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DOWNFALL AND DEATH OF SAUL (CHS. 28-31.)
THE PHILISTINES GATHER TOGETHER FOR WAR. DISTRESS OF SAUL, AND VISIT TO THE WITCH OF ENDOR (1 Samuel 28:1-25.).
ACHISH SUMMONS DAVID TO JOIN HIM IN THE WAR AGAINST ISRAEL (1 Samuel 28:1-2).
1 Samuel 28:1
In those days. I.e. while David was dwelling at Ziklag. The Philistines gathered their armies together. This was, as Josephus has observed, a war upon a much larger scale than any that had been carried on since the defeat of the Philistines in the valley of Elah; for we find that the invasion was made from the north, and the decisive battle fought not in the usual field of operations, but in the territory of the tribe of Issachar, in the neighbourhood of Jezreel. We are not indeed to suppose from this that the Philistines had conquered all the central districts of the land, and, driving Saul before them, at last brought him to bay, and slew him in the north; for though Ishbosheth was compelled to withdraw to Mahanaim, a city on the eastern side of the Jordan, yet Abner is said to have made him king there not only over the trans-Jordanic tribes, but also "over Jezreel, and over Ephraim, and over Benjamin" (2 Samuel 2:9). It may be said, however, that these were but titular claims; but the philistine conquests, as described in 1 Samuel 31:7, if not confined to the valley of Esdraelon, as in 1 Chronicles 10:7, were nevertheless all of them to the north of Mount Gilboa, thus leaving Ephraim, Benjamin, and Judah untouched. Nor do we find the Philistines encamped between David at Hebron and Ishbosheth at Mahanaim, or interfering in their contests; and it is only when David was made king over the whole of Israel that they again assembled their forces to dispute the empire with him, and twice suffered defeat (2 Samuel 5:20, 2 Samuel 5:25). More probably, therefore, they marched northward through their own territory, raising the whole of the military population as they went, and then, turning eastward, broke into the Israelite territory by the valley of Jezreel. It was probably the rapid decline of Saul's power which encouraged the Philistines to attempt once again to place their yoke upon the neck of Israel; and Saul, conscious that God's blessing had departed from him, in pitiable agony sought for unholy aid, but finally, with his sons, made a last brave defence, and died a soldier's death. Achish said unto David. As a vassal David was bound to accompany his lord to the acid; and Achish, supposing that David had of his own accord made war upon Judah, probably assumed that the invitation was one which he himself desired. To battle. Hebrew, "in the army."
1 Samuel 28:2
Surely thou shalt know. Hebrew, "Therefore thou shalt know," i.e. if the case be so, thou shalt know, etc. The rendering of the A.V. makes David repeat the words of Achish, which literally are, "knowing thou shalt know," the Hebrew way of making a strong affirmation. David's reply is really ambiguous, but is understood by Achish as a boastful assent, and he thereupon promises, Therefore will I make thee keeper of mine head, i.e. captain of my bodyguard, forever. Therefore is exactly the same word as that used by David, and has just the same meaning, namely, "If the case be so, if thou provest thy valour, then I, etc.
SAUL AND THE WITCH OF ENDOR (1 Samuel 28:3-25).
1 Samuel 28:3
Samuel was dead. A repetition of 1 Samuel 25:1, inserted to explain Saul's conduct, as is the other fact, that Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits, etc. We are not told when Saul did this; but at the commencement of his reign, when he brought the ark to Nob, he was probably earnest generally in his observance of the precepts of the Mosaic law. Familiar spirits. Hebrew, oboth, the plural of ob, a leathern bottle. It is generally taken to refer to the distended belly of the conjurer, into which the summoned spirit of the dead was supposed to enter, and thence speak; for which reason the Septuagint renders the word" ventriloquist," and is followed by most modern commentators. Wizards. Hebrew, "knowing ones," from the verb to know; just as wizard comes from the old verb to wiss. With ignorant people unusual knowledge is always looked upon with suspicion; but these supposed magicians professed a knowledge to which they bad no claim.
1 Samuel 28:4
The Philistines … pitched in Shunem. Having collected their forces, the Philistines entered Palestine as we have seen, by the valley of Jezreel, also called Esdraelon, and, marching eastward, encamped at Shunem. This was a village in the tribe of Issachar (Joshua 19:18), rendered famous as the abode of the woman who made a little chamber for Elisha (2 Kings 4:8); and from thence also came Abishag (1 Kings 1:8). Conder describes it as being at present only a mud hamlet, with cactus hedges and a spring, but the view extends, he says, as far as to Mount Carmel, fifteen miles away ('Tent-Work,' 1:123). It is now called Sulem, a name given to it also by Eusebius, and lies upon the slopes of the little Hermon, opposite Mount Gilboa, from which it is separated by the valley of Jezreel. This broad plain "is bounded on the east by the range of Gilboa, rising 1500 feet above the sea, and consisting of white chalk; while on the west a long spur runs out at about the same average elevation with Gilboa, and wends northwest to the ridge of Carmel. As the valley is about 250 feet above the sea level, Saul, from an elevation of 1200 feet, would easily see the camp of the Philistines pitched upon the slopes of the opposite range at a distance of about four miles.
1 Samuel 28:5, 1 Samuel 28:6
When Saul saw, etc. It is plain from this that the Philistines had not forced their way up through the Israelite territory; for this was evidently Saul's first sight of their forces, and his alarm was caused by finding them so much larger than he had expected. He therefore in his anxiety enquired of Jehovah, but received no answer, neither by dreams. He had expected these to be vouchsafed, possibly to himself, but more probably to some class of prophets (see Jeremiah 23:25, where false prophets claim to have dreamed, in imitation no doubt of true prophets); but though dreams were thus recognised as a means for communicating God's will to man, yet, as Erdmann well remarks, "a subordinate position is certainly assigned in the Old Testament to the dream as the medium of the Divine influence on the inner life, which in sleep sinks into a state of passiveness." Nor by Urim. Though Abiathar after the massacre of his family had fled to David with the ephod, it is quite possible that Saul may have had another ephod made, and have set up a fresh sanctuary, perhaps at Gibeon, with Zadok, of the family of Eleazar, as high priest. This would account for Zadok being joined with Ahimelech, the son of Abiathar, as one of two high priests early in David's reign (2 Samuel 8:17). It is remarkable, however, that Saul does not mention the Urim himself in 1 Samuel 28:15, and very probably it is named here not because the ephod was actually used, but as enumerating all the various ways by which men inquired of Jehovah. Nor by prophets. In his dee spair Saul may have turned to some reputed soothsayer present with the host, but his wilful life had alienated both priest and prophet from him. And this is the meaning of the passage in 1 Chronicles 10:14 : "Saul enquired not of Jehovah; therefore he slew him." He may have gone through the form of inquiring, and certainly now would have been glad of an answer, but his whole mind was determinately set upon carrying out his own purposes, and he would never permit, after the first year or two of his reign, the royal prerogative to bend to the will of God.
1 Samuel 28:7, 1 Samuel 28:8
Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit. Hebrew, "owner of an ob" (see on 1 Samuel 28:3). This determination of Saul proves how obstinate was his self-will. He wanted an answer simply that he might know what was about to happen, not that he might receive guidance and counsel from God. From his bidding them seek him out "a woman mistress of an ob," we gather that women were the usual claimants to these occult powers, just as now they are the most successful clairvoyantes, Endor—"the spring of the round," i.e. perhaps of the dwelling, houses being originally circular in shape, like tents—lay a little to the northeast of Shunem, and it was therefore a hazardous matter for Saul to visit it. Condor ('Tent-Work,' 1:122) says, "East of Nain is a village of mud huts, with hedges of prickly pear. This is Endor, famous in connection with the tragic history of the death of Saul. The adventurous character of Saul's night journey is very striking when we consider that the Philistines pitched in Shunem on the southern slopes of the mountain, and that Saul's army was at Jezreel; thus, to arrive at Endor he had to pass the hostile camp, and would probably creep round the eastern shoulder of the hill, hidden by the undulations of the plain, as an Arab will often now advance unseen close by you in a fold of the ground." He proceeds to speculate upon the cave in which the sorceress may have lived, dismissing those in the town as too modern, but suggesting one on the hillside. But there is nothing in the narrative to suggest that she lived in a cave, but rather the contrary, and the idea may be dismissed as due to the imagination of painters. As the journey was very dangerous, Saul disguised himself, and went by night, accompanied only by two men; and nothing could more plainly set before us his mental anguish, and also his intense desire to pry into the secrets of futurity, than this strange journey. All faith and hope are gone, and a feverish excitement, ready to catch at any aid, however lawless and untrustworthy, had taken their place. In this state of mind he arrives at the woman's dwelling, and says, Divine unto me by the ob. Though divination was strictly forbidden (Deuteronomy 18:10, Deuteronomy 18:14), yet we find the diviner (A.V. prudent) in high popular estimation in Isaiah 3:2; and it was probably a lucrative profession, or this woman would not have been willing to incur so great a danger as was involved in its practice. Bring me him up, etc. The fancy that we can see the spirits of the dead is a most natural and enduring superstition, and it seems generally assumed that they must have some knowledge not accessible to the living. It must be said for Saul that he did not become the victim of this folly until after his reason was disturbed, and as a punishment for heinous sins.
1 Samuel 28:9, 1 Samuel 28:10
Thou knowest what Saul hath done. Not only had Saul in the earlier part of his reign been earnest in his zeal for the Mosaic law, but even now it seems as if a witch was in danger of death; for he has to take an oath before she will acknowledge that she practises any illicit art,
1 Samuel 28:11
Whom shall I bring up to thee? Assured by Saul's oath, the woman now asserts her ability to call up the spirits of the dead, and asks, just as would happen now with those who claim similar powers, who it is to be. We need not suppose that she possessed either greater or less powers than those claimed or even exercised now; for many of the phenomena of clairvoyance, though undoubtedly natural, still belong to an unscientific, and therefore vague and illusory, region. Perhaps on this very account these arts have always had an extraordinary fascination for men, and been practised in all ages and among all people with considerable skill. Bring me up Samuel. Samuel had been Saul's friend in his youth, and his guide and counsellor in those happy days when the young king walked uprightly, and all went well with him. But gradually the light yoke of respect for one who loved him became too heavy for a despotic temperament, which would brook no will but its own. Now that self-will is broken; it had brought the warrior king to a hopeless despair, and in his distress his mind once again returns to its old channels Intense as was the degradation for one so haughty, in disguise by night, at the risk of his life, to seek help from a sorceress, he bears it all that he may at least for a few minutes see the spirit of the true though stern monitor, whose memory once again filled his whole heart.
1 Samuel 28:12
When the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice. Evidently the last thing that she had expected was that anything else should happen than the usual illusion by which she imposed upon her victims; nor is it certain that anything else did happen. Her assertion that she saw Samuel was probably false; and it was in feigned excitement that she cried out, Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul. She could not but have noticed the tall stature, the dignified manner, and also the intense excitement of her strange visitor; and when he bade her call up the spirit of Samuel, she must have been dull indeed not to know who the stranger was.
1 Samuel 28:13
What sawest thou? Thus far Saul had seen nothing; and as the words literally are What seest thou? it is plain that she had not gone into another room, as some have supposed. The vision was entirely unsubstantial, and Saul, hearing her cry, and observing her excitement, and her steady gaze upon some object, asked what that object was. Probably she was at some distance from him, as was no doubt her custom when performing her incantations, in order that what she did might not be too closely observed; probably, too, she burnt odours, and surrounded herself with the smoke of incense. In answer to Saul she says, "I see Elohim ascending out of the earth." As the participle is plural, she does not mean God; nor, as it was a single appearance, is the rendering gods correct. What she means is that she saw some grand supernatural appearance rising out of the ground, which she calls a god in a general way, without attaching any very exact meaning to the term.
1 Samuel 28:14
What form is he of? Rather, "What is his aspect?" i.e. his look. As the term a god conveyed no other idea than that she had seen something majestic, Saul asks for a more exact description. She answers that it was an old man clad in a robe, meil (see on 1 Samuel 2:19). Samuel seems never to have worn the prophetic mantle (see on 1 Samuel 15:27), but always the meil. There was nothing, therefore, distinctive in the dress; but as she says that she has seen an old man, Saul concludes that he for whom he had asked had appeared to him. Instead of Saul perceived, the Hebrew has "Saul knew." There is nothing to prove that Saul really saw anything; all that is said is that by the woman's description "Saul recognised that what she had seen was Samuel, and he bowed himself to the ground, and made obeisance."
1 Samuel 28:15, 1 Samuel 28:16
Why hast thou disquieted me? I.e. Why hast thou caused me to be disturbed by the incantations of this woman? Neither by prophets nor by dreams. It is suggested in the Talmud (Berach 1 Samuel 12:2) that Saul omitted all mention of the Urim from shame at having murdered the priests. Is become thine enemy. By a slight difference of reading the Septuagint have, "is on the side of thy neighbour."
1 Samuel 28:17-19
Jehovah hath done to him. Rather, "hath wrought for himself;" but the LXX; Vulgate, and some MSS. read "hath done to thee," as in 1 Samuel 28:18. As he spake by me. See 1 Samuel 15:28. Saul's rebellion is there said, in 1 Samuel 15:23, to be a crime as great as the witchcraft which he was at that time so zealously punishing; here, where the sentence is being carried into execution, Saul has himself become guilty of what in his better hours he so abominated. Jehovah will also deliver Israel with thee. Rather, "will deliver Israel also with thee," i.e. the nation is to share thy punishment. Tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me. I.e. shall be dead. Whence this voice came it is difficult to say. St. Augustine thought that the woman really conjured up a demon, who took the form of Samuel. Maimonides treats the whole as the effect of Saul's diseased imagination; while many modern commentators regard it as a well played piece of jugglery on the part of the woman, who recognised Saul at once on his entrance, but professed not to know him till his name was revealed to her by the pretended apparition, in whose name she reproached him for his crimes, announced to him, what now all were convinced of, that David was to be his successor, and foretold his defeat and death. In the face of such a passage as Deuteronomy 18:10-12 we cannot believe that the Bible would set before us an instance of witchcraft employed with the Divine sanction for holy purposes; but we can easily believe that the woman would gladly take a bitter revenge on the man who had cruelly put to death all persons reputed to have such powers as those to which she laid claim. The object of the narrative is plainly to set before us the completeness of Saul's moral downfall and debasement. Here is the man endowed with so many and so great gifts of genius, and who in so many things started so well and behaved so nobly, the victim of a despairing melancholy; his conscience is blackened with the wholesale massacre of the priesthood, his imagination is ever brooding over the sick fancy of treason plotted by his son-in-law, whom now he supposes to be in the Philistine camp; his enemies have invaded his territory in extraordinary numbers and upon new ground; to him it seems as if they have come to dethrone him and place his crown on David's head. In this dire extremity his one wish is to pry into futurity and learn his fate. There is no submission to God, no sorrow for disobedience, no sign of even a wish for amendment; it is to unholy arts that he looks, simply that he may know what a few more hours will make known to all. Neglecting his duties as a general and king, instead of making wise preparation for the coming fight, he disguises himself, takes a dangerous and wearisome journey round the enemies' camp, arrives at his destination by night, and, exhausted with hunger and mental agitation, seeks there for the knowledge unattainable in any upright manner from a reputed witch. He has rejected God, lost all the strength and comfort of true religion, and is become the victim of abject superstition. Whether he were the victim also of the woman's arts, or of his own sick fantasy, is not a matter of much consequence; the interest of the narrative lies in the revelation it makes to us of Saul's mental and moral state; and scarcely is there in the whole of Scripture anything more tragic than this narrative, or any more intense picture of the depth of degradation to which a noble but perverse intellect is capable of falling.
1 Samuel 28:20-25
Saul fell straightway all along, i.e. at full length, on the earth. He fainted, partly from mental distress, partly from bodily exhaustion, as he had gone all the day and all the night without food. It was this long continued violent emotion of feeling which had driven Saul to this rash enterprise; but fasting and agony of mind were the worst possible preparation for a visit to one used to cajole her victims by pretended magical arts, and gifted, as people of her class usually are, with great shrewdness. But practised as she was in deceit, yet even in her triumph over her enemy she felt, when she saw him swoon away, a natural sympathy for his misery and weakness, and urged him to take food. Perhaps she saw that without it he could never have got back to the Israelite camp. At first he refused, but the necessity of it was so plain, that when the two men with him also urged it, he at last consented. So he arose from the earth, and sat upon the bed. During this colloquy he had remained prostrate upon the ground, but now he seated himself, not on a bed, but upon the raised bank, or divan, which runs along the wall of an Oriental house, and is furnished with carpets and cushions for men to sit or lie upon. There he rested, a prey, we may well believe, to bitter thoughts, while the woman hastily prepared a meal, killing a calf and baking unleavened cakes, as there was no time to leaven the dough. And so "they ate, and rose up, and departed that night."
1 Samuel 28:1-5
The operation of moral causes.
The facts are—
1. On war arising between the Philistines and Israel, Achish reminds David of his obligation to assist him in battle.
2. David, although answering ambiguously, is trusted by Achish, who promises him promotion.
3. On the opposing forces being assembled, Saul's heart faints for fear of his enemy. The narrative shows that both David and Saul were at the same time in embarrassed circumstances, and each as the consequence of his sin. They were bent on totally diverse objects, but neither of them was in a position of safety. The penalties of transgression were being paid. We see here an instance of—
I. THE QUESTIONABLE AMBIGUITIES OF LIFE. David's false step in yielding to unwarrantable fear, followed as it was by actions unworthy of his fair fame, was now developing to a crisis in which the principles of his entire life would be put to an unavoidable test. His heathen friend and protector naturally claimed his help in the coming struggle with Israel. Painfully must David have winced as Achish, trusting to his honour and gratitude, reminded him of his obligations. Although he had simulated hostility to Israel for his own selfish purposes, and had done himself and his countrymen a wrong by allowing it to be supposed that he could ever be their enemy, yet there was enough of fidelity in his heart to save him from so dire an evil as was suggested by Achish. To escape from the awkward position, recourse was had to the craft of an ambiguous statement, to which he and Achish attached different meanings. The common judgment on David's conduct will be adverse. Even though some would apologise for it under the plea of danger, yet they must condemn its essential falsehood. It is not lawful to palliate our deceit by reference to difficulties created by our own misconduct. Plain, straightforward words and conduct, even in times of perplexity, are not only morally best, but, even from a utilitarian point of view, are most conducive to permanent welfare. It is to be feared that ambiguities abound in life more than becomes a Christian profession. There is conduct as well as language admitting of double interpretation. We should always aim to be and to speak so as not to be objects of suspicion. To say exactly what we mean and to act with singleness of purpose is to approximate towards the "simplicity that is in Christ" (cf. Romans 12:8; 2 Corinthians 1:12; 2 Corinthians 11:3).
II. UNTIMELY TROUBLES. Troubles are in the way at any time, but there are seasons when their presence is most inconvenient. It was annoying to David that war should break out between Israel and the Philistines just when he was, according to the ordinary judgement of men, under obligation to assist Achish; and it was especially inconvenient to Saul that this trouble of war should occur when, by reason of Samuel's long discountenance of his reign, the gradual alienation of able men, the loss to the kingdom of David's prowess, and his own private sorrows, it was not possible to gather adequate forces and act with wonted energy. Providence has a manifest tendency to allow troubles to cross the path of the wrong doer just when, for his own purposes, it is desirable to have it quite clear. "Behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns," is a prediction likely to be fulfilled in the lives of rulers and nations bent on a crooked course of conduct; nor can individuals escape the law of providential vexation when they practise deceit or, like Saul, cherish an impenitent spirit. It is thus that the delusiveness of sin appears; for the ease and pleasure anticipated in doing one's sinful will vanish before events, which, like mists around a mountain, seem to come from we know not where. A man's sin will be sure to find rebuke in forms he could not foresee. It is very inconvenient to be on the wrong side in the moral conflicts of life. Good men can bear trouble in patience, knowing that it is as truly helpful to their highest interests as is joy; wicked men not only lose the support of a clear conscience, but have to learn that the end for which they have striven will be frustrated (cf. Psalms 7:9; Psalms 37:38; Psalms 112:10).
III. THE OPERATION OF MORAL CAUSES. The troubles which thus came on David and Saul, producing in the one a questionable ambiguity of conduct, and in the other a sense of helplessness, were connected with a set of moral causes that had been in steady operation for a considerable period, and had interacted with the physical in producing the crisis. Taking the case of Saul, we see how his sin in the early part of his reign, being unrepented, induced the line of conduct which drove David from the land, alienated the spiritual power and many of the ablest men, gradually drew around himself evil men, and created uneasiness and distrust in the nation. Whatever reluctance on the part of the people to assemble in full force, and whatever want of nerve on the part of Saul to lead them on, might have been the immediate cause of his fear—these were the result of the moral defection which had slowly worked on all departments of life. Besides this, the sin of Saul had had the effect of so withdrawing the Divine favour that Providence, by not restraining their will, permitted the attack of the Philistines. For moral reasons Saul's predicted doom was preparing, in spite of all his efforts to avoid it. It is one of the most striking characteristics of the Bible, as compared with other books, that it brings into prominence the moral causes that affect the present and future position of men. Assuming the orderly action of physical laws, it impresses us with the truth that the mental and moral are above the physical, and that man by his conduct sets in motion moral forces which, by a subtle interaction, ultimately govern the bearing of the physical upon his condition. Moral causes are primary. In so far as we may imagine the Divine action in creation having a beginning, the moral cause of action was antecedent. The reason of the exercise of power was moral. In our world's sad history moral causes have been primary. The same is true of our personal life. They lie at the spring of our joy or woe. They are also silent and slow. Saul's sin and impenitence were not uttered, and they worked on in silent, slow course all through his life. It seems to require time for the higher moral laws to work out their legitimate consequences in the sphere of the physical. There are many illustrations of this in the lives of evil men, as also of good. They are also invincible. No energy or cunning on the part of Saul could obviate the political and military weakness of his kingdom. No power can check the tendency to physical and political decay consequent on the sins of statesmen and peoples. The whole universe submits to the action of the moral forces that are tending to bring men into judgment. The sea even will obey and give up its dead.
1. In embarrassments brought on by our sins. it is honouring to God to speak the plain truth and trust to his care,
2. The affairs of life will be easily conducted in proportion as men are honest and simple in word and deed.
3. Those only who learn the lessons of trouble in their early stage will escape later evils.
4. We should be thankful to God for hedging our erring steps with difficulties.
5. It is a comfort to the holy that the principles ruling in their souls are destined to finally subdue all things to their truest welfare.
1 Samuel 28:6-14
Man's appeal from God to man.
The facts are—
1. Saul in his trouble seeks in vain guidance from God.
2. In despair he has recourse to the witch of Endor, promising her that no harm should come to her for assisting him with her incantations.
3. Saul desires of her to bring up Samuel.
4. On Samuel coining forth the woman is in terror, and also discovers Saul's identity.
5. By the aid of the woman Saul recognises Samuel, and bows himself to the earth. The strange events here narrated awaken feelings of wonder, and, in minds not acquiescent in God's methods of developing his purpose in connection with the Hebrew race, some degree of incredulity; but the important spiritual teaching is obvious, and the difficulties of the subject, also, are not without their practical value. We have here an instance of—
I. A MAN RIGHTEOUSLY LEFT OF GOD IN TIME OF DISTRESS. The triple reference to dreams, prophets, and Urim indicates the intense desire of Saul to obtain some intimation of the Divine will; and this renders the futility of his endeavour the more impressive. Outwardly he conformed to the usages of a ruler in Israel, and, were he judged by men who have regard only or chiefly to the zeal which meets the eye, he would be regarded as, so far, a religious man, and within the range of blessing. To those who are unfamiliar with Scripture it may seem painfully strange that a man presumably in earnest should be so utterly left of God; but, as in other instances, a little more knowledge will afford a solution of the fact and justify the ways of God.
1. It is a fact that men are left to themselves. Divine guidance had been. withheld from Saul from the day of his rebellion (1 Samuel 15:20-23) up to the date of this event. The antediluvians and, at one stage of history, Israel were abandoned to their devices (Genesis 6:1-3; Isaiah 1:15). Pharisees were left to the blindness of their hearts notwithstanding their many prayers. When men deliberately darken the light that is in them God does not enable them to see the "Light of the world."
2. There are moral reasons for such abandonment. In Saul's case there was an absence of that state of mind which alone would render attention to his cry for help honourable to God and blessed to mankind. There was no penitential recognition of his former sin, nor of the years of persistent impenitence, nor of his cruelty to David; his desire for God's guidance and help sprang entirely from fear of military disaster, of loss of influence, and of the fulfilment of the prediction outstanding against him (1 Samuel 15:28, 1 Samuel 15:29). The response of God to man's cry is based on law as beautiful in its orderliness as anything in the physical world. The notion that God must help every one in trouble is based on sheer ignorance, and is profoundly unscientific. Even in home and society we recognise the necessity of moral conditions of receiving attention and favour. Divine mercy is free, but is righteous in its flow. It never sets a premium on selfishness and impenitence; it is never exercised in such a way as to do violence to our radical sense of right and moral propriety. This will account for the deaf ear which God is represented as turning to bad men when, in desperation, they cry to him in adversity, and when, at the end of life, they seek him in vain; for they do not care for God, for holiness, for anything but selfish deliverance from uncomfortable circumstances and great danger. Hence—
3. The abandonment is in harmony with the current of God's promises. Again and again we are encouraged to seek the Lord. Nothing is more certain than that God delights to answer our cry for help. The appeal of David later on in life, and the dumb pleading of the Magdalene, were freely answered; but the fifty-first Psalm reveals the contrast of David's spirit with that of Saul, and the tears of the unholy woman told of a heart altogether turned toward God.
II. THE SUPERHUMAN CHARACTER OF GOD'S WAYS. There is in some minds a feeling of surprise that such a narrative as this should find a place in a book supposed to be written or compiled under Divine inspiration for the instruction of the world in spiritual truth; and, assuming that its fitness in such a book can be made out, it is deemed incredible that God should allow his servant to come from the invisible world at the request of such a man as Saul, and through an agency condemned in the Bible. Now on this difficult subject it may suffice for our purpose to observe—
1. A revelation of God's purpose towards mankind in connection with and by means of the history of a race is natural only in so far as it embraces what the chief figures of the history actually did, and especially in their relation to him, be it good or bad. That Saul actually did as here recorded is evident on the face of the whole narrative, for never was there a more perfect air of truthfulness on a record. The very unreasonableness of his conduct in applying to a witch for such a purpose, and after executing the law against witchcraft, is quite reasonable when we reflect on the utter mental and moral confusion involved in his despair. Compare his unreasonable act of seeking a blessing through a sinful act (1 Samuel 13:8-14; 1 Samuel 15:21-23). The record, therefore, of such a transaction is reasonable in an inspired book.
2. There are cases in which God allows bad men to have their desire without the advantage they expect from its being granted. Quails were given to men to their grief. A king was desired contrary to God's will, and one was given, much to the affliction of the nation. There is so far a similarity in this instance, that the granting of the desire to see Samuel was only to seal Saul's doom, not to give the guidance anticipated, and which had been hitherto refused (1 Samuel 28:6).
3. There was a manifest fitness in Samuel being permitted to declare the fixity of Saul's fate and its equity. He had instructed and warned Saul at first in private (1 Samuel 9:25, 1 Samuel 9:26), and subsequently (1 Samuel 15:26-31). All through he had looked with sorrowful pity on this poor wayward, sinning man. With Saul's belief in the existence of the spirits of good men after death, it was the most natural thing to wish, if possible, to see this wise, kind, and faithful friend, and in his utter despair appeal to his pity; and considering that there evidently still lurked in his mind a last hope that the old, long deferred prediction of downfall might yet be averted, with a feeling that it was very hard, and perhaps unjust, for him to be thus left in misery, there seems to be a blending of Divine tenderness and judgment in this kind and faithful friend being permitted once more to be seen and heard, and at the same time to vindicate the justice of God in the doom about to be accomplished. The Divine tenderness and judgment which had borne with and chastised Saul all through his perverse life were now conspicuous in the irrevocable sealing of his doom. He would rather hear his sentence from Samuel than any other being, if it is to be pronounced.
4. There is no evidence that the woman had anything to do with the appearance of Samuel. He came forth before she called, and hence her wild shriek. That she subsequently played her part as a witch was consistent with the character of such persons. That Saul should suppose her to be the cause of the appearance does not touch the question. He was not in a mental condition to discriminate. That God should allow an invisible being to become visible under such conditions is to be settled by history, for—
5. There is no moral principle violated in God allowing a being from the invisible world to become visible. There is here no sanction of witchcraft, no admission of its powers. Kindness and judgment only are displayed in relation to Saul. The whole difficulty, therefore, resolves itself in a visible appearance of a dead man. Will any one say that God cannot cause a Samuel to appear as truly as a Moses and Elijah? Does the incredulity lie in the fact that we never see the departed, or that God does not cause them to appear to others? By what law is God bound to make a specific exercise of his power common? Will the case be improved by saying it is such an exercise of power as we should not deem wise and useful? What is that but saying we make our method of government a standard by which God's reported acts shall be judged? Is it not wiser to submit to the force of historical testimony, and admit that his ways are not our ways? God does strange things in the earth, at which men marvel, but never unholy things. There is nothing incredible in the existence of departed spirits, nor in their employment when God has a fit purpose to accomplish through them.
III. THE PERMANENCE OF RELIGIOUS SENTIMENTS. It is noteworthy that although Saul had lived so long in impenitence, and had become even hardened in his sinful course, he still retained an awe and reverence for the supernatural and invisible. His very folly and sin in having recourse to a witch revealed the strength of the feeling which could not rest without some help from the unseen world, If God cannot be found men will seek out a substitute. Idolatry and all forms of religious superstition are evidence of the power of the religious sentiment in man. Thousands of men have done much to crush it out, but it has reasserted itself in seasons of distress. Because man is formed for religion, and carries within him feelings which crave for the unseen and eternal, therefore he often becomes the slave of false systems of belief and worship. The permanence of this sentiment gives hope to the missionary, and adds to the remorse of the finally impenitent.
IV. THE POWER OF RELIGIOUS INFLUENCE. The influence of Samuel over Saul appears in this bitter cry for his presence in the hour of misery. The foundation of this influence was laid in Samuel's character, and in the kind and wise interest he took in Saul when entering on his public duties as king. Holy example, faithful warning, wise instruction, tender forbearance, and pitiful concern had not been altogether lost on this erring, self-willed man, although in the perversity of his heart he had for years gone counter to Samuel's guidance. In the dark and painful hour of despair the thought of the wise counsellor and sincere friend came over the soul with memories rich in homage to him. How often does the poor prodigal, when sinking in misery, feel the spell of a mother's piety! How many a man after years of neglected instruction thinks of the faithful pastor, and perchance takes to heart the lessons of his words and life!
1. The climax of trouble is reached when God refuses to hear our prayer, for "What can I do?" then admits of no satisfactory answer.
2. We ought to search our hearts, to see whether we so "regard iniquity" therein as to be in an unfit moral condition to receive a blessing from God (Psalms 66:18).
3. God has methods by which he can vindicate the justice of his judgments, even when we are craving for relief from them.
4. It is important to exercise religious influence over others as early and constantly as possible, since we know that it will be a power even when we are gone.
1 Samuel 28:15-25
The last fruitless effort.
The facts of this section are—
1. Saul, in reply to Samuel's question, declares, as the reason of seeking him, his deep distress and desire to know what to do.
2. Samuel intimates that the inquiry is vain, as he cannot go against God; that the event causing so much distress was simply the perfecting of what had long before been declared; that David was the coming king, and that all this was the consequence of deliberate disobedience.
3. He also declares that the morrow should witness the overthrow of Saul's power and the death of himself and sons.
4. The effect of the message on Saul is to prostrate him in terror on the ground.
5. Out of compassion the woman seeks in vain to rouse Saul from his helpless despair, but by the aid of his attendants he is at last constrained to rise and partake of the meal she had prepared. Among the many truths suggested by this impressive scene we may notice a few.
I. THE DARING OF DESPERATION. Ordinarily men shrink in dread from all thought of contact with visitants from the unseen world, and bad men especially tremble at the possible presence, seen or unseen, of the ghosts of the departed. The experience of all ages testifies to this. And yet here we have an instance of a man, not usually distinguished by calm self-possession, deliberately seeking, and actually holding, converse with one from the dead. The solution of this reversal of the course of human feeling and conduct lies in the desperation of despair, which so overpowers all thought and feeling as to dare to do what at other times would be impossible. Such the urgency of conscience, the pressure of misery, the violent struggle of a will caught in the coils of its own perversity. The same occurs in other circumstances, as when, to extricate themselves from self-brought miseries, men dare to perpetrate deeds of honour or shame, or even commit suicide. Is there not a similar feeling implied in the cry to the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the wrath of the Lamb"?
II. AN UNANSWERABLE QUESTION. One question had agitated Saul for some days. He appealed to God, and no answer came; and now Samuel is told that the object for which he was summoned into the visible sphere was to reply to this one question, "What shall I do?" The silence of God and the words of Samuel show that practically this was a question for which no answer was possible. The day for doing was in the past, when Samuel delivered instructions in the name of God. Years of persistent impenitence for disobedience and of self-willed warring against the purposes of God had brought the unhappy man to a time and position in which no action on his part could reverse the judgment impending. Too late! So is it in human life still. Men may persist in evil ways at home or in business till ruin of domestic peace and of prospects is inevitable, and no course is open for retrieval. The question of the jailor, "What must I do to be saved?" was opportune, and then, as generally, it admitted of a blessed answer; but it is possible for men to scorn and despise Christ so long that the other question may arise, "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?" (cf. Hebrews 2:3; Hebrews 6:3-7; Hebrews 10:26-31).
III. THE UNALTERABLE LAW OF LIFE. The whole of Saul's conduct during these closing days of his life was based on the ignorant supposition that by some device he could be sustained in the kingdom notwithstanding his former disobedience and continued impenitence. Conformity in act and spirit to the mind of God is the law of true prosperity in life. Israel's king rises or falls according to this law. As a servant called to perform an important part in unfolding Messianic purposes, Saul's hold on the kingdom was made to depend on character. No plea, no consideration of personal misery, no device suggested by the living or the dead, could avail to give to a self-willed, impenitent man what is due to the obedient and holy. In all his misery and desire for guidance there was not a trace of the broken or contrite heart which God accepts; there was only and always a blind effort to avert the passing away of the power which sin had forfeited. This law of life is never changed. Men struggle against it, seek to evade its action, crave for some relaxation of its pressure, but it is unbending, unrelenting. Character determines destiny. The lines of experience in the future are the outcome of the present, and not disconnected. As we sow we reap.
IV. THE MORAL INTERPRETATION OF EVENTS. No doubt there were hours when the revival of conscience would enable Saul to read the meaning of the troubles that had long befallen him; but generally, and especially at this juncture, he appears to have wondered at the miseries of his position. Men do bring on themselves manifold troubles, and then, forgetful of the conduct which gave rise to them, or not tracing them carefully back to their own former moral condition, they marvel at, and perhaps complain of, the sufferings endured. The visitant from the unseen world threw light on Saul's position by reference to conduct and character. Here was an interpretation, from a moral point of view, of a long succession of events in the political, physical, and mental spheres. We never estimate events in our life aright if we leave out the moral element. A vast accumulation of disasters in the history of nations and individuals, Churches and homes, is understandable in the light of what men have been and have done. Hence the value of the Bible, which comes as a visitant from the spiritual sphere, casting light on the matters that worry and distress the heart of man. Sinful men need a voice to tell them how to estimate the experiences of their life.
V. THE VINDICATION OF GOD'S SEVERITY. It seemed hard to Saul to be thus left of God, the mere wreck of his former self, and now exposed to a great disaster as commander of an army. Had casual observers, unacquainted with antecedent moral facts, looked on his miseries, they might pronounce the treatment severe. There is, however, in the conscience of even the most self-willed sinner that which recognises the majesty of right and echoes the voice of judgment. It was only for Samuel to refer to the deliberate disobedience of former days, and Saul saw at once the connection of all his woes with the depraved moral condition then manifested and subsequently cherished. Divine patience had borne with him during years of rebellion, content to let the natural outgrowth of his own acts bring on the judgment predicted, and, now that it was falling on him with crushing force, this reminder of great and continuous sin was even to the suffering king a full vindication of the course of Providence. Here is warning and instruction for us. Let us never suppose that we or others bear more than we deserve. We should avoid the bare thought that God deals harshly with any of his creatures. The bitterest element in the cup of suffering is that we put into it by our transgressions; for facts prove that overwhelming material disasters, with a good conscience, are not the worst of evils, and become not only endurable, but means of spiritual good. The hour may come to each when, by a voice full of truth, we shall be made to see how just are God's judgments on ourselves. The escape from so awful a position is by fleeing now for refuge to Christ our Righteousness. The dumb consent of Saul to the truth of Samuel's words is in keeping with the acquiescent silence wherewith, in the future life, the wicked are represented as bowing to the sentence of the Judge (cf. Matthew 7:21-23; Matthew 25:11, Matthew 25:12, Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 16:23-25; Luke 19:22-26).
VI. THE GREAT DISAPPOINTMENT OF LIFE. Saul certainly cherished hope to the last that by some contrivance, some casual aid, he should avert the evil due to his sins. With all the unreasoning energy of desperation he sought Samuel as a final resource; but instead of the hoped for guidance of what he shall do, he meets with a declaration of his doom. Sentence of death is passed by the very friend whose counsel is sought. This doubtless was the most grievous disappointment of his earthly life, and might well lay him low in the dust. Not instruction, but judicial utterance. Not deliverance, but destruction. There are bitter disappointments during the life of most men, and the heart sinks in pain and dismay, but the great disappointment of some is at the end of their earthly course. Christ represents some as expecting to be received into heaven, and all the hopes of years are blasted by the awful words, "Depart from me, ye that work iniquity." The parable of the Pharisee and publican points to the same fearful issue. Would that men did but "ponder the path" of their feet, and by timely penitence and renewal of soul obviate that most calamitous of all disappointments!
VII. SYMPATHY WITH FALLEN GREATNESS. There is an awful and instructive contrast in this closing scene of Saul's career—between the calm, measured, though evidently tender words of Samuel, followed by his return to the invisible world, leaving the wretched king prostrate and helpless on the ground, and the active compassion of this evil woman for the distinguished sufferer at her feet. Samuel was still the true, loving man as of old; but in the invisible sphere he saw things in a clear moral light, and was restrained by his judicial commission from manifesting in action sympathy for the fallen king. It is a question how far a perfect perception of the enormity of sin, such as must be attained by the "spirits of the just made perfect," diminishes what we ordinarily understand as sympathy for those who receive "according to the deeds done in the body." Be that as it may, we cannot but note how even those addicted to a life of sin, as was this woman, are touched by the presence of a great sorrow. There is something exquisitely beautiful in her conduct. For a time the old cunning and moral insensibility and cynicism are set aside, and the humane feelings of her soul find free exercise, as perhaps in the days of her youth suggestive to us of the germ of true humanity that underlies the accretions of a guilty life, and of the power that may be exercised over even the worst, if only we knew the art of touching the hidden spring. Every reader of the narrative must enter into her gentle and respectful feelings towards the fallen monarch; and we feel that had we been there we also should have sought to raise him from the earth, and provide generous nourishment for his exhausted frame. For sympathy with the righteous judgments of God does not extinguish pity for those who fall under them. In fallen greatness we see the majesty and the dishonour, the possibilities and the actualities, of our common humanity. It is as though a large part of ourselves had come to grief; and though we cannot but deplore the sin, we feel disposed to weep over the lost one, and to render the last offices of kindness with a tender hand. So did our blessed Lord, the perfect Man, weep over the lost city when proclaiming with full acquiescence its righteous doom (Matthew 23:37, Matthew 23:38; Luke 19:41-44).
1. The only safe course when sin has been committed is at once, after the example of David and Peter, to return to the Lord and cast ourselves entirely on his mercy. Saul's neglect of this was the secret of his subsequent miseries.
2. There is great probability of cherished sin issuing in a state of mind such that men shall imagine they are seeking good of God when in reality they are seeking only the evasion of his righteous judgments.
3. It cannot be too earnestly and frequently impressed on young and old that moral character is the governing element in the determination of their present and future condition.
4. The occasional justification of God's apparently severe judgments recorded in Scripture may be regarded as foreshadowing the future moral solution of the dark and painful events connected with the history of the intelligent universe.
5. If we would be prepared to end life with a realisation of our hopes we must give heed to the reality of our oneness with the mind of God.
HOMILIES BY B. DALE
1 Samuel 28:1-6. (GILBOA.)
Darkening. shadows of retribution.
"And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled" (1 Samuel 28:5).
1. The end of Saul was now approaching. How long he reigned is not stated ("forty years," Acts 13:21; perhaps a round number, including the judge ship of Samuel). But his course from his first wrong step (1 Samuel 13:8-15) had been a downward one, broken only by brief seasons of amendment. His mental malady may account in part for some of his actions in his later years. During his persecution of David the enemies of Israel became more powerful and aggressive, and, in retribution for unfaithfulness to Jehovah, he was about to be delivered with the host of Israel "into the hand of the Philistines," from whom he had been chosen to effect deliverance (1 Samuel 9:16).
2. The Philistine invasion was on a larger scale than any that had recently occurred (1 Samuel 13:5; 1 Samuel 17:1), and in a different part of the country. It was evidently planned with a view to inflict a fatal blow on Israel. The enemy marched northward, entered the plain of Esdraelon (Jezreel), the battle field of Palestine (stretching out eastward in three branches, like fingers from the hand), and encamped at Shunem (at the base of Little Hermon, north of the central and principal branch). "And the Israelites pitched by the fountain which is in Jezreel" (1 Samuel 29:1), on a spur of Mount Gilboa (south of the central branch), from which they could see the Philistines, three miles distant across the plain, where on the morrow the conflict must be waged.
3. What the issue of the conflict was likely to be Saul's heart told him only too plainly. He felt that what he had so long dreaded was about to come upon him; that the sentence of rejection formerly uttered by Samuel (1 Samuel 16:14-16), now gone to his rest (1 Samuel 28:3), was to be fully executed, and that he would be deprived of his crown, and probably of his life. David, who had once saved Israel in similar peril, had gone over to the Philistines (1 Samuel 27:4), was now (as he thought) among them, and would "surely be king" (1 Samuel 24:20). The night of retribution is setting in. The ministers of vengeance are gathering, like vultures to the prey,
"From the invisible ether;
First a speck, and then a vulture,
Till the air is dark with pinions."
The experience of Saul is shared by many a persistent transgressor in the presence of imminent danger and approaching death, when "the terrors of God do set them selves in array against" him (Job 6:4; Job 24:17). He is—
I. BESET BY IRRESISTIBLE FEAR. The sight of superior hostile forces is calculated to produce such fear, but its power to do so depends chiefly upon the inward state of a man himself, more or less conscious of his condition;
1. The remembrance of past transgressions, and of the punishment threatened against them, and already in some measure experienced. Circumstances often quicken the memory and open its secret records, so that former actions and events reappear, are seen in their true character, and fill the soul with consternation. "I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes" (Psa 1:1-6 :21).
2. The consciousness of Divine displeasure in consequence of disobedience, and the heart not being right with God. Although conscience may slumber long, the hour of awakening comes, and when it asserts its power "its frown is more to be dreaded than the frowns of kings or the approach of armies. It is a fire in the bones, burning when no man suspects" (South). "A wounded spirit who can bear?" (Proverbs 18:14).
"O conscience, conscience, man's most faithful friend,
How canst thou comfort, ease, relieve, defend!
But if he will thy friendly cheeks forego,
Thou art, oh, woe for me! his deadliest foe" (Crabbe).
3. The foreboding of approaching doom. Conscience "exerts itself magisterially, and approves or condemns,...and if not forcibly stopped, naturally and always, of course, goes on to anticipate a higher and more effectual sentence, which shall hereafter second and affirm its own" (Butler).
II. IMPELLED TO SEEK DIVINE COUNSEL. "And Saul inquired of Jehovah" (1 Samuel 28:6). It is not recorded that he had ever done so since he "asked counsel of God" and "he answered him not" (1 Samuel 14:37). His communication with Heaven had evidently been long interrupted. But under the influence of fear he felt the urgent need of it, as other men who have neglected to seek God often do in times of danger, and he expected that it would come at his bidding, as a matter of course, when he made use of the recognised means of obtaining it, apart from a proper state of heart, therein exhibiting the same blindness as of old (1 Samuel 13:9). Cherishing a spirit of envy and hatred, how could it be expected that he should be visited by the Divine Spirit in dreams of good? Having slain the high priest, and compelled his son to flee to David "with the ephod" and the Urim, how could it be expected that he should obtain counsel through another whom he had appointed in his stead, or, having alienated the prophets, that he should gain it through them? Divine aid is often sought through proper channels in vain because—
1. It is not sought at the right time,—"When thou mayest be found" (Psalms 32:6). "Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer" (Proverbs 1:24-33),—which takes place not merely as a just punishment for long neglect, but also on account of the increased hardness of their hearts thereby induced, and rendering them incapable and utterly unworthy of holding communion with God. "If we do not hear God's voice when it goes well with us, God can and will refuse to hear our voice when it goes ill with us" (Starke).
2. It is not sought in a right spirit—with humility, penitence, self-renunciation, and faith. Of these principles there is no trace in the inquiry of Saul.
3. It is not sought with a right purpose, but with some earthly and selfish end in view, rather than the Divine honour. "As the event proved, Saul did not really inquire of the Lord in the sense of seeking direction from him, and of being willing to be guided by it. Rather did he, if we may so express it, wish to use the Lord as the means by which to attain his object. But that was essentially the heathen view, and differed only in detail, not in principle, from the inquiry of the familiar spirit, to which he afterwards resorted" (Edersheim). "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss," etc. (James 4:3; Psalms 66:18; Isaiah 66:4; Ezekiel 14:4; Ezekiel 20:31).
III. DENIED THE DESIRED RESPONSE. "Jehovah answered him not," etc. (1 Samuel 28:6). "I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more" (1 Samuel 28:15). "Saul received from God no answer more, except for judgment."
1. What dreadful silence and loneliness are here revealed! "We read of the silence of the desert, the silence of midnight, the silence of the churchyard and the grave; but this is something more profound and appalling—the silence of God when appealed to by the sinner in his extremity. It is not the silence of indifference, nor of inability to hear, nor of weakness, nor of perplexity; but of refusal, of rejection, of displeasure, of abandonment" (Bonar, 'Bible Thoughts'). "Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone" (Hosea 4:17).
2. What utter helplessness!
3. What intolerable darkness and distress! (Hebrews 10:27).
1. That if "inquiry of the Lord" be left unanswered, the reason of it is to be sought in the moral condition of the inquirer.
2. That nothing but the offering of the sacrifice of "a broken and a contrite heart" can prevent despair.
3. That the boundless mercy of God should awaken hope even at "the eleventh hour."—D.
1 Samuel 28:7-10. (GILBOA, ENDOR)
Resorting to superstitious practices.
"Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and inquire of her" (1 Samuel 28:7).
1. The religion of Saul (like that of many others in Israel) was largely pervaded by superstition. He regarded Jehovah as an object of dread rather than of trust and love, and observed the outward forms of his service not in a spirit of willing and hearty obedience, but because he thought that they would of themselves procure for him the Divine favour. Hence his zeal in putting away "those that had familiar spirits" (Oboth = spirits of the departed, supposed to be called up from the unseen world to make disclosures concerning the future, and dwelling in them and speaking through them in hollow tones of voice, Isaiah 8:19; Isaiah 29:4; ventriloquists, LXX.; necromancers) "and wizards" (sorcerers). And when his inquiry of the Lord was not answered, he resorted to one of these, in the expectation of being told what he must do (1 Samuel 28:15) to avert the wrath which he feared. In like manner the heathen resorted to their priests and diviners (1 Samuel 6:2). He was an embodiment of the heathen mind in Israel. "There were three courses open to him: he might sit down in quiet hopelessness, and let the evil come; or he might in faith and penitent submission commit the whole matter to God, even amid the awful silence; or he might betake himself to hell for counsel, since heaven was deaf. He chooses the last! 'God has cast me off; I will betake myself to Satan. Heaven's door is shut; I will see if hell's be open'" (Bonar). He had about him servants who pandered to his superstitions propensities (1 Samuel 16:15), and informed him of a practitioner of the heathen are residing at Endor, eight miles distant (north of Little Hermon); and thither two of them conducted him "by night." (Another of the night scenes of this book—1 Samuel 3:3; 1 Samuel 5:3; 1 Samuel 9:25; 1Sa 15:11; 1 Samuel 19:10; 1 Samuel 25:36; 1 Samuel 26:7; 1 Samuel 30:17). It was "a dreadful journey, a terrible night; both symbols of Saul's, condition, lost on the way of inner self-hardening and thorough self-darkening" (Erdmann). The readiness with which he was directed to the sorceress shows the secret prevalence of superstition in Israel.
3. He failed to obtain the aid he desired, committed his crowning act of apostasy, and hastened his doom. "So Saul died for … asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to inquire of it" (1 Chronicles 10:13). "There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord" (Proverbs 21:30). There may have been "an objective reality, a dark background of magical agency"; but, on the other hand, "the actual references to magic in Scripture do not involve its reality. The mischiefs resulting from the pretension, under the theocracy, to an act which involved idolatry justified the statute which denounced it with death" (Kitto, 'Cyc.,' art. Witchcraft). "In the doctrinal Scriptures magic is passed by with contempt; in the historical Scriptures the reasonableness of this contempt is shown. Whenever the practisers of magic attempt to combat the servants of God they conspicuously fail" (Smith's 'Dict.,' art. Magic). Resorting to superstitious practices of various kinds (the selection of "lucky" days, fortune telling, spirit rapping, psychography, necromancy, and, in more direct connection with the Christian religion, image worship, prayers to the dead, superstitious rites and ceremonies of various kinds) is not unknown at the present day. Notice—
I. ITS INDUCEMENTS. Among them are—
1. Unbelieving fear. "Superstition is the restless effort of a guilty but blind conscience to find rest and peace and good by unauthorised propitiations and ceremonies" (R. Watson). "The true cause and rise of superstition is indeed nothing else but a false opinion of the Deity, that renders him terrible and dreadful, as being rigorous and imperious; that which represents him as austere and apt to be angry, but yet impotent and easy to be appeased again by some flattering devotions, especially if performed with sanctimonious shows and a solemn sadness of mind" (Smith, 'Sel. Dis. Superstition'). "The human heart needs something to cling to, something to which it may hold fast, a prop which its tendrils may firmly clasp; therefore when it leaves him for whom it was made, when it sinks into unbelief, then it clings to superstition and darkness" (Schlier).
2. Unhallowed curiosity, which is not satisfied with what has been revealed in the word of God, and wishes to become acquainted with the secrets of the unseen world and the future, designedly concealed. Such curiosity "Is a flattering serpent, which promises us the wisdom of God, and cheats us out of a blessed paradise of happier, childlike waiting." "Let no man beguile you," etc. (Colossians 2:18).
3. Foolish presumption, which fancies that it can attain the knowledge and help of the supernatural by other ways and means than God has appointed. "He who, in respect of supersensual things and of the mysterious background of sensible things, regards as true, and allows impressions to be made on himself by thoughts or occurrences whose reality has neither the warranty of undoubtedly credible tradition nor the warranty of internal force of conviction in their favour, is rightly called superstitious" (Delitzsch).
II. ITS DEVICES. They usually—
1. Involve artifice, effort, trouble, and sacrifice (1 Samuel 28:7, 1 Samuel 28:8). What extraordinary pains do men sometimes undergo in the practice of superstition I (1 Kings 18:28).
2. Affect darkness and secrecy, and necessitate the adoption of undignified, mean, and shameful courses. They are carried out under the cover of night, which is favourable to deception. Saul disguised himself not to escape the Philistines, but to elude the observation of his own people, and to impose upon the sorceress (1 Samuel 28:9).
3. Involve mental blindness and credulity, so that those who yield to them become the ready dupes of others who traffic on their gloomy fears and illusory hopes, "deceiving and being deceived." "It was a shame that the king who had expelled all sorcerers must himself at last fall into the hands of a sorceress" (Winer).
III. ITS SINFULNESS.
1. It casts contempt upon the sufficiency of Divine revelation. "Wilt thou have light for all the riddles and dark questions of this life? betake thyself to God's word, there enough is revealed, and what goes beyond that comes of evil."
2. It chooses evil instead of good, disregards the moral dispositions which God requires, and violates the sense of goodness, righteousness, and truth. Saul took an oath "by the Lord" to protect what he knew was displeasing to the Lord, and was guilty of connivance at what he himself had condemned as worthy of death (1 Samuel 28:10).
3. It does what the word of God prohibits, and in its worst forms, casts off allegiance to God, and makes alliance with his enemies (Leviticus 19:31; 1Sa 20:6, 1 Samuel 20:27; Deuteronomy 18:10; 2 Kings 23:24; Galatians 5:20; Revelation 22:15). "Knowing that the act of divination cooperates in no slight degree with the errors of the lives of the multitude, so as to lead them out of the right way, Moses did not suffer his disciples to use any species of it whatever. All these things are but the furniture of impiety. How so? Because he who attends to them and who allows himself to be influenced by them disregards the cause of all things, looking upon those things alone as the causes of all things, whether good or evil" (Philo, 'On Monarchy').
IV. ITS INJURIOUSNESS.
1. It fills the votaries of superstition with miserable disappointment.
2. It makes them the victims of delusion, and further estranges them from the way of truth.
3. It increases their guilt, hardens their heart, and quickens their pace to final ruin. Saul's night visit was an ill preparation for the coming conflict. It extinguished every ray of hope, and turned his fear into despair.—D.
1 Samuel 28:11. (ENDOR.)
Samuel's counsel vainly desired.
"Bring me up Samuel." The character of Samuel was so great, his life had been so long continued, his appearance so familiar to all, his influence so powerful and extensive, that after his departure his form must have seemed still to brood over the land. What the thoughts of Saul were at his death we know not. Perhaps he was glad of his removal. Although dwelling near him, he was altogether estranged from him, and entirely neglected to seek his counsel. But the time came—the threatening hosts of the Philistines, his overwhelming fear, the silence of Heaven—when he urgently needed it, and earnestly but vainly desired the benefit of it. Whether he went to the sorceress with the deliberate purpose of seeking an interview with his old and faithful counsellor, or sought it under the impulse of the moment, is not stated. The former is the more probable. He was certainly persuaded of the power which she professed to have (1 Samuel 28:11) of raising up the spirits of the departed, and (after her expression of surprise, and her description of his well known appearance) of the actual presence of Samuel in consequence of his request ("I have called thee," 1 Samuel 28:15). The result of the interview, however, proved that his hope of obtaining good from it was vain. It is not unusual for those who have neglected the advice of a teacher or friend to desire, when he is gone, that he might come back and again grant it to them. In such a desire we see—
I. THE VALUE OF FAITHFUL COUNSEL, to which it is a testimony. The reproofs and warnings which a faithful counsellor gives are not always agreeable. They are often deemed unnecessary, regarded with contempt, and cause him to be accounted an enemy. But they are justified by events; and then their worth is felt, and they are longed for, when perchance it is too late. The sore distress which Saul now suffered would have been averted if he had listened to the counsel of Samuel. He is your best friend who tells you the truth, and seeks your welfare rather than your favour. Give heed to what he says while it may conduce to your profit.
II. THE FOLLY OF FAITHLESS NEGLECT, Of which it is a confession. "How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof; and have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me!" (Proverbs 5:12, Proverbs 5:13). "How many who have despised the advice of a father or a mother, and grieved their parents by oppostion and disobedience, long bitterly to bring them back when they have gone down to the grave, that they may have the benefit of the counsel which they once slighted and scorned! If they could go to the necromancer in the hour of their distress, it would not be, 'Bring me up the companion who cheered me in my gaieties, who was with me at the revel and the dance and the public show;' but, 'Bring me up the father with his gray hairs, who solemnly told me that the way of transgressors was hard; or the mother who with weeping eyes and broken voice admonished me against sinful indulgences.'… And yet, if you neglect the Lord and continue to resist the strivings of his Spirit, so that at length he departs from you as he departed from Saul, what would it avail that the grave could give up its inhabitant—if the parent, the friend, or the minister should return at your bidding?" (H. Melvill).
III. THE WORTHLESSNESS OF PIOUS WISHES in those who persist in transgression. Saul was deeply humbled. His self-will and pride were broken down into pitiable abasement, and he seemed willing to receive and obey the counsel which he had previously slighted. Yet his motive was doubtless the same as in inquiring of the Lord (1 Samuel 28:1-6); he looked upon Samuel as more merciful than the Lord, relied upon him to effect a change in the Divine purpose (1 Samuel 15:29), and expected his aid at the very moment he was committing a capital offence. He was more blinded and self-deceived than ever. Men often abase themselves deeply in affliction while they remain wholly destitute of the spirit of obedience. "Let no man deceive himself." What value can there be in a religious desire which is combined with the violation of the plainest religious duty?
IV. THE USELESSNESS OF EXTRAORDINARY COMMUNICATIONS, such as have been sometimes desired from the dead. Saul had what to him was the fulfilment of his desire; but he was told only what he already knew or feared, he was not led to repentance and faith, and sank into despair. Is it supposed that benefit would be derived from the reappearance and counsel of the departed? Consider that—
1. The light which might be brought would only be a confirmation of the truth which has been already revealed. If even future events, as, e.g; the time of death, should be declared, the know]edge thereof would probably be useless and injurious. Should death be distant, it would be a strong temptation to sloth and continued sin; should it be very near, whilst it might arouse some to make preparation for it simply from a selfish dread of threatening evil, it would lead others to feel that it was too late to avert the danger, and resign themselves to reckless indulgence or blank despair (see 1 Samuel 3:1-21).
2. Those who are not improved by existing inducements to faith and obedience would be proof against such as might be thereby presented, and would in most cases be hardened in sin (John 12:10). "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead" (Luke 16:31).
3. God has given to men the knowledge and inducements which are best adapted to their probationary condition and sufficient forevery practical purpose, and has wisely determined that no more shall be afforded. "He that is unjust," etc. (Revelation 22:11). "As no additional dissuasions from sin and inducements to holiness would be presented, they who, notwithstanding these disclosures, remained impenitent and unbelieving must continue in irreclaimable wickedness." "Say not in thine heart," etc. (Romans 10:6-11). Crave not for "secret things"—the mysterious, the supernatural, the miraculous, the speculative, the impossible. "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved."—D.
1 Samuel 28:12-20. (ENDOR.)
The sentence of rejection confirmed.
"And Jehovah hath done for himself, as he spake by me" (1 Samuel 28:17).
1. The narrative of Saul's interview with the sorceress is graphic, but brief, incomplete, and in many respects, as might be expected, indefinite. Whether on his request, "Bring me up Samuel," she employed her illicit art is not expressly stated, nor whether any supernatural agency was concerned in what took place. "The woman saw Samuel," and she alone (1 Samuel 28:14), "and she cried out" (in real or feigned surprise and fear), "Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul." There is no intimation that the name of Samuel or the distinguished stature of her visitor had previously suggested who he was; nor of any "gestures of fearful menace such as he could only show towards a deadly enemy, i.e. towards Saul" (Ewald, Stanley). It was from her description of "gods ascending out of the earth," and of the well known appearance of the venerable judge and prophet, that "he perceived that it was Samuel," and prostrated himself in abject homage before him whom he had formerly moved by his importunity to comply with his request (1 Samuel 15:30); and while "stooping with his face to the ground" he heard a voice which he was persuaded was the voice of Samuel. The evidence of an apparition or vision (for there can be no question concerning anything else) depended solely on the testimony of the woman; of the hearing of an unearthly voice on that of Saul, from whom also (unless his two servants were present at the time, which is not likely) the whole account must have been primarily derived.
2. It has been explained in various ways, e.g; that there was—
(1) A real apparition of the prophet (Ecclus. 46:20), either evoked by the conjurations of the woman (LXX; Josephus, Talmud), or effected by Divine power without her aid, and contrary to her expectation (see, for authorities and arguments, Wordsworth, 'Com.;' Waterland, Delany, Sir W. Scott, 'Demonology;' Kitto, 'D.B. Illus.;' Lindsay, Hengstenberg, Keil).
(2) An illusory appearance produced by demoniacal (or angelic) agency, and, according to some, employed as a medium of Divine revelation (Luther, Calvin, Grotius, Gilpin, 'Daemonologia Sacra;' Hall, Patrick, M. Henry).
(3) A mental impression or representation produced by Divine influence.
(4) A superstitious self-deception on the part of the woman, combined with a psychological identifying of herself with the deceased prophet (Erdmann).
(5) A conscious deception practised by her (perhaps not entirely without illusion) on the fearful and superstitious mind of the king, fasting, wearied, terrified, and in the dark (Chandler, W. Scott, 'Existence of Evil Spirits;' Thenius); little other than a dream, though terribly real to him. The circumstances of the case were such that the almost dramatic language of the historian may be fairly understood as descriptive of what seemed to Saul, and was afterwards popularly believed, rather than of the actual reality. All that occurred may be accounted for more satisfactorily on this hypothesis than any other. Almost every other involves assumptions concerning the power of necromancy, the reappearance of the dead, evil spirits, etc; which are unsupported by Scripture and exceedingly improbable. A Divine interposition would have been unmistakably indicated in the narrative (which is not the case, 1 Samuel 28:21), inconsistent with the Divine refusal to answer Saul's inquiry, unnecessary in order to reprove him further for the past (for there is no expressed reproof of his present crime), without adequate theocratic purpose, contrary to the holiness of God, and a confirmation (not a punishment) of "the anti-godly attempt of the sorceress."
3. Its chief significance lies in the revelation which it makes of the depth of degradation to which Saul had sunk and the effect of his apostasy. His "sin of divination" (1 Samuel 15:23) led to despair, and was speedily followed by the full execution of the sentence of his rejection. The silence of God was the silence that precedes the thunderstorm and the earthquake. Observe that—
I. THERE IS NO APPEAL FROM THE DIVINE JUDGMENT TO ANY OTHER (1 Samuel 28:16, 1 Samuel 28:17). Saul appears to have clung to the delusion that the sentence of Divine judgment uttered against him might be effectually resisted and entirely revoked; refused to acknowledge and submit to it, and hoped to succeed in his conflict with it when success was plainly perceived by others to be impossible. Hence (and not merely to gratify his curiosity concerning his fate) he sought the counsel of Samuel. In answer to the voice (asking reproachfully the reason why he had "disquieted" the dead, and drawing forth the expression of his feelings and wishes), he pathetically described his distress in consequence of the attack of the Philistines and his abandonment by God, and appealed for aid in his perplexity. Without supposing a desire of revenge on the part of the sorceress, hardly any other reply could be more accordant with his state of mind and deepest convictions than that which came to him. Since (by his own confession) he was abandoned by the Lord, it was useless to expect effectual help from the prophet of the Lord, who was the exponent and executor of his will. No direction was given "what he must do," and no ground of hope afforded that he might find mercy with the Lord himself if he sought it in a right spirit. "The belief that Samuel bad come to revisit him from the dead so worked upon Saul's mind as to suggest to his conscience what seemed to be spoken in his ear" (Smith's 'Old Testament History').
II. THE DIVINE JUDGMENT IS SOMETIMES FELT TO BE IRREVOCABLE. Of this he had occasionally caught a glimpse, but it was now brought home to him with overwhelming force in connection with—
1. The consciousness of his present condition, as an object of Divine displeasure, and destined to be replaced in the kingdom by David, to whom he had long ago applied the words of the prophet (1 Samuel 13:14; 1 Samuel 15:28): "The Lord hath rent," etc. (1 Samuel 28:17). "The perfects express the purpose of God which had already been formed, and was now about to be fulfilled" (Keil).
2. The remembrance of his past transgression. "Because," etc. (1 Samuel 28:18). The sparing of Amalek was the well known cause of his estrangement from Samuel and his rejection; and how vividly does some former act of disobedience sometimes rise before the mind of the sinner, increasing his burden of guilt and justifying his condemnation!
3. The fear of his future fate, now foreseen to be approaching (1 Samuel 28:19). Israel would share his defeat, he and his sons would be on the morrow numbered with the dead, and the camp spoiled by the enemy. It was a terrible message, an inward realisation and confirmation of the Divine sentence. How little had he profited by resorting to divination! "The Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent."
III. THE CONVICTION THAT THE DIVINE JUDGMENT CANNOT BE ALTERED PRODUCES DESPAIR. "And Saul fell straightway all along on the earth," etc. (1 Samuel 28:20). Up to this moment some hope lingered in his breast.
"The wretch condemned with life to part
Still, still on hope relies;
And every pang that rends the heart
Bids expectation rise.
"Hope, like the glimmering taper's light,
Adorns and cheers the way;
And still, as darker grows the night,
Emits a brighter ray" (Goldsmith).
But now it was quite extinguished. "Whilst evil is expected we fear, but when it is certain we despair. Saul was too hardened in his sin to express any grief or plain, either on his own account, or because of the fate of his sons and his people. In solid desperation he went to meet his fate. This was the terrible end of a man whom the spirit of God had once taken possession of and turned into another man, and whom he had endowed with gifts to be leader of the people of God" (O. von Gerlach). "All human history has failed to record a despair deeper or more tragic than his. Over the close of this life broods a thick and comfortless darkness, even the darkness of a night without a star" (Trench, 'Shipwrecks').
1. If men are forsaken by God, it is only because he has been forsaken by them.
2. Their only effectual resource in distress is the mercy of God, against whom they have sinned.
3. Persistent transgression infallibly ends in misery and despair.—D.
1 Samuel 28:20-25. (ENDOR.)
The witch of Endor.
According to Jewish tradition she was the mother of Abner, on which account perhaps she escaped when others were "put away;" and the two attendants of Saul, in his visit to her, were Abner and Amass. She dwelt at Endor (the fountain of habitation), a village four miles south of Mount Tabor (Joshua 17:11; Psalms 83:10). "The calcareous cliffs around are filled with wide caverns, and some of the modern habitations are formed of front wails shutting in these caves," in one of which she may have dwelt and practised her forbidden art. This possessor or mistress of Ob (see 1 Samuel 28:7-10), although differing much from those who were accounted "witches," greatly abhorred and severely punished in more recent times, was a representative of many of them in—
1. Perverted religiousness. Her history might have shown that she possessed a more than ordinary measure of the religious sentiment prevalent in women, and that it had been (as it often is) misdirected by the influences under which she fell. She was at first a victim of superstition, and afterwards, finding herself perhaps endowed with peculiar and mysterious susceptibilities, and looked up to by others on account of her superior "wisdom," practised on their superstitions fears, in part deceived and in part deceiving. The mischief of the perversion of the religious sentiment is incalculable.
2. Secret criminality. If she had lived among the heathen from whom her art was derived, she might have been held in general repute, like the oracles of Greece. But in Israel necromancy was condemned as treason against the Divine King, an abomination associated with and promotive of the worship of idols, and she displayed a daring impiety in practising it even in secret. "The Hebrew witch, or she who communicated or attempted to communicate with an evil spirit, was justly punished with death, though her communication with the spiritual world might either not exist at all, or be of a nature much less intimate than has been ascribed to the witches of later days; nor does the existence of the law against the witches of the Old Testament sanction in any respect the severity of similar enactments, subsequent to the Christian revelation, against a different class of persons accused of a very different species of crime" (Sir W. Scott).
3. Unholy cupidity. The desire of gain, to which she may have been urged by necessitous circumstances, was probably her principal motive in practising her art at the risk of life. The same desire leads to the basest actions, and even turns godliness into ungodliness. It is "a root of all evil."
4. Perpetual fear of discovery and suspicion of deception on the part of those to whose wishes she ministered, and of whose weaknesses she made traffic (1 Samuel 28:9). The sword of justice hangs over the head of secret transgressors, and suffers them not to enjoy a moment's peace.
5. Skilful deception. Saul thought to deceive her, but was himself deceived by her, and fatally deluded. Whatever may have been her power in magic, clairvoyance (Keil), and ventriloquism (Isaiah 29:4), she certainly professed what she did not possess (1 Samuel 28:11); employed it in "cunning craftiness," and became (whether designedly or undesignedly) accessory to his ruin (1 Chronicles 10:14). How much of the power which is now abused and made a curse might if properly used become a blessing!
6. Kindly sympathy and ministration. On observing his heavy fall (for she was apparently in the same room) she came to his side, and seeing that he was "sore troubled," felt a woman's pity, spoke to him in soothing tones as to a wilful child, requested him to gratify her wishes in eating "a morsel of bread" to strengthen him, in return for her obeying his voice (with "a talkativeness characteristic of this class of women, and a certain humour"), perhaps called his servants, and with them constrained him. Her heart was not dead. "She had one calf that she was very fond of, and one that she took a great deal of care of, and fed it herself; for she was a woman that got her living by the labour of her own hands, and had no other possession but that one calf; this she killed, and made ready its flesh, and set it before his servants and himself. Now it is but just to recommend the generosity of this woman (Josephus).
7. Pitiable desolation. Saul is gone forth into the night to meet his fate. Left to herself, distrusted and distrustful, feared and fearful, without the consolations of religion, she is as much an object of pity as of blame. "We take leave of her, as she took leave of the ruined king, with a pitying heart."—D.
HOMILIES D. FRASER
1 Samuel 28:11-15
A God-forsaken man.
I. FOREBODING BEFORE THE BATTLE. As the clouds gather blackness before a storm, so the mind of King Saul became more than ever dejected and gloomy before his defeat and death on Mount Gilboa. He who in the beginning of his reign struck so boldly at the Philistines, and threw off their yoke from the neck of Israel, was now afraid at the approach of their host, and "his heart greatly trembled." Not that his natural courage had deserted him, but, amidst all the disorder of his brain, this one thing he knew, that it was the God of Israel who had given him success against the Philistines, and now he found himself without God. There was no priest with the army to obtain Divine direction by the Urim and Thummim. Saul had slain the priests. There was no prophet to bring messages from God. By his breach with Samuel Saul had alienated from his cause all those who had any measure of prophetic gift. We hear the wail of a perturbed spirit—"I am sore distressed;" but no confession of sin, no accent of repentance. This is an ominous characteristic of Saul, that he never fairly faces the question of his own misconduct, always palliates his sin, always evades self-judgment and self-reproach. What breaks from him in his extremity is only the cry of hurt pride, the bitter vexation of a man who saw that his career was a failure, and that he had brought himself to disappointment and defeat. His foreboding before the battle was only too well grounded. So Shakespeare describes Richard III. gloomy and desperate before the battle of Bosworth Field:—
"I have not that alacrity of spirit
Nor cheer of mind that I was wont to have."
And shadows in the night struck yet deeper terror into the soul of Richard. In like manner Macbeth at Dunsinane, expecting the attack, has dark foreboding:—
"There is no flying hence, nor tarrying here.
I 'gin to be aweary of the sun."
II. RECOURSE TO FORBIDDEN ARTS. The troubled thoughts of the king went after that great prophet who had anointed him to be king, and had been to him as the voice of God. All his mishaps had come from inattention to Samuel's instructions and warnings. And it seemed to him that his fortune might still be retrieved if only he could have once more the advice of Samuel. The prophet was dead and buried, and there was no way to communicate with him except through the forbidden art of necromancy. Saul had in his zeal against heathen practices expelled from his dominions those who plied this art for gain; but now he fell in this, as in so many other respects, below his own former level, and repaired to a female necromancer at Endor. As to what occurred at Endor it is not necessary or perhaps possible to pronounce a very decided opinion. It was no mere piece of jugglery. To the perception of the woman there really was an apparition; but there is room for much question whether this was the actual appearance of a departed spirit, or a sort of waking vision dependent on the ecstatic and clairvoyant state of the necromancer. If there was a real presence, it was that of Samuel, or possibly that of an evil spirit personating Samuel. Neither of these suppositions commends itself to our judgment. No doubt the historian says, "Samuel said to Saul." But he describes the scene merely according to appearance, and so as to account for the effect produced on the mind of the king. He does not analyse appearances at all, or look under them for possible elements of illusion or delusion. But if it be possible to account for the apparition any otherwise, we shrink from the belief that Samuel was actually brought into this scene of gloom and wickedness, and, coming into it, spoke to poor distracted Saul without any tone of pity or exhortation to repentance, grimly telling him that tomorrow he would be defeated, and he and his sons would join the ghosts in Sheol. The moral improbability of this is very great. As to an evil spirit personating Samuel in order to drive the king to despair, there is no moral unlikelihood in the conjecture, and it has been the opinion of Tertullian, of Luther, of Grotius, and many more; but it supposes a greater marvel than the phenomena require to account for them, and therefore we reject it. Our view is that the apparition was real, but was no more than an apparition. The old man in the mantle had no existence whatever but to the morbid mind of the woman, who had fallen into a clairvoyantic trance. It is perfectly well known that women of a certain constitution have extraordinary aptitude for such trances and visions, and there is good reason to believe that the female necromancers and sorcerers of antiquity were persons of the same class with the nervous, crazy creatures who are nowadays spoken of as "powerful mediums." Such persons in our own time see apparitions of the dead, and if they add some elements of trick and imposture the better to establish their reputation, it is only what such unhappy beings have done in the past, and what the woman at Endor very likely did also. The voice that Saul heard may easily have proceeded from her as a practised ventriloquist (see Isaiah 29:4). Saul had fallen with his face to the ground before the apparition, which was invisible to him. So the ventriloquism was easy enough, and there was nothing in the words ascribed to Samuel which it was beyond the power of the necromancer to say, well aware as she must have been of the king's unfitness to encounter the great Philistine army, and the strong probability that the battle on the morrow would go against him. The wretched conclusion of the whole matter was that Saul was bereft of all hope, and "was sore afraid."
III. COMMUNION WITH THE DEAD. Necromancy, unfortunately, is not a lost art among ourselves. Men and women of education are not ashamed or afraid to practise arts and consult "mediums" that are referred to in the Old Testament as abhorrent to God and utterly forbidden to his people. In the communication with the dead which is said to be established there may be an element of trickery, there may be an element of power of some evil sort that no one can define; but the process all in all is one of base delusion, its whole tendency is crazy, and its issues are in gloom and madness. Above all, it tends to draw men away from God, or it is an attempt to obtain preternatural direction for souls that have fallen out of communion with him, like the soul of Saul, and it cannot come to good. But we do not say to the children of God, "Have nothing to do with the dead." In the communion of saints we are bound to those who have departed, as much as to those who are in the body. How they may help us even now is one of the things of which we have no certain knowledge. But we pay them most honour when we refrain from any attempt to disturb their sacred repose, and endeavour to remember their counsels, to walk in their steps, to live as they would wish us to live before God and man.
"How pure in heart and sound in head,
With what Divine affection bold,
Should be the man whose thought would hold
An hour's communion with the dead.
"In vain shalt thou or any call
The spirits from their golden day,
Except, like them, thou too eanst say,
My spirit is at peace with all.
"They haunt the silence of the breast,
Imaginations calm and fair,
The memory like a cloudless air,
The conscience as a sea at rest"
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 28". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany