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1 Samuel 28:3-25 – Saul Consults a Medium

Summary

Saul consults a medium at Endor who conjures up the ghost of Samuel. When Samuel announces Saul's death and the defeat of Israel, Saul is terror-stricken.

Analysis

This is a strange and troubling text. Modern readers wonder about the occult aspects of Saul's séance. This is especially so because Saul himself had banished all wizards and mediums from the land (vv. 3, 9) in obedience to such texts as Deuteronomy 18:10-11. Of course, the reason Saul resorts to this unusual (and forbidden) practice is that he has exhausted all other means of determining what he is to do. God has abandoned him and he is frantic. Close attention to the structure of this chapter yields other insights:

A Narrator's introduction (vv. 3-6)
B Dialogue between Saul and the medium (vv. 7-14)
C Samuel announces Saul's death (vv. 15-19)
C′ Saul's response (v. 20)
B′ Dialogue between Saul and the medium (vv. 21-23)
A′ Narrator's conclusion (vv. 24-25)

In addition to the information that Saul had banished all "mediums and wizards," the narrator's introduction also reminds us that "Samuel had died" (v. 3). It is ironic that Saul attempts to dabble in the dark arts in light of these facts. Further irony appears in the willingness of the medium to obey Saul's prohibition of what Saul is asking her to do (v. 9), as well as her concern for Saul's physical well-being, demonstrated by her serving Saul what would become his last meal (vv. 21-24).

But the most significant aspect of this text is found in the center: Samuel's announcement of Saul's imminent demise and that the routing of Israel will be fulfilled on Mount Gilboa (see chapter 31). More important, Samuel's announcement terrifies Saul (vv. 15-20). The medium may be able to minister to Saul's physical needs but, abandoned by God, he is at the mercy of his distraught spiritual situation.

1 Samuel 28:3-25

Saul Consults a Medium

3 Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in Ramah, his own city. Saul had expelled the mediums and the wizards from the land. 4The Philistines assembled, and came and encamped at Shunem. Saul gathered all Israel, and they encamped at Gilboa. 5When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. 6When Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, not by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets. 7Then Saul said to his servants, ‘Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, so that I may go to her and inquire of her.’ His servants said to him, ‘There is a medium at Endor.’

8 So Saul disguised himself and put on other clothes and went there, he and two men with him. They came to the woman by night. And he said, ‘Consult a spirit for me, and bring up for me the one whom I name to you.’ 9The woman said to him, ‘Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the wizards from the land. Why then are you laying a snare for my life to bring about my death?’ 10But Saul swore to her by the Lord, ‘As the Lord lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.’ 11Then the woman said, ‘Whom shall I bring up for you?’ He answered, ‘Bring up Samuel for me.’ 12When 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!’ 13The king said to her, ‘Have no fear; what do you see?’ The woman said to Saul, ‘I see a divine being* coming up out of the ground.’ 14He said to her, ‘What is his appearance?’ She said, ‘An old man is coming up; he is wrapped in a robe.’ So Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground, and did obeisance.

15 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; so I have summoned you to tell me what I should do.’ 16Samuel said, ‘Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy? 17The Lord has done to you just as he spoke by me; for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand, and given it to your neighbour David. 18Because 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 today. 19Moreover, the Lord will give Israel along with you into the hands of the Philistines; and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me; the Lord will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.’

20 Immediately Saul fell 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. 21The woman came to Saul, and when she saw that he was terrified, she said to him, ‘Your servant has listened to you; I have taken my life in my hand, and have listened to what you have said to me. 22Now therefore, you also listen to your servant; let me set a morsel of bread before you. Eat, that you may have strength when you go on your way.’ 23He refused, and said, ‘I will not eat.’ But his servants, together with the woman, urged him; and he listened to their words. So he got up from the ground and sat on the bed. 24Now the woman had a fatted calf in the house. She quickly slaughtered it, and she took flour, kneaded it, and baked unleavened cakes. 25She put them before Saul and his servants, and they ate. Then they rose and went away that night.

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10 February 2011

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