Saul’s undercover meeting with the witch of Endor in 1 Samuel 28 is regarded as the final nail in the coffin of his tragic kingship of Israel.
He has reached an all time low. He resorts to occult practices in Israel that he himself has forbidden with the death penalty, in a desperate bid to find out what will happen in an imminent battle with the Philistines on Mount Gilboa. The story marks a critical turning point in Israel’s history.
The problem for us with this story is that it raises all kinds of theological questions. Did the witch have the ability to bring the departed spirits of the dead back to predict the future for the living, or was this simply a demonic deception ?
Does only God have the power to predict the future or can departed spirits or evil spirits do the same? Big stuff.
Saul takes two servants, disguises himself, and deceives the medium about his identity and asks her to bring up the spirit of Samuel the prophet back from the world of the dead to tell him about the outcome of the impending battle. The woman hesitates by reminding him of his own laws before she engages in her occult practice. When Samuel’s spirit shows up, the medium screams in shock but immediately recognises Saul, presumably because Samuel’s spirit has informed her. When Samuel finally speaks he tells the king what he already knows, that God has judged him for his disobedience and has given the kingdom to another. The dead Samuel is the same as the living Samuel! Finally, Samuel says that Saul and his sons will be in Sheol the next day when Israel will lose the battle against the Philistines. At this news, Saul collapses. After being revived, he and his men leave the scene. The next day Israel is defeated at Gilboa, and Saul and his sons are slain.
So what was going on here?
There is a dark supernatural power, one to which mediums looked to on behalf of the people in the ancient world. These dark powers are very dangerous but no match for God. At the time Saul probably thought this was an “over the top” prophetic exaggeration. How wrong he was! God brought the prophet back from the dead to speak to him.
The simple point of this chapter is not that the work of mediums is not powerful but that it is to be avoided at all costs by God’s people because it is a rejection of God’s wisdom and authority and guidance, and therefore comes in the category of idolatry and rebellion.
If we go to mediums to find out something God has withheld, we put them in a position only God has.
Two verses that struck me
And when Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets. 1 Samuel 28:6
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.” 1 Samuel 28:15
Saul just stopped listening to God. We cannot afford to do so.
The whole of Scripture, from the Garden of Eden to the New Heavens and New Earth, is a record of God speaking into human history to his people. He spoke to Adam and Eve, to Noah, to Enoch, as well as to Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Solomon, and a seemingly endless list of men and women in the Old Testament.
God’s voice was heard frequently in the New Testament as well. In the book of Acts alone we find God speaking on the day of Pentecost, to Philip (Acts 8), to Paul (Acts 9), to Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10), to prophets in Antioch (Acts 13), to disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19), to the four unmarried daughters of Philip (Acts 21), just to mention a few.
Are we ready to hear the voice of the Lord?
And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” 1 Samuel 3:10
Chapter 3 starts off with these words, the word of the Lord was rare, but we, as the writer to the Hebrew says, are in the days when God is speaking to us through his son.
In the story of the Prophet Eli and Samuel there are several things to note, they are simple but profound.
Firstly, it is possible to hear God’s voice but not know it or realise it. Samuel was hearing from God but he was not familiar with his voice.
Maybe God is speaking to you at this time. Maybe God has put a person on your heart to pray for or to contact. Take a leap of faith and follow those prompts.
Secondly it’s possible to know God and not hear his voice. Samuel and Eli were in the temple but only Samuel heard the Lord. Eli had known God intimately, he knew a lot about God, he could give Godly counsel. He could repeat great stories about God’s ways, but the truth is he did not hear from God. Mine or your service record does not guarantee intimacy with the Father. It’s time to find time to hear.
Lastly it’s possible to hear from God, and respond with a desire for more. When Samuel knew it was the Lord, he speaks those words
“Speak for your servant hears” I am ready. Samuel didn’t just want to hear the voice of God he was prepared to respond to his voice, you see many hear but few respond. The task was not easy.
Then the LORD said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.” 1 Samuel 3:11-14
I believe God is speaking to many at this time about what lies ahead for us as the church. It’s going to take courage as we respond to the voice of God. I wonder if you have said those words “speak for your servant hears”
And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 1 Samuel 3:19
Now there’s our promise and responsibility.