The Book of 1 Samuel

When God becomes your adversary

1 Samuel 28:8-20 SCC 5/2/15


The writer wanted to place the dilemmas of David and Saul side-by-side so his readers would be forced to compare them. David's dilemma—-he was with the enemies of God. He is—-by his own successful scheming—-marooned in the Philistine ranks and seemingly expected to fight alongside these pagans. And Saul's dilemma? Saul himself expresses it in 28:6 and 15. “God [emphatic] has turned away from me and answers me no more.” Saul's problem is that he is without the Word of God. Could there be anything more terrifying than to be cut off from all communication from God in the most critical moment? Which is worse: with the Philistines or without God? Some dilemmas are worse than others and the writer wants us to notice Saul's abysmal hopelessness.



The Philistines are resolved to fight Israel, v 1-2.

Verse 1: If the Israelites had not forsaken God, there would have been no Philistines remaining to molest them. If Saul had not forsaken the Lord they would not be facing this danger at all. Of course, the hardest struggles require faith and when faith is missing God is absent.

Verse 2: Achish expectation of assistance from David in this war receives an ambiguous answer from David: We will see what will be done; it will be time enough to talk of that hereafter; but surely you shall know what your servant can do. Thus he keeps himself free from a promise to serve Achish and yet keeps up his expectation of it. This event is picked up in chapter 29. In the meantime here is pathetic Saul.

Saul’s resolve to seek God’s help is unanswered 3-6

Verse 3: We are reminded of Samuel’s death (25:1). The writer sets things up by informing us of Saul’s oracle to remove mediums and spiritists from the land. The rest of the story revolves around Samuel who is dead and mediums who are still active underground.

Verse 4: Saul’s problems are staggering. The Philistines have harassed the Israelites but now the Philistines have determined to break the back of Israel’s military might. Combining all of their armed forces at Aphek (29:1) from there, they will march northward, up through the Coastal Plain to Shunem. Their strategy seems to be to “divide and conquer” Israel separating the nation in the middle and then working on the northern/southern halves independently. Saul bivouacs across the valley at Mt Gilboa.

Verse 5: Saul’s scouts inform him of the size and location of the Philistines’ forces. The numbers are staggering. The Philistines, instead of trekking up into the hill country are sticking to the lower ground to make full use of their chariots. Saul is aware of the danger he is in and is desperately afraid. This full-scale attack by the Philistines has all the signs of a devastating defeat for Saul and his army.

Verse 6: Saul now desperately seeks to “inquire of the Lord,” but he is not able to get any response thru dreams, the Urim or by prophets. He had turned a deaf ear to God too many times, and now God is turning a deaf ear to Him. Saul is not really very experienced in seeking God’s will. Unlike David, Saul is not accustomed to seeking divine guidance.

NB: Apparently, God is sensitive about our treatment of Him. If you want to manage life on your own while ignoring God’s counsel and will and wisdom you can do that. We often lament how unbelievers manage life without recognizing God but isn’t it worse for a believer to cavalierly live his or her life ignoring the will of God? Should we realistically expect that God step in when we are in desperate need after prolonged forgetfulness of Him, His will, His wisdom, His Word? He did not for Saul. James warns us that when we draw near to God, he draws near to us and not otherwise. How? “Cleanse your hands you sinners and purify your hearts you double-minded”—something Saul never did.   



Saul deliberately ignores Gods will to seek Gods help 7-14

Verse 7: Saul makes a very desperate and dangerous decision. Since he cannot seem to get God’s attention in any of the conventional ways, he decides that he must inquire of a medium. The author of 1 Chronicles concludes that Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the LORD, because of the word of the LORD which he did not keep; and also because he asked counsel of a medium, making inquiry of it, and did not inquire of the LORD. Therefore He killed him, and turned the kingdom to David the son of Jesse (1 Chr 10:13-14).

Verse 8: God has strictly forbidden the use of mediums (Lev 19:31; 20:6, 27; Dt 18:10-14). Saul has to go around the Philistines. To kill the opposing king is to be half way to victory over one’s enemy, and thus the king is the primary target. Saul does not wish to be recognized by the medium. When Saul arrives at the home of the medium, he gets right to the point.

Verse 9-11: He first seeks a commitment from the medium that she will conjure up whomever he names. She resists, fearing this might be one of Saul’s “sting” operations v 9. She does not want to be caught directly disobeying the king’s orders. Ironically, Saul swears to her by the Lord that she will not be punished for doing what he asks of her v 10. He then asks the woman to conjure up Samuel for him v 11. Verse 12-13: When the woman sees Samuel, she shrieks v 12. She not only recognizes Samuel, she now recognizes that the one asking her to conjure up Samuel is none other than Saul himself. Saul again assures the woman he will not harm her, and then asks her to describe the person she sees before her v 13. Verse 14: Her response to seeing Samuel and her description of him seems to indicate that this is no ordinary conjuring. She tells Saul that she sees a “divine being”. This “divine being” she describes to Saul as one looking like an old man, wrapped with a robe v 14. Saul recognizes him as Samuel. Saul bows down with his face to the ground “doing homage” to him.

Saul’s desperate attempt only confirms his sin 15-19

Verse 15: During the years Saul and Samuel were both alive, Samuel spoke candidly to Saul for God. Samuel did not tell Saul what he wanted to hear. In light of these things, what in the world does Saul expect Samuel to say to him now? Samuel’s disapproval is clearly indicated and Saul seeks to justify his actions by telling Samuel he is greatly distressed. He adds that the reason is the Philistines are waging war against him and that God has departed from him, answering his inquiries no more.

Verse 16: Samuel is not impressed. He does not tell Saul what to do. In fact, he rebukes Saul for asking him to do what is impossible. Saul is on his own. But, since Saul has gone to the effort of having him conjured up, Samuel will tell Saul how things are between him and God, and what tomorrow holds.

Verse 17: The situation Saul now finds himself in is precisely that which Samuel announced to Saul when he spoke for God in chapters 13 and 15. Saul is now experiencing the fulfillment of Samuel’s earlier prophecies. Samuel, in very concise words, tells Saul what will happen to him and why. God has torn the kingdom from Saul’s hands. He is giving that kingdom to David, Saul’s neighbor.

Verse 18-19: This is because of Saul’s disobedience failing to fully carry out God’s instructions concerning Amalek v 18. The words of Samuel’s prophecy, spoken to Saul in chapter 15, are now being fulfilled. On the following day, God will give Israel, Saul, and his sons over to the Philistines v 19. Saul and his sons will be killed. He conjures up a prophet, and he gets one. Even from the grave, Samuel will not change his tune.



Verse 20-21: Saul came to the medium at En-dor that night a very fearful man. Saul falls to the ground, paralyzed v 20. In part, this is the result of his having had nothing to eat for some time. In addition, he is fatigued from traveling those eight miles or so from his camp in Gilboa to En-dor. But a good bit of it is due to sheer terror v 21.

Verse 22-25: The woman now appeals to Saul to listen to her and take her advice v 22. She pleads with the king to let her fix him something to eat, something to give him strength enough to be on his way. He refuses v 23. His appetite is gone. Both the woman and Saul’s servants prevail upon him to eat, not because he is hungry, but because he must regain his strength to return to his camp. She slaughters the calf and prepares it, along with some bread v 24. The king eats, and then goes out into the night v 25. A very pathetic conclusion to the final night of his life.


Here is the king of Israel, so weak with hunger and terror he cannot even stand up. He is dressed in a pathetic attempt at disguise, but that also has failed. He is at the house of a medium, seeking to inquire of her. And when he manages to speak with Samuel, the prophet tells says “I told you so.” He then adds that he and his sons will die in battle the following day. He offers him no encouragement, no hope, no chance to repent. It is simply too late. Forty years earlier, Saul was a promising young ruler and a marvelous physical specimen, who stood head and shoulders above his fellow-Israelites. What happened?

1. Do not start or stop ignoring the will of God. Saul ignored clear divine directives at Gilgal, from Samuel, and about the Amalekites. You ignore the will of God to your own peril. Hebrews 10 warns that willful sin can expect a terrible judgment—so don’t go there!

2. Don’t minimize your disobedience by justifying what you did as your way of pleasing God. God looks upon disobedience as rebellion and upon insubordination as iniquity and idolatry. If ignoring the will of God becomes a lifestyle then in what sense can you claim that God is with you? Like Saul, when you desperately need Him you will not find Him, his peace, his hope, his power—you are on your own.

3. Don’t become careless about obeying God’s commandments or a repetition of sins is inevitable. If you find the will of God negotiable it is easier to modify His will in the future. Eventually turning to witches, mediums or any number of other means for obtaining guidance other than Gods word seems acceptable.