Near the close of the first book of Samuel, we learn about the not-so-surprising way in which Saul’s life was brought to an end. Saul’s death is tightly connected with his visit to the witch at Endor, and it serves as yet another example of God’s covenant faithfulness, as it relates to the issues of the subjugation and redemption (exile and exodus) of His chosen people. The story of Saul’s visit begins with a reminder that Samuel had died, which provides a basis for Saul’s fear at the assembly of the Philistines against him and Israel.
God’s anointing, along with the kingdom, as we know, has already been removed from Saul and he has been vexed with a troubling spirit from the time that such was pronounced against him. Most assuredly, he had taken his eyes off of Israel’s God, no longer trusting in His faithfulness towards His people, and instead, had put his trust in another man, that being Samuel. It was probably the case that, since it was Samuel that had given voice to the stripping of the anointing and kingdom from Saul, that Samuel was the one with whom Saul had hoped to restore a relationship of trust, rather than the God for whom Samuel spoke. The new challenge being offered by the Philistines caused Saul to be “absolutely terrified” (1 Samuel 28:5), and even though we read that “Saul inquired of the Lord” (28:6a), this inquiry, as we would expect, was met with silence on God’s behalf, so he quickly turned to the idea of inquiring of “a medium” (28:7).
We need not recount the full story of Saul’s visit, but rather, jump straight to the reported interaction between Samuel and Saul that has apparently been facilitated by this medium. “Samuel said to Saul, ‘Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?’ Saul replied, ‘I am terribly troubled! The Philistines are fighting against me and God has turned away from me. He does not answer me---not by the prophets nor by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do’.” (28:15) Samuel’s response is a representative report of the epitome of God’s promised cursing for disobedience in relation to the covenants related to His commandments. He says, “Why are you asking me, now that the Lord has turned away from you and has become your enemy?” (28:16) This should remind us of the blessing and cursing passages from Deuteronomy, which are instrumental in interpreting and understanding Israel’s history, as well as the Bible’s meta-narrative, which is the story of exile and exodus (from cover to cover).
Samuel’s words to Saul are a startling re-phrasing of Deuteronomy 28:15, which reads, “But if you ignore the Lord your god and are not careful to keep all His commandments and statutes…” (28:15a), which would cause Saul to reflect on the events that had brought him to the point of this interaction---especially the Amalekite situation, “then all these curses will come upon you in full force” (28:15b). By his own words, Saul has expressed to Samuel that he is confused by the Lord’s response---or lack thereof---in the face of the current conflict that has come upon him and Israel. This falls right in line with additional words from Deuteronomy, which state that “The Lord will send on you a curse, confusing you and opposing you in everything you undertake until you are destroyed and quickly perish because of the evil of your deeds, in that you have forsaken Me” (28:20). Could there be a more stark example that Saul had forsaken the Lord, in that here he was, consulting a medium, and rousing the spirit of a dead prophet of Israel?
Samuel tells Saul, “The Lord has done exactly what I prophesied! The Lord has torn the kingdom from your hand and has given it to your neighbor David!” (28:17) Just in case Saul had not made the connection, or had somehow forgotten the basis for this turn of events for him, Samuel reminds him that it was because “you did not obey the Lord and did not carry out His fierce anger against the Amalekites,” that “the Lord has done this thing to you today” (28:18). Briefly recounting the history of Amalek and Israel, we recall that it was Amalek that first met Israel during their exodus from Egyptian exile (subjugation). Amalek had fought against Israel, attempting to subjugate them in the midst of their exodus. This was the reason why, when Israel would later encounter Amalek, that God demanded the total annihilation of Amalek and everything related to Amalek. Saul did not carry this out in full. Because of this failure, Amalek would attempt to re-subjugate Israel many years later, in the person of Haman, the son of Hammadetha the Agagite (Agag was the king of Amalek that Saul initially spared, but Samuel later executed). This would serve to indicate that even though Agag was not spared from the sword, many in Amalek were, meaning that the failure to carry out God’s clear commandments had far-reaching repercussions. In light of the fall of man, and in the ironically bright glare of the darkness by which we are surrounded on a daily basis in this world, it is not difficult to understand the nature of the reach of those repercussions.