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Online Text Sermon - Saul and the Witch of Endor, 1 Samuel ch.28 vv.7-25

PreacherRev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness
Sermon TitleSaul and the Witch of Endor
Text1 Samuel ch.28 vv.7-25
Sermon ID368

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"Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and inquire of her. And his servants said to him. Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at En-dor" (1 Samuel 28, 7).

This chapter of the Word of God gives us an account of something that happened in the life of King Saul. Saul, you remember, was the first king of Israel. He began well but he ended badly. This is the night before he died. He committed a sin on this night before he died greater than all the sins that he had committed in his life before. His sin, as you see, was this: he went to a woman that had a familiar spirit. You may ask what that means - a woman with a familiar spirit. The answer is she was a witch. He wanted to have information as to what was going to happen tomorrow, because on the next day King Saul was facing a terrible enemy on the field of battle. We refer to that battle that occurred as the battle of Mount Gilboa. As we saw in the second portion of the reading, Saul died in that battle.

This was the night before. He wanted to go to this witch or sorceress in order, if possible, to get information as to what would happen because he could see very well the battle was very dreadful and that the armies of the enemy were greater than his own army. He wanted to prepare himself for the battle so he goes to this woman at a place called En-dor. We refer to this as 'the visit of Saul to the witch of En-dor'.

Let me begin by considering with you the reasons why King Saul went to see the witch. It is very strange that Saul should have gone to this woman because Saul was the king over the people of God, and going to see witches was something that was not part of the practice of the people of God. Going to witches was something that was done by the heathens, by the Pagans, by men and women who had no knowledge of the true God. But Saul was the king over God's people; they had God with them in their nation. They had the Bible, or part of it, to read for themselves. They did not need to go to witches to find out the will of God; they had prophets who were filled with the spirit of understanding and they could be consulted to give knowledge of the will of God. They also had something called the Urim and Thummim - mentioned in this chapter (1 Samuel 28, 6). The Urim and Thummim were two stones which were fastened into the breastplate of the High Priest. They were given by God for the people to consult to know the will of God. We don't know at this point in time how it worked so there is no point in trying to guess. But somehow, by one means or another, the Urim and the Thummim - these stones on the chest of the High Priest - were given by God as a means of guidance to show the people what to do. So it is very strange that the king of Israel should be going to see a witch, but I am afraid that is what we see. They had the Ten Commandments, they had the Old Testament Scriptures - or part of them, they had the prophets, they had the priests, they had the sacrifices, and all these things; they didn't need to go to witches. In spite of that, this man went to see a witch.

The second reason why it is a strange thing that Saul should go to consult a witch is this. God had forbidden them to consult with witches! It was something that God had absolutely commanded them not to do. It is written in the Bible that you are not to allow a witch to live, in the Old Testament times. We are not referring to New Testament times but we are referring to Old Testament times. Saul was king, of course, in a period of Old Testament history. God had said this: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" (Exodus 22, 18). What used to happen was if a person was found to be a witch or a man was found to be practicing as a wizard, God said they must be put to death - capital punishment was carried out. There was to be no dabbling in witchcraft of any kind: sorcery, necromancy, superstition - and those who promoted it and practiced it, were not to be allowed to live. So it is very remarkable in the light of that, that we find even the king of Israel going to consult a witch.

Let me carry the matter one step further to show how amazing it is. This very king, Saul, himself, had put to death nearly all the witches in the whole country: "Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had lamented him, and buried him in Ramah, even in his own city. And Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land" (1 Samuel 28, 3). Saul had either driven them out of the country or else he had put them to death. Isn't it amazing, having done that, he, himself, now goes to see this witch. How can you explain it? Let me point out at this time that you really cannot expect sinners to be consistent. It is so easy to preach to other people what to do, not nearly so easy to preach to ourselves. It is very easy to dole out advice to others, not so easy to keep that advice ourselves. There is something about sinners which is deeply hypocritical; they can do one thing and say another. It was a great sin in Saul - he shouldn't have done it, as we shall see.

How do we explain that this man went to see a witch? How do you account for it? He knew it was wrong. He himself had suppressed them, why does he now go to consult with the witch of En-dor?

The first and main reason is because he was never brought to faith in God, he was never converted. His life was never changed by the grace and power of God. You understand there is such a thing in the Bible as conversion - that is to say there are some people whose lives are changed by the grace and power of God. We call that religious conversion, conversion to faith in God. Their lives are different. Perhaps before they were drunkards but now they are sober. Perhaps before they were violent people, wife-beaters - now their lives are changed. Perhaps before they lived for sinful pleasures, now their lives are transformed. But this never happened to Saul, although he was king his life had never been brought to faith in God. I have to point out that, until you are truly converted to faith in God, you never know you are going to end up because your heart is full of sin like this king. You can never say what you are going to do in the future. We need the grace and power of God to make us good and to keep us on the right way. If we don't have that then we are sure to go astray. This man was never brought to the experience of the grace of God. Although he knew it was an evil thing to visit a witch, he did it, knowing it would be wrong.

Then again, it was because he was terribly afraid: "And when Saul saw the host [or the army] of the Philistines [the enemy], he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled" (v.5). It is a fact that when we are very afraid we do things that we would not normally do in other circumstances. Fear drives people to do things which in their heart-of-hearts they know to be very wrong. It was under the impulse or the power of fear that he did the thing that he is recorded as has having done here.

One other reason before I move on. The reason why Saul went to this witch was also because God was no longer listening to his prayers. This is said for us very clearly: "And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets" (1 Samuel 28, 6). Normally when the Lord's people pray to God in the Old Testament, God would answer them by one means or another. He would answer them sometimes in a dream. There are many instances of this in the life of Joseph, or Daniel the prophet, or Joseph the foster-father of Jesus. In Old Testament times - sometimes in New Testament times as well but mainly in Old Testament times - God would give special dreams to guide you what to do. On other occasions God would guide you in the Old Testament through these prophets who were inspired; Samuel was a good case although Samuel now was dead. Men would consult God and Samuel would tell the will of God to the people. Or another way of finding the will of God was by means of this Urim and the Thummim - these two stones that I talked about a little earlier. What we are told in 1 Samuel 28, 6 here is that God wouldn't answer this man's prayers any more. Why not?... because of his sin! Saul was guilty of tremendous wickedness, tremendous sin. What was this sin? It was murder. He was ready to kill young David. More than once he took his javelin when David was in his tent playing music to soothe the king's feelings because he was upset, more than once the king took his javelin and hurled it at David's head. David narrowly missed death. For some months - or possibly years - Saul was pursuing and chasing and persecuting David to kill him. Not because there was any just reason - David had done no harm - but because of jealousy. Jealousy is something that God hates. The sin of cruelty in Saul's heart was so great that God refused to hear his prayers. My friends, it is a great lesson to us all, if we neglect and despise God, breaking His ways and laws, He comes to the point where He says I will listen to your prayers no more. So it was in this predicament that King Saul, in an act of desperation, not knowing what to do, driven by fear and terror, went and consulted a witch.

He and his servants travel some distance to this village or town called En-dor in the land of the people of God. Here was a witch. There weren't many left. When she saw Saul disguised coming towards her - not knowing who he was - admitted him into the house with suspicion, asking what he wanted. Saul said that he wanted her to do the part of a witch and to bring up somebody from the dead. She was afraid and said, "Do you not know that Saul has put all the witches and wizards out of the land?" She didn't of course recognise him at that point did she? Then he said to her, "Have no fear, I will guarantee you will come to no harm." I don't suppose it was done for nothing, I am sure she would have negotiated a high price because it was a very dangerous and risky business. She consented then to bring someone from the dead - or to pretend to do, or to claim to do. Then we have this very mysterious passage in the Bible. It begins as you see when the woman saw Samuel: "she cried with a loud voice: and the woman spake to Saul, saying, Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul" (1 Samuel 28, 12). What Saul had said to her was to bring up Samuel. Samuel was dead and Saul wanted to consult him. Samuel had died some time before but he had been a great help to King Saul when he was living. He had been more than a right hand man to him. Samuel had continually given him the word of the Lord. Now Samuel was dead and there was no one to give that kind of advice, no one to give that kind of guidance. So he wanted Samuel brought up from the dead and that is what this witch claimed to be able to do. She went through her 'mumbo-jumbo' and was astonished herself to see Samuel - "she cried with a loud voice" (1 Samuel 28, 12). I want to draw attention to that. I think that is important for understanding this. It seems to me we must begin to understand this event by taking into account that she was astonished herself. That is the way I read it - she didn't expect this. She would have done these things with guile and pretence, magic movements and incantations; but she was surprised by what happened on this occasion. She was amazed - she cried out because she saw the figure of this man coming up.

It looks as if King Saul was perhaps in an adjoining room. These witches and wizards like to do everything in the dark, they don't like to have too much light because the magic is something which is supposed to be something which is peculiar to the person conducting this event. Saul asks the woman what she sees. She says, "I saw gods ascending out of the earth" (1 Samuel 28, 13). Saul asked what they looked like and she said, "An old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle" (1 Samuel 28, 14). Saul recognised it was Samuel. "He stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself" (1 Samuel 28, 14). Then Samuel we are told, began to speak. What he had to say was terrible; he was no comfort at all to the king. The gist of it was that tomorrow Saul would be where he now was. That meant in a state of death. So he got no comfort from the message which he thought would bring him some help in preparation for the battle. The lesson there is, it never pays to try and get things which are forbidden by God.

Let us pause at that point and try to understand this event. It is one of the most remarkable passages, even in the Bible itself, which is a very remarkable Book. The question before is how are we to understand what happened. A woman goes through her incantations and she sees this figure coming up. She describes him as an old man with a mantle. Clearly it was the figure of Samuel. Yet, did she really have power to bring Samuel back from the dead? How are we to explain it? It is one of the most interesting questions you could ever ask in connection with this passage. I know there are many people here who have read this many times and I wouldn't be at all surprised if you left a question mark in the margin, never quite determining how this is to be understood. I offer you an explanation with respect. There are three possible ways of understanding how it was that Samuel appeared in this way.

The first possibility is that this woman was simply pretending. She, by means of this explanation, saw nothing at all. She was just making it up. She was in one room and the king was in the next room. She was pretending to see a figure and explaining what she saw. The king in the adjoining room reacted to what she said - which was all invented. That is a possible explanation. I don't think it is the true explanation but it is an explanation which some people have adopted. However, my objection to that explanation is this. If the woman was pretending and saw nothing really but only made it up, why was she so surprised? She saw something which alarmed and astonished her and caused her to cry out in 1 Samuel 28, 12. I find it very hard in the light of that verse to believe that the woman was simply inventing the story. I find it very hard to imagine that she was seeing nothing at all but simply pretending. My objection is as I have given it you: why then was she so astonished, so alarmed at what she saw if indeed she saw nothing? That is the first explanation and I am inclined to dismiss that one.

The second explanation is this - that Samuel really did come back from the dead. There are some people who believe this. They think that on this occasion, very peculiarly, God allowed Samuel, who had been in the state of glory for some time, to come back from the dead and appear in this shape and form, and to speak with the same voice, which they could recognise as the voice of Samuel. And that what she saw was indeed Samuel himself in his very appearance, as though back from the dead. There are people who take that to be the explanation, but I don't find that at all convincing and I will tell you why. When the soul of a believer has left the body and gone into glory, God does not take these souls back again into this world. No! Whatever it was that happened, surely it wasn't the case that the real Samuel was there. I think that is an objection that you cannot answer. God does not bring the souls of men back to this world. How then can we explain it?

The third explanation which I believe and offer to be the correct one is this. God, in His judgement upon the sins of Saul, allowed the devil to impersonate Samuel. You know, the devil can transform himself into an angel of light. The Bible tells us that, as you know. It seems to me that what happened was that the devil was given the ability and the power by God to appear in the shape as it were, of Samuel. This was allowed in order that Saul may be the more punished for his wickedness in consulting with a woman that had a familiar spirit. It is a very mysterious passage and I submit to you that that is the only satisfactory explanation: the devil was allowed to appear in the form of Samuel, like an apparition, and to speak these words that were terrible for the king to hear. So terrible that we are told that when he heard these words he "fell straightway all along on the earth, and was sore afraid, because of the words of Samuel" (1 Samuel 28, 20). They did him no good. They brought him no comfort. They gave him no assurance. What he heard was: "tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me" (1 Samuel 28, 19). That is why I read to you those verses in chapter 31 where these very things came true. The very next day in battle he was killed by the archers. When wounded and afraid that the Philistines would catch him before he died to abuse and torture him, he said to his armour bearer to kill him. The young man was afraid, so Saul took out his own sword and fell upon it (1 Samuel 31, 4), committing suicide. The armour bearer did the same (1 Samuel 31, 5). Saul and his sons all fell on mount Gilboa in that very battle the next day.

There is averse I want to point out to you which may not be sufficiently well known. "So Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the Lord, even against the word of the Lord, which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to inquire of it; And inquired not of the Lord: therefore he slew him, and turned the kingdom unto David the son of Jesse" (1 Chronicles 10, 13-14). You see that? Maybe you never noticed these words before. The very thing for which Saul was killed by God was the wickedness of going to see a witch.

Is there anything that you and I can learn from this passage of Scripture? I have given you the background, the story and the history. What now can we learn from it?

The first lesson I want to bring to you is this - we are to have nothing to do, ever, with magic. We are to have nothing at all to do with witches or magicians or superstition. Why do I say that? Because all over the world just now there is a tremendous increase of interest in magic. I am not encouraging you to do this but if you were to go to a big bookseller on the high street and look at the books on the shelf marked 'occult' (which means magic), you'll find stacks of books all about magic and magicians. People are very interested in magic today and it is increasing all the time: films, television programmes, books, magazines. Almost everybody I know has heard about Harry Potter.

Somebody sent me a letter just the other day about the Harry Potter books. It is worth you knowing this. A little six year old girl in America had been reading a Harry Potter book. When she had finished the reading she said, "Jesus died because he was weak and stupid." Where did she get that from? From the books! The authoress of the books about Harry Potter is a certain person called J. K. Rowling - an English woman I have to say and a former English teacher. The information I have about this lady is that she promotes Satanism and blasphemy against Jesus and against God. In America one of the Satanist ministers is called the High Priest of Satanism: a man named High Priest Egan in the first church of Satanism in Salem, Massachusetts. Can you believe it! There are such places in Britain and in America. They are Satanist churches and they worship the devil. This is what this man has said about the Harry Potter books. He said, "Harry is an absolute godsend to our cause." He maintains that a lot of young people and young girls have joined the Satanist movement after having read these books on magic. I tell you these things are from myself. I haven't read even a page of the Harry Potter books. I haven't seen ten seconds of a Harry Potter film or anything so I can't tell you anything from myself. However, let me put it to you like this, if what these Christian people and friends are writing is anywhere near the truth, and if these allegations are the truth, then there is a tremendous message for us all - especially parents of young people - that there is a great danger here. God has said something about magic. Let me read to you what God says in Leviticus: "Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God" (Leviticus 19, 31). You see the point! Have nothing to do with wizardry or witchcraft or magic or sorcery or necromancy. All of these things belong together. We call it the occult.

Is there not something to learn from this? God is a pure and a holy Spirit. We don't need to consult with demons, devils, magic, necromancers, witches, wizards or spiritualists. We don't need them. They are going to be of no help to us anyway. God tells us all we need to know in the Bible. God is a holy, pure Spirit. A great London preacher once had this experience. He was preaching the gospel and saying to the people in the church they needed to repent and to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ who is the only Saviour of sinners. When he finished his sermon, a woman came up to him and said, "My life has changed through what you were preaching tonight. I came in here as a witch; I have been a witch for years. When I came in the door and sat down I felt the same power in here that I am familiar with in my Satan worship but, there is a difference she said; this power is clean and pure". She had now been converted and she gave up, of course, all her superstition. There is a power in these things: the power of the devil is in them. Witchcraft, superstition, necromancy - have nothing to do with it.

Listen to what God says again: "Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God" (Leviticus 19, 31). The surest way to damn ourselves and the souls of our children is to allow them to get into witchcraft and superstition, wizardry and magic. You say it is very harmless. Is it? Don't you let anyone deceive you my friend. It wasn't very innocent for King Saul was it? God was so angry with Saul, he killed him next day. What should King Saul have done when he was so afraid, when he was so terrified? What should he have done when he discovered that God wouldn't answer him any more or listen to his prayers? What should King Saul have done? I'll tell you. He should have gone on his knees and said to God, "Lord, it's my own fault that you will not listen to me. I have sinned against heaven and before Thee. Lord, Thou art still a merciful God, blot out my sin and blot not out my soul from Thy Book. Give me Thy Holy Spirit and listen to my prayers and forgive the wickedness of which I have been guilty in killing and persecuting Thy people". And God would have listened because He always listens to the prayer of the penitent.

I explained, didn't I, the way in which we are to explain this event is in terms of the devil. I want to give you two more reasons before I close as to why that must be the right explanation. Do you remember in 18, 10 when King Saul began to persecute David and to be jealous? Do you remember what was said at that point? The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul and an evil spirit came to trouble him. Do you remember that? It was the devil beginning to work in his life. As time went on the devil got more and more of a grip on this man. It always happens - once you begin with the devil, you get under his power more and more and more. That is why you should never begin with drugs, never begin with alcohol, never begin with spiritualism or magic of any kind. Never begin because it will gain upon your powers more and more until you are a perfect slave to these things. Do you remember last Lord's Day evening we came across the passage in the Acts of the Apostles where there was a girl who had the power to speak about the future - a fortune-teller. It was the devil who was giving her this power. Paul and Silas exorcised the devil and cast him out of her. You see these things are of the devil, not of God.

O parents watch the minds of the young. Watch your own minds; don't dabble with things that God has forbidden. I am happy to tell you as I close, the devil has no power to touch those who know Jesus Christ as their Saviour. I am happy to tell you that the Lord Jesus Christ, sitting in the right hand of God in glory, has far more power that all the devils and demons in the world. When you follow Him you are safe and he can't do you any harm. He might wish to do, but Christ protects those who trust in Him. That, of course, is the reason why you should trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. What a pity this man, King Saul, didn't do so. He is so like Judas Iscariot isn't he? I think Judas Iscariot and this man Saul belong together; they were both of a kind. They were both brought under the power of the devil at the end of their lives. Poor men! Dear friends make sure it doesn't happen to you.

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