How Desperate Are You? (I Samuel 28:3-25)
Topic: I Samuel Passage: 1 Samuel 28:3–28:25
Crying for a King
How Desperate Are You?
I Samuel 28:3-25
November 13th, 2011
Way of Grace Church
As we turn to God’s word this morning, our prayer is that the same thing could be said about us that Paul said about the Thessalonians. He wrote:
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. (I Thessalonians 2:13)
So let’s look together this morning at I Samuel 28.
II. The Passage: “I Am in Great Distress” (28:3-25)
Last time, we talked about the first two verses of this chapter. So this morning, let’s work through the remainder of chapter 28.
A. The Setting of Saul’s Desperation (28:3-6)
Let’s begin by looking together at verses 3-6…
Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in Ramah, his own city. And Saul had put the mediums and the necromancers out of the land.  The Philistines assembled and came and encamped at Shunem. And Saul gathered all Israel, and they encamped at Gilboa.  When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly.  And when Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets.
Now what we have in verse 3 is simply information that we need to know to make sense of the rest of the story in chapter 28. So we’ll come back and touch on that in a minute. Verse 4 is the real beginning of the action in this chapter.
As we see here the Philistine armies are amassing at Shunem. This is the beginning of the new military campaign that the Philistine ruler Achish described in verses 1 and 2 of this chapter. This is the battle that David has been pulled into as a result of his living among the Philistines and lying about his allegiances. Last time, we saw how David found himself in the terrible position of being expected to fight for the Philistines against Israel.
But when it comes to understanding the rest of chapter 28, what we really need to see here is Saul's reaction in verse 5.
We read that when Saul SAW the Philistine army, “he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly.” Achish has apparently put together operation “shock and awe”. The army must have been a massive force, and the size of it scared Saul.
But the scariest part of the whole situation is what we read in verse 6. Even though Saul sought God's guidance, the LORD, Yahweh, did not answer him.
It's not hard to imagine how Saul was feeling at this point. He is outmatched militarily. He is direction-less spiritually. The best word to describe Saul at this point might be “desperate”. Saul is desperate. Listen to a standard definition of the word “desperate”: Feeling, showing, or involving a hopeless sense that a situation is so bad as to be impossible to deal with.
Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever, because a situation seemed so bad, because a situation seemed so impossible to deal with, have you even been desperate? Are you feeling desperate this morning?
If you keep reading in a standard dictionary, the second or third definition under the word “desperate” usually applies to the actions of desperate people. It reads: involving or employing extreme measures in an attempt to escape defeat or frustration. Sadly, that definition is the perfect transition to the next section in this chapter.
B. The Expression of Saul’s Desperation (28:7-14)
Listen to verses 7-14....
Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a medium at En-dor.”
So Saul disguised himself and put on other garments and went, he and two men with him. And they came to the woman by night. And he said, “Divine for me by a spirit and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you.”  The woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the necromancers from the land. Why then are you laying a trap for my life to bring about my death?”  But Saul swore to her by the LORD, “As the LORD lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.”  Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” He said, “Bring up Samuel for me.”  When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul.”  The king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming up out of the earth.”  He said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage.
Now notice the flow of the story here: because Saul is scared of the Philistine army, he turns to God for guidance. But when God doesn’t answer Saul, Saul decides to look for a medium who can communicate with the dead, specifically with the spirit of Samuel.
And when he finds a woman who can do the job, and she actually succeeds in calling up the spirit of Samuel from the grave, she seems to be just as shocked as anyone. It says in verse 12 that “she cried out with a loud voice” when she saw the spirit of Samuel.
Why she screamed is not clear. Was she a fraud and surprised that it actually worked? Was this encounter somehow different than other encounters she had had before?
Well the only thing we know for certain is that whatever happened, she somehow knew that the man who requested the spirit of Samuel was none other than Saul (even though Saul had tried to hide his identity). Whether the spirit of Samuel was speaking the name of Saul as he came into view, or the woman guessed that only the king himself would be able to summon the spirit of Samuel, the point is that Saul is revealed. But the whole context of the book, combined with the message that Samuel will give to Saul, all of it seems to argue for the fact that it was God who made this eerie encounter possible.
But did you notice that Saul cannot see Samuel? Only the woman can. And its the robe, that robe that Samuel's mother Hannah replaced for him every year as he grew up, its the robe that confirms the spirit's identity.
But remember the secondary definition we talked about earlier: involving or employing extreme measures in an attempt to escape defeat or frustration. Talk about desperation! Not only does the geography mentioned here tell us that Saul had to travel past enemy lines to get to this woman in En-dor, but the chapter reminds us twice, once in verse 3, and again in verse 9, that what Saul was doing was violating the very policy that He himself had enforced (now we understand why we are given the information we are given in verse 3).
And to deepen the picture of desperation being painted here, Saul's policy against mediums and necromancers (that is, people who speak with the dead), Saul's policy was based on the law God gave to Moses. For example, Leviticus 19:31 states:
“Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God.”
So even though Saul had earlier said it was wrong, and more importantly, even though God said it was wrong, Saul still wants the woman to call up Samuel's spirit. Desperation.
Is this what desperation does? Does it tempt us to do the very things we know and have told others are wrong? Are the extreme measures that desperation employs always extreme in the sense of disobedience to God? “What else can I do, but steal? What else could I do, but lie…but hit him back…but give her a piece of my mind? What other options did I have?!”
C. The Explanation of Saul’s Desperation (28:15-18)
But as creepy as this scene appears, we need to listen to the man for whom this book is named; we need to hear the message he gives to the desperate king. Look at verse 15:
Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Saul answered, “I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams. Therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do.”  And Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the LORD has turned from you and become your enemy?
 The LORD has done to you as he spoke by me, for the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David.  Because you did not obey the voice of the LORD and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the LORD has done this thing to you this day.
Now what might be most extraordinary about Samuel's message from the grave is how ordinary it is. There is nothing new here. This is exactly what Samuel told Saul back in chapters 13 and 15. Because Saul failed to obey God, on many occasions, God had rejected Saul. God was not listening to Saul now, because Saul did not listen to God earlier. The very guidance that Saul now desired is the very guidance he rejected in chapters 13 and 15.
What should be most shocking to the reader is not that Saul went to a medium to call up Samuel's spirit, but that after all this time, Saul still does not 'get it'.
After rejecting God, and being rejected by God, after trying for so long to kill David, an innocent man, after experiencing such tension with his son Jonathan, who was loyal to David, after presiding over a genocide in Nob, the city of the priests, after almost being killed by David, not once, but twice, after being tormented by an evil spirit, Saul still does not 'get it'.
You see, because of the spiritual blindness that Samuel's words once again highlight, I think we can say with a high degree of certainty that Saul's desperation is what we might call a worldly desperation. Saul believes that because things are so bad, he must do what is wrong in order to accomplish the greater good. But for Saul, it's very clear that this greater good is not about accomplishing God's will, but about defeating the Philistines.
In light of Saul's actions, I think we could say that worldly desperation is the belief that things are so hopeless, I must turn to drastic measures as my only hope.
Isn't this what all of us are guilty of? We look around us and believe that things are so messed up, that situations and relationships are so irreparably broken, that circumstances are so tight, so tense, so terrible, that we must say or do things we will later have to rationalize.
We tell ourselves, and others, and maybe even God, “But I was desperate! What else could I do?”
But this chapter reminds us that our most desperate times should always direct our attention back to our desperate condition before God. That's what Samuel did for Saul. Another Saul, later called Paul, tells us something similar about our standing before God. He writes:
What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,  as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one  no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:9-12)
Like Saul, haven't we turned away from God in the midst of desperate times, when those desperate times should have turned us to God instead? No, you probably didn't choose to seek advice from the dead. But all of us are guilty of listening to those who are spiritually dead; we're guilty of taking our cues from unbelievers instead of God's word.
But this morning I hope we can see that desperation is a good thing. It's a wonderful thing when desperate times lead us, not to worldy desperation, but to a holy desperation.
Fast forward with me to chapter 30. In chapter 30 we learn about more ‘desperate times’. David and his 600 men have just discovered that their wives and children have been carried off by the Amalekites. This is what we read in verses 4 and 6 of chapter 30:
Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep... And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God. (I Samuel 30:4, 6)
What we see here is that David’s response to a desperate situation is exactly the opposite of Saul’s response. What we’ve been given here is a wonderful picture of “holy desperation”. We could say that holy desperation is the belief that I am so hopeless, I must turn to God as my only hope.
Desperation is a good thing when it turns us, not to the spirits of men, but to the Spirit of God. David himself described this holy desperation in the Psalms when he wrote:
Hear my prayer, O LORD; give ear to my pleas for mercy! In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness!  Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.  For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.  Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled.  I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands.  I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.  Answer me quickly, O LORD! My spirit fails! Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit.  Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. (Psalm 143:1-8)
A psalm like that is the result, not of musical or literary skill. It’s the by-product of holy desperation. You see, when desperate times lead to a holy desperation, it expresses itself in how you pray and you how you read God’s word.
When I pray as one who recognize that I am hopeless and must turn to God, my prayers are not simply formulas or rehearsed requests, they are me pleading with God…”not my will, by your will be done.” When I read God’s word as one who recognize that I am hopeless and must turn to God, my time in Scripture is not simply the completion of a task or a journalistic search for information. No, holy desperation turns my Bible reading into a starving man’s search for food…into a sick man’s search for a cure…into a lost man’s search for direction.
Desperate times are a gift from God when they lead us to a holy desperation.
D. The Outcome of Saul’s Desperation (28:19-25)
But when worldy desperation is all that defines us, desperate times simply multiply. Look at what we read in the final verses:
Moreover, the LORD will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me. The LORD will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines.”  Then Saul fell at once full length on the ground, filled with fear because of the words of Samuel. And there was no strength in him, for he had eaten nothing all day and all night.  And the woman came to Saul, and when she saw that he was terrified, she said to him, “Behold, your servant has obeyed you. I have taken my life in my hand and have listened to what you have said to me.  Now therefore, you also obey your servant. Let me set a morsel of bread before you; and eat, that you may have strength when you go on your way.”  He refused and said, “I will not eat.” But his servants, together with the woman, urged him, and he listened to their words. So he arose from the earth and sat on the bed.  Now the woman had a fattened calf in the house, and she quickly killed it, and she took flour and kneaded it and baked unleavened bread of it,  and she put it before Saul and his servants, and they ate. Then they rose and went away that night.
Here is Saul, the once great king who stood head and shoulders about every other Israelite, here is Saul stretched out in fear, in the dirt, on the floor of a fortune-tellers hut. For God, this was the final straw in terms of Saul’s spiritually blind and spiritually stubborn heart. Tomorrow, Saul will die. For God already made this declaration in His law:
“If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, whoring after them, I will set my face against that person and will cut him off from among his people.” (Leviticus 20:6)
III. The Blessing of the God-Forsaken Man
As sad as this picture is, there is a great blessing that comes from considering a God-forsaken man. When we hear the story of Saul, God wants each of us to be warned; God wants us to learn from Saul’s mistakes. But at the same time, all of us must consistently consider the story of another God forsaken man.
And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.  And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:33-34)
Listen to what one commentator said about the God-forsakenness of Jesus on the cross: “..The glory of the gospel is that God’s Son went through the darkness of God’s absence for us, the darkness and agony of God-forsakenness. Is not Jesus cry of Mark 15:34 very much like “God has turned away from me and answers me no more” (28:15)? At the Battle of Golgotha, Jesus has walked out into the outer darkness in order that you might walk in the light of life.” (Dale Ralph Davis)
Do you find yourself in desperate times this morning? When desperate times come, where will they lead? How desperate are you? How desperate will you be? The path of worldly desperation only leads us farther from God. It leads only to God’s judgment and death. But holy desperation leads us to God, by faith, because we are rightly hopeless when it comes to our strength or the world’s solutions.
We don’t need to the risen spirit of a dead prophet. We need a risen Lord who has defeated death. We need Jesus. Let’s pray and ask God to give us a holy desperation, not only in desperate times, but every day. For in and of ourselves, in this fallen world, every day is a desperate time.