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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 1–6
Verses 1–6

Here is, I. The design of the Philistines against Israel. They resolved to fight them, 1 Sam. 28:1. If the Israelites had not forsaken God, there would have been no Philistines remaining to molest them; if Saul had not forsaken him, they would by this time have been put out of all danger by them. The Philistines took an opportunity to make this attempt when they had David among them, whom they feared more than Saul and all his forces.

II. The expectation Achish had of assistance from David in this war, and the encouragement David gave him to expect it: “Thou shalt go with me to battle,” says Achish. “If I protect thee, I may demand service from thee;” and he will think himself happy if he may have such a man as David on his side, who prospered whithersoever he went. David gave him an ambiguous answer: “We will see what will be done; it will be time enough to talk of that hereafter; but surely thou shalt know what thy servant can do” (1 Sam. 28:2), that is, “I will consider in what post I may be best able to serve thee, if thou wilt but give me leave to choose it.” Thus he keeps himself free from a promise to serve him and yet keeps up his expectation of it; for Achish took it in no other sense than as an engagement to assist him, and promised him, thereupon, that he would make him captain of the guards, protector, or prime-minister of state.

III. The drawing of the armies, on both sides, into the field (1 Sam. 28:4): The Philistines pitched in Shunem, which was in the tribe of Issachar, a great way north from their country. The land of Israel, it seems, was ill-guarded, when the Philistines could march their army into the very heart of the country. Saul, while he pursued David, left his people naked and exposed. On some of the adjacent mountains of Gilboa Saul mustered his forces, and prepared to engage the Philistines, which he had little heart to do now that the Spirit of the Lord had departed from him.

IV. The terror Saul was in, and the loss he was at, upon this occasion: He saw the host of the Philistines, and by his own view of them, and the intelligence his spies brought him, he perceived they were more numerous, better armed, and in better heart, than his own were, which made him afraid, so that his heart greatly trembled, 1 Sam. 28:5. Had he kept close to God, he needed not have been afraid at the sight of an army of Philistines; but now that he had provoked God to forsake him his interest failed, his armies dwindled and looked mean, and, which was worse, his spirits failed him, his heart sunk within him, a guilty conscience made him tremble at the shaking of a leaf. Now he remembered the guilty blood of the Amalekites which he had spared, and the innocent blood of the priests which he had spilt. His sins were set in order before his eyes, which put him into confusion, embarrassed all his counsels, robbed him of all his courage, and produced in him a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation. Note, Troubles are terrors to the children of disobedience. In this distress Saul enquired of the Lord, 1 Sam. 28:6. Need drives those to God who in the day of their prosperity slighted his oracles and altars. Lord, in trouble have they visited thee, Isa. 26:16. Did ever any seek the Lord and not find him? Yes, Saul did; the Lord answered him not, took no notice either of his petitions or of his enquiries; gave him no directions what to do, nor any encouragement to hope that he would be with him. Should he be enquired of at all by such a one as Saul? Ezek. 14:3. No, he could not expect an answer of peace, for, 1. He enquired in such a manner that it was as if he had not enquired at all. Therefore it is said (1 Chron. 10:14), He enquired not of the Lord; for he did it faintly and coldly, and with a secret design, if God did not answer him, to consult the devil. He did not enquire in faith, but with a double unstable mind. 2. He enquired of the Lord when it was too late, when the days of his probation were over and he was finally rejected. Seek the Lord while he may be found, for there is a time when he will not be found. 3. He had forfeited the benefit of all the methods of enquiry. Could he that hated and persecuted Samuel and David, who were both prophets, expect to be answered by prophets? Could he that had slain the high priest, expect to be answered by Urim? Or could he that had sinned away the Spirit of grace, expect to be answered by dreams? No. Be not deceived, God is not mocked.

V. The mention of some things that had happened a good while ago, to introduce the following story, 1 Sam. 28:3. 1. The death of Samuel. Samuel was dead, which made the Philistines the more bold and Saul the more afraid; for, had Samuel been alive, Saul probably thought that his presence and countenance, his good advice and good prayers, would have availed him in his distress. 2. Saul’s edict against witchcraft. He had put the laws in execution against those that had familiar spirits, who must not be suffered to live, Exod. 22:18. Some think that he did this in the beginning of his reign, while he was under Samuel’s influence; others think that it was lately done, for it is spoken of here (1 Sam. 28:9) as a late edict. Perhaps when Saul was himself troubled with an evil spirit he suspected that he was bewitched, and, for that reason, cut off all that had familiar spirits. Many seem zealous against sin, when they themselves are any way hurt by it (they will inform against swearers if they swear at them, or against drunkards if in their drink they abuse them), who otherwise have no concern for the glory of God, nor any dislike of sin as sin. However it was commendable in Saul thus to use his power for the terror and restraint of these evil-doers. Note, Many seem enemies to sin in others, while they indulge it in themselves. Saul will drive the devil out of his kingdom, and yet harbour him in his heart, by envy and malice.