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How do we explain King Saul seeking to conjure up a dead and buried prophet?

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While Joanna and I took a ghost walk with a ghoulish guide through a scary part of London one night, I wasn’t scared because I don’t believe in ghosts and goblins.  Although quite familiar with ye olde British prayer asking God to “deliver us from ghoulies and ghosties and long legged beasties that go bump in the night” I have never prayed that prayer. Although I don’t believe in such Halloween creatures how do I explain what is recorded in I Kings 28 about King Saul seeking a medium to conjure up a dead prophet named Samuel? 

The real question is not so much what are we to make of this spooky, strange, and eye-catching story, especially people like me to who don’t believe in ghosts, but it is this: What is God saying to us after making us sit up and take notice of this spooky, strange, and eye-catching story? I believe God wants us to learn some helpful lessons from how a gifted and talented king, who started out so well, ended up disgraced, defeated, and destroyed. 

Saul was chosen by God to be the first king of Israel because he was a born leader of men. We read in I Samuel 9:2 that “there was no one more impressive among the Israelites than he. He stood a head taller than anyone else.” He started out so successfully but too much success can trip up even the best people.

These words in Proverbs 16:18 have been proven true throughout history: “Pride goes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall.” It is so easy for success to go to our head so that we think we don’t need to ask God or anyone else for help. That is when we get into deep trouble. And the ever so tall Saul experienced an ever so great fall!

His fall began when he stopped being willing to trust and obey God, but instead chose to do his own thing.  As one scholar says: “Obeying God had never been easy for Saul” (Ronald Youngblood, p. 783). Once he began to shut God out of his life it was much easier to do what he wanted instead of what God knew he needed to do. Saul didn’t want God or anyone else telling him what to do; therefore, we might say he eventually shoved the Spirit of God into the attic of his mind, the basement of his soul, or the closet of his heart. When God’s Spirit was no longer active in his heart, soul, and mind, Saul was no longer sensitive to God-inspired dreams and was deaf to that still small voice of God.

He not only lost contact with God but also with Samuel and other good and godly friends. Samuel was the kind of friend everyone needs, a friend who will tell us the truth, tell us what we need to hear even when it is not what we want to hear. We need friends who are strong enough to tell us when we are going wrong. But, Saul cut himself off from Samuel. I have seen so many times how when good people start getting into an adulterous affair, drugs, excessive gambling, or anything that is bad for them, they will turn a deaf ear to family and friends who try to warn them.

While Saul closed the door of his heart, soul, and mind to God and godly family and friends, he opened his door to the worst kind of thoughts and feelings, words and actions.  One scholar writes: “Saul had lived a life of chronic disobedience (that) opened him to demonic oppression” (Robert Bergen, p. 432, Apologetics Bible). Saul became filled with jealousy and paranoia.  He became so jealous that he tried to kill the good and loyal David. And we read in 22:17 how he did kill “the priests of the Lord who had sided with (the good and godly) David.”

Like Saul, many of us can get so caught up in listening to our own anger, bitterness, cravings and desires, envy, fear, greed, and hate that we can’t hear the still small voice of God speaking to us. When we fail to pray and read the Bible, fail to worship God and fellowship with good and godly people, we will stray so far away from God that we are not able to hear God even when He is speaking to us.

When Saul failed to hear God, he tried to talk with Samuel, but it was too late.  Samuel was dead and buried, but that didn’t keep him from trying. So he went to see a medium. And God, not the medium, allows him to see and hear Samuel who tells him what he already knew to be true: That he had refused to trust and obey God, that he had become so jealous and paranoid that he alienated or killed his most good and godly friends, and now he and his family were about to be defeated and destroyed.  

When God raised Samuel from the dead, triggering the somewhat humorous and ironic response from his prophet about being “disturbed” in paradise he is speaking not just to Saul but all of us. For Saul it is a time of judgment, but for us a wise warning about how even the most gifted and talented of people among us can separate ourselves from God and His people as Saul did.

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