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THE WITCH OF ENDOR
1 Samuel 28:15. And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do.
THAT such a thing as witchcraft has existed, we cannot doubt: but what were the incantations used, or what power Satan had to work with and by them, we know not. Certain it is, that in the days of our Lord, Satan appears to have had a greater influence over the bodies of men than he possesses at this time: and as that was permitted of God for the more abundant display of Christ’s power, so it is probable that an extraordinary influence over the minds of men may, through the divine permission, have been sometimes exerted by Satan, that the evil tendency of that influence might be the more clearly seen, and the excellence of the divine government be more justly appreciated. As for the various instances of witchcraft recorded in uninspired books, we can place no dependence whatever upon them; because there is often an undue degree of credulity even in great and good men, and a readiness to receive any report that is marvellous, without sufficiently examining the grounds on which it stands. But what is recorded in the Scriptures we may well believe; because it is revealed by One who cannot err. The account given us of the witch of Endor is one of the most remarkable in the Scriptures; though there are in it some difficulties, which have occasioned a diversity of opinions among the learned respecting it. That, however, we may place it before you in an easy and instructive point of view, we shall consider the history of Saul connected with it; and particularly,
The state to which he was reduced—
This he himself specifies in the words of our text—
[Long and obstinately had he continued to sin against the convictions of his own conscience; till at last he had provoked God to depart from him. Whilst he was forsaken of his God, the Philistines made war against him, and invaded the land. Then he felt the need of an Almighty Protector, and sought to obtain direction and help from has offended God. But now God would not be found of him, or take any notice of his supplications. In various ways had God been wont to communicate his mind; but now he would return “no answer, either by Urim, or by a prophet, or by a dream.”]
Such, alas! is but too frequently the state of ungodly men—
[Many there are who violate habitually the dictates of their own conscience, till they “vex,” and “grieve the Holy Spirit,” and utterly “quench” his sacred motions. No wonder if at such times trouble come upon them: for indeed the whole creation are ready to “avenge the quarrel of God’s covenant,” whensoever he shall withdraw from us his protecting hand: and whatever our trials be, or from whatever quarter they come, they will be incomparably heavier, from the consciousness that “God himself is become our enemy.” Under their trials the most hardened of men will begin to relent, and will “pour out a prayer when God’s chastening is upon them” — — —”When God slays them, then they will seek him,” as the Psalmist says. But at such seasons they are often made to feel what “an evil and bitter thing it is to forsake the Lord.” They call upon God, but “he will not hear them, because their hands are full of sin [Note: Isaiah 1:15.]:” yea, he even “laughs at their calamity, and mocks when their fear cometh [Note: Proverbs 1:26-28.].” He has repeatedly declared, that thus he would treat all who should “set up idols in their hearts [Note: Ezekiel 14:1-7; Eze 20:1-3 with Psalms 66:18.]:” and melancholy indeed is their state, who have no access to God in their troubles, nor any communications from him for their supports. Yet we can have but little acquaintance with the house of mourning, if we have not met with many such cases in the world.]
Such was the unhappy state of Saul. Let us next proceed to notice,
The expedient to which he resorted—
Now he wished for the counsel of that minister, whom when living he neglected and despised;—and,
To obtain an interview with Samuel, he had recourse to a witch—
[In former days Saul had exerted himself, agreeably to God’s command [Note: Leviticus 20:27.], to banish witchcraft from the land; and now could not prevail on this woman to use her enchantments, till he had profanely sworn that no punishment should be inflicted on her. At his earnest entreaty, she prevailed to bring up Samuel before him. Many learned men have thought that Samuel himself did not appear, but that Satan assumed his shape and garb. But there is no intimation in the history that this was the case; on the contrary, every expression has directly the opposite aspect: and it seems that even the witch herself was beyond measure astonished at the unexpected success of her incantation. It is urged on the other hand, that a witch could never prevail to bring Samuel from the grave, or his soul from the mansions of the blessed. True; but God might see fit to send Samuel on this occasion, to confirm all the threatenings which he had denounced when living: nor is there any weight in the objection, that he speaks of being “disquieted,” and “brought up,” because this was only popular language suited to the prevailing notions of the day: and when he speaks of Saul and his sons being “with him on the morrow,” he can only mean, that they should be removed into the invisible world by death — — — It seems clear, that, as God afterwards sent a living prophet to reprove Amaziah’s application to the heathen idol, so now he sent a departed prophet to reprove in Saul a similar offence [Note: Compare 2Ki 1:1-6 where the cases, and the issue of them, are much alike.].
But what availed this interview with Samuel? Samuel himself put the question to Saul, “Wherefore dost thou ask of me, seeing the Lord is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy?” Vain indeed was that hope which sought in a broken cistern what the fountain alone could supply.]
And equally vain are those refuges to which sinners flee, when they are forsaken by their God—
[Men in a time of trouble will catch at any thing for comfort. Some will endeavour to drown reflection in the cares or pleasures of the world; whilst others take refuge in infidelity: but not even Saul’s expedient was more vain than these: for what is there either in business or pleasure to satisfy a guilty conscience? or what can infidelity adduce to disprove the truths which it would set aside? “In uttering error against the Lord, we only make empty the soul of the hungry, and cause the drink of the thirsty to fail [Note: Isaiah 32:6.]” — — — Such are the expedients, whatever they may be, whereby we labour to supply the place of an offended God — — —]
From the close of the history we learn,
The misery he brought upon his own soul—
Great indeed were his disappointment and distress—
[Behold the melancholy train; dejection, desperation, suicide! He fainted and fell as soon as ever he heard the fate that awaited him: and was with great difficulty persuaded to take such refreshment as was necessary for his support. But no humiliation of soul did he manifest; nor, as far as we see, did he present to God one single petition. He sank down in sullen desperation, determining to meet his fate, but using no effort to obtain mercy at the hands of God. The battle terminated according to the word of Samuel; and Saul himself, to prevent the mortification of falling alive into the hands of his enemies, fell upon his own sword, and put a period to his own existence [Note: 1 Samuel 31:4.].]
But such are generally the effects of seeking in the creature what can be found in God alone—
[Many are oppressed with great dejection of mind: but if they would search out the causes of their trouble, they would find it generally to spring from lusts unmortified, and iniquities unrepented of. And how often does dejection lead to despair! Strange as it may seem, it is easier to abandon oneself to an hopeless despondency, than to renounce beloved sins, and persevere in an earnest inquiry after God. Yes; the heart, instead of relenting, is more generally “hardened through the deceitfulness of sin;” and when we begin to say, “There is no hope,” then we add, “I have loved idols, and after them will I go.” The close of all is, in too many cases, suicide: men finding no relief in God, fly to death itself as the only remedy for the troubles of life. Ah! unhappy men, who venture thus to rush into the presence of that God, who has hid his face from them!]
Let us learn then to beware,
Of impenitence in sin—
[Many who, like Saul, have been hopeful in their beginnings, fall from one sin to another, till they set both God and conscience at defiance. But however sweet sin may be in the mouth, it will prove as gall in the stomach. It will destroy all peace of mind, all hope in God, all prospect in eternity. O let it not be harboured in our hearts! Whatever our besetting sin be, let us never rest till we have repented of it, and washed it away in the Redeemer’s blood, and obtained the victory over it through the power and grace of God. If not purged out, it will defile and destroy our whole souls.]
Of seeking help in the creature—
[God is the only refuge of sinful man: wherever we may look, there is no help for us in any other. Not only are men and devils unable to assist us; even all the angels in heaven would be incapable of affording us any effectual help. Whatever creature we rest upon, it will prove only “as a broken reed, which will pierce the hand that rests upon it.” We must learn in every difficulty to say with Jehoshaphat, “Lord, I have no power against this great company that cometh against me, neither know I what to do; but mine eyes are upon Thee [Note: 2 Chronicles 20:12.].”]
Of giving way to despondency—
[To despair, is to seal our own condemnation. We must never conclude, that, because God has forsaken us, “he will be no more entreated.” Had Saul himself truly and unfeignedly implored mercy at his hands, God would not have utterly cast him off. “God never did, nor ever will, say to any, Seek ye my face in vain [Note: Judges 10:10-16.].”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 28". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany