Bypassing God

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1 Samuel 28:1-25 (The witch of Endor)

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is on David and Saul, and in these closing chapters the focus of the narrative continues to alternate between David and Saul. Last week’s message was mostly about David. This week’s message is mostly about Saul. This is a famous passage because this is the chapter where Saul goes to visit the witch of Endor. (Read 1 Samuel 28:4-7 and pray)


This morning we’re going to be talking about bypassing God. That’s what Saul is really doing here when he goes to visit the witch of Endor. Saul has made a lot of really poor choices in his life, but this is a particularly bad one. Instead of seeking God in his time of crisis, Saul bypasses God and goes to the witch of Endor instead.

Our passage today shows us three ways that we bypass God in our own lives. We bypass God when we bypass prayer. We bypass God when we bypass conscience. And we bypass God when we bypass obedience.

Bypassing God leads to punishment and loss of God’s blessing, and so we want to learn from Saul’s mistakes here so that we do not end up bypassing God in our own lives as well. So, let’s look at these various ways that we bypass God as laid out in today’s passage.

I. Bypassing prayer (1-7)

First of all, we bypass God when we bypass prayer. Saul is in a difficult situation, but instead of relying on the Lord in prayer, Saul bypasses God by seeking a medium.

   A. Seek God in times of trouble (1-4)
      – Psalm 9:9-10

We need to seek God in times of trouble. And Saul’s trouble here in this first section comes in the form of the Philistines. Look at 1 Samuel 28:1-4:

In those days the Philistines gathered their forces to fight against Israel. Achish said to David, “You must understand that you and your men will accompany me in the army.” 2 David said, “Then you will see for yourself what your servant can do.” Achish replied, “Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.”

3 Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in his own town of Ramah. Saul had expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land. 4 The Philistines assembled and came and set up camp at Shunem, while Saul gathered all the Israelites and set up camp at Gilboa. (1 Samuel 28:1-4)

Saul has a problem here. The Philistines are preparing a mass attack against Israel. However, this also creates a problem for David, because as you remember from last time, David is living with the Philistines. He is living with the enemy, and the enemy is about to go to war with his own people.

Of course, this puts David in a tough position, especially when the Philistine king tells him that David and his men must accompany him in battle. David is caught between a rock and hard place here. What will he do?

You will notice David is very elusive in his response to Achish. This is not the first time David does this. We saw last time that David was raiding the enemies of Israel near their border towns when Achish asked him where he was raiding. David responded, “Oh, up near the border of Israel.” Achish assumed that David was raiding the Israelite towns near the border and thought David would now be his servant forever.

Well, David is elusive again here. When Achish tells him he must accompany him in battle, David replies, “Then you will see for yourself what your servant can do.” Well, that can go either way, right? David might fight against the Israelites or he might fight against the Philistines. But Achish is very trusting of David again and even makes him his bodyguard for life.

David is in quite the predicament, but now the text leaves David and returns to Saul and his predicament. What should Saul do here? Very clearly, he should seek the Lord. Psalm 9 says: “The Lord is … a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” (Psalm 9:9-10) The Bible tells us we should always seek the Lord in times of trouble.

   B. Stay away from the occult (5-7)
      – Deuteronomy 18:10-11

The Bible also tells us we should stay away from the occult. Saul knows this. Remember, he was the one who had expelled all the mediums from the land. But Saul ends up looking for a medium anyways. Look at 1 Samuel 28:5-7:

When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart. 6 He inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets. 7 Saul then said to his attendants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her.” “There is one in Endor,” they said. (1 Samuel 28:5-7)

So, Saul initially inquired of the Lord. That was good, just like getting rid of the mediums and spiritists had been good. Saul doesn’t do everything wrong. However, when God does not answer him right away, he turns to other means. That’s the problem here. As we’ve seen at other times in Saul’s life, Saul is impatient and unwilling to wait on the Lord.

The Bible tells us God did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets. God sometimes spoke to his people through dreams. The Urim was part of the Urim and the Thummim. We’ve looked at this before, and this was the special way that the priests communicated with the Lord. The Urim and Thummim were kept with the priest’s ephod, and the priest could use them to get yes or no answers from God. And then the prophets were another way God communicated with the people. Today we primarily communicate with God through the word of God and prayer.

When God didn’t answer Saul right away, Saul told his attendants to find a medium that he might go and inquire of her instead of the Lord. A medium was someone who communicated with the dead. This was a practice which was strictly forbidden in Scripture. We read in Deuteronomy 18: “Let no one be found among you who … practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-11)

Saul asks where there is a medium, and his attendants tell him there is one in Endor. Now Endor is six miles away from Saul’s current position on the battle line. And it is on the other side of the enemy camp. Saul is so desperate to get information, he is willing to cross enemy lines to do so!

Anytime you engage in the occult, please know that you are also stepping behind enemy lines. Whether you are consulting mediums, spiritists, fortunetellers, psychics or horoscopes, these are all part of the occult, and the Bible tells you to stay away from the occult. Certain drug use, especially hallucinogenic drugs, can also be a gateway into the occult.

There are good and safe ways to approach the spirit world – such as worship, the word of God and prayer. And there are dangerous or unsafe ways to approach the spirit world. Anytime you engage in the occult, you are stepping behind enemy lines and opening yourself up to the enemy’s attack. Both in Saul’s time and today, the Bible tells us to stay away from the occult.

II. Bypassing conscience (8-10)

So, Saul first bypasses God by bypassing prayer. Next, he bypasses God by bypassing conscience. God has given you your conscience to help you discern right from wrong.
Saul bypasses God here by both disregarding his conscience and disregarding God’s law.

   A. Don’t disregard your conscience (8)
      – Job 24:14-16

First, he disregards his conscience. Look at 1 Samuel 28:8:

So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. “Consult a spirit for me,” he said, “and bring up for me the one I name.” (1 Samuel 28:8)

So, Saul disguises himself and goes at night to see the medium. When you wait until dark to do something, that is usually not a good sign. Here are some examples from Job 24: “When daylight is gone, the murderer rises up and kills the poor and needy; in the night he steals forth like a thief. 15 The eye of the adulterer watches for dusk; he thinks, ‘No eye will see me,’ and he keeps his face concealed. 16 In the dark, men break into houses, but by day they shut themselves in; they want nothing to do with the light.” (Job 24:14-16)

Unless you’re planning on looking at the stars, waiting until dark usually means you’re doing something you’re not supposed to be doing. And the fact that you wait for the cover of darkness means that you know you’re not supposed to do it. Don’t disregard your conscience. God gave you your conscience to help you know right from wrong.

   B. Don’t disregard God’s law (9-10)
      – Romans 2:12

But there’s an even better way to know right from wrong, and that’s by looking to the light of God’s. Our consciences are helpful, but they don’t always get it right. God’s word tells us plainly what is right and wrong, and so we need to be careful not to disregard God’s law. Unfortunately, Saul not only disregards his conscience. He also directly disregards God’s law. Look at 1 Samuel 28:9-10:

But the woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?” 10 Saul swore to her by the Lord, “As surely as the Lord lives, you will not be punished for this.” (1 Samuel 28:9-10)

Saul knows that God’s law prohibits him from going to mediums and spiritists. He has banned them from the land himself! Practicing divination or going to a medium was a capital offense, which is why the medium fears for her life here. Saul swears to her by the Lord that she will not be punished. Do you see Saul’s incongruence here? Saul swears to her by the Lord while blatantly disobeying the Lord. Saul commits a capital offense here, and in less than twenty-four hours he will be dead.

Romans 2:12 says: “All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.” (Romans 2:12) Even those who do not have the law still know right from wrong because God has given them conscience. But those who do have the law have even less excuse.

Don’t disregard your conscience, and don’t disregard God’s law. That’s a second way we try to bypass God, when we bypass God’s gift of conscience.

III. Bypassing obedience (11-19)

Saul bypasses God by bypassing prayer, by bypassing conscience, and thirdly by bypassing obedience. Saul bypasses obedience when he follows through on his evil course and instructs the medium to call up Samuel from the dead.

   A. Your sin can lead others to sin (11-14)
      – Matthew 18:7

And in doing so, Saul not only sins against God, he leads this woman into sin also. Look at 1 Samuel 28:11-14:

Then the woman asked, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” “Bring up Samuel,” he said. 12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!” 13 The king said to her, “Don’t be afraid. What do you see?” The woman said, “I see a spirit coming up out of the ground.” 14 “What does he look like?” he asked. “An old man wearing a robe is coming up,” she said. Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. (1 Samuel 28:11-14)

And now we come to the strangest part of the story. Saul tells the medium to bring up Samuel. And when she does, she is more shocked than anyone. Whatever she expected to bring up, she certainly did not expect it to be Samuel. Perhaps she was used to communicating with a certain spirit who pretended to be the spirit of dead people, but when she sees Samuel actually coming up from the dead, she screams at the top her lungs.

A lot of people struggle with this passage and wonder why God would use something wrong to accomplish something good. Some people say this couldn’t be Samuel because God wouldn’t use something that he prohibits. But the passage seems to say this really is Samuel, and so God is doing something unusual. God certainly doesn’t do anything wrong here. God didn’t call Samuel up from the dead. But if God wants to use Samuel in this way to bring a word to Saul, he can so that. If God wants to bring Moses and Elijah with Jesus to the Mount of Transfiguration, God can do that. God in his sovereignty allows Samuel to speak from the dead in order to speak a word of judgment on Saul.

Somehow when the medium saw Samuel coming up, she immediately knew she was dealing with Saul. Perhaps Samuel called out Saul’s name, perhaps God gave her a flash of insight, perhaps it was just pure instinct. Saul asks what the spirit looks like, and when she describes an old man wearing a robe, Saul also knows it is Samuel, and he bows with his face to the ground.

Saul was wrong to go to the medium, and the medium was wrong to call on the dead. The woman was responsible for her own sin, but she wouldn’t be doing this right now if Saul hadn’t gone to her, so Saul also bears responsibility for her sin. Of course, she also bears responsibility for Saul’s sin, because if she wasn’t a medium, he wouldn’t be going to her.

Jesus said in Matthew 18:7: “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:7) When you bypass obedience to God, understand that your sin can also lead others to sin.

   B. God will judge every disobedience (15-19)
      – Romans 2:6-8

Understand also that God will judge every disobedience. Look at 1 Samuel 28:15-19:

Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” “I am in great distress,” Saul said. “The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has turned away from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do.”

16 Samuel said, “Why do you consult me, now that the Lord has turned away from you and become your enemy? 17 The Lord has done what he predicted through me. The Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors – to David. 18 Because you did not obey the Lord or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the Lord has done this to you today. 19 The Lord will hand over both Israel and you to the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also hand over the army of Israel to the Philistines.” (1 Samuel 28:15-19)

Samuel asks Saul, “Why have you disturbed me?” Saul basically says, “I tried talking to God, but he wouldn’t answer. So, I called on you instead.” Saul knows that God has turned against him. Why does he think that disobeying God further will somehow get God back on his side? That’s like driving faster in the wrong direction. It doesn’t get you where you want to go. In fact, it just gets you further from your goal.

Samuel tells Saul that God is just doing what he said he would do earlier. God has taken the kingdom from Saul and is giving it to David. Saul didn’t listen to God before. Why should he expect God to speak to him now? You can’t expect God to speak if you don’t listen!

This whole scene of Saul seeking Samuel here instead of God reminds me of something. It reminds me of when people come to me as a pastor seeking approval for something God clearly says is wrong. For example, a couple that is living together before marriage. They know it’s wrong. They know it goes against God’s commands. But they come to me and tell me their situation. They explain to me why it’s different in their case. It seems everyone living together thinks they’re the one exception! They’re hoping I’ll tell them it’s okay. But I can’t go against God’s word, because then I would be bypassing obedience.

God will judge every disobedience, and so Samuel brings God’s word of judgment to Saul. He tells Saul, “The Lord will hand over both Israel and you to the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also hand over the army of Israel to the Philistines.” That’s an ominous thing to hear from a dead man: “Tomorrow you and your sons will be with me.” Within twenty-four hours Saul and his sons will join Samuel among the dead.

Romans 2 says: “God ‘will give to each person according to what he has done.’ 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” (Romans 2:6-8)

When you bypass obedience, you are bypassing God. Your sin can lead others to sin, and God will judge every disobedience.

IV. Bypassing God’s blessing (20-25)

So, Saul has bypassed God by bypassing prayer, by bypassing conscience, and by bypassing obedience. And as a result of all this, he also bypasses God’s blessing.

   A. There is no benefit in sin (20-22)
      – Romans 6:21

There is no benefit in sin. Look at 1 Samuel 28:20-22:

Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, filled with fear because of Samuel’s words. His strength was gone, for he had eaten nothing all that day and night. 21 When the woman came to Saul and saw that he was greatly shaken, she said, “Look, your maidservant has obeyed you. I took my life in my hands and did what you told me to do. 22 Now please listen to your servant and let me give you some food so you may eat and have the strength to go on your way.” (1 Samuel 28:20-22)

We have been talking about the rise and fall of Saul. Well now, Saul falls literally full length on the ground. We have come a long way from Saul chosen as king head and shoulders above everyone else in Israel to Saul consulting a medium flat on the ground before a dead prophet of God.

There is no benefit in sin. Saul is pitiful here. He is flat on the ground, filled with fear, not eating, completely drained of strength, judged by God. Even the witch of Endor takes pity on him and offers him some food so he can go on his way.

The apostle Paul talks about our sinful state before Christ and asks the question in Romans 6:21: “What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!” (Romans 6:21) There is no benefit in sin, as King Saul found out the hard way.

   B. Eternal life is found in Christ alone (23-25)
      – 1 Chronicles 10:13; Romans 6:23; John 14:6

Sin leads to death, but eternal life is found in Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ alone. This what Saul has really been facing all along – the choice between life and death. Unfortunately, in choosing sin over God, Saul ultimately chose death over life. Look at the final verses of the chapter now in 1 Samuel 28:23-25:

He refused and said, “I will not eat.” But his men joined the woman in urging him, and he listened to them. He got up from the ground and sat on the couch. 24 The woman had a fattened calf at the house, which she butchered at once. She took some flour, kneaded it and baked bread without yeast. 25 Then she set it before Saul and his men, and they ate. That same night they got up and left. (1 Samuel 28:23-25)

This is Saul’s last supper. Saul’s men join the medium in urging him to eat. Finally, he agrees. The medium kills the fatted calf and gives him a meal fit for a king. Saul and his men eat, and then they go out into the night, knowing they face certain death in the morning. Saul has one last supper with his men before he goes out and dies for his own sins. Jesus had one last supper with his men before he went out died for our sins.

The Old Testament book of 1 Chronicles tells us: “Saul died because he was unfaithful to the LORD; he did not keep the word of the LORD and even consulted a medium for guidance.” (1 Chronicles 10:13) The New Testament book of Romans tells us: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

When you bypass God, you bypass God’s blessing. And when you bypass Jesus, the Son of God, you bypass God’s salvation. Jesus said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) You cannot earn your way to heaven. Eternal life is found in Christ alone.

CONCLUSION: Bypassing God leads to punishment and loss of God’s blessing. When you bypass God by using the occult instead of going to God in prayer, you open the door to the enemy. When you bypass God’s good gift of conscience, you have no excuse because you know what you are doing is wrong. And when you bypass obedience to God’s law, you lead others into sin and bring God’s judgment upon yourself.

When you bypass God in your life, you bypass God’s blessing. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) God offers you eternal life through his Son Jesus Christ. All you need to do is repent of your sins and put your trust in him.

Saul chose a witch over God. That’s pretty bad. But if you choose anything over God, that’s just as bad.

So, when you wake up in the morning, don’t bypass God. When you’re facing temptations, don’t bypass God. When things are going well in your life, don’t bypass God.

Don’t bypass God in your life. Seek God’s will through the word of God and prayer. Stay away from the occult. Pay attention to your conscience. Seek to be obedient to God’s word. Trust Jesus. Choose God over sin.

© Ray Fowler

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