Then Samuel said to Saul, "Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?" "I am deeply distressed," replied Saul. "The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has turned away from me. He no longer answers me, either by the prophets or dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do."
1 Samuel 28:12-20. (ENDOR.)
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 (ver. 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, ver. 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 (however it may be explained) 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 (vers. 16, 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. (ver. 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. (ver. 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 (ver. 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. (ver. 20). Up to this moment some hope lingered in his breast.
"The wretch condemned with life to part "Hope, like the glimmering taper's light, 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.
"Hope, like the glimmering taper's light,
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.
God is departed from me.
1. They do not mean that God has absolved them from all obligation — no longer sustains relations with them — has withdrawn His supervision and feels no concern on their account. For He holds them to strict account the same as with other men; He takes cognizance of their daily conduct, the same as if they were on terms of intimacy.
2. But they do mean:(1) The toss of God's favour. They are "aliens" from His love. He has no complacency in them. "God is not in all their thoughts." They live only by His sufferance.(2) They do mean the withdrawal of His special presence, His Holy Spirit, the tokens of His favour, the recognition and inward consciousness that He is a friendly power with whom they have to do. There had been no signs or revelations declaring unto him the awful fact. So every ungodly man knows and feels. He needs no spirit to come up from the grave to herald it.(3) They do mean that all friendly intercourse between God and themselves has ceased. Saul besought the Lord when disaster and calamity came upon him and his kingdom; but he sought in vain.
3. Glance at the awfulness of such a condition!(1) To be "without God in the world" is to be destitute of every element of true happiness.(2) To possess a character that has in it not one element of moral worth.(3) To be at the mercy of all the forces of depravity, human and devilish, with no defence, no shield, nothing to mitigate the evil.(4) To be not only friendless and miserable "in the world" but "without hope" for eternity.
(J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)
Homilist.There are two stages in the history of human depravity.
1. Man deserts God. God calls, and man refuses.
2. God deserts man. The Eternal departs from him, which means a discontinuance of the overtures of His love, and His agencies to restore; it is leaving man to himself, to reap the labour of his own hands; it is the physician giving up the patient; the tender father closing the door against his reprobate child. In the first stage, we find the vast majorities of mankind in every age; in the second, we may find some of earth in every period. This stage is hell. The first stage is probation; the second stage is retribution. This second and final stage Saul had reached. All guiding oracles were hushed to him. The Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets. Deep is the necessity he feels for supernatural help. He feels himself deserted by God. This passage presents three considerations concerning mankind in this state.
I. THAT HUMANITY UNDER A CONSCIOUSNESS OF GOD'S DESERTION WILL EVER BE IMPRESSED WITH THE NEED OF THE FORFEITED MEANS OF DIVINE COMMUNION. There was a time when Saul had communications with his Maker. The prophets were accessible to him. He could consult the Urim on the breast of the high priest; but he had lost all now: he had slain the high priest; Samuel was dead; the Spirit of the Lord forsook him, and the heavens were closed against him. How deep and earnest is the cry, "Bring me up Samuel." Oh! for one word from God now. Oh! that I could have but one more message from those sealed heavens. The deep cry of humanity, under a consciousness that God had deserted it, is, "Oh! that I knew but where I might, find him." Captives away in Babylon, how did the Jews value the temple which, perhaps, they often neglected when at home? Sinner, value and improve the means of Divine communion now: God is speaking to you, through ministers, the Bible, and other books.
II. THAT HUMANITY, UNDER A CONSCIOUSNESS OF GOD'S DESERTION, BECOMES THE SUBJECT OF FEARFUL DELUSIONS. Such delusions seem to me to spring naturally from his excited state of mired.
1. It presented a vivid vision of the teacher whose counsels had been neglected. The imagination of a conscience-stricken sinner will bring old reechoes from their graves, give them voice, and make them speak again.
2. It proclaimed the sin and pronounced the doom. (ver. 18-19.) Imagination now gives a voice of thunder to all this whispering of conscience. Imagination is a terrible faculty, when swayed by a guilty conscience. What visions it can unfold! It can create a subjective world, whose firmament is "black as sackcloth," whose tenants are fiends, whose stormy atmosphere is rent by lightnings and loaded with shrieks of anguish.
III. THAT HUMANITY, UNDER A CONSCIOUSNESS OF GOD'S DESERTION, MUST SINK INTO UNMITIGATED DESPAIR. Here is despair prostrating the man. The guilty mind, in despair, loses three elements of power.
1. Hope. What an inspiring element is this! How it sustains under trial! How it stimulates in enterprise!
2. Purpose. Mind is only powerful and happy as it has some purpose to engage its attention and energies: but in despair there is no purpose; the mind looks abroad on the dark universe and finds nothing to do.
3. Sympathy. A God-deserted mind has no sympathy: all hearts recoil from a sin-convicted soul, and it turns in upon itself.
I. WE CONSIDER THE DEPARTURE OF GOD. There are two sets of moral forces in the world contending with each other for the possession of the spirit of man, called in Scripture the one, the powers of the world to come; the other, the powers of this present evil world. The former is a holy beneficent order of influences which have their source in the nature and life of God; the latter is a destructive, despoiling, degrading order. Now, just as the laws and forces of the material world build up the external economy of things, so do these two sets of influences mould and form human character. They are obviously diametrically opposed to each other in their aim and tendency; they try to bear and pull the spirit of life in each man in opposite directions. What therefore had happened in the experience of Saul was this: that the set of virtues or holy energies that have their origin in God and that pull men Godward, had ceased to strive for the possession of his spirit; and had left him to the undisputed sovereignty of the powers of this present evil world. And look at what happened in the nature of Saul when God had departed from him in this sense — the only sense in which God ever departs from a man. His once fine and brave and manly nature — manly and brave and fine as long as God stayed to make and keep it so — grew suspicious and bitter and restless, and filled with slavish fear. It is a law which holds for all time, which is as fixed and unalterable as the laws of the physical universe; it is an eternal law that separation from God involves moral disorder, and the tyranny of all the destroying influences that prey upon human hearts. Saul's experience unfolds to us what would happen did God depart from the social life of today, be it village life, or commercial life, or court life; did He depart from any of the spheres of life where men meet and associate and deal with men. Society is impossible without the felt presence of God, warring against sin and keeping it down in the hearts of men. And in the case of the individual, too, every kind of moral disorder and wretchedness is involved in the departure of God. The individual soul is the realm of God's most holy and blessed activities. Oh, it is fearful when God, as the moral force in the soul, departs from a man; for in this world there is a great conspiracy and confederacy against our truest good, the cunning of which God alone can baffle and God alone can confound. Without Him our very conceptions of righteousness will be unworthy; our consciences will get seared, as though a hot iron had passed over them, deadening their sensitive papillae; our hearts will give birth to bad devices, unholy plans, and thoughts of lawless and forbidden pleasures. Our whole nature will get cankered and corrupted, unless the sweet, refreshing waters of life are ever circulating in us. In short, there is no crime or sin which is not possible to, and likely to happen in, the life of the man from whom God has departed.
II. WE HAVE NOW TO CONSIDER WHAT SAUL HAD DONE TO COMPEL GOD TO DEPART. It was Saul's disobedience and perverseness of temper that drove God away. By the requisite devices of overlooking, despising, rejecting, wearying, and tiring out the reproving presence of God's spirit in him, he bad succeeded in making complete isolation between his soul and the Soul of souls. He determined against his better reason to keep his sins and his bad heart, and to take his own will and way. Never does the great Father of us all send an evil spirit into the hearts and minds of men. Every spirit that cornea from God, comes of holy ministries of love and blessing; comes to strive to bring bad men under the power of goodness; comes to war a noble warfare with the evil which Saul grappled to his soul as though it were his tried and adopted friend. What is it that turns God into a relentless foe? or, rather, what is it that so throws our eyes off the straight line of moral vision that we seem to see the great loving Father and a tyrant? We say, sin. Yes; but what kind of sin? Such sins as those of Noah, David, and Peter — drunkenness, lust and murder, falsehood and profanity — alienate God till the dark hour of anguish Domes, but do not compel an absolute departure. The sin of Saul must have been the unpardonable one — the resolute refusal to surrender the spirit of our life into God's hands that we may be formed and shaped by Him.
I. REFLECT A MOMENT ON THE LANGUAGE OF HIS COMPLAINT. "The Philistines are come upon me." However disproportionate the forces of a defending army, a Christian king and a Christian people are secure. "A thousand shall fall at their side, and ten thousand at their right hand, but it shall not Dome nigh them." But when a man forsakes the Lord until the season of distress, who can wonder if his repentance is destitute of the character of sincerity, and he is left to perish. "If ye walk contrary to me, I will walk contrary to you," is the threatening of that God who has justice as well as mercy.
1. But still, listen to his cry, "The Lord hath forsaken me." This is indescribably dreadful! Better that all the world should leave us, better that we lose our health, our strength, our property, our friends, than be forsaken of Him whose smile is Heaven, whose frown is hell. What a state of abandonment, what a state of orphanage! With no eye to pity, with no arm to save. But what follows from such withdrawment of the greatest and the best of Beings? Penal blindness of mind, hardness of heart, the uncontrolled sway of evil passions, left a prey to the tempter, and to the influence and associations of wicked men. But this is not all; hear him yet again: "And the Lord answers me not, neither by prophets nor by dreams." This, if possible, is still more distressing and dreadful than before. What a privilege is prayer! What must it be to have our prayers rejected.
II. THE METHOD WHICH HE ADOPTED TO OBTAIN RELIEF. What a wretched expedient for soothing the anguish of a guilty conscience! And yet how often do we see subterfuges, equally untenable and unsafe, resorted to by transgressors to stifle conviction, to prevent reflection, to silence the accusations of a guilty mind, and to obtain a little temporary relief.
III. LET US NOW CONTEMPLATE HIS OVERTHROW — HIS MONITORY DEATH. What does this subject suggest for our mutual improvement?
1. How possible it is to live and die without hope in the world though surrounded by religious advantages.
2. We learn the awful consequences of rebellion against God.
1. Now, in entering on this subject, we must remember what is involved in that certain truth which is set before us from one end of the Bible to the other, namely, that we, in this world, are really in a state of probation.
2. Now, mark how that probation is accomplished:(1) We are placed amongst a multitude of outward things, which perpetually force us to choose whether we will act in this way or in that; and every one of these choices must agree with the holy and perfect Will of God, or be opposed to it.(2) But then, further: the especial trial of us Christians consists in our being placed amongst these temptations under the personal influence of God the Holy Ghost; so that in every such distinct act of choice, there is either a direct yielding or a direct opposition to His secret suggestions. Moreover, these secret influences of His are described as the Power which does effectually mould those who yield to them. Thus it is said that He "guides them into all truth." So that evermore He is with us; touching the inmost springs of our being; upholding and renewing our life in its highest fountainhead of existence; acting on us by restraint, by solicitation, by suggestion, by assistance in every choice.(3) This, then, being our moral and spiritual probation, not only is every voluntary acting of our spirit in contradiction to God's Will a fixing of our will in opposition to His Will; but, further, it is in us a direct personal resistance to the action upon our souls of God the Holy Ghost. And the necessary consequence of every such act of resistance must, by a twofold process, carry us on towards final impenitence. For first, by our own moral constitution, the breaking through any restraint from evil, or the resisting any suggestion of good, carries us by an inevitable reaction somewhat farther than we were before in the opposite direction. This first; and then, and far beyond this, by thus resisting the Holy Spirit we cause Him to withdraw from us those influences for good in which is alone for us the spring and possibility of amendment. This is the awful truth contained in such exhortations as that of the Apostle. — "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God." Now the effect of such conduct on an earthly friend would be that it would lead him to withdraw himself from the intimate relationship of an undisturbed affection; and so we are taught that from the heart so resisting Him the Holy One withdraws Himself. Now as a necessary consequence of such a withdrawal, the progress of the forsaken soul towards final hardness is inevitable. The injured quality of the soil makes it need more urgently than before, if it is to yield any good upgrowth, the refreshment of cooling showers, and at that very time the decree has gone forth to the clouds of heaven that they rain no rain upon it.
3. What the downward process of such a soul must be we may see at once by recalling what we saw to be the Spirit's gracious influences upon one whom He was sanctifying, and so estimating the consequences of their withdrawal. For reproofs for sin would in such a heart sink first into a whisper, and then die out in silence. And as they expired the conscience would be struck with dumbness, and the first cause therefore of a saving penitence would be removed. Next, the secret voice teaching the heart, and reminding it of the words of Christ, would cease to speak; and with this would fail also those first drawings of the affections towards God, which are as the tender bud of a future penitence, and which can awaken only beneath the Cross of Christ, and within the sound of His words of love, as the Blessed Spirit reveals them to the soul. So that there would be in such a heart nothing to begin that work of true repentance, which without the aid of the good Spirit cannot originate in fallen man. Nor is even this all. For in this heart there would be no shedding abroad the sweet reviving influences of love; there would be no sealing it by the pressure of a moulding hand to the day of redemption. So that such a heart must harden daily. The law of evil must daily pervade it more thoroughly, until it comes to choose sin as sin: whilst from such a state there is nothing to awaken it. And this is the awful, hopeless, rayless, outer darkness of the full and final impenitence of a reasonable soul which has failed utterly in its moral probation. Here, then, we reach the consummation of this course. It leads down to an impenitent despair. At this point, then, let us for a moment pause, and see the conclusion we have reached. It is, that this state of final, hopeless impenitence is the natural conclusion of a life spent under the influences of God's Blessed Spirit by a reasonable moral agent, who by his neglect of or resistance to them, makes them turn into his uttermost condemnation. For as death can come to no man by chance, as the time of closing his day of trial must be exactly and certainly fixed for every man by God's sovereign Will, does it not necessarily follow from the fact of God having placed him in this probation, that no man is taken from his life of trial with the trial incomplete? that no branch in the living Vine is taken away until it is indeed certain that it will bear no fruit. In fine, instead of its being a rare and uncommon thing for men to reach a state of final impenitence, it is the real and most awful secret of every hopeless death. And if this be so, with what a dreadful character does this truth invest every allowance of wilful sin in us Christians! That probation differs, of course, necessarily in every different man. The same act of sin may embody in itself, in the case of two different men, utterly different degrees of resistance to the Holy Spirit. Such is the lesson taught us by the examples set before us in God's Word. Yet two such examples at least there are set before us in its pages — that of Saul in the Old Testament, and that of Judas in the New. In the history of Saul are traced with minuteness of detail the gifts of grace against which his sins of self-will and rebellion against Gad had been committed, until "the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him." Thenceforward the features of one whose heart was hardening look ever out upon us from his life. And to what an end does all this bring him! Who can read unmoved the record of those wild throbbings of despair which drove him, who in his better day had cut off those that had familiar spirits and the wizards from the land, to the sorceress at Endor; or the history of all that there awaited him? The deceitful tempter, now turned into the merciless accuser, took up the fierce utterance of that still hard though broken heart — "I am sore distressed," etc. Here is no mingling of mercy with judgment, no call to repentance, no sweet whisper of pardon. These, then, are our lessons from this fearful subject. First, that we strive diligently to maintain such a temper of watchful observance for the motions of the Blessed Spirit as that we may never unawares resist or neglect any of His lightest intimations. Without this watchful observance we are sure to interrupt His work. For if the soul be heated with worldliness, or covered with the dust of the earth, how shall it receive those heavenly colours with which He would brighten and adorn it? if it be perpetually distracted by ten thousand cares, how shall it be ready to entertain His presence? Lastly, if through our exceeding feebleness we have fallen, let us learn to look straight to the cross of Christ, and strive diligently in His strength to arise again; that we fly to Him as for our lives, crying only to Him out of our low estate, "Forsake not, O Lord, the work of Thine own hands: Cast me not away from Thy presence; and take not Thy Holy Spirit, from me."
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