1 Samuel 28:3-25 God is Not Impressed By Zeal But By Obedience
1 Samuel 28:3-25
3 Meanwhile, Samuel had died, and all Israel had mourned for him. He was buried in Ramah, his hometown. And Saul had banned from the land of Israel all mediums and those who consult the spirits of the dead.
4 The Philistines set up their camp at Shunem, and Saul gathered all the army of Israel and camped at Gilboa. 5 When Saul saw the vast Philistine army, he became frantic with fear. 6 He asked the LORD what he should do, but the LORD refused to answer him, either by dreams or by sacred lots or by the prophets. 7 Saul then said to his advisers, “Find a woman who is a medium, so I can go and ask her what to do.” His advisers replied, “There is a medium at Endor.”
8 So Saul disguised himself by wearing ordinary clothing instead of his royal robes. Then he went to the woman’s home at night, accompanied by two of his men. “I have to talk to a man who has died,” he said. “Will you call up his spirit for me?” 9 “Are you trying to get me killed?” the woman demanded. “You know that Saul has outlawed all the mediums and all who consult the spirits of the dead. Why are you setting a trap for me?” 10 But Saul took an oath in the name of the LORD and promised, “As surely as the LORD lives, nothing bad will happen to you for doing this.” 11 Finally, the woman said, “Well, whose spirit do you want me to call up?” “Call up Samuel,” Saul replied. 12 When the woman saw Samuel, she screamed, “You’ve deceived me! You are Saul!” 13 “Don’t be afraid!” the king told her. “What do you see?” “I see a god coming up out of the earth,” she said. 14 “What does he look like?” Saul asked. “He is an old man wrapped in a robe,” she replied. Saul realized it was Samuel, and he fell to the ground before him. 15 “Why have you disturbed me by calling me back?” Samuel asked Saul. “Because I am in deep trouble,” Saul replied. “The Philistines are at war with me, and God has left me and won’t reply by prophets or dreams. So I have called for you to tell me what to do.”
16 But Samuel replied, “Why ask me, since the LORD has left you and has become your enemy? 17 The LORD has done just as he said he would. He has torn the kingdom from you and given it to your rival, David. 18 The LORD has done this to you today because you refused to carry out his fierce anger against the Amalekites. 19 What’s more, the LORD will hand you and the army of Israel over to the Philistines tomorrow, and you and your sons will be here with me. The LORD will bring down the entire army of Israel in defeat.”
20 Saul fell full length on the ground, paralyzed with fright because of Samuel’s words. He was also faint with hunger, for he had eaten nothing all day and all night. 21 When the woman saw how distraught he was, she said, “Sir, I obeyed your command at the risk of my life. 22 Now do what I say, and let me give you a little something to eat so you can regain your strength for the trip back.”
23 But Saul refused. The men who were with him also urged him to eat, so he finally yielded and got up from the ground and sat on the couch. 24 The woman had been fattening a calf, so she hurried out and killed it. She took some flour, kneaded it into dough and baked unleavened bread. 25 She brought the meal to Saul and his men, and they ate it. Then they went out into the night.
As the Philistine army align themselves at the battlefront, Saul’s heart is melting away inside because God remains silent despite his efforts to consult Him by the sacred lots, dreams and prophets. Desperate for a ray of hope, he resorts to necromancy, the practices that are detestable to God. Today’s passage teaches us that God does not look at our works but the motives behind them. He is not impressed by zeal and what you can do for Him but by your daily obedience to His word.
And Saul had banned from the land of Israel all mediums and those who consult the spirits of the dead – Saul has banned the practice of spiritualism, which is communication between the world of the living and spirit as well as necromancy, which involves communication with the deceased. Why does Saul ban these practices? There could well be two reasons: The first reason, Saul’s action against them could be inspired by zeal for God but only in form but not in substance. He wanted to impress God with his act of “loyalty” in hopes of winning His allegiance. The second reason is that Saul does not want any person to have excess to supernatural devices, thus cutting off supernatural assistance to potential contenders to the throne. However, Saul’s need for spiritual support becomes evident when he sees a sea of Philistine troops descending on Shunem opposite Mount Gilboa where Saul’s troops are stationed. Saul enquires God concerning his next move, but God refused to answer him, either by dreams or by sacred lots or by the prophets.
Find a woman who is a medium, so I can go and ask her what to do – Saul is drained of all his confidence as it has become clear that God has cut him off despite his repeated efforts to connect with Him. Saul, as a custom goes into battle only after oracular consultation to determine strategy and to be reassured about the chances of success. In a fit of despair, he resorts to the detestable practices that he has outlawed. Saul’s servants appear to have ready information on the whereabouts of a celebrated medium at Endor. To avoid discovery, Saul disguises himself and makes his way at night to Endor. After putting the medium at ease, Saul asks the her to contact Samuel. Utilizing demonic devices, she calls up Samuel, whose apparition completely startles her: When the woman saw Samuel, she screamed, “You’ve deceived me! You are Saul!” The manner in which Samuel appears and delivers his last message suggests that this interview depends on supernatural powers, which the medium does not possess; this is indeed an intervention of God and not an initiation of the medium.
Why have you disturbed me by calling me back? – The apparition of Samuel initiates the question: Why have you disturbed me by calling me back? The conversation between Saul and Samuel revolves around Saul’s desperation for divine guidance, and an iteration of what God has said He will do to Saul because of his recalcitrant behavior. Effectively, God is at war with Saul and death is imminent: you and your sons will be here with me. That realization overwhelms him, who is already weakened by a fast; Saul fell full length on the ground, paralyzed with fright. However, the prominent point concerning Saul’s disobedience is his reluctance to carry out his fierce anger against the Amalekites.
- God is not impressed by what you can do for Him but by your daily obedience to His truth. Some believers try to gain God’s favor by doing religious works in exchange for God’s “allegiance” in fulfilling their heart’s desires. Such religious works can be anything from the giving of tithes, to joining bible studies, and to mission trips. These works are done not out of pure obedience or love for God, but as a pretext to manipulate God into fulfilling the desires of their heart. Saul tries to acquire God’s favor by banning all practices that go against His laws, but his heart is far away from him. Prophet Samuel rebukes Saul in an earlier incident when he did not completely destroy the livestock of the Amelekites and brought back Agag their king: Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. God does not look at the act per se but the motives behind it. Religious works can never cover up one’s heart for it lays naked before God. Hebrews 4:13 says,
And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Hebrews 4:13
The only way to restore God’s favor in a person’s life is repentance through regeneration of the heart.
- The insensitivity to God’s voice could be a sign of disobedience. Believers who claim they could not hear God’s voice may harbor a deeper problem than just the mere lack of sensitivity. Such believers tend to live their lives independent of God’s guidance because they do not think God is relevant to their lives apart from providing a pathway to heaven. Thus, their primary life objective is to fulfill their earthly desires and then, make a beeline to heaven when the eventual comes. God finds such independence unacceptable and distance Himself from them and likewise, they felt estranged from God. God did not answer Saul despite his repeated efforts to consult Him, because Saul’s heart is bent on fulfilling his own desires. By breaking his own law (by consulting the medium), he proves himself guilty in trying to manipulate God for his selfish purposes. James says, instead we ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:15. The only way to restore our fellowship with God is to recognize our own depravity and depend on His guidance on a daily basis.
- Are you attending church services and giving your tithes and offerings for the purpose of remaining in His “good books”? Do you suppose that your religious works can “acquire” God’s protection and provision? Dependence and submission towards God’s plans for your life is the necessary virtue behind all religious works. Without a heart that is after God, our religious works and worship amounts to nothing.
- If you could not hear God’s voice clearly, keep seeking Him by reading God’s word daily and by asking Him for guidance in all your daily endeavors. Tune your heart towards the things that pleases God and what is truly valuable in heaven. In due time, you will grow more attuned to His thoughts and His desires.
Dear Lord, help me to serve you out of a pure heart of love and obedience. Give me strength to align all facets of my life to your truth. Cause me to feel your heart’s desires so that I may do your work and establish your kingdom. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.