Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Saul visits the medium in 1 Sam 28

The story of Saul visiting the woman with the familiar spirit in 1 Sam 28 is a tragic one, but I recently had some insight into it that revealed to me a deeper message of hope that we can get from it.  I hope you will stick with me as we go through this story.

3 ¶Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had lamented him, and buried him in Ramah, even in his own city. And Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land.
4 And the Philistines gathered themselves together, and came and pitched in Shunem: and Saul gathered all Israel together, and they pitched in Gilboa.
5 And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled. (1 Sam. 28:3-5)

The text wants us to have clear in our minds that the prophet Samuel has been dead and that Saul had already put away mediums and wizards out of the land.   I think we are also to remember that the Lord had commanded the people not to ever use those methods.

So the Philistines gather together against Israel and Saul gathers Israel’s armies and he is absolutely terrified.  He has no idea what to do.   Somehow he has no problem chasing after innocent people and slaughtering innocent priests and conducting manhunts, but real enemies make him shake in his boots.  (This shows us that the result of following wickedness and injustice is that a person loses the ability to face the real threats and carry out real responsibilities bravely.)

And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets. (v6)

This is not a new condition; Saul got the divine silence back in 1 Sam. 14:37 and it doesn’t seem like he inquires since. 

So what does Saul do?  He decides he will try to force revelation by getting someone who has familiar spirits to call up Samuel the prophet.  Everyone should know that trying to force revelation is always a bad thing because it opens an individual up to evil influences who are only too glad to have an excuse to communicate and cause misery.

Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and inquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at En-dor. (v7)

Saul has already put away mediums and wizards as part of enforcing the Law of Moses, but now he hopes to consult them.  Very ironic.  (I hope we never get ourselves into a similar situation of wishing that we hadn’t kept the commandments in the past because it hinders us from sinning in the present.)  This is setting yet another very bad precedent and example for his servants.  It sends the message that there is one kind of official public morality and an opposite private morality when one is in a pinch.

Interesting that when he asks his servants to get him in touch with a medium, they already know exactly who to call and where to go.  How do they know?  Have they hidden this woman from him all these years?  Have they consulted her themselves?  Have they simply winked at her existence?  They register no protest against his request, which makes me wonder if they had lost their way spiritually as well.

8 And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment, and he went, and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night: and he said, I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee.
9 And the woman said unto him, Behold, thou knowest what Saul hath done, how he hath cut off those that have familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land: wherefore then layest thou a snare for my life, to cause me to die?
10 And Saul sware to her by the Lord, saying, As the Lord liveth, there shall no punishment happen to thee for this thing. (1 Sam. 28:8-10)

The woman also knows the rules against mediums and wizards and she fears entrapment.  It is another irony that this medium cites law to the person who enforced the law and who now wants to break the law.  She sounds really pious doing that, but as soon as she is promised that she won’t be punished for it, she does her thing.  I suppose this is how she has kept herself safe all this time, by citing the law, accusing of entrapment, and then extracting a promise of no punishment.

It is further ironic that Saul promises her safety with the oath “as the Lord liveth.”  I believe that is a classic instance of taking the Lord’s name in vain.

11 Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel.
12 And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice: and the woman spake to Saul, saying, Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul.
13 And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth.
14 And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself. (1 Samuel 28:11-14)

She’s asked to bring up Samuel the prophet, and presumably a spirit comes and it startles her.  Immediately when it comes, she blows Saul’s cover and reveals who he is.  I think this is meant to show that there is some spirit there that knows who Saul is and has told her.  This builds credibility with Saul, even as it scares the medium, who realizes she is now working for the very person who enforced those laws against spiritualism. 

It seems clear to me that this woman could commune with spirits, but they were evil spirits who hoped to deceive and destroy.  The institute manual has a very good point that it is contrary to the order of heaven for unrighteous people to have power to command righteous spirits to do their bidding, otherwise there would not be rest for the righteous after death, and they would be in a worse position than in life, in a sort of slavery to the wicked.

One of the things that confuses people about what this fake Samuel spirit says is that it sounds so close to the truth that it seems like it is truth.  But it’s not, in a number of very subtle ways.  The truth is twisted in so subtle a way that Saul in his tormented, fearful, guilt-ridden state would not have been able to discern it, and so for him it hits with all the force of truth.

The things the fake Samuel says are said in such a way as to discourage Saul from making any positive changes and to destroy hope, even with some very subtle flattery.

Let’s take these things apart, shall we?

15 ¶And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do.
16 Then said Samuel, Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the Lord is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy?
17 And the Lord hath done to him, as he spake by me: for the Lord hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbour, even to David:
18 Because thou obeyedst not the voice of the Lord, nor executedst his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath the Lord done this thing unto thee this day.
19 Moreover the Lord will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines: and to morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: the Lord also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines. (1 Samuel 28:15-19)

“Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the Lord is departed from thee” (v16) – It isn’t the Lord who departed from Saul.  Saul departed from the Lord.  By saying the Lord departed from Saul, the evil spirit discourages Saul from repenting by making it seem like nothing he can do can change the Lord’s stance.

“And the Lord hath done to him, as he spake by me: for the Lord hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbour, even to David” (v17) – The subtlety of this lie is missed because we often think of what comes after, since David eventually does gain the kingdom.  But at that time of Saul’s inquiry, the evil spirit interpreted the current status quo as a full fulfillment of Samuel’s prophecy.  We think it is just another reiteration of the prophecy, but the evil spirit said it was already fulfilled.  But at that time, David didn’t have the kingdom.  It took seven more years after Saul’s death for David to finally be given the whole kingdom.  So the evil spirit lied.

This statement flattered Saul into thinking that David would gain no more than he had already got, but it also discouraged Saul by making it seem like the state of Israel was degenerating instead of improving.  David was still a wanderer in a foreign land, holding a single town Ziklag by Philistine sufferance.  And was that to be the state of Israel’s kingdom under David?  How tragic if it were so!

“Because thou obeyedst not the voice of the Lord, nor executedst his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath the Lord done this thing unto thee this day.” (v18) – At the time that Saul committed those sins nothing tormented him with the sense of what a mistake he had made, lest he should feel remorse and repent immediately.  Only now many years later his regret is inflamed about these sins in the distant past in a manner that will torment him rather than lead to repentance.   Also, there is no mention of the horrendous sins Saul committed afterwards—like killing the priests or seeking David’s life or consulting the medium or any other abuses of power he may have done that were not recorded—lest he begin to repent of those.  Evil spirits do not want us to be free from sin, and they will do what they can to distract us from repentance.

“Moreover the Lord will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines: …the Lord also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.” (v19) – The fake Samuel says Israel will be delivered into the hands of the Philistines, but this contradicts the earlier statement that the kingdom has been given to David.  There is an attempt to cover this contradiction up and hide it with a statement that the Lord will also deliver the host (the army) of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.  Just the army that time. 

Does this really happen?  Many people think that it did.  However, a close reading of what happens in the battle following this chapter is that the Philistines fought Israel and Israel fled.  Many were slain, but Israel fled (see 1 Sam. 31:1), so the army was not captured as predicted.  They forsook the cities and the Philistines came and dwelt in them (see 1 Sam. 31:7), but that doesn’t mean Israel was fully beaten.  Also, David goes to Hebron in 1 Sam 2:1-3 and is king over Judah, so the area of Judah wasn’t in subjection to the Philistines.  Also, Abner makes Saul’s son Ish-bosheth king over Israel and they retain Gilead, the Ashurites, Jezreel, Ephraim, Benjamin, and all Israel (1 Sam. 2:8-9), so Saul’s family retains control over a significant portion of people and land, so things really didn’t happen as this evil spirit said.

“and to morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me” (v19) – We focus on the time frame of tomorrow, and the swiftness of Saul’s demise makes us think it was fulfilled, but there is no actual hint that it happened so soon.  I think instead we should focus on the other part, where Saul and his sons would be. 

Saul thinks it is Samuel speaking, so he gets the idea that he and his sons will be with Samuel when they die.  Saul would reason this way--Samuel was righteous, so if Samuel says we will be with him, then that makes it seem like I haven't been too bad after all.  BUT… then that contradicts the previous message that the Lord is angry at Saul’s disobedience and is punishing him.  This evil spirit is giving a contradictory message and if Saul grasped any of these principles, then he would be even more confused and in doubt.   (Also, don’t forget that not all of Saul’s sons die.  Ish-bosheth remains alive.)

In absolute terms, this was an evil spirit pronouncing judgment on a mortal, a task undoubtedly beyond his authority and capability.  Can anyone have confidence that when an evil spirit gives judgment the judgment will be just?  No.

So to sum up, what is this fake Samuel, this evil spirit doing?  He’s deliberately misdiagnosing Saul’s position with the Lord, neglecting his worst sins while dwelling on the mistakes of the distant past, misinterpreting prophecy, and confusing him with contradictory statements about the fate of Israel and the fate of Saul’s soul. 

Saul’s whole intent was to find out what to do, but the effect of everything told him by the evil spirit is to destroy all hope that anything can be done about it.  Saul is told he is powerless to stop any of it.

But was he really hopeless and powerless? 

If we believe that Saul was powerless to change anything about his admittedly terrible state, then we too fall for the persuasions of this evil spirit.

In order to resist, we must believe the opposite—that there was something Saul could have done, that his situation, terrible as it seemed, was still not hopeless and there still remained to him the possibility of redemption through Christ. 


And if there was hope for Saul, then there is still hope for everyone else. 

That, I sense, is the ultimate uplifting message of this terrible chapter.  This is why we need this chapter in the scriptures.  Knowing how God works, we can discern the devil even when he comes as an angel of light or masquerades as one with authority.  We can detect him and reject his message that there is no hope, and we can lay hold on redemption with our faith in Christ and hope that all is not lost.