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We are hastening to the close of the reign and life of Saul. The Philistines are preparing for a battle fatal to Saul. He is dispirited and dismayed; and instead of looking to the Lord, he betakes himself to familiar spirits; the sad consequence which follows, and the alarms of Saul, are rehearsed in the close of this chapter.
1 Samuel 28:1
(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.
See Reader, in this preparation of the Philistines for battle against Israel, the sad effects of Israel departing from the Lord. The Lord had promised when he settled his people in their kingdom, to drive out all nations from before them, and that there should not be a man to stand before them. But, when Israel deserted the Lord, the Lord raised up enemies to Israel, as his instruments to correct them. See Joshua 1:3-5 . But Reader! when you have duly pondered this subject, as it concerns Israel of old, look at it again, as it concerns Israel now. Are not our unsubdued corruptions, our unhumbled lusts, and the remains of inbred sin in our mortal bodies, like those Philistines waging war with the soul? Did you and I live wholly to Jesus, would those enemies dare rise up against us? How important is that exhortation of Peter, when he said, Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul. 1 Peter 2:11 .
(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 forever.
The situation of David was critical. How could he fight against his own people? And on the other hand, how could he continue in safety with Achish?
(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.
The reminding the Reader of the death of Samuel is very interesting in this place. Samuel was dead, and now the Philistines became bold. No doubt before his death, he had lamented in secret the sad conduct of Saul, and the corruptions of the people. Every true lover of God must mourn in secret for the sins of Zion. Reader! it is a sad proof of sad times, when the righteous die, and are taken away from the evil to come. But, blessed are the dead that die in the Lord. They enter into rest. They cease from their labours. They are in better company. Happy souls!
(4) And the Philistines gathered themselves together, and came and pitched in Shunem: and Saul gathered all Israel together, and they pitched in Gilboa. (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.
It is more than probable, that Saul in his haste to destroy David, had neglected even the common means of safety respecting his kingdom. His army perhaps dwindled and scattered abroad; so that when the Philistines came forward with so formidable an host, and even advanced as far as Shunem, which lay in the tribe of Issachar, and in the borders of Israel itself, there was great cause for dismay. But all this would have been nothing, if Saul had made God his friend. Israel had found, upon all occasions, while the Lord of hosts fought their battles, that one would chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight. But when the Lord is turned to be their enemy, and to fight against them, this sums up the full heaped measure of human misery.
(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.
Observe, that Saul, in his distress, enquired of the Lord, but the Lord answered him not. But how did he enquire? Samuel was dead. The Priests, the faithful Priests of the Lord, Saul had killed. See 1 Samuel 22:17-19 . By whom then did he enquire? Perhaps presumptuously, without either Prophet or Priest. But if not; it is evident that Saul's enquiry was not in the way God had appointed, neither was his heart prepared to enquire, as appears by the sequel. For when the Lord did not immediately answer; from God, Saul turned to the devil. Alas! what answer can men expect, when like Saul, they seek not God in faith, but are in league with the unfruitful works of darkness?
(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. (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 sware to her by the LORD, saying, As the LORD liveth, there shall no punishment happen to thee for this thing. (11) Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel. (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. (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. (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. (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? (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 neighbour, 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 tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: the LORD also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines. (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.
In order to have a right apprehension of this part of Saul's history, it will be needful to take into the account the several circumstances connected with it. Let it be then first observed by the Reader, that what is here called having a familiar spirit, refers to those who, imposing upon the credulity and ignorance of mankind, pretended to divine, and foretell events. Thus Balaam was a noted impostor of this kind, whom Balak called out of the East, to use his enchantments against Israel. And God was pleased to overrule this man's devices, so as absolutely to make him the instrument of blessing the very people he hired himself out to curse. See Numbers 22:23-24 ; and the Commentary upon those Chapters. Hence we read also in Isaiah, that there were wizards who did peep, and mutter, and spake as whispering out of the dust. See Isaiah 8:19 ; and Isaiah 29:4 . There have been such characters in all ages. And men forsaken of God, in desperate circumstances like Saul, have had recourse to them. Let us next consider how far the Lord is said to have permitted such things. Paul tells us, that it is no marvel that there should be false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. 2 Corinthians 11:13-14 . And in another part of his writings he seems to admit the possibility that one putting on the appearance of an angel from heaven might be suffered, by way of exercise to the faith of God's children, to preach another gospel from the true one. Galatians 1:8 . From these views of the subject, we cannot be at a loss to have a proper conception of this supposed apparition of Samuel to Saul, by the witch at Endor. The great enemy of souls might be permitted to personate the departed Prophet. As such he appears to Saul's view like Samuel. He is permitted to speak of the events shortly to happen; the rout of Israel, and the death of Saul and of his sons. And thus, through this means, Saul is awfully apprised of what is about to follow. That it could not be Samuel himself is, I think, evident from other considerations. Neither Satan nor his instruments, can have power over the souls of glorified saints. Neither was it probable that Saul, at his death, should in his spirit associate with Samuel. Neither could the soul of Samuel be said to come up out of the earth, when we know that the spirits of just men made perfect are with the Lord. Neither, had it been really Samuel, would he have told him of the awful events about to take place, without following it up with advice to repent, instead of driving him to despair, and thereby forming a temptation to self-murder. From all these considerations, it seems to me very evident that there was a permission for the appearance of Samuel's form by the Prince of the power of the air, the spirit that both then and now still worketh in the children of disobedience; the Lord overruling in this instance, as in that of Balaam, and in the case of another spirit, permitted to foretell the fall of Ahab at Ramoth Gilead. See 1 Kings 22:20-22 .
But, while I have said so much, by way of helping the ordinary Reader to what appears to me to be the safest plan of forming a right conception of this part of Saul's history, I beg that he will allow me to suggest to him one thought upon it which is more important; and which may not only serve to guide his mind, under grace, to a becoming humbleness on this, but other parts of scripture which are not so interesting for us to be over anxious about the clear apprehension of. Depend upon it, my Brother, had it been an object of moment to the peace or comfort of the church, the Holy Ghost would have been more explicit. But wherever we meet with anything of obscurity, the reason is obvious: Secret things belong to the Lord our God. Enough is revealed for us and our children to know. And here let our chief enquiry be directed. One passage in the supposed conference between Saul and Samuel, opens to our minds a subject of infinite improvement; and to this I would desire to direct the Reader's principal attention: I mean where Saul saith, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me. Oh! Reader! what state out of hell can exceed this in misery? When a child of God is in trouble the Lord is with him. If sorrow, sickness, nay even sin oppress him, Jesus is the support and burden-bearer of all: and he both bears his people, and all their burdens with him. But to be at once forsaken both of heaven, and earth, where shall the wretched run for deliverance then? What a dolorous case like that of Saul's, doth the prophet de scribe, when he saith; Woe is me for my hurt; my wound is grievous: truly this is a grief, and I must bear it. Jeremiah 10:19 .
(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.
The sequel of this story is just as might be expected. Had this message, awful as it was, come from heaven in answer to prayer, a door of hope might have still been open to repentance. But, when the poor misguided wretch had knocked at the gates of hell, and received such an answer, nothing but a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation remained, to finish the misery. See that awful scripture; Hebrews 10:26-31 .
IF ever the contemplation of the wicked, in his progress from sin to sin can become profitable to deter from the commission of sin, and to keep back the soul, under grace, from presumption; surely there is not a character in scripture which teaches this more loudly, than that of Saul. Behold him from the moment of Samuel's anointing him king, to the hour in which the Holy Ghost hath here sketched his history, and what doth it afford but the very melancholy account of a desperately wicked heart. That heart of Saul was never changed by grace; for though he is said to have had another heart from what he had when seeking his Father's asses, when he came to the kingdom; yet not a new heart created in righteousness and true holiness. With this deceitful heart of nature, the acquired purple of a kingdom, and the power of a Prince, only furnished means of manifesting what that heart originally was by nature, and what it ever remained untouched by grace. It only was uniformly making a greater progression and ripeness in evil. Reader! behold in his history how he proposed to himself pleasure in offending God; fighting against the gracious hand that had given him a throne; and as one determined to sacrifice everything rather than that God should appoint a successor in his kingdom, who had, unasked, and unthought of, given a kingdom to him. Think here from what an awful thing it must be in the wicked to be found fighting against God.
From the view of Saul, let us turn our thoughts to Jesus, whose redemption work becomes the only remedy for all sin, even in his children, who are by nature open and justly exposed to wrath even as others. We read the history of Saul to very little purpose if the sequel of it and indeed every part of it, doth not lead to this conclusion of the apostles; Are we then better than they? Are we in ourselves, and in our fallen state, by nature, less exposed to the same commission of sin? No, in no wise. For the scripture hath before proved all under sin. And God hath concluded all in unbelief as well as sin. Well may every truly awakened soul cry out, under the heart-felt conviction of the truth; Oh! the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God, how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out. Here then, Reader! let you and I join issue and rejoice. Jesus is set forth as a propitiation for sin through faith in his blood. He is the salvation and the righteousness of God to every sinner that believeth. Oh! Lord, grant us the fullness of grace to believe the record which God the Father hath given of his dear Son. And may that precious scripture be ever sounding in our ears, and ever living in its divine and saving influence in our hearts; God having raised up his Son Jesus hath sent him to bless you, in turning away everyone of you from his iniquities.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 28". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
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