Saul And The Witch Of Endor – Part 2: Turn To God In Your Hour of Need

Saul And The Witch Of Endor – Part 2: Turn To God In Your Hour of Need


1 Samuel 28:1-25                                                                                                        Lesson 17b

Key verse 28: 6                                                                                    Kevin E. Jesmer  8-30-14


“He inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets.”

This is part two on my delving into 1 Samuel 28. As mentioned earlier, this passage is avoided by many Christian circles because it deals with issues that are controversial, like ideas of witchcraft and ghosts in the Bible. In preparing this series I needed to take time out to really look at what this passage is saying. It will be addressed in two messages. The first, dealing with Saul’s rebellion and judgment and the second, Saul’s turning to the witch of Endor, a medium. And so join me, once again, in the exploration of this ancient account of Saul’s desperate attempt to find redemption.

Part 1: Who Do You Turn To In Your Hour Of Need? (1-11 )


Saul found himself in an extremely desperate situation, more desperate than any situation he had ever found himself before. Look at verses 1a, 4-5 and 15b. “In those days the Philistines gathered their forces to fight against Israel…. The Philistines assembled and came and set up camp at Shunem, while Saul gathered all the Israelites and set up camp at Gilboa. 5 When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart…. “I am in great distress,” Saul said. “The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has turned away from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams….” (NIV) This situation depleted all of Saul’s coping mechanisms, pushing him to seek relief. He desperately sought some wise counsel, form somewhere, anywhere. But all these eluded him.


We all face situations that tax our every coping mechanism. There are times when we feel we can not carry on. We need someone, and especially we need God, to give us wise counsel. But so often, we have burned our bridges with other people, distanced ourselves from the Lord, and failed to accumulate the inner tools to face these situations and overcome. We can see the results in the life of Saul.


Saul was terrified as he witnessed the Philistine army assembling for the final showdown. He was desperate and reacted as we would all initially react, by pulling our own human expertise from our tool box. He gathered all the Israelites and set up camp. There were thousands of fighting men, a vast army. But even a mighty army could not calm the storm brewing within his heart.  “I am in great distress” Saul said. What would you do if you were in Saul’s shoes? I would probably be perspiring and quaking in fear and calling my wife and texting my pastor.


In his desperation, Saul tried to to open up the lines of communication with the Lord,  whom he has been dissing for years. But God did not answer him. Look at verse 15b again, “I am in great distress,” Saul said. “The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has turned away from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams….” His unrepentant heart had cut him off from God.He expected the Lord to answer him, through prophets and in his dreams. But his spiritual mentor, Samuel was dead and God remained silent. Saul turned to another means of finding answers, the Urim and thummim. (6) but this did not work either.


God heard, but didn’t respond because his judgment on Saul was sealed. It was because of Saul’s pride, arrogance and prolonged, willful rebellion against God. God had handed him over to the sinful desires of his heart, where he became tormented by dark forces. Being at his wit’s end, Saul turned to an unlikely ally, the witch of Endor. Look at 1 Samuel 28:7, “Saul then said to his attendants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her.” A medium is one who can communicate with the dead. People these days call a female medium a witch.  This is the last person that we think Saul would turn to, but he did. Saul’s men found the medium which Saul requested. “’There is one in Endor,’ they said.”

In requesting her, Saul went against his own conscience. He knew that the work of mediums was not pleasing to the Lord and that he was directly violating God’s word. Earlier he had tried to get rid of all the mediums. Look at verse 3, “Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in his own town of Ramah. Saul had expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land.” Saul knew what the Bible taught about mediums. Deuteronomy 18:9-14 reads; “When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. 10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you. 13 You must be blameless before the LORD your God.   14 The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the LORD your God has not permitted you to do so. Exodus 22:18; “18Do not allow a sorceress to live.” And Leviticus 20:6 reads, “I will set my face against the person who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute himself by following them, and I will cut him off from his people.” God had forbidden the Israelites to have anything to do with divination and sorcery, witchcraft, mediums, spiritists, or anyone who consults the dead (Deuteronomy 18:9-14). Sorcerers were to be put to death (Exodus 22:18). Occult practices were carried on in the name of pagan gods, and people turned to the occult for answers that they felt God would not give.

Since he knew that it was wrong to consult a medium, he tried to hide what he was going to do. Look at verse 8a, “So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman….” He wanted her to tell him what to do. Look at verse 15b, “…So I have called on you to tell me what to do.”  Saul was deliberately going against what he knew was right. Having no place to turn, he cut himself off from the only one who could save him….the Lord God Almighty. Now he was in desperate need and coming to the end of his personal coping mechanisms, searching in dark places for salvation. It is like a desperate pastor turning to a psychic or a tarot card reader that he has been preaching against for years. But Saul had no one else. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 reads, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: 10 If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”

Why is turning to the occult so wrong in God’s sight? Practitioners of the occult have Satan and demons as the source of “other world” communication. God does not reveal his will to them. Instead he speaks through his own channels; the Bible, his Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.“ (Life Application Bible p. 485)

The medium had more sense than Saul had. She was scared at Saul’s request. Look at verse 9, “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?’” She knew that her very life was in danger. She too was a victim of fear and not a good counselor to turn to for help.

Where do you turn to when you have no one else, when you have burnt all of your bridges? Everyone needs someone to turn to and unpack all the baggage that is in their hearts. They need wise feedback. Believer and non-believer cannot keep living without some kind of confidant. Even Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway needed a confidant, and so when he got tired of talking to himself, he drew a face on a soccer ball and talked to the soccer ball. There are people who turn to card readers and fortune tellers. There are people who actually like telephone solicitors calling their homes because they have some one to talk to. Spiritual leaders, political leaders, and military commanders like Saul need someone to talk to and confide in. We cannot live without some sort of mentor. But pity the person who has cut himself from all of their social support, spiritual support and even from Jesus Christ, the living God, because of their unbelief. They are all alone and are apt to turn to desperate means to find some wise counsel. We must keep the channels of communication open with spiritual mentors and especially with the Lord Jesus Christ.

This attempt failed to bring the inner peace that Saul so desperately sought. In fact, he became even more terrified, becoming a victim of the devil. Hearing this dreadful message, he fell full-length on the ground. His strength left him. His appetite left him. That night he barely got up. It was all because of his sin, his suffering being made worse because of his compromised with the medium and evil spirits.

What should he have done instead? Christians would do good to avoid them. There is a definite spiritual reality going on behind such practices. Saul did not turn to the Lord in humility and repentance in his time of desperation as he should have. Let life’s difficulties and obstacles push you in God’s direction and make you depend on him. As we see from Saul’s story, turning to anything or anyone else leads to disaster.” (LAB 484)

Everyone needs to have someone to turn to in their time of crisis. For those who have faith in Christ, Jesus is our good shepherd. We can turn to him in every moment of distress. In Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus invites us to come to him. Listening to his comforting words. 28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” As Jesus’ sheep we must perk our ears to listen to our shepherd’s, (Jesus’) voice. (John 10:3) But we also need other people to turn too, to share what is on our hearts and to confide in. We need to be able to “bounce” our ideas and concerns off other people and get some feedback from someone who can point us to the Lord.  Psalm 23:1-3, “ 1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul.  He guides me in paths of righteousness  for his name’s sake.”


In our desperate times there is always someone that we should be able to turn to for direction and advice. Pity the person who does not. In America we usually don’t call out to God until we are in an extreme crisis. We push the limits, but we must realize that there will be a time when God does not answer our prayers.


Where do you go for advice? Do we compromise the truth in our desperation to find direction for life apart from God? A wise king has many advisors. Do you ask for advice? Do you seek the Lord and his advisors?


Part 2: Was This Really Samuel? ( 12-25)


The medium was very scared. She had every right to be. Look at Verse 12, “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!’” She knew that Saul had been driving the practitioners of the occult from the land. She didn’t want to be driven off, imprisoned or even executed. And so she screamed at the top of her voice. We can understand her terror. Maybe it was demons within her that were causing her to cry out.


Saul did not come to drive her out. He came asking a favor. He asked her, “…bring up for me the one I name.” The medium feared Saul and was reluctant to do what he asked. But he continued to urge her, even using God’s name to persuade here to offer up her services. In verse 13, 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.” 14 “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.”  Saul was actually comforting this woman. She knew that she was playing with fire and was wary of continuing on. But Saul gave her emotional support to continue on.


Was the “Spirit of Samuel”, in 1 Samuel 28 from God or from the devil? In 1 Samuel 28:8-25 a medium succeeded in conjuring up, what appeared to be the spirit of Samuel. The spirit that appeared was very convincing. It appeared like Samuel so much that Saul fell to the ground. Look at verse 14b, “… Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground..”  Again, Saul was desperate. He wanted to find a way out of this. Saul respected Samuel so much, that when this spirit appeared, he became very humble, falling down and prostrating himself. This meant full submission and humility. This was like someone saying, “I give up. I will do anything, just tell me what do and save me!” Sadly it was too much, too late however. Saul should have had the same attitude towards God and the servant of God, Samuel, years ago.


This “spirit of Samuel” was very angry. Look at verse 15, “Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” “I am in great distress,” Saul said. “The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has turned away from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do.”  Saul shared his desperate heart, revealing his great distress. He was fully aware of the spiritual reality.


The spirit rebuked Saul and predicted his defeat and death. Look at verses 16-19, “Samuel said, “Why do you consult me, now that the LORD has turned away from you and become your enemy? 17 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. 18 Because you did not obey the LORD or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the LORD has done this to you today. 19 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.” He told him that the Lord would give the kingdom to David and that all of this tragedy came about because Saul did not obey the Lord. (See the message on 1 Samuel 28a)


The medium shrieked at the appearance of Samuel. Somehow Samuel’s appearance revealed to her that she was dealing with a power far greater than she had ever known. Whether this manifestation from God or was it from the devil? Either source would cause this medium to shriek. The question many people have is, “Did Samuel really come back from the dead at the medium’s call?” and, “Is this spirit from God or from the devil?”


There is a case that the image of this “spirit of Samuel” was not from God. Contacting the dead or communicating with persons or spirits from the past is not pleasing to the Lord. Galatians 5:19-21 reads, “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  (NIV) If such a practice is not pleasing to God, how can God work through such a practice? Fresh water and salt water cannot flow from the same source.


It is not in keeping with God’s character. To continually confront a person with the truth of his/her sin and remind them over and over again of their condemnation, not offering any way out of their predicament, is not how God operates. Yes, Saul’s fate had been sealed, but God wouldn’t pummel someone with that fact. The “spirit of Samuel”’s words were not showing one ray of hope. Even if God determined the fate of Saul, it would be more humane to not respond and remain silent, then to keep condemning Saul.


But some may ask how could this spirit be from the devil if he is speaking the truth? This is the confusing part. If it was not the “spirit of Samuel”, nor God speaking, then it was some evil spirit using the truth to serve its own evil purpose. This may very well be the devil speaking. The devil knows the truth. Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. (1 Cor 11:14) He could be using the truth to continue to crush Saul’s spirit to cause him as much emotional pain and suffering as possible. And it worked. Look at verse 20, “Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, filled with fear because of Samuel’s words. His strength was gone, for he had eaten nothing all that day and night.” (NIV) The devil is like this. He will pummel us until we are whimpering in the corner in the fetal position, useless to God and to anyone. Not only useless, but also causing others to despair around us. Saul was crushed to this point.


Without a Mighty Savior, named Jesus Christ, this is where Satan would like to drive each and every one of us if he had a chance…full length on the ground, filled with fear, strength gone…day and night. But thank God for our Savior Jesus Christ. He saves us from fear, through faith in the resurrection. Hebrews 2:14-15 tell us, “14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”  Jesus protects us from the devil’s pummeling and changes all things for good for his glory. (Romans 8:28)


If I had to make a decision as to whether this spirit of Samuel, conjured up by the medium, was from God or from the devil, I would have to say it was from the devil. Contacting the dead or communicating with persons or spirits from the past is not pleasing to God. It is not in keeping with God’s character to continually confront a person with the truth of his/her sin and remind them over and over again of their condemnation and not offer any way out of their predicament. It is more likely this was some evil spirit, or the devil speaking, using the truth to serve it’s own evil purpose to discourage Saul and his men to the point of death. What do you think?


God shows his mercy through anyone and in any situation he pleases, even through a witch. There is a portion of the text of 1 Samuel 28 that does reveal the character of God. It has to do with the mercy shown Saul when he was at his absolute lowest.  Look at verse 1 Samuel 28:20, “Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, filled with fear because of Samuel’s words. His strength was gone, for he had eaten nothing all that day and night.” After discovering the finality and the impending nature of God’s judgment, Saul was left paralyzed in deep fright and despair. God was not pummeling Saul to the point of paralysis. Satan does a good job at doing that. But God came to Saul to reveal his mercy. And this mercy of God was not shown by a Jewish religious leader. It was shown by a witch. Look at verse 21 & 22, “21 When the woman came to Saul and saw that he was greatly shaken, she said, “Look, your maidservant has obeyed you. I took my life in my hands and did what you told me to do. 22 Now please listen to your servant and let me give you some food so you may eat and have the strength to go on your way.” And verse 24, “The woman had a fattened calf at the house, which she butchered at once. She took some flour, kneaded it and baked bread without yeast.”  Wow! This is incredible! A witch was raising cattle and was able to butcher it and clean it and cook it along with some fresh bread. That is not the witches that are portrayed in Hollywood. She even encouraged Saul’s men to come out of their shock and despair to render aid to their failing leader. Maybe she was more wholesome than we thought. God’s mercy is shown even to the unrepentant like Saul. God is full of grace. He can work through anyone, and by any means he chooses to reveal that grace. We must never attempt to keep God in a box, dictating how he must work. Let God be God.


Part 3: What Do We Do When God’s Decision To Condemn Seems Final?


What do we do when God’s decision to pour out his wrath seems final?God’s decision concerning Saul’s fate was absolute and final in 1 Samuel 28. It has been decided. (1 Samuel 28:16-19) This brings to mind a sobering truth. There are times when a person’s judgment is sealed. (Romans 1:21-25; Gen 41:32)  Romans 1:21-25 reads; “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.  24Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.”  There is a time, that if we persist in deliberate sin, that God will hand us over, lifting the hedge of protection from us and we are left to fend for ourselves, if that is what we so desire.


In Genesis 41:32 God determined to send the famine on Egypt. “The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.”  In Noah’s time, God bore with the sins of society, but there was a time when the door of the ark was shut. (Genesis 7:16) The door to the ark was being shut for Saul in this passage.


What does a person do when they know that their fate is sealed and that God has determined a certain outcome for them in this life? I believe that we should still come to God. We need to cast ourselves out before him and expect his mercy. The Bible says that God is love. (1 John 4:8) We can trust his love and come to him by faith, even with all of our sins, and stand before him by his grace…even when it seems like there is no hope left. Jesus showed us the example on the cross. He was dying, suffering immensely. At the apex of his suffering, “Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) (Mark 15:34)  The Father, turned his back on the Son, as Jesus took the full punishment of our sins upon himself. It was through his suffering and death that we are forgiven. But despite his suffering and his momentary separation from the Father, Jesus never once doubted the love of his Father and his hope in the resurrection remained alive. Job was suffering immensely, more than I can imagine. His life seemed to be over. But in the midst of his suffering, Job never doubted God. He declared, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;…”  (Job 13:15a) The thief on the cross was crucified alongside Jesus. He was suffering immensely. He was about to die. But yet this thief never doubted Jesus’ love and compassion. He still hoped in Jesus and the Kingdom of God. While hanging between death and life, the condemned thief uttered the words, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And what did Jesus say to him? Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”  (Luke 23:42-43)


Saul’s fate was sealed. But like Job, like the thief on the cross, he could still hold onto the love of God and the hope of eternal life in the Kingdom of God. He could still hold onto faith. Never let go of Jesus. Never let go of the hope of spending eternal life with the Lord, forever by the grace of God.




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