Then Saul said to his servants, "Find me a woman who is a medium, so I can go and consult her." "There is a medium at Endor," his servants replied.
1 Samuel 28:7-10. (GILBOA, ENDOR)
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 (ver. 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; 1 Samuel 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" (Delitzsch, 'Bib. Psychology,' p. 363); 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 (vers. 7, 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 (ver. 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 (ver. 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; Leviticus 20:6, 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. Let me explain what the belief about this woman of Endor was. In popular speech we speak of her as the witch of Endor, but a more accurate description would be the Necromancer. Among all races and nations in the ancient world witchcraft, necromancy, and all their allied magic arts were believed in and practised. In all heathen religions there was a place for diviners, augurs, and magicians, who by their arts professed to tell what was the will of the gods in any special enterprise. Never did Greek or Roman army go forth to battle till the omens had been sought and found to be favourable. Sometimes the diviners would profess to find the answer they were seeking for in the appearances of Nature in sea, or earth, or sky, sometimes in visions of the night, sometimes in the creatures slain as sacrifices; sometimes in the mysteries of the grave, like this woman; sometimes by strange, weird incantations or by mysterious rites and enchantments. In one or other of these ways men believed they could get to know the Divine will.
Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit.
1. In favour of the first interpretation may be urged the prima facie meaning of the narrative. For the sacred writer says that "the woman saw Samuel" (ver. 12); that when she described the apparition seen by her "Saul knew it was Samuel" (ver. 14); that the prophet reproached Saul for "disquieting and bringing him up" (ver. 15); and that the prophet foretold the defeat of Israel and the death of Saul and his sons on the morrow (ver. 19), both of which came to pass. These are strong reasons, and if they are set aside, it should be in view of others that are stronger. What, then, are some of the arguments against this explanation of the narrative? God had forbidden the practice of necromancy in Israel, and had commanded those who practised the same to be stoned (Leviticus 20:27; Deuteronomy 18:10, 11). Again, Saul himself was acquainted with this law of Jehovah, and had attempted to execute it (ver. 3-9). Still further, God had rejected the king, and had refused to answer him by any of the usual and appointed ways of making known his will (ver. 6). And, besides, there is no indication in this narrative that Saul was now, at last, penitent, so that a message from God might be expected to control or benefit him. Certainly the refusal of God to answer Saul by dreams, by the Urim, or by the prophets, the wilful disobedience of the king in the act of consulting the women, and the close connection of Samuel's appearance (if real) with the agency of this evil woman, are moral objections to this view of the passage. Moreover, it will scarcely be denied that the words, "Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up?" do not seem perfectly natural as the language of a true prophet coming back from the Unseen with a Divine message, while they do seem entirely natural as words spoken in behalf of a pretended apparition by the enchantress herself. Again, if the woman was really and greatly amazed by the apparition of Samuel, as she well might be if it was real, it is somewhat singular that she was so prudent and self-collected afterwards.
2. In favour of the second explanation, that an evil spirit, personating Samuel, appeared to the woman, and predicted to Saul his defeat and death on the morrow, we can say but little of a positive character. It is, however, free from some of the objections which lie against the first. For on this hypothesis God does not connect a revelation of the future through his own prophet with an act of desperate disobedience on the part of Saul, or with a practice so solemnly prohibited as necromancy. For all the parties concerned are given up to evil. "That the devil, by the Divine permission, should be able to personate Samuel is not strange, since he can transform himself into an angel of light! Nor is it strange that he should be permitted do it upon this occasion, that Saul might be driven to despair, by enquiring of the devil, since he would not, in a right manner, inquire of the Lord, by which he might have had comfort. Had this been the true Samuel, he could not have foretold the event, unless God had revealed it to him; and, though it were an evil spirit, God might by him foretell it; as we read of an evil spirit that foresaw Ahab's fall at Ramoth-Gilead, and was instrumental in it."
3. In favour of the third explanation several things may be alleged.
1. The king was in a state of mind which would render deception on the part of the sorceress easy. He believed in necromancy, and in the testimony of his servants that this woman was a mistress of necromancy, he was also afraid and exceedingly anxious to obtain some clue to the future from the invisible world, especially by means of Samuel, whom he knew to be a prophet.
2. The woman of Endor was most likely to have known of the extraordinary stature of Saul, of the degeneracy of his character and fortunes, of the perilous condition of his army, and of the dress of Samuel in his old age.
3. With this knowledge she would have been tolerably sure to detect the person of Saul in spite of his disguise, and would have laid her plan of action accordingly.
4. It would have been easy for her as a ventriloquist to make the prostrate king suppose that her changed voice came from an unseen form at a slight remove from the place where she stood.
5. For Saul himself, it will be observed, did not see the alleged apparition of Samuel; he but inferred it from the woman's description of what she professed to see rising out of the earth.
6. The woman's animosity towards Saul, because of his "putting away the necromancers and wizards out of the land" may have led her to wish his death, and the circumstances in which he was now placed by the Philistines may have emboldened her to say what she did. But in declaring Saul's doom she was personating Samuel, and must therefore speak as he might have been expected to speak, reminding Saul of his past disobedience to God, of God's displeasure with him on that account, of God's giving the throne to David, and of the certain death which awaited Saul and his sons on the morrow.
7. The fulfilment of her words may have been partly due to the despair which they produced in the mind of Saul. At any rate, the fact of their fulfilment is not conclusive, in the circumstances, of their being a proper revelation beforehand of the purpose of God.
(A. Hovey, D. D.)
1. The history forcibly teaches the solemn truth, that a man's day of grace is by no means invariably co-extensive with his life on earth. It is evident that at least for a time before Saul perished he was left to eat of the fruit of his own way, and to be filled with his own devices. The Spirit departed from him, and at the same time the Spirit of evil entered in and took full possession of him. After this there were no further means to be tried for his conversion. The king had outlived his time of opportunity, and God was departed from him. Saul's day of grace had then terminated; and, whilst you notice this, observe also the steps which led to this consummation: they were a progressive series of resistances offered to God's Spirit — repeated acts of provocation, the repetition of refusals to hearken and to obey. There are numbers who are emboldened in a course of irreligion from the impression that it will be easy at some future time to turn and repent, and undergo the indispensable change, without which they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. On this account it becomes more necessary to repeat the warning, that the season for turning to the Lord may pass away, never to return, even before the stroke of death ushers the soul to its everlasting portion.
2. Again, the history before us is instructive as pointing out what act it was on the part of Saul which challenged his final and immediate punishment. From the narrative it appears it was the sin of witchcraft. But the peculiarity lies in this, that it was a sin which Saul had professedly abandoned, and against which he had proclaimed open war. Can we err in concluding from hence that sin is then more especially hateful to God when practised by one who knows its nature and has once deliberately purposed to forsake it? To fall back to the indulgence of a sin which you have once resolved to renounce is a sure way to provoke the heavy displeasure of God.
3. The narrative is full of instruction as to the folly of expecting conversion by miracle when it is not effected by ordinary means. The reappearance of Samuel availed nothing for Saul's conversion. The reanimated Prophet could not guide the man who had abandoned the guidance of God's own Spirit. Be not deceived to suppose that if unconverted by what God is doing for you now, you would be converted by any supernatural agency. Your conversion is possible now. It is the province of the Holy Ghost to effect it. Use the means you have. God will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask.
(R. Bickersteth, D. D.)
2. The next point I would touch on is the question, What is the significance of this so widespread a belief in necromancy and magic? It is now held, I believe, that these arts represent the first attempts of men to have converse with the unseen world, the first blind gropings of the soul after God, the first rude efforts of man's spirit towards a religion. Just as the science of chemistry with its wonderful discoveries of the secret and subtle forces of Nature had its beginning in the dreams and visions and impossible ambitions of the alchemists; or just as astronomy, which reveals the sublime order of the heavenly bodies, had its origin in the baseless imaginings of astrology, so religion in human history began in the practice of these magic arts. What God demands in those who come to Him is not the power of magic, but mercy, truth, righteousness in the heart.
I. SAUL'S SPIRITUAL CONDITION. First of all, it throws light on the spiritual condition of Saul. He sought the aid of this necromancer because he despaired of any message from God. It is in times of religious decay that superstition most flourishes. When men lose faith in a living God who loves righteousness they resort to magic and sorcery, and put their faith in outward ceremonies and rites. Spiritualism is a reversion to the first and lowest forms of religious inquiry. Science tells us that when a plant or animal reverts to its original type, it suffers degeneration. And the spiritualist is one who is ignoring all the world's progress through ages of religious education, and is going back to the first, rude, low methods in which men sought communication with the Unseen.
II. A WILFUL IMPOSTURE. The words in which the woman is described point to the means by which she might have carried out the imposture. Rendered literally, the words, "a woman who had a familiar spirit," read, "a woman a mistress of the Ob." And the word "Ob" denotes ventriloquism. No doubt the power of ventriloquism was believed to be supernatural, the gift of evil spirits. Then, for another thing, what the supposed ghost of the departed prophet revealed was in great part already well known to Saul, and may have been known to the woman. It needed no spirit from the grave to tell them. And as for the prediction of Saul's death on the morrow, there are those who contend that the word rendered "tomorrow" is of indefinite meaning denoting some time in the future. The prediction that Saul and his sons would some day be with Samuel in the world of shadows was a safe prediction, like many of the ancient oracles. But the chief objection is simply to the idea that any arts possessed by the necromancer should have had power to call forth the dead. It is sometimes assumed that. on this occasion God wrought a miracle through the woman in order to inform Saul of his fate. But this explanation is beset with insuperable difficulties. For according to it God would be doing just what He had refused to do. He would be "answering" Saul and satisfying his desire for a Divine communication. Again, it seems incredible that God should lend sanction to the pretensions of a necromancer when the practice of every such art was condemned under severest penalties by the Divine law. When we read the narrative in the light of these considerations, there is little difficulty in supposing that the whole thing was a wilful imposture practised on a wretched and despairing man. Keep clear thy faith in the Living God, the Righteous One and the Loving, and witchcraft and all other superstitions will be powerless over thee. But lose hold of God and you may drift into any dark and debasing belief.
(J. Legge, M. A.)
1. We may have taken strong ground against some particular form of evil, we may have condemned it in others, and we may, thus far, have acted outwardly in consistency with God's commands; but we may live to do the very thing which we have condemned, to break the very commands to which we have given an external homage. There may be motives for putting away one particular form of sin, the operation of which may yet co-exist with a spirit unwilling to yield to the fear of God, and unaffected by his love. It was not because Saul's heart was prepared to render allegiance to God that he put away witchcraft; but because he would affect an outward regard for religion, or because he wished to avenge his mental disquietude on those whom he deemed its cause, or because he was in daily fear of some further mischief from them. The operation of these motives, and their result, still left him a rebel, prepared at any time, when the will of God crossed his own purpose, to resist the commands of the Almighty. And wherever the spirit of opposition to the Divine will is permitted, there is no security against its indulgence in any particular form; and if circumstances arise to make it convenient, it may develop itself in the identical manifestation which, in a previous stage of our history, we have been most ardent and loud in condemning. Let us be assured that no outward reformations are to be depended on, which do not issue from that radical change of which the Holy Spirit is the author, and in which the whole heart is yielded up to God.
2. We notice how certainly a man loses his own dignity in proportion as he recedes from the principle of obedience to God, and yields to the guidance of his own heart. What term so aptly describes the condition of the king of Israel in the witch's abode at Endor, as that of degradation — deep, thorough degradation. Be it ours to take warning. No station in life, however exalted — no position, however respectable — no claims on the regard of society, however strong — can stand against the degrading influence of indulged sin.
3. We are taught that mercies abused and privileges slighted may be desired when they have been withdrawn, and when, in God's providential arrangements, they are no longer within our reach. While Samuel lived, his counsel was treated with contempt; but when he could no longer be consulted, then the very man who grieved him most was most anxious to have him back at any cost. Let the sad spectacle awaken inquiry, How are you employing present mercies?
(J. A. Miller.)I. I LEARN FIRST FROM THIS SUBJECT THAT SPIRITUALISM IS A VERY OLD RELIGION. What does God think of all these delusions? He thinks so severely of them that he never speaks of them but with livid thunders of indignation. He says: "I will be a swift witness against the sorcerer." He says: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." And lest you might make some important distinction between Spiritualism and witchcraft, God says, in so many words: "There shall not be among you a consulter of familiar spirits, or wizard, or necromancer; for they that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord."
II. STILL FURTHER: WE LEARN FROM THIS TEXT NOW IT IS THAT PEOPLE COME TO FALL INTO SPIRITUALISM. Saul had enough trouble to kill ten men. He did not know where to go for relief. After awhile he resolved to go and see the witch of Endor. It was his trouble that drove him there. And I have to tell you now that, spiritualism finds its victims in the troubled, the bankrupt, the sick, the bereft.
III. I LEARN STILL FARTHER FROM THIS SUBJECT, THAT SPIRITUALISM AND NECROMANCY ARE AFFAIRS OF THE DARKNESS. Why did not Saul go in the day? He was ashamed to go. Besides that he knew that this spiritual medium, like all her successors, performed her exploits in the night.
IV. STILL FURTHER, THAT SPIRITUALISM IS DOOM AND DEATH TO ITS DISCIPLES. King Saul thought that he would get help from the "medium;" but the first thing that he sees makes him swoon away, and no sooner is he resuscitated than he is told he must die. Spiritualism is doom and death to everyone that yields to. It ruins the body. Spiritualism smites first of all, and mightily, against the nervous system, and so makes life miserable.
V. I INDICT SPIRITUALISM ALSO, BECAUSE IT IS A SOCIAL AND MARITAL CURSE. The worst deeds of licentiousness and the worst orgies of obscenity have been enacted under its patronage.
VI. I FURTHER INDICT SPIRITUALISM FOR THE FACT THAT IT IS THE CAUSE OF MUCH INSANITY.
VII. I BRING AGAINST THIS DELUSION A MORE FEARFUL INDICTMENT: IT RUINS THE SOUL IMMORTAL. The whole system, as I conceive it, is founded on the insufficiency of the Word of God as a revelation. God says the Bible is enough for you to know about the future world. God has told you all you ought to know, and how dare you be prying into that which is none of your business? You cannot keep the Bible in one hand and spiritualism in the other. One or the other will slip out of your grasp, depend upon it.
(T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
I. THE RAPIDITY WITH WHICH A MAN MAY FALL FROM THE HIGHEST EMINENCE. "Because thou obeyedst not the voice of the Lord, nor executedst His fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath the Lord done this thing unto thee this day." There is but a step between thee and death!
II. THE AWFUL POSSIBILITY OF BEING CUT OFF FROM SPIRITUAL COMMUNICATION WITH THE DIVINE AND INVISIBLE. "God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets nor by dreams."
III. THE CERTAINTY THAT ONE DAY THE IMPENITENT WILL WANT THEIR OLD TEACHERS. "Bring me up Samuel." "I have called thee that thou mayest make known to me what I shall do." The solemn lesson of the whole is — Seek ye the Lord while He may be found!
(J. Parker, D. D.)
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