1 Samuel 28
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
1 Samuel 28:1-6. (GILBOA.)
And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled (ver. 5).

1. The end of Saul was now approaching. How long he reigned is not stated ("forty years," Acts 13:21; perhaps a round number, including the judge ship of Samuel). But his course from his first wrong step (1 Samuel 13:8-15) had been a downward one, broken only by brief seasons of amendment. His mental malady may account in part for some of his actions in his later years. During his persecution of David the enemies of Israel became more powerful and aggressive, and, in retribution for unfaithfulness to Jehovah, he was about to be delivered with the host of Israel "into the hand of the Philistines," from whom he had been chosen to effect deliverance (1 Samuel 9:16).

2. The Philistine invasion was on a larger scale than any that had recently occurred (1 Samuel 13:5; 1 Samuel 17:1), and in a different part of the country. It was evidently planned with a view to inflict a fatal blow on Israel. The enemy marched northward, entered the plain of Esdraelon (Jezreel), the battle field of Palestine (stretching out eastward in three branches, like fingers from the hand), and encamped at Shunem (at the base of Little Hermon, north of the central and principal branch). "And the Israelites pitched by the fountain which is in Jezreel" (1 Samuel 29:1), on a spur of Mount Gilboa (south of the central branch), from which they could see the Philistines, three miles distant across the plain, where on the morrow the conflict must be waged.

3. What the issue of the conflict was likely to be Saul's heart told him only too plainly. He felt that what he had so long dreaded was about to come upon him; that the sentence of rejection formerly uttered by Samuel (1 Samuel 16:14-16), now gone to his rest (ver. 3), was to be fully executed, and that he would be deprived of his crown, and probably of his life. David, who had once saved Israel in similar peril, had gone over to the Philistines (1 Samuel 27:4), was now (as he thought) among them, and would "surely be king" (1 Samuel 24:20). The night of retribution is setting in. The ministers of vengeance are gathering, like vultures to the prey,

"From the invisible ether;
First a speck, and then a vulture,
Till the air is dark with pinions." The experience of Saul is shared by many a persistent transgressor in the presence of imminent danger and approaching death, when "the terrors of God do set them selves in array against" him (Job 6:4; Job 24:17). He is -

I. BESET BY IRRESISTIBLE FEAR. The sight of superior hostile forces is calculated to produce such fear, but its power to do so depends chiefly upon the inward state of a man himself, more or less conscious of his condition;

1. The remembrance of past transgressions, and of the punishment threatened against them, and already in some measure experienced. Circumstances often quicken the memory and open its secret records, so that former actions and events reappear, are seen in their true character, and fill the soul with consternation. "I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes" (Psalm 1:21).

2. The consciousness of Divine displeasure in consequence of disobedience, and the heart not being right with God. Although conscience may slumber long, the hour of awakening comes, and when it asserts its power "its frown is more to be dreaded than the frowns of kings or the approach of armies. It is a fire in the bones, burning when no man suspects" (South). "A wounded spirit who can bear?" (Proverbs 18:14).

"O conscience, conscience, man's most faithful friend,
How canst thou comfort, ease, relieve, defend!
But if he will thy friendly cheeks forego,
Thou art, oh, woe for me! his deadliest foe"


3. The foreboding of approaching doom. Conscience "exerts itself magisterially, and approves or condemns,...and if not forcibly stopped, naturally and always, of course, goes on to anticipate a higher and more effectual sentence, which shall hereafter second and affirm its own" (Butler).

II. IMPELLED TO SEEK DIVINE COUNSEL. "And Saul inquired of Jehovah" (ver. 6). It is not recorded that he had ever done so since he "asked counsel of God" and "he answered him not" (1 Samuel 14:37). His communication with Heaven had evidently been long interrupted. But under the influence of fear he felt the urgent need of it, as other men who have neglected to seek God often do in times of danger, and he expected that it would come at his bidding, as a matter of course, when he made use of the recognised means of obtaining it, apart from a proper state of heart, therein exhibiting the same blindness as of old (1 Samuel 13:9). Cherishing a spirit of envy and hatred, how could it be expected that he should be visited by the Divine Spirit in dreams of good? Having slain the high priest, and compelled his son to flee to David "with the ephod" and the Urim, how could it be expected that he should obtain counsel through another whom he had appointed in his stead, or, having alienated the prophets, that he should gain it through them? Divine aid is often sought through proper channels in vain because -

1. It is not sought at the right time, - "When thou mayest be found" (Psalm 32:6). "Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer" (Proverbs 1:24-33), - which takes place not merely as a just punishment for long neglect, but also on account of the increased hardness of their hearts thereby induced, and rendering them incapable and utterly unworthy of holding communion with God. "If we do not hear God's voice when it goes well with us, God can and will refuse to hear our voice when it goes ill with us" (Starke).

2. It is not sought in a right spirit - with humility, penitence, self-renunciation, and faith. Of these principles there is no trace in the inquiry of Saul.

3. It is not sought with a right purpose, but with some earthly and selfish end in view, rather than the Divine honour. "As the event proved, Saul did not really inquire of the Lord in the sense of seeking direction from him, and of being willing to be guided by it. Rather did he, if we may so express it, wish to use the Lord as the means by which to attain his object. But that was essentially the heathen view, and differed only in detail, not in principle, from the inquiry of the familiar spirit, to which he afterwards resorted" (Edersheim). "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss," etc. (James 4:3; Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 66:4; Ezekiel 14:4; Ezekiel 20:31).

III. DENIED THE DESIRED RESPONSE. "Jehovah answered him not," etc. (ver. 6). "I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more" (ver. 15). "Saul received from God no answer more, except for judgment."

1. What dreadful silence and loneliness are here revealed! "We read of the silence of the desert, the silence of midnight, the silence of the churchyard and the grave; but this is something more profound and appalling - the silence of God when appealed to by the sinner in his extremity. It is not the silence of indifference, nor of inability to hear, nor of weakness, nor of perplexity; but of refusal, of rejection, of displeasure, of abandonment" (Bonar, 'Bible Thoughts'). "Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone" (Hosea 4:17).

2. What utter helplessness!

3. What intolerable darkness and distress! (Hebrews 10:27). Consider -

1. That if "inquiry of the Lord" be left unanswered, the reason of it is to be sought in the moral condition of the inquirer.

2. That nothing but the offering of the sacrifice of "a broken and a contrite heart" can prevent despair.

3. That the boundless mercy of God should awaken hope even at "the eleventh hour." - D.

1 Samuel 28:7-10. (GILBOA, ENDOR)
Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and inquire of her (ver. 7).

1. The religion of Saul (like that of many others in Israel) was largely pervaded by superstition. He regarded Jehovah as an object of dread rather than of trust and love, and observed the outward forms of his service not in a spirit of willing and hearty obedience, but because he thought that they would of themselves procure for him the Divine favour. Hence his zeal in putting away "those that had familiar spirits" (Oboth = spirits of the departed, supposed to be called up from the unseen world to make disclosures concerning the future, and dwelling in them and speaking through them in hollow tones of voice, Isaiah 8:19; Isaiah 29:4; ventriloquists, LXX.; necromancers) "and wizards" (sorcerers). And when his inquiry of the Lord was not answered, he resorted to one of these, in the expectation of being told what he must do (ver. 15) to avert the wrath which he feared. In like manner the heathen resorted to their priests and diviners (1 Samuel 6:2). He was an embodiment of the heathen mind in Israel. "There were three courses open to him: he might sit down in quiet hopelessness, and let the evil come; or he might in faith and penitent submission commit the whole matter to God, even amid the awful silence; or he might betake himself to hell for counsel, since heaven was deaf. He chooses the last! 'God has cast me off; I will betake myself to Satan. Heaven's door is shut; I will see if hell's be open'" (Bonar). He had about him servants who pandered to his superstitions propensities (1 Samuel 16:15), and informed him of a practitioner of the heathen are residing at Endor, eight miles distant (north of Little Hermon); and thither two of them conducted him "by night." (Another of the night scenes of this book - 1 Samuel 3:3; 1 Samuel 5:3; 1 Samuel 9:25; 1 Samuel 15:11; 1 Samuel 19:10; 1 Samuel 25:36; 1 Samuel 26:7; 1 Samuel 30:17). It was "a dreadful journey, a terrible night; both symbols of Saul's, condition, lost on the way of inner self-hardening and thorough self-darkening" (Erdmann). The readiness with which he was directed to the sorceress shows the secret prevalence of superstition in Israel.

3. He failed to obtain the aid he desired, committed his crowning act of apostasy, and hastened his doom. "So Saul died for... asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to inquire of it" (1 Chronicles 10:13). "There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord" (Proverbs 21:30). There may have been "an objective reality, a dark background of magical agency" (Delitzsch, 'Bib. Psychology,' p. 363); but, on the other hand, "the actual references to magic in Scripture do not involve its reality. The mischiefs resulting from the pretension, under the theocracy, to an act which involved idolatry justified the statute which denounced it with death" (Kitto, 'Cyc.,' art. Witchcraft). "In the doctrinal Scriptures magic is passed by with contempt; in the historical Scriptures the reasonableness of this contempt is shown. Whenever the practisers of magic attempt to combat the servants of God they conspicuously fail" (Smith's 'Dict.,' art. Magic). Resorting to superstitious practices of various kinds (the selection of "lucky" days, fortune telling, spirit rapping, psychography, necromancy, and, in more direct connection with the Christian religion, image worship, prayers to the dead, superstitious rites and ceremonies of various kinds) is not unknown at the present day. Notice -

I. ITS INDUCEMENTS. Among them are -

1. Unbelieving fear. "Superstition is the restless effort of a guilty but blind conscience to find rest and peace and good by unauthorised propitiations and ceremonies" (R. Watson). "The true cause and rise of superstition is indeed nothing else but a false opinion of the Deity, that renders him terrible and dreadful, as being rigorous and imperious; that which represents him as austere and apt to be angry, but yet impotent and easy to be appeased again by some flattering devotions, especially if performed with sanctimonious shows and a solemn sadness of mind" (Smith, 'Sel. Dis. Superstition'). "The human heart needs something to cling to, something to which it may hold fast, a prop which its tendrils may firmly clasp; therefore when it leaves him for whom it was made, when it sinks into unbelief, then it clings to superstition and darkness" (Schlier).

2. Unhallowed curiosity, which is not satisfied with what has been revealed in the word of God, and wishes to become acquainted with the secrets of the unseen world and the future, designedly concealed. Such curiosity "Is a flattering serpent, which promises us the wisdom of God, and cheats us out of a blessed paradise of happier, childlike waiting." "Let no man beguile you," etc. (Colossians 2:18).

3. Foolish presumption, which fancies that it can attain the knowledge and help of the supernatural by other ways and means than God has appointed. "He who, in respect of supersensual things and of the mysterious background of sensible things, regards as true, and allows impressions to be made on himself by thoughts or occurrences whose reality has neither the warranty of undoubtedly credible tradition nor the warranty of internal force of conviction in their favour, is rightly called superstitious" (Delitzsch).

II. ITS DEVICES. They usually -

1. Involve artifice, effort, trouble, and sacrifice (vers. 7, 8). What extraordinary pains do men sometimes undergo in the practice of superstition I (1 Kings 18:28).

2. Affect darkness and secrecy, and necessitate the adoption of undignified, mean, and shameful courses. They are carried out under the cover of night, which is favourable to deception. Saul disguised himself not to escape the Philistines, but to elude the observation of his own people, and to impose upon the sorceress (ver. 9).

3. Involve mental blindness and credulity, so that those who yield to them become the ready dupes of others who traffic on their gloomy fears and illusory hopes, "deceiving and being deceived." "It was a shame that the king who had expelled all sorcerers must himself at last fall into the hands of a sorceress" (Winer).


1. It casts contempt upon the sufficiency of Divine revelation. "Wilt thou have light for all the riddles and dark questions of this life? betake thyself to God's word, there enough is revealed, and what goes beyond that comes of evil."

2. It chooses evil instead of good, disregards the moral dispositions which God requires, and violates the sense of goodness, righteousness, and truth. Saul took an oath "by the Lord" to protect what he knew was displeasing to the Lord, and was guilty of connivance at what he himself had condemned as worthy of death (ver. 10).

3. It does what the word of God prohibits, and in its worst forms, casts off allegiance to God, and makes alliance with his enemies (Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:6, 27; Deuteronomy 18:10; 2 Kings 23:24; Galatians 5:20; Revelation 22:15). "Knowing that the act of divination cooperates in no slight degree with the errors of the lives of the multitude, so as to lead them out of the right way, Moses did not suffer his disciples to use any species of it whatever. All these things are but the furniture of impiety. How so? Because he who attends to them and who allows himself to be influenced by them disregards the cause of all things, looking upon those things alone as the causes of all things, whether good or evil" (Philo, 'On Monarchy').


1. It fills the votaries of superstition with miserable disappointment.

2. It makes them the victims of delusion, and further estranges them from the way of truth.

3. It increases their guilt, hardens their heart, and quickens their pace to final ruin. Saul's night visit was an ill preparation for the coming conflict. It extinguished every ray of hope, and turned his fear into despair. - D.

1 Samuel 28:11. (ENDOR.)
Bring me up Samuel. The character of Samuel was so great, his life had been so long continued, his appearance so familiar to all, his influence so powerful and extensive, that after his departure his form must have seemed still to brood over the land. What the thoughts of Saul were at his death we know not. Perhaps he was glad of his removal. Although dwelling near him, he was altogether estranged from him, and entirely neglected to seek his counsel. But the time came - the threatening hosts of the Philistines, his overwhelming fear, the silence of Heaven - when he urgently needed it, and earnestly but vainly desired the benefit of it. Whether he went to the sorceress with the deliberate purpose of seeking an interview with his old and faithful counsellor, or sought it under the impulse of the moment, is not stated. The former is the more probable. He was certainly persuaded of the power which she professed to have (ver. 11) of raising up the spirits of the departed, and (after her expression of surprise, and her description of his well known appearance) of the actual presence of Samuel in consequence of his request ("I have called thee," ver. 15). The result of the interview, however, proved that his hope of obtaining good from it was vain. It is not unusual for those who have neglected the advice of a teacher or friend to desire, when he is gone, that he might come back and again grant it to them. In such a desire we see -

I. THE VALUE OF FAITHFUL COUNSEL, to which it is a testimony. The reproofs and warnings which a faithful counsellor gives are not always agreeable. They are often deemed unnecessary, regarded with contempt, and cause him to be accounted an enemy. But they are justified by events; and then their worth is felt, and they are longed for, when perchance it is too late. The sore distress which Saul now suffered would have been averted if he had listened to the counsel of Samuel. He is your best friend who tells you the truth, and seeks your welfare rather than your favour. Give heed to what he says while it may conduce to your profit.

II. THE FOLLY OF FAITHLESS NEGLECT, Of which it is a confession. "How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof; and have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me!" (Proverbs 5:12, 13). "How many who have despised the advice of a father or a mother, and grieved their parents by oppostion and disobedience, long bitterly to bring them back when they have gone down to the grave, that they may have the benefit of the counsel which they once slighted and scorned! If they could go to the necromancer in the hour of their distress, it would not be, 'Bring me up the companion who cheered me in my gaieties, who was with me at the revel and the dance and the public show;' but, 'Bring me up the father with his gray hairs, who solemnly told me that the way of transgressors was hard; or the mother who with weeping eyes and broken voice admonished me against sinful indulgences.'... And yet, if you neglect the Lord and continue to resist the strivings of his Spirit, so that at length he departs from you as he departed from Saul, what would it avail that the grave could give up its inhabitant - if the parent, the friend, or the minister should return at your bidding?" (H. Melvill).

III. THE WORTHLESSNESS OF PIOUS WISHES in those who persist in transgression. Saul was deeply humbled. His self-will and pride were broken down into pitiable abasement, and he seemed willing to receive and obey the counsel which he had previously slighted. Yet his motive was doubtless the same as in inquiring of the Lord (vers. 1-6); he looked upon Samuel as more merciful than the Lord, relied upon him to effect a change in the Divine purpose (1 Samuel 15:29), and expected his aid at the very moment he was committing a capital offence. He was more blinded and self-deceived than ever. Men often abase themselves deeply in affliction while they remain wholly destitute of the spirit of obedience. "Let no man deceive himself." What value can there be in a religious desire which is combined with the violation of the plainest religious duty?

IV. THE USELESSNESS OF EXTRAORDINARY COMMUNICATIONS, such as have been sometimes desired from the dead. Saul had what to him was the fulfilment of his desire; but he was told only what he already knew or feared, he was not led to repentance and faith, and sank into despair. Is it supposed that benefit would be derived from the reappearance and counsel of the departed? Consider that -

1. The light which might be brought would only be a confirmation of the truth which has been already revealed. If even future events, as, e.g., the time of death, should be declared, the know]edge thereof would probably be useless and injurious. Should death be distant, it would be a strong temptation to sloth and continued sin; should it be very near, whilst it might arouse some to make preparation for it simply from a selfish dread of threatening evil, it would lead others to feel that it was too late to avert the danger, and resign themselves to reckless indulgence or blank despair (see ch. 3).

2. Those who are not improved by existing inducements to faith and obedience would be proof against such as might be thereby presented, and would in most cases be hardened in sin (John 12:10). "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead" (Luke 16:31).

3. God has given to men the knowledge and inducements which are best adapted to their probationary condition and sufficient forevery practical purpose, and has wisely determined that no more shall be afforded. "He that is unjust," etc. (Revelation 22:11). "As no additional dissuasions from sin and inducements to holiness would be presented, they who, notwithstanding these disclosures, remained impenitent and unbelieving must continue in irreclaimable wickedness." "Say not in thine heart," etc. (Romans 10:6-11). Crave not for "secret things" - the mysterious, the supernatural, the miraculous, the speculative, the impossible. "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." - D.

I. FOREBODING BEFORE THE BATTLE. As the clouds gather blackness before a storm, so the mind of King Saul became more than ever dejected and gloomy before his defeat and death on Mount Gilboa. He who in the beginning of his reign struck so boldly at the Philistines, and threw off their yoke from the neck of Israel, was now afraid at the approach of their host, and "his heart greatly trembled." Not that his natural courage had deserted him, but, amidst all the disorder of his brain, this one thing he knew, that it was the God of Israel who had given him success against the Philistines, and now he found himself without God. There was no priest with the army to obtain Divine direction by the Urim and Thummim. Saul had slain the priests. There was no prophet to bring messages from God. By his breach with Samuel Saul had alienated from his cause all those who had any measure of prophetic gift. We hear the wail of a perturbed spirit - "I am sore distressed;" but no confession of sin, no accent of repentance. This is an ominous characteristic of Saul, that he never fairly faces the question of his own misconduct, always palliates his sin, always evades self-judgment and self-reproach. What breaks from him in his extremity is only the cry of hurt pride, the bitter vexation of a man who saw that his career was a failure, and that he had brought himself to disappointment and defeat. His foreboding before the battle was only too well grounded. So Shakespeare describes Richard III. gloomy and desperate before the battle of Bosworth Field: -

"I have not that alacrity of spirit
Nor cheer of mind that I was wont to have."

And shadows in the night struck yet deeper terror into the soul of Richard. In like manner Macbeth at Dunsinane, expecting the attack, has dark foreboding: -

"There is no flying hence, nor tarrying here.
I 'gin to be aweary of the sun."

II. RECOURSE TO FORBIDDEN ARTS. The troubled thoughts of the king went after that great prophet who had anointed him to be king, and had been to him as the voice of God. All his mishaps had come from inattention to Samuel's instructions and warnings. And it seemed to him that his fortune might still be retrieved if only he could have once more the advice of Samuel. The prophet was dead and buried, and there was no way to communicate with him except through the forbidden art of necromancy. Saul had in his zeal against heathen practices expelled from his dominions those who plied this art for gain; but now he fell in this, as in so many other respects, below his own former level, and repaired to a female necromancer at Endor. As to what occurred at Endor it is not necessary or perhaps possible to pronounce a very decided opinion. It was no mere piece of jugglery. To the perception of the woman there really was an apparition; but there is room for much question whether this was the actual appearance of a departed spirit, or a sort of waking vision dependent on the ecstatic and clairvoyant state of the necromancer. If there was a real presence, it was that of Samuel, or possibly that of an evil spirit personating Samuel. Neither of these suppositions commends itself to our judgment. No doubt the historian says, "Samuel said to Saul." But he describes the scene merely according to appearance, and so as to account for the effect produced on the mind of the king. He does not analyse appearances at all, or look under them for possible elements of illusion or delusion. But if it be possible to account for the apparition any otherwise, we shrink from the belief that Samuel was actually brought into this scene of gloom and wickedness, and, coming into it, spoke to poor distracted Saul without any tone of pity or exhortation to repentance, grimly telling him that tomorrow he would be defeated, and he and his sons would join the ghosts in Sheol. The moral improbability of this is very great. As to an evil spirit personating Samuel in order to drive the king to despair, there is no moral unlikelihood in the conjecture, and it has been the opinion of Tertullian, of Luther, of Grotius, and many more; but it supposes a greater marvel than the phenomena require to account for them, and therefore we reject it. Our view is that the apparition was real, but was no more than an apparition. The old man in the mantle had no existence whatever but to the morbid mind of the woman, who had fallen into a clairvoyantic trance. It is perfectly well known that women of a certain constitution have extraordinary aptitude for such trances and visions, and there is good reason to believe that the female necromancers and sorcerers of antiquity were persons of the same class with the nervous, crazy creatures who are nowadays spoken of as "powerful mediums." Such persons in our own time see apparitions of the dead, and if they add some elements of trick and imposture the better to establish their reputation, it is only what such unhappy beings have done in the past, and what the woman at Endor very likely did also. The voice that Saul heard may easily have proceeded from her as a practised ventriloquist (see Isaiah 29:4). Saul had fallen with his face to the ground before the apparition, which was invisible to him. So the ventriloquism was easy enough, and there was nothing in the words ascribed to Samuel which it was beyond the power of the necromancer to say, well aware as she must have been of the king's unfitness to encounter the great Philistine army, and the strong probability that the battle on the morrow would go against him. The wretched conclusion of the whole matter was that Saul was bereft of all hope, and "was sore afraid."

III. COMMUNION WITH THE DEAD. Necromancy, unfortunately, is not a lost art among ourselves. Men and women of education are not ashamed or afraid to practise arts and consult "mediums" that are referred to in the Old Testament as abhorrent to God and utterly forbidden to his people. In the communication with the dead which is said to be established there may be an element of trickery, there may be an element of power of some evil sort that no one can define; but the process all in all is one of base delusion, its whole tendency is crazy, and its issues are in gloom and madness. Above all, it tends to draw men away from God, or it is an attempt to obtain preternatural direction for souls that have fallen out of communion with him, like the soul of Saul, and it cannot come to good. But we do not say to the children of God, "Have nothing to do with the dead." In the communion of saints we are bound to those who have departed, as much as to those who are in the body. How they may help us even now is one of the things of which we have no certain knowledge. But we pay them most honour when we refrain from any attempt to disturb their sacred repose, and endeavour to remember their counsels, to walk in their steps, to live as they would wish us to live before God and man.

"How pure in heart and sound in head,
With what Divine affection bold,
Should be the man whose thought would hold
An hour's communion with the dead.

"In vain shalt thou or any call
The spirits from their golden day,
Except, like them, thou too eanst say,
My spirit is at peace with all.

"They haunt the silence of the breast,
Imaginations calm and fair,
The memory like a cloudless air,
The conscience as a sea at rest"

(Tennyson) = -F.

And Jehovah hath done for himself, as he spake by me (ver. 17).

1. The narrative of Saul's interview with the sorceress is graphic, but brief, incomplete, and in many respects, as might be expected, indefinite. Whether on his request, "Bring me up Samuel," she employed her illicit art is not expressly stated, nor whether any supernatural agency was concerned in what took place. "The woman saw Samuel," and she alone (ver. 14), "and she cried out" (in real or feigned surprise and fear), "Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul." There is no intimation that the name of Samuel or the distinguished stature of her visitor had previously suggested who he was; nor of any "gestures of fearful menace such as he could only show towards a deadly enemy, i.e. towards Saul" (Ewald, Stanley). It was from her description of "gods ascending out of the earth," and of the well known appearance of the venerable judge and prophet, that "he perceived that it was Samuel," and prostrated himself in abject homage before him whom he had formerly moved by his importunity to comply with his request (1 Samuel 15:30); and while "stooping with his face to the ground" he heard a voice which he was persuaded was the voice of Samuel. The evidence of an apparition or vision (for there can be no question concerning anything else) depended solely on the testimony of the woman; of the hearing of an unearthly voice on that of Saul, from whom also (unless his two servants were present at the time, which is not likely) the whole account must have been primarily derived.

2. It has been explained in various ways, e.g., that there was -

(1) A real apparition of the prophet (Ecclus. 46:20), either evoked by the conjurations of the woman (LXX., Josephus, Talmud), or effected by Divine power without her aid, and contrary to her expectation (see, for authorities and arguments, Wordsworth, 'Com.;' Waterland, Delany, Sir W. Scott, 'Demonology;' Kitto, 'D.B. Illus.;' Lindsay, Hengstenberg, Keil).

(2) An illusory appearance produced by demoniacal (or angelic) agency, and, according to some, employed as a medium of Divine revelation (Luther, Calvin, Grotius, Gilpin, 'Daemonologia Sacra;' Hall, Patrick, M. Henry).

(3) A mental impression or representation produced by Divine influence.

(4) A superstitious self-deception on the part of the woman, combined with a psychological identifying of herself with the deceased prophet (Erdmann).

(5) A conscious deception practised by her (perhaps not entirely without illusion) on the fearful and superstitious mind of the king, fasting, wearied, terrified, and in the dark (Chandler, W. Scott, 'Existence of Evil Spirits;' Thenius); little other than a dream, though terribly real to him. The circumstances of the case were such that the almost dramatic language of the historian may be fairly understood as descriptive of what seemed to Saul, and was afterwards popularly believed, rather than of the actual reality. All that occurred may be accounted for more satisfactorily on this hypothesis than any other. Almost every other involves assumptions concerning the power of necromancy, the reappearance of the dead, evil spirits, etc., which are unsupported by Scripture and exceedingly improbable. A Divine interposition would have been unmistakably indicated in the narrative (which is not the case, ver. 21), inconsistent with the Divine refusal to answer Saul's inquiry, unnecessary in order to reprove him further for the past (for there is no expressed reproof of his present crime), without adequate theocratic purpose, contrary to the holiness of God, and a confirmation (not a punishment) of "the anti-godly attempt of the sorceress."

3. Its chief significance (however it may be explained) lies in the revelation which it makes of the depth of degradation to which Saul had sunk and the effect of his apostasy. His "sin of divination" (1 Samuel 15:23) led to despair, and was speedily followed by the full execution of the sentence of his rejection. The silence of God was the silence that precedes the thunderstorm and the earthquake. Observe that -

I. THERE IS NO APPEAL FROM THE DIVINE JUDGMENT TO ANY OTHER (vers. 16, 17). Saul appears to have clung to the delusion that the sentence of Divine judgment uttered against him might be effectually resisted and entirely revoked; refused to acknowledge and submit to it, and hoped to succeed in his conflict with it when success was plainly perceived by others to be impossible. Hence (and not merely to gratify his curiosity concerning his fate) he sought the counsel of Samuel. In answer to the voice (asking reproachfully the reason why he had "disquieted" the dead, and drawing forth the expression of his feelings and wishes), he pathetically described his distress in consequence of the attack of the Philistines and his abandonment by God, and appealed for aid in his perplexity. Without supposing a desire of revenge on the part of the sorceress, hardly any other reply could be more accordant with his state of mind and deepest convictions than that which came to him. Since (by his own confession) he was abandoned by the Lord, it was useless to expect effectual help from the prophet of the Lord, who was the exponent and executor of his will. No direction was given "what he must do," and no ground of hope afforded that he might find mercy with the Lord himself if he sought it in a right spirit. "The belief that Samuel bad come to revisit him from the dead so worked upon Saul's mind as to suggest to his conscience what seemed to be spoken in his ear" (Smith's 'Old Testament History').

II. THE DIVINE JUDGMENT IS SOMETIMES FELT TO BE IRREVOCABLE. Of this he had occasionally caught a glimpse, but it was now brought home to him with overwhelming force in connection with -

1. The consciousness of his present condition, as an object of Divine displeasure, and destined to be replaced in the kingdom by David, to whom he had long ago applied the words of the prophet (1 Samuel 13:14; 1 Samuel 15:28): "The Lord hath rent," etc. (ver. 17). "The perfects express the purpose of God which had already been formed, and was now about to be fulfilled" (Keil).

2. The remembrance of his past transgression. "Because," etc. (ver. 18). The sparing of Amalek was the well known cause of his estrangement from Samuel and his rejection; and how vividly does some former act of disobedience sometimes rise before the mind of the sinner, increasing his burden of guilt and justifying his condemnation!

3. The fear of his future fate, now foreseen to be approaching (ver. 19). Israel would share his defeat, he and his sons would be on the morrow numbered with the dead, and the camp spoiled by the enemy. It was a terrible message, an inward realisation and confirmation of the Divine sentence. How little had he profited by resorting to divination! "The Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent."

III. THE CONVICTION THAT THE DIVINE JUDGMENT CANNOT BE ALTERED PRODUCES DESPAIR. "And Saul fell straightway all along on the earth," etc. (ver. 20). Up to this moment some hope lingered in his breast.

"The wretch condemned with life to part
Still, still on hope relies;
And every pang that rends the heart
Bids expectation rise.

"Hope, like the glimmering taper's light,
Adorns and cheers the way;
And still, as darker grows the night,
Emits a brighter ray"

(Goldsmith) But now it was quite extinguished. "Whilst evil is expected we fear, but when it is certain we despair. Saul was too hardened in his sin to express any grief or plain, either on his own account, or because of the fate of his sons and his people. In solid desperation he went to meet his fate. This was the terrible end of a man whom the spirit of God had once taken possession of and turned into another man, and whom he had endowed with gifts to be leader of the people of God" (O. von Gerlach). "All human history has failed to record a despair deeper or more tragic than his. Over the close of this life broods a thick and comfortless darkness, even the darkness of a night without a star" (Trench, 'Shipwrecks'). Remark that -

1. If men are forsaken by God, it is only because he has been forsaken by them.

2. Their only effectual resource in distress is the mercy of God, against whom they have sinned.

3. Persistent transgression infallibly ends in misery and despair. - D.

According to Jewish tradition she was the mother of Abner, on which account perhaps she escaped when others were "put away;" and the two attendants of Saul, in his visit to her, were Abner and Amass. She dwelt at Endor (the fountain of habitation), a village four miles south of Mount Tabor (Joshua 17:11; Psalm 83:10). "The calcareous cliffs around are filled with wide caverns, and some of the modern habitations are formed of front wails shutting in these caves," in one of which she may have dwelt and practised her forbidden art. This possessor or mistress of Ob (see vers. 7-10), although differing much from those who were accounted "witches," greatly abhorred and severely punished in more recent times, was a representative of many of them in -

1. Perverted religiousness. Her history might have shown that she possessed a more than ordinary measure of the religious sentiment prevalent in women, and that it had been (as it often is) misdirected by the influences under which she fell. She was at first a victim of superstition, and afterwards, finding herself perhaps endowed with peculiar and mysterious susceptibilities, and looked up to by others on account of her superior "wisdom," practised on their superstitions fears, in part deceived and in part deceiving. The mischief of the perversion of the religious sentiment (in deception, bigotry, cruelty, etc.) is incalculable.

2. Secret criminality. If she had lived among the heathen from whom her art was derived, she might have been held in general repute, like the oracles of Greece. But in Israel necromancy was condemned as treason against the Divine King, an abomination associated with and promotive of the worship of idols, and she displayed a daring impiety in practising it even in secret. "The Hebrew witch, or she who communicated or attempted to communicate with an evil spirit, was justly punished with death, though her communication with the spiritual world might either not exist at all, or be of a nature much less intimate than has been ascribed to the witches of later days; nor does the existence of the law against the witches of the Old Testament sanction in any respect the severity of similar enactments, subsequent to the Christian revelation, against a different class of persons accused of a very different species of crime" (Sir W. Scott).

3. Unholy cupidity. The desire of gain, to which she may have been urged by necessitous circumstances, was probably her principal motive in practising her art at the risk of life. The same desire leads to the basest actions, and even turns godliness into ungodliness. It is "a root of all evil."

4. Perpetual fear of discovery and suspicion of deception on the part of those to whose wishes she ministered, and of whose weaknesses she made traffic (ver. 9). The sword of justice hangs over the head of secret transgressors, and suffers them not to enjoy a moment's peace.

5. Skilful deception. Saul thought to deceive her, but was himself deceived by her, and fatally deluded. Whatever may have been her power in magic, clairvoyance (Keil), and ventriloquism (Isaiah 29:4), she certainly professed what she did not possess (ver. 11); employed it in "cunning craftiness," and became (whether designedly or undesignedly) accessory to his ruin (1 Chronicles 10:14). How much of the power which is now abused and made a curse might if properly used become a blessing!

6. Kindly sympathy and ministration. On observing his heavy fall (for she was apparently in the same room) she came to his side, and seeing that he was "sore troubled," felt a woman's pity, spoke to him in soothing tones as to a wilful child, requested him to gratify her wishes in eating "a morsel of bread" to strengthen him, in return for her obeying his voice (with "a talkativeness characteristic of this class of women, and a certain humour"), perhaps called his servants, and with them constrained him. Her heart was not dead. "She had one calf that she was very fond of, and one that she took a great deal of care of, and fed it herself; for she was a woman that got her living by the labour of her own hands, and had no other possession but that one calf; this she killed, and made ready its flesh, and set it before his servants and himself. Now it is but just to recommend the generosity of this woman (Josephus).

7. Pitiable desolation. Saul is gone forth into the night to meet his fate. Left to herself, distrusted and distrustful, feared and fearful, without the consolations of religion, she is as much an object of pity as of blame. "We take leave of her, as she took leave of the ruined king, with a pitying heart." - D.

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