Sermon Discussion Questions:
1. What should Saul have done in this chapter? Do you think God would forgive him at this point? Read Ez 18:21-22
2. How would you define "repentance"?
3. Why does Saul seek out a medium in this chapter when he explicitly forbid the practice?
4. Why did Saul summon Samuel? What is the difference between using God and knowing God?
5. How does Saul serve as a warning to "church" people?
1 In those days the Philistines gathered their forces for war, to fight against Israel. And Achish said to David, “Understand that you and your men are to go out with me in the army.” 2 David said to Achish, “Very well, you shall know what your servant can do.” And Achish said to David, “Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.”
3 Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in Ramah, his own city. And Saul had put the mediums and the necromancers out of the land. 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. 6 And when Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets. 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.”
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.” 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.” 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.” 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.
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.”
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.
- 1 Samuel 28
This chapter opens up briefly with David’s interaction with Achish, the king of the Philistines. Chapter 27 and 29 form one story, with the story of Saul and the witch sandwiched in-between. The reason authors in the Bible do that is so that you the reader will compare the center story with what is before and after it. Next week we will look at David’s story, but today we are going to be examining Saul’s.
The story of 1-2 Samuel is, in so many ways, the story of David. But you cannot understand the story of David without understanding the story of Saul. Saul is the first king of Israel and has employed David in his service as his bodyguard and general, even giving David one of his daughters in marriage. No one was more loyal or more successful than David, but Saul has burned with jealousy to the point of insanity and has labeled David an enemy of the state, seeking to kill him several times. At this point in the story, David has had to flee into exile to the realm of the Philistines to escape Saul, and now we see what Saul has been reduced to.
What we must remember: Saul didn’t start out like this. At the beginning of Saul’s kingship, he was strong, devout, and a good military leader. Saul’s problem was not a problem of competency. Saul’s problem was that there was something sick in his soul. Saul is a case study in vanity, pride, in being addicted to the praise of others. Saul was consumed with being great in others’ eyes. And it eventually ate him alive.
How to Ruin Your Life
1. Never Repent
“When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. And when Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets,” (1 Sam 28:5-6). At this point, what should Saul have done? If the heavens turn to brass and all your prayers seem to bounce back towards you, if God has turned from you, what do you do? In Peter’s first letter he warns husbands of the danger of failing to honor and respect their wives, lest the husband’s prayers be hindered (1 Pet 3:7). So, if a husband’s prayer life feels completely dead, Peter would ask him: how are you treating your wife? If you are treating your bride like garbage and then trying to go to the Lord like nothing is wrong, God won’t have any of that. So, what should a husband do in that instance? He should repent of his sin.
What should Saul do if he doesn’t want to ruin his life? He should accept the correction of the Lord and repent. He should come to God not looking for help in battle or to get anything, he should come in brokenness and sorrow over his sin. And God would forgive him.
Do you remember Jonah’s sermon to Nineveh? “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4). There isn’t even the offer of forgiveness if repentance happens, Jonah only speaks a word of judgment. But Nineveh repents, and God shows them mercy. If Saul would repent, God would turn to Him in mercy. But for Saul to repent, you know what he must do? He must admit he is wrong, he must ask for forgiveness, and he must accept the consequences—which would mean stepping aside and letting David become king. And Saul doesn’t want to do that. So, here is what he does instead: “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,” (1 Sam 28:7).
Saul seeks out a medium, a witch. He doesn’t stop to reflect on what he has done to contribute to the Lord’s silence, he doesn’t repent, he doubles down on his sin and commandment breaking. He has to get insight on what to do with the battle, and if God won’t help, he’ll find someone or something that will. Saul could have sought the Lord at this point through humility and brokenness and repentance, and there may still have been serious consequences for his sin, but Saul would have known the joy of forgiveness.
If you want to remain certain of being right, if you never want to admit defeat, never feel the embarrassment of acknowledging that you were wrong, then you can’t repent. Double-down. Stand your ground. Do whatever it takes.
I wonder how receptive you are to correction? When the Lord seems to close doors in your life, tells you “No,” on that job or relationship you were hoping would happen, when He speaks a hard word to you through a faithful friend, a spouse, a pastor—do you have ears to hear? Would those who know you say that you are repentant? Do you admit wrong, ask for forgiveness, and accept consequences?
One takeaway: when someone corrects you—even if you think they are wrong—don’t defend yourself immediately, but thank them and take it to the Lord in prayer.
2. Bend Commandments
“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.” 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?” (1 Sam 28:8-9)
We know Saul is doing something shady because he disguises himself and uses the cover of night. Now, a funny thing happens here: Saul is reminded by the medium what he has done to ban all mediums from the land. We were told this earlier at the beginning of the chapter (1 Sam 28:3). Moses explicitly forbid the practice of divination of any kind (Deut 18:10; Lev 19:31; Ex 22:18) since it was a practice that relied on demonic powers and entities. Apparently, at some point when he was king Saul had sought to implement this prohibition by expelling all mediums and necromancers out of the land. But that was then, this is now. Then it made sense for Saul to ban the practice. Now Saul realizes that he may have been a little narrow-minded and now he needs to evolve in the issue of divination.
If you want to ruin your life then view all of God’s commandments as advisory at best. They are good suggestions, but can be dispensed with when need arises.
Friend, there are two essential ways to view morality, right/wrong, in our life: either it comes from us—our individual choices or our communal customs or societal evolution—or it comes from God. If it comes from us, then it is inherently malleable. If it comes from God, then it is a fixed point that cannot be moved.
Now Saul is not a 20th century French existentialist who thinks that all morality is subjective. And no one here believes that! But this is the scary thing: you cannot believe it, yet still at times live like you do. Saul is like us—he is familiar with the Bible’s commands, He has even enforced them in society. But the rules, apparently, only apply to other people, not to him. He is like a man who is passionately pro-life, but is now paying for his girlfriend’s abortion. He is the man who has set up accountability software on his computer to block porn, but is now working to shut it off. It is amazing that Saul doubles-down on seeking the medium out even after she reminds him that he is the one who forbid this from happening!
If you want to ruin your life, never accept correction because, you know what, all the commandments can be modified if they need to. Who is really to say whether or not you have to follow the letter of the commandments? Doesn’t that seem kind of legalistic?
Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (Rom 3:31)
Grace trains us and empowers us to turn away from sin and makes us zealous for good works. We are not aiming at obeying what is easy, fudging on what is hard, and banking on God to just forgive us. We want to uphold the Law! We want to obey all of it! And when we fail—which we will—we trust God’s grace to meet us. But we don’t plan on failing. We don’t approach the Law and say, “You know what, I don’t really like that, I think I’ll modify that.” That is Saul’s mentality.
This is one of the reasons why we place such a high priority on meaningful membership here at our church. When someone becomes a member here they have proverbially handed the keys of their life over to the other members and told them, “Will you help keep me accountable to God’s commands?” This is why we encourage everyone to participate in a small group at our church because it is a simple framework for these kinds of relationships to grow, where we can have others who can help us see what we may be blind to.
3. Use God
“But Saul swore to her by the LORD, “As the LORD lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.” (1 Sam 28:10). Reflect on what Saul is doing here: the medium is hesitant to perform the séance, so in order to pressure her into doing it, Saul uses the Lord’s name to perform a solemn vow: As certain as you can be that Yahweh lives, so assured you should be that you can practice your witchcraft. This is like a man meeting a prostitute who is uncertain about sleeping with the man for fear of getting caught, but the man says, “As certain as my wife is faithful to me, so certain am I that we won’t get in trouble.” Saul is, quite literally, taking the Lord’s name in vain. He is using God to get what he wants.
Which explains why he is wanting the witch to summon Samuel. “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 Sam 28:15)
You may think that Saul at this point has totally broken with Yahweh, so why would he summon Samuel? Samuel was a faithful prophet of the Lord. Why ask him what he should do in the battle? Why not just ask the witch to curse the Philistines or enchant them with power to win? He summons Samuel and says, “God won’t me tell me how to win the battle, but will you?”
I was baffled for so long as to why Saul would summon Samuel—he is practicing dark magic, breaking God’s commandments…to summon the prophet of God? That’s like robbing the bank because you want to get in touch with the Sherriff. But the more I have thought about this the more I have become convinced that this is the scariest part of Saul’s story. Saul doesn’t see himself going from his previous religion to another one, he doesn’t see himself as making any major break with his past devotion—even as he sits in the den of a witch. How? Because Saul has always viewed God primarily as a means to an end. God is useful. God is helpful. God ensures that my business is successful. God keeps me healthy. God fixes my problems. God is the best tool I have. Just reflect on Saul’s previous sins, which seemed so minor early on. They were all sins of efficiency and expediency: impatience at a late prophet to make a sacrifice, not eliminating the king and cattle of Amalek. They were sins that made sense if your goal was to build a successful and profitable empire. Be decisive, project strength, please the people. That is what Saul has built his life on. And it has ruined him. But even here, even as he consorts with a witch, Saul still thinks he can use God.
Saul apparently doesn’t see himself as making a decisive break with Yahweh. And that is what is terrifying. You don’t have to become an atheist to wander away from God. You can be a religious person who is self-righteous and unwilling to admit you are wrong. Jesus wasn’t crucified by a group of secular people, but by the religious. So we cannot fool ourselves into thinking that just because we are in a religious environment, because we view God has important in our life that we are necessarily in a saving relationship with God
Is God a tool to be used by you? Or a person to know, a Lord to submit to? Is he a stuffed lion to be placed, positioned at will in the living room of your life? Let Saul be a warning to you. Or you may find that that lion is by no means lifeless, and has real teeth, and real claws.
“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,” (1 Sam 28:20).
We cannot escape the little comment that Saul falls “full length” onto the ground. The word for length here is actually the word for “height.” If we remember, Saul is exceptionally tall—an entire head taller than anyone else (1 Sam 9:2; 10:23). This great height is what makes so many people assume Saul is well-suited for being king. A king needed to be able to lead the army and so should be a formidable physical presence. But we can also remember the warning that Hannah’s song gave us. The Hebrew word for “tall” is the same word for “proud.” Saul’s towering height that we are reminded of repeatedly about in this book is a fitting physical characteristic that matches Saul’s spiritual character. Saul is, at the end of the day, proud. That is why he cannot repent. That is why he sees God as essentially a tool to be used. That is why he cannot live with someone as successful as David around him. Proud people are fragile people.
And here we see that Saul’s great height only makes his fall that much more calamitous. He crumples to the ground and is rendered utterly incapacitated. The rest of the chapter is a pathetic picture of the once proud and pompous king, left to obey the voice of a witch and be coddled back to health by her.
Here is the warning: pride goes before the fall. If you exalt yourself, you will be brought low.
But here is why it is a hopeful warning: maybe you feel like all of the powerful people in the world today are allied against God’s people. Just remember that the more they exalt themselves up against God, the harder they will fall. You don’t need to fret. One day, every knee will bow, every tongue will confess—you will be vindicated at the last day, you will not be squished or embarrassed or maligned—you will sit with King Jesus.
Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” Rev 6:15-17
What does God think of those who have ruined their life? Maybe as you have been listening thus far you have realized ways in which you have ruined your life. What should you do? Let me tell you a parable that presents God’s heart to those who are aware of their ruin:
“So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance,” (Luke 15:3-7).
The heartbeat of Christianity isn’t merely how to keep your life from falling into moral disrepair. It is a moral religion that gives you commandments to obey, certainly. But its heartbeat is found in lost sheep being brought home, in sinners who admit that they have made a total mess of their life but who have turned in repentance towards Jesus Christ and asked for forgiveness. And anyone can do that at any point. Don’t be like Saul—don’t crater in on yourself and ignore the window of mercy offered you. God’s heart is brimming over with joy when sinners who have ruined their lives repent and come to Him for mercy. You can come to Him, today.