Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I Samuel 28

I Samuel 28: Saul and the Witch of Endor


This passage starts with a bit of a prologue, before the actual action takes place. There is a battle coming, between the Philistines and the Israelites, and Achish (the Philistine king) comes to David, to make it clear that David and his men are expected to join the Philistines in fighting the Israelites. But David tells Achish that this is fine; “Then you will see for yourself what your servant can do,” he tells him, in verse 2. We are also reminded that Samuel is dead, and we are told that Saul has expelled all mediums and spiritists from the land, which will become important.

The time comes for the Israelites and the Philistines to assemble against each other, and when Saul sees the Philistine army, terror fills his heart. He inquires of the LORD, but unfortunately, the LORD is not responding to him, either in dreams, or through the Urim, or through prophets. So he asks his attendants to find him a medium, and they inform him that there is such a women in Endor. So Saul finds an Imperial shuttle, steals some access codes, and set off for the moon of Endor. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Saul and some of his men set off for Endor—which, I assume, is an Israelite town—to find the medium. Saul disguises himself, goes to see her, and asks her to bring up a particular spirit, but the woman is not having it.

But the woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?”

Saul swore to her by the LORD, “As surely as the LORD lives, you will not be punished for this.”

(verses 9–10)

I guess this convinces the woman, because she asks Saul to whom he wants to speak, and he tells her Samuel. So she brings up Samuel, but as soon as she sees him, she realizes that it is Saul she’s speaking to.

When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!”

The king said to her, “Don’t be afraid. What do you see?”

The woman said, “I see a spirit coming up out of the ground.”

“What does he look like?” he asked.

“An old man wearing a robe is coming up,” she said.

Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.

(verses 12–14)

Why “an old man wearing a robe” is enough to convince Saul that it’s Samuel I don’t know, but apparently it is.

Samuel’s first question to Saul is why Saul has disturbed Samuel by brining him up. Saul tells him that the Philistines are fighting him, and the LORD has stopped responding to him, so he’s brought Samuel up to ask him what to do.

Samuel said, “Why do you consult me, now that the LORD has turned away from you and become your enemy? The LORD has done what he predicted through me. The LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors—to David. Because you did not obey the LORD or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the LORD has done this to you today. The LORD will hand over both Israel and you to the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The LORD will also hand over the army of Israel to the Philistines.” (verses 16–19)

At this, Saul’s strength leaves him, and he falls to the ground. We’re told that it’s even worse because Saul hasn’t eaten in a couple of days. So the medium approaches Saul, and urges him to eat something, but he refuses. When his men join the woman in urging him to eat, he finally relents, and the woman prepares some food for the men.


Previous passages have made it clear that David has not abandoned his loyalty to the Israelites, so I’m sure any readers of this passage are expecting David to turn on the Philistines, when the time comes. I always wonder when I read this passage, though, how far into sin David is going, by lying to the Philistine ruler.

This is another of the passages in the Old Testament that I find very bizarre. Saul consults a medium, and she is actually able to bring Samuel up from the dead—but when he appears, his first question to Saul is “Why have you disturbed me?” (The whole thing is so bizarre, it reminds me of a scene in The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.) I don’t tend to believe anyone who mentions seeing ghosts, but based on this passage, I have to admit that it is possible. (There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in my philosophy.)

This passage points out the desperation in the human heart to depend on anything other than God. We are commanded—again and again, especially in the New Testament—to trust in the LORD, and in Him only. He will provide what needs to be provided, even if He doesn’t do it in your timeline. (And He rarely does things according to our timelines.) He may not provide what you want, but He will provide what is best. But we always want to know in advance what is going to happen; it’s no wonder that horoscopes and mediums and other such things are so popular, and always have been. Rather than depending on God, it seems better to us to try and find out what is going to happen, so that we can prepare for it—even though He already knows exactly what is going to happen, and is already preparing for it.

As an aside, this is also another example of Saul sort of doing the right thing, but not completely. He has expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land—but that doesn’t mean that he’s not above trying to consult one, when he’s in trouble.

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