1 Samuel 28:4. Shunem, in the tribe of Issachar, not far from mount Hermon.
1 Samuel 28:7. A woman that hath a familiar spirit: a mistress of OB. See Deuteronomy 18:11. The LXX read pythoness, a word often used by Herodotus for the Sybils or priestesses of heathen temples. It was understood that she was familiar with an evil genius, but an evil genius that certainly had no power over Samuel. The African negroes in the West Indies still preserve the Hebrew word, and affect to practise obi, by incantation to demons who cannot help them.
1 Samuel 28:8. Saul disguised himself, that the woman might not know him; that the army might not suspect his absence, and that he might conceal the shame of his oracle from his country.
1 Samuel 28:11. Bring me up Samuel. Augustine, knowing that Satan is often transformed into an angel of light, says it was the devil personating Samuel. This has deceived many. Matthew Henry has adopted Augustine’s opinion. The woman was terrified. She saw a presence with whom she was not familiar, who, according to Josephus, informed her who her guest really was.
1 Samuel 28:12. When the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice: for besides Samuel who was clad in his mantle, she saw gods; that is princes and governors ascending out of the earth; and she was told by one present, that the disguised person was Saul himself. Moses in his strong injunctions to destroy both witches and wizards, founded the divine law on the fact, that some of the humankind are so depraved as to maintain intercourse with wicked spirits. And how revolting soever this may be to the believer, or the unbeliever, we must never be ashamed of the doctrines of revelation. The whole system of revealed religion is founded on an intercourse with the invisible world. The text is also very explicit, that Samuel himself on this great occasion, actually appeared; for when Saul saw him, he stooped with his face to the ground. The terrors of the woman contribute not a little towards identifying the person of Samuel; she knew he was a sacred character over whom her accursed arts had no power. Hence God was pleased, on this occasion, to send Samuel, as he sent Moses and Elijah to talk with Jesus on the mount. Matthew 17. So the author of Ecclesiasticus asserts: he not only identifies the person, but enumerates the objects of Samuel’s appearing: chap. Sirach 46:20. He told Saul that the battle should be fought the next day—that the Philistines should conquer—that the host or spoil should fall into their hand—that Saul should be slain—that his three sons should likewise be slain—and that David should succeed him in the throne, because he had disobeyed the Lord in the affair of Amalek. Now all these circumstances were too many and too distinguished for a cunning wicked woman to invent. Besides, a woman of that character would have been more inclined to flatter than to add to the king’s affliction, by an abrupt disclosure of all those terrific predictions. Hence the sneers of infidels, who pretend that this was a mere juggling trick of the woman, fall to the ground. Saul, attended by two of his valiant friends, would never have prostrated before any being less venerable than Samuel. And it would have been almost impossible to have deceived him, having so long known and revered the holy prophet.
1 Samuel 28:16. Wherefore then dost thou ask of me? It would have been far better for Saul to have been ignorant of the future, till the God of futurity had made known his pleasure. He and his friends might then have fought with courage and hope: now he went to battle with a dead soul in a living body. Samuel had said in plain words. “to-morrow, thou and thy sons shall be with me.” The LXX, thou and thy sons with thee shall fall.
What a lamentable scene does this chapter present. Saul, once very humble, and once a prophet, having long abused the high fruits of heaven, found that the day of his visitation approached. God had a long reckoning with him for his pride and covetousness in sparing Agag, and the flocks of Amalek; for a multitude of tyrannies, and the effusion of innocent blood. Now his day was come, and it was the darkest day of all his life. Mark his situation: he was divested of all the grace and courage conferred at his anointing; for talents long abused are resumed by the giver. When he saw the enemy he was sorely afraid. One would have thought his first steps would have been to recal David, and to renew the national covenant with God; but those ideas he would not admit. Assailed with a thousand fears, he went to the dreamers; but they had no dreams. He next applied to the priest; but the Urim was silent. He went last of all to the prophets; but they had no vision. Ah, how vain for men to apply to the Just and Holy One, till they have first renounced their sins, and to the uttermost of their power repaired their faults. Every wicked man ought therefore to profit by the situation of Saul in the last moments of his life. A day is coming when neither friends, nor physicians, nor even the best ministers of religion will be able to afford them help.
Saul, unable to face his foes, and finding heaven silent, had, strange to say, recourse to the devil. In his early and more pious days, he had purged the land of necromancers, yet he now sends his servants to enquire for a woman who had a familiar spirit; and bad masters often find servants bad employment. He fondly believed, if Samuel would come to his aid, that Israel would yet be safe. Therefore he disguised himself and went to the pythoness of Endor. Oh fie! fie for the king of Israel, when he ought to have been planning the battle, haranguing his troops, and praying to his God, shamefully to have recourse to a woman, the agent of hell. How weak and cowardly, are the wicked when arrested by the hand of justice. The moment heaven lifts up its arm, their spirits droop, and all their boasted strength is fled.
This woman, consummate in her profession, had for a long time had the address to elude the decrees of Saul, who had in pious zeal sought to extirpate such wicked persons from the land. She required an oath of the Lord, that the stranger would not divulge her practices; for secresy emboldens wickedness. Then in hope of reward, she proceeded with her incantations to the powers of hell. Scarcely had she uttered her cries than the vision appeared, and more terrific than she expected. Scarcely had she uttered her fears of death and alarm in the ears of Saul, before Samuel appeared, realizing the anxious wishes of his soul. But what comfort did he bring the prostrate and affrighted king? Comfort he brought him none; and counsel he did not attempt to give; that Saul had always despised. Samuel regarding him now solely as a criminal at the bar, reproached him for his daring wickedness in disquieting the dead, and violating the order of heaven. He then once more apprized him of his ejectment from the throne, and of the election of David; and instead of repeating counsels long contemned, he solemnly passed the sentence of death on the guilty king, in which his sons and most of his army were included. Every sinner may assure himself, that whenever God shall speak, it will be consonant to the language of conscience; for conscience is the echo of heaven in every man’s bosom. We learn consequently the awful state of man when the Lord is departed from him. There is sometimes an annunciation of the sentence of justice, which may be reversed on repentance, as in the cases of Hezekiah’s death, and Nineveh’s destruction; and the thought is very encouraging. But in other cases the Lord passes the sentence absolutely, as in the case of Esau and of Saul; then repentance will not avail. And though Saul’s sentence regarded but his throne, and his life; yet from his conduct after the sentence was first passed on his return from Amalek, we have some fears for his salvation. For there is a period in the scale of crimes when the balance turns, and when grace will no more soften the heart, and the Lord will have no regard to the prayers and tears of the wicked in their affliction.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 28". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
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