The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 66: The Death of Saul
Again war was declared between Israel and the Philistines.
"The Philistines gathered themselves together, and came
and pitched in Shunem," on the northern edge of the plain of
Jezreel; while Saul and his forces encamped but a few miles
distant, at the foot of Mount Gilboa, on the southern border of
the plain. It was on this plain that Gideon, with three hundred
men, had put to flight the hosts of Midian. But the spirit that
inspired Israel's deliverer was widely different from that which
now stirred the heart of the king. Gideon went forth strong in
faith in the mighty God of Jacob; but Saul felt himself to be
alone and defenseless, because God had forsaken him. As he
looked abroad upon the Philistine host, "he was afraid, and his
heart greatly trembled."
Saul had learned that David and his force were with the
Philistines, and he expected that the son of Jesse would take this
opportunity to revenge the wrongs he had suffered. The king
was in sore distress. It was his own unreasoning passion, spurring
him on to destroy the chosen of God, that had involved the nation
in so great peril. While he had been engrossed in pursuing
David he had neglected the defense of his kingdom. The Philistines,
taking advantage of its unguarded condition, had penetrated
into the very heart of the country. Thus while Satan had
been urging Saul to employ every energy in hunting David, that
he might destroy him, the same malignant spirit had inspired the
Philistines to seize their opportunity to work Saul's ruin and
overthrow the people of God. How often is the same policy still
employed by the archenemy! He moves upon some unconsecrated
heart to kindle envy and strife in the church, and then, taking
advantage of the divided condition of God's people, he stirs up
his agents to work their ruin.
On the morrow Saul must engage the Philistines in battle.
The shadows of impending doom gathered dark about him; he [p. 676] longed for help and guidance. But it was in vain that he sought
counsel from God. "The Lord answered him not, neither by
dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets." The Lord never turned
away a soul that came to Him in sincerity and humility. Why
did he turn Saul away unanswered? The king had by his own act
forfeited the benefits of all the methods of inquiring of God.
He had rejected the counsel of Samuel the prophet; he had
exiled David, the chosen of God; he had slain the priests of the
Lord. Could he expect to be answered by God when he had cut
off the channels of communication that Heaven had ordained?
He had sinned away the Spirit of grace, and could he be
answered by dreams and revelations from the Lord? Saul did not
turn to God with humility and repentance. It was not pardon
for sin and reconciliation with God, that he sought, but deliverance
from his foes. By his own stubbornness and rebellion he had
cut himself off from God. There could be no return but by
the way of penitence and contrition; but the proud monarch,
in his anguish and despair, determined to seek help from
"Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that
hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and inquire of her."
Saul had a full knowledge of the character of necromancy. If
had been expressly forbidden by the Lord, and the sentence of
death was pronounced against all who practiced its unholy arts.
During the life of Samuel, Saul had commanded that all wizards
and those that had familiar spirits should be put to death; but
now, in the rashness of desperation, he had recourse to that oracle
which he had condemned as an abomination.
It was told the king that a woman who had a familiar spirit
was living in concealment at Endor. This woman had entered
into covenant with Satan to yield herself to his control, to fulfill
his purposes; and in return, the prince of evil wrought wonders
for her and revealed secret things to her.
Disguising himself, Saul went forth by night with but two
attendants, to seek the retreat of the sorceress. Oh, pitiable sight!
the king of Israel led captive by Satan at his will! What path so
dark for human feet to tread as that chosen by one who has persisted
in having his own way, resisting the holy influences of the
Spirit of God! What bondage so terrible as that of him who is
given over to the control of the worst of tyrants—himself! Trust [p. 679] in God and obedience to His will were the only conditions upon
which Saul could be king of Israel. Had he complied with these
conditions throughout his reign, his kingdom would have been
secure; God would have been his guide, the Omnipotent his
shield. God had borne long with Saul; and although his rebellion
and obstinacy had well-nigh silenced the divine voice in the
soul, there was still opportunity for repentance. But when in his
peril he turned from God to obtain light from a confederate of
Satan, he had cut the last tie that bound him to his Maker; he
had placed himself fully under the control of that demoniac
power which for years had been exercised upon him, and which
had brought him to the verge of destruction.
Under the cover of darkness Saul and his attendants made
their way across the plain, and, safely passing the Philistine
host, they crossed the mountain ridge, to the lonely home of the
sorceress of Endor. Here the woman with a familiar spirit had
hidden herself away that she might secretly continue her profane
incantations. Disguised as he was, Saul's lofty stature and
kingly port declared that he was no common soldier. The
woman suspected that her visitor was Saul, and his rich gifts
strengthened her suspicions. To his request, "I pray thee, divine
unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I
shall name unto thee," the woman answered, "Behold, thou
knowest what Saul hath done, how he hath cut off those that
have familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land: wherefore
then layest thou a snare for my life, to cause me to die?" Then
"Saul sware to her by the Lord, saying, As the Lord liveth, there
shall no punishment happen to thee for this thing." And when
she said, "Whom shall I bring up unto thee?" he answered,
After practicing her incantations, she said, "I saw gods
ascending out of the earth. . . . An old man cometh up; and he is
covered with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel,
and he stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself."
It was not God's holy prophet that came forth at the spell of
a sorcerer's incantation. Samuel was not present in that haunt
of evil spirits. That supernatural appearance was produced solely
by the power of Satan. He could as easily assume the form of
Samuel as he could assume that of an angel of light, when he
tempted Christ in the wilderness. [p. 680]
The woman's first words under the spell of her incantation
had been addressed to the king, "Why hast thou deceived me?
for thou art Saul." Thus the first act of the evil spirit which
personated the prophet was to communicate secretly with this
wicked woman, to warn her of the deception that had been
practiced upon her. The message to Saul from the pretended
prophet was, "Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up?
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."
When Samuel was living, Saul had despised his counsel and
had resented his reproofs. But now, in the hour of his distress
and calamity, he felt that the prophet's guidance was his only
hope, and in order to communicate with Heaven's ambassador
he vainly had recourse to the messenger of hell! Saul had placed
himself fully in the power of Satan; and now he whose only
delight is in causing misery and destruction, made the most of
his advantage, to work the ruin of the unhappy king. In answer
to Saul's agonized entreaty came the terrible message, professedly
from the lips of Samuel:
"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."
All through his course of rebellion Saul had been flattered
and deceived by Satan. It is the tempter's work to belittle sin,
to make the path of transgression easy and inviting, to blind
the mind to the warnings and threatenings of the Lord. Satan, by
his bewitching power, had led Saul to justify himself in defiance
of Samuel's reproofs and warning. But now, in his extremity, he
turned upon him, presenting the enormity of his sin and the
hopelessness of pardon, that he might goad him to desperation.
Nothing could have been better chosen to destroy his courage [p. 681] and confuse his judgment, or to drive him to despair and
Saul was faint with weariness and fasting; he was terrified
and conscience-stricken. As the fearful prediction fell upon his
ear, his form swayed like an oak before the tempest, and he fell
prostrate to the earth.
The sorceress was filled with alarm. The king of Israel lay before
her like one dead. Should he perish in her retreat, what
would be the consequences to herself? She besought him to arise
and partake of food, urging that since she had imperiled her
life in granting his desire, he should yield to her request for the
preservation of his own. His servants joining their entreaties,
Saul yielded at last, and the woman set before him the fatted
calf and unleavened bread hastily prepared. What a scene!—In
the wild cave of the sorceress, which but a little before had
echoed with the words of doom—in the presence of Satan's
messenger—he who had been anointed of God as king over Israel sat
down to eat, in preparation for the day's deadly strife.
Before the break of day he returned with his attendants to
the camp of Israel to make ready for the conflict. By consulting
that spirit of darkness Saul had destroyed himself. Oppressed by
the horror of despair, it would be impossible for him to inspire
his army with courage. Separated from the Source of strength,
he could not lead the minds of Israel to look to God as their
helper. Thus the prediction of evil would work its own accomplishment.
On the plain of Shunem and the slopes of Mount Gilboa the
armies of Israel and the hosts of the Philistines closed in mortal
combat. Though the fearful scene in the cave of Endor had
driven all hope from his heart, Saul fought with desperate valor
for his throne and his kingdom. But it was in vain. "The men
of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in
Mount Gilboa." Three brave sons of the king died at his side.
The archers pressed upon Saul. He had seen his soldiers falling
around him and his princely sons cut down by the sword.
Himself wounded, he could neither fight not fly. Escape was
impossible, and determined not to be taken alive by the
Philistines, he bade his armor-bearer, "Draw thy sword, and thrust me
through therewith." When the man refused to lift his hand [p. 682] against the Lord's anointed, Saul took his own life by falling
upon his sword.
Thus the first king of Israel perished, with the guilt of
self-murder upon his soul. His life had been a failure, and he went
down in dishonor and despair, because he had set up his own
perverse will against the will of God.
The tidings of defeat spread far and wide, carrying terror to
all Israel. The people fled from the cities, and the Philistines
took undisturbed possession. Saul's reign, independent of God,
had well-nigh proved the ruin of his people.
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On the day following the engagement, the Philistines, searching
the battlefield to rob the slain, discovered the bodies of Saul
and his three sons. To complete their triumph, they cut off the
head of Saul and stripped him of his armor; then the head and
the armor, reeking with blood, were sent to the country of the
Philistines as a trophy of victory, "to publish it in the house of
their idols, and among the people." The armor was finally put
in "the house of Ashtaroth," while the head was fastened in
the temple of Dagon. Thus the glory of the victory was ascribed
to the power of these false gods, and the name of Jehovah was
The dead bodies of Saul and his sons were dragged to Beth-shan,
a city not far from Gilboa, and near the river Jordan.
Here they were hung up in chains, to be devoured by birds of
prey. But the brave men of Jabesh-gilead, remembering Saul's
deliverance of their city in his earlier and happier years, now
manifested their gratitude by rescuing the bodies of the king and
princes, and giving them honorable burial. Crossing the Jordan
by night, they "took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons
from the wall of Beth-shan, and came to Jabesh, and burnt them
there, And they took their bones, and buried them under a tree
at Jabesh, and fasted seven days." Thus the noble deed performed
forty years before, secured for Saul and his sons burial
by tender and pitying hands in that dark hour of defeat and
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"Ancient and Modern Sorcery"