Thursday, May 10, 2012

Saul and the Witch of En-dor

Our church in the middle of a sermon series that is going through the Old Testament. We have been at it for almost 11 months and are currently dealing with the reign of King David. The series really started serendipitously when our Senior Pastor taught on the almost sacrifice of Isaac found in Genesis 22:1-19. He continued to follow the major points of the story of Israel until someone asked him if he was going to preach through the whole Bible. And that was the birth of our current series. In 11 months we have moved from the story of Isaac to King David–or in terms of books of the Bible–we have gone from the middle of Genesis to the beginning of 2 Samuel. That is a lot of ground and while a survey style series allows us to see how God has been working throughout history, it also means that we cannot cover every single story. We would probably still be in Genesis if we did cover every story in depth.

King Saul and the Witch of En-dor is one that I find fascinating and was one that didn't make it into the series. I think that it is an interesting insight of the Bible's view of the spiritual world. With verses like Ephesians 6:12 it might seem obvious that the Bible teaches about demons and other supernatural forces. But like any other doctrine there are those that have both valid and incorrect critiques of the spiritual warfare theology found Frank Peretti's novels like This Present Darkness. The range of theology pertaining to the spiritual world is vast. As a teen I remember hearing about Bob Larson as one proponent of a vast spiritual battle that was raging behind everything from rock music to political corruptness. While he might be right it seems that his theology went a bit too far at times. But the story of King Saul and the Witch of En-dor found in 1 Samuel 28:3-25 gives us a glimpse into the spiritual realm:

Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in Ramah, his own city. And Saul had put the mediums and the necromancers out of the land. The Philistines assembled and came and encamped at Shunem. And Saul gathered all Israel, and they encamped at Gilboa. When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. And when Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets. Then Saul said to his servants, "Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her." And his servants said to him, "Behold, there is a medium at En-dor."

So Saul disguised himself and put on other garments and went, he and two men with him. And they came to the woman by night. And he said, "Divine for me by a spirit and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you." The woman said to him, "Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the necromancers from the land. Why then are you laying a trap for my life to bring about my death?" But Saul swore to her by the LORD, "As the LORD lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing." Then the woman said, "Whom shall I bring up for you?" He said, "Bring up Samuel for me." When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, "Why have you deceived me? You are Saul." The king said to her, "Do not be afraid. What do you see?" And the woman said to Saul, "I see a god coming up out of the earth." He said to her, "What is his appearance?" And she said, "An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe." And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage.

Then Samuel said to Saul, "Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?" Saul answered, "I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams. Therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do." And Samuel said, "Why then do you ask me, since the LORD has turned from you and become your enemy? The LORD has done to you as he spoke by me, for the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. Because you did not obey the voice of the LORD and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the LORD has done this thing to you this day. Moreover, the LORD will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me. The LORD will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines."

Then Saul fell at once full length on the ground, filled with fear because of the words of Samuel. And there was no strength in him, for he had eaten nothing all day and all night. And the woman came to Saul, and when she saw that he was terrified, she said to him, "Behold, your servant has obeyed you. I have taken my life in my hand and have listened to what you have said to me. Now therefore, you also obey your servant. Let me set a morsel of bread before you; and eat, that you may have strength when you go on your way." He refused and said, "I will not eat." But his servants, together with the woman, urged him, and he listened to their words. So he arose from the earth and sat on the bed.24 Now the woman had a fattened calf in the house, and she quickly killed it, and she took flour and kneaded it and baked unleavened bread of it, and she put it before Saul and his servants, and they ate. Then they rose and went away that night.

I find this passage enlightening for a couple of reasons. The first is that it makes it clear that there is a spiritual realm behind our physical realm and we don't always know or see what is happening. Beyond that we also might like to think that we have some amount of control of what happens in the spiritual realm but we don't. The woman's response to calling up Samuel is unexpected. She is a medium that is supposed to be an expert in conjuring up and consulting spirits. Yet when she actually gets Samuel she is shocked. She thought that she had control but she didn't. The same is true for us. We cannot control the spiritual world and there is a reason that God has commanded us in Deuteronomy 18:10-12 to avoid using mediums, fortune tellers and other such things.

Finally this passage makes it clear that it is God that is in ultimate control. While Saul used a forbidden method of trying to see into the future, God ended up using that method. My understanding is that the Witch of En-dor was going through her normal process and figured that she would tell Saul what he wanted to hear. But then God asserted his control and allowed Samuel to appear to give the bad news to Saul. As Christians we should not dabble in the occult for two reasons. The first is that it directly disobeys God. The second is that it shows a serious lack of faith in God. We don't know the future but God does and he assures us that he is in control.


(Edited for speling...spealling...spelling.)

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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