Saul Consults a Medium

Text: I Samuel 28
Speaker: Jim Newheiser
Outline: PDF
Date: February 8, 2009

We have come to one of the strangest chapters in the whole Bible in which King Saul goes to medium (witch/necromancer) to make contact with Samuel, who was dead.

The theme of I Samuel is that Israel needs a leader. Saul was chosen as the first king and had been rejected by the LORD because of his disobedience. David was chosen and anointed to replace Saul.
The ending section of I Samuel records the final decline and death of Saul, along with the rise of David who will be elevated to the throne in II Samuel. In chapters 27-31, the author goes back and forth between Saul, who is desperate, forsaken, and defeated; and David who turns to the LORD and receives deliverance (in spite of his own failures). These chapters are not in strict chronological order. The action in chapter 28 takes place after the events of chapter 29 and simultaneously with chapter 30. We know this because in 28:4 the Philistines have moved north beyond Aphek (where they were when they sent David away 29:1) to Shunem which is near where the battle in chapter 31 takes place.

In chapter 28, Saul finds himself surrounded by the Philistines. He doesn’t want to go into battle without divine guidance, but the LORD will not answer him. The silence of the LORD is judgment for Saul’s disobedience. Saul then turns to a medium (witch) at Endor (a name used in the Star Wars movies) through whom he seeks to speak with (dead) Samuel. To our surprise (and that of the medium) Samuel appears only to rebuke Saul and to pronounce judgment upon him. Israel will be defeated in battle and Saul and his sons will die – tomorrow.

Because this ‘séance’ scene is unique in the Bible, many are very interested in knowing more about how this medium made contact with dead Samuel. That however, is not the point of the text. God’s people are forbidden to delve into the occultic supernatural (Deut. 18:9ff). The fact that God permitted it this one time is not mean to encourage others to imitate or delve into such things. Furthermore, even though Saul succeeds in making contact with Samuel, he didn’t gain from the experience. The knowledge of impending judgment only heightens his misery and fear.

Consider the following questions as we examine this text:

  • Where do we see Christ? He, like Saul, was forsaken by God because of sin (but not His own), so that we would never experience what Saul experienced.
  • How can we overcome our own tendencies to be like Saul? Where do we turn in distress? When push comes to shove do we do the right thing or do we do the expedient thing?
  • Are there some among us who have been hardening themselves as Saul did? Would that they would seek the LORD while He may be found!

Posted on February 8th, 2009 | Permalink