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Saul & the Rare Medium

Two weeks ago, we saw that the Philistines were preparing to go to war against the Israelites. Now of course, that’s not unusual – as you read through the Old testament, it seems these two nations are always preparing to go to war with each other. But this time is a little different. This time, David, the future king of Israel, is preparing to fight alongside the Philistines against the Israelites!

You’ll remember that David had fled from Saul and had found refuge among his enemies – the Philistines. They had accepted him as a defector from Israel and had even given David his own Philistine city to live in – the city of Ziklag – and David lived there for nearly a year and a half with his 600 men and all of their families.

Of course, during all this time, David had been lying to the Philistine King – King Achish – about his true loyalties – and more specifically about his true military expeditions. For those 16 months, David had actually been raiding the enemies of Israel, but he told Achish that he had been raiding Israel itself.

And so Achish was convinced that David had turned against his homeland and would be a loyal Philistine subject for the rest of his life. Therefore, when the time came that the Philistines were preparing a full scale invasion of Israel, King Achish expected David to be a key part of that.

1 Samuel 28 begins like this:

About that time the Philistines mustered their armies for another war with Israel. King Achish told David, “You and your men will be expected to join me in battle.”

2 “Very well!” David agreed. “Now you will see for yourself what we can do.”

Then Achish told David, “I will make you my personal bodyguard for life.”

1 Samuel 28:1-2

It’s seems crazy that King Achish would place so much trust in David – the very guy who killed the Philistine champion Goliath some years earlier! But none the less, at this point, we are left wondering, what in the world will David do now? Will he actually join the Philistines and fight against the Israelites – fighting against Saul and his best friend Jonathan? Or perhaps will David turn on king Achish in the heat of the battle and join forces with the Israelites? Or will something even more unexpected happen?

Well, unfortunately, we’re not going to find out until next week, because at this point, without any resolution, the story shifts the spotlight back over to King Saul.

From verse 3 and on, it’s like an entirely different story as we see how Saul reacts to this imminent battle against the Philistines. Now of course, both stories are woven together and we’ll see that more and more as we go on, but today’s passage will revolve exclusively around Saul.

Now at first glance, verse 3 seems kinda out of place itself. It reads kinda like some random facts that don’t have any apparent connection to the story at all. Let me show you what I mean. Verse 3 reads like this:

3 Meanwhile, Samuel had died, and all Israel had mourned for him. He was buried in Ramah, his hometown. And Saul had banned from the land of Israel all mediums and those who consult the spirits of the dead.

1 Samuel 28:3

In a story about David and the Philistines going to war against the Israelites, this verse doesn’t seem to fit with what’s going on.

For one thing, the author has already told us about Samuel’s death and burial way back three chapters ago! 1 Samuel 25:1 says… 

“Now Samuel died, and all Israel gathered for his funeral. They buried him at his house in Ramah.” 1 Samuel 25:1

That was three chapters ago! Why are we bring this up again now, right? I mean, this is information we already know! Well, let’s take a look at the second piece of information we’re given in this verse and that is that:

Saul had banned from the land of Israel all mediums and those who consult the spirits of the dead.

1 Samuel 28:3

Obviously the author is setting the stage for what is about to happen. Samuel is dead and anyone who claims to speak to the dead have been banned from Israel. If we put two and two together, we can almost guess where this is going… But let’s not guess – let’s read on! Keep these thoughts in your head, and we’ll see what happens next. Verse 4 says…

4 The Philistines set up their camp at Shunem, and Saul gathered all the army of Israel and camped at Gilboa. 5 When Saul saw the vast Philistine army, he became frantic with fear. 6 He asked the Lord what he should do, but the Lord refused to answer him, either by dreams or by sacred lots or by the prophets. 1 Samuel 28:4-6

Now this is interesting. King Saul is terrified of the vast Philistine army (and you’ll recall that this isn’t the first time that’s happened) – and so Saul is desperately trying to get some direction from the Lord as to what he should do, but the Lord isn’t answering him. God’s not communicating through dreams, through the sacred lots, or through the prophets! Nothing! Try as he may, Saul is just not getting any answers from the Lord.

And I guess that shouldn’t be too surprising to us. After all, Saul has continually ignored God’s instructions in the past – disobeying God’s commands and overstepping his God-given authority. Saul has chosen to live in opposition to God (as we can clearly see in his opposition to David – who had been anointed by God to be the next king.)

And so why would God offer up any new instructions to Saul – when Saul has refused to obey the commands God has already given him!? It’s kind of a no-brainer!

And its a good reminder for us too. I think we all go through times when God seems silent. You know, we pray to God for answers, we read and search through the Scriptures, we listen to sermons or podcasts – or whatever it is – trying to get some answer from God. But for whatever reason, God seems to remain silent.

Could it be that God has already given us some instructions and he’s just waiting for us to obey them first before he gives us anything new? Now, of course, that’s not always the reason why God might seem silent – (there are a number of reasons why that might happen) but this certainly a possibility. If we’re going to ask God to give us direction, then we should probably make sure we’re faithfully following the directions that he’s already given us!

This is particularly true in the area of dealing with sin. If God has pointed out some sin in our life that we need to confess and make right – but we refuse to do that (very much like what Saul has been doing) – then we really can’t have any expectations that God would honour our request for further guidance. Why would God give us more instructions when we refuse to follow the ones he’s already given?

Now don’t get me wrong… God is eager and more than willing to hear our prayers and answer us when we call to him for help – but not when we stubbornly refuse to obey Him!

David would later write in Psalm 66…

17 For I cried out to him for help,
praising him as I spoke.

18 If I had not confessed the sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.

19 But God did listen!
He paid attention to my prayer.

20 Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer
or withdraw his unfailing love from me.

Psalm 66:17-20

When we confess our sin to the Lord and we come to God with a humble and earnest desire to know what God would have us do – that is, when we truly want to be completely obedient to the Lord – then God will not ignore our prayers. He will answer us and give us the guidance we need. It’s like James says in James 1:5…

5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. 6 But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. 7 Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.

James 1:5-8

I think the last part of that passage describes Saul to a Tee. He was a man of divided loyalty – he tried to have it both ways – His way and God’s way. And as we’ve seen through his life – he was unsettled as a wave of the sea. He was unstable in everything he did. And unless he chose to truly confess his sin and earnestly desire to fully serve God alone – unless he did that, he could expect not to receive anything from the Lord.

And that’s just where Saul found himself in these verses – still divided in his heart, crying out to the Lord for guidance while still living in disobedience, and not receiving any answer from the Lord.

So now, fueled by panic, fear, and desperation, it’s in this unstable state that Saul chooses to further disobey the Lord. Take a look at verse 7

7 Saul then said to his advisers, “Find a woman who is a medium, so I can go and ask her what to do.” 1 Samuel 28:7

If the Lord wouldn’t give him the answers he wanted, Saul would seek his answers somewhere else. Specially, Saul would seek answers from a medium – some one who claimed to be able to communicate with the dead. And this was a practice that was clearly forbidden by God. If you look back in Deuteronomy, we see that God strongly condemns and forbids this and other related ‘spiritualistic’ practices. It says in Deuteronomy 18:9….

9 “When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, be very careful not to imitate the detestable customs of the nations living there. 10 For example, never sacrifice your son or daughter as a burnt offering. And do not let your people practice fortune-telling, or use sorcery, or interpret omens, or engage in witchcraft, 11 or cast spells, or function as mediums or psychics, or call forth the spirits of the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord. It is because the other nations have done these detestable things that the Lord your God will drive them out ahead of you. 13 But you must be blameless before the Lord your God. 14 The nations you are about to displace consult sorcerers and fortune-tellers, but the Lord your God forbids you to do such things.”

Deuteronomy 18:9-14

Clearly, God wanted the Israelites to have nothing to do with any of these activities. And for good reason – these practices were all ways that mankind sought out knowledge or power from a spiritual source – apart from God. And of course, the Bible teaches that the only other spiritual source of knowledge or power apart from God is Satan and his demons.

So it’s no wonder that God didn’t want his people seeking knowledge or power from Satan – because anything that Satan offers is a counterfeit – it’s a fake – it’s a lie. Satan is a liar and is the Father of lies – and what’s more, he’s described as being a roaring lion – seeking whom he may devour!

Why on earth would God’s people ever go to Satan for a lie that will harm or destroy them – when they can have the truth from God who loves them like crazy?

You can see why all these practices are so detestable to God and why God forbid his people from engaging in these activities.

And to his credit, it seems that Saul, at one time at least, acknowledged and affirmed all that, because back in verse 3 we read that “Saul had banned from the land of Israel all mediums and those who consult the spirits of the dead.”

But unfortunately, having more recently rejected the truth of God, it’s a tragic irony that Saul is now seeking out and wanting to participate in the very sinful practices that he had earlier banned from the land. It says in verse 7….

7 Saul then said to his advisers, “Find a woman who is a medium, so I can go and ask her what to do.”

His advisers replied, “There is a medium at Endor.”

8 So Saul disguised himself by wearing ordinary clothing instead of his royal robes. Then he went to the woman’s home at night, accompanied by two of his men.

“I have to talk to a man who has died,” he said. “Will you call up his spirit for me?”

9 “Are you trying to get me killed?” the woman demanded. “You know that Saul has outlawed all the mediums and all who consult the spirits of the dead. Why are you setting a trap for me?”

10 But Saul took an oath in the name of the Lord and promised, “As surely as the Lord lives, nothing bad will happen to you for doing this.”

1 Samuel 28:7-10

How tragic is it that Saul has gone from banning all mediums from the land (in obedience to God) – to now having to deceive and coerce this woman into carrying out an activity that he knows is detestable to God. For a man who once had so much godly potential, it’s heart-breaking to see him now. I can only imagine how God must have felt about the whole thing! Verse 11 continues…

11 Finally, the woman said, “Well, whose spirit do you want me to call up?”

“Call up Samuel,” Saul replied.

12 When the woman saw Samuel, she screamed, “You’ve deceived me! You are Saul!”

13 “Don’t be afraid!” the king told her. “What do you see?”

“I see a god coming up out of the earth,” she said.

14 “What does he look like?” Saul asked.

“He is an old man wrapped in a robe,” she replied. Saul realized it was Samuel, and he fell to the ground before him.

1 Samuel 28:11-14

Now, I’ll pause here for a minute to try to give us some perspective of what’s going in this very strange scene.

I’m certainly no expert on occult-ish practices – but I’ll at least share with you some of what I’ve read from other experts.

Very likely, this woman would have been used to communicating in some way with a demon who would pretend to be the spirit of which ever dead person she was calling up. But in this case, the spirit of Samuel actually showed up! This is why the woman seemed so shocked and afraid when she actually saw Samuel! This was not what usually happened!

And of course, this wasn’t her doing – this would have been an act of God to bring Samuel back – perhaps similar to the time when Elijah and Moses both appeared on the mount of transfiguration with Jesus. (We read about that in Matthew chapter 17). But only God has the power to raise the dead or to command their spirits. Anything that Satan does is merely a counterfeit and a lie!

And this woman, from her pagan point of view, described Samuel’s appearance as ‘a god coming up out of the earth’. She had obviously never seen anything like this before – but as she described his appearance to Saul, Saul recognized that it was indeed Samuel.

This truly was a rare event, but it seems that God had chosen, for his own good purposes, to allow Saul to speak with Samuel. However, in hindsight, I’m not sure Saul would have wanted to hear what Samuel was about to say. Let’s read on at verse 15:

15 “Why have you disturbed me by calling me back?” Samuel asked Saul.

“Because I am in deep trouble,” Saul replied. “The Philistines are at war with me, and God has left me and won’t reply by prophets or dreams. So I have called for you to tell me what to do.”

16 But Samuel replied, “Why ask me, since the Lord has left you and has become your enemy? 17 The Lord has done just as he said he would. He has torn the kingdom from you and given it to your rival, David. 18 The Lord has done this to you today because you refused to carry out his fierce anger against the Amalekites. 19 What’s more, the Lord will hand you and the army of Israel over to the Philistines tomorrow, and you and your sons will be here with me. The Lord will bring down the entire army of Israel in defeat.”

1 Samuel 28:19

These were not the words of encouragement and direction that Saul had hoped to hear. But they were the same words that God had been trying to communicate with Saul for years.

God had warned Saul, time and time again, that his disobedience would result in his destruction and the loss of his kingdom. Saul had years to repent and to change direction – but he stubbornly refused. And so now, his time had finally run out. The very next day the Philistines would defeat the army of Israel and both Saul and his sons would be killed – joining Samuel in death. Saul’s kingdom would come to an end and would be handed over to David – just as God had said.

And you would think, that with such pointed and specific details of his impending death, that Saul might respond in humble repentance – trying at the last minute to make things right with God.

But yet, we don’t see any evidence of that happening. Here’s how the chapter concludes:

20 Saul fell full length on the ground, paralyzed with fright because of Samuel’s words. He was also faint with hunger, for he had eaten nothing all day and all night.

21 When the woman saw how distraught he was, she said, “Sir, I obeyed your command at the risk of my life. 22 Now do what I say, and let me give you a little something to eat so you can regain your strength for the trip back.”

23 But Saul refused to eat anything. Then his advisers joined the woman in urging him to eat, so he finally yielded and got up from the ground and sat on the couch.

24 The woman had been fattening a calf, so she hurried out and killed it. She took some flour, kneaded it into dough and baked unleavened bread. 25 She brought the meal to Saul and his advisers, and they ate it. Then they went out into the night.

1 Samuel 28:20-25

And that’s all we read. No sign of repentance. No asking for forgiveness. Just paralyzing fear and a resounding sense of hopelessness.

What a terrible way to close out a chapter! What a terrible way to close out a life!

But I don’t want to end today on a note of hopelessness! After all, we are the church of Hope – and we serve a God who freely offers us all hope!

Now certainly, there are some sobering warnings in this story. Primarily, that if we refuse to submit to God and his authority in our life, then we too will face a bitter, and hopeless end. God has warned us clearly in His Word, that those who refuse to submit their lives to the Lord Jesus will spend an eternity apart from God – in a place of torment made for the devil and his demons.

But that is certainly not God’s desire for us! God loves us like crazy and was willing even to die on a cross for us, so that we could have life with Him forever! He pleads with us time and time again, to give up our selfish ways and turn to Him – and to accept his free gift of eternal life, joy, and peace! Peter reminds us in 2 Peter 3:9….

9 The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.

2 Peter 3:9

God gives us all a lifetime of second chances – to come to our sense – to repent of our sin and to turn to Him for forgiveness and life. But God’s patience doesn’t extend forever. As we’ve seen with Saul, God always keeps his Word and his promised judgement will come.

But until then, there’s still time to repent! If you’re alive today, there is still time for you to make things right with God. No matter how badly you’ve messed up – no matter how many times you’ve rejected God and done things your own way – no matter how many times you’ve said no to God… As long as you’ve got breath, you’ve still got hope! Right now, God is patiently waiting for you – offering you forgiveness and life.

I would encourage you today, not to delay any longer. Unlike Saul, we don’t know when our final days will be. We might still have decades of life – or we might only have just a few hours. We don’t know.

So why not choose today, in this moment, to turn to God and to accept his forgiveness?

For some of us, that might be for the first time ever! Today could be the day that you accept Christ as your Lord and Saviour and begin a new life with Him! And if so, that’s so exciting! I hope that you’ll tell me about your decision and I’d love to celebrate with you!

But for others of us who perhaps have been Christian’s for some time, maybe today’s the day we need to repent of some sin that we’ve allowed to remain in our life. Maybe we’ve been carrying that guilt and conviction with us for some time. For us too, God been patiently waiting for us to repent of that sin so that we can again experience the joy and peace (and sweet communion with Him) that comes from having a right relationship with God.

But for all of us, no matter who we are or what situation we find ourselves in, God is patiently waiting for us – waiting for us to repent of our sins and come near to Him. Let’s not risk making him wait any longer!

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