Saul at the Witch of Endor

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 way against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nay by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto m e what I shall do. 

Then said Samuel, Wherefore then does thou ask of me, seeing the LORD is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy? 

And the LORD hath done to him, as he spake by me: for the LORD hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbor, even to David. 

I Samuel 28:15-17

David’s withdrawal into the land of the Philistines had not been good for his spiritual life, but neither was it for King Saul. It had been hard on Saul knowing that David was roaming freely through the southern portion of his kingdom; but then at least he had been able to plan and maneuver trying to capture David and destroy him. But now that David had left the boundaries of his power, he was helpless. All he could do was sit and wait for that final catastrophe when David would take over the kingdom; and that was the one thing that Saul could not stand, just to sit and wait. It cast him into spells of ever deeper and deeper depression. 

Those were dark days in Israel. During that time, Samuel died too, and it seemed that with his passing the last glimmer of spiritual light had passed away from the nation. For a time, it had appeared that things were going to be different and that the darkness of the days of the judges was passed. Saul in his earlier days as king, although he could blunder badly, had promised to be a worthwhile king nonetheless. Victory had returned to Israel’s army, first under the inspiration of Jonathan, and then even more under David. Had things continued to go in the way that they did, Israel would have surely gained recognition among the nations and even become great. But then the wickedness of Saul’s heart had erupted. First he had turned upon David, driving him out of the palace and finally out of the land. Even his own son Jonathan was shunted aside from all influence in the royal court to be replaced by advisers who were wicked men. And now that Samuel had died; the last spokesman for God was gone. All that remained in the land was the dark shadow of Saul’s wickedness, the dark cloud of an evil spirit from the Lord, Samuel had warned them that the king they sought would bring no joy. They had not believed him; but now they knew, and now it was even too late for them to go to him to ask what they should do. Mixed with a wail of despair, the lamentation of Israel for Samuel arose from every corner of the land. 

Even Saul himself was not able to escape the desperation of that hour. Even though it might have been thought that he would have come to hate the old prophet, he had not; he often had thought very bitterly toward him, but hate him he could not. Something within him would not allow it. From the time that Samuel had first called him aside to anoint him to be king, he had looked upon the old prophet as some kind of a supernatural power which had to be respected. Samuel, himself, of course, had always stressed that he was nothing more than a servant of the God of Israel, and Saul had accordingly conformed himself to the same way of speaking; but underneath Saul had never really found God to be very real for him; it was finally in Samuel that he felt the real power resided. That was why it had hurt him so badly when finally Samuel had turned against him and then away from him after that battle with the Amalekites. It had struck his heart with cold terror; and yet he had not been able to vent his feelings on the old prophet to pursue him and persecute him. Once he had discerned David as his probable successor, he had been able to do that to him, and he had too. As far as Samuel was concerned, however, Saul always kept secretly stowed away in the back of his heart the dream that he would be able to prove that the prophet had been wrong, so that Samuel would have to come back to him and admit his mistake and restore to Saul his favor. Then things would be well in Israel again, and only then. The longer Saul thought upon it the more demanding that dream became until at last it seemed to be the only thing that mattered any longer. But now Samuel was dead, and what really was there any longer for which Saul could live? 

Still, even that was not all. It was not long before the news was brought to Saul that the Philistines were gathering against him to do battle. And this was no ordinary campaign for which they were preparing either. Ordinarily the Philistines always came to meet him at their closest borders along the tribes of Benjamin and Judah; but this time they had taken the trouble of marching way around to the northern part of Israel where the land was flatter and where large open plains were to be found. This would allow them to mount a campaign of truly major proportions. And this was what they had in mind too. It appeared that all of the land of the Philistines had mobilized against him. Not just one of the kings of the Philistines was come this time, but all of them from every city, each one with his own army and all joined together into one great, unheard of force. Neither could Saul forget the fact that .David was now living with the Philistines, and maybe he had heard that David was making preparation to fight in this battle also. It could only look to him as though David was conspiring with the Philistines to come, and take over his throne at last in the move that Saul had so long expected. It truly seemed that all of the world had joined its forces against him. 

Mechanically Saul went about the usual preparations of getting his army ready for battle and marching them to Gilboa in the area which the Philistines had chosen for the battle while his mind played despondently with thoughts of impending disaster. In all of this though, the anticipation was not nearly as bad as the reality. It was when he stood on the side of the mountain and looked across at the size of the Philistine army, then at last he saw how completely impossible his life had become for him. Always before, no matter how difficult the problem, how deep the despondency, he had always managed to believe in the back of his mind that somehow he had it within himself to find the answer. But now it was as though his world had come to an end. What could he possibly do to save himself from all this. 

It was a frightful situation. As never before Israel needed a leader, and here he was the leader of Israel and could not so much as think. The only thought that seemed to go through his mind, and that again and again, was that he needed help, but where was help to be found. If only Samuel were still living, he would, go to him. Surely he would not deny help in a situation as dire as this. But it didn’t do any good. Samuel was not here, he was dead. He had to find another. Someone with power like Samuel’s. Frantically, Saul called for a priest to come with the Urim. But Abiathar the true priest was with David, and the man who came to him could do nothing. Again he called for a prophet in the tradition of Samuel, but again those who were brought to him could say nothing. God had turned his face on him. Saul knew it and cried out in his despair. Only through it all there was one thought that never crossed his consciousness, that was a thought of repentance, the thought that this all was something he had brought upon himself, that he deserved it. That type of thinking Saul’s nature would not allow for. His mind was directed only to how he could save his self-respect and pride, not to the sacrifice and destruction of it as is demanded by repentance. 

It was while Saul was brooding on all this that suddenly there came to him, like a flash of darkness, a thought which was shocking even to his hardened nature. He was just thinking once again, “If only Samuel were here,” when suddenly the thought came to him that maybe he could be gotten, gotten even from the grave. It was a perverse thought, he knew it. It was contrary even to everything that he had wanted for himself. He had always been a man who wanted to solve his own problems and had never had any sympathy for alliances with the world of darkness. From the time he had become king, he had been very hard upon any one found meddling in the black arts, as much because he himself thought it unhealthy for the nation as because it was contrary to the law of God. But now things had changed. His own strength had proved impossible to save him from an impossible situation, and if strength to save himself must come from the world of darkness, so it would have to be. Quickly he sent out the order to find someone who could commune with the dead. 

The distance which they had to travel was not great, about ten miles to Endor, although it was necessary to travel by night and under disguise, lest the men should learn of his departure and in order to gain the cooperation of the woman with the familiar spirit who had been located. Already Saul was beginning to-feel better. So often in recent days had .he bemoaned the death of Samuel that his mind just presumed that, if Samuel could be talked to, he would be sure to help him. Coming to the door of the woman of Endor, he quickly laid out his desire, saying, “I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee.” 

At first the woman was hesitant, replying, “Behold, thou knowest what Saul hath done, how he hath cut off those that have familiar spirit, and the wizards, out of the land: wherefore then layest thou a snare for my life, to cause me to die?” But Saul was insistent, answering, “As the LORD liveth, there shall be no punishment happen to thee for this thing.” 

Satisfied that these men were not agents of the court; the woman turned to her incantations. Usually it took long minutes and hours of strange contortions and dark utterances under which everyone fell into hypnotic trances in which the line between wish and reality almost seemed to disappear, but now suddenly there arose before the eyes of the woman a figure as real and yet unworldly as she had never seen before. In a moment she seemed to grasp the whole situation even to the point of recognizing the identity of the king who sat before her. Anguished, she cried out, “Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul.” 

For Saul, who had never mixed with the occult before, there was no reason to be shocked at results so evidently real. He was only eager to know what she saw. Impatiently he replied, “Be not afraid: for what sawest thou?” and the woman said unto Saul, “I saw gods ascending out of the earth.” But it was not enough, “What form is he of?” asked Saul, and she in mortal anguish replied, “And old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle.” Then Saul saw too, and at the moment he saw he knew no good would come of this. 

It was with a stern voice that Samuel spoke to Saul and said, “Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up?” And so Saul tried to explain, “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, and that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do.” 

But with Samuel, coming as he did in vision from the presence of God, there was no sympathy for the troubled confusions of sin. Pointedly, he answered, “Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the LORD is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy? and the LORD hath done to him, as he spake by me; for the LORD hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbor, even to David: 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. Moreover, the LORD will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines: and to morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: the LORD also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.” With that the figure of Samuel disappeared from sight while the legs of Saul crumbled in weakness beneath him. 

The scene that followed was strange in its irony. The woman, used as she was to the strangeness of the occult, recovered quickly. Here was for her a true mark of distinction, the king of Israel had visited her home and joined her in her wickedness. She was determined to make the most of it and threw herself into the preparation of the best meal her home could furnish. He had been granted a requested glimpse into the future, and now the last thing he wanted was food; but neither did he have the heart to argue. An utterly condemned man, he sat down in the solitude of utter hopelessness to eat his last meal.