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1 Samuel 28
Few portions of the Old Testament history present more points of curious interest, or more lessons of solemn admonition, than the account of Saul's interview with the witch of Endor.
The nature and extent of the supernatural power which the woman possessed, or was supposed to possess, the reality, appearance, or illusion of her bringing up Samuel, are points which have often been discussed, and on which a variety of opinions have been expressed and still continue to exist.
Apart from critical opinions, the relation itself, in its simple historical aspect, presents, in the character and conduct of Saul, a fearful picture of the condition of a mind desirous to serve God and Mammon. Saul had neglected the Divine command which had been given him to execute, yet in his need he seeks Divine direction; he had condemned the counsel of Samuel while living, but desires to have recourse to him for advice when dead; he had endeavoured to expel the witches out of the land, and now he wishes to avail himself of the unlawful power he had attempted to destroy.
His conduct shows how much the mind may be under the influence of superstition when it has no true regard for religion; and how inconsistently men are liable to act when they have no settled principles of religion to guide them.
In regard to the questions themselves—whether the woman to whom Saul applied had, or only pretended to have, the power of calling up the dead; and, admitting that she had, whether he who came up was Samuel himself, or another who personated the prophet, there is little in mere reasoning that can lead us to a satisfactory conclusion. If we believe the Scriptures we must admit that there is nothing contrary to their testimony in the belief, that the living can have sensible exchange with the dead. The Word itself affords abundant testimony of the fact. Nor is there anything extremely marvelous in this when it is known, as we now know, that the men who have departed this life are as truly men as when they lived in the body, and that the spiritual world, which is the habitation of souls, is as near to the natural world, which is the habitation of men, and is as intimately connected with it, as the soul is with the body. It is true that men cannot see spirits with their bodily eyes nor hear them with their bodily-ears; but there can be no reason to doubt that men may be brought, even while they live in the natural world, into such a state as enables them to see and hear spirits with the organs of their own spiritual body. There are spiritual as well as natural senses. Human souls and the world they were created to inhabit, are at least as real and substantial as the material body and the material world. And when Divine wisdom sees good to grant or permit it, spiritual objects can be presented to and be cognised by the spiritual senses, without the intervention of the material body. In all the instances recorded in the Scriptures of angels and spirits being seen, and touched, and conversed with by men, not the material but the spiritual senses were affected. Angels did not for the time put on a material body, but men for the time were brought into a spiritual state.
Admitting the possibility of spiritual exchange, it may indeed appear inconsistent to suppose that the power to produce it should be capable of being exercised by the will of man, especially by that of any one who is acting in contrariety to the laws of Divine order, as we must suppose the witch of Endor to have been doing. On the same principle we might refuse to admit the power of working miracles said to have been exercised by the magicians of Egypt, unless we believe them, as some do, to have been deceptions. In all such cases we may use the words of our Lord to Pilate, when he asked Him if He knew not that he had power to crucify and power to release Him. "You couldest have no power at all against Me," said our Lord, "except it were given you from above." Wherever such power is exercised it is by Divine permission. And God permits such things, not as one who desires them, but as one whose boundless love and everlasting wisdom work in a sphere above the will and wisdom of man, and for an infinite and eternal end; and because evil cannot be prevented without destroying the freedom of the human will, which God Himself has granted, and which He cannot therefore violate. The power itself, absolutely considered, is Divine; and that which is exerted in magical miracles, or in any unlawful spiritual prodigy, is stolen from heaven, but has passed through channels and is applied to purposes which pervert it.
There is nothing, therefore, inconsistent with the testimony of Scripture, nor consequently with the laws of spiritual exchange, in the woman of Endor being able to bring Saul into open communication with the spiritual world, or with one of its inhabitants. But the question still remains to be determined, whether that one with whom he was brought into communication was the spirit of Samuel, or one who personated the prophet.
In the writings of the New Church, published by Swedenborg himself, there is, rather singularly, nothing relating to the case of the witch of Endor. But in that fragmentary work, already mentioned in Chapter XVIII., and published since the death of the author, the subject is treated of, so far at least as relates to this point, and to another which is included in the relation.
The author says: "It is well to be observed that Samuel was not raised up from the dead by the witch. That was only a fallacy: it was another. One was raised up who represented Samuel. For when permission is given to evil spirits or their leaders, they can cleverly represent whatever person or character they will, provided that person has been seen and known by the individual, and they can do this with such an amount of skill, that every accent of the voice, every peculiarity, is supplied. Of this I have had experience two or three times by the agency of certain spirits, who set before me people I had known during their lifetime, with whom I held long conversations, and who were like their former selves when in life. Still, however, on all these occasions, I questioned whether they were the same, and expressed my doubts to the spirits. Such power have they to personate whom they will, be he but known to the observer. Nothing could be more manifest to me that is was not Samuel, but an evil spirit who represented him. That it was not Samuel is sufficiently clear, because the woman produced the appearance, and because it is said at ver. 13 that gods ascended."
In regard to the prediction of Israel's defeat and the death of Saul and his sons, these remarks occur: "To evil spirits it is also given to declare things that are future, but this is from the Lord, and it is given through good spirits, to whom it is given in such cases to turn away the speech of the evil spirits. In innumerable instances I have observed evil spirits speak as if they predicted events, etc. No one can know the future but Jehovah God only."
However interesting these particulars may be, and they are all we have of a direct nature to guide us to any satisfactory views of the origin and nature of the spiritual phenomena which this singular history records, the spiritual meaning and practical use of the circumstances are those which chiefly concern us.
Saul may be considered as, in his representative character, presenting us with a view of the state and experience of the natural mind in a state of deep spiritual distress, or of the natural man labouring under the effects of conflicting passions. The Philistines, we learn, had again invaded the land, and Saul had gathered all Israel together to meet them. But the confidence that ensured victory was gone. Saul was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled. One of the leading truths which Israel, and their leaders especially, had been instructed to believe and trust in was, that the Lord could save by many or few. That truth Saul had ceased to regard, so far at least as was requisite for his support in the hour of trial.
No doubt spiritual trials, one of which that of Saul represented, are attended with a feeling of distrust in the all-sufficiency of the providence of God. Whenever this is the case, it arises from a deficiency of our faith and love. It is love and faith that inspire confidence; for the Lord supports us through the principles derived from himself that are within us. He cannot dwell in anything in us but that which is His own; and just in proportion as we have formed our inner life by the principles of His kingdom, which are love and truth, is He able |o inspire our hearts with trust in Him, and to dissipate our unworthy fears. This fear, and the distrust from which it springs, may not be felt in the ordinary circumstances of life, although they may be secretly exercising an influence over us, which a strict spiritual analysis of our thoughts and feelings, words and actions, might enable us to discover. It is when some unusual demand is made upon us that we become truly sensible of their existence. When some of our spiritual enemies come against us, we are liable to fear lest we be overcome. And when we reflect that these enemies are those of our own hearts, we can easily see the ground of our apprehensions. So long as these evils of the heart, or falsities of the understanding, find nothing to call them forth into sensible activity, the mind may be calm and the life happy. It is when something out of the ordinary course of experience excites them into action that the time of trial comes, and fear and trembling arise. But the Divine purpose in these permissions is to make us sensible of our real state, and effect some improvement in it. For our real state, essentially considered, is not what it seems in ordinary circumstances to be, but what it is in extraordinary conditions and great emergencies.
In all states of trouble or uncertainty the people of God have in Him a source of unfailing comfort and of unerring counsel. When about to engage in any great undertaking, especially when about to enter into the conflict of battle, the leaders of Israel asked counsel of the Lord. It depended on whether they or the people were at the time lying under the guilt of unexpiated sin, that they received or did not receive an answer. In the I4th chapter of this book we find that an answer was withheld because Jonathan had tasted a little honey, though he was at the time unaware of the command that his father had issued, to taste no food till Israel had avenged themselves on their enemies. And this teaches that all evil, whenever it is brought into act, even although it be a sin of ignorance, intercepts the Divine influence. However wide the difference may be between unintentional and intentional evil, the one has an injurious effect as well as the other, though very different in degree. The reason of this is obvious. Outward evil comes forth from the inward evil of our hereditary nature; and it comes forth spontaneously, even before the nature of evil is known. As formerly remarked, in speaking of Jonathan's error, evil that repeatedly comes forth into act becomes a habit of the life; and an evil habit strengthens the inclination which produces it. Hence the importance of forming virtuous and orderly habits as well as acquiring right principles; and this should be especially attended to in the education of the young. It is because actual evil, or evil in act, even when committed unintentionally, has an injurious effect on him who commits it, that under the Jewish dispensation sacrifices were instituted and were required to be offered for sins of ignorance as well as for sins of intention; for by this was represented that actual evil, however venial, must be removed by practical repentance before there can be communion with God. If even the sin of Jonathan prevented the reception of an answer from heaven, how much more that of Saul; how much more sins of purpose than sins of error.
Saul in his distress, in beholding the army of the Philistines, inquired of the Lord; but the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by vision, nor by prophets. These were all mediums through which communication from God was given. That which was given in sleep through dreams was that which flowed into the mind from the Spirit of the Lord, that which was given by vision was that which came through the truths of the Word, and that which was given by prophets was that which was derived from doctrinal teaching. In the case of Saul, these were withheld from him in accordance with a law of the representative Church to which he belonged; but as a matter of spiritual experience, these channels of spiritual communication are closed against us by sin against God. "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear" (Isa 59:2). "When you spread forth your hands, I will hide Mine eyes from you: yea, when you make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood" (Isa 1:15). How dreadful the state when all light and comfort from heaven is shut out, and when the outward means of direction give no counsel! When these fail, what is to be done? The legitimate course is pointed out by that very Word which seems to refuse, and perhaps does refuse, to give the answer required - for the Lord and His Word refuse to give a response when the inquiry or the inquirer is wrong. That Word says, "Put away the evil of your doings from before Mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well. Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isa 1:16, 18). When we fail to receive what we desire and ask for, we should know that the cause is in ourselves; and reason itself may teach us, that it is our wisdom and duty to remove it by confession, supplication, repentance, and well-doing. But how liable are we to look out of ourselves for the obstacles to the attainment of even our wisest and best wishes, and for the means of acquiring what we desire! And the same false mode of judging may lead us to commit a still greater evil. It may lead us to seek, by forbidden means and through an impure channel, what we shut out from ourselves by neglecting the orderly means and avenues of Divine appointment.
Saul, instead of humbling himself before God in the dust of sincere contrition, sought what he wished through a medium which the Divine law and his own act had condemned. The Divine law declared, "There shall not be found among you any one that uses divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer; for all that do these things are an abomination to the Lord. You shall be perfect with the Lord your God." Whether in obedience to the law, or to gratify a disposition of his own, Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits and the wizards out of the land. And yet to one of these he now has recourse. In this we sometimes imitate Saul. We lean in our hearts to what we condemn in our judgement, and do ourselves what we blame others for doing. One of the great lessons we have to learn is, to be faithful to our own souls, for this is involved in being faithful to God. It is our duty to be perfect or sincere with the Lord our God, and to approach Him as the Fountain of all goodness, the living God and the Author of all life, and to seek His face through His Word and the doctrines of His truth, and by doing His will. "And when they shall say to you, Seek to them that have familiar spirits, and to wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek to their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them."
In the spiritual sense, those illegitimate channels of supernatural knowledge represented the persuasions of truth and goodness by which the evil heart seeks to attain its own selfish and worldly objects. Those workers against the Divine will, which all necromancers were, represented the various means originating in the corrupt selfhood of man, by which he endeavours to do for himself what it is in the power and the province of God only to do. No doubt these means and efforts are, as far as possible, overruled for good. Such was the case with Balaam, when employed by Balak to curse Israel. He was constrained altogether to bless them. Yet he was a soothsayer, and an enemy to the people of Israel; and was slain among the Midianites when fighting against them (Num 31:8). Such also was the case in the present instance. Saul forced himself into the circle of the forbidden power, but received an answer very different from that which he desired. Even through that impure channel the heavy tidings came to him that the Lord would deliver Israel into the hand of the Philistines, and that he and his two sons should fall in the battle.
This, no doubt, in reference to individuals such as Saul was, represents a fall in temptation, and the extinction of the life of truth, with its affections and thoughts. Considered as referring to those who are progressing in the spiritual life, the death of what remains of the old man is represented, by which death the new man, represented by David, truly lives, and is exalted and invested with new power. To these general views and the reflections which they suggest a few remarks of a more particular kind may be added.
The witches of Scripture, understood in its spiritual sense, are those who conjoin the falsities of the evil of self-love to the truths of faith; so that witchcraft involves the sin of profanation. When Saul forsook the Divine oracles to consult the witch of Endor, and turned from faith in the living God to faith in a necromancer—an oracle of the dead—he mixed the sacred with the profane, and brought ruin upon himself.
The witch whom Saul consulted was not to know who he was; so he disguised himself, and put on other clothing, and went, and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night. How forcibly does this represent the state and doings of those who turn aside from the holy to the profane! They disguise themselves, they change the garments of truth for the clothing of falsity, and with the consent of the will and the understanding, they leave the light of day for the darkness of night, to inquire of the familiar spirit of the "imagination of the thoughts of his heart, which is only evil continually," respecting that which should be asked of God, and which he never refuses to grant if asked in faith. But however determined such a one may be to obtain what he desires through an unhallowed medium, the thought will arise, that he is doing what he himself had once condemned as sinful, and tried to suppress; as the witch reminds her secret visitor of what Saul had done, how he had cut off those that have familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land. When, however, the mind is greatly inclined to do wrong, seldom do such thoughts turn it away from its purpose. It is easily assured that nothing evil shall happen to it for this thing. But when its desire is gratified, what is the result? When, in obedience to the command of the king, the woman brought up Samuel, she cried with a loud voice, and she said, "Why have you deceived me? for you are Saul." Why should the apparition have alarmed her or convinced her of her visitor being Saul? It is difficult to imagine. But is there not a spiritual reason? Samuel the prophet represented the Word and the truth it teaches, and the truth of the Word reveals the best concealed secrets of the human heart. "Elisha, the prophet that is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedchamber" (2 Kings 6:12). But those fears are allayed. The mind is bent on its object. Saul asks what the woman has seen. It appears from this that Saul had not yet seen the apparition himself. This is quite consistent with the fact that a spirit cannot be seen by the natural eye, and that the opening of the spiritual sight is an act of Divine power, so that of several different persons one may see spiritual objects and the others not. When the Lord is pleased to unveil the eyes of the soul, the present spirit comes into view. It would appear that it was some time before Saul received this open vision. For he asked the woman, What form is he of? When the woman said, " An old man comes up, and he is covered with a mantle; Saul perceived that it was Samuel; and he stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself." Samuel now demanded of Saul why he had disquieted him to bring him up. When Saul told the spirit of the prophet of his distress, and of the Lord having departed from him, and of His answering him no more, neither by prophets nor by dreams, so that he had come to ask Samuel what he should do, he received the answer, "Wherefore then do you ask of me, seeing the Lord is departed from you, and is become your enemy?" How can truth aid him from whom good has departed? Good departs only from those who have departed from goodness, and when this is the case, truth is only heard giving utterance to judgement. And the judgement of truth alone is judgement without mercy; for he who in his own acts has removed mercy from judgement, shall be judged without mercy. That by which we judge is that by which we are judged. "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgement you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again." Saul has to listen to the judgement of that truth which he himself had robbed of its goodness. It reminds him that by disobedience he had forfeited the kingdom, which had been given to another, and tells him of the disastrous issue of the impending battle: "To-morrow shall you and your sons be with me: the Lord also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines."
No wonder that on hearing this dread intelligence "Saul fell straightway all along on the earth, and was sore afraid, because of the words of Samuel: and there was no strength in him; for he had eaten no bread all the day, nor all the night." This does not seem to have been the voluntary prostration of penitence, but the involuntary prostration of despair. There was, besides, no strength in him. He had fasted, but not, it is to be feared, in the way the Lord has chosen—" to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that yc break every yoke" (Isa 58:6). The woman now came to Saul and urged him to take a morsel of bread. He refused; but "his servants, together with the woman, compelled him; and he hearkened to their voice. So he arose from the earth, and sat upon the bed." This was not the bed of true doctrine. It was that of the pythoness. And so must we regard the fatted calf that she prepared for him, not as holy, but as abominable flesh (Hag 2:12; Ezek 4:14); sacrificed not to God, but to demons. The witch herself, in doing this act of kindness to Saul, need not be regarded in an unfavourable light. The king's sad state called forth her better feelings. The wizard was, for the time at least, lost in the woman. As forming part of a history that is representative, her act has a different character, and is recorded to teach us a different lesson. When we give ourselves up to the evil agencies we employ, we must come to the condition of being compelled to draw our strength from the means that they supply.
How solemn is the lesson we may learn from this part of the history of Saul! When the heart is turned away from God, the mind is bereft of all true comfort and deprived of all right direction. This is most felt and exhibited in times of danger and perplexity. It should, therefore, while the evil day is yet future, be our endeavour faithfully to obey the voice of the Lord, relying on His providential care, and the day of trial and conflict, come when it may, will find us prepared for the demands that may be made on our power of action or endurance.21 previous - next - BM Home - Full Page