“And Saul knew that it was Samuel.” Saul was deceived. Here in 1 Samuel 28:14, what Saul saw was not Samuel, but a demon impersonating Samuel. It is well known that ghosts and apparitions impersonate the dead, and that is the situation here.
The text says that Saul “knew” it was Samuel, but in this case, the Bible is telling us Saul’s state of mind, what was true for him even though it was not actually true. We see the same kind of thing in Genesis 3. Just before Eve sinned and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the text says, “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food….” But it was not “good for food!” What she “saw” was not real and it resulted in her and Adam’s death and the death of all humans after her. When the Bible says that Eve “saw” that the tree was good for food, it is giving us her point of view, not the truth, and that is what is happening in 1 Samuel 28:14.
There are many lines of evidence to support that Saul was deceived and that what he saw was a demon impersonating Samuel.
It has sometimes been objected that a demon could not have predicted the future the way that “Samuel” did when he appeared to Saul. But actually, demons have a lot of power and influence over future events, which is why people have gone to mediums and diviners for many thousands of years. If the mediums were mostly wrong, their profession would have died out long ago, but mediums and diviners are thriving today. Some events are hard to foresee, but if Saul went to war against the Philistines, his death, and the death of the royal family, was pretty much inevitable. But because the Devil is the “god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4) and has considerable sway on earth (1 John 5:19), and because Saul had sinned so badly he and his troops were not being protected by God (Lev. 20:6), and because the Philistines had a larger, better-equipped army, it was not hard for the demon to predict that Saul and his sons, who would as a matter of custom be in the heat of the fight, would die in the battle the next day.
The prophecy given by the demon “Samuel” is in line with how demons communicate. They give enough truth to convince a person that they really know the situation and the future, but they mix it with lies and probability (see commentary on 1 Samuel 28:15).
Many centuries ago, the Church Father Tertullian (c. 155-220 AD) realized that the “Samuel” who spoke to Saul was a demon, and he wrote: “God forbid, however, that we should suppose that the soul of any saint, much less of a prophet, can be dragged out of (its resting-place in Hades) by a demon. We know that “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14)—much more into a man of light—and that at last he will “show himself to be even God” (2 Thess. 2:4), and will exhibit “great signs and wonders, insomuch that, if it were possible, he shall deceive the very elect” (Matt. 24:24). He hardly hesitated on the before-mentioned occasion to affirm himself to be a prophet of God, and especially to Saul, in whom he was then actually dwelling. You must not imagine that he who produced the phantom was one, and he who consulted it was another; but that it was one and the same spirit, both in the sorceress and in the apostate (king), which easily pretended an apparition of that which it has already prepared them to believe as real—(even the spirit) through whose evil influence Saul’s heart was fixed where his treasure was, and where certainly God was not. Therefore it came about, that he saw him through whose aid he believed that he was going to see, because he believed him through whose help he saw. But we are met with the objection, that in visions of the night dead persons are not infrequently seen….” (Tertullian, “A Treatise on the Soul,” chapter 57. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, ed., Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA. Vol 3, p. 234, 1994.).
Tertullian is correct. Saul saw a demon. The demon in the medium at Endor did not have the power to raise the dead, but it, or other demons in the area, did have the power to impersonate the dead, which is what happened.
So in summary, we see that King Saul asked God about the future in several different ways and God would not answer him. So Saul went to a medium who dealt with familiar spirits. Saul was deceived and sinning in what he did, and God did not give in to his desperation; in fact, He could not since Samuel was dead. However, a demon gladly fulfilled Saul’s desire and appeared as Samuel the prophet and gave a prediction that Saul would die, which came to pass.
[For more information on the dead being genuinely dead and not alive in any form, see Appendix 4, “The Dead are Dead.” For more on the soul not living on after a person dies, see Appendix 7, “Usages of ‘Soul.’” For more information on the abomination of witchcraft, necromancy, using mediums, and other similar “black arts,” see Deut. 18:9-14 and the commentary on those verses. For more information on this record of Saul and the medium at En-dor, see the commentary entries on the verses in the chapter].
“kneeled and bowed down.” This kneeling preceded bowing down to the ground. The two actions, kneeling and then bowing to the ground blended into one act of homage or worship. The common biblical way of bowing down before people or God was to fall to one’s knees and bow the upper body and face to the earth. Also, instead of “kneeled and bowed down,” the text could be translated, “bowed down and worshiped,” with “kneeling” being understood as part of the process of bowing down, and “bowing down” was the act of worship. The same Hebrew verb, shachah (#07812 שָׁחָה), is translated as both “bow down” and “worship;” traditionally “worship” if God is involved and “bow down” if people are involved, but the verb and action are the same, the act of bowing down is the worship. [For more on bowing down, see commentary on 1 Chron. 29:20].