1 Samuel 28
[The reading for today is the entirety of Chapter 28. You will need to look it up for yourself or clink the link below to read this story in your browser. Don’t skip the Scripture reading! This is one of the truly weirdest stories that the Bible holds.]
Recently on the TLC Channel a new show debuted; Long Island Medium. We’ve all seen these people on TV before (or maybe even in person, if you are truly unfortunate). They declare that they are able to speak with those who have died and bring back messages from loved ones who have passed that supposedly bring encouragement and advice about the future for the living. On this newest show, (which I refuse to watch) this woman from Long Island gives unsolicited “readings” to strangers on the street. She says she just can’t help doing it. The dead come and speak to her and she just has to share the information. She is what the Bible would call a “necromancer.” (In the Hebrew the word literally means “skin bottle” as the medium allows their skin to be filled with that of a person who had died for a short time.) God’s words about this practice are pretty cut and dried. Don’t participate. Deuteronomy 18:10–12 couldn’t be any clearer:
There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you.
This brings us to the final night of Saul’s life and the deplorable way he chooses to spend it. Because of his great fear of the Philistines and God’s unwillingness to give him direction about the upcoming battle, Saul decides to visit a medium and get his answers there. This is a strange choice, as Saul has (in accordance with the Deuteronomy passage above) kicked all of the mediums and necromancers out of the country. What appears to be true is that they didn’t actually leave, they just went underground, so to speak – pun intended!
What actually happened in that cave between the medium and Saul has been the subject of much theological debate over the centuries. There appears to be two possible choices to explain who actually “appeared” to Saul through the medium. One, (and this is the one I generally agree with on the basis of other Scripture passages) that this is a demonic presence that comes; OR two, that this is actually “Samuel” sent by God to affirm the message Saul already knows. (The precedent for this opinion being the appearance of Elijah and Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration [see Matthew 17:1ff].) No matter where you land in this debate, the bottom line is that God does not approve of this activity and Saul knew that. Interestingly, the medium refuses to help him because of his own edict against necromancy and he uses the name of the Lord for the very last time in his life (verse 10) to assure her that she will suffer no recrimination. Whoever or whatever this medium conjures up (and even she was surprised to have succeeded, leading us to believe that she was had probably never been able to actually speak with the dead before this event) merely reiterated for Saul what he has already been told. His unwillingness to live obediently had resulted in the loss of the kingdom from his family line. And even more distressing is the news that he (and his sons) will die in battle the next day.
While this story is fascinating and rather titillating, it does serve the purpose of illuminating more of God’s character and standards. God says “NO” to this particular practice. Those who would participate in it today are dancing on a trapdoor that will spring on them. It is not entertaining, fun, or useful in any way at all in our lives as believers. It displays a complete lack of trust in God and His power to protect us and provide for us. When God says “no” he means “no”.