Scripture: 1 Samuel 28
What do you think of when you think of psychics, mediums, and fortune tellers? I think of Miss Cleo from the commercials in the 90s. “Call me now for your free reading.” Most of us probably think of all that stuff as a scam, and most of it probably is. But you may be surprised to find out that some of it is not, at least not according to the Bible!
3 Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in Ramah, his own city.
The writer already told us about Samuel’s death a few chapters ago. He’s reminding us because he wants us to know Samuel is really dead.
And Saul had put the mediums and the necromancers out of the land.
These are people who claimed to have the power to speak with the dead and this was a common practice in ancient times. Most of it was probably a scam, like it is today. But some of it was real. In fact, it was dangerous and forbidden by God. The law commanded such people to be put to death and anyone seeking their advice was unclean. God called it an abomination – something very wicked.
The point here is that Saul shouldn’t have allowed these people in the land at all. They should have been stoned to death. Instead, he exiled them.
4 The Philistines assembled and came and encamped at Shunem. And Saul gathered all Israel, and they encamped at Gilboa. 5 When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly.
There’s the fear. Again, this is a major theme in the chapter as it has been in the entire book.
6 And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets.
The writer reminds us that God has not been speaking to Saul.
God often communicated with kings in the Bible using dreams. He often communicated with priests using the Urim, which were the stones on the ephod the high priest wore. And God typically spoke to the prophets by visions and audible voices.
God’s not giving Saul any dreams. Saul had slaughtered all the priests. David had the ephod. Samuel was dead. God was silent.
And the principle here seems to be this: if you refuse to listen to God’s Word, He may stop giving it to you. God will abandon people. He will even abandon churches. God will never completely abandon His people – but people who abandon His Word will be abandoned by Him. In Revelation chapters 2 and 3, Jesus sends letters to seven churches, and he threatens several times to remove his lampstand if they don’t change. That’s a threat to remove his Word and his power from those local churches. We see God doing it here with Saul.
7 Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out 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 medium at En-dor.”
This is pretty bad. Saul made a public show of exiling the mediums. It made him seem righteous. But now, in fear, he decides to consult one. And he must have been pretty desperate, because this woman is located in Endor which means he had to go around the Philistine army to get to her!
8 So Saul disguised himself and put on other garments and went, he and two men with him. And they came to the woman by night. And he said, “Divine for me by a spirit and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you.”
This is a good place to remember an important principle. Who we are in private is who we are in reality. Character is who we are when no one is watching. And this is always convicting to me personally, because I’m not always the most conscientious person in private. I face the constant temptation to be a different person at church than I am at home.
And that is Saul’s sin. Fear is causing him to be a different person in private than he was in public. And that’s obvious because he disguises himself and goes by night.
9 The woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the necromancers from the land. Why then are you laying a trap for my life to bring about my death?” 10 But Saul swore to her by the Lord, “As the Lord lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.”
You can’t make this up. Saul swears by the name of the Lord that he will break the word of the Lord! According to God, this woman should be stoned to death. Instead, Saul promises not to harm her “by the Lord”. In other words, Saul uses God but clearly, he doesn’t know God. This is dangerous ground.
11 Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” He said, “Bring up Samuel for me.” 12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul.”
Notice that the writer leaves out the actual ritual. He skips it. He doesn’t want to give any attention to it. Saul asks for Samuel. The woman does something. We aren’t told what she does. Then she sees Samuel and screams.
Either she is surprised that it worked, or she realizes she’s dealing with Saul. Either way, it frightens her.
13 The king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming up out of the earth.” 14 He said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage.
We have every reason to believe this is the literal ghost of Samuel! And that is pretty disturbing, right? The Bible never says this stuff is fake. It only commands us not to do it. It’s evil. God hates it.
So, this is a warning. When you visit a person like this, you are either being deceived or doing something wicked – neither is a good option. Please don’t visit fortune tellers, mediums, and psychics… ok?
15 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Saul answered, “I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams. Therefore, I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do.”
16 And Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy? 17 The Lord has done to you as he spoke by me, for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David.
18 Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day. 19 Moreover, the Lord will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me. The Lord will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines.”
At first glance, you might assume that Saul got what he wanted. The ceremony worked. Samuel came back from the dead to answer Saul. But pay close attention.
Samuel added nothing to what God had already said, except the timing of Saul’s death. Nothing. Saul only hears what he should have already known. In fact, had Saul not done this, then he may not have died in battle the next day. How do I know? Because 1 Chronicles 10 tells us:
13 Saul died for his breach of faith. He broke faith with the Lord in that he did not keep the command of the Lord, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance. 14 He did not seek guidance from the Lord. Therefore, the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse.
In other words, Saul got nothing from Samuel except what God had already told him and an immediate curse for asking in this way.
And there’s a helpful application for us here. We’re not going to get anything new out of God. We don’t deserve any new information. God has given us His Word and that is enough.
Micah 6:8 – “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you…”
God thinks the Bible is enough. We don’t need more instructions or revelations from God.
To make it super clear, the Bible actually ends with this warning in Revelation 22:
18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
That’s a pretty serious warning to people who think they need or have special knowledge from God that isn’t already in the Bible.
But let’s finish the story.
20 Then Saul fell at once full length on the ground, filled with fear because of the words of Samuel. And there was no strength in him, for he had eaten nothing all day and all night.
21 And the woman came to Saul, and when she saw that he was terrified, she said to him, “Behold, your servant has obeyed you. I have taken my life in my hand and have listened to what you have said to me.
22 Now therefore, you also obey your servant. Let me set a morsel of bread before you; and eat, that you may have strength when you go on your way.”
23 He refused and said, “I will not eat.” But his servants, together with the woman, urged him, and he listened to their words. So he arose from the earth and sat on the bed.
24 Now the woman had a fattened calf in the house, and she quickly killed it, and she took flour and kneaded it and baked unleavened bread of it, 25 and she put it before Saul and his servants, and they ate. Then they rose and went away that night.
Here, I think, is the moral of the story: In fear, Saul went looking for information when He should have been looking for communion with God.
When I feel a loss of control, do I spend more time seeking communion with God or trying to fix the problem?
When I feel discouraged or unhappy, do I spend more time seeking communion with God or trying to self-medicate?
When I’m sick or in pain, do I spend more time seeking communion with God or trying to google the prognosis?
We usually just want information. And even when we seek God, it is more about getting God to fix the problem. It’s not usually about having closer fellowship with Him – more trust of Him.
I think that’s the failure here. And I can relate. What about you? Saul’s about to die for it the next day. Could that be what we deserve?
Saul’s story began with a meal served by Samuel. It was a meal of blessing and remember, Saul felt unworthy. He was unworthy.
And now his story ends with a meal served by a witch. He is feasting at the table of a witch. This was the lowest of the low. Peter Leithart calls this a “counterfeit Passover” complete with unleavened bread. This was Saul’s last meal. He eats, leaves at night, and marches to his death.
And that’s where we find the Gospel connection of this story. Who else ate his last meal at night, a feast of unleavened bread, and then marched to his death the next day?
It was Christ Jesus and today we will eat at His table and remember that meal and our Savior.
But we don’t need the counterfeit. Jesus is the real presence of God and the living Word of God – offered to us freely. Samuel was the shadow of a man returned from the dead. Jesus actually came back from the dead. If you want to see your loved ones again, He is your only hope.
We don’t need to consult the dead. We need to consult the living Christ.
May God give us the grace, not to waste our time in fearful pursuits, but to seek more and deeper communion with Christ.