At this point, things get very, very strange. Saul’s rage against David is killing only one person – himself. We know that, once his desperate hunt for David makes Saul seek out the dead, it is only time before he will join them himself.
David is still having to rely on his wits. His blood must have frozen when Achish tests his loyalty to him by stating that he must join his army. In that instant, his chances of continuing to supply for his men and family by raiding far-off Philistine tribes are severed. And the call might come any day to fight against his own people. Presumably, when he agrees to Achish, he is only trying to buy time in order to hatch a plan (vv.1-2).
Certainly, the Philistines are on the march against Israel, and Saul is terrified. There is no Samuel to inquire of, God is silent, too, and there are no mediums so that Saul might inquire of the dead (vv.4-6). But he is desperate, so a witch is found, and Saul meets her in disguise (vv.7-9).
So who is this man who appears at the witch’s summons? Is this actually Samuel, brought from death at the spell of this woman, or is this only some hellish apparition, which seems to be like Samuel? Certainly he looks and speaks like Samuel, Saul is convinced, and the apparition knows all about the Lord’s leaving Saul. He also says that, as the Lord has left Saul, he can expect no help from him now (vv.10-19).
Saul can’t take any more. He is exhausted and terrified (v.20), and collapses. The witch is already terrified herself, since this is the king himself who has come to her, and who has already killed the mediums in the land (v.9, compare v.3). And yet, she is filled with compassion for him, and prepares food for him (vv.21-25). Saul eats, and it’ll be one of his last meals. This food and drink is an unholy communion. He has abandoned God and been abandoned by Him, He has sought the dead because he has rejected the Living God, and his intermediary is a witch, since he has killed the priests. He sits in hell’s kitchen. He has met the dead, he has become like a dead man, and very soon he will join them.
There is no comfort in this chapter, not for its characters, nor for us. Our comfort, when life goes wrong, and maybe when God appears to be silent, is this: in Christ, His compassions never fail. Though life is often uncertain and sometimes dangerous, God can be relied upon, and leant into, in times of trouble. Of that we can be very sure, and for that we can be very grateful.