Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 28

The Church Pulpit CommentaryChurch Pulpit Commentary

Verse 15


‘God is departed from me.’

1 Samuel 28:15

I. There were three courses open to Saul: 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.’ … Aindur, as the home of Saul’s far-famed witch is now called, is a wretched-looking place, and yet the position at the north-east corner of Little Hermon, facing Tabor, and overlooking the valley between them, is really beautiful. The declivity of the mountain is everywhere perforated with caves, and most of the habitations are merely walls built around the entrance to these caverns. The ‘witch’ doubtless occupied one of these caves.

II. 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 was gone, and a feverish excitement, ready to catch at any aid, however lawless and untrustworthy, had taken their place.

Two hundred years before the battle in which Saul was slain, another leader of Israel had stood upon that same battle-range of Gilboa. A like innumerable hostile array was encamped below, or upon the opposite slope of Little Hermon. But Gideon, to meet the enemy, had only three hundred men; Saul had ‘all Israel.’ Yet Gideon made ready for the onset, hopeful and stout-hearted, while Saul ‘greatly trembled,’ because Gideon’s sword was also ‘the sword of the Lord,’ while from Saul the Spirit of God had long since departed. Within twenty-four hours preceding either battle, both these chieftains had taken brief excursions from their camps. Both were attended by only one or two retainers. Both stole away by night clandestinely. Both went where it was peril to go: Gideon within the enemy’s lines, Saul into a witch’s den. Yet Gideon returned exultant, while Saul ‘fell all along on the earth, sore afraid,’ because Gideon went where God had sent him; Saul, against God’s express statute.

III. With unendurable remorse within, and a vague premonition of doom blackening the very night which overhung his secret, silent steps, Saul sought from the woman at Endor that knowledge of the future which he could no longer receive from a rejected God.—And, strangely enough, too, it is Samuel, God’s prophet, that he would see and hear—a fact which shows where his inmost belief has rested all through his evil career—a fact which includes confession with conviction of guilt, but the confession of remorse, like that of Judas, leading only to self-murder. All human history has failed to record a despair deeper or more tragic than his, who having forsaken God and being of God forsaken, is now seeking to move hell, since Heaven is inexorable to him; and, infinitely guilty as he is, assuredly there is something unutterably pathetic in that yearning of the disanointed king, now in his utter desolation, to change words once more with the friend and counsellor of his youth, and if he must hear his doom, to hear it from no other lips but his.

IV. We hear the wail of a perturbed spirit—‘I am sore distressed:’ but no confession of sin, no accent of repentance.—Saul never fairly faces the question of his own misconduct, always palliates his sin, always evades self-judgment and self-reproach. ‘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 till ruin is inevitable, and no course is open for retrieval. The time for doing was now past. In quick succession it comes, like thunderbolt on thunderbolt: ‘Jehovah thine enemy’; ‘Jehovah hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to David’; ‘thy sins have overtaken thee!’ All this Saul knew long ago, although he had never realised it as now. And then as to his fate: to-morrow—defeat, death, slaughter, to Saul, to his sons, to Israel!


(1) ‘The most terrible fact of all is the total absence of all penitence on the part of Saul. He was clear of offences which make some pages in David’s history nothing better than one huge blot. But oh! how much better it would have been to have sinned like David, if only he had repented like David; if a temper resembling at all the temper which dictated the fifty-first Psalm had found place in him. But all this was far from him. Darkness is closing round him; anguish has taken hold of him; but the broken and the contrite heart, there is no remotest sign or token of this; no reaching out after the blood of sprinkling. We listen, but no voice reaches us like his who exclaimed, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow’; but dark and defiant and unbelieving, he who had inspired such high hopes, he who for a while seemed about to justify them all, goes forward to meet his doom.’

(2) ‘The spirits of the departed live in the region that God hath given them—out of the body we know; but whether by knowledge and sympathy in any close connection with the living, we cannot tell. But across the gulf that divides us and them, one utterance of theirs falls upon our listening ear—“To-morrow,”—they say to us—a few more days—a few more years it may be to us—to-morrow to them,—“thou, too, shalt be with us.’ Let us drink the message in; and as we know that the passage into the world of spirits is so near, and shall bring with it such solemn issues, so let this short day of life be spent by each of us humbly, watchfully, prayerfully, dutifully, that when that morrow cometh, instead of lost spirits rising to mock our advent with the scornful question, “Art thou also become one of us?” happy spirits with outstretched arms may welcome us to the sunbright shores of an unshadowed eternity.’

Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 28". The Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.