1 Samuel 28:14
And he said to her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man comes up; and he is covered with a mantle…
This is altogether a strange and mysterious scene. It is a difficult and much debated question how we are to understand it. One or two remarks is all that can be offered here. In the first place, there is no ground whatever for supposing a collusion between the woman and Soul's two servants. Nor, secondly, is it at all tenable that Satan appeared, personating Samuel. Whether, then, shall we hold that the whole phenomena both of sight and sound formed a vision presented supernaturally by God; or as actual and literal occurrence? Of visions there were two principal varieties: First, a symbolic representation seen in a trance, such as that presented to Peter (Acts 10) or those brought before the rapt mind of John (Revelation). Of this kind the scene before us could not be an example. The figure is not symbolic. The state of mind is calm and self-possessed. Secondly, a miraculous sight of objects real and present. Of this sort were the vision of Zacharias (Luke 1); of the angels at the tomb (Luke 24:23); and of Moses and Elijah on the mount (Matthew 17:9). In this latter sense, the vision does not differ much from the literal understanding of the occurrence. To the objection — that it was unjust to Samuel to "disquiet" him thus, it may be answered that the word refers only to his change of place in its outward aspect, and does not necessarily imply the endurance of pain. To the other objection — that the figure was seen "ascending out of the earth" and could not therefore represent the soul of Samuel, it may yet be deemed satisfactory to say that the earth being the resting place of the body, and the figure appearing in the character of a body, it was natural to present the mysterious apparition as emerging from the ground; and that, whatever may be thought of this, the objection holds equally against the visional supposition. The last objection calling for notice takes higher ground, and the answer to it will lead us in among the moral purposes served by this mysterious transaction. "It was neither worthy of God, nor fitted to secure objects important enough to commend to our reason an interposition such as the literary theory implies." It will be seen at once that any answer which disposes satisfactorily of the second branch of the objection will be valid against the first. Now we shall not have to go far in quest of important ends actually served by the occurrence.
1. A stern rebuke to Saul. The guilty man had recourse to an agency which his conscience condemned, and which his own recent enactment proscribed as unlawful, and punished capitally as impious. The holy God met him in the face on that forbidden ground, in that unhallowed work. And to be confronted thus must have filled him with overwhelming confusion. The tenderhearted prophet denounced him without reserve or mitigation. And rebukes never fall so crushingly, or with such condemning evidence of their justice, as from the lips of forbearing gentleness.
2. A solemn rehearsal of the law which regulated the national fortunes. Calamity came in the wake of sin. The holy King of heaven constituted them a people on that basis. His command was broken signally in the case of Amalek. This dreadful offence was yet pouring out its vials of vengeance on the land. The catastrophe announced by Samuel as immediately to occur was to exhaust the dregs of this vengeance on the doomed dynasty of Saul. How wisely adapted to strike through their conscience the conviction that this great calamity was strictly punitive.
3. Proof that the God of Israel overruled all agencies of evil. It is indeed a mysterious thing, and unexampled, that the holy Jehovah should be a party in a scene like this. The same sovereign authority laid hold on Balaam, and made the bad man a true prophet.
4. An exhibition of important facts from the spiritual world. The existence of the soul after death; the continuance of all its powers, and among them memory — stored with the recollections of the past; the perpetuation of moral and spiritual character.
(P. Richardson, B. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself.
WEB: He said to her, "What does he look like?" She said, "An old man comes up. He is covered with a robe." Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground, and did obeisance.