Dr. Mark Hardgrove
1 Samuel 28:1
The nation of Israel wanted a king. Samuel had been functioning as a prophet and judge at that time, but the corruption of the priesthood under Eli by his sons, followed by the corruption of Samuel’s sons, was all the people could take. They wanted someone to rule over them in a position of prominence and power. God told Samuel that the people were not rejecting Samuel they were rejecting God Himself. But God allowed the people to have a king. In fact, God sent Samuel to Saul to anoint him to be king.
Saul was everything the people were looking for in a man. Described as being head and shoulders taller than the average man, Saul was probably around six foot six inches tall in a world where the average height was five foot six inches. So Saul was a man who stood out in a crowd. Yet Saul was a humble man who was not seeking to be king, instead, he was looking for his father’s donkeys. When the day came for Saul to be anointed by Samuel to become king, Saul hid in among the baggage.
When Saul was small in his own sight, he was chosen by God to become king. But as so often happens to good men and women, position, prominence and power tend to corrupt. One man said that the quickest way to ruin a good Christian is to give him a title. Even now there is a sort of one-up-man’ship among the clergy in their titles. We’ve gone from pastor, to senior pastor, to bishop. One day I called a local church here in town and asked the secretary (now called administrative assistant) if I could talk to the pastor. She quickly said, “It’s Bishop.” She corrected me twice in the conversation insisting that I refer to the man as bishop.
Others, seeking an even higher title call themselves “apostle.” In fact, there is a new movement afoot where men and women are claiming the title apostle with the understanding that an apostle is over prophets, pastors, and bishops. Friends, it’s not the title that makes the difference, it is the anointing that breaks the yoke. Seek God’s anointing, do the work of an evangelist, and let someone else sort out the titles. James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the Jerusalem church opens his epistle by referring to himself as a servant, or more literally, as a slave of Jesus Christ.
It’s time we stop trying to wrap ourselves up in our titles, begin to gird ourselves with the towel of servanthood, and wash one another’s feet. Jesus said, “I have given you an example.”
As Saul began to establish his kingdom, to build an army and to see victories on the battlefield, he fell into the trap that ensnares many a man. Saul began to think that he was something. Saul came to feel as though he no longer had to listen to Word of the Lord as it came through Samuel. Saul began to think that he could pick and choose which parts of God’s Word he had to obey. So in the war with the Amalekites Saul disobeyed the Lord’s command to kill every enemy in the city and to destroy all the livestock. Instead, Saul captured the king, Agag, alive and kept the best of the livestock.
When Samuel came to the camp he was appalled that Saul had so easily dismissed the Word of the Lord and did that which was right in his own sight. Samuel declared judgment upon Saul, he said:
1 Sam 15:17-23
17. . . .When you were little in your own sight, were you not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the LORD anointed thee king over Israel?
18 And the LORD sent you on a journey, and said, Go and utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites, and fight against them until they be consumed.
19 Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD, but flew upon the spoil, and did evil in the sight of the LORD?
20 And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, and have gone the way which the LORD sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites.
21 But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God in Gilgal.
22 And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.
After this God sent Samuel to anoint David, son of Jesse, to be the next king of Israel. God removed his spirit from Saul from being king and placed that anointing upon David. Saul continued in the position of king for several more years, but he was a man without anointing, without joy, without peace, and without God.
Fast forward to our text. Saul is facing a battle with the Philistines and he wants a Word from God. Saul is filled with fear and trepidation. He seeks to hear from God in the prophets, but no word comes. He seeks to hear through the Urim, but no word comes. He seeks to hear from God in his dreams but no word comes. Saul had rejected the Word of God when God had clearly spoken, so now God no longer wastes His Words on Saul. And in his desperation Saul seeks out a witch, a medium who could supposedly conjure up the dead who, it was believe, could see the future.
This brings us to our text.
I COSTUMES CANNOT COVER OUR FEARS
Saul disguised himself, that is, he put on a costume to make himself look like someone he was not. When we no longer have the anointing, when we no longer hear from God, when we are desperate and filled with fear we try to hide ourselves, we try to disguise ourselves from God, from others, and even from ourselves. But we can cover ourselves with smiles and clever conversation, we can cover ourselves in our successes and our promotions, we can cover ourselves in nicer clothes, newer cars, bigger houses and mo money, but underneath we are lost, lonely and filled with fear.
We are afraid someone is going to see us for who we really are. We are afraid that behind the bravado someone will see a desperate man or woman who is facing failure and is too proud to take off the mask and just be real for once in our lives.
Saul came in his disguise and he came under the cover of darkness. Night is often used in Scripture as a metaphor for moral depravation. He was covered in his costume, but he was also covered in his moral failures. He used to be an anointed king, now he is a pathetic man with no anointing, no courage and no Word from God. In his own mind he had grown too big for God, he ignored the Word of the Lord when the Lord spoke, and now he lived in the darkness of his own mental anguish and anxiety with the sound of God’s silence pounding like a drum upon his seared conscience. The Lord had indeed turned Saul over to a reprobate mind and no disguise or cover of darkness could hide the failure of the fallen king.
II DESPERATE MEN DO DESPERATE DEEDS
In Deuteronomy God had prohibited the practice of sorcery, necromancy, witchcraft and wizardry. In fact, Saul himself had undertaken to purge the land of such practices. Yet now in his desperation, and with the hope that the old prophet Samuel could come up from the grave and give him a word from the Lord, Saul turns to the witch of Endor for help.
It is instructive that Saul never acknowledged his own sins, sins that had brought him to this desperate place in his life. When he disobeyed God Saul simply made excuses. He even blames others for his failures. In the process Saul sinks deeper and deeper into despair.
Friends, we all fail from time to time. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Sin should be the exception, not the rule, but if we sin, we have an advocate with the Father, even Jesus Christ our Lord. Saul sinned and never acknowledged his sin. Saul sank deeper and deeper into his desperation until it is clear that Saul began to suffer from a mental breakdown.
David too, sinned. In comparison we might even say that David’s sin looked bigger than Saul’s. David committed adultery and had her husband killed. But God did not remove David from the throne; in fact, God promised that there would never cease to be a king upon the throne of Israel from the lineage of David. What was the difference between Saul and David? David repented while Saul made excuses. Only sins acknowledged and confessed can find forgiveness and freedom.
In his desperation and fear Saul was willing to compromise his own integrity to try to get someone who could get a word from God. We live in a world that is desperate. We live in a world that will do just about anything except repent to get a word. They’ll call psychic hotlines. They’ll religiously read their horoscopes, they’ll rub crystals and read tealeaves, but what they need is an old fashioned altar somewhere to confess their sins, repent, be forgiven and begin to hear the Word of the Lord. What the world needs is to become acquainted with the Good Shepherd and, in a world of voices, get to know His voice. He said, “My sheep know my voice.”
Saul said, “Please conduct a séance for me, and bring up for me the one I will name for you.” There are several problems with Saul’s request. First of all, such practices are forbidden in the Word of God. Note the irony, than in an effort to get a Word from God, Saul was willing to forsake the Word of God. Second, Saul had failed to listen to the man of God when he was alive, so why is he so desperate to hear from Samuel now that he is dead? If we will not hear the Word on Sunday, will we hear it on Monday? If we can’t serve God on Monday will be able to praise Him on Sunday? He said, “If ye abide in me, and my word abides in you, ye shall ask what ye will and ye shall receive it.”
Even this woman knew that her practice was forbidden. In fact, it was forbidden by the very one who was now bidding her to conduct the séance. But Saul assures her that no punishment would come upon her if she fulfilled his request. Again the story is rich in irony. No harm came to the woman, but instead judgment was pronounced upon Saul.
III THE APPARENT APPARITION
Saul told the witch that he wanted to talk to Samuel. It seems that before the woman could do anything to conjure up Samuel, she looked and there he was. Perceiving that this was Samuel, and quickly putting two and two together, she realized that the person employing her was none other than Saul. She cried out, “Why have you deceived me? For you are Saul!”
Saul dismissed her fears and asked her what she saw. Saul apparently could not see the apparition, only the woman could and she was the medium through whom Samuel spoke. She said, “I saw a spirit ascending out of the earth.”
Saul asked, “What is his form?” or, “What does he look like?”
She said, “An old man is coming 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 down.”
Saul had refused to bow his will to God. Saul had failed to acknowledge the Lordship of Yahweh during his life, and now he bows down when Samuel is called up from the grave.
Some ask, was this Samuel? Where did he come from? Does this mean that it is all right to conduct séances?
The Hebrews believed that when a man died he went to a place called Sheol. Sheol was divided into two compartments. One was a place of torment where the unrighteous dead went. The other was a place of rest, called Abraham’s bosom.
When Jesus told the parable of the rich man and Lazarus He was referring to Sheol. The rich man died and went to the realm of the unrighteous dead, while Lazarus was in a place of peace and rest. However, when Jesus died on the cross He marched into the realm of the dead with the keys of death, hell and the grave, and He lead captivity captive so that now, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.
Samuel’s rest was disturbed by Saul’s request to see him. Does this mean that we can communicate with the spirit of dead loved ones? No! The Bible clearly states that there is one mediator between God and man, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. Séances are prohibited in the Law as an act of witchcraft and are an insult to God.
If Saul had sought God to begin with . . . if he had repented when confronted, and obeyed the voice of God then Saul would never have come to this place of disgrace. If we resort to séances, to taro cards and psychic hotlines, then that is a pretty plain indication that we’ve been living in rebellion to God’s Word and will for our lives.
When God allowed this encounter to take place the word from Samuel was the same as it had been during Samuel’s life. God had not changed His mind. Saul had disobeyed the voice of God and now judgment was sure. Samuel said, “the Lord will deliver you into the hand of the Philistines and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also deliver the army of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.”
This was not the word Saul wanted to hear, but this was the word that God delivered through Samuel. Judgment, sure and swift, was on the way. Saul and his sons would be dead the following day.
What does this account tell us? What is the point of the story? There are several things to take from this message:
First, stay humble. Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.
Second, be obedient to the Word of God when He speaks to you. Disobedience is as witchcraft.
Third, do not allow your desperation to drive you to sinful acts. Instead, be like David and repent. Acknowledge your sins and ask for God’s forgiveness.
Fourth, there are not shortcuts to God. The only mediator, who can bring a word of blessing instead of cursing, is Jesus Christ.
Last, don’t wait until it is too late. Don’t play with God and put Him off until a time that is convenient for you. God is longsuffering, but there is no guarantee that the tug of the Holy Spirit that pulls on your heart today will be there tomorrow. Paul said to King Agrippa, “today is the day of salvation.” God said in response to the sinful world of Noah’s day, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man.”
If you’re here today and you feel as though the heavens are brass and you can’t get a word from God, go back to the Word He has already given you and make sure that your life conforms to what He has already revealed. If not . . . if you see something that is out of the will of God, then don’t walk, run to the altar and get it right. Behold, today is the day of salvation. Come while the Spirit is still stirring within your heart.