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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 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  
  • At 11:54 AM, February 08, 2010, Blogger Daniel said…

    Jim, I deleted the stub that I had inadvertantly posted, and in doing so wiped out your comment.

    I hope you don't mind.

  • At 12:32 PM, February 08, 2010, Blogger JIBBS said…

    I can't wait to read the rest. I'm already appreciating your comments on sacrifice/obedience. Thanks, bro!

  • At 2:24 PM, February 08, 2010, Blogger Jim said…

    That is fine, my comment was rather just a quip based on the brevity of your original post which you have now considerably lengthened.

    A couple of thoughts:

    1. I have been similar to Saul in that I have tried to appease God through the "sacrifices" of an outward form and practice while refusing to be totally contrite and transparent with Him. This has led to a loss of intimate fellowship. Praise the Lord He continues to draw me and has shown me some of my 'religious' ways.

    2. "If this passage were cut and dry I wouldn't be examining it as carefully as I am"

    Phtt, lol. Is any passage in the Bible really cut and dry? I mean without the Spirit's illumination and revealing we will never see the depths of His riches, even in those passages which seem rather straight forward.

    I look forward to the continuation of this topic.

  • At 3:02 PM, February 08, 2010, Blogger Daniel said…

    Jim said, "Is any passage in the Bible really cut and dry?"

    I have to laugh because even as I wrote that, I asked the same question - can I *really* say that about any scripture?

    What I meant was that some passages lend themselves to scrutiny and subsequent controversy more than other passages do; and that if this passage weren't one of those, I would probably skip it, but chose to address it because it was more controversial.

    Thanks for the smile there.

    I think that many of us, in both the infancy of our faith, and then later in the weakness of our flesh (at a time when we ought to know better) make the mistake of trying to go the sacrifice route. I know I have.

  • At 9:33 PM, February 08, 2010, Blogger JIBBS said…

    I think that many of us, in both the infancy of our faith, and then later in the weakness of our flesh (at a time when we ought to know better) make the mistake of trying to go the sacrifice route. I know I have.

    Indeed. That is the natural way.

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