1 Samuel 28:11-15
Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up to you? And he said, Bring me up Samuel.…
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"
(Tennyson) = -F.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel.