"What does he look like?" asked Saul. "An old man is coming up," she replied. "And he is wearing a robe." So Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed facedown in reverence.
1 Samuel 28:12-20. (ENDOR.)
1. The narrative of Saul's interview with the sorceress is graphic, but brief, incomplete, and in many respects, as might be expected, indefinite. Whether on his request, "Bring me up Samuel," she employed her illicit art is not expressly stated, nor whether any supernatural agency was concerned in what took place. "The woman saw Samuel," and she alone (ver. 14), "and she cried out" (in real or feigned surprise and fear), "Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul." There is no intimation that the name of Samuel or the distinguished stature of her visitor had previously suggested who he was; nor of any "gestures of fearful menace such as he could only show towards a deadly enemy, i.e. towards Saul" (Ewald, Stanley). It was from her description of "gods ascending out of the earth," and of the well known appearance of the venerable judge and prophet, that "he perceived that it was Samuel," and prostrated himself in abject homage before him whom he had formerly moved by his importunity to comply with his request (1 Samuel 15:30); and while "stooping with his face to the ground" he heard a voice which he was persuaded was the voice of Samuel. The evidence of an apparition or vision (for there can be no question concerning anything else) depended solely on the testimony of the woman; of the hearing of an unearthly voice on that of Saul, from whom also (unless his two servants were present at the time, which is not likely) the whole account must have been primarily derived.
2. It has been explained in various ways, e.g., that there was -
(1) A real apparition of the prophet (Ecclus. 46:20), either evoked by the conjurations of the woman (LXX., Josephus, Talmud), or effected by Divine power without her aid, and contrary to her expectation (see, for authorities and arguments, Wordsworth, 'Com.;' Waterland, Delany, Sir W. Scott, 'Demonology;' Kitto, 'D.B. Illus.;' Lindsay, Hengstenberg, Keil).
(2) An illusory appearance produced by demoniacal (or angelic) agency, and, according to some, employed as a medium of Divine revelation (Luther, Calvin, Grotius, Gilpin, 'Daemonologia Sacra;' Hall, Patrick, M. Henry).
(3) A mental impression or representation produced by Divine influence.
(4) A superstitious self-deception on the part of the woman, combined with a psychological identifying of herself with the deceased prophet (Erdmann).
(5) A conscious deception practised by her (perhaps not entirely without illusion) on the fearful and superstitious mind of the king, fasting, wearied, terrified, and in the dark (Chandler, W. Scott, 'Existence of Evil Spirits;' Thenius); little other than a dream, though terribly real to him. The circumstances of the case were such that the almost dramatic language of the historian may be fairly understood as descriptive of what seemed to Saul, and was afterwards popularly believed, rather than of the actual reality. All that occurred may be accounted for more satisfactorily on this hypothesis than any other. Almost every other involves assumptions concerning the power of necromancy, the reappearance of the dead, evil spirits, etc., which are unsupported by Scripture and exceedingly improbable. A Divine interposition would have been unmistakably indicated in the narrative (which is not the case, ver. 21), inconsistent with the Divine refusal to answer Saul's inquiry, unnecessary in order to reprove him further for the past (for there is no expressed reproof of his present crime), without adequate theocratic purpose, contrary to the holiness of God, and a confirmation (not a punishment) of "the anti-godly attempt of the sorceress."
3. Its chief significance (however it may be explained) lies in the revelation which it makes of the depth of degradation to which Saul had sunk and the effect of his apostasy. His "sin of divination" (1 Samuel 15:23) led to despair, and was speedily followed by the full execution of the sentence of his rejection. The silence of God was the silence that precedes the thunderstorm and the earthquake. Observe that -
I. THERE IS NO APPEAL FROM THE DIVINE JUDGMENT TO ANY OTHER (vers. 16, 17). Saul appears to have clung to the delusion that the sentence of Divine judgment uttered against him might be effectually resisted and entirely revoked; refused to acknowledge and submit to it, and hoped to succeed in his conflict with it when success was plainly perceived by others to be impossible. Hence (and not merely to gratify his curiosity concerning his fate) he sought the counsel of Samuel. In answer to the voice (asking reproachfully the reason why he had "disquieted" the dead, and drawing forth the expression of his feelings and wishes), he pathetically described his distress in consequence of the attack of the Philistines and his abandonment by God, and appealed for aid in his perplexity. Without supposing a desire of revenge on the part of the sorceress, hardly any other reply could be more accordant with his state of mind and deepest convictions than that which came to him. Since (by his own confession) he was abandoned by the Lord, it was useless to expect effectual help from the prophet of the Lord, who was the exponent and executor of his will. No direction was given "what he must do," and no ground of hope afforded that he might find mercy with the Lord himself if he sought it in a right spirit. "The belief that Samuel bad come to revisit him from the dead so worked upon Saul's mind as to suggest to his conscience what seemed to be spoken in his ear" (Smith's 'Old Testament History').
II. THE DIVINE JUDGMENT IS SOMETIMES FELT TO BE IRREVOCABLE. Of this he had occasionally caught a glimpse, but it was now brought home to him with overwhelming force in connection with -
1. The consciousness of his present condition, as an object of Divine displeasure, and destined to be replaced in the kingdom by David, to whom he had long ago applied the words of the prophet (1 Samuel 13:14; 1 Samuel 15:28): "The Lord hath rent," etc. (ver. 17). "The perfects express the purpose of God which had already been formed, and was now about to be fulfilled" (Keil).
2. The remembrance of his past transgression. "Because," etc. (ver. 18). The sparing of Amalek was the well known cause of his estrangement from Samuel and his rejection; and how vividly does some former act of disobedience sometimes rise before the mind of the sinner, increasing his burden of guilt and justifying his condemnation!
3. The fear of his future fate, now foreseen to be approaching (ver. 19). Israel would share his defeat, he and his sons would be on the morrow numbered with the dead, and the camp spoiled by the enemy. It was a terrible message, an inward realisation and confirmation of the Divine sentence. How little had he profited by resorting to divination! "The Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent."
III. THE CONVICTION THAT THE DIVINE JUDGMENT CANNOT BE ALTERED PRODUCES DESPAIR. "And Saul fell straightway all along on the earth," etc. (ver. 20). Up to this moment some hope lingered in his breast.
"The wretch condemned with life to part "Hope, like the glimmering taper's light, 1. If men are forsaken by God, it is only because he has been forsaken by them. 2. Their only effectual resource in distress is the mercy of God, against whom they have sinned. 3. Persistent transgression infallibly ends in misery and despair. - D.
"Hope, like the glimmering taper's light,
1. If men are forsaken by God, it is only because he has been forsaken by them.
2. Their only effectual resource in distress is the mercy of God, against whom they have sinned.
3. Persistent transgression infallibly ends in misery and despair. - D.
And Saul perceived that it was Samuel.Acts 10) or those brought before the rapt mind of John (Revelation). Of this kind the scene before us could not be an example. The figure is not symbolic. The state of mind is calm and self-possessed. Secondly, a miraculous sight of objects real and present. Of this sort were the vision of Zacharias (Luke 1); of the angels at the tomb (Luke 24:23); and of Moses and Elijah on the mount (Matthew 17:9). In this latter sense, the vision does not differ much from the literal understanding of the occurrence. To the objection — that it was unjust to Samuel to "disquiet" him thus, it may be answered that the word refers only to his change of place in its outward aspect, and does not necessarily imply the endurance of pain. To the other objection — that the figure was seen "ascending out of the earth" and could not therefore represent the soul of Samuel, it may yet be deemed satisfactory to say that the earth being the resting place of the body, and the figure appearing in the character of a body, it was natural to present the mysterious apparition as emerging from the ground; and that, whatever may be thought of this, the objection holds equally against the visional supposition. The last objection calling for notice takes higher ground, and the answer to it will lead us in among the moral purposes served by this mysterious transaction. "It was neither worthy of God, nor fitted to secure objects important enough to commend to our reason an interposition such as the literary theory implies." It will be seen at once that any answer which disposes satisfactorily of the second branch of the objection will be valid against the first. Now we shall not have to go far in quest of important ends actually served by the occurrence.
1. A stern rebuke to Saul. The guilty man had recourse to an agency which his conscience condemned, and which his own recent enactment proscribed as unlawful, and punished capitally as impious. The holy God met him in the face on that forbidden ground, in that unhallowed work. And to be confronted thus must have filled him with overwhelming confusion. The tenderhearted prophet denounced him without reserve or mitigation. And rebukes never fall so crushingly, or with such condemning evidence of their justice, as from the lips of forbearing gentleness.
2. A solemn rehearsal of the law which regulated the national fortunes. Calamity came in the wake of sin. The holy King of heaven constituted them a people on that basis. His command was broken signally in the case of Amalek. This dreadful offence was yet pouring out its vials of vengeance on the land. The catastrophe announced by Samuel as immediately to occur was to exhaust the dregs of this vengeance on the doomed dynasty of Saul. How wisely adapted to strike through their conscience the conviction that this great calamity was strictly punitive.
3. Proof that the God of Israel overruled all agencies of evil. It is indeed a mysterious thing, and unexampled, that the holy Jehovah should be a party in a scene like this. The same sovereign authority laid hold on Balaam, and made the bad man a true prophet.
4. An exhibition of important facts from the spiritual world. The existence of the soul after death; the continuance of all its powers, and among them memory — stored with the recollections of the past; the perpetuation of moral and spiritual character.
(P. Richardson, B. A.)
I. THE TRUTH OF THE CASE. Some have thought that there was nothing more in it than trick and legerdemain, whereby a cunning woman imposed upon Soul's credulity. But this opinion is highly improbable. For, if the woman had the sole conducting of that affair, intending only to impose upon Saul, she would most undoubtedly have contrived to make the pretended Samuel's answer as agreeable and pleasing to the King as possible, and that for her own sake especially; for fear of offending Saul, and to save her own life, as well as to procure from Him the larger gratuity. For it must be observed further, that what was here spoken as from Samuel was really prophetic, and was punctually fulfilled a few days after. None but God Himself could have revealed the secret. And how unlikely is it that God should make use of this sorceress as a prophetess, and should give her the honour of revealing his counsels. For these reasons, we may presume to think and judge that the matter here related was not all a mere juggle or contrivance of an artful woman, but something more. There was most certainly an apparition in the ease, either of Samuel's ghost, or of some other spirit personating Samuel. I incline to think that Samuel really appeared. The reasons for this interpretation are as follow: —
1. This method of proceeding is very conformable to what God had been pleased to do before, in other cases of like nature. As Balak had recourse to sorceries and divinations in hopes to procure some relief, or fair promises at least from them. In like manner when King Ahaziah had sent to consult Beelzebub, the demon of Ekron, to know whether he should recover of the sickness he then lay under, hoping, no doubt, to obtain a favourable answer there, as probably he might have done; God Himself took care to anticipate the answer by Elijah the Prophet, who assured the messengers, meeting them by the way, that their master Ahaziah should not recover, but should surely die. Thus probably was it in the case of Saul.
2. This interpretation is plain and natural, and least forced of any, agreeing well with the words of the text. The story is here told in such a way as one would expect to find, upon the supposition it really was Samuel. So that if we consider the letter of the text, and the most obvious and natural construction of it we shall be obliged to confess that the apparition was really Samuel and no other.
3. This construction is very ancient, the most ancient of any; and seems indeed to have been the general persuasion of the Jewish Church long before the coming of Christ. (Ecclus. 46:20). In the same sentiments was Josephus the Jewish historian, who lived in the apostle's times; and thus thought many of the earliest Christian fathers.
II. OBJECTIONS ANSWERED. It is objected that the text speaks of bringing up Samuel as it were out of the ground; whereas, if it had been Samuel, he should rather have come down from heaven. But the true reason why Samuel is represented as being brought up is because his body was under ground, to which his soul was still conceived to bear a relation; and it was upon this chiefly, that the popular prevailing notion of all separate souls being in the heart of the earth, was founded.
2. But it is further objected that the apparition here in the person of Samuel complains to Saul of being disquieted or disturbed by him. But God Almighty with whom the spirits of just men made perfect dwell, might please to send Samuel upon that occasion, to deliver the message from him.
3. But it is further objected that it is hard to give a reason why God, Who had refused to answer Saul either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets, should at length vouchsafe to answer him in such a way as this, and by the mediation of a wicked sorceress. But it may be easy to account for God's answering Saul in this way, as it was exposing and afflicting him more severely than in any other, after he had richly deserved it.
4. But it is still further objected that. the predict, ions of the apparition, under the name of Samuel, were not true, and therefore could not be Samuel's. But the things foretold were exactly verified, and the event answered to the prophecy in every particular. The things came to pass four or five days after. It says, Tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me. But it is acknowledged by the best critics that the word which we render in English, tomorrow, may as welt be rendered very shortly, which it really signifies in this place.
5. Well, but is it not said, Tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me? Was Saul, then, so wicked a man, to go after death to the same blessed place with righteous Samuel? The text determines nothing at all of the state of either after death, All that is meant by the words, Thou shalt be with me, is, Thou shalt die; add so it proved.
III. PRACTICAL USES.
1. Observe how careless and unthinking men are apt to be in their prosperity, and till the hour of distress comes.
2. That in such cases, generally, God very justly turns away His ear, and will vouchsafe no answer in the ordinary way, to such grievous offender.
3. Observe, further, how miserable, how melancholy a thing it is for a man to have sinned to such a degree as to be entirely abandoned by God, and to have the best friend in the world become his enemy. The practical conclusion from the whole is that we learn to set a true value upon God's favour and friendship, and that, we use our utmost endeavours both to procure and to preserve it.
(D. Waterland, D. D.)
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