I Samuel 28:5-25

5 When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart. 6 He inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets. 7 Saul then said to his attendants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her.” “There is one in Endor,” they said. 8 So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. “Consult a spirit for me,” he said, “and bring up for me the one I name.” 9 But the woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?” 10 Saul swore to her by the Lord, “As surely as the Lord lives, you will not be punished for this.” 11 Then the woman asked, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” “Bring up Samuel,” he said. 12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!” 13 The king said to her, “Don’t be afraid. What do you see?” The woman said, “I see a ghostly figure coming up out of the earth.” 14 “What does he look like?” he asked. “An old man wearing a robe is coming up,” she said. Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. 15 Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” “I am in great distress,” Saul said. “The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has departed from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do.” 16 Samuel said, “Why do you consult me, now that the Lord has departed from you and become your enemy? 17 The Lord has done what he predicted through me. The Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors—to David. 18 Because you did not obey the Lord or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the Lord has done this to you today. 19 The Lord will deliver both Israel and you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.” 20 Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, filled with fear because of Samuel’s words. His strength was gone, for he had eaten nothing all that day and all that night. 21 When the woman came to Saul and saw that he was greatly shaken, she said, “Look, your servant has obeyed you. I took my life in my hands and did what you told me to do. 22 Now please listen to your servant and let me give you some food so you may eat and have the strength to go on your way.” 23 He refused and said, “I will not eat.” But his men joined the woman in urging him, and he listened to them. He got up from the ground and sat on the couch. 24 The woman had a fattened calf at the house, which she butchered at once. She took some flour, kneaded it and baked bread without yeast. 25 Then she set it before Saul and his men, and they ate. That same night they got up and left.

1. Saul Began with Many Advantages and Could have been a Good Leader I Samuel 8:2-10:7

This series of lessons uses David’s life to teach Christian spiritual leadership principles. I almost skipped over this section about Saul because he is Saul, not David, but decided to include it because Saul could have been a spiritual good leader. Through his failures there are poignant lessons about failed godly leadership, which are in stark contrast to the story of David. A long string of impressive advantages, blessings, and positive signs accompanied Saul’s original selection as king and his presentation to Israel. Saul was God’s choice at the beginning. First Samuel 8:2–10:7 records a detailed and impressive narrative explaining God’s sovereign involvement:

  • God told Samuel to give Israel a king. (1 Samuel 8:21–22)
  • God providentially brought Saul to Samuel. (1 Samuel 9:1–18)
  • Samuel understood it was God’s will to anoint Saul. (1 Samuel 9:19–20)
  • Saul apparently had genuine self-effacement and humility. (1 Samuel 9:21)
  • Samuel honored Saul publicly in word and deed. (1 Samuel 9:22–24)
  • Samuel gave Saul a night-long conference. (1 Samuel 9:25–26)
  • Samuel gave a promise to Saul for direction from God. (1 Samuel 9:27–10:8)
  • God changed Saul’s heart. (1 Samuel 10:9–16)
  • Samuel boasted about Saul as he presented Israel’s new king: “Do you see the man the Lord has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.” (1 Samuel 10:24)
  • The people enthusiastically accepted and approved of Saul. (1 Samuel 10:24)
  • Samuel explained the rights and duties of kingship to Saul. (1 Samuel 10:25)
  • God touched the hearts of valiant men to follow Saul. (1 Samuel 10:26)
  • Saul humbly refused to retaliate against scoundrels who despised and spoke unkindly about him. (1 Samuel 10:27)

Saul was God’s choice. He began well. He had every opportunity to succeed as Israel’s king. Prior to his selection, Saul had no ambition to be king, but after he became king, his ego took over. Saul’s life alone is a great lesson and warning for Christian leaders. In the early part of Saul’s story he was the right choice. He could have succeeded. If we fail to realize his potential for success, we will not be in a position to learn from Saul’s mistakes. We need to know that we too could make these mistakes.

2. A Leader Without God Turned to the Dark Side for Help 5-11

Saul demonstrated the difficulty of trying to lead God’s people without God’s help. Oh, the loss and terror Saul was in on this occasion! “Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid;” By his own view of them, and the intelligence his spies brought him, he perceived they were more numerous, better armed, and in better heart, than his army was, which made him afraid, “so that terror filled his heart.”

Had he kept close to God, he needed not have been afraid at the sight of an army of Philistines; but now that he had provoked God to forsake him, his courage failed, his armies dwindled and looked weak, and, which was worse, his spirits failed him, his heart sunk within him, a guilty conscience made him tremble at the shaking of a leaf.

Now he remembered the guilty blood of the Amalekites which he had spared, and the innocent blood of the priests which he had spilt. His sins were before his eyes, which put him into confusion, embarrassed all his counsels, robbed him of all his courage, and produced in him a certain dread of judgment.

Troubles are terrors to the children of disobedience. In this distress, “He inquired of the Lord” (6). Need drives those to God who in the day of their prosperity ignored His Word and altars. Isaiah 26:16 refers to those who come to the Lord apparently only when they are in distress: “Lord, they came to you in their distress; when you disciplined them, they could barely whisper a prayer.” Did ever any seek the Lord and not find him? Yes, Saul did; “But the Lord did not answer him.” God took no notice either of his petitions or of his enquiries; gave him no directions about what to do, nor any encouragement to hope that He would be with him.

Ezekiel 14:3 says, “Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all?” Should God respond to such a one as Saul? Should Saul expect an answer of peace. With his own agenda as his idol Saul inquired in such a way that it was as if he had not enquired at all.

He enquired of the Lord when it was too late, when the days of his probation were over and he was finally rejected. Isaiah said, “Seek the Lord while he may be found,” (Isaiah 55:6) for there is a time when he will not be found.

Saul had forfeited the benefit of all the methods of enquiry. Could he that hated and persecuted Samuel and David, who were both prophets, expect to be answered by prophets? Could he that had slain the high priest, expect to be answered by Urim? Or could he that had sinned away the Spirit of grace, expect to be answered by dreams? No. Be not deceived, God is not mocked.

Samuel was dead, which made the Philistines the more bold and Saul the more afraid; for, had Samuel been alive, Saul probably would have thought that his presence, advice and prayers would have helped him in his distress.

Saul himself had made witchcraft illegal. He had put the laws in effect against those that had familiar spirits, who must not be allowed to live, Exod. 22:18. Many seem zealous against sin, when they themselves are in any way hurt by it (they will oppose cursings if some curse at them, or against drunkards if in their drink they abuse them), who otherwise have no concern for the glory of God, nor any dislike of sin as sin. Many think of themselves as enemies of sin in others, while they indulge it in themselves. Saul will drive the devil out of his kingdom, and yet harbor him in his heart, by envy and malice.

3. A Wrong Way to Try to Get Direction from God 12-14

In the real spirit world man chooses which side to seek. Saul sought for a witch, when God did not answer him, but if he had humbled himself by repentance and persevered in seeking God, who knows but that at length he might have been able to touch the heart of a merciful God? But, since he can find no comfort either from heaven or earth, he resolved to knock at the gates of hell, to see if any there will befriend him and give him advice: “Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her'" (v 7). They recommended one to him at Endor (a city not far off) who had escaped the enforcement of Saul’s edict. He appealed to her; as if any creature could do him a kindness when God had left him and frowned upon him.

This was a contradiction to himself. He knew the evil of the sin of witchcraft, else he would not have cut off those that had familiar spirits; yet now he had as a source of help in a difficult situation, something which he had before condemned as an abomination. It is possible for men to judge severely against those sins by which they are not tempted, but afterwards to be by overcome themselves by those same sins. Had one told Saul, when he was destroying the witches, that he himself would, before long, consult with one, he would have said, as Hazael did, What? Is your servant a dog? Who knows what mischiefs those will run into that forsake God and are forsaken by God?

He went by night, and in disguise, only with two servants, and probably on foot. Those that are led captive by Satan are forced to try to hide themselves. Never did Saul look so mean as when he went sneaking to a sorry witch to know his fortune. Evil works are works of darkness, and they hate the light. Saul went to the witch, not in his royal robes, but in the garb of a common soldier, not only lest the witch herself, would refuse to serve him, but lest his own people should know it and despise him for it. Such is the power of natural conscience that even those who do evil blush and are ashamed to do it, but still do it.

He told her his errand and promised her exemption from punishment. All he desired of her is to bring up one from the dead, with whom he had a mind to converse. It was necromancy or divination by the dead, by which he hoped to serve his purpose. This was expressly forbidden by the law, “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord;” (Deut. 18:11), “. . . should not a people inquire of their God” (Isaiah 8:19). Yet Saul said, “and bring up for me the one I name” (v 8). She spoke of her fear of the law, and her suspicion that this stranger came to draw her into a snare: “Surely you know what Saul has done.” God planned that Saul should be told to his face of his edict against witches, at this very time when he was consulting one, to make his own sin even more clear to him. But did it help convict him or lead him to repentance? No. She insisted upon the peril of the law, perhaps just to raise her price!

She was aware of the danger from the edict of Saul, but does not appear to be afraid of God and His law or the terrors of his wrath. She considered what Saul had done, not what God had said, against such practices, and feared a snare laid for her life more than a snare laid for her soul. It is common for sinners to be more afraid of punishment from men than of God’s righteous judgment. There are many messages and warnings hidden in these stories if we will but take the time to identify them.

Saul promised with an oath not to betray her, though it was his duty as a king to punish her and he knew it, yet he swears not to do it; as though he could by his own oath bind himself from doing something which, by the divine command, he was bound to do. But he promised more than he could perform. He could promise that he would not punish, but could not promise that God would not punish when he said, “you will not be punished for this.”

Saul desired to have some talk with Samuel; and the witch, with her enchantments, gratified his desire, and brought them together. She applied to her witchcrafts, and asked very confidently, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” Hopes of freedom from punishments emboldens sinners in their evil ways and hardens their hearts.

Samuel had anointed Saul to the kingdom and had formerly been his faithful friend and counsellor, and therefore from him he wished advice. While Samuel was living at Ramah, not far from Gibeah of Saul, and presided there in the school of the prophets, we never read of Saul’s going to him to consult him in any of the difficulties he was in (it would have been well for him if he had); then he slighted him, and perhaps hated him, considering him to be in David’s camp and against himself. But now that Samuel is dead, “O for Samuel again! By all means, bring me up Samuel.” Many that despise and persecute God’s saints , counselors and ministers when they are living would be glad to have them again when they are gone. Remember the rich man Jesus told about? Send Lazarus to me, and send Lazarus to my father’s house, (Luke 16:24-27).

Here is a seeming blank in the story. Saul said, Bring me up Samuel, and the very next words are, "When the woman saw Samuel", vs 12, whereas one would have expected to be told how she performed the operation, what spells and charms she used, or that some little intimation would be given of what she said or did; but the profound silence of the Scripture concerning it refuses to allow our coveting to learn “Satan’s so called deep secrets” (Rev. 2:24). This is something it is better not to be curious about. Some people’s descriptions of sin, have taught men to commit it; but the Scripture says to flee from it and be “wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil” (Romans 16:19). When we talk about our sins of the past, we must be careful not to make them sound attractive.

The witch, upon sight of the apparition, was aware that her client was Saul. Likely her familiar spirit told her. “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!” She had more reason to be afraid of him, who was a good prophet, than of Saul, who was a wicked king. But the wrath of earthly princes is feared by most more than the wrath of the King of kings.

“Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground” (v 14). He would stoop to that, who would not stoop to the Word of God.

4. Saul is Rebuked in his Conversation with Samuel whom he Has Called up 15-19

God allowed Samuel to be consulted and Samuel told the truth to Saul. We have here the conference between Saul and Samuel. Some believe this was Satan or a demon, but, had that been true the Bible would have said so. To the contrary, the Bible says it was Samuel. We have a disadvantage under which we labour, in wrestling with the rulers of the darkness of this world, that they know us, while we are too often ignorant of their wiles and devices.

Samuel, asked why he is sent for: “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Saul then made his complaint to Samuel: “I am in great distress . . . The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has departed from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do.” Was Saul implying that he thought, yet I should do well enough with the Philistines if I just had the tokens of God’s presence with me; but, alas! “God has departed from me.” He did not complain of God leaving him until he fell into trouble, until the Philistines made war against him, and then he began to lament God’s departure. He that in his prosperity did not enquire of God, now in his adversity, thought it hard that God did not answer him, or take any notice of his enquiries, either by dreams or prophets, neither gave answers immediately Himself nor sent them by any of His messengers. He did not see the righteousness of God in this; but, like a man enraged, he complained against God as though God were unfair, not he: “So I have called on you,” as if Samuel, a servant of God, would favor those whom God frowned upon, or as if a dead prophet could do him more good than a living God.

It is cold comfort which Samuel’s response gave to Saul, and is obviously intended to drive him to despair, if not self-murder. We are not told why, when Saul desired to be told what he should do that Samuel would not have told him to repent and make his peace with God, and recall David from his banishment, and would then have told him that he might hope in this way to find mercy with God; but, instead of that, Samuel represented Saul’s case as helpless and hopeless, serving him as Satan did to Judas, to whom he was first a tempter and then a tormentor, persuading him first to sell his master and then to hang himself. Perhaps at this point Saul’s case really was helpless. Samuel criticized Saul with his present distress, and told him, not only that God had departed from him, but that he (Samuel) too had become his enemy, and therefore he must expect no comfortable answer from Him: “Why do you consult me, now that the Lord has departed from you and become your enemy? How can I be your friend when God is your enemy, or your counsellor when He has left you?”

He found fault with and scolded him with the anointing of David to the kingdom. He could not have touched upon a string that sounded more unpleasant in the ear of Saul than this. Nothing is said to reconcile him to David, but all tends rather to exasperate him against David and widen the breach.

He scolded him for his disobedience to the command of God in not destroying the Amalekites. Satan had helped him to overlook and excuse that sin back when Samuel was dealing with him to bring him to repentance, but now he aggravated it, to make him despair of God’s mercy. See what those get that listen to and receive Satan’s temptations. He himself will be their accuser, and insult them. Samuel foretold Saul’s approaching ruin and that his army would be routed by the Philistines. This is twice mentioned: “The Lord will deliver both Israel and you into the hands of the Philistines.” This he might foresee, by considering the superior strength and number of the Philistines, the weakness of the armies of Israel, Saul’s terror, and especially God’s departure from them. “The Lord will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.”

He said that he and his sons would be slain in the battle: “tomorrow,” that is, in a little time and, supposing that it was now after midnight, it may be taken for the very next day after that which had now begun, “you and your sons will be with me,” that is, in the state of the dead, separate from the body. Samuel could not have foretold the event unless God had revealed it to him; and, God might by him foretell it; as we read later in I Kings 22:20-23 of an evil spirit that foresaw Ahab’s fall at Ramoth-Gilead and was instrumental in it. Ahab became more obstinate at the message he heard and this one frightened Saul, and both messages merely said they would be destroyed; so miserable are those that are under the power of Satan.

5. Saul is persuaded to Eat and Departs to Go to His Death 20-22

Saul was weak from fasting but was persuaded by the witch and his men to eat. He left. Now we know how Saul received this terrible message from Samuel. He desired to be told what he should do, but was only told what he had not done and what should be done to him. Those who are evil that expect anything good or comforting from God will be disappointed.

He sunk under the load. He was indeed unfit to bear it, having eaten nothing all the day before, nor that night. He came fasting from the camp, and continued fasting; not for lack of food, but because he had no appetite. The fear he was in of the power of the Philistines took away his appetite, or perhaps the struggle he had with his own conscience, after he had entertained the thought of consulting the witch, made him to detest even his necessary food, though ever so dainty. This made him an easy prey to this fresh terror that now came upon him like an armed man. He fell all along on the earth, as if the archers of the Philistines had already hit him, and there was no strength in him to bear up against this sad and bad news. He had had enough of consulting witches, and found them miserable comforters. When God in His Word speaks terror to sinners He opens to them, at the same time, a door of hope if they repent: but those that apply to the gates of hell for help must expect darkness without any glimpse of light.

He was with difficulty eventually persuaded to take as much relief as was necessary to carry him back to his post in the camp. The witch, was very urgent with him to take some refreshment, quite possibly that he might quickly leave her house, fearing that if he should be ill, especially if he died there, she would be punished for it as a traitor, though she had escaped punishment as a witch. This, it is probable, rather than any sentiment of kindness, made her eager to help him . . . that is help him leave. But what a deplorable condition had he brought himself to when he needed so wretched a comforter! She pleaded that she had obeyed his voice to the endangering of her life, and why therefore should not he listen to her voice for the relieving of his life? She had a fat calf at hand which she prepared for his entertainment.

Saul showed himself very disagreeable: “He refused, and said, I will not eat,” but the woman at length, with the help of his servants, persuaded him, against his inclination and resolution, to take some refreshment. By friendly advice, they compelled him.

Was this courage, fatalism or just being stubborn? He went to the battle knowing he would be killed. Was he courageous that though he was assured he should lose both his life and honor, yet he would not desert his army, but resolutely returned to the camp, and stood ready for an engagement? Could this be bravery? He could be brave and display bravado, but not be wise and tender. Because even more amazing than what appears to be bravery, is the hardness of his heart, that he did not again appeal to God by repentance and prayer, in hopes yet to obtain at least some favor, but he ran headlong upon his own ruin and that of his sons’ and army.

He did not care for their safety. What a selfish leader! I care not if, when I am dead, the world should be set on fire. He was like selfish Hezekiah who thought Isaiah’s prophesy of doom to Jerusalem and her residents was good because it would happen after he was dead. Earlier Saul did not beg as David did “Don’t withdraw your Holy Spirit from me.” and now, Saul did not beg, as David did, “Let your hand be against me, but not against your people.”

Saul was not a good leader. He had no care for those over whom God had placed him as a protector. How unlike his successor. How unlike the good and model Shepherd who gave His life for His sheep and said there was no greater love than to give oneself for a friend.

How can I draw from this horrible story a conclusion applicable for loving pastors, evangelists, missionaries, Christian teachers and church leaders who have dedicated their lives to service to God? Saul’s attitude, value system and behavior are so terrible that I can scarcely believe any of you would be tempted to follow his example. Could it be that the reason this part of the story is even in the Bible is to teach Christian leaders how bad a person can become once the Spirit of God is lifted off of that person? It makes me shudder to think this can happen—and to run as fast as I can to the Lord rather than from Him.