Scripture reading – 1 Samuel 28; Psalm 63

1 Samuel 28 – Dead Man Walking

One might empathize with King Saul in the latter years of his reign and life. The king was old, the strength and vitality of his youth faded, and his spirit was consumed by bitterness. In contrast, though David had been a faithful servant to the king, Saul’s jealousy had made him an enemy. Indeed, the champion of Israel appeared to be in league with King Achish, for David had taken residence among the Philistines (1 Samuel 28:1-2).

King Saul’s Agony: Lonely, Despairing, and Desperate (1 Samuel 28:3-11)

The king had disobeyed God’s command, and the LORD had withdrawn his Spirit from him (1 Samuel 16:14-15). With the prophet Samuel dead (1 Samuel 28:3) and the Philistine army gathered against Israel (1 Samuel 28:4), Saul trembled at the sight of “the host of the Philistines” (1 Samuel 28:5).

Paralyzed by a spirit of foreboding (1 Samuel 28:5-6) and desperate for a word of reassurance, the king disguised himself, violated the Law (Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 19:31), and turned to a witch who consulted with spirits (1 Samuel 28:7; Leviticus 20:27). The king assured the witch she would not be punished, and demanded she summons the prophet Samuel from the dead (1 Samuel 28:11).

Samuel’s Apparition (1 Samuel 28:12-19)

The LORD permitted Samuel to appear, and his visage frightened the witch, who then realized the man before her was Saul (1 Samuel 28:12). With the king’s assurance that she would come to no harm, the soothsayer revealed she had seen a man, “an old man…covered with a mantle” (1 Samuel 28:14). Saul realized the apparition was that of Samuel. The king “stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself” (1 Samuel 28:14).

Samuel demanded, “Why hast thou disquieted me [awaken from rest or sleep], to bring me up [i.e., from Sheol, the place of the dead]?” (1 Samuel 28:15). Trembling with fear, Saul declared how the Philistines had gathered against Israel, and God’s Spirit was departed from him (1 Samuel 28:15). Pitifully, the king confessed he had no prophet to answer him, and no man to interpret dreams (1 Samuel 28:15).

The prophet Samuel reminded Saul he was suffering the consequences of his disobedience (1 Samuel 15:23; 28:18). Not only had God’s Spirit departed from him, but the LORD had become Saul’s enemy (1 Samuel 28:16). Fulfilling His prophecy, the LORD had “rent the kingdom out of [Saul’s] hand and given it to [his] neighbour, even to David” (1 Samuel 28:17). Samuel then revealed the imminent deaths of Saul and his sons, and the defeat Israel would suffer on the battlefield the next day (1 Samuel 28:19).

King’s Saul’s Anguish (1 Samuel 28:20-25)

Having heard the prophecy, Saul fell to the ground, “and there was no strength in him” (1 Samuel 28:20). The king was so overcome with emotion and weakness from fasting that the witch took pity on him and urged him to eat (1 Samuel 28:22-24). When their supper was ended, Saul and his men “rose up, and went away that night” (1 Samuel 28:25).

Closing thoughts:

Rather than humble himself, and repent, Saul departed with the vision of Samuel hardening his heart and knowing he would not live to see another night. Sadly, because of his sins, the king and his sons would perish on the battlefield the next day, and his throne would be given to David.

Saul was, tragically, a portrait of a “dead man walking.”

Questions to consider:

1) What event occurred in 1 Samuel 28 that terrified King Saul? (1 Samuel 28:5)

2) What happened when Saul sought to inquire of the LORD? (1 Samuel 28:6)

3) Why had Saul gone to the witch to seek Samuel? (1 Samuel 28:15)

4) What was Saul’s condition after his encounter with Samuel? (1 Samuel 28:20)

Psalm 63

The title of Psalm 63 gives us the background for the song, for it was “when [David] was in the wilderness of Judah.” Throughout the psalm, you will notice phrases and verses that are beautiful and expressive of David’s satisfaction with the LORD.

With Saul’s despair as the backdrop (1 Samuel 28), Psalm 63 affords us an encouraging contrast.  1 Samuel 28 found Saul longing for a word from the LORD but found his sins had alienated God and had made the LORD his enemy. However, though he resided in the wilderness, David rejoiced in the LORD. The man who would soon be king confessed:

1O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: My soul thirsteth for thee, My flesh longeth for thee In a dry and thirsty land, where no water is” (Psalm 63:1).

Indeed, only a man who loved the LORD could find such joy, comfort, and cause for rejoicing in Him.

Questions to consider:

  • What images did David use to describe his longing for the LORD? (Psalm 63:1)

  • How did David describe his security in the LORD? (Psalm 63:7)

  • What did David predict would become of his enemies? (Psalm 63:9-10)

Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith

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