A Disguised King, A Baffled Necromancer and A Dead Prophet – 1 Samuel 28

As the Philistine army gathered their forces against the Israelites, Saul was perplexed and could not even decide his next move. The realisation that the days of his reign were numbered was dawning on him only now. When Samuel had prophesied about this day, he did not understand but seeing the enemy at his doorstep, he now wished that he had adhered to the prophet’s rebuke.

With the massacre of the priestly clan of Nob and the Ephod being inaccessible (as it was with Abiathar, the remaining priest who had fled and aligned himself with David), Saul seemingly had no way to discern the will of God. He had lost his connection with God a long time back and did nothing to try and repair that broken link. He would rather consult Samuel or one of the ephod-wearing priests to discern God’s will on his behalf. But now, in his time of need, he found no one who could help him. He had even banned the necromancers from the land who used the evil spirits to predict the future.

Saul then said to his attendants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her.”

1 Samuel 28:7 (NIV)

Saul was no different from our modern-day politicians, as hypocrisy ran in his veins. When he was troubled and could not find the answer to his problem, he was ready to break the very law that he had established to fulfil his needs. He immediately asked his men to find a woman who is a medium that could help him at this hour. His men informed him that there was one woman in Endor who could summon the spirits of the dead.

The Hour of Desperation

In the hour of desperation, people do things that totally contradict their character. However, for Saul, taking the help of an evil spirit to get what he wanted, was not against his character but a feature during the later years of his reign. He had abandoned the hand of God and only cared about fulfilling his own desires, for which he would use anyone. Be it his loyal men, the priests of the Lord, David, or even his own family, everyone was a fair game for him. So quite fitting that in his final act as king of Israel, he is approaching a Necromancer to summon Samuel from the dead to help him go up against the Philistine army.

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.

1 Samuel 28:8 (NIV)

Saul doesn’t seem to care about appearances. Unlike the hypocrite politicians who try to hide their activities that highlight their hypocrisy, Saul did everything in the open. However, since Saul was crossing into enemy territory a day before the war, he probably wanted to slip past the forces at the border unnoticed and prolong his reign by another day, rather than wanting to keep his visit a secret from his own countrymen by disguising himself.

But the woman was cautious and hesitated to indulge in occultism. Saul gave her assurances and even swore on the name of the Lord, the very God he had betrayed when he sought advice from a medium. The woman took Saul at his word not knowing that the disguised king was in desperate need of her services.

Samuel Rises

Then the woman asked, “Whom shall I bring up for you?”
“Bring up Samuel,” he said. 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 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.” “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 28:11-14 (NIV)

On seeing Samuel’s figure, Saul probably came out of his disguise causing the woman to realise who was among her midst, the king of Israel. Or maybe the spirit that she consulted to bring up the dead revealed it to her. Although not prevalent in Israel due to the presence of the prophets, necromancy was a common practice in the ancient world. It was practised by the polytheistic neighbours of Israel and strongly condemned in the book of laws (Deuteronomy 18: 9-13).

Perhaps, this is why Saul had to enter the neighbouring territory and go all the way up to Endor to find someone who practised divination. Saul was right to expel the wizards from his land, but his acceptance of help from the medium at Endor would have given validation to the profession. In his desperation to meet Samuel, he was ready to forego the laws of Israel which only goes to show that there is nothing that Saul would not do to preserve his throne. Saul assumed that the ghostly figure wearing a robe was Samuel and he started conversing with it.

Samuel said, “Why do you consult me, now that the LORD has departed from you and become your enemy? 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. Because you did not obey the LORD or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the LORD has done this to you today. 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 (NIV)

After hearing what Samuel had to say, Saul dropped to the floor as his heart was filled with fear. In his anxious state to find a seer, he had not eaten anything that day and whatever strength he had remaining, was depleted after his encounter with the dead prophet. The woman had compassion for Saul and urged him to eat. She butchered a fattened calf, prepared it and baked some unleavened bread. Saul and his men ate and after gaining his strength, he got up and left that very night.

This encounter is right on top of the list of weird passages in the Bible, as we might never be able to comprehend it fully. The popular theory seems to be that it was not through the medium but because of God’s will that Samuel’s spirit was sent to Saul that day. During the transfiguration of Jesus, we read that Elisha and Moses were standing with Jesus on the mountain. Our God who revealed His will through Balaam’s donkey can surely send the spirit of Samuel to Saul for revealing His plans. We must not take this incident as validity for the dark arts but understand that God can work through anyone, even the evil spirits.

However, when we read the content of the message that Samuel delivered, it does not seem like God’s words. First Samuel could have appeared to Saul in his own palace and secondly the message that he brought was not of rebuke and correction but only rebuke, which is unlikely to come from God.

LORD has departed from you and become your enemy?

1 Samuel 28:16

The above verse seems like something that satan tells us each day to discourage us from turning away from our evil ways and returning to the fold of God. In the book of Acts, we see that evil spirits can also prophesy, the little girl who was able to prophesy that helped her master make money (Acts 16:16-34).

…tomorrow you and your sons will be with me.

1 Samuel 28:19

This verse particularly has confused the scholars when Samuel says that Saul would join him, but if this is an evil spirit saying, then these words are actually true. The overall message that came from this spirit goes against the characteristics of God that have been revealed to us by His Son Jesus. So though it is not right to speculate about what truly went on that day, what we must understand is that the Spirit of God will not reveal to us something that is against the Father or the Son. There are forces in the world which are ready to fool us into leaving the path of God but the Spirit of discernment has been given to us to make key decisions with the help of His Spirit. Let us exercise our privilege and not fall prey to satan and his tricks that lead us away from the fold of God.

Discussion Questions

28:7 – Why would Saul want to consult a medium, a profession that he himself had outlawed?
28:8 – Why would the king disguise himself when going to meet the Necromancer?
28:12 – How did the woman realise that it was Saul who had fooled her into calling up Samuel?
28:19 – One of the weirdest encounters that we find in the Bible. How was the great Prophet of God brought back from the dead by a Medium?


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