Here, I. Saul seeks for a witch, 1 Sam. 28:7. When God answered him not, if he had humbled himself by repentance and persevered in seeking God, who knows but that at length he might have been entreated for him? but, since he can discern no comfort either from heaven or earth (Isa. 8:21, 22), he resolves to knock at the gates of hell, and to see if any there will befriend him and give him advice: Seek me a woman that has a familiar spirit, 1 Sam. 28:7. And his servants were too officious to serve him in this evil affair; they presently recommended one to him at Endor (a city not far off) who had escaped the execution of Saul’s edict. To her he resolves to apply. Herein he is chargeable, 1. With contempt of the God of Israel; as if any creature could do him a kindness when God had left him and frowned upon him. 2. With contradiction to himself. He knew the heinousness of the sin of witchcraft, else he would not have cut off those that had familiar spirits; yet now he had recourse to that as an oracle which he had before condemned as an abomination. It is common for men to inveigh severely against those sins which they are in no temptation to, but afterwards to be themselves overcome by them. Had one told Saul, when he was destroying the witches, that he himself would, ere long, consult with one, he would have said, as Hazael did, What? Isa. thy servant a dog? But who knows what mischiefs those will run into that forsake God and are forsaken of him?
II. Hearing of one he hastens to her, but goes by night, and in disguise, only with two servants, and probably on foot, 1 Sam. 28:8. See how those that are led captive by Satan are forced, 1. To disparage themselves. Never did Saul look so mean as when he went sneaking to a sorry witch to know his fortune. 2. To dissemble. Evil works are works of darkness, and they hate the light, neither care for coming to it. Saul went to the witch, not in his robes, but in the habit of a common soldier, not only lest the witch herself, if she had known him, should decline to serve him, either fearing he came to trepan her or resolving to be avenged on him for his edict against those of her profession, but lest his own people should know it and abhor him for it. Such is the power of natural conscience that even those who do evil blush and are ashamed to do it.
III. He tells her his errand and promises her impunity. 1. All he desires of her is to bring up one from the dead, whom he had a mind to discourse with. It was necromancy or divination by the dead, that he hoped to serve his purpose by. This was expressly forbidden by the law (Deut. 18:11), seeking for the living to the dead, Isa. 8:19. Bring me up him whom I shall name, 1 Sam. 28:8. This supposes that it was generally taken for granted that souls exist after death, and that when men die there is not an end of them: it supposes too that great knowledge was attributed to separate souls. But to think that any good souls would come up at the beck of an evil spirit, or that God, who had denied a man the benefit of his own institutions, would suffer him to reap any real advantage by a cursed diabolical invention, was very absurd. 2. She signifies her fear of the law, and her suspicion that this stranger came to draw her into a snare (1 Sam. 28:9): Thou knowest what Saul has done. Providence ordered it so that Saul should be told to his face of his edict against witches, at this very time when he was consulting one, for the greater aggravation of his sin. She insists upon the peril of the law, perhaps to raise her price; for, though no mention is made of her fee, no doubt she demanded and had a large one. Observe how sensible she is of danger from the edict of Saul, and what care she is in to guard against it; but not at all apprehensive of the obligations off God’s law and the terrors of his wrath. She considered what Saul had done, not what God had done, against such practices, and feared a snare laid for her life more than a snare laid for her soul. It is common for sinners to be more afraid of punishment from men than of God’s righteous judgment. But, 3. Saul promises with an oath not to betray her, 1 Sam. 28:10. It was his duty as a king to punish her and he knew it, yet he swears no to do it; as if he could by his own oath bind himself from doing that which, by the divine command, he was bound to do. But he promised more than he could perform when he said, There shall no punishment happen to thee; for he that could not secure himself could much less secure her from divine vengeance.
IV. Samuel, who was lately dead, is the person whom Saul desired to have some talk with; and the witch, with her enchantments, gratifies his desire, and brings them together. 1. As soon as Saul had given the witch the assurance she desired (that he would not discover her) she applied to her witchcrafts, and asked very confidently, Whom shall I bring up to thee? 1 Sam. 28:11. Note, Hopes of impunity embolden sinners in their evil ways and harden their hearts. 2. Saul desires to speak with Samuel: Bring me up Samuel. Samuel had anointed him to the kingdom and had formerly been his faithful friend and counsellor, and therefore with him he wished to advise. While Samuel was living at Ramah, not far from Gibeah of Saul, and presided there in the school of the prophets, we never read of Saul’s going to him to consult him in any of the difficulties he was in (it would have been well for him if he had); then he slighted him, and perhaps hated him, looking upon him to be in David’s interest. But now that he is dead, “O for Samuel again! By all means, bring me up Samuel.” Note, Many that despise and persecute God’s saints and ministers when they are living would be glad to have them again when they are gone. Send Lazarus to me, and send Lazarus to my father’s house, Luke 16:24-27. The sepulchres of the righteous are garnished. 3. Here is a seeming defector chasm in the story. Saul said, Bring me up Samuel, and the very next words are, When the woman saw Samuel, (1 Sam. 28:12), whereas one would have expected to be told how she performed the operation, what spells and charms she used, or that some little intimation would be given of what she said or did; but the profound silence of the scripture concerning it forbids our coveting to know the depths of Satan (Rev. 2:24) or to have our curiosity gratified with an account of the mysteries of iniquity. It has been said of the books of some of the popish confessors that, by their descriptions of sin, they have taught men to commit it; but the scripture conceals sinful art, that we may be simple concerning evil, Rom. 16:9. 4. The witch, upon sight of the apparition, was aware that her client was Saul, her familiar spirit, it is likely, informing her of it (1 Sam. 28:12): “Why hast thou deceived me with a disguise; for thou art Saul, the very man that I am afraid of above any man?” Thus she gave Saul to understand the power of her art, in that she could discover him through his disguise; and yet she feared lest, hereafter, at least, he should take advantage against her for what she was now doing. Had she believed that it was really Samuel whom she saw, she would have had more reason to be afraid of him, who was a good prophet, than of Saul, who was a wicked king. But the wrath of earthly princes is feared by most more than the wrath of the King of kings. 5. Saul (who, we may suppose, was kept at a distance in the next room) bade her not to be afraid of him, but go on with the operation, and enquired what she saw? 1 Sam. 28:13. O, says the woman, I saw gods (that is, a spirit) ascending out of the earth; they called angels gods, because spiritual beings. Poor gods that ascend out of the earth! But she speaks the language of the heathen, who had their infernal deities and had them in veneration. If Saul had thought it necessary to his conversation with Samuel that the body of Samuel should be called out of the grave, he would have taken the witch with him to Ramah, where his sepulchre was; but the design was wholly upon his soul, which yet, if it became visible, was expected to appear in the usual resemblance of the body; and God permitted the devil, to answer the design, to put on Samuel’s shape, that those who would not receive the love of the truth might be given up to strong delusions and believe a lie. That it could not be the soul of Samuel himself they might easily apprehend when it ascended out of the earth, for the spirit of a man, much more of a good man, goes upward, Eccl. 3:21. But, if people will be deceived, it is just with God to say, “Let them be deceived.” That the devil, by the divine permission, should be able to personate Samuel is not strange, since he can transform himself into an angel of light! nor is it strange that he should be permitted to do it upon this occasion, that Saul might be driven to despair, by enquiring of the devil, since he would not, in a right manner, enquire of the Lord, by which he might have had comfort. Saul, being told of gods ascending, was eager to know what was the form of this deity, and in what shape he appeared, so far was he from conceiving any horror at it, his heart being wretchedly hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Saul, it seems, was not permitted to see any manner of similitude himself, but he must take the woman’s word for it, that she saw an old man covered with a mantle, or robe, the habit of a judge, which Samuel had sometimes worn, and some think it was for the sake of that, and the majesty of its aspect, that she called this apparition Elohim, a god or gods; for so magistrates are styled, Ps. 82:1. 6. Saul, perceiving, by the woman’s description, that it was Samuel, stooped with his face to the ground, either, as it is generally taken, in reverence to Samuel, though he saw him not, or perhaps to listen to that soft and muttering voice which he now expected to hear (for those that had familiar spirits peeped and muttered, Isa. 8:19); and it should seem Saul bowed himself (probably by the witch’s direction) that he might hear what was whispered and listen carefully to it; for the voice of one that has a familiar spirit is said to come out of the ground, and whisper out of the dust, Isa. 29:4. He would stoop to that who would not stoop to the word of God.