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1 Samuel 28:4 The Philistines assembled and came and set up camp at Shunem, while Saul gathered all Israel and set up camp at Gilboa

Saul was a seasoned warrior, but this battle gave him pause. When [he] saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart (1 Samuel 28:5). The text is not explicit, but Israel was apparently outnumbered. This did not mean certain defeat, of course, since Saul’s son Jonathan proved that Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few (1 Samuel 14:6). For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory (Deuteronomy 20:4), wrote Moses.

But God’s help was not guaranteed, and Saul was not living for God. Because he rejected the word of the Lord, God had rejected him as king (1 Samuel 15:23). Instead of being filled with faith, therefore, Saul was stricken with fear–terror filled his heart.

Obedience is not always easy, but it allows us to face life fearlessly, knowing that nothing can happen to us apart from the will of our heavenly Father (Luke 12:4-7). Those who refuse to walk with God may prosper for a time, but they are left to themselves when disaster strikes. I will show them my back and not my face in the day of their disaster (Jeremiah 18:17), said God.

1 Samuel 28:6 [Saul] inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him

For many years Saul did as he pleased, but now that he was desperate, he inquired of the Lord. He did not want to live for God; he only wanted God’s help. But God is not obligated to answer the prayers of those who refuse to live for him. So this time, the Lord did not answer him.

This was a very dark time for Saul, but it was not too late for him. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:23), said God elsewhere. If Saul would have sought God with all his heart, he would have found the God he was looking for. But that was not Saul’s way, so he turned to a spiritist instead.

1 Samuel 28:7 Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her

Since God was not answering Saul, he decided to call on the prophet Samuel. And since Samuel was dead (1 Samuel 25:1), Saul looked for a medium who might be able to call him up. Once again, Saul revealed his true spiritual condition. 

Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists (Leviticus 19:31). I will set my face against anyone who turns to mediums and spiritists (Leviticus 20:6), said God. In better days Saul expelled spiritists from the land, but now he was looking for one. 

1 Samuel 28:7b There is one in Endor, they said

Endor was a two-hour walk, and the day had already passed. But Saul was convinced that Samuel could tell him what to do. So he went with two of his men and found the woman they were looking for. Whom shall I bring up for you? Bring up Samuel, he said

This is Saul at his lowest. Years earlier God changed his heart and made him a new person (1 Samuel 10:9). When all those who had formerly known him saw him prophesying . . . they asked each other . . . . Is Saul also among the prophets? (1 Samuel 10:11). But starting well is no guarantee of finishing well, and Saul was finishing badly. He used to be among the prophets, but now he was consulting a spiritist.

1 Samuel 28:12 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! 

The woman was afraid because Saul had expelled the spiritists, and could have had her killed. But time had changed the king, and the spiritist was now his friend. Don’t be afraid. What do you see? The woman said, I see a ghostly figure coming up out of the earth. 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 (1 Samuel 28:13-14).

The Bible condemns calling up the dead, but it does not deny the possibility. Demons might also impersonate the dead, but in this case, God allowed Samuel to appear. 

Why do you consult me, now that the Lord has departed from you and become your enemy? . . . 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 (1 Samuel 28:16-19), said Samuel. Saul’s greatest fear was confirmed. He was a dead man walking.

1 Samuel 28:24-25 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. Then she set it before Saul and his men, and they ate. That same night they got up and left

It must have been a lonely walk back to camp as they thought about the impending battle. Once again, the words of Samuel proved right. The fighting grew fierce, and Saul was critically wounded. Instead of suffering torture at the hands of his enemies, Saul fell on his sword and died. His sons also died, and the army suffered heavy losses. The Philistines cut off Saul’s head, hung up his body, and put his armor in a pagan temple (1 Samuel 31:3-10). Worse than dying in battle, Saul died without God. He is one of the most tragic figures in the Bible.

From Saul we learn that there is nothing more important than staying right with God. Every day we are growing closer to God, or drifting further away from him. It is seldom apparent day by day, or even week by week. But over the course of years, a gradual drift can turn into apostasy. Saul had power, fame and wealth, but they could not keep him from death—or dying without God. There is only one friend we cannot afford to lose, but Saul lost his friendship with God.

Reflection and Review
Why was Saul filled with fear?
Why did God refuse to answer Saul?
What makes Saul a tragic figure?