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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Text:1 Samuel 28:1-25 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

1 Samuel 28:1-25
Much has been written on the “séance” described in this chapter. Some people believe Samuel's appearance was only in Saul’s mind; as such, it was in their view a psychological phenomenon. Others believe that the witch – the medium – of Endor was a mistress of necromancy who could call people back from the dead, and still others that God in sovereign power used the witch to pass judgment on Saul and pronounce his death through the words attributed to Samuel’s spirit as recorded in verses 18 and 19.
I take the third view – that God in sovereign power used the witch – the medium – to pass judgment on Saul and pronounce his death. But many in our culture would take the second view that the witch of Endor had clairvoyant powers that enabled her to speak with those whose bodies are in the grave. Many in our culture take that view because our culture is obsessed with the occult.
Every year a vacant building near our church is rented out in October and November. It is rented to a store that sells Halloween decorations. The store is packed. The parking lot is jammed, and cars are often lined up and down the street for several blocks. I have never entered the store, but by looking at the number of people packed into it, it is hard to see how they can even move through the aisles.
Witchcraft, and the occult teachings it is wrapped up in, has grown in popularity in our society. It has grown rapidly because belief in the God of Scripture has declined with equal speed. When people refuse to believe the truths of Scripture, they fabricate a lie. Witchcraft is one of the many lies that the evil one has put before our culture and we see where many are carried away by its teachings: The United States Air Force now has a special chapel area for Wiccans – witches and warlocks. One of the reality shows, I notice, is entitled “The Long Island Medium”, which glorifies the life and teaching of a witch. And I’m sure we have all noticed how decorations for Halloween are almost as extravagant and numerous as decorations for Christmas.
Is this fascination with the occult, witches, warlocks, mediums, and the Wiccan religion brought about because mediums really have occult powers to bring back the spirits of those who have died? While our culture would increasingly say “Yes,” Scripture, including the passage before us, clearly says “No.”
Many commentators note the absolute shock of the witch of Endor when she envisions Samuel. Verse 12 describes how “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!’” Many have observed that the woman cried out at the top of her voice in panic – not just because she realized that this disguised man was Saul – but because she actually saw, by God's power and for his sovereign purposes, an appearance of Samuel coming out of the ground. This shocked her because although she claimed to be able to raise the dead, she had never actually seen someone rise from the dead before.
I believe that view is correct. She saw what appeared to be the spirit of Samuel. The Lord may have put that in her mind without calling Samuel from the glory of God’s presence. Scripture doesn't give those details, but it does describe how this woman was truly shocked because she knew she didn't have the power to raise the dead; she was a persuasive actress, just like “The Long Island Medium.” But when God, by his sovereign power, revealed the spirit of Samuel to her, she was shocked.
Those Who Reject the Lord
However, the passage isn’t really about the witch of Endor. In God's providence she is used for his purposes to reveal to Saul that he would die at war. But the passage is more about God and his righteous and proper judgment on Saul than it is about the witch at Endor. And the passage goes beyond Saul to show what happens to all those – both individuals and nations – who reject the Lord.
The background of the chapter is that Saul was greatly concerned by the impending war. Verses 4 and 5 describe how “The Philistines assembled and came and set up camp at Shunem, while Saul gathered all the Israelites and set up camp at Gilboa. When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart.”
As is so often the case with desperate people, he inquired of the Lord – but he had no faith. But “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6). Without saving faith in Christ you cannot come to the Father through the intercession of the Son. Because Saul inquired without faith he came up without an answer, even though verse 6 tells us that he sought three means of revelation from God. He looked for an answer through dreams, Urim, and prophets. But the Lord did not answer him.
In Old Testament times the Lord often revealed his plans through dreams. Likewise, in the Old Testament we read of how the Urim and Thummim were used by the priest to discern the Lord's will; and prophets, of course, were used by God to communicate to his people. But the Lord did not answer Saul for the same reason Proverbs 1 tells us God will not answer anyone who in hardness of heart rejects him. In that passage the Lord declares:
“If you had responded to my rebuke,
I would have poured out my heart to you
and made my thoughts known to you.
But since you rejected me when I called
and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand,
since you ignored all my advice
and would not accept my rebuke,
I in turn will laugh at your disaster;
I will mock when calamity overtakes you—
when calamity overtakes you like a storm,
when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind,
when distress and trouble overwhelm you.
Then they will call to me but I will not answer;
they will look for me but will not find me.” (Prov. 1:23-28)
Many people today treat God the same way that they treat their spare tire. They entirely ignore him until disaster comes into their lives and then they cry out to him, hoping he will respond in a miraculous way. But again, without faith it is impossible to please God. And God will not answer those who treat him as though he were nothing more than a spare tire to get them going through an unexpected emergency on the highway of life.
When the Lord didn’t answer Saul, he consulted a medium (7) although he had previously expelled all mediums (witches) from the land (3b) in accordance with God’s commands. The Lord had made it abundantly clear to Israel that they were not to seek mediums, including witches. Consider Leviticus 19:3, “Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God.”
Or consider Deuteronomy 18:9-14, “When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God. The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so.”
Saul did the right thing earlier on in his kingship; he expelled the mediums from the land. But now, ironically, he is seeking guidance from the very ones that he had previously expelled. Consequently, Saul disguised himself. Verse 8, “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.’”
Guidance Comes from God's Word
This unique chapter in Scripture has a number of applications for us, and also for our nation and the nations of the world. One application is that our spiritual guidance must come from God’s word. Psalm 119:105 is as clear a verse as any: “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” The commands that we read from Leviticus 19 and Deuteronomy 18 are timeless commands. Still today we are not to seek spiritual guidance and direction from sources outside of God's word.
Yet, in the United States, the word of God is being legislated more and more out of public life. In its place are all sorts of occult practices. Every newspaper has its horoscope, and many people consult the stars – consult the horoscope – and trust the horoscope to lead them in their lives.
The Wiccan religion is now recognized by our government as a legitimate religion; it qualifies for all the same tax exemptions as any Bible-believing church. And again, many seek direction for their lives, not from the infallible word of God, but from all the occult influences in our culture.
In his treatment of this passage, Dr. Robert Rayburn cites the example of Dr. Watke. He writes: “Dr. Waltke, who has done some great work on the matter of guidance, and how Christians ought to seek guidance for their lives, says that, though he realizes that some people may think his is an overreaction, he never even takes a fortune cookie at a Chinese restaurant! Anything that assumes a principle of control in this world that is apart from or beside the living God and anything that suggests that we need some further revelation than what has been entrusted to us in Holy Scripture, he thinks is paganism.” (Studies in 1 Samuel, #37, Dr. Robert Rayburn;
I have to admit that I enjoy eating fortune cookies the few times that we eat Chinese food, and I have laughed at the absurdity of some of the “fortunes” inside. But the principle Dr. Watke uses is absolutely correct. We are not to seek spiritual guidance outside of the word of God.
A godly friend may be the one who points us to the word, or it may come through a sermon or a Bible study as well as through our consistent daily reading of the Bible, but the guidance for our lives must flow from the wisdom of the word of God. The Holy Bible is indeed that lamp for our feet and the light for our path.
A second application: It is to our own demise that we legislate God’s word out of our public life and elevate the occult practices of witches, warlocks, and other mediums. It is to our demise because God “gives over” to judgment individuals and nations who reject him. We read about that that in verses 18 and 19. Those verses foretell that, not only will Saul die, but Israel will be overcome by the Philistines.
Rather than being a unique event in history, this is an example of what happens to all those – both individuals and whole nations – who reject God. In Deuteronomy 18 the Lord warned Israel against the use of witchcraft and sorcery in all its forms. Because the nations in Canaan had used these detestable practices, the Lord would enable Israel to subdue those nations. (Deut. 18:12)
And in the New Testament, Romans 1 states a similar truth clearly: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
“Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.” (Rom. 1:21-24)
In the United States, we acknowledge that God exists. The reality of who he is, is stamped on every coin. But the slogan on our coins is blasphemy. We do not trust in God as a nation, yet our coins declare, “IN GOD WE TRUST”. Unless there is spiritual revival God will give our nation over to her depravity. In fact, it seems to be happening before our very eyes with each passing day.
A third application: If we don’t value God's word, he will remove it from us. That is what happened to Saul; that is the essence of verse 6 – “He inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets.” Often, we don’t miss something or someone until it is taken away. Only when it is taken from us do we realize its value. And when people and nations neglect the Lord and his word, the Lord will often take it away. Amos 8:11-12 records these words from the Lord:
“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord,
“when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.
Men will stagger from sea to sea
and wander from north to east,
searching for the word of the Lord,
but they will not find it.”
We have rejected the Word of God and we see where God is allowing his Word to be removed from public life. He is bringing judgment upon our culture, for it is a terrible thing to be separated from God’s Word. His Word is that crucial lamp for our feet and light for our path.
While every famine is devastating, there is no worse famine than a spiritual famine. A famine of food leads to a painful and agonizing physical death. A famine of God’s Word, which points us to Christ alone for salvation, leads to eternal death – that is, it leads to eternal separation from the love of God in the reality of hell. God’s Word points us to Christ, for “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."  (Acts 4:12) Christ alone is the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through saving faith in him. (John 14:6) And all Scripture, even this passage warning us not to look for guidance in the wrong place, points us to Christ. (Luke 24:27)
The passage we have looked at today is an interlude – a parenthesis. The portion concerning Saul and the Witch of Endor most likely took place chronologically after 1 Samuel 29. That chapter begins with the Philistine king, Achish, telling David that he and his men must accompany Achish and the Philistines into war against Israel (1, 2) and then it describes this desperate attempt by Saul to build a strategy for the war.
Next week, the Lord willing, in chapter 29, we will pick up the account of David and his men and see God’s providential leading in their lives that kept them from fighting against Israel. Chapter 29:1 picks up the narrative where chapter 28:2 ends. The fulfillment of the prediction that Saul will die doesn't happen until 1 Samuel 31.
But in the meantime, may you and I take the warnings of this passage to heart, seeking the wisdom of God’s Word for the guidance of every aspect of our lives, as we look with saving faith to Christ alone for our salvation from sin. Amen.
sermon outline:
       Saul died because he was unfaithful to the LORD; he did not keep the word of the LORD
      and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the Lord. So the LORD
      put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse. - 1 Chronicles 10:13-14
                                                 1 Samuel 28:1-25
I.  Much has been written about the “séance” described in this chapter.  Some commentators
    believe Samuel’s appearance was only in Saul’s mind, others that the witch of Endor had
    clairvoyant powers, and still others that God in sovereign power used the witch to pass
    judgment on Saul and pronounce his death (18-19).
II. The background of the chapter:
      1) Saul was greatly concerned by the impending war (4-5)
      2) Saul inquired of the Lord without faith, and the Lord did not answer him (6)
      3) Saul consulted a medium (7) although he had previously expelled all mediums
          (witches) from the land (3b) in accordance with God’s commands (Leviticus
          19:31; Deuteronomy 18:9-14). That is why he disguised himself (8)
        III. Applications:
      1) Our spiritual guidance must come from God’s Word (Psalm 119:105), and not
           from other sources (Leviticus 19:31; Deuteronomy 18:9-14)   
      2) God “gives over” to judgment individuals and nations who reject Him (18-19; 1
           Chronicles 10:13-14; Romans 1:21-32)
      3) If we don’t value God’s Word, which reveals Christ as the only source of salvation
           (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), He will remove it from us (6; Amos 8:11-12)


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2012, Rev. Ted Gray

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