The following is a reflection on 1 Samuel 28.
“But Saul swore to her by the LORD” (1 Sa 28:10).
Here we read of the case wherein Saul, fearing the upcoming battle with the Philistines, disguises himself and crosses into enemy territory in the midst of night to consult with the medium of En-dor, through whom he seeks to access the spirit of the dead prophet Samuel.
A man such as Saul is dangerous. In fact, double-mindedness might be one of the greatest dangers plaguing the modern church today, yet such double-minded internal inconsistency is the necessary result of humanistic religion, when selfish and self-focused people “worship” God for all the wrong reasons. The Lord had turned His face against Saul – He “did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets” (v.6) – and so Saul now sought the consultation of Samuel, thinking that perhaps appealing to a more righteous person could increase his own stance before God.
In observing Saul’s rationale behind seeking Samuel, we can see that herein lies the crucial thing that Saul had still failed to learn: “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (1 Sa 15:22). Did he not recall those words spoken to him by Samuel many years before, the very words by which the kingdom was taken from him when he failed to obey the Lord in destroying all the people and things of Amalek? Did he not remember what Samuel had said immediately after this? “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king” (1 Sa 15:23).
Why, then, is Saul surprised? Why is he so shocked that God will not answer his prayers? It is because he has no value for the word of the Lord – it goes in ear and out the other, and he never stops to truly consider what the Lord is saying: he is too focused on his own desires to meditate on what the Lord God Almighty Himself desires. Any call to holiness is foreign to Saul because he is a humanist: he thinks that God exists purely to serve him. If you were to ask him as much, he would certainly not admit to such thinking, but his actions betray that to be the case. And so here he stands before the medium of En-dor (the sin of divination, which is as rebellion) and swears to her by the Lord (speaking presumptuously, which is as iniquity and idolatry), and for some reason he is confused that the Lord will not speak to him. It is because he has rejected the word of God!
The same issue Saul faced with Amalek has gotten nothing but worse in the years since, and so here he stands before the spirit of Samuel and, in what is seemingly total ignorance, says, “I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answer me no more” (1 Sa 28:15).
Samuel is blunt in response – “Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy?” (v.16) – but I would have probably been blunter: “What did you expect?” Had the Lord not declared centuries earlier, “If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, whoring after them, I will see My face against that person and will cut him off from among his people” (Lev 20:6)?
Why are people always so shocked when the Lord keeps His word? Because they have rejected it and they think that He served them and so He should too. Yet the Lord says, “Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. Keep my statues and do them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you” (Lev 20:7-8). In the presence of a medium, Saul wonders why God has turned His face against him…because that’s exactly what He said He would do! The Lord has called us to be holy, as He is holy.
Saul is like those who will one day say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?” (Mt 7:22). The Lord’s only response to these people is, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness” (v.23). This same inconsistency is the very thing that grieves me the most in the modern church, those people who think that they are destined for heaven because they prayed a prayer or sang a hymn, yet go to the clubs nightly and cheat on their spouses, sleep with their girlfriends, indulge in debauchery, dishonor their parents, lie to their friends. My friends, it does no good to cast the necromancers out of the land (1 Sa 28:3,9) if you are going to go into enemy territory and seek them out!
“The Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sa 16:7). There are so many people who blaspheme the name of God by bearing His title of “Christian” and yet are living lives that spit in His face. “To obey is better than sacrifice” indeed, but to his credit, at least Saul was willing to sacrifice. People nowadays – and I, myself, am ashamedly at times included here – sacrifice nothing and refuse to obey and still feel entitled to the grace of God. We get frustrated when the preacher preaches too long and grow impatient when our five-second prayers don’t get answered, and we wonder why there is no revival? Oh, what a pitiable state, where our hearts are so deceived that we, like Saul, do not see our own inconsistency! We swear by the Lord and pray that He will no longer turn from us, yet we so often live in rebellion and iniquity and idolatry. And oh, how we speak presumptuously, declaring everything in the name of the Lord (“the Lord told me to do this,” “God really placed such-and-such on my heart,” etc.) and earning for ourselves the penalty of a false prophet (Deut 18:20-2) by taking the Lord’s name in vain (Ex 20:7).
(Of course, God’s grace is a gift freely given, but shall we take that beautiful, beautiful grace from that beautiful, beautiful God for granted?)
Visiting the medium of En-dor is a low even for Saul, yet his inconsistency, spiritual blindness, humanistic tendency, and moral bankruptedness is the everyday character of the modern church. Sodom had no Bible; the average American household has three. We are without excuse.
How long, O Lord, will You allow us to reject Your Word? How long will Your long-suffering last? Oh dear God, forgive us. Oh heavenly Father, call us to repentance. It is the heart that must be reigned in, yet even our very actions are contemptible. Make us holy, O Lord, and set us apart for Your glory. Help us to seek You about all, to obey Your Word and live according to who You are. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10), and in the words of Bunyan, may we never forget “that there was a way to hell, even from the gate of heaven, as well as from the City of Destruction.”