1 SAMUEL 28:3-20
3Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in Ramah, his own city. Saul had expelled the mediums and the wizards from the land. 4The Philistines assembled, and came and encamped at Shunem. Saul gathered all Israel, and they encamped at Gilboa. 5When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. 6When Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD did not answer him, not by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets. 7Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, so that I may go to her and inquire of her.” His servants said to him, “There is a medium at Endor.”
8So Saul disguised himself and put on other clothes and went there, he and two men with him. They came to the woman by night. And he said, “Consult a spirit for me, and bring up for me the one whom I name to you.”9The woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the wizards from the land. Why then are you laying a snare for my life to bring about my death?” 10But Saul swore to her by the LORD, “As the LORD lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.” 11Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” He answered, “Bring up Samuel for me.” 12When 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!” 13The king said to her, “Have no fear; what do you see?” The woman said to Saul, “I see a divine being coming up out of the ground.” 14He said to her, “What is his appearance?” She said, “An old man is coming up; he is wrapped in a robe.” So Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground, and did obeisance.
15Then 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; so I have summoned you to tell me what I should do.” 16Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the LORD has turned from you and become your enemy? 17The LORD has done to you just as he spoke by me; for the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand, and given it to your neighbor David. 18Because 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 today. 19Moreover, the LORD will give Israel along with you into the hands of the Philistines; and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me; the LORD will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.”
20Immediately Saul fell 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.
Strange, oh so strange...
Speaking with the spirit of the dead is not normal Biblical practice. Consulting mediums or spiritists is not normal either. ("Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God" [Leviticus 19:31].)
Saul is so desperate and so estranged from the Lord that he is willing to do anything to get some prophetic help. The encroaching Philistine army terrorizes Saul. He wants an affirming word that everything will be OK. (But everything is not.) Saul actually takes back what he himself had previously outlawed, kicking out mediums and wizards from the land (v. 3).
Disguising himself, Saul seeks out a medium. The woman is rightly cautious about plying her trade since she had just gotten kicked out, afraid that someone might betray her to King Saul! But it is Saul himself who's seeking her help! Strange, sad, and pathetic.
After assurances, the medium complies and the spirit of Samuel is brought up. (The best interpretation here for what's happening is, I believe, the plain sense of the text. God is permitting the spirit of Samuel to appear to the woman.)
What Saul wants to hear he doesn't hear. Samuel reaffirms what he had announced before (15:26, 28). Saul's kingdom will be torn away from him and his kingdom will be given over to David and Saul and his sons will die in battle. Saul's fate is sealed.
At the risk of repeating myself, let me say this: the hardness of heart is a terrible and scary thing. We see Saul's hardness of heart play itself out in these pages. We also saw in yesterday's devotional the hardness of heart in Nabal (37In the morning, when the wine had gone out of Nabal, his wife told him these things, and his heart died within him; he became like a stone. 38About ten days later the LORD struck Nabal, and he died. -- 1 Samuel 25:37-38)
And then when you add to hardness of heart, sinful desperation, you are in deep trouble. The only hope for help at this point is genuine repentance. Only repentance can take us out of our hardness of heart as the Spirit brings contrition and softens the heart. The beginning of new life with God, a new start with God, is Spirit-led repentance, the turning away from our sinful, desperate ways and a new turning toward the God of new beginnings.Thank God that He is merciful.
Let's pray: Father God, may you release the gift of mercy in the form of a spirit of repentance upon your people across the land, including ourselves. We pray for the softening of our hearts so that we would seek your will and relinquish our sinful ways. May you so break the hardness that we see immediately our spiritual condition. Only the pure in heart see you as the Beatitudes proclaim. May your ways and your Spirit be our guiding force, for your glory. In Jesus' name, amen.