1 Samuel 28:1-6 The world of the occult is a dangerous world because it seduces people to put their trust in false prophets instead of God. Mediums, psychics, palm-readers, fortune-tellers, astrologers and other false prophets claim to have the power to predict the future and change the destiny of a person.
But the truth is, no one sees the future but God Himself, and no one can bring permanent deliverance and peace but God Himself. In the end the world of the occult will lead a person into despair and hopelessness. Saul’s was in a desperate situation with an invasion by a massive army of Philistines against Israel. As soon as the Philistines struck, Saul began to seek the Lord, asking for His guidance and help.
But because of his disobedience and rebellion against God, the Lord would not hear or answer him. As a result, Saul began to seek for a medium or a psychic in his desperate search for divine help. It is easy to see how a person might come to seek help from witchcraft and sorcery. Four basic reasons why a person turns to the world of the occult can be learned from this passage:
1) There was a serious problem with The Philistine army and in Saul’s mind, he not only had to face the Philistines, he had to face David as well. Perhaps Saul thought the invasion was an attempt to overthrow his government so that David could rule Israel on behalf of the Philistines.
Whatever the case, Saul was facing a very critical situation. King Achish of the Philistines expected David to fight by his side. This posed a dilemma for David; it meant that he would be fighting against the very people whom he had been appointed to serve as king by God.
To squelch any doubt in King Achish’s mind, David promised to serve loyally, assuring the king that he would witness just how bravely he and his men could fight. In response King Achish promoted David and his men to be the king’s own personal bodyguard. As will be seen, the Lord intervened and worked out the events so that David did not have to fight against the Israelites.
But the question arises, would he have fought against his own people? He had already jeopardized the Lord’s blessing upon his life by deserting the Promised Land and by living among the Philistines. Was David about to rebel even more against the Lord by fighting against the Lord’s people? David had gotten himself into a predicament that was humanly impossible to escape. Only the sovereign power and working of God could deliver him.
2) There was no spiritual leader available to Saul for counsel. Samuel was now dead for Saul to seek his guidance. Saul did not even have false prophets to whom he could turn because he had expelled all the mediums from the land of Israel.
3) There was Saul’s fear because the Spirit of God had left him.
4) There was no answer to prayer for Saul, the doors of heaven seemed to be closed to him, because of his sin and lack of repentance before the Lord. For years he had been guilty of disobeying the commandments of the Lord, and rebelling against Him.
2. (1 Samuel 28:7-8) Witchcraft, Seeking— Medium, Spirit, Seeking— Spiritist, Seeking— Sorcery, Seeking— Saul, Sins and Weaknesses of: there was Saul’s tragic, shocking decision to seek a spirit medium. His decision was shocking because he had earlier attempted to expel all spiritists from the promised land. But here he was giving an order for his personal attendants to find a spirit medium who might be able to counsel and advise him. Saul was a leader who was gripped by a spirit of despair, helplessness, and hopelessness. For this reason he was seeking help from a spiritist, from the dark, strange world of the occult.
When Saul gave the order for a spirit medium to be found, some of his attendants knew exactly where one was located, in Endor. She had apparently escaped the earlier purge by Saul, or else some of the spiritists had secretly been allowed to remain in Israel by officers who had not agreed with Saul’s expulsion.
Whatever the case, Saul was desperate for some kind of spiritual help, so he immediately disguised himself and made a quick trip to the medium under the cover of darkness (1 Samuel 28:8).
A disguise was necessary in order to protect him from Philistine patrols and in order to keep anyone from knowing that he, the king, was seeking counsel from a spiritist, as this was strictly forbidden by the Lord’s commandments. Arriving at the medium’s house in Endor, Saul immediately asked the woman to consult a spirit for him, the spirit of the person he himself would name.
Thought 1. Saul was committing a very serious offense against the Lord, one of the worst evils that can be done against God. When a person turns to the world of the occult, he turns completely away from God. The person is putting his trust in spirits, and the spirits are not of God. They are spirits of the evil one (Satan), deceptive spirits who seek to cut the heart of God by turning people away from God.
When a person places his trust in an evil spirit of sorcery, God’s heart is cut and hurt, suffering deep, intense pain. The Lord knows that He and He alone can help and save a person. So when a person seeks help from a false spirit, a false trust, the person is dooming himself. The false spirit cannot help, cannot deliver the person from the bondage of sin and death.
The person will continue in sin and eventually die, to be eternally separated from God. There is no hope in trusting the world of the occult, in witchcraft or sorcery, spiritism or mediums. For this reason, God issues a severe warning to all who turn away from him and place their hope in spiritism and sorcery:
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).
“But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).
“And the soul that turneth after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a whoring after them, I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people” (Leviticus 20:6).
“So Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the Lord, even against the word of the Lord, which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to enquire of it” (1 Chronicles 10:13).
“And I will cut off witchcrafts out of thine hand; and thou shalt have no more soothsayers” (Micah 5:12).
3. (28:9-19) Spiritism, Results of Seeking— Medium, Spirit, Results of Seeking— Occult, Results of Seeking— Witchcraft, Results of Seeking— Sorcery, Results of Seeking: there was Saul’s terrible evil of seeking the counsel and advice of the spirit medium. In studying Saul’s experience, five sad results occurred, results that take place when any person consults the world of the occult.
1. First, the spirit medium was deceived more and more, encouraged to think that God’s command could be broken and that there was no condemnation for practicing the occult (1 Samuel 28:9-10). When Saul asked the medium to bring up from the dead the person he would name, the woman refused. She was afraid the three men were agents who had been sent by Saul to complete the purge of sorcery throughout the nation. But note how Saul encouraged her, taking an oath that she would not be punished for helping him seek advice from the dead.
By placing his confidence in the realm of spiritism, Saul was encouraging the woman to continue in the evil of the occult. He was leading her more and more into the world of deception, into believing that the dark world of sorcery could actually help the desperate seeker. But God’s Word is clear:
“And the soul that turneth after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a whoring after them, I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people….A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them” (Leviticus 20:6, 27).
“A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them. When thou art come into the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee. Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God” (Deuteronomy 18:9-13).
“And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:19-20).
2. Second, Saul (the seeker) was deceived (1 Samuel 28:11-14). Saul thought that he could secure help—deliverance, peace, and security—from the medium instead of from the Lord. Sitting there before the medium, Saul requested that she bring up Samuel for consultation (1 Samuel 28:11). Note that Samuel seemed to appear without the woman’s having done anything. Suddenly, immediately, the medium saw Samuel and cried out in utter shock and surprise at Samuel’s appearance. Simultaneously, she recognized Saul.
The implication is that the actual appearance of a dead person was a new experience for her. She never expected the event to happen, yet Samuel had actually appeared. It seemed or appeared that the Lord had miraculously sent the prophet at Saul’s request.
Knowing from her reaction that she was seeing something, Saul attempted to ease her fear and asked what she saw. By his question, it is evident that Saul himself did not see Samuel. To the best of her ability the medium described that she saw a spirit coming up out of the ground, an old man wearing a robe. Saul was convinced that it was Samuel.
Saul was seeking deliverance, peace, and security from a spirit medium, but he was going to be woefully disappointed. For deliverance, peace, and security come only from the Lord.
It is the Lord and the Lord alone who could have helped Saul and who can help us in our desperate situations.
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
“The Lord will give strength unto his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace” (Psalms 29:11).
“Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalms 119:165).
“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isaiah 26:3).
3. Third, Saul bowed—worshipped and paid homage—to the dead, not to the Lord (1 Samuel 28:14). Being told that Samuel had appeared, Saul immediately prostrated himself upon the ground. He was paying homage to the dead spirit, not to the Lord—an act that is strictly forbidden.
“Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Matthew 4:10).
“O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker” (Psalms 95:6).
“O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth” (Psalms 96:9).
4. Fourth, Saul felt distress, danger, and alienation because his prayers were not answered by the Lord (1 Samuel 28:15). Either directly or through the medium, Samuel asked Saul why he had disturbed him by bringing him up from the dead? Thinking that Samuel was unaware of the events that were happening, Saul explained his personal distress, the Philistine invasion and the fact that his prayers were not being answered by the Lord. As a result, he was calling upon Samuel for assistance and guidance.
But Saul’s answer for help was not to be found in the world of the occult. False prophets were not the answer to the unbearable anxiety, strain, and pressure he was experiencing. Only the Lord could deliver him from his distress.
“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
“Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
5. Fifth, Saul demonstrated that the Lord’s judgment would reject him and fall upon him (1 Samuel 28:16-19). Note that Samuel had been sent by the Lord to appear before Saul with a very specific message, a message of judgment:
The Lord had turned away and become Saul’s enemy, just as Samuel had predicted when he was living upon the earth. The kingdom had been torn away from Saul and given to David (1 Samuel 28:17).
The reason for the Lord’s judgment was that Saul had lived a life of disobedience and had refused to execute the judgment of God against the brutal, savage Amalekites (1 Samuel 28:7-8,18;13,15).
Then the shocking news of God’s immediate judgment was pronounced upon Saul. The next day Saul and his sons would die, and the Israelites would be utterly defeated in battle (1 Samuel 28:19). Saul had lived a life of disobedience and rebellion against God.
Consequently, the hand of God’s judgment was to fall upon him. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
“And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
“The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished” (2 Peter 2:9).
Thought 1. In attempting to understand the above passage, it is helpful to read what several commentators say. Five different quotes follow:
1) Warren W. Wiersbe says this:
Taking the plain meaning of the text, it seems clear that Samuel did appear to the woman but she was shocked when it happened. Samuel didn’t come up from the realm of the dead because she was a good medium but because the Lord willed it to happen. This was not a demon imitating Samuel, or the medium using clever tricks, otherwise the woman wouldn’t have been shocked. Her surprised loud cry was evidence that Samuel’s sudden appearing was something she didn’t expect to happen.
She saw the prophet but Saul didn’t (1 Samuel 28:13-14), but Samuel spoke directly to Saul and not through the medium. Samuel was a prophet of God and needed no “mouthpiece” to convey the Lord’s message. In fact, 1 Samuel 28:21 suggests that the woman was not close to Saul during the time Samuel delivered his message to the king.
Saul had only one question for Samuel: “What shall I do?”
The Philistines were ready to attack, Saul was a weak and worried man, and everything he did to ascertain the Lord’s will didn’t work. “God is departed from me.” Seven times in his brief message Samuel used the word “Lord” as he reminded Saul that God had departed from him because he refused to obey God’s will. God tore the kingdom from Saul because he hadn’t obeyed in the matter of slaying the Amalekites (15:28), and for the first time, Samuel announced that David was the “neighbor” who would inherit the kingdom (28:17).
But the direst news of all was that the next day Saul and his sons would be slain in battle and join Samuel in the realm of the dead.
2) Robert D. Bergen says this:
Questions naturally arise at this point: Did the medium actually make contact with a living spirit-being, and if so, was it really the prophet Samuel? While this matter is not likely to be settled to everyone’s satisfaction, the following observations can be made. First, the plain statement of the Hebrew text is that she did in fact see Samuel. Second, the medium reacted to Samuel’s appearance as though it was a genuine—and terrifying—experience:
she “cried out at the top of her voice.” Her strong reaction also suggests that Samuel’s appearance was unexpected; perhaps this was the first time she had ever actually succeeded in contacting the dead. Third, the speeches attributed to Samuel contained allusions to a prior interchange between the two, allusions that would have been appropriate only for the real Samuel to have made. Fourth, Samuel’s role and message as a prophet, so much a part of his ministry in life, was unchanged in his encounter with Saul here.
Indeed, a straightforward reading of the biblical account suggests the possibility that mediums may possess the capacity to contact dead persons and establish lines of communication between the living and the dead. This view is not explicitly rejected elsewhere in Scripture; the Torah prohibits necromancy not because it is a hoax but because it promotes reliance on supernatural guidance from some source other than the Lord.
An alternative reading of this passage suggests that it was not the skill of the medium but rather a unique act of God that brought Saul into contact with Samuel. The medium did not possess the capacity to disturb a dead saint; but God, as “a sign of his grace,” permitted Saul to have one last encounter with the prophet who had played such a determinative role in the king’s career.
3) The Nelson Study Bible New King James Version says this:
The appearance of Samuel has been interpreted in various ways. It has been suggested that the appearance took place in Saul’s mind, as part of his psychological breakdown. The church fathers believed that a demon impersonated Samuel and appeared to Saul. Others have thought that the medium was a fraud who tricked Saul into thinking that he saw Samuel. It seems best to follow the early view that this was a genuine appearance of Samuel which God Himself brought about. Several points favor this interpretation:
(1) The medium was surprised (1 Samuel 28:12);
(2) Saul identified the figure as Samuel (1 Samuel 28:14);
(3) the message Samuel spoke was clearly from God (1 Samuel 28:16-19);
(4) the text says that the figure was Samuel (1 Samuel 28:12, 15, 16). There is no inherent difficulty with God bringing back the spirit of Samuel from heaven and allowing him to appear to Saul—in spite of the woman’s evil profession.
4) The NIV Study Bible says this:
The episode has been understood in many different ways, among them the following:
1. God permitted the spirit of Samuel to appear to the woman.
2. The woman had contact with an evil or devilish spirit in the form of Samuel by whom she was deceived and controlled.
3. By using parapsychological powers such as telepathy or clairvoyance, the woman was able to discern Saul’s thoughts and picture Samuel in her own mind. Whatever the explanation of this mysterious affair, the medium was used in some way to convey to Saul that the impending battle would bring death, would dash his hopes for a dynasty and would conclude his reign with a devastating defeat of Israel that would leave the nation at the mercy of the Philistines, the very people against whom he had struggled all his years as king. And this would come, as Samuel had previously announced (1 Samuel 15:26,28), because of his unfaithfulness to the Lord.
5) Matthew Henry says this in several scattered paragraphs:
a. Saul seeks for a witch, 1 Samuel 28:7. When God answered him not, if he had humbled himself by repentance and persevered in seeking God, who knows but that at length he might have been entreated for him? but, since he can discern no comfort either from heaven or earth (Isaiah 8:21, 22), he resolves to knock at the gates of hell, and to see if any there will befriend him and give him advice: Seek me a woman that has a familiar spirit (1 Samuel 28:7).
b. But to think that any good souls would come up at the beck of an evil spirit, or that God, who had denied a man the benefit of his own institutions, would suffer him to reap any real advantage by a cursed, diabolical invention, was very absurd.
c. God permitted the devil, to answer the design, to put on Samuel’s shape, that those who would not receive the love of the truth might be given up to strong delusions and believe a lie. That it could not be the soul of Samuel himself they might easily apprehend when it ascended out of the earth, for the spirit of a man, much more of a good man, goes upward, Ecclesiastes 3:21.
But if people will be deceived, it is just with God to say, “Let them be deceived.” That the devil, by the divine permission, should be able to person-ate Samuel is not strange, since he can transform himself into an angel of light! nor is it strange that he should be permitted to do it upon this occasion, that Saul might be driven to despair, by inquiring of the devil, since he would not, in a right manner, inquire of the Lord, by which he might have had comfort.
Saul, being told of gods ascending, was eager to know what was the form of this deity, and in what shape he appeared, so far was he from conceiving any horror at it, his heart being wretchedly hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Saul, it seems, was not permitted to see any manner of similitude himself, but he must take the woman’s word for it, that she saw an old man covered with a mantle, or robe, the habit of a judge, which Samuel had sometimes worn.
d. The spectre, or apparition, personating Samuel, asks why he is sent for (1 Samuel 28:15): Why hast thou disquieted me to bring me up? To us this discovers that it was an evil spirit that personated Samuel; for (as bishop Patrick observes) it is not in the power of witches to disturb the rest of good men and to bring them back into the world when they please; nor would the true Samuel have acknowledged such a power in magical arts: but to Saul this was a proper device of Satan’s, to draw veneration from him, to possess him with an opinion of the power of divination, and so to rivet him in the devil’s interests.
e. It is cold comfort which this evil spirit in Samuel’s mantle gives to Saul, and is manifestly intended to drive him to despair and self-murder. Had it been the true Samuel, when Saul desired to be told what he should do he would 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, he represents his case as helpless and hopeless, serving him as he did Judas, to whom he was first a tempter and then a tormentor, persuading him first to sell his master and then to hang himself.
1. He upbraids him with his present distress (1 Samuel 28:16), tells him, not only that God had departed from him, but that he had become his enemy, and therefore he must expect no comfortable answer from him: “Wherefore dost thou ask me? How can I be thy friend when God is thy enemy, or thy counselor when he has left thee?”
2. He upbraids him with the anointing of David to the kingdom, 1 Samuel 28:17. 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. Yet, to make him believe that he was Samuel, the apparition affirmed that it was God who spoke by him. The devil knows how to speak with an air of religion, and can teach false apostles to transform themselves into the apostles of Christ and imitate their language. Those who use spells and charms, and plead, in defense of them, that they find nothing in them but what is good, may remember what good words the devil here spoke, and yet with what a malicious design.
3. He upbraids him with his disobedience to the command of God in not destroying the Amalekites, 1 Samuel 28:18. Satan had helped him to palliate and excuse that sin when Samuel was dealing with him to bring him to repentance, but now he aggravates it, to make him despair of God’s mercy.
See what those get that hearken to Satan’s temptations. He himself will be their accuser, and insult over them.
4. (28:20-25) Despair, Example of— Hopelessness, Example of— Disobedience, Results of— Saul, Despair and Hopelessness of: there was the utter despair and spirit of hopelessness that struck Saul.
Hearing that he and his sons were to die the next day was more than Saul could bear: he collapsed prostrate on the floor, stricken with fear and a sense of hopelessness. In addition, his strength was utterly gone, for he had eaten nothing in over twenty-four hours.
The stress and pressure of everything was weighing ever so heavily upon him. Seeing Saul collapsed, the medium and Saul’s attendants immediately rushed to him, urging him to eat (1 Samuel 28:21-25). Using a psychological argument, the medium stressed that she had obeyed him; therefore now he needed to listen and to obey her by eating.
But Saul refused. However, she and Saul’s men kept on urging him to eat until finally he listened. He then got up and sat on the couch while she prepared a complete meal (1 Samuel 28:23-24). After eating the meal, Saul and his men left to return to camp.
Thought 1. The fate of the disobedient person is that of utter despair and hopelessness. There is no hope for the person who lives a life of disobedience. If a person walks through life rebelling against or ignoring God’s holy commandments, that person will end up in a hopeless, helpless predicament. After having rejected God, he will stand face-to-face with God and have to hear God’s judgment pronounced upon him. Hopelessness and utter despair will be the fate, the destiny, of all who reject the Lord.
“That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).
“My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and are spent without hope” (Job 7:6).
“My soul is weary of my life; I will leave my complaint upon myself; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul” (Job 10:1).
“And where is now my hope? as for my hope, who shall see it” (Job 17:15).
“O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar” (Psalms 42:6).
—Preacher’s Outline and Sermon Bible – Commentary