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Saul's spiritually devastating encounter with the witch at Endor!
While the Philistines went up to Jezreel (I Samuel 29:11), where Saul had been with the Israelite armies (29:1), he saw the advancing Philistine armies and moved his armies one more time over to Gilboa (28:4-5) and the Philistine lords saw this action and went beyond Jezreel to camp in Shunem. From Mount Gilboa, Saul could see, spread out in the distance, the vast number of men in the Philistine army and (v51), as a result, "he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled". Never had he been in more need of divine guidance, though he had long since forfeited his anointing and no longer received any answer from the Lord by any of the prescribed routes, by Urim, or by prophets. Saul gets a 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. 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. In desperation he turned to his servants (v71) and demanded, "Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and enquire of her." We might question how these servants knew of her existence, since Saul had earlier banished mediums from the land (v3) as the law required, but they were probably as unfaithful as Israel had so often proved herself to be in the past and were probably consulting her themselves! However, Saul no longer cared where his answers came from and if God would not answer him he would go to demons, for it no longer mattered to him and he was in fear for his life. The problem is that, for once, Saul has done something right: "Saul had removed from the land those who were mediums and spiritists" (v3b3). This is truly amazing because, for once, it seems that Saul did something right but now, in the crunch of an imminent Philistine attack, Saul wishes he could locate a medium and do what the Old Testament law forbade ("'Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God'" - Leviticus 19:313; cf. Leviticus 20:6,27; Deuteronomy 18:10-14). However, now the biggest obstacle in doing so is his own obedience which removed these people from the land. Tragically, Saul now regrets doing one of the few things he seems to have done right. On being informed that there was a medium living at Endor, about fifteen miles away, Saul disguised himself and made a secret journey, arriving by night to ask of her (v81): "Divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee."
The woman protested, fearing that this stranger might be a spy from King Saul, who had "cut off those that have familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land." The woman clearly knew the dangers and challenged this stranger (v91), "Wherefore then layest thou a snare for my life, to cause me to die?" Saul was so desperate that he made a solemn oath, promising that she would come to no harm, and then demanded, "Bring me up Samuel." The woman did as Saul commanded, but even she was surprised, and cried out in terror, when Samuel actually appeared. Many commentators have baulked at explaining this "ghostly appearance" but, if we follow the clear reasoning from Scripture and recognise the depth to which Saul had descended in his fall from grace, we will quickly surmise the reason for her terror. We know that Samuel was a man of God because He had been a faithful prophet, judge, and priest in Israel. After his death, he would have gone to be with Abraham, across the great gulf from Hades, and their residing in Abraham's bosom as Lazarus was later on (Luke 16:22). It would have been impossible for a medium, a servant of Satan, to call up Samuel from the place called Paradise (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:6-9; Philippians 1:23; Revelation 6:9; 20:4) and we have no examples in the whole of Scripture that would support the possibility of such a feat. Therefore we can say confidently that the appearance of the genuine article, of Samuel himself, came as a great surprise to her because she was expecting her usual "familiar," a demon impersonating the character she was supposed to be consulting, and was therefore utterly shocked when the famous figure of Samuel appeared. When she recognized Samuel and realized God was involved, she knew that something completely out of her control was afoot and then saw through Saul's disguise and cried out, "Why hast thou deceived me? For thou art Saul". After again reassuring her, he asked for a description of what she had seen. She replied, "I saw gods ascending out of the earth," and "an old man cometh up, and he is covered with a mantle" (v14). We have little previous evidence to guide us in describing this appearance but knowing that this witch, and Satan himself, had no power to return Samuel to earth, we can reason that God himself had summoned the prophet to make one last appearance to Saul to bring the final statement to him on earth, one that his disobedience had earned. Saul knew it was Samuel and fell on his face "in homage" and poured out his heart in fear and terror (v153) to the displeased Samuel: "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."
Can we believe that Saul really expected the good counsel he had received during the early years of relative innocence? Clearly not, for Samuel's final message from God was uncompromisingly blunt - He was silent because He has "departed from thee, and is become thine enemy." Then he reviewed the reasons (v 17-181): "The Lord hath done ... as he spake by me: for the Lord hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbour, even 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". Saul had his word from God but, tragically for him, it was not a good word and Samuel continued (v19): "Moreover the Lord will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines: and tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: the Lord also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines."
We should not take this statement to mean that Saul would necessarily be in the bliss of Abraham's bosom but, rather, that he would die and go to, the grave (Hebrew, sheol) on the following day. This encounter with the witch at Endor was Saul's fourth tragic sin and, according to I Chronicles 10:133, it was an additional reason for his rejection by God:
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.
When Saul heard Samuel's words he fainted, for the combination of fatigue, hunger (for he had not eaten all day or night, v20), and terror, were too much for him. When he had been revived, the woman, either in pity or out of relief at being spared, insisted on feeding him (v 21-221): "I have put my life in thy hand, . . . Now therefore, I pray thee, hearken thou also unto the voice of thine handmaid, and let me set a morsel of bread before thee, and eat, that thou mayest have strength, when thou goest on thy way." At the urging of the witch and his servants, Saul reluctantly ate the meal she prepared from a fatted calf and baked bread. Like a murderer on death row, Saul ate his last meal but, again to his shame, he took his "last supper" from the hand of a servant of Beelzebub. Forty years earlier Saul was a promising young ruler and a marvellous 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 was at Gilgal, where he failed 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 sacrifice himself. Saul seemed to think men's sacrifices are what He most values, even if it means disobeying God to do so. Samuel sees it in exactly the opposite way. 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 favourably 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. When we look back at 1 Samuel 15:22-23, in the light of 1 Samuel 28:3, and in Saul's partial obedience in ridding the land of the Amalekites, we see the magnitude of his sin in partially obeying God is that it is the same as the sin of witchcraft and so Samuel's words of rebuke in chapter 15 infer that if Saul's disobedience and rebellion is not repented of it will actually lead to witchcraft and idolatry and Samuel is prophesying that Saul will be guilty of the very "sins" he has just condemned by removing the mediums and spiritists. Finally, we see this to be true and Saul finished his "condemned man's last meal" and made the long night journey back to his troops to face the Philistines, who attacked at dawn, and we know (I Samuel 31:1-6) that Saul met his doom as Samuel had predicted.
As we read this story of Saul's humiliation in the home of the witch of En-dor, we should not consider this to be an unusual and bizarre situation, but rather to be "the norm," for Saul is a living demonstration of "the rule," rather than "the exception" and a kind of prototype of the nation Israel (cf. Isaiah 6; 29:10; Jeremiah 21; Ezekiel 14, 20).9 We see, in the life and death of Saul, a microcosm, a miniature version of Israel's history. Saul, like Israel, was not chosen because of a high standing position but in spite of the fact that he was of less than noble stock (cf. Deuteronomy 7:7-8; 1 Samuel 9:21; 10:22; 15:17). Like the nation Israel, God raised up Saul to "utterly destroy" the Canaanite nations (cf. Deuteronomy 7:1-2; 1 Samuel 15:1-3). Saul, like the nation Israel, was to trust in God and keep His commandments, and not to imitate the heathen (cf. Deuteronomy 7:2-5, 9-16; 1 Samuel 15:20-23). But, like Israel, God would destroy Saul for his flagrant, consistent rebellion (cf. Deuteronomy 7:4; 1 Chronicles 10:13-14).
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