With the east alienated, with the south disaffected; compelled to witness from a distance the rising power and popularity of David, and the defection from himself of many noted men in person, and the hearts of many more—Saul beheld the storm of war approaching with a misgiving spirit. The counsels of God, of which he made so light in the day of his pride, he vainly seeks in the time of his distress. He craves a token for good, and none is vouchsafed to him. His crimes now bear their fruit; and the burden of old sins press heavily upon his soul. The blood of God’s slaughtered priests cries not to heaven in vain—he gets no answer from the sacred oracle; Samuel had been contemned, and the prophets have no message of encouragement for him; precious gifts of God he had made light of, and now no heavenly visions point out the path ho ought to take, or give assurance of victory. What resource has he left? Samuel is dead. Had he been living, stern and awful truths might have been expected from his lips—but still Saul would have sought him, for any certainty was better than these terrible doubts. But was there indeed no access to his counsels? Were there not powers which might for one brief moment call him from his rest, to give the required answer, be it for good or evil? The general belief was that such powers did exist, and were held by those who possessed mysterious knowledge, and were versed in the practice of the diabolical arts. All these knowledges and arts, real or pretended, were sternly forbidden by the law, and the profession of them declared a capital offence. This law had been enforced by Saul, so that none of these wizards and necromancers were known to exist in the land. When, therefore, the king, repulsed from every lawful means of acquiring the knowledge he craved, thought of this secret and forbidden alternative, he yet feared that none could be found to gratify him. By diligent search, it was at length ascertained that there was a woman living in retirement at Endor, near Mount Tabor, who had eluded the search of Saul’s officers, and was believed to possess these forbidden powers. To her he repaired, disguised, with two faithful servants. The pythoness at first refused to listen to the proposal, alleging her fear that it should come to the knowledge of the king. But Saul pledged himself by oath that no arm should befall her—and as it is not clear how this assurance from a stranger could be of any value to her, we cannot but think that from this she suspected who her visitor was. His distinguished stature also—impossible to be disguised, and notorious to every one in Israel, even to those who had never seen him, might alone have disclosed him to a less “cunning woman” than the witch of Endor. However, she was too sagacious to betray the discovery she had made. Satisfied, apparently, she asked whom she was to summon. We are not called upon to inquire what trick she meant to play upon the king, what art to practise—for the name of Samuel had scarcely passed the king’s lips, than to the amazement of the woman herself, Samuel himself appeared. It was not to be borne, that since Samuel was really to be permitted to appear, it should even seem to be at the command of this miserable woman—and thus, therefore, her incantations were anticipated. The apparition appeared at the demand of Saul, and not at the woman’s invocation. This, with perhaps some indication from the specter, confirmed her suspicion that the tall stranger was no other than the king, and she uttered a loud cry, and said, “Why hast thou deceived me, for thou art Saul?” The king pacified her, and eagerly demanded what she saw. She answered, that she beheld a great and venerable personage—like the gods, or judges and civil magistrates, to whom that title was sometimes given. It is thus that we understand her declaration, that she saw “gods ascending out of the earth.” Either this took place in her inner room, or the object had not yet become visible to Saul, for he asked, “What form is he of?” and she said, “An old man cometh up, and he is covered with a mantle.” There could be no doubt that this was Samuel—and the king looking closely at the place to which the woman’s fixed regards were turned, discerned the figure she described condensing into visibility before him. It has been thought, and we once thought so, that the king did not see the shade, but merely judged it was Samuel from the woman’s description; but on looking more closely at the text, it becomes more emphatic than at first appears. It is really stated that “Saul perceived (knew, or assured himself) that it was Samuel himself.” This is not what the woman saw, but what Saul saw; and as the sacred writer gives us the authority of his own declaration for the fact, that it was “Samuel himself” that Saul perceived, we do not feel at liberty to suppose that it was anything else—that it was a fiend, or a confederate personating Samuel; or that there was in fact nothing—the woman only saying she saw this, and Saul taking her word for it. The narrator all along says it was Samuel, which is better authority for the fact, than the assertion of the woman, or the impression of Saul. The latter, indeed, forthwith bent himself low in humble obeisance, which he was not likely to have done unless he saw the figure visibly before him, and felt assured that it was Samuel. He might, indeed, be imposed upon, and without much difficulty, under the circumstances; but the historian says that he was not—that it was Samuel whom he saw, Samuel to whom he spoke, Samuel who spoke to him. All the circumstances agree with this, and are unaccountable under any other hypothesis; the woman had no time for collusive arrangements; the answer given by the apparition was true, was fulfilled to the letter, and was anything but such as the woman would be likely to have given by ventriloquism (as some suppose), or through a confederate, but was altogether such as Samuel would have been likely to deliver had he been alive. It foretold not only the defeat of the Israelites by the Philistines in the coming battle—but that Saul himself, and his sons (such of them as were present) should perish. It might by human sagacity be foreseen that the Philistines might be victorious; but it could not so certainly be predicted by human calculation that Saul would perish—he might, even if defeated, withdraw with part of his forces, to make another stand against the enemy; still less could it be predicted that of several persons, Saul and his sons, all would perish. The chances, on which alone an impostor could calculate, were altogether against it. It would have been entirely the interest of an impostor to predict success. If success were foretold, the prediction if fulfilled would bring her credit—if falsified, there would be none to bring her to account. But if the calamity predicted came not to pass, she would be sought out and punished as a deceiver.
One cannot help being affected by the words in which the unhappy king addressed the shade of Samuel. “God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets nor by dreams: therefore have I called thee, that thou mayest make known to me what I shall do.” Neither had he been answered by Urim, as we have before learned, which was the more important, as the regular mode of obtaining an answer from God. Why does he not mention that? The omission is probably significant. It may fairly be supposed, that he shrunk from naming to Samuel that which could not but bring to mind his slaughter of the priests at Nob. The answer of Samuel was impressively terrible. “Wherefore dost thou ask of me, seeing the Lord hath departed from thee, and is become thine enemy? The Lord hath done as he spoke by me, and bath rent the kingdom out of thy hand, and given it to thy neighbor, even to David. The Lord will deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines; and tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me,”—that is, dead like him. Those refine too nicely who speculate whether this phrase were more proper in the mouth of Samuel, or of a demon, or of a confederate of the woman speaking in his name. The poet has interpreted them rightly—
“And when shall sink
In night to-morrow’s day, thou and thy sons
Shall be with me in death.” Note: “The Fall of Saul. A Sacred Epic Poem.” By John Gunning Seymer, M.A. London, 1836.
These dreadful words laid Saul prostrate upon the ground as one void of life. Exhausted by long abstinence (“for he had eaten no bread all that day, nor all the night”), and worn out by anxiety, this announcement, which left him without hope, and assured him that all was lost, and his doom accomplished, laid him in the dust. Revived by the kind solicitude of the woman and his attendants, and prevailed upon to refresh exhausted nature with some food, the king departed ere the morning dawn, with a broken heart, but with composed and resolute demeanor—to meet his doom.