King Saul was scared. An army of Philistines was preparing to fight Israel, his kingdom.
He had asked God on another occasion, “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will you give them in the hand of Israel?” (1 Samuel 14:37 NASB).
And now Saul was inquiring of God again. But God gave him no answer on either occasion.
“So Saul ordered his officials, ‘Find me someone who can call up spirits so I may go and seek counsel from those spirits.’ His servants said, ‘There’s a witch at Endor’” (1 Samuel 28:7 MSG).
Some Bible translations, instead of saying “witch,” use the word “medium.” A medium is “a person through whom communications are supposedly sent to the living from spirits of the dead” (Webster’s New World Dictionary).
So Saul, with two other men, went to the witch of Endor and said to her, “Will you bring up the ghost of someone for us?” (1 Samuel 28:8 CEV).
The witch asks, “Who do you want me to bring up?” and Saul answers, “Bring up the ghost of Samuel” (1 Samuel 28:11 CEV).
Samuel the prophet, when he was alive, had been Saul’s counselor. Now his ghost indeed appears to the witch, and she screams.
The ghost speaks to Saul, saying, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” (1 Samuel 28:15 ESV). Saul tells him, “God hasn’t told me what to do about the Philistines. So I thought you might.”
Samuel responds by basically telling him, “If God won’t tell you, why should I? He’s punishing you for not obeying Him. Kingship belongs to David now. In fact, I’ll see you and your sons in the realm of the dead tomorrow, while you lose the battle to the Philistines!”
Just as Samuel said, Israel ended up losing that battle. And Saul and his sons died.
Ultimately, it seems that the story of the witch of Endor and the ghost of Samuel is a story about punishment — Saul’s punishment for his disobedience.
It’s a reminder that God is “a God who punishes” (Psalm 94:1 NCV).
The bad news is that since we’ve all sinned (Romans 3:23), we all deserve punishment (Romans 6:23; cf. Matthew 25:46).
The good news is that God is also “a God ready to forgive” (Nehemiah 9:17 ESV), and so we don’t have to endure the punishment for our sins because Jesus has already endured it for us.
As it says in Isaiah 53 (and I’ll close with this passage): “We saw his suffering and thought God was punishing him. But he was wounded for the wrong we did; he was crushed for the evil we did.
“The punishment, which made us well, was given to him, and we are healed because of his wounds. We all have wandered away like sheep; each of us has gone his own way. But the Lord has put on him the punishment for all the evil we have done” (Isaiah 53:4-6 NCV).
By Jake King
(Jake King is the preacher at Seneca Church of Christ. He can be reached at (417) 776-3077.)