." The omission of any reference to the Urim is probably to be interpreted very simply from the brevity of the account, and not from the fact that Saul shrank from speaking about the oracle of the high priest, on account of the massacre of the priests which had taken place by his command. There is a contradiction, however, in Saul's reply: for if God had forsaken him, he could not expect any answer from Him; and if God did not reply to his inquiry through the regularly appointed media of His revelation, how could he hope to obtain any divine revelation through the help of a witch? "When living prophets gave no answer, he thought that a dead one might be called up, as if a dead one were less dependent upon God than the living, or that, even in opposition to the will of God, he might reply through the arts of a conjuring woman. Truly, if he perceived that God was hostile to him, he ought to have been all the more afraid, lest His enmity should be increased by his breach of His laws. But fear and superstition never reason" (Clericus). Samuel points out this contradiction (1 Samuel 28:16): "Why dost thou ask me, since Jehovah hath departed from thee, and is become thine enemy?" The meaning is: How canst thou expect an answer under these circumstances from me, the prophet of Jehovah? ערך, from ער, signifies an enemy here (from עיר, fervour); and this meaning is confirmed by Psalm 139:20 and Daniel 4:16 (Chald.). There is all the less ground for any critical objection to the reading, as the Chaldee and Vulgate give a periphrastic rendering of "enemy," whilst the lxx, Syr., and Arab. have merely paraphrased according to conjectures. Samuel then announced his fate (1 Samuel 28:17-19): "Jehovah hath performed for himself, as He spake by me (לו, for himself, which the lxx and Vulg. have arbitrarily altered into לך, σοί, tibi (to thee), is correctly explained by Seb. Schmidt, 'according to His grace, or to fulfil and prove His truth'); and Jehovah hath rent the kingdom out of thy hand, and given it to thy neighbour David." The perfects express the purpose of God, which had already been formed, and was now about to be fulfilled.
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