SELF-PITY- SAUL I THE WITCH'S CAVE.

BY WILLIAM BUR ET WRIGHT

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. — 1 Sam. xxviii. 15. (R. V.) I BO not know whether I have been more thrilled by the horror, touched by the pathos, or numbed by the despair, in these words. They appear to be true. They were utterly false. The horror of them is this : they express a man's deliberate conviction that God, in whom he lives and moves and has his being, has cast him off, and left him to struggle alone against forces which sweep him as iagara sweeps a skiff. The pathos of them is twofold. They are Saul's only complaint. They are the single shriek of one who believes himself a lost spirit pushed into the abyss. But they also

SELF-PITY. 101 express the awful loneliness of a human being famishing for sympathy. Because he thinks he cannot have God 5 Saul turns to Samuel. So I have seen a woman who had outlived her associates, or driven them away

by persistent selfishness, turn to a poodle and try to make it fill the place of a friend ! So I have heard men in stress of trouble entreat me to pray for them, without a thought of praying for themselves, because, while God was drawing them to his ear by their afflictions, they fancied God had departed from them. The hopelessness of Saul's condition was that he mistook his own doings for God's, and, while the world was green and only his own glasses gray, fancied the world was gray and his glasses clear. The apparent truth of Saul's words comes from the fact that he was alienated from God. Their essential falsehood is in their saying that God had deserted him, when in fact he had deserted God. I. Recall the scene, — a valley three miles wide, running from northeast to southwest. orthward it swells upward into the hill Moreh. Its south side is Mount Gilboa. At the base of Gilboa flows the spring of

102 THE WORLD TO COME. Jezreel, a stream fifty yards wide. Upon the plain, north and west of Gilboa, the Philistines are encamped. South of the stream, upon the north slope of Gilboa, are Saul and his army. There is no reason for supposing that his forces were outnumbered by the enemy. That enemy was the Philistines, and the Philistines he had defeated many times. His position was impregnable.

He could choose his own time for attack, or decline battle altogether, for his base of supplies was immediately behind him, while the enemy were cut off from theirs and must fight or retreat. The strength of the Philistine army was in their iron chariots. These could only be employed upon the plain. They could not charge through the dense woods or up the steep slopes of Gilboa, upon the crest of which Saul's troops were safe as an eagle in its eyry. He was encamped on the spot whence Gideon descended upon the Midianites, and won the most brilliant battle recorded in the history of Israel. Every indication promised an easy and decisive victary, if only Saul could be Saul. But that he cannot be. Once he would have minded those Philistines as a lion minds jackals. But his courage is gone. He cannot hope,

SELF-PITY. 103 because lie cannot pray. He feels that God has departed from him. Where clear eyes would have seen signs of promise, he discerns only signals of despair. What shall he do? II. Seven miles as the bee flies north of his camp, directly in the rear of the Philistine army, lies Endor. At Endor lives a woman who claims that she can raise the dead. Perhaps she can. If so, it is by help of the infernal powers. If not, she is a fraud. In either case she is a wizard, and Saul himself has commanded that every wizard in the land be put to death. To this woman, whether fraud or fiend he may not know,

but believing her to be the latter, Saul resolved to direct those prayers which he dares not address to God. Often you may see men, who count it folly to pray to the Almighty Love, turn with agony of supplication to fellow-mortals weaker or wickeder than themselves ! Disguising himself, in order both to elude the Philistine outposts and to deceive the woman by whom he will be deceived, he makes a wide detour around the hostile army, and next appears in the witch's cave.

104 TEE WORLD TO COME. It is night. Darkness and misery are friends to each other, but fiends to a guilty soul. Every step of the dark and dismal journey has taken something from Saul's manhood. Every step has quenched some ray of the light that still glimmers in his spirit, the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He is moving from his friends. Every foot he advances brings more of his foes between his defenceless body and its natural protectors. He is going from his God. Every foot he advances brings more of tormenting memories between his soul and his heavenly Father. Inch by inch, he is going from the light toward the outer darkness. This he knows. Still he moves on. Have you never seen men walking from Gilboa to Endor ? III. At last the fearful journey ends. "Whether correctly or not I do not know, and

it does not in the least matter, for the Bible does not tell us, Saul believes himself in the presence of the spirit of the dead. Under the pressure of that tremendous conviction the inmost workings of his spirit appear. His secret thoughts break from him. Hitherto he has kept silence. But now the volcanic fires burst through the granite of his

SELF-PITY. 105 pride. The living who might have helped him have sought his confidence in vain. But into the ear of an impotent shade, a dead man powerless to help or hurt, he pours his despair like a lava flood. " Why hast thou disquieted me to bring me up ? " The question may have been the ventriloquism of a charlatan bribed by the Philistines to practise upon Saul's superstition, and meant to check further inquiry. It may have been some sign from the unseen world. Again I repeat, I do not know and it does not matter. But Saul believed that Samuel spoke, and the misery of it is, he believed that Samuel could love him when God had ceased to care for him ; he believed there could be rain upon the grass when there was no water in the sea. Therefore his reply : " I am sore distressed ; for the Philistines make war upon me, and God is departed from me and answereth me no more, neither by prophets nor by dreams. Therefore I have called thee up, that thou mayest make known to me what I ought to do."

This, then, is what Saul has been thinking. These are the thoughts which have driven him, as they will drive any man who

106 THE WORLD TO COME, cherishes them, to the chamber of death, the wizard's cave, the ante-room of hell. And what were the facts that corresponded to Saul's fancies ? Statement by statement, word for word, accurately and absolutely, the reverse of what Saul imagines them to be, says that they are. " I am sore distressed." The words mean, " I am pressed upon from without " by untoward events, as a weight presses upon a body and crushes it. The fact was the opposite, as we have seen. Saul was sore rent from within. Conscious of his pain, he attributes its origin not in the least to the real cause, which was himself, but to something outside his own soul which he had not caused and could not cure, and for which he was not responsible. He is shaking with ague and thinks that it is winter, though the air is warm upon his cheeks. " For the Philistines make war upon me." It was he who had inaugurated war upon the Philistines, and incurred their desperate and implacable hostility by compelling David to a deed of wanton and disgusting cruelty upon them. ot only that. Even now the Philistines would not have dared to rise

SELF-PITY. 107 in arms against him but for this. David had been Saul's most brilliant soldier and his ablest captain. By him again and again the Philistines had been routed. While David fought for Israel, the Philistines had not ventured to begin even movements for self-defence. But Saul in his frantic jealousy had banished David, and thus given the Philistines hope and courage to attack him. " And God has departed from me." Had God moved ? Saul had moved, from the shrine at Shiloh, where God showed himself in light, to the darkness of a witch's cave. While the Father's arms are stretched out all the day long, saying, " Why wilt thou die ? " the child runs from Him lamenting, " My Father has cast me off ! " " And answereth me no more." There, were three ways in which Saul knew that God communed with him and answered his requests, — by dreams or visions, by prophets, by Urim. 1. By dreams. The narrative relates how in Saul's younger days music had exerted a mysterious power upon him, and brought him into a state of spiritual exaltation in which inspired visions came to him. We

103 THE WORLD TO COME.

are also told that lie had driven away from his presence, by attempting to murder him. the only man whose harp had power to exert that mysterious influence upon him. Thus he had closed, and still held closed, one of the three doors by which it was possible for God to answer him. 2. By prophets. Saul had driven from his presence Samuel, the greatest of the prophets, by persistent disobedience, and had withdrawn from the lesser prophets who remained. Thus he had himself closed the second door of divine communication. 3. There was a third method in which God had been accustomed to make known his will. It was communion by Uriin. What this was we do not know. It was in some way connected with the gleam of a precious stone, probably a diamond, worn by the high priest, and the mysterious communication could come only through the priest acting as mediator. But Saul, in a frenzy of wrath against David, had slaughtered all the members of the priestly house save one. and that one was in exile, still under sentence of death. Thus Saul had locked the three doors, the onlv three of which he knew, bv which

SELF-PITY. 109 God could answer him, and held the keys of them in his hand at the moment when he cried in despair, " God answereth me no

more." Was Saul, in this insanity of selfdelusion, wholly unlike us ? IV. There is one other point in Saul's exclamation which I would have you observe. What an energy of anguish throbs in the two words " no more " ! — " God answers me no more." Saul appreciates the awfulness of the change which has occurred in his relations toward God, though he is so wildly oblivious of the cause. He sees the great gulf fixed between himself in torment and the water for one drop of which he pleads, though he does not see by whom the gulf has been fixed. He burns in the flames he has kindled, though he thinks God has kindled them to consume him. He pleads with Abraham for one drop of water, without a suspicion that God's bosom, an ocean, is there for him to lie upon. He has gone the way of those who love not the truth, upon whom has been sent " a strong delusion that they should believe a lie." " o more." It was not always so. Once he could turn to God with hope and joy. Once peace brooded over him. The light

110 THE WORLD TO COME. in the past makes the darkness of the present more appalling, as a sailor drowning in the night sees afar the candle shining in the cottage of the mother he has forsaken. It is the sight of a little child kneeling by the white crib and falling asleep as he prays — asleep in trust and peace — that compels a

wicked man to realize his loneliness, even if it does not force him to appreciate his guilt. Once he was a little child ! Once he could pray and sleep like that. But now ! If he seeks help from the invisible powers, and there are times when all men do that, he can turn only to the wizards that peep and mutter, and pretend they can change the laws of the Almighty. It is plain, I think, why there could be no hope for Saul, no deliverance from misery for him, while he remained in such a spirit. You or I, beholding agony like his, though in our bitterest foe, would have whispered words of hope. But God is kinder than we. There was no hope until Saul himself should change. Only the truth can make men free. Therefore the truth was spoken to him. He was reminded of the past, reminded that only those things had come upon him which he had been assured would come if he went

SELF-PITT. HI the way he had gone. He was reminded of Moses and the prophets, and warned to hear them, and told that he had but a night to listen. o gleam of hope from any outward change was given him. " To-morrow thou and thy sons shall be with me." However these words were spoken, whether by fraud or by miracle, God permitted them. How they affected Saul we are not told. After this single outburst of despair the monarch resumed the majesty of silence. He wrapped his curse about him and went

forth into the night. The next day he fought bravely, he died not ignobly, and when men begin to do well I infer that it has begun to go well with them. But this I know : every pang Saul felt, every loss he endured, every star that was extinguished in his sky, marked a fresh effort of God to open his blind eyes and his deaf ears, that he might see and hear and perceive who had kindled and kept aflame the fires that consumed him, till he should turn to Him who was saying then and is saying still, " Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavyladen, and I will give you rest."

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