Verses 15–19

We have here the conference between Saul and Satan. Saul came in disguise (1 Sam. 28:8), but Satan soon discovered him, 1 Sam. 28:12. Satan comes in disguise, in the disguise of Samuel’s mantle, and Saul cannot discover him. Such is the disadvantage we labour under, in wrestling with the rulers of the darkness of this world, that they know us, while we are ignorant of their wiles and devices.

I. The spectre, or apparition, personating Samuel, asks why he is sent for (1 Sam. 28:15): Why hast thou disquieted me to bring me up? To us this discovers that it was an evil spirit that personated Samuel; for (as bishop Patrick observes) it is not in the power of witches to disturb the rest of good men and to bring them back into the world when they please; nor would the true Samuel have acknowledged such a power in magical arts: but to Saul this was a proper device of Satan’s, to draw veneration from him, to possess him with an opinion of the power of divination, and so to rivet him in the devil’s interests.

II. Saul makes his complaint to this counterfeit Samuel, mistaking him for the true; and a most doleful complaint it is: “I am sorely distressed, and know not what to do, for the Philistines make war against me; yet I should do well enough with them if I had but the tokens of God’s presence with me; but, alas! God has departed from me.” He complained not of God’s withdrawings till he fell into trouble, till the Philistines made war against him, and then he began to lament God’s departure. He that in his prosperity enquired not after God in his adversity thought it hard that God answered him not, nor took any notice of his enquiries, either by dreams or prophets, neither gave answers immediately himself nor sent them by any of his messengers. He does not, like a penitent, own the righteousness of God in this; but, like a man enraged, flies out against God as unkind and flies off from him: Therefore I have called thee; as if Samuel, a servant of God, would favour those whom God frowned upon, or as if a dead prophet could do him more service than the living ones. One would think, from this, that he really desired to meet with the devil, and expected no other (though under the covert of Samuel’s name), for he desires advice otherwise than from God, therefore from the devil, who is a rival with God. “God denies me, therefore I come to thee. Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo.”—If I fail with heaven, I will move hell.

III. It is cold comfort which this evil spirit in Samuel’s mantle gives to Saul, and is manifestly intended to drive him to despair and self-murder. Had it been the true Samuel, when Saul desired to be told what he should do he would have told him to repent and make his peace with God, and recall David from his banishment, and would then have told him that he might hope in this way to find mercy with God; but, instead of that, he represents his case as helpless and hopeless, serving him as he did Judas, to whom he was first a tempter and then a tormentor, persuading him first to sell his master and then to hang himself. 1. He upbraids him with his present distress (1 Sam. 28:16), tells him, not only that God had departed from him, but that he had become his enemy, and therefore he must expect no comfortable answer from him: “Wherefore dost thou ask me? How can I be thy friend when God is thy enemy, or thy counsellor when he has left thee?” 2. He upbraids him with the anointing of David to the kingdom, 1 Sam. 28:17. He could not have touched upon a string that sounded more unpleasant in the ear of Saul than this. Nothing is said to reconcile him to David, but all tends rather to exasperate him against David and widen the breach. Yet, to make him believe that he was Samuel, the apparition affirmed that it was God who spoke by him. The devil knows how to speak with an air of religion, and can teach false apostles to transform themselves into the apostles of Christ and imitate their language. Those who use spells and charms, and plead, in defence of them, that they find nothing in them but what is good, may remember what good words the devil here spoke, and yet with what a malicious design. 3. He upbraids him with his disobedience to the command of God in not destroying the Amalekites, 1 Sam. 28:18. Satan had helped him to palliate and excuse that sin whe 2b1a n Samuel was dealing with him to bring him to repentance, but now he aggravates it, to make him despair of God’s mercy. See what those get that hearken to Satan’s temptations. He himself will be their accuser, and insult over them. And see whom those resemble that allure others to that which is evil and reproach them for it when they have done. 4. He foretels his approaching ruin, 1 Sam. 28:19. (1.) That his army should be routed by the Philistines. This is twice mentioned: The Lord shall deliver Israel into the hand of the Philistines. This he might foresee, by considering the superior strength and number of the Philistines, the weakness of the armies of Israel, Saul’s terror, and especially God’s departure from them. Yet, to personate a prophet, he very gravely ascribes it once and again to God: The Lord shall do it. (2.) That he and his sons should be slain in the battle: To-morrow, that is, in a little time (and, supposing that it was now after midnight, I see not but it may be taken strictly for the very next day after that which had now begun), thou and thy sons shall be with me, that is, in the state of the dead, separate from the body. Had this been the true Samuel, he could not have foretold the event unless God had revealed it to him; and, though it were an evil spirit, God might by him foretel it; as we read of an evil spirit that foresaw Ahab’s fall at Ramoth-Gilead and was instrumental in it (1 Kgs. 22:20-23), as perhaps this evil spirit was, by the divine permission, in Saul’s destruction. That evil spirit flattered Ahab, this frightened Saul, and both that they might fall; so miserable are those that are under the power of Satan; for, whether he rage or laugh, there is no rest, Prov. 29:9.