Embarrassed by such difficulties, another course of explanation has been resorted to, which, freed from some of the objections which attend the two extreme suppositions, is yet liable to others. It has been supposed that something took place upon this remarkable occasion, similar to that which disturbed the preconcerted purpose of the prophet Balaam, and compelled him to exchange his premeditated curses for blessings. According to this hypothesis, the divining woman of Endor was preparing to practise upon Saul those tricks of legerdemain or jugglery by which she imposed upon meaner clients who resorted to her oracle. Or we may conceive that, in those days, when the laws of nature were frequently suspended by manifestations of the Divine Power, some degree of juggling might be permitted between mortals and the spirits of lesser note; in which case, we must suppose that the woman really expected or hoped to call up some supernatural appearance. But in either case, this second solution of the story supposes that the will of the Almighty substituted, on that memorable occasion, for the phantasmagoria intended by the witch, the spirit of Samuel, in his earthly resemblance—or, if the reader may think this more likely, some good being, the messenger of the divine pleasure, in the likeness of the departed prophet—and, to the surprise of the Pythoness herself, exchanged the juggling farce of sheer deceit or petty sorcery which she had intended to produce, for a deep tragedy, capable of appalling the heart of the hardened tyrant, and furnishing an awful lesson to future times.
This exposition has the advantage of explaining the surprise expressed by the Witch at the unexpected consequences of her own invocation, while it removes the objection of supposing the spirit of Samuel subject to her influence. It does not apply so well to the complaint of Samuel that he was disquieted, since neither the prophet, nor any good angel wearing his likeness, could be supposed to complain of an apparition which took place in obedience to the direct command of the Deity. If, however, the phrase is understood, not as a murmuring against the pleasure of Providence, but as a reproach to the prophet's former friend Saul, that his sins and discontents, which were the ultimate cause of Samuel's appearance, had withdrawn the prophet, for a space, from the enjoyment and repose of heaven, to re-view this miserable spot of mortality, guilt, grief, and misfortune, the words may, according to that interpretation, wear no stronger sense of complaint than might become the spirit of a just man made perfect, or any benevolent angel by whom he might be represented. It may be observed, that, in Ecclesiasticus, xlvi. 20, the opinion of Samuel's actual appearance is adopted, since it is said of this man of God, that "after death he prophesied, and showed the king his end."
Leaving the further discussion of this dark and difficult question to those whose studies have qualified them to give judgment on so obscure a subject, it so far appears clear, that the Witch of Endor was not a being such as those believed in by our ancestors, who could transform themselves and others into the appearance of the lower animals, raise and allay tempests, frequent the company and join the revels of evil spirits, and, by their counsel and assistance, destroy human lives, and waste the fruits of the earth, or perform feats of such magnitude as to alter the face of nature. The Witch of Endor was a mere fortune-teller, to whom, in despair of all aid or answer from the Almighty, the unfortunate King of Israel had recourse in his despair, and by whom, in some way or other, he obtained the awful certainty of his own defeat and death. She was liable, indeed, deservedly, to the punishment of death, for intruding herself upon the task of the real prophets, by whom the will of God was, in that time, regularly made known. But her existence and her crimes can go no length to prove the possibility that another class of witches, no otherwise resembling her than as called by the same name, either existed at a more recent period, or were liable to the same capital punishment, for a very different and much more doubtful class of offences, which, however odious, are nevertheless to be proved possible before they can be received as a criminal charge.
Whatever may be thought of other occasional expressions in the Old Testament, it cannot be said that, in any part of that sacred volume, a text occurs, indicating the existence of a system of witchcraft, under the Jewish dispensation, in any respect similar to that against which the law-books of so many European nations have, till very lately, denounced punishment; far less under the Christian dispensation—a system under which the emancipation of the human race from the Levitical Law was happily and miraculously perfected. This latter crime is supposed to infer a compact implying reverence and adoration on the part of the witch who comes under the fatal bond, and patronage, support, and assistance, on the part of the diabolical patron. Indeed, in the four Gospels, the word, under any sense, does not occur ; although, had the possibility of so enormous a sin been admitted, it was not likely to escape the warning censure of the Divine Person who came to take away the sins of the world. Saint Paul, indeed, mentions the sin of witchcraft in a cursory manner, as superior in guilt to that of ingratitude ; and in the offences of the flesh, it is ranked immediately after idolatry ; which juxtaposition inclines us to believe that the witchcraft mentioned by the Apostle must have been analogous to that of the Old Testament, and equivalent to resorting to the assistance of soothsayers, or similar forbidden arts, to acquire knowledge of futurity. Sorcerers are also joined with other criminals, in the Book of Revelations, as excluded from the city of God. And with these occasional notices, which indicate that there was a transgression so called, but leave us ignorant of its exact nature, the writers upon witchcraft attempt to wring out of the New Testament proofs of a crime in itself so disgustingly improbable. Neither do the Exploits of Elymas, called the Sorcerer, or Simon, called Magus or the Magician, entitle them to rank above the class of impostors, who assumed a character to which they had no real title, and put their own mystical and ridiculous pretensions to supernatural power in competition with those which had been conferred on purpose to diffuse the gospel, and facilitate its reception by the exhibition of genuine miracles. It is clear that, from his presumptuous and profane proposal to acquire by purchase a portion of those powers which were directly derived from inspiration, Simon Magus displayed a degree of profane and brutal ignorance, inconsistent with his possessing even the intelligence of a skilful impostor ; and it is plain that a leagued vassal of hell, should we pronounce him such, would have better known his own rank and condition, compared to that of the Apostle, than to have made such a fruitless and unavailing proposal, by which he could only expose his own impudence and ignorance.