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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

1 Samuel 28

Verses 1-2

1 Samuel 28:1-2. It came to pass in those days The Philistines, recruited about this time, as Sir Isaac Newton judges, by vast numbers of men driven out of Egypt by Amasis, resolve upon a new war with Israel; nor were Samuel's death, and David's disgrace, as we may well judge, inconsiderable motives to it. Achish, who appears to have been commander in chief of the combined army of the Philistines, knew David's merit, and had a thorough confidence in his fidelity; and therefore he resolved to take him with him to the war. Accordingly, he moved the matter to David, and David made him a doubtful answer. Surely thou shalt know what thy servant can do: upon which Achish replies, therefore will I make thee keeper of mine head for ever: that is, in the present military style, he promised to make him captain of his life-guard, and we find by the sequel that he did so; whence, it seems, that Achish understood his answer in the affirmative. But did David promise that he would join in battle against his own people? No such thing. David made no compliance or promise of this kind, but answered ambiguously.—He was undoubtedly in circumstances of great difficulty. But who reduced him to these difficulties? Who forced him to seek refuge among the Philistines? It was Saul, by his causeless, cruel, and unrelenting persecutions; Saul, therefore, was in a great measure answerable for all the evil consequences of it. But must not David have fought against his king and country, or else have fallen off to the Israelites, and ungratefully employed his arms against the Philistines, and Achish his protector? I am not sure that he was reduced to the necessity of doing either. David knew himself destined by Providence to the throne of Israel, and therefore could never have joined Achish to complete their destruction, which must have cut off every possible prospect of his succeeding to the crown. The particular favours that he had received from Achish, laid him under no obligation whatsoever to assist the Philistines in general against his own countrymen. He might have shewed his gratitude to Achish, by affording him protection in his turn, securing his person, and those of many of his people, had the Israelites been victorious over the combined armies. Being often under the divine impulse, he might have made this reply in obedience to the divine inspiration; without being acquainted with that concatenation of events which was foreseen by the Deity, who foreknew that it would be a means of extricating him out of his present difficulties, without exposing him to any in future. As David was frequently inspired with a knowledge of futurity, he might possibly have foreseen that event which freed him from the dilemma into which this promise might, in its utmost latitude, have drawn him; and then it could not have been looked upon by himself as an obligation to take up arms against his king and country, because he foreknew that he never should be put to that trial.

REFLECTIONS.—We have here,

1. The distress to which David is reduced in this war between the Philistines and Israel. Achish, as he justly might, insists on David's going with him to battle. David dared not refuse, though he, no doubt, resolved not to fight against God's people: he, therefore, gives an ambiguous answer, which Achish interprets of his fidelity and valour, and promises to make him captain of his guards for life if he should acquit himself well. Hereupon the Philistines march, and David with them, into the heart of Canaan, and encamp at Shunem, without opposition.
2. Saul, with his forces collected at Gilboa, appears greatly terrified at his danger; and now, no doubt, heartily wishes for David back again, whose presence in the opposite army gives such weight to his foes. The remembrance of his past guilt adds terrors to his present danger, while the sense of his present danger awakens his conscience to a deeper sensibility of his past wickedness. To accumulate his miseries, he receives no answer from God; he is vouchsafed no divine vision in a dream; has no Urim to consult, since the priest is fled with it to David; nor prophet to advise or direct him. At last, he is resolved to have recourse to the devil for advice; but his own former edicts against sorcerers make it difficult to find one, as he had, in pretended zeal for God, or at Samuel's instigation, put to death all such abominable workers of iniquity throughout the land of Israel. Note; (1.) They who refuse to seek God while he may be found, will cry in vain when he refuses to answer. (2.) The troubles of the wicked are doubly aggravated by the terrors of an evil conscience. (3.) To the very sins against which men professed once to be most zealous, they will readily abandon themselves, when they have thrown off the cloke of religion.

Verses 7-12

1 Samuel 28:7-12. Then said Saul—Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit Utterly forsaken of God, yet anxiously desirous of searching into futurity, Saul, who had prayed to God to no purpose, now resolved to apply himself to Samuel. To what will not fear and folly force us? In the days of his devotion, Saul had partly cut off, and partly frighted away, those wizards and sorcerers, those execrable wretches, the pests of society and enemies of true religion, whom God commanded to be extirpated. See Leviticus 20:27. Deuteronomy 18:10. However, some of them, he concluded, might have remained or returned. He enquired, and was informed [princes never want ministers of mischief] of a Pythoness, who dwelt not far off, at En-dor, a little village of the tribe of Manasseh, in the valley of Jezreel, at the foot of mount Gilboa. He accordingly hasted that very night to En-dor, stripped off his regal apparel, disguising himself as well as he could, and attended only by two companions. When he arrived, he prayed the woman to divine by her familiar spirit, that is, to employ her art, in evoking from the dead the person whom he should name; at the same time assuring her, by a solemn oath, that no evil should happen to her, on account of what she mentions in the 9th verse. The woman then demands whom he would have raised: he answers, Samuel. The woman, no doubt, was then about to proceed to her charms and incantations. But, contrary to all her expectation, the moment Saul had mentioned the name of Samuel, the woman saw an appearance, and in great terror cried out to Saul, Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul. Our translators have inserted the particle when in the 12th verse, which embarrasses the sense, and implies, that some space of time had passed between Saul's request, and the appearance of Samuel: whereas the original text stands thus, When Saul said, bring me up Saumel, then immediately follows, and the woman saw Samuel, and cried, &c. She saw an apparition that she did not expect; she knew the prophet; she knew the veneration that Saul had for him; and she knew that her art had never exhibited a person of that figure to her. Various have been the opinions concerning this apparition of Samuel. From the manner in which we have interpreted these verses, and which seems to be just, there appears no doubt that this was a real apparition of Samuel, sent by the immediate intervention of God: for one cannot suppose, either that it was a trick put upon Saul by this sorceress, or that it was a demon which thus assumed the form of Samuel.

Verses 13-14

1 Samuel 28:13-14. For what sawest thou? It should be rendered, but what sawest thou? The word translated Gods, is אלהים elohim. The Chaldee renders it, a messenger of the Lord. Houbigant thinks that she speaks after the manner of idolators, who used to address in the plural the gods whom they worshipped; a custom which they transferred to their Genii, and even to the souls of the departed which they evoked. Saul, acquainted with this language, sufficiently understood that the woman saw only one ascending from the earth, though she spoke in the plural. The woman thought that Samuel ascended out of the earth; and from the description which she gave, Saul knew it to be Samuel; (see chap. 1 Samuel 15:27.) though it is possible that at the same moment Saul knew it was Samuel himself; for the word וידע vaiiedang, rendered perceived, may as well be rendered knew; and his stooping to the ground seems to prove this. Dr. Delaney observes, that when Samuel denounced God's judgments upon Saul, he was clad in a mantle, which Saul tore on that occasion. He now came to repeat and to ratify the sentence then denounced; and, to strike him with fuller conviction, he appears in the same dress, the same mantle in which he denounced that sentence; and since he now again denounced a division of the kingdom from Saul, why may we not presume that the mantle showed now the same rent which was the emblem of that division? Is it irrational to suppose, that when he spoke of this division, he held up the mantle, and pointed to the rent? It is well known, that the prophets were men of much action in their speaking, and often illustrated their predictions by emblems; and such actions as I now mention, I think, could hardly be avoided on this occasion.

Verse 15

1 Samuel 28:15. Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me Houbigant observes very justly, that Samuel complains not of the woman, but of Saul, for disquieting him; whence it appears clear, that Samuel was not raised up by her magic arts, but by the will of God. Samuel's disquiet plainly arose from Saul's hardened impenitence in the way of religion. It was this that grieved and provoked him; and so it should be translated: Why hast thou provoked me, to make me rise up?—Why dost thou ask of me, seeing the Lord is departed from thee? But is it probable, say some, that God, who had refused to answer Saul by all the accustomed methods, would, to satisfy him, raise up Samuel to apprize him of his destiny? We answer, I. That Saul had not consulted God by Urim, or by prophets; for the Urim was with David; and there was probably no prophet then alive, to whom God communicated himself either by vision, or by his prophet; and that in the methods which he had employed, he had conducted himself hypocritically, and without any right impression of religion. II. We answer, that Saul, in danger, and anxious about the event of it, applies to a Pythoness, to assist him by her incantations, and to call up the spirit of Samuel; but before she articulates one word of her spells or charms, the prophet interposes, frightens her, and pronounces Saul's doom; and she herself witnesses the truth of his appearance. God is not so tied down to his own institutions, that he cannot at any time depart from them. That God should manifest himself by his prophets, to encourage or countenance what he himself had forbidden, is indeed very unlikely, or, to speak more justly, very absurd to suppose. But that he should interpose to reprove that practice, is perfectly compatible with all our ideas of his perfections.

Verse 19

1 Samuel 28:19. To-morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me Samuel predicts two things. I. That Saul, and his three sons who were with him in the camp, should be with him; i.e. should, like him, be in another world, or should die. II. That they should die on the morrow, or rather, very shortly; for that is the signification of the word מחר machar, in many places of Scripture. See Exo 13:14 and Joshua 4:6. It is probable, however, that the word in this place may be taken in its literal sense of to-morrow. These predictions of Samuel evidently proved that he spoke by God's order; for he foretells, first, the victory of the Philistines; secondly, the death of Saul and his sons; and thirdly, the advantages which the Philistines should derive from their victory. See chap. 1 Samuel 31:7. And it is surprising, that after such plain predictions as these, which could come only from God, any person should imagine that this apparition of Samuel was either a human or a diabolical imposture.

Verses 20-21

1 Samuel 28:20-21. Then Saul fell straightway Immediately after having pronounced the dreadful words in the former verse, Samuel disappeared, leaving the unhappy king in the most dreadful consternation. Saul, most probably, during the time of Samuel's appearance, had been left alone with him, the woman having retired. Continuing some time prostrate upon the earth, without power to move or speak, the woman at length returned to him, and with his servants persuaded him to take some refreshment. The sacred historian does not inform us of all that passed. There is no doubt but the Pythoness was well paid, and that the repast she offered was not at her own expence. Dr. Delaney makes two judicious observations on this event. The first is, that the son of Sirach, who seems to have had as much wisdom, penetration, and piety, as any critic who came after him, is clearly of opinion, with the sacred historian, that it was Samuel himself who foretold the fate of Saul and his house in this interview: and it is no ill presumption, that his judgment was also that of the Jewish church upon this head. The next is, that whereas it has been made a question, Whether the Jews had any belief in the immortality of the soul? this history is a full decision upon that point; and, perhaps, the establishment of that truth upon the foot of sensible evidence, was not the slightest purpose of Samuel's appearance upon this occasion. Indeed, the whole art of necromancy is founded entirely upon a belief of the immortality of the soul; for how could it be believed, that the souls of the dead could be evoked, if they died with the body? And, as this practice was so general among the heathens, it is plain that the immortality of the soul was generally received as a determined principle. See Le Clerc and Calmet.

Note; (1.) They who depart from God, leave their own mercies. A miserable life, and a more miserable death, is their wretched portion. (2.) When a man is given up to despair, he rushes on his own destruction, as the horse rusheth into the battle. (3.) Let every man who reads Saul's end, tremble at the thought of grieving the holy Spirit of God, lest he be thus forsaken, and left to the wickedness and despair of his own heart.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 28". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.