Friday, July 15, 2011

Saul and Sorcery: Spirits from the Earth

Photo credit: Francis G. Mayer/CORBIS
“I saw gods ascending out of the earth” (1 Samuel 28:13, King James Version).

Now we come to what is probably the most unnerving part of Saul's life. The final prophecy of the Prophet Samuel from beyond the grave revealed the eventuality of Saul's betrayal of God's trust and the bursting of the supernatural cyst that had consumed and festered in his life.

Mere existence became Saul’s only lot after twisting his mandate on the Amalekites. He no longer had any business holding on to his position as king and it was necessary—spiritually vital—for him to relinquish the throne. But Saul’s thirst for the position got the better of him and despite the Prophet Samuel’s declaration that the anointing of the Holy Spirit had abandoned him, he turned to popular opinion in an attempt to counter weigh the flight of the Holy Spirit. So for what could have been about two years of pretending that everything returned business as usual was on the contrary a constant struggle for survival as Saul tried to make it through a day lost, alone, maintaining a precarious balance along a tightrope that hovered over insanity. But by this point, God’s mercy over Saul’s life continued to be evident in the single fact that this virtually dethroned king was given the courtesy to abdicate on his own for it was the only way to redeem his life. This could have been an example of the matter that the Apostle Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 3:15 about the believer whose life being saved “only as one escaping through the flames,” but all his works for God “burned up” in the Day of testing. A literal depiction of this principle was Lot in Genesis 19 whose life was spared when God overthrew the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and the immediate region surrounding these (verse 25). Saul continued to face hope; all he had to do was abandon his dreams of the throne for punishment was about to descend upon it, for the man after God’s own heart had already been anointed and God’s Spirit had already chosen him—after the very moment Saul betrayed God and His directive.

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And judgment did come. In 1 Samuel 28:5, it said that, “When Saul saw the Philistine army [at Shunem], he was afraid; terror filled his heart.” It was the same fear that seized him way back in the thirteenth chapter when he beheld the mighty Philistine army “as numerous as the sand on the seashore” (verse 5) at Micmash, and when Goliath taunted the Israelites for forty days when not one of God’s warriors was willing to face the Philistine champion. In each of the occasions, so great was the dread Saul felt that it made his life flash before his eyes. He feared each battle to be his last as if some prophecy from the Prophet Samuel had told him so. Until this encounter with the Philistine army at Shunem in 1 Samuel 28, there had been no such prophecy foretelling the death of Saul. All there was was his fear. But on the night he consulted a medium, the spirit of the Prophet Samuel returns to finally confirm the fear: “…tomorrow you and your sons will be with me” (verse 19). If the days after Saul’s disobedience cost him his crown, the one night when he came to a medium meant his doom. It was a second act of violation against God’s Law and he set himself on a one-way course to destruction.

The witch told King Saul that she saw “gods ascending out of the earth” (1 Samuel 28:13, King James Version). The original Hebrew used for “gods” is elohim, a plural form of the singular el employed to address magistrates and judges like the Prophet Samuel, and to spiritual beings like angels and gods. Its plural use in referring to a single person is an expression of deference to the person’s supremacy. Though elohim can be commonly applied to other—false—deities and human authority figures, it is one of the most frequently used words in the Old Testament to refer to God. Other reliable Bible versions, however, chooses to specifically translate the “elohim” of 1 Samuel 28:13 as “a spirit,” as did the New International and the New King James, “a spirit coming up out of the ground.” Having been a man of God, should not have the Prophet Samuel descended from heaven? If then, what was the Prophet Samuel—if indeed it was the Prophet Samuel—doing in the ground?

Here we turn to the sovereignty of God. Many times we modern believers have imprisoned our expectations of God to produce a limited, almost mortal, picture of this Eternal Person. We have lost the very significance why we have enthroned Him in heaven at all. Consider these passages in Psalm 115:3, “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him”; and in 135:6, “The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.”

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So in the same way as Jesus chose to die and descend to the grave just to demonstrate that nothing—neither sin nor death—could hold Him in the grave forever, God decided to manifest His supremacy by performing a little supernatural surgery in King Saul’s affair.  So He forged a passage, so to speak, running from heaven, through hell, and emerging in that little dark witch’s hovel in Endor for one last prophecy: a prophecy articulating His frustration over a beloved son who chose to distrust and betray Him in a task he was established for. That night, every demonic cohort who impersonated human souls stood away and helplessly watched God and the Prophet Samuel rend their dark realm in power and authority. The witch through her black magic saw this and she too was helpless to stop it; she was no longer in control. That night, the secret meeting came face to face with “the finger of God” (Exodus 8:19).

The witch suspected that such a sight can only occur in behalf of one whom God and the Prophet Samuel were closely associated to. It was this point when she shrieks, “You are Saul!” (1 Samuel 28:12) It was the intervention of God that gave Saul’s cover away.

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