Last week we read how David went to live among the Philistines for a time. And though it may look from one angle, that he had lost his way, and that he was now siding with Israel’s enemies, he was in fact doing what the Lord’s anointed king was supposed to do, because he took over the city of Ziklag, which was part of the Promised Land, and he conquered the enemies of the Lord who were living in the land at that time. But the passage we read last week ended with the king of Gath making clear to David that he expected David to accompany him and all the Philistines when they attacked the Israelites. So, what would David do? Will he really go along with the king of Gath? Will he really attack his own people in Israel? What will David do? But instead of telling us what happened next to David, our narrator switches his attention to Saul. What was Saul doing at that time? Well, it becomes clear from today’s passage that whereas David was doing the will of the Lord, Saul was doing something which the Lord had forbidden. And at the end of today’s passage, Saul receives a word of condemnation, because it was revealed to him that he and his sons were about to die and the Lord was going to hand over Israel to the Philistines. The people of Israel wanted a king to lead them and to go out before them and to fight their battles. But Saul was not the right person to lead them, because it’s clear that he was on the broad road — the road of unbelief and rebellion — which only leads to destruction. But David was to be their new and better king, who would lead them to victory. And David foreshadowed the Lord’s True Anointed King, who is Jesus Christ the Saviour, who was obedient to his Heavenly Father in all things and who leads his people to eternal life.
Verses 3 to 6
Verses 3 to 6 of today’s passage provide the background to what happens in the rest of this chapter and our narrator tells us four things. Firstly, the narrator reminds us that Samuel was dead. We already know that, because it was recorded for us back in chapter 25. But the narrator is reminding us of Samuel’s death because of what happens in this chapter.
Secondly, the narrator tells us that Saul had expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land. In Leviticus 19 and in Leviticus 20 and in Deuteronomy 18, the Lord forbade his people from consulting mediums and spiritists and those who contacted the dead. It seems the pagan nations around Israel would consult such people in order to discern the will of their gods. And the Lord forbade his holy people from following the practice of the nations, because he was going to make his will known to them in other ways. And it seems that at an earlier stage in his life, Saul had wanted to do the will of the Lord and he had banned mediums from the land. And the narrator tells us this, because of what happens in this chapter.
Thirdly, the narrator tells us that the Philistines had assembled to fight against the Israelites. And Saul has gathered his forces together to fight against them. And according to verse 5, when Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid and terror filled his heart. And we need to know that, because of what happens in his chapter.
And fourthly, according to verse 6, Saul had enquired of the Lord. Presumably he wanted guidance from the Lord about what to do about the Philistines. However, we’re told that the Lord did not answer him: not by dreams and not by the Urim and not by the prophets. Throughout the Old Testament, we read of how the Lord would reveal his will by means of dreams. Think of the dreams the Pharaoh had in the days of Joseph; or think of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in the days of Daniel. And I’ve mentioned before that the Urim and Thummim were these stones which the priests would use to discern God’s will. And, of course, the Old Testament is filled with messages which the Lord revealed through his prophets who spoke the word of the Lord in those days. But even though the Lord often revealed his will through these means, on this occasion he remained silent.
I was listening to another preacher and he made the point that when a man’s wife is giving him the silent treatment, she’s still speaking loud and clear. And by giving Saul the silent treatment, the Lord was speaking loud and clear to Saul that he was not pleased with Saul. After all, Saul’s problem in the past was that though he knew God’s will, he disregarded God’s will. Think back to chapter 15, when the Lord commanded Saul to destroy the Amalekites and all their livestock. But Saul had spared their king and their livestock. And when Samuel confronted Saul about his disobedience, he claimed he kept alive their livestock so that he could sacrifice some of it to the Lord. And Saul said to him at that time:
To obey is better than sacrifice
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
He was saying: You should have obeyed the Lord. And because Saul had rejected the word of the Lord, the Lord rejected him as king over Israel. And because the Lord had rejected him, the Lord now remained silent. So, that’s the background to today’s passage. Samuel is dead. Saul has long ago expelled mediums from the land. Saul was afraid because of the Philistines. And the Lord was being silent.
Verses 7 to 19
Since Saul had once expelled mediums from the land, verse 7 is surprising, isn’t it? In verse 7 he tells his attendants to find him a woman who is a medium, because he wants to go and inquire of her. So, since the Lord will not answer him, perhaps there’s another way for him to know what the future holds. Perhaps a medium will be able to consult the dead on his behalf in order to find out what he should do. Though he once banned mediums from the land, he’s now so desperate, and his heart has become so hard, that he once again disregards the word of the Lord who has forbidden mediums, and he wants to visit one. And his attendants tell him about this woman who lives in Endor.
Getting there is not straightforward, because Endor lies behind enemy lines. Nevertheless Saul disguised himself and he and two of his men set off in the night to see this woman. And when they arrived, Saul hides his true identity from the woman and asks her to bring up from the dead the person he wants. She’s worried this might be a trap, because she knows that King Saul has banned mediums from the land. So, is this man who has come to her trying to trap her? Is he going to arrest her and hand her over to Saul if she does what he has asked? And remember — she doesn’t know that she’s talking to Saul. And so, to reassure her, Saul swore to her by the Lord that this was not a trap and she will not die. Notice that he swears by the Lord. So, in the name of the Lord he’s asking her to do something which the Lord has forbidden.
And so, reassured by his oath, she agrees. ‘Whom shall I bring up for you?’ ‘Bring up Samuel’, he said. And, of course, at the beginning of the chapter, we were reminded that Samuel had died. So, can this woman really summon the dead? Jewish and Christian commentators have discussed this question down through the years. Some have suggested that the spirit who appeared was not really Samuel, but only an evil spirit, pretending to be Samuel, because it seems unlikely that the Lord would use a forbidden practice to reveal his will to Saul; and the Lord would not allow a wicked woman to have power over Samuel and to be able to summon him at will. Others claim that it must be Samuel, because he was able to predict the future accurately. And, in that case, perhaps it wasn’t the woman who called him, but it was the Lord who sent him. And so, the commentators discuss whether this woman was really able to summon Samuel from the dead. Of course, all we have to go on is the text. And the text — which is God’s inspired word to us and which is therefore true — tells us that the woman saw Samuel.
And when she saw him, she cried out at the top of her voice. So, though she was a medium and claimed to be able to consult the dead, perhaps this was the first time anything like had ever happened to her. And she also realises now that the man who asked her to summon Samuel is Saul. And Saul wants to know what she can see. And the woman describes Samuel in such a way that his identity is clear to Saul. And Samuel, who has been summoned, wants to know why Saul has disturbed him and brought him up from the dead. And Saul pours out his complaint in verse 15: I’m in great distress. The Philistines are fighting against me. And God has turned away from me. What can I do?
Well, there’s nothing he can do, is there? Samuel tells him plainly that the Lord has turned away from him and become Saul’s enemy. In other words, instead of fighting on Saul’s behalf, the Lord is fighting against Saul. He has sent the Philistines against Saul as an act of judgment on Saul for his unbelief and rebellion, because he did not obey the word of the Lord when the Lord commanded him to destroy the Amalekites. And so, the Lord is doing what he said he would do: he’s taking the kingdom from Saul and he’s giving it to David. And look at verse 19: the Lord will hand over both Israel and you to the Philistines and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. In other words, tomorrow both you and your sons will be dead. And the Lord will hand over the army of Israel to the Philistines.
I’ll say more about Samuel’s message in a moment, but this is a reminder to us that the Lord our God is King over all and he rules and reigns over all things; and he has the power and the authority to raise up and to tear down to exalt and to humble. He gives victory to one nation and be brings down another, because our times and our lives are in his hands and he’s the one who determines all things. Since he’s King over all, he was able to hand over the Israelites to the Philistines, giving victory to the Philistines and defeat to the Israelites, because the outcome of the battle was in his hands. And so, we all ought to bow down and humble ourselves before him, because in him we live and move and have our being, and we are in his hands and he will do all that he pleases and none of us is able to question him or say to him: ‘What have you done?’ And in these days, as we go through this coronavirus crisis, we need to remember that. What has happened has not happened by chance, but by the hand of the Lord our God, who is King over all. And so, we ought to humble ourselves before him and ask him to show us mercy and to deliver us from this trouble which he has sent. But we also should be reassured, because the King over all is our loving Heavenly Father, who loved us so much that he sent his Son to die for us and he has promised to work all things together for the good of his people who love him. And so, if you love the Lord, if you are one of his people, then you don’t need to be afraid, because the King over all is on your side and he has promised to make his people more than conquerors.
Verses 20 to 25
After hearing Samuel’s message of condemnation, he fell down on the ground and he was filled with fear. The woman urged him to eat something, because he was so exhausted and hadn’t eaten all that day or night. And though at first he refused, he later accepted and ate his final meal. And it was his final meal, because hadn’t the Lord announced through the prophet Samuel that he would die the next day?
Let me go back now to Samuel’s words in verses 16 to 19 and to his announcement to Saul that ‘because [Saul] did not obey the Lord, the Lord has done this to him today. The Lord will hand over both Israel and you to the Philistines.’ God was going to use the Philistines to punish Saul for disobeying him. He was God’s anointed king. He was duty-bound to obey the Lord and to do his will. But instead of obeying the Lord, he disregarded the Lord and his word. And because of his unbelief and rebellion, God was going to punish him by sending the Philistines against him. And here’s the thing: God’s judgment would fall not only on Saul, but on the Israelites who followed him. They were going to suffer defeat and death, because they were following the wrong king. Since he was on the broad road — the road of unbelief and rebellion — then they were following him along the same wrong road; and that road only leads to destruction.
But there was another king, wasn’t there? A new and better king. There was David, who was doing the will of the Lord, taking over the Promised Land and conquering the enemies of the Lord. And the Lord was with David and the Lord was granting him success. And the Lord not only gave success to David, but he gave success to David’s men, to all who followed him. And so, those who followed the wrong king were living under the judgment of God, but those who followed the true king were living under God’s protection. But though David was the true king, he was only the true king for the time-being, because the Lord our God was going to send another king into the world, an even better king than David. He was going to send his Son into the world to be our Great King. And as our Great King he was obedient to God in all things, obeying God the Father perfectly, even to the point of death on the cross, because it was the Father’s will for our King to die for his people in order to pay for our sins with his life and to cleanse us from our guilt with his blood. And because of his obedience, even to death on the cross, God the Father raised him from the dead and exalted him to the highest place, to rule and reign over all. And whoever follows him, whoever follows God’s true and eternal king, is on the narrow way which leads eventually to everlasting life in the presence of God.
What you and I deserve is condemnation and death. We deserve to be condemned and to die like Saul, because like Saul we often doubt God’s word and we disobey it. Just like him, we know God’s word. We know his will. But just like Saul, every day we disobey God’s word and we do not do his will. But even though you’re a sinner who disobeys God’s word every day, the good news of the gospel is that Christ has paid for your sins with his life. And if you’re trusting in him, then you will not be condemned, but will have eternal life, because Christ the King has paid for the sins of his people in full and he will lead you all the way to eternal life. Saul was the wrong king to follow; and David was the new and better king. And David foreshadows Christ the King who gives eternal life to all who trust in him. And so, if you have not already done so, then I say to you today: You must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Go to God the Father in prayer. Confess your sins to him. Ask him to forgive you for the sake of Christ the Saviour. Ask him to give you eternal life in his presence.
And the final thing to say today is that just as David points us to Christ our Great King, so Samuel points us to Christ our Great Prophet. But just as Christ our Great King is so much greater than David, so Christ our Great Prophet is so much greater than Samuel. Samuel was the Lord’s prophet, but when he was brought up from the dead, he came as a kind of ghostly figure and he came to announce a message of condemnation and death. But Christ our Great Prophet is a much greater prophet, because when he was brought up from the dead, he did not come up from the dead as a kind of ghostly figure who returned to the dead afterwards. No, he was raised physically or bodily from the dead to live forever. He was resurrected from the dead and he now lives for ever and for ever. And when he was raised, he did not come to announce a message of condemnation and death. No, he came to announce a message of peace and life: peace with God for all who trust in him and everlasting life in God’s presence. Just as Christ died and was raised, so all who believe in him will be raised to everlasting life in the new and better world to come. And so, though we look around the world, and we see disease and death and sorrow and sadness everywhere, Christ our Great Prophet is declaring to you today through the preaching of his word that he has something better in store for you if you believe in him, because what he has in store for you and for all who believe in him is not condemnation and death, which is what we all deserve because of our sin, but it’s everlasting life in that new and better world to come with Christ our Great King and God our Heavenly Father.