Saul and a Ghost

On the eve of King Saul’s final battle, he found himself in a bad place. The Philistines had outmaneuvered him and his forces. The battle ground would not be to Israel’s advantage. And, worst of all, God was no longer on Saul’s side.

The king was in a pickle. The prophet, Samuel, was dead. The Lord was not speaking to Saul through other means. And so what would he do?

King Saul went and sought out a medium, a woman who claimed to be able to communicate with the dead. Saul figured that if God was not talking, he would try to get the woman to communicate with the spirit of Samuel so the dead prophet could tell him what to do.

Of course, God says that the practice of trying to communicate with the dead, tell fortunes, and all the rest is evil (cf. Leviticus 19:31). So it is a little odd that Saul, wanting to hear from God, would pick a particular plan that offends the Lord from the start.

What is even more interesting is that God does something rather odd here. God actually allows something to happen when the medium tries to call out the spirit of Samuel. We cannot say for sure whether this was really Samuel’s spirit, or perhaps a spirit allowed to simulate Samuel, but either way, something supernatural happened. This was clearly a surprise, as the woman, the medium, was totally stunned and afraid when the spirit showed up. She apparently was used to duping people with parlor tricks. When a real “ghost” came into the room, it shocked her.

But if the medium was afraid, think of how Saul must have felt after the response he got.

1 Samuel 28:15-19 – 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. Therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do.” 16 And Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy? 17 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. 18 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. 19 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.”

This is all crazy, of course, but the one thing that just bounces around my brain here is the fact that Saul knew he was in trouble with God. Saul knew that God was not answering him. And, yet, when Saul knew all this, he did not repent. Nor did he seek mercy from God. Instead, he ran to a medium, an abomination in the land of Israel, to try to force Samuel’s ghost to tell him how he might succeed.

So, all of that just adds to the weight of human hubris we see in Saul, and the sad weight of hubris we see in ourselves. It is human nature, when we do not get what we want from God, to attempt to manipulate God. It is human nature to try to turn to false religion and superstition when we want to learn a tip from God for facing the future. It is part of our sinful core to ignore the commands of God and take matters into our own sinful hands. WE do that stuff instead of doing what God’s word says: repent, submit to God, obey his commands, fall on his mercy.

Before you and I judge Saul harshly, let’s remember that we have the same nature. When our churches are not as big as we want, what worldly things will we turn to rather than simply trusting the Lord and his word? When we are caught in a sin, how many of us would double-down and lie about it rather than confess and seek forgiveness? When you treat your spouse wrongly, how often do you offend the Lord more by looking for an excuse for your sinful behavior instead of seeking biblical reconciliation?

OK, maybe you do not try to conjure up a ghost for advice—I hope you don’t. But, if you and I turn to sinful comforts and sinful practices when we are not getting what we want from God, I wonder how different we are from the foolish king who sought out a medium for a powwow with a poltergeist rather than simply repenting and refusing to move anywhere other than where the word of God commands?