(chs.. 28-31.)



I Samuel 28





(ch. 28.).


Achish Summons David to Join Him in War against Israel

(vs. 1-2)


1 "And it came to pass in those days, that the Philistines gathered

their armies together for warfare, to fight with Israel. And Achish

said unto David, Know thou assuredly, that thou shalt go out with

me to battle, thou and thy men." In those days. I.e. while David was dwelling at

Ziklag. The Philistines gathered their armies together. This was, as Josephus has

observed, a war upon a much larger scale than any that had been carried on

since the defeat of the Philistines in the valley of Elah; for we find that the

invasion was made from the north, and the decisive battle fought not in the

usual field of operations, but in the territory of the tribe of Issachar, in the

neighborhood of Jezreel. We are not indeed to suppose from this that the

Philistines had conquered all the central districts of the land, and, driving

Saul before them, at last brought him to bay, and slew him in the north; for

though Ishbosheth was compelled to withdraw to Mahanaim, a city on the

eastern side of the Jordan, yet Abner is said to have made him king there

not only over the trans-Jordanic tribes, but also “over Jezreel, and over

Ephraim, and over Benjamin” (II Samuel 2:9). It may be said, however,

that these were but titular claims; but the Philistine conquests, as described

in ch. 31:7, if not confined to the valley of Esdraelon, as in I Chronicles 10:7,

were nevertheless all of them to the north of Mount Gilboa, thus leaving

Ephraim, Benjamin, and Judah untouched. Nor do we find the Philistines

encamped between David at Hebron and Ishbosheth at Mahanaim, or interfering

in their contests; and it is only when David was made king over the whole of

Israel that they again assembled their forces to dispute the empire with him,

and twice suffered defeat (II Samuel 5:20, 25). More probably, therefore, they

marched northward through their own territory, raising the whole of the military

population as they went, and then, turning eastward, broke into the Israelite

territory by the valley of Jezreel. It was probably the rapid decline of Saul’s

power which encouraged the Philistines to attempt once again to place their

yoke upon the neck of Israel; and Saul, conscious that God’s blessing had

departed from him, in pitiable agony sought for unholy aid, but finally, with his

sons, made a last brave defense, and died a soldier’s death. Achish said unto

David. As a vassal David was bound to accompany his lord to the field;

and Achish, supposing that David had of his own accord made war upon

Judah, probably assumed that the invitation was one which he himself

desired. To battle. Hebrew, “in the army.”


2 "And David said to Achish, Surely thou shalt know what thy servant

can do. And Achish said to David, Therefore will I make thee keeper of mine

head for ever."  Surely thou shalt know. Hebrew, “Therefore thou shalt

know,” i.e. if the case be so, thou shalt know, etc. The rendering of the

Authorized Version makes David repeat the words of Achish, which literally are,

“knowing thou shalt know,” the Hebrew way of making a strong

affirmation. David’s reply is really ambiguous, but is understood by Achish

as a boastful assent, and he thereupon promises, Therefore will I make

thee keeper of mine head, i.e. captain of my bodyguard, forever.

Therefore is exactly the same word as that used by David, and has just the

same meaning, namely, “If the case be so, if thou provest thy valor, then

I, etc.




(vs. 3-25).


3 "Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had lamented him, and buried

him in Ramah, even in his own city. And Saul had put away those

that had familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land." Samuel was dead.

A repetition of ch. 25:1, inserted to explain Saul’s conduct, as is the other fact,

that Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits, etc. We are not told when

Saul did this; but at the commencement of his reign, when he brought the ark to

Nob, he was probably earnest generally in his observance of the precepts of the

Mosaic law. Familiar spirits. Hebrew, oboth, the plural of ob, a leathern

bottle. It is generally taken to refer to the distended belly of the conjurer,

into which the summoned spirit of the dead was supposed to enter, and

thence speak; for which reason the Septuagint renders the word

"ventriloquist,” and is followed by most modern commentators. Wizards.

Hebrew, “knowing ones,” from the verb to know; just as wizard comes

from the old verb to wiss. With ignorant people unusual knowledge is

always looked upon with suspicion; but these supposed magicians

professed a knowledge to which they bad no claim.


4 "And the Philistines gathered themselves together, and came and pitched

in Shunem: and Saul gathered all Israel together, and they pitched in Gilboa."

The Philistines… pitched in Shunem. Having collected their

forces, the Philistines entered Palestine as we have seen, by the valley of

Jezreel, also called Esdraelon, and, marching eastward, encamped at

Shunem. This was a village in the tribe of Issachar (Joshua 19:18),

rendered famous as the abode of the woman who made a little chamber for

Elisha (II Kings 4:8); and from thence also came Abishag (I Kings 1:8).

Conder describes it as being at present only a mud hamlet, with

cactus hedges and a spring, but the view extends, he says, as far as to

Mount Carmel, fifteen miles away (‘Tent-Work,’ 1:123). It is now called

Sulem, a name given to it also by Eusebius, and lies upon the slopes of the

little Hermon, opposite Mount Gilboa, from which it is separated by the

valley of Jezreel. This broad plain “is bounded on the east by the range of

Gilboa, rising 1500 feet above the sea, and consisting of white chalk; while

on the west a long spur runs out at about the same average elevation with

Gilboa, and winds northwest to the ridge of Carmel (Conder, ‘Handbook,’

p. 209). As the valley is about 250 feet above the sea level, Saul, from an

elevation of 1200 feet, would easily see the camp of the Philistines pitched

upon the slopes of the opposite range at a distance of about four miles.


5 "And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart

greatly trembled.  6  And when Saul enquired of the LORD, the LORD

answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets."

When Saul saw, etc. It is plain from this that the Philistines

had not forced their way up through the Israelite territory; for this was

evidently Saul’s first sight of their forces, and his alarm was caused by

finding them so much larger than he had expected. He therefore in his

anxiety enquired of Jehovah, but received no answer, neither by

dreams. He had expected these to be vouchsafed, possibly to himself, but

more probably to some class of prophets (see Jeremiah 23:25, where

false prophets claim to have dreamed, in imitation no doubt of true

prophets); but though dreams were thus recognized as a means for

communicating God’s will to man, yet, as Erdmann well remarks, “a

subordinate position is certainly assigned in the Old Testament to the

dream as the medium of the Divine influence on the inner life, which in

sleep sinks into a state of passiveness.” Nor by Urim. Though Abiathar

after the massacre of his family had fled to David with the ephod, it is quite

possible that Saul may have had another ephod made, and have set up a

fresh sanctuary, perhaps at Gibeon, with Zadok, of the family of Eleazar, as

high priest. This would account for Zadok being joined with Ahimelech,

the son of Abiathar, as one of two high priests early in David’s reign

(II Samuel 8:17). It is remarkable, however, that Saul does not mention the

Urim himself in v. 15, and very probably it is named here not because the

ephod was actually used, but as enumerating all the various ways by which

men inquired of Jehovah. Nor by prophets. In his despair Saul may have

turned to some reputed soothsayer present with the host, but his willful life

had alienated both priest and prophet from him. And this is the meaning of

the passage in I Chronicles 10:14: “Saul enquired not of Jehovah;

therefore he slew him.” He may have gone through the form of inquiring,

and certainly now would have been glad of an answer, but his whole mind

was determinately set upon carrying out his own purposes, and he would

never permit, after the first year or two of his reign, the royal prerogative

to bend to the will of God.



The Operation of Moral Causes (vs. 1-5)


The facts are:


1. On war arising between the Philistines and Israel, Achish reminds David of his

obligation to assist him in battle.

2. David, although answering ambiguously, is trusted by Achish, who promises him


3. On the opposing forces being assembled, Saul’s heart faints for fear of his enemy.


The narrative shows that both David and Saul were at the same time in embarrassed

circumstances, and each as the consequence of his sin. They were bent on totally

diverse objects, but neither of them was in a position of safety. The penalties of

transgression were being paid. We see here an instance of:



in yielding to unwarrantable fear, followed as it was by actions unworthy of

his fair fame, was now developing to a crisis in which the principles of his

entire life would be put to an unavoidable test. His heathen friend and

protector naturally claimed his help in the coming struggle with Israel.

Painfully must David have winced as Achish, trusting to his honor and

gratitude, reminded him of his obligations. Although he had simulated

hostility to Israel for his own selfish purposes, and had done himself and his

countrymen a wrong by allowing it to be supposed that he could ever be

their enemy, yet there was enough of fidelity in his heart to save him from

so dire an evil as was suggested by Achish. To escape from the awkward

position, recourse was had to the craft of an ambiguous statement, to

which he and Achish attached different meanings. The common judgment

on David’s conduct will be adverse. Even though some would apologize

for it under the plea of danger, yet they must condemn its essential

falsehood. It is not lawful to palliate our deceit by reference to difficulties

created by our own misconduct. Plain, straightforward words and conduct,

even in times of perplexity, are not only morally best, but, even from a

utilitarian point of view, are most conducive to permanent welfare. It is to

be feared that ambiguities abound in life more than becomes a Christian

profession. There is conduct as well as language admitting of double

interpretation. We should always aim to be and to speak so as not to be

objects of suspicion. To say exactly what we mean and to act with

singleness of purpose is to approximate towards the “simplicity that is in

Christ” (compare Romans 12:8; II Corinthians 1:12; 11:3).


  • UNTIMELY TROUBLES. Troubles are in the way at any time, but

there are seasons when their presence is most inconvenient. It was

annoying to David that war should break out between Israel and the

Philistines just when he was, according to the ordinary judgement of men,

under obligation to assist Achish; and it was especially inconvenient to Saul

that this trouble of war should occur when, by reason of Samuel’s long

discountenance of his reign, the gradual alienation of able men, the loss to

the kingdom of David’s prowess, and his own private sorrows, it was not

possible to gather adequate forces and act with wonted energy. Providence

has a manifest tendency to allow troubles to cross the path of the wrong

doer just when, for his own purposes, it is desirable to have it quite clear.

“Behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns,” is a prediction likely to be

fulfilled in the lives of rulers and nations bent on a crooked course of

conduct; nor can individuals escape the law of providential vexation when

they practice deceit or, like Saul, cherish an impenitent spirit. It is thus that

the delusiveness of sin appears; for the ease and pleasure anticipated in

doing one’s sinful will vanish before events, which, like mists around a

mountain, seem to come from we know not where. A man’s sin will be

sure to find rebuke in forms he could not foresee. It is very inconvenient to

be on the wrong side in the moral conflicts of life. Good men can bear

trouble in patience, knowing that it is as truly helpful to their highest

interests as is joy; wicked men not only lose the support of a clear

conscience, but have to learn that the end for which they have striven will

be frustrated (compare Psalm 7:9; 37:38; 112:10).  (I highly recommend

Proverbs ch.14 v.14 - Spurgeon Sermon - How a Man's Conduct Comes

Home to Him - this website - CY - 2016)


  • THE OPERATION OF MORAL CAUSES. The troubles which thus

came on David and Saul, producing in the one a questionable ambiguity of

conduct, and in the other a sense of helplessness, were connected with a

set of moral causes that had been in steady operation for a considerable

period, and had interacted with the physical in producing the crisis. Taking

the case of Saul, we see how his sin in the early part of his reign, being

unrepented, induced the line of conduct which drove David from the land,

alienated the spiritual power and many of the ablest men, gradually drew

around himself evil men, and created uneasiness and distrust in the nation.

Whatever reluctance on the part of the people to assemble in full force, and

whatever want of nerve on the part of Saul to lead them on, might have

been the immediate cause of his fear — these were the result of the moral

defection which had slowly worked on all departments of life. Besides this,

the sin of Saul had had the effect of so withdrawing the Divine favor that

Providence, by not restraining their will, permitted the attack of the

Philistines. (This can be easily translated to current affairs in the United

States of America!  Just fill in Terrorist for Philistines and you will not

be far off!  CY – 2016)  For moral reasons Saul’s predicted doom was

preparing, in spite of all his efforts to avoid it. It is one of the most striking

characteristics of the Bible, as compared with other books, that it brings

into prominence the moral causes that affect the present and future position

of men. Assuming the orderly action of physical laws, it impresses us with

the truth that the mental and moral are above the physical, and that man

by his conduct sets in motion moral forces which, by a subtle interaction,

ultimately govern the bearing of the physical upon his condition. Moral

causes are primary. In so far as we may imagine the Divine action in

creation having a beginning, the moral cause of action was antecedent.

The reason of the exercise of power was moral. In our world’s sad history

moral causes have been primary. The same is true of our personal life.

They lie at the spring of our joy or woe. They are also silent and slow.

Saul’s sin and impenitence were not uttered, and they worked on in silent,

slow course all through his life. It seems to require time for the higher

moral laws to work out their legitimate consequences in the sphere of the

physical. There are many illustrations of this in the lives of evil men, as

also of good. They are also invincible. No energy or cunning on the part of

Saul could obviate the political and military weakness of his kingdom. No

power can check the tendency to physical and political decay consequent

on the sins of statesmen and peoples. The whole universe submits to the

action of the moral forces that are tending to bring men into judgment. The

sea even will obey and give up its dead.  (Revelation 20:13)




Ø      In embarrassments brought on by our sins. it is honouring to God to

speak the plain truth and trust to his care,

Ø      We should be thankful to God for hedging our erring steps with difficulties.

Ø      It is a comfort to the holy that the principles ruling in their souls are

destined to finally subdue all things to their truest welfare.



Darkening Shadows of Retribution (vs. 1-6)


“And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart

greatly trembled” (v. 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 judgeship

of Samuel). But his course from his first wrong step (ch. 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 (ch. 9:16).


2. The Philistine invasion was on a larger scale than any that had recently

occurred (ch. 13:5; 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 (ch. 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

(ch.16:14-16), now gone to his rest (v. 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

(ch. 27:4), was now (as he thought) among them, and would

“surely be king” (ch. 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; 24:17). He is:


  • 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



Ø      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 50:21).


Ø      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”



Ø      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”



  • IMPELLED TO SEEK DIVINE COUNSEL. “And Saul inquired of

Jehovah” (v. 6). It is not recorded that he had ever done so since he

“asked counsel of God” and “he answered Him not” (ch. 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 recognized means of obtaining it, apart from a proper state of heart,

therein exhibiting the same blindness as of old (ch.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:


Ø      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).


Ø      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.


Ø      It is not sought with a right purpose, but with some earthly and selfish

end in view, rather than the Divine honor. “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; 20:31).


  • DENIED THE DESIRED RESPONSE. “Jehovah answered him not,”

etc. (v. 6). “I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me,

and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more” (v. 15). “Saul

received from God no answer more, except for judgment.”


Ø      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:


o        of refusal,

o        of rejection,

o        of displeasure,

o        of abandonment”


(Bonar, ‘Bible Thoughts’). “Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone”

(Hosea 4:17).

Ø      What utter helplessness!

Ø      What intolerable darkness and distress! (Hebrews 10:27).


o        Consider:

§         That nothing but the offering of the sacrifice of “a broken

and a contrite heart” can prevent despair.

§         That the boundless mercy of God should awaken hope

even at “the eleventh hour.”


7 "Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a

familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and enquire of her. And his

servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar

spirit at Endor.  8 And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment,

and he went, and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night:

and he said, I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring

me him up, whom I shall name unto thee." Seek me a woman that hath a

familiar spirit. Hebrew, “owner of an ob” (see on v. 3). This determination of

Saul proves how obstinate was his self-will. He wanted an answer simply that he

might know what was about to happen, not that he might receive guidance and

counsel from God. From his bidding them seek him out “a woman mistress

of an ob,” we gather that women were the usual claimants to these occult

powers, just as now they are the most successful clairvoyantes, Endor

“the spring of the round,” i.e. perhaps of the dwelling, houses being

originally circular in shape, like tents — lay a little to the northeast of

Shunem, and it was therefore a hazardous matter for Saul to visit it.

Condor (‘Tent-Work,’ 1:122) says, “East of Nain is a village of mud huts,

with hedges of prickly pear. This is Endor, famous in connection with the

tragic history of the death of Saul. The adventurous character of Saul’s

night journey is very striking when we consider that the Philistines pitched

in Shunem on the southern slopes of the mountain, and that Saul’s army

was at Jezreel; thus, to arrive at Endor he had to pass the hostile camp, and

would probably creep round the eastern shoulder of the hill, hidden by the

undulations of the plain, as an Arab will often now advance unseen close

by you in a fold of the ground.” He proceeds to speculate upon the cave in

which the sorceress may have lived, dismissing those in the town as too

modern, but suggesting one on the hillside. But there is nothing in the

narrative to suggest that she lived in a cave, but rather the contrary, and

the idea may be dismissed as due to the imagination of painters. As the

journey was very dangerous, Saul disguised himself, and went by night,

accompanied only by two men; and nothing could more plainly set before

us his mental anguish, and also his intense desire to pry into the secrets of

futurity, than this strange journey. All faith and hope are gone, and a

feverish excitement, ready to catch at any aid, however lawless and

untrustworthy, had taken their place. In this state of mind he arrives at the

woman’s dwelling, and says, Divine unto me by the ob. Though

divination was strictly forbidden (Deuteronomy 18:10, 14), yet we find

the diviner (Authorized Version prudent) in high popular estimation in

Isaiah 3:2; and it was probably a lucrative profession, or this woman would

not have been willing to incur so great a danger as was involved in its practice.

Bring me him up, etc. The fancy that we can see the spirits of the dead is a most

natural and enduring superstition, and it seems generally assumed that they

must have some knowledge not accessible to the living. It must be said for

Saul that he did not become the victim of this folly until after his reason

was disturbed, and as a punishment for heinous sins.


9 "And the woman said unto him, Behold, thou knowest what Saul

hath done, how he hath cut off those that have familiar spirits, and

the wizards, out of the land: wherefore then layest thou a snare for

my life, to cause me to die?  10 And Saul swear to her by the LORD,

saying, As the LORD liveth, there shall no punishment happen to thee

for this thing."   Thou knowest what Saul hath done. Not only had Saul

in the earlier part of his reign been earnest in his zeal for the Mosaic law,

but even now it seems as if a witch was in danger of death; for he has to

take an oath before she will acknowledge that she practices any illicit art,



Resorting to Superstitious Practices (vs. 7-10)


“Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and

inquire of her” (v. 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 favor. 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; 29:4; ventriloquists,

Septuagint; 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 (v. 15) to avert the wrath which he feared.

In like manner the heathen resorted to their priests and diviners (ch. 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 (ch. 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 — ch. 3:3; 5:3; 9:25;

15:11; 19:10; 25:36; 26:7; 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.


2.  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” (I Chronicles 10:13-14).

“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 practitioners 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.



  • ITS INDUCEMENTS. Among them are:


Ø      Unbelieving fear. “Superstition is the restless effort of a guilty but blind

conscience to find rest and peace and good by unauthorized 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).


Ø      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).


Ø      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 favor, is rightly called superstitious”



  • ITS DEVICES. They usually:


Ø      Involve artifice, effort, trouble, and sacrifice (vs. 7-8). What

extraordinary pains do men sometimes undergo in the practice of

superstition I (I Kings 18:28).


Ø      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 favorable 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 (v. 9).


Ø      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” (II Timothy 3:13)   “It was

a shame that the king who had expelled all sorcerers must himself at last

fall into the hands of a sorceress” (Winer).




Ø      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.”


Ø      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 (v. 10).


Ø      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; 20:6, 27; Deuteronomy 18:10; II  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’).




Ø      It fills the votaries of superstition with miserable disappointment.


Ø      It makes them the victims of delusion, and further estranges them from

the way of truth.


Ø      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.


11 "Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said,

Bring me up Samuel." Whom shall I bring up to thee? Assured by Saul’s oath,

the woman now asserts her ability to call up the spirits of the dead, and asks,

just as would happen now with those who claim similar powers, who it is

to be. We need not suppose that she possessed either greater or less

powers than those claimed or even exercised now; for many of the

phenomena of clairvoyance, though undoubtedly natural, still belong to an

unscientific, and therefore vague and illusory, region. Perhaps on this very

account these arts have always had an extraordinary fascination for men,

and been practiced in all ages and among all people with considerable skill.

Bring me up Samuel. Samuel had been Saul’s friend in his youth, and his

guide and counselor in those happy days when the young king walked

uprightly, and all went well with him. But gradually the light yoke of

respect for one who loved him became too heavy for a despotic

temperament, which would brook no will but its own. Now that self-will is

broken; it had brought the warrior king to a hopeless despair, and in his

distress his mind once again returns to its old channels. Intense as was the

degradation for one so haughty, in disguise by night, at the risk of his life,

to seek help from a sorceress, he bears it all that he may at least for a few

minutes see the spirit of the true though stern monitor, whose memory

once again filled his whole heart.



Samuel’s Counsel Vainly Desired (v. 11)


“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 counselor, 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 (v. 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,” v. 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:


  • THE VALUE OF FAITHFUL COUNSEL, to which it is a testimony.

The reproofs and warnings which a faithful counselor 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 favor.

Give heed to what he says while it may conduce to your profit.



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?” (Henry Melvill).



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 (vs. 1-6); he looked

upon Samuel as more merciful than the Lord, relied upon him to effect a

change in the Divine purpose (ch. 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” (I Corinthians 3:18).  What value can there be in a

religious desire which is combined with the violation of the plainest religious




such as have been sometimes desired from the dead. Saul had what to him

was the fulfillment of his desire; but he was told only what he already knew

or feared, he was not led to repentance and faith, BUT SANK INTO

DESPAIR!  Is it supposed that benefit would be derived from the

reappearance and counsel of the departed? Consider that:


Ø      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).


Ø      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).


Ø      God has given to men the knowledge and inducements which are best

adapted to their probationary condition and sufficient for every practical

purpose, and has wisely determined that no more shall be afforded. “He

that is unjust, let him be unjust still:  and he which is filthy, let him be

filthy still:  and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still:  and he

that is holy, let him be holy still”  (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,” Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to

bring Christ down from above:)  Or, Who shall descend into the deep?

 (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.)  But what saith it?

The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is,

the word of faith, which we preach; That 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.  For with the

heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth

confession is made unto salvation.  For the scripture saith,

Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.”  (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.”  (ibid. v. 9)


12 "And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice:

and the woman spake to Saul, saying, Why hast thou deceived me?

for thou art Saul."  When the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice.

Evidently the last thing that she had expected was that anything else should

happen than the usual illusion by which she imposed upon her victims; nor

is it certain that anything else did happen. Her assertion that she saw

Samuel was probably false; and it was in feigned excitement that she cried

out, Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul. She could not but

have noticed the tall stature, the dignified manner, and also the intense

excitement of her strange visitor; and when he bade her call up the spirit of

Samuel, she must have been dull indeed not to know who the stranger was.


13 "And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou?

And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth."

What sawest thou? Thus far Saul had seen nothing; and as

the words literally are What seest thou? it is plain that she had not gone

into another room, as some have supposed. The vision was entirely

unsubstantial, and Saul, hearing her cry, and observing her excitement, and

her steady gaze upon some object, asked what that object was. Probably

she was at some distance from him, as was no doubt her custom when

performing her incantations, in order that what she did might not be too

closely observed; probably, too, she burnt odors, and surrounded herself

with the smoke of incense. In answer to Saul she says, “I see Elohim

ascending out of the earth.” As the participle is plural, she does not mean

God; nor, as it was a single appearance, is the rendering gods correct.

What she means is that she saw some grand supernatural appearance rising

out of the ground, which she calls a god in a general way, without

attaching any very exact meaning to the term.


14 "And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man

cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was

Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself."

What form is he of? Rather, “What is his aspect?” i.e. his

look. As the term a god conveyed no other idea than that she had seen

something majestic, Saul asks for a more exact description. She answers

that it was an old man clad in a robe, meil (see on ch. 2:19).

Samuel seems never to have worn the prophetic mantle (see on ch.15:27),

but always the meil. There was nothing, therefore, distinctive in the dress;

but as she says that she has seen an old man, Saul concludes that he for whom

he had asked had appeared to him. Instead of Saul perceived, the Hebrew has

“Saul knew.” There is nothing to prove that Saul really saw anything; all that

is said is that by the woman’s description “Saul recognized that what she had

seen was Samuel, and he bowed himself to the ground, and made obeisance.”



Man’s Appeal from God to Man (vs. 6-14)


The facts are:


1. Saul in his trouble seeks in vain guidance from God.

2. In despair he has recourse to the witch of Endor, promising her that no

harm should come to her for assisting him with her incantations.

3. Saul desires of her to bring up Samuel.

4. On Samuel coining forth the woman is in terror, and also discovers

Saul’s identity.

5. By the aid of the woman Saul recognizes Samuel, and bows himself to

the earth.


The strange events here narrated awaken feelings of wonder, and, in minds not

acquiescent in God’s methods of developing His purpose in connection with the

Hebrew race, some degree of incredulity; but the important spiritual teaching is

obvious, and the difficulties of the subject, also, are not without their practical

value. We have here an instance of:



The triple reference to dreams, prophets, and Urim indicates the intense

desire of Saul to obtain some intimation of the Divine will; and this renders

the futility of his endeavor the more impressive. Outwardly he conformed

to the usages of a ruler in Israel, and, were he judged by men who have

regard only or chiefly to the zeal which meets the eye, he would be

regarded as, so far, a religious man, and within the range of blessing. To

those who are unfamiliar with Scripture it may seem painfully strange that

a man presumably in earnest should be so utterly left of God; but, as in

other instances, a little more knowledge will afford a solution of the fact

and justify the ways of God.


Ø      It is a fact that men are left to themselves. Divine guidance had been.

withheld from Saul from the day of his rebellion (ch. 15:20-23)

up to the date of this event. The antediluvians and, at one stage of history,

Israel were abandoned to their devices (Genesis 6:1-3; Isaiah 1:15).

Pharisees were left to the blindness of their hearts notwithstanding their

many prayers. When men deliberately darken the light that is in them God

does not enable them to see the “Light of the world.”



As an example of this, I will now attempt to draw attention to God leaving the

temple in  Jerusalem, not to come back until Christ enters through the

eastern gate as mentioned in Ezekiel 43:2 – (CY – 2009, 2016)


There was a precedent set at the time of the Flood when God said

“my Spirit shall not always strive with man”  - Genesis 6:3


No one can be saved without the leading of the Holy Spirit drawing

a man to GodJesus said “No man can come to me, except the

Father which hath sent me draw him” – John 6:44


When Israel turned her back on Jehovah she “mocked the messengers

of God, and despised His words, and misused His prophets, until the

wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was NO REMEDY”

II Chronicles 36:16


Therefore Jehovah withdrew from His  people and this withdrawal has

lasted for around 2500 years.   This withdrawal, in stages, is depicted by

Ezekiel in the following passages:


  • We find God in His temple – chps. 1:28, 3:23, 8:4


  • We see God having removed to the threshold or door of the temple –

      chps. 9:3, 10:4



Comment on 9:3 – “Was gone up” - better, went up. The prophet saw the

process as well as the result. The “glory of the Lord” which he had seen

(ch. 8:4) by the northern gate rose from its cherub throne (we note the

use of the singular to express the unity of the fourfold form), as if to direct the

action of his ministers, to the threshold of the “house.” This may be

connected also with the thought that the normal abiding place of the

presence of the Lord had been “between the cherubim” (Psalm 80:1) of

the mercy seat.


Comment on 10:3-4 – “Now the cherubim stood” - The position of the

cherubim is defined, with a vivid distinctness of detail. They had been standing

on the right, i.e. the southern side of the sanctuary. What follows is probably a

reproduction of the change of positions described in ch. 9:3, and the verbs

should be taken, therefore, as pluperfects. The cloud of glory, as in 1 Kings 8:10-11

and Isaiah 6:1-2, the Shechinah, that was the token of the Divine presence,

filled the court, but the glory itself had moved to the threshold at the first

stage of His departure.


  • Jehovah departs from the temple through the door of the east gate –

      ch. 10:18-19


Comment on 10:18-19 – “Then the glory of the Lord” - The chariot throne

was, as it were, ready for its Kingly Rider. The “glory”-cloud, or Shechinah.

takes its place over them, and the departure begins. From that hour the temple

was, in Ezekiel’s thoughts, to be, till the time of restoration contemplated in ch.

40-48., what Shiloh had been, a God-deserted place. We are reminded of

the voice which Josephus tells us was heard before the final destruction of

the second temple, exclaiming, “Let us depart hence,” as the priests were

making ready for the Pentecostal feast (‘Bell. Jud.,’ 6:5. 3).


v. 19. The departure has the east gate of the Lord’s house for its

starting point. By that gate, in the later vision of the restored temple, the

glory of the Lord was to return (Ezekiel 43:4).



  • Jehovah leaves the city of Jerusalem and stood upon the mountain on

      the east side of the city – ch. 11:23



Comment on vs. 22-23 - Another stage of the departure of the Divine glory closes

the vision. He had rested over the middle of the city. He now halts over the

mountain on the east side of the city, i.e. on the Mount of Olives (2 Samuel 15:30;

Zechariah 14:4). Currey mentions, but without a reference, a Jewish tradition that

the Shechinah, or glory cloud, remained there for three years, calling the

people to repentance. What is here recorded may have suggested the thought of

Zechariah 14:4. We may remember that it was from this spot that Christ “beheld

the city, and wept over it” (Luke 19:41); that from it He, the true Shechinah,

ascended into heaven. Here, perhaps, the dominant thought was that He

remained for a time to direct the work of judgment. And so the vision was

over, and the prophet was borne back in vision to Chaldea, and made known to the

exiles of Tel-Abib the wonderful and terrible things tidal he had seen.







The Eastern or Golden Gate of Jerusalem, shown in the two photgraphs

above, was sealed by the Moslems centuries ago for reasons unclear.  In

doing so, they unwittingly fulfilled the first part of the prophecy in

Ezekiel 44:1-6 (see vs. 1-9 here).  The rest of the prophecy will be

fulfilled when the Prince, Messiah Jesus, enters the Temple Mount

through this gate, this time to rule!  (Just last week, I heard over the

news that Israel wants to reopen this gate for convenience sake but it

will be at a risk in offending the Arabs – CY  - Sept. 4, 2011)


During the Christian Dispensation God’s Spirit has been dealing with

man – The Holy Spirit’s withdrawal after the Church Age in which we

are living seems to be the prerequisite for the appearance of the

“anti-christ – II Thessalonians 2:7-8


For a parallel see all of the “for this cause God gave them up” in

Romans 1:24, 26-28


All outward pomps and all human distinctions are as nothing to the human soul

compared with the glorious presence of the Divine Spirit in the heart of man.

But though God comes to us thus and dwells with us, He will not abide with us

if we do not retain our purity, our moral and spiritual integrity (see I Corinthians

3:16; II Corinthians 6:16). Yet may there be, in individual experience, a blessed

return of the glory of the Lord. If there be a sincere and deep humility; if

there be an earnest seeking after God in prayer; if there be a cordial

reconsecration of the heart and life to the Divine Redeemer;then will

there be a gracious and a glorious return of His presence and of His blessing

to the soul.










Ø      There are moral reasons for such abandonment. In Saul’s case there

was an absence of that state of mind which alone would render attention to

his cry for help honorable to God and blessed to mankind. There was no

penitential recognition of his former sin, nor of the years of persistent

impenitence, nor of his cruelty to David; his desire for God’s guidance and

help sprang entirely from fear of military disaster, of loss of influence, and

of the fulfillment of the prediction outstanding against him (ch. 15:28-29).

The response of God to man’s cry is based on law as beautiful

in its orderliness as anything in the physical world. The notion that God

must help every one in trouble is based on sheer ignorance, and is

profoundly unscientific. Even in home and society we recognize the

necessity of moral conditions of receiving attention and favor. DIVINE

MERCY IS FREE,  but is righteous in its flow. It never sets a premium on

selfishness and impenitence; it is never exercised in such a way as to do

violence to our radical sense of right and moral propriety. This will account

for the deaf ear which God is represented as turning to bad men when, in

desperation, they cry to him in adversity, and when, at the end of life, they

seek Him in vain; for they do not care for God, for holiness, for anything

but selfish deliverance from uncomfortable circumstances and great danger.



Ø      The abandonment is in harmony with the current of God’s promises.

Again and again we are encouraged to seek the Lord. (“And ye shall

seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your hearts.”

Jeremiah 29:13)  Nothing is more certain than that God delights to answer

our cry for help. The appeal of David later on in life, and the sinner woman

pleas in Luke 7:36-50, were freely answered; but Psalm 51 reveals the

contrast of David’s spirit with that of Saul, and the tears of the unholy

woman told of a heart altogether turned toward God. 



some minds a feeling of surprise that such a narrative as this should find a

place in a book supposed to be written or compiled under Divine

inspiration for the instruction of the world in spiritual truth; and, assuming

that its fitness in such a book can be made out, it is deemed incredible that

God should allow His servant to come from the invisible world at the

request of such a man as Saul, and through an agency condemned in the

Bible. Now on this difficult subject it may suffice for our purpose to observe:


Ø      A revelation of God’s purpose towards mankind in connection with and

by means of the history of a race is natural only in so far as it embraces

what the chief figures of the history actually did, and especially in their

relation to Him, be it good or bad. That Saul actually did as here recorded

is evident on the face of the whole narrative, for never was there a more

perfect air of truthfulness on a record. The very unreasonableness of his

conduct in applying to a witch for such a purpose, and after executing the

law against witchcraft, is quite reasonable when we reflect on the utter

mental and moral confusion involved in his despair. Compare his

unreasonable act of seeking a blessing through a sinful act (ch. 13:8-14;

15:21-23). The record, therefore, of such a transaction is reasonable in

an inspired book.


Ø      There are cases in which God allows bad men to have their desire

without the advantage they expect from its being granted. Quails were

given to men to their grief. (Numbers 11:31-35; Psalm 78:26-31)

A king was desired contrary to God’s will, and one was given, much

to the affliction of the nation. There is so far a similarity in this instance,

that the granting of the desire to see Samuel was only to seal Saul’s doom,

not to give the guidance anticipated, and which had been hitherto refused

(v. 6).


Ø      There was a manifest fitness in Samuel being permitted to declare the

fixity of Saul’s fate and its equity. He had instructed and warned Saul at

first in private (ch. 9:25 – ch. 10:8), and subsequently (ch. 15:26-31). All

through he had looked with sorrowful pity on this poor wayward, sinning

man. With Saul’s belief in the existence of the spirits of good men after

death, it was the most natural thing to wish, if possible, to see this wise,

kind, and faithful friend, and in his utter despair appeal to his pity (like he

did in ibid. vs. 30-31); and considering that there evidently still lurked in

his mind a last hope that the old, long deferred prediction of downfall

might yet be averted, with a feeling that it was very hard, and perhaps

unjust, for him to be thus left in misery, there seems to be a blending

of Divine tenderness and judgment in this kind and faithful friend being

permitted once more to be seen and heard, and at the same time to

vindicate the justice of God in THE DOOM about to be accomplished.

The Divine tenderness and judgment which had borne with and chastised

Saul all through his perverse life were now conspicuous in the irrevocable

sealing of HIS DOOM!   He would rather hear his sentence from Samuel

than any other being, if it is to be pronounced.


Ø      There is no evidence that the woman had anything to do with the

appearance of Samuel. He came forth before she called, and hence her

wild shriek. That she subsequently played her part as a witch was

consistent with the character of such persons. That Saul should suppose

her to be the cause of the appearance does not touch the question. He was

not in a mental condition to discriminate. That God should allow an

invisible being to become visible under such conditions is to be settled by

history, for:


Ø      There is no moral principle violated in God allowing a being from the

invisible world to become visible. (Compare the rich man’s request after

the death of Lazarus – Luke 16:19-31).  There is here no sanction of

witchcraft, no admission of its powers. Kindness and judgment only are

displayed in relation to Saul. The whole difficulty, therefore, resolves itself

in a visible appearance of a dead man. Will any one say that God cannot

cause a Samuel to appear as truly as a Moses and Elijah? Does the incredulity

lie in the fact that we never see the departed, or that God does not cause them

to appear to others? By what law is God bound to make a specific exercise of

His power common? Will the case be improved by saying it is such an

exercise of power as we should not deem wise and useful? What is that but

saying we make our method of government a standard by which God’s

reported acts shall be judged? Is it not wiser to submit to the force of

historical testimony, and admit that His ways are not our ways? (Isaiah

55:8-9) God does strange things in the earth, at which men marvel, but

never unholy things.  There is nothing incredible in the existence of

departed spirits, nor in their employment when God has a fit purpose

to accomplish through them.  (See Matthew 27:52-53)



noteworthy that although Saul had lived so long in impenitence, and had

become even hardened in his sinful course, he still retained an awe and

reverence for the supernatural and invisible. His very folly and sin in having

recourse to a witch revealed the strength of the feeling which could not

rest without some help from the unseen world. If God cannot be found

men will seek out a substitute. Idolatry and all forms of religious

superstition are evidence of the power of the religious sentiment in man.

Thousands of men have done much to crush it out, but it has reasserted

itself in seasons of distress. Because man is formed for religion, and carries

within him feelings which crave for the unseen and eternal, therefore he

often becomes the slave of false systems of belief and worship. The

permanence of this sentiment gives hope to the missionary, and adds to

the remorse of the finally impenitent.



Samuel over Saul appears in this bitter cry for his presence in the hour of

misery. The foundation of this influence was laid in Samuel’s character,

and in the kind and wise interest he took in Saul when entering on his

public duties as king. Holy example, faithful warning, wise instruction,

tender forbearance, and pitiful concern had not been altogether lost on

this erring, self-willed man, although in the perversity of his heart he had for

years gone counter to Samuel’s guidance. In the dark and painful hour of

despair the thought of the wise counselor and sincere friend came over the

soul with memories rich in homage to him. How often does the poor

prodigal, when sinking in misery, feel the spell of a mother’s piety! How

many a man after years of neglected instruction thinks of the faithful

pastor, and perchance takes to heart the lessons of his words and life!




Ø      We ought to search our hearts, to see whether we so “regard iniquity”

therein as to be in an unfit moral condition to receive a blessing from God

(“If I regard iniquity in m y heart, the Lord will not hear me.” Psalm 66:18).


Ø      It is important to exercise religious influence over others as early and

constantly as possible, since we know that it will be a power even when

we are gone.


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.

16 Then said Samuel, Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the

LORD is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy?"

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 neighbor.”



A God-forsaken Man (vs. 11-15)


  • 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



“There is no flying hence, nor tarrying here.

I ‘gin to be aweary of the sun.”


  • 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 analyze

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 practiced 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.”


  • COMMUNION WITH THE DEAD. Necromancy, unfortunately, is

not a lost art among ourselves. Men and women of education are not

ashamed or afraid to practice 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 honor when we refrain from any attempt to disturb

their sacred repose, and endeavor 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 canst 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”



17 "And the LORD hath done to him, as he spake by me: for the

LORD hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy

neighbor, even to David: 18  Because thou obeyedst not the voice of the

LORD, nor executedst His fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath the

LORD done this thing unto thee this day.  19  Moreover the LORD will also

deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines: and to morrow shalt

thou and thy sons be with me: the LORD also shall deliver the host of Israel

into the hand of the Philistines." Jehovah hath done to him. Rather, “hath

wrought for himself;” but the Septuagint, Vulgate, and some manuscripts read

“hath done to thee,” as in v. 18. As He spake by me. See ch.15:28. Saul’s

rebellion is there said, in v. 23, to be a crime as great as the witchcraft which

he was at that time so zealously punishing; here, where the sentence is being

carried into execution, Saul has himself become guilty of what in his better

hours he so abominated. Jehovah will also deliver Israel with thee.

Rather, “will deliver Israel also with thee,” i.e. the nation is to share thy

punishment. Tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me. I.e. shall be

dead. Whence this voice came it is difficult to say. St. Augustine thought

that the woman really conjured up a demon, who took the form of Samuel.

Maimonides treats the whole as the effect of Saul’s diseased imagination;

while many modern commentators regard it as a well played piece of

jugglery on the part of the woman, who recognized Saul at once on his

entrance, but professed not to know him till his name was revealed to her

by the pretended apparition, in whose name she reproached him for his

crimes, announced to him, what now all were convinced of, that David was

to be his successor, and foretold his defeat and death. In the face of such a

passage as Deuteronomy 18:10-12 we cannot believe that the Bible

would set before us an instance of witchcraft employed with the Divine

sanction for holy purposes; but we can easily believe that the woman

would gladly take a bitter revenge on the man who had cruelly put to death

all persons reputed to have such powers as those to which she laid claim.

The object of the narrative is plainly to set before us the completeness of

Saul’s moral downfall and debasement. Here is the man endowed with so

many and so great gifts of genius, and who in so many things started so

well and behaved so nobly, the victim of a despairing melancholy; his

conscience is blackened with the wholesale massacre of the priesthood, his

imagination is ever brooding over the sick fancy of treason plotted by his

son-in-law, whom now he supposes to be in the Philistine camp; his

enemies have invaded his territory in extraordinary numbers and upon new

ground; to him it seems as if they have come to dethrone him and place his

crown on David’s head. In this dire extremity his one wish is to pry into

the future and learn his fate. There is no submission to God, no sorrow for

disobedience, no sign of even a wish for amendment; it is to unholy arts

that he looks, simply that he may know what a few more hours will make

known to all. Neglecting his duties as a general and king, instead of making

wise preparation for the coming fight, he disguises himself, takes a

dangerous and wearisome journey round the enemies’ camp, arrives at his

destination by night, and, exhausted with hunger and mental agitation,    

seeks there for the knowledge unattainable in any upright manner from a

reputed witch. He has rejected God, lost all the strength and comfort of

true religion, and is become the victim of abject superstition. Whether he

were the victim also of the woman’s arts, or of his own sick fantasy, is not

a matter of much consequence; the interest of the narrative lies in the

revelation it makes to us of Saul’s mental and moral state; and scarcely is

there in the whole of Scripture anything more tragic than this narrative, or

any more intense picture of the depth of degradation to which a noble but

perverse intellect is capable of falling.


20 "Then Saul fell straightway all along on the earth, and was sore

afraid, because of the words of Samuel: and there was no strength

in him; for he had eaten no bread all the day, nor all the night.

21 And the woman came unto Saul, and saw that he was sore

troubled, and said unto him, Behold, thine handmaid hath obeyed

thy voice, and I have put my life in my hand, and have hearkened

unto thy words which thou spakest unto me.  22 Now therefore, I pray

thee, hearken thou also unto the voice of thine handmaid, and let me

set a morsel of bread before thee; and eat, that thou mayest have

strength, when thou goest on thy way.  23 But he refused, and said,

I will not eat. But his servants, together with the woman, compelled

him; and he hearkened unto their voice. So he arose from the earth,

and sat upon the bed.  24 And the woman had a fat calf in the house;

and she hasted, and killed it, and took flour, and kneaded it, and did

bake unleavened bread thereof:  25 And she brought it before Saul,

and before his servants; and they did eat. Then they rose up, and

went away that night." Saul fell straightway all along, i.e. at full

length, on the earth. He fainted, partly from mental distress, partly from

bodily exhaustion, as he had gone all the day and all the night without food.

It was this long continued violent emotion of feeling which had driven Saul to

this rash enterprise; but fasting and agony of mind were the worst possible

preparation for a visit to one used to cajole her victims by pretended

magical arts, and gifted, as people of her class usually are, with great

shrewdness. But practiced as she was in deceit, yet even in her triumph

over her enemy she felt, when she saw him swoon away, a natural

sympathy for his misery and weakness, and urged him to take food.

Perhaps she saw that without it he could never have got back to the

Israelite camp. At first he refused, but the necessity of it was so plain, that

when the two men with him also urged it, he at last consented. So he arose

from the earth, and sat upon the bed. During this colloquy he had

remained prostrate upon the ground, but now he seated himself, not on a

bed, but upon the raised bank, or divan, which runs along the wall of an

Oriental house, and is furnished with carpets and cushions for men to sit or

lie upon. There he rested, a prey, we may well believe, to bitter thoughts,

while the woman hastily prepared a meal, killing a calf and baking

unleavened cakes, as there was no time to leaven the dough. And so “they

ate, and rose up, and departed that night.”



The Sentence of Rejection Confirmed (vs. 12-20)


“And Jehovah hath done for Himself, as He spake by me” (v. 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

(v. 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 (ch. 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 (Ecclieasticus. 46:20), either evoked by the

conjurations of the woman (Septuagint, Josephus, Talmud), or effected by

Divine power without her aid, and contrary to her expectation.

  1. An illusory appearance produced by demoniacal (or angelic) agency,

and, according to some, employed as a medium of Divine revelation.

  1. A mental impression or representation produced by Divine influence.
  2. A superstitious self-deception on the part of the woman, combined with

a psychological identifying of herself with the deceased prophet.

      e.   A conscious deception practiced 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, v. 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” (ch. 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:



OTHER (vs. 16-17). Saul appears to have clung to the delusion that:


Ø      the sentence of Divine judgment uttered against him might be

effectually resisted and entirely revoked;

Ø      he refused to acknowledge and submit to it,

Ø      he 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’).



IRREVOCABLE. Of this he had occasionally caught a glimpse, but it was

now brought home to him with overwhelming force in connection with:


Ø      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 (ch. 13:14; 15:28):

“The Lord hath rent,” etc. (v. 17). “The perfects express the purpose of God

which had already been formed, and was now about to be fulfilled” (Keil).


Ø      The remembrance of his past transgression. (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!


Ø      The fear of his future fate, now foreseen to be approaching (v. 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 realization and confirmation of the Divine

sentence. How little had he profited by resorting to divination! “The

Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent.”  (ch. 15:29)



BE ALTERED PRODUCES DESPAIR. “And Saul fell straightway all

along on the earth,” etc. (v. 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”




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 pain, 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’).


Remember:    Persistent transgression INFALLIBLY ENDS in MISERY and




The Last Fruitless Effort (vs. 15-25)


The facts of this section are:


1. Saul, in reply to Samuel’s question, declares, as the reason of seeking

him, his deep distress and desire to know what to do.

2. Samuel intimates that the inquiry is vain, as he cannot go against God;

that the event causing so much distress was simply the perfecting of what

had long before been declared; that David was the coming king, and that all

this was the consequence of deliberate disobedience.

3. He also declares that the morrow should witness the overthrow of Saul’s

power and the death of himself and sons.

4. The effect of the message on Saul is to prostrate him in terror on the ground.

5. Out of compassion the woman seeks in vain to rouse Saul from his

helpless despair, but by the aid of his attendants he is at last constrained to

rise and partake of the meal she had prepared.


Among the many truths suggested by this impressive scene we may notice a few:


  • THE DARING OF DESPERATION. Ordinarily men shrink in dread

from all thought of contact with visitants from the unseen world, and bad

men especially tremble at the possible presence, seen or unseen, of the

ghosts of the departed. The experience of all ages testifies to this. And yet

here we have an instance of a man, not usually distinguished by calm self-

possession, deliberately seeking, and actually holding, converse with one

from the dead. The solution of this reversal of the course of human feeling

and conduct lies in the desperation of despair, which so overpowers all

thought and feeling as to dare to do what at other times would be

impossible. Such the urgency of conscience, the pressure of misery, the

violent struggle of a will caught in the coils of its own perversity. The same

occurs in other circumstances, as when, to extricate themselves from self-

brought miseries, men dare to perpetrate deeds of honor or shame, or

even commit suicide. Is there not a similar feeling implied in the cry to the

rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the wrath of the Lamb”?  (Revelation



  • AN UNANSWERABLE QUESTION. One question had agitated Saul

for some days. He appealed to God, and no answer came; and now Samuel

is told that the object for which he was summoned into the visible sphere

was to reply to this one question, “What shall I do?” The silence of God

and the words of Samuel show that practically this was a question for

which no answer was possible. The day for doing was in the past, when

Samuel delivered instructions in the name of God. Years of persistent

impenitence for disobedience and of self-willed warring against the

purposes of God had brought the unhappy man to a time and position in

which no action on his part could reverse the judgment impending. Too

late! So is it in human life still. Men may persist in evil ways at home or in

business till ruin of domestic peace and of prospects is inevitable, and no

course is open for retrieval. The question of the jailor, “What must I do to

be saved?” was opportune (Acts 16:30), and then, as generally, it admitted

of a blessed answer; but it is possible for men to scorn and despise Christ

so long that the other question may arise, “How shall we escape if we

neglect so great salvation?” (compare Hebrews 2:3; 6:3-8; 10:26-31).


  • THE UNALTERABLE LAW OF LIFE. The whole of Saul’s conduct

during these closing days of his life was based on the ignorant supposition

that by some device he could be sustained in the kingdom notwithstanding

his former disobedience and continued impenitence. Conformity in act and

spirit to the mind of God is the law of true prosperity in life. Israel’s king

rises or falls according to this law. As a servant called to perform an

important part in unfolding Messianic purposes, Saul’s hold on the

kingdom was made to depend on character. No plea, no consideration of

personal misery, no device suggested by the living or the dead, could avail

to give to a self-willed, impenitent man what is due to the obedient and

holy. In all his misery and desire for guidance there was not a trace of the

broken or contrite heart which God accepts; there was only and always a

blind effort to avert the passing away of the power which sin had forfeited.

This law of life is never changed. Men struggle against it, seek to evade its

action, crave for some relaxation of its pressure, but it is unbending,

unrelenting. Character determines destiny. The lines of experience in the

future are the outcome of the present, and not disconnected. As we sow

we reap.  (Galatians 6:7)



were hours when the revival of conscience would enable Saul to read the

meaning of the troubles that had long befallen him; but generally, and

especially at this juncture, he appears to have wondered at the miseries of

his position. Men do bring on themselves manifold troubles, and then,

forgetful of the conduct which gave rise to them, or not tracing them

carefully back to their own former moral condition, they marvel at, and

perhaps complain of, the sufferings endured. The visitant from the unseen

world threw light on Saul’s position by reference to conduct and character.

Here was an interpretation, from a moral point of view, of a long

succession of events in the political, physical, and mental spheres. We

never estimate events in our life aright if we leave out the moral element.

A vast accumulation of disasters in the history of nations and individuals,

Churches and homes, is understandable in the light of what men have been

and have done. Hence the value of the Bible, which comes as a visitant

from the spiritual sphere, casting light on the matters that worry and

distress the heart of man. Sinful men need a voice to tell them how to

estimate the experiences of their life.


  • THE VINDICATION OF GOD’S SEVERITY. It seemed hard to Saul

to be thus left of God, the mere wreck of his former self, and now exposed

to a great disaster as commander of an army. Had casual observers,

unacquainted with antecedent moral facts, looked on his miseries, they

might pronounce the treatment severe. There is, however, in the

conscience of even the most self-willed sinner that which recognizes the

majesty of right and echoes THE VOICE OF JUDGMENT!   It was only for

Samuel to refer to the deliberate disobedience of former days, and Saul saw at

once the connection of all his woes with the depraved moral condition then

manifested and subsequently cherished. Divine patience had borne with him

during years of rebellion, content to let the natural outgrowth of his own

acts bring on the judgment predicted, and, now that it was falling on him

with crushing force, this reminder of great and continuous sin was even to

the suffering king a full vindication of the course of Providence. Here is

warning and instruction for us. Let us never suppose that we or others

bear more than we deserve. We should avoid the bare thought that God

deals harshly with any of his creatures. The bitterest element in the cup of

suffering is that we put into it by our transgressions; for facts prove that

overwhelming material disasters, with a good conscience, are not the worst

of evils, and become not only endurable, but means of spiritual good. The

hour may come to each when, by a voice full of truth, we shall be made to

see how just are God’s judgments on ourselves. The escape from so awful

a position is by fleeing now for refuge to CHRIST OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS!

The dumb consent of Saul to the truth of Samuel’s words is in keeping with the

acquiescent silence wherewith, in the future life, the wicked are represented as

bowing to the sentence of the Judge (compare Matthew 7:21-23; 25:11-13,

31-46; Luke 16:23-25; 19:22-26).



cherished hope to the last that by some contrivance, some casual aid, he

should avert the evil due to his sins. With all the unreasoning energy of

desperation he sought Samuel as a final resource; but instead of the hoped

for guidance of what he shall do, he meets with a declaration of his doom.

Sentence of death is passed by the very friend whose counsel is sought.

This doubtless was the most grievous disappointment of his earthly life,

and might well lay him low in the dust. Not instruction, but judicial

utterance. Not deliverance, but destruction. There are bitter

disappointments during the life of most men, and the heart sinks in pain and


of their earthly course. Christ represents some as expecting to be received

into heaven, and all the hopes of years are blasted by the awful words,

“Depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” The parable of the Pharisee and

publican points to the same fearful issue. (Luke 18:9-14)  Would that men

did but “ponder the path” of their feet, and by timely penitence and renewal

of soul obviate that most calamitous of all disappointments!


  • SYMPATHY WITH FALLEN GREATNESS. There is an awful and

instructive contrast in this closing scene of Saul’s career — between the

calm, measured, though evidently tender words of Samuel, followed by his

return to the invisible world, leaving the wretched king prostrate and

helpless on the ground, and the active compassion of this evil woman for

the distinguished sufferer at her feet. Samuel was still the true, loving man

as of old; but in the invisible sphere he saw things in a clear moral light,

and was restrained by his judicial commission from manifesting in action

sympathy for the fallen king. It is a question how far a perfect perception

of the enormity of sin, such as must be attained by the “spirits of the just

made perfect,” diminishes what we ordinarily understand as sympathy for

those who receive “according to the deeds done in the body.” Be that as it

may, we cannot but note how even those addicted to a life of sin, as was

this woman, are touched by the presence of a great sorrow. There is

something exquisitely beautiful in her conduct. For a time the old cunning

and moral insensibility and cynicism are set aside, and the humane feelings

of her soul find free exercise, as perhaps in the days of her youth

suggestive to us of the germ of true humanity that underlies the accretions

of a guilty life, and of the power that may be exercised over even the

worst, if only we knew the art of touching the hidden spring. Every reader

of the narrative must enter into her gentle and respectful feelings towards

the fallen monarch; and we feel that had we been there we also should have

sought to raise him from the earth, and provide generous nourishment for

his exhausted frame. For sympathy with the righteous judgments of God

does not extinguish pity for those who fall under them. In fallen greatness

we see the majesty and the dishonor, the possibilities and the actualities,

of our common humanity. It is as though a large part of ourselves had

come to grief; and though we cannot but deplore the sin, we feel disposed

to weep over the lost one, and to render the last offices of kindness with a

tender hand. So did our blessed Lord, the perfect Man, weep over the lost

city when proclaiming with full acquiescence its righteous doom

(Matthew 23:37-38; Luke 19:41-44).




Ø      The only safe course when sin has been committed is AT ONCE, after the

example of David and Peter, to return to the Lord and cast ourselves

entirely on His mercy. Saul’s neglect of this was the secret of his

subsequent miseries.


Ø      There is great probability of cherished sin issuing in a state of mind such

that men shall imagine they are seeking good of God when in reality they

are seeking only the evasion of His righteous judgments.



The Witch of Endor (vs. 20-25)


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 walls shutting in these caves,” in one of which she may

have dwelt and practiced her forbidden art. This possessor or mistress of

Ob (see vs. 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,” practiced 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 practicing 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

practicing 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 (v. 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 (v. 11); employed it in “cunning

craftiness,” and became (whether designedly or undesignedly) accessory to

his ruin (I 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 willful 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 humor”),

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 labor 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



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