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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Monday, February 22, 2010
Did Saul See Samuel's Ghost or Not? Part -VI-

We noted in our last post, which was a bit of a tangent, that David was reluctant to kill Saul because David trusted that the Lord who anointed him through Samuel would bring him to the throne according to His own design - a design that David refused to usurp regardless of whether opportunity to do so presented itself to him.

Prior to the tangent we noted that Saul, in seeking to speak to the ghost of Samuel, was really seeking an intercessor between himself and God. That is where we pick up the thread today.

Literal Schmiteral?

As we begin to focus on the passage at hand we want to lay out the rules we plan to follow in attempting to come to the most correct interpretation of the passage. Without getting too bogged down in semantics, I plan to read the passage literally, and interpret it rationally.

Having said that, a literal reading doesn't mean that we interpret metaphors or figures of speech in a way that the author never intended. Each of us intuitively knows (or ought to know) how to understand an obvious linguistic tool such as an hyperbole or a metaphor. All that is required of a literal reading is that we recognize these forms when we see them, so as to avoid corrupting the original authorial intent for the sake of maintaining an exagerated literal rigidity.

I think most of us accept that much intuitively. We certainly read every other book we have according to that sort of rule. But let a man read the bible with a settled opinion in his heart, and find something in it that if interpreted literally would strike and shatter some cherished doctrine that is already settled in his or her heart, and you would be surprised how easy it is use alternate (and sometimes downright wacky) interpretational schemes.

When I say that we interpret a literal passage rationally, I mean that once we have ascertained the literal reading, or said another way, once we know with some certainty what the author is really describing, we are ready to interpret what the author has described rationally.

Witch? Medium? What?
So, what exactly is a "witch" or as many translations render it, a medium? We ask this because we have examined the first character, Saul, and now we want to examine the second, the medium. We don't know much about the medium herself, and while we could probably infer this or that from the text and the situation, it wouldn't make a difference to our discussion one way or another. What we do require however is a sound understanding of what exactly a medium was, and what a medium did.

To begin with, a medium was a person who could (or professed to be able to) communicate with a spirit who was familiar to them - what we would call a familiar spirit. The stereotypical "television" medium talks directly to the spirits of the departed, but the medium of scripture is not like that. The medium communicates with a spirit who is familiar to her, and the spirit informs her of what it sees, or what it claims to see.

At no time is the medium aware of any other presence other than the spirit she is already familiar with. She simply has to trust that her familiar spirit is on the up and up when it communicates to her, and is really conversing with the dead and passing along the conversation to the her etc.

Powers and Principalities?

Rather than arbitrarily assume that mediums actually did speak to familiar spirits, let's first ask if there even are such things as familiar spirits.

Those of us who accept the reality of God, typically accept also that there are powers and principalities (c.f. Romans 8:38) and angels and authorities (c.f. 1 Peter 3:22) and even that Michael was an archangel (c.f. Jude 1:9), etc. The image we get is that there is some hierarchy amongst these beings, but frankly scripture doesn't lay out that hierarchy for us. Some go so far as to speculate on the granularity of the spiritual ranking system: authorities, they muse, are more significant than others, powers they say, are distinct in this way or that; archangels have this thing and principalities have another, etc. I think speculating on such things is, at best, foolish, and at worse adding to God's word.

It is enough to say that while most of us use the blanket term "angel" to refer to any and all spiritual powers, principalities, or authorities, we do so recognizing that this is by no means suggests an homogenous equality in authority or power. Notwithstanding, when we use the term "angel" (which properly means "messenger") we typically mean a spiritual being that is either aligned with God, or against Him.

So the fact that there are "spirits" should come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with scripture. The fact that some spirits are obedient to God, and other spirits are in rebellion against God, is likewise no revelation.

Scripture shows that God Himself has passed along messages to humans through the agency of obedient spirits. That is, we see from scripture that at least some spirits (though it could just as easily be all spirits) have the ability to communicate with humans.

So if we accept that there are spirits, and that at least some spirits are disobedient, and again, that at least some spirits can communicate with humans, we have no reason to doubt that at least some mediums are in fact speaking with familiar spiritual beings. Perhaps some are charlatans, maybe even many - but our concern here is to ask and answer whether scripture allows for the possibility of this sort of communication, and the evidence we find in scripture says that it is not only possible, but very, very likely, given the commandments against a human pursuing such a thing.

Note: One of the way spiritual beings in scripture have passed along information to humans has been in the form of "visions". That is significant because later on when we speak of the medium "seeing" we want to be sure we do not rule out or ignore certain avenues that may be implied, or are not as obvious.

First the Matter of Perspective

Given the nature of our discussion, we should identify how many scenarios are possible, and then examine the validity of each, and in doing so hopefully narrow down the number of plausible interpretations.

In order to even present the number of possible scenarios correctly, we need to visit again the notion of what is literal.

Have you ever read one of those books where the narrative leaves the main plot behind to focus on some sub-plot? You're reading about the main character, and then in the next chapter you are reading about something else that is going on alongside the main plot, etc. Perhaps you are reading the narrative first from the perspective of the protagonist, then from the perspective of the antagonist. Both views describe the same scene, but their perspective is radically different?

I am sure you have read something like that, and if not, I am sure you can picture it. In scripture, the narrative can change perspective too. Take for example the narrative in 1 Samuel 4. The narrative follows the actions of the Israelites who go up to battle, and are defeated soundly by, the Philistines. They return to Shiloh, and fetch the Ark of the Covenant, taking it with them into battle, as though the reason God hadn't helped them the first time was because, [1] God's awareness was limited to the locality of the Ark of the Covenant, and [2] the Ark (and therefore God's awareness) was too far away from the battle for God to help.

They bring the ark into the Israelite camp, and a great shout goes up, which causes the narrative to swing from following the Israelites to following the Philistines who were suddenly afraid crying out, "Woe to us! Who shall deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who smote the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness!" (c.f. verse 8).

Note: the text records what was literally said - we have no reason to doubt that they said it that way. But it records the events from the Philistine perspective. The Philistines believed there were many gods. They had several gods, and the Israelites had several gods. Everyone had a bunch of gods. The fact that they speak according to their flawed understanding, and that scripture faithfully records their flawed understanding, does not mean that we must accept their understanding as accurate.

Do you see what I am saying here? We are by no means straying from a literal interpretation when we reject the flawed Philistine presumption, even though we accept that it describes what they actually believed to be true of God. How do we know, or why are we convinced that the Philistines were speaking according to their own understanding, and not according to knowledge? Because they describe God in a way that scripture elsewhere denies.

That is, because the truth is stated clearly elsewhere, we use truth gleaned elsewhere to illumine the flaw in the Philistine narrative. We don't demand that the bible be updated to reflect the truth that God is one (though latter day zealots certainly did just that sort of thing all over the place), instead we understand the affirmations made by the Philistines to be an accurate recording of what they said, even if what they said was flawed.

Narrowing Down the Field.

We spoke of the matter of the narrative perspective because as we try to narrow the number of plausible scenarios, we don't want to dismiss some on the grounds that a "literal reading" of the text disqualifies them.

So here, as I see it, are the various plausible ways we can understand what happened:

First, the medium is either making up the whole thing, or is speaking to an actual familiar spirit.

I think we can safely assume that the medium was not a charlatan, but was in fact communicating with a real, familiar spirit. Thus we have two (main) possibilities:

[1] The medium was being given a vision by her familiar spirit, or
[2] The medium was receiving a vision apart from her familiar spirit.

Here is the first cut, as it were. We have no reason to imagine, from scripture or otherwise, that individuals possess power, in and of themselves to see into the spirit realm. While television mediums are portrayed thus, biblical mediums are not. They receive information through fallen (disobedient) spirits who, having rebelled against God, arbitrarily intervene in the lives of people.

So I think it is a question, not of interpretation, at this point, but of definition - if the medium was a "TV" medium, we might allow the second notion, but given our biblical framework, we are going to proceed on the assumption that the familiar spirit communicated with the medium in the form of a vision that only she was made privy to.

That leaves us with a couple of options:

[1] the spirit gave the medium a faithful vision, or
[2] the spirit gave the medium a deceitful vision.

One of these scenarios presents some very serious and deep doctrinal questions, the other does not. We will examine them both in the next installment.

Thoughts to take away

Meditate on just what exactly we mean by literal.
posted by Daniel @ 11:22 AM   6 comment(s)
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Did Saul See Samuel's Ghost or Not? Part -V-

We asked, and attempted to answer the question: why would God's anointed king, Saul, ever seek a divination from a witch?

In framing this question another question presented itself in the meta: if David knew himself to be God's anointed, why was he so reluctant to kill Saul? Rather than answer that question in the meta, I chose to answer it here in this installment because it is indirectly pertinent to the discussion at hand.

Why was David so reluctant to kill Saul?

When God chose Saul to be the king of Israel, He providentially directed Saul to the place where Samuel was residing as Saul sought his father's missing donkeys. Samuel knew Saul was coming, because God had directed him to anoint Saul as the king over God's people.

Let's pause there for a minute and consider something that not too many believers spend time considering - the fact that God chastises His children.

I suppose we should make a distinction between chastisement and punishment, but in order to do that properly, we need to make yet another distinction; and this one has to do with the divine perspective on what is good and what is evil versus the (all too prevalent) humanistic perspective on what is good and what is evil.

I will start with the humanist perspective. At the core of the humanist moral framework is self. I don't want to die, and I don't want to suffer, therefore it is wrong to kill and it is wrong to cause suffering. Humanism can be distilled into projecting our best interests for our own preservation, onto others. Humanism, when full blown, basically states that I have a "right" to live, and not only that, but I have a right to be free from suffering or oppression of any sort. The best way to ensure that I am preserved is to make my own life something I have a right to.

Those who have come under the influence of humanism wonder how a good God can allow bad things to happen, and by bad things, they mean how can a good God allow death and suffering. They ask this because their definition of good and evil is twisted or rather perverted, in that they define that which preserves life and it's quality as good, and that which takes away life or reduces it's quality as evil - and this they do from the presumption that the preservation of life is a right. Here is wisdom for those of you with eyes to see and ears to hear, they ask how God can allow this because they are so convinced that the preservation of life is an a right, that God Himself must preserve life, lest He show Himself to be evil. That is, because they presume (without any authority other than their own desire to live) that the preservation of life is the ultimate expression of good, they are left to conclude that God Himself must be evil if he allows such things to be.

But the preservation of life is not the ultimate expression of good. In fact, our lives are not our own, for the very breath of life that sustains us belongs (and always has belonged) to God. We have no "right" to life.

Let me explain it this way; let's say I lend my neighbor a hunting rifle. I am (by virtue of ownership) entitled to take it back whenever I feel like it. If many months later I see my neighbor about to go hunting, and I capriciously ask for it back right then, I am doing no evil in taking it back what is mine - even if it means I am thwarting my neighbor's hopes. Maybe he planned to use my rifle to shoot some game, and use the meat to buy and sell in another city, but his plan had a flaw; the rifle wasn't promised to him, and he had no claim on it. So it is with our lives.

God lends us His breath (of life), and we live only insofar as the Lord's grace allows. We neither deserve our lives, nor do we deserve any quality in those lives. Our existence is at God's mercy, and if and when God takes back His breath to Himself, He has done nothing wrong. God is not obligated to preserve life, or to ensure it's quality.

That's a humbling thought - knowing that we live and breath and having our very being in God - that our life is not our own, and that we receive it as grace, so that we have no claim upon it whatsoever. How I loathe myself whenever I think of the many and profound ways I squander this grace - for the man who sees how he has wasted his life knows himself better than most.

To put that into perspective, what it means is that God is not obligated by righteousness to provide us with health and life. God can give sickness and death without being "evil" in doing so. If I take a life, I do evil because I take something that isn't mine to take - the murderer is like one who steals or breaks the borrowed rifle (extending our metaphor). He has destroyed something that wasn't his to destroy. If God takes a life, whether in an act of judgment, or simply according to His own secret counsel, it is as though he destroyed his own rifle. He is allowed to do it, it is His. Murder is murder, not because it is the ending of a life, but because it is the ending of a life by one who has no right to end it.

Why do I go there? I go there because I want to talk about the difference between judgment and chastisement. Sickness and death are used by God to chastise nations, or even (as in the case of Corinth) individual churches. We often think of chastisement as a spiritual wrist slapping; and while it may such, we see again and again in scripture that God will use something like "cleanness of teeth" (i.e. famine) as a prod to cause those children who are ignoring Him to seek Him.

Consider Ananias and Sapphira. They were believers, but they lied to the Holy Spirit, and dropped dead on the spot. Was their sin worse than anyone else's sin? I don't think so. But their death chastised the church. They went to judgment as believers, surely, but the life they were borrowing from God was returned to God as a punctuating chastisement for those who would follow their example. It was severe, but no less severe than at other times. One could rightly argue that their death was an act of judgment, for they were judged for their sin, and their lives were forfeit in that judgment - but the judgment there was just an earthly one. Even those who died in Corinth who were abusing the Lord's table, if these were born again believers, were only judged according to the earth - they still went to the judgment throne upon their deaths, and if they were in Christ, their sin, even though it provoked an earthly judgment, did not undo the work of God in them.

When a believer is disobedient, God chastises that believer; I am reminded of the sacrificial system in Israel, those who had much were expected to sacrifice more than those who had little. To the ones who had, more was expected. That is especially true of those who teach, more is expected of them, and their chastisement is often more intense, for obvious reasons. They must not only preach what is true, but adorn their preaching with a life that reflects the truths they preach. Failure to do so, if they are legitimate children of God, will invite correction. God's preference with His children is clearly that they repent rather than so continue in sin as to jeopardize the mission of the church and in doing so bring about an earthly judgment - that is, God desires for his wayward children to repent rather than continue in willful disobedience and thereby perish.

I am speaking in very broad terms here, in case anyone is interested. There is much to say on this line of thinking, but drilling down at this point would bring this current investigation to a stand still. It is enough to say that God chastises those whom He loves, and that sometimes this chastisement ends in death.

We go this route because we want to understand one thing about Saul - a thing I alluded to in previous posts: Saul, in spite of his willful disobedience, was never the less, a genuine believer.

David understood this.

David could no more kill Saul, than he could kill Samuel. Yes, Saul was wayward, yes Saul was against David, and rebelling against God, but David responded in the same way Paul responds to wicked sin in one of God's children - David delivered Saul to Satan, as it were, that is, David commended Saul, not to his own judgment, but to God's judgment. That is what it means to commend someone to God in this way - it means you leave them to God's mercy, which comes in the familiar form of God removing his protection (lovingkindness, if you will) from the one, so that the enemy (a spirit of calamity) has free reign in the life of the wayward one. This will end in one of two courses; repentance or an earthly judgment.

Saul's life ended in an earthly judgment.

You see, Paul didn't say to the church at Corinth, "put that man to death!", he said deliver this one to Satan - which is to say, call upon God to move this man to repentance by removing His protection from the man, so that the man, in his suffering, sees sin again, as he ought to see it, not from the safe haven of God's loving kindness, which he abused in pursuing sin, but from the outer darkness where he would see sin for what it was, and be more inclined to turn from it; or at the very least, to sever the association between wanton, unrepented sin, and the house of God.

So too David understood that Saul, in spite of all his sin, was still God's anointed. It was not David's place to take the throne from Saul, but God's place to give it to him, as he gave it to Saul. Recall how David almost avenged himself with Nabal? He was on his way to butcher the ingrate when Abigail intervened. What did David do when he met with Abigail? He blessed God, because he recognized that it was God who sent Abigail there for this one purpose, to keep David from avenging himself, and to leave vengeance with the Lord.

David truly believed that vengeance belongs to the Lord and not man. Yes, God had anointed David, and in every sense, the kingdom was promised to David, even as Saul sat upon the throne. Yes, Saul (in his sin) sought to hold onto the crown even after he was well aware that God had anointed David, a man better than himself, to the throne. But it is a testament to David's faith that he didn't take matters into his own hands, but committed himself unto God.

Now, think about what this says about faith.

Just as David was promised the throne, but the world and all that was in it seemed to conspire against (and in so doing bear testimony against) what God had promised; so it is in the life of every genuine believer that having apprehended the promises of God in the gospel, yet it seems at times that these things, while true, cannot be true of us, since we are beset on all sides (and even from within) by adversity. We, like Peter, are inclined to look to the waves and tumult, and take our eyes of our Savior, and thereby sink. But the path David walked was through the valley of the shadow of death, knowing that in spite of how things seemed, God was certainly with him.

A lot of us imagine that the walk of faith is paved in success, when in reality it is paved in failure, the fact that we are still on the path in spite of that testifies not to our tenacity, but to God's faithfulness.

The Take Away From This Fifth Post

Saul was a believer, and David trusted God to deal with Saul according to His own wisdom, and not according to any ambition that struggled to rise up in David. David would not raise his hand against Saul, because it was God's business, and not His to usher out Saul's kingdom, and to usher in David's.


posted by Daniel @ 10:58 AM   17 comment(s)
Friday, February 12, 2010
Did Saul See Samuel's Ghost or Not? Part -IV-

We began by examining what drove Saul to the witch and Endor - the fact that God had refused to answer any of Saul's inquiries. Before we continued in the text, we wanted to answer for ourselves, why it was that God wasn't answering the inquiries of Israel's anointed king.

What we discovered was that Saul was no longer Israel's anointed king at this point, that God had already taken the kingdom from Saul and given it to David. Saul was king in appearances only, and his refusal to obey God in general, to surrender the throne in particular, and his attempts to kill God's anointed king (David) along with the fact that he butchered everyone in the town of Nob, and even cut down 85 innocent priests of God, tells us that at this point, Saul is about as far from "the center of God's will for his life" as anyone is likely to get.

The Immediate Context Revisited

Let's start by looking again at verse five in first Samuel twenty-eight. Here we find Saul's motivation for inquiring of God, for the text reads that, "...when Saul saw the camp of the Philistines, he was afraid and his heart trembled greatly. " We have already seen that Saul feared men more than he feared God, and in chronicling Saul's failures, we might be inclined to imagine that Saul had abandoned God altogether. Such was not the case.

The root problem with Saul was not that he had abandoned God altogether, he hadn't; rather his main problem was that he tried to be whom God called him in a vacuum (i.e. apart from God's strength and power) He differed from David in that David relied upon the Lord in all things.

Perhaps the contrast is most evident in the battle against the Philistines where David slew Goliath. Saul weighed the strength of Goliath against his own strength, and trembled, David weighed the strength of Goliath against the strength of God and was emboldened.

I want to make a point here about Saul. Recall from previous posts where Saul's soldiers numbered only 3000. In that pairing, the Philistines had ten chariots and two horsemen for every unarmed soldier Saul brought to the field. This number (3000) was not the number that could have come out - it was the number that Saul brought. He actually sent men away. He could have brought 200,000 or even 400,000 men into the field against the Philistines, but Saul brought only 3000. We talk about how that number dwindled to 600 so that Israel's army was out manned 50 chariots and 10 horses to one unarmed Israelite soldier, and we remark about Saul's fear - but in doing so we cannot imagine that Saul in inclined to cowardice - for he was sending men away at a time when they were profoundly outnumbered.

This is to point out that Saul was not without faith. He was God's king, fighting God's battles, with God's people - and willing to enter into that stewardship going so far as to boldly face down a fully armed Philistine army with a small, unarmed Israelite task force. I don't know if it was Saul's idea to shave the numbers down to 3000, or if God had commanded the same through Samuel (as God had limited numbers for such things many times before and since in order to clearly put on display that the victory had nothing to do with personal strength, and everything to do with the fact that God fought for you), but one thing we know: Saul was willing to go into battle thus when it seemed God was with him.

It was only when those who were with Saul began to scatter that Saul began to question whether God was *really* in it. By the time Saul offers up the sacrifice, I think he is acting out of a desperate need for assurance that God is going to be there. It is one thing to face an overwhelming enemy when you know the Lord is with you, and quite another to face that enemy when you think you are alone.

We as Christians press one another on this point - that Jesus is with us; that we are never alone, this is the root of all our strength, for we cannot walk in the Spirit unless we believe with certainty, that the Spirit is with us. If we look to the might of our enemy, rather than the might of our Lord, that is, if we look to our sinfulness rather than God's faithfulness - we will fail every time, even as Saul began to fail here. Nowhere is this imagery more clear than when Peter took his eyes off of Christ and began to sink beneath the briny wash. Which is to say, let us be reminded in the life of Saul, just how necessary it is for each one of us to put our trust in the Rock of our salvation, and not in the sifting sands of our situation and sin.

Yes, Saul's greatest failure was that he doubted that the Lord was really with him. Yes, as Saul began to rely on himself rather than on the Lord, he began to work to satisfy himself rather than the Lord. That is what walking in the flesh looks like. Saul was using the gifts God had given him (the throne, an anointing, wealth, fame, etc.) to fortify his position.

Again, we don't want to miss the parallel here. Saul believed that God had initiated something, but when trials came he misinterpreted them as indicating that God was not with him, or that God was unreliable. Saul had an image in his head of what being anointed and king should look and feel like, and when things didn't pan out the way he thought they ought to, he took matters into his own hands to try and put them where he thought they ought to be (like when he offered up the sacrifices instead of waiting for Samuel). If we doubt that God is for us, we end up trying make God be for us. It is how doubt plays itself out in our lives. We do religious things to make up for what we imagine is a lack on God's part, but what is really happening is that we are mistaken in our understanding of what God is both doing presently, and going to do in the future. We have an image of what our best life is supposed to look like, and then we think that God is supposed to give us that life - and when it doesn't' come to us by the time we imagine we ought to have it, we think God isn't for us anymore, or maybe that he never was.

Saul's dilemma is both tragic and instructional. When he sees the enemies of God arrayed against the armies of God, he rightly inquires of God, but does so, not only as one who has seen his sin, and having turned from it is now concerned that God's will be done - no, Saul had turned to God in order to get out of the bind he found himself in. Saul was in a state of rebellion against God's rule in his life and in the kingdom of Israel, and so we would have been quite surprised had God answered Saul's inquiry, since, "...we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him." (John 9:31). Saul was not doing God's will, and was not fearing God in the sense of honoring God by carrying out God's will. Saul was working against God, and for that reason God refused to "hear" Saul's inquiries.

Samuel had already died by this point, but had Samuel been alive, Saul would certainly have approached Samuel next. In fact, the only reason Saul goes to the witch is because Saul is bent on talking to Samuel.

I want to point out something here, Saul knows that the Lord is with David, but Saul does not seek out David. He knew that the Lord was with Samuel in life, and because it was Samuel who first anointed him, perhaps Saul felt that Samuel would be more inclined to aid him. Recall that Samuel had spent a whole night in prayer for Saul; that is, don't recall the event itself, but recall the heart behind that event - for Saul knew that Samuel was an intercessor, and failing to inquire of God directly, Saul was seeking an intercessor to bridge the gap between himself and God - the only person Saul imagined would do that for him was now dead - but Saul was so desperate for intercession, that ... well, look at the length Saul was willing to go to, and that says it all.

But Saul was bent on a course of trying to get to God without repenting.One of the things that strikes me as most tragic here is that Saul really wanted to be "right with God" but wanted that "rightness" on his own terms. He wanted to be right with God without having to ascend the holy hill. He wanted God to descend that hill and meet him where he was. He desired God, but wanted to hold onto everything else too. He wanted God as the prize gem in his crown, and not as the crown itself. He was certainly (and wisely) afraid of God. But Saul was bent on a course of trying to get to God without repenting.

Saul's pursuit of Samuel through the witch at Endor, was typical of the pattern that was already evident in Saul's behavior: the ends justifies the means

What To Take Away From This Post
We want to see that in going to the witch at Endor, Saul was actually seeking Samuel as an intercessor between Himself and God. The question we will ask in coming posts is whether or not God allowed a witch to conjure up Samuel in order to provide an intercessor for Saul, whom God had refused to hear otherwise.

Stay with us.


posted by Daniel @ 9:46 AM   16 comment(s)
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Did Saul See Samuel's Ghost or Not? Part -III-
We have shown in the first two posts that Saul, by the time he comes to the witch at Endor, has been rejected as king by God, but has refused to relinquish the throne.

In this installment, I hope to show exactly how committed Saul was to this rebellion.

The Character of Saul (continued)

At the point in our study David is introduced. We want to show that Saul's rebellion was not limited to disobedience (failing to obey), but swung right around into working intentionally against God's plan in that Saul sought to keep the throne by slaying the man God chose to replace him (David).

But the introduction of David into our study is not so easy, for we run into a bit of a problem in the narrative. You see, we like our narratives to be primarily chronological, but Hebrew narratives are often primarily thematic. I am reminded of how Luke introduces his gospel, saying that others have already set down the events recorded in his gospel, but that it seemed good to him to give an orderly account of them (c.f. Luke 1:1-3). That is, Luke wanted to pen a chronological account of these things, because that was the universal style of narrative employed by Greek writers. Someone unfamiliar with Hebrew thematic narratives would see contradiction and confusion in some of the other accounts, so Luke wrote out an account that put everything in chronological order for Gentile readers.

I am not expert on the Hebrew practice of placing emphasis on themes, but I do understand it enough to recognize it when I see it. In a nutshell, Hebrew narratives will sometimes interrupt the chronological path they are following to expand on a thematic point. The reader who doesn't understand what is going on can become easily confused when a writer begins to expand a point that has no place in the present chronological scheme. The way we read, we expect any deviation from the timeline we are on, to be well documented and entirely parenthetical, so that when the emphasis has been addressed, we resurface, as it were, where we left off. That isn't the way thematic emphasis plays out however, especially when there is overlap between one or more expansions.

When was the first time that David met Saul? How about Jonathan? Looking into 1 Samuel 15 - 18 as a chronological narrative, we run into trouble. The first mention in scripture, of David meeting Saul doesn't seem to jive with the account of David's meeting with Saul in the camp when David slew Goliath.

The thematic emphasis given in scripture is sufficient for almost every purpose; it is certainly sufficient for instruction in righteousness, and in the knowledge of God. While latter day readers are accustomed to, and no doubt would prefer a chronological account of all that happened, we don't actually need one. Notwithstanding, to avoid confusion, I am going to lay out what I think is the chronological path through David's meeting with Saul, so that as we move through the text, we can see Saul's character deteriorate chronologically.

There are a couple of sign posts, if I will use as "timeline" anchors. For instance, in 1 Samuel 14:52, we read, that when Saul saw any mighty man or any valiant man, he attached him to his staff. We can assume therefore that once a man was joined to Saul's staff, that man remained on Saul's staff.

Immediately after the encounter between David and Goliath, we read in 1 Samuel 18:2 that, "Saul took him [David] that day and did not let him return to his father's house." [NASB]. Given what we read in 14:52, I don't take that to mean that Saul simply kept David over night for a sleep over. I mean, if Saul attached mighty or valiant men to his staff, I can't imagine anyone doing anything more mighty or valiant than slaying someone like Goliath, especially given that he had gone unchallenged for what? Forty days? Surely, Saul recognized in David a valiant and mighty person, and attached him to his staff that very day.

It was on this same day, we read, that Jonathan likewise became attached to David - stripping off his own robes, bow, and sword, and putting them on David, and were that not enough, Jonathan makes a covenant with David at the same time.

The fact that Jonathan strapped his own sword on David is another signpost for me, as we read in 1 Samuel 13:22 that, "...neither sword nor spear was found in the hands of any of the people who were with Saul and Jonathan, but they were found with Saul and his son Jonathan." When scripture says that there were only two swords in all of Israel, and that Saul had the one, and Jonathan the other - I believe it. When scripture says that Jonathan gave the sword he wore to David, I conclude that Jonathan didn't just grab another sword from some convenient sword pile, but that (chronologically speaking) from this point on, at least until Israel could recoup some blades for their army, Jonathan didn't have a sword.

When the army of Israel is returning from this same battle (the one in which David slew Goliath), we read that the women from the towns and villages came out and sang that Saul has slain his thousands, but David his ten thousands.

Seriously, that really displeased Saul, and the text tells us that it was at this point - the return from the battle where David slew Goliath, that Saul began to have suspicions about David.

That isn't to say that Saul's suspicions were full blown right then and there - all it is doing is declaring where it all started, and it all started right there at the very beginning.

Having said that, I don't think that Saul suspected that David was personally bent on trying to usurp him from the throne - rather I think Saul suspected almost immediately that it was David of whom Samuel spoke when he declared that God had decided to give the Kingdom into the hands of one who was better than Saul.

It is perhaps a coincidental note, but an interesting note nonetheless: when Jonathan gave his sword to David, he was putting the only other sword in all of Israel into the hands of the only other person whom God had anointed king over Israel...

The problem we run into however is that prior to this narrative, specifically in 1 Samuel 16, Saul has apparently already met David, and already joined David to his staff, on the grounds that David was a warrior, a man of valor, a prudent speaker, and a skilled musician.

If David was already known to Saul, in fact, already joined to Saul's staff - why was David still living with his father Jesse, for one thing, and why didn't Saul recognize David?

Several solutions have been offered to answer this question, some involving presumptions about textual additions, some suggesting this thing or that thing - but the problem seems to be primarily a chronological one. Why didn't Saul recognize David either at the battle where Goliath was slain, or when David was set before Saul as a skilled musician?

I think the solution (as my introduction to this portion of this discussion betrays) lies in the fact that this is not, nor was it ever intended to be, a chronological telling of the events.

It seems to me that when David is introduced to Saul in 1 Samuel 16, the author then begins a thematic expansion. In 1 Samuel 16 David is made Saul's armor bearer, and notice is sent to Jesse, David's father that David is going to remain with Saul. I want to mention at this point, that you didn't become the king's personal armor-bearer on the grounds that you're a good musician. You became the king's armor bearer because the king had reason to believe that you were both capable and reliable in battle. David went from complete obscurity to being the king's right hand man, and made a part of his personal staff - all in a heart beat.

We are told in 1 Samuel 16 that Saul was oppressed by a calamitous spirit. Saul's advisors were somehow aware of David, the son of Jesse's skill as a musician, and suggested that Saul have David play for him when the distressing spirit came upon him. When we read that from a chronological perspective, we imagine it means that these things happened already, rather than from a thematic perspective, where we would understand these things as simply describing the flavor of David's tenure in Saul's staff.

Putting everything together, the impression I get is that David was joined to Saul's staff on the day that he slew Goliath, and recognized almost immediately as a man of several talents, was enlisted to likewise play music for Saul whenever the distressing spirit came upon him. It wasn't that David slew Goliath as a little boy, and Saul joined David to his own staff at that time, then sorta let him go and forgot about him, only to later meet him and not know who he was (like anyone could forget the battle between David and Goliath, or the fact that the house of Jesse enjoyed a tax free status, etc. etc.).

The point of this post isn't to sort all this out for you, I mention it in passing - David was joined to Saul's staff, and knit to Jonathan's heart right around the time that a distressing Spirit was plaguing him, and no sooner had David been joined to Saul's staff but Saul began regard David with suspicion.

Moving more quickly through the narrative now, we come to Saul's first efforts to snuff out the life of God's chosen king.

The first attempt on David's life comes in a fit of distemper as David is playing the harp for Saul. Here he casts a spear at David, who escapes being pinned to the wall. David escapes Saul's presence, and as a result of this incident, Saul has David removed from his presence by appointing him a commander of a thousand.

But Saul still wants David dead, though he isn't (yet) willing to kill him outright. So Saul devises a plan that he hopes will result in the Philistines conveniently killing David for him. If David had been killed by the Philistines it would have solved Saul's dilemma, first because he could keep the throne, and second, he wouldn't have to stand before God on judgment day and answer for having personally slain God's anointed.

So Saul offers his daughter Mereb to David, on the condition that David fights valiantly against the Philistines on Saul's behalf. David's answer is that he is not worthy of such an honor. Which while true in the sense of David's genuine humility, also may have meant that David did not have the means to give a wedding gift worthy of royalty. So Saul ends up giving his daughter to someone else.

Saul's younger daughter (Michal) loved David however, and when it was told to Saul, Saul renewed his plan. Saul offered Michal to David, but this time Saul solicited some help from his servants. He instructed them to tell David that all Saul wanted as a bridal price was 100 Philistinian foreskins. David goes out and gets 200; An hundred for the bridal price, and another hundred on top of that.

David wasn't conveniently slain in the getting of the foreskins, so Saul is forced to act more directly - though he himself does not face David (and really, having seen David kill Goliath with a sling, I can understand Saul's reluctance to openly come against David himself...) Having escalated matters, Saul commands Jonathan and his servants to put David to death, but Jonathan manages to talk some sense into Saul, arguing that David has done nothing against Saul. Saul relents and even invokes the Lord's name in making an oath to refrain from putting David to death. The fact that Saul almost immediately sets this oath aside speaks silent volumes to what is going in inside Saul.

So David is allowed back into Saul's presence, and is once again playing the harp, and once again Saul, in a fit of rage, tries to pin David to the wall. (so much for his oath!) David escapes, but Saul sends messengers after David to watch his house and to kill him in the morning.

Michal encourages David to flee, so David flees to Samuel at Ramah; meanwhile Michal tells the messengers that David is sick, even dressing up her household idol to make it look like David is still sleeping in his bed. The messengers tell Saul that David is sleeping, but Saul tells the messengers to bring David anyway, which is when they discover that David isn't really there and Saul is thwarted again.

Here we Saul stepping things up a bit, as he now is pursuing David himself. Yet when Saul arrives in Naioth in Ramah (where Samuel and the prophets are) Saul is overcome by the Spirit, and prophesies there, while David flees, going and finding Jonathan.

David lets Jonathan know that Saul is trying to kill him again, but this is news to Jonathan. Jonathan can't bleieve that his dad would do such a thing without telling him. So together Jonathan and David devise a plan to test Saul without giving Jonathan away. In the end however, Saul's intent to kill David (and to keep this intention from Jonathan) becomes apparent, so much so that Saul even lobs a spear at Jonathan to punctuate the moment. So Jonathan goes back to David, and tearfully sends him away.

David flees to Nob, where he is fed by the priest Ahimelech, and where he finds the sword of Goliath. David takes these and flees into the land of the Philistines, to Achish the king of Gath, hoping to sell his services as a mercenary to the Philistine, but becoming concerned for his life, he instead pretends to be "simple" and leaves there.

Meanwhile Saul finds out that David fled to Nob, and that Ahimelech aided David in his escape, and when his own soldiers refused to put all the priests of God from nob to death for Ahimilech's "crime" Doeg the Edomite stepped in and butchered them, and if that weren't sickening enough, Saul had the entire city of Nob put to death.

We pause here to consider again who Saul is. He has moved beyond simply obeying the voice of men over the voice of God, but has now become so bent on thwarting God's will concerning the taking away of the kingdom from himself, and giving it to David - that Saul butchers not only 85 innocent priests of God, but everyone in the city they came from.

Saul has not only seized the throne with no intention of giving it up but has completely lost all perspective in his bid to keep that throne - trying not only to slay the man God whom God chose to replace him, but going so far as to butcher anyone who gets in his way, or seems to have gotten in his way. Saul is not simply an enemy of David at this point, but being in the grip of denial, is acting as a powerful agent against God, and against God's people.

Meanwhile, David, even though he has become the number one enemy of the crown, continues to defend and deliver Israel. Saul continues to pursue David whenever David may be found in Israel, so David becomes a mercenary in Gath to the same king (Achish) whom David originally played the fool around. Several noteworthy events transpire, not the least of which are the two times when Saul was clearly delivered into the power of David's hands, and twice David refuses to put his hand out against the Lord's anointed, and twice Saul appears to reconcile himself to the fact that David is not his enemy - but both times Saul, while giving up the moment, maintains his deliberate course against David.

The Saul that we eventually find in 1 Samuel 28 is the OT equivalent of a Judas. Though Saul has every reason to support and love David, instead he seeks to have David put to death. Unlike Judas however, Saul has butchered a whack-load of innocent people in the pursuit of David's demise, and more specifically, in his fruitless effort to retain a kingdom that God has taken away.

Conclusion (re: Saul's character)

Saul was chosen by God as Israel's king then anointed by Samuel and given the kingdom. Instead of obeying God, Saul obeyed his own heart which itself was influenced by events and other people. Eventually the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, as did God's loving kindness. By the time we come to the text we want to examine, Saul is occupying another man's throne, a throne that God personally took away from him long before, but one which he refused to relinquish.

That Saul has the audacity to inquire of the Lord at this point in his life, might seem bizarre in the light of our focus on the negative. But I think we are now ready to return to the text in 1 Samuel 28 in our next post.


posted by Daniel @ 11:19 AM   3 comment(s)
Do you want God to overlook your sin?
Or do you want to overcome it?

I was in prayer this morning, feeling dry, when as I was praying (and being well aware of my sin) I found that my heart was rather aching for God to simply overlook my sinfulness.

In the moment that my heart made lucid its vague meanderings I thought to myself, isn't that the difference right there? (I.e. between the flesh and the Spirit). The flesh wants God to overlook sin, but the Spirit wants to overcome it.

- Posted on the bus ride to work from my iPhone
posted by Daniel @ 7:03 AM   0 comment(s)
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
Did Saul See Samuel's Ghost or Not? Part -II-

We left off our last post having begun to examine the passage in 1 Samuel 28. Here we found Saul visiting a witch whom he presses to conjure up the spirit of the prophet Samuel on his behalf. We stated our intention to examine the passage as closely as possible in order that we could give a careful and well reasoned answer to the question stated in the title.

Our first foray into the immediate context took us to verses five and six. Here we read that Saul is frightened by (and of) the Philistines, and is motivated by this fear to inquire of the Lord. Noting that even though Saul inquires of the Lord, the Lord refuses to answer Saul. In order to appreciate why the Lord refused to answer the desperate inquires of His anointed King, we began to work our way backwards in the context, starting with the anointing of Saul, and working our way forward until we come to Saul's failure at Gilgal.

Here Saul was to wait for Samuel to come to Gilgal and offer burnt and peace offerings, and this according to the command of God. Saul waited until the seventh day, the day upon which Samuel was to come and offer the sacrifices, but having lost the majority of his already pathetically small (and less than armed) force, Saul transgressed the command of the Lord and "forced" himself to offer up the burnt offerings and the peace offerings himself. This, we said took place in 1 Samuel 13.

We noted in closing that Saul's heart was not contrite in that he looked to secure the Lord's favor through sacrifice rather than through contrite obedience.

Who is Saul (continued)
In Samuel 15, Saul is given another chance, as it were, to obey the Lord. Recall the opening verses of chapter fifteen:
Then Samuel said to Saul, "The LORD sent me to anoint you as king over His people, over Israel; now therefore, listen to the words of the LORD. "Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'" - 1 Samuel 15:1-3 [NASB]

Note how the Holy Spirit (who inspired this text) chose to introduce the command of God that Samuel received and was relaying to Saul? He begins by saying, in essence, because God sent me [Samuel] to anoint you [Saul] king over His people, therefore listen [i.e. obey] to the words [i.e. command] of the Lord!

Samuel sheathes the command of the Lord in language that implicitly conveys something clear (though not explicitly stated): God made a man king over Israel in order that He might rule over Israel through him. When Saul transgressed the command of the Lord, he was (in effect) usurping the rule of God. Which is pretty heady stuff if you understand what is going on. The fact that Samuel restates it here is doubly significant, given that Saul is about to fail again, according to the same pattern established in 1 Samuel 13.

By verse four, we find Saul with a formidable army (210,000 Israelites). With this force, Saul decimates the Amalekites, but not according to the command of the Lord. Consider how scripture describes the scene:
But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were not willing to destroy them utterly; but everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed. - 1 Samuel 15:9 [NASB]

Note that Saul was just going along with what the people wanted when he spared Agag and everything that was desirable in Amalek. In verse 24 Saul confesses that he feared the people and (having acted in the grip of that fear) he chose to obey their voice over the clearly stated (and profoundly explicit) command of the Lord (c.f. verse 24).

Our generous nature allows us to give most people the benefit of doubt. I expect Samuel had a larger share of that sort of nature than most of us, but I want you to put yourself in Samuel's shoes for a moment. You come to Gilgal, and find that God's anointed king - the king you yourself anointed on God's behalf, has once again set aside the commandment of God. His response? He was distressed and cried out to the Lord all that night. I tell you, when I read that I can taste Samuel's anguish, but it is nothing compared to what was coming in the morning. On his way up to meet with Saul, Samuel is told that Saul had stopped in Carmel to set up a monument ...to himself! This, after a night of distress and heart felt prayer for Saul. Can you hear Samuel weeping face down in the midnight hours, his soul dripping out tear by tear as he cries out for the Lord to turn Saul into the king he was supposed to become. Then rising in the morning, on your way to meet with the man you have spent the night interceding for, only to learn then that on top of setting aside the command of God to appease the voice of man, Saul has also erected a monument to his own glory?

All I can say is... whatever small part of Samuel was not entirely controlled by God's grace would likely have been hot enough to ignite water.

How does Saul greet Samuel? Is Saul on his face in the dirt? Perhaps his eyes are simply downcast in the sullen sober knowledge of his failure? No. Verse 13 records Saul's greeting as, "Blessed are you of the LORD! I have carried out the command of the LORD."

Can you put yourself in the scene? When Samuel responded, I wonder if it was through clenched teeth.

You know what happened next of course. Samuel laid it all on the table, spelling out in detail exactly what God had commanded, and how Saul had set that aside. Saul's immediate response was to deny that he had done anything wrong, hear his words: I did obey the voice of the LORD.. (c.f. verse 20). Saul then lays the blame on the people - they were the ones who took the choicest spoil, but always with the intent to offer it up as a sacrifice.
...if ever there was a time we could say that God doesn't want your cows, it is when He personally devotes them to destruction.
I want you, the reader, to think that through. God tells you to go in and devote everything to destruction. It is God's way of saying, "I utterly reject this people and all they have". You can't get much more "outside" of God's grace than being on the receiving end of God commanding His king to destroy you, and everything associated with you. Bluntly stated, if ever there was a time we could say that God doesn't want your cows, it is when He personally devotes them to destruction.

The most charitable thing we can say about Saul's answer to Samuel was that he utterly misunderstood what would have been an acceptable sacrifice to offer God. Especially given that if a sacrifices was merely physically marred it would be entirely unacceptable to God - how much more so when it is already devoted to destruction?

No. As charitable as we would like to be to Saul, the man could not possibly have been that dense. This was clearly a dodge - a slippery attempt to justify his giving into the desires of the people. When this comes out of Saul's mouth, Samuel lambastes him, asking whether it is better to offer sacrifice than to obey, stating in no uncertain terms that this rebellion on Saul's part was equivalent to the sin of divination (c.f. verse 23).

Whoa. Did Samuel just call Saul a rebel who was as just as guilty as anyone engages in divination (witchcraft)? Yeah-huh. Hey! aren't we examining a passage that deals with Saul doing just that - dealing in witchcraft?

Can I say that if rebellion is as the sin of divination, that divination is as the sin of rebellion? Of course I can, and naturally you see that too if you have read this far.

Saul admits he has sinned even as he lays the blames on the people. I think Adam did something similar in the Garden: sure I ate the forbidden fruit, but hey! the woman *YOU* put here with me, *she* gave it to me... Yet, however that might seem to us, Saul doesn't stop there. Saul goes on to ask Samuel not only pardon his rebellion but also to honor him before the elders of Israel by going back with him.

I marvel at Saul's conduct here. He seems desperate and even irrational. Is he even on the same page as Samuel? Hello Saul, God just rejected you as His king, and you want Samuel, God's prophet, to come and honor you before the elders of Israel??

We all remember the next scene. Samuel turns to leave, and Saul actually grabs his robe - tearing it in doing so. I mean, Samuel was no youngster at the time. Picture the an old man, turning away, and Saul grabbing his robes to stop him, so that in pulling away from Saul, Samuel's robe is torn; Samuel uses the image to bring home the message again to Saul in verses 28 and 29: The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to your neighbor, who is better than you. Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind

The irony hangs in that statement like a thick vapour you can't help but see as you inhale. God commanded Saul to wipe out the Amalekites. The God of Israel is not like a man who changes his mind, that is the God of Israel is not like you Saul, who says, "I will obey" then later changes his mind. <cough, cough>

So Samuel goes back with Saul, but takes that opportunity to hack king Agag to pieces, something Saul should have done in the first place. I can't think of anything more humiliating than to have the aged prophet of God have to do what you failed to do, and to do it before all of Israel. Small wonder that this was the last time Saul saw Samuel's face in this life.

Concluding Thoughts For This Post
What we want to "take away" from this post is that by this point, Saul's obedience was being given, first to the world and only then to God. We see that in the next chapter (16) the Spirit of the Lord departs from Saul (c.f. 16:14). Recall God's promise to David's descendant, given through the prophet Nathan, and recorded in 2 Samuel 7:14-16;
I will be a Father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever. [NASB]

In particular note the underlined part, that God's lovingkindness departed from Saul, replaced by, or so we learn later, a calamitous spirit sent from the Lord.

When we begin to examine the "Saul" we find in 1 Samuel 28, we know that the man we see there, though willing to rule as king, is not willing to obey the Lord when push comes to shove. So far as it stands, we find a man who was rejected by God as king, but who refused to relinquish the throne. We find a man engaged in an act of rebellion (divination), and I for one do not marvel that God ignored his inquiries.

Yet that is enough for today's post. In the post to follow, I hope to show that Saul was not content to disobey God, but was actively working to thwart God's will by pursuing (with intent to kill) the man whom God anointed to take Saul's place.


posted by Daniel @ 1:36 PM   3 comment(s)
Monday, February 08, 2010
Did Saul See Samuel's Ghost or Not? Part -I-
In the book of first Samuel, towards the end there in chapter twenty-eight; we read about how Saul asked a medium/witch to conjure up the spirit of Samuel. The question we want to consider is whether the witch at Endor actually conjured up Samuel's spirit, or whether the witch was deceived by another spirit.

Whatever your opinion is, I don't want to hear it just yet. This is the first post in a series and frankly, I am not going to express my opinion on the matter until the end, and so should you, if you care to comment at all.

I post this not because I have some peculiar interest in the matter, or because I enjoy controversy (as some do), but rather as a personal exercise, for I know myself to have a settled opinion already. It seems a good exercise to me to (therefore) critically examine (and perhaps especially so) my settled opinions on matters, and it is for this reason that I write (primarily).

I imagine many benefits to doing this, both personal (iron sharpens iron), and impersonal (perhaps I will inspire others to be diligent in examining what they believe).

Preliminary Things

The biggest stumbling block I personally run into when I am examining things such as this is my own personal bias. By that I mean to lay on the table, beforehand, the fact that, having read the scriptures many times, I have (over time and multiple rehearsals of the same information) formed a rather settled framework of understanding. Because this is so, I need to be honest with myself and note up front that I expect to find harmony between what I believe the rest of scripture teaches and what I believe I will find in this passage.

We all know that the dog wags the tail, and not the tail wagging the dog. That imagery is helpful in defining my bias. If I have a framework in which I am to understand this passage, that framework is like the dog, and the passage is like the tail - so my built in bias is to interpret and understand the passage in such a way that it fortifies what I already believe, rather than challenges it.

My job then, in examining this passage, or any passage for that matter, is to recognize my own bias, and as much as I am able, set it aside. That isn't to say that I have to pretend I do not know what the rest of the bible says, for that would be not only ridiculous, but foolish. Rather it is that I must ask myself, of every conclusion I draw, whether I am drawing this conclusion because I already believe it, or because my examination demands it. I must be on guard also, so that I do not draw a conclusion, where the evidence for that conclusion is inconclusive.

At the end of the day, I expect to have a rational conclusion; i.e. one that agrees with all of the scriptures, in that it not only introduces no contradictions, but supports what is said elsewhere.

So we begin with the obvious: If this passage were cut and dry I wouldn't be examining it as carefully as I am. I recognize that whatever conclusion I draw at the end, some will agree with, and others will deny. I don't believe there is anything noble in agreeing to disagree. When I have made my conclusion therefore, I am implying that it is the correct conclusion, and that those who deny it are therefore in error.

I want to be careful up front to point out that this is not intended as arrogance or any such thing - rather I am ready in an instant to re-evaluate my opinion if either new information or new insights present themselves. My opinion therefore, if I have done all things well, will be the correct opinion given the information at hand, but remains open to correction itself, should new insight demand it.

Such ought to be true of all my opinions, if I aspire to be truly honest with myself and my handling of the scriptures.

Saul's Character

I want to begin the discussion proper then, by examining the immediate context of the passage. We start by noting that Saul first inquired of the Lord, but that the Lord did not answer (by any means) Saul's inquiry:
When Saul saw the camp of the Philistines, he was afraid and his heart trembled greatly. When Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by prophets. - 1 Samuel 28:5-6 [NASB]

The question we ask of the immediate context is why was Saul seeking this information? And to answer that question, we need to go even further back into the context.

In 1 Samuel 8, Israel demands a king for themselves, and God commands Samuel to anoint a king over them. In 1 Samuel 9-10, we learn that Saul of Kish is to be God's anointed King over Israel, and Samuel thus anoints him, and after a slow beginning, Saul eventually takes on the role of King full time having defeated the Ammonites in 1 Samuel 11, and having been confirmed again in 1 Samuel 12.

Right from the start however, things started to go south. Israel was at war with the Philistines. We should note that according to the wisdom of men, the Philistines clearly had the advantage. They had superior numbers, and superior "firepower" in that they were armed and armored, while the Israelites had all of two swords in their entire camp - one belonging to the King (Saul), and the other his son (Jonathan).

In 1 Samuel 13 Saul is camped at Michmash with 3000 men of Israel; 2000 are under his command, and 1000 under the command of Jonathan. Saul is waiting at Gilgal for Samuel to arrive. The Philistines are camped nearby, and while we have no idea how many foot soldiers they had, we are told that there were 30,000 chariots, and 6000 horsemen.

Saul was waiting for Samuel to come and offer up burnt offerings and peace offerings. Samuel had set the date at seven days hence, but in that seven day wait, Saul's numbers dwindled to 600. That could mean Saul's 2000 dwindled to 600, but it likely means that the overall number (3000) dwindled to 600. More than half the original army had scattered, and perhaps as much as 80% had went off and hid themselves from the Philistines. When the seventh day arrived, and Samuel was nowhere to be found, Saul took matters into his own hands, offering up the sacrifices that Samuel was supposed to offer.

Note this, as it could be significant, though it may not be: 1 Samuel 13:8 tells us that the time of the offering was appointed by Samuel, but later in verse 13:13 we read that in not waiting for Samuel, Saul was transgressing the "commandment of the Lord." - so while the text doesn't say, "the Lord commanded Samuel to appoint a time seven days hence on which the sacrifices were to be offered" it is clear from the text that God did just that.

Whatever else this seven day waiting period could be said to be, it was also a test of Saul's faith. In failing this test we see something we ought to note; Saul was either beginning to think of God as the means to an end, or showing that he had always believed God to be the means to an ends. For in choosing sacrifice over obedience, Saul revealed much about how he related to God.

Let's quickly review Saul's situation. His army had dwindled in size over those seven days, from 3000, down to 600. That's fifty chariots and ten horsemen to every unarmed Israelite; not even counting the regular Philistine army that would have made up the overwhelming bulk of the enemy host. Saul understood that unless God was with them, they were going to be decimated. But what this text here shows us, or begins to show us, is that Saul misunderstood how and why God would be with them. Saul assumed that it was ultimately the sacrifices (burnt and peace) that inclined God to their aid, and in this Saul was foolish.

Don't miss this. Saul's heart here was not contrite, for contriteness would have resulted in obedience. Saul acted in a way that suggested he believed he could secure (purchase) God's favor by offering some mandatory sacrifices; Perhaps he hoped to save face with his army? It really doesn't matter, what matters is that we see here the first concrete evidence that Saul was no longer (if ever he was) contrite towards God.

Closing Notes on First Post

In the next post I hope to continue examining the characters of Saul and Samuel so that we may have as much context as possible in examining the question in hand, whether the medium raised up Samuel's spirit.

Just to head off discussion on that point - for some who have their opinions set already are likely to express it prematurely in the comments. I would ask only that if you plan to comment, don't bother telling me what you think yet - wait till I have posted all the installments. Feel free to comment on this installment - especially if you believe I have taken some liberty with the text(s), or if you feel I have really missed something relevant.


posted by Daniel @ 8:47 AM   5 comment(s)
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