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The Sorceress of Endor
By Dr. Samuel W. Lynd
Tennessee Baptist, 1848

Illustration of 1 Samuel xxvii. 1-19.

      After the death of the prophet Samuel, the Philistines, under Achish, made war upon Saul. When he saw his enemies, he became alarmed, and inquired of the Lord. But such had been his wickedness that the Lord refused to answer him. In the agitation of his mind, he sought to know the future through a woman who had a familiar spirit. By the laws of Moses, persons of this character were condemned to death, and Saul had lately enforced this law against all he could find. Ln his distress, and his anxiety to know what awaited him, he gave this woman the assurance that she should not be injured. Upon this, she proceeded to gratify his wishes.

      Persons of this class professed to raise the dead. Hence the term necromancy, formed of two Greek words which signify to prophecy by means of the dead. But is it a fact, that in the days of Saul there was a large class of persons who had power to call back to earth the spirits of the dead? If so, they must have derived their power from Satan, or from God. Both are erroneous suppositions. The idea that the Devil has power to disturb the repose of the departed, is inconsistent with reason and with Scripture. It is inconsistent with reason to suppose him endowed with power so fatal to the happiness of the righteous. It is inconsistent with Scripture. The rich man in hell lifted up his eyes, being in torment. He could not go to heaven, for a great gulf separated. He could not go to earth, for his most earnest request to have the Holy Spirit sent to warn his brethren was denied. Nor can it be supposed that God would, grant this power to sorcerers - a class that were to be put to death by his express command. They were all deceivers, who practised upon the credulity of the people, and in this light only shall we consider them.

      Three views have been taken of this account, which we shall place before the reader.

      1. Some imagine that the Devil appeared in the garb of the prophet Samuel. 2.

      The narrative itself gives no countenance to this hypothesis. It is related as though the deceased prophet spake. Besides, it exhibits the Devil out of his proper character, reproving Saul for that very conduct which he instigated him to pursue. If the response be considered as implying a knowledge of the future, then Satan himself was as ignorant as the woman, and there is no necessity to introduce this evil spirit for the sake of explanation. It renders no part clearer. If the response did Not imply knowledge of the future, but was a mere supposition, then why introduce the Devil into the machinery? Certainly, it might be explained as the language of the sorceress, or her ally, with as much propriety, and liable to fewer objections.

      2. Others suppose, that when Saul said, "Bring me up Samuel," the Lord unexpectedly to the woman, and without any connexion with her art, caused the prophet to appear.

      But this hypothesis is considerably weakened, if not entirely destroyed, by the consideration that God had refused to reveal himself to Saul, either by prophet, or by vision. And it would be strange, to say the least, that he should condescend to inform him, through the medium of a deceased prophet, at the very time when he was insulting God by an application to a sorceress. We are unable to reconcile this hypothesis with Isaiah viii. 19, 20.

      3. Another view is, that the whole scene was the effect of the art of the sorceress.

      Several reasons may be assigned to support the position that the whole was a deception.

      1. Saul was easily imposed on by appearances. From the perturbed state of his mind, he was ready to receive any story. He did not see the prophet. It is said he perceived; but the verb in the Hebrew is, "H e knew" - i.e., he knew by the description which the woman gave. The 13th and 14th verses definitely settle this point independently of the meaning of the original word.

      2. Her deception is seen in pretending not to know Saul, when he came into her presence.

      It is not likely she would be ignorant of the person of the King, when he had lately put away her order. It was her interest to avoid him. But it is said that Saul disguised himself. He could not disguise his height for he was a head and shoulders taller than any man in Israel. She, doubtless, knew this fact, and recognized him.

      3. It was possible for her to carry out this deception by ventriloquism, or by a secret agent, to personate the prophet.

      4. But does not the narrative obviously oppose this hypothesis? True, Samuel is represented as speaking; but it is common in Scripture narration to relate appearances as they are presented to the senses, and to exhibit the pretended wonders of these characters in their own style.

      5. It has been said that this woman would not have employed the language of judgment, but would rather have flattered the monarch. This does not follow. She saw that he was greatly alarmed, and that he was in her power. She, probably, knew that he was in a falling condition - that David was anointed to succeed him, and that by her denunciation she might secure his favor.

      There is but one objection of any weight against this hypothesis, and that is the correctness of the prophecy. The objection, however, is more apparent than real. The term "machar," translated "to-morrow," signifies, also, an indefinite time, and ought to have been rendered soon; for the armies did not engage on the next day. It is highly probable it did not occur for several days. Thompson translates it - "And soon thou and thy sons with thee shall fall, and the Lord will deliver the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines." With this general correctness the woman might have prophecied as she did.

      The monarch himself had informed her that God refused to hear him. She knew enough of the dealings of God with the Jewish people, to know, that if the Lord had thus deserted him, he could not long maintain his empire. She was well assured that the affairs of Saul had reached a crisis. The prophet Samuel had foretold that the kingdom should be taken from him. The fate of an empire was usually decided at that time by a single battle, and she could not risk much in saying that Saul would be vanquished. She might justly conclude that Saul would die by his own hand, rather than be taken prisoner; and as to the prophecy that his sons would fall with him, it was highly probable; but in this she made a mistake, for all his sons were not slain. There is nothing, therefore, in the prophecy that the sorceress might not have foretold with general accuracy, without any connexion with supernatural beings. But it was not sufficiently accurate to have come from a divine source. Of all the views we have considered, this is, probably, attended with the fewest difficulties.


[From the Tennessee Baptist, October 26, 1848, p. 1, CD edition. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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