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Finding God’s Will, Any ‘Witch’ Way You Can (1 Samuel 28:1-25)

Introduction

Recently millions of people were exceedingly angry with America On Line. Right around Christmas time, AOL commenced a new program. For $19.95 a month, a person could get unlimited internet access through AOL. The problem was that everyone thought this was a “good deal.” The people already connected to AOL began to use this service a lot more – after all, it didn’t cost any more to use this internet provider 15 hours a month than it did for 5 hours. And many others, hearing of such a good deal, became new subscribers. The result was disastrous for nearly everyone. There were simply too many people trying to use AOL at the same time.

One of our computers at home is connected to AOL, and many times over a period of weeks we were unable to log onto the system. We were not even able to check our e-mail. For several weeks, there were a whole lot of unhappy customers, some of whom were more than just unhappy. They made sure AOL knew about it. Lawsuits were filed, threats were made; all in all, it was pretty ugly for a few weeks, and all because people could not do as quickly or as well what they had been doing the past few months. Few seemed to recall that a few years ago, nobody even dreamed they might ever be able to do such things.

If such a furor arose over the partial failure of an internet provider, imagine what it would be like to lose one’s connection with God. This is exactly what happens to King Saul. In our text, a series of events occurs which leaves Saul frightened to death. Saul gets a good case of “foxhole religion.” He seeks to “inquire of the Lord” to learn what he should do to get himself out of the mess he is in. In spite of numerous attempts to inquire of the Lord, every one of his efforts fail. God is there, but He is silent. In contemporary terminology, Saul tries desperately to get “on line,” but every one of his “providers” fail to respond. Saul is in trouble, and yet he cannot obtain divine guidance that might be the key to his victory. What will he do? The answer: he will do something he has never done before nor will ever do again.

By far, these are the darkest days of Saul’s life. We will soon see just how dark they are and why he finds himself in this dilemma. Let us seek to discern the lessons found here for the ancient Israelites and for us as well. Prepare yourself, because this is one of the most troubling chapters in 1 Samuel. It is not a “happily ever after” story; indeed, it is just the opposite. Let us listen and learn, lest we cause ourselves to follow in Saul’s footsteps.

God Is There, But He Is Silent
(28:1-7)

1 Now it came about in those days that the Philistines gathered their armed camps for war, to fight against Israel. And Achish said to David, “Know assuredly that you will go out with me in the camp, you and your men.” 2 And David said to Achish, “Very well, you shall know what your servant can do.” So Achish said to David, “Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.” 3 Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had lamented him and buried him in Ramah his own city. And Saul had removed from the land those who were mediums and spiritists. 4 So the Philistines gathered together and came and camped in Shunem; and Saul gathered all Israel together and they camped in Gilboa. 5 When Saul saw the camp of the Philistines, he was afraid and his heart trembled greatly. 6 When Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by prophets. 7 Then Saul said to his servants,Seek for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a woman who is a medium at En-dor.”

All of us have had one of those days when absolutely everything that can go wrong does go wrong. This is such a day for Saul. (Incidentally, David’s day isn’t going too well, either.) Saul’s problems are staggering. First, the Philistines are waging war against the Israelites, and this time they are very serious about it. The Philistines have continually harassed the Israelites throughout the reign of Saul.142 But this time, it appears the Philistine kings have determined to break the back of Israel’s military might once and for all. This they intend to do by combining all of their armed forces at Aphek (29:1). From there, they will march northward, up through the Plain of Esdraelon to Shunem (28:3-25). Their strategy seems to be to “divide and conquer” Israel by separating the nation in the middle and then working on the northern and southern halves independently. While the Philistines will fight with their full forces, the Israelites cannot. Saul’s scouts inform him of the size and location of the Philistines’ forces. The numbers are staggering. On top of all this, they are sticking to the lower ground to make full use of their chariots. I can almost hear Saul mumble under his breath, “We’re history.”

Second, Saul may well have heard that David is among the Philistines who have assembled to attack Israel. If Saul dreads facing off with this massive Philistine army, he may also be shaken to learn that David is among these Philistines. Our chapter begins with the account of the Philistine king, Achish, informing David that he and his men will go with him to fight against the Israelites. David assures Achish that he will prove himself a worthy ally, to which Achish responds by informing David that he will be his bodyguard for life. We know from chapter 29 that David and his men are with Achish at Aphek, and it is here that he and his men will be instructed to go back home to Ziklag. It may be that Saul’s scouts spot David and his men among the Philistines gathering at Aphek. You can imagine how Saul feels about going up against David, especially after he himself has said to David:

“And now, behold, I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand” (1 Samuel 24:20).

Then Saul said to David, “Blessed are you, my son David; you will both accomplish much and surely prevail.” So David went on his way, and Saul returned to his place (1 Samuel 26:25).

Third, Saul is aware of the danger he is in and is desperately afraid. You may will remember that Saul seems to have been a fearful (or at least retiring) person from the very beginning. He wanted to give up the search for his father’s donkeys (9:5). He would not tell his uncle (Abner?) what Samuel had said to him (10:14-16). He hid with the luggage when lots were drawn to identify the king (10:22). So far as we read in 1 Samuel, he never initiates an attack against the Philistines, even though ridding Israel of Philistine opposition is a significant part of his calling as Israel’s king (9:16). After the evil Spirit from the Lord came upon him, he became fearful, and at times terrorized (see 16:14; 17:11; 18:12). This full-scale, all-out attack by the Philistines has all the signs of a devastating defeat for Saul and his army, so the author informs us that Saul is scared to death (verse 5).

Fourth, although Saul now desperately seeks to “inquire of the Lord,” he is not able to get any response from God. Saul is not really very experienced in seeking God’s will, as our text has shown up to this point. Unlike David (see 1 Samuel 22:10, 15), Saul is not accustomed to seeking divine guidance.143 It was not Saul’s idea to inquire of a “seer” to learn where his father’s lost donkeys might be (1 Samuel 9:5-9). When lots were drawn to learn who God had chosen as Israel’s king, Saul was not a part of that process; he was hiding (10:22). Saul did not seek divine guidance regarding when to wage war with the Philistines. There was no need, since Jonathan was usually the one who started the fight by attacking the Philistines (such as when he attacked the Philistine garrison at Geba -- 13:3). Later on in chapter 13, Saul “forced himself” to go ahead and offer the burnt offering, rather than continue to wait for Samuel. In doing so, Saul disobeyed the command Samuel had given him in chapter 10, a command pertaining to divine guidance:

“And you shall go down before me to Gilgal; and behold, I will come down to you to offer burnt offerings and sacrifice peace offerings. You shall wait seven days until I come to you and show you what you should do (1 Samuel 10:8, emphasis mine).

Saul is instructed to wait for Samuel to obtain divine guidance, but he does not.

In chapter 14, Jonathan’s secret attack on the Philistines brought about an earthquake and great confusion among the Philistine warriors. Saul watches all this from a distance, then calls for the ark of God to be brought to him (14:18). The priest is in the process of consulting God when Saul observes that the Philistines are in flight, so he stops the priest in the middle of his inquiry into God’s will and begins to pursue them (14:19f.). Saul’s foolish edict greatly hinders Israel’s pursuit of the Philistines, causing many of the soldiers to sin by eating the blood of the animals they devour in their famished state (14:24-35). After the men eat, Saul is ready to begin his pursuit of the Philistines, but the priest strongly urges that they first “draw near to God” to inquire into His will (14:36). When no answer is forthcoming that day, Saul concludes it is due to (Jonathan’s) sin and orders lots to be cast between all the Israelites on the one hand, and Jonathan and himself on the other. Saul and his son are indicated. Lots are then cast between Jonathan and Saul. Jonathan is indicated; Saul fully intends to use the casting of lots to justify putting his own son to death and would have if the people had not refused to allow it. Saul is far from a model of how one seeks divine guidance.

On this occasion as well it does not seem that Saul’s motives are pure in his efforts to inquire of the Lord. It does not seem as though Saul is truly “inquiring of the Lord” in the sense that he is seeking to learn God’s will in order to do it. This also seems to be the conclusion of the author of 1 Chronicles:

13 So Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the LORD, because of the word of the LORD which he did not keep; and also because he asked counsel of a medium, making inquiry of it, 14 and did not inquire of the LORD Therefore He killed him, and turned the kingdom to David the son of Jesse (1 Chronicles 10:13-14, emphasis mine).

We are told that Saul “inquired of the Lord” (28:6), but it is not a genuine inquiry. Instead, it is Saul’s desperate attempt to get God to bail him out of the trouble into which he has gotten himself. A similar effort to inquire of the Lord is described in the Book of Jeremiah:

1 The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD when King Zedekiah sent to him Pashhur the son of Malchijah, and Zephaniah the priest, the son of Maaseiah, saying, 2 “Please inquire of the LORD on our behalf, for Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon is warring against us; perhaps the LORD will deal with us according to all His wonderful acts, that the enemy may withdraw from us (Jeremiah 21:1-2, emphasis mine).

Saul’s uneasiness progresses from fear to terror to sheer panic. He must do something drastic, now! It is as though Saul is reliving the events of chapter 13, only this time Saul’s sense of impending doom is even greater. The Philistines are camped in Shunem, and Saul and his army are camped in Gilboa (verse 4). The Philistines are poised to attack, and Saul knows he doesn’t stand a chance. He must act, and quickly -- or so Saul supposes. And so he makes a very desperate and dangerous decision. Since he cannot seem to get God’s attention in any of the conventional ways, he decides that he must inquire of a medium.

A Voice From the Dead
(28:7-14)

7 Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a woman who is a medium at En-dor.” 8 Then Saul disguised himself by putting on other clothes, and went, he and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night; and he said, “Conjure up for me, please, and bring up for me whom I shall name to you.” 9 But the woman said to him, “Behold, you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off those who are mediums and spiritists from the land. Why are you then laying a snare for my life to bring about my death?” 10 And Saul vowed to her by the LORD, saying, “As the LORD lives, there shall no punishment come upon you for this thing.” 11 Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” And he said, “Bring up Samuel for me.” 12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice; and the woman spoke to Saul, saying, “Why have you deceived me? For you are Saul.” 13 And the king said to her, “Do not be afraid; but what do you see?” And the woman said to Saul,” I see a divine being coming up out of the earth. “ 14 And he said to her, “What is his form?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped with a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and did homage.

As he is not able to make any connection with God in the conventional ways, Saul decides to seek it in a very different way. Samuel is the only prophet we know of who gave Saul directives from God. There may have been others, but they are not mentioned in the text. Samuel is now dead (verse 3), but Saul comes upon an idea. Maybe he can still speak with Samuel. Maybe he can persuade a medium to conjure him up, so that he can speak with him. Saul instructs his servants to find a woman who is a medium. They know of such a woman living at En-Dor.

This plan to inquire of a medium has its own set of problems, which we can see from the text.

First, God has strictly forbidden the use of mediums. A number of Old Testament texts forbid the presence of mediums and other spiritists in the land of Israel and also forbid the Israelites to consult such persons. Consider these prohibitions in the Law of Moses:

“‘Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God’” (Leviticus 19:31).

“‘As for the person who turns to mediums and to spiritists, to play the harlot after them, I will also set My face against that person and will cut him off from among his people’” (Leviticus 20:6).

“‘Now a man or a woman who is a medium or a spiritist shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones, their bloodguiltiness is upon them’” (Leviticus 20:27).

10 “There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. 12 “For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD; and because of these detestable things the LORD your God will drive them out before you. 13 “You shall be blameless before the LORD your God. 14 “For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do so” (Deuteronomy 18:10-14).

The second problem is that, for once, Saul has done something right: “Saul had removed from the land those who were mediums and spiritists” (verse 3b). This is truly amazing. For once, it seems, Saul did something right. Now, in the crunch of an imminent Philistine attack, Saul wishes he could locate a medium and do what the Old Testament law forbade. The biggest obstacle in doing so is his own obedience which removed these people from the land. Get this: Saul now regrets doing one of the few things he seems to have done right.

There is yet a third problem, a logistical one. The Philistines are camped in Shunem; Saul and the Israelite army are camped in Gilboa. En-dor is approximately eight miles north of Gilboa, and to get there, Saul has to go around the Philistines.

There is a fourth problem: Saul cannot afford to be identified. Saul dares not be identified by anyone whom he might encounter on the way. To kill the opposing king is to be half way to victory over one’s enemy, and thus the king is the primary target. A king could, in caution, disguise himself (see 1 Kings 22:29-36). In addition, Saul does not wish to be recognized by the medium. If she knows who he is she certainly will not agree to conjure up a dead man, knowing it was Saul who put the mediums and spiritists out of the land (see verse 9). His solution is to travel by night, disguising himself by his apparel. He will not wear his royal attire on this mission.

When Saul arrives at the home of the medium, he gets right to the point. He first seeks a commitment from the medium that she will conjure up whomever he names. She resists, fearing this might be one of Saul’s “sting” operations. She does not want to be caught directly disobeying the king’s orders. After all, these men are strangers, or so she supposes. Ironically, Saul swears to her by the Lord that she will not be punished for doing what he asks of her (verse 10). He then asks the woman to conjure up Samuel for him. She does not need to ask for further clarification. When the woman sees Samuel, she shrieks. She not only recognizes Samuel, she now recognizes that the one asking her to conjure up Samuel is none other than Saul himself. I can almost hear her exclaim to herself, “I’m history.”

Saul again assures the woman he will not harm her, and then asks her to describe the person she sees before her.144 Her response to seeing Samuel and her description of him seems to indicate that this is no ordinary conjuring. She tells Saul that she sees a “divine being” (NASB; KJV renders it “gods”). The Hebrew text uses the word “elohim” (gods), and the Septuagint uses the Greek word “theous” (gods). This is not just a “spirit being,” but a “divine being” whom she sees. No wonder she is frightened. This “divine being” she describes to Saul as one looking like an old man, wrapped with a robe. By her description of this “divine being” Saul recognizes him as Samuel. And so Saul bows down with his face to the ground “doing homage” to him (verse 14).

Grave Words
(28:15-19)

15 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” And Saul answered, “I am greatly distressed; for the Philistines are waging war against me, and God has departed from me and answers me no more, either through prophets or by dreams; therefore I have called you, that you may make known to me what I should do.” 16 And Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the LORD has departed from you and has become your adversary? 17 “And the LORD has done accordingly as He spoke through me; for the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, to David. 18 “As you did not obey the LORD and did not execute His fierce wrath on Amalek, so the LORD has done this thing to you this day. 19 “Moreover the LORD will also give over Israel along with you into the hands of the Philistines, therefore tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. Indeed the LORD will give over the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines!”

During the years Saul and Samuel were both alive, Samuel spoke candidly to Saul for God. Samuel did not tell Saul what he wanted to hear. In fact, Samuel at times feared for his own life, when he did what he knew would infuriate Saul (see 16:2). In chapters 13 and 15, Samuel rebuked Saul for his sins, and told him frankly that he was going to lose his kingdom. In light of these things, what in the world does Saul expect Samuel to say to him now? If he expects anything different because a medium had conjured up Samuel from the dead, Saul is in for a very rude awakening.

I have five daughters, and some of them are not what you would call a “morning person.” (Frankly, I am not a “morning person,” either.) Saul learns that conjuring up Samuel from the dead is like waking up one of my daughters early in the morning. It can be like rousing a she-bear. I used to joke about going into the bedroom and poking such a sleepyhead with a stick, without getting too close. Anyway, Samuel seems pretty “grumpy,” if that is the right way to describe him: “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” He could have said this because he didn’t like being disturbed by Saul. (Incidentally, he seems to feel much more free to “snap” at Saul now than he did when he was alive. No need to fear that Saul will kill him now!) Or, he could have said this as a rebuke to Saul, for doing something that he should not have done – conjuring up the spirit of one who is dead. Either way, Samuel’s disapproval is clearly indicated.

Saul sounds like a schoolboy, who has just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and has had his knuckles rapped. He seeks to justify his actions by telling Samuel he is greatly distressed. He adds that the reason is the Philistines are waging war against him and that God has departed from him, answering his inquiries no more. It is as though Saul is saying, “I just had to call you, Samuel. You have to tell me what to do. I know its against the rules, Samuel, but this is an emergency.”

Samuel is not impressed. He does not tell Saul what to do. In fact, he rebukes Saul for asking him to do what is impossible. Asking Samuel to speak for God, once God has departed from him, is like asking Balaam to curse the people of God, once God has chosen to bless them. Samuel cannot and will not tell Saul what to do. Saul is on his own. But, since Saul has gone to the effort of having him conjured up, Samuel will tell Saul how things are between him and God, and what tomorrow holds. The situation Saul now finds himself in is precisely that which Samuel announced to Saul when he spoke for God in chapters 13 and 15. Saul is now experiencing the fulfillment of Samuel’s earlier prophecies.

Samuel, in very concise words, tells Saul what will happen to him and why. As Samuel indicated to Saul earlier, God has torn the kingdom from Saul’s hands. He is giving that kingdom to David, Saul’s “neighbor.”145 This is because of Saul’s disobedience in failing to fully carry out God’s instructions concerning Amalek. The words of Samuel’s prophecy, spoken to Saul in chapter 15, are now being fulfilled, Samuel tells the king. On the following day, God will give Israel, Saul, and his sons over to the Philistines. Saul and his sons will be killed. Samuel says it as bluntly as it can be said, “Tomorrow, you and your sons will be with me.” Now this is very troubling news. It certainly is not what Saul hoped to hear. He conjures up a prophet, and he gets one. Even from the grave, Samuel will not change his tune.

Saul’s Last Supper
(28:20-25)

20 Then Saul immediately fell full length upon the ground and was very afraid because of the words of Samuel; also there was no strength in him, for he had eaten no food all day and all night. 21 And the woman came to Saul and saw that he was terrified, and said to him, “Behold, your maidservant has obeyed you, and I have taken my life in my hand, and have listened to your words which you spoke to me. 22 “So now also, please listen to the voice of your maidservant, and let me set a piece of bread before you that you may eat and have strength when you go on your way.” 23 But he refused and said, “I will not eat.” However, his servants together with the woman urged him, and he listened to them. So he arose from the ground and sat on the bed. 24 And the woman had a fattened calf in the house, and she quickly slaughtered it; and she took flour, kneaded it, and baked unleavened bread from it. 25 And she brought it before Saul and his servants, and they ate. Then they arose and went away that night.

What happens next is not a very pretty sight. Saul came to the medium at En-dor that night a very fearful man. After what has just happened to Saul, he literally comes unglued. Saul’s knees buckle at the words of Samuel. He falls to the ground, paralyzed as though he has been zapped full-power by a stun gun. In part, this is the result of his having had nothing to eat for some time. In addition, he is fatigued from traveling those eight miles or so from his camp in Gilboa to En-dor. But a good bit of it is due to sheer terror. I can well imagine that by now the medium is getting a little concerned herself and very eager for Saul to be on his way.

The woman now appeals to Saul to listen to her and take her advice. After all, this is the least he can do for her when she has risked her life for him. She pleads with the king to let her fix him something to eat, something to give him strength enough to be on his way. He refuses. His appetite is gone. Both the woman and Saul’s servants prevail upon him to eat, not because he is hungry, but because he must regain his strength to return to his camp. Like the father of the prodigal son, the medium of En-dor kills and prepares the fatted calf (see Luke 15:22-24, 29), but it is not for a feast of celebration, nor because the prodigal has repented and returned. It is more like a wake. She slaughters the calf and prepares it, along with some bread. The king eats, and then goes out into the night. It is the darkest day of Saul’s life so far, but an even darker day is yet to come -- the next day -- when Samuel’s prophecies are fulfilled.

Conclusion

We have an expression that goes: “All’s well that ends well.” If this is true, all is not well, at least so far as Saul is concerned. Dale Ralph Davis entitles the chapter of his commentary on this text of Scripture, And It Was Night.”146 This title is certainly prompted by the two-fold reference in our text to these events taking place in the darkness of night (28:8, 25). It also seems to be a play on the words of John 13:30, where we are told that Judas left our Lord and the disciples to consummate his betrayal of our Lord. John there very cryptically tells us, “and it was night.”

Without a doubt, this is the darkest day of Saul’s life – so far. The next (and last) day will be even darker. Here is the king of Israel, so weak with hunger and terror he cannot even stand up. He is dressed in a pathetic attempt at disguise, but that also has failed. He is at the house of a medium, seeking to inquire of her. And when he manages to speak with Samuel, the prophet tells him only an ancient version of “I told you so.” He tells Saul further that he and his sons will die in battle the following day. He offers him no encouragement, no hope, no chance to repent. It is simply too late. What a tragic picture of Saul we see here.

Forty years earlier, Saul was a promising young ruler and a marvelous physical specimen, who stood head and shoulders above his fellow-Israelites (9:1-2). He started his military career liberating the people of Jabesh-gilead by decisively defeating the Ammonites (chapter 11). How then did things go so wrong for Saul, so that he ends up trembling mass on the floor of a forbidden medium? The answer according to Samuel is quite simple – disobedience. Saul’s first major failure (so far as the biblical text informs us) is at Gilgal, where he fails to wait for Samuel to offer the sacrifices, as he was instructed to do (see 10:7-8). Rather than wait for Samuel to offer the sacrifices and then tell him what he should do (for divine guidance), Saul had gone ahead and offered the sacrifice147 himself.

His second major failure is hardly a straw, but it does so to speak, break the camel’s back. Samuel gives Saul a very clear divine directive. As Israel’s king, it is Saul’s duty to annihilate the Amalekites for the way they have treated Israel at the exodus. Every Amalekite is to be killed, including the king. In fact, Samuel makes it clear that the king is not to be spared (15:1-3). No children or cattle are to be spared, either. In spite of this command, Saul and the people spared King Agag and the best of the cattle. Samuel presses Saul hard to take personal responsibility for his sin. When Saul seeks to minimize his sin by claiming he was saving the best of the Amalekites’ cattle to sacrifice to God, Samuel sets down a principle that will echo throughout the rest of the Old Testament and the New:

22 And Samuel said, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. 23 “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from being king” (1 Samuel 15:22-23).

Saul seems to think men’s sacrifices are what He most values, even if it means disobeying God to do so. Samuel sees it exactly the opposite. God delights in man’s obedience, more than in his sacrifices. Obedience to God is the highest good. Disobedience therefore is the greatest evil. Does Saul suppose God will look favorably on the disobedience which made such sacrifices possible? He will not. In fact, God look upon such rebellion as the sin of divination, and upon insubordination as iniquity and idolatry. Saul thinks God will look with pleasure on what he and the Israelites have done in regard to the Amalekites. Samuel tells Saul that God looks upon his actions as though they are the most wicked thing he could do.

Though I had not thought about it in such terms before, I am now inclined to understand 1 Samuel 15:22-23 in the light of 1 Samuel 28:3. Here, the author tells us that Saul has previously rid the land of Israel of those who are mediums and spiritists. As I now look back on chapter 15, I am inclined to understand it as follows. Saul has already removed the mediums and spiritists from the land. He probably feels pretty good about this, because he has done that which the Law of Moses commanded.148 But then some time after he is commanded to rid the land of the Amalekites. This he does only partially, and as suggested earlier, partial obedience is actually disobedience. When God rebukes Saul through Samuel, He tells the king that his disobedience is just as offensive to Him as idolatry and witchcraft. Does Saul feel somewhat smug about removing the mediums and spiritists? Does he agree that these people and their practices are evil? His disobedience is viewed on the same level as witchcraft and idolatry. The magnitude of his sin in partially obeying God regarding the removal of the Amalekites is the same as that of the sin of witchcraft.

I think Samuel’s words of rebuke in chapter 15 go even further. Samuel is inferring that if Saul’s disobedience and rebellion is not repented of it will actually lead to witchcraft and idolatry. In other words, if Saul does not repent of his sin with regard to the Amalekites, Samuel is prophesying that Saul will be guilty of the very “sins” he has just condemned by removing the mediums and spiritists.

The events of chapter 28 come to pass, with uncanny certainty because Saul fails to take his own sin and Samuel’s rebuke seriously enough. I find a significant similarity between chapters 13 and 15. In both chapters, Saul sins by willfully disobeying God’s command. In both cases, when Samuel confronts Saul, he tries to lay the blame off (at least in part) on someone else. In chapter 13, Saul pardons himself by claiming that Samuel is late (it is his fault), and the people are leaving him (it is their fault). In chapter 15, Saul again seeks to duck his personal responsibility. He first claims to have fully obeyed God; Samuel makes short work of this claim. Then he blames the people, as though they alone kept back the good cattle. Eventually, Saul admits to being afraid of the people, but he still does not assume the responsibility that is his as king. In both chapters 13 and 15, Saul sees his actions as required by an emergency situation. He has mentally declared a “state of emergency” in which his own form of “martial law” sets aside the laws of God. Finally, after all of Saul’s flimsy excuses are set aside, his “repentance” barely meets the standard for “regret.”

Thus we see why things must happen as they do in chapter 28. Saul started out all right, but very quickly became careless about obeying God’s commandments. Even when rebuked for his sins, he does not fully repent, and thus a repetition of his sins is inevitable. Given Samuel’s prophetic declaration in chapter 15, we should hardly be surprised to find Saul seeking divine guidance by means of a medium. If a person finds God’s commands repulsive, he also finds them easy to cast aside. Is it any wonder that such a person eventually turns to witches, mediums (or any number of other means of obtaining guidance), when such people “direct” them in the way they really wish to go in the first place (compare 2 Timothy 4:3-4)? We see that the end of Saul’s life is tragic, but it should not be surprising. It is the logical outcome of the path he has chosen to walk.

As we read this story of Saul’s humiliation in the home of the medium of En-dor, we would like to comfort ourselves by thinking this is a strange, bizarre situation, a fluke. I strongly maintain it is no fluke at all. Indeed, I believe what we see here is the norm. Saul is a living demonstration of “the rule,” rather than “the exception.” Saul is a kind of prototype of the nation Israel.149 We see, in the life (and death) of Saul, a microcosm, a miniature version of Israel’s history. Israel, like Saul, was not chosen because of his high standing, but in spite of the fact that he was of less than noble stock (compare Deuteronomy 7:7-8; 1 Samuel 9:21; 10:22; 15:17). Like the nation Israel, God raised up Samuel to “utterly destroy” the Canaanite nations (compare Deuteronomy 7:1-2; 1 Samuel 15:1-3). Samuel, like the nation Israel, was to trust in God and keep His commandments, and not to imitate the heathen (compare Deuteronomy 7:2-5, 9-16; 1 Samuel 15:20-23). And, like Israel, God would destroy Saul for his flagrant, consistent rebellion (compare Deuteronomy 7:4; 1 Chronicles 10:13-14). Notice how these two themes are intertwined in chapter 12:

14 “If you will fear the LORD and serve Him, and listen to His voice and not rebel against the command of the LORD, then both you and also the king who reigns over you will follow the LORD your God. 15 “And if you will not listen to the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the command of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you, as it was against your fathers. 16 “Even now, take your stand and see this great thing which the LORD will do before your eyes. 17 “Is it not the wheat harvest today? I will call to the LORD, that He may send thunder and rain. Then you will know and see that your wickedness is great which you have done in the sight of the LORD by asking for yourselves a king.” 18 So Samuel called to the LORD, and the LORD sent thunder and rain that day; and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel. 19 Then all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, so that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil by asking for ourselves a king.” 20 And Samuel said to the people, “Do not fear. You have committed all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. 21 “And you must not turn aside, for then you would go after futile things which can not profit or deliver, because they are futile. 22 “For the LORD will not abandon His people on account of His great name, because the LORD has been pleased to make you a people for Himself. 23 “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way. 24 “Only fear the LORD and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you. 25 “But if you still do wickedly, both you and your king shall be swept away” (1 Samuel 12:14-25).

Finally, the nation Israel was chosen by God to be a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6), but their rule as God’s “sons” did not last long, due to their disobedience (see Exodus 4:23). Then it was Israel’s kings who were to be God’s “sons,” ruling over the nation (see 2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:4-9). Ultimately, there is only one good and perfect “King,” one “Son of God,” in whom we can be saved from our sins, and in whom we can reign (John 1:12; Romans 8:14-25).

Saul is not only a prototype of the nation Israel, he is a tragic example of what can happen to each and every one of us. Those who desire to know and do the will of God will know it, for God will reveal it to them (see John 7:17). But if we stubbornly rebel against God, He will not listen to our prayers, and He will cease disclosing Himself and His will to us (He will not “cast His pearls before swine;” see also Psalm 68:18; John 2:23-25; Mark 4:20-25). Eventually, those who resist and disobey God’s will and His Word (which can hardly be distinguished) begin to look elsewhere for teaching which is still represented as “Christian,” though it is not (see 2 Timothy 3:1-13; 4:1-4).

There is, I believe, a “point of no return” in a person’s life. There is a point in time where God ceases to convict the sinner, but rather hardens their heart, due to persistent rejection of the gospel. There is a point in time when it is, humanly speaking, too late. Those who foolishly suppose they can continue to live in sin and reject the gospel, thinking God will always “be there for them,” are wrong.

1 And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain – 2 for He says, “AT THE ACCEPTABLE TIME I LISTENED TO YOU, AND ON THE DAY OF SALVATION I HELPED YOU”; behold, now isTHE ACCEPTABLE TIME,” behold, now isTHE DAY OF SALVATION” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2).

I believe there is also a “point of no return” for a Christian who is living in constant, willful rebellion. It is not that this person will lose their salvation, but they will lose the “joy” of their salvation. They may very well lose the assurance of their salvation. They certainly will lose the sense of intimacy and fellowship they could and should have with Christ and His church. They may even lose their lives, even as Saul did (see 1 Corinthians 5:1-5; 1 Timothy 1:18-20; 1 John 5:13-17).

Though it may not be a comforting thought, we are more like Saul than we would like to believe. There is a lot of “Saul” in every one of us. This is why we must abide in Christ and in His Word. This is why we must pray for strength, and that we will not fall into temptation. This is why we need “not to forsake the assembling of ourselves” and the encouragement of Christian brothers and sisters, and we must beware of persistent, willful sin (Hebrews 10:19-31).

It is very clear that our text is no fairy tale. Saul does not live “happily ever after,” as fairy tale people do. Neither does anyone who fails to trust and obey God. Let us be sobered and humbled by Saul, and let us acknowledge our weaknesses, and rely wholly on His strength.


142 In tracing through the history of Saul’s encounters with the Philistines in 1 Samuel, Saul has good reason to feel uneasy about this confrontation, based upon past experience. Although Saul was made king to deliver Israel from the Philistines (9:16), his victories were not glorious or complete. In chapter 13, it was Jonathan who precipitated a large scale Philistine attack on Israel, because he attacked a Philistine garrison at Geba (13:3). Saul did not inspire courage, and so most of those he summoned to war deserted. Once again, it was Jonathan’s secret attack on the Philistines that precipitated a victory over the Philistines, thanks to a divinely sent earthquake (14:15). During the pursuit of the Philistines that followed, a foolish command given by Saul seriously hindered the Israelite’s cause, and nearly cost Jonathan his life. Just as Jonathan overshadowed his father in fighting Philistines, David does as well. His victory over Goliath and the Philistines made David more popular than Saul. All in all, Saul did not do well when dealing with the Philistines. One can see why he would fear their latest attack.

143 Contrast this with David (see 1 Samuel 22:10, 15).

144 This certainly seems to suggest that the woman “saw” Samuel, but Saul did not. Why else did she have to describe to Saul what Samuel looked like? Saul will indeed converse with Samuel, but there is no clear indication that he actually “saw” him.

145 Here is food for thought. Saul certainly does not need to ask, “And who is my neighbor.” David is, for starters.

146 Dale Ralph Davis, Looking on the Heart: Expositions of the Book of 1 Samuel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994), vol. 2, pp. 147-157.

147 I use the singular word, sacrifice, because Samuel interrupted Saul after offering the burnt offering, otherwise he would have gone ahead and offered the peace offerings as well (see 13:9-10).

148 It is possible that Samuel commanded Saul to remove the mediums and spiritists, as he commanded him to remove the Amalekites.

149 Compare Isaiah 6; 29:10; Jeremiah 21; Ezekiel 14, 20.

Related Topics: Cults/Magic