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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
1 Samuel 28

 

 

Verses 1-25

Saul At Endor

1 Samuel 28:7

SAMUEL was dead, and all Israel had lamented him, and buried him in Ramah, even in his own city. The death of such a man so described! How graphic in its simplicity is this book of God! No common author could afford to treat his best materials in this way. The writer who spins himself into fine sentences would have dwelt long and carefully upon the death of Samuel; he would have told how dreary was the hollow sound of the moaning wind on the burial day, how tearfully came the moon to look at the new grave in Ramah, and how orphan-like and inconsolable were the stunned hosts of Israel. Such decorations do not make us richer; these perishable tapestries of the hireling"s pen are out of season when a man like Samuel is called away to the starry places and the quietudes of the upper Zion. Samuel was dead! That is enough. Death is not poetical. The fine old cedar has fallen; let us turn aside, and be silent for a while.

But Saul! The dark day came when Saul needed a light; in its dread gloom, he looked Samuel-ward, but no fiery pillar glowed upon the old man"s grave. Samuel was dead,—Saul was dead too; for though he lived, yet his heart"s strength had withered, and his heart"s joy had perished. Sometimes one life is all the world to us. So long as that dear life lives we cannot be altogether sad. The day may be very gloomy, but we have a bright light shining in the heart. So strange, too, is our human life, that even our neglect of that one redeeming power does not destroy its good influence; we know where it is; we are careless, yet not unappreciative; we are perhaps ungrateful, yet down in the very secret of the heart there is a living love; hence when trial comes, or swift darkness swallows up the path, or great fire-bolts strike the towers of our ambition, we hasten to the trusted one to hide ourselves in the love we never should have left. But what if we be too late? What if God have withdrawn the defence we have neglected, so that when we run to the familiar place, or hasten to the neglected door, we find a stranger there, or be answered only by the echoes of the silent chambers? The reckless young man says in his far-away wanderings, when money is gone and health is wasted, "I will return to the house of my childhood, and be glad amongst my old loves and hopes;" but the place knows him no more; a stranger"s face is in the window of his home; he tells the tale of his shame to a heedless world; and soon there forces itself upon his reluctant consciousness the terrible truth that the breaker of hearts must be branded as the chief of murderers.

Not only was Samuel dead, but the Lord himself gave Saul no answer, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets. It is of no use for some men to pray. They have sinned away the day of grace. By iniquity upon iniquity they have built up between themselves and God a great wall. By the exceeding multitude of their sins they have exhausted the patience of God. "We had better say this very plainly, lest we encourage false hopes, and undertake a case which admits of no defence. If a man put out his own eyes, shall we urge him to try to see, and pity him because he is blind? If a man wilfully destroy his hearing, what boots it that we exhort him to listen? Madness! To some men I have this message to deliver: You have shut yourself out from God,—you have deafened yourself against his counsel, and would none of his reproof,—you have starved the good angel within you which sang the sweet song of your youthful hope,—you have murdered your own soul: toll the knell; report the news in heaven: a man has slain the God that was in him, and now he awaits but the hour which shall see him thrown into the only darkness which can hide his shame. He is "without God and without hope in the world;" there is now no summer in his life; he is winter-bound and filled with desolation.

In the intensity of his fear Saul said, "Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and inquire of her." What a fall, from the Lord God of Israel to a witch hiding in a cave! Even in such a fall there is much to teach us respecting the higher life of man. Better that a man should seek to consult the spiritual world through the medium of a witch than that he should be the most prosperous of materialists. That may seem a hard thing to say, but its hardness may be in its truth. Given two men, to say which is the wiser: the one is a materialist, who scorns the idea of God and all the other ideas which flow from it or properly belong to it; he has no faith, no anticipation of a spiritual future; to him there is nothing valuable but gold, and nothing certain but death; he prospers exceedingly in all the affairs of this life, and has more than heart can wish: the other worships a stone which is to him the image of God; he has faith in a spiritual region round about him; scientifically, he is utterly ignorant; socially, he is of the smallest account; theologically, he is in the lowest stratum of idolatry: given such men, to say which is the wiser, and unhesitatingly we pronounce for the wisdom of the idolater. Better worship a stone than never worship at all; better believe in an Indian"s happy hunting ground beyond the grave than believe in no other life than this. The idolater occupies larger life-spaces than the materialist; he drinks at deeper springs; he hears a finer music in all the movements of creation. Of course we condemn belief in witches and in witchcraft; we laugh it to scorn. But what was Saul to do? Consider his education. Remember the tremendous and desolating loss which he had sustained: Samuel gone: the Philistines upon him; his reason unsteady; the heavens, which dropped down dew upon his life, now hard as Brass. He went to Endor in the hour of despera tion. His theology might be ideally correct, but he could not use it,—God had gone up far beyond the cry of his pain, and Samuel was buried in Ramah. Thank God, in that hour Saul did not become a defiant atheist or materialist: he still believed in the divine and spiritual, and treated with impatience the mocking solaces of things seen and temporal. Pity the materialist more than you pity the heathen. Condemn materialism more strongly than you condemn the most fanatical displays of spiritualism: train your children to believe in ghosts rather than to believe in nothing but dust and death; the crudest, weakest faith is infinitely preferable to the animalism which makes man all flesh, or the insanity which only trains life so as to add another sting to the last enemy.

"Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel." The worlds are nearer together than we think. What is there in reason, in the fitness of things, or in Scripture itself, to forbid the idea that we are surrounded by spiritual existences? What is thy universe, O man? Thou makest thine own creation. Is it a poor little world, all surface, whose pools dry up, and whose roots disappoint the hunger of the body? Is thy world but a graveyard, cold, gloomy, death-governed, with hopelessness written on every stone, and flowers sickening and perishing on every dewless mound? At best, is it but a wheat-field and a vintage watered by a great river, but never bathed by the living tide of a spiritual eternity? It is a poor sad world, not such as thy Father meant it to be to thy soul. How different is the world to some of us! Round about it is a mantle of light: oft descending into its air are spiritual watchers and harpers sent to do us good, to save our feet from stumbling, and to comfort the soul during the drill and culture of this school-life; it is an isthmus connecting us with the immeasurable and everlasting; a bridge by which we pass into riches and rest, infinite and indescribable; a flying star-chariot, on which we hasten to sunnier climes; it exhausts all figures and images which signify emancipation, joy unspeakable, and glory ever-during. This faith is the gift of Jesus Christ; when he was alone, he was not alone; he spoke of the angels being near: in the wilderness of temptation an angel ministered unto him; in the agonies of Gethsemane an angel strengthened him. The angels hastened Lot; the angel saved Daniel from hurt; the angel delivered Peter from prison; the angel spake to Paul on the stormy sea. "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" Let us seize the inheritance, and be rich with all the Father"s wealth.

The pathetic incident shows: 1. 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.

2. 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." "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: and they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it." "Mischief shall come upon mischief, and rumour shall be upon rumour; then shall they seek a vision of the prophet; but the law shall perish from the priest, and counsel from the ancients."

3. 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 unto me what I shall do."

The solemn lesson of the whole is—Seek ye the Lord while he may be found. One day he will enclose himself within inaccessible depths; we shall cry, but he will not answer; we shall say, "Lord! Lord!" but he will not know us; we shall shout as men shout in mortal anguish, and only hear the mocking echo of prayer too long delayed.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 28:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/1-samuel-28.html. 1885-95.

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Sunday, December 15th, 2019
the Third Week of Advent
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