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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 28

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

Verses 1-25

The inevitable conflict between Israel and the Philistines arises again, and David finds himself in an unpleasant situation Achish tells him that he and his men must accompany Achish to fight against Israel. Could he possibly do this? No! Could he explain this to Achish? Nol Instead he answers him In a way that sounded favorable to Achish, but did not commit himself one way or the other. He told him, "You shall know what your servant can do" (v.2). This sounded so enthusiastic to Achish that he promised to make David his bodyguard forever. David never did take this promotion.


We are reminded In verse 3 that Samuel had died and was buried with the lamentation of all Israel. Also Saul, likely out of respect for Samuel, had outlawed the practice of spiritism In Israel. Saul had before rejected the Word of the Lord. and now he has no help from Samuel. What is he to do? The Philistines have come to fight against Israel (vs.4-5) and their number and apparent power dismays Saul. He knows he himself is not equal to the occasion, and he needs some kind of help. He enquired of the Lord and received no answer, whether by urim (priestly intercession) or by prophets, What right did he have to the Lord's direction when he had refused the Lord's Word?

Therefore he goes contrary to his own legislation against sorcery and asks his servants to find for him a woman (not a man) who had contact with a familiar spirit (v.7). They knew there was such a woman at En-dor who was still practicing. In spite of Saul's ban, people must have been commonly aware of her unlawful trade.

In order to visit the woman Saul disguises himself. How sadly degraded tor a king of Israeli But tie needed supernatural help, and since he had refused the Word of God he desperately seeks help from demonic sources. He took two men with him and went by night, for he wanted no-one to suspect his consulting a spirit medium. Since that time, and even recently, there have been other heads of government who realized their own human limitations and have consulted mediums because they had no confidence In God's Word,

He asks the woman to bring up for him a person who had died. This is what mediums profess to do. But it Is false. They only contact an evil spirit who impersonates the dead person's. The spirit knows something of the dead person's past, and may refer to this to persuade the inquirer that he is actually the dead person.

The woman Is on guard and suspicious that this was a trap by which to find her guilty of practicing spiritism and to have her put to death (v.9). She reminds him that Saul had cut off the spiritists and wizards out of Israel, which of course put her in danger for practicing.

However, Saul's conscience Is so deadened that he even Invokes the name of the Lord in swearing to her that she will not incur any punishment for her unlawful services in this case (v.10);

He asks her to bring up Samuel, but when she saw Samuel come up, she was shocked and cried out. Why was this? She did not expect Samuel himself, but the evil spirit to which she was accustomed. Immediately she knew that it was King Saul who was her customer. The fact is that God had intervened in this exceptional case, and actually allowed Samuel to come up. The woman asks Saul why he had deceived her (v.12).

But Saul was not there to trap her. He tells her not to be afraid, and asks what she has seen. She answers that she saw a god ascending out of the earth (v.13) Saul asks as to the form of the apparition she sees (v.14). She tells him it is an old man covered with a mantle. Saul perceived it was indeed Samuel, and stooped and bowed before him, a mere show of servility.

Samuel asks why Saul had disquieted him to bring him up (v.15). This case was extraordinary, but Samuel's question shows that any effort to contact people who have died is an effort to disquiet them. In this exceptional case God allowed Samuel to be disquieted. Saul tells him of his great distress because the Philistines were waging war against him and he could no longer find any help from God.. He apparently thinks that Samuel might be more Indulgent than God is and asked for Samuel's advice,

Samuel does not answer Saul's problem in the way that an evil spirit would have. An evil spirit speaking by means of a medium, always gives messages of a nice, pampering kind that are intended to make the enquirer feel good. But Samuel frankly, honestly tells of the inconsistency of Saul's enquiring of Samuel when the Lord had departed from him (v.16). Samuel was the Lord's servant and would fully concur with what the Lord said and did. He reminds Saul, therefore, of how the Lord had spoken by him before, that the Lord would take the kingdom from Saul and give it to another man. This time he tells him that David is that man. Saul knew this without being told, yet was putting off the day as long as he could.

But Saul's time had come. Samuel repeats what he had told Saul before, that, because Saul had disobeyed God's express command concerning Amalek therefore he could expect to lose the kingdom. In fact, Samuel tells him, "the Lord has done this thing to you today" (v.18). Samuel gave Saul no advice as to what to do but left him in his own hopeless confusion.

More than that, he tells him that the Lord would deliver Israel and Saul into the hands of the Philistines, and the next day Saul and his sons would be with Samuel (v.19). Saul knew that Samuel meant that Saul would die. He does not at all refer to the question of whether he and his sons would be in heaven or in torment. Saul had not shown any clear signs of being a believer, and no unbeliever will be in heaven. His son Jonathan was evidently a true believer. As well as Saul and his sons being killed in battle, God would cause the whole army of Israel to be defeated by the Philistines.

What a shock for Saul! There is not the slightest ray of hope to lighten his darkness. He only felt the worse for consulting the spirit medium. Tall and strong as he was, he fell to the ground in terror (v.20). He had refused the Word of God. Now he has to face the results of his own folly and is not prepared. What a picture of those who dare to dismiss God from their lives, then come to the end, having nothing whatever to depend upon! He had not eaten, evidently thinking that fasting would gain him some favor with God.

This was probably the most distressing case the woman had ever seen. She reminds Saul that she had put her life in her hands by doing what he wanted. Now she asks him to consider her advice and take some food in order to be strengthened (v.22). The best she can offer is what will give him physical strength in order to go to meet his doom!

Saul refused to eat. Evidently he was too disturbed to even desire food. But the insistence of both the woman and Saul's servants prevailed, and Saul go up from the ground and sat on the bed. The woman's house was apparently sparsely furnished, but she had food to give him, a fat calf which she killed, and flour that provided means of baking unleavened bread (v.24). This reminds us of Abraham's provision for the Lord and the two angels (Genesis 18:6-8), but how totally in contrast were circumstances!

Saul and his servants ate, then left that night to return to the camp of Israel. We are not told whether they paid the woman for her services. However, this whole history should persuade us that there is no value in trying to find out what may transpire in our lives in the future. God may be trusted for this.

There is in all of this also a dispensational application that is of deepest interest. The Lord Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees, "When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it be with this wicked generation" (Matthew 12:43-45). Just as Saul got rid of spirit mediums, so Israel had, at the time the Lord spoke, outwardly outlawed idolatry. But since they have not received Christ they are left empty, swept, and outwardly improved, and in the time of great tribulation the evil spirit will return and with it an infestation of even more wicked spirits, so that Israel's last state will call for the solemn judgment of God.

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 28". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/1-samuel-28.html. 1897-1910.
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