The Unhappy Medium
Scripture: 1 Samuel 27:1– 29:11
The Unhappy Medium1 Samuel 27:1-29:11
Sunday, December 2, 2007
Pastor Randy Smith
We all have different ways that we are looking forward to enjoying the Christmas season. Some prefer to take the active route. They fight the crowds at Rockefeller Center, climb trees and scale the roof to decorate their property and participate in a plethora of vigorous winter recreation. Others, on the other hand, prefer a more mellow pursuit. For them, relaxation is the key. A cup of eggnog in front of a warm fireplace watching a college football game on a comfortable couch is the ticket to a enjoying the holiday. Though these are two extreme views; most people enjoy pursuing a combination of the two. They don't want all "running around" nor do they want all "sitting around." They look for a "happy medium" when choosing Christmas activities.
A "happy medium" can be defined as "a way of doing something which is good because it avoids being extreme" (thefreedictionary.com).
As we approach the latter chapters in 1 Samuel, David was definitely in a bind in which he was seeking a "happy medium."
You will remember last week that David pleaded with Saul that he withdraw his relentless hunt, lest David be driven out of the Promised Land (26:19). But as Saul thirsted for David's blood and the noose tightened, it became increasingly clear that the only refuge for David was outside Israel's borders.
Despite another one of Saul's phony confessions (26:21), for his own safety and the safety of his followers, David knew he had to entertain that which he dreaded the most. As we turn the page to chapter 27 David's thoughts are disclosed: Verses 1-2, "Then David said to himself, 'Now I will perish one day by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than to escape into the land of the Philistines. Saul then will despair of searching for me anymore in all the territory of Israel, and I will escape from his hand.' So David arose and crossed over, he and the six hundred men who were with him, to Achish the son of Maoch, king of Gath."
We have been introduced to Gath. Goliath was from Gath (17:4). David had already had a bad experience with Achish in Gath (21:10-15). Gath was the enemy. Gath was a principle city among the Philistines (6:17)!
In one sense, the plan was successful. David's problems with Saul ended. Verse 4, "Now it was told Saul that David had fled to Gath, so he no longer searched for him." Furthermore, the remainder of the chapter tells us that David was welcomed in Gath this time. Yet unfortunately in another sense, while running from his old problems, David was immersed in a new set of problems.
You see, living safely among the Philistines forced David to live a double-life. On the one hand, though outside the Promised Land, David's heart was for Israel. After all, he was their soon-to-be-king. Yet on the other hand, David had the king of Gath assured that he had defected and turned his back on his native Israel. King Achish was rather convinced. Verse 12, "So Achish believed David, saying, 'He has surely made himself odious among his people Israel; therefore he will become my servant forever." David knew living this double-life was the only way that he, the hero of the Israelites, could co-exist peaceably among the Philistines.
For a while David seemed to be enjoying the best of both worlds until the bottom fell out on him. Like anyone who lives a double-life, it is only a matter of time before our duplicity will be uncovered. The time had arrived when David's loyalty was tested. "Hey David, we are going out to fight the Israelites. You're going to come, right? You are one of us, right? You are going to fight against them in battle, right?" (28:1-2).
What a dilemma! Will David betray his fellow Israelites and be dubbed a traitor or will he refuse the battle and enrage Achish, provoking another Saul-like situation?
Probably before David had much time to think about it, chapter 29, verse 2 says, "And the lords of the Philistines were proceeding on by hundreds and by thousands, and David and his men were proceeding on in the rear with Achish." It is a hard picture to believe. There is David, swept away and entangled in his own scheming, marching with the Philistines to go and defeat the Israelites whom he has been chosen to shepherd! So much for the "happy medium!"
Yet when we see no way out, God spared the future king. Chapter 29, verse 3, "Then the commanders of the Philistines said, 'What are these Hebrews doing here?'" Despite Achish attempting to defend David, verse 4, "But the commanders of the Philistines were angry with him, and the commanders of the Philistines said to him, 'Make the man go back, that he may return to his place where you have assigned him, and do not let him go down to battle with us, or in the battle he may become an adversary to us. For with what could this man make himself acceptable to his lord? Would it not be with the heads of these men? Is this not David, of whom they sing in the dances, saying, 'Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands?'"
The troops viewed David as a double agent-a risk to take along in battle. God had His own purposes.
As David found himself in a dilemma, God provided a way of escape. Even when he was among the Philistines, God's sovereign and merciful hand was upon David for his deliverance in this dilemma.
All of this serves as an introduction for our abbreviated lesson this Lord's Supper morning.
As I said last week, Saul and David were two men heading in the opposite direction. 1 Samuel serves as a contrast between the two anointed ones. As David sought his "happy medium," chapters 27 and 29 reveal God's grace upon His servant. And sandwiched in-between the two chapters we will see Saul seek an "unhappy medium," a witch. Chapter 28 is the evidence that God has removed Himself from king Saul. And it only got worse! Leviticus 20:6, "As for the person who turns to mediums and spiritists…I will also set My face against that person."
The point? As bad as David's situation was to be caught among the Philistines, this morning we will see that it is much worse to be in Saul's shoes and cut off from the living God.
Verse 3, chapter 28, reminds us that Samuel was dead (cf. 25:1). In a moment we will see why that is significant. Verse 3 also informs us that "Saul had removed from the land those who were mediums and spiritists." This is another piece of information that we will find helpful. This also shows that even Saul, the God-rejecter himself, had some affection for orthodox spiritual practice, so common to many today, especially this time of the year.
The Bible is clear that the practices of clairvoyance are an abomination to God. Today we call them psychics, tarot card readers, palm readers, fortunetellers, horoscopes and astrology. Back then it was common to use mediums and spiritualists (28:3) to consult the dead for guidance. Again, the word of God is clear: "There shall not be found among you anyone who…uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritists, or one who calls up the dead" (Deut. 18:10-11; cf. Lev. 19:31; 20:6, 27; 2 Ki. 21:6; 23:24).
Unfortunately for Saul, we will soon see he regretted his own obedience to the law in the removal of the mediums.
Verse 4 informs us that the Philistines were preparing a major attack against the Israelites (cf. 28:15b). Verse 5, "When Saul saw the camp of the Philistines, he was afraid and his heart trembled greatly." This was no mere border skirmish!
Saul needed divine guidance immediately. Unfortunately, as we know, God was no longer talking to the king nor was God amused by Saul's "foxhole prayer." Verse 6, "When Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by prophets" (cf. 28:15c). Totally isolated and totally desperate, Saul turns to another source in his time of crisis, witchcraft. Going through his own mind was probably the thought: "Great, why did I get rid of all the mediums when I now need one?"
So due to his disobedience, he does not have the righteous word from the Lord, but due to his obedience, he does not have the unrighteous word from the mediums. A classic Saul-like situation! Unlike David, he had the worst of both worlds. But like an addict, there is always hope to find that which you once removed.
Verse 7, "Then Saul said to his servants, 'Seek 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 woman who is a medium at En-dor.'" To show how rare these people were and the extent of Saul's desperation, geographically he had to go around the Philistine camp to reach En-dor.
Beginning in verse 8, "Then Saul disguised himself by putting on other clothes, and went, he and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night; and he said, 'Conjure up for me, please, and bring up for me whom I shall name to you.' But the woman said to him, 'Behold, you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off those who are mediums and spiritists from the land. Why are you then laying a snare for my life to bring about my death?' Saul vowed to her by the LORD, saying, 'As the LORD lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.'"
Amazing irony! Saul swears an oath by the Lord (verse 10) as he seeks help from a source the Lord has condemned! This only further testifies that Saul's seeking guidance was out of a desire to relieve personal difficulties (28:15) rather than a pure love for the Lord (H.L. Ellison, Joshua-2 Samuel, p. 70). We can say, Saul wanted the results of God's favor more than he wanted God's favor (Davis, 1 Samuel, 297). Those are some thoughts worthy for all of us to ponder!
While the witch was fearing a sting operation (28:9) and the ensuing death penalty (Lev. 20:27), Saul was pursuing any means available if it meant receiving some divine guidance. How sad! The guy who at one time had his own personal prophet had forsaken the best from the Lord due to his own rebellion. And he is now proving his rebellion by committing actions that he knows very well are wrong (28:3). The selfish and Godless man whom we have witnessed on the path of self-destruction has hit an all-time low!
Beginning in verse 11, "Then the woman said, 'Whom shall I bring up for you?' And he said, 'Bring up Samuel for me.' When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice; and the woman spoke to Saul, saying, 'Why have you deceived me? For you are Saul.' The king said to her, 'Do not be afraid; but what do you see?' And the woman said to Saul, 'I see a divine being coming up out of the earth.' He said to her, 'What is his form?' And she said, 'An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped with a robe.' And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and did homage."
These verses throughout the centuries have raised more questions than answers. Why was the woman startled when she observed the apparition? How did she eventually recognize Saul? What goes on in the mysterious world beyond the grave? Is it all deception or is there real power behind these psychic activities? And most notably: Was this really Samuel back from the dead or was it a demon impersonating the venerated prophet?" (See related study). There are key questions, but we must not allow them to sidetrack us from the heart of this passage, which now follows.
Verses 15-19, "Then Samuel said to Saul, 'Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?' And Saul answered, 'I am greatly distressed; for the Philistines are waging war against me, and God has departed from me and no longer answers me, either through prophets or by dreams; therefore I have called you, that you may make known to me what I should do.' Samuel said, 'Why then do you ask me, since the LORD has departed from you and has become your adversary? The LORD has done accordingly as He spoke through me; for the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, to David. As you did not obey the LORD and did not execute His fierce wrath on Amalek, so the LORD has done this thing to you this day. Moreover the LORD will also give over Israel along with you into the hands of the Philistines, therefore tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. Indeed the LORD will give over the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines!'"
Despite the new revelation predicting the nearness of Saul and his sons' deaths, all the material spoken by "Samuel" was true, the truth that Saul had already received. God's word cannot be altered (15:29) and further consultation will not reverse the judgment (13:13-14; 15:22-29). Additionally, Saul never received the answer regarding the Philistines he sought. It was only confirmed that Saul was on the wrong track and that his death was less than 24 hours away. This is not the way Saul had hoped the séance would go.
I believe Saul had different intentions: "Hey Samuel, my good ole buddy. Let's go back to old days when you gave me God's guidance. Let's pay no attention to the way I ignored the Lord's voice nor my vicious pursuit of David while neglecting the Philistines these three years nor this medium standing in-between the two us. But if you could tell me how the battle with the Philistines will go and how I need to respond, I'd really appreciate it!"
I hope this sad scene serves as a warning for all of us. What we perceive as a little disobedience here and a little disobedience there could very well place us in a situation similar to Saul. This is what should frighten us the most about this story. We need to see beyond the old witch, the dark night and the ghostly apparition and allow Saul's chilling words (from verse 15) to terrify our hearts: "God has departed from me." Don't play the fool (26:23)! Obey the word of the Lord and walk righteously in the counsel of His will. God is much too glorious to allow any to play fast-and-loose with His name. Is there anything God is calling you to do, or not do, that you are refusing? Though you may not be pursuing a literal medium are you seeking a "happy medium" with the living God? Remember, that is what Saul did. And remember Samuel's words from 15:23, "For rebellion is as the sin of divination."
Verse 20, "Then Saul immediately fell full length upon the ground and was very afraid because of the words of Samuel; also there was no strength in him, for he had eaten no food all day and all night." The man was a nervous wreck!
The witch, still in fear for her life responded. Beginning in verse 21, "The woman came to Saul and saw that he was terrified, and said to him, 'Behold, your maidservant has obeyed you, and I have taken my life in my hand and have listened to your words which you spoke to me. So now also, please listen to the voice of your maidservant, and let me set a piece of bread before you that you may eat and have strength when you go on your way.' But he refused and said, 'I will not eat.' However, his servants together with the woman urged him, and he listened to them (one of the first times we've seen Saul listen to anyone!). So he arose from the ground and sat on the bed. The woman had a fattened calf in the house, and she quickly slaughtered it; and she took flour, kneaded it and baked unleavened bread from it. She brought it before Saul and his servants, and they ate. Then they arose and went away that night."
What a tragic ending! Yet most tragic was not Saul's soon-to-be-death, but his relationship with this witch in the final hours of his life. "Listen to me as I have listened to you," said the woman. In many ways, Saul realized he entered into a covenant with this witch more than a covenant with God.
Nevertheless, the test says Saul regained his composure, ate his final meal and went away into the night (28:25).
Roughly one thousand years later another once follower of God also entered into a covenant with God's enemies. He too, greatly deceived, entered the darkness on the eve of his own destruction. John 13:30 says, "So after receiving the morsel he went out immediately; and it was night." His name was Judas.
Yet while all this was happening, the greatest follower of God was eating His final supper before His death as well. His name is Jesus Christ. And like Judas and like Saul, He too entered the darkness, although His darkness occurred at high noon (Mk. 15:33) and came about for a much different reason. After facing the fury of hell in the winepress of God's wrath, He cried out with a loud voice, "'ELOI, ELOI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?' which is translated, "MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?"
Spiritual darkness is synonymous with the absence of God. As Jesus Christ took our sins upon Himself, He faced abandonment from His Holy Father so that He might provide for us salvation. So that we who are adopted into His family and enjoy following His Word might never face similar abandonment, similar darkness.
One author said, "At the Battle of Golgotha Jesus has walked out into the outer darkness in order that you might walk in the light of life. Now the question presses upon you: Have you yet been seeking this One who has endured the darkness for you" (Davis, 1 Samuel, p. 299). So as we considered Saul's sin and old witches and ghostly apparitions and dark nights, may we not live in Saul's disobedience, but may we live as children of the light (Eph. 5:8-9)!